How I would do crafting.

May 30, 2008

As the topic of Warhammer Online’s crafting system was briefly mentioned here recently, I figured this was as good a time as any to throw out my somewhat fleshed out idea for a crafting system, and see what flaws or issues people might find.

First some basics before we get into the details. My idea could only be applied to a game from day one; it’s not something that can be attached to an existing game. The system would also determine many other aspects of design, and the assumption is that those aspects would indeed work. Finally, this is just something that I randomly came up with, and while based on my previous MMO experience, it’s not an adjustment of any one particular system.

The game in question here would be a mix of level and skill base, something similar to Asheron’s Call. Crafting would not be available in any way until a certain point, sometime around halfway to the level cap. Itemization itself would be radically different than what we are use to in most MMOs today, in that all weapons of a certain type (sword, axe, dagger) would have only a very minor difference in dps stats. A bronze sword is nearly as effective as a diamond megablade. Skill points factor heavily into a weapons total power, so someone with low sword skill will do significantly less damage than someone with near-max (softcap) sword skill. No item would be bind on equip or pickup, and all items would have a durability score, which would eventually lead to an item being destroyed with enough use. Death quickens the destruction process.

When you first pick up a craft, let’s use weaponsmith as an example, you are able to craft the most basic of weapons, those being bronze. As you advance in your craft, more options become available, such as iron, steel, diamond, etc. Now remember that the difference between diamond and bronze is mostly cosmetic, as the stats increase only slightly. The only time stats could be improved more significantly, and this would be rare, is if the smith ‘crits’ during crafting, resulting in a bonus power increase, or he uses a rare extra ingredient, which would result in a minor side buff, such as a bleed effect or stun. Both crit and side buff items would also receive some kind of secondary cosmetic change, be it a small glow or extra gem in the hilt.

All items, even the most basic bronze, would be harder to craft than what most MMOs offer today. While the exact balance would need to be tuned, something along the lines of both a time limit (1 sword per day) and a skill check (mini-game to determine success rate, with a possibility to create junk) would be involved. All higher level items, the iron, steel, diamond gear would have increasing difficulty in crafting, both in the time cooldown and the mini-game, plus an overall increase in materials needed.

The intended result would be this: bronze weapons would always be useful, as power-wise they are comparable to all but the rarest weapons, but cosmetically they look inferior to higher crafted gear. Since all gear eventually wears out, characters would store multiple sets of gear. A low cost set for day to day use, along with more specialized sets, be it a ‘look cool’ diamond set or a very expensive ‘best’ set used only for serious challenges (PvP or PvE), and however many in-between sets. As gear does wear down, all players would constantly be looking to replace broken pieces, creating an infinite demand for crafters. As crafting would require spending character points (or whatever advancement system is used), a crafter would be weaker in combat than a pure focused fighter/mage, although still able to hold their own in all but the most extreme cases. This inherent weakness would limit the appeal of crafting, making it rarer and hence more desired. In addition, crafting drops during adventuring could be sold, creating a secondary market between adventurers and crafters. Deals could be made between two people, with one providing rare materials and the other crafting at a discounted rate, in exchange for further material supplies.

I envision a scenario where a warrior finds a rare gem, and seeks out a top crafter to craft a new sword. The warrior would be wise to find the highest skilled crafter he can, as the gem is rare and the result is not guaranteed. Let’s assume the crafter is successful, he crits, and the warrior now has a very rare, very distinct sword, both in power and looks. This not only bring a bit of fame to the warrior, but also to the crafter. And while the warrior was successful in acquiring a new sword, its time is limited, and eventually with enough use, it too would need to be replaced.

On top of all this, since gear never gets out-leveled, quests and mob drops would be mostly related to gold or crafting ingredients, and less about actual gear drops. The idea of raiding or grinding to acquire that one awesome weapon would not exist, replaced with the constant need to upgrade and replace, steadily being able to afford using more powerful or fancy gear more often. A poor player might own a special sword, but he won’t be able to afford using it during normal questing, while a player of great wealth will have more freedom in what gear is uses in day to day use, and will be able to pursue and purchase rare pieces.

I could go on, but I think that lays out the basic ideas. More detail could always be applied to each scenario or example, but I’m curious to see what others think. Let me know!


WAR crafting prediction, and Civ4 multiplayer.

May 29, 2008

Warhammer released a bit of info about their crafting system. It sounds like all other crafting systems from un-released games: awesome, new and useful. Odds are good that come release it will be like all other crafting systems: boring, old, and worthless.

