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Khal's Korner

Ranting and raving about this MMO craving. Whether you agree or disagree I just want to get you thinking.

Author: Khalathwyr

World of Darkness Online. Will it really be so?

Posted by Khalathwyr Tuesday April 27 2010 at 2:39PM
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One aspect of interest in CCP's upcoming mmorpg World of Darkness Online for me is will it really be a world of darkness. That is, will the game have day and night cycles or will it be a "forever night". There are rumors , which admittedly is all we have to go on at the moment (heres hoping E3 will change that) that there will be a playable human race along with vampires and werewolves. If so does that give way to the need to have a day cycle?

I'm pretty sure Nick votes NO on the daylight question and I'm sure Lionel is cool with the night.

I for one would be really interested to see CCP take the approach of making the game exist in an eternal state of darkness. Aside from the most obvious reason that it fits the name of the game, World of Darkness, it would also lend to another slight difference to distinguish it from the vast majority of other mmos on the market. In fact I can't think of a single one that exists in such a state. Well, I guess you could point to CCP's other mmo, EVE Online, as you are in the depths of space most of the time. There are, however, plenty of very bright stars that you fly around so it's not really always dark.

One thing that does bring about a little bit of worry is does a game set in perpetual darkness give cause for people not to play it? I realize that some people won't like the idea of constantly being in the dark and there is little you can do about those individuals. What I mean is could such a feature hinder the gameplay in such a manner as to drive people away. Some of you remember the days of Everquest, or should I more appropriately say the nights of Everquest. If CCP made their online world that dark would cause a massive balk at playing the game?

I hope not. In fact I'd probably like it to be that dark in places that didn't have lighting sources such as streetlights and neon signs. It would seem most appropriate in the sewers if indeed sewers are a playable area as well as old abandoned warehouses. It would also allow for interesting game features such as infravision (through innate ability or via gear) to be incorporated into gameplay. Echo-location could also be implemented for those vampires gone batty.

I have to agree with Mr. Benson: Gimme the Night!

I think it'd would be in the best interest of the game to go with night time all the time. The last thing I'd like to see in the game is a day cycle with a weak justification like the "sun tan lotion/sun glasses" approach of of Blade (SPF 1,000,000 anyone?) or having vampires "sparkle" in direct sunlight but can appear normal is the sky is overcast as in Twilight.

No, I want CCP to just stick to White Wolf's lore and gimme the night!

Player Generated Content: By The Player, For the Player, Part 2

Posted by Khalathwyr Friday April 16 2010 at 5:19PM
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In part 1 I talked about what I mean when discussing player generated/driven content. It's basically more of the developers creating and refining tools and systems that allows players to dream up their own roles and play that story out in a meaningful, virtually tactile way.

TJKazmark asked a good question which I will take a shot at this go around. His question was:

"Also, what are your ideas for the interaction between developers and the player community when it comes to introducing new content for the players to experience and/or use?"

Mind you it's not a good question only because he asked me. It's a good question that all of us as gamers and especially sandbox gamers should put thought into. Despite what the forum mind readers say I believe that many gamers out there do know what they want and have spent more than a few hours thinking about it throughout their respective MMO gaming times.

Anyone remember this guy?

The biggest issue I see as far as when developers have introduced any story in past MMOs I've played, with the exception of Asheron's Call, is that it was done in a very detached, narrative manner. The developers did not really engage the players in such a way that to me looked like they weaving parts of the game's lore and incorporating the players into that story building effort. The majority of times to an almost absolute degree new "content" is thrown out there and while it allows for players to affect the game world in some small manner one can't help but feel sometimes of looking around and thinking "Hey...I did it...anybody?...See, I did it...*crickets*".

Now, this isn't a call for devs to be there to pat you on the back for a job well done everytime you kill 10 bunnies". What I am saying, though, is that developers should be there taking an active role in driving some of the background stories based on the game lore. They should be the force that puts into motion the desires and goals of the background stories key players such that actual people playing the game can stumble upon these events playing out. Those players can then choose to watch, participate or just leave.

