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The Space Between

Gaming and Life, Rants and Raves, now with 30% more loot!

Author: TesterNGS

A MMORPG Holiday Dinner

Posted by TesterNGS Wednesday December 26 2007 at 3:24PM
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 A MMORPG Holiday Dinner

World of Warcraft: Ok, I have everything ready. The guests should be arriving soon.
EverQuest II: Merry Christmas!
WoW: EQII! You look like you're wasting away - how'd you lose all the subscribers...err, weight?

EQII: Yeah, I've been on the SOE Diet, its great! Hey, I brought my dad, EverQuest Live. Is it ok if I sit him in a corner? No one pays attention to him anyway.
WoW: Sure, there is a chair over there. Oh, I think I hear the doorbell. Welcome, EVE! How have you been?
EVE: Not bad, you know, just mining ore, and hauling ore. Then warping a lot. Then mining more ore. Hey I just got a facelift, what do you think?
EQII: Looks good. Was it a difficult procedure? My plastic surgery made me look...well, like plastic.

EVE: Not too bad, just ruined a critical file. But it was "free" so I couldn't complain.
Lord of the Rings: Knock, knock! Hi everyone. Woah! Hey, my wallet! Stop that EVE!
WoW: EVE, please don't gate camp the door.
EVE: Sorry. Old habit.
EQII: LotRO, could you leave your hat on - you look a lot like WoW without your Hobbit clothes.
LotRO: Sure. Nice spread you have here WoW. All my favorites!
EQLive: Oh sure, WoW has everything, but none of it is very good.
EVE: Who said that?
LotRO: I dunno.
WoW: Hey everyone, Tabula Rasa is here!
Tabula Rasa: Please, call me Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa. Hi everyone!
EQII: Hello TR, what have you been up to?
TR: We just moved in not too long ago - they've been building our house for, like, 6 years! But look at all we have to show for it: combat, half-assed crafting, and an auction house!
EVE: ...impressive, do you charge full price for all that?
TR: Of course, my parents need to take more 20 million dollar space trips after all. Hey, who's that at the door?
Age of Conan: Shh, no one can see me yet, I'm in BETA!
WoW: Oh hi, Conan. What did you bring?
AoC: BOOBS AND BLOOD AND PVP! A brutal barbarian world with lush jungles and big weapons! (TM)

EQII: Oh, ok, the kiddie table is over there. *points*
WoW: Hey, City of Heroes is here! CoH, you look exactly the same as you did three years ago! How DO you do it?
CoH: My parents dropped me a lot when I was little. But I have new foster parents and they promise not to abuse me. Hey, nice place you have here, WoW. It's different. I'm not used to different things. Is there a warehouse or sewer I can sit in?
LotRO: Sewers? That's a good idea. I think I'll use that.
TR: Hey there old fella, I'm Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa. Some family members of mine used to work with Ultima Online...
EQLive: Buzz off, rat-tail. Don't you have more gaudy crap to put in your house?
EQII: Look who's here - its Star Wars Galaxies! What did you bring?
StarWars Galaxies: Hi everyone. I was thinking that all this familiar, traditional stuff is really boring. We should change it up! Pine trees are so hard to get. How about a nice new maple?
CoH: I don't do new and different.
SWG: ...I figure we could call it the NHE - New Holiday Experience!
EVE: Hey WoW, a big bus just pulled up outside.
WoW: Oh no, its the Korean grind games! They're all three-quarter views!
Lineage 2: Hi all, I hope you don't mind - I brought some friends. Anyone want to buy some gold?
WoW: Sure! I mean, no! Woah, what are your friends doing, Lineage 2?
L2: They're in your kitchen, grinding your foods. Hi, Conan, how's it going?

Vanguard: Hey guys, sorry I'm late. I was busy selling my VISION to some hardcore players. They didn't get it, so I made fun of them. Damn carebears.
L2: This is a nice spread, WoW. How long did it take you to make?
WoW: It took a while. I had to camp the store for 3 hours getting some base materials. Then I had to grind speciality stores for some rare spices. After that, I had to schedule a raid to get enough people here to cook all the food. I had to bid all my DKP to get the turkey!

