DF:UW – Those who don’t learn from history

April 16, 2014

The big announcement recently from AV about DF:UW is that they are doing away with the class system and going back to a more free-form character skill system.

The perception on Forumfall was that due to classes, balance was poor. The reality in-game was that basically all roles were used, and really only Fire and Brawler were not considered viable primary choices. Everything else you saw in-game, at almost all levels of play (including the most recent tournament), which should tell you all you need to know about balance and viability.

The other bit that is clouding judgment right now is the revisionist history of what DF1 really was. It has somehow gone from a game that was always dominated by FOTM builds to one where people all had their own ‘style’, and focused on what they were best at, which is not only a lie but a total joke.

In short, I think this direction change by AV is a mistake and moves the game back towards the problem areas of DF1, but I’ll wait for the details before going any further than that. MMO history, and their own, is against AV here however.

DF:UW – Levy

April 14, 2014

Just as ESO went live, AV released a major update to Darkfall: Unholy Wars that included a new Area of Influence (AoI) system and a levy system. I’ve talked about the current flaws in the AoI system, but even flawed its better than the nothing we had before, and activity in-game reflects this, with clans sieging and realigning to create beneficial kingdoms.

The levy system works like this: whenever you kill a mob or harvest a resource in a holding’s AoI (yours or anyone else’s), the item/resource has a chance to be copied into the local levy container. The higher the value of the item, the higher the chance it is copied. Once the levy container is full, anyone can go empty it using a special item plus ‘ammo’. The levy container and how close to full it is is visible on the world map.

What’s great about levy is the depth and details of the system. For instance, it has made higher-tier mobs more valuable because their loot has a better chance of making it into the levy container compared to lesser mobs with lower-value drops. Killing the red dragon can fill a levy almost 10%, because he really only drops top-quality loot, while an activity like harvesting a regular iron node fills the levy very slowly due to very low chance of iron and rust making it into levy.

It’s also a great motivational tool for players. Say a group goes out to farm mobs for prowess/wealth in their AoI, and towards the end of their normal farming time they see that the local levy is 85% full. Prior to levy, they would be done farming. With levy, they will very likely farm a bit more to fill the levy to 100% and then go claim it. PvP might happen, it might not. The levy might have copied multiple great drops like a large treasure map, maybe it didn’t copy any. The unknown is part of the fun, and makes the entire thing far less formulaic.

Another example: You log in to see a nearby enemy levy is at 90%. If you see it ticks up to 91%, you know someone is farming something in that AoI. Go PvP if you want. If you don’t see it tick up, odds are good that someone left it like that; go do some quick farming in the AoI and collect the levy. PvP might find you; the 90% might also be a trap to lure you in.

The levy system is a good example of a sandbox system. It has its direct, obvious purpose (loot), but it also introduces more player-based, emergent gameplay as well. More stuff like this AV.

#DFUW #Darkfall

SOE: This is not the dying-trend clone you are looking for

April 10, 2014

What are many gamers sick of? Zombies. Specifically DayZ-clone zombies. This sentiment will only grow as more and more clones get dumped out.

What is SOE working on? A DayZ clone poorly titled H1Z1!

Do you SOE, do you!

PS: Pitching a DayZ clone as the “welcome home” for pre-NGE SWG fans previously screwed by SOE is such a giant middle finger to that fan base I’m actually surprised even the tone-deaf SOE did it. Just next level trolling. Hate to but have to respect it.

PPS: Sorry about the title of the blog, but sometimes you just gotta take a swing when someone throws you a meatball, even from the meatball king that is SOE.

#SOE #H1Z1

ESO: Genre meld

April 8, 2014

In the post below this one, one line of questions revolved around what percentage of ESO’s content is ‘themepark’, and at what percentage does an MMO go from having themepark elements to just being a themepark.

This post won’t have an answer, because I don’t think we (MMO players) can agree on an answer. Everyone will have a slightly different take, both just on the design items and how a player might actually interact with a game. I’ve mentioned before that if you play ESO as you would WoW, you will progress but miss a lot of what the game is really about, but really that is just one example. What about the player who hits level 10 and goes on to do nothing but PvP? What about those who float between quests and everything else, never finishing anything fully? What about those who do EVERYTHING in a zone before moving on?

Taking a step back, how did we classify WAR? Themepark right? But WAR was designed to be more RvR than PvE, it just failed. What about DAoC? For most they will talk about the RvR (as they should), but DAoC also had a pretty significant PvE side, especially Darkness Falls. So is DAoC a themepark? Do we need to start splitting themeparks between PvP-focused ones and PvE ones?

