Tag Archive for experience

A Tale of Two Cataclysms

The wife and I finally decided to return to Azeroth.  Seeing as how I’d heard such wonderful things about the new starting areas of each of the new races, we rolled up both goblin and worgen pairs and set about experiencing the new world…

Are you from Jersey?

Whadda you lookin' at?

Whadda you lookin' at?

The latest affront, at least to me, is the new goblin race.  Back in the original game and into the Burning Crusade (after which I stopped playing), goblins were portrayed as sort of the used car salesmen of Azeroth.  If they were set in the Star Trek universe they’d be the Ferengi.  With the new starter zone, it appears the goblins originate from the shore — The Jersey Shore.  Perhaps I missed it in the various updates since I left, but at some point the goblins of Azeroth have turned into guidos.  And while the actual meat of the story of the volcano on their home island and the escape isn’t bad, the whole thing is laden with bling and silliness to the point of distraction.

To top it off, they committed, what is to me, the ultimate sin in MMOs and that is imposing story on my character.  One of the strongest elements of an MMO is how I pick a race and a class and I get the bare bones of a back story to tell me something of the home town I’ve chosen and how someone of my class becomes a member of my class and from there I can do anything I want with it.  But in Kezan, Blizzard tells me who my friends are and my girlfriend (if you are male you get a girlfriend, if you are female you get a boyfriend, so basically they also give the finger to anyone of anything other than heterosexual leanings) and numerous other details.  Sure, I can choose to ignore it and pretend it never happened, but I suspect that there will be times in the game where I do quests that will call back to my time in the starter zones.

As an added bonus, don’t bother trying to actually play with any other people during your life in Kezan or the escape.  Being grouped with even just one other person makes the whole thing play bizarrely as you take turns phasing in and out on each other, interacting with NPCs the other can’t see, driving around in your individual cars because you can’t ride together… it really is designed to be a single player experience.  The only way to enjoy it is to not fight it and accept the fact that Blizzard is telling you, “Welcome to our MMO! We have millions of people playing! Now… please play by yourself for the next few hours.”

A Cat in a Hat, sure… A Dog in a Hat?

Shropshire Slasher.

Shropshire Slasher.

After both of us being thoroughly annoyed at the lame comedy of the goblins and the incredibly poor multiplayer experience (yeah, we did the whole goblin bit as a duo, which was just stupid) we decided to make some werewolves next, and to go it alone.

The worgen area is not without its puns, but thankfully they are back to the more subtle variety and aren’t beating you with a club screaming “I’m funny! I’m funny! Laugh, dammit! Laugh!!”  It takes a far more serious and somber tone.  It’s a more gripping story, and proof that when Blizzard tries they can write really good stuff… it’s just a shame they don’t try very often and the result of a good solid story like this is that it will stand in stark contrast to the bulk of the game.

Playing alone clearly is how this was designed and it worked very well, even though we were playing the same thing simultaneously the simple act of not being grouped solved all the technical weirdness we experienced on our goblins.  It isn’t without it’s problems, though.  One of the two hiccups we experienced was when the game allowed the wife to phase into the same phase I was in during the town attack, after the attack had started.  She missed most of the action, running through mostly empty streets with no indication of where to go except by me saying things like “I think we turned left there”, only catching up to us as we fought Sylvanas.  The other hiccup was shortly after when a dozen people started the next quest where we were supposed to follow a worgen to the cathedral, but a number of us couldn’t see him and had to abandon and restart the quest to fix it.

The worgen vehicle missions were also a lot easier to do, especially since they didn’t involve you driving cars on elevated roads using horribly jerky controls.  Overall, it just flowed more smoothly, and most importantly to me they didn’t impose anything on my character that didn’t derive directly from the story.  When I transitioned from starter area to the night elf city, I did so with a nice solid history of how my race came to be where it is with no baggage at all, free to continue my character’s story any way I like. I suppose it also helps that the setting is much more appealing to my sensibilities.  There is a very Jekyll & Hyde, old London feel to the story that suits the whole werewolf bit like a glove.  I rather think I would enjoy playing an entire game in that setting.  But I digress.

