Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Other MMO Ideas: Morality System, Part 3

And now, time to wrap this up and get to the point. So, the problem with translating a morality system into MMO's, as I touched on in parts 1 & 2, is that the player, as an individual, can't really have that much effect on a persistent world. Since one of the main advantages of making moral choices in a game is the consequences that each choice being apparent, this makes implementation into MMO's difficult. In an MMO, the player isn't the main protagonist of the story, but rather a smaller player in something greater than him/her-self. That being the case, what would work, as far as a morality system is concerned, is to have the players choices effect mostly themselves.

Using WoW as a basic template that I'm sure anyone who found this blog is familiar with, lets say you have the Horde and the Alliance. Now, unlike WoW, where, except for possibly the Forsaken, no group is really good or bad, per se, but more some middle ground, let's assume for our fictional MMO that the Alliance really is the good guys for the most part and the Horde is the bad guys. What I would propose is that you don't automatically join a faction, but that you are approached by the factions (and later, factions within the factions) based on your heroic deeds.

For example, let's say you like helping farmers clear their land of whatever foozles have infested it this time and you do a lot of quests to help them near the beginning. A member of the alliance contacts you after a while and lets you know they have been watching your exploits and feel you have what it takes to be a member. Conversely, if you have been slaughtering peasants to steal their lands and belongings for corrupt lords, the Horde may wish to have you among it's ranks. Once with the Horde or Alliance, you could continue to build your reputation through your deeds and get the attention of a sub-group. Say you like to poison waterholes to get the job done. The Forsaken may take a shining to you.

An extra layer to this would be the possibility of losing reputation by going against whatever faction you had aligned with. Maybe you have grown weary of kicking puppies and would like to kick goblins for a while. You could work to join the other faction. To add another layer, there could be situations where you build rep with both by becoming a double agent, with each step risking discovery and cataclysmic reputation from both sides!

There are countless possibilities for this type of system and I'll be sure to list more as I think of them, but for now, I think I've said my piece. I would play that game.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Other MMO Ideas: Morality System, Part 2

As was stated in part 1, the problem that I've had with morality systems in games is that it always feels liek the game rewards you the most for choosing to go all "bad" or all "good" with the middle ground suffering from a heavy hybrid tax, meaning that you never are "good" or "bad" enough to unlock the best abilities available to each option. This really hampers me when I play these games because, sometimes (though I am usually compelled to choose the "good option") I won't make an obviously villanous choice simply because it will make my character weaker, not because I think the heroic way is more fun/interesting. Some games, such as Mass Effect, remove the morality from abilities and leave it to the story and dialogue choices (i.e. the more evil you are, the more likely a super evil option will pop up when talking to NPC's) and this can, of course effect the environment and the game world, which is great. However, when trying to adapt this concept to the World of MMO's, each player making decisions that change the world is not really a feasable option.

What I'd propose is a sliding scale. I like the idea of a virtuous warrior using higher minded abilities and a corrupted champion using dark abilities, and, since character development is the most important part of an MMO (it being the only real thing you can usually influence in the game), the more your choices affect your toon, the better. Since most of you reading this are familiar with the Star Wars universe and I can probably assume that a great many of you have played Knights of the Old Republic, I will use their system as a basis for what I propose.

You can see a bar with "Light" at the top and "Dark" at the bottom. Your character's current place on the bar is indicated with an arrow. I would modify this to also include paratheses around the arrow that, as the character levels up, the paratheses spread out to encompass more of the bar. Up and down the bar are all the abilities that it is possible to use. In the middle is "Force Push", on the light end, "Force Shield" and on the dark end is "Force Lightning" with all the other abilities spread out on the spectrum in between. As you make light or dark choices in the game, your arrow moves one way or the other up or down the bar. Wherever the arrow is pointing is what your strongest ability is. For instance, if you managed to stay dead center, your strongest ability would be "Force Push" but as you leveled up, you would be able to use more and more abilities until the parentheses took up most of the bar. In this case, " Force Push" wouldn't be weaker than "Force Lightning" per se, just a different game style. In fact, in this way of playing, a more balanced character could be an advantage, seeing as you would have more abilities to choose from. Your aligment would just determine which was the most powerful at any given moment. This would take a bit of balancing, but if there were, say, 5 main abilities (lightning, choke, push, heal and shield, for instance), whichever the arrow was closer to would be the one that was the most powerful and all the other abilities that were near it would be 2nd mst powerful and so on out to the edges of the parentheses.

Using a system like this, players could choose to focus on what choices they would make or really, however they wanted to play the game. Woudl they choose to be a clear hero, like Luke was? A clear villain like the Emperor? Or maybe they would be somewhere in the middle like the morally ambiguous Jedi of the prequels who were too concerned with their own interests to really be guardians of the galaxy. Naturally, this kind of a system can be used for any set of abilities for any class. There will always be a good and a bad version of any kind of job (evil monk anyone?)

In part 3, I'll wrap this all up and show how I think this would all work in an MMO setting.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Other MMO Ideas: Morality System, Part 1

Buckle down, this is going to be a long post (maybe multiple parts, even). I love morality systems in games. I think the first one I ever experienced was in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. What a great game that was. If anyone is unfamiliar with the game play element I'm talking about, a morality system in a game is put in place to give you the option to choose what your character will do in most situations, usually a "good" choice and an "evil" choice, which will then (ideally) effect some aspect of the game down the line. Whether that means certain characters will ally with you or certain abilities will become stronger depends on the game, though in a good one, it will be both. This kind of game design, if implemented properly into an MMO, could be great (or, conversely, awful).

Before I get into how this could be implemented, I would like to discuss a few of the pitfalls that I have noticed in this game mechanic as seen in the games I've played. The major sticking point is that once you start down the "good" or "evil" path, you almost feel obligated to continue making that same type of decision because the greatest rewards from the game come from being the most good or evil. Yahtzee Croshaw put it best in his review of the first Fable game (which I played when it was released, enjoyed, but ultimately found a little too shallow and lacking in real choice) when he said the player is forced into mawkish virtue or extravagant malevolence (that guy has a way with words, to be sure) and really, that's the crux of it. Instead of making whatever choice you feel like making (or, if you're truly immersed in the game, the choice you think you would make), you choose the good or evil option since that's the way you've gone so far.

Now, in Knights of the Old Republic, this is presented as making yourself align more with whatever side of the Force you wanted to go with, so that makes some sense in that context, I suppose. But take Jade Empire: here is a game with an extremely similar structure to KOTOR but set in Asia (I think China, but I can't remember and I don't often bother to fact check). In this version, the two sides are presented as the "Way of the Open Palm" meaning you are helpful and giving to others and the "Way of the Closed Fist" which, as it is described in the game, means that you are in business for yourself, so a self-centered opportunist to paraphrase their verbiage. Unfortunately, while the Open Palm seems accurately represented, the Closed Fist options often have you going out of your way to be a douche. In my experience, it's actually much more trouble to kill a peasant and burn down his village than it is to simply ignore his pleas for help because you have better things to do.

