Friday, April 29, 2011

The Spider-Men will Block Out the Sun

Massively reported today that Marvel Universe Online will be free-to-play, feature Brian Bendis as its lead writer, and will have players controlling canon characters. This would make it the first western title to launch free-to-play.

More importantly, though, the article doesn't feature a single thing about creating your own character, and I assume that is done to mean that players will only be allowed to play as established characters. Which could be good or bad. Will this lean towards a Marvel Ultimate Alliance sort of scenario? Who knows?

Personally, I like it in the sense that it is breaking one of the sacred norms about MMORPG's: that we must create our own character. There are sites devoted entirely to insulting WoW players who claim to be related to characters from established lore, and yet here we now have a game that says "Here, go play as Wolverine. Have a blast." It's a refreshing change of pace.

Despite that, I have a feeling that this game will not feature an open world situation in any way, lest my title come true. It has plenty of promise though. Hypothetically, if they were to go the route of M:UA, they could create instanced scenarios where players could take on challenges, give bonuses to players who put together established teams (X-Men, Avengers) and hell, even collecting digital comic issues and alternate costumes for the characters could be a blast. Sure, it isn't an RPG in the traditional sense, but with an entry cost of free, what do we have to lose by trying it out?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Player Generated Content

One of the games I am looking forward to is Neverwinter, the Online Game sequel to the Neverwinter Nights series. I'm a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons and MMORPG's, so this is pretty exciting for me. (Dungeons and Dragons Online is a whole different post) Now, one of the biggest features is the Forge system, where you can create and DM your own dungeons, placing them into the game world. How this is going to happen is not fleshed out yet, but it is from the same people who put together the Mission Architect system, or at least helped bring it into realization in City of Heroes.

Seeing the implementation (and subsequent abandonment) of that system in City of Heroes, I can't help but be worried. The MA system was abused to all hell, with players creating farm missions and leveling characters to max level absurdly quick. The project was ambitious, yes. They had plans for a Developer's Choice system as well as a story arc of the month and guest authors. All of these were shelved, the MA system (mostly) fixed to prevent farming, and has not been touched in a long time by the developers.

Am I worried Neverwinter may go the same route? Yes and no. As a main feature of the game at launch, I expect it to be supported and tweaked to prevent these sorts of things from happening. But at the same time, players always have a way of abusing the system.

But that's not the question I want to field. I'm curious how player generated content should be handled at all. I'm not talking Sandbox environments where players can interact with the tools already given, but being able to create their own content. Given the amount of farm missions I've found with no plot or point other than to level as quickly as possible, do players even deserve to have these tools available?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Because Originality is for the Weak - Daydream

I hope you'll forgive me, Gilded, but I liked your idea so much I decided to write a post of my own describing my idea of a first day in my imaginary MMORPG.

It would begin in a farmland area. Relatively populated, the kind that is just a few miles outside of the city. Here, you would receive your basic training. There are a variety of NPC's about, each with various jobs for you to do. When you accept a job (and at this phase, you can only accept one at a time) you receive a set of skills equivalent to someone skilled in that profession.

Did I mention the same is entirely skill point based? That I should have. Each player is given a choice of skill trees, of which they can pick from two (or three.) and meaningfully specialize in it. Mind you, you can put any number of points in any tree, and be a Jack of All Trades, sort, but you won't be as good as anyone else who specializes. Now, these trees are not only combat based. You have crafting and gathering trees as well, and possibly a politician tree for giving bonuses when placed in a player run government.

Now, taking a job in this area will specialize you in that, and give you a taste of what that specialization entails. At any time, you can leave this area (you don't get to keep the temporary specializations from the jobs) with or without doing the jobs, and enter into the actual game world. You are given a lump sum of skill points to start with, because your character is an adult and it would be silly to think that you would have gotten to age 18 without learning anything meaningful.

From here, you step off a boat into the new land. You are one of a number of settlers on a new continent, kinda like discovering America only with less smallpox. From here, you do as you please. There is a port town that is already set up with all the amenities you need to survive, but players are free to roam into the wilderness and set up their own towns. You can specialize in combat and hunt animals, or head into mines and gather ore to build weapons, armor and buildings. You can become a merchant and set up your own shop, complete with NPC vendor whose inventory you supply. It is a complete sandbox.

