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Paragus Rants

Rants, reviews, and interviews from an MMO veteran and guild leader.

Author: Paragus1

Rant: Innovation

Posted by Paragus1 Friday July 27 2007 at 3:17PM
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Rant: Innovation

Is it me, or am I the only person who is getting sick of the same shit packaged in a different wrapper?  I've been into this genre longer then I like to admit sometimes, and it has become clear to me that the idea well has been out of water for the last few years.  What ever happened the the game designers who actually made their own worlds, wrote their own lore, and made a game that didn't play like a hot steaming pile of crap?  It seems to be a horrible trend of developers trying to sell us on the next cookie cutter game.

 

Do any of the other MMO veterans ever stop and wonder how the hell we ended up here?  I mean really stop for a minute and take a look at where this whole thing started.  Everquest brought the RPG experience into a real 3D world.   Asheron's Call was a massive zoneless, seamless, skill based game that thought way outside the box.   Dark Age of Camelot really helped to show us that PvP can be fun and meaningful and brought us the first RvR.  Anarchy Online took us into the Sci-Fi for the first time with a staggering large world and introducing instancing and randomly generated missions.  All of these games are classic MMO's that layed the foundation for this genre.  All of these were flawed in their own ways, but conceptually these were all innovative ideas.  With the rock solid foundations these games gave the genre, the developers have built a house made out of paper.

 

Franchises

Some of the blame for this lack of innovation falls on the players.  Innovation hasn't been selling.  Why do some people get suckered in by franchises?!   Buying a game because of an association with a movie, pen-and-paper world, books, and other games is one of the worst reasons to buy a product.   This also severely limits the amount of creativity a designer can use because they have forced themselves to conform to someone else's ideas.  Time and time again we have seen this to be a bad formula for a few reasons.  First of all, look at all of the MMO's that are based off of some franchises that are complete and utter debacles.

Star Wars Galaxies was a complete train wreck of game.  When they decided it would be a good idea to let everyone be a Jedi, did they actually think anyone would not want to play an overpowered class with a light sabre?

 

Dungeons and Dragons, another complete waste of internet bandwidth.  Maybe its just me, and that I used to play and run D&D campaigns with my friends, but this game had little to do with the real game then the name on the box.

The Matrix.  While I can understand everyone desire to go roof jumping and dodge bullets in slow motion, the game was a disaster, and I marvel at the fact it hasn't been shut down yet.

Lord of the Rings.  Yep, I went there.   So you basically thought if you took World of Warcraft, slapped some Middle Earth models on it, cut the size of the world by 50%, and added the ability to play a monster, that people will play after the initial new game wanderlust wears off?

Let me take an aside here and hold Turbine's feet to the fire.  Turbine, you should be ashamed of yourself more so then any other MMO company.   WTF happened to you guys?!   You had Asheron's Call on your trophy shelf, probably the best MMO many veterans will testify to playing, and you blew it.  AC2 is probably the worst tragedy this genre has ever had.   How could you screw that up?!  All you had to do was keep the same mechanics and update the graphics a little, and instead you gave us something that had nothing to do with AC1 besides the name of the world and the title on the box.  Now you let AC1 whither away.  Turbine has been reduced to riding the coat-tails of other franchises and milking their lore to stay in business.  I weep for the people who got a lifetime subscription to a game with a life cycle of 2-3 months.  Go fix AC1 and stop milking other people's ideas.

Bad Innovation

There is such a thing as bad innovation.  Just because its a new clever idea, doesn't mean you should have turned off your common sense at the design meeting when you heard it.  If you are going to try something new, at least make sure that it is implimented good.  Here are some examples where real innovation went bad.

Archlord - From their website......"There can be only one ArchLord! - Do you have what it takes to become the mighty ArchLord? Work with your guild as you embark on an epic voyage to be crowned the single ruling ArchLord." 

There is on small problem being that the ability to become the Archlord WAS NEVER IN THE GAME A YEAR AFTER RELEASE!  Way to go guys!   You named your game after this idea and didn't use it!  The developer should work on a new game called "Safety Net", where he throws himself off the roof of a high building.

Auto Assault - Let's make a game that targets MMORPG players.   Players who are inspired from high fantasy and let them role play as cars!  Everyone wishes they could be in a world of cars!  Oh wait, we already are.  Since this one actually did get shut down, maybe they should start a new project called "Welfare Assault", where players get to role play as out of work game developers on welfare.

Sword of the New World - The first game to allow you to control 3 characters at the same time.  I guess its an interesting idea if your into that sort of thing.  What baffles me is how someone could build an entire game around this idea, and provide almost zero character customization.  A poll on their own forums shows that only 27% of those polled thought the games customization was good.  Point and click movement also makes me shake my head wondering why in 2007 are we trying to make a 3D MMO with the movement system of Diablo?

As we look toward the future, the good news is that there are finally some innovative games we can get excited about. Pirates of the Burning Sea is a good example of trying something fresh and innovative.  If it launches and runs OK, it will finally give us a new of looking at MMOs, and taking them to a new setting.  Darkfall seems to be aiming to give us something with little to no restrictions and possibly redefine PvP.  Darkfall's biggest danger is it may be setting it's setting the bat too high for itself to jump over.  Hopefully they will be able to silence the naysayers chanting vaporware.  Darkfall and Conan are both trying to change the face of MMO combat  Will people pay to play a game like Fury when Guild Wars is free?  Is Warhammer going to do enough enough to set it apart from every other cookie cutter MMO, or will it just be another franchise milking?

 

Honestly, only time will tell if there is really a light at the end of the tunnel.  Hopefully players will start paying for innovation instead of chasing after memorable franchise names.   When it becomes profitable for them to break the cookie-cutter they will do it.   It won't happen until a game comes along that changes the way developers look at everything, and for that to happen we as players should vote with our money in favor of originality when it is well thought out and implemented well.

 

Paragus

Co-Leader of Inquisition

www.inqguild.com

 

Rant: Character Customization

Posted by Paragus1 Friday July 20 2007 at 4:16PM
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Rant: Character Customization

As we play MMO's and interact with literally thousands of players on our server communities, we strive to grow our characters and advance them through various methods.  Different MMO's provide different options for advancement in the ways of equipment, level, talents, trade skills, and other methods depending on the game.  One problem that is starting to plague MMO's is that a serious lack of advancement options often leads to a serious lack of customization.

Now before I get rolling here, let me preface this by saying that I completely understand that the virtual worlds aren't perfect.   Everyone wants to be that unique little snowflake  that stands out of a crowd.  In real life, we sometimes see people go to extremes in order to stand out in a crowd and look different.  While at times I feel the overwhelming urge to yank a giant piercing from some giant sasquatches nose or take a chainsaw to someone who thought a mullet was a good idea, everyone has the chance to be different for better or worse.  In the MMO world, coders can only do so much to help us be different, but the amount of room to customize they give us is sometimes questionable.

 

 

There are 2 aspects to character customization as I see it, Physical Appearance and Character Ability.

Physical Appearance

This starts at character creation.   Some people might argue that the decisions made at character customization are trivial due to the fact that armor may end up covering most of your body and ultimately hide your features.   I would argue against this.  I am the type of person who will often times turn off my helmet graphic when given the options to show off my hairstyle and face.  The difference between some MMO's in the amount of options at character creation is shocking in many cases.  City of Heroes / Villains offers what many believe as the most expansive character creation in any MMO.   Everquest 2 offers probably the next best character creation by almost copying the character creation of the popular offline RPG Oblivion.  Not only do they give you a variety of choices, but they add sliders and color pallets where you can make any color you can imagine.  Probably the worst character creation I have personally witnessed belong to RF Online, which sported probably 4 difference appearances.

 

 

The second aspect to your physical appearance is equipment.  As newer MMO's start to shove epic armor sets down our throat as the only real viable option for gear, we start to encounter a serious problem.  All the players of a certain class make it their goal to pursue the set armor for that class because devs design their itemization with little creativity.  The end result has all players of the same class looking the same.  Now maybe some people can't spot a Paladin unless he has giant bananas coming out of his shoulders, but give me a break.   The only thing worse then forcing us all to get the same armor is making that armor look like Michael Jackson's court jester at the Neverland Castle.  The sad thing is that we as players make this our goal.   We strive for this equipment because of the benefits, but the reward is that you end up looking like a clone of everyone else.  Years ago in Dark Age of Camelot, they had dyes you could buy to make yourself look different then someone else who had the same exact armor.  Why in God's name has nobody picked up on this?   Armor Dye should be a standard issue feature in every MMO.

 

 

Character Ability

This encompasses everything that can not be seen.  Character Ability is a combination of stats, spells, skills, Talents / AA, and other character development.  Developers need to really focus a lot more on ways to make 2 people playing the same class at the same level as different as possible.  In a class-based system which most MMO's like to follow, developers effectively tie their hands.   A class system by its very nature is to pigeon-hole people into a forced role that is the same the from level 1 to the end.  The only way this system can add flexibility is to add talents or AA type abilities found in games like WoW and EQ2. 

WoW has 3 talent trees in which you can spread your points across in order to specialize in a certain area.  The problem with WoW's system is that while it does help a little bit, there is a serious lack of viable choices that you can chose from and remain effective.  Most people usually end up going with the same cookie cutter templates, and thus defeating the entire purpose of the system.

 

 

EQ2 as usual one-ups WoW with this area.   EQ2 allows players to earn up to 100 AA (Talent) points over the course of your career currently.   Each class has 2 Talent Pages, 1 shared by classes in the same class type (Warrior, Priest, Mage, Rogue etc.), and a second page for your specific class (Guardian, Berserker, Templar etc.).  Each page allows you to spend 50 points in each, and each page has 4-6 trees each.   This gives a lot of balanced and viable choices for people to chose from, advancement past max level, and can easily add new pages as new expansions come out as they have in the last 2 packs.

 

 

The alternative to the class system is a skill-based system.  Skill based is the ultimate in character customization.   You can be whatever you want to be, and fulfill any role you wish as long as you spend your points there.  Asheron's Call 1 is the best example I have seen of a skill system in an MMO.  Skill systems have 2 main problems which may be the reason we don't see them as often as I would like.   The first problem is that it is very hard from a developer stand point to balance upwards of 100 skills to make them all desirable and not overpowered.  The second arguable problem is that a player needs to accepts a lot more personal responsibility.  No hand holding here, you need to think and plot your course or you will be faced with the chance that you may end up as a gimp.  Games today however do give the option to respec yourself, so I think this can be minimized.

 

 

 

In conclusion, developers need to start remembering the importance of character customization.   On the Physical Appearance side, I want a robust character creation.   I want to decide my hair color from a palette, hair length, eye color, height, weight, age, ear length, and ass hair.  I want it all!   If your going to give us these armor sets, give us dye!  Instead of designing epic armor that looks like it was pulled from the trash can of a Megaman boss artist's office, code in dyes!  On the ability side I would love to see more games go skill-based.  Darkfall and other games really look attractive by going this route.   If your giving us classes, I want a lot of viable talents.   I understand we all can't be the unique little snowflake but throw us a bone.   Stop rewarding us by making us clones.

 
Paragus
Co-Leader of Inquisition
www.inqguild.com

Rant: PvP Servers

Posted by Paragus1 Thursday July 5 2007 at 12:19PM
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Rant: PvP Servers

 

As the next generation of MMO's start to be seen on the horizon, one trend that we can see is a focus on PvP as a vital aspect of the games.  I personally am in the belief that PvP is the best endgame an MMO can have.  No PvE only game can ever put out enough content fast enough to keep up with the pace of its gamers.  Even the smallest amount of content takes a lot of development time, and when you factor in tweaking and testing, developers will always find the player base hot on their heels.

 

In a PvE game, the end game usually will end up consisting of raids that involve a large number of players.  Due to the often time gimmicky nature of these raid bosses, once the strat is discovered to beat them, the raids become more of a routine chore then something exciting.  We have seen this in World of Warcraft countless times when new bosses are introduced.   One guild gets the world first kill on it, the strat is learned, and the bosses starts getting killed by a large number of raids across all servers.  The real problem with this as an endgame is that it becomes very hard to justify the tedium over time.  Kill boss, get strong loot, kill stronger boss, get stronger loot, kill super strong boss, get super strong loot, and the cycle goes on forever.

 

Now let's throw PvP into the equation.  Suddenly the prospect of PvE raids becomes a lot more justified.  Kill boss, get loot, obliterate other players!  The beauty of PvP as an endgame is that if it is done in the right setting, the players will write the story instead of the developers.  Players will find themselves seeking out other players, rivalries will form, and players will actively seek out these people.   Even in the event that your PvP rival is a complete and utter idiot, in most cases he or she will still be more unpredictable then a raid mob who uses the same gimmicks every 30 seconds.