Clearly I’m not a fan of crafting, with only two games featuring crafting that I thought were something a bit beyond tacked on, those games being EVE and UO. Both games feature destructible items. Hmmm…

Back before the announcement that WAR would have crafting, I had hoped Mythic’s solution to crafting would be to just go without it and focus resources on more useful gameplay systems, but ah well. At least it sounds like we won’t see random nodes dotting the landscape, and since gear is less important in WAR than other games, it means crafting is that much more irrelevant. Win in my book.

In totally unrelated news, Civ4 multiplayer works amazingly well. Having played a few games with a buddy (I know, a little late to the Civ4 multiplayer party), the simultaneous turn style works better than I thought it would, and playing with another player only slows the normal pace of Civ by a small amount. Granted one game still takes 2-3 long sittings, but that’s not entirely unreasonable, and being able to chat on Vent while playing is a huge plus.


Quest pacing, and why killing boars is cool.

May 28, 2008

Being part of the blog community, and spending a decent (read: too much) amount of time reading other blogs, you pick up on trends and common rants. Having been around the MMO block since UO, I’ve also seen my fair share of MMO launches and the general response to them. No matter how similar or different two games may be, a few common themes from the player base generally pop up, and today I want to break down one of those, questing.

In many ways questing has evolved a great deal since UO. Actually since EQ, since the ‘quest’ in UO was to get from point A to point B without getting ganked. (best quest ever IMO) EQ was not quest driven like most of today’s game, but rather the quests were side tasks you attempted while making your way to the level cap. In comparison, in WoW 1-70 almost every mob you kill, or location you see, is due to a quest goal. It’s very rare to just wander out and kill stuff for the sake of killing, be it alone or with friends. Different games today have varying degree’s of ‘must quest’, but almost all of them place a much greater emphasis on quests than EQ or UO ever did. EVE stands out (as it usually does) as the exception here, because much like UO, it’s skill based rather than level based, but even EVE has a questing system that many players participate in.

Along with an increase in importance, the overall quantity of quests has increased dramatically in today’s MMOs, with many games today having more quests than one character can complete before out-leveling them. With this increase in quantity, you very often see a complaint about quality. ‘Too many kill x, collect y quests’ is something you hear and read about constantly, the most recent example being AoC. Before a serious amount of content was added to LoTRO, a common joke was that each area featured its own ‘kill boars’ quest, each time for a different piece of boar, the quests being almost identical with the only difference being the size or color of the boar. PoTBS at launch (and maybe still?) did a copy/paste job with their quests, as each starting area had the exact same set of quests, making creating an alt rather pointless.

All that said, I sometimes wonder what exactly DO people want from quests? Almost everyone skips the flavor text in the quests, no matter how well written, so a better story would be rather tough. Any kind of tricky ‘go find it’ quest gets Googled rather than attempted, or just skipped if the reward is deemed not worth it. Tough group quests are bashed for ‘forced grouping’, so we can’t have that. Travel quests are old news, and we want instant travel now anyway, right? Well we want instant travel while still maintaining a worldly feel, but that’s another topic. So that leaves us with our good buddy the kill quest. Simple, focused, generally short, it’s not hard to understand why the kill quest is the most common type of quest we see in MMOs.

But is the kill quest really that bad, even when it’s for boar parts or rat tails? And what the hell would we do if suddenly all MMOs removed all kill quests, what would fill that massive void? Meaningful travel! Kidding…

The fact is MMO’s are generally one big grind, broken down to many little grinds in order to bleed $15 a month out of us. We love the abuse. And while we bitch and moan about kill quests, the fact is we love them as well. We love killing something and seeing our little quest tracker go up by one, or opening up the loot window to pick up one more tail/hoof/eye. How cool is it when you have 4-5 quests all revolving around boar genocide, and with one mighty kill you progress all those quests at once. Exactly, it’s awesome. We are MMO gamers, we are sick, and little numbers going up does it for us. The more +1 we get, the better we feel.

The key to questing, as well as life itself, is variety. If you do the same thing day in, day out, it’s going to get boring and old, no matter what the activity. Good quest design is not about removing kill quests, but pacing them correctly. If I just devastated the local boar population, the last thing I want Mr. NPC to say is ‘go kill more boars’. But I’m very OK with killing them in step one, then finding some boar relic, and finally facing off against some uber boar to finish it all up. And while I’m doing all that, if I also have a quest to discover some boar shrine, which just happens to be along the way, bonus for me. Just be sure to mix it up in the next area a bit (but not too much, we are creatures of habit remember), and I’ll happily continue to grind away.


