Tag Archive for EverQuest

The Great Divide III

More than levels and more than lore, you know what divides players from other players most?  The players.  And nothing divides players faster than giving them exactly what they want.

People look back at EverQuest and they make fun of the difficulty of the game.  In fact, they often laugh it off as not being difficult at all but instead as being imposing or broken or wasteful.  They look back and remember (or just hear stories about if they never actually played in that era of MMOs themselves) dying to a rat and they belittle the experience.  Killed by a rat?  And why is my hero killing rats anyway?  But you know what?  They weren’t rats.  They were large rats.  They were giant rats.  They were diseased rats.  Even if the name of the monster was just “a rat” the thing was the size of a large dog.  And those weren’t beetles you were killing, they were fire beetles.  But people complained.  It was too hard.  Leveling was too slow.  There weren’t enough quests.  The spawn times were too long.  The loot didn’t drop fast enough.  Raids were too big and required too many people.

So, later generations of games have given players everything they asked for.  Easier fights (I’ve actually played WoW characters up to level 30 without ever dying), faster levels (I have a level 39 character that was level 33 three days ago, and that was in just 3 or 4 hours of playtime, maybe 5) and quests… good gods are there quests.  Dozens of them.  You can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a score of floating exclamation points.  I haven’t run into a spawn time greater than a couple of minutes, even for elites and bosses (raid instance locking doesn’t count).  My bags are so full of good loot from mobs and quests that my only choice is to vendor most of it because it’s too common to be worth selling to other players.  And I don’t need 65 or 100 people to kill a god anymore, I just need 9 people to go with me, maybe 19 or 24.

The one thing players don’t need so much anymore?  Other players.

I’ve mentioned before that I recently returned to WoW to try to play with some friends.  Haven’t actually played with them much, in part because of level disparities, but also because our schedules don’t seem to line up very often.  Doesn’t matter though.  I don’t actually need them to play.  In fact, playing without them is faster.  No problems of people being in different phases or on different sections of quest chains, no issues of level problems, and I can get fast and easy exp, gaining a couple of levels a night, fighting monsters that in no way actually have a chance in hell of beating me as long as I keep mashing my attack keys.  Hell, I have a druid who’s gear is so out of whack (and this is all found and quested stuff, I haven’t bought anything from the auction house) that I play with no fear of ever running out of mana.  Most of the time I play in cat or bear form, and between fights I pop out to normal and heal myself, then back to melee.  The wife’s hunter is even more insane.  The speed at which she kills means she rarely ever needs healing at all.  When we play together, I don’t even bother staying in normal form.

I’ve tried to play with other people, but it’s actually hard.  Grinding exp from monsters isn’t worth it, and finding people on the same quests is a losing battle.  I could queue up for dungeon runs, but that’ll just put me in a random group with random people who I will likely never see again.  Back before I quit the last time, I was in a guild, and we had guild chat and a vent server and it was very social… except for the fact that none of us were actually playing together.  On the same server, sure.  Sometimes even in the same zone, but grouping up always slowed somebody down.

At least in EQ, the only people slowed down by grouping were the quad kiting druids and wizards, fear kiting necros, and the occasional AE or charm kiting bard.  Even that isn’t true anymore as I actually saw with my own eyes a cleric soloing even con mobs the last time I returned to game, and not kiting either, he was standing toe to toe.

Now, don’t take this as railing against solo players.  While I personally don’t enjoy doing it, I do realize that it is what other people want.  I mean, WoW has 12 million players not because that many people suddenly realized they wanted to play MMOs.  It’s because that many more people were able to play the game because they didn’t need to actually have other people to play with.  And there is nothing wrong with that… except that many of these people refuse to acknowledge the impact that their style of play has on people who do want to group and play with others.  The impact is in server resources and population make up.  In older games where the majority of people were wanting/needing to group up, finding groups was easy.  These days, with the majority of people not wanting to be reliant on other players, finding groups is hard.  So much so that Blizzard actually had to make cross server instances possible and a group finding tool just to alleviate the pressure.  The issue now is that for many of the people who want from grouping what used to be an integral part of grouping (the social interaction and bonding), the LFG tool is an empty gesture.  It solves the symptom of not being able to find a group while completely destroying the ability to bond with those players.

