Archive for the ‘MMO Design’ Category

Design Collaboration in MMO’s

I just read an excellent post on Moorgard’s blog about writing vs. storytelling.  If you haven’t gotten the chance to read it, I highly recommend it since it has some really compelling ideas.  As an English-major looking to head into this industry, I’m always looking for information regarding writing and storytelling in MMO’s, so thanks to Moorgard for writing this and getting me to consider it from this perspective.

Basically what he’s saying is that there is quite a difference between being a good novelist or a poet and being a good quest writer and storyteller for MMO’s.  He makes the point that most MMO players aren’t playing them to be bombarded by a vast amount of literature.  They are there to play the game and generally skip past all of the text when they can.  He then says that this what MMO writers need to do is create a story that can then be portrayed physically in the world rather than having everything simply be explained to  you.  I completely agree, and I realize that no matter how well a quest is written, only a very small percentage of players will actually read the text before going off to complete the objective.  The storyline that the player should be experiencing is where the experience needs to be enhanced.  I can understand how games work that drop you in with no real sense of purpose, but I would much rather feel as though there was some cosmic purpose to my character being in whatever given world he or she is in, which is where storytelling really comes into play.

If you want to have a game play experience that involves a great storyline, this means that you are going to need to have help from every designer working on the project or else you can’t really achieve your goal.  This lead me to my conclusion that there needs to be a more definitive collaboration between the different design teams in order to create a more cohesive game play experience, rather than each team working with what they’ve been given.  I have no doubt that it is there in some form, but I think it could definitely be improved.  This isn’t always the case, but it would seem as though one designer says “Wow, I have a great idea for a quest!” and another designer says “Wow, I have a great idea for a monster!” and another designer that says “Wow, I have a great idea for a landmark!”  At that point they decide how the three can work together, and generally they do so fairly well, but it could have been much more powerful, cohesive, and rewarding for the player if they had started the process together and really fleshed out a plan for all three that would make them feel connected and necessary.

Obviously, I don’t have any first-hand experience and I could be completely wrong here, but I doubt that I am entirely wrong.  If I were, I think we would have much more compelling quests and clear story lines woven into the frame of the game than we do in most MMO’s now.  I think one game that really breaks the mold here is LotRO with their chapter series and their instanced quests which really bring you into the story without forcing literature down your throat.  It makes the player feel important and in the action.  I think instances are a great way to do this.  Instancing is definitely a great way to do this because the world can be altered in the instance without it being permanent as well as giving players the opportunity to feel as though they are experiencing something for the first time that is really important.  That said, I don’t think this is the only effective way to achieve this result.

Again, I have no experience in the industry and I have no idea how the design and brainstorming process works in their creation and evolution, and if I am wrong, then I can at least say this with certainty:  I think it can and should be improved.  This is one of the areas that is truly lacking in MMO’s that console games have the upper edge on, which I don’t think should be the case.  MMO’s have the ability to constantly adapt and morph since they are being developed after their release, so the story of the world and the characters shouldn’t be put on the back-burner just because there are plenty of other things available to keep players occupied.  I think this should be at the head of the experience, constantly driving the player to learn about the world and how they fit in in whatever way they can, whether that means through questing or simply through making the world a deep and rich place in as many ways as possible.

~Kanthalos

The Possibility of Short-Lived MMO’s

I was reading through the comments of VirginWorlds Podcast #117, and Scytale2 said, “Why not have MMOs which are fun but have less content, but attract lots and lots of players for limited timescales?” While I think it’s an interesting concept for sure, I don’t think this would work, at least not when thinking about MMO’s in the traditional sense. There are three major problems that I see here:

1) There are simply too many people and too many resources involved in MMO’s to expect them to live short-term. If he was speaking from the concept of “10 for $5m instead of 1 for $50m” and the employees can jump from one game to another once each project is complete, I doubt they would be willing to work on a project for six months and be done with it and have to go look for another job. If they did jump from one project to another, they would have to completely switch gears, flesh out a whole new concept and all of the minor details, put it together, and ship it out. If they didn’t switch, and the studio wanted to work simultaneously on all of these MMO’s, they are going to have to hire enough employees to build them all at the same time. Depending on how many people you have working on the game this could work, but the more employees you have working together, the faster it’s going to be ready and the more content/polish it’s going to have. That said, if you are in a time crunch and don’t have much time, you are going to have to fork over more money up front to hire more people, which means higher production costs. Plus, when they were done, they would simply be out of a job (or at least the vast majority of them.)