Finally, Syncaine has come BACK to blogging!

May 27, 2008

Ah finally back. After so many days off, the ‘blogging itch’ has certainly hit me hard, especially with MMO land finally seeing some activity with the AoC release. I’m still not sold on the idea that AoC will become a major MMO hit, despite its somewhat promising release. I think the relative strength of the release can be credited more towards WoW burnout than anything AoC actually does. We will find out when it’s time to start paying for more than just the box if people hang around once the ‘new and shiny’ has worn off.

Speaking of WoW, I cancelled my account. Paying a monthly fee to raid Kara once a week just did not make sense, especially considering how enjoyable our return to LoTRO has been. Overall I was fairly impressed with TBC, although it does have a ton of ‘more of the same’ to it, which is good at first but does not last very long. Quitting also makes me even less excited about WotLK, as so far that just seems like more of the same with some gimmicks tossed in. I’m not sure what I WOULD like to see in WotLK, but I do know the stuff announced so far does not leave me anticipating its release. WoW also starts looking very long in the tooth (for a graphics whore anyway) when compared to other MMOs now. The low res textures, the lack of complex shadows/lighting, the low poly count, it has all started to add up. That ‘charm and style’ is still there, but now with a blurry and muddy overtone. If WAR and WotLK come out at similar times, I think the major graphic difference between the two will be very apparent, as everyone will be making direct comparisons.

As for WAR, I’m still waiting for my beta invite on that one. Over my little break I took some time to look over some screen shots, and I really don’t understand the whole ‘it looks like WoW’ argument. To me it looks almost nothing like WoW in terms of style and feel. I made a comment to Aria when looking at one shot that if this was a WoW screen shot, the trees would be pink and impossibly shaped, while in WAR they are dark and almost real, with just a bit of fantasy/cartoon to them. It’s a minor example, but I think sums up the overall feel WAR is going for. Yes its fantasy, yes it has humor and some over-exaggeration, but it’s not the neon lovefest that WoW has become, where literally everything has to be big and glowing. It’s a style that makes WoW what it is, but it’s not the style WAR is going for. Just based on SS and video, WAR certainly has that dark and ‘war is everywhere’ aspect to it, and I think the art style goes a long way in setting the mood. Plus 8 pointed snowflakes in the symbol of chaos are awesome…

*bonus points to the first person to get the title reference and post it in the comments.


Out for a few, and a quick AoC update.

May 16, 2008

I’ll be out of the country for a few days, which means no blog posts for a bit.

In other news (is me not posting news…?) it sounds like AoC is improving rapidly, which is good to hear. As an MMO gamer, having more options is always a good thing right? I’m still not going to pre-order or buy it anytime soon. If anything I’ll wait for a trail account to be offered and perhaps try it then, depending on what else is going on (WAR basically). Should still be an interesting launch to watch however.


Funcom to AoC players, GTFO!

May 15, 2008

I’ve been fairly harsh on Funcom and Age of Conan here on this blog. I ripped them for the whole ‘open’ beta fiasco, then for releasing a crash prone client due to a last minute ‘fix’, and finally the entire 1-20 ‘single player but not’ deal. Today’s news takes the cake though; I mean we have stepped over the bounds of stupid and are now firmly in the realm of insane.

Somehow Funcom can’t handle everyone who PUT DOWN MONEY and preordered AoC to download the client, so they have cut off access to the early start. I can’t even begin to image how pissed I would be if I had put down money for AoC, partly for the early access, and been told access has been cut off. We are talking about paying customer now being denied a promised service, and no the whole ‘while supplies last’ thing is not an excuse, as we see that little message attached to every spoon and toaster sold in stores or TV. I think we are only a few days away from Funcon announcing the servers will only support 100k players total, and once that limit is reached all other accounts will be shut down. I mean seriously, how can one game go through so many issues pre-launch. Is anyone going to be surprised if on go-live the servers just implode and AoC goes down for a week?