If it were up to me, I would have added a third option, the "Way of the Middle Finger" where you get stronger for being an unabashed jerk and leave the Closed Fist options to be that of true self interest. For example, a peasant would like help because a demon is threatening to kill him and his family. You have a few options: 1. you can help him and kill the demon, hoping there will be some nice loot from the demon's cave; 2. you can offer to help him only if he can pay you; 3. You can ignore his request and loot the demon's cave while he's murdering the peasant family or; 4. you can kill the man and his family, then kill the demon and leave all their heads on stakes in front of the peasant's house you burned down (after taking all his money) as a warning to others who might seek your help.

As you can see, there are 4 options there, each with a different result and each at different points on the moral compass. The good is obviously good, the bad is obviously bad, but in the middle are a light grey and a dark grey. Sure you help him, but you expect money in return. Sure, you didn't kill the peasants, but you let it happen when you could have stopped it. This kind of choice, to me, would be much more interesting and varied. If this could be done on a grand scale throughout the entire game, we may be onto something.

This is getting long, so stay tuned to Part 2 where I will discuss how this could effect character development and then Part 3 where I explain how this could be worked into an MMO setting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

MMO Tourist: Echo Bazaar

I may, at a later date, go back and discuss the phenomenon of flash/mobile "MMO's" since I tried out about 50 of them when I got my first smartphone, but for now, I just want to talk about the epitome of them: Echo Bazaar. Cleverly written, unique, entertaining . . . and ultimately the same old same old.

What I Liked
The game is set up, like most of these games are, to be played in short bursts. You play for 10-15 min then wait a few hours to recharge whatever resource you exhausted while playing, in this case it was candles that represented actions you could take. Most sessions left me wanting to play just a little bit longer, to do just one more thing. To be honest, this was the closest I've ever come to actually paying to play a Free-2-Play game. The world they have created for this game, though seen only through text and simple thumbnail graphics, is such an interesting one, I almost wished they had fleshed this out into a full-scale MMO. I could see myself spending a lot of time just walking around and exploring the world of Under-ground London.

What I Didn't Like
Even if I was paying for the maximum amount of actions per day, I still didn't think I would be advancing as fast as I would have liked in this game. Everything I really wanted to see or do seemed tantalizingly out of reach. Also, the tutorial could have been a little better. There were times when I didn't know what I was supposed to do next and had to visit forums to figure out things that should have been apparent.

Why I Stopped Playing
For a while, I was logging onto this game, both from my phone (which could just barely run it) and at home, but I just kind of ran out of steam. Again, I wasn't getting anywhere and there was such a bulk of unexplained items that were accumulating in my inventory that I had no idea what to do with or why I needed them or if I should sell them or what. Also, and this is a minor complaint, but I wish that there was more/easier to obtain gear. That probably would have kept me playing longer. As it was, not being able to equip every slot left me frustrated and was one of the reasons I quit.

I was almost willing to pay $5/month for this game, if that says anything. I would rate my experience at about $10 worth. Not bad, Echo Bazaar. If you're at the place in your gaming life where you're looking for a good pseudo-MMO, this is the best one I've seen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Late to the Party: Portal

I don't have a lot of money to spend on games. Real life is constantly rearing it's ugly head and I'm forced to spend my hard earned cash on stuff like food, clothing, gas . . . . boring stuff. That being said, I often don't get around to playing games right when they come out, with very few exceptions (I'll occasionally pre-order a 1st party Nintendo game or Square-Enix game . . also, I would get WoW expansions the day they came out when I was still playing WoW). All that to say I just played the original Portal.

I had heard a lot about this game, seen the internet memes that sprung up around it (which seem even less funny now that I've played the game, especially the cake ones) but the thing that kept coming up was that this was an amazing, but short, game. I can vouch for that. I enjoyed my time start to finish, minus a few times when I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to get where I needed to go. The game does a great job of leading you on without holding your hand. It slowly introduces all that you can do with the portal gun and then doesn't overstay its welcome, leaving you wanting more.

The humor in the game was spot on and I laughed out loud a few times. Humor in a video game is tough to nail because of all the repetition that the player experiences in retrying certain areas, but the humorous dialogue seemed to happen mostly in spots where you'd only hear the same line once. The exception being the ending (which I had to try a few times) but since most of that dialogue is gold, and is so dense (sometimes overlapping) I was actually GLaD when I had to repeat it so I could pick up on some that I missed.

All in all, I enjoyed this game start to finish and I am happy I finally got to play it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

WTS: Transferable Experience

Tobold has raised an interesting question on his blog today about transferable experience and I thought I might weigh in on the subject. To summarize, he poses the question of whether or not experience should be transferable between your alts in an MMO. You could either continue to gain xp at max level that you could spread to your other under-max level toons to speed up the leveling process or you could prolong your leveling time by syphoning xp to an alt.

I had never run into the "leveling is happening too quickly" problem myself, since the game I've played the most, WoW, didn't have that problem when I started playing it back in vanilla. It took a few hundred hours to get level 60 back then and that was drawn out a little further by quest hubs not being as complete as they are now, more xp being required per level, and mounts being a little harder to come by so travel times were greatly increased. However, for an alt lover, such as myself, this does sound like a great idea.

A point that Tobold didn't raise, but that I think is a good one, is continuing to reward xp to max level characters could encourage them to go on raids or help with quests that would otherwise have no benefit to them. All of a sudden, by help a friend, or random stranger, they can get that alt mage to cap a little faster.

I'll always be in favor of giving the player different ways to play the game. If someone wants to have a bunch of max level alts, but finds the leveling game tedious, this would be a great solution. I'm for it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MMO Tourist: World of Tanks

So, I have a backlog of these MMO Tourist posts, since I have sampled my way around a great deal of MMO's, but I figured I'd push this to the forefront as it is the most recent and the freshest in my mind. World of Tanks is an entirely PvP MMO that, as the title suggests, features tanks (not "holy trinity tanks" but real world tanks) doing battle in various scenarios, always teams of 15 v 15, as far as I know. It is F2P and you can buy special ammo, extra garage slots to keep more tanks, and pre-made tanks with real money. Alright, enough with the exposition and on to my thoughts.

What I Liked
The game seems very well balanced, which I can attest to, have a nearly 50/50 win/loss ratio, which is a good thing for a PvP game. The tanks move and work in a realistic way (slow and plodding, especially in a non-upgraded tank) so the battles end up being a little more strategic than just fast paced run-in-die-run-in-again-die-again of most online PvP I've experienced. Once your tank is blown up, you're out for the rest of the match (though you can exit the battle and take one of your other tanks to another match, if you choose). That was nice, as it lent real weight to destruction.

What I Didn't Like
The game was a little slow for me. Plus, since the whole thing takes place in PvP matches, there is no world to explore, no quests, no story involved, etc. . . These aren't problems from a game perspective, but they are problems for me as those are what I am looking for in an MMO. Also, there wasn't really a tutorial that explains how everything works. You just have to figure it out. Maybe there's a game manual somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

Why I Stopped Playing
This is a good game, but it i not a good game for me. PvP is my least favorite activity in an MMO. I enjoy working with people, but not against another group. Also, and maybe this speaks to the kind of person I am, I prefer a game where whether I win or lose depends on something other than being sucker punched by a tank I never saw coming. I didn't spend any money on this game, but I would rate the 20 or so hours I invested at about $5 worth. Again, it's a good game, just not a good game for me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MMO Suggestion: Advanced Channeling

This is a suggestion on a much smaller scope than my previous MMO ideas, but I was thinking about it over the weekend as a neat game play element that could be added to almost all the types of MMO's I've proposed so far as well as most existing MMO's and it seemed like a fun spin on a raid encounter.