But how do you solve that?  Again and again on this blog you’ll see me advocate the single server design for games because I whole-heartedly believe that the best way to solve player problems is to allow the players to solve their own problems.  If finding better groups is as easy as travelling to another part of the game world that is a much better solution that trying to get different game worlds to be able to share a player pool for certain kinds of grouping.  However, given that at this point Blizzard, and most game companies, can’t redesign their entire server structure to be a single server design, what then?  Free server moves?  That seems like the best possibility, and perhaps put a lockout so that a player only gets one free move every 90 days or something, and if they want additional moves they can pay for them.  If I meet cool people in the dungeon finder, I might move to their server if it were periodically free, but I can’t see myself ever paying $25 to move a character based on the interaction of an hour or two.  Nor would I pay $25 to blindly move to a random server in the hopes of finding more people to group with.

Once again, though, looking forward at new games, I’m less enthused about wanting to play them because of the divisions between players.  Even in the Rift betas that I’ve been playing in, I’ve got friends playing on 5 or 6 different servers playing with subsets of their own friends, and none of us are playing with all our friends, or even have the capability of playing with all our friends without creating characters on a bunch of servers, on both factions, and maintaining characters at several different level tiers.

Once more unto the Rift

Last beta I didn’t get much chance to play.  I messed around the character creator and read up on the base classes and logged in.  The game informed me that my graphics drivers were out of date and I spent what little time I was in game chugging along in a partial slide show.  This past weekend’s beta was much better.  I logged in my already created character, I ran through the introduction area, and I made it through the first few quest hubs.

Most of the game is fairly standard, and that’s not a bad thing.  The UI is familiar without cloning (it doesn’t look like the World of Warcraft interface even though it mostly functions like it), and the game play follows suit.  Others have praised the soul system, and I will too.  I really enjoy crafting my character from three parts and controlling how he forms as he advances.  To me, the simple genius of it is astounding: you climb up the tree adding passive traits (damage bonuses, spell modifiers, etc) and the number of points spent there determines which active abilities you unlock.  It is the best part of a class system melded with the best parts of a skill system.  Add in that you can build several specs on a single character and you come very close to what I’ve always wanted in a game: the ability to play a single character in multiple roles without having to resort to creating alts.  And even if you did decide to create alts, you really only need to make 4 characters – one of each base: warrior, cleric, mage, rogue.

The public group and rift mechanics are also fantastic.  While they can get repetitive if that’s all you do, mixed in with the traditional quest grind it makes the game feel fresh without feeling alien.  Last night on Shadefallen, Freemarch came under heavy attack from Death, with foot holds in every town and all the players banding together in groups to beat them back.  For soloing, I had been playing a Justicar/Shaman/Druid with a fairly balanced build to focus on making me a better fighter and increasing my 1-on-1 survivability.  But once the giant assault began, I bought a second role, used the same souls but spent more points on the Justicar to reduce my threat and utilize my area heals to assist the raid.  It worked out pretty well.  I spent the bulk of the evening switching between those roles, the solo build for the early waves of any rift and then to the raid build for the later waves.  From the builds to the rifts to the raids, it was much more exciting that any other MMO I’ve played.  Even my precious EverQuest.

I really enjoy the Justicar and Shaman aspects of what I’ve played so far, the fighting cleric appeals to me in so many ways.  If I so buy the game, I can easily see myself playing that for the long haul, though I may ditch the Druid in favor of a different third.  The fairy pet annoys me.

Now I just need to convince the wife and all my friends to switch to Rift.

Rethinking Tanking

Getting back into traditional fantasy MMOs has of course led me to thinking about their flaws and my desire to correct them.

One of the long standing issues with the genre since EverQuest is the holy trinity of design: damage taking, damage prevention/recovery, damage dealing.  And while games continue to try to include crafting and other non-combat elements, the vast majority of people actually want to kill things, so combat remains, and will remain, at the center of most game design.  In this trinity mold, you end up with a tank, a healer, and then assorted damage dealing classes.  Fighting runs the same, tank taunts to control where the damage goes, the healer heals the tank, and everyone else tries their best to make the tank’s job very very difficult.

