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Archive for November, 2007

Are Classes Too Rigid For Scenarios?

November 26th, 2007 No comments

I see a lot of these new MMOs striving to include Battleground variants whereas the game server assigns X number of players to a team for ‘fair’ team vs team action. Warhammer Online will be investigating this with scenarios. World Of Warcraft did this with Battlegrounds. It is interesting to see these games pursue balanced affairs. Don’t even get me started on how much more FUN I think raiding a city with my fellow guild is in the first place even though we will eventually get ‘zerged’ and forced to halt our invasion eventually. What’s even cooler is fighting for control of a town in the world itself. That’s IMPACT.  Putting players inside of an ‘Instance’ to conduct Team vs Team PVP removes my impact in the world itself.

However, I wonder how they will escape Class balance issues? See, FPS (first person shooters) escaped this game flaw by allowing players to change their Class at anytime during a respawn. This is why they are self balancing games- players have the freedom to optimize their team compositions and dynamically adjust. What I think will occur with WAR (Warhammer Online) they might suffer from this flaw like World Of Warcraft Battlegrounds did. I expect guilds to optimize their team compositions and steamroll the opposition (Public Groups). See, this is a basic game flaw that FPS games will never suffer from. Thus, I contend that Classes work much more flawlessly in FPS titles because gamers have the freedom to switch roles at will (well at respawn). Other day my coworkers were playing Team Fortress 2 and it was interesting seeing my observation get reinforced.

“We need O”, screams the Team leader ordering his fellow teammates to switch to offensive roles. MMORPGs lack this flexibility so I can only wonder how will WAR overcome such a basic game flaw that FPS games have factored out for over a decade now.  Team vs Team will work much better for Guild vs Guild warfare. Arena.net solution to this issue was to disallow an organized group from fighting a PUG (public group) altogether so we will see what avenue they pursue.

Warhammer Online

Categories: Game Design, MMO, PVP Tags:

Mass Effect (no spoilers)

November 23rd, 2007 No comments

I’ve been playing Mass Effect over the thanksgiving holidays. We didn’t go anywhere this year so we just stayed at the house and watched Fantastic Four: Rise of Silver Surfer and Xmen2 (think the wife feel asleep at begining then woke up lost towards last hour or so but I love this moie).

Anyway stayed up most of the night playing Mass Effect. It’s a really fun game.  The ‘carrots’ developers dangle in single player RPGs seem like extra icing. I also really liked how they implemented their Cities, etc very cool stuff.

The only weird thing about this title is that you cannot loot enemies. You kill the bad guys and they just like disappear. However, you get great rewards from turning in the Quests and finding objects stored in the bins.

One funny thing, I thought I selected Sentinel or Infiltrator (I like being high tech) but somehow I selected Vanguard instead- which has no Tech skills. The annoying thing I cannot get my teammates to use their tech skills to hack into computers. This is not really balanced because I can get my AI squad members to use any other skill. Weird oversight.

Incredible game so far though. What I like as far as I can tell the game might possibly be scaling up the enemies because it feels a little sandboxy with the freedom I have to explore the universe.

Categories: Consoles, RPG Tags:

No Progression (Part 1): Bartle’s Four

November 23rd, 2007 No comments

This is the first part of a series on “no progression” for Character Advancement in Role Playing Games (RPG). Often times what we see in RPGs is a vertical progression scheme whereas we see our characters transition from a base state to an advanced one.

 Preferred Reading:

Richard Bartle categorizes players into four distinct types (achiever, explorer, killer, socializer). Note- all four types can be intermingled to compose a player. Read Damion’s writeup for more clarification too.

If RPGs embraced “more” lateral development then we would see stronger emphasis on Bartle’s Four:

Socialization (no barriers between friends), killing (enrich PVP no more being a helpless victim to a veteran), exploration (no longer herded from point A to point B), and achievement (there will always have goals to achieve like acquiring a new costume or trophies).

Breakdown:

Socializers – will find that they can interact with other players better due to barriers enforced by “Level” division has been knocked down. So now a newbie can converse with a veteran easier and they both can benefit from each other’s company

Achievers – should still ideally always have goals such as acquiring trophies to show off in their homes to other players or perhaps they can still have rare armor/weapons to shoot for. The difference being the rare stuff is no different from the casual items. Guild Wars does this and you still see many players striving for the rare loot for the visual quality. They could also even earn XP (experience points) and Levels even though these don’t mean anything beyond how much time they’ve invested into the game.

Killers – enjoys more competition due to Level barriers being knocked down. Casuals can defend themselves well. Hardcore killers will enjoy very satisfying fights. If they enjoy praying on ‘lambs’ well there will still be plenty of vicitims because the casual gamers will have less “player skill” then a skilled veteran. If this is a “virtual world” they can still fight to own Land. We could still have money here and item decay.