 

 

PvP Servers

 

PvP servers provide the best environment to play on as far as endgame goes.  Every MMO should have at least 1 PvP ruleset server.  I know some developers will cry about the lore and the story and all that crap, but they need to face the music.  The people who are PvP oriented honestly don't give a flying crap about your lore and story, they want blood and mayhem.   As a devloper, you should bite your tongue and drop all the lore crap for just a single server because by its existence, you will sell many more copies of your game that otherwise wouldn't have been bought.  Brad McQuaid may have been a terrible manager of the Vanguard project, but when it comes to making people swallow mouthfuls of crap, hes the Wolfgang Puck of bullshit and spin.   He was smart enough to toss in the PvP servers when VG launched because he knew it would sell a lot more copies of his game.  There is a right way and a wrong way to implement a PvP server, so let's take a look at some of the more successful MMOs and their approach....

 

 

World of Warcraft (RvR)

Seriously, I don't know WTF Blizzard was thinking or who they think they are fooling.  There is a really good reason why WoW's PvP is the laughing stock of the MMO world.   They have contested zones that aren't really contested, no penalty for death, graveyard rushing, and instanced PvP.  I remember playing when the game first came out before the battlegrounds and having a good time.   Ever since battlegrounds they have systematically cut the balls off of PvP and those who seek it in its natural setting.   It's actually to the point where there is literally almost no difference at all between the PvE server and the PvP server.  Congrats to Blizzard for making the most trivial, meaningless, and unskilled PvP ever to grace the MMO genre.   If WoW is your first MMO and you think your some sort of tough guy in PvP, your bragging rights are about on the same level as a toddler talking smack about how he can tie his shoes. SandLOL?

 

 

Everquest 2 - Nagafen (RvR)

If your looking to play a modern MMO with half decent PvP servers, this is probably your best bet at present time.  As usual, Everquest 2 has taken things much farther then WoW.  As someone who has and is playing on the Nagafen PvP (highest populated PvP) server, I will be the first to tell you that not all classes are created equal in PvP.  Where it does shine however is the fact that none of the PvP on Nagafen is instanced.  All PvP takes place on the overworld and inside of non-instanced dungeons.  The other interesting aspect is that they give you the power to change which faction you are on.   If your team seems overpopulated, you always have the ability to exile into the 3rd party team, and from there a full switch to the other faction.  The PvP rewards can be time consuming to get, but it is worth the trade off to have world PvP making this the best choice among more modern MMOs.

 

 

Dark Age of Camelot - Andred / Mordred (FFA)

This was probably the some of the best times I have ever had in an MMO.  A true Free-For-All PvP ruleset where you could attack anyone of any level anywhere outside the capital cities.  Unlike many PvP servers, the "Dreds" as they are referred to, the FFA format allows communication between all players since there are no factions, only guilds.  This allows for 2 very important aspects.  The first being the abilities to have a real political environment, the second is ability to talk smack to your enemies.  Of course we can't forget that along with these fun features, DAOC comes with the best PvP reward system in an MMO and capturable castles and relics that have a real impact on the battles.  Unfortunately DAOC is growing a little long in the tooth, and these servers are now a ghost town, but to this day this is probably the funnest MMO experience I have had in my career.

 

 

Asheron's Call - Darktide (FFA)

We can't talk about PvP servers and not talk about Darktide.  One of the most extreme PvP environments ever created.  Upon creating your character, you are presented with a warning message telling of a horrific existence that awaits you beyond the portal.  A warning which rings true the second you enter the world and find a crew of people waiting where new players arrive to give them a nice warm welcome to the server by baptizing them with a battle axe and stealing everything except your underwear which is unlootable.  Unlike the previous examples, a death on Darktide will cost you a lot more then your dignity.  Your killer will be walking away with one or more of your valuable items, which includes your equipped weapons and armor as possible drops.  Darktide also had guilds, basically the "Blood" guild which made up about 1/3 to 1/2 of the servers population and everyone else.   Being a member of the Blood guild however didn't guarantee your safety.  Also unlike previous examples, Darktide allowed you to kill anyone....including your own guildmates!

 

 

At the end of the day, PvP has been proven to provide player-driven content to give games an exceptional level of staying power.  Games like Lord of the Rings Online will undoubted find themselves struggling to produce content fast enough to keep up with the rate its players will consume it.  If these developers are in the business to make money, then shelfing the lore and giving us 1 real PvP server may be prove to be a wise financial decision.  PvP is going to become a much more predominant force in this genre.  Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Darkfall, Fallen Earth, and Aion are all coming with PvP built in different ways.  Gamers should be able to find some comfort in the fact that in the next generation of MMOs, hopefully we will be in the driver's seat and less dependent on developers to spoon feed us content.

 

Paragus 

Co-leader of Inquisition

www.inqguild.com