“It seems much easier to make interesting, sandbox PvP content then it is to maintain and create PvE treadmill content”

November 30, 2010

Every now and then you come across something shocking it’s just too hard to ignore. Today is one of those days. This is a comment from a post Keen made, waiting for WoW to embrace its PvP nature (pro-tip: HKO is going full-loot before WoW embraces MMO PvP).

Bartlebe (15th comment):

The baffling thing about this, for me, is that it seems much easier to make interesting, sandbox PvP content then it is to maintain and create PvE treadmill content.
They could make interesting and wonderful open world PvP content fairly easily.

He goes on, but that part is the real gem.

First let’s consider the context here: we are talking about WoW, where the devs claim it’s technically impossible to get a 100v100 battle going without instancing it, hence the failure of Wintergrasp. Ignore the fact that, in WoW itself, you had bigger world battles in vanilla, but hey, they said it’s impossible, so it must be true. And pre-BG vanilla is also the last time WoW had anything remotely resembling world PvP, and it was Blizzard who worked diligently to crush it, so again, look forward to those HKO changes first.

But let’s move beyond WoW and look at the MMO genre as a whole: how many working sandbox PvP games have we had, compared to how many PvE treadmill games we have seen continue on year after year, despite being average at best? Or to put it another way: which would be easier to re-create and get right, EVE or WoW?

We have seen WoW recreated dozens of times, with various results (from LotRO to Alganon), but the formula itself is about as Mickey Mouse as playing WoW itself, and the make/break really comes down to polish, timing, and your IP.

The list of issues in recreating EVE is about as long as the wait for a pony reskin.

Hell, even EVE itself took years to really get itself into shape and become the massive success it is today, not to mention the ambitious plans CCP has for it’s future to further refine and get the game ‘right’. WoW ambitious future? A few zone revamps, and two more player model reskins. Ground-breaking stuff, really.

The simple fact is that PvE content, especially instanced, super easy PvE content, is easy to create in terms of getting it right. Yes, you need good artists to make it look good, and you need a QA army to polish it, but given how controlled everything is, balance and predicting what the players might do is kids stuff. Plus, if you screw it up (Rag 1.0, Nef 1.0, AQ40 1.0), just say it was tuned to be difficult and scale it down. Oh actually, call that a ‘feature’ going forward!

The obvious advantage a PvE themepark has is that everything is separated into its own little instance (be it an actual instance or level-set zones), and that instance is so tightly controlled that, well, your players get on the rail, get pulled along by the nose, and eventually depart after receiving their complimentary gift. So long as you don’t leave a gaping hold in the rail, the content ‘works’. The biggest enemy to your game, the players, can’t do more than dance on a mailbox to harm you, as you have ensured they keep their hands inside the ride at all times, and you shuffle them on/off at exactly the right time.

Those safety nets don’t exist in a sandbox. The more ‘sandbox’ you make your game, the more freedom you give to the players. Most will use this for good, but it’s not those who make designing the game a challenge. The minority who seek to destroy everything are the ones who makes designing a sandbox so difficult, and the more ‘sandboxy’ your game, the more weapons you give them.

Without instances that change the rules, without spells only doing X in setting Y, without checking to make sure everything is nice and ‘fair’ before you start, the downward spiral can come quick in a sandbox, and once you get rolling it only feeds the griefers to continue abusing things harder. While blah themeparks can chug along for years (DDO), a poorly designed sandbox soon eats itself whole (SB).

It’s also very telling that the ‘easy’ way out of a problem is to add themepark-like controls (WG becoming an instance), while only a few will stick to the original goal and put in the work to make it right (CCP with fleet warfare). It’s telling that games like WAR, which tried to play the middle, ultimately fail on the sandbox elements and ‘cheap out’ by going themepark. Knowing what we know about Mythic, if going sandbox really was the easy path, WAR would have been on it after the 3rd month.

Ultimately the trap some players fall into is they look at the complexity of a single piece of sandbox content from the outside, compare it to the complexity of a themepark piece, and come to a conclusion. The reason this fails is that in a sandbox, you CAN’T just look at any one item and focus on that without analyzing the impact to the rest of the game. You can’t tweak a malfunctioning PvE ability without looking at its PvP impact. You can’t change up crafting on a whim without considering what it will do to the economy, which ultimately controls both PvE and PvP motivations. The entire world is one giant complex puzzle, rather than a long string of one-off content chunks, all of which can and do often get a massive ‘reset’ to fix whatever balance or design issues that may arise.

When’s the last time EVE had a themepark-like reset button pressed?

Random thoughts or updates on not-so-random titles

November 29, 2010

Thanks to Comcast being… well Comcast, online gaming for the last week has been sporadic and rage-inducing. I mean nothing says “I’m having fun now” like lagging in League of Legends, where for some insane reason you can still see everything happening in real time, but the game won’t process your commands. The result? Watching for 5-10 seconds as your champion just stands there, slowly dying from creeps or when the opponents realize you are no longer moving. Bonus points when this happens just before a crucial team fight. In a ranked game. Not like I needed those 100 ELO points anyway. Aria has also take part in the rage, so good times all around. (They have someone coming out tonight. Place your bets on ‘everything looks fine to me’ being the result. If I don’t blog tomorrow, it’s because I’m fleeing the country to avoid the murder charge. The internets IS srs bsns!)

