Rethinking Tanking

Getting back into traditional fantasy MMOs has of course led me to thinking about their flaws and my desire to correct them.

One of the long standing issues with the genre since EverQuest is the holy trinity of design: damage taking, damage prevention/recovery, damage dealing.  And while games continue to try to include crafting and other non-combat elements, the vast majority of people actually want to kill things, so combat remains, and will remain, at the center of most game design.  In this trinity mold, you end up with a tank, a healer, and then assorted damage dealing classes.  Fighting runs the same, tank taunts to control where the damage goes, the healer heals the tank, and everyone else tries their best to make the tank’s job very very difficult.

Right now, tanking is all about hitting taunt abilities to focus the attention of the target on to the player and keep its damage output in one place where it can be measurably tracked and dealt with.  As games have advanced over the years, taunt abilities have become more varied and interesting, but at their base they are about manipulation of the aggro list (the priority in which an NPC “hates” players) to put the tank at the top.

What I’m considering, and by no means is this a finished idea, but one that needs discussion, so please, discuss, is to replace taunt with a cover system.  If Monster A is attacking Player B, rather than having Tank X target Monster A and click a taunt ability, saying “Hey stupid! Come get me!” (which always just seemed idiotic to me, from the stance of someone who enjoys role playing in games), you instead have Tank X target (or secondary target, or target of target, or whatever) Player B and click one of his new protection abilities, putting himself between Monster A and Player B and taking the damage.

This appeals most to me because it eliminates taunt, which from a role play and logic standpoint has always been broken.  Why would a monster ever stop beating on the healer just because the invulnerable turtle is calling him names?  Nope.  Healers first, then those pesky damage dealing people who are killing me and lastly I’ll deal with the invulnerable turtle when he’s a little less invulnerable.  On the other hand, the idea of a monster going after the healer and the invulnerable turtle stepping in between them, now that has merit.  Effectively, we are taking away the roll of tank as we know it, and turning him into a healer type who utilizes shield/rune spells, preventing damage but not recovering it.

The main downside I see with this is the creation of the new role of DPS Tank.  That’s where the player with the highest DPS becomes the defacto tank by virtue of doing the most damage while the healer heals him and the old tank protects him.


As an aside, this is ironic because over at Big Bear Butt, he recently posted about giving everyone taunt and eliminating healing.  Which just goes to show that this is a problem with many solutions.

Netbooking It

A while back I got a netbook.  An ASUS 1005HA.  Sure, it’s not the graphical monster that the Dell/Alienware MX11 or whatever it’s called is, but it suits my needs just fine.  Those needs?  Browsing the net, email, writing, and the occasional game.  Oh, and it is awesome for traveling.  Much better than lugging around a full laptop with a 15″ or 17″ screen.

Obviously, such a machine is limited in it’s gaming capabilities.  Though, mainly the issue is resolution.  It has a 1024 x 600 desktop.  I can run it at 1024 x 768, but that squishes everything.  The 600 height is native.  Puzzle Pirates runs great on it.  So does Wizard 101.  Free Realms absolutely fails.  Most flash games run, though some websites hosting them expect a larger than 600 height so their ads and layout can make playing an issue.

As you can tell by my list, I’m looking for MMOs that will run on it.  I’ve heard that World of Warcraft will run, though not optimally, plus I’m not playing that game anymore anyway.  But what other MMOs are out there that will run in a 1024 x 600 resolution and run well without needing a super graphics card?  What’s a good MMO On The Go?

Chat Filter Abuse

The other night I decided I’d drop in to Wizard 101.  It is a great game for just jumping in and banging out some combat or quests, then logging out.  It’s casual in the best sense of the word, in that you can play at your own pace and not that it only requires a browser and babysitting.

Anyway, I had forgotten where I had logged out previously and I committed the cardinal sin of Wizard 101: moving before looking.  I stepped backwards into the street and immediately joined someone else’s combat.  No big deal really.  There was only one monster, so I picked a card and attacked.  I picked my card first.  The other guy then picked his, but when it came to casting, he went first.  He threw a damage increase, death +30%, and then I fired off my weakest death spell, which amplified +30% only did about 90 points of damage.  A waste of the damage increase.  Now, keep in mind, when you pick a spell, everyone in your group can see what you picked and what you have targeted.  I picked first.  There was a good ten second pause for the other guy to make his move.  He could have said “Don’t use that.” or something, but he didn’t.

So the round is done and the damage increaser was wasted and the guy says, “your jack o as”.

