Leader

Monday, June 30, 2008

Avvath's Tale: Level 1-6

After playing Alexya for an hour, I switched it up with Avvath, the mighty Blood Elf Paladin. Paladin is a class I've toyed with but never committed to. My main for a long time was a warrior, and I just wasn't ready to commit to another long grind in plate. Happily, Paladin DPS has been nicely buffed since I played the class last and my days of fearing Paladin boredom seem to be at an end.

Having just done all the quests for Alexya, I knew exactly where to go for Avvath. An experienced player knows to make the most of his trips out of town, and hit as many quests as possible before returning. With Alexya, I went back to the quest givers about 5 times, with Avvath, I only returned three times. It's a lot faster when you dump your quest log all at once.

Something I didn't do that most experienced players do is grind mobs en route. This increases xp gains slightly, and when I'm at higher levels with these characters I will do this, but at lvl 6, it's just not practical. The newbie area is set up to get the character to lvl 6 with quests alone, and when it takes less than 10 minutes per level, grinding mobs is just extra tedium that I don't need.

At any rate, Avvath reached lvl 6.5 (as close to the same xp as Alexya) in 45 minutes. Part of that is playstyle differences (Alexya had to regen mana a lot more than Avvath) but the majority of it was extra travel time and searching for the right quest locations. Newbie quests are mostly good about directing players to where they need to be, but a few were very confusing. A novice player may wander around for a while trying to find the spot, which leads to longer levelling times.



More in dept analysis in a minute.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Alexya's Tale; Lvl 1-6

I started the experiment with the mage, Alexya (and consequently, if anyone is on Area 52 horde, don't hesitate to send me a message in-game, I'd love to have your input). Having not played a mage in a long time, it took a little bit for me to get fully adjusted to it, but soon enough I was blowing my way through mobs with vengeful fireballs.

My experience was fairly easy from lvls 1-6, which is good. The quests were easy, and while I got a little lost once, that's just because I didn't bother to look at the top part of the quest description, where it told me exactly where to go. I reached lvl 6 (6.5 actually after turning in quests) in about an hour of played time. This is an hour without any profession training stops or any side trips. A final picture of my status at lvl 6.5 is below. I'll be posting my experiences with my paladin next, along with some analysis of the differences between the two playing experiences and end results.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WoW Experiment: Class Discussion

I’ve chosen Area 52 for a few reasons. First, it’s medium population will provide a decent auction house. Secondly, I have no characters on the server, so it will be a clean slate start, and thirdly, it’s a normal server so I don’t have to worry about PVP issues.

I wanted to create two characters that would be able to start in the same area, but have playstyles that differed (more to ease boredom than for experimental value), so I decided on a mage (for the newbie player) and a paladin (for the experienced player). Why these classes? Well…

The mage was my first class, and a class I never made it to 70 with. It was fairly easy to play, and relies primarily on one stat. Builds from all three trees are viable, and with baseline spell damage being very reasonable, gear doesn’t matter that much (though it does make a difference between being okay and being good). Also, there are very few tricky abilities to get in the way, and the mage has a natural profession set (tailor/enchanting) that is profitable.

The paladin is not an easy class to master. Like warrior, it requires good gear for decent damage output, has a large amount of abilities that can be tricky to use, and only specific talent builds are worth using. It does not have a natural profession set (though you could argue mining/blacksmithing) and it’s abilities are more expensive than any other class’s.

So why bloodelves? Well, I like the horde. And if I were a new player I would pick bloodelves because of their relative newness to the game and because they look cool. Also, they are the only playable horde race for paladins, and when you think of mages from Warcraft 3, the BE sorceress and priests come to mind.


I do want to discuss the character look real fast. My female mage I made to look cute. Females have always felt more “magic” oriented than male characters, and I feel this is a good choice. I like red hair, and I think the earrings she has are very magical. The name Alexya comes from the random name generator, with a letter switched phonetically.




The paladin is male because I wanted to be able to differentiate between screenshots easily. This guy is 100% randomly generated and I think he’s badass. The name is again a random name generated with an extra letter added to make Avvath, mighty BE paladin.

Now I would have an in-depth analysis of my first few levels as each players, but unfortunately my screenshot program refused to save any open windows, so I have to go in and rerecord the status screenshots. However, preliminary analysis indicates the experienced player reaching lvl 6.5 in 15 minutes less than the newb player (and that includes the two disconnects the experienced player had, and having to run completely back to the starting area to finish a quest I forgot about). Without my screenshots I can't determine any other comporable statistics until tomorrow.

