Tag Archive for NPC

Quest Not For Thyself

I was about to start this by saying “Despite the fact that I hate FarmVille…” but that wouldn’t be correct.  I didn’t hate it, I just found it boring.  So, instead, let’s begin… Despite being bored by FarmVille, one thing I do think that game got right is in rewarding you not just for doing, but for helping others.  You could argue that all MMORPGs do that in their end game, because you can’t solo end game group and raid content, so you have to help other people.  But most of the game isn’t like that, especially World of Warcraft.

Let’s take, for example, the ubiquitous “kill ten rats” quest.  You find an NPC and he says, “I hate rats. Kill ten of them and I will reward you.”  But what if the NPC said, “I hate rats. Help someone else kill ten of them and I will reward you.”  It’s a subtle difference, but it means you can’t run off a kill ten rats by yourself and finish, you have to find someone else, group with them, and kill rats together.  Obviously this quest works best if you find someone who has the same quest (or you share it with them) so that you both are helping someone else kill ten rats.  Or better yet, you get five people together and you go whack ten rats as a large group and everyone finishes the quest.

What if the game was filled with a majority of quests requiring the presence of at least one other player (so, you could still two-box or play as a duo with your significant other) in order to do them?

Take it a step further, and while most current games are filled with solo content and the occasional group required one, what if the game was mostly grouped quests with the occasional “do this one alone” quest that popped you off into an instance by yourself?

Would such a game interest you?  I know it would interest me…

Yeah, yeah, I know “forced grouping sucks!”  But so does solo kill stealing antisocialness.

Why Do I Play?

Tobold has a great series of posts up called “Why Do We Play?” (that link goes to the summary, which links to the earlier parts because Tobold didn’t go back and put links in his introduction post) wherein he examines several aspects of gaming and how those aspect are realized.  Of course, its mostly great if you aren’t a big gaming blog reader.  Nothing in there is revolutionary, and most of it has been talked before in many places, but its not a bad read.  Here is my rebuttal, of sorts…

I’m there for the social.  I want to play with other people, and if I’m not going to play with other people, then I want a strong narrative which I am unlikely to find in an MMO and will more easily find in a single player game.  One of the things I loved about EverQuest, and I’ve talked about it before, is that the game wasn’t quest driven.  Yes, there were quests, and yes, I’ve said before that there was not a single day of playing EQ where I was not working on a quest of some sort.  However, quests are personal.  It is in their design to be so.  A quest is started by you, it is on your quest tracker, and you will complete it.  Someone can help you kill raptors and collect hides, but in the end, even if you both have the quest, you both need your own hides (whether the item is shared or not) and you will both talk to the NPC separately to complete the quest.  The reason EverQuest worked so much better as a social game than WoW or other modern games is that while a player could always be questing, the bulk of the game was in fighting monsters, and fighting monsters is something you actually do together.  When the monster dies, it may drop an item that is lootable by all group members, but still each of them loots the item for their own quest, they don’t complete the quest together, but they do kill the monster as a team.  Especially in games like WoW, when you’ve collected all your items, you are best off running back to the NPC and doing the turn in as soon as possible because the next quest he gives may very well be in the same area you are already fighting in to kill monsters you are already killing but are getting no credit for since you don’t yet have the quest.  And quests reward the player better than the killing.

To that end, I was very excited about Warhammer Online’s public quest system, where a quest wasn’t assigned to you but just happened in a specific area and to be a part of it you only needed to be there.  Of course, that game also had a ton of traditional quests and the heavy PvE and quest focus of the game, plus it being level based like most every other MMO, lead pretty quickly to people not socializing, racing through content on the traditional quests.  The saving grace of the game was supposed to be the PvP aspects, but with so much focus on PvE, and trying a bunch of PvP elements to PvE sieges, it didn’t really work too well.  Honestly, I hope they keep plugging away at the game and don’t close it down any time soon.  If they just accept that they are not going to defeat WoW at the PvE game and work on making the PvP game fun and rewarding, they might manage to carve themselves out a very nice niche, and I might go back to the game.