One of the great things about Wizard 101 is that it is very very kid friendly.  There are two forms of chat.  The first is completely restricted and only allows you to speak in canned phrases like “Help!” and “Let’s go fight [insert quest target enemy here].” and other such things.  The other form of chat is free form typing, however, every word you type is compared to the Wizard 101 dictionary and if it doesn’t exist in there the word will stay in red on your screen and will appear as “…” to everyone else.  What my groupmate was trying to say was “you are a jack ass” but if he had it would have gone out as “you are a jack …” or possibly even just “…”.  I honestly forget how harsh the censoring is.  So, because of the chat filter, a new slang has emerged in Wizard 101 using approximate swears.

Back to the group… he then tells me “fine ill let them kill you i wont attack at all” which was fine with me, even though a second monster joined in I can easily take two at a time in this area.  Of course, he proceeds instead to target everything I target in an attempt to make me not fight.  *shrug*  We win and then he says, “more on” “flock off bench” “your a noob end of story there”.  Translated: Moron. Fuck off bitch. You’re a noob, end of story there.

Flippantly I threw in a “less off” in there in response to his “more on”, and when he was done I said “You’re”.  Which he took for arguing, like I was saying he was a noob when in reality I was correcting his language, his misuse of “your”.  He then followed with lines that included “sheet o face”, “little bench” and he tried to explain to me that “you’re”, “your” and “you are” all mean the same thing.  “master o bait”, “shut the flock up”, “as o hole”.  The really funny part is when he claims that because of my spelling and refusal to type insults around the word filter it is because I’m a little kid.

What?  So, in most MMOs, people spouting obscenities are often younger, less mature players.  But in Wizard 101 I’m being told that proper grammar and not swearing is a sign of immaturity?  Huh?

The sad thing is that the filter while preventing real swearing also prevents real communication.  The guy asked how old I was, and I couldn’t answer because the game would not allow “35” or “thirty-five” or “thirty” or “five” to be said.  In fact, at the end of our conversation he said, “i can tell from your crop of insults your not even third team”.  Since the game splits players between “under 13” and “13 and over”, I assume he meant “13” but had to say “third team” to get around the filter.

The entire situation ended in irony.  This guy was so pissed at me for the one miscast spell and my further arguments about his grammar that he reported me.  If you go to the Wizard 101 FAQ page and click on the question “What happens when I get Reported?” you will find the following text:

When you report someone, or you are reported, a message is sent directly to Mr Lincoln that includes the chat logs of everything that was said before and after that report.

Mr Lincoln then reads the log and assess the situation. He determines how bad the offense was, looks up prior offenses for the reported individual, and based on that assessment he issues sanctions such as muting or banning and sends an email to the offending account explaining the violation and the sanctions.

If the report was falsely made, that is determined as well, and the player who made the false report is investigated as to whether or not they have made previous false reports. False reports are just a egregious as valid ones, and similar sanctions can be levied against repeat offenders of false reporting.

Everything that a player enters into the chat window is logged. These larger chat logs are also routinely checked for those infractions that are not reported.

Under the question “What is considered a Reportable Offense?” you’ll find:

We appreciate that our players want to make Wizard City the best it can be, and we’ve placed the tools in your hand to report players for inappropriate behavior. We ask that you use the reporting feature to identify truly egregious behavior, such as creative profanity (swearing around the filters), solicitation of usernames/passwords, predatory threats, racist comments and other such actions as outlined in the Terms of Use. The old story of “the kid that cried wolf” has a lot of bearing in this situation and we trust that all reports received by players are valid and require support intervention.

So, shortly after my new friend departed (I did add him to my friend list), a pop up window told me I had been reported.  Shortly after that, my new friend vanished, both from the game world and from my friend list.  I can only assume my friend managed to get himself banned.  On the other hand, my account was muted for 1 day.  I asked for clarification and got it.  Apparently, when my friend said “you little sheet” and I responded “Sheet of what?” my use of “sheet”, a common sidestep for the word “shit”, was enough to warrant a 1 day mute warning.  I have asked if any action was taken against my friend, and I emailed them screen shots of the conversation, since I was unable to report him myself.  No word as of yet…

Oh well…

A Silhouette, an Eye and a Monster Face

This morning I spent some time doodling a few things that just didn’t work out.  I wandered away for a while and decided to be less focused and just play around.  You can’t really tell, but I was messing with the blur and smudge tools to get a better feel of how they work.

