The Tortanic band is still playing everyone!

March 29, 2013

There is a lot that can be said about this piece from Massively about SW:TOR, but it’s Friday so I’ll just get right to the good stuff:

Based on BioWare’s pre-launch metrics, the team expected players to get through the content in three or four months. This assessment might seem obviously wrong to an experienced MMO player, but we are talking about a game with extensive voiceover and literally thousands of cinematic cutscenes adding up to about 170 to 180 hours of content. So the devs anticipated that TOR would take more consecutive days to complete than the average MMO. But according to BioWare’s metrics, players were tearing through the content an average of 40 hours a week; some players spent more than 120 hours a week in the game. “Within four and five weeks, we suddenly had close to a half a million people at the endgame,” Ohlen said. “It was something we didn’t expect at all.” Players were unsatisfied and began to exit the game.

First, how laughable were EAWare’s pre-launch metrics? It’s almost like no one from that studio had ever played or even seen how MMO gamers have been approaching content since 1997. Then again, we are talking about the studio that ‘announced’ Sunday being the most popular day to play an MMO, so yea.

Second, even if EAWare was right and players did spend a few months watching cutscenes and listening to voiceovers rather than mashing spacebar, you still have everyone quitting your sub-based MMO after finishing the sRPG. No one signed up for SW:TOR because it would eventually have a fantastic ‘elder game’. (Hey EAWare, in the MMO genre it’s called an end-game. You’re welcome). This is the 4th pillar title, KOTOR 4-153 all rolled into one, right?

Finally, I love EAWare telling us their F2P MMO that is shutting down servers is the second-biggest sub MMO out. Yea, it’s so big that during an EA investors call, the former CEO had to downplay the failures of the title and try to convince everyone that dumping 300m+ into voice ac… err, building your terrible MMO engine (wtf…), was no big deal. I’m sure the good doctors that jumped off the Tortanic would also confirm how proud they are of this massive success. Selling hotbars was in the cards all along!

I secretly suspect EA has an internal competition in upper management about who can troll their fans better, and while SW:TOR has clearly been #1 since launch, SimCity the MMO was starting to make noise and this is the response SW:TOR came up wth. 7/10 troll rating in my book, but still not the 10/10 that is “SimCity was always an MMO, we just forgot to tell anyone pre-release”.

 


Devilish details

March 27, 2013

Yesterday’s post got some interesting replies, not the least of which is this post over at KTR. It got me wondering if I just over-focus on some things, or if other MMO players don’t see them or don’t care about them.

Zubon says you can play DF:UW’s prowess system in Asheron’s Call 1. Here is the quote:

“So if you like Darkfall’s prowess system, you can go play that right now in Asheron’s Call 1. Seriously, that system existed in 1999…”

(Note: the 1999 part is important, because that’s basically the version of AC I’m talking about. It’s been more than a decade since I last played it, and for all I know the game today is completely different.)

As I pointed out, yes, certain aspects of the AC1 system are similar on paper to DF:UW; primarily the act of spending points to increase skills. And I don’t want to get into a debate about what percentage of the systems are similar, because I see little value in that here. Whether it’s 99% different or 1% different, the two ARE different.

What I do want to point out is how these differences ultimately matter.

For example, DF:UW does not have levels, while AC1 did. Zubon talks about this in his second paragraph, but misses or does not address the main point; without levels, you don’t ‘progress’ through areas/zones. Without that progression (and other factors), you don’t fall into the themepark trap and instead create a virtual world. It’s the classic difference between UO and EQ, and while AC is in many ways the odd man in the middle from the big three era, in terms of progression and world feel it’s very much EQ and not UO.

The reason? It’s character progression system.

DF:UW? Far closer to UO in terms of world feel. The reason? It’s character progression system.

To me, that’s huge. Apples to oranges huge.

And yet Zubon made the post he made, and others made the comments they made. I respect Zubon, I know he knows MMOs, so I don’t think it’s a case of not getting it or not seeing how the pieces add up.

I’m left with the fact that to Zubon and others, maybe they don’t care? Maybe a virtual world or a bunch of connected zones is just shades of gray?


DF:UW – The brilliance of the prowess system

March 25, 2013

The appeal of a “use and improve” system to character progression is easy to understand, in part because it mimics real life. Want to get better at something? Do it (practice). Unfortunately sometimes being ‘realistic’ does not work in the gaming world, and “use and improve” systems very much fall into that category in the MMO genre.