2) This is going under the assumption that the MMO’s that they build are going to be flawless when they come out, which everyone knows isn’t possible. They usually take about six months after launch before they really have everything smoothed out and they are on to other things like adding content. It sounds like Scytale2 was shooting for games that kept players going for about this length of time, which would mean that only by the time the game was dying would it truly be up to snuff.

3) The last time I checked, MMO’s made the vast majority of their money through subscriptions, not through “box sales.” You aren’t going to be able to charge $50 for an MMO that’s expected to last six months when games like World of Warcraft are charging the same price ($20 for original, $30 for Burning Crusade) and have the potential to be played for 2-5 years. So with that said, you would probably have to charge $20 or less, and if you charged say $6-$10 a month for a subscription (remember, less content, less money) that means that the most you are going to get out of a player is 50 to 80 dollars. If you are starting with a $5 million budget for the game, that means that you would have to sell 60-100k subscriptions just to break even. This is not an easy feat by any strech of the imagination.

Innovation has to come from somewhere, however, I don’t think that this is a viable way to do it. There are simply too many things pushing against this for it to work. MMO’s aren’t perfect at launch, so a short-lived version would be working against this in a horrible way. You either need to hire too many employees, or it’s going to take quite a long time for a smaller team to complete them. There a very strong reliance on subscription fees when it comes to profitability in MMO’s, so if you cut this out of the equation, your profit margins are minimized beyond feasibility.

I think if you do want to head this route and make an online game that is built to entertain for six months or so, you are either going to have to bend the conventions of the genre, or completely do away with it, and in so doing build something that wouldn’t even be considered an MMO in the first place. I think there is a place in the game industry for this type of game, I just think the traditional MMO can’t work like this.

~Kanthalos

Trash Mobs — What’s the Point?

With all the talk about raiding and gear ownership, it really got me thinking about instances as a whole. What about instances can really be changed or improved in some way? This immediately brought to mind trash mobs. Trash mobs are something that have really just bothered me ever since I started raiding (and instancing in general.) Since I didn’t play EverQuest (for more than a week or two) I don’t know whether they started there, or whether they were popularized by WoW, but they seem like one of those things that were implemented once for whatever reason, and from that point on were a fixture in raiding and instancing with little or no regard for their function. If they are there, they must be serving a purpose, right? Let’s consider what all trash mobs are good for:

1) They provide the potential for a random epic/rare drop (as well as small amounts of gold and vendor trash.)
2) They increase your reputation with a faction.
3) They fill space, and make the instance seem more alive.

That’s really all that I could come up with as to why they are included in instances. Some might consider them to be a sort of “gear/skill check” but in all honesty, they are far easier than any of the bosses that you’ll face, with very few if any exceptions. They take up everyone’s time for virtually no benefit, so here is a list of reason why they should be removed altogether as well as suggestions to deal with it.

1) The random epic drops that fall from trash mobs can simply be an addition to the gear that the bosses drop (with the possibility of two or even three items.) As for the gold, it’s never really been enough to matter anyway. No one goes to a 10 or 25-man with the idea that they are going to get gold. They go for gear, and more than likely expect to lose gold for repair bills. Increase the gold drops on the boss (to about 25g each in a 25-man,) or forget about it.
2) Reputation? Drastically increase the amount of the reputation you get for killing the bosses to scale with the trash mob rep. This makes more sense anyways because, after all, they are the reason all the trash mobs are there to begin with.
3)Think of all the time you would save by not having to deal with trash mobs. It would more than cut raiding and instancing times in half. Not only that, but it would prevent re-clears. If you’ve proven that you can kill the mobs once (which, again, aren’t nearly as tough as the bosses,) why force you to do it again, and kill all that much more time? The challenge is with the boss fights, not the trash mobs which keep players from heading straight to the bosses. 25-mans and heroics have timers in place already to keep people from killing the bosses over and over again, so it’s not as if players can kill the bosses, reset, and kill again for more loot anyway. All it would do is free up more time for the players (or allow them to have more time for attempts on bosses.)

