Tag Archive for idea

The Group is the Thing

Let’s begin by saying that if you are the type of person who prefers to play MMO games solo or “alone together” then I am not talking to you.  I get it, you like being able to play by yourself and any game that “forces” you to group is a game you won’t play, blah blah blah… understood.  Now, for the people who play games to actually play with other people…

Always on my mind is ways to encourage grouping in games.  Fact is, while I think solo play is perfectly viable and that games should make playing alone possible, I don’t think solo play should be the best method of advancement.  Over at Epic Slant, Ferrel posted about Encouraging Groups and while replying on it I hit upon an idea that I wanted to expand on…

First, you have to consider the question “Why group?”  In most games these days there are only two reasons to group up with other players: 1) Social aspects, 2) Defeat non-solo content.  Especially in games following the WoW model, solo play is so easy that even some content designed to be non-solo can be done solo if you are willing to out-level it.  But there is raid content and group instances, specifically at the level cap where you can’t just out-level it.  And with the social aspects, well, back in EQ with auto-attack and slow cast times there was time to chat, but in newer games they wanted play to be more “active” and now you spend combat hitting buttons a lot and it make chatting in text difficult.  But games are coming along with voice chat, and people have solved that problem outside games for a while now with things like Ventrilo, however sometimes (like if you game while the baby is sleeping, or just late at night) voice chat just isn’t a good option, and besides, no matter how many people try to tell you different, deep barritone voices coming from dainty female characters is just something you never fully get used to.

Next, you have to ask the opposite question, “Why avoid groups?”  In World of Warcraft soloing up to the level cap is actually far easier than grouping because a) as long as you are not an idiot, you don’t have to deal with idiots, b) no loot splitting, c) no experience splitting, and d) you can always do exactly what you want.  They’ve made solo play so easy that it puts the group experience bonuses to shame.

So, in the end we have two reasons to group, and about a half dozen reasons not to.  Of course, my first thought is usually just to up the group experience bonus and make people want to group for faster leveling, but given a long enough period of discussion I will always talk myself out of it because speeding up the game, in my opinion, isn’t a good thing.  (People should want to play your entire game at the speed that allows them to enjoy it, not skip past a giant chunk of it to get to “the real game”.)  And then I’m off trying to find other ways to make people desire to group…

What about a game where items not only have bonuses for you, but also for your group?  To rephrase the example I put on Epic Slant: Instead of a game giving out a chest piece that provides a 20% defense bonus to the player wearing it, the game would have a chest piece that provides a 4% defense bonus to the group (player included) and stacks (so if 5 people have the same chest, the entire group now has 20% defense bonus), or a chest piece that provides a 10% defense bonus for the group and stacks but only to a max of two (so if 3 people in the group have the same chest piece, 1 of them can swap his out for one that gives a different group bonus).

I can already hear the solo players griping about how since they don’t group they are handicapped with a chest that only gives a 4% or 10% bonus and not the 20% that grouping players get.  But, as long as the game is still playable solo with the base item stats, then frankly I would be perfectly comfortable telling them to go play World of Warcraft or some other game that better supports solo play as the primary style of play.

So, what do you think?  Good idea?  Bad idea?  What other ideas do you have that would encourage people to want to group?  Just keep in mind, I’m not talking about demanding an existing game make changes, but looking at how to design a new game that would encourage group play…

The Tipping Point

Have you ever been right at the edge of doing something potentially life changing?  Where the risk is success or complete financial ruin?

Over on the right you’ll see a new progress meter called “Business Application”.  I have an idea, and surprisingly when I searched the Internet to see if it already existed, for the first time ever I wasn’t flooded with dozens and hundreds of people already doing it.  So I have decided to pursue the idea.  As the progress meter fills, that is me approaching the last gasp.  When it hits 100% is when I’ll have to make the final decision to put real financial investment, real risk, behind the idea.  Until then its just research and design and testing, all of which is either free or can be done with tools and services I already own.  100% is when the game changes.

I look at it, at the pages of design doc I’ve already written, at the tasks ahead, and I get butterflies… I get excited.

The Next LEGO Adventure

When I first saw and played LEGO Star Wars, I was stunned.  It was just such a great idea.  Sure, it was tied in to a product, but taking the Star Wars LEGO sets and allowing players to run through the story of the new Star Wars movies was inspired.  Then Traveller’s Tales followed it up with LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy and it was also quite awesome.  Having now also played LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman, I have seen the full arc of their evolution in this particular medium.  From here, looking back at the first LEGO Star Wars, I can see how the non-verbal LEGO humor has grown and made later games even more enjoyable.  And with LEGO Batman they advanced in their storytelling since they were no longer adapting from a movie script to a game, but creating their own stories.

