Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sanbox MMORPG - Minecraft Style

I feel like I've done enough commenting on current MMORPG's lately, let's talk design.

Minecraft (And Terraria, for those who keep up with those games) have created a system in which if gives you a random world. Fairly simple to do, given that the world is made of blocks and placement of resources is randomized. Each world can be hosted and joined by other players, such as Minecraft allowing you to create a server.

Now, creating a central hub to turn this into an MMO is the easy part: Simply make a city decked out with the usual merchants and auction houses and that would fulfill that need. To accomadate the potentially limitless areas one could explore, you could take a page from D&D lore and create the City of Doors, in which there are portals to an infinite variety of lands. This would not only create the in-character reason for exploration, but also remove the restriction of keeping it fantasy based in the event someone wants to build a star destroyer.

A larger problem exists in one of the main problems of Minecraft servers: As in, griefers destroying what you've created. Here we are led to an interesting issue. If we allow players to password protect their lands (either by keeping people out entirely or simply protecting them from altering any part of the land) we give them a means to protect themselves, but not necessarily to create meaningful content for others beyond sightseeing or helping you build something (which they can do in their own little realm).

Which then brings us to what must then contain the bulk of the content: Enemies that assault you, at whatever time during the day. Randomized boss fights, the possibility of having your creations destroyed (mind you, this feature could be turned off for those who only want to build).

How about this then: Build-able items that attract monsters to them. This allows players to create their own dungeons or monster hunting areas, but also restrict them to certain areas and the monsters would still be randomized. Treasure could be found while mining underground, or from randomly dropped chests from monsters. Or built, of course.

I think this might work out. Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is it time Theme Park MMO's got the boot?

RIFT is up-selling what is typically bad news for a MMO company. Conan the Barbarian is now free to play. News we heard from Warhammer once due to server population declining. News we heard from DDO once due to lack of subscribers.

There is a wealth of theme park style MMORPG's on the market. Right now, I have 12 installed on my desktop, including WoW, LOTRO, DDO, Warhammer, and City of Heroes. All of these give us a fantastic world that we are only allowed to do what the developers designed for us to do. In City of Heroes/Villains, I cannot affect the world with my evil plots or save a blighted area and change it back. In World of Warcraft, I cannot make any meaningful progress in the battle for Alterac Valley, because despite how many times I kill that dwarf I just end up in the same battle 5 minutes later. This is how I define a themepark MMO, in case that was not obvious: the scenery is nice but don't touch it, you're only allowed on the rides.

Meanwhile, we have games like Terraria and Minecraft with a tremendous following. Though simplistic, these are polished experiences that people spend hours on just building and creating vast worlds. Search on Youtube for "Minecraft" and I guarantee you that some of the creations will amaze you.

Of course, it'd be easy for me to spend the rest of the post bemoaning how no big name developers are creating this experience. Which then brings us to Wurm Online. This is the experience I've described. Players can change the landscape, build houses and kingdoms, PvP against one another on a PvP server or join the PvE one and live peacefully. So...why isn't this game more popular with the kinds of crowds in Minecraft and Terraria?

Because theme park MMO's, for all we talk about them neglecting the world part of an MMORPG, give us a polished, streamlined experience that is enjoyable and does its best to cut out the bits that are unpleasant. You are a hero in an epic world who gets to take down dragons, not a simple peasant in a countryside chopping down trees to build a lean-to. You have to work to be epic, like in Eve Online. The people who run corporations built them from the ground up. Theme parks? Well, much like the new Harry Potter segment of the Universal Studios parks, you are a special hero who gets to hang out with the important people. That feeling of immediate importance in the world is satisfying, as much as we'd like to promote the wide wide world aspect.

So should theme park MMO's get the boot? No. they have their place. Sure, I wish there was more variety in the MMORPG genre, but I don't go to Eve Online to be an epic hero, and I don't go to WoW to be a peon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

DCUO for Free and I Feel Fine

So, due to me previously having a SOE account, I've been given 45 day free trials to DCUO, Star Wars Galaxies, and of course access back to their other selections of games. Now, having been in DCUO's Beta for a reason I've completely forgotten (I didn't buy the game, must've gotten it from a cereal box or something) I was sort of excited to check it out again, see the completed version and all.

I loaded it up, played for an hour, and promptly turned it off. It has absolutely failed to keep my interest.

I enjoyed the character creation system. I love the voice acting. The combat is a fresh change of pace from other MMO's. And yet...I just can't stick with the game. I played it for many hours during Beta, but now I can't play it for very long.