I mentioned in my raid based MMO suggestion the idea of having the melee protect the casters by blocking for them. In this version of that encounter, the mages need to be protected because they are generating a shield that holds back the onslaught on an attacking army. The shield blocks all incoming projectile and magic attacks from the attacking army but requires the full concentration of all the spell casters in the party. The melee would have to go out and quietly and methodically take down the opposing archers and mages, while leaving some tanks behind to deal with the ground troops, who can walk through the shield.

The shield itself can take damage, so will require the full concentration of the casters to keep up. I imagine something like a "Simon Says" type game where you have to cast any of 4 or 5 different spells in an increasingly long sequence (the longer the sequence, the more power to the shield) until you fail and have to start over again. This way, the player would have to focus and would genuinely be distracted if enemy troops are getting too close.

Anyway, just a simple thought, but it seemed like it could be a fun twist on a tried and true formula.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

El Cheapo: Gaming on a Budget - Rondo of Swords

This weeks budget game is a tactical strategy game (I sense a theme to my playing habits). I picked this one up on the heels of completing Final Fantasy Tactics A2 for the DS and was looking for another turn-based strategy game for the DS when I came across Rondo of Swords.

The first run I gave at this game, I thought I would end up discarding it as I did Disgaea DS (just couldn't get into it), but after figuring out a few things, I played this game well over 150 hours and enjoyed 85% of that time. I add that qualifier because this game kicks your ass. It has many of the trappings of turn-based strategy games in as much as you have a group of characters that level up with you, you spend skill points to make them more powerful, find better equipment for them, stock each of them with items to use, etc. Where it differed was in the difficulty, which was high (until I figured a few things out, anyway) and in the way you have to attack.

Every turn for each character, they can move, use an item, use an ability or cast a spell. Melee characters deal damage to any enemy they pass through on the path you draw for them to take, and any character can get a buff from any ally they pass through. One of the tougher aspects of the game is keeping your group together when your casters can't move and cast in the same turn, but your melee can deal damage and move at the same time. Archers can move and then shoot at the end of the move, but of the two in the game, they are stupidly over powered and ridiculously underpowered respectively. This play style takes a lot of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it has a sort of flow two it that can become cathartic.

The trick to this game that I mentioned earlier is that the game has a mission based structure and you can repeat the missions as many times as you want until you beat them. Once you do, that mission is gone. What I didn't realize is that if you leave a mission when things are looking grim, you lose all the items you gained, but retain all the experience your characters earned. I had just been playing until I died and then starting over from my last save, making the game much harder than it had to be. The only way I discovered this aspect of the game was by trying to exit the battle one time, just to see what happened. The game never told me I could do this in any of the tutorials. In fact, if I'm remembering this correctly, there is no tutorial in game. You have to go to it from the main menu on your own. Hardcore.

To sum up, you can get this game for about $7 at Gamestop (used of course) and it is worth every penny is you like turn-based strat games and are up for a challenge. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MMO Suggestion: Leveling Backwards/Laterally

Time for more MMO theory crafting! This time, I wanted to expand upon an idea I read in an Extra Punctuation article by Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame (excellent videos, by the way, though I'm sure most of you reading this are familiar with his work). He posits the idea of leveling backwards as a new form of game play citing the following advantages: 1. no griefing of newbies as they would start out more powerful than you; 2. you start out with every ability and can decide, through use, which you like the best and would like to keep as you level down; 3. it makes more sense from a narrative sense as placing the hero in the losing position, where each victory takes a bit out of you and makes you seem less likely to succeed the next challenge.

As I read through his article, I started thinking that this could work in a different way than he suggests (a series of Pyrrhic victories that leave you weaker for the strain or force you to sacrifice to succeed). What if your character, who started out at the peak of his/her training in his/her 20's got older with each level? One of the things that always bothered me about the game Fable was that my character continued to get stronger and more agile as he got older. And while that may be the case until your 30's-40's, you certainly start to go down hill by the time you're approaching 60, especially if you've led the type of like a video game protagonist lives. It makes more sense to me to have a character get physically weaker as they age. However, that doesn't mean they can't compensate for it in different ways.

The game I envision has you start out as a brutish 20 something. You are physically strong, but that's about it. As you level up, you gain experience in the real sense of learning how the game works, but also (for the character, anyway) you gain life experience. You could also have sliders for influence in your community, political and economic affluence and technical or magical skill. You can focus on one of these (or maybe several) to compensate for your initially high stats dropping. So if you focused on intellect, you might gain an affinity for the arcane arts and learn powerful spells. If you put your focus into technical understanding, you can create long range weaponry so when your strength fails you, your back from the front lines.

The big difference I can see in everyone starting out as a soldier and working there way up to different classes that are not necessarily stronger but require more skill and preparation is that you could raid or go on a dungeon run right out of the gate. Imagine a game where older guilds were always on the look-out to hire newb mercenaries to use as cannon fodder for there raids? You have a group of 10 more advanced players that stand in the back and deal damage/heal while a line of 15 soldiers (all level 1-5) are hired to keep the monsters away from the experienced players. This would, in a sense, mirror real life in that the lower on the totem pole you are, the closer you get to the front lines and vice versa.

I think this idea certainly has merit and gets new players into the game right away, but seeing the older players and the cool things they can do gives immediate incentive while the older players have incentive to help new players since they need them as meat shields. I'd play that game.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MMO Tourist: Puzzle Pirates

The next installment in the Tourism series is about Puzzle Pirates, kind of an odd bird among MMO's. The basic setup is you start out in your hut (which you can upgrade and add furniture to, of course) and set out for pirating adventures but instead of combat or watching status bars for crafting, you play puzzle games, like variations of match-three puzzles, a pseudo-tetris game, more variations of match-three and some others. It's an interesting twist on the genre to be sure and, in short, worthy of a look-see. Break it down.

What I Liked
Doing puzzles instead of combat is fun if you ike puzzle games. Staring out, you will apply to by a sailor on various voyages of player-run ships where you will do sailor jobs such as rigging, ship repair, working the bilge and so on. The player who owns the ship directs things and decides how the loot of the voyage is distributed when you get back to the dock. Along the way, you come in contact with other player controlled vessels or NPC vessels at which point you enter ship combat. As a peon (which I never made it past, btw), you either continue doing whatever job you were doing prior to combat so the ship will continue to move, or you may be asked to load cannons (another mini-game and, I might add, my least favorite next to ship repair. Never got the hang of those two). Eventually, one or the other ship will be boarded and a brawl between the two crews will ensue. This takes the form of either a Tetris attack-type game or a break-out game. I'm not sure what determines which it will be, it may be random. Whoever wins gets money and other loot and you move along. The more you gain during the voyage, the more to split at the end.

I liked how the game was set up, the puzzle aspect made it feel different for all the other MMO's I'd tried, even though it was similar in many other respects and it felt as though you got a lot of bang for you buck, considering I didn't pay anything at all (it's another Free-2-Play model).