From 1997 and Ultima Online’s skeleton wall, to Darkfall 1 and bloodwalls, players have always found a way to game such systems and get around them to get ahead. The devs in turn make changes to curb the behavior, be it slower skills gains in your house, slower gains off players, ‘power hours’, meditation, etc. The problem has always been that you are applying a Band-Aid to a wound that is ever-increasing (power-gamers will always create smarter macros, find better bugs, or simply brute-force harder).

The easy thing to do is blame the players, but the reality comes back to the fact that making an MMO is hard (right Lord British?), and making a PvP-based MMO might be the hardest design job in the industry. Design too much against the power-gamers, and your title becomes completely unplayable for anyone outside of that small minority. Limit the impact said minority can have, and you drive away the content-providers.

It’s with this history in mind that I bring such high praise to DF:UW’s new prowess progression system.

The basics of the system are this: every action earns you some amount of prowess points. Simple things like mining some iron might be worth 1 prowess per resource, while farming high-end mobs might be worth 20 or more prowess a kill.

On top of gaining pure prowess from your actions, the game also has an achievement system (feats) that reward prowess when completed. Gather 10 piece of iron, and you earn a bonus 7 prowess. Gather another 200, and you get 50. Gather an additional 3000, and you get 400. Feats cover all areas of the game; gathering, crafting, PvE, PvP, exploring, etc.

An example: You are out hunting goblins. Each goblin kill earns you one prowess. Skinning each goblin tombstone also rewards you with one prowess. After 10 goblins you earn the first goblin-slayer feat and open up the second (100 goblin kills). While skinning, you completed the first feat for collecting eyeballs (enchanting material). As you finish up your farming session, you return to town and salvage some of the drops, gaining a bit of prowess for that. Using those mats, you craft a new sword (prowess gain, progress towards crafting feats) to replace the one you just used and broke.

The beauty here is that a character at basically any level of prowess can do the above and make progress. The above can also be repeated for practically all varieties of mobs, as each has its own set of feats, and different mobs skin for different resources which again have their own feats.

So how you gain prowess is pretty brilliant, because you get it from simply playing the game, but not in the ‘play the game’ style of a “use and improve” system. That is only half the system however.

What you do with prowess is equally important. Simply put, you spend prowess on skills or character stats, with the cost increasing as the skill/stat gets higher and higher towards the cap. All skills outside of crafting can be increased in this way (crafting still increases from use, which works as you are resource-limited rather than time-limited with crafting).

The result is you can very easily become ‘viable’ with a bit of focus. Near-maxing one weapon skill, some basic spells, and your key stats can be done in a matter of weeks with normal (20ish hours a week) play. At the same time, ‘maxing out’ a character is incredibly difficult, both due to the increasing cost of skills as they increase and the diminishing returns on prowess gain as your overall total increases. On top of that, the more you play the more feats you will accomplish, so finding new feats to finish for a prowess boost will naturally drive players out of their comfort zone and into trying new things (different mob spawns, more PvP/PvE, crafting, etc).

How to spend prowess also adds some interesting decisions making, without becoming a “you just gimped yourself” choice system (you can always get more prowess). For instance, say you decide to gather for a bit; how much prowess do you spend on the mining skill initially? The more you spend, the faster you mine and the lower your chance of failure. However, spending those prowess points on the mining skill means you can’t spend them on combat-based skills. Each player will initially spend to a different level, in effect customizing their character’s skill to better suit their style of play.

And much like in EVE, maxing multiple weapon skills or role skills does not make you more powerful, it simply gives you more options. And just like docking up and getting a different ship in EVE, it will take some time and gear adjustment to make the switch in DF:UW. It’s good motivation to keep progressing, but it keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable for players joining at a later date.

The impact this system has on how you play the game is rather dramatic, if sometimes in subtle ways. For instance, it’s no longer beneficial to use a spell as often as possible to skill it up, so players no longer run around cycling transfer spells ‘just because’. It’s not a game-defining change, but it cleans up one aspect that to new players traditionally quickly comes across as a flaw, or just stupid.

It also instantly removes blood walls, mount bashing, or the infamous ‘group-sex’ macroing from DF1. Instead you have the power-gamers identifying the best mob camps to farm, in the best group setup, and in the most efficient rotations. It creates new value in holdings close to such spawns, and rewards organized guilds that prioritize a guild crafter.

In short, the system rewards the kind of player behavior you want to encourage, which is basically going out and playing the game rather than doing boring/exploitive activities just to progress. It keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable, while still retaining a very long character progression path. And most importantly, it feels fun and rewarding, both on a micro and a macro scale.

Funny that it took 15+ years, and a small indie studio to get us there, but better late than never.


Eador: Masters of a Broken World pre-order

March 25, 2013

If you like deep TBS, this will likely be the best $20 you spend this year.

