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Thursday, September 10, 2009

MMORPGs Elements Revisited

In my previous post I talked about the elements that I thought were vital to any MMORPG. I was fairly brief in my descriptions of it, so I think I'll expand it a bit and explain further. Keep in mind, these are in order of importance for my engjoyment, but I try to keep it universal.

10. Well designed skill/talent/etc system for advancement: Levelling in and of itself is not the goal of any MMORPG, getting stronger and able to handle more content, however, is. In that logic, as you advance you should be getting better at your role and able to do more. This relies on a system for advancement of specific skills (i.e. melee damage, ability to hit, etc) as well as special abilities and moves (i.e. Mortal Strike, backstab, etc). These should improve as you level, or there should be a seperate mechanic that improves them, but something that makes logical sense. The more straight-forward this system is, the less hassle there is involved in gaining your new skills.

9. Reasonable levelling requirements: When Blizzard was releasing TBC and WOTLK, they had a major problem with xp gains. Namely, that it took a ludircous amount of xp to gain lvl 61 and lvl 71 respectively. They fixed this by decreasing the xp needed and increasing the xp rewarded from quests and mobs in those expansions (an effect that can still be seen by grinding equal level mobs in hellfire peninsula and eastern plaguelands, the hellfire ones give a great deal more xp). I have played MMORPGs that were easy for the first few levels, then the xp requirements shot up to a ridiculous level. One caveat, though, a game like Entropia Universe, where skill progression is based on a progressively increasing xp requirement for that particular skill, works well with this kind of system, because it creates a soft cap in a skill, a point where gaining more skill would take more xp than the benefit is worth. This also allows other players to catch up a bit to those who have been playing forever.

8. Player-Based Content: I am wanting content beyond what the developers think we need. This can be as simple as player-inspired RP events to actual player cities. This is both to allow players to have an impact in the worth and to have something to enjoy that is not neccesarily a developer priority (they should be worried about mechanics of the game more than making it pretty, let players make it pretty). Now, there should be regulation on this sort of thing as when given freedom a great deal of people on the internet tend towards the darker sides of expression (sex, racism, violence, etc) that is not needed in a social game.

7. Continued development: I want the game to keep evolving and changing. While I don't prefer to have to buy expansion after expansion to see the new content, it is still preferable to a game that only has a certain amount of content, and once you've played through it there's no reason to play through any further. Blizzard did a good job by releasing new raids and holding plot-driven events before TBC, and then continued to have excellent content additions throughout. The addition of the Collisseum is one great example. That was soemthing that could have waited until Cataclysm, but Blizzard released it now. Also, the various new battlegrounds (even the originals were content additions and not in the release version) are excellent examples of this. This does, however, tend to encourage developers to leave certain aspects out of the base game so they can be released later, which is unfortunate.

6. Competitions: MMORPGs should have some form of competitions to enocurage intelligent play. Blizzard does WoW tournaments that test levelling speed and skill. These can range from decorating contests (where the best decorator of their MMORPG house is rewarded in some way) to Player Spotlights, where a player or guild is interviewed by the developers and the interview posted on the website. Anything can be included, but the idea is to bolster community and involvement.

5. PVP: PVP is as important as non-combat competitions. However, PVP, when balanced and fair is some of the most fun you can have. With Blizzard's changes to their PVP battlegrounds and the virtual elimination of twinks (i.e. a restoration of fairness), I have not had more fun in battlegrounds since they first came out (i.e. before people figured out every exploit in them). When PVP is fair and balanced, it comes down to skill, and if it's friendly, it is fun. I have had many duels with friends where we were balanced characters, and the victor was the one who used his class the best. Many of these duels were fun for the winner and looser (I lost a lot to one of my friends, but enjoyed the duel). This is the essence of PVP...fun competition.

4. Balanced Gear System: If WoW has one failure it's that most gear that isn't randomly generated is very class specific. These class specific gear sets are not universal either. For example, the Wailing Caverns has a set of gear that is oriented towards druids. Scarlet Monestary has a set that is geared towards warriors and paladins. Dead Mines has a set of gear for rogues. However, there are not specific gear sets for all classes until lvl 55+ and end-game raiding. Even PVP gear is difficult to call balanced, as some classes (warriors) have drastically different needs than others (i.e. mages). It's not a matter of balancing +damage stats with +defense stats, its a matter of making the armor roughly equal in utility, which the entire system is clearly not. Resilance is a key point. It is a percentage damage reduction for pvp for damage from virtually all sources. However, it doesn't take into account that 3% DR means more for a warrior than a mage, namely because the warrior, who already has high DR, also has more HP than the mage.

