Warhammer?

Last night I popped into Warhammer Online for a little bit. It’s still fun, and there seems to be more open RvR going on. That’s good. I doubt I’ll ever go back and level up like I do in WoW, though. Maybe if RvR becomes a seriously viable method to level, I will play more Warhammer.

Maybe.

The Hardcore Minority

Tobold recently made a blog entry about the waning influence of the “hardcore” player in WoW. I find myself moving back and forth about his opinions on the game, but this point I agree with. And, the people who feel that WoW has changed, or gone soft, probably are the people who need to move on. Given the choice between millions of people leaving because the game is too hard or having less than a million people leave because it’s too easy, I know where Blizzard will go. That’s a lot of money to give up to remain the “hardcore” king of MMOs.

Even if you think that most of the more casual players only play WoW because of the percieved uber-leetness of the raiding, that bar has moved. Now more people will be in the raiding dungeons, killing bosses, instead of reading about hardcore raiding guilds doing it and hoping they could one day make the cut and be in there, also. That will surely keep people playing longer, and consuming more content.

While I’m not really happy about the achievement system, it does provide a way to give the serious raiders challenges beyond just clearing a raid instance. It’s not the same as having been in a small group of people to even see the inside of Black Temple, for example, but even the most accomplished Diablo II player didn’t see any content I didn’t see. They just beat the game on a much more difficult level than I had the time or skill to do. Hooray for both of us.

I welcome our new, kindler, gentler World of Warcraft.

More Wraths

I hit level seventy nine in Blizzard’s latest World of Warcraft expansion, The Wrath of the Lich King.

Blizzard has done some really hard thinking about what it means to level in their game. Quests are easier, quicker, and seem to hand out more rewards. When you think about that in terms of a skinner box style of leveling, it’s a departure from the norm. Typically, as you get higher in levels and are more invested, the rewards come more infrequently to the amount of work put in. I would say that Wrath does the opposite. Less work, more fun. That’s a good sign.

The more Blizzard does to reinforce the idea that time poured into something does not denote worth, the better the game will get for the majority of players.

The Wilderness

I have been musing over the concept of travel in MMORPGs. I have two competing desires in any game I play. I want to be able to meet with friends and get anywhere I need at anytime, but I also want to have my character be able to live outside a town for a long time while being self sustainable and living off the land.

In my mind’s eye, the fantasy setting almost demands that the adventuring character be able to walk out of a town and subsist for weeks on end without seeing a vendor or blacksmith. Creating your own arrows, making your own food, all take on a new importance when a town is not just a click away. Are you really a seasoned adventurer if you can just fly to town and sleep in a real bed and buy all your provisions? Imagine a world where striking out to rescue someone means stepping out into a world without a safety net. You can’t just stop half-way there, fly to town, buy some more arrows, then fly back out. But, then, if you can fly, why wouldn’t you just fly over the area and look for the missing individual.

But, like oil and water, these two ideas will probably never cross paths. Who wants to play a game where it takes days to cross an expanse? Especially when you want to play with your friend on the other side of the world today and not next Friday. Access is important to people, and limiting access is bad. Even when it destroys the sense of being in the wild and being a grizzled adventurer.

That’s it for now

I have more ideas and concept for how to go to the “next level” in an MMORPG, but they are still unformed and ill-formed. Mostly having to do with proper game mechanics and building a combat system that works and scales. Is that too much to ask for?

Social Networks

I’ve gone over some mechanics, and I think I will go back to them in another post, but I felt the need to go over some ideas about how people interact in an ideal MMORPG. This is something that’s very important to me and I think it’s probably the most important concept in any MMO. People will overlook any mechanical, design, or art issues with a game if their friends are playing it and they are having fun playing with their friends. I know that I am not a fan of medieval games, but I played DAoC and World of Warcraft because of the people I played with.

WoW has the most hamfisted and poor approach to social networking of any game I have played. There are no alliances. You are either a member of a guild, or you are not. You are either playing with a group of people, or you are not. The meager options available cajole people into choosing between a guild with friends, or a guild designed to raid. A guild (and a player) can not serve to masters (or sets of friends). DAoC had alliances which helped quite a bit. People could join a guild of friends, and join an alliance with a larger goal that leveraged different guilds with different goals into a single unit. Warhammer Online is aiming for this by everything I have seen of it. But, even with alliances, does it really represent how people play the game? How they interact? Does a person really have to be limited to a single set of friends?

One of the largest issues to repair with modern MMORPG’s is to help quantify and advertise guilds to people. Unless someone can provide me with sound reasoning otherwise, I am pretty certain that most people playing WoW, for example, do not join a guild. And if they do, it’s a leveling guild and they have no idea what a guild will help them with, or what the guild expects from them. So, why not take the concept of joining a guild and making it part of the game experience for everyone? EVE Online does a good job of this since you must belong to a “guild” and all new characters start in an NPC guild. Right off the bat, people are exposed to a guild channel and it’s pro’s and cons. This means people are developing an idea of what they want in a guild. Even if it helps teach them what they do not want, it’s getting them prepared and to think about it. So, expose players to the idea of a guild right off the bat, and get them thinking about it as a part of the game … which it is. If your game requires getting five or more people together to kill bosses, you owe it to your players to help get them in touch with a group of people who have the same mindset on how to play the game you have provided.
Another idea that I think would be a huge positive is in-game guild advertising. Give guilds chances to recruit in the game in a way that isn’t just someone spamming a “looking for guild” channel. Players should be able to walk their character into a major city, stroll over to the guild recruiting office, and see lists of guilds that explain what their guild is about, who they are, and what kind of people they would love to have join their group. This would also provide a good place for people to see what guilds are doing in the game. Are they raiding? Are they leveling? Are they the biggest guild on the server? Or maybe a small guild of friends? This place should let people fill out guild applications and see if they are accepted or rejected for membership. Why force guilds to fabricate all of this outside of your game, with their own time and money? This provides something that helps builds communities and gets more people into the “guild game”. Let’s face it, /ginvite is not a good basis for guild building.