The title being available on GoG.com is a pretty sweet bonus as well.


Graphics creating gameplay

March 20, 2013

I find this post from City State (Camelot Unchained) mostly on point. It’s a good read, and I want to focus on one line in particular: “There’s not a tradeoff between graphics and gameplay when the graphics are the gameplay.”

Graphics are gameplay if done right. For example, shadows in Darkfall do more than look pretty. With floating nametags removed and no tab-targeting, you actually have to see your enemy much like you would in real life, and hiding in the shadows in not just a fancy name for some hotbar ability. Siege strategy has often relied on hiding a force in the shadows, in trees, or just over a mountain top.

A similar thing happens when you see the armor someone is wearing; because deciding what to use is a real choice (rather than just always wearing your best all the time), seeing an opponent in top-end gear is important and different than seeing them in something weaker. The visual impacts the gameplay (fight or flee).

One of the more memorable moments for me in DF1 was seeing an enemy guild leader decked out in the most expensive gear during a siege. As the info came across on vent, many people focused on bringing him down in the hopes of scoring some great loot. The guild leader knew this would be the reaction and planned ahead; he had an ‘e-squire’ who’s only purpose was to follow him around and provide healing or to cover his retreat using knockbacks or AoE blinds. It was brilliant strategy, very memorable, and worked because the graphics allowed him to be identified in the first place.

So while it is important to make sure your graphics don’t impact your gameplay (SW:TOR engine choking with more than 5 players on-screen), it’s also important to consider how your graphics can CREATE gameplay.

Also, cool copy/paste from my blog a few years back Andrew.

“We know that we’re building a world for characters to live in, not a theme park for tourists to visit.

We may not get as many tourists on opening day if we’re not the shiniest park around. The trouble with tourists, though, is that when they’re done with their tour they go home — or on to the next shiny thing. We want to create something here that lasts, and that means we’re catering to the kind of players who’ll stick around.”

You’re welcome.

 


Digging out of the hole

March 16, 2013

Oh EA.

Someone has already proven your game can be played offline just fine, yet now you insult the dummies who bought your village simulator AND MMO fans by calling your pile of junk an MMO?

Only EA (and maybe Activision).

Edit: I highly recommend going to the EA page and reading the comments. Playing “which comment is from someone at EA pretending to be a player” is pretty fun, if a little too easy.


Fallen Enchantress, SimCity, Darkfall, Kickstarter

March 12, 2013

I picked up Fallen Enchantress when it was on sale. The main problem I have with the game is it’s not Eador, which is unfair to FE itself but such is life. It’s not bad, and has some interesting systems, but the whole thing does not come together as well as Eador does, and while it has depth, much of it feels like depth for the sake of saying its deep.

It’s also strangely missing a campaign of any kind. Right now all I can play is randomly generated maps against the AI. The game also has zero multiplayer, which again does not compare favorably to Eador (Genesis has hotseat, and Broken World should have full-scale internet play).

I can’t say I’d recommend it unless you are dying for a turn-based strategy title, but then again for $5 it’s not going to set you back all that much either. Plus I generally like Stardock (the devs), so supporting them is a nice plus.

Moving on, the SimCity fiasco is hilarious on many levels. The most obvious is how horribly EA is mismanaging the entire thing, from shipping a crappy game to making things difficult on the fools who bought it; if it could have been handled poorly, EA made sure to do exactly that.

On the other hand, if you bought SimCity, you are to blame as well for supporting this kind of crap. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s Diablo 3 all over again; people talking about how they are fed up, all while bending over and taking it from EA or Blizzard. The wallet vote is far more important than spamming the Amazon review section or writing an angry post about the game after you paid up, but so many continue to fail to realize it.

A hilarity of a certain someone complaining that SimCity is now too ‘accessible’ made my day. “But it sold a million copies!”

Reading the various opinion pieces about Kickstarter of late has been interesting. I still think overall Kickstarter is good for core gamers, because certainly EA and Blizzard aren’t going to cater to us. On the other hand, it’s not 100% foolproof and we will see stuff like Garrott asking for a million because hey, why not. We’ll see titles not make it, titles deliver something completely different than expected, and everything in-between. But at the end of the day, if Kickstarter is responsible for even one enjoyable game that would not have been made without it, it’s a success IMO.

Finally, while it’s still under NDA, Darkfall: Unholy War is shaping up nicely. We’ve had some fun times in the latest beta round, and a system Aventurine recently introduced might replace EVE for the best character progression system in an MMO. The amount of core problems with DF that it fixes is nothing short of genius, and the kind of gameplay it encourages and rewards is something the entire genre has been seeking but getting wrong since the early days.


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