What I Didn't Like
I wished that there were more variety to the puzzles. Match-three was the main type at play here, in various forms, and gets tiresome in the kind of game where that's all you do for hours. Also, the format of signing up for voyages, not knowing how long they would last (there didn't seem to be a maximum time limit) and I would always feel bad if I had to log out in the middle. There wasn't much solo content for someone just starting out. The crafting was for once you owned a ship and you could get jobs working in a ship yard by yourself for cash, but they didn't pay nearly as well as even an unsuccessful voyage would. Also, I don't like when games don't have a centralized auction house. Player-run shops are always a mess to navigate through and it feels like a waste of time when I should be able to look through all the postings at once without having to run all over creation.

Why I Stopped Playing
Ultimately, I just got bored. When you earn enough (or I think you can buy one with real money . . . maybe just get your rank up faster, I can't remember. This was a year or two ago) you can get your own ship, but that didn't seem like it was going to happen for me anytime soon. Plus, the puzzles got old after a while, and, while the stuff you could buy in the shop was mostly cosmetic, there were enough areas that were pay only to frustrate me. Bottom line: I would recommend this game to anyone who was thinking of trying out something a little different. I played for around 60-80 hours (and even got my wife to play a bit. She's a sucker for puzzle games) and I would rate my experience at about $10 worth.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

WTS: Unlockable Endgame Content

One of the few bloggers that I read on a regular basis (and by regular I mean everything he writes) is Tobold. He mainly discusses the theory of game design, much like I have been doing here. Often times he raises interesting points that I feel the need to elaborate on. When this is the case, I'll add the WTS (What Tobold Said) tag to the title so I don't need to waste expository time saying who he is and why I'm talking about it. I will simply include the link to the post of his in question and then add my own to it.

The Tobold post in question this week is about a game that is still in closed beta, so I haven't had a chance to try it yet (though I plan to when it moves to open beta, supposedly this summer) called Glitch. Basically, this is a Free-2-Play, non-combat mmo where you spend your time exploring and crafting. In this post, he discovers some of the end-game content in which players band together to open up new areas by completing quests. In short, I think this is a great idea.

One of the missed opportunities in the WotLK WoW expansion was the Tournament of Champions. It was neat to see it being built and they had some of the framework in place for a server-wide event like the Ahn Qiraj war effort of vanilla WoW, but the turn in quests only awarded gold, the rep quests just got you rep (and some cool items, admittedly) but the devs just unlocked the arena with a patch when they felt like it.

Imagine a world (of Warcraft, ha ha) where, after the starting zones, every single area had to be unlocked by the players, collaboratively. In a game like WoW, this could be framed as an ongoing war effort where you had to reclaim territory from advancing forces and fight your way through to quest hubs. Maybe some of them already have garrisons of the Horde (or Alliance, I guess) that had been cut off and require reinforcement and others are taken from the enemy. Players could contribute by repeatable kill quests and supply runs and, once they reach a certain point, the next area opens up. It would give a feeling of conquest in a game like WoW and would also help to level the playing field for people starting later. The first folks wouldn't have as much content, but would be a part of unlocking it (which would give it's own rewards, the more you contribute, the better the rewards, as it seems Glitch is doing) and people who started playing later would be able to access all the unlocked content as soon as they reached the appropriate level.

I think it's a great idea and would like to see it branch out to other MMOs.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pow W.O.W Podcast is Live!

Just a quick note to say that the Pow W.O.W Podcast (available on iTunes) that features me and mentions this blog is now live at the Nerdfire Productions website. In the episode, we discuss Death Knights and their effect on WoW, my idea for a hero class which I posted on this blog back in 2009 as well as a 2 minute rant I gave about the tanking shortage in their "120 Unleashed"(the transcript of which can be found here). It was a ton of fun recording with the guys and I hope that I can do it again sometime soon!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MMO Tourist: Dungeons & Dragons Online

One of the things that can broaden your concept of what is possible in an RPG is to try everything that's out there. Luckily for those of use who don't have any money, it is possible to try out many MMO's without spending anything at all thanks to the modern Free2Play trend. The idea being that you can play some version of the game for free while the full version of the game is only available for money. The idea being you play for a while and if you like it/have become addicted to it, you start paying money to enhance your play time. This is presented in a different fashion for every game, but usually comes down to a few different types: A. Pared down version for free, full version for monthly subscription; B. Pay to level-up faster/gain other advantage; C. paired down version for free, buy full game one piece at a time.

In these MMO Tourist posts, I'm going to discuss my experiences with several MMO's that I've tried, most of the F2P, what I liked, what I didn't, and why I stopped playing.

Dungeons & Dragons Online started life as a subscription based MMO, so the basic game is set up that way. Most of the game is based on dungeon crawling (big surprise). You start out from hub cities and can enter instances for each quest you undertake, selecting the difficulty of the instance (often based on whether or not you are trying to solo it or have a decent group). It seemed to me that 95% of the quests take place in instances with the remaining 5% being "find this person and talk to them" quests, so get used to spelunking.

What I Liked:
The dungeons aren't just moving from start to finish, as they are in modern WoW, but are labyrinthine with secret passageways that you can only access with certain classes (need a thief to lock pick or a mage to activate a rune door, for example) so it encourages you to bring as diverse a group as possible. If the dungeon is new to everyone in your party (or if you are soloing a dungeon) this can lead to a slower pace, as you think out each move. There are hidden traps as well as rewards and if you don't have enough potions or a healer, traps can be a serious problem. I liked that the game makes you figure it out. That is something that was sorely lacking in WoW dungeons.

What I Didn't Like
When you have a group of higher level characters that know the dungeon backwards and forwards, they take off at a run. If you're unfamiliar with the place, you will get left behind. Also, the reason they know the dungeons so well is that you end up playing the same ones over and over. There didn't seem to be a huge variety of quests or other things to do besides get a group together and run an instanced dungeon. Now I realize that most RPG's have this to a degree, but in DDO, I really felt the grind after a while.

Why I Stopped Playing
I had fun with my time in DDO, but in the end it wasn't enough to get me to pay for a subscription. I do appreciate the business model that allowed me to play for nearly 30 hours before I really saw things I couldn't get access to without a sub, but at that point I decided the game play wasn't so compelling that I'd pay for the privilege. Also, I'm cheap. If I had to assign a dollar amount to the playtime I was able to experience for free (close to 100 hours, i'd guess), I'd say I got about $15-20 worth of game for free.

Monday, May 23, 2011

El Cheapo: Gaming on a Budget - Lock's Quest

Like many of you out there, I am not made of money, neither literally or figuratively. That being the case, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of the bargains I've found while trying to scrounge up some compelling playtime. Eventually, I'll discuss my impressions of various F2P MMO's (and how long I could stand 2 P for F before quitting), but for now, a good portion of my daily video game allotment goes to handheld games.

One of the things that a handheld (the Nintendo DS, in this case) can do really well is an isometric (3/4 top down view) strategy game. I've played all the handheld Final Fantasy Tactics games, Onimusha Tactics on the Game Boy Advance, and several others throughout my handheld history. Lock's Quest by THQ is a standout among these. It mixes real time strategy, tower defense and direct combat into a frantic and rewarding mix of game play options, while forcing the player to quickly make tactical decisions. This game is a super bargain is you get it used. As of this writing, a used copy goes for about $7 and you can expect to get between 30-40 hours out of a single play through.

