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.