VG: That's nothing, my VISION is a dinner that takes a week just to get the ingredients for. Sure, my VISION may be unpopular to 99.5% of people, but I can't be bothered by such facts.
LotRO: Can you give me the recipe for that stuffing? I want to copy it for my subscribers...errr, my family.
TR: Where's my seat? I don't see a place card with my name.
WoW: Its right there. It says, "Tabula Rasa".
TR: Oh, haha, well, if it had read, "Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa", then I would have known. Quite a lot of stuff here. It would take me at least three years to add this stuff to my spread.
EQLive: Back in my day, games were released with more FEATURES! Not just combat and crafting!

VG: Combat and crafting are enough if they are difficult. Our VISION is to make everything hard so that only true gamers play our game. And by true gamers, I mean people who have nothing better to do but grind for 6 hours a day.
CoH: I wish I had good features. Are costume pieces considered features?

AoC: Pixelated knockers are features!

L2: Forgot to mention, that's a huge driveway you have out there, WoW.
WoW: Yeah, its for all my subscribers. It could be bigger, but most of them ride bikes or work in sweatshops. All right everyone, dig in!
EQII: That was pretty good, WoW. But somehow I feel...empty.
EQLive: You were always pretty shallow.

TR: Are you talking about me?
WoW: Well, that dinner was just to prepare you for the next dinner. And once you consume the next dinner, you need to move on to the 25-man dinners. After you've spent 100 hours eating dinner, I'll put out expansion dinners which will make all of your old dinners obsolete.
CoH: Sounds like more of the same to me, and I know a lot of about "more of the same".
VG: This dinner wasn't nearly hardcore enough. You guys clearly don't know what true dinner is about. Its about challenge, grinding, and lots of grouping. Screw enjoyment, I want to chew LEATHER for my dinner.
TR: You should have people call you, "Brad McQuaid's Vanguard: Saga of Heroes", that way people know what kind of ego maniac you are.
CoH: I know some ego maniacs.
WoW: All right everyone, thanks for coming. Clear your calender for the same time next year - you know us, we never do anything differently! Happy holiday

Down with Fluff!

Posted by TesterNGS Friday December 21 2007 at 3:22PM
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Down With Fluff!

Fluff: noun - Superfluous features in a MMORPG that have no direct impact on the core of the game.
I am tired of fluff being more important than core game play. It makes me sad to see developers add more fluff to their game than changes that have real substance. Gamers are being treated like kids at a carnival who are interested only in the loudest, brightest, most colorful rides. Game developers go for the popular additions instead of more meaningful, more impactful, longer term improvements.
When I was beta testing Tabula Rasa, I sent one of the developers a message asking if more abilities would get added to each class. I thought it would be a great way to add depth and variety to the game considering that each class has only a few unique abilities and that there are 5-, 10-, and 15-level gaps between the acquisition of new skills and powers. They told me there were no plans to add abilities. Instead of improving the CORE of the game (characters and combat), Destination Games and NCSoft decided that holiday events were more important. I canceled my subscription to TR out of boredom before my included month was over.
In their defense, DG and NCSoft did add meaningful things like an auction house and new instances. I just think that something CORE to the game, something that would make an impact at ALL levels of play, should take precedence over just about everything else.
You might say that it is more important to fill out the game's feature list before focusing on more long-term improvements. In TR's case, the developers are (hopefully) giving the game all the expected features before moving on to making the core of the game more diverse and entertaining. I want to believe this, I really do, but then I think of City of Heroes.
I have never played a more misguided game than City of Heroes. Cryptic had this gem in their hands - the only superhero MMORPG on the market - and they buried it under a mountain of worthless fluff. The game is years past release and there are CORE improvements that countless beta testers and players have made solid cases for, yet Cryptic was more interested in adding costume pieces, underutilized features (Arena, SG bases), and heaps of recycled door missions. City of Heroes, for me, is thoroughly bland, repetitive, and boring because the developers decided to ignore core game play.
I would LOVE to be enticed to go back and play CoH - I have characters there I really like. But there is no way I am paying $15/month so I can grind missions that take place in recycled environments, fight clumps of blindingly stupid NPCs, and play an endgame that consists of typical "the-same-but-with-more-hitpoints" style content. No amount of costume pieces, new power sets, and UI improvements make the CORE of the game any better.
MMORPGs are more and more being released without commonly-expected features, probably in an attempt to release early, then impress subscribers with "free" updates. In reality, all those updates do are add features that should have been included at release. The result is a continual game of catch up, where fluff additions are tacked on while the core game is ignored.