So, given that I love these games, I get disappointed when conversations of these games turn into listing all the other movies and superheroes that people wish they would turn into a LEGO game.

Personally, I think that Traveller’s Tales has “been there, done that”.  LEGO Batman showed that they could craft their own stories when given characters, and I think I would rather see them evolve if and when they make another LEGO game.  Rather than saying “Ooo! LEGO Superman would be awesome!” like most folks (and it could be, don’t get me wrong, and given that Warner Bros. bought Traveller’s Tales, a string of DC Universe inspire games might well be coming), I look instead to LEGOs lines of products and imagine what game I’d want to see crafted out of LEGO sets with little or no existing back story.

When I think of the next LEGO adventure, and what I would want to spend my hard earned $50 or $60 on, I’d much prefer to tackle a new genre all together.  We’ve had the Star Wars space opera (twice), and we’ve had the 1930’s adventure, and we’ve had the modern spandex superhero… next, I want to see them tackle fantasy.  They could still inject their humor, poking fun at Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft and other popular fantasy realms and elements, all while building their own lore of humans and dwarves versus trolls and skeletons.

That, in my humble opinion, would be awesome.

Fast versus Slow

One thing I have found in a few places in comments about the new game Left 4 Dead is disappointment that the zombies are fast zombies instead of slow zombies.  Sure, Dead Rising had slow zombies and it worked fairly well, but then again it was also an entirely single player game with a storyline that lasts for many many hours of game playing time.  Each of Left 4 Dead’s scenarios can be completed in about an hour (more or less depending on your difficulty setting and the people you have chose to play with).  I’m not sure I’d want to play Left 4 Dead in a story that lasted for twenty hours of play.  I mean, the story as it is is “four people wound up hiding together and have decided to make a run toward [insert possible rescue destination here]”, and it works for the time it takes to play it.  Dragging out a single run to rescue for twenty hours would likely be horrendously repetitive and tiring… just like Dead Rising is if you choose to just hang around for the helicopter, killing zeds and run none of the missions and stories (heck, even with the missions, sometimes Dead Rising is kinda dull… but I still love the game).

But could a Left 4 Dead style game work with slow zombies?

I think it could, however, it would require a number of mechanics changes.  For one, little piles of ammo, guns and grenades would be out.  As would the unlimited ammo pistols.  We wouldn’t have to remove guns, but we would absolutely need to slim down the supply of them.  We’d also need to add in melee weapons, real ones, not just pushing zombies back with your gun, but bats and shovels and other things.  Each melee item would have a power rating and a weight, swinging one would cause you to get tired.  The more you swing, the slower you swing, unless you rest up.  These things combined would allow for the encounters with slow zombies to be more tense.  If you have unlimited ammo, you can just shoot them all and walk your way to the end (if you have never seen the remake of Night of the Living Dead, one of the major changes from the original is Barbara actually putting to use the idea of “they are just so slow, you could walk right past them” and she leaves the house on her own with a pistol and walks to safety while everyone else dies inside the house), while the “tired bar” makes you sometimes choose to use your limited ammo over your melee weapon in order to survive.  The game would also need more “monster closets”, because as is Left 4 Dead avoids the monster closet by having hordes of zeds randomly show up climbing over fences and whatnot.  In order to maintain a level of creep and dread with slow zombies, you’d have to play up the idea that meeting them in large numbers is dangerous by occasionally forcing the players to deal with large numbers of them… open a door and wham, twenty five zombies are in that room you need to walk through.  Oh, and all zombies must be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain, shooting one in the leg just makes him limp when he walks, shooting both just makes him drag himself along the ground.  Did I not mention you’d need to watch out for zombies pulling themselves around at ankle level?  In fact, the game might be more focused on avoiding the zombies instead of Left 4 Dead’s plow through attitude.