3. Excellent Crafting System: Crafting needs to be more than a grind. There needs to be real skill at it. It should be simple to use but difficult to master. It should also never be completely finished. New patches should release new crafting items, or people should be able to make their own items (see player content). Resource gathering should be in a similar vein, that is to say it should be easy to gain basic materials (of all levels) but the more advanced resources should be difficult to find and use properly. I could go on forever about crafting (bet you're suprised this isn't #1).

2. Developers That Listen: Developers that listen to the concerns of the majority of the players is very important. This helps development, and is key to ensure that the game survives for a very long time. This is the sort of thing that makes or breaks a game. Some games (like SWG) failed miserably because the Devs didn't listen, or when they did they listened to a very small percentage of the player base. Communication is vital to the survival of any MMORPG.

1. Community: I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's the Massively Multiplayer part of MMORPG that makes it fun. Playing without friends or even other people is not the reason we play MMORPGs. This also improves every other part of this list. Again, I could go on forever, but I will just defer to my other posts, and future posts on this subject.

-VG

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tom Clancy's Endwar

I recently picked up Tom Clancy's Endwar. I am not impressed. The game is largely unplayable, and it is a horrible example of how *not* to make a RTS. The game is rotten down to its very mechanics, not to mention a fairly stereotypical storyline (for Clancy, Russians are evil, and America sticks its nose where it doesn't belong, which is basically the storyline of Endwar).

The game's fatal flaw is in the actual combat mechanics. Every unit is composed of several vehicles or infantry groups (I've never seen an individual infantryman killed, it's usually 2-4 killed at one time). Each unit has a shield that prevents it from being damaged, which regenerates when the unit is out of combat. It appears that every vehicle can be damaged separately (though not targeted separately) so it is possible to have a unit at 50% health with all vehicles still alive. The problem with this is two things: First, that you can not target a specific vehicle to focus-fire on it, you can only target units. Secondly: You have to kill the shield on the whole unit before any vehicles take damage. It is clear that the shield level is based on number of vehicles/squads still active in the unit, because if half the vehicles are destroyed, the shield will only regen to 50%, but if all vehicles are present, but some are damaged, the shield will regen fully.

For an RTS, only being able to target a specific unit and not a specific vehicle in that unit may not be a bad thing, or at least not game-breaking, but this game is based on small-unit tactics. Every destroyed vehicle is vitally important to your strategy, because you have (at most) about 50 vehicles. So far, about halfway through the main campaign, i have had at most 5 units, and three of them have been infantry. Tactics really don't matter in this game. As long as you attack with a strong unit type, you will win.

Speaking of unit types, the game essentially has a rock-paper-scissors system, with a few additions. Tanks beat transports (i.e. machine-gun mounted APCs), transports beat helicopter gunships, and gunships beat tanks. Now, there's also the matter of fortified engineers (with bazookas) being gods as long as they are garrisoned, and canon-fodder when they are not. There is also artillery which is also essentially useless unless you want to kill buildings.

Now, rock-paper-scissors is a decent system to start with, but Endwar doesn't really go beyond it. Rise of Nations uses a type of this system, but it is extensive and changes throughout the eras. It is simple to use, but complex to master. Endwar is simple to use and simple to master, because there is not much there. Endwar also suffers from the problem of rock paper and scissors not being equal. For example, tanks blow the crap out of transports, and transports blow the crap out of gunships, but gunships take forever to damage, let alone kill, tanks. This might make some sense (tank shells can probably blow through lightly armored vehicles and anti-air guns will take down helicopters with ease, but a machine-gun from the air isn't very effective against an armored tank.) This defeats the purpose of having the system, because tanks can be more easily defeated by other tanks than by gunships.

The game also pauses the action to pop up helpful tips that cannot be immediatly closed. Also, the delay between finishing the mission and continuing to the next is very long.

