Monday, December 26, 2011

A Christmas Update

I wanted to let you know I am alive, and currently immersed in my Sith Warrior in SWTOR. I will be composing several impressions about the game, including one about how Bioware's launch plans panned out, and they will be posted to, with posts here redirecting you to that site.

I hope your holidays are wonderful, and I will be back in the swing of writing this week. Take care, everyone, and thank you for reading and commenting this past year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why Skyrim Flooded the MMORPG Blogs

A post crops up here and there, but for the most part the "Would Skyrim make a Good MMORPG?" posts have died down. It's an excellent game, and I'm not here to poke fun at anyone who spoke about it: On the contrary, I think the sudden interest in it is indicative of a larger issue in the MMORPG market at the moment. But let's briefly examine Skyrim first.

In a nutshell, it is a standard fantasy setting in a wintery climate. In comparison to Oblivion and Morrowind, you can't get more fantasy than "Destined to Slay Dragons." How it accomplished this is by having a variety of "main quests" for various factions with well written stories, a truck load of  miscellaneous quests based entirely on rumors and books you pick up, and then letting you run free and do what you want. I can't recall where the quote is from, but a comment I heard about the game was that it reminded players that games are meant to be played with. Other single player games tell you where you need to go in order to proceed, where Skyrim gives you a country and tells you to have fun.

This you likely knew, but there is one part about that everyone highlights: The freedom. Going into random caves and ruins is fun, despite most of the interiors being copy/pasted and put into different order. It caters to a part of online games that has been neglected for a long time: Giving the world meaning. Exploration has been eschewed in favor of instances and set areas for questing or doing group activities.

I could continue, but bemoaning the loss of the world in MMORPG's is kind of old hat at this point. What I wouldn't give for a game like Star Wars Galaxies with huge worlds that people could create cities in and explore to find fun, iconic locations and secrets. SW:TOR is in Early Access phases and will be launching extremely soon, and it will likely tip the scales in favor of big budget games. That's the mindset I fear: Go Big or Go Home.

Salem has some good prospects for world building, I'm rather excited to see how that turns out. I have my fingers crossed that it gets enough attention to garner copycats. No matter how much we hate the slew of "Me too!" 's that followed WoW, it did quite a bit to work out the flaws of the theme park genre. Blizzard made their competitor's mistakes into their own success. Perhaps on a lesser scale this time, to avoid the mass amount of horror stories that the genre generated from its employees during that time.

I believe it will take some time before 'the world' as a concept re-emerges into the online gaming scene though. The MMO industry is notoriously slow, and we must wait until the players who are dissatisfied move into positions to enact changes in the industry. Until then, I suppose we'll all enjoy the offerings they have to offer. SW:TOR, anyone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Onlines Worlds, First-Person Shooters and DUST

Combining MMORPG's and Shooters is always a difficult procedure. Striking the right balance between long-term progression and the fast-paced, drop-in and drop-out action of the modern shooter can lead to some disastrous results. DUST is going to be facing these challenges by integrating itself into EVE. I think the best way to figure out how they may accomplish this is by examining other games that have approached this style and see how they did it.

Firstly, let's look at Call of Duty: Black Ops, a game my roommate played much of in college. Playing with friends or dropping into a completely random game, you still were in for short, 10-20 minute matches with fast-paced action an clear objectives. Team Fortress 2 shares this, and will likely be more familiar to PC players, but I chose Black Ops because of their progression system. Besides choosing your weapons and customizing your character, you have three enhancement slots to slot perks in. You can level up these perks by completing certain achievements to get better versions.

So, FPS players are not strangers to any sort of long term progression. But we find ourselves with a problem when we lean to hard on the MMO aspect. Global Agenda, a free-to-play shooter available on Steam, is an example of taking too much from the RPG department. Levels and stats are, in my opinion, not systems many shooter fans want to put up with. Achievements, unlockables and monetary systems are good things to bring in though, and Global Agenda ports this last one well by offering upgraded versions of weapons for tokens earned in game.

