Tag Archive for EverQuest

Evolution versus Revolution

The first thing to note when talking about Evolution versus Revolution in games is passion.  If a player is passionate about the game he plays, he will strive to make everything about a new game sound as if it is only “more of the same” with some Evolution thrown in.  If a player is passionate about the forthcoming game, he will strive to make everything sound as if it is all Revolution over the old games and that nothing is “more of the same”.

I’ve read a number of posts claiming that Public Quests in the upcoming Warhammer game are a Revolution.  But it all depends on how you look at it.  On one hand, I can see the Revolution aspect because it is encouraging random social behavior in a PvE environment, which most games actually tend to discourage through spawn locking and quests being individualized.  (Its good to note here that while in World of Warcraft, only the quest holder gains the rewards of a quest completed, from the beginning, City of Heroes has always rewarded group members for assisting in completing another person’s quest by giving them a chunk of exp as well as many times giving them badges and/or enhancement rewards.)  But, on the other hand, the Public Quest system, to me, looks like someone took Alterac Valley from World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds, made one side entirely NPCs and tweaked the mini-quests in the zone.  In fact, WoW could easily implement Public Quests that way, by taking Battleground style content and making in PvE, assigning rewards based on participation, similar to what they do now in their PvP versions.  Whether you see the item as Evolution or Revolution, in my opinion, seems to be dependent entirely on how hard you are chomping and the bit to play Warhammer.

And Warhammer isn’t alone here.  World of Warcraft wasn’t Revolutionary either, except in its broader market appeal, which could be considered just an Evolution of the trend seen in games that came prior: UO, EQ, etc.  But plenty of people do consider WoW to be Revolutionary, either for that reason or because it was finally a fantasy MMO “done right” or some other basis.

The real question, rather than if something is Evoltionary or Revolutionary, is “Is it fun?”  Looking at Public Quests, it addresses the one thing I have found a problem with in games since EverQuest: encourages people to be social.  WoW has its raids, but outside that, you and four friends can do pretty much everything in the game.  In fact, you can play the entire game from level 1 to level 70 without ever talking to or grouping with another person.  In my experience, WoW is the most “silent” game I have ever played.  People don’t talk, people don’t do pick up groups… most of the social activity is based in and around guild raids and battlegrounds, both of which in many cases are a minority of the players yelling at the majority of the players to do things.  So, I probably will pick up Warhammer, but I’m not expecting it to be some huge revolution in gaming… just an evolution backwards toward players actually playing with each other more.

Ten

In 1998 I was playing Team Fortress with people I’d known and a larger group that had grown from my earliest days “online” dialing in to BBSs. At the time, I was hanging out in IRC chat on the GamesNet servers, mostly in the Disciples of Syrinx room. I had moved back home with my parents at the end of the previous year after successfully (in my mind) living “on my own” for a few years so that I could focus on school, doubling up my classes, and finish my four year degree in six years (maybe I hadn’t been so successful on my own). I spent my free time, and since I wasn’t working there was quite a bit of it, playing games and reading the .plan files of developers. Mostly it was the id software crew, but there were others. Blogging wasn’t so popular back then, but people did have websites, and game developers, especially in the first person shooter arena, kept up with .plan files. With college nearing its end and loving computer games, I had this idea that I would get into the gaming industry. Months later and many unreturned phone calls and rejection letters, I would set aside that dream, but at that moment, I decided to start maintaining my own .plan.

I did it in IRC at first, so the only people who could read it were people who knew to look and only when I was online with my mIRC client. Soon enough I moved it to Geocities. June 17th, 1998 marked my first post on the internet, and because I’m a pack rat and paranoid about computer crashes, I always kept spare copies of everything, so if you want, you can dig through the archives here and actually read everything from the beginning. After Geocities, I moved to my own domain, loadfix.com. If you try to go there now, it redirects to a .de domain that gives back a 403 Forbidden error. A year later I would move on to squadleader.com with dreams of eventually running an online magazine for first person shooters. I never did, and now that domain is a squatter’s hope for cash (a crap website placeholder of links doing nothing but praying someone wants to buy it). I would have kept squadleader but for one, I wasn’t playing shooters anymore after EverQuest took over my life, and the other reason is it turned out I didn’t own it. Sure, I registered it, paid for it, but my hosting company put everything in their name, so when I tried to switch providers, they kept the name. Thus begins the probablynot.com era.