While fighting slow zombies might still be made fun, I’m not sure that playing one could be.  You’d stumble around, you’d be slower than the players, and your only method of attack would be to get close enough to grab at them and bit them.  And if the players shot off your legs, you’d essentially be spending the entire rest of the map dragging after them with little hope of catching up.  However, without the obstacle of the special infected running around and keeping the game entirely co-op, you could have infection.  A player who gets bit is infected.  They will die, and they will become a zombie, how fast that happens depends on how badly they get hurt.  The game would have no health bar and include no healing, so that even the infected himself couldn’t warn his teammates.  So the other players in co-op would need to decide… shoot the infect guy now or wait until he turns?  Sure, killing him now makes you safer since you don’t have to worry about him turning, but killing him now also means that you are going to be short one gun or club as you move forward.  You start the game with four and it tunes for four, so if you have to off one of your own, you are down to three playing a map tuned for four.  Or two on map for four… or all by yourself.  To ease the sting of that, I’d probably keep Left 4 Dead’s survivor closets where you can recover a fallen friend, and from map to map within a scenario all players would get put back in.

Slow zombies in a first person shooter could definitely work, but it wouldn’t be the same game at all.

And So It Begins…

Today is November… and that means it is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, a mad dash to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Two years ago was the first time I’d heard of the WriMo.  I planned to participate, and I even wrote a couple of days, but it was fairly pathetic.  Last year I was hyped… then I got sick and was down for the count for nearly two weeks (missed a fair bit of work too).

This year, I am ready.  I got my idea all in line over the past month and did a little outlining and plotting, just to make sure the idea wasn’t going to stall on me.  Today I wrote… 1,430 words.  Best NaNoWriMo start I have ever had.

I’m looking forward to see how the rest of the month turns out…

As long as I remember to update it, you’ll be able to keep track of my progress over in the sidebar, or on the official NaNoWriMo site on my profile.

Dragon*Con 2008: Day Zero

Before one can go to the Con, one must pick up one’s badge.  This is one of those cases where getting there as early as possible is a fantastic idea.  We didn’t get there so early.  Well, we did, sort of, but we checked into our room and unpacked first.  We shouldn’t have unpacked.  It took an hour and a half to get our badges.  But I hear the wait got up to be over two hours.  Saturday morning will be worse.

But, we got checked in, got our badges, and all is right with the world.

In previous years, Thursday night had always been more about getting a head start on Friday.  You got your registration, your room, and you prepared for the weekend.  Some people and groups would meet up for drinks and that sort of thing, but not a whole heck of a lot.  In recent years that has been changing, and this year Thursday night was Fan Party Night.  As I walked around the host hotels, I saw many large gatherings, but nothing beat the fan group from Battlestar Galactica who met up on the 10th floor of the Marriott.  They we big and loud and pounding shots.  Sadly, having to work in the morning I left early.  I hear there were push up contests and other revelry until quite late.

Next year…

Listening versus Waiting To Talk

Have you ever been talking with someone, regaling a story, and when you finish they immediately respond with a story of their own?  One that somehow makes your story insignificant?  Have you ever told someone something to which they respond that they disagree, but the reasons they give are completely out of line with everything you just said?

I have.  When it happens, I try to notice, because most people who do this become obvious in their patterns.  They are not really listening to you, they are waiting for their turn to talk.

The Internet is full of people with this problem, especially when it comes to game design.  Take this thread for example.  Where I linked to should be a post of someone saying that the upcoming Star Trek Online game should avoid being a DIKU clone like so many other games.  He goes into a pretty elaborate tale of how things might work.  The second reply following him is a post saying his idea would fail as a DIKU.

Ummm… duh?  And the guy even quoted the entire original post, including the parts where the original poster said explicitly that it wasn’t a DIKU idea.

This is the sort of thing that makes conversation hard on the Internet.  Some people know what they want to say, they are just waiting for an opportunity to say it.  They don’t join a conversation so much as they look for an opening (no matter how ill fitting) and step in to criticize and spew their opinion.  I mean, if a few people are talking about how to make great soups, what is the point of walking in and stating that, while their soups might be okay for people who like soup, a steak would be a better meal.  It was a thread by people who like soup about soup… what the hell does steak have to do with it?

Sometimes people need to realize that if you can’t contribute to the topic at hand, then perhaps the best course of action is just to listen instead of trying to turn the conversation to something you’d rather talk about.  It really makes message boards less enjoyable, especially when the same person keeps trying to hammer his point of view into thread where they don’t belong.  If no one is talking about what you want to talk about… start a new thread, or at least propose that the thread steer another direction, don’t go hijacking.

30 Days of Game

I’m starting up a new category here at the blog: 30 Days of Game.