Mythic really did Funcom a huge favor by delaying Warhammer Online. Image the WAR and AoC open beta start on the same day, and you download both clients (lets assume you could actually download the AoC client when you tried). You fire up AoC, and get a black screen. Quit, find a fix, launch again. You have a decent rig, but AoC runs like crap, so you turn everything to low, resulting in it looking like something from 2002, and finally get 10-15fps, until you get a BSOD. Restart again. Now you start up WAR, and with near-max settings you get a solid 30fps, 6 starting areas, and a rock solid client. You play for 2-3 hours having a great time. Next day you again fire up AoC, download a huge patch, get a corrupt file message, find a fix, get a BSOD 2-3 more times, and finally receive a message that your early access is denied even though you already put down money. Are you telling me any sane person would still go through and pay for AoC if they had a choice?

Now granted WAR might have similar issues when it gets into open beta, but I think odds are good that it won’t be anywhere near the disaster Funcom has dragged AoC fans through, I have a bit more faith in Mythic than that.

It’s honestly shocking to see so many people jumping through so many hoops just to play a new MMO. Maybe it’s all the anticipation for something new, combined with the massive burnout from WoW. I mean when you view more organized grinding (daily quests) as a huge content update, you have clearly reached a desperate level of boredom.

So while watching the whole AoC train wreck from the sideline has been somewhat amusing, it’s getting borderline sad now, and I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse for AoC fans. At least those of us on the sidelines have something interesting to watch and write about, so thanks for that Funcom…


Greater Barrows owns us, hard.

May 14, 2008

Last night Aria and I made our first trip into the Greater Barrows instance in LoTRO. Our group featured all kin members save for the tank.

Here is our fellowship:

Level 25 and 21 burglars

Level 20 guardian (the pug)

Level 17 hunter

Level 20 Minstrel (Aria)

Level 20 Captain (me)

The instance features mobs in the 20-24 level range, so while we were certainly not over-leveled, I’m not sure we were all that under-leveled either. We had plenty of healing, a tank, good crowd control, and dps with the ability to start fellowship maneuvers. Only thing we really lacked was AoE DPS, but that was not an issue.

What was an issue, and what ultimately lead to us calling it an early night, was our pug tank. Having played a tank for ages in both WoW and previously in LoTRO, I guess I always took the roll for granted, not truly realizing how make-or-break a tank is to a group. Our unfortunate tank could not hold agro, broke mez, and failed to pull mobs off our healer, which resulted in plenty of deaths and frustration for Aria. The pulls in GB generally consist of 3-4 elite mobs, with the possibility of some non-elite adds. We had plenty of crowd control, as both burglars were able to mez and Aria had an undead stun, meaning we SHOULD have been generally fighting one mob at a time. Unfortunately on almost every pull, we had 1-2 mobs loose and quickly charging our healer, which in turn lead Aria to get very frustrated as this was her first real experience as a healer for a full group. Note to self: don’t bring a new healer into a tough instance with a sub-par tank. Lesson learned I guess.

We got maybe 8-9 pulls into the instance before we called it quits, as we had either a full wipe or a few deaths on almost every pull, and everyone’s frustration was mounting. Sadly no quests were completed, although Aria and I did pick up a few chalices.

On a good note, we dropped our tank and with our kin members completed the final step of book 1, which is of course a much shorter and easier version of the Greater Barrows instance. Hey, we got the final boss, just not the way we had originally intended. Tom Bombadil > Pug tank…


Can my toaster run AoC? – Concerned Wal-Mart shopper

May 13, 2008

There has been a good amount of debate lately about Funcom’s decision to release a high system requirements game with Age of Conan. The debate often drops into the very familiar ‘gameplay vs graphics’ debate.

Leaving the gameplay aspect aside, let’s talk graphics. We seem to be in an odd age where we are confusing computer gaming with consoles. People seem to think going out and dropping $500 at Wal-Mart is enough to play today’s games at high settings, and if they can’t, it’s the games fault. You know what box at Wal-Mart can play games at max settings for $500? A PS3 or an Xbox. I’m sorry your on-board graphics, or that $1000 PC you bought two years ago can’t run Crysis at 1900×1200 with 16xAA, go figure…

It’s amazing to read people bitch about performance in games, only to find out they have the graphic power of a toaster in their machines. Rumor has it you get crazy lag online with a 14.4k modem too…

The system specs for AoC are fairly clear; it’s a high-end game. Maybe if you have a midrange system you can turn everything down and play it, but then don’t be surprised that it looks like shit, and don’t blame AoC. If you have a Wal-Mart system, WoW runs great on those, play that or Runescape.