Luckily Blood Bowl still works with the ping spikes, as at worse the game will try to reconnect for a second or two before continuing on. Our private league is going strong, and I think we have finally gotten into a good grove with people playing their matches and communicating on the forums. After our first-week growing pains, it’s looking like we have a quality league here. Hopefully later this week I can do a formal week three games write-up with highlights and such.

My matchmaking (MM) human team continues to find ways to pull a draw from the hands of victory. The latest example: In a game against Dark Elves, I KO (rather than injure) five of his players in the first half, scoring once. At the start of the second, four of his five KO’ed guys come back, and it’s looking like all the decent (but not great, no injuries) luck is gone and he is moving the ball nicely. Plus he injuries one of my guys and KO’s another. Then I kill two of his players, an assassin and a linemen, get a key knockdown on his ball carrier, and look to be in position to seal the game away.

My 5agi thrower (yup, super lucky on that) picks up the ball, and with two turns to go, attempts a 3+ throw to a linemen at midfield that, had he caught it, he could have run in for a second TD on turn 16. Instead, the one dark elf still standing, and covered by two of my players, intercepts the ball on a 6 roll. On his turn he dodges away from everyone (3-4 dodge rolls with varying tackle zone values), makes the GFI roll, and scores. Game ends 1-1. FML.

I thought I was near the end of Titan Quest, only to discover that I had simply completed Act 1 (of 3, 4 with the expansion). Act 2 takes place in Egypt, which is a fun change of pace from Greece. The whole game overall is great actually, more-of-the-same Diablo 2 action with enough differences to not make it a straight copy/paste job. Looking back, someone must have seriously dropped the ball on marketing this game, because on pure gameplay it’s a winner, and another total steal for $5.

I was hoping to write about Darkfall today, as I finally made the move and joined a new clan (oddly enough, filled with old Apollo members, small (online) world), but Comcast had other ideas. While playing LoL is annoying, and BB is very doable, DF is a straight no-go, as I get kicked from the server on a spike, and then can’t log back in for five minutes or so due to a relog timer. Hopefully the issue is resolved tonight.

Finally, as I made mention earlier, I picked up Supreme Commander 2 for $3.50 on Steam, and so far both the campaign and skirmish mode have been entertaining. It’s been a while since I lasted played an RTS (not counting my time with the disappointing StarCraft 2 beta), and while this SC2 is by no means perfect, so far it’s been good enough to entertain, and has already done enough to justify the tiny amount spent to get it.

Coming up, later in 2011 we will see the release of Witcher 2 and Dragon Age 2. Something tells me Witcher is going to be even more amazing than its original (which honestly might be one of the best RPGs of the last few years. Gritty done so right), while DA2 is going to be a shadow of its original (a game that, IMO, faded towards the end anyway). Of course, I might not have much time for either if Aventurine releases the next expansion to Darkfall at some point in Q1, but I’m not betting the house on that one.

Having too many good games to play is a wonderful problem.

Edit: Oh, and I almost forgot, I’m also waiting for the next Civ V patch to drop before getting back into that game. You know, during that 25th hour of the day that’s coming ‘soon’.

Quality Darkfall read

November 29, 2010

Not much to add to this, other than it’s nice to hear someone approach Darkfall appropriately, rather than wondering when the first ‘epic’ is going to drop and ragequiting because someone interacted with them in an MMO. Looking forward to more Jef.

That’s going to cost you

November 28, 2010

World of Warcraft Pony reskin: $25

League of Legends legendary skin: ~$12

Azeroth cataclysm zone changes: Free (after the $15 a month cost for a sub)

League of Legends game, including online service: Free

Supreme Commander 2: $3.50 (Steam Sale)

Final Fantasy 2 on the iPhone: $6.99 regular, on sale for $2.99

No real point here, other than some random musing about how odd pricing in the gaming biz can be. I mean a pony reskin is selling at over 7 times the cost of an entire (at the time) AAA game (SC2), and while I don’t know this for sure, my guess would be that the pony has sold more than the game, $3.50 price included.

Brolaf, bro

November 24, 2010

League of Legends gameplay is perhaps only surpassed by Riot’s interaction with their community. One glance at the dev tracker will show you that they troll the forums more than most trolls, reveal more game info than Blizzard at Blizcon… wait, bad example… and actually accept and incorporate player feedback to make the game better. They also run a ton of contests, attend gaming conferences, and continue to push LoL into competitive gaming.

They have taken things to a new level with this though. (Near the end they have in-game footage. Bromacia!)

Sure, the whole ‘bro’ thing is a bad meme that in turn makes fun of a seriously horrible social trend that plagues college-aged (life and mental) guys, but to take it this far is, well, impressive, especially for anyone who follows the forums closely and has seen this go from a small mention to forum domination.

Now excuse me, I’m off to master Olaf in anticipation. Bro.

The real Cataclysm

November 23, 2010

Everyone and their uncreative grandmother blogging and gushing over the excitement of $8 levels, partial zone revamps (oh wait, those are free and not technically part of that $40, oops), and two character reskins.