Let's say two groups of developers, playing opposing sides, are fighting some battle over some area or resource (and I don't mean a resource node). A group of players comes across the battle from the "MMORPG.COM guild <MMG>" and sees that Dev Group A, identified as a faction that is known for its steadfast warriors is defeating Dev Group B, a faction that consists of the greatest arcane minds in the known world.  The <MMG> players could elect to help Group A, Group B, watch the battle or move on. If they help Group A to victory the devs playing that group thank them and offer to aid <MMG> in its next Castle Siege or to perform escort duty for one of it's mining caravans. If <MMG> helps Group B to victory they likewise offer <MMG> access to their library to obtain a rare spell that only <MMG> tagged spellcasters can cast. If <MMG> decides to just watch the battle, the side that wins could mistake them for enemy reniforcements and attack them. If they instead leave the area, well, nothing (for them) happens.

Either way the battle is recorded in server lore and whether <MMG> gets its place in the annals depends on their action or lack therof. Items like this being documented and put forth in the world for other players to see I think is a critical element as well. I think it stirs player passions about the world more knowing they can interact with the developers in a fairly fluid manner and include their character's story in the overall world history. A history that is recited by npc heralds and found written on statues in game. And most importantly, combat shouldn't be the only way to do this. There are many, many creative ways to do this that I can't list them here. It just takes a little bit of creative thinking and a Dungeon Master mentatlity to explore those possibilities. Possibilities that are most certainly doable in an MMO with today's technology.

There are plenty of ways to get your message across.

Random encounters as seen above is one way for in-game developers, or live team, to interact with players. Additionally developers can utilize in-game message boards (which typically house quests in MMOs past and present), creative use of well-known and "one off" NPCs venturing into well populated areas and making announcements as well as the good old fashioned roaming the world "invisible" and creating encounters on the fly. By the latter I mean have developers create such random attacks on groups out traveling the wilds by creatures that, when targetted, don't reveal a name. Have that happen a few weaks and then introduce your next playable area and that these, until now namelss creatures, hail from there. Again, players can choose to help the raiders, with all the intrigue involved in first contact, and have the raiders grab a foothold or they can fight them off and then begin taming those wild lands and setting up new towns.

Oh, and one more point. Players in games with such freeform movement develope their own factions and usually a web-based presence. This, I think could be tapped in that developers could use such group affilitations to send out "guild" emails to the groups requesting their aid shortly before relative events. And obviously the guilds would get rotated as far as whom gets called upon just like all other items mentioned above would go through further refinement and "iterations" to include as many people as possible.

I'll close with I think that such efforts don't get attempted alot because of the misconception that you have to fairly provide the same experience for every player. This simply isn't possible yet it is a handcuff on creativity. If actions are randomized (day, time, in game location, guilds, etc.) sufficently then you'll provide ample opportunity for developer introduced content to place its mark, and the players to place their brand, on each other.

Player Generated Content: By the Player, for the Player

Posted by Khalathwyr Monday April 12 2010 at 3:46AM
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One of the hottest topics with respect to MMO gaming is fun. It is also one of this genre, if not all genres of gaming's greatest enigmas. What is fun? How can we capture fun in a bottle and then turn it into code and infuse it into a computer or video game? What characteristics of fun are most universal such that we can grab the attention of the most gamers and hold them?

Admittedly, I don't have the universal answer for this as if I did I'd be a rich man. I do very ok, but rich I am not. What I do want to talk about today is what I believe to be a key factor in the equation that equals fun. That variable is player generated content.

 

What do you mean "You people"?

The topic of player generated content often comes up when discussions of themepark vs. sandbox games take place here on the forums. Inevitably when it is referenced some of the first replies are "You people don't know what you're talking about. Player generated content is never as good as developer made content!". Well, I'm not going to argue with that assertion when talking in context of yout typical Go to the Misty wood and kill 10 Blood Frogs type content. In the frame of an MMO I doubt players would have the range of freedom to make NPCs cheer and herald the player as a hero like the developers could.