First of all, it just doesn't feel like an MMO to me. It feels too much like a console action game with the slowest progression ever. The action of the fights and the rate of progression don't match up for me. That, and after a few fights I realized something I realized in the beta: I got the most enjoyment out of the setting and the characters I ran into, and everything else was just a vehicle to get me there. A vehicle I kinda wanted to trade in. I'll be honest, I never got around to grouping in any of my experiences with the game, so possibly that might change it for me. Doing an instance maybe, because I remember being stuck on Killer Croc my first time through.

I'm willing to give it another shot, even try out the other games they gave me for free. But right now Sony is having a worse time convincing me to play their games for free than asking me for my credit card information.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Haven't They Made a Proper D&D Game Yet?

More of a rant than anything else, but why on earth haven't they made a turn-based D&D game yet? Online or Offline. Every one I've seen, heard of or played has been action oriented. Neverwinter Nights, Dungeons and Dragons Online, even the upcoming Neverwinter game (now possibly in jeopardy due to Cryptic Studios en route to being sold) have all been real time.

You can't say it's due to difficulty. All of the rules are already in place, and errata fixes any possible exploits (infinite free attacks) and if necessary, simply hold off on certain classes or feats or powers, what have you.

You can't say it's not due to lack of an interested audience. I know many who have been waiting for the official release of the D&D 4.0 tools so that they could DM games online. One of the biggest problems with tabletop games these days is finding players to form a steady group.

Here's what I propose. Free to play the game, and downloading it gives you the basic classes, DM tools and monsters AKA Player's Handbook 1, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual 1 along with the Essentials set. Then, simply sell other pieces as addons based on the extra books that were released. Hell, make a bundle of them so you get the actual pdf of the book with the addon. A boxed copy of the game would be available with certain perks, but it would be completely playable as a game without needing anything else.

DM's would create lobbies to DM games, much like the lobbies in FPS. In some cases, DMs won't even need to actually create an adventure. They'll have the option to, of course, but players are always given the option to simply play through a randomized, level appropriate dungeon. Monsters are always balanced against the group, and DM's (or players via a voting system) can up or lower the difficulty.

There would also be a main city hub for trade, grouping, RP and what not, equipped with shops, taverns, lovely scenery, etc. etc. There would be one main server, and the city would be broken up into shards so that if one is too busy, you can simply go to City 2, or 3, or so on and so forth much like the Guild Wars implementation. 

Books aren't the only monetary source. Pre-made campaigns can also be sold in booster packs, where the loot is predetermined from a list, much like in dungeons we know today. There would be a small selection available at launch, and the rest sold in booster packs.

I think it sounds nice. But I can't help but see the problems inherent in the system. Firstly, creating any non-combat campaign would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible to do within the system. Not much of an issue for a good DM who creates an RP specific room, or if you use the 4.0 system which is fairly strict in what things do. Loot is also an issue, which means it should be taken out of the players and DMs hands and put to randomized, except in the previously mentioned dungeons. Exp would be taken out as well.

I'm terribly confused why this route hasn't been taken, other than possible copyright concerns. It wouldn't take away from the tabletop crowd as that is a completely different environment, and those who prefer that crowd would most likely stay there. I know I would play both. What about you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Selfish Game

One of the first posts I made on this blog was about how I thought WoW made people selfish. This made me feel validated, but also sparked another thought in my head based on the following quote.

"Devs, just like we do, see excellent MMO communities as those that are kind to each other, offering helpful advice and willing to lend a hand in game without begging and/or bribery. The question is how should the devs change the game so that it encourages our best behavior even while it's tempting us to expand our worst?"

The two options offered are A. Making the game so difficult that teamwork is required, and B. Giving better rewards for being in a group.

Both of which have examples in the MMORPG's of today. WoW chose B, as I'm sure we all are aware. A is sort of in effect, in that end game requires groups but levelling does not.

But why, as gamers, are we so concerned with the solo-ability of the content in a MMO? I think this is a major part of the problem, in a way. Not that being able to solo is a bad thing, but making it the most effective and worthwhile option contributes to this selfish behavior. Of course, then this option falls under A, making the game so difficult that you can't solo.

What about EVE Online? They have created a game where corporations are almost necessary to accomplish things, and yet, most of the personal advancement comes from research you do on your own time. Yet, the best way to use those skills is to use them to assist a corporation.

Or A Tale in the Desert. The model there requires you to do things for yourself in order to advance, and most of the work is done by yourself. Yet, you have a community willing to work together towards communal advancement. Tobold has a post on that phenomenon.

What attracts that kind of community? Is it the game that creates it? Is it luck? The Developers? I'm curious what people's opinions are.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Where is my Agree button?