The only real reason to keep trash mobs in an instance that I see is because they make it seem more alive, but then again, how “alive” is it if you walk into a room with 6 sets of mobs, and you can pull only one without the others barging in? Perhaps they could leave a few additional guards around each boss, but there is no reason to fight through 30 sets of mobs to get to a boss. Seriously. If you REALLY want to leave trash mob encounters, make them all similar to Gruul’s Lair, and nothing at all like Tempest Keep. Also, if you insist on forcing reputation grinds on players, give them other areas in the world (possibly right outside the instance) to farm rep, but don’t stick it in with the raid.

They aren’t required and they serve very little purpose (other than to annoy,) so why should they be there?

~Kanthalos

More On Mythos

Ok, so I really do feel pretty bad about how harsh I was in my review of Mythos that I posted earlier. In that frame of mind, I’m going to offer up a few suggestions that I think would help improve the situation in several ways. Whether they are the perfect solution to their issues or not, it’s more of an excercise in problem-solving and MMO design for myself than anything else, so I’m going to get started. This post might rival the length of Van Hemlock’s posts so be prepared!

Combat: I realize that this is how combat in action-rpg’s is always going to be based primarily around 1-3 skills and never really get much more in-depth than that simply because it is so fast-paced. You are either kiting enemies around spamming a skill or one or two shotting them, so there really aren’t the long, face-to-face fights that last 30-45 seconds like a typical MMO. That said, there are a lot of skills within the game that simply aren’t effective enough to be considered in the vast majority of builds. For instance, there are three skill sets for each class, and in the gadgeteers case those three are marksman, grenadier, and tinker. I’ll look at each of the three individually so it’s easier to distinguish.

Marksman:
The marksman panel almost without question is going to be where the majority of your skill points are going to go because it has the two most popular skills (piercing barrage/napalm) and almost all of your passive skills (increase crit, weapon range/speed, etc..) This is by far the best-executed tree of the three, even though there are still skills such as rapid refire and seeking shot that, while decent, can’t come close to the power of piercing barrage and napalm, and therefore won’t be used much if at all.

Tinker:
Tinker is where you can get skills for widgets that you summon to stun/damage/slow your enemies. Typically one or two of these are used with a build, though there are also skills that allow you to drop turrets. In my opinion turrets really don’t have a place in this game, and a new skill should be considered to replace them because this isn’t the type of game where you sit around and let a turret destroy your enemies. Players are powerful enough without them that they are unnecessary and would rather put those skill points into a skill that is more useful or a passive skill that they can use with their primary skill rather than balancing another skill to use. How about a widget that reduces enemy attack speed or reduces elemental resistances instead? These would be far more useful than an immobile turret.

Another skill that seems to be rather worthless is the servant widget which turns an enemy in your favor for 15 seconds. This can’t be used on champion mobs (elites if you will) which means that the benefit of this skill would be truly minimal. As stated before, with the ability to one or two shot enemies in a matter of one or two seconds, what benefit could an average mob possibly have? The only time this could potentially be worthwhile is if the mobs had a silencing/poisoning/stunning skill, but what are the odds that the widget will actually work on that mob instead of an average one? If this skill were to be kept, it would have to work on say up to 5 enemies. You can create multiple widgets, but if you are using a build that already utilizes one or two widgets (which you summon multiple versions of) you aren’t going to have time to summon 15 widgets and then start firing at them, it just isn’t efficient.

Grenadier:

This is by far the most underused skill panel of the three. Basically the way it works is dropping grenades or bombs. The problem with many of these skills is that they are geared towards constant kiting. For example latchbomb explodes when enemies get near it. The noxious grenade does poison damage (that takes far longer to kill than a simple shot from a rifle.) Bauble trap absorbs some of the damage of enemies (that, again, you could kill with a shot from a rifle.) Another skill that doesn’t really seem to have much use is fire sentry (drops a wall of fire that the enemies run through.) Elemental walls are something that have baffled me constantly in these games. Unless you run the mobs back and forth through it, they are only going to run through it once. This skill is set for damage over time, not a burst of damage, furthering my confusion. The thing that gets me the most about this panel is that there aren’t any plain-and simple grenades. You can find them and use them, but why let this be a skill used by a class that has a “grenadier” skill set? The only skill that I find to have potential use is the mute bomb, which can silence enemies for up to 15 seconds. The problem with this, though, is that to maximize it takes 14 skill points just to silence an enemy (even though it can still use basic attacks on you in the process.) Make this 5-6 points instead, or else it won’t get used.