This seems promising.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Theory in Action; the WoW Experiment

I've been thinking about returning to my World of Warcraft days. I long to play again, and while I often dread the idea of levelling even more characters, and hate the fact that Blizzard is pushing another expansion instead of expanding in-game content for "free," I find that this provides me with an opportunity. In examining the theory of video games, I find some problems and quirks that are difficult to explain or even grasp myself. So, I've decided to conduct an experiment.

When I was a new player to WoW, I was not a new player to MMORPGs. I had the basic concept, but things eluded me, and some things I didn't learn about until an embarassing amount of time later. It never occured to me that this might be a flaw with the design of the game itself, and not a problem with my understanding it. I want to return to that newbieness and see if it was indeed my problem, or if the game lacked important knowledge that a newbie needs.

So, here is the experiment. I will document myself playing two new characters. For one, I will follow all newbie quest lines and help information. I will only explore new zones if directed there by a quest, and if I don't happen upon quest givers or am not led close enough to them to see them on my minimap, I will not visit them. In all ways I will pretend I know nothing about the game when I start. For the other one, I will use my knowledge and experience to level up quickly and efficiently.

Benchmarks I will use to evaluate this experiment:
1. Money earned in-game (will vary based on class skills cost)
2. Time to level
3. Zones explored (i.e. content explored)
4. Gear (appropriateness and overall power)
5. Anything else that arises that seems relevant

In the next posts I will detail my character selection and reasoning. Most of my logic and reasons will become apparent through the experiment. I will try to keep from boring you with the trivialities of leveling and only bring up important points, but I want to document this experiment. I am by no means a fast and efficient leveler, but I have leveled so many characters certain things become second nature to me. It will be hard to keep this experiment pure, but I feel I am up to the task.

Let me know if there is anything else you think I should consider in this experiment by leaving me a comment on this post.

I work alone...

Most MMORPGs involve a lot of group content (hence the name massively MULTIPLAYER online role-playing game), especially at higher levels. WoW has raids, SWG had missions too difficult to solo, and City of Heroes is extremely difficult to solo after about lvl 20. It could be argued that the group aspect is the point of MMORPGs, but as a casual player myself, I am bored with this mentality. It's not like I want to play the game completely by my self (I have Warcraft 3 for that) it's that I want to be able to solo and have fun.

Let's take a look at the misconceptions developers have about MMORPG content. I agree that MMORPGs should have group content, and I love the challenge and the fun that arises from WoW's raid and heroic dungeon content. It is very well put together and challenging. MMORPGs are largely community games, and aiming towards content that involves a community or group is a good idea, it's just not the only one that should be exercised.

By soloing, I don't mean running through the entire game and never grouping up with someone, nor do I mean avoiding groups at all costs. I enjoy group quests, I enjoy dungeons and instances, but I do not enjoy *having* to do them to advance or them being the *only* source of good equipment. In WoW, you can either run heroics all day, or PVP all day to get "good" equipment. Why not make some solo quest lines or something that lead to equal equipment as to what you would get from raids? They should be difficult, and take time to do (roughly equivalent to how much effort it takes to get them from raiding) but can be done completely solo. It would be difficult to balance and impliment, but then again, it's been completely ignored for the sake of raids.

I imagine a system could work like this: You do a series of solo quests, gather rare reagents (all found out in the world, not in dungeons), perform some sort of ritual, a spirit is summoned, it asks you to do 3 quests in exchange for an item of power, you do those quests (which all have multiple steps and time requirements, and maybe reagents), he gives you a sealed chest, and inside is a random BOP epic item that would drop from a raid boss. Now I have two thoughts about this, making the quests harder, but being able to select which raid or which boss even the loot table is drawn from, and making it basically drop loot from a random boss (so multiple epics, and a chance for the really cool and rare stuff) but no selection of what raid or what boss.

Again, these quests should be interesting and require as much effort (or perhaps more) than the effort required by each raid member to down a boss. There should be timers to repeat the quest and for certain parts of the quest so that epics can't be ground out any faster than a raid. Let's face it, it's a good day if you get one pieces of epic equipment from a raid, let alone an entire boss drop. Most of the stuff dropped in my example will be useless and disenchanted or sold. Also, put the quest timer on a global cooldown with all raid timers. You can pick one, you can't do solo epics and raid epics.

