Tag Archive for EverQuest

Combat Pacing

One discussion that comes up from time to time when talking about game design for MMOs is about combat pacing.  That is, how long should a fight last, and how “active” should the player be?  In fact, just last week a thread about this showed up on the forums over at Nerfbat.

Because I’m more interested in group play and social interactions, obviously my stance is to make fights longer and reduce the need for button pushing.  I’m extremely fond of the old EverQuest design where fights were counted in minutes and players often had between 3 and 10 seconds between actions.  In my opinion, this allowed for more tactical play, allowing you to see what was happening and consider your response as opposed to faster games where you tend to approach the fight with a plan and execute it, the individual fight lasting 30 seconds or less (excluding boss and raid encounters, which are obviously tuned to large groups and to last longer).

I also like slow combat because currently, unless you are playing exclusively with friends and using voice chat on a Ventrilo server or similar service, social interactions have to occur through the same keyboard that controls game play.  If you are hitting a key to perform a combat action every 1 to 2 seconds, that doesn’t give you much opportunity to chat.  The more “intense” the combat, the more “quiet” the game gets, and you have to practically stop playing the game in order to be social.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, also expressed in the thread.  If you want to join in the discussion, I encourage you to sign up at the Nerfbat forums and do so.

People and Absolutes

One of the things that makes blogging about game ideas difficult at times is the level to which other people will misconstrue what you mean.  Take, for example, my Monday post about procedurally generated content (PGC).  Almost every conversation that I had throughout the day with people on that subject jumped to the level of Love, which is a game that is using primarily PGC for its entire game.  For me, however, my intent was only for the rapid generation of content that would require a minimum of tweaking to sit alongside hand crafted content.  Have the PGC engine whip up a huge city of a hundred blocks, and then zip back in and touch up the buildings, even replacing some with entirely hand built ones.

One of the arguments was actually someone insisting that PGC will NEVER be used, and that games needed to be 100% hand crafted, all the time, forever and ever.

Whenever I see things like that, I’m reminded of a friend of mine, let’s call him Bill.  Bill loved EverQuest.  He played it five or six hours a day, minimum.  He spent most weekends, from Friday afternoon until 3 a.m. Monday morning playing.  When we dragged him out of the house, he talked about playing it.  He encouraged other people to try it.  And then one day, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore.  Not only that, but no one should play.  The game was destroying our lives and ruining our futures and every minute we put into the game was a minute wasted.  I’m pretty sure he broke and burned his original CDs.  Instead of EQ, Bill started up Kung-Fu, which was awesome.  He practiced every day, and all weekend.  When not Kung-Fu-ing he was talking about Kung-Fu and how everyone should be doing it.  Well, until he decided he didn’t like Kung-Fu anymore…

Another great example of people going to extremes: try entering into a discussion of MMO features and suggest that you’d like to see more benefit to grouping.  People will proceed immediately to claiming that “forced grouping” (an MMO Myth, by the way) is terrible and that eliminating solo play is bad, regardless of the fact that you might even be saying that solo is a perfectly viable way to play the game but you’d just like to see grouping have some advantage beyond “not playing alone”.

As with most things in life, moderation is usually best.  There is a time for everything, an appropriate amount of everything.  Game design is no different.  Every idea is worth considering, and not as an absolute, not as “the way”, but as a tool, a flavor, one thing among other things that can help you.  PGC has a place in gaming, and different companies will use it in different ways.  I’m just waiting for some game to come out, blow people away with their awesome design, and then for the devs to come out and explain how PGC had a large hand in it.

Of course, if that happens, the gentleman above who was insisting PGC had no place in gaming will probably start insisting that PGC needs to be used for every game, always, forever and ever.

A Difference In Gaming

Occasionally, the group of us who played on the E’ci server in EverQuest will get to waxing rhapsodic about the “good old days” and how EQ was somehow “better” than more current games.  Usually discussions like these can be dismissed as a “first love” problem, where the game that got you in to MMOs it always remembered better than it was and nothing later can give you that same rush.  But, we’ve had these discussions often enough that most of the first love elements have begun to drift away and we’ve gotten more into specifics of design and approaches to game elements that were “better” back in EQ than the direction that later games went with it.