Ok, there’s the combat section. Perhaps I’ll go through the Bloodletter and Pyromancer in the future, but I have a lot more to talk about besides just combat so I’ll leave it at that.

Crafting:
Crafting is something that should be a part of any MMO today, just as it is in Mythos. The problem is that it is very confusing and uses far too many ingredients. You get a lot of space for ingredient space, but the many ingredients that you can buy can also be dropped by mobs, and your space fills up quickly, leaving you unsure which ingredients to keep and which to drop to make room for others. Not only are a good deal of the drops purchasable at NPC’s, they are spread out throughout the three zones, so it can be a pain figuring out what all materials (which happen to be extremely cheap) are buyable and which are not. As I mentioned in the previous post, crafting items that aren’t from the top tier is a waste of time. Not only do you have to find the ingredients, but by the time you hit level 20-25, you can already use the best gear in the game, so why bother crafting something for less than that? I see two options here: either make it so ingredients that you can purchase don’t drop off mobs, or cut out 25-50% of the crafting ingredients and make the remaining ingredients usable in more of the crafting recipes.

Gear:
Like I said in my review, gear is most frequently obtained from random quests once you get up there in levels. I’m not sure exactly how it would determine what quality of items it should generate (perhaps it could check what your top attribute was and base it off that,) but this ability to keep generating new items needs to stop. For one thing it’s a waste of time to the player, and it’s an exploit that shouldn’t be allowed. It should generate gear that is appropriate for your level (and possibly class) and even if you abandon it, it would still keep those 3 options. This way you have a pretty good chance of finding gear that you will use (or be able to trade) but not have complete control over the situation. Also, once the gear set to your level, the quests need to take more than the 5-10 minutes they currently take to complete or have a daily limit of one or two.

Not only do the randomly generated quests need to be fixed, but the drops need to be fixed as well. For one thing, your luck skill doesn’t provide the option for normal items to become magical, but only affects those that already have magical properties, and it only kicks it up by one level. This means that you end up with an unbelievable amount of normal items, a good deal of green, blue, and yellow items, but still with very few purple and orange items (the best.) They need to cut out about 25% of all gear drops (at least those with no magical properties) and find a way to make it so your luck can increase the modifier by more than one setting. I understand that not every piece of gear should be uber, but as I stated, the 4 pieces that I haven’t upgraded through random quests haven’t been replaced in over 12 levels. This isn’t right.

Also, there are a number of unique items in the game, which are obviously items with set stats that aren’t randomly generated. The problem with these items is that almost none of them have excellent stats. They generally have two or three stats that don’t fit the class that would be using them, or they are just stats that people don’t want. If you are going to take the time to make unique items, at least make them desirable to the players.

Quests:
As I said, the quests are basically written well and are usually entertaining, but the objectives are completely dull and uninspired. I understand that it can be difficult when you are dealing with mostly random maps, but there are still ways that you can have fun with these quests. For instance, one quest could be that you need to trap a warg and bring it to someone to study. You need to lay a trap and lure one into it/throw a net over it/shoot it with a tranquilizing dart. Even something simple like an NPC left an heirloom on a broken-down cart in a zone after being attacked by hollows, but he was flustered and doesn’t know where exactly it is. This at least gives you a bit more purpose than “foozles infested the forest, kill 10 of them and bring me proof.”

PvP:
It’s clear that the PvP system didn’t work out they way it was intended. Very few people are participating, and those who are are using junky gear so they don’t lose their good equipment. I have one solution that I think would work much better than dropping actual gear from a corpse. It also prevents punishing those who unknowingly killing a lower level toon. Instead of dropping actual gear when a player is killed, they drop some sort of trophy or token.

Killing a player 10+ levels above you: 15 tokens
Killing a player 7-9 levels above you: 12 tokens
Killing a player 4-6 levels above you: 9 tokens
Killing a player +/- 3 levels: 6 tokens
Killing a player 4-10 levels below you: 3 tokens
Killing a player 11-14 levels below you: 0 tokens
Killing a player 15+levels below you: -3 total tokens per kill for the next 3 kills
After killing a person three times for tokens each day they no longer yield tokens.

