Tag Archive for problem

The Great Divide II

Orcs vs Humans

Pick a side, forever.

Last week I wrote about levels dividing players.  This week I’d like to look at another thing that divides players: Lore.

Now, Lore itself doesn’t really divide players, but design decisions made to support Lore does.  In World of Warcraft, you have two sides, the Alliance and the Horde, and every race in the game belongs to one side and not the other.  If you want to play an orc, you are Horde.  If you want to play a human, you are Alliance.  Now, if you want to play a human and your best friend wants to play an orc, you are screwed.  One of you is going to have to cave and play another race.

WoW isn’t the only game that does this.  In almost every game on the market that decides to define “sides” to enable a Realm vs Realm style of PvP play, they draw arbitrary lines in the sand and toss races on one side or the other.  This needs to stop.

Now, when I say Lore is the problem, I’m being a tad flippant.  In truth, from a database and coding viewpoint, it’s probably far easier to assign races to sides than to flag individual characters and then check the flag for any action for which side matters.  But if we assume the problem isn’t technical, that a human could be on either Horde or Alliance, then the only thing holding us back is Lore.  Humans and Orcs are on different sides because the Lore says so.

Of course, the solution to Lore problems is… Lore!

Why not have the majority of humans be Alliance, but a splinter faction have gone to the Horde?  Apply to same logic to each and every race in each and every game.  Even if you don’t want the Lore of your game to support a race being on both sides, you should allow your players to “betray” their side and go to the other.

Some people will say that dividing people into sides by race it to make finding enemies easier during those PvP/RvR interaction.  And yes, spotting an orc and knowing he’s a friend or foe at a glance is easy.  Know what else is easy to spot?  The same thing FPS games have been using for a long time: colors.  When a player enters an area of contention, just slap a colored tabard on them, red for one side and blue for the other.

Dividing players into sides is a perfectly valid design decision, but there really isn’t any good reason, in my opinion, to divide them along other lines as well.

Not Enough Information

I deal with a company on a fairly regular basis.  When I call in about any issue, we open a trouble ticket and I’m given the ticket number.  They have a Quality Assurance team, and before I go bad mouthing them know that I think having a good QA team is awesome and more companies should do it, however… their QA team will call and based on whatever report they are looking at will ask if a) I’ve been contacted, b) my problem is being resolved, or c) if I was satisfied with the completed work.  I have no problem with this at all, and as I said, I wish more companies would do it.  The problem I have is that the QA team is not given enough information.

They call and say, “Hi! I’m [insert name] from [company X] and I’m calling in reference to ticket number [ticket number]…” and then they ask their question.  Given that at any one time I may have three to five tickets open with them my first question is always, “And what is this ticket in reference to?”  They never know because they aren’t given that information.  They get contact info and a ticket number, that’s it.  I could always look it up myself, since I keep my own notes, but I’m not always at my PC when they call.  This company also has a website where I can view my open tickets and add details.  Only, all I can see is the original ticket and the latest update.  This means if there have been multiple updates to the ticket, I cannot see anything but the last one.  The last one is usually the most useless too.

  1. [original problem] Stuff is broken, please fix it.
  2. Assigned to dept A
  3. Researched, found errors in logs that indicated dept B is actually needed
  4. Assigned to dept B
  5. Resolved source of log errors, item still not functioning
  6. Assigned to dept A
  7. Trouble appears to be on external lines
  8. Assigned to contractor Z
  9. Z found damage, repaired
  10. Assigned to dept A

After the above series of events, I go to the website and can only see:

  1. [original problem] Stuff is broken, please fix it.
  2. Assigned to dept A

which is pretty unhelpful and looks like they’ve done nothing at all.  Why have a customer viewable ticket if you are going to have it be that useless?

All in all, this is something I run into all over the place.  So many people want to control information because they feel like controlling the information gives them the upper hand… which it does, but it also often slows things down.  Or worse, they’ve been told to never admit fault, ever, and so they hide all those details so they can do some hand waving and things will be magically fixed without ever telling the customers that a problem actually existed.  It is just so frustrating…

Rewards

The main problem I have with yesterday’s video is that I’m pretty sure the scenarios he gets into at the end are right.  For the most part, I have remained neutral on Xbox achievements.  I like getting them, but rarely do I ever spend time playing a game in a manner I do not enjoy just for an achievement.  For example, there is one in the game Assassin’s Creed for watching all the “glitches” and while playing I did try to hit my button when I noticed a glitch but at the end of the game I didn’t have that achievement because I had obviously missed one.  There is also one for getting all the flags, and while I loved noticing and finding flags while playing, when I got to the end I didn’t have them all.  I loved playing the game, it was fun, but when I finished I did not go back and try to finish off these achievements.  I know some people who cannot leave a game until they’ve gotten every single one.