The game does have a few redeeming qualities (though not nearly redeeming enough). First is the voice command system. This sytem never really worked well for me in practice, but it is a good system in theory. Because everything is mapped out in terms of unit numbers and waypoints, you can give verbal commands to "Unit 3 attack hostile 4" or "unit 1 to Foxtrot" so you don't have to manually command each unit. The unfortunate part of this is that, with only ten units to control, there is no reason to use the voice commands. Maybe if the game was much more expansive than it is, this would be useful or even neccesary, but frankly it is not.

Another redeeming quality is that of the after-action rewards. You are given money (used for various world-campaign functions) for various things in battle. You are given money just for being in the battle (base pay) and bonuses for winning, units surviving, enemies destroyed, and other things. This means that if you are very succesful in the battle, but fail the objective, you will still get something for your trouble. It also softens a "loosing spiral" that happens when a player is loosing battles, and has no money to build new units.

I'm going to continue struggling through this game and try to find something enjoyable, but nothing has shown itself to be promising. -VG

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Social MMORPGs: Chatting

Anyone who has spent time levelling in the Barrens knows the bad side of general chat. In the worst cases it is a black hole of intelligence and social graces. Because of the anonymity of the Internet (and because it is a lower level zone with a high population) people don't seem to want to be polite, kind, or just not blatantly racist/sexist/intolerant. I have not been to the Barrens where there has been any intelligent conversation going on, and frankly, I'm glad Blizzard is destroying the zone in the next expansion.

The world trade channel is also less than helpful. Getting an honest answer out of it is like getting blood out of a turnip. Occasionally you can even get some trading done...but don't count on it. People simply don't regularly use this as a trade channel, but instead use it for wide-area chatting (because it is available throughout all major cities). If there were a global chat channel, trade might actually be used for trading.

What this says about our MMORPG society: Essentially, nothing. People have needs and they will use the tools available to them to satiate those needs (i.e. using trade as a general chat channel). People will also act however they want without any constraints if in an environment where they are not held responsible. The Barrens, being a low-level high population zone is filled with people you will probably never have to deal with again. You don't *have* to be polite with them because you don't need them.

Sadly, this isn't enlightening at all, nor is there really any way to control this. Guess we all just have to deal with it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Social War; MMORPG Society in PVP Situations

For those of you who don't battleground and group PVP, I must say you are probably missing out on some of the most frustrating, and hilarious social interactions of MMORPGs. My main experience is with battlegrounds, and not world PVP, so I will be primarily talking about that.

Battlegrounds are, in the best cases, very fun. In the worst cases they are frustratingly difficult. In either case, things usually are fast-paced, and there is usually little time for chatting except when action isn't happening. In my experiences, there are two kinds of BG chatting: Productive and Non-Productive. Productive chatting involves things like saying good game, congratulating on a good defense, talking strategy (legitimate strategy), and posting or asking for intelligence (i.e. incomings, or location of Enemy Flag Carriers). Non-Productive chatting involves smack-talk, whining, complaining about any part of the battleground, and other non-helpful noise (please turn off those "funny" macroes, I'm tired of hearing them every time you cast a spell).

Productive chatting is all too rare in most battlegrounds (I will use WoW as an example, because I have experience with it). This can also be correlated with the amount of people on a team that actually work with one another instead of trying to solo the game. Soloers will typically be quiet, or perform non-productive chatting, while team players will call out incomings, even if it doesn't directly benefit them (i.e. they won't get honorable kills for it). The sad part is that Productive chatting is the most useful (obviously) kind for battlegrounds. Intelligence is one of the factors that wins battles, and knowing that there is a rogue in the tunnel (because he just killed you) is vital if your flag carrier is nearby (and hence, vulnerable to said rogue). Being able to react, and the counter-attack is of vital importance.

For example, in a recent Warsong Gulch (Capture the flag) battleground, my team was close to capturing the flag. Someone reported that a lot of enemies were coming up the tunnel. While they were not close enough to kill our flag carrier before he could capture, they were close enough to grab the flag when it respawned. Instead of dispersing ourselves once the flag was captured, and trying to grab theirs quickly, someone suggested we "Hold in flag room for the alliance and counter-attack." The Alliance, not expecting a counter-attack did not react swiftly, and were quickly crushed. Their organized attack broke down, and they lost momentum, which allowed us to get another flag shortly after. Without both the reported intelligence *and* the suggestion/order to hold and counter-attack, the Alliance would have probably captured our flag immediatly after we captured theirs. This is the difference between a quick victory and a drawn-out battle.