Explorers – can freely explore any area of the world and can still experiment freely with various game mechanics without restriction.

I think most of us can imagine the challenges for such an implementation. Pretty much any implementation I envision would still involve acquiring money for Land and such. Off hand what I would probably end up with is something close to Starport whereas you don’t have to grind for skills but you still face the challenge of accumulating wealth to build a massive empire.

Tobold wrote a blog on this subject here. This concept is pretty hardcore what he proposes is no vertical progression whatsoever in the game but rather you play to build houses, etc. This leads to very perplexing thoughts what I think about when I read this article is about FPS games like Unreal Tournament 3 and such whereas I play for pure FUN. I think publishers consider including treadmills whereas it takes 300+ hours to hit level cap more of a sure thing. At least that way they can guarantee subscription for 6+ months (well estimate X many gamers will stick around for that until the next expansion is ready). However, I really like Tobold’s comment on this type of system:

“In my game all items would be created by the developers, just as they are in World of Warcraft. Thus you can’t design yourself a dragon head to hang on your wall without slaying the dragon. The head becomes more than a decoration, it becomes a trophy, a status symbol, telling the story of your successes in the game.”

I’m not sure how I feel about no progression whatsoever since every game I play has some sort of progression. In real life, we all strive to accomplish goals, etc and we transition from a base state to a goal state. Anyway, I’d still be interested in seeing games play around with this concept. Every once in a while I have seen people recommend this type of system. One designer in particular that comes to memory, proposed creating a system whereas players simply experiment with different templates. So perhaps that could also improve the exploration mechanics and if you mix this with Tobold’s ideas for acquiring trophies to give the Achiever types something to strive for that might be interesting.

Recommended Reading:

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/JB47394/112007/676_The-Trouble-With-Levels 

Persistant Offline Worlds

November 20th, 2007 No comments

What I would really like to see for complex single player RPGs is the ability to have all of my characters coexist in the same world. This would be accomplished by seperating game data from the player. So, when you save your character world state is serialized into a file and your character is saved into another file. Now, if you create another character all of the quests your other characters have completed is realized by the game.

This would allow me to create a new character in a game like Elder Scrolls Oblivion and perhaps even walk to the house or Guild hall where my main character is parked. They might even be able to hold a conversation together.

I really love playing different character in Elder Scrolls Oblivion but sometimes I hate to see how my ‘impact’ in the world is erased. For those that love to start all over then let them. But for those of us that wants to roleplay a new character in a world permenantly altered by our original character it would be awesome to experience it.

Imagine the possibilities. Let’s say you beat your favorite single player game and now you can walk around and see all the fruits of your labor. Perhaps there are still side quests waiting to be completed? Well you can still come back and complete those. Perhaps you can take a new character through a certain chapter or Act in the main story that you’ve unlocked and pursue different objectives, make different choices.

Categories: Game Design, RPG Tags:

Combat Systems in RPGs

November 20th, 2007 No comments

I’ve read a few posts on the web about how a game is much less of an RPG if it intergrates a combat system that is ‘different’ from the norm. For instance, there are critics out there that claim Elder Scrolls Oblivion is less of an RPG because it employs shooter elements (aim/dodge). These same people claim that RPGs have always relied on dice rolls since the begining of time!

These guys are misinformed and simply don’t know their history.

There is such a thing as LARPers (Live Action Role Players) whereas they do not rely on dice rolls to settle their disputes but rather fight it out in ‘live action’. They rely on their personal skill to settle combat. Wikipedia sites they’ve been around since the 1970s. So then, if RPGs are not RPGs if my personal skill is taken into account then how do you explain LARPers?

My point? Integrating player skill into an RPG does not make it less of a traditional RPG. If we take player skill more into account imagine the possibilities. Now, if I try to fight a higher level adversary I can possibly kill him if I time my dodges, etc. There are many other possibilities too. Checkout Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Jade Dragon (Bioware), Elder Scrolls Oblivion, and many other RPGs that integrated player skill.

Next, my final argument is that why should combat system alone dictate whether or not a game is an RPG? What about crafting, exploration, role playing, and socialization? There are many other factors that can make a game an RPG.

Categories: Game Design, RPG Tags:

Tabula Rasa

November 20th, 2007 No comments

Been playing Tabula Rasa a little bit. Some quick notes I wanted to list I like about it:

  • The missions all show you where to go. This is not so bad if you want to do it the hard way you could turn off the markers. I like how I can deselect the markers form Quests I’m not actively pursuing. Nicely done
  • I like how I can assign values to my Body, Spirit, and Mind directly.
  • I enjoy assigning the talent points to Firearms, etc

What I do not like I cannot make an impact at all in the world. I was under the impression I would be able takeover control points from the enemy but at the moment I do not see lands changing. I’m only Level 7 I think so I’ll see what the future holds.