On the other hand, I have a credit card with a rewards program and I use the card at every single opportunity in order to not miss out on the free points which turn into free gifts later.  So for me, the dividing line appears to be virtual rewards versus real rewards.  If Xbox achievements came with Xbox Live points that I could use to buy items from the Marketplace, I’d probably spend more time trying to get them all.

After watching the video, I thought to myself, “You know, sometimes I do forget to brush my teeth. Would I remember it every day if I earned points for doing it?”  I do brush my teeth with fair regularity, enough that I don’t have cavities or other teeth issues (partly, I suspect, this is due to habits I formed while having braces on my teeth for almost 5 years, the manner in which I eat and the amount of licking, probing and sucking I do throughout the day keeps food particles from settling between my teeth and in my gums), but if brushing every day earned me some “free stuff” then I have to admit, I probably would do it every day.

Do I want to see point systems and rewards on everything?  Not really.  But I do expect it to come.  I just hope that the power to manipulate behavior with games is handled with some care as it invades more aspects of life.

Where there’s a Wil, there’s a way.

My hatred of PAX stems from two important facts.

  1. It happens on the other side of the damn country so I can’t go.
  2. It happens the same weekend as Dragon*Con and I love going to Dragon*Con too much to skip it.

The new PAX East solves problem number two, and actually lessens problem number one.  It’s still far away, but going is more possible.  But not this year… you know, since it happened last weekend.  Wil Wheaton gave the keynote speech, and not only is he a pretty good speaker he’s also a real gamer.  If you have an hour, watch it… if you don’t have an hour to just sit and watch, let it play and listen to it while you do other stuff.

Use the Tools Provided

The fundamental problem with Web 2.0 and social networking tools is a lack of blocking and filtering options, and when they exist the reluctance of users to use them.

When I look at a site like Twitter, I think they have done it right and provided the proper tools to manage their brand of social networking, and yet I see so few people using them.  If you were to look at my account, you’d see that I have around 44 people following me (I say around because that can change at any time).  I could easily have 200 followers, but it wouldn’t mean anything.  Every person who follows me, I read their account, if they are say the kinds of things I want to hear I follow them back.  If you follow me and I don’t follow you, it doesn’t mean I won’t follow you in the future, it just means that what I read so far didn’t excite me enough to add you to my main feed, but I’ll check back later to see if that changes.  If, however, I read your account and find what you have to say in poor taste or your account is nothing but advertising, I will block you.  (Keep in mind, I don’t base this on a single tweet, it has to be a long held pattern.)  Blocking on Twitter has the effect that not only do I not see you, but you can’t see me.  More people need to do this.  I see spamming accounts following thousands of people, and unless that is thousands of other spam accounts, it means people aren’t blocking.  And this behavior isn’t limited just to Twitter.  Any social network site that publicly displays how many “friends” or “followers” you have is subject to it.

The problem, of course, is that the number becomes too important.  That number shouldn’t matter.  Why should I care if someone has eleventy billion friends?  The thing I should care about is whether or not the content that person produces is worth reading.  In the end, that’s the thing I consider the biggest failure of Web 2.0.  It is supposed to be about the content, but most sites wind up including some number like views or friends counts that becomes the focus over the content.

I’m not alone here.  Trent Reznor, a person who has embraced social networking but is now turning away from it, had this to say:

We’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.

The power to make social network sites better is in your hands.  Use the tools provided.

One World

After watching the blogging storm over the problems and successes of Warhammer, I am again certain that one of the major advancements in traditional MMOs that can’t come too soon is that of getting every player on to one single world server.

If nothing else, I think games should have one single master account server and then run the entire game as instances of areas instead of separate world servers.  Warhammer, in my opinion, exemplifies exactly why this is needed.  The game, while maintaining a decent level of PvE style game play, is focused on PvP style game play.  When players are the content, you have to give the players every possible tool to solve their own problems.  And the biggest problem in PvP is population and imbalance.

When playing the game requires not only for you to have a dozen players on your team but also a dozen players on the other team, in the same place, at the same time, it is completely unfun to be on a server where you always have a dozen people and the other side never does.  Even more so when you hear that another server is having the exact same problem, but diametrically opposed: they always have a dozen on the side your server lacks, and never have anyone on your side.