Non-Productive chatting is far more prevalent, especially when the chatter's team is loosing. It is generally useless and gets more frequent the worse a team is doing (especially if the chatter is dying more often than they think they should). Essentially this type of chatting is a venting system, and allows players to blame everyone but themselves for failing to stay alive/capture the flag/pwning a noob/etc. Being dead makes this type of chatting easy, especially as the failure probably caused their death, and chatting in the middle of battle is, as said before, not easy or productive. This type of chatting really irritates me, and I'd rather people just not talk. Frankly, it is not Blizzard's fault if the team is unable to work together, or if the other side has more/higher level players. Perhaps I am venting myself about it, but I just don't see this as helpful.

What does this say about MMORPG society? Well, not much really. People who communicate tend to work well together. People who blame everyone else for their problems tend to not be helped by members of their team. Frankly, we like people who don't bitch, and we all roll our eyes at bitchers. This is true in real society as with virtual ones. Of course, it is self-serving as well. If I want to win, I will report tactical information hoping someone uses it. If I start acting that way, perhaps others will too. Of course, I'm probably just kidding myself.

In any rate, I don't battleground to win, I battleground to have fun. Listening to whiners isn't fun, nor does it help us win. Up next, the dreaded general chat channel. For veterans of the Barrens chat, please tune in tomorrow.

Star Wars: Total War

Having finally gotten Empire Total War working on my computer, and playing it for the last few hours, I have come to an interesting conclusion: The Total War engine, with slight modification, would be a wonderful platform for a Star Wars version of the game. Now, I'm sure you're thinking to yourself: VG, we already have that in Empire at War. In one sense, yes, you are correct. EaW is the latest iteration of the full empire-building game, complete with space and ground combat, but there's frankly little strategy in that kind of combat. Total Was is about far more than micromanaging units, it is about the entire feel of running an empire and commanding troops.

If Empire Total War has shown anything it is that a non-ground based combat style is possible (via the naval warfare). This can be translated into space combat with some modification (handling of the 3rd dimension in space has always been tricky, even in EaW. This would make space combat largely doable in the Total War engine. Since damage tracking is also done and directly effects mobility and firepower, this too is doable for starships. Ship capture, which simply hasn't been done effectively in a star wars empire game, is also very possible (let's face it, the rebels relied heavily on captured star destroyers).

Ground combat could be a little trickier, though. Total War has not used any sort of aerial combat to my knowledge, so straffing runs and aerial reinforcing from the fleet would have to be added. I think it is vital that any reinforcing not be done automatically (as is the case with Empire Total War). There should be an option to call in reinforcements, or hold off on doing so. Another major addition will be vehicles. Canon are good analogues for many of the turrets and defense systems that would be used, but thinks like the AT-AT and AT-ST are a little more difficult to introduce, as no unit currently mimicks them in any way. Since they are motorized vehicles, damage to them would function more like ships than anything else. These could also be capturable (a la Chewie on Endor).

Jedi pose another problem. The Force is also something that is not in current Total War games, but there are ways to think about force powers. Lightning or single-target killing powers are the mechanical equivalent of a gunshot, and force throws and knockbacks are similar to artillery fire. Give hero units more effective armor and/or more health and you have an effective hero unit that functions like heroes in any other star wars empire builder.

As per planets, you can treat them exactly like provinces are treated in every Total War game. Have them function as a city surrounded by a zone, except in this case the city is a planet and the zone is an area of space.

In all I think that Star Wars: Total War is completely doable. I do not, however, think it will ever be done. Games like EaW satisfy most audiences and Total War is a far more reality based game series. Not to mention the fact that any new Star Wars games will detract from Bioware's MMORPG, and Lucas Arts has always been careful about releasing games for maximum coverage and profit. Do I hope that it happens? Very much so...but it simply will not.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blog a Day for September

Note to readers: Since I'm horrible about updating this bog, I'm challenging myself to post a quality blog-a-day throughout September. If you like reading it, be sure to visit often this month.

