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!