Oh Noes! PC Gaming is Dead!

Posted by TesterNGS Wednesday December 19 2007 at 2:53PM
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Oh Noes! PC Gaming is Dead! 

It seems that every year some writer declares the End of PC Gaming. I don't want to direct any traffic to the article I am responding to here, but in summary, this guy got a journalistic stiffy when he saw that big-name games like Crysis sold poorly on the PC, while similarly hyped games like Call of Duty 4 raked in millions on consoles. To this guy, a few poor sales figures means that PC gaming is dead. By that logic, shouldn't the movie and music industries have gone out of business by now?
The writer does raise a couple valid points. One, that digital download games from, for example, the Steam distribution platform, performed very well. And two, that the insane system requirements for games like Crysis have turned some gamers away. He also mentions that piracy has damaged PC gaming. And while that's true to an extent, piracy is a MUCH bigger problem for the music industry, but somehow the music industry is still doing well enough to crank out all kinds of new music.
The writer fails to mention a few interesting facts, probably in an attempt to make his Doom and Gloom story more shocking.
First, this is the holiday season. Console prices have been cut and publishers have released their best games in an attempt to boost their sales. Lo and behold - it works! Just like it does every year. Its not as if consoles have a constant parade of blockbuster games coming out - where are the record-breaking sales during the spring and summer?
Second, consoles have a distinct advantage when it comes to generating game sales. When someone buys a console, they will purchase their favorite shooters, sports games, and so on. Then, when an NEW console comes out, players will purchase their favorite games AGAIN (sequels) so they can have improved graphics and a few new features. The same thing happened when CD and DVD players came out (and now HD DVDs). On the other hand, PC gamers can keep their favorite games much longer. I already have a great shooter game, so I have no desire to buy a shooter-clone with absurd system requirements, like Crysis or Unreal 3. Console gamers are more likely to buy new games since they more often replace outdated games they had on previous consoles.
Third, unless a game is a PC exclusive, and few are, then the developer and publisher make money regardless of if the big sales are on consoles or the PC. Its all the same to them. Furthermore, the PC is a terrific entry point for small/niche game developers, much better than the console market, since there is very little cost involved in getting your product out to the masses over the internet.
PC gaming is not dead. Would PC gaming benefit from less focus on machine-crippling graphics, an influx of quality games, and more widespread digital distribution? Of course. But PC games being outsold this year doesn't mean a whole lot right now.

Edit: Corrected error.

How to Kill the Grind

Posted by TesterNGS Tuesday December 18 2007 at 3:36PM
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How to Kill the Grind

Surely I'm not the first guy to presume to tell developers what I think they should do to reduce the grind feeling that creeps into most MMORPGs, but I'm going to write this anyway.
To me, the grind becomes notiecable when you begin to do the same thing in the same manner over and over again. Its great if PvE combat consists of taking aim, pressing a button a few times, then maybe using a special move. But when you do that again and again without the need or ability to change things up, then it becomes a grind. Kill tasks, delivery missions, and item collection quests are fine, but when you force players to do them over and over, while they fight recycled critters by pressing the same three buttons, then you've created a noticeable grind. So what can developers do to hide the grind?
Speed, variety, and balance, for me, are the keys to making the grind less noticeable.

A fast game will hide the grind behind a steady stream of quick encounters (when it makes sense). A fast game also has the benefit of making players feel powerful - we typically play heroic characters after all and, to me, its not heroic to slog it out with an angry boar for 30 seconds. A short encounter duration (the time it takes you to kill that boar) means that you're not standing in one place for a long time cycling your attack animation. It keeps you moving, which goes a long way to hiding the grind.
Balance also goes a long way to mitigating the grind feeling. If a game forces players to stop playing and start grinding, then its out of balance. With a few exceptions, when you're at a certain point in a game, you should be able to consume all the basic content that exists for your level range. A bad example of this kind of balance is WoW, which forces players to stop playing and start grinding faction just so they can gain access to a piece of content. A balanced game keeps players on track and gives them in a steady stream of achievement, and that helps the game feel less like a grind.
Even if your game is slow and unbalanced, a monumental amount of variety will keep it feeling fresh. Combat becomes boring when every fight is executed in the same manner - so add more critter behavior, animations, and abilities. Questing becomes boring when you're on your 10th kill task of the day - so add more and different goals. Simply exploring the game becomes boring when the climate and terrain doesn't change - so add points of interest and vibrant zones, and give players quests that make them experience that variety. Even gaining powerful items becomes boring if they look similar to another item you used 10 levels ago. Variety is king.
Of those three things, variety is probably the toughest one to get right. This is because its just so easy for developers to recycle content. It saves budget and gets the game done (and making money) much faster. Lack of variety is the biggest reason I've canceled my subscription to every MMORPG I've played, including Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes.
In summary, I feel that a "grind-free" (players will always create their own grind) game is a game that keeps the player moving, provides many valid avenues of advancement, and that is always giving players something new. Will such a game ever exist? For some people it already does, but not for me, and not for all the gamers who constantly jump from game to game looking for one that finally gets it right.

The Virtue of the Grind

Posted by TesterNGS Monday December 17 2007 at 3:03PM
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The Virtue of the Grind

People, at least in my slice of the world, seem to find virtue in hardship. They feel an inexorable need to tell those around them of their hardships, just so you know how terrific they are for working through them. Some people think that they are a better person than you because they've had to work though something difficult.
I have found that the same attitude persists in the online world. People who play Vanguard take pride in the fact that VG is a "hard" game, which as you know simply means things take more time to obtain. The masochists who play Final Fantasy XI love to tell you about how long they've been playing and how many hours they've spent forming the perfect party for some quest. Hardcore WoW players will look down upon those who don't spend 20 hours a week preparing for weekend-long raids. Players in EVE brag about the number of mindless hours they've spent mining ore. Even in the online world, people think they are entitled to your undying admiration just because they've chosen to spend their free time with their nose to the virtual grindstone.
Of course, this attitude may not exist in the online world if developers could figure out how to reduce the grind feeling. I think its possible to an extent, but that's a topic for another blog.

Socialization = Difficulty

Posted by TesterNGS Saturday December 15 2007 at 7:30AM
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Socialization = Difficulty

MMORPGs are easy games. Typically, all you need to do to get ahead is spend time playing. Most games lead you to max level along a fairly linear path, punishing you with the death of your character if you stray off course. And really, all a death means in a MMORPG is that you need to spend more time getting back to where you were before the death. Most MMOs are carefully crafted so that the solo player always experiences content suited to their relative power level. As long as you can click buttons in a certain order, you win.
MMORPGs have to be easy thanks to their business model. Successful subscribers are happy subscribers. No one would pay $15 per month to have their virtual ass continually handed to them by a Large Spider. Well, some players might, but that's a topic for another blog entry. If players are always gaining wealth, power, levels, or items, then they are happy. If a game is difficult, then they get rewarded less often and thus aren't happy, so they unsubscribe.
But there has to be something in the game for players who want a challenge. There has to be awesome rewards that set you apart from other players. This is where the game forces you into socialization. Want to finish that Elite quest? Get a group. Want to go raiding? Form a guild. Want to stand a chance in large scale PvP? You'd better have some friends. The biggest challenges and biggest rewards a game offers requires that you socialize with other players, and that socialization is often more difficult than the baddest boss the game can throw at you.
Face it, some people just don't work well in groups. They don't pay attention, they don't follow rules or tactics. They don't do the work required to fill their role in a raid. They don't listen to TeamSpeak and they're constantly AFK. We've all suffered these kinds of fools. How many of you have thought, "This would be SO much easier if everyone would get here on time and pay attention."
PvP teams in Guild Wars are more successful if PEOPLE communicate.
Bosses in WoW go down faster if PEOPLE pay attention and fill their roles well.
Corporations in EVE simply cannot prosper if PEOPLE don't contribute.
Perma-parties in FFXI level much faster because the PEOPLE in the party have a vested interest in getting ahead.
So in