To be perfectly honest, when I put my first ever posting on the internet, I never thought I’d still be doing it ten years later. In fact it didn’t even cross my mind to consider it. In one respect, its like keeping a diary, and now and then I’ll go back and root around through the old posts and laugh at myself, or shake my head, smile, or nod knowingly. However, unlike a diary, its out there for other people to read. There are times I’ve considered going back and deleting some of the old posts. When I migrated from Coranto to WordPress, I had the perfect opportunity to just lose all the old content, or pick and choose what to put back in, but I ended up importing all of it. Good or bad, I wrote it, its me, or at least was me at the time, and as I’ve written before, if you are happy with who you are, you can’t really regret your past because your past has made you who you are.

However, ultimately, my decision to import all the old posts came down to one thing, that I’ve been doing this, emptying my brain onto the Internet since 1998, for me. When people comment, or send emails, about what I’ve put out there, it feels good, but I’ve never done it for that. I always just wanted to put my thoughts down on “paper” but I didn’t want to hide it under my mattress or in a closet or behind other books on the book shelves where no one would ever see it, because maybe, just maybe, my words might affect someone else, or someone’s reading of my words might affect me. Do I sound emo? I think I sound emo…

Anyway… ten years… some times it just kind of blows my mind a little… well… here’s to the next ten years.

When Big is Too Big

Yesterday, I rambled about my dislike of applications on social networking web sites. Today, I’m going to ramble about the other aspect I dislike about Internet community and social networking sites. They are just. so. big.

Back in the day™, I played online games with, what I though was, a large group of people. There we literally dozens of us. Maybe hundreds. There were tons and tons of Quake players online, but, the community at large was segmented. Some people played Death Match, others played Capture The Flag, and then there were mods like Team Fortress. No part of it was really enormous, because even within segments, like Death Match for instance, there were further segments, built around servers and server groups, web sites, tournaments, geographical areas, etc. I can see this when I talk to people who knew of TF but didn’t play TF and I talk about us having year long tournament seasons with dozens of clans and alternates and all sorts of stuff. They just didn’t realize how big TF was… and I always thought DM was just scattered random chaos until they start waxing about the days of ranked tiers and what not. The same was true of EverQuest. While I was/am familiar with the players and guilds from my own server, outside a few standouts, the workings of other servers were non-existent. One day at work I found out a co-worker also played, but on another server. When I explained to him how “public” raiding worked, he was shocked, because his server had no public system, in fact it was a very tightly controlled tier system long before SOE ever considered making tiers. Today, I still hang out on a community board from my EQ server, and it consists of a few dozen or more regular posters with more infrequent posters and a bunch of lurkers who might post occasionally.

When I look at newer game communities, like the WoW official forums or places like Guild Cafe, I’m turned off. Being a dude with a regular job and other hobbies, I simply can’t keep up with a community of thousands, tens or even hundreds of thousands (or potentially millions in WoW’s case), posting with no restrictions. I log on one day, read some threads, post, and then leave. When I come back in a week, the conversation I was interested in is over, three days dead after getting four hundred posts and eventually being locked by a moderator, or simply faded away to page 47 (implying that 46 pages of posts have been made, not just since I’ve been there, but since the last time someone replied to the topic I was interested in). I lose pretty much all interest in the site. I can’t spend all day reading posts, and I certainly can’t spend all weekend catching up, so at best I’m tagging one thread in a hundred to participate in, and at a ratio like that I don’t feel like I’m a part of any community that may exist there.

In the end, its all a question of scope… how wide does a community cast its net? If you go too wide, you will end up alienating people who might be valuable members but do not have enough time to be fully involved and encouraging people who might be less valuable yet have ample time to participate everywhere. Go too narrow and your community will die on the vine, or at best be little more than a place where your tiny group of dedicated members can hang out, which in most cases isn’t going to be enough to run a business off of unless that business is small or the price is high.

Currently, I think most, if not all, of the social networking sites are going too wide without enough tools for the users to both segregate themselves and to find the segregated communities in which they belong or wish to belong. In addition, they all seem to be reinventing the wheel in everything they do. The message board functions of most social networking sites are like stepping into the stone age when compared to the robust readily available software solutions on the market. You’d think Facebook or MySpace might consider investing in one of those.

