Tag Archive for MMORPG

City of Fallen Heroes

In yesterday’s post I said that City of Heroes was “inspiring”. But what did I mean by that?

Obviously, as linked in that post, it drove me to create a character who wasn’t a hero, just a reporter who wrote about heroes: Calvin Meeks and the Front Page. But it also heralded my first serious foray into fan fiction.

Sure, I’d written things about my characters in EverQuest, but those were just short stories, a few pages. City of Heroes inspired me to actually write an entire outline of a book, a series of intertwining stories that culminated in a cohesive plot. Sadly, when I allowed myself to get dragged off into other games, I also allowed myself to abandon that work, entitled City of Fallen Heroes.

I dug through my office the other day and found most of the outline and a bunch of jotted mini plots for the chapters. I’m going to take a stab at finishing that, if I don’t get too depressed about the closing of the game.

In the meantime, you can read the first three chapters, which I did complete and placed online way back when.

To me, it was an interesting concept. Write a story set in the Rikti invasion, the event that happens just before the launch of the game, and write about all the heroes who don’t survive. I know from the start that none of my characters will make it. Some will die “on-screen” while others may survive to take the plunge with Hero 1 into the Rikti homeworld. Or maybe they won’t, because I have to say that I developed an unreasonable attachment to the main character of Chapter 2 and actually made changes to my outline at the time to account for it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I hope I can churn out more worth reading.

A City of Heroes

CalvinMeeksThis is what regret feels like.

EverQuest wasn’t my first MMO, but it will probably always be my favorite because it gave me, at the time, exactly what I wanted and what I needed. Coming off of three years of hardcore Team Fortress playing, I found a new community. The game itself was only moderately fun, but what saved it were the people. I’ve been looking for that game ever since and haven’t found it again.

But in late 2003/early 2004, I was accepted into the beta for City of Heroes. While I never found the same type of community that I had in EQ, what I found was a game that inspired me. On many levels, the greatness of the game is that, despite what some theory-crafters out there will try to sell you, every character, no matter the build, is playable if you just learn how to play it. But what really sold me on the game, what caused that inspiration, was that the game allowed me to play in the way I wanted to play, even when that was different than everyone else.

To the right you’ll see a shot of one of my characters, Calvin Meeks, writer for The Front Page. He was an investigative journalist who knew no fear, and when he got in trouble wouldn’t hesitate to call in the big guns. For his entire career he never did a mission solo that required super powers, because he didn’t have any. He followed the leads and when violence was called for he phoned up one of the heroes he’d gotten to know while working the beat and together they would take down foes. It was strange and exciting to be able to play the game this way, to join a group and follow them into enemy territory like an embedded combat journalist.

Of course, I played City of Heroes normally as well. I had a few supers who ran around pounding bad guys into the dirt, but I was most excited to play Calvin. And I’d like to think that there are people out there who really enjoyed being the muscle for me.

Eventually, I got caught up in WoW and I wandered off through a series of games, each less satisfying than the one before, mostly because so many of them lacked the basic community that EverQuest and other early games had in spades. And now it just might be too late. NCsoft, faced with losses in other areas, have chosen to close Paragon Studios and to shut down City of Heroes. Efforts are being made to try to save the game, but I don’t hold out much hope.

I logged in last night to check out the protest, and found my old friends list filled with lit up names. I chatted with a few of them and we all had the same regret. “Why did I ever leave?”

If, by some miracle, the game is saved and stays online, I’ll be back. In fact, for the three months that remain, I’ll be there. I need to get in as much of this wonderful game as I can before it disappears forever.

True Creation of Character

Dig through this blog and you will find a number of posts where I talk about the things that I think would make for a better MMO. These days I’m not playing (m)any MMOs, so I don’t pontificate about them anymore. But recently I got to thinking of an idea that just won’t get out of my head, so I’m going to put it down here in hopes to solidify it and keep it from nagging me.