Right now, tanking is all about hitting taunt abilities to focus the attention of the target on to the player and keep its damage output in one place where it can be measurably tracked and dealt with.  As games have advanced over the years, taunt abilities have become more varied and interesting, but at their base they are about manipulation of the aggro list (the priority in which an NPC “hates” players) to put the tank at the top.

What I’m considering, and by no means is this a finished idea, but one that needs discussion, so please, discuss, is to replace taunt with a cover system.  If Monster A is attacking Player B, rather than having Tank X target Monster A and click a taunt ability, saying “Hey stupid! Come get me!” (which always just seemed idiotic to me, from the stance of someone who enjoys role playing in games), you instead have Tank X target (or secondary target, or target of target, or whatever) Player B and click one of his new protection abilities, putting himself between Monster A and Player B and taking the damage.

This appeals most to me because it eliminates taunt, which from a role play and logic standpoint has always been broken.  Why would a monster ever stop beating on the healer just because the invulnerable turtle is calling him names?  Nope.  Healers first, then those pesky damage dealing people who are killing me and lastly I’ll deal with the invulnerable turtle when he’s a little less invulnerable.  On the other hand, the idea of a monster going after the healer and the invulnerable turtle stepping in between them, now that has merit.  Effectively, we are taking away the roll of tank as we know it, and turning him into a healer type who utilizes shield/rune spells, preventing damage but not recovering it.

The main downside I see with this is the creation of the new role of DPS Tank.  That’s where the player with the highest DPS becomes the defacto tank by virtue of doing the most damage while the healer heals him and the old tank protects him.

Thoughts?

As an aside, this is ironic because over at Big Bear Butt, he recently posted about giving everyone taunt and eliminating healing.  Which just goes to show that this is a problem with many solutions.

Looking for People

Wolfshead made a great post about chat in MMOs.  I often find myself agreeing with Wolfshead.  We seem to come from the same place in that EverQuest got a lot of things right about building communities and having players be social while they play.  Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about because, honestly, if you read his post, that’s how I feel.  But along side the chat discussion is a discussion on the Dungeon Finder in WoW.

In the comments, however, Tesh used the word/phrase “self-professed” and it got me thinking, and I commented as well.  In most games, we have to trust other people when they tell you what they’ve done or where they’ve been.  Well, not so much anymore… with gear score and achievements and bind on pickup items, people don’t have to trust you, they can inspect you or check your Armory profile and verify it.  People used to have to be social, now they don’t.

Anway… back to the Dungeon Finder.  The truth is, Blizzard named it properly.  You select the dungeon or dungeons you want to do, you select your role in the group, and then you queue.  You are finding a dungeon.  EverQuest had an LFG tool.  Looking for Group.  It was poorly named.  It should have been the Look for Experience Points tool, because that’s how many people used it.  They didn’t want to make an effort to find a good group, they just wanted to join one already formed and then soak up exp.  However, because of the nature of EQ, while Exp might be what you were after, what you got was a group since getting Exp often meant sitting in the same place with the same five other people for hours.  If you didn’t talk and socialize, you had better at least be excellent at playing and making the exp, otherwise you might get kicked from the group.  But in WoW, you use the Dungeon Finder to find a dungeon, you then do the dungeon and then you are done.  Then you use the Dungeon Finder, ad nauseum…

What I really want is a Looking for People tool.  I don’t want an objective and a role, I want a funny guy who plays with style and makes playing the game more fun than grinding the floating bags of exp and loot.  The tool should be half a personality test, and matching should be made on more than just people going to the same place.  A chatty guy should be placed with a group that wants a chatty guy.  And so on…  I know it would be a pain to build, and some people probably wouldn’t want all those options, which would be why you’d hide them.  The main screen could be as simple as the Dungeon Finder: where I want to go, what I want to do.  Then, under an Advanced Options or Social Options or Fine Tuning you put another screen with a whole mess of check boxes and/or drop downs that allow people to self select a narrower group of people.  The defaults would, of course, be Any/All and then those who wish could go from there.