Perhaps in a future post, I might wax poetic about what I would do if I were to invent a social networking site.

Form versus Function

One thing that has always bugged me about MMORPGs is that in order to play the game, mechanically, to its peak, I must relinquish control of certain aspects of my character.

As far as spells, skills, talents, etc are concerned, that I don’t mind because those are the mechanics of the game. If getting skill X makes me better at dealing damage than skill Y and I have chosen my role to be damage dealer, there is no choice. I pick X. Picking Y would be self defeating. Sure, the idea of Y might be cooler than X, but mechanically, to maximize the efficiency of the game, I have to pick X.

To a degree, the same goes for items… except often times the best items don’t look the best. Ask any WoW player if he enjoys the water cooler shoulder pads of some of the highest level loot and you’ll get a mixed response… on the look. When it comes to the math, you can’t argue, much like skills, item X is better than item Y for reason Z. Period. The math doesn’t lie. The problem comes in that the axe you got a couple of weeks ago has the really cool look, and it is dripping fire, and the new one that just dropped, which is mathematically better than the axe that drips fire, just looks like a typical hand axe, one that doesn’t drip fire. Or perhaps you have this wicked cloak with a pattern of a bat on it, and you like bats, but now you are presented with a cloak that is much better statistically but is has a pink butterfly on it… ick.

For that reason, I fully support any design that allows for the separation of form and function. Recently I’ve been fooling around with EverQuest II and I just hit level 20 which opened up a second “paper doll” (i.e. – slots for items) that was just for the visible look. That way, the robe I had that I really liked the look of for my monk I can keep wearing for the appearance, but I can slip on the chest straps in my normal equipment spot for the stats. This is a concept that should be implemented into every single game that uses gear as progression… stat!

Thinking on this concept though, and knowing that I love it, I wanted to be sure I had considered all the possible “down sides” to it, and my thoughts on how to deal with them. So, let’s go…

1. PvP.

Problem: In Player versus Player combat, the fact that certain gear has a specific visual look can be an asset to sizing up your opponents. If he’s got on the water cooler shoulder pads and the unique dark blue chest plate from that super elite raid dungeon, chances are the guy is going to be decked out in awesome raid gear, so you’ll need to approach him differently, more carefully, than you would some poor schmoe in head to toe rags from random outdoor adventuring.

Solution: Gear from raid zones (or as PvP rewards) generally has designated “tiers”. In fact, World of Warcraft openly supports this idea of tiered suits, especially in rewarding players with bonus stats and effects for wearing pieces from the same tier. I’d suggest supporting this idea from day one, even at the lowest level. Design all gear to be handled in tiers, and then provide next to a character’s name (both floating and on player listing pages) they tier average of all their gear. If a player has 14 slots for gear and currently the game has 200 tiers of gear, a player with a tier average of 200 would be fully decked in the best gear possible. Of course, players could try to “cheat” by equipping lower tier gear, for example dropping a tier 1 piece of just in, say, the ring slot would drop a 200 tier player down to 186 (200 * 13 + 1 = 2601 / 14 = 185.78…, round up), but in doing so, he’d be robbing himself of an entire slot worth of stats. While this might be an odd concept at first, I think it would fairly rapidly become second nature to players. Games could even help out by providing the number for the current max tier rank, so you’d see a player as 191/200 or 185/200 as a quick judge of their gear.

2. Nudity.

Problem: Sometimes the problem isn’t just the look of a piece of equipment, but that you don’t want to see anything in a particular slot at all, and if you allow people to turn off the visible graphic for slots, you are going to end up with “naked” characters running around.

Solution: While I would support some form of “disabling” visibility on slots for most locations (gloves, boots, helmet, etc), I cannot think of any reason I would support disabling the visibility of the chest and pants slots on a character, and I would be perfectly happy leaving those two slots as forcing a graphic, either from the equipped stat item or from the visibility override item. If a player really wants to be “naked” back to the fully unequipped graphics of a new character, they’ll have to have nothing equipped, at least in those two slots. Besides, as far as I am aware, Age of Conan is the only game I’ve heard of that is going to have any real nudity anyway, most games already don’t allow true nudity.