Of course, there are plenty of creatures waiting to attack your towns, so best be prepared to defend them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Only the Devil Gives out Max Level Characters

An Everquest 2 developer recently fielded an idea to its community about creating a system for giving players a max level character.

I sort of feel bad for the guy, as I'm sure this was a harsh lesson in how useful community feedback can be at times.

Still, the idea remains something of worth. We all know of an MMORPG or two where players commonly use the phrase "The game doesn't really start until max level." Raiding, dungeons, PvP, all of that only really starts at max level, and the rest of it is just practice for using your character. Because we all know that only max level characters know how to play their classes, right?

Massively fielded the same question to their readers, and while browsing through the comments I found one that stuck out for me. Bramen writes "When a game offers me a chance to go strait to max level; what I hear is "start here, the rest of the game is not fun.""

So that is my question then. Do most MMORPG players find the leveling process fun?  Or is it simply a traditional chore that we have all become used to as a way of proving ourselves worthy of playing at the same playground as the other kids? There is undoubtedly a gap between the content available for leveling and end-game characters, and only a few systems allow players of vastly different levels to play together, and those that do trivialize the efforts of lower level characters in comparison.

Are we simply stuck in the idea that we should level in an MMORPG? Does it serve as a barrier of entry for end-game content? Is it a way for companies to stretch out subscriptions while only having a small amount of meaningful content?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fun Versus Balance?

Recently, City of Heroes released Issue 20, its first dive into end-game content. Here is the overview for that patch. The part that I am concerned about is the addition of the Incarnate powers. The Judgement power in particular is an ability with a relatively low cooldown, and as the power of a Blaster nuke (a long cooldown DPS, high level power that does a huge load of damage and causes a resource drain). The Judgement power, however, is on a lower cooldown, does more damage, and has no resource crash.

Now, this power is gained in a manner similar to how raid gear works: it's set in a higher tier of content and balanced for that tier. Like most raid gear, it makes the previous tiers far easier and in some cases trivial.

Here's the issue: Unlike raid progression, players of CoH still need the former tier of content for drops. This would be like WoW players who have gotten all their gear from Ulduar still needed items that dropped in Naxxramas. The content becomes trivial to the point of not even needing a full group to clear it.

Now, City of Heroes has always been fairly easy, all things considered. There are builds in the game based entirely around soloing incredibly difficult content, and the devs are on board with that idea. Even so, the Incarnate powers do a huge job in unbalancing the game. A single player can wipe out entire spawns of enemies in one attack. Now, the question is, should we really be concerned about this balance, or just appreciate the fact that it is fun to some people? Some enjoy steamrolling through on their own and this only encourages that. The hardest content still requires groups, so not all content is trvialized.

So, which is more important than? Enjoyment, or Balance?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How I Think Housing Should be Done

For this post I'm going to deal with a fictional, open world sandbox environment.

Firstly, I think the ideal system would allow for a base house (of various floorplans and styles) that allows expansions. You would have your standard house and manor types, and each could be added on with functions that are both cosmetic and helpful. These additions would come through the player economy, via blueprints bought and assembled by characters who specialized in crafting. Decorations for the house would also be made in a similar fashion. This house would take up a space in the real game world, much like in Star Wars Galaxies, and have no part of it be instanced.

Benefits would include a rested bonus for logging off in your house, additional storage space for items, and possibly a stable of some sort to display acquired mounts.

Second is the possibility of renting out a house. By setting a house up for Rent, you can put a low daily/weekly fee on the house and allow another player to move in. This player cannot make any changes to the house, but can use it and its benefits freely. The tenet can be removed with a three to five day notice if needed, and if two payments have passed (which are automatically deducted from his money) his key to the house dissapears and all of his belongings mailed back to him. Now, this option is automatically enabled for players who have not logged in for two months. Their houses are automatically put up for rent, with the payments being deposited for them automatically, at which time they can come back and reclaim the house if needed. Players with deleted characters will have their properties set for sale at market price.

Houses can also hold storefronts, in which a clerk is "hired" for a small fee to sell your goods. There would be no Auction House, only stores such as this and marketplaces where stalls can be bought and have hired help sell your goods. You set the prices, as well as stock the inventory and decorate the shop as you please.