The first option I’d add?  The ability to say, “Only pick people/groups from my server.”  You know, the people on the other servers in the Battlegroup might be great people, but I’d rather play with people who, if they turn out to be great people, I can play with on a regular basis.

The abnormal tank & the rogue

Back in the days of EverQuest, the wife and I used to duo when we couldn’t find groups.  This isn’t strange, as I have found most couples do this.  What probably is strange is that she played a rogue and I played a monk.  With monk avoidance, the ability to bandage up to 70% (I think they could even do up to 100% later on), a weapon or item that summoned bandages, items that rooted or snared, and rogue evasion, I could tank experience giving mobs while the wife destroyed them from behind.  We really enjoyed traveling the world and finding places and monsters we could fight in this fashion.

Recently, we’ve started playing EQ2X (EverQuest 2 Extended free-to-play) and as per usual she rolled up a rogue, a brigand to be precise.  Now, I didn’t have the option to roll a monk (you have to pay for them), but I decided to roll up a templar.  As we’ve been playing, I’ve been focusing on aggro generating skills and damage and mitigation.  I’m a tanking cleric, so to speak.  I pull, I debuff and nuke and she destroys them from behind.

We’ve played this way in most of the games that we’ve played.  I play a somewhat versatile class that can semi-tank and survive while she plays a DPS heavy class that focuses on the killing.  I really enjoy it and it makes for interesting game play as we level.  Me trying to find new ways to hold aggro with a class that isn’t supposed to do that, and her trying not to steal aggro with a class practically designed to steal aggro from tanks.  I think the only game we strayed from this was LotRO in which we played a Champion/Minstrel and a Captain/Lore-master.

Do you have a favorite duo in games?

The Single Shard

One of the people from over at CCP, the people who brought us EVE Online, has written up An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs.  I fully support this idea.

The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind.  Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose.  And that sucks.

On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server).  All I need to do is warp to them and we play.  Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.

Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people.  During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers.  My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there.  But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available).  I also did time as a guide.  Each server had a distinct personality.  As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci.  E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled.  E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns.  When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did.  But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories.  If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean.  But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings.  But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.

I hope more games take the single-shard design route.  Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers.  When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups.  For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.

Deciphering the Message

And the Internet was once again safe!  Blizzard backs down!  But did they?  Let’s take a look at the message and see what it’s really saying:

Hello everyone,

I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games.

So far we have a standard greeting and then the first sentence and I’m already going to step in…  Once again, RealID is being framed as a tool to make the game better, which we all know (or should know) by now isn’t the real reason for it.  They want to build a social network they can leverage for advertising, just like everyone else, and clean forums, if that even happened, was just a side effect they trotted out for PR.  If they really desired to make the forums a better place, there are at least a dozen things they could have done other than revealing real names.  This sentence exists to set up the wall they are about to blame you from.

We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

And there it is.  Your feedback, your concerns, our forums, and they’ve decided at this time not to use real names.  Notice the clear marketing speech.  Real Names are still on the table, because that is the ultimate goal.  Our feedback and concerns have simply caused them to adjust the time table.  They’ll come back to real names later, when they’ve thought of a less explosive way to work it in.

It’s important to note that we still remain committed to improving our forums. Our efforts are driven 100% by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games.

Again with the framing.  This whole thing is about the forums, right?  Nothing else.  No social network, no advertising money, nothing.  All of this is for YOU, to make the forums awesome for YOU.  Please look at the right hand and ignore what the left one is doing.

We will still move forward with new forum features such as the ability to rate posts up or down, post highlighting based on rating, improved search functionality, and more. However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II Battle.net character name + character code, not your real name. The upgraded World of Warcraft forums with these new features will launch close to the release of Cataclysm, and also will not require your real name.