Please, please tell me how you beat that Simon Says boss (after watching youtube) with your PUG guild, please. Oh and what’s that, you got ‘epics’ for trying (and possibly for failing)? Awesome, share that too, in large poorly formatted screen shots! Naw it’s not those ‘just decent back in the day’ 2004 graphics showing, it’s just the SS format, it’s cool (be sure to show off those new, 2007-era water effects!). Plus I’m sure since it says ‘epic’ on the item you must be the only special snowflake with such an awesomely huge pink power ranger shoulder pad! To the mailbox!

Dark days, dark days indeed.

(Though on the plus side, we only have to deal with this once every 2-3 years, and the new stuff will only last for about a month, so it will all be over before we know it)

More thoughts on Perpetuum

November 22, 2010

I spent a solid amount of time playing Perpetuum over the weekend, wrapping up the introductory assignment (quests) line and a few Corp assignments after. I feel that I’m at the point now where I ‘get’ a good portion of the game, and where I’ve seen a decent chunk of what the game offers. Areas I’m clueless about are PvP, Crafting, and how clans function. Those are big areas of course (especially PvP), so by no means consider this a full viewpoint.

I think anytime I talk about Perpetuum I’ll have to get this out of the way: Perpetuum is EVE, but on the ground in robots vs in space with spaceships. Anytime you are wondering how something is done in Perpetuum (is there a short for that name? Perp? I’m going with Perp.), consider how EVE does it and more often than not, that’s how Perp does it.

On to some positive changes or just stuff that Perp does well.

For starters, I think Perp has my new all-genre favorite character advancement system, which that alone might sell the game here. Like EVE, it’s a real-time system of skill (not class) advancement, with every skill having multiple levels (10 in Perp, I believe), each level costing more ‘time’ to advance but giving the same improvement (IE: a skill that ups your crit chance gives you +1% crit for each level, but level 1 will cost minutes while level 10 will cost months). The critical difference here is that instead of training a specific skill, you accrue general points, and when in a station you can assign these points to any of the skills you have access to. New skills can be purchased if you meet the requirements, costing both points and money.

This is a huge change from EVE on a number of levels. For starters, and perhaps most importantly, you no longer have to worry about managing a skills queue and logging in at 4am just to set something. This also means you can stay subscribed but not log in for months at a time, return, and improve your character dramatically right away. Many consider EVE Offline as a flaw, but when you really break it down, it’s nothing but a massive boost for the company, and I think Perp will have this in even larger levels.

This system also allows for increased flexibility and player choice. Say you are currently working on level 2 assignments and not having much trouble with them. Save up your points rather than getting stronger, and when you move up to level 3 assignments or earn a bigger robot, spent those built-up points to get right into your new toy and actually have the skills to use it. Struggling at level 2? Spent those points right away to get stronger now. Not sure which direction to take your character next? Just save up points. Know exactly what you need, spend em.

Overall it’s an excellent system (copy it Aventurine!), and assuming Perp has an EVE-like economy where money is king, things will still come down to having the cash to really advance to the fancy stuff anyway.

Another big plus for Perp right now is that the community is very helpful, answering any questions I had right away. I also saw multiple developers online (the regional (global?) chat rooms show who is a dev, and push them to the top of the list), answering questions and talking about future plans. The game is still in beta of course, so generally the community IS better before the masses hit it, and dev involvement is generally higher, but it’s still a plus for Perp that they have these things going right now.

Final bonus point: that first drone issue I mentioned in my first Perp post? That’s been fixed, as the target is now called a training dummy and is much easier to identify. Not going to take credit for that one, but good to see things fixed and improved.

Now for some negatives.

While the graphics are decent and nothing is directly ‘wrong’ with the areas I’ve seen, they also don’t jump out and impress either. It’s fairly standard ‘different planet’ stuff, with futuristic machines scattered among the rocks and shrubbery. I’ve not explored a ton, but I have been around a bit, and so far everything I’ve seen has looked similar as well.

The biggest negative for me is that my robot ‘feels’ more like an RC car than a machine of destruction. The scale just feels very off, with my robot walking through shrubs that are as tall as I am, and only the stations really feeling massive. EVE really nails the scale aspect, with Frigates appearing tiny compared to a Battleship, let alone a Capital ship. Granted, I’ve yet to see the bigger robots, but as first impressions go playing with what looks/feels like an RC spider bot leaves a whole lot of ‘meh’ to go around. I will say firing missiles is satisfying, as you get to see them arc through the air before exploding on an enemy.

Lastly, while the introduction missions are clear and show you all the basics, I feel like they are a missed opportunity to introduce players to the lore behind the game and get them sucked in. I read all of the text, but its all generic instructions rather than having any kind of story here. Ultimately the game will likely revolve around player conflict anyway, but as something aimed at new players just getting started, it should do more to be memorable and get you interested.

Overall though Perp did enough over the weekend to warrant some more time with it. I want to see just how the assignments play out and if they do anything interesting, I want to at least look into crafting, and lastly I want to head out and explore more of the world and see what it offers.


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