Is this the end?

Now, having played through both of the new race starter single player campaigns, I’m fairly certain that I’ll never do it again.  The advantage to this design is that it is a newbie area that doesn’t diminish as it ages.  Old design starter areas eventually suffered when players couldn’t complete certain quests due to a lack of people to fight elite mobs.  The disadvantage here is going to be sameness.

Personally, when I play single player games, I play them once.  Then, if there are achievements or something to unlock, I might play through a second time, or replace certain segments.  After that, I’m done, and the game collects dust.  When I play MMOs and create new characters, I always delighted in fighting quests I hadn’t done before.  WoW actually helped with that for a while when they sped up leveling but still had eleventy billion little quests, thus causing you to outlevel an area and be forced to abandon quests to take up new, level appropriate ones.  But now, if I were to make another goblin or worgen, I’m faced with the knowledge that the first few hours of the game will be identical to my previous experience.  There is only one story for each race, and you have to play it.  There are no divergent paths, no quests you didn’t see last time, no event you didn’t experience.  People keep telling me that by making a new player area that doesn’t need other people the game is more “alt friendly”, however from someone who usually makes dozens of alts this new design actually makes me never want to create alts.  I mean, what’s the point?  It’s going to be exactly the same.

On the other hand, by creating a single player experience, I suppose Blizzard has made it so that I can memorize the fastest possible path through the starter zones to get to the real game.  Or perhaps in a future patch they’ll just allow me to skip it and create a level 12 character from the start.

Unfortunately, with the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s reported focus on story, I suspect this sort of shared single player experience is on the upswing.  I’d much have preferred for Warhammer Online to have done better and set the new standard, where people were grouping (open groups) and PvPing fresh out of character creation.  Perhaps Rift and its polish level can turn the tide a little toward open socialization and away from solo play.

Removing Grouping – Part III

Now that communications and combat status updates are out of the way, what else does a group provide?  Loot!  Or, more generically, reward sharing.

Personally, one aspect of design I’m eager to change is level based progression, but that’s a separate issue.  Reward sharing actually comes in two forms. The first I’m going to call inherent. These rewards are things like experience points or deed flags where simple membership in the group (and proximity to the event in most games) garners you a share.  The main reason for this sort of structure is to prevent exclusion of “support classes” from rewards.  If your group is fighting a group of monsters and you are the healer and during the entire kill of one of them you cast no spells, the group structure ensures you get a share.  Obviously, more complicated “cast spell on person who fought” award trees could work most of the time, but I specified “cast no spells” for a reason.  You are a vital part of the group, they need you, but it just so happens that for sixty seconds during one fight no one was hurt enough to require healing, so you didn’t.  I suppose you could get even more complicated and add to the award tree anyone who cast a spell on someone who engages the monster within the last X minutes, but that could easily bog down the system with keeping track.  A better solution is actually to remove rewards from the act of defeating a monster, at least for experience and move it to quests/tasks.  A number of games, most notably World of Warcraft, have already begun moving in this direction where grinding experience points fighting monsters is far less rewarding that fighting monsters that contribute to a quest that will yield a large chunk of experience as a reward.  Even though, group membership is still used to assign the quest flag (the kill of a rat for a “kill ten rats” quest).

At this point, we could start looking into different methods of awarding flags, such as the award being an area effect so that any player character within range gets the flag whether they contributed or not.  Each of them valid, and each can be done, but every method, even grouping, has exploitable elements, so the issue becomes which exploitability are you more comfortable with and to begin looking into ways to combat it -like logging out people who are AFK too long and trying to eliminate users who “macro”.  Of course, the main reason some people don’t participate in combat is because combat design around things like the holy trinity (tank/healer/dps) encourage it, but that is a separate issue.

