Archive for the ‘MMO’ Category

EQ2 + Extreme Quality = OMG

So my brother put together a new computer on Friday and here are the specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz Processor
2 GB RAM (Soon to be four)
BFG NVidia GeForce 8800 640 MB
100 GB 10k RPM hard drive

This thing is unbelievable.  He tried to hook it up with Vista Ultimate and Vista Interprise, but couldn’t get his drivers to work with either of them, so he fell back to XP before installing EQ2.  First thing he does after he pops into the game is crank it up to Extreme Quality.  I must say that I didn’t think graphics in an MMO were this good yet.  I knew that EQ2 had the best out there right now, but I was completely baffled by just how beautiful this game looked.  I’m sorry but I don’t have any screenshots on this computer, but I’ll post some when I get home tonight for you all so you can see.  The point is that I had no idea that graphics like this were on the market yet.  Some of the screenshots I’ve seen were probably this good, but until you see it in action, it’s just not the same.  It’s like a completely different game when it’s turned all the way up.  The only time there were any problems were in Qeynos and once he gets the other 2GB of RAM that won’t even be an issue.  Point is, if you recently upgraded your computer, you should really check this one out if you haven’t played it in a while.  The game itself is amazing to begin with, and add the stellar graphics to it, you simply can’t miss it, even with the games that are on the way.


Why Penalize Players For Grouping?

Asheron’s Call (I’m assuming like EQ from what I’ve heard) was filled with grinding. LOTS of grinding. Back then, we didn’t care so much. We didn’t know any better and we grew to accept it. You went from one tusker dungeon to the next killing a black tusker instead of a red and black tusker (for those of you who don’t know, they are basically gorillas with big, well… tusks.) You got to know the people as you spent more and more time in the same dungeons with them. You’d join a fellowship with them (a group basically, with up to (nine?) people) and chat away with them as you mindlessly hacked away at whatever you were grinding on. If a fellowship was full when you got there, you waited in line for someone to leave and take their place.

In most games today, grouping up while grinding is pretty much unheard of. Why? Because if you are a proficient “grinder” (mmm, tasty) and you group with someone who isn’t as skilled as your or their class isn’t well suited for it, you will get less xp than by yourself because most games have you split xp evenly. Asheron’s Call was different, though. If you were grouped with one other person, you each got 75% of the total xp, and with each additional person in the group, this dropped a little bit, so with a full fellowship (either eight or nine) every person got 33% of the xp. Think about that for a second… nine people each getting a third of the xp. I think more games could use a system like this. It encourages people to play together, and for those people who enjoy a good grind from time to time (myself included) this would be a great way to do that without feeling like you are actually earning less xp than questing. Obviously, the situation in AC was different. Questing was the exception, rather than grinding, so increasing xp in groups was a must, no doubt about it. Why, though, does this mean that games that have a quest-centric system don’t have to give bonus xp to groups? It doesn’t. It’s like the developers say “well, they are getting extra xp for doing the quest, so why give them even more xp for doing it with another person?” This just seems flawed in my opinion. An MMO’s greatest attribute is the fact that you are playing WITH OTHER PEOPLE. I know that sometimes you want to have some time to yourself, but if you do want to do a spend some time with a friend without a real goal in mind (or just for questing) you shouldn’t be penalized for it.


Alternatives to XP-Based Leveling

Damianov saw a concept for leveling that involved ranking quests by difficulty and then advancing based on completing so many quests of a certain rank. He admits that there are some flaws with the system. There is definitely some great potential as well, though. I’ll look at both.

The main flaw with a system like this is that everything in the game would have to be quest based. Even if everything wasn’t stuck in a city, I think this would give the game a very strong “DDO” feel. No one is going to want to fight their way through a bunch of mobs that give no reward in order to get to the content that they can progress with, so it would be all of these encounters spread out across the land. I guess one solution to this would be to have random mobs strewn about that provide gear or other materials, while the quests are how you advance, but again, I don’t think people would want to spend half their time advancing their character and half their time finding gear, with no common ground.

Another problem with this system is the conflict of instancing vs. camping. If everything was instanced, this would obviously prevent camping but instances are horrible immersion-breakers. There’s nothing like climbing up to a “griffon’s nest” (example used by Damianov) when a load screen pops up and everyone else disappears. I just don’t think I could do this personally. That said, I also don’t enjoy the thought of a riotous mob of players waiting 45 minutes for their shot to steal the egg when it respawns.

So what is a possible solution to this? Have enough quests that they can simply do another one. This means an enormous number of quests, and by quests, I don’t me “kill 10 rats” or “deliver this to Bob, standing six feet away from me.” I mean true, meaningful quests. The whole idea behind this system is that you feel like your quests matter, otherwise why would they be your only source of advancement? This is good and bad. This means that quest designers actually have to put their thinking caps on and create some intriguing quests that really challenge and entertain the players. This also means though, that they have to come up with an incredible amount of these.