Despite my distaste for the gameplay of EVE Online, I am repeatedly drawn to the game because the social aspects of the game carry so much weight.  And by “social” I don’t just mean hanging around chatting with people, though I do mean that too, but in how the player economy involves interaction with other players, even when done through an auction/buy/sell interface there are still other players on the other side of those transactions.  Similarly, its why I am drawn toward Fallen Earth and why I’m so disappointed that I experience so much lag in towns.  Hopefully they’ll resolve that, or I’ll be able to buy a super PC (when I win the lottery), and I can join in.

But that’s it in a nutshell.  Of all the reasons to play an MMO, the reason I’m there is for the social interactions, and not just between me and my friends from previous games talking on our private chat server while playing in guild groups, but for the random happenstance of playing with and around other people, whoever they may be.

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.

Crisis on Infinite Servers

One thing I am a big proponent of is building games to have one single world server. The simple reason for this is illustrated by every single game that doesn’t do it. I play, then find out some of the people I work with or chat with on message board or whatever play on another server. Usually we have just one option, someone has to start over. Although, more and more games are allowing server transfers… for a price.

However, I do understand the limitations of many games to support a single world environment. Imagine World of Warcraft with only a single world… the lag would be unbearable. Outside of the sheer population problems, one world means you need to actually develop more content in order to spread people out and keep it from being bland, unless you go with a 100% group/raid instanced world.

As an alternative to trying to cram everything on to one world server, I think what I would like to see is an in-game acknowledgement of multiple worlds (or shards, if you prefer) with a method to allow players to move between those worlds.

Lets take WoW as an example. Put in an NPC in each major city who wanders around like a crazy homeless person muttering about the multiverse. Give him a quest, where the player needs to gather a few simple items (a gemstone of some kind, a few other things, nothing rare, all common drops cheaply obtained, maybe some food for the crazy guy as well). Upon bringing the items, the NPC gives a second quest and sends the player to a room where they take the items gathered (reconfigured by the NPC) to an obelisk, opens a dialog with a list of all the servers, they pick one and hit Complete Quest. *poof* The player is logged out to character selection where the character they just chose to transfer now has a listed status of “Travelling to [insert server name here]…” The transfer takes somewhere between 3 to 10 days to take effect. That last part is there to discourage people from transferring back and forth alot.

Maybe even throw in a part about how the shifting between worlds is rough, and the character will lose all items not tightly bound to their souls (i.e. – droppable items and money are gone, oh, and the bank is going to give your stuff to Goodwill after a few days so you lose that too), if you fear transfers will hurt the game economy. And of course, the devs could exclude servers that are new (if that is desirable) or already over populated (but if you give players the ability to leave crowded servers, doesn’t overcrowding become their problem?), and even provide a glimpse into the interdimensional pathways (a count of server populations including the number of characters queued for transfer).

I guess what I’m saying is, at this point in time, a game that launches should have, from day one, a way to easily transfer characters (at the very least from the DBA point of view) since the games that have come before have shown that players desire it. I know in some cases, making this player controlled would eliminate a revenue stream from the company, but maybe instead they just add twenty-five cents to the monthly fee they were planning to charge. Besides, if they build it into the game from the get go, it means they don’t have to pay someone to run character transfers later.

Henchmen

Inspired by Friday’s post and the comments that followed… How would you handle multiple characters under a player-NPC style system?

One thought would be henchmen. You’ve started a fighter character, gotten him a sword and some armor, but now you decide you want to play a mage… So, you roll up your mage, but you don’t want to go it alone, so you pull up your characters and pick your fighter to be a henchmen. Your fighter is now an NPC pet that you can give orders to.

Immediately, its appearant that in a game with levels this probably would be game breaking and unbalancing. Even a skill based game could make this a challenge to implement. But in a game without levels and skills, one that is based on player skill and goal achievement through narrative (quests), this could work very well. A system like this would allow a player to be his own party and play it like the old days of the AD&D games made by SSI, or allow a few friends to fill a gap in their group when they can’t find a player to fill it.