Its beginning to look like the current design of the reward structure, how players progress, and how combat functions in many MMOs (primarily the Diku style ones) are very dependent on the group structure and trying to remove that group element is going to require thinking the whole thing over from the ground up.

Unrealistic Requirements

Back in 1998, I had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science and was looking for a job.  I had previously worked in technical support and hardware installation.  I had also done some Novell network administration.  What I really wanted was a programming job.  There was a job posting that I recall quite vividly.  One of their requirements for the position was “5 years experience with Java”.  The problem was that the first public release of Java was in 1996, 1995 if you worked on Sun boxes.  In order to have 5 years of experience with Java (1993), you would have had to have worked at Sun.  There was another posting that asked for 10 years with Java, a feat not possible unless you had a time machine and repeated a few years since the project that would one day become Java began in 1991.

In the last ten years, things really haven’t changed.  Really.  I just saw a posting today asking for “20 years experience with Java” … 2008 minus 20 equals 1988… so they want someone with 3 more years experience than the guys who invented Java.  Its frustrating to be looking for work and have to deal with crap like that.

Even more exasperating, however, is having positions require samples of your work.  Seriously?  I’ve been a programmer for the past 6 years, and in those 6 years I have worked on exactly ZERO projects where I was not under and NDA and taking code samples with me couldn’t be prosecuted as theft.  I have 6 years of experience, but I have no samples of my work because it would be against the law for me to have them.  Sure, I could send them samples of things I have done for myself, but I honestly don’t think WordPress themes and a party invitation managing webpage I wrote are going to be all that impressive to someone who is considering me for a senior level .NET/C# position.

I can only say… would you really want to hire someone to work for you under an NDA if in order to get the job they were willing to break the NDA of their previous job?  That’s like being the other woman who’s lover leaves his wife and then being surprised when he cheats on you too…

Some times I really wish I could put aside my morals for personal gain.  It would make getting a new job so much easier.

MechWarrior: An Exercise in Game Design

The purpose of this post is simple: If I were to design an MMO for a MechWarrior game, how would I approach it?  Please feel free to point out my flaws, add your own thoughts, or propose your own designs.

If I had to tackle this as a game designer, I don’t think I would bother trying to do any kind of class or archtype system beyond possibly giving some initial choice of a small (2-5%) bonus in certain skills.  But then, what would I do?

First off, I would completely and absolutely separate character level from character power.  As a player does things in the game, be it quests, or crafting, or combat (both PvE and PvP), they would earn experience which would go toward a “rank”.  I’d probably steal ranks from the military, and for each rank I’d have a few mini-levels inside, like to move from Private to Private First Class you might only fill the exp bar once, but going from something like Sergeant Major to Second Lieutenant you might have to fill it 5 times signifying the harder jump from Noncommissioned Officer to Commissioned Officer.  This level would largely be a measure of how much ass you have kicked, but without a real relation to the power of the character.  Meeting a Brigadier General on the field as a Colonel doesn’t mean he’s going to win, it just means he’s been doing this longer or more than you.

Second, I would tie the player’s power into sort of an “item level” system.  As a MechWarrior, you pilot a Mech (giant powered robot armor), and if you like your wrist mounted pulse lasers, the more you use them, the more experience you earn with them, and you’ll level up your wrist mounted pulse laser skill which directly would affect your accuracy with the lasers, but indirectly would allow you to use more complicated and intricate wrist mounted pulse lasers.  On the other hand, if you prefered wrist mounted welders and repair kits, you’d get similar skill levels, but with wrist mounted welders and repair kits instead of lasers.  The key here being, if you can level up both if you want to spend the time, but you can only have one equiped when you leave the garage.

In a way, this would mirror Eve Online’s system of skills and things you can attach to your ship and which ships you can drive, but without the forced delay of a strictly time based advancement system.  Think of Eve but also being able to actively grind out the skill instead of logging out one day and coming back a week later when Frigate level 5 is done training.