Another thing that bothers me about MMORPGs is the lack of development of the basic quest lines. These are quests most players play through, so there should be some development to them, but they are largely badly written and have dubious reasoning. "Go kill 4 wolves, because I hate wolves." etc. I want quests that bring me into the world and make me feel that, even though I'm a newbie, I'm a newbie *hero* I don't think it's that hard.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Realism

I've briefly discussed realism before, talking about gun limits in FPS and how it's used primarily for balance issues more than for realism. However, Mike R's blog post on Fierce Punch points out something much more interesting. It seems that most ninja games blatantly abuse the tools of the ninja, and show them being used in really cool looking, but completely fictitious, ways.

Why does realism matter? I mean, if the game is fun, that should be enough, right? Well, ideally, yes. I enjoy a lot of games where impossible things happen (any game featuring big exploding spells comes to mind), but there are also games I really enjoy that are bound more closely to the laws of reality (like America's Army). You could say the reason for these differences is because they are marketed to different people, but I play both types of games, as do a lot of my friends, so what makes realism so necessary in one game, but a stumbling block for another?

Playability is the simple answer to this. How playable would a fantasy MMORPG be if it had to be bound by the laws of physics? Well, a choice would have to be made between realism and the fantasy elements. Fantasy is hard to make real, so what about games that should be realistic? Well, game fallacies that appear in them are primarily to enhance playability. For example, a single bullet wound is usually enough to convince an enemy to surrender or be incapacitated in some other way (or die in some cases). In a lot of FPS games, enemies, especially bosses, take many bullets to go down. Would it be as much fun if the bosses died to a single bullet wound?

Now let's look at Mike's example. He complains that the kusarigama, a scythe with a weighted chain, is shown in most games as a weapon utilized by throwing the scythe, when in reality it was used as both a grappling hook and the scythe was used in-close and the weighted chain was swung around and the weighted end was used as a short-range weapon capable of killing. He also mentions that in the latest Ninja Gaiden game, the weapon is used more correctly, with both the chain end and the scythe being swung around, however, the chain end can only do light damage and stun.

Why is the weapon used in video games in this way? Well, let's face it, it's cooler to see a scythe go across the screen than a chain. Considering that in reality, the weighted end was probably more capable of killing or knocking and opponent unconscious than the scythe, it doesn't make much difference what the animation is if the effect is the same. Why Gaiden screws with this is something only their developers know, but I don't feel much is lost in these fallacies. After all, if someone really cared about Ninja weaponry, they would research it on their own, as Mike did.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Swappable Materials

Most crafting systems are the same. There are recipes and certain materials make certain things. For example, in world of warcraft, the silvered bronze mail armor set requires a large amount of bronze as well as silver bars. Other recipes require very specific gemstones and other materials.

Don't get me wrong, the recipe system works, but it can be better. What if, for instance, instead of having to use bronze you could use steel. The armor would be stronger and more durable (and probably heavier, not that that matters in WOW). It would be Silvered Steel armor instead, and have different stats and level requirements. The materials would change the final product. These changes should be somewhat predictable. For example, using a stronger metal should result in a stronger product (and probably higher level requirements). Changing things like gems should change the bonus stats the item has.

Being able to swap materials opens up the door to useful loot items. At the moment in World of Warcraft, looted items are sometimes required for recipes, and create items that are better than other items of similar level that do not require loot components, but it's all because the recipe requires it. Imagine if you looted an armor scrap or something from a high level mob, and it could be used in a piece of armor to greatly increase it's stats. Drops for such components of high quality should be low enough that they are very valuable, but high enough that they should be used, especially at high level. This further enhances the uniqueness of crafted materials as mentioned in the last post. Imagine if you were the only person to have a Reinforced Steel Greatshield encrusted with Moss agate and Azerothian Diamonds. Now since these names will get very long, it's useful to have a custom naming capability, with some limitations. Obviously things cannot be named the same as loot drops, or there must be some way of distinguishing them. Otherwise you'll have people selling crafted lvl 1 swords with the same name and model as the epic BOE sword from the latest raid.

This would take some further design and programming, but it seems worth it. SWG had a crafting system that utilized the loot drop part of this idea to some extent, but it could be further enhanced.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Second Chance at Life

Unless you live in a hole in the ground, you've heard of Second Life. It's a free MMORPG with an interesting twist. You can create items and sell them for money, which can be traded on their website for real money. That is about the only good thing it has going for it, but it brings up an interesting idea: Player made content. For most MMORPGs, the only player-made content is Role-playing. That is largely it. In Star Wars Galaxies, players also were able to decorate their houses and guild halls, but there wasn't much there. Ideally, an MMORPG would contain a lot of player-based content, but most rely on developer-made content.