These pets wouldn’t be super smart, they’d be much like current game pets, simple commands and defending the owner, etc, because you wouldn’t want pets to be the defacto method for playing your MMO. Obviously much research and legwork would be needed to make this function, and it would have to be a “right fit” for the game being designed. But for now I just like thinking stuff up until I hit that lottery jackpot…

Offline Play

Some days I wish I could remember to write stuff down. I had alot I wanted to say concerning this post over on Tattered Page, but I could only remember one part, so I’ll just go with that.

As much as I ultimately end up hating EVE Online every time I go back to it, I keep going back to it because ti does have a few really cool ideas. The biggest of these is the introductions of true Offline Play.

Many games before and after have had some type of reward for people who are offline. In World of Warcraft, being offline in an inn or city would result in an experience bonus when you returned. The longer you were gone, the longer the bonus would last. It had a cap, of course, but it was a nice way for casual players to feel like they had a chance in hell of keeping up in level with the people racing to the top. But in EVE, skill training happens whether you are logged in or not. So, if you set a skill that’s going to take fourteen days to train, you can log out and come back in two weeks to find it complete.

So… where am I going with this?

What if, you had a game that was designed around player created and/or controlled towns, and when a citizen of that town logged out in town he was given a menu of a list of work tasks that the town needs performed that he can set himself to do while he’s logged out? Things like, collect garbage, defend walls, work the mine, tan leather. And all of these things would amount to resources that the town leaders could manage and pay wages for.

The mayor says he’s going to pay 2 gold per pound of trash/weeds cleaned up from the street. Now, a player could, if he chose to, while playing, run around picking up junk and pulling weeds, turning them in for pay. But how many people would really do that? Instead, based on the town size, the mayor lists he needs three garbage men, and a player who logs out can pick that, his character will be seen (as an NPC) walking the streets and collecting garbage during daylight hours that he isn’t logged in. When he does log back in, he finds that over the last week working as a garbage collector he earned twenty two gold.

But who wants to be a garbage man? Why not join the town militia? The militia pays ten gold a day, and while you are logged out, your character will be used as an NPC to patrol the city walls and to fight off attackers. Now, you won’t die while you are offline and lose your character or gear, but the point is that non-player-based-NPC guards are always of level or strength equal to the average citizen minus two, or something like that. So getting players to be guards is likely better than leaving it up to the NPC guards, unless you are new to the world and fall below the NPC level. (Of course, in my overall design, the game is PvP and players playing will be given the option to actively defend assaults before NPC-players or NPCs are populated.)
And working in the mine? the fields? fishing? You help increase the resources of the town. Players as NPCs would always be slower/worse than players playing to give incentive to play, but would allow players to still feel like they are contributing and not falling so far behind even when they can’t play.

I’m sure there are many complications that I haven’t thought through, but its an idea I’d love to see a game take a whack at.

The Illusion of Virtual Reality

Over at the MMO Round Table boards, we’ve got a lovely little thread going about what people hate about MMOs in general or one MMO in specific. One of the points brought up by Kendricke is the lack of NPCs on boats, which reminded me of the one and only time I ever got to speak with an MMO game developer (read the thread to see my post).

This has lead me down a train of thought about illusion is games. World of Warcraft has admitted to doing it, and spectacularly I might add. Ever flown the griffon? Some of what you see isn’t really… real. That’s why there will be no flying mounts available in the original game, only in the new expansion lands. Because if you could fly in the old world, you’d be able to fly right up to those matte paintings that make you think you are really seeing what you aren’t seeing.

Other games inexplicably, haven’t used it in places I would consider pretty obvious… like the boats. In just about every game I know that has boats, the boats have no crew. The reasons are simple enough, crew = NPCs, and NPCs can’t do things like zones, and boats, being objects themselves, can’t have pathing lines on them. Essentially, the boat itself is an NPC (usually just not targettable or fightable), and the game doesn’t support having NPCs ride other NPCs. But it doesn’t have to. The boat is a model. The model has moving parts (sails, rudders, oars, whatever). So why not fake the crew by making them part of the model. We are talking advanced stuff here, just tiny things like putting a captain at the wheel, a guy in the crow’s nest, a couple of guys in the rigging, maybe a cook down in the mess/hold area, perhaps a swab scrubbing the deck. Why not? Would it really be that hard?