See?!?!  Forum stuff!  This was never about anything else, just forum stuff.  Oh, and we decided to implement a unique account ID system that doesn’t reveal your real name, which will give us all the accountability we needed over our current system of letting people troll with any character name they wanted and doesn’t let people find out where you live unless they want to spend a few days or weeks at it instead of 20 minutes.  To me, that someone can find my information on the Internet isn’t an issue, it’s out there, I know that.  To me, it’s a “heat of the moment thing”.  Say I go to the forum and read your post about “The most awesome hunter spec EVAR!!!!” and say, “You are being obtuse.  While this build certainly doesn’t suck, it is also clearly not the best build because it lacks…” and now you are pissed because I called you fat (I didn’t), I would like any revenge you suddenly plan about visiting my house and punching me in the face to show me who’s fat (again, no, obtuse, not obese) to take a while to execute, so that you have a change to realize (and maybe visit dictionary.com) it might not be the best idea (because you are fat, and I’d kick your ass) rather than actually be in your car with the GPS telling you how to get to my house in less than half an hour.

I want to make sure it’s clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II.

Our plans are separate… sure.  Except for the part where they are all tied to the same Real ID and the social network we are building.  The real point of this sentence cannot be fully understood until you read the rest of the paragraph.  So, shall we?

We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make Battle.net a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games. And of course, you’ll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on Battle.net to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature.

Notice what is missing here?  I’ll give you a hint, it is the focus of this entire uproar.  That’s right, real names.  Yes, the forums won’t display your real name, but in order to use these other features of Real ID you have to have your real name revealed to others.  Maybe I’m an outlier, or maybe a lot of people are too new to MMOs and the concepts of RPGs, but I’ve been part of a community from EverQuest for going on eleven years now.  Originally it was all based around the game server and the IGN/Vault forum for that server, but around 8 years ago we moved off to a privately run message board due to some heavy handed over-moderation.  There are many people in this community I would call my friends.  I would happily use a system with them that allowed for cross-game and cross-realm chat and being able to see all each others characters and for a good sized chunk of those people I don’t know their real names (they could probably find mine, because, you know, my blog isn’t exactly a secret and my name is all over this thing).  We didn’t need real names to build friendships or a community.

Oh, and before I forget, see that last sentence?  Yeah, this isn’t over yet.  Real ID is going to continue to evolve and real names on the forums are being backed off of at this time.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters, ( http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/mission.html ) and we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so passionately about our games. We will always appreciate the feedback and support of our players, which has been a key to Blizzard’s success from the beginning.

And in closing, I want to point out that I almost believe him.  Until this move, I totally believed that Blizzard was run by and run for gamers.  They got us.  They delivered games only when they were ready.  But they aren’t alone anymore.  Activision owns them, and Bobby Kotick has said time and time again, he’s not in gaming for the games, he’s in gaming for the money.  The Blizzard that cared, to whom Every Voice Mattered, doesn’t exist anymore.  The honeymoon is over.  Knowing that Real ID is still there, that the social network and partnership with Facebook are still the plan, that real names are only off the table at this time, that’s why I don’t believe him.  This is just an appeal to the past, “Hey, remember when you loved us?  You should still love us!  We haven’t changed!  Except for some stuff, but I assure you, that stuff isn’t what matters.  What matters is that we make good games, and you love our games, and our games will keep being good… even if you have to jump through hoops and become a part of a giant marketing machine and social network to enjoy them.  We promise, it won’t hurt… most of you.  And hey, those are some good odds.”

For me, I’m still out.  Starcraft II pre-order cancelled.  Diablo III pre-order cancelled.  Cataclysm pre-order cancelled.  There is another shoe or two around here, and I’m going to wait for them to drop before I get back in bed with Blizzard.  That said, I’m still a fan of Blizzard at this time.

The Gamer I Am Today

This month’s Gamer Banter is “What was the game that made you a gamer?”

To be honest, I’ve been a gamer since my dad brought home a Pong system in the late 70s.  Then it was the Atari 2600.  The games that cemented me as a gamer were Yar’s Revenge and Pitfall.  I played those games for hours on end, entire days, flipped them and kept on playing.  Sure, we had dozens of games, but those are the ones that stand out.  We had an NES too eventually, and we got a PC.