Some MMORPGs rely heavily on player suggestions for future patches and updates, but there is no way for a player to create something real in the game, with obvious exceptions of guilds and such. There is no way to customize the things you craft (besides names sometimes). My question is, why not? Everything in the game has a skin and a model, and there are hundreds if not thousands of models and skins in the databases of each MMORPG. Why not make these things customizable?


Instead of crafting a Bonereaver Sword with the same model as everyone else, you can make Psychoman's Boneblasting Blade, that has a unique model and skin combination. Obviously there are some problems, as a variety of skins have to be made for each model, but creating a large amount of customization isn't hard. It would require a few basics:

1. A few base skins for each model.
2. Different colors for certain spots on the model (like hilt shades and blade colors for swords)
3. Different effects for the blade, i.e. flaming blade, glowing blades, etc

There are other things that could be changed and altered, but the point is that every weapon you make should have the option to be unique.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is it Chilly in Here?

You know, I really should just hire coldness to be my muse, because this is the second idea I've gotten from him. Anyway, I've already thrown around the idea of level vs skill based gaming systems, and while I haven't quite beaten that horse to death yet, it won't be racing anytime soon.

So I'm going to talk about skills-based gaming. No, not character skills, but player skills. There are almost no MMORPGs out there that require the player to have any skill besides basic computer operations. The only one I can think of is Star Wars Galaxy NGE, but that doesn't really count as a game. Since none exist, why is the player skill-based game important?

The growing trend among video games is to either include full online play so you can beat the crap out of your friends and show off your l33t skillz, or include some sort of stat and scoring system so you can compare yourself to your friends (or both). Warcraft 3 has Battle.net and their levels and rankings, Sins of a Solar Empire has titles you earn by completing certain goals (like winning after not building any capital ships, or earning a certain amount of money). This doesn't even scratch MMORPGs, which are entirely about getting better gear and stats than your friends.

So if people like these games, what's wrong with them? Well, nothing really. Most games require either skill or a large amount of time to dedicate to getting better and learning the game. I know a good many players who suck at First Person Shooters, but are great at Wolfentein: Enemy Territory because they've played and memorized the six basic maps. When you put them onto a new map, they fall apart because they don't have strong FPS skills. MMORPGs are all about time dedication, as those that have time to raid and PVP have the best gear, and thus the advantage.

So why make a player-skill based game? Well, imagine if you were playing an MMORPG, and if you clicked the mouse again at the right instant during an attack, the attack did a large amount of additional damage. Or what if, in an MMORPG you actually have to aim in, like Project Entropia, hitting a monster in the head dealt more damage or had a chance to disorient them? Heck, what if there was a mini-game for crafting? What about a mini-game for casting, where success determined power level of the spell? What about blocking and countering during a fight if you time a click right? There are countless things that could be added to pull in player skill as well as to deepen immersion.

There are, of course, the usual problems with this system, in that any time you offer additional damage or success rates, people will try to create programs to automate the click so it lands perfectly. Lag alone might be enough to stop this, but if the time you need to click varies too much, players who are trying to get good at it will become frustrated. Also, servers will have to have a minimum of lag to make this work and I question the viability in PVP of any blocking/countering system as it might increase lag if both players have to wait on the other.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Player Bounties

Coldness's Comment to my last post started thoughts spinning in my head, and I'm reminded of something about the NGE of Star Wars Galaxies that I actually like: Player Bounties. How does this go back to Coldness's comment? Well, they operate within the quest system of SWG, with the exception that the target is a PC, not an NPC.

The idea is pretty simple. You're flagged for PVP or on a PVP server, and Joe McRogue comes by and stabs you in the heart, killing you. You decide that you want to put a 200g price on his head, and that the next person who kills him will get 200g. UberHunter1337 decides to take you up on your bounty, finds and kills Joe McRogue, and gets 200g for his trouble. Simple enough right?

Theory is always simple at first, but here's the difficulty: Preventing abuse and griefing using this system. So here are potential problems:

1. Use as Gold Transfer system

Any time currency can easily trade hands, there are problems with gold farmers using it to move gold en masse. The benefit is that this is a very risky system to use, as if Gold Farmer 1 and Gold Farmer 2 are trying t0 transfer gold, so Gold Farmer 3 kills Gold Farmer 1, Gold Farmer 1 puts a bounty on Gold Farmer 3 and Gold Farmer 2 kills and collect, succesfully transfering the gold. The difficulty? What happens when UberHunter1337 sees the bounty on Gold Farmer 3? He kills Gold Farmer 3 and the gold is his. Since Gold Farmer 1 placed the bounty, he can't complain that someone collected it. Also, bounty missions shouldn't be active during PVP events (like battlegrounds) and the player must have the mission (obtained by going to an inn or other frequently available "town" location)

2. Use as a griefing system

The idea of this system is to counter griefing, and give something for PVP players to do when not in PVP games. The problem arises after UberHunter1337 kills his target. The target then would want to turn around and put a bounty on UberHunter1337, which would cause him to put a bounty on whoever killed him, etc. I'm torn as to whether I like this or hate it, but the simple fact is, after testing it could be determined whether or not to allow targets of a Bounty Hunting mission to place bounties on the Bounty Hunter.