I admit, the first time I logged in to City of Heroes on a stress test day in beta and saw 12 of the same city zone instance, I didn’t like it.  Grouping up and then trying to get everyone in the same instance was a pain in the ass.  Of course, I believe they have overcome much of that now.  It can’t really be that hard anyway… if you are in the same zone but a different instance that your group leader, all the players need is a “Join Leader” option that will zone them to the proper instance, or display a message if the action can’t be performed (like if the instance is already at the hard cap for player totals).  But seeing games that want PvP elements having to struggle because they have erected an iron wall between their players makes me realize that instancing can actually be a better solution.

I’m still against the idea of overly instancing PvE content, letting players go off into their own private areas and hide from the world, but I definitely think instancing in some overarching way is going to be the solution for PvP content.  Give the players the ability to solve their own problems… one that doesn’t include “start a new character on another server” and one that doesn’t require you, the developer, to write exception code to force some sort of cross server matching like WoW has done.  Sure, it fixed some of the queue issues, but you still end up playing against people that ultimately are not part of your server community.

One World.  I think its a design well worth pursuing, and in some cases is absolutely needed.

The Forest or the Trees

This Zombie Wednesday post is being partially co-opted by the Gaming category…

I’ve run into a problem with my Zombie MMO design.  I’m trying to think ahead a bit and not just blindly dive in and I have one point which I can see will be a major problem later if I have chosen incorrectly.  Do I approach the whole thing as “chat with a game wrapped around it” or “a game with chat as a feature”.

Personally, I want to start with the chat.  Mostly because I think ultimately this is going to be a more social game than it is going to be an achievement type game.  The current design doesn’t even have levels beyond the length of time you have survived.

However, starting with chat means I need to stop and go learn how to build either an IRC or a Voice Chat system, so its very tempting to just begin building the game, the world and its mechanics, as I am already a database and user interface programmer.

So, that would be the question… should I start with chat or should I start with the “game”?

The Neverending Flood

It has been a while since I posted about my efforts to reduce junk and go a bit green. So, here is an update…

Despite my best efforts to make it known that I do not want to receive direct mailings, it seems that there is no way to get them to stop outside of becoming a hermit. The problem appears to be that no matter how many lists I get myself removed from, old lists will always exist and get resold. The post office also seems completely uninterested in my plight. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to convince them that my wife and I are the only residents, all previous owners don’t live here anymore, and we do not desire to have any mail addressed to “Resident” delivered here. Despite this, they continue delivering mail here for people who have not lived here for over two years. Sometimes I’m tempted to get a P.O. Box and move all the mail I want to it and then just ignore the mailbox until they can’t fit any more junk into it.

One by one, as lights in my house burn out, I’m replacing them with lower wattage bulbs. Most of them go from being a 40, 60 or 100 watt bulb down to a 7, 11 or 15 watt bulb. It takes some getting used to as depending on the bulb type and manufacturer, some low watt bulbs start dim and “warm up” to their full brightness. Also, all my outdoor lights are properly shaded so that light from the bulbs goes downward, and I’m still refraining from reporting the street light that is out. I really dislike light pollution, and now I have the benefit of when I walk outside at night I can actually see the stars.

Winter came, and to try to lower my own costs and whatnot, the wife and I have been keeping the house at 66 or 68 degrees. That’s new for us as we (I) usually like to keep the house warmer so that I can be comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts, but I’ve switched over to sweats and long pj’s. Now I just need us both to get into better shape so that when summer comes we won’t feel the need to combat the heat of our out of shape bodies with blasting the air conditioning.

All in all, I’m spending less money, lowering my footprint, but still losing the war against junkmail. Here’s to hoping I can turn the tide eventually…

Stuck on a Path

Last post on the challenges of the single character problem was about how to let players learn characters without forcing them to invest hours and hours just to discover they don’t like it. But what about people who did test, liked what they saw, but then later something changed (their tastes, their available time, whatever) and now the character they have is one they don’t, won’t or can’t play?

In current MMOs, once you make the character that character is stuck. A warrior is a warrior. In a game like World of Warcraft you can fine tune the warrior with talents and even built very distinct warriors. They even allow you the ability to re-pick your talents any time (for a price), but you’ll still be a warrior. Your warrior cannot become a warlock or a hunter. Alternate characters are the only option. City of Heroes works the same way: a blaster is a blaster. In fact, a fire/devices blaster is a fire/devices blaster. You can’t change power sets, you have to start over.