Over the years there have been many games.  Zelda and Mario on the NES (and Pro Wresting… Starman forever!), while over on the PC it was dominated by Sierra games, from The Black Cauldron to Leisure Suit Larry through the King’s, Police, Space and Hero’s Quests, The Colonel’s Bequest, Gabriel Knight and the Manhunter games.  And Doom.

Doom was a game changer.  By that time I had discovered BBSs and had a group of friends online.  Much like I’d once bought, with my own money, an Adlib Sound Card to play games like Loom that required better sound and a 1200 baud modem so I could get online, I bought a token ring network card and then begged my parents to let me take the PC to a friend’s house.  I’d played Doom through dozens of times on my 386, but with 4 PCs in the same room, network cards and coaxial cable, suddenly we were deathmatching.  We were yelling at each other across the room, taunting each other in text chat.  Gaming stopped being something I did by myself and started being something I did with other people.

Sure, the BBSs had multiplayer door games, but this was different.  It became a regular thing, and soon it became something we could do over the Internet.

Even so, as much as I was a gamer, I still did other things.  Then along came Team Fortress for Quakeworld.  See, deathmatch was fun, but it never felt quite right for me.  But here came a game where not only were we on a team, but roles in that team formed.  I wasn’t the best player, but I was a demon on defense.  Those BBS people, we formed a clan and we played in tournaments.  We played against teams in other states, in other countries.  It was a new kind of social element to gaming.  Deathmatch had its culture too, but it was ultra-competitive, insular, everyone was your enemy.  Team Fortress fostered camaraderie.  When not in a tournament match, hopping on a public server meant you worked with your team whether they were in your clan or not.  It lead to a lot of respect on the battlefield.

Then came EverQuest.  In some ways it was so natural to shift.  From being part of a team in Team Fortress to being part of a group in EverQuest.  I was comfortable with the idea that I couldn’t win on my own.  I didn’t want to play alone.  Groups and raids and guilds, sitting in the East Commons tunnel on Saturdays looking for deals, message boards, all of it.  It was another level of social.  In the Quakeworld world after tools like GameSpy came out it was easier to track down your friends, or people you’d enjoyed playing with, but in EverQuest, anyone you played with you could put on a list and look for them anytime you were on because they were always on the same server as you.  And it was lasting.  I’m still friends with a couple people from the TF days, but I still talk daily with a bunch of people from my EQ server.

Looking back and looking forward, the kind of gamer I am is one that enjoys active social interaction with his game.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that reads my blog as my biggest complaint about most MMOs is when they lack a good social aspect or community.  My Venn diagrams summed it up pretty well I thought.

I was always a gamer, born into a gaming world, but I’d have to say that Team Fortress and EverQuest are the games that made me the gamer I am today, and the gamer I will probably be for the rest of my life.

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.

Other Gamer Banter participants:
carocat.co.uk: A Trip Down Memory Lane
Yuki-Pedia: A Tale of Two Games
gunthera1_gamer: Early Gaming Experience
Extra Guy: Ah yes, I remember it well
The Average Gamer: What Made Me a Gamer
Sivercublogger: Uncovering Lost Treasures
Master Kitty’s World: Gaming Through the Years
Gamer Unit: What was the game that made you a gamer?
Game Couch: Karateka
Next Jen: What Made Me into a Gamer

Role Playing requires a Death Penalty

For me, a “role playing” game, despite being short hand for a genre of games, has always meant a game where you, the player, get involved, care for the character and can influence the outcome.  One of the largest aspects of role playing is the danger of losing.  In MMOs this is often referred to as the “death penalty”.

Gordon wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, and Darren a few days ago.  I’ve written about it too.  And if you search around the Internet on the gaming blogs you’ll probably find hundreds of posts.

In my experience the best role playing games have at least a modest death penalty.  More than just a few coins spent on repairs, or being set back a few seconds, but real almost tangible loss that you want to avoid.

My first real role playing game was, of course, Dungeons & Dragons.  Because the game is so unstructured, being just a set of rules which your gaming is built upon, I’ve found that lots of people have lots of different experiences.  If your Dungeon Master never actually reduced your player’s constitution when he got resurrected, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  If you never had a character die (and I mean really die, as in you might as well tear up the character sheet because that guy is not coming back, ever), then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  If your character went from 1 to Demi-god without ever being in danger of being permanently hurt or sent to the circular file, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons.  That’s just me, but if you played without penalties, I don’t know if I would consider what you were doing to be role playing.  You were just gaming.  You were rolling dice while the DM told you a story.