Match based gameplay is a tricky one. Specifically, how do you reconcile the battles in EVE with the drop-in and drop-out gameplay? Individual players could be catered to using a mercenaries style system: While a battle is raging, the corporations sponsoring each side could offer a payment for participating. Bonuses could be awarded for achieving certain goals, such as a certain amount of kills or successfully capturing a control point. Battles would be long term, but players could individually pick and choose with contracts to take based on how much money they want to earn and how long they want to play for.

In fact, ISK could form the basis of a tremendous amount of systems for DUST. Contracts could be drawn up with mercenary corporations to pay them to defend or attack, paying a premium for a guarantee on teamwork and skilled combatants. Weapons, vehicles and gear are suddenly opened up into a new market for EVE businessmen, and being able to reliably acquire the supplies you need in order to keep waging a battle could become a concern for corporations as well.

We run into an issue when it comes to the skill system, because even though the 'set it and forget it' style may work for EVE, DUST players may prefer a system that gives them more tangible benefits. EVE players know the worth of a 5% increase in the long term, but FPS players are more likely to wonder why the hell they need to wait a month for that bonus. The official website says that skill points can be earned in-combat or offlines, but CCP could really take a page from CoD in this regard and offer more active bonuses in the form of perks. The skill system would work on a smaller scale, but the perks system really shines for being able to customize your character without giving players too many difficult decisions.

Quick gameplay, money, guns and perks make up a comfortable set of systems that a typical FPS player can enjoy in his game. If they wanted to play an MMO they have many options to do so, but prefer this style of gameplay. The long term battles for planets and long term view that EVE players tend to take in their schemes and actions need to be tempered by a mercenary system that can appeal to FPS players. Though I do not own a PS3 (and pray that they consider a PC version of the title) I'm excited for the possibilities it could bring to the market and will be looking forward to watching this sub-genre evolve whether it fails or succeeds.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wouldn't it be Cool if...? Mobiles Games and Creativity

I have a friend who plays Words with Friends. This is not a metaphor for me being addicted to this game, I'm too busy trying to catch up with everybody who is playing Skyrim. I'll get there eventually guys.

No, I'm more interested in how its online connectivity works. Your board is saved, and you can essentially play a game over the course of a few days or a week casually.

You know what I wish I could play like that? Final Fantasy Tactics. Or any turn based strategy game. Hell, put Chess on that sucker, that'd be awesome. Fact of the matter is, we don't have enough turn-based strategy games around and the mobile platform is a perfect field to get in on this.

Competitive or versus the computer, the foundation is already in place: Short, meaningful and fun turns that have a larger effect on a battle that can take place over a larger period of time. Fun in short bursts, and in longer play sessions. And with the ability to store saved games either on your phone or iPod or on an online server that you can share with friends, you can play anything from Advance Wars to Civilization on your phone.

Of course, tweaks would have to be made to the system to suit it towards the casual gaming crowd. RPG's would have simplified stats and (in the case of FFT or Ogre Battle style games) very clear job trees. Same goes for civilization trees, though I'm sure a full game of Civilization with enough players could go on for a month or more.As cool as that sounds, perhaps ripping a page from the Civilization Revolution title and shortening the game length would be wise.

Regardless, the groundwork is laid for some potentially entertaining and big name titles. It is at this point in writing the article where I tried to go Google Civilization on Facebook in an attempt to find an example of a company branching out into new mediums with established titles. Instead, I found this. Damn you Civilization, for taking my idea 3 months before I wrote it. And bravo for taking the idea, because I like it a lot and (if I owned a smart phone) I would buy this in a heartbeat. I am disappointed in the lack of multiplayer support, but without any way of not making the games last weeks, I can't really blame them for it.

I'd love to see an Advanced Wars or Ogre Battle style game for the iPad or iPhone though. With my choices for turn-based strategy games wittled down to the Might and Magic series, I'm looking for some company to pull through for the genre.