And that’s it… I tried really hard to think of a 3rd problem with separating the form and the function of items, and I even feel number 2 there is a stretch. If anyone else thinks of a reason not to divide form from function, or any other problems, please, let me know. I’d love to discuss it.

To me though, it seems almost like a no brainer, especially to extend the accessibility of any game to role players and women. And I’m not being sexist there… its from experience, almost every woman I know who has played an MMO, one of the first things they want to know is how to turn the camera and see how they look. Women, in general, care more about how they look than men do, even in a game.

Gods in Games

One element that seems to follow around many fantasy genre MMOs is the idea of putting the lore’s gods in the game as defeatable content.  Largely, when this happens, it leads to my arguments of why I feel raiding is stupid.  Its not that I think the act of raiding or the existence of raid content is stupid, I just feel that often times it is done poorly.  I always love beating up on EverQuest at times like these… so lets continue the trend.  In the Planes of Power expansion, they put in a long series of flags with a lore to back up the players storming the planes, the homes of the gods, and killing them.  You fight and kill pretty much all the gods on the EQ Pantheon, and at the end of the story ***Spoiler!*** one of the surviving gods makes time go backwards to before you went through the Plane of Time and killed off all the gods for good.  Actually, not too bad of a story, and if this were a fantasy novel, that’d be a fairly nifty end to a series.

The problem, of course, is that EverQuest didn’t end.  There have been more expansions and more mudflation, and now you can defeat the god of fire with a single group.  There are insignificant monsters in the new worlds that put the gods to shame.

Wait… what?

Exactly.  The biggest hurdle with putting gods into your game as defeatable content is that, unless it really is the end of your game, your gods will become trivial content in the future.

In my opinion, the gods, and the true homes of the gods, should never exist in the game world.  Your players should, at best, fight the creations of gods, avatars of the gods imbued with power, but distinct from the gods themselves.  If you feel that you must absolutely put the gods in your games, consider making them nigh unkillable.

10 tips for dealing with game cyberbullies and griefers

Last week, while writing up my initial GameTap post, I wanted to end it with “Ready.  Set.  Game!” and I was sure I was plagiarizing it from someone, so I hit up Google for the 4-1-1.  It turns out lots of people have used it, and I was unable to determine who said it first, so I went ahead and used it.  But what really interested me was the first link that showed up.  It was for “10 tips for dealing with game cyberbullies and griefers” and it was published by Microsoft back in November of 2004.  Five links down the Google results, I learned I wasn’t the first person to find this list.

Now, I might get in trouble for this, but I really hate when I link to a website to discuss the content and the content changes or gets removed.  So, for the sake of my own posting continuing to make sense through the years, I’m going to quote the Microsoft page in its entirety:

Ready, set, game: Learn how to keep video gaming safe and fun
10 tips for dealing with game cyberbullies and griefers
Published: November 4, 2004

Known as griefers, snerts, cheese players, twinks, or just plain cyberbullies, chances are that one of these ne’er-do-wells has bothered a kid near you at least once while playing online multiplayer video games such as Halo 2, EverQuest, The Sims Online, SOCOM, and Star Wars Galaxies. Griefers are the Internet equivalent of playground bullies, who find it fun to embarrass and push around others.

What griefers do

Typical griefers: taunt others, especially beginners (also known as newbies); thwart fellow teammates in the game; use inappropriate language; cheat; form itinerant gangs with other griefers; block entryways; lure monsters toward unwary players; or otherwise use the game merely to annoy a convenient target or to harass a particular player who has reacted to their ill will.

Although they are only a small percentage of the video-game community, griefers have some game companies concerned they’ll lose subscribers. As a result, many game sites and providers are less tolerant of griefers and employ new methods to police for them and otherwise limit their impact.

The best way to deal with griefers is to educate yourself and prepare your kids to deal with them on their own terms. Here are ten tips to help you handle griefers.

