Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)


The day the pilot died

June 2, 2014

Sad to hear Jester is retiring from blogging. His blog quickly shot up to my daily ‘must read’ list, and his content quality and quantity was second-to-none. He was also my easy-access window into the deeper side of EVE design and discussion, which to me was very important. Sad day indeed.

EVE Empires reminder, blog update

May 22, 2014

Quick reminder that the Kickstarter for the EVE Empires  book is winding down, and if you want to jump in and own something that is likely to be very awesome, do so now.

Blog has been slow this week as I’ve been traveling for work. Back to normal next week!

EVE: History, now in hardcover

May 14, 2014

EVE’s history book now has a hardcover option on Kickstarter! Easy +1 from me on that, especially since the hardcover will feature additional stories and art compared to the softcover. This will, in addition to being a great read, make an excellent addition to the Command Center.

DF:UW – Sacrificing the game at the altar of false choice

May 13, 2014

I’ve hinted at this before, but now AV has made their plans for revamping the ‘class’ system in DF:UW public, and rather than post this to the limited audience of Forumfall, I’d rather it get more exposure here on this blog.

The change is a classic example of sacrificing some real choice to create more false choice due to the illusion of freedom. If you have played a few MMOs, I’m guessing you know where this is going.

It’s important to understand what is first being sacrificed by this change. Currently all four roles (Warrior, Skirmisher, Primalist, Elementalist) are seen in-game. Additional, almost all schools (sub-roles) and all abilities are used. There are a few exceptions, but easily 90% of all roles/schools/skills are used and are viable. No system is perfect in terms of balance, but based purely on variety and usage, what DF:UW currently has is very solid.

I’ll use one of the roles (Skirm Deadeye main) I currently play as an example. To farm certain monsters that are best killed at range, this role works very well. I also use that identical setup for PvP. The range allows me to stay alive longer than a Warrior, and the ult (Salvo) is a very useful AoE ability for large-scale combat.

After this update goes live, this will no longer be the case. For PvE I’ll be wearing light armor (+dmg) because for PvE where the failure state is simply a time delay, time-to-kill is king, and +dmg is what best increases that (even if the attack speed bonus is better, durability loss per attack would still make this choice inferior). I’ll also replace more PvP-oriented skills with skills that either make PvE easier directly (self-heal, stat regen, etc), or increase my chances of escaping PvP (movement abilities, more on those specifically later).

For PvP, I’ll have yet another build, replacing abilities that work best in PvE with PvP-based ones (most likely AoEs for damage, and filling the rest with escape/utility).

If you believe the system increased choice, you are missing the boat. Sticking with the above example, I still have one choice for PvP, and one choice for PvE, but post-patch those are two different things, and in a world PvP MMO like DF:UW, that’s not a plus.

When everyone is out in the world farming with PvE-specific builds, attacking people at a mob spawn isn’t going to be much fun. Either you smash them due to running a PvP build against someone with a PvE build, or they escape because their PvE build includes enough of those abilities to make it possible. For a clear preview, see EVE PvP when you jump a mission runner in low-sec. At least today in DF:UW when a fight breaks out, just based on builds the field is more level, not a fight decided by the fact that one guy has a warp scram and the other is only cap-stable vs NPCs.

Moving to a higher level, there is basically zero chance that post-patch 90% of all abilities are viable. That means more skills go unused, which wastes their art, their animation, and the diversity they bring to the battlefield. So while technically the game will have more possible skill combinations on paper, in-game you won’t see nearly as many skills used, and most likely, you also won’t see as many viable skill combinations used. Would I be shocked if there is basically one flavor-of-the-month build for PvP? Hell no. And that build won’t be some fun ‘Paladin’ build or whatever. It’s going to be a tank-mage that chucks AoEs, heals, and exploits movement abilities. If you love playing an AoE-chucking tankmage ala most of DF1’s prime, congrats, DF:UW is going back to that. If you enjoy the current real options and diversity seen in-game? You’re outta luck. Viable options have been replaced with false choice, sorry.

Some other points.

PvE is going to be trivialized with this change even more, as player power is going up while mob difficulty will remaining the same. Worse-case, there is one FOTM PvE build that is broken-level powerful. As with the PvP aspect, hope you enjoy that playstyle, because if not welcome to gimp-ville.

Movement abilities are either going to be grossly nerfed across the board, or make unwanted PvP impossible. To go back to EVE, imagine roaming around looking for PvP if every ship was immune to warp scram and that’s going to be post-patch DF:UW with movement abilities. Going out to dig up some treasure chests? Your ‘class’ is now one where you stack movement and escape skills to reduce the risk of map running to zero. Scouts? Same thing, zero risk build ahoy. Worst case, post-patch the game becomes an arms race of who stacks more movement abilities or exploits them best. That would actually make me miss the bunnyhopping idiocy of DF1.

This change will have massive economic impacts. Some people are going to be royally screwed and will be very upset about it. I don’t want to fully dive into this now, but again if you have played an MMO or two I’m sure you know where this is going.