I’ve often tried to put my finger on exactly what the difference is between EverQuest and World of Warcraft, but I always seem to fall short.  This most recent time around though, I think I have hit upon a comparison that really does encapsulate the differences between the two games and makes clear which game a person might prefer based on their tastes.  So here goes…

EverQuest was like going camping or going on a road trip, while World of Warcraft was like a theme park.

In EQ, you were dropped in the world, there wasn’t much lore or story before that and you wandered around chatting with NPCs and fighting monsters.  There were quests, but often they required some reading and figuring out, and they’d take days, weeks or even months to complete.  You sort of did whatever you wanted.  At first, there was nothing in the way of tiers, that came later, and in the very beginning there wasn’t even any level gating.  When the Plane of Fear first opened there was no level 46 restriction.  I saw my first dragon raid when I was level 30, though I died quick and wasn’t itching to get back until I had more levels under my belt.  And there were people… like when camping there are other sites or on a road trip when you stop at diners and other places… and if you kept going back to the same places, you’d run into the same people, and if you all wanted to do the same stuff at the same time, you had to share.

WoW, on the other hand popped you into the world staring at an NPC with a giant punctuation mark floating over its head.  From that first moment you are following the designated paths, doing the designated tasks, and if you leave the path, you’d often find there is nothing there.  (Not always, sometimes you find some little treasure trove of mini quests or a random NPC in a hut put there on a lark by some developer.)  You have to be this high to ride this ride, and everyone gets a turn.

For me, every time I have ever gone camping or gone on a road trip, they made memories that stuck.  If this were that sort of post, I’d regale you with the story of going camping with the Cub Scouts and a few of us wandered off and found houses, and there was this girl undressing in the upstairs window… There is a lot more to that story than just some boys almost seeing their first real live boob, and maybe I’ll tell it some day, but the point is that I remember it.  And I remember EQ, because all the choices were mine and I went anywhere I wanted, and even when the game did point me in a particular direction it still felt like it was my choice.  When I go to Six Flags or some other theme park, I might remember the people I went with, or a general feeling of how I felt on certain rides, but lots of the details are gone.  WoW feels like this.  I remember the first time I entered the Plane of Knowledge in EQ (and that is years after the game launched) and what I did and who I was with as we explored, but the details of the day I entered the Burning Crusade or started my Blood Elf?  Gone.  Mostly from WoW I remember going from punctuation to punctuation, walking into towns and seeing a sea of punctuation which meant I would be busy, but very few of those punctuations stick out.  But from EQ, I recall details of days sitting in the Plane of Storms or The Overthere, pulling and grinding mobs, and chatting with people, and leading a group into Kaesora or the City of Mist or Kedge Keep, running from Qeynos to Freeport.  I know I led groups into the Scarlet Monastery, but for the life of me I can’t pluck out any details of what we did there beyond “we completed some quests”.  I went to the Deadmines and plenty of other places, but I don’t recall much of what we did.

Of course, not everyone is like me.  There are those who love and remember theme parks the way that I remember camping and road trips.  People for whom EQ was a neverending grindfest of wall sitting that blurs together, while WoW was a carnival of instances with their favorite group of friends and they can tell you stories about every one.  But it boils down, I think, to the difference between camping and theme parks.  When you go camping you have to make your own fun, but when you go to a theme park someone has designed the fun for you.  EQ more easily let you do what you wanted (even if it was boring and sucked), while WoW had its fun laid out for you, and its up to each player to know what sort of experience they are looking for.

I wish more games were like camping.

Stop! Socialize!

Back when I played EverQuest, I often described the game as a chat server with a D&D style game tacked on to it.  This felt right because most of the game could be played without paying specific attention to the graphics.  Most of the action happened in your chat window.  People talked, the NPC text scrolled by, even damage output was all in this little window (until they allowed you to customize the UI, at which point I shoved all the damage output into a tiny window that I barely paid any attention to so I could focus more on the chatting).  With World of Warcraft they put more of combat into the hotkey bar, made you care about refresh timers and started dragging your attention away from the chat window.  They even eliminated the wall-sitting exp grind and forced you to keep moving around, so you had to actually watch the screen instead of just waiting for the puller to get back with a mob to fight.  In Free Realms, the mini game design requires so much attention that I find myself playing for an hour and realizing that I haven’t been reading the chat window.  I complain about not being able to find my friends in Free Realms, but to be perfectly honest, they might have come on and sent me tells, but I missed it because I was too busy chasing NPCs or looking for quests, or in mini games where I’m too busy playing a game to be watching chat.