10 tips to deal with griefers

  1. Ignore them. If your child doesn’t react to them, most griefers will eventually get bored and go away.
  2. Change game options. Have your kids play games with changeable rules or options that prevent certain griefer tactics, such as eliminating teammates.
  3. Create a private game. Most newer, multiplayer video games and related sites allow players to form their own exclusive games that permit only their friends to play.
  4. Play on sites with strict rules. Play on game sites with enforceable codes of conduct or terms of service and live game administrators who can ban serial griefers.
  5. Do something else. If a griefer continues to bother your child, have your child try a different game, or take a break and come back later.
  6. Report game glitches. Work with your child to identify exploitable glitches in the game or new methods to cheat. Report these to the game site administrator.
  7. Play games that limit griefers. Suggest to your child that he or she play newer games that provide specific resources to deal with griefers. Kids can use these resources to report offenders to game administrators, block or mute messages, and to vote griefers off.
  8. Don’t fight fire with fire. Make sure your child doesn’t use griefers’ tactics against a griefer, as this will likely encourage more bad behavior, or worse, label your child as a griefer.
  9. Avoid provocative names. Your child can preempt any problems if he or she avoids screen names or nicknames (often referred to as gamertags) that could encourage griefer behavior.
  10. Don’t give out personal information. Griefers (or anyone else) can use real names, phone numbers, and home or e-mail addresses, to further harass your child or cause other problems.

First off… snert?  Seeing as I have never heard that term in over twenty years of gaming, I had to go look it up.  I found it at the Urban Dictionary, and even my favorite site to look stuff up, Dictionary.com.  And while I was familiar with the word twink, I decided to look it up too and discovered that I really hope the author intended the meaning more closely related to video games.

But enough about passing fads in the English language, lets look at the actual advice.  It is, in and of itself, not bad advice, and actually is pretty much the same advice you give to kids about dealing with bullies in real life.  However, the problem, as discussed in this article on Wired.com, is that especially in these virtual worlds the “griefers” are just playing a different game.  The clearest example of this comes in the article through the discussion of how members of the Something Awful community approach the game EVE Online:

“The way that you win in EVE is you basically make life so miserable for someone else that they actually quit the game and don’t come back.”

and

“You may be playing EVE Online, but be warned: We are playing Something Awful.”

Overall, you, the player who does not want to be griefed, are at the mercy of them, the player who wants to grief you, because the whole point of most MMOs is the social interaction, which is exactly the tools they need to grief you and actually removes the tools you need to prevent them… well, unless you want to ignore rule number 8.  “Back in the day” some of the Anti-PK guilds of Ultima Online were actually more vicious than the PK guilds they hunted.

About the best you can hope for is that two griefers lock horns trying to out grief each other, which allows everyone else to ignore them and continue on with their game.

Breadcrumbs

As previously mentioned, I’m back in the world of Norrath.  In addition to picking up the reins on Ishiro, I decided to also start up a new character so I could run through the new tutorial and see some of the changes to the game.  So Jhaer the Drakken cleric was born.  At the same time, since I did sign up for the Station Access, I started up EverQuest II to see how the game had changed since I later played.

In EQ, the new tutorial is fairly fantastic.  It does a great job of introducing you to the features of the game, even grouping.  EQ2 is pretty much the same… in fact after going into game I realized how much Sony cribbed the new EQ design off EQ2.  The default UI layout, the quest logs featuring step by step goals.  They are very similar.

After playing both for a couple of days, I came face to face with one of the reasons I tired of World of Warcraft but had not noticed until now: Breadcrumbs.

In game design, this is the idea of quests, tasks and objects that slowly lead a character through content.  In WoW as a human you start in the newbie area and after a few quests you get one to take a note to Goldshire, where you find your next few quests, which eventually lead you to the lumber mill, and then you get lead to Westfall, and so on.  In WoW though, quests are some of the best source of experience and loot in the game.  The quests are the game.  EQ, being that at its core it is still the same game that came out in 1999, is based largely on killing monsters with quests being secondary.  The two don’t always mix together well.

For World of Warcraft and even EverQuest II, since the game was made for these sorts of quests and the quest log design, if you need to collect gnoll scalps, gnolls scalps don’t drop unless you have the quest.  In EverQuest, gnoll scalps drop even if you don’t have the quest, but while under the old style quest system (no quest log, no stage tracker) if you got 10 scalps before being given the quest, you could turn them in anyway, however, under the new system it only counts the scalps if you loot them AFTER getting the quest, so if you have 10 scalps and get a quest to collect 10 scalps, you have to get 10 more.