A Heroic Silhouette
A Heroic Silhouette
An Eye
An Eye
A Monster Face
A Monster Face

This is how I spend my Saturday mornings…

The Art of the Pull

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

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

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

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

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

Possible but not Probable

Before I begin, let me say that I am not advocating that all MMOs implement what I’m about to describe, however, it would be nice if some more MMOs (the ones not published yet) were to implement models of design that weren’t yet another clone of the same model that the majority of games are putting out.

What I suggest is, in rough terms, a model that allows for everything to be possible from the moment your character enters the world, but not necessarily probable.  This all springs from a couple of posts and the comments over at Kill Ten Rats.  Post one is here, and post two is here.  Read those and make sure to read my comments, I’ll wait.

Okay, so to rephrase and refine what I said, what I’d like to see is where, from day one, any character has the possibility to fight and defeat any monster in the game (obviously not all solo, but even in a raid a new character should be able to contribute), what changes throughout the life of the character is their probability to do so.

At level 1, if you engage a level 50 monster, you are highly unlikely to win, but if you’ve been twinked out and know how to play your character well, there is a tiny chance that you’ll win.  And when you win, you’ll be rewarded, and rewarded well.  Obviously you wouldn’t earn “level 50” experience, but you’d earn a scaled amount that would indicate that you overcame a great challenge without being obscene.

Conversely, at level 50, if you engage a level 1 monster, you are highly likely to win, but if you are poorly equipped and screwing around, there is a tiny chance that you’ll lose.

If a game were to implement this sort of scaling, there are a few odd benefits that can come of it.  First, you can artificially tune a raid encounter by setting its level high.  If your max level is 50, you can make a raid mob level 60 to reduce the effectiveness of the level 50 players, but just like the rest of your game they’d still retain a probability to win.  Second, you can use underleveled mobs with “better” AI to create different types of encounters.  Mobs that appear to be easy, but are in effect “NPCs who know how to play their character well”.

Another element this brings to a game is that nothing ever really becomes trivial.  At no point would a single player be able to go into a low level zone with a high level character, tag all the mobs and AE farm them for loot (or grief).  In a PvP environment, it means that a level 50 player camping the newbie area could get his ass handed to him by a small group of level 1 players.

I think its definitely a mechanic worth exploring, and I would love to see someone take a stab at implementing it.

99 Coffins

Having previously enjoyed David Wellington’s Monster Trilogy, and the first of his vampire books, 13 Bullets, I was eager to pick up his second vampire tale, 99 Coffins, when I managed to find one on the shelf.

Let me take an aside here and laud some praise on Borders Bookstores.  Traditionally, I’m a Barnes & Noble guy, or even a patron of Book-A-Million.  Their prices always seem to be better.  Or when something is hard to find and if I can manage free shipping, Amazon is my go to site of choice.  However, when it comes to picking up Horror books, Borders really does jump above other brick and mortar book retailers simply because they have a Horror section.  See, when you go look for Horror in most stores you have to hunt for them.  Stephen King and Dean Koontz, because they are well known, you’ll find in the Fiction section along side Tom Clancy and other novelists.  But a lesser known author is more likely to be found in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section.  It makes see what is new in Horror a difficult task.  Not so at Borders.  Walk right in and wedged between the Sci-Fi/Fantasy books and the Romance, you’ll find the Horror in a little 4 or 8 foot section all its own, and organized just like every other section… hardcovers and trades and new releases at the top with shelves of paperbacks below.  Heaven.

Anyway… 99 Coffins picks up pretty much where 13 Bullets left off.  Our intrepid vampire hunter, not feeling so spritely after the last book, calls on our heroine again.  This time, it seems so fellows digging around in Gettysburg uncovered a crypt of sorts, and inside are 99 coffins containing 99 vampire skeletons missing all 99 hearts.  But there is evidence… there might have been a 100th coffins.  Vampires are afoot at America’s Historic playground.

Of course, I love the book.  As good as the first, perhaps even a tad better.  Honestly, I was worried.  After the downward turn that Wellington’s second Monster book took in quality, I thought maybe he just might have problems with the middle acts of his trilogies, but 99 Coffins turned out quite well.

Now I just need to wait for the third book, Vampire Zero, just four short days after my birthday.  The anticipation may just do me in…

13 Bullets

I had previously read a trilogy by David Wellington, and the short version of that review is the first book was fantastic, the second was lacking, and the third was better but not as good as the first.  However, despite the fact that I wasn’t thrilled with the second and third books, the first one was so good that I have been itching to pick up more of his stuff.  I finally did.