MMORPGs and Guild Society

Though I am not a social scientist by any means (well I guess teachers and professors are social scientists in a way), I do find it very interesting to look at how people interact while playing MMORPGs. I have had a vast range of experiences with this, from guilds with ridiculous hand-holding to guilds that ignored you unless you where at max level *and* geared. Additionally, there is a whole dynamic of general chat and battlegrounds that could take years to fully discuss, but that will come later. At any rate, here are some observations:

Guild reactions seem to be largely dependent on what stage the guild is in. For example, a raiding guild will not hand-hold anyone. They are there to gather resources for raiding, and, if you're lucky *and* max level *and* they need more of your class in the future, you might get to come along on a lower-tier raid for gear. Essentially, if they don't need you, they simply don't deal with you. The remedy? Well, there's really only one way: become useful to them. Whether its by becoming a competent addition to the raid (healers and *good* tanks are almost always needed, dps less so), getting geared (heroics gear is usually sufficient to start raiding, you need less gear personally if your raid is better geared), or by being able to produce something the guild needs. If you are a crafter who is consistently on, and in communication with your guild or raid leaders, you can be a supplier for essentials, like potions, gems, and other useful things. This may also get you brought along to raids so you can loot BOP schematics for your profession. The caveat is, you will not make nearly as much (if any) gold off of guildies as you would off of the auction house. However, guildies can also be supportive too. A guild will have several miners, and as a blacksmith, getting titansteel is a pain. Guildies may be willing to burn their cooldowns to make titansteel for significantly less than market price, especially if they are raiding and whatever you are making is going to help the raid.

What this says about the MMORPG society: Simply put, it speaks volumes. Raiding guilds are high stress environments, and generally, with raiding taking up many hours every week, people simply do not have time to mess around with the remaining time they have. Running others through instances, having incompetant raid members, and having to go slower because people are poorly geared all make raiding miserable. Raiding guilds are designed to avoid the Pick-up group mentality that you have to go slow because the whole group is a bunch of idiots. In essence, raiders are elitists in a practical sense...the more elitist they are the faster they get through a raid. Making a raider's life easier (by providing something they need) is a sure way to be accepted, and maybe even praised, by your guild. Your mileage may vary.

The opposite side of the guidl spectrum are social and levelling guilds. In general, levelling guilds are very large (one I am in has 160 members and it started just a week ago) and cover a wide spectrum of levels. Usually there are 5-6 times as many lowbies as higher level (60-80) people. Since the birth of achievements, there is massive amounts of coddling as well, with everyone congratulating one another for even minor achievements. While this is not my style, it does encourage levelling, at least in my guild. Additionally, lowbies expect (and usually get, if not through some arm twisting) support in the form of gold and instance runs. Instance running is something I will do for free for guildies if I have the time, but I never give away gold. I am constantly pestered (because my main is lvl 80) for gold, usually for ludicrous reasons.

What this says about MMORPG society: Simply put, it says that people who are given an easier option will always try to take it, usually to their detriment. For example, i one was playign with a new player, and I had helped her with a quest here or there, but she kept complaining that she had died while trying to run instances. Because she had only even been run through instances by a higher level, she didn't realize that they were meant to be group content. Similarly, one of my guild members kept asking me for 50 gold (he was in the low 20s). He claimed to need it for a class skill (which, obviously, no class skill costs 50 gold at that level, maybe respeccing talents, but if he's up to 50 gold on that he should stop until a later level). I do not give him the gold, and later find out he's trying to get it to buy a blood elf bandit mask (we're alliance, so they are expensive novelty items). This was his main character and he had no concept of money at all.

This, I feel, is the largest problem with MMORPG society. Helping people is one matter, but doing it all for them is quite another. I am an old grizzled vetran of this game. I have had to PUG my way through 60 levels of content (except when I was fortunate enough to have my four friends on, and we rocked everything because we had base competancy). I have had to learn to use every ability because I had to be a functioning member of instance groups as well as soloing. I also knew the value of every gold piece, because I had to gather and save for both an epic 60 mount pre-TBC, and for an epic flyer pre-wotlk. I also remember the *hard* reputation grinds, which are nothing like these much easier TBC and laughable WOTLK ones.