I’m not convinced this is the best solution, but I propose a system where a person can join multiple guilds. People are not members of only one social group. Many people join multiple groups of people in their weekly lives to have fun or accomplish goals. The same applies for people who are playing MMORPGs. An individual could be a member of a social guild with their friends who play rarely, and a member of a serious raiding guild, and a member of a PvP defense guild, etc, etc. The idea here is to get people to build communities beyond just their most important needs. No more leaving your friends because you want to raid seriously. Now you can operate in both circles and not be relegated to isolating yourself from your old guilds chat. This would also go a long way into absolving the nightmare of people changing their game goals. Guilds can be designed to suit a wider range of demands. Short term guilds for defeating content. Long term guilds for social interactions. It could be complicated for people to operate with three or four guild chats going, but is it better to have more options than shoehorn everyone into the confining single guild system? No one would have to join multiple guilds.

Overall, without matching the in-game tools to how people socialize in the game, nothing but strife will be the result.

Gearing Up!

Gear

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain

Every MMO I have played involves getting armor, rings, trinkets, etc and using them. Even EVE Online, at some level, is about getting equipment with certain attributes and using them.

1) Where it comes from.

In World of Warcraft, most of the best gear comes from one of three places. PvP, raiding, and crafting. Other games have variations on this, but it’s basically the same concept. But, I won’t deny that my biggest gripes about how gear is handled are based on how WoW does it.

Random drops from boss encounters while raiding have got to go. Besides being frustrating, it means that getting a specific piece of equipment requires you to do some pretty crummy things. Do you really want to entice people to run into a dungeon or raid instance over and over just in the hopes of getting some good gear? That’s not even a viable model for an adventuring hero to outfit themselves. Should it take nine or twenty four other people for a player to get a nice piece of armor? I don’t think so. And then there is the player competition this creates. When there is only one and many people want it, they often will fight with their own guild mates for it. Guilds fabricate entire systems outside the game to manage this loot distribution system. That’s asinine!

I like the idea of collecting badges or tokens from killed enemies to trade in for armor and equipment. That’s an awesome idea. I don’t mind people playing PvP to amass points so they can do the same. Again, great idea. But the random loot drop idea is just creating more effort and work for everyone.

2) How it looks (stats/aesthetics) when you first get it.

Armor often comes in a lot of flavors. Many of the standard fantasy tropes apply to MMO games. Priests wear cloth, rogues wear leather, warrior wear plate, and so on. And, in every game, different types of characters share similar armor types. In WoW, for example, shaman and hunters both wear mail armor, and paladins and warriors wear plate armor. And when the gear comes with magical properties on it, it creates arguments and confusion over which item is best used by different classes. And add into the mix that paladins can be healers, tanks, and dps, so you end up with all three kinds of plate. Some of which is useless to others. This means that itemization of gear is incredibly complicated for the developer and for the player. Again, we see there are lots of systems and web sites dedicated to helping people wade through the tons of equipment to find what is best for them. I say that’s broken.

So, let’s take the magical component of the armor, and toss it down into section three below and just talk about armor and equipment and what it should be. Armor should be armor, and nothing more. It should protect you from physical damage (armor value), an armor type (plate, cloth, etc.), and a visual appearance. It needs nothing else. This makes picking your armor very simple and lets you prioritize appearance higher without sacrificing some innate boost to your specific class capability.

Net result? Your armor is selected based on protection and appearance.

3) How it can be made better.

Now that I ripped all the juicy stuff that people long for in their gear, what ever will we do? Apply the benefits, stats, and buffs to the gear based on what class we are and what role we are. Just like my crafting post before this, the land should have some enchanters of varying levels of skill who can sell to adventurers enchantments. These are scrolls that let people apply benefits to their armor to suit their class and role demands. One side effect is that your armor is not upgraded by replacement, but by actually replacing only the enchantment. Your look and armor values can stay the same, but you can increase your power with access to new enchantments via the vendors. These could also be purchased and stored so you can hang on to ones you like.

You might say that we’ve just moved the problem around, but that doesn’t have to be true. There’s a chance that these enchantments could become insanely numerous and complicated. But if there is a mathematical system that underlies the entire class system to help quantify the net effect of every stats on characters theoretical performance, then a formula can exist to create similarly powered enchants and balance them properly. Keeping the number of enchants small is now a viable option and new armor designs don’t force the creation of a new set of stats for the gear. There’s no reason to create enchants for variation, only for power increases and class/role customization.

4) How does it get replaced?

Your armor is replaced if you find or purchase armor with more protection, or a better look that you like.

Your enchantments are replaced if you find or purcahse an enchatment that is better. Or, if you change your role and need enchants that cater differently to that role.

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