The main character, Lock, is an archineer meaning that he can build walls and defenses out of energy. Before each round of the game starts, you have about a minute to create walls and turrets around what ever it is you have to defend that round (usually a person, a building, or an energy hub). Once the build phase is complete, the enemy start advancing on you and you can combat them directly using you wrench as a club and a few special abilities or you can stay safely behind the walls and repair damage as it happens. If a wall or turret is destroyed, you have to wait for the next build phase to replace it. Usually, each round ends up having a good mix of you running all over the place fighting and repairing to hold back the tide of attackers.

I'll be honest, I played with the sound off, so I can't give a yay or nay on that front, but the graphics are crisp and the controls are relatively tight (controlled mostly via stylus) and I had very few problems making the game do what I wanted it to do. Sometimes, Lock would run the wrong way because the path I wanted him to use was blocked and other times I couldn't see what was going on because a wall was in the way, but this was a minor annoyance at worst. The story is serviceable and the overall experience is satisfying. I recommend this game. Enjoy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pow W.O.W. Appearance

As a quick break from discussing what the future of MMO's might hold, I wanted to say that my appearance on the Pow W.O.W. podcast should be airing next week. Since it was recorded a few months ago, it will be interesting for me to hear again. May be a bit surreal. Anyway, if you want to check out their podcast in the mean time you can listen to it here or on iTunes. When the podcast with me drops, I'll link to it directly.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Other MMO Ideas: Turn-Based Strategy MMO (Part 2)

So, I realized after yesterday's post that there were still a few points about a TBSMMO that I wanted to touch on. The post had just started to feel long-ish and I felt like I was rambling. To continue:

I talked about how abilities and gear would work, as well as the class structure, but I also wanted to touch on game structure. Now as far as this goes, the game should be entirely mission based. You get a mission, you and some friends (or just you by yourself, maybe with some hired sprites) enter an instanced battle field from whatever hub city you were in. You should be able to walk around the city freely with your toon to visit the mailbox, auction house, player housing, guild hall (this game has everything!) but the battles should be highly structured. You start by getting a mission, either from an NPC or perhaps from a posting in a pub, then you get your group together, decide who will be fulfilling which role, then enter the instance. At that point, the group leader will select the difficulty of the encounter (i.e. how long you will have to make decisions on your turn) and then the encounter will begin. The game board should be grid based, including topography and environmental hazards than might make an ability less effective, or might hamper your movement (you are able to walk farther on pavement per-turn then through marshland, for example). You face off against either a group of enemies, other players or maybe a boss or two. Many of the ideas that came up in my Raid Based MMO post would apply here as well, such as tanks having a zone of control, forcing mobs to circumnavigate them or throw projectile and spells over them to reach the casters, having your swifter classes like rogues and hunters (using the WoW model of class ability) go after casters and archers that are hiding in the back, and mages being the long range glass cannons that make them so endearing. Once you are successful, you are shown a summary of the battle, how much xp was earned, how many skill points toward your abilities, how much gold each of you received, as well as any items that need to be divied up. After that, if this was a single fight mission, you will be returned to the hub city. If this was a multi-fight campaign, you will be sent to a lobby-like war room within the instanced battle ground to heal up, change classes and weapons if need be and prepare for the next fight.

The nice thing about being able to freely switch classes is that it gives everyone a chance to do everything and makes for a more dynamic group. When the focus is more about strategy and having the right abilities and mix of classes for any given fight, the gear can be made a secondary consideration. The stats help, you can't win if you have no gear at all, but what you equip isn't as important as how you prepare yourself and your group. The game could even be set up where it shows you in advance what types of mobs you will be facing (especially if it is randomly generated) so you can balance your party appropriately. With the pace of the game slowed a bit, you're given time to make the interesting strategic decisions. With a dual class system, (especially with the 50 classes I would recommend . . . don't ask me to name them, just trust me that they exist) you are given an immense tool box to draw from. Oh, as a quick side note, there wouldn't be any restriction on bag space, as in order to accommodate so many class possibilities, you would have to carry and insane amount of gear. Getting all your classes prepared and ready to go would be a game unto itself.

Now, from this basis you can add crafting by putting mining and herb nodes, along with treasure chests, scattered across the maps as well as crafting drops (both recipes and reagents) from mobs and bosses. The nodes would give a reason for your party the thoroughly explore any given map and could even be it's own kind of mission. Instead of a story mission, there could be a few random map spawn points around the hub town where you could go into an instance with some wild monsters who don't launch as coordinated an attack, but are no pushovers either, and an increased amount of mining/herbing nodes.

The nice thing about MMO's is there is already a lot to choose from as far as game play devices. Maybe with the first expansion to the TBSMMO (which sounds like it should be about Everybody Loves Raymond) they introduce non-combat pets and battle mounts that, once earned, can increase any class' movement range-per-turn in battle. They could add a support character for everyone, kind of like a squire that would need to be moved during that 30 second turn as well as your main, but could throw buffs and minor heals. The could add the ability for certain classes to have combo abilities with other classes or members of the same class. Player housing!!!!1!!

Alright. I think that's everything about TBSMMO's I wanted to say. Naturally, as I'm sure you could have guessed since it's the ideal version of something I want, I would play this game.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Other MMO Ideas: Turn-Based Strategy MMO

So, now that I've gotten the major ideas out there, I wanted to explore some smaller themes in popular genres that could be incorporated into an MMO. The way WoW was set up, while successful, is not the only way to build a game, either from a structure standpoint or a game play standpoint. Since coming up with new ideas is hard, why not look at other existing genres of video games, and glean what we can?

The first idea I wanted to explore is the idea, as the title suggests, of a turn-based strategy MMO. I love the Final Fantasy Tactics games. I like the way they are set up, I like the strategic element of the game play . . . they just speak to me on a certain level. An MMO that used the basic tenets of these games could be great. For the sake of a baseline, lets assume the WoW aesthetic is in place. In fact, since that is the game I'm the most familiar with, I'm assuming that every type I come up with will be a WoW spin-off. One of the things that Blizzard has proven to be really good at is taking existing ideas and polishing them to a shine. There's no reason they can't branch out to traditionally single player genres and take those ideas too.

The first thing that defines a turn-based strategy RPG is, of course, the turn-based strategy. The way this works in a single player game is that the action doesn't take place in real time, but rather like a chess game where every piece on the board has it's own internal timer (usually based on a Speed stat) that dictates how many turns pass before you get to go again. Again, in the single player version, this isn't determined by actual time passing as much as how fast a given sprite is compared to another sprite. For example, if a ninja has 2 speed and a knight has 1 speed, the ninja will be ready for another move in half as many turns. While this works out fine when your playing by yourself against an NPC team (who can make tactical decisions nearly instantly) once you switch to real people controlling each sprite (which I is the direction I'd take this) you are waiting up to a minute between each person's move. While I don't mind slowing the game play pace down a bit, I think that would be much too far. Plus, if someone goes afk, you could be there all night before you got to move again. I think a much better model would be to have a 30 second timer for each round (a round being defined as "team 1 moves, team 2 moves") where you have to move your character into position and decide what/who/how to attack/heal/defend. This would keep the game going. If you were playing against a NPC team or boss, their turn would seem instant, or as long as it takes for all the animations to finish. That way, while it would still be turn-based, it would feel as though you are always doing something. What might be a good idea is to have a sliding difficulty where the less time you give your team to decide (therefore increasing the difficulty of the encounter) the more money you earn, having to decide in advance whether you want 30, 45, 60, 90, or no time limit. This way, when you face an unfamiliar foe, or have a lot of inexperienced players, you could adjust how much time to strategize you will get. The low end being ideal for a new boss in high-end content.