Over in EverQuest II, I ran into a different problem.  One of my quests asked me to find evidence of the missing soldiers.  After getting fed up looking for this evidence, I went to a spoiler site and they explained I just needed to go to one spot and find the dead soldier body, which would then spawn a defiled soldier that I would have to kill.  So I went back into game and went to the spot, but there was no dead soldier.  I ran around the area for a couple hours killing everything, but no dead soldier.  The problem here is that this quest is the second quest in a series of six or so breadcrumb quests that are supposed to lead me around the island.  This tutorial area is built with two lines of quests, and if you complete both sets before leaving you end up with a basic set of armor and weapons to carry you into the game.  I fully completed one line, but the second is halted because of this dead soldier who doesn’t seem to exist.  To make things worse, there are usually eight or more of us waiting around for this dead soldier.

In addition to a single broken quest halting an entire line, breadcrumbs quest lines also funnel the players through areas without exploration, and in fact since quests are where the real rewards are in newer games, you are often passively penalized for getting off the path and looking around as progression of your character virtually halts if you don’t play the game the way they want you to play.

I don’t know if there is any solution to this, or if it even needs a solution, its just something I felt like rambling about.

Going Home Again

A time or two I’ve threatened to return to Norrath. Not the shiny new Norrath of EverQuest II, but the original Norrath of EverQuest. The thing that was always holding me back was that when I left there was little to do but raiding. Sure, there was some group capable stuff, but the two most recent expansions (Gates of Discord and Omens of War) seemed to focus so heavily on raid and trial content that the future seemed to be filled only with grinding and gear and raiding. When I left, I left for City of Heroes and to join the World of Warcraft beta. Since then a number of games have come and gone, but recently a bunch of people from my old stomping grounds decided to start back up in the original MMO marketplace monster.

It was fairly easy to reinstall and patch up, even bought the latest box that unlocked the seven or eight expansions I’d missed and started up my 21 days of free play.

Just a quick side here… if a game is going to sell a boxed expansion and offer 30 days free to new players, I think they should offer that 30 days free to existing/returning players too. Would it really kill them to do that? If they really believe their game doesn’t suck, I’d have to hope that retaining returning players after a free month would more than make up for the loss than trying to convince people who quit to buy the expansion AND resubscribe. Anyway, maybe I’ll do another post on that later…

Its really amazing how different games are. To anyone who has the attitude of “they’re all the same” I would really suggest playing WoW for a month, then playing EQ for a month. Its not just the look and feel of graphics and art… the game controls are different. WoW has quest indicators and an accept/decline interface, while EQ still retains the “spoken” quests, keywords, and passive acceptance where technically you are “on” any quest you read about, in game or out, with no limit to how many you can be working on beyond your ability to cart around sacks of quest items. And as I’ve mentioned before, EQ tends to be a more player-lively game. In groups, people actually talk to each other. WoW is so quest focused that people grouped together are usually doing exactly the same thing and often there is little reason to talk, not to mention that the gameplay requires more clicking and button pressing, and combat moves more rapidly, there’s just no time to talk in WoW until you get back to town.

So far, I haven’t gone adventuring into all the new lands, Ishiro Takagi is still just 65 (ding! 66!) after all, and been living in the Silent Fist Retirement Home for Monks for nearly four years. But it feels good to be back… as a bonus, I think I’m going to subscribe to the Station Access which will let me play EQ, EQII, Vanguard, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Wars Galaxies, and even The Matrix Online (which I doubt I’ll go back to unless someone can convince me its improved greatly beyond the trash I saw in beta). The future looks to be full of MMO gaming…

Reusing Assets

Over at the Nerfbat Forums, a question was (poorly) asked about instances and zones. I say poorly asked because I think what the original poster meant to be the focus of the discussion is if people preferred the use of instances over shared zones, as well as zones versus a “seamless” world. EverQuest is probably the best most popular answer for zone based design, while World of Warcraft would be one people would recognize on the seamless world based design. In the grand scheme of things, both use instances, however for a more comprehensive instance based design you’d need to look at City of Heroes or Guild Wars.