I am not trying to say that I am better because I am a vetran, I am saying I am better because I had to learn how to play. The end result of hand-holding and gold-giving is lvl 80s who are always broke, and don't know how to act in an instance group. I can't count how many party members have wanted to go faster and faster through an instance because they are used to run-throughs only taking fifteen minutes (as opposed to instance groups which take an hour or so). I also can't count the number of dps classes who are unable to control their aggro because they never had to, and because they want to look good on their damage meters (as a tank or off-tank, this is frustrating). Also, healers who cannot competantly heal shouldn't bother trying. I have wiped more times because healer either cannot conserve mana, or don't know what spells to use. The end result of these guild types is an incompetant player who will have a hard reality check later in the game, which doesn't help anyone.

That concludes my discourse on guilds. More coming up on PVP and the dreaded general chat.

If you want to contact me in game, here are the characters I play the most:

Rodserd, Cenarius, Alliance-side
Thundin, Cenarius, Horde-side
Darkkthunder, Darkspear, Horde-side

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Updates on SWTOR

It has been a short while since my initial doubts about SWTOR, and while I am not convinced that it will be the game many are expecting it to be, certain developments have made me have a small glimmer of hope. It is indeed possible that this could be a replacement for SWG's original vision, and perhaps SWTOR could carry the banner of that community where Sony and SWG fell and failed. Four classses have been officially anounced and expounded upon, and I think that these classes give some insight into the future of the game. First I will mention the classes and then muse as to the possible implications.

For the Republic, there are two classes announced: the trooper and the smuggler. These are two classes that actually are greatly desired by the public, that is, smuggler, which was immensely popular in SWG and there was a constant push for more smuggler-like activities to be introduced, and trooper, which is a powerful, combat non-jedi class. It is clear that these are two very seperate play and combat styles, but both are actually a great improvement over my expectations for Bioware's focus. It is slightly worrisome that troopers are mentioned in a supporting role for jedi, which, frankly, is not the idea I have of troopers. (although, in one description they do mention that even sith lords should think twice before confronting a trooper...I can only hope).

Half of the Sith classes also have me interested, namely that of Bounty Hunters. While it is doubtful that player bounties will be implimented (due to BH being a sith-only class, and the difficulties in controlling its use for griefing), the Bounty Hunter class seems to fit in with the Sith. Ruthless, cold, and with all sorts of tricks up their sleeves. BH is a class I would definately play for random fun, if not as a main.

Sith Warriors, however, leave me grumbling a bit. They seem to be generic, evil, melee jedi. This disappoints me for two reasons, firstly because there are playable jedi in the game (I lost that battle before this game was even thought up, but am thankful its the fourth class released and not the first) but secondly because the first jedi release are so very generic and un-jedi like. Lightsaber combat is one very small aspect of being a jedi. I guess being a sith warrior is being envisioned as not using force powers except to augment melee in short bursts. This design of Sith Warrior also implies that there will be other jedi classes for both sides.

My extended thoughts about these developments are somewhat muddled. i have very mixed feelings about this upcoming game. First, it is apparent that there will be multiple jedi classes for each side, and that specialization in each will probably be limited (doubtful that a sith warrior will have the ability to super buff his force powers). This will hopefully be counter-balanced by a variety of non-jedi classes.

Secondly, by the information released about these classes, it is apparent that a crafting class will not be forthcoming. All the classes mentioned so far talk about combat tactics, and there simply are no combat tactics to crafting. The best we can hope for is a secondary crafting profession system, hopefully with the complexity of SWG (although it is dissapointing that your character has to be something else in order to be a crafter).

Thirdly, and finally, Bioware is well aware of its player base. This is a good thing, but there is some subtle manipulation going on. Bioware waited to release its first jedi class until after three other classes had been released. Bounty Hunter and Smuggler are two classes whose absence would have turned many players off to the game. Additionally, trooper is such a non-jedi class that its inclusion prior to the sith warrior's announcement gave hope to the community that the game was not going to be a force war. I can only hope that Bioware's intentions are good.

I eagerly await new information about SWTOR, and look forward to testing it (If I can get into an eventual beta)

Combat Arms, Revisited

A while ago, while reviewing FPS games, I mentioned a free online FPS called Combat Arms. Well I stopped playing that due to the various hackers and lack of variation of gameplay, and went on to bigger and better things (EVE, WoW, and the Total War series). Well, while I was waiting for a patch for Call of Duty 5 to download, I decided to pop in and see what the game was like after a few months of production (it was relatively new when I was playing it). I was suprised at what I saw.