That I do have an answer for, and it’s no. No because the whole definitions thing has been silly for a while now. Some MMOs blur the lines, some lean more towards one style or the other, and on top of all that each MMO player has their own person view on what they consider to be a sandbox feature vs what they see as themepark. When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox. When it was EVE and WoW, it was easy. It’s not easy today, because some game devs are actually learning lessons from past MMOs and combining (and more critically, combining well) themes and features from both sides of the MMO table, not to mention aspects from other genres.

ESO is the latest and greatest combination. So far, lvl 17, it gets far more right than wrong, and I think in some aspects we are just scratching the surface of that depth. A great example is over at Keen’s blog, in the comments section, about class builds (starting with Kahlmodra’s comment).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle ESO has to get over has nothing to do with its content or design, but in getting the average MMO player out of “Play it like WoW” mode. After years of conditioning, that’s a tall task, and an interesting development to watch.

#ESO #MMOdesign

ESO: Don’t call it a themepark

April 4, 2014

One way to judge a recently released MMO is by how often the devs need to patch in the first few days to fix things. ESO has had one so far, so while no game to date has been perfect, ESO continues to have by far the smoothest launch out of any MMO I’ve experienced.

I think walking into ESO expecting a themepark is also going to cause more than a few people to miss a lot of the good stuff (and was the root cause of a lot of early beta feedback of ‘more of the same’ feelings). Not to say that ESO doesn’t have themepark flavors, it 100% does, but those flavors aren’t “the whole game”, much like the main plot chain in Skyrim wasn’t “the whole game”.

If you went into Skyrim and stuck to the main plot exclusively, you missed a lot of the good stuff in Skyrim. If you go into ESO and do your routine “quest hub to quest hub leveling until the end-game starts” dance, you are going to miss a lot of the good stuff.

I’m currently just lvl 13, and have only done about 60% of the first ‘zone’, despite putting in a good chunk of time with the game because there is just so much ‘stuff’ to do/see that doesn’t directly progress you in levels, which is awesome. As mentioned before, there is true explorer stuff in this game, and not all of it rewards you with great xp or great items, sometimes you find things for a bit of lore, or to view an insignificant but fun little scene play out (I found a tied up merchant on a beach, approaching him caused a few hidden brigands to jump out, beating them allowed me to untie the merchant, who thanked me and walked away. No quest mechanic, no massive reward, just a random little bit of content that took 5 minutes and made wandering on that beach feel worthwhile).

Another random bit: In almost every village or town so far, there have been multiple houses or areas that aren’t directly tied to some quest. Themepark mode tells you to skip those until the game sends you inside, but ESO never will. Sometimes those houses only contain some random stuff and a lore note/book, other times I’ve found new crafting recipes or treasure chests tucked away. Point being, turn off themepark mode and follow up whenever you go “I wonder what’s inside there”. Unlike in most MMOs, in ESO you are very likely to find something.

I went into one of the instanced dungeons last night with the guild, great time. We had two people who out-leveled the place, which made it a bit easier than intended, but not so easy that we didn’t need to work together and pre-plan the encounters. The group size of four puts a lot more weight on each member, which is fantastic, and the whole experience still felt like ESO rather than a side game or something that played completely different than the rest of the content. Looking forward to more of those.

Finally we are hoping to get into some PvP tonight as a guild. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about it, so really looking forward to seeing what a smaller coordinated force can do and accomplish. Our guild is basically open invite, so if you are looking for people to play with, feel free to reach out.

#ESO #Themepark #Sandbox

SOE: All of the great MMOs are F2P, like…?

April 3, 2014

Dave “Doctor Creepy” Georgeson, fresh of his “MMOs should live on forever, so we are shutting down four SOE MMOs!” declaration, is back trying to cram more foot into his mouth, this time trying to defend the minor league MMO model; F2P. It goes about as well has FreeRealms went.

“I think that free-to-play is the way that gamers should want their MMOs to be, and the reason I think that is that if we don’t do a really good job and we don’t entertain the player, we don’t make a dime.

If the above was actually true, it would be a good point. Unfortunately, like anyone who has ever played a F2P MMO knows, that model isn’t about entertaining you; it’s about reminding you to visit the cash shop, over, and over, and over again. It’s about putting up a “Go Gold!” message during combat ala EQ2. Because when I think of ‘make the game better’, the first thing I jump to is more ad spam during my MMO combat.