This change also dramatically increases how much prowess (XP) you must earn before you become PvP viable, which hurts new players most. Currently that point is around 40-60k, but post-patch it will be much higher. Having 100 in all four stats will be far more important, as will having access to all boosters. You will also need to max more skills, especially if the expected PvE and PvP builds vary so much.

Additionally to a longer grind to viable, the system as described is also more complex and arcane. How intuitive is assigning your Wisdom stat to a Greatsword to get access to better Greatswords? Oh and then assign your strength stat to cloth armor so your swing with the greatsword hit for more damage. What sense, even in a world where people throw fireballs, is there in leather armor allowing you to cast spells faster than other armors, including the wizard-looking cloth armor?

So yea, I’m not really looking forward to this. In fact, it’s basically taken most of my motivation to play away. It’s just hard to keep building in something that you know is going to fall off a cliff, and off a cliff is exactly what this update is. Sad really, especially given the big steps forward AV took with DF:UW from DF1, and even with more recent patches.

EVE: Player control vs game restrictions

May 12, 2014

Quick follow up to yesterday’s post.

First, getting over the social hurdle in EVE (getting into a Corp) is not harder than in other MMOs. A new character won’t get into a top-tier raiding guild, just like a new pilot won’t get into a top-tier EVE Corp. There are mass-recruit guilds in other MMOs, and there is EVE Uni, RvB, and Brave Newbies in EVE. And I’d argue the EVE Corp’s are far better than your average mass-recruit guild in other MMOs in terms of helping players and teaching the basics.

Do Corp’s do spy checks? Absolutely, just like games with clan banks don’t give everyone instant and full access. The degree and style is deeper/different in EVE because EVE is simply deeper and different than your average MMO. You don’t have an API in your average MMO like you do in EVE. You don’t generally have guilds with hundreds of thousands of man-hours of effort built up that can be ruined by a spy. Hell, in most MMOs you don’t even have guilds that have been around to build up hundreds of thousands of hours of effort to be ruined, even if it was possible.

Second, getting yourself into a Corp that makes the game better isn’t luck. If you just drift around running missions till you get bored, waiting for a great Corp to find you, you are doing it wrong. Like in basically any social situation in an MMO, the more you put in the more you will get out. If you do some legwork to find a quality Corp, and then put in the effort to impress and get in, you will be accepted 99% of the time, and will get 99% more out of EVE for doing so.

The critical difference between the EVE hurdle of being social and the average MMO hurdle of 100s of hours of gameplay/grind before you see ‘end-game’ is that in EVE, you are in control of how long this takes. If you want to drift around in high-sec, or join whatever random Corp and derp around, that’s on you. If you really do want to jump into the deep-end, and are prepared to put the effort in, EVE gameplay mechanics allow it. In contrast, no matter how motivated I am in the first 10 hours of WoW, I can’t get into the latest tier of raiding.

EVE puts the control in your hands, most other MMOs keep you in a pre-defined path until the game says you are ready.

EVE: Day one lessons not learned for 11 years

May 9, 2014

There are easily dozens of “How to make an MMO” design lessons in this combat report from TAGN, but clearly the biggest one is that in EVE, a new player is able to not only see advanced content, but meaningfully contribute to it. It has been stated many times, but if you actually break it down, it’s rather remarkable how unique that is to EVE, and what a black mark it is on other MMOs that something similar can’t happen.

Let’s start with some basic stuff. The biggest hurdle the new player got over prior to this was the social one; he was already in a major group that not only accepted him, but also is smart enough to understand that new players are very important and showing them what the game is all about is critical for the Corp’s (and by extension, the game’s) growth. The mechanics of the game make it easier for the Corp to have such a program, and to allow newer players to jump in, but without that initial social connection the new player won’t be about to jump in and see such content so quickly.

EVE does a good job here because the mechanics don’t punish the new player OR the group he joins when they bring him along. In fact, ‘bring him along’ is actually understating the situation, because he isn’t just allowed to come along and view what is happening, he is able to meaningfully contribute. That isn’t the case if the group was raiding, doing set-number PvP, or any content that scales for the number of players. Think about your current MMO; how many of the above pitfalls does it feature?

The true beauty of EVE is that while it allows that new player to jump right in, it ALSO highly motivates him to also keep ‘growing’. He is in a tackle ship on day one, but he saw battleships that are still months away in terms of training and needing the ISK to buy one. Even further out, he saw a Titan, which realistically he is likely YEARS away from flying. The real key however is that while he sees the carrot, and the carrot in some cases is VERY far away, the game doesn’t make him feel useless or a burden until he has progressed. Again, look at the MMO you are playing today, and consider how many barriers the game has placed in front of a new player prior to them reaching any kind of ‘end-game’ content. How much of its other content is FORCED onto a player before giving them access to something else.

What continues to blow my mind about the MMO genre, in a very depressing way, is that the blueprint that is EVE has been around now for 11 successful years. It might be rocket science (see what I did there?), but CCP has done the heavy lifting for the industry. Is everyone else so truly inept that not only can they not figure out what CCP has figured out, but they can’t even copy/paste it well-enough to produce something remotely close to EVE?

#EVE #MMOdesign


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