When I and I'm sure many others reference player generated content and being able to tell your own story it most certainly is not in reference to the action listed above. Instead it is in reference to an MMO having a well-developed toolset and set of systems and mechanics through which players can take a long hard look at the game's background or setting and then put into play a particular vision of a character that they would like to see develope in the gameworld. A large part of MMO gaming draws upon one of the key elements ofthe pencil and paper world that it spawned from in great part: imagination.

Now, this imagination is not the "oh, well, you can just imagine you're a doctor or a general store owner in game" type. In truth if such a limitation were the end all, be all then why even have the game in the first place? Why not just have a chat room where people type out their actions and imagine they are PvPing each other or imagining they are banding together in a group of 40 to take down a raid boss? The reason this isn't so is it's more fun, more rewarding to imagine that you are going to do this and then log in and visually see it happen. That's the kind of imagination I reference. Players love to imagine a role that is fun to them in a MMO's setting and then to actually watch it come to be whether you are slaying dragons or selling the adventuring gear to that budding hero. Heros, afterall, come from all walks of life.

    

The stories behind this great men, one real (Masamune) and one fictional (Q or Major Boothroyd) could hardly be played out in most modern MMOs.

So what do I mean when I use the term Player Generated Content? Well, the term means to me the ability of the player to utilize in-game systems and mechanics in order to bring about almost any role they can imagine and introduce that story into the game's background. Should a player have dreams of making a character that starts out a lowly soldier in some federated army who serves his contract and gets out and decides to start a mercenary unit it should be possible in game. Most games have a guild system, which would cover the mercenary unit portion, but that guild system should be robust enough to handle various command structures. It should be well-planned such that it allows a guild to be flagged as hired by another guild, thus forming an alliance and applying the appropriate "Friend or Foe" targetting in combat.

Suppose our intrepid hero wants to secure an area of land for his mercenary group. The game should possess a system of claiming land space. There should be full crafting trees devoted to the creation of a variety of buildings to support a base, from barracks to turrets to motorpools/stables. It should be equally viable for another player to make a career out of producing and selling such items. This is the crux of what is meant by having all gameplay mechanics and systems interwoven such that they make sense and make all these roles viable. This allows for a great deal of different sotries to be told and thus player generated content.

We often see developers complain that players skip through the launched content in 2-3 months, the kill the 10 frogs variety, that they spends 4-5 years creating. That does not seem very efficient in terms of resource use for a developement effort to me. It seems as though it would be alot less taxing to provide a platform or a stage and let the players become the actors, the story-tellers. The challenge then becomes to adjudicate systems that allow the great emotions of the human condition to play out and drive conflict and companionship, love and hate, prosperity and pauperism. It is these attributes, I believe, that reach deep down in a player such that at the proverbial "end of the day" generate a sense of being vested in the game world's events. Give them something to build, to own, in the world such that they don't want to lose it. Whether it is losing a base or losing a lucrative building contract if they have reason "to care" then fun will happen.

I dare say it will be a more intense fun because the events, at their core, were imagined by the player and brought to life by their actions. That experience is truly theirs.

Numbers don't lie because they can't speak.

Posted by Khalathwyr Monday January 11 2010 at 10:31PM
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Alright, if you’re a frequent visitor to this website (and I’d guess you’d have to be if you were reading the blogs here) then you have no doubt seen MMORPG’s choice for Game Of The Year. Those of you who may have missed the 2009 choice may be a little surprised to find that it is not World of Warcraft but instead EVE Online.

Wait. Did he just say EVE Online won Game Of The Year? That’s right! It seems the forgone conclusion of the 800lb gorilla in the corner always getting the big banana by the majority of us (the reader), whether we wanted WoW to win or not, was wrong. This reader is rather relieved to be honest. As I’ve said before I don’t have any proactive hatred toward WoW. It’s just not style/detail for an MMO.

