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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tutorials the way they should be!

Having finally gotten around to playing Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, I've found a unique gameplay element that I am in love with. The tutorial system for this game is both engaging and virtually flawless. Let me explain:

Most games, if they have a tutorial system, use a very basic one. The tutorial is, at best, a scenario mission on easy mode with pop up windows that give you guidance into how to play the game and hint at advanced gameplay elements. At worst, it holds your hand and requires you to go through basic gameplay step by step (and since most RTS games have a similar "right click" system, going through controls isn't usually neccesary for someone who has played a RTS before). In the former case, tutorials seem to be the first mission in the campaign and are required to play the rest of hte campaign (i.e. like C&C Generals). In the latter it is an annoying aspect that doesn't actually help the player get into the game. Either way, these tutorials are rarely important to the story, and often aren't that helpful to playing the game.

Red Alert 3 takes tutorials to the next level. The tutorials are guided by three NPC tanks, one for each of the factions in the game. They declare in the first tutorial that they "have declared a temporary truce, to train you, commander, so that none of us need to face death needlessly." The three tanks have distinct personalities; the limey Allied tank is snarky and british, the Japanese tank has an arrogant and superior air, and the soviet tank breaks the fourth wall regularly, making comments and asking questions about things like "Where do the engineers go when they take over a building?". The three personalities are well developed, and their interactions are hilarious. For example, the soviet tank gets shot by the other two whenever he breaks the fourth wall, which is hilarious in a slap-stick kind of way.

Having played C&C Generals, most of the interface and gameplay is familiar to me, but these tutorials actually introduce advanced concepts. The second tutorial allows you to play as all three factions with virtually limitless cash, allowing you to build bases and units and experiment with them. The only downside is that there are no enemies in this mission, so you can't test combat ability of your units, but that is just about the only complaint I have about these tutorials.

The background elements are what make these tutorials special. For example, in the third tutorial, the NPC tanks get a lift from helicopters to the second island to continue instructing you. Also, little things make these tutorials glorious. When describing how to use the mostly dual-use units, the scenario requires you to disable an enemy tank. The unit you are to use is normally a formidable anti-air unit. As this is described to you, a half dozen air units scream accross the screen and are promptly blown up by the unit. These little elements really make these tutorials.

In my opinion, tutorials tend to be thrown in at the last minute. C&C Red Alert 3's tutorials show a clear effort. If the C&C team spent this much time making the tutorials, the rest of the game has me giddy with anticipation (well, not giddy, but intrigued). I hope that any future C&C games continue with this tutorial system, and hopefully it will be copied by other games.
-VG

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Expansive Crafting & Guild Upgrade: World of Warcraft

When I used to play WOW, I had a few ideas that I never really fleshed out, but that I mused over in dozens of ventrillo conversations while not raiding (or rather while my friends weren't raiding, as a college student, I rarely had much time for it). One of these ideas integrates the concepts of instanced play, guild warfare, crafting, and concepts from the Hyjal instance and Warcraft 3. I also admit it blatantly steals elements from City of Heroes/Villains, but what doesn't WOW steal from?

Let's say you have a guild. At the moment, it's purely a social experiment with some limited item sharing via guild bank. Mostly it's just a pool of like minded individuals who can raid at a similar time, but honestly little else. It's a social group that delves into playing with specific game elements when it is convenient for the group. That is, in and of itself, totally unfulfilling. Guilds should be a presence in any game, and should have meaning, prestige, and honor.

What I propose is that each guild have a base of operations. Guild members are taxed or donate resources to build buildings which in turn provide resources or bonuses for the members. For instance, players pay to build a town hall and train and recruit peasants to work there. The town hall generates gold or increases the amount of gold players earn from mobs or some other tangible benefit (raw gold generation is probably best for this). The players then can build other structures, such as barracks which create NPC mobs to defend the guild base, or temporary npc allies for quests and missions (the latter would be hard to balance). Perhaps even have alchemy/blacksmith/tailor shops that sell rarer goods than the NPC towns or can perform research to generate patterns that are rarer than what is sold by any other NPC vendor. These bases should be a signficiant time and resource investment and should provide some tangible benefit that is worth the investment.

Now, these benefits shouldn't be without cost. Maintanance fees, quests to make things operational or keep things operational and other tasks should be part of this system. Nothing should be built once and maintained permanantly just because it was built. In this way, inactive guilds will have their bases degrade to a more simple level (obviously the most advanced levels should degrade much faster than the simpler ones, and a town hall should be able to support itself in a limited fashion).

Additionally, guilds who have bases are open for guild warfare. There should be a somewhat involved system for "keying" a guild to an enemy base (bases should be instanced) and these bases should have a limited number of attacking and defending players (40 vs 40 could easily work, but it should scale with the size of the base. AV would be a good template in some aspects for this). Once the guild gains access to the enemy instance, they can raid it for a short period of time (say 24 hours) before they have to redeclare war and rekey themselves. Any damage done to the base has to be repaired by the guild whose base was attacked and any buildings destroyed have to be rebuilt. There should be some cost or involved questing required for guilds to declare war, and steps should be taken to avoid abuse of this system.

Many aspects of this idea could be expanded to further involve players. Making buildings crafted out of craftable parts would be interesting. Requiring 400 iron nails, 20 enchanted bricks, 50 tanned heavy leather, 10 rifles, etc to make a barracks would stimulate crafting and the economy in those areas. Guilds would have a resource drain and resource needs beyond just raiding (which is intensive for potions and other buffs but not in much else, besides grinding instances for gear). Buildings should also take real-time to build so that you can't put up a top tier base in a couple hours, it should take weeks of real time to get a base completely built up (and weeks of raiding to completely destroy the base if you are declaring war, however, it should be simpler to reduce it's efficacy and force the enemy to defend it by say killing off all the peons or killing off specific NPC's).

The system would require a careful hand to ensure that it wasn't exploited and to fix potential holes, however, it could be a very fun and involved system that would prevent the need to push out yet another expansion pack.
-VG