City of Heroes - Character Creator

Kung-Fu Super Hero

One of my favorite parts of MMOs is character creation. Right now, most of you, probably nearly all of you, have an image in your mind that matches this screen shot. Selecting skin tones and body part shapes and clothing options. Admittedly, this stuff can be very cool. I absolutely adored the City of Heroes character creator. I probably built a hundred characters that I never actually played, because the idea of them was more grande than playing them would be, especially since I already had a few characters to play – and ultimately, once you start playing and you’ve picked your class, primary and secondary powers, characters play the same no matter what they look like. Still, a robust creator is a lot of fun and can ignite further character developments.

Which leads me to the other half of character creation, and the part that I end up liking more, when it works. As a role player, I love filling out the nooks and crannies of my character. Their back story, their hopes and dreams, and their personality. It is one of the reasons that I still hold the original EverQuest in just high regard. That game rarely ever tried to tell me who my character was, it was always left up to me. Since leveling was kill based and not quest based, I got to pick and choose which quests to do because they are what my character would do. This is completely opposite of what many people seem to desire in games: a constant barrage of “things to do”.

In EverQuest, I got to decide if I wanted to help the citizens of Qeynos with their problems. In World of Warcraft and other games, if I choose not to help the locals, not to do quests, I might as well stop playing because leveling my character without those quests is painfully slow.

Of course, dig through the posts here and you’ll see I actually advocate doing away with levels. Another thing I advocate is the design of EVE Online, because of the dichotomy of its character/skill system. In theory, it is a classless, skill based system. You get books to learn new skills, any skill you have the prerequisites for, and then you choose to learn it. (If you don’t know, EVE is a time based advancement system. You tell the game you want to learn a skill and it tells you how long. When it’s done, you pick another skill. You can do anything you want while training happens, nothing you do effects the speed.) However, in practice, EVE is a class based game. While any character can have any skill, once you leave port in a ship the only skills that matter are the ones that apply to the ship you are flying and the modules you have loaded in it. If you have level 5 in cannons and level 1 in missiles, when flying a ship with only missiles on it your cannons skill is unimportant.

The thing I like most about this design, and why I would like to see it implemented in a fantasy setting, is that it takes class choice out of the initial character creation. At the point you are making your first character, you don’t know anything about the class you are picking beyond the couple of paragraphs that the developers give you. Well, if you’ve played other MMOs, you probably can pick up on the tank/damage/healer elements of classes, which give you a leg up on the new players. And of course, the truth is, most classes play much differently at level 1 than they do at level 50 and beyond. I like skill based equipment limited design because it allows me to choose my role in the game as late as possible, and if I decide I don’t like being a tanking warrior, I can just switch and become a damage dealing light healer without having to abandon my whole character. I just get new skills and put on new gear. (And in a design without level based power curves, I could be useful in my new role immediately rather than having to power-level back up to join my friends.)

This got me to thinking. I want freedom, as much as I can get. But in my evolving design I still had new players making choices from limited sets before getting into game.

So, imagine this…

You log into the game and you hit “Create New Character”. You are then given a map of the world with the starting cities highlighted. Selecting a city takes you to a page (or pages) of the history of that city, a description of the land, the typical lives of the NPCs there (common professions, etc). You pick a story you like, this takes you to a more detailed description of the city, largely focusing on the factions within it. These descriptions leave out words like “good” and “evil” but instead rely on giving descriptions of the beliefs of these factions and their role in the history of this city. You have to choose a faction to align yourself with. Once you do, you are taken to the “character creator” where you get to pick the look of your character. On this screen is your character, in silhouette to start. Behind it is a representative selection of NPCs in the city you have chosen. Directly behind you and surrounding you are members of your chosen faction, and at the edges are members of the other factions. You aren’t limited in color palettes or textures based on any of your decisions so far, but the crowd around you gives you an idea of the world you will start in. You can choose to make yourself look like your chosen faction, or perhaps like one of the opposing factions – maybe you are a traitor! Or you can make yourself look entirely different from anything shown to you, a true outsider.