Additionally, to reduce griefing abuse, only Bounty Hunters and their target can attack or heal each other (like a WOW duel) and once the bounty has been collected, all bounty missions for that player are wiped. Also, only players killed by a player can post bounties on them.

3. Friends of Bounty Hunter targets killing them for the mission reward

So, lets say you get a Bounty Hunter on your tail because you killed Rich Noob 27. You talk to one of your friends, and he sees your Bounty Hunter mission, and takes it. You let him kill you, and you are in the clear, and he earned some gold. Right? Wrong! To prevent this abuse there must be some penalty to the Bounty Hunter target after he is killed. Many games use level and experience loss as the penalty, but I'm not sure how well that would work, or how well it would be received by players (although I am a fan of it). Faction loss seems to be to light of a penalty, and a debuff that lasted a number of days would be ignored while the player uses another character. I'm not sure there's a good solution that would keep people happy with this system.

There are other issues, but these are the important ones. Obviously, the player shouldn't be able to collect the bounty by killing himself, nor should it be clearable by the player's non-BH mission related death.

This brings up another idea though, player help quests. Let's say you are trying to kill NPC McBaddy, and you die during your mission. You can offer gold for help on the quest. Palimazing 123 decides he wants the gold, and helps you beat the crap out of NPC McBaddy, completing your quest. He gets the gold, you get your quest done.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What is your Quest?

Quests, aka doing stuff for people too lazy to do it themselves, are a major part of MMORPGs, and they are almost all horribly designed. Quests seem to fall into a few simple categories, each more infuriatingly difficult or badly designed than the ones before:

1. The gather quest: “For reasons I’m not going to tell you, I need 23 pig livers. Now, they can’t be bruised or damaged in any possible way, but you’ll have to kill the pigs before taking their livers…oh and did I mention that not every pig around here has a liver?”

Seriously, these quests are THE most common in MMORPGs. Let’s face it, they are simple to design, just create a semi-plausible reason for an NPC to need the item, assign a drop rate, and profit! It’s hours of mindless, grinding fun, as those pigs never seem to have any livers. I do recall a statistic that says in WOW, only 33% of murlocs have heads, and I wonder how hard it is to get one bloody ear off of a bunch of trolls you just mercilessly slaughtered.

2. The Kill Quest: “I really hate farmer bob, you should probably just off him for me. Did I mention he has bodyguards, cause he knows I don’t like him? Oh, and they’re elites too. But I’ll give you this worthless vendor-trash robe if you do it for me!”

Kill quests aren’t that annoying in themselves, the ones that require groups or put you up against mobs of much higher levels are, especially if you have no crowd control class abilities. Kill quests are extremely difficult for dedicated healers to accomplish solo, but dps classes excel at them. A bit of a mixed bag, but the weak storylines for why you have to kill these specific people are annoying as hell, and I don’t bother reading them anymore.

3. The Class Skill Quest: “I need you to kill farmer joe now, but he’s immune to everything but . Luckily, you’re a so you have and can easily kill farmer joe.”

You know that class ability you never use and thought you didn’t need to buy? WRONG! You need it for this stupid quest, that usually is either a critical quest or has a reward that’s worth the tedium of learning how to use a class ability you probably hate.

4. The Escort Quest: “Thanks for rescuing me, now to reward all your hard work, I’m going to pull every mob in a 3 mile radius and run around like a moron. Oh, and did I mention I have like 2 health and can’t do any damage? Oh look, here’s a harmless bunny. Oh no, he looked at me! *dies*

Do I even need to mention Escort Quests? Either make the damned NPCs smart enough to wait and walk with you, or reduce their agro radius. I can’t count the number of times everything has been clear for a mile ahead of the NPC and they manage to pull something. Between that and them dying while you deal with the 20 mobs they pulled, Escort Quests suck.