Categories: General Tags:

Are Skill Point Based systems simplier then Classes?

November 18th, 2007 No comments

Damion made an interesting comment in my blog on Skill Point based systems:

“Very Newbie friendly”

No way. Skill-based systems give the players a ton of choices they have to parse, often with little or no information, and when those choices are combinatorial, the player becomes paralyzed with fear that he’s made a bad choice. When there are few class choices, players feel more confident that the choice they are making is a valid one.

Damion’s comment is really only applicable to a very complex skill based system but not really applicable to every skill point based system implemented. For instance, in Crackdown (skill based coop RPG), the player never has to make a conscience decision what skills he wishes to pick. Every player starts out with a ‘base’ version of each skill and you improve each skill with use. Every skill in Crackdown will improve your performance. This is ideally how a Skill Point Based System should work.

It’s that simple in Crackdown. The player never has to make a conscience decision about what skill will work best or will they ruin their build. Behind the scenes, the game observes what activites the player enjoys engaging in and tweaks the player’s avatar accordingly. It’s really very seamless feels much more natural then a Class based system.

If you haven’t played Crackdown for the xbox 360 then just go ahead and download the demo from Xbox Live and check it out. They did a very great job with it.

Well we’re on this topic I guess I’ll elaborate on his other points….

“Items will always be useful”

This is usually false. In a game without gates (such as levels), a noob crafter has a real hard time finding a market for his goods, since all players can equip all items. In SWG, for example, my master Armorsmith simply ran everyone else out of business, because they could not compete with the efficiency I was able to master.

Perversely, in a level-based game with a constant flow of new players or alts, there is a much larger market for newbie crafters.

Vajuras: I think EVE Online solved this one. Veterans might still have use of items created by newbies. The advantage of a skill point based system is that a newbie can specialize in one specific area and become very competitive very fast. Newbies can generate Ammo and various devices useful to veterans. Plus, since EVE Online features localized markets sometimes there is a severe shortage of certain materials out there in 0.0 (player run space) so vets are desperate to purchase items they need.

Balance and Viability

November 15th, 2007 No comments

This morning I thought about what City of Heroes did in regards to their powersets trying to justify their logic when I think about how my EM/ELA Brute (Tanker type) got picked over for EM/Stone Brutes for missions at end game. Unlike my /ELA Brute, /Stone Brutes were capable of maintaining their uber stone form 24/7. They are the ultimate tanks. How do you compete with that? We’re talking straight up, powerful resistances to everything at all times.

I still cannot understand why the developers did this. I know they have stated on their forums that players are expected to create an avatar for concept- not for min/max. But isn’t this naive? Players will always min/max for both PVE/PVP. Players optimize for PVE because they want to earn XP faster, be more viable for groups, and be more attractive to Guilds.

How do we get around this problem? Well, there might be a few ways. In Guild Wars you can switch out your secondary Class however, you can’t switch out your primary. But I hear Final Fantasy XI took it a step further and allows players to switch primary/secondary Class. At least this way you can keep playing the same character.

A more realistic and natural solution is to revise how we approach character development altogether. Instead of having Stone, Electric, and Invulnerability types we instead allow players to earn skillpoints that they could manipulate that would determine their specialization (see AVPMUD.com point based system). Players could create their own concept and not be bound by Artificial Developer restriction. I think it is simple common sense that only the gamer knows what they want to really be- not the Game Developer. Sure, its okay to put in checks so that they can’t be uber in both Fire and Energy manipulation but this can be done implicitly.

I contend that City of Heroes fatal flaw was embracing the Traditional Class based system (players are forced to build their hero using hardcoded choices). This is a sharp contrast to their costume designer. They allowed us absolute freedom to create our costumes but screwed us when it came to Character Development over the long haul.

There existed superhero pen and paper systems many years ago such as HERO and GURPS. Why does this fountain of knowledge get ignored? City of Heroes really had the opportunity to explore new angles with their unique IP yet they still stuck to long established Developer tradition and put in hardcoded powersets restricting our creative freedom.

Before launch, Cryptic had a unique freeform character creation system that allowed players to create their own unique superhero. However, they decided to toss it away in fear of newbies gimping themselves. Now we are stuck with their bad game design decision. Still to this day, you see a discrimination of sorts. At one point, you HAD to bring a /rad Corrupter to the end game mission in order to debuff the heroes regen rate. Their solution? They had to nerf the ArchVillian’s regen rate to make the encounter easier. If advancement were more freeform, we could have grabbed the awesome debuff powers we needed to win this encounter.