The second thing that defines specifically Final Fantasy Tactics is the ability of each sprite to have multiple jobs, usually based on the race of the sprite, race-based job choice not being anything new to WoW. The way you switch from job to job is as easy as hitting a button in a menu and changing gear. This has great potential for an MMO and could solve many problems as well as deepen the experience for everyone. You see, the way you unlock a new profession on any given sprite in FFT is by gaining abilities in another job. For example, once you have learned 6 mage abilities, you can become a sage. The way you earn abilities is not through regular leveling, but by using a weapon and gaining a certain amount of skill points through battle. While you hold the weapon, you can perform the ability attached to that weapon, but once you gain enough skill points while using that weapon in battle, you have learned the ability and can now equip a new weapon that has a different ability for your class. Offensive abilities are usually assigned to weapons while defensive and reflexive abilities (like "counter", for example) can be assigned to hats, gloves, shields, boots, chest pieces, etc . . . Your current class determines what types of items you can equip. Many items will grant different abilities based on what class you are, so if you have already unlocked several classes, one new weapon, that can be used by several of them, could unlock 3 or 4 new abilities.

As for the abilities themselves, there are several kinds as I mentioned before. The way they are used in FFT would also work well in an MMO. Before battle, you chose which class you are by setting what offensive abilities you'd like. Then, there would be a slot beneath that for a sub-class. This way, you could use two classes worth of abilities no matter what your main class is at that moment. So, you could be a warrior and set your subclass to rogue so you could steal and use poisons, using the WoW model of those classes. Your base stats would be determined by your primary class. Next, you would assign a reflexive ability, such as the previously mentioned "counter" or "reflect magic" and two passive abilities, such as "resist fire" or "physical defense." Having fewer spaces for all these increases the importance of making the best decision, given the forthcoming battle. Facing a lava boss? Hope you have fire resist up!

Now, weapons should not be "bind-on-pick-up". At the most, I envision them being "bind-to-guild". Since abilities come with almost all weapons, not just stats, it would be important for a guild to be able to spread weapons around to all members. Imagine setting up for a battle and deciding what classes everyone will be and finding out that someone needs a certain ability they haven't gotten yet. No problem, carry this sword into battle. Then pass it to the next guy. There would still be an advantage to getting more drops of the same item from the same boss because you could get the abilities that weapon holds spread out more quickly, but even defeating a boss once will benefit the entire guild. Instead of rolling for a weapon, you could cast lots for what order you got to carry it. Most other items could be sold on the AH when you have no use for them. However, since many items affect many different classes, some will be worth holding onto, should you ever unlock that other class. I would like there to be 50 classes. Go nuts.

I would play this game. Someone make it, please.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

MMO Type 3: PvP Based

So, we come to the third type of MMO I'd like to propose, PvP based. There are a lot of ways you could do a PvP based MMO. You could have a game similar to the leveling/exploration based MMO where it's all about world PvP (like Darkfall or EVE Online) where players have factions and guilds that are constantly in aggressive territorial disputes. You could have a PvP MMO similar to the Raid Based model where you have a hub town and join battle grounds and arenas (much like current PvP in WoW). However, the idea I had takes aspects of those and turns them into a PvP extravaganza. I think a cool take on PvP might be to combine all the PvP elements, while PvP-izing other MMO tropes, and creating what I would call Gladiatorial Role Play.

Imagine a WoW take on ancient roman gladiators. Your character is a merchant/businessman/noble who has decided to invest in the war games, as there is a lot of money to be made. The game begins when you pick what caste of society your character belongs to (each giving different bonuses, of course), and head off to the local orphanage. From the kids there, you adopt (buy) a young orcling boy, let's say (Achievement Unlocked: Brangelina - You have adopted a 3rd world orphan!). You take your orc home to your modest house that has an exercise yard and start training him to fight in the games. There are a few different starting classes to chose from for the lower echelon of the competition (grunt, brawler, adept) which you pick from the start which, as your ward progresses through the PvP ranks can branch out into multiple fighting classes (a grunt could advance to warrior or death knight, for example based on how you chose to train, where as an adept could become a mage or priest).

The way I imagine combat working is similar to WoW PvP now where you can have small 1v1/2v2/3v3/etc . . battles as well as battlegrounds types with up to 40v40. When you enter your ward in a battle ground, you take control of the character. Outside of instances, you control the sponsor. The sponsor's role will be to operate whatever business you chose (which could involve corporate PvP via hostile takeovers, bidding for resources) and to provide equipment and support for his fighters (an opportunity for auction house PvP in the form of aggressive bidding, buy low, sell high).

After a while, you could expand your compound and start training other warriors to fight for you (either more orphans or the more expensive mercenaries/adult slaves (too risky?). You could hire trainers and get better equipment for your fighters and become more affluent in the town. There could also be chariot races once you got enough to get a stable together (chariot drawn by war-bears, anyone?), and there could be a mode of play where merchants risk moving their inventory from one capital city to another via an escort mission through an instance. You could pay for extra insurance in the form of NPC guards, but you could be raided by other players.

This could stand to be fleshed out a little more, but I was excited about the idea when I thought it up and I hope it comes across as something with potential. I'd play that game.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

MMO Type 2: Raid/Team Based

Next up, we have the raid or team based MMO, as the title suggests. The reason I think this is needed as it's own game is the opposite reason the leveling game should exist: there are players out there to whom leveling is a chore and would prefer to skip that part and get to what they consider to be the "real game": raiding. Now, while I am basing all of these MMO types on my knowledge of WoW and how I think Blizzards next MMO/MMOs should be structured, this one will sound at first a lot like Guild Wars, but bare with me, because the similarity is going to end when I stop talking about hub worlds and hire-able NPC's.

As a brief side note, after I started writing this post, I saw that an EQ2 developer was circulating the idea of drawing back players who have left the game by offering them a pre-made level 90 character (that's the level cap for EQ2), so it seems that developers understand the desire to skip the leveling game and get to the meat of the endgame experience. Just thought I'd throw that out these since it is directly relevant.

So, for this MMO version, I imagine the game staring out for the player similar to the DK starting area: you have a fully formed character that, through a series of quests and challenges in a single player mode lasting a few hours at most, gets a basic set of gear and all necessary skills. This area would be phased or perhaps entirely solo; an intense training period where as a skill is introduced (the areas would be class specific), you would be given challenges that require you to use those skills. For example, a tank class like warrior would have several quests that involved protecting NPC's (with the support of NPC allies) by blocking incoming mobs. A priest would have to heal an NPC that was tanking in their version. A rogue would have stealth missions and so on. In this way, the brief intro you have to the game teaches you directly the skills you will be using in the group setting so when you pop out on the other side, you not only have basic skills, but the knowledge of the application of those skills that will be required of you.

At this point in the game, there would be a few hub cities (this is the part that would feel similar to Guild Wars) where you can form into groups, where player housing would be, the guild hall, the Auction House . . . all that stuff. From there, once you have a group you start running the equivalent of five-mans and after your gear has gotten better, raids.