The progression of MMOs that I am seeing is to get people more involved with the game, but less involved with the people.  In order to socialize in Free Realms, I have to actually stop playing and stand around.  In EQ, progression and socialization could happen (did happen) simultaneously.  And we won’t even go into the fact that I have not once grouped with anyone in Free Realms, even when I’ve wanted to and tried, it just doesn’t seem to be something people care about… or maybe they simply aren’t seeing my area chat asking for a group because no one is reading.

One of the best things about the Xbox 360 is the built in voice chat that works by default in all games.  If you play multi-player, you can chat with the other players.  It would be nice if MMOs could integrate voice chat more fully since they are taking our eyes away from the chat box and using our keyboard more for play than talking.  Ideally, a game would have some sort of spacial chat, similar to the way “say” worked in EQ (and other MMOs), so people within a certain distance would hear you.  That way when you were hanging out with your group in a dungeon, your group hears you, and when you walk in to town you hear players within an X foot radius, approaching people you want to hear, moving away from people you don’t.

I’d love to see it happen, because the current trend of having to choose between playing and socializing is killing my interest in their games.

The Art of the Pull

This past weekend I spent my time in Free Realms grinding out some Brawler levels.  I was only level 4 and had that stupid “Get level 5!” as my only brawl quest.  Well, I had other quests for the brawler, but they all required that I fight things recommended for level 5 and over.  So I went and found a few random encounters and got level 5, then set about questing again.

Back in the days of EverQuest, I played a monk.  The reason I chose a monk was because the guy who introduced me to the game said it was hard to play and was the class least reliant on equipment.  And it was true, in the beginning.  My monk was about 80% effective when “naked”.  Of course, as the game expanded, monks became just as reliant on gear as every other class.  But the point is, I played a monk.  One thing monks did in EQ was called “pulling”.  If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means that my group would pick a safe spot to sit and I would run out and find monsters for us to fight, dragging them back to the group for the kill.  The reason monks did this was because they got a skill called Feign Death which allowed them to escaped monsters if they happened to get too many chasing them.  Play dead, monsters go away.  As all monks did, I learned the observable mechanics of the game, how monsters would walk back to spawn points at different times, how some would “reset” their “hate list” upon reaching their spawn, and lots of other little things.  Over time, as I observed more and became a better puller, I used Feign Death less and less.  I learned how to pluck a single monster from a group just by standing in a particular place a particular distance away at a particular angle.  Honestly, being a puller in EQ was probably what kept me playing for so long.  One of the main reasons I quit was at the high end game during raiding your team only needed one or two monks for pulling, and any extra monks were just a part of the killing team.  Auto-attack is boring, especially after a life roaming zones in search of danger.

The point of that little trip down memory lane is to preface the following: Monster pathing and aggro hasn’t changed much over at SOE.

I find myself going under equipped and lower level than I should into brawler fights and using my monk skills to splits monsters and fight them one at a time when they are clearly intended to be fought in pairs or threes.  You can even run from most groups of monsters and watch your “radar” to see when most of them turn around and go home, leaving just one tenacious follower to combat.  I’ve even gone so far as to defeat “events” that clearly shouldn’t be something I do alone.  In one quest instance, you get to a certain point and it triggers waves of monsters to attack.  If you stand and fight, you have to take them on 3 or 4 at a time, but instead you can run off to the side and hide, wait for all the waves to show up, and then use aggro and positioning to pluck them one at a time out of the mess.  Sure, it takes longer, but seeing as how actually finding people to group is one of the most difficult things to do in Free Realms, taking the time and doing it on my own is preferable.

Anyway, I managed to get myself 4 levels doing Brawler quests, and then I headed back to Sanctuary to see if I could exhaust it like I did Seaside.  I haven’t yet, but I’m getting close.

Defining Quest

Cuppy’s post about going back to EverQuest got me to thinking… One thing that has always bugged me is when people say that the title of the game EverQuest is ironic because the game had so few quests and was mostly a grind.  “NeverQuest” they often call it.  I heartily disagree… now, on to the tangent…

When I wake up in the morning there are things I do.  I shower, I sometimes shave, I eat breakfast, I check emails, I watch a TV show, maybe I write something for this blog, I go to work.  Work itself is a list of things to do.  Write some code to fix a bug, check on the performance of the servers, flowchart the processes of a new program, and more.  The one thing that all of those have in common is that not a single one of them would I ever, for any reason, consider a “quest”.

My quest in life is to be a writer, or perhaps a game designer.  The things I do on a daily basis are, in some form or another, tasks I perform in pursuit of those larger goals, either directly or indirectly.  And now we return to the point…

In my years of playing EverQuest, there was not a single day in that game where I was not on a quest.  Whether it be a small task performed to gain reputation, or the pursuit of some larger aspect of something else, but it was always moving toward the completion of some quest somewhere.  Headband and Sash quests, Ro Armor, Shackles, Epic weapons, Manuals from Knowledge, Rings in Velious, and much much more.

In my years of playing World of Warcraft, I can’t say I’ve actually done very many quests at all.  Every day, every session, I was completing tasks.  Busy work.  Dozens of little things to do, none of which took very long, and none of which mattered.  The rewards I gained from doing WoW’s “quests” would be replaced in days, sometimes less.  The only rewards that were even close to permanent and mattering to my character were ones gotten at the level cap, through raiding.

To me, a quest should be a long hard road through hell, something that directs more of you life than fifteen minutes.  When I think of “Quest” I think of The Holy Grail, I think of the search for Solomon’s Mines, I think of the search for intelligent life on other planets, I think of goals that consume you.  Quests in EverQuest in the “old days” had this.  Quests in today’s games don’t.  Today’s quests are nothing more than “To Do” lists.  Today’s quests are bullet points on the agenda.  Today’s quests are eating breakfast, checking my email, and reviewing code.

And that, I’m fairly certain, describes exactly why most modern MMOs, and even what EverQuest has become, just don’t seem to hold my interest.  I want to quest again…  Do any games have this? or have they all gone the way of WoW?  I had hoped Lord of the Rings Online would deliver, and perhaps it did later, but I only got up to level 17 and it was “quest hubs” and tasks, sometimes with a dash of story but really nothing more.

iWoW

About a month ago, I gave my thoughts on if WAR was the WoW killer… since then, in the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering a few things, a few aspects as to why no game in the near future is going to be a WoW killer.

The number one reason… Apple.

Face it.  Apple is growing.  I’m a diehard PC, and I’ll never switch to a Mac because, 1) I hate the desktop for the Mac OS, and 2) there are no Mac exclusive softwares that I desire.  Of course, I could come to eat my words if somehow Mac manages to overtake the PC, but I really think that is unlikely.  However, Mac computers are becoming increasingly popular in a number of areas, and one of those happens to be in people who like gaming.  In fact, a number of people I’ve known through gaming over the years still have a PC they use for gaming, but they use a Mac for their day to day stuff.  Mostly Macbooks.  And the main reason is because they also have iPods and/or iPhones and those devices work more seemlessly with a Mac than with a PC.  They aren’t incompatible with PCs, but there is no doubt that Apple designs for the Mac and then ports to the PC.  Why wouldn’t they?

A set of data I would like to see are the sales figures and subscription numbers for people playing World of Warcraft on a Mac in the US and UK.  The reason I’d like to see those numbers is that right there, immediately, you have a defined set of “MMO Players” who cannot play WAR, or AOC, or LotRO.  They couldn’t play Vanguard or EverQuest II.  They could play EverQuest, but the game only went up to the Planes of Power expansion and its only minimally supported, and its on its own servers so you can’t play with your EQ PC playing friends. (Arguably, this makes the Mac version of EQ better than the PC version, because they are frozen in time at the point when, in my opinion, the game was at its best before they mudflated the game into oblivion.)  But Mac owners can play WoW, and they play on the same servers as everyone else and with all the same expansions and everything.  And realistically, its the only “successful” fantasy MMO on the Mac.

So that, basically, in a nutshell, is why I think you can’t really kill WoW.  At least, not until some other new fantasy MMO decides to support the Mac.

And yes, before anyone says anything, I realize you can dual boot the new Macs and play any MMO… but not everyone wants to dual boot, not everyone who buys a Mac wants to install Windows on their machine too.  Many of them went Mac to get away from Windows, they want support, not work arounds.

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from Video Games