Sure, the developer eventually fixed this but it took about 5-6 months for them to patch this issue? Do you have any idea how players had to fix this problem all those months? Every supergroup demanded we create /rad corrupters so we could get through it. People were trying to hastily powerlevel /rad corrupters to end game. This is just sad, hours and hours wasted just so the very best enhancements could be farmed. If we would have had a more freeform development system, players could have fixed this issue ourselves by grabbing the debuff powers needed

Now revisit City of Heroes Debuffer/Tanker problem. Allowing players access to the background mathematics would allow them to tweak their characters and min/max for their desired activity. Yet, you will still see many unique characters due to our costumes and unique builds just like we see in Guild Wars.

Categories: Game Design, MMO, RPG Advancement Tags:

Risk versus Reward in PVP

November 14th, 2007 No comments

I read a lot of posts across MMORPG forums whereas players ask “why do pvpers need to get a reward from PVP?”

I dont know if these people are just fruity or lack any common sense whatsoever. PVPers like to get rewards from PVP just like how you like to receive gifts of loot from that bat you just killed.

Without loss there is no gain. We can already enjoy fun PVP in FPS. When I play an MMORPG I want options. I should be able to progress via dueling, PVP, PVE, etc. Note- looting is the most direct way to reward PVP however there are many other ways to achieve the bonuses without negatives. Look at Shadowbane I hear pvpers fought for control of resource nodes (cities) and once you own this land you can gather mats to build new gear to fund a war effort. There are many, many ways to achieve the same net effect without punishing our casual audiences (ideally).

Next, in the presence of risk vs reward there is a clear winner at the end of a struggle. The victor still stands while the loser is still crushed. Victory Conditions. In World Of Warcraft open pvp was really pointless. I’d show up to help protect my guildie from a ganker camping them. Then as soon as I left the ganker would return. What the- didn’t I just kill you 5 minutes ago?

So what is the answer to this issue? Blizzard decided to push pvpers into Battlegrounds and Arenas where they could create victory conditions. The newbies are gobbling it all up while the pvpers are like, “what the- if I wanted this I’d play Battlefield and Call Of Duty!!!!”. Thus, we see pvpers depart from the PVP servers and now World Of Warcraft has way more PVE servers when at launch PVP servers vastly outnumbered the PVE servers.

We should be fighting for control of cities at the very least and receive bonuses once we occupy the city. The losers need to be exiled or hit with a death penalty. If pvpers are drawn to conflict areas in the world itself then you can figure out how to create PVP specific death penalty. Come on, it can’t be this hard?

“Why can’t we just earn points from PVP?”

Okay now we need rankings and stats and diminishing returns. This is okay for a “game” but not suitable for a “sandbox type virtual world” (like eVE Online).

Cryptic Studios Blog on Instanced PVP

November 13th, 2007 No comments

Cryptic studios put up a blog on Instanced PVP. I find it interesting they wrote a blog on this. They seem to identify the issues with Instanced PVP however I find it ironic their solution for it was not really satisfactory. I have multiple high level characters in City of Heroes (1 top level EM/ELA Brute with a fleet of others) and I was personally very frustrated by the lack of rewards from PVP. I did not really want to raid for the best rewards over and over (hit Hamidon raids).

They lacked a way to allow their gamers to get the best items by doing what we enjoyed all the way to Level cap- continue to read the newspapers and take down bosses and ememies. The end game was a “Dead End” that differed vastly from the journey (but most MMOs are like this anyway so they are no worse then others).

They should have allowed players continue to earn XP at max level and let us be able to utilize that to unlock the temp powers or something. They at least did add Inventions right after I stopped playing though but it seemed popular. Perhaps if pvpers could gamble Infamy against each other in the PVP zones informally like how Age of Conan devs will do with Border Kingdoms (Blood Money). That way if you die- you have to give up some infamy (of course there is no way to trade currency between hero and villian so this is impossible for players to do themselves). If you accomplish an objective in the PVP zone, perhaps you earn some infamy. I’m just tossing out ideas. Also, why not also provide a Level 50 FFA Zone? Many pvpers asked for this.

Right now they just give ya some Nukes that go away with use and some low level enhancements.

The problem that I’m sure they’re aware of- Villains and Heroes can talk to each other. So it’s easy to farm each other. Still, they could pursue PVP objectives like they mentioned. Why can’t a Hero enter a an instance and stop Villains from robbing a bank (place banks at PVP zones for this purpose should be quick and easy)! How come there is not more interaction between the two? Their answer was coop against the Riki when at launch we were supposed to be fighting each other!

Ironically it is still one of the best MMOs but it has so much untapped potential in this area. I think Objective based PVP would give gamers more options. I know they are probably staring at their data monitoring player’s activity but if they offered stronger progression through PVP (yeah PVP based Quests) that would help add more spice and variety to the game. And who knows? Perhaps they’ll see more activity in the PVP zones.

Categories: Game Design, MMO, PVP Tags: