Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bringing the Social Back?

Had originally intended for this blog to be called 'Anti-Social Gaming', it was supposed to have been ironic, how I had come from 2 years of playing WoW and had so little to show for it. It was really having a major effect on my life and how much I felt it was a diversion from all the negativities and doubts that have filled my life for several years now. One of the straws that broke the proverbial camels back was sitting for several hours in a Naxx raid with a PuG from mostly the same guild and people were barely tolerating each other and all for filling out gaps in their gear. So this blog was intended as an outlet for examining how anti-social it had all become for me, (hence the new moniker of 'Dark-Adjusted Eye'), but also as a form of therapy yeah I admit I've social anxiety not just shyness, having fallen into a trap it was time to step back and look at things from a new perspective. And just recently several people involved with MMOs have been looking at the same issue, starting here, continuing here and here. Massively picked up on the theme too.

It's an important discussion, but one that's steeped in nostalgia too for past games, 'Everquest' is mentioned a lot but seeing as my MMO experience starts with WoW can't comment on it much, suffice to say it was probably more to do with the community than the design of the game, it being more akin to a small town of like minded individuals willing to share the experience than the gated-communities of modern MMOs where even within guilds can feel very unwelcoming.

But why aren't MMOs like social clubs where people with a common interest can meet and play together, it's a lot to do with the anonymity of the interactions. Many commenters have already talked about creating Facebook like profiles for the MMO players, even to link an MMO profile to any other social networking sites would be great. Would amend that with something I'd think even more important, an itinerary, where you could schedule in what you plan to do each day, saying what areas you plan to quest in and what times, maybe even listing some of the important quests you want to do, then an advance LFG tool matching players. That's really what it boils down to, bringing strangers together in a helpful way to accomplish goals. Adding players identified in this manner to a temporary contacts list.

Like Keen's assertion that MMOs can't be more social without looking to past games, and take it a step further and create a world based on our distant past such as getting rid of currency and only having a barter system, something completely divorced from modern life and these notions of always making gold and the ridiculousness of 'vendor trash', it's a fantasy genre after all so why is there a need for a constant wage with everything done in the game world, it only breeds greed and selfishness.

Think the most radical idea along those lines is to remove regional chat or any form of chat where you can not see the player, but still allowing people to IM/tweet people on their friends/temporary contacts list, so bye-bye general chat, bye barrens chat and good riddance to trade with it's inanities like 'Dirge' and 'Anal[...some random ability linked...] spam. I'm thinking about how this would make players feel about the zones and areas they find themselves at any particular time, and would hope they notice the other people around them more, it would become necessary to achieve a rewarding playtime to fill out the itinerary, and actually make use of the suggested contacts without a LFG channel, a twitter like interface would be great too for updating it as you went about it. I'm really drawn to the idea of being out in the wilderness and meeting a friendly face, even if it is just to wave and then continue along my path, but what if you needed to ask directions, because you couldn't spam chat and hope for an informative reply? For one thing it would encourage more interactions at quest hubs, if something wasn't clear you could ask the other players hanging around so you're certain of the task before setting out, of course only if you're not of mind to check online for the solution.

This is quite hard to surmise, but the best social experiences for me is ending up somewhere you never expected to end up and all because of someone you'd met, here's an example from Keen about a memorable journey in Everquest. Your playtime can be planned with an itinerary but player's still need to be willing to take chances along the way .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Edge's 'Time Extend'

Back when I used to read Edge magazine religiously, this was my favourite feature 'Time Extend'. Here's the link to two of those articles that they've condensed for online but still very good reads, think these might have been the first and second game featured in that series, and two of my most remembered games 'Majora's Mask' and 'Eternal Darkness', don't think those particular issues are still around due to my flat been flooded twice in the last year and them occupying a low shelf (you'd have thought I learned my lesson after the first time). Miss reading Edge every month, playing WoW constantly lessened my desire for other games, resubscribing to Edge is a good start in getting interested again because they can write so evocatively about games, as displayed above.

Where to Next?

Just coming to my month's stint in LOTRO and trying to decide where to go next. For the most part have enjoyed it, we'll not mention the Ered Luin incident again, had the opportunity to try the Bree-land questing before and after the recent patch, and the improvement was immense, much more engaging. Surprisingly despite the alt explosion (totally necessary to find my main, should have done this with WoW when I first started would've saved so much annoyance) I was able to settle on one class that I liked and it wasn't the one I started first (Warden).

So yeah I do enjoy playing support/buff classes but they must have good consistency in character, hence the Shaman ranting previously. The Captain class is a nice conceit but without someone to buddy up with it wasn't as 'fun' as it could be, pointing out tactics only for myself did look a bit silly. Was missing the totems a bit, but planting a banner was a nice alternative not so much having a faithful 'pet' to follow me around. Don't think I'll go for another month in LOTRO, but would wait til the revamp occured in Lone-Lands or North Downs or that I got a much better computer, (also the reason I can't try WAR out for a month, did the trial a while back before the big 'live expansion').

Was eager to try AOC but they're stopped offering the trial to new players while they have that welcoming back of previous players, damn them just as I wanted to give it a try. And WoW is out of the question til patch 3.2 lands, me thinks a break is in order...?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Redefining MMOs: Story and Lore (focusing on SW:TOR)

Having recently just completed KOTOR, one thing about Bioware's stated features for their new MMO is that they want to include companions in the game. Sure the companions in KOTOR told engaging story and often times held a mirror up to the motives of the player character but that was to be expected from playing most of Bioware's previous solo RPGs. But what's bothering me is this seems a crutch for actually trying something new and socially orientated...(in reply to the Massively article)

Would love to see them develop a system of approval/disproval, and trust/distrust. Say two player's party up and enter a scenario, like the one aboard the Sith ship described at E3. One player taking the lead and initiating dialogue, is the other player just going to sit by listening, or can they have the ability to interject into the dialogue or even break off the dialogue for some action? Could there be some way to show your approval or disproval for this injection or interuption, and as a result your trust in the offending player drops. And if trust drops so low, it bans the offender from entering into further dialogue, having agressive abilities neutered or left outside the area where important dialogue occurs. It does seem unfeasible but how else are two or more players going to be able to shape the dialogue and events in SW:TOR or any such future story-orientated game? This trust/distrust system could also affect each player's powers or combined abilities in a meaningful way, say distrust hampers them from reaching their full potential.

From what has been seen in the comic and that scenario mentioned, a pair of players might be the most important group in the game, and that might be a necessary decision that Bioware decides because as soon as you add in more players it's going to become a muddle. Someone else in the Massively post said they foresee the rise of small group over raids, and I'd definitely agree with that, especially in story and lore orientated games as Bioware promises.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Why Do MMORPG Successes Feel So Hollow

I do a quest and get a reward, supposedly that's what keeps me occupied for hundreds of somewhat menial tasks levelling up in an MMORPG. It's a pity that thousands, even millions have done or will do the same quest and received the same reward as me, no unique hero am I it seems. There's something going on there that anybody rational or intelligent should be able to fathom, so what is it about an MMORPG's system of continual rewards that has conditioned me to do this long drawn out grind, starting with WOW and falling into the same patterns with LOTRO...

And don’t think it stops at levelling either, endgame in WOW is one continual grind, running heroics, raids for gear to be able to move on to the next tier is the exact same. It does have one difference though, skill is supposed to improve with each conquest but why the need for repetition. In a single player game, one time is enough then maybe another time for the fun. Once the challenge has been overcome, why then must raiders enter 'farming' mode, same encounters, same core personnel, and god help anything interrupts that efficient process of repetition. Tried it, hated it and don’t want any further part of it, so not going to dwell anymore on this aspect.

Ok so what does this reward fuelled grind achieve, not a whole lot on the face of it. It does nothing to define in game character, other than demonstrating subservience to the whims and vagaries of strangers, who happen to be the laziest, most demanding people ever created. For the most part it doesn’t increase skill, time and alternatives will overcome most obstacles in the way to the level cap. Funny that for the most part grouping isn’t rewarded at all, exact same rewards for doing a quest solo or grouped, creativity isn’t rewarded either. Maybe it's as simple as that, the rewards make the grind more palatable, and that's a trap many fall into, me included.

Changing tack for a moment by looking at the notion of successes. Success is something that unknown to many people is being continually justified by our thought stream even if we are paying attention or not. Paying attention to it, can have a very powerful effect, even to lift someone out of chronic depression, and I should know. By paying attention I mean observing successes and questioning what it was that led to them, whether it was our own skills and abilities, luck, being in the right place at the right time. Does questing and rewards in WOW and others suppress that it in some way? (staring unblinkingly at the screen perhaps)That's the question I'd really like to know the answer. But it must be bad to ignore our skills in life (like reasoning, socialising...) for interacting with game systems of mindless and inconsequential advancement.

Do MMORPGs reward successes that aren’t worth rewarding and don't contribute to personal happiness and enjoyment? (hah, posing the right question is hard)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WoW Shaman Class Q&A

Yeah the changes are good, sensible ones but one thing is really annoying me and it's to do with the overall design of the class. Ghostcrawler states that Shamans are the offensive hybrid counterpart to the defensive hybrid, the Paladin. Here's the thing though, Paladins are almost perfectly realised as a defensive class, with their ability to tank, wear heaviest armour, the saving 'hands' on their allies, "Divine Shield" on themselves, being able to redirect some of the damage taken by a single target or the whole raid to themselves, it's a very nice repertoire indeed. Then you've got Shamans in the supposed offensive role and they are sorely lacking in that respect, one key component of offence is mobility something Shaman players have been complaining that's lacking for ages.

For instance, in that same post GC mentions how static he thinks casting Shamans are like 'turrets' - "You sit and spin and shoot (or heal)". Sounds a lot like a defensive role being adopted to me. It really is galling because of how I imagined the Shaman to be a great warrior that buffs his allies in the heat of battle (having an interesting experience in Lotro trying out the Captain class, ahem). So then it's a question of mobility as one possible solution to this dilemma, but creating a caster/healer that can go toe to toe in close range would be very intriguing but barring a total wipe of what is currently in game it's a very unlikely prospect, though "Maelstrom Weapon" could be a potential catalyst for change.

"Heroic Leap" a dropped Wrath beta ability for Warriors (Fury?) has Shaman written all over it. "Thunder" could be redesigned as a quick way to move for Elemental Shamans, like a lightning bolt they get into the middle of a group of mobs, drop "Fire Nova" and "Chain Lightning" to their hearts contents. A warrior priest archetype would be very welcome for restoration, a revival of Shaman fortunes would be much prefered than a new hero class. Umm, yeah, guess that's strike two for not returning to WoW for now at least.


Been playing some Lotro the last week and for the most part been enjoying it, the grandiosity of the landscapes is breath-taking in places, even things like the sweep of a river away into the distance is sublime (reminds me of a river close to where I grew up that had what appeared to be a grotto from a distance but close up not so great, took a good bit of climbing over ditches to get there). Yeah I like exploring, but wish I'd a better computer to do really do justice to the landscapes, also looking out from a lofty vantage point without the game grinding to a halt would be nice.

Unfortunately something occurred that really has put a dampener on things, due to a recent revamp of the Ered Luin starting area some of the NPCs and objectives have been moved about a bit, except the quest text hasn’t been updated at least on EU servers. So to say it was confusing is a bit of an understatement, surprisingly the newly introduced quest helper is showing where the objective is correctly and also the lorebook on the website has the right text too. It's almost comical in some of the situations I found myself in, one NPC saying to fend off an attack from mountain lions when none were anywhere to be seen, yeah that should be the next NPC I talk too, thanks for the heads-up; go to ruins taken over by goblins, no I mean the vale with wolves prowling about. And I was really looking for an epic adventure to get stuck into and reading a coherent story would have been a key role in that, but now dreading what other clunkers I'm going to run into along the way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Making MMORPG Combat Better

Tobold has this post on his blog about making MMORPG combat better. It's a good summation, but missing one element, which could prove both tactical and interactive: coordination between players. Beginning in a simple manner, taking the D&D example of blunt weapons being good against undead as origin (that's new to me, never having played the game, but sure every game I seem to play has at least some influence from it), and letting some classes abilities interact with other abilities from other classes in a positive or negative fashion. Sure there is buffs in many MMORPGs that benefit more than the casting player but it's definitely worth considering how it could be taken further.

Here's an example: a highly armoured mob that cant be damaged by melee whose damage depend on applying bleeds/poisons, in order for them to be able to damage the mob the armour must be shattered/sundered by a 2-handed blunt weapon wielding tank. The tank is aided by a caster casting frost spells to make the armour more brittle and freezing the mob for higher chances of the armour being smashed, the bindings snapping etc. Once the armours gone melee have 2-3 secs to apply whatever bleeds/poisons they have, however the caster puts a 'hypothermia' debuff on the mob which prevents them being damaged with bleeds/poisons and this debuff is more likely to be applied when the mob is exposed for those 2-3 secs. It's the Zelda guide to boss design, the boss can't be ordinarily damaged only when a sweet spot is exposed and you can go hell for leather with your sword.

Another example is for stunning/knocking over a mob, (having just started LOTRO it'll be influencing this one, and the way burglars have the most ways to set off fellowship manoeuvres), say if you have 3 players able to charge they must time it to hit the mob one after the other and put the mob off balance and leaves them vulnerable to being tripped up and stumbling on some marbles some carelessly left lying around the dungeon (still cant get over that a Burglar's heal is called "Mischievous Glee" :). You could imagine other abilities that could throw a mob off-balance (I like the phrase 'the tipping point') to be tripped up, the smack about the head with a shield ability, the hurl abuse from the far side of the room ability and so on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chain Heal Channeled

Just a little exercise in how I'd make Shaman healing fun, something that was promised for all healers but not yet delivered. Of course it's totally subjective, making healing more fun as Blizzard has said is difficult to design for 11 million+ players. Key consideration I believe is get to a point where all abilities interconnect and set each other up to be more effective, such as the way Riptide/Chain Heal currently haste the next 2 LHW/HW "Tidal Waves", another consideration is to create something iconic (a word that should always be attached to a buffing class such as Shaman). This is also a proposed remedy to the discussion about chain-heal not matching up to the other aoe heals.

1) Earthliving procs refresh Riptide, this could easily be achieved by changing Glyph of Earthliving, it would allow Riptide to stay on players that are been healed frequently for longer durations, the burst of life at the target's feet is a nice visual clue for this.

2) When I first read the description for the talent "Ancestral Awakening", was really excited because this is the sort of iconic thing that a shaman healer needs, calling forth spirits to help heal allies and perfectly tying into the shaman's ability to commune with the spirit world. To say I was disappointed at it's actual implementation is an understatement, what the hell was that shadow that just popped up! What I had envisioned was non-targetable ghosts walking about for a short period of time, and had the clerics that wandered around the black temple in mind (draenai shaman healer here, but orcs could have the maghari ancestors that roam nagrand, tauren the taunka spirits in borean tundra, not sure about trolls though). They would last 9s like "Divine Aegis", and heal anyone that needed it, rather than be useless when nobody actually needs a heal, DA has the edge there.

3) Chain Heal is channeled, and working a lot like Penance. First pulse is instant then a jump occurs every sec afterwards for 2 secs. Glyph can give one extra jump for same mana, but it then isnt such a top choice for every raid boss, but good to save mana for times spamming Chain Heal. Chain Heal becomes a lot more flexible, for example healing one player instantly or healing two players in 1 second.

4) Decrease the reduction in healing after each jump of Chain Heal say 10-20%, and first heal about PoH or slightly less, danger here is that the first two pulses are going to be very strong for 1 second spent channeling.

5) Healing Stream Totem has a low chance to proc Earthliving on raid members, say 10% or even the standard 20% depending on balance.

6) Riptide get's an additional function in addition to increasing the first heal by 25%; each time Chain Heal jumps to a target with Riptide, the jump time is decreased by 50%, 0.5 second instead of 1 second, this represents the strong current of Riptide pulling on the Chain Heal.

7) Chain Heal can now hit the same target more than once, it can also jump to and from an ancestor who happens to be wandering around and part of the heal stored and added to the heal the ancestor currently has to put to use.

So putting all this together leads to a much more flexible kind of Shaman healing. Shaman healing a single target can proc ancestors to help heal that target with both Chain Heal for Tidal Wave procs to haste subsequent LHW/HW for the continued ancestor procs . Healing a group of melee with chain heal, by keeping riptide on each of them for some fast chain heals, and Earthliving procs from either HST or other heals helps to do that. Chain Heal can then works on 2 targets, hitting first, jumping to second, and then if the first target is still lowest the 2nd jump hits them for another heal.

Anyways, because Shaman healing is nothing like this at present, and it was my main for one expansion, it's getting shelved as well as quitting WoW for the time being. More on Blizzard's design brief for the Shaman class soon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Persistence Leading to Dynamic Worlds

Raph Koster has two articles on the origin and meaning of persistence in MMOs, and are both a very good read. Below, my contribution to the discussion quoted for posterity:

"Still confused about this use of the word persistence; coming here with the dictionary meaning and trying to understand a seeming contradictory concept. But will give it my best shot with an example: building a house in a mmo world, that’s persistent in the sense that it should stay there with it’s content intact (like the use of persistence mentioned in the article regarding saving data like stats, items etc), determined by the rules set by the developer that nobody could break and enter. But that’s not realistic, especially in a pvp game, to not be able to ransack a house or even to have ‘bandit’ mobs programmed to loot a house that is unattended and in the wilderness. On the one hand the developer is creating a more dynamic situation, but with the other imposing some strictures on players i.e. who would be foolish enough to build a house in the middle of nowhere, away from civilisation, so you see it is wrong to say that developers programming more dynamic play lose control over the activities of players, they do it in more considered ways. Going back to persistent again, the so called legacy of a player who chooses to build a house in the wilderness in a war-torn land is a set of ruins and passing players saying noob under their breath."

In a nutshell, persistence is needed for dynamic worlds, where players have an impact on the playing environment, over what has been previously set by the developer. That's where potential confusion arises over that term, especially by people with no game development knowledge like me, and thinking to myself whenever I hear it publicised, persistence, but isnt that a bad thing if the game world is static, unchanging. It's a piece of jargon, but one to pay attention to what any particular developer means by it, especially cause it's going to have a huge impact in how it's implemented in the worlds of the future MMOs.