So now that we realize that these quest lines are horribly overused and boring, what can be done to improve them? Well, I’m up for suggestions as I’ve never seen a game that really can do it right. SWG came close, as they had mission terminals which generated random missions for players. They were buggy and didn’t work right, but they would provide you with a location and usually a lair and group of mobs to destroy, in exchange for money. The missions varied based on your level, and got mind-numbingly boring after a while, but they got the job done.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A look at Warhammer Online Crafting, the good and bad

Now more on crafting. According to the webcast of Warhammer Online’s crafting system, they are trying something “new” that actually isn’t that new. It seems that there are four gathering professions (basically to get magic stuff, plants, meat, and misc. loot) and two manufacturing professions (basically talismans and potions). You get to have one of each.

The gathering professions seem to just be taken from other games. For instance, the growing profession screams Final Fantasy XI, and the scavenging and butchery professions are analogous to how skinning operates in WOW. Also, the final gathering skills, magical salvage, is the same as disenchanting things in wow, with the exception that you get to choose what you receive from it.

Gathering is where the “new” stuff really is, though. Instead of recipes, you get to choose four ingredients to put into an item, and different combinations and skill levels generate different power items (Anyone remember the Elder Scrolls games? This is Alchemy!) There’s always a chance for critical failure, but you just loose the container you were using, not the ingredients, which is strange for me, since I’d think it’s more likely to loose ingredients than have the container break beyond repair.

So, I guess here’s my opinion.

Good:

  1. Non-recipe based crafting: Good, so long as it is implemented well and that there are many ways to make the same potions (like health potions) and item stats for potion making reflect their rarity.
  2. Gathering skills can be done anywhere. That way you don’t have to run back to newbie areas to get your growing skill up at the beginning.
  3. Skill trainers aren’t even available until Chapter 2, reducing the likelihood of alts being powerhouses for crafting.

Bad:

  1. You just copied WOW and FFXI for gathering skills. Seriously, I thought this was going to be a new system.
  2. Within days of the first players getting crafting skills, “recipes” will start showing up (as happened with FFXI) removing any need to experiment to find what recipes work well.
  3. Certain recipes will be deemed the best, and their ingredients will be costly, and make up most of the market for reagents. With the real time requirements of growing (a la FFXI) and the fact you get to choose seeds and such, and plants aren’t random spawns like WOW, players can simply choose not to grow plants that aren’t in high demand.

Some good, some bad, but I certainly hope they put more work into the basics of the system. I was really excited at the beginning of the podcast, and nearly depressed by the end.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Crafting

Now it's time for one of those long-winded rants about crafting. You see, I love crafting. There's something that really draws me in to an MMORPG with a good crafting system. What's a good crafting system? Well, that's up to the individual using it, but here are some things that pop to the top of my head when thinking about it.

1. Items should be customizeable and/or unique in some way. If two players make the same item, there should be differences between the two.

2. Grinding should be kept to a minimum, and anything you "have" to make should be desirable and usable.

3. Crafting should be complicated enough to take some experimentation to get good at, but simple enough to be able to get into.

There are other things I look at, but these three seem to be the things most lacking in today's MMO market. So, let's take a look more deeply at them.

My first point is very simple. I don't want to make an item that is identical to everyone else's item. I want it to reflect the resources that went in to it as well as my skill. Even if you are making a pair of lowbie boots, a higher level craftsman would make the boots better than a low level craftsman. This can be represented by skill bonuses, quality or durability bonuses, or in other ways. Star Wars Galaxies represented this by having every attribute of an item have an experimentational bonus, and having the crafter's skill determine the initial quality of the item as well as how many experimentation points and the likelihood the experimentation points would work. If I work hard to grind my way to max level of a trade skill in World of Warcraft, all I'm rewarded with is the hardest recipes in the game, which is laughable for the amount of time and resources it takes to get to that level. The reward should justify the means it took to get there.

My second point is a make-or-break point of most crafting systems. Whether a crafting system is utilized depends on how easy it is to get in to and how interesting it is. If I have to make 300 sets of orc underwear to get master tailoring, I'm not going to enjoy crafting as much as if I could make whatever I want. This is honestly a hard thing to do with most recipe type crafting systems, as they are innately designed on skill level versus recipes. This is fixable by making every recipe available from the begining and tweaking the failure chance and chance of skillup a bit. This would mean a low level blacksmith could make the hammer of uberness +10, but would most likely fail to make it and suffer some mishap (which should hinder him in a significant way so that he doesn't just try until he succeeds). Additionally, a high level smith could level making lvl 1 swords all day, but the chance of skilling up is low and the amount of skill gained will also be low, making it much more advantageous to use recipes of about your level (but not requiring it)

My final point is complexity. A simplistic crafting system is boring. World of Warcraft's crafting system can be completely automated with addons. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XI's crafting system is complex and rich, but almost too confusing and lacking resource availability. Project Entropia's crafting system is difficult and conufsing, but fun if you have the time to invest in it. A crafting system should be interesting and fun every time you craft.