First, I was skeptical, because their webpage had zombies all over it. However, having played their new Quarantine maps, I must say it's hilariously fun. Essentially, you have a team of players, and one is randomly selected to be infected. They become a zombie with three times the health of an ordinary player. If they hit you, you become infected as well. It is a wonderful game type, because in the half dozen or so I've played, everyone groups up in two or three person groups, but heads for the most defensible area. Inevitably, three or so people get infected rapidly, and it turns into a King of the Hill match with zombies trying to storm the humans and infect at least a couple of them. I have yet to see a game where the zombies didn't win, which may imply more tweaking is needed. Still it is a hilariously fun match type.

Also added is a "Fireteam" mode. While there is only one map for this, it is essentially a player team vs a computer scenario (similar to co-op modes in most FPSs). The team must complete objectives in a limited time, with health and casualties respawning when they reach certain spots. The game is challenging on hard, and ridiculous on extreme, but you may get an item out of succesfully completing the mission.

They have also added a good handful of new weapons, new armor, specialist skins that can be purchased which give you bonuses and penalites, and a "black market" where different things can be bought (such as the ability to change your gender).

They have also eliminated a good deal of the hacking, or at least it appears they have. I haven't noticed any blatant hackers, and not anything that couldn't be explained by people having some measure of skill (although, considering I lead a couple games after not playing for this long, skill may not be as prevalent as I think). They have improved the old matches with new maps (including a very close quarters map called Death Room), and all in all have made the game more solid.

The GP system remains, and can be tedious if you just want to relax. Enemies will inevitably have better guns than you, and its best to just stick to the basics if you only want to play casually. I get a G36E and body armor, which probably costs a total of 1-2k of gp for the day, which is easily earned back with an hour or two of fun.

You can, however, also buy items with real money. While I wish they didn't add this option, it is still an option, and if you really want to waste your money on that, why not buy a real fps?

Now to speak about what remains the same.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SWG Achievements

Let me start by saying if you're a veteran still playing Star Wars Galaxies, you deserve an Achievement...or to have your head examined, depending on whether you still like the game or not. But I digress. Star Wars Galaxies has an achievement system of sorts called Collections. Essentially this is a series of tasks that are not visible until you discover one of the requirements for them. For example, one of the easier collections is to gather fifty perfect meat fillets (or something like that). However, you don't even know this exists until you harvest a creature's meat and have the luck of getting a perfect meat fillet to drop. You then have to run around harvesting the meat from every creature in sight and then some to eventually get 50 of them, and get a decorative smoking rack as a reward.

As I said, that is one of the more straight-forward and easy collections. There are others that include everything from getting all the different colors of creature juice (or whatever they call it) from slain mobs to slaying ridiculous amounts of enemy fighters in space. These collections function is virtually every single way as WOW achievements, but for one exception: you actually get something for completing each and every one. And occasionally these things are useful.

I will take this time to state that, though I don't know the exact release date of collections in SWG, I do know that they predate the release of Achievements in WoW with Wrath of the Lich King. I do, however, suspect that Blizzard could care less what SWG does, similar to how I feel about flattened possums I pass on the road. It is clear that if Blizzard was attempting to copy SWG (which, given the raw amount of achievement systems that reward useless points in other games is doubtful), they failed miserably. Only a scant few of World of Warcraft's achievements are good for anything but bragging. A handful give a unique title, tabard, or mount, but most are just a carbon-14 of ones nerdiness. Blizzard could learn something by the nature of SWG's collections, namely to reward the player base for playing the game in a way, but also give a reward that makes sense for the task done.

I will concede that Blizzard's achievement system for WoW can only be as good as the engine it is built around. Because there is no player housing, or guild halls, or anything that can be decorated, Blizzard is forced by the design of their game to make achievements give rewards that are blatantly visible (mounts, titles, and tabards) rather than physical items for decoration of the absent housing or guild halls. This also explains why achievements are able to be compared in game and on WoW's armory.

It would seem, though, that these two seperate systems could learn from one another. Blizzard clearly needs to give some sort of reward for most of the difficult achievements (some do have rewards, but most of the truly difficult ones only have rewards for completing it along with a bunch of other similarly difficult achievements). SWG, meanwhile should have their collections visible from the begining. Also, there should be some consistency between the difficulties of various collections. Collecting vials of creature goo is ridiculously easy compared to shooting down massive amounts of every kind of Imperial starcraft.