Anyway, as will the item skills, there would also be rig skill.  Items attach to slots on your rig, rigs come in various shapes and sizes.  As the game expands, more and different rigs could be added, new items and item groups, specialized items.

Because experience given is based on usage (you plus item used plus target of item use times the success of the usage in some formula), there would be no need formalize grouping or raid structures for the dividing of experience points, so groups would end up being just communications channels.  Then you could even add in skills and items to support “hacking” so that you can “tap in” to an enemy’s chat, and of course to monitor for taps and counter them.

I think the entirety of the game would be PvP.  The beginning focus would be on One on One gladiator style combat, expanding into Two on Two, Five on Five, 3 or more Teams, Free for All or whatever.  Then, just like they have for first person shooter and racing games (or for that matter, World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds), you can add “mission” types.  Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Marked Man/Escort, anything you can think of.  In fact, the game might go so far as to run contests for player designed submissions for maps and rulesets.

If a “larger” game is needed for people to play, you can make a robust guild system having people swear allegience to an army and fight for them in massive battles.  The guilds/armies can build their own bases, run scrimmages for themselves or against other teams.  Blending that in with the “missions” from above, you can actually throw in leader boards and seasons to turn them from random battles into an organized sport.

Outside of the Mechs, players would have an avatar, a character, to run around “the city” in, to meet up with other people and talk.  Or not… you could also go the route of EVE Online and just have an avatar image, a picture of you, with no animation (although, even EVE is adding in stuff for people to walk around space stations).  The world outside of the combat zones becomes just a simple chatroom.  If you really wanted to get crazy, you could even drop the text and have it all be voice chat.  If you did that, and made the game playable with a controller, you might even get an MMO you could run on a console, cross platform even.

So there, in a completely un-fleshed out outline is what I would do for an MMO based around a MechWarrior style mythos.  Feel free to comment…

Death Penalties

One thing every game has to deal with somewhere in its design is the penalty for losing. Some games have opted to have none, but in my opinion this leads to the “lemming effect” where player has absolutely no fear of losing and will repeatedly slam into a brick wall until the wall gives in. Other games have chosen to allow methods for the reduction of penalties, like clones, insurance, returning to your body, praying at your death site, etc… the list goes on forever.

Long ago, EverQuest had a very stiff penalty, depending on your level at the time, you would lose experience equal to ten to twenty percent of your level. On some levels, that was hard to earn back. To that end, players avoided death, and dying made them angry. Later, Sony reduced the death penalty enough that the last few groups I was in before I quit didn’t really seem to care about death at all. And of course, experience loss deaths mean very little when you are level capped and have a good buffer.

Other games, like City of Heroes, maintained the exp loss death, but also allowed you to continue forward progress, and you could never lose a level. You earn “debt”, and while you had it fifty percent of your experience went to pay it off and the other fifty percent went toward your next level. Sort of good, but it lead to people not minding defeat, which in a superhero game leads to a little more heroism (but a lot more stupidity). Of course, with CoH having a penalty actually helped because it forced you to level slowed, gain more influence (money), and be able to keep up to date on your power enhancements (store bought).

The one thing all of the games I’ve played have in common, and the thing I would like to see change, is they all have one kind of defeat. Just one. You die, you lose exp. You fall, you get debt. You are killed, you drop an item (Asheron’s Call). You lose, your equipment is damaged (World of Warcraft).

Why no variety?

What I’d love to see in games is multiple layers of defeat. Why must lose of hitpoints always equal death? Why must monsters you fight be relentless until they kill you? When a mugger attacks me in the city, why not have him beat me into unconsciousness, steal some money and then run away? If I enter hostile territory, why can’t they beat me down, then if they defeat the entire party, drag us to the edge of their land and leave us for dead? Why can’t I be disarmed, paralyzed, and laughed at?

I don’t see a reason for having so few options except that the more options you have, the more code it requires. Building a bigger box.