“We’re effectively street performers: we go out there and sing and dance and if we do a good job, people throw coins into the hat. And I think that’s the way games should be, because paying $60 up front to take a gamble on whether the game is good or not? You don’t get that money back.”

Says the man peddling $100 alpha tickets to a minecraft clone. Can’t wait for the ‘deal’ SOE gives everyone for EQN. Something tells me ‘free’ isn’t going to be the ‘best’ option.

“So if you buy a turkey, you’ve just wasted your money. With free-to-play you get to go in, take a look at it and find out. It’s entirely our responsibility to make sure you’re entertained. That’s the way things should be in my opinion with free-to-play.”

I like the suggestion here that for F2P to work, it’s about making the best possible game and not about making the best possible cash shop delivery vehicle. Like yea Dave, just make an amazing MMO (a first for SOE), make it free, and then put your hat out and see if you catch a few coins. That is not only completely viable, but also totally what you and SOE have been doing over the years. 100%.

This is yet again a great example of what F2P really is; a con. Dave here has to lie and twist to sell the model, because the model ISN’T about making the best possible game and believing that people will see value in it. If SOE had that type of product, they would use the model successful MMOs stick with, and MMOs that thought they would be successful launch with, the sub model.

But much like FreeRealms and the rest of the closed or fledging offerings the one-hit-wonder SOE has, they are all sub-par imitations or ‘me too’ titles, and for that quality level F2P is the model you go with, because under that model you still can dupe a few people out of a few coins while they aren’t looking, and hopefully get a few whale-sized suckers to make giant mistakes.

SOE – Makng bad games, but provide A+ blog fodder.


DF:UW – Ushering in the play to crush era

April 3, 2014

“Play to Crush” was the marketing pitch for Shadowbane (SB), a somewhat short-lived MMO that was based around PvP conquest. The core reason SB died? The players crushed it. Server by server, one alliance would rise to dominance, and that dominance lead to all enemy opposition being crushed either off the server or out of the game. The ‘why’ includes a laundry list of design mistakes and technical issues, but at the heart of it all was the general idea of playing to crush, and the players did just that; they crushed SB until it was gone.

An even larger theme than “Play to Crush” is that the players always seek to ‘win’ a game, even if the road to that victory means removing the fun out of the game itself. More than providing victory conditions, a good designer will seek to ensure that the path to winning is not only fun, but in the case of an MMO, sustainable. Basically, NOT allowing “Play to Crush” to happen.

EVE does a good job of this, at least if you consider the rest of the genre anyway. Some EVE players will tell you CCP sucks in this regard and lets the Goons win because the Goons run CCP, but yea, if you look around the genre EVE has balanced motivating winning without crushing well for the past 10+ years.

AV today publicly posted a preview of the next big patch for the game, which will include the territory system. They unfortunately went with player-based buffs over the suggested area-based system, which IMO leaves many of the real benefits of the system on the table and introduces a potential major “Play to Crush” aspect.

To quickly sum it up, the new system will provide a clan-member (and at a reduced rate, alliance member) a buff to PvE (gold, item, and prowess gain) if they are within the area of a holding they own. The more holdings that they own that are connected, the larger this buff becomes. The main sources of this buff will be cities and hamlets, but villages and the two sea fortresses can also contribute if they are captured and connect to your territory. There is currently no cap on the number of holdings that can factor in and stack here.

If you are the most powerful clan/alliance on the server, you will shortly have no negatives to capture as many connected holdings as possible, while each additional connected holding further widens the gap between your wealth generation efficiency and everyone else’s. On paper, its pure snowball “Play to Crush”.

The one saving grace, ironically thanks to the fact that the DF economy is still poor (everyone is still PvPing in top-end gear, because the added sink from PvP was far too small and AV hasn’t increased it), is that wealth generation isn’t a huge factor in DF:UW. You can’t win a war through economics, because basically everyone has access to everything and nothing is all that costly or difficult to replace.

This of course also reduces the impact of the new territory and buff system, but we all know MMO players don’t need major motivation to go out and crush in the name of winning. Hell, epeen alone is often enough, as made crystal clear by the power of meaningless leaderboards that people love and chase spots on.

Like so many times in its history, AV was on the brink of taking a significant step forward, and instead trips over its own feet. Or in this case, got a significant nudge off the cliff thanks to a subset of the community that supported this flawed version of the system.


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