For example: Assume you have to complete 15 of these at each level, and there are 25 levels, that’s 375 quests, and you are probably going to want at the very least twice that many to leave some options including a mix of solo and group quests and long and short, that’s 750 quests. Furthermore, once you get the higher levels, like almost all games, quests are going to become much more intricate, difficult, and time-consuming. It’s going to to difficult to make quests that seem important that don’t take more than 20-30 minutes. If all your quests take an hour, that’s going to make questing very difficult for a lot of players, especially if you have to find a group to do them before you go. This balance can surely be found, but it will take a lot more planning and writing to find it.

This is highly ambitious, and would take a lot of work. If you don’t have enough content to keep the players interested long enough due to a lack of quests and/or make the leveling curve too easy, players are going to reach max level far too soon and be left with nothing to do and leave. There are other elements to keep them there, such as crafting or PvP, but that’s a different topic.

The last real problem I have with this is that even if quests are more fulfilling, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being lead around being told what to do. I think there needs to be some balance between player freedom and being sent from one spot to the next. I think this would also force developers to feel like they had to fill every inch of their world with quests since there would be nothing between them (mobs) and then it would feel more like an amusement park than an MMO.

I’m all for getting more interactive, challenging, and all around fun quests in MMO’s, but if they aren’t implemented well in this system, it will absolutely kill the game as it’s how you level. To date, I haven’t found a game that has quests that are more than tasks. Warhammer looks like its going to start to break this trend, but until we see more of it, I think this goal is too ambitious to build an entire game around. I’m barely scratching the surface of this concept (in a somewhat incoherent fashion,) but those are my initial thoughts, I’d love to know your opinions on it.


Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 2 of 2

I described the Uncanny Valley hypothesis and how I related it to MMO’s in my last post, choosing to look at the technical aspects of whether or not players will one day be able to feel as though their avatars are an extension of themselves or whether in fact, they even desire this. For the second part of this, I’m going to focus on the emotional aspect of this idea. Social interaction with other players and NPC’s would play the greatest part of course, as well as character freedom. I will warn you I do get a bit side-tracked at times, but I think everything ultimately relates to the topic.

I’ll start with social interactions. It’s clear that currently in MMO’s there is very little true social interaction, at least that actual involves your avatar. Sure you can click on an NPC to obtain a quest and type a message to another player on the keyboard, but your character simply sits there while you perform these actions. I think the first step in changing this involves voice communication, which we have recently seen an influx in with the use of software like Ventrilo and TeamSpeak. In fact, some games have already included systems built into the game that allow voice chat, either through a third party program or one they’ve created themselves. Dungeons and Dragons Online has a built in system, Lineage 2 uses MSN messenger, and EVE Online is currently implementing a system as well. Again, though, this is simply for players to communicate what they want or need from other players. Rarely is it used to role play, speaking as the character would. This is part of the problem that many players currently have in using voice chat. They feel that it breaks the illusion when a 13 year old middle-of-puberty boy starts talking in Ventrilo while playing a 300-pound dwarf. While I agree that this breaks the atmospheric feel of the game, I would argue that so does reading the text that people type into a box. You don’t see people walking around with a whiteboard and a dry erase marker writing everything they want to express (I hope,) so why is this any more realistic than a 54 year old man with emphysema talking for a night elf woman? Also, companies have started creating voice chat programs that will altar your voice such as MorphVOX Pro (Vivox is also working on a program as well) to whatever you want yourself to sound like. While they are far from perfect it’s a sign that things are changing and heading in this direction.

More than just talking to other players though, I think a large step towards realism in MMO’s is NPC’s actual talking to you. I know EverQuest 2 has started with this and some of the quests you obtain will actually have the NPC say it out loud to you. The biggest problem you run into with this is getting voice actors that are actually good. If they are poorly done, it’s worse than just reading it so you have to be careful when implementing something like this. Also, I think if you get good voice actors, people might be more interested in actually reading the quests more than they do now, usually just clicking the accept button and reading the objective later, but quests are another subject I’m going to tackle after this. Also bodily movements (expressions) and mouth movement are essential in this. No matter how good the voice actors are, if the NPC is a rock then it will just be awkward and simply won’t work.

True character freedom is also very important in creating a sense of realism in order to feel a part of your character. Characters will need to actually be able to have control of the way they move. While this might not be possible in combat yet, there needs to be some way of doing so when not in combat. Asheron’s Call uses a combat/peace mode system. Perhaps this would work for the proposed situation. This may not be possible with the current mouse and keyboard configuration, but is just one more step towards realism. The ability to push someone, pick up a rusty axe off the ground, hold someone’s hand, or even scratch our characters head (your imagination can come up with all sorts of other possibilities I’m sure) would be incredible addition to a game. While we do have e-motes, they just aren’t the same.

Well there you have it. These are the most essential things that I’ve come up with when it comes to having a more realistic take on our characters we play for hours on end. There are many more things involved in believability in MMO’s, but they involve gameplay which is a completely different subject in my opinion. So is truly connecting with your character something you even desire within a game? Clearly we desire our games to be based on our reality, but how much is too much? These are questions I would love to hear your responses to, so let me know what you think. I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll be back soon to talk about questing and possible improvements that could be made.