Next time I'll go into the Warhammer Online crafting system and my personal thoughts on it. Theories will fly and opinions collide on the next episode of VG Theory.

Conspiracy Theory

I was doing some idle speculation and something came to my tired brain that makes a lot of sense. What if Blizzard were to run a gold and powerlevelling company? Let's face it, when the GMs can create gold and items at will, as well as level characters at will, so there's almost no cost to them to provide the service!

To completely level a character from 1-70 will run a player around $130-150 (depending on service used). Considering the character is already paying to play, why not tap this extra money source? Also, players will pay $100-250 for 5000 gold, so why not provide that as well? Blizzard would basically increase the income from that account by 10-20 times.

Now, of course, Blizzard couldn't publicly do this, or they would loose a large percentage of their player base. However, doing it behind the scenes makes even more sense. If you can covertly get paid and at the same time collect names of characters who do buy powerlevelling and gold, you can do something even more evil. After making them pay for their leveling and gold, you ban the account after a few weeks. They realize they got caught because of buying gold and powerleveling, and so they don't feel nearly as pissed at Blizzard as they are at the power leveling service. The character then buys another account (and another copy of TBC) and starts all over again.

Now, this is complete and utter speculation, but it makes a scary amount of business sense, provided the ownership in the gold farming company could be kept secret. Given the player-based rumor mills, allegations could be denied or ignored with ease, and as long as it was never officially documented, Blizzard could continue with impunity.

More on Warhammer's Crafting system later.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Living Guilds

A brief respite from DSS talk for a look at something from the upcoming MMORPG Warhammer Online. Paging thought their development podcasts, I came across a discussion about their guild system. It seems to be a system where whenever a player earns xp, the guild earns xp. The guild can then level up, and gains a banner to be carried into battle. This banner (or battle standard) then grants the guild members morale bonuses and access to special moves and maneuvers.

The way guilds are implemented in MMORPGs is usually horrible. They are often just a private chat channel and a way of ensuring your spot in a raid. I've only had one good guild in all of my MMORPG experience, and that's just because a group of people who were my friends already in-game decided to just form a guild around our friendship. Most people change guilds at a moment's notice, and I've known several players who flit from guild to guild, taking anything they can from kind guild leaders before moving on to the next one.

MMORPGs need guilds to matter more. City of Heroes/Villains had a good start with the base system. If you have to work with your guild to build and secure your base, you feel much closer to them than if you just raid once a week. You've built something together, and worked hard to defend it. In Star Wars Galaxies, my guild because very strong when we had to defend our bases from being destroyed, to the point that when they were destroyed we ground out faction points to rebuild them together.

The largest detriment to guilds is bickering. So many guilds are lost or dissolved over one or two small disputes (at least in WOW). Usually, it's over something completely pointless, and usually it's not worth arguing over in the first place. The fact that guilds are so interchangeable and there's so little work involved in joining and being in one make it that much easier to complain and threaten to leave. If you had to work hard to get somewhere as a guild (and I don't count raiding as hard work, it's all formulated now) you are less likely to dissolve and your members will stay through more minor disputes, because they are invested in the guild.

I look forward to seeing Warhammer Online's guild system in action. A little later I'll discuss the crafting system Warhammer Online has stated they will be using. It seems interesting on some levels, and disappointing on other. More on that (and a discussion of what I think DSS crafting should look like) later.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Blizzard using Paypal?

About six months ago, Blizzard Entertainment added a new option to account payment for World of Warcraft: payment by Paypal. While this is extremely convenient, as it allows anyone with a paypal account to play World of Warcraft, something else occurred to me. Blizzard has “tried” since the beginning to deter the infamous “Chinese Farmer” population by requiring either game cards or US credit cards to pay for account subscriptions. With the advent of paypal subscriptions, this protection is gone.

Why has Blizzard done this? Well, there are a couple things I can think of. I’ve mentioned before that I believe Blizzard thrives on account sales and the gold trade, as it allows more players to access the game that wouldn’t otherwise. While Blizzard bans gold farmers in huge waves, the farmers often know when these waves are coming, and curtail their activities for a short period. The ban waves keep players happy and the gold trade continues.