You could then turn in the tokens you received for things like idols that would improve your stats while in your pack with higher token rewards being more powerful. Of course the actual levels could be altered depending on balance issues, but I think this would be a great way to increase participation in the Shadowlands. You would no longer have to fear losing your gear, and you would also have the potential to obtain very nice items. All is better.

Wow, so there you have some of my suggestions and more in-depth description of several aspects of this game. Again, this is a game that I truly enjoy, I just wanted to formulate some of my thoughts on what I think can be improved and ways I think this could be achieved (though I’m no expert.)

~Kanthalos

New Mythos Review – 4/28/08

I see that my post about my Mythos review that’s around nine months old is still getting quite a few views. Taking that into account, I’m going to write up another little review and talk about how the game has changed since then.

Combat: Combat in the game is still as fast-paced as it ever has been, which is one of the things that many people enjoy it for and the main reason it is touted as a Diablo 2 clone. It’s always fun to be able to plow down 30-50 mobs at the same time, however it suffers from the fact that there is generally one skill used depending on the class you pick. Occasionally builds are created that utilize multiple skills (gadgets for gadgeteer for instance) but by and large it’s one skill you’re using the vast majority of the time (piercing barrage.) This is something that generally grows old after a while, even with the crazy amount of mobs you face. In fact, most classes are built around the idea that you gather up as many mobs as you can behind you, turn around, and blow them all away. It’s actually pretty inefficient if you kill mobs as you see them, which is a bit unusual I think, but that’s the way the system is built. Obviously it’s not something that’s going to break the game as I’m still playing it.

Crafting: Crafting is rather chaotic and unstructured right now. You can craft items that you will actually wear, but with the high chance of breaking (if you want them to be as good as possible) coupled with the fact that finding all of the materials to create it is a big hassle generally is putting people off crafting. I think this will be remedied a bit with the marketplace they are working on currently, but right now it’s not really something that is living up to its potential. Also, crafting anything but the top tier is an outright waste of time.

Gear: Gear is a major problem with the game right now, for several reasons. First and foremost, they didn’t create a scale of gear from levels 1-50. To illustrate my point the top requirement for gear is basically 140’ish (strength, dexterity, wisdom) and my dexterity at level 48 is 210. To me, this means that gear requirements should be capping out at about 200, or 215, but the foresight didn’t really seem to be there when they first created this system. This is understandable really, since they were just getting the game out the door when the gear system was set up and it hasn’t been changed really since. Obviously, it’s still in beta and they are going to perform at least one character wipe before now and release so this could change, but right now, a level 25 character can basically have as good of gear as a level 50.

Not only is the gear itself a problem, but the obtaining of gear is another problem entirely. The way the majority of higher level players obtain their gear is through random quests. These quests are generated with 3 potential rewards (which scale from basically from garbage to really good gear.) If you don’t like the choices you are presented with, you can simply abandon the quest and retake it with three new rewards. If you do this 20-30 times, you are generally going to find really good items one of those tries. This is the way that I have obtained 9 of my 13 pieces of gear that I use, and the other four pieces I have not found upgrades for in over 12 levels. I don’t have the max amount of luck on my character, which is 200 (luck increases the modifier on the item when it drops from uncommon to rare to unique, etc.,) however it is at 175. Even with my rather high luck, I still find tons and tons of items that I have absolutely no use that I leave on the ground. I understand that if they drastically increase the amount of really good gear that can drop, the player base would be flooded with items and their value would drop to almost nothing, but this isn’t really an issue anyways because there is virtually no trade economy to speak of. You basically have to give your gear away if you don’t need it because the currency has almost no value right now and the odds of finding another player with an equivalent piece of gear that you want is slim at best.

Quests: Quests are pretty much terrible right now to be perfectly honest. The writing for some of the quests is pretty entertaining and worth reading, but almost all of the quests are the typical “kill 10 foozles/find 10 foozle hides.” I understand that this is part of the problem when you are dealing with a game in which the vast majority of the maps are randomly generated, but there has to be some way of spicing things up a bit. There are only 2-3 uniques in each zone really, so the possibility for quests there are pretty minimal. It goes without saying that quests cap out at about 25 because the three zones are built to sustain 10 levels of play, so getting from 25-50 is done either through running epic maps which you buy or find, running random quests, or running two maps that scale from 20-50 (one for solo play, the other for a group.)