13 Bullets is a story about vampires.  In the world he crafts, vampires exist and everyone knows about them, but vampires are extremely rare so people often forget that they exist or at least deny to themselves that they are really real.  These are not your Anne Rice vampires, these are vicious monsters who thirst for blood.  In fact, the more they eat, the more they crave, so a smart vampire might be able to hide for a while, but eventually his thirst will lead to large enough slaughters that he can no longer go unnoticed.  These vampires don’t have two fangs, they have a set of jaws like a shark with rows of sharp teeth.

But specifically, the story is about Laura Caxton, a State Trooper in Pennsylvania who stumbles on to vampires and gets mixed up in the horror along with a U.S. Marshall who has been hunting vampires for twenty years.

Wellington’s writing in 13 Bullets is as strong as Monster Island.  I devoured the book, and am hoping that the sequel, 99 Coffins, doesn’t fall like Monster Nation did.  Definitely, though, 13 Bullets is a damn fine read, especially if you like horror.

The Monster Trilogy

There is a guy out there on the Internet named David Wellington. He’s calling himself a serial novelist. Essentially posting his works up a chapter at a time on the web, and when he’s done, getting them published into traditional book form. I would love to speak with him candidly about how successful it has been (obviously enough that he’s done six novels this way, with a seventh in progress).

In any event, I didn’t find him on the Internet. Instead, I stumbled on his books at a Borders bookstore while wasting time before seeing a movie at the theater in the same complex. I was drifting through the horror section, as I often do when I go to Borders, and found a curious set of books: Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet. The subtitle to each was “A Zombie Novel” and from that alone I knew I had to at least read the book cover. Being near Christmas when I found them, I agonized for a couple of trips to the theater over whether I should add these to my ever growing Amazon wish list and hope to get them for the big day, or to just buy them. I bought them.

After reading the first book, I wanted to post a review, but I decided to wait. I wanted to review them all at once. So here you go, a trilogy review in one part.

Monster Island is set two years after a plague has hit. That plague: zombies. The first theory presented in the book is one that just smacks of common sense, that in a world descending into chaos places that are used to chaos will handle it better. In the case of a zombie plague, the places with the most armed citizens fairs better than urban areas full of unarmed people. In short, the Third World outlasts the First. Dekalb is a UN Weapons inspector who is tasked by a Somali warlord to find AIDS treatment drugs to help keep her well and alive. After a few failed raids of local installations, Dekalb suggests that the one place he is sure will have what they want is the UN Secretariat Building in New York City. So Dekalb and a group of female soldiers head to the United States. Remember that bit about the First World not doing so well? Yep, New York is a veritable Zombietown. Monster Island isn’t your traditional zombie story, as there is more going on with a talking zombie (a lich) named Gary and an old dead druid named Mael Mag Och who would just like to finish ending the world. The book is very well written, well paced, and I devoured it. A great read.

I wish I could say the same about Monster Nation. For the second book we actually step back to the beginning of the plague and a girl with no name. She’s a lich, one of those talking, thinking zombies with magic powers, but she doesn’t know it and doesn’t want to admit it. We are also introduced to Bannerman Clark the man initially in charge with figuring out what is going on. While this book isn’t “bad”, it doesn’t have the punch of the first book. Sometimes I literally felt like I was forcing myself to read the book. Overall, while still a decent read, I have to say that it suffers the same fate that many middle chapters in trilogies do, that is reads like a bridge from the first to the third more than it feels like a story all on its own. The only familiar character is Mael Mag Och, but he’s not as involved here as he will be in two years.

Monster Planet comes in ten years after Monster Island, twelve years after Monster Nation. Here we meet Sarah, Dekalb’s daughter, who is still running with the remains of the camp he left her in, bolstered by the survivors of the New York escapade. All the elements of the first two books come together here in a story much closer in energy and style to the first. Much more enjoyable than the second book, and a fine end for the trilogy… if it truly is the end.

Overall, I recommend the Monster Trilogy if you like apocalyptic tales and/or zombie stories. Its a bit rough in the middle, but is worth the ride in the end. David Wellington has definitely made my must read authors list, and I’ll be picking up more of his works to support him.


12 out of 13 nots
for Survival Panic, and Crazy Shaky Camera Goodness

Let me begin by just saying, if you go see Cloverfield expecting the traditional Us versus Them monster movie, you will be disappointed. The only real battles between humans and monsters are seen in the background, passing by or as “we” run through it. That said, if you go in looking for a heart pounding survival run through New York as it collapses around you, this film totally rock.

More after the break…

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