The topic of this category is going to be to review a game I have played for 30 days.  The idea came to me quite some time ago, but to be honest the thought of buying a bunch of games, or even one a month, just to play and review them, no matter how much they sucked, was unappealing.  So, until game companies are willing to send me 30 day free trials, I am going to stick to games that are free to play.

I want to start this in September, after I return from Dragon*Con, with my review coming in on the last day of the month.  That said, I need some candidates, some recommendations.

Previously on this site I have reviewed Urban Dead and Mafia Matrix (a new review of that one is coming, since I am considering quitting), so those two are out, because I want to approach 30 Days of Game games as a new player.  For right now, I do want to stick to free to play MMOs, so, if you know of one you think I should give a shot, post it here in the comments or email me at jason (at) probablynot (dot) com.

Swing Vote

10 out of 13 nots.
for good clean (dirty) political humor

Swing Vote is the extreme representation of the idea that every vote counts.  Two candidates are running for President, one has 266 electoral votes and the other has 267.  The only state not reporting is New Mexico, which is a swing state (meaning the winner of the popular vote gets all the electoral votes), and in fact it has all come down to one tiny town with only a few hundred registered voters.  Even more improbable, it has come down to one single vote, which due to machine error did not get counted and by law is allowed to be recast in ten days time.

Of course, the identity of the voter, Bud Johnson, which is supposed to remain secret, gets out and the media, as well as both Presidential campaigns, descend on the town of Texico, NM, and the absurdity begins.

The most prevalent commentary of the film is that politicians will say anything to win, that they try to court the most voters, even if they don’t believe in the ideas it takes to get their votes.  Narrowed down to a single vote, the normal blurry understanding of what a candidate is saying becomes very clear.  And the candidates, and their staff, change directions at the drop of a hat in order to try to get this one single deciding vote.  Imagine, for instance, a man who had always been for lightening immigration laws and allowing more people to come to the US suddenly stating that if elected he will work to close our borders and tighten laws, all because one man made an offhand comment about how he lost his job to cut backs and Mexicans taking the jobs for lower pay.  These flip-flops of policy are also the source of the biggest laughs in the film, as they unveil new commercials to try to show this one voter that they are the right man for the job.

But, to counterpoint the humor of the worst in politics, the movie also includes a heavy dose of people wanting to be better people.  From the candidates, to the reporters, to the voter himself, at times every person is faced with realizing they may have gotten caught up in something and they have to decide if they want to just keep going with the flow or if they want to stand against the current.

As for the casting of the movie… Kevin Costner always plays a down on his luck everyman pretty well and so does just fine as Bud Johnson, and Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper make damn fine Presidential candidates, while Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci pull off excellent campaign managers.  Madeline Carroll is also excellent as Bud’s daughter, the true heart and soul of the film.  Heck, even Judge Reinhold does well as one of the Bud’s best friends.

Overall, Swing Vote is a good film.  It isn’t perfect, but it does manage to get its message (that every vote counts) across enjoyably, and without too much flag waving and “America is the greatest nation on Earth” rhetoric.

Welcome to Town (US) (PvP) (14)

If you don’t understand the title, well, I wouldn’t blame you, I just made it up. But the idea behind is has to do with instancing.

One of the best elements of the game Guild Wars is that as long as you and another player are playing in the same expansion, you can play together. When I see games utilize instancing only to produce an infinite number of copies of Random_Dungeon_X or to produce seventeen copies of “town” to keep the populations low and yet they run a dozen or many dozens of world servers, I see it as an opportunity lost.

Where are the MMOs that utilize instancing as a method to eliminate the need for multiple servers? Worlds where everyone lives in the same place, they simply choose how they want to experience it when they leave “safety”. The title of this blog would indicate that you have entered “Town”, the localization is for the US (American English), its a PvP enabled instance, and it is the 14th of its kind because US PvP instances of “Town” are popular.

Of course, a game like WoW that has worked so hard to eliminate zoning except when going into little pocket dungeons and raid zones, this idea wouldn’t really work. And I realize that putting in a UI chunk that deals with switching instances, be it to join friends or escape crowds, might be off putting to some, but I think the idea has merit if only to avoid playing a game only to discover you can’t play with any of the people you meet at work or a party or wherever without someone (or several someones) having to pay to switch servers or start all over again. People might be resistant to it at first, but overall in the longterm I think it would be better for the virtual world of the MMO.

I hope to see it some day in more than just Guild Wars…