PvP: PvP was just added to Mythos in the form of Shadowlands, and I must say that it didn’t really work out the way it was intended. The system is set up so that all of the towns are shared among players and every map has the chance that another player can enter it (and fight each other.) When a player is killed, they will drop a piece of gear. If you kill a player who is significantly lower in level than you, you get a karma rating which means that there is a chance that you will drop more than one piece of gear.

The problems with the system are many:

  • It can be extremely difficult to determine what level a player is with a quick glance. By the time you figure out whether you should kill them or not, they could have killed you already. That said, you don’t want to kill just anyone because it could cause you to drop even more gear the next time you die.
  • Players are generally running around with garbage for gear for fear of losing equipment that has taken an immense amount of time to acquire. What fun is PvP if you can’t truly put yourself to the test and see whether you were the better player? Constantly wondering whether you would have won a fight with better gear can be frustrating.
  • There are literally no safe areas in the Shadowlands (an exact replica of the normal world) so unless you head out to the gate where you enter/leave the Shadowlands when you need to take a break or go afk or whatever, you are constantly in jeopardy of being killed and looted.

*TAKES DEEP BREATH* I realize that sounded pretty harsh, but understand that I still do enjoy this game and am spending about 4-6 hours with it a week, there are just some issues that (at least past level 30) are really sticking out at me. Most of the problems stated here aren’t affecting the core of the game, they are just opportunities that aren’t being taken advantage of. Many of these issues will likely be either improved or fixed altogether before its release. Up until level 30, the game is very enjoyable. There is just enough variety between the classes that you can try them all and enjoy each one. A word to the wise, however: If you start in hardcore mode, make sure you read up on the build you want to try, as you won’t be able to respec at all. If you want to start on normal, you will level a bit slower (less mobs = less xp) but you will have a bit more money to throw around for potions and such and you will be able to try out as many builds as you want (though you can’t change your skill point allocations.) If you’re going for uber pwnage, you’ll probably want to go with a gadgeteer (piercing barrage) but there are powerful builds with all classes. If anyone has any questions they would like me to answer, feel free to ask away. Hopefully soon I’ll post some suggestions for these issues that I have, but this is enough for now.

~Kanthalos

Aggro Radius

I’m not really coming up with anything original, so I’m going to piggyback off Cameron’s post once more; this time on his post regarding aggro radius. While I do agree that the idea of an aggro circle can be a bit of an immersion-breaker, I think it all depends on the way the game is built.

If you want an MMO where creatures attack when they spot you, this means that:
a) the game needs to have far fewer creatures running around, or
b) the game will have a stronger emphasis on grouping to deal with the far greater number of mobs that will attack, or
c) players will need to be able to easily slay four or five monsters at a time. I played Asheron’s Call for four years, so I’m all for muliple mob fights (remember tusker dens where your screen was literally covered in mobs and you lived?)

If there are fewer creatures, the landmass of the game is going to have to be much larger so that mobs have room to spread out and not all aggro on players at the same time. The experience gained from mobs would also have to be increased as there would be more time spent going from mob to mob, and likely more strategy involved in positioning to attack them. I personally would be a big fan of this, but I know a lot of players would not. Many players enjoy the fact that they can jump right in front of a mob, slay it, then turn and face the next mob to do the same thing. It all depends on your preference.

Also, if the mobs are more spread out, again, the landmass will need to be quite a bit bigger. Otherwise, mobs will be crammed too closely together and you’ll aggro the whole zone. On the other side of this, if mobs are too close together it this will force players to group up much moreso than they do now in case they do aggro too many mobs. This runs the risk of not being a “solo friendly” game, which seems to be the only way to build a game anymore.

It really just depends on how you build the game from the ground up. If you want a more realistic AI, you run the risk of frustrating your players in that it might be much harder to spot a creature before it attacks you, or they feel as though they are always being attacked. If this is the approach taken and is done right, you will have a much more immersive game and (at least I think) will make the world feel much more alive, strengthening its verisimilitude.

There are so many sides and angles to this topic, but I’m going to leave it at that for now. I’ll probably add on to this soon, but I’ve got some errands to run. 🙂

Hope you all have a nice weekend.