Now we get to the crux of my latest brain bothering idea. On this screen, there are a series of checkboxes and dropdowns and sliders and color selectors, all the familiar tools from every other character creator you’ve seen, but there are some differences. For instance, there is a dropdown called “Pronoun” from which you can choose “he”, “she” or “it” (or any additional pronouns we can come up with). This dropdown selects your character’s gender identity – notice, it doesn’t choose gender – and determines how NPCs and canned emotes will address you. Other checkboxes exist for “Breasts” and “External Genitals” (or something, it needs a better term). Checking those boxes will enable your character to have those items, no restrictions. Yes, you can have a penis, or breasts, or both, or neither! And all of them will have the appropriate sliding adjusters for shapes and sizes. There could even be an option for having only one breast, left or right – your choice. Are there other options? Any “normal” option that exists, like facial hair or tattoos or scars, would be available to everyone without limit.

Despite knowing that in such a system I would pretty much always choose to create standard built males, but that’s largely because I tend to create myself in games (No joke. Meet up with me in any game and if there is the ability to make a bald white goatee-wearing male that’s what I’ll look like. Meet up with me in real life and you’ll see I’m a bald white goatee-wearing male. I like to project me into other worlds rather than to become someone else. I want to meet other people, not be other people.), this idea that enables people to make any combination they want just seems awesome to me. Oddly enough, it’s because of, not in spite of, my predilection for making myself in games, because I want everyone to be able to do that, even if in real life they are a bearded man with breasts who identifies as asexual.

After building the look of the character, they would finally be taken to the skills area, where they would choose their initial skills. I wouldn’t want there to be classes, but I would want there to be sets of templates illustrating skills that would work well together and why, probably encompassing the traditional game roles for MMOs, with, of course, a Custom option where the player could pick their own initial skills from a list of all skills.

Essentially, I want to put as many decisions as possible into the hands of the players. And I want, as much as can be, those decisions to be informed decisions, and anywhere a player has to make a choices that may be considered less than properly informed I want them to be able to easily change them later without having to start all over again from scratch. I want them to choose what they play and how they play it.

Alright, I guess that’s enough out of me for today. Hopefully this all made sense.

Show them your O face

I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I heard about it. SOE is adding a new thing to EverQuest 2 that allows you to have your facial expressions – as in the face you are making as you are playing – implanted onto your character, in real-time.

First off, I cannot recall the last time I ever really looked at the face of a character in an MMO while I was playing. Largely this is because every game has gone third person, and with the camera pulled back to get a tactical view of the game the opportunity to even see faces, much less the expression on them, is extremely small.

Second, while I think facial expressions might have a place in role play, most MMOs have forsaken role play for game play so much that you have to essentially stop playing the game to talk to other players. The only people doing any serious role play are the ones sitting in town, not playing the game.

The SOE O FaceAnd that second point brings me to the one subset of players who will likely make the most use of a technology like this: ERP. If you don’t know what that is, it’s Erotic Role Play. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across it before, maybe wandering into a random empty building in town or through some little played alley (for WoW players, Iron Forge is full of “empty” buildings, and the tunnel the tram uses to go back and forth to Stormwind is one of those “alleys”). Or maybe you’ve been slapped in the face with it (for WoW players, go onto pretty much any of the RP servers, create a human character in Stormwind, and then run down the road to Goldshire – or as some people call it: Pornshire). The simple fact is that beyond a person taking screenshots of themselves in various poses to post on Facebook and other places, the people who will get the most use from facial expressions are the people who sit really really close to each other talking in hushed tones.

Does EQ2 really need this? No, not really. It’s a neat toy, but isn’t going to add very much to the game. But now that it exists and can be in the design of a future MMO in the early stages (for example, EverQuest Next, coming from SOE), perhaps it could be very cool.

That said, the guys over at Second Life are probably already looking into licensing this technology. Now there is a game that would get a ton of use out of the ability to show the world your O face.

Enough With The Secrets

I can’t say that I have any insider knowledge, because I don’t, but in light of the recent events surrounding 38 Studios and their Project Copernicus (no links, just Google it) I figured I’d throw up a post about a tangential topic.

Want to know how not to generate true excitement for the game you are developing? Give out no details of the world or game, no videos, no screen shots, nothing, but keep saying, “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

If you can’t wait… don’t!