Now, realistically, this makes sense. I mean, if you spend your whole life learning one set of skills, you can’t just up and decide that you would have rather spent that time doing something else and magically make that happen. But then, these games are not reality. More games should allow you to make changes, even drastic changes, to your character without losing your identity. If I spend two years in a game playing Joeblow the warrior, making friends, joining a guild, earning a reputation as Joeblow, why am I forced to start completely over when I want to experience something different in the game? Some games try to get around this, like City of Heroes implementing their global chat names, but that only hides the problem. Sure, you may know that I’m ProbablyNot in the global channels, but in game I’m Ishiro Takagi or Jhaer Snow or John Hellstrom or Calvin Meeks. My reputation becomes much harder to translate.

Lets take World of Warcraft as an example and expand on it. As I mentioned earlier, they do let you rebuild your talents. But why not let you re-spend your experience points? Now, I’m not suggesting allowing 100% free anytime character rebuilding. They already have the precedent of paying for talent resets, just make a new NPC who asks for money based on level for picking a new class. Would it really break the game to allow a level 70 Paladin pay 1,000 or even 2,000 gold to become a level 70 Warrior? Of course, if you were a gnome, you’d be restricted to gnome classes since the game restricts like that already. Allowing a gnome shaman might be game, if not just lore, breaking. But then, why not allow the player to pay 5,000 gold to switch races (restricted to those which allow his class)? Not only would this allow for players to play the character they want without starting over, it would also introduce new money sinks into the game, and games, especially those that keep expanding, can always use new desirable yet optional money sinks.

You could even, if there was a demand for it, allow people to strip themselves back to level 1. Even pay them for it. The warlocks need to power their machines with life-force, they’ll strip 69 levels from a level 70 player and pay him X gold. With that money a player could take their level 1, pay to change his class and/or race and level back up again, tread-milling the same character, the same name, over and over again, with reward, as opposed to alternate characters or deleting and restarting.

Following a similar model, most games could introduce this kind of mechanic. As long as the change had a price of some sort and was limited by location (must visit particular NPCs), the only real downside I can see would be players less likely to stick with classes or builds they feel are broken, which could increase developer knowledge of a problem’s existence, but might decrease the pool of incoming data to be able to properly examine it.

So, what say you?

A Case of the Mondays

To be honest, I do not have a problem with Mondays. I do, however, have a problem with all the people who insist on misusing a Monday.

The weekend, Saturday and Sunday, are time off for most people. They relax, they get away from the office and work. For other people, the weekend is time to get work done that can’t be done while everyone else is working. Programming is like this, especially when you are bug fixing a production level program. You can’t make changes to the underlying database in the middle of the day on a work day. You have to wait for late at night, or the weekend.

In one case you are returning to work and are in need of getting back into a work frame of mind. In the other case, you’ve spent the weekend doing one kind of work and are in need of getting back into the normal work mode.

Mondays, used properly, are great for this. On a Monday I like to wake up late, not too much, but about a half hour or hour late. Then I have a good breakfast, something I often skip later in the week. Next I’ll spend some time going through emails and sending out replies. I’ll pull out last week’s paperwork and merge it with the weekend notes, and make myself an organized task list of all the stuff that is still open and is still my responsibility. Just before lunch, I’ll gather up all the easy tasks and polish them. Most of them are so simple that I find myself actually thinking, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” With the bulk of quick work done, I go to lunch. If I’m at home, I eat and watch some TV; if I’m at work, I eat and chat with coworkers. But in both places, in the back of my mind, I’m sifting and shuffling, organizing and prioritizing. After lunch, I settle in for the long afternoon. Tackle as much as I can in preparation for the rest of the week which is bound to throw me a curve ball or two. This is when I remember why I didn’t do that easy stuff sooner. By the end of a good Monday, the To Do list is half or more done and the coming week has a nice outline of work to be done.

That is how a Monday should be.

It is a shame that so many people insist on trying to cram status meetings and project planning on to Mondays. No one is ever mentally prepared. They are either still too relaxed, or they are just in the wrong frame of mind. All the meetings really do is to force people to rush into action, instead of easing into the week at a brisk walk or comfortable jog, Monday meetings make people hit the ground running… and its why by Wednesday they are begging for the weekend again. And because of the befuddlement and confusion of a rushed Monday, all those meetings will need to be repeated later in the week in some form or another. A giant waste of everyone’s time.

If you are a manager or project lead or anything of the sort, I beg of you to take this to heart. Hold off on those Monday meetings and rush whenever possible. Let your people, in fact encourage your people to, use Monday as a day of preparation. They’ll be much more productive later in the week, I promise.