~Kanthalos

Why Aren’t There More Live Events?

I’ve never really understood why live events in MMO’s are so few and far between. I’m sure many of you can recall most if not all of the live events that you’ve taken part of in different games, clearly making them some of our most memorable experiences in online games, so why is it that they usually only take place once or twice a year? And no, Blizzard, I don’t mean filling Moonglade with a festival and a dog that respawns for like three days, and I don’t mean adding Halloween and Christmas decorations to Ironforge. Those are neat and all, but they aren’t the same as one-time live events. I’ll never forget the time Gaerlan showed up in Dereth for the first time controlled by the dev’s and proceeded to slaughter any players who came near him. One server nearly took him out (though this wasn’t supposed to happen, hehe) but this was absolutely awesome to see. Many more events like this took place during my stay in Dereth, and while none of them were quite this memorable, I will remember them all for a good time to come.

That said, why aren’t there more live events in MMO’s? I realize this can be difficult for games like WoW with some 250 odd servers. This simply means that you can’t control what’s going on with dev’s, but they can certainly throw something in that captures the attention of the entire server and makes them take a break from their monotonous raiding schedule for an hour or two. All I’m really trying to say is that most MMO’s are missing out on awesome opportunities to get the players really involved in what’s going on around them, and make them believe (at least for a while) that it’s more than just another server of an artificial world.

~Kanthalos

Servers with Different Content…?

With all of this talk going around about world-building and world-destroying, mainly pertaining to PvP, it’s got me thinking about some of the things this entails, as well as a bigger picture. If players have the ability to alter the world like this, it means that servers are going to be different from one another. This idea got me thinking about differing servers on an even greater scale than this. Imagine if servers were set in different periods of time, say 200 years apart from each other. The capital city on one server might not have existed on the “younger” server, or it could have been taken over by an opposing faction, or perhaps completely destroyed on the “older” server. On another note, different servers could have different instances. Maybe they give the same loot, but the content is 100% different.

There are endless possibilities on what could be changed. This could create a sense of server loyalty and honor, feeling like your server was one-of-a-kind, being completely unique. This also creates some potential problems though. If too many things change, this could create lopsided server numbers with people favoring one server over the next. It also means creating content that is relatively similar with alterations to make it seem original when completely new content could be created with that time and those resources. Would it be worth having less content overall in order to make it feel like an alternate reality rather than a replica? I’m not sure myself, but it’s definitely interesting to consider.

~Kanthalos

Guild Wars-Style MMO: Could It Work?

I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t consider Guild Wars to be an MMO. While there are many thousands of players online at the same time, everything including the towns are instanced. When you run out of a town, you will find no other players except those you grouped with. Even though many people do consider this to fall into the MMO category, I just don’t buy it, but anyways, on to my idea.

So would it be plausible to import this style of play into a more standard MMO? Give players the option to jump straight to max level? By this I mean a far greater focus on PvE, instead of PvP (although it’s still very much included.) So this could mean both instancing/raiding as well as perhaps some world PvP or instanced PvP. Here’s how I think it could work.

You could be given a base set of armor and attributes/skills for both PvE and PvP. As you progress with your maxed level character through “end-game” content or complete PvP objectives, you could gain boosts to either your armor or stats. Perhaps your standard PvE character could gain rewards throughout their progression that could boost attributes and unlock skills, while progression through PvP could earn you an armor boost/upgrade. Obviously which benefits which could be switched around, but this seems pretty solid.

One problem that I can see with this is if you want to be a hardcore raider or harcore PvPer and don’t want to do the other content, how do you progress without participating in the other? I’m not quite sure about this yet, but I’m sure there are a multitude of possibilities to get around this.

Another problem with this is that if you decide to jump right into PvE content with your maxed character, what’s to stop you from burning out? The answer is give it more randomness like PvP. An arena would be a great way to do this, which randomly generated mobs or increased mobs depending on the size of the group. I believe Anarchy Online had a mission generator that could either be geared towards loot or xp, and difficulties could also be set (not 100% sure on this, but I think I remember hearing about it.) *This could be applied to ANY MMO out there today, not just in this setting.* This is a great way to ensure varied content, even if a lot of the environments get recycled (a la CoH/CoV), as long as the layout and the location/type of mobs changes each time, then it will be much more exciting that running *insert raid instance here* every week.