One of the things a successful version of this game should do is shake up the holy trinity a bit. First, I think that tanking should not be necessarily just one or two people but, in the instance of a raid, maybe as many as 6 or 7. It would be more of a phalanx than just one guy who pisses the monster off. In this version of dungeon running, there would have to be collision detection so that the plate wearing classes would have to hold a zone of control and literally block the monster/boss from getting to the healers/mages. One of the things that kind of bothered me about the way WoW endgame worked out was that the armor classes were kind of meaningless. Sure a plate wearing dps has a bit more armor than a cloth wearer, but both would be taken out in one or two hits from the boss, usually one. In this manner, I'd imagine that plate wearers would have the highest resistance to physical damage, while be very weak to magic damage and moderately weak to ranged, cloth wearers would have the highest resistance to magical damage but be very weak to physical and moderate to ranged, leather wearers would have the highest resistance to ranged damage but very susceptible to magic, and mail would have an average mix of all three resistances. This would mean that any plate wearer, which would be melee, would need to stay between the boss or mobs and the cloth wearers/leather ranged characters either in the form of a line, several lines, or a circle to protect them from physical harm, forcing the boss to use magic on them to do any damage (hence the magic resistance). The nice part about this is that it makes more sense, first of all, and secondly, tanking isn't one persons responsibility, but is spread across all the melee characters. It becomes almost more like an (American) football team where you have a row of blockers protecting the quarterback and receivers. I imagine raiding to be more like what it is becoming anyway: a team sport.

To get a little bit more specific about some of the ways this could play out for boss fights, imagine your raid walks into a large room where the boss is. The tanks form their phalanx and start advancing on the boss, a giant ogre let's say, keeping the ranged same behind them. The stealth leather classes start moving around to flank the boss, while the casters start buffing up. The battle begins with the healers keeping the phalanx healthy, the stealth leathers sapping the boss from behind with poisons and laying traps out. The boss realizes (so to speak) that he can't get to the guys throwing the heavy damage spells from behind the phalanx so he calls to his minions: goblin archers, warriors and mages. The archers and the mages are throwing spells and arrows from the balconies and can't be reached by the ranged behind the phalanx, so the leather stealthers now move up towards the balcony to take them out. The goblin warriors advance in wave after wave towards the phalanx, so the mail wearers, since they have good resistance to all types of damage run out to take them on individually, using self heals and cc to keep each other alive and kill the mobs before they reach the phalanx. Those that get through are dealt with by the plate wearers who must keep the line and continue to keep the boss in check while not letting any smaller mobs get to the vulnerable casters. As you can see, this is just one of hundreds of possibilities once you set the ground rules. You add in different forms of CC, different mob patterns, magic bosses, massive single bosses with trash mobs to wade through before you face them . . . there's a lot of potential here and I think it adds a bit more thought to strategy than some of the "everyone stand here . . . now everyone stand there" fights.

In addition to the mobs you could add quick time events where people had to react quickly to, say a cave in on your way to the next boss, and dodge falling debris by timed button presses, there could be doors that you had to coordinate to unlock which would change every time you went into the dungeon. You could have bosses that didn't have a set rotation, but instead would adapt to the tactics being used by the group . . .each of these factors would add to the difficulty without the developer having to assume that the group went into the fight knowing the optimal strategy and having to adjust the difficulty from there.

Next up, I'll share my ideas for a pseudo-pvp based MMO. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MMO Type 1: Leveling/Exploration Based

So the first of the three MMO types that I wanted to discuss was the leveling based MMO. Again, the reason I think this splinter MMO is necessary is because in many MMO's, WoW specifically, the leveling game is already a game unto itself. You can solo all the way to level cap without learning any of the skills needed for raiding or PvP. There are no tutorials for that, nothing to prepare you to tank, heal, or manage aggro (an argument could be used for being taught the art of crown control). Therefore, we should encourage developers to take that portion of the experience and flesh it out into an entire game instead of pulling a bait and switch with everyone who makes it to the level cap OR, conversely, forcing people who just want to raid/pvp to drudge through content they don't want and that doesn't effect endgame in any way.

Now, when you get rid of the carrot and stick of endgame raiding, it gives you the freedom to expand the game horizontally instead of just adding vertically, or, to be more specific, giving the players more to do as they level instead of making them work through the world's longest tutorial to get to the good stuff.

Since the players would have more to do (I'll get to what they could do in a minute) you could slow leveling down. Waaaayy down. I imagine it as the hardest of the hard core reach a soft level cap (where you are still getting xp but such a small amount that it isn't really the point anymore) by the time the next expansion is released. In fact, you may not actually require leveling at all. Maybe you could do it all with gear and powering up abilities, so for example, instead of an area being inaccessible to you because you haven't reached level 15, maybe the monsters there are just too tough for you to kill on your own without better spells or better protection, the latter of which could come in the form of better gear or a larger group.

I imagine this game being largely exploration based so the world would have to be truly massive as in it might take you 24 hours of continuous play to walk all the way across one of several continents. That isn't to say that there couldn't be faster modes of transportation, but more to give the feeling of a living world that's much bigger than the player. Imagine going for a ride across the landscape in a game without having a necessarily hard line between zones where you might run into an easily farmable mob or you could run into a bandit's hideout that would clean you out. You could give the player an in-game map that they could annotate themselves to mark hot spots or, maybe an area where they were likely to find a crafting item they regularly use or any one of a hundred things. The point is, you don't spell it out with giant floating arrows. You leave it up to the player to explore the world around them and focus development energy on making that world as vibrant and engaging as possible.

Of course, there will still be questing. I see that as a major component of game play. This is another area that could be expanded. Blizzard has done wonders with creating involving quest chains through the use of phasing and mechanics that go beyond "kill ten foozles" and "go grab that maguffin" but in a game where that is a major source of game play, they could push it further. MMO's have done this in the past (EQ2, I think had an aspect of this) but why not let the player make decisions during the same quest (besides whether or not to do the quest) where they can ingratiate themselves to one of two or three NPC factions fighting for control of a given area? The choices you make could set you on a path, but all the while giving you chances to change loyalties as more of the plot of the quest is revealed. This adds a little bit of Role-Playing where you can decide what aspect of a conflict your toon would relate too/support. With this, you could also have quest hubs that change hands between these factions and it could work as a form of pvp in that players in some areas might support different factions and could end up on opposite sides of a conflict.

Grouping will always be an important part of MMO's. Otherwise, you could just be playing a single player game with an online leader board. In this version, grouping would show up in the form of a more traditional adventure party: a group of mixed characters, not necessarily a WoW standard 1tank3dps1heal set up, but more bringing a diverse group of classes so that you can deal with a greater variety of situations. There would be no penalty for grouping other than the obvious one: everything you get is split between all party members, save gear. This way, there would be an advantage to both a smaller group (fewer ways to split the expedition's profit) and a larger group (able to reach tougher places that would yield better rewards.