 

And out of the woodwork they came...

You may have noticed the level of kicking and screaming has gone up exponentially since the release of this choice by our website hosts. Practically, what would you expect? I mean, a game with a last reported 12 million subscribers certainly would have it share of members of this site. You would expect them to come to the thread releated to the announcement and chime in their disappointment in their title not winning. That’s what any game’s patron would/should do, right?

I had no particular dog in the race as I’m not subscribed to any of the games that made the list (I’ve played LOTRO, EvE and WoW, not played Aion or Wizards 101) and had lost a measure of interest in the vote as I had, as mentioned above, just written it off that WoW would be selected (which isn’t to say I think it deserved to be). Learning that EvE won brought a swift smile to my face. Why? I’m a firm believer, card carrying member of a line of thought that thinks that the ridiculous success level that WoW has garnered has done more harm to the MMO genre than good. Now, that’s not to say that the game hasn’t done any good for the genre. It is saying, however, that the negatives outweigh the positives in my view.
 

I will never speak to any men if I ever go to Brussels. Especially the tall muscular ones.

One of the loudest angry cries heard on the thread related to this vote is that WoW should win the award because it has the most subscriptions. I don’t have really a whole lot to say to this because I find it one of the most clueless, unsophisticated responses to have ever been used in any attempt of MMO conversation or debate. Considering that the estimated population of Austrailia for 2010 is over 22 million people and factoring in that there are many, many millions of people throughout the rest of the world who may enjoy it doesn’t make Vegemite taste any better. I’ve tried it. I spit it out and used the sprayer from the kitchen sink to try and rinse the taste out. It’s nasty.

Does the fact that millions of people eat Vegemite or Marmite make it universally and annually the “best” spread out there? No. While WoW in comparison to other MMOs isn’t the “best” for different reasons than Vegemite and its peers, the basic rule still applies: Might does not always make right. Just because WoW has the number of subscribers it retains does not make the gameplay and design of the game the right and only way to do it to be fun and engaging. This is where I personally found MMORPG.com’s vote for EVE Online most satisfying. It flys in the face of that line of thinking and puts it out there that there are other ways of making an MMO that should be further explored. In light of recent releases it seems that the industries insiders should take a long listen. There are a few older titles out there with very different gameplay structures from which many more sim-like MMMOs can be constructed.

This has been the status quo. Will it change in 2010?

Will they listen? Who knows? The diversity that would come to the field of MMOs that would be experienced by the larger companies stepping outside of the Blizzard MMO design box would certainly be a warmly received by a significant number of MMO gamers, certainly.
 

A key factor in the growth of this genre is the separation of the various development houses from the myth that the WoW way is the way. WoW not taking home the big award from this site and hopefully others hopefully marks a key point in the design department new games being started this year and some that have only been in pre-production a short time. While the efforts of independent houses is appreciated and necessary, solid growth and diversity comes mainly with the larger houses who have the resources to do it fully and relatively polished (though many would say that they haven’t done the latter two very well of late).
 

Hero Worship

Posted by Khalathwyr Tuesday January 5 2010 at 5:15AM
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"I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim..."

If you ever get a chance to go to Tobago, go. I'm there right now and let me tell you it's a beautiful island. The Mrs. is out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean writing another one of her short stories so I figured why not blog?

For the record I'm going old school Bowie with the intro but if you prefer the Wallflowers, rock on.

 

          

Both of these men are considered heroes and they each did it different.

Heroes. It's a subject that I think in the realm of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying games has wormed its way into the "it's a given" file folder of what is desired in the overall experience. Whether this is a good or bad thing is another discussion for another day. What I really want to focus on this time around is taking a look at how and why it's being implemented.

"I, I will be King
And you, you will be Queen..."