As for all the ‘killing their market’ talk, consider this: maybe Funcom is only aiming for the high-end niche? If a movie makes 50 million at the box office, is it a hit? If it’s got a Blair Witch budget, it’s a smash. If it’s Waterworld… well someone just got fired. My point is looking at sales or subscription numbers is rather pointless if you don’t know the budget and expectations. Is it that unreasonable to think that maybe Funcom thinks they can make a profit catering to a certain niche, that niche being 18+ with high-end rigs? Does every MMO going forward need to compete with the WoW demographic?

AoC, right from day one, made it fairly clear they don’t aim to please everyone. Instead of getting caught up on how the average gamer might not find AoC accessible, lets instead focus on the fact that Funcom is trying something different, trying to bring a little diversity to the MMO space. If you hate the combo system and PvP focus, you have plenty of other options.

To expect every new game to run well on old hardware is foolish, as is the assumption that there is not a market for graphic whores like myself. Yes I’m still looking for quality gameplay (news flash: everyone is), but bonus points if that gameplay comes with DX10 graphics. Last I checked, Nvidia is doing quite well as a company, which means there are plenty of others willing to spend $200+ on a newer card to enjoy some eye candy.

Graphics are also a two way street. If I can’t run a game, that’s a deal breaker. But if a game is stuck in 800×600 with low res textures, that’s also a deal breaker for me. For example, while StarCraft or Diablo still have amazing gameplay, the fact that they look like pixel throw up on a 24′ monitor means I won’t be playing them, or any game with similar graphics.


WotLK, too little too late?

May 12, 2008

Blizzard went on a bit of an info spree this weekend, flooding sites with news about WotLK. Most of it sounds good, like the 10/25 man raid changes, better heroic itemization, and inscription. Some of it sounds a bit suspect, like the whole ‘deathknights for all at 55 in the plaguelands’ looming disaster (think AQ40 gate event, but on all servers at launch), the ‘public quest’ pvp zone (Bliz doing what Bliz does best, copy/paste), and the vehicle combat mini-game battleground.

Changes like the 10/25 man raid options, or allowing enchanters to sell enchants on the AH, make me wonder why it takes Blizzard until the 2nd expansion to get this done. When you re-release an entire raiding instance (Nax) because only a handful of guilds from a population of millions have seen all of it, is that not enough data to show that raiding needs more serious changes than just lowering the cap from 40 to 25, especially when issues like cost and overall length are so dominant? How much better would TBC have been if from day one we had 10/25 man options for everything, including Kara? Would the huge issue with keys and such been there if anyone with 9 friends was able to enter the gear rat race of WoW endgame?

Those questions aside, I’m left wondering if WotLK is too little too late for WoW. Not in the ‘I wonder if it will sell’ wonder (it will), but more ‘people come back, hit 80 as a deathknight, and move back to game x’ sort of way. Considering that by the time WotLK is released (2009ish) Warhammer will be out, AoC will hopefully be fixed up and doing its thing, LoTRO will have seen it’s first pay expansion, and overall far more MMOs will be nearing release than we saw in 2008. Is the content of WotLK going to really change WoW in a major way; will it give us that same feeling we had in 2004/2005, or just give us 10 more levels to enjoy before we hop back onto the same old treadmills like we did with TBC, only with an even more dated graphics engine and much stiffer competition?

I can sum it up like this; with the new info released, are you dying to play WotLK now, or is it simply something that will be kind of cool to see when it’s released? Personally, I’m very much in the second group, with the possibility of moving on completely if WAR delivers on it’s promises.


LoTRO progress update.

May 9, 2008

A quick LoTRO update today to end the week.

Aria and I hit level 18 after wrapping up our first trip into the Barrows. Since most of the quests in that place are multi-part, we will be making another trip shortly. I really like the Barrows area, the whole ‘giant graveyard’ with undead all over the place just works for me. Once tiny detail that I noticed during the little girl escort quest (too lazy to look up the name, sorry) is that her missing cloak is now visible on the ground. Either I missed it before, or that was added in some patch, but it was cool to actually see her find it before going off to meet the prince, who tries to kill her of course. Good stuff.

We also did a bit of questing in the Great Forest, which thankfully now has a map built into the game. No more getting lost FTW!

Our Captain/Minstrel combo is working really well so far, as we have plenty of healing/buffs with decent damage output, plus the Captains ‘run away fast’ ability to save ourselves. Hopefully this weekend we do our first run of the Greater Barrows instance, and see how we fare in a full group. So far even group quests near our level we have been able to tackle with just the two of us, so we have yet to play in a full group.


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