Another good lateral way to expand the experience's legs is a more robust crafting system. Imagine a game where the best gear could only be obtained by bringing rare materials to a local artisan? It gives broader purpose to the exploration and also gives people the option to trade on their crafting skill. In WoW, all it takes is a button press and materials to create any item in your book of recipes, but imagine if there was a lot more to it. A crafting mini game is one way to go, though that might over complicate things. I think a better approach would be to not have recipes, per say, but to have a far greater number of materials and have multiple stages to crafting a single item. Let's say you wanted a better sword. You find some ore, some leather, some gems and some magic materials. You take the ore to the forge and have a master forge smith smelt them into bars for you (the higher his skill, the more and better quality bars you can get). Now you take those bricks to a blacksmith who can hammer those bars into the shape of the sword you wanted (a big two-hander, of course). The better the smith, the higher the quality of the sword and the more jewels and enchants it can hold. Now you take that to a leather worker who can process the skins you brought, and fashion the grip (the better the grip, the higher your accuracy with the sword). Lastly, you visit an enchanter and a jewel crafter (and a cook for a sandwich while you wait) and they attach and imbue your new sword with all the powerful gems and magical powders/essences you gained from the auction house or through your adventures. Last step: you look at the final stats of the weapon, bask in its glory for a moment and then have the option to name it. Now, it's a much more involved process, but it gave a dozen people work to do and, I would imagine, the player is much more attached to a sword that is the product of all his adventures, the work of several artisans and that he named himself (or herself, I guess). Better than a giant Hydra dropping a pair of boots. On top of all that, you have the industries and quests that could arrive from the collection of rare materials and the transporting of those materials from one city to another (the auction houses would not be linked, so prices of some items would be lower in areas where that type of item is plentiful).

Add to that player housing, pets, mounts to collect, guild halls to erect . . . there could be a ton of content and no endgame necessary. As with many MMO's, playing the game becomes the point of the game. You can build your own story.

Next up, the Raid-Central Based MMO!

Should WoW Be Two Different Games?

I wanted to take a few posts to discuss a topic that captured my interest ever since my favorite MMO blogger Tobold first mentioned it a while back: Should WoW be two separate (but equal?) games?

The logic behind this thought is that from level 1-85 (current WoW max level if you didn't know . . .and if you didn't know that, how did you find this blog?) there is very little grouping. If you know what you're doing, you can go on dungeon runs, but basically, you don't start spelunking in earnest until you reach max level at which point the focus of the game switches from questing by yourself, for the most part, to nothing but dungeons and daily quests. Progress in the game switches from getting experience points and the next level of power to getting better gear, which is the same concept presented differently.

So, should Blizzard create a game that is just leveling and exploring with friends and another that focuses on team dungeons and raiding (and perhaps a third game focusing on PvP)? I think they should. The idea of cramming as many different features into a game is great but if you focus on one type of play, you can expand horizontally, adding more features that are directly related.

Now, I have put together some ideas (some concepts that I have read online mixed with my own thoughts and tweaks) and I will post them in the weeks to follow. I'm planning three posts (more if they get too long and have to be split), each dedicated to a leveling MMO, a raiding MMO and a PvP MMO (why not?). Some of what I will go over was discussed on the lost PowWoW podcast I recorded. Hopefully it will be discussed there in the future, but in case it doesn't, I wanted to get these ideas down before they are lost forever! This is important stuff people! Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

120 Unleashed

Recording the podcast on Friday went very well, if I do say so myself. I was able to talk at length about hero classes in WoW, including my submission for the next hero class. I didn't get into as much detail there as I do on this blog but got the main thrust of my idea out there. The other thing I did was what they call 120 Unleashed. It's basically a 2 min long rant on a given subject and they gave me free reign to rant about whatever I wanted. I have included the text of that rant below as a preview if there is anyone reading this, or as a transcript for anyone who visits this site after the podcast in which it appears goes live (I'll announce and link when that happens). Until then, enjoy!

The Tank Shortage or Social Responsibility? LOL

When a damage dealer queues up in the dungeon finder, they have to wait upwards of 45 minutes before they get a group. When a healer queues, it’s, at most, a third of that time. When you queue as a tank? It’s nearly instant. There’s only one tanking slot for every 3 dps slots in a party, so the odds favor dps if it weren’t for one simple fact: DPS outnumber tanks 600,000 to 1 (I didn’t fact check that number).

Look, tanking is hard, it carries responsibility. Tanks are asked to lead the groups, are expected to already know the fights and to have the best gear. If that’s not enough, the tank will be blamed when the group wipes. So, instead of trying to gear up a tank, then learning the fights and how to manage aggro, a concept that didn’t show up at all as you solo’d your way to 85, then still having people yell at you for everything that goes wrong, people just roll another DPS. What a shock that the hardest roll to play is the one being played the least. Add the fact that fewer tanks are required for raid material and we have our shortage.

Well, it’s Blizzards fault. They should give rewards for tanking! OK, now they will. Will that help? Nope. No matter the rewards, tanking is still not as easy and familiar as DPS. It’s not a problem that can be fixed by giving tanks a pony. The shift has to come from the community. Tired of waiting for a group? Use your hybrid and get a tanking set together!

I’ve seen complaints that patch 4.1 is unfair to pure dps classes, setting up yet another reverse hybrid tax. Right. . . . so you’re saying that if you could tank with your rogue you would right? Or is the reason you rolled a rogue so that you wouldn’t have to tank or heal? If every class in the game could tank a 5 man, there would still be a tank shortage because people don’t want to be responsible when a dungeon run fails.

The solution? Get rid of tanking altogether. Force everyone to get enough defense or dodge so they won’t take an un-healable amount of damage, and then have them juggle aggro while balancing crowd control and interrupts. “Why should I put all that thought and planning into gear and strategy that will just lower my recount numbers? I just want to pwn face!” Well, in that case, you can take your 45 min queue time and you can choke on it!

So there it is. In retrospect, I can't believe I was able to get all that in within the 2 min time limit. Guess I've been taking queues from Yatzee Croshaw.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pow WoW

I'm set to record an episode of the WoW podcast, PowWoW today with Kevin and Joe (my brother and a friend of ours respectively) which I'm sure anyone reading this is aware of since you most likely heard of this blog from the cast. I'm looking forward to it, I have my 120 Unleashed prepared (a rant segment they do on the show) and am looking forward to the subject which will be mainly WoW hero classes, past, present and future. I'll post the link and a transcript of my rant after I record it this afternoon. As part of the hero class discussion, we'll be talking about my old idea for the next hero class, the Biomechanic, that I debuted here back in '09. I think the idea is still solid and look forward to getting input on it from the guys.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Design Changes

I made some changes to the look of the blog and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. This is kind of what I had in mind when I started this way back and I finally figured out how to implement it.

To business: I have several posts that I'm working on that will relate to the subjects of the future Pow WoW podcasts that will act as supplemental to what was discussed. I also have a few other ideas for things to write so, stay tuned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What? A New Post?

It's been a long time since I've written anything in this blog. A long time. So long in fact that I don't actually play WoW anymore. But I thought I'd come back and make acknowledge that I still look at this if anyone wanted to leave any comments. You see I recently was a guest on a WoW podcast called Pow WoW (available on iTunes or at with some friends of mine talking about what future games might look like. During the recording, the host plugged this blog, which I embarrassingly couldn't even remember the link to. Afterwards, I started thinking that perhaps I should take this blog back and start using it again to post any random thoughts I have about MMO's or video games in general. I still play games, though not as much as I used to, but I am fascinated with the potential of games as a media.

Anyway, I don't if anyone was reading this while it was active and I'm sure they haven't stuck around, but since it was mentioned on the show, I thought a revival might be in order and I could use this as an opportunity to expand on anything that wasn't fully discussed on the show or bring up anything I forgot to say. So, for what it's worth, I'm back!