Though I normally wouldn't do this, I find myself agreeing with this WoW Insider poster very much about the Call to Arms bribe change. For those who don't wish to read the whole thing, here is a small snippet.

If you've tanked forever, why won't you tank for us?

  1. The rewards are not in line with my interests. 
  2. Even if the rewards were in my interest, they are insufficient to get me to put up with some of you guys. 
  3. Tanking often becomes the equivalent of taking three or four preschoolers into a monster-infested ruin. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mass Effect MMORPG?

Yes please.


Oh, I'm sorry, was I supposed to discuss this? My bad. I suppose it's time to come clean about my opinion of The Old Republic: I am a huge fan of KOTOR 1 & 2. But I want SWTOR to be our industry's Titanic. Not out of any ire for the company or the developers, because god knows it's tough to get a job as one right now, but because I'm tired of the WoW clones. I'm tired of "This is like WoW, but _________" and insert anything you like in there. Better storytelling, better talent trees, more PvP, whatever you like.

I read an article on a while back, and while I can't find it now the gist of it was "If SWTOR succeeds then we will see more large companies funding big projects, and that means more theme park MMORPGs. If it fails, investors will be scared to fund big projects and many small studios will fill the void. The important thing is that we, as players, will vote with our wallets." I'm not trying to tell anyone what to buy and not to buy. But I would vastly prefer the second scenario. This would breathe a lot of new ideas into the genre and give those small companies room to compete with them. Even if SWTOR does succeed, I think there will be a game after it, with a big budget much like it, that will fall and bring about this scenario. 

Now, I just recently started playing Mass Effect due to a sale on Steam (mainly because the vehicle segments turned me off the first time I tried it) and given that it's an original IP, I think it could work spectacularly. They have creative freedom with the game and established classes and powers already. They have an entire universe to deal with, making a game that could rival Eve Online in just sheer space to work with. And more importantly they have a loyal fan base already established.  I think Bioware could do much better than SWTOR, seeing as I think Lucasarts' contributions to games have usually been amounted to rushing them out the door before they are finished. EA hasn't got a great reputation for that either. Regardless, Mass Effect has the makings of a good MMORPG setting, and one that I would play.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Super Dungeon

Been tossing this idea around in my head for a little while, and seeing as I'm at a lack for posts lately I decided to share it.

So. The Super dungeon is something like an actual leveling area. You have various level ranges (ergo, deeper you go into it the harder it gets) and giant monsters that roam around and serve as bosses, generally spawning randomly so that farming them is difficult.

It would be an instanced area, much like regular dungeons, with a cap of, oh, let's say 30-40 players. Multiple floors, winding passages, and the chance to run into another player who may help or simply leave you to your fate.

But the most important thing about the super dungeon is that it is large. I'm talking Mines of Moria large here. Exploring and taking on new challenges is the name of the game here. There will be respawns after a while, yes, but most of the time you cut a swath through to find treasure and such.

I don't think it would be too difficult to randomize the floors, but having a static dungeon wouldn't be bad either. Let's try and create an example.

The Caves of Really Dark is a level 10-20 dungeon. Its entrance is out in the forest, and the denizens of the local village have been concerned about the goblin attacks coming from there. Normally they are few and far between, but they have been coming in bigger numbers and better organized. Players can go in alone or with a party to explore. Players over level 25 gain no rewards for this dungeon, and at 30 they are forbidden from entering. The enemies start at level 10, but the challenge can ramp up quickly depending on which direction you take, so that higher level players familiar with the area can quickly get to the tougher enemies. Upon exploring the cave, you find a group of Druegar (grey dwarves, sort of like Dark Irons) have mined their way into this cave from an outpost of theirs and have been training the goblins to attack settlements, and equipping them. Bosses include goblin generals, a cave troll that attacks player and enemy, and the Druegar warlord who started this whole mess as the final boss. Players will receive quests from the townsfolk and inside the dungeon as well, taking advantage of quests that transition automatically into one another.

Winding passages and tunnels off the beaten path encourage players to explore to find secondary bosses, treasure, and new areas. Should players get split up, any player outside your line of view and outside a certain distance will not be shown on the mini map any longer (and won't receive exp or loot) , to encourage sticking together if possible. Maps will be created as you explore, so anything unexplored by your party will not be visible.

The point of this kind of idea is to create dungeons that are an actual experience. I for one am both disappointed and bored with the model of dungeons that WoW, City of Heroes and many other games use. You walk in, are given a set path and goals and complete them. There is nothing else to the dungeon other than the scenery. There is a place for encounters like that, but there is also the sense of exploration and excitement of the unknown that I think needs to be recaptured in an online world. But, I will save that particular rant for another post.