When Green Monster Games first announced they were beginning work on an MMO and started hiring people, I was excited. Then they changed their name to 38 Studios and hired more people. They announced they were working with Todd McFarland and R.A. Salvatore somewhere in there, and I was excited. And then… nothing. For years the only thing we heard was “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

And now we probably never will.

Every game, every developer, I think believes they have something special and awesome that they have to keep a secret, to protect it from being stolen or to save it for that shocking unveiling. The problem is, if it goes on too long, you end up with only the rabid fanboys still interested and the casual observers move on to companies who actually do more than say “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

Maybe 38 didn’t have anything to show? I doubt it… the video that came out in the last week and the screen shots that have trickled out, and the comments by former employees saying things like “When I left the office today for the last time, our servers were still up, running the whole world with tens of thousands of NPCs going about their business. I choose to believe that they’ll be there, remembering us forever.” I think they had plenty to show, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t.

Now we just have to wonder, if they’d been less secretive, if they’d shown more progress, could they have attracted investors and saved the game?

To everyone who used to be a part of 38, I’m sorry this happened and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Copernicus

It took nearly defaulting on a loan, missing a payroll, and all of it being dragged into the press, but we finally get a peek into 38 Studio’s Project Copernicus. It certainly looks pretty. Let’s just hope the game play makes all this fuss worthwhile. In the meantime, perhaps this is just the beginning trickle of the coming flood of information about the secretive upcoming MMO.

Graphics in Games

One of the things that continues to baffle me is the push for more intense, more realistic graphics in games. While I’m sure that focus groups have show that people respond to the “better” graphics, and that shelf sales increase based on graphics buzz, every game I’ve ever played, and every game everyone I know has ever played, gets played longer based on the game play and has nothing to do with the graphics.

Seriously, if the game sucks, you put it down. In MMORPGs while box sales are important, continued subscribers and word of mouth are what make a game a long term success. World of Warcraft doesn’t have the best graphics in the world. Sure, they are highly stylized and pretty, but the fact that my 1GHz, 1GB RAM, 256MB ATI 9800 machine runs it great is just awesome. Other games that have come out almost refuse to install on my computer at all. And while I don’t want to put down WoWs graphics, its clearly obvious upon long and repeated play that Blizzard spent alot more time on game content and less time on the graphics than some of their competitors.

At arcades all over the world, despite their being a number of “better” games graphics wise, people still continue to put quarters in games like Pac-Man. Simple graphics with immediately engaging game play. City of Heroes grasped this concept well. With its fast paced wham-bang superhero action, its almost pure fun. Its only real flaw is that the snail’s pace at which later levels progress will make any but the more hardcore gamers and diehard fans stop logging in to play.

So, for me, the perfect MMORPG would have “good” yet not overly expensive or time consuming graphics. Less polygons and shaders, more variety of color and style, and with the millions being saved not being spent on a AAA graphics team, I’d be able to hire a few more content designers to help keep the game exciting to play even if its not the most exciting to look at.

Stuff on the Net

I keep watching this and it just gets better every time I see it. Good fan films are awesome.

Lum the Mad clued me in on the next big thing in Chinese online games. The funny thing is, while this is the first game that comes right out and says that the goal is to be just like everybody else, that idea is not new… every MMORPG seems to follow that mantra.

You know, when you go to the movies, the policy is that they don’t sell tickets to R rated movies to kids under 17, however it is not the law. But some government stooges would like to make selling “mature” themed video games to minors illegal. Support better parenting and stop the government from doing it for them.

So those are the things that stuck with me this week…

A New Project

I’ve started up a new project I’m calling “The Game That Never Was”. It is basically just a collection of my thought on what would make the perfect MMORPG. Some of those ideas can be found here on my weblog under the Gaming heading, and I’ll be integrating those into TGTNW eventually. Until then, when I add something new to it, I’ll also include on the index of Probablynot.com a discussion or explanation as to why I came to that idea or decision.

Anyway… enjoy.

New MMORPG

Its not often I find links worth repeating… let alone two in such a short time frame.

Review of a new MMORPG.

Enjoy!