Once you start down this road, it opens up so many new ideas… like, you know those buildings in town that are there just for effect? The ones you can’t go into? What if, instead of being just dark and lifeless, during much of the day and early night, have an NPC “spawn” in front of the window of another window, only this one with an animated texture that occasionally shows a person walk by, or flickering light… or if the normal window texture is a closed shuttered window, the new window NPC could be a matte painting of an open window that shows the interior of the room.

So many things, so many little touches, could be added to a game to make them feel more alive instead of the rigid merchant filled ghost towns they usually are.

Tools of the Trade

Let’s just begin with the fact that I hate EVE Online.

I played it for a number of months, and in that time I mined, I fought pirates, I ran trade routes some of which I did through “zero space”. I read the message boards and I talked to people in game. I joined a corporation, I formed a corporation, and I fought in corporate wars. I was literally bored out of my mind.

But… I have to give EVE credit for one thing. The guys at CCP have over a a hundred thousand people paying to play a game that doesn’t exist. Now, before you go on a tirade defending EVE, pay attention… EVE has no designed large goals. There is no “end game”, in fact there is barely any “game”. All the stuff people love, corporations and politics and piracy and all that… player created using simple tools provided by CCP.

CCP has given you a basic economy system, and from that players have developed complex trade routes and commodities management. CCP has given you corporation structure, and from that players have developed complex politics. And so on… what CCP didn’t do was spend any effort developing story and static content, they developed no dungeons, no wide ranging NPCs (there are some low end pirates, the guard NPCs for protected space, and some space stations). They didn’t waste any effort trying to create repeatable encounters with respawning monsters, because they also didn’t create any level advancement for players.

Of course, CCP also doesn’t have 6 million subscribers, but their buck and a quarter thousand is nothing to shake a stick at.

So, this has brought me to my theoretical game design. Make tools not games if you want a deep community. Let people define the game for themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t make games at all, but games should be small and contained.

The idea I have is what I’m going to start referring to as “city-centric” design. Essentially, a player joins the game and is initially made a citizen of one of a handful or less completely NPC controlled cities. From here they can play numerous games, be that crafting or adventuring or whatever. But, as long as they remain a citizen of an NPC city, their advancement in the game (however advancement ends up being defined) will be self only and hindered. The NPCs of the NPC city don’t care about you. So the push comes to either join or found your own player created city. As a citizen of a player controlled city, every game you play affects the city. If you decide to run caravan escort missions, every time you succeed you strengthen the trade route between your city and your destination city; every time you fail, the trade route weakens. The strength of a trade route will affect the supply and price of city specific products and resources. If you keep running caravan escorts from your city by the coast to a city in the mountains, mined ores will slowly become more plentiful and cheaper. At the same time, this makes things easier for people who have chosen to play the blacksmith game. You can also attack other cities and play defender for your own city. The people who run the city, the dictator, king, or elected official, will have control of city development… like a real time strategy game, or Sim City. They get to decide how resources are spent, the style (texture sets) to pull new buildings from, and prioritize city missions (they’ll determine if that caravan protection you just ran payed out 1 gold or 5 as a reward from the city). They’ll control alliances and animosities. And of course, when communicating with the leaders of other cities, they’ll need messengers to carry the letters, which the players can do.

So, what about PvP vs PvE? Do both. Allow the players to decide if the mission they are undertaking will be done PvP or PvE, and control the affect the result has. PvP is generally harder, so a PvP caravan escort would yield more change than a PvE escort.

Then, we can take the whole thing a step further… people who don’t want to be citizens of a city can choose instead to belong to a guild… an adventurers guild, a tradesmans guild, etc… and those guilds can buy/rent buildings in cities, as many as they can afford. Tasks performed for the guild will enrich the coffers and prestige of the guild.