I threw in my two bits on that thread, but the crux of my post, and that which relates to the title of this post, follows:

I’d love to see games mix it up… you put in a town, and outside that town is a zone, the zone is shared by everyone, maybe its huge, but inside the town you also put in a “raid” where your raid leader talks to an NPC and flags his raid for the “Defend the town” raid, and when the raid members leave town they don’t go into the shared zone, but instead go into an instance of that zone, or if the zone was huge just a section of that zone made as an instance to support the raid. Then, three expansions later you decide to implement an “Escort the king to Other Town” raid which uses the same outdoor zone, again as an instance, but this time the raid has to escort the king and his caravan to the other town at the far end of the zone, defending the king from waves of attackers.

I think games need to get more creative with their use of “space” and game/art assets. Designing a whole chunk of land to be used once in only one way just seems like a gigantic waste of effort.

That last paragraph really is what I want to ramble about. It surprises me how often games seem willing to spend so much time and effort building a zone or area in a game, and then don’t bother to reuse it. They’ll reuse item and NPC models left and right, just throwing tints on them to modify their colors, but they’ll spend a month designing a castle only to put one objective in it and never use it again.

The example I outlined above is something I’d absolutely love to see. Take a zone that is normally a shared hunting zone with animals and monster camps, the usual treadmilling trash mobs, strip it of the animals and camps and throw in an organized raid objective utilizing the same (and to the player, familiar) landscape but in new ways, or even take the original zone file and then build a fort in the middle of the forest that the players need to burn down.

I think the roadblock to this is the misconception that the player wants new stuff to be entirely new, but the truth is that for most players is just needs to be new “enough” and familiarity in some aspects can actually be comforting. Personally, while I do enjoy going into a new zone and learning new stuff, I think I’d also like going into an old zone with a new objective just about as much. I’d know the general lay of the land, that while we are currently approaching the enemy camp from the north, there is a path through the trees that will allow us to flank their position because its the path I used to use to approach the old goblin camp that used to be there.

That kind of reuse might also impact the desire of players to seek spoiler sites, not that the content itself would be immune to spoiling, but that familiarity with aspects of “new” content would actually foster a level of knowledge and confidence in the player that might keep them from feeling they need to look up information before continuing.

Anyway, it is something to think about.

Cheating

Last week, Raph Koster laid down an analysis of why strategy guides are cheating. He contends that playing the game is what you are supposed to do, and anything outside of playing the game is a form of cheating.

I agree. Raph says:

… RPGs do not give you the location of every spawn in advance, the stats on every weapon in advance, the solution to every quest in advance, and so on. For a reason. Finding the spawn, discovering the stats, solving the quest is part of the game.

Now,we may argue that this part of the game is tedious (“why should I have to click all over the screen to find the hotspot??” is exactly like “why should I have to traipse all over this dungeon to find the specific kobold!”). We may say that the game would be “better” if it provided you a waypoint directly to that location. But that is beside the point – the game chose to hide this info from you, therefore you are not supposed to have it, and having it is cheating.

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

This is how I felt as I played through Ultima Online and EverQuest. I avoided strategy guides and spoiler sites as much as humanly possible. Most often when I did resort to hitting the web for EQ, it was because I was certain that I was right given all the information in the game but it wasn’t working, and probably 99.9% of the time, I was right and the game was broken. I felt immersed in those games because I was always “in” those games. Sure, I’d pop out and read some message boards and rant sites from time to time, but usually those times were to seek out other people trying to discuss and figure out the hidden information. Theorizing and learning.

In any event, however, my ability to play the game was never hampered by not going to spoiler sites. Everything I needed to play the game was in the game. As time has gone on though, some games have gotten so horribly vague with their in game information that parts of the game are practically unplayable without going to look at a strategy guide of some sort. When a quest giver says “south of the big rock” and that area encompasses miles while you are searching for inches, that is just silly. Making a player wander around aimlessly to waste time is bad design. Would it have killed the developers to say “south of the big rock near a cluster of orange leaved trees”, cutting the search time down from hours (even days) to a more manageable thirty minutes at most?

Following the comments on Raph’s post and after seeing similar discussions elsewhere, I keep seeing the same defense, and it leads directly to what I just stated above, games are beginning to suck in their ability to provide players with what they need to play the game AND keep that play enjoyable. To which I can only say, as I did over on Raph’s, if you find yourself unable to play and enjoy a game without using a strategy guide or spoiler site, you should not reward the developer by continuing to pay for their game.