If you were to take a brief look around at the pay to play MMO today you'd find that the overwhelming majority of them tease and tantalize the would be subscriber with promises of wealth and the adulation of many through glorious victory on the battlefield. The physical traits of the avatars that players are provided with resemble the best of the best in late night television exercise equipment infomercials. So much so one may even get the feeling that the games might be sponsored by them.

Gaute Godager essentially summed up the modern MMO when he issued the mantra by which the Age of Conan team abided when developing that game: "Combat, combat, combat". One has only to take a look at recent releases to see that this is indeed the flavor of modern MMO design. Warhammer Online was designed to focus on player versus player combat in scenarios and keep sieges (with a capital city siege being the ultimate goal). The aforementioned Age of Conan's defining quality was to be the new combat system that Funcom implemented to get the player more "involved" in their avatar's actions. Aion Online, another of the most recent releases, takes a similar approach in focusing on the ideal of the combat hero.

Why, some of you (and indeed myself) may ask when you see this trend by the majority...of late it's probably more accurate to say the entirety of MMO producing game companies? Some people will try to tell you that it's because that's where the "market" is. They will try to lay out a list of financial directives that they believe are the de facto driving force behind what is essentially a homogenizing of MMO game play. Were one not to know better you'd get the impression that these folks were key advisors for the companies themselves and privy to some inside practices and spreadsheets chock full of this data they are reproducing here on the MMORPG.com forums.

While I won't attempt to discredit this line of thought as I believe there is some merit to it, I don't believe it is as much a driving force as the MMO Warren Buffets of the forum.

 

     

No matter how he kicked butt, someone else gave him the tools to do it.

Still others will attempt to persuade the forum patron that there just is no market at all for games that are non-combat hero oriented or that have put equal resources into the design and development of non-combat roles. They are firmly entrenched in the belief that the word "hero" is defined by the ability to go on genocidal killing sprees with sword and sorcery, gun and grenade, and that it is not possible for there to be a definition beyond their own view.

This line of view I admittedly will engage most times I see it presented as I believe it to has absolutely zero credit whatsoever. It is, in my opinion, the result of the lack of any ability to think on a broad scale, objective manner. Conan couldn't have done it without his sword just as Commando couldn't have saved Alyssa Milano without his guns. Last I checked neither of them had any abilities or talents other than combat oriented ones which relied heavily on the talents and skills of people who weren't combat oriented.

It seems to me that it is then arguable that those producers of the weapons of mass destruction that allow the Conan's and Commando's to go out and wreak the havoc they do and save the princess' are just as important as the combat heroes that use the fruits of their labor.

"Then we can be Heroes
Just for one day..."

Some of you may ask then why we don't see much more in the form of definition and design of the non-combat aspects of MMO game play. You note that the gaming world is made of just as much a diverse population as the real world which puts just as much focus and accolade of the crafter as they do the warrior. Some of you older foggies like myself note that it is not impossible to accomplish nor has it never been done as we see it has been achieved in games like Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies before the design change and in games like A Tale in the Desert.

Having developed on an equal scale as that of the combat aspects has never been proven to be less of a model than the standard formula today. Some will be quick to point at SWG, yet they fail to give recognition to the whole situation with that title and only cherry pick from it what will carry on their crusade against the non-combat playstyle. In fact, what we have seen is that with a decent non-combat system setup you have games that have very long term player retention. Ultima Online is still going to this day. Despite all of the turmoil with SWG there are players from the original game still there today who have enough of the old system to hold onto to make the game enjoyable for them. A Tale in the Desert shows no signs of it coming to an end anytime soon.

So again, why don't we see Game Designers trying to maximize their potential customer gain by incorporating in depth the non-combat role along with the combat role?

This is the key reason I believe this is so...
 

Where have all the Dungeon Masters gone?