My mind is racing with ideas… now I just need someone to bankroll them… Ha!

Alliance: Sometimes I wish I was Horde

Ishiro loves him some Alterac Valley.

Now, for those who don’t understand, let me explain. In World of Warcraft, if you wish to engage in PvP but do not wish to engage in open PvP out in the wild where you can get ganked, outnumbered 5 to 1, there are Battlegrounds. Warsong Gulch is Capture the Flag: each team has a base that holds a flag and a field between the bases, and your team tries to get the other team’s flag and bring it back home. Arathi Basin is Control Points: there are 5 control point locations on the map you have to assault and hold, while holding them you earn points (10 at a time), and the first team to 2000 wins. Alterac Valley is a Campaign: huge map, with a home base, towers, control points, and other stuff, if you hold a control point that gives you access to a graveyard which allows you to better hold the battle lines, the winner is the one who defeats the other teams general.

I like Alterac Valley for a number of reasons. One, there is lots to do. You can capture rams to equip your NPC ram riders. You can gather minerals from the mine. You can PvP and collect armor fragments to upgrade your NPC guards. And more. Because the war is usually long (5+ hours) people learn to organize and play together and leaders emerge. Two, the Alliance wins fairly often at this. Mostly we win because after 6 hours, the Horde team usually goes for an end run, we defend it, and they start quitting. I’ve heard its different on other servers.

But that doesn’t explain the title… see, in Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch I have never been on the winning team. The Alliance sucks. People spend too much time going for individual kills, no one ever wants to play defence (less honorable kills to be had), and the Horde just rolls right over us. I’ve actually been involved in an Arathi match that ended 2000 to 80. That’s right, we managed to hold one control point for 8 ticks. And most Warsongs end with a 3-0 loss, usually because I, a priest, am the only one on defence no matter how much I ask for help.

Another thing… the Alliance on my server just blow at organization. They don’t form up groups, they don’t listen, and generally they just don’t play well together. We win Alterac because its a long haul campaign, were Arathi and Warsong usually take less than 30 minutes (especially at the rate we allow the Horde to get points). The other team, however, always seems to move together in groups, defend each other, play well… it makes me envious.

I keep trying Arathi and Warsong in hopes I can find people who are good at it… until I do, though, most of my efforts will be in Alterac where more often than not we can win.

Personal Space in Games

In MMORPGs, one of the decisions that gets made in their design is whether or not to give player characters personal space, or as I usually call it a “bounding box”.

EverQuest had a bounding box. Two people could not pass directly through one another. This caused issues when popular NPCs, like bankers, would get mobbed by players resulting in people who could not get close enough to interact. And sometimes this caused huge uproars when it came to doorways and other tight spaces. It was not uncommon to see an ogre in the Plane of Knowledge sitting in the bank doorway being an ass and demanding to be paid to move. It had other uses too, on my server there was at least one incident of using an orge to block a passage way into raid content, denying competition to a second group to a raced spawn.

Of course, going with no bounding box at all can cause just as much issue. In World of Warcraft players have no personal space. This is great when it comes to the auction house because there will commonly be fifty people trying to crowd around the one NPC. The drawback comes in PvP combat. A spell caster has to keep his target in his field of view to cast, so in order to interrupt casting all a melee player needs to do is run right up, step through the caster, then step back. In about a second the target goes from being in front, to 180 degrees behind, back to front again. Even with good reflexes and high speed mouse control, its very hard not to lose the spell cast, and for a melee player with a slow two handed weapon he won’t even miss a swing while he two-steps the caster’s blast into interruption.

What I would suggest is that instead of strictly making the bounding box a property of the character object, also make it modifiable by the surroundings. Make it so that in a defined area, around an NPC or doorways to buildings or narrow hallways in dungeons, the player becomes “intangible” and other players can pass right through them, and while not in those areas, players have a seeming mass and cannot be stepped through.

And with this, I kick off my section “The Game That Never Was“, which is going to be a collection of ideas that I have about what would make the perfect MMORPG.