Playing EverQuest, you put together a group (or joined someone else’s) and you went somewhere to complete a goal or just grind out some experience.  If you died, you had to watch the exp bar retreat, possibly hours worth of advancement vanishing along with the pixels.  You could recover the majority of that loss with a resurrection from a cleric (or later, other classes), but a bit of it was gone.  Just gone.  So, because of that reality, if you invited a player into your group who wouldn’t stop drawing aggro or sucked as a healer or in any number of ways exposed your group to death and loss, you kicked them out.  And because of that reality, combined with that fact that most classes benefited greatly from being in groups, people tended not to be aggro drawing crappy healing death magnets for very long.

Many people will tell you that EQ didn’t have any role playing because people talked out of character or min/maxed numbers or whatever, but to me it will always be a role playing game because your character mattered.  Your reputation, your wins and losses, it all effected how you were able to play the game.  Within the confines of the defined computer controlled rules of gaming, you had to play a role in order to play the game.  I remember a number of weeks I spent in Karnor’s Castle in EQ and there was this bard shouting for a group, and most of us who’d been around wouldn’t group with him.  Every time he’d get into a group, he’d go AFK a lot.  Sure, he’d leave on mana song or something, but he wasn’t doing crowd control, and his songs often pulled aggro off the tank on the pull, and when running was needed he wasn’t there, would have to be left behind, then he’d complain about the group getting him killed.  So he spent most of his time looking for a group instead of being a group.  Sure, his actions would eventually earn him the same level of ignoring in newer games that he got in EQ, but given the design of EQ, the fear of death, the shared spawns and grinding exp, he was very quickly rooted out, not because of how he played but because of how his play affected the play of others.  Meanwhile, players who worked well with others and had a healthy respect for the loss of experience grouped well.  Lasting friendships and guilds spawned from avoiding the penalties together.

Of course, not all MMOs need to be RPGs, but I believe what I have discovered over the past couple of years and what I am realizing now is that in the genre of MMOs I prefer the MMORPG.  Many of the most recent MMOs don’t have much RPG in them (remember, I’m using RPG to actually mean role playing and not as shorthand for a genre of gaming features).  Too many of them are too soloable, with too little penalty, with inevitable victories no matter how much I suck.  Many of these MMOs are more like sports leagues for kids that don’t keep score, where everyone gets a trophy because everyone wins simply by showing up.

As always, I’m rambling, and I’m not even sure where I was going with this other than to empty onto the Internet another reason why I think I’m not being drawn into many MMOs anymore…

My Guild Isn’t Your Guild

Continuing on with my look into Facebook games, and in my look into why I dislike them…

When I played EverQuest, I met a person, we played together a little, and then I joined his guild.  Joining a guild attached me to a social unit and my one new friend turned into thirty new friends.  Now, I didn’t get along with all of them, but being bonded by the unit meant that we were at least civil, because he often wound up grouped together and working together toward goals.

In Facebook games, I invite a friend of mine into my super team, or as my neighbor, or whatever social unit the game has, and that’s the end of it.  I have 12 people in my zombie apocalypse survivor colony.  One of those 12 only have 3 people in his colony.  One of them has 50.  And so on.  Each of us has a unique view of the game world.  Our social unit is fictional, not real.

Facebook games are designed to make you grow your social units outside the game.  You are encouraged to post achievements on your wall, to share them with the world, and the idea is that a friend of yours will see it and decide to play the game also, hopefully joining your game social unit too, and that also a friend of your friend who saw your comment on that picture of your friend’s dog will click your name, see your wall, see your post from the game, and decide to be your friend and join you in game also.

This is completely backwards from the normal Online game socialization model.  Normally, you make friends in game and that friendship can grow outward.  On Faceback, you make friends outside of the game and hope to grow that friendship inward to the game.  That just seems wrong to me.