One major difference between Guild Wars and most other MMO’s out there now is that PvE is certainly put on the back-burner, with it’s only true purpose being to obtain runes to boost your PvP abilities. Could this work in a game that takes three to six months to reach max level and unlock everything for your other characters? I’m not really sure myself, let alone whether I would be interested in this system myself. I haven’t really taken too much time to develop this in great detail, but this is what I’ve got so far.

~Kanthalos

Third Party Apps: Bane or Boon?

I’m sure all of you know what it’s like every time a patch or an expansion rolls around and you have to wait for third party app developers to rewrite the code in order to make it compatible with the newest version. I’m sure a lot of you also know that this can bring guilds to a stand-still in terms of raiding. This just doesn’t seem right to me. If you can’t run a raid without the help of additional sofware alongside you, that should tell you that something is fundamentally wrong with the way the system has been built. Of course, once players get experienced enough at running certain instances, they can compensate and know what is going on anyways, but learning how to do it correctly with third party programs just seems like “hacks” to me. There are tons of applications out there that are simply convenient and don’t affect your ultimate success in a game, but what about those that do? I remember plenty of times after patches when my guild that could normally clear MC to Rag would lose our apps, and we couldn’t hardly kill Lucy. Pallies and mages couldn’t get people decursed fast enough and no one could manage threat effectively. Of course there were far more skilled guilds out there, but I don’t think that the difference between having and not having these programs should be this great.

This leads me to wonder whether third party applications are ultimately good for the game or whether they take out an aspect of the difficulty that should be there. Don’t get me wrong, instances are still mighty difficult with these applications, but does that mean they should be adjusted so that they are more doable without them? Are the developers simply relying on the players to create these since they didn’t have enough time or money to build them? My guess is the latter since a lot of these features were eventually built into WoW, but this could also be due to the fact that they didn’t think of them before the players and after seeing their effectiveness, built them in. Are third party applications going to continue in popularity or is UI going to up the stakes and be more prepared with what the players want and need? Difficult to know, but one thing is for sure… They will always be around.

~Kanthalos

Improving End-Game: Town Building

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately. Many people simply don’t have the time, patience, skill, or dedication to raid after reaching the max level in MMO’s. This leaves several options open to the player. They can craft and trade to earn money for better gear. They can faction farm for certain rewards. They can roll an alt and do it all over again. And the last real viable option is PvP. While raiding can be fun and interesting working with others to obtain rewards, the content will always be the same. While this can be true for PvP as well if you enter battlegrounds, arenas, or whatever else to fight, your surroundings might be very similar, but the outcome can never be certain. This factor of uncertainty is what leads me to the belief that the best form of end-game content has to involve the world your character is living in.

What better way can you be involved in the world than by city building/destroying, leaving a lasting impression on the environment? I don’t know that there is. There are problems with this, however. For instance, how do you prevent an all-powerful group or faction from dominating everything and ruining the experience for everyone else due to a lack of power? Well, you could reset certain areas where you build towns and outposts every so often, but again this begs the question of what difference am I really making if it doesn’t have any real permanence? If this isn’t considered an option, you could simply limit the size or the capabilities of towns that can be built. This way you could leave your mark, you would simply be limited in how big of a mark. The last option (though straying from the PvP aspect) is the ability to built outposts/towns that can’t be destroyed. This would allow you to have your own private/guild space that would be yours, without any of the risks and responsibilities of guarding it.

Whichever of these options (or any others that are possible) you consider, many benefits can be seen. This would promote crafting that had a real purpose. It would promote trade between groups for these items. One the PvP side that would promote alliances between groups to help defend each others areas. Perhaps groups from different time zones could ally and help defend the other while the majority of their players are offline and vice versa. Also, this will constantly give you something to do if you get bored with questing or grinding, either trying to capture a new location or building up the one you have. These locations could also have access to materials not found anywhere else, causing certain areas to be more prized than others.

While this wouldn’t necessarily have to be an end-game activity exclusively, they would likely be the biggest players as they have gotten through all of the content and they will be the most powerful. I’ll probably expand on this later, but here is a (somewhat) brief outline of why dynamic worlds are a must in the near future for MMO’s.

~Kanthalos