Posted by Khalathwyr Wednesday December 30 2009 at 5:25AM
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Reading the recent guest article by Justin Webb  about the possibility of a Twilight MMO just hit me with a magnitude that would have Richter scales placed on Pluto registering the seismic energy generated from my keystrokes. Admittedly I have very little in the way of favorable thoughts when it comes to Ms. Stephenie Meyer’s literary works and the subsequent films. She and I have very different views on the entities that are Vampires and I can’t embrace her view.

This isn’t about Ms. Meyer. No, this is about the industry “insiders” that sit around with their iPhones to their televisions locked on any and everything that manages to creep or crawl out of Hollywood. This is about them embracing the urge to try to make an MMO out of everything that is a flash-point fad. This is about the death of genuine creativity in the Massively Multi-player Online Role-playing Game think tanks in the industry. It begs to wonder how many times a Seinfeld or a Friends or an American Idol MMO has been pitched.

Now Khal, you say, what’s wrong with making an MMO out of a previously established intellectual property (IP)? I honestly don’t have an issue with using a pre-existing IP. Such a move worked out pretty well for Turbine with Lord of the Rings Online. I can’t say the same for Dungeons and Dragons Online as it started out as a pay to play game and recently they had to move to a free to play model to try to bring in more players. Solid games that begin pay to play don’t have to make such moves, evidence Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call as well planned/designed games have no issue holding a profitable player subscription number over time and DDO isn’t very old.

No, to use an existing IP the IP has to have certain basic qualities that an MMO needs to work.

Games in this genre in the majority are about adventure. They are most compelling when they are set up so that they are about the creativity of the players. They are about characters striking out in the world to make and leave their mark on the world in some way. The Shadowclan Orcs of Ultima Online. Maggie the Jackcat of Asheron’s Call. The BoB and Goonswarm drama from EvE where it was reported that over 1,800 people tuned in to the player run EvE radio just listen to the two sides’ stories. If those things don’t get a rise out of you, then look to the industry’s 800-lb gorilla, World of Warcraft, which is based on a Blizzard intellectual property and sports the most subscriptions of any pay to play MMO.

 


Say what you want, but this guy knew how to create a game world.

 

All of those games were created by folks who understood what it means to be a Dungeon Master and to create worlds and inject the who/why/how questions of the people, places and things they incorporated into their worlds. Those MMOs were created by people who hadn’t lost their creative spark as opposed to those of modern times who have fallen to the sad state of trying to ride on the coat-tails of the flavor of the month Hollywood fad. They find the most popular of the moment hot item and try to convince the CEO’s and shareholders that it would make a great MMO. Unfortunately it seems the creative Dungeon Masters that essentially built this genre of gaming are relegated to a seat at the far back and their ideas, if they are even still trying to promote them, as quietly being swept into a hall closet somewhere.

Just take a look at recent releases and what is coming in the near future. Warhammer Online (EA Mythic), Age of Conan (Funcom), Star Trek Online (Cryptic), Star Wars: The Old Republic (EA Bioware), DC Universe (SOE). I highlight these because they made by some of the, arguably, leading companies in the production of MMOs, personal feelings aside. Turbine is up there as well and their last two titles were of pre-existing IPs (it is of note that they got to be where they are through Asheron’s Call, and IP they created in-house). Yes, there are more than a few small and independent developers creating new IPs. The down side to this is they all too often don’t have the funds to carry fully through with their game development. These larger companies are more able to do so.

 

"Don't worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88mph the instant the lightning strikes the tower... everything will be fine."

 

A large problem with these pre-existing IP games is that today large portions of the target audience are MMO gamers as well as being fans of the IP. If you don’t replicate the world near 100% faithfully, they will balk. If you don’t work in the mechanics that they believe should be in, they will balk. If companies focused back on letting the creative writers create they could avoid one portion of this. They could also possibly rekindle some of that feeling of awe gained from exploring new worlds like Britania, Dereth and Norrath.

When or will these "power player" of companies ever see the light in the freedom's an in-house IP will give them and make the move back to putting to serious use their own creative minds? Will it ever hit home that just because it does well in one form of media it does not translate to success in another?

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