Enough houses in an area can give rise to towns or cities, where enterprising guilds or simply the townsfolk can chip in to create a town hall, where a leader can be elected for various functions. But player run cities is not the focus of this post, so I'll stop there.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Building an Individualistic Community

"The fault lies not with the Dungeon Finder or the Call to Arms feature but in the fact that players are strangers outside of dungeons. There's no other meaningful need or reason for two WoW players to interact."

I found this interesting quote on Massively's Soapbox article on the new "Call to Arms" feature. Here's the link, in case you wanted to read it -

It got me thinking. I've been a WoW player since around the end of Burning Crusade. I enjoyed my first level 70 character the day before Wrath of the Lich King came out, and raided through that entire expansion. Cataclysm rolled around, and I've barely stepped into any Heroics despite now having two 80's and an 85, all three being built and geared to tank.

Background information aside, it made me look at the WoW community in a new light. In a way, the author is very correct: Unless your goal is to make friends in WoW you quite literally have no incentive to interact with other players. Allow me to run through some of the "social" features of the game to elaborate.

Guilds - Cataclysm has introduced the guild levelling system, that encourages players to be in guilds. The larger guilds will, of course, be the ones to level the quickest through the system. Now, I'm sure a number of you know that being in a guild in WoW doesn't necessarily mean you're going to interact with somebody meaningfully. You can, but the largest ones often have their guild chat as little more than a more organized General Chat. You play adjacent to each other rather than together, as the majority of challenges don't require you to need help.

Dungeons -  And then we come to the challenges that do require other people. Random PuGs have such little social cohesiveness you'd be stretching to call it a group at all. With the Call to Arms system, any role that is needed will find it more beneficial to queue alone rather than with friends. Even before this system, you can obtain up to a 15% increase in damage, healing, and hit points by teaming with random strangers rather than your own guild mates. You could argue that teaming with guild mates gives guild exp and reputation, of course, but that does not guarantee a meaningful social interaction.

Raids, on the other hand, require far more coordination and practice. However, I find this sort of interaction lends itself to a coworker mentality rather than a legitimate social space. You gather, complete a challenge, pat each other on the back and move on your merry way. I'm not implying you need to be best friends with a person to do such a thing, but if Gevlon's model from The Greedy Goblin is any indication, you need only be able to pull your weight, a task placed entirely on the shoulders of the individual. His responsibility to gear up, gem and work properly so that he can contribute for a chance to get his rewards.

The Official Forums are a lovely example of what the majority of the playerbase is concerned about. Each class forum holds a good portion of posts doing nothing more than complaining about the class they play. Players feel as though they have full right to take the words from the developer's mouths and twist them in such a way to try and convince others than the game is being run by complete idiots, and the poster has the end-all-be-all idea that can "fix" the game. Not that other games do not have this problem as well, it is only exacerbated by WoW's large playerbase. 

Levelling up is a solo experience. Daily Quests are solo experiences. Crafting is a solo experience, albeit with some faceless interaction via the Auction House.

Social interaction is not needed to play a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Curious, isn't it? I have no opinions on how to change the individualistic bent of the gameplay in WoW and I cringe at the idea of trying to tackle it. I do find it interesting, though, how much of this game can be played with success while seeing other players as simply NPC's who are here to assist you in obtaining rewards.

What this Blog is

...and more importantly, what it isn't.

I suppose it's worth it to take a moment to explain what this blog is all about, and explain a few things about my writing.

Firstly, I don't review things. I don't enjoy doing that, and more importantly I don't consider myself an authority on what other people find fun.

I will be giving my opinion on what I think is fun. I don't plan on tearing down someone else for not enjoying what I do, thought I can't say I won't question it.

I think the most important thing to establish is that this is my opinion, and as obvious as that may sound I find it's incredibly difficult in a genre that likes to throw around the terms "fanboy" and "hater" to find anyone that understand what an opinion entails. I don't particularly care if anyone agrees with me, and I enjoy the debates far more than agreement.

Personal attacks will be deleted. Troll posts will be deleted.

As for the pen name? My first MMORPG character was in City of Heroes, and based off of a Scarecrow. I enjoyed the avatar, and decided to keep it.

And that's that. I hope you enjoy, or at least find my writing interesting enough to comment.