What does that have to do with paypal? Well, before the paypal change, players who wanted to play on US servers had to be in the US or use prepaid game cards (or have a confederate in the US with a valid credit card). Paypal accounts are much easier to get and use than using a bank account in the US for a non-US resident.

So why make this change? Well, to get places to sell them, Blizzard offers discounts on gamecards to stores. The gamecards cost the same as two months of play time (purchased monthly) to the consumer, but blizzard makes more raw money from the subscriptions than the gamecards. So, why let companies that sell to Chinese farmers make money that is rightfully Blizzards?

Sure it’s a conspiracy theory. Sure it’s only founded partially in facts, and is a lot of idle speculation, but then again, it’s my blog :-p I don’t know if this was Blizzard’s plan, but if I were an executive at Blizzard, I’d be pushing for this kind of plan. It’s something that’s easy to deny on a corporate level and ignore. Oh well.

Up later, more discussion of the Dynamic Spawn System. If I had the skill to make an MMORPG, I would.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Example of Skills in a DSS

Skinning:

XP from skin = level of monster * quality level of skin

Failure xp = Level of monster / number of fails

XP: 1-1000

Failure xp: 1-100

Ex: 1-100 monsters

Quality: 1-10

1: Scraps: Scraps of leather, barely suited for anything

2: thin leather: The thinnest of leathers, useful for scrolls and canvas

3: Light Leather: A thin, lightweight leather useful in making armor with little encumberance, and little protective value.

4: Medium Leather: The standard for leather, most leather armors use this as a base, and it provides decent protection for the weight.

5: heavy leather: Better and heavier than medium leather, useful for more durable armor.

6: Thick Leather: Leather that is best used stretched over a frame as a shield.

7: rugged leather: Useable for leather armor that is almost as strong as metal, also used in shields

8: Reinforced Leather: Leather reinforced with parts of the animal’s skeleton and tissues, extremely strong and durable.

9: Dense leather: As durable as steel

10: Pristine Leather: This is exceptional quality and imbues anything made with it with special properties and a mystical connection with nature (rare)

Quality degrade by 1 point every failure

Success is based off comparing skill to level of creature (plus or minus gear modifiers), where there is a 50% chance of success of skinning if your skinning level is equal to the target creature’s level. This chance of success increases by 5% per level over the creature’s level.

Critical success chance increases quality of material to 10, and generates a specific masterwork resource for that creature and zone. For example, a lvl 10 creature may generate a pristine light leather and a lvl 100 creature would generate a pristine dense leather. These can be used like the lesser quality leathers (pristine light leather can substitute for light leather) and increases the quality and properties of the finished item. Chance of critical success is 0.1% and increases by .01% for every level over the creature’s level your skinning level is. It also decreases by .001% for every level below the creature’s level. (so a lvl 1 skinner can try to skin a lvl 100 monster, and will have a 0.001% chance to get a critical success). This should be checked after the first skinning attempt. If the first attempt fails, there is no chance for a critical success.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Recap

Okay, so I was throwing some ideas for a Dynamic Spawn System in an MMORPG, and I got sidetracked by school and work and gaming…which seems to happen a lot. I apologize to the few who actually read my blog and hope for updates (sorry, Rich :-p ), and I’ll try hard once again to post regularly.

So to go over what I’ve kinda been toying with, here’s some basics:

1. Each player in the MMORPG would have a number of spawn slots for creatures to be generated when he is around.

  1. These creatures would be of an appropriate level for the character and the zone he was in.
  2. This dynamic spawning should be tailored so that it is in full effect only when the player needs it to be, or when the player is entering an area too dangerous for his level
  3. This dynamic spawning should not hinder trade skills

2. Trade skills operate on an experience system, and attempts to be equal-opportunity.

  1. Higher level players will have access to higher level nodes with higher quality metals, but each zone level also has special rare drops for players with a high skill for those areas, keeping lower level players with high trade skills profitable.
  2. Lower level metals can be obtained by unskilled miners in high level areas.
  3. Failing reduces quality/quantity of end resource, but generates some small amount of xp.

With that in mind, some concerns have come to my mind. The biggest problem with DSS is ensuring that griefing by use of the spawn system doesn’t occur. It would be very easy for a high level character to get angry and spawn max-level (for the zone) mobs around the newbie starting area. An easy way to deal with this is by making only mobs you spawn hostile towards you, but that leaves the area wide open to abuse. As it is, almost every system in an MMORPG is strained and twisted to the limit before it is broken, and abused.

I’ll have more tomorrow. I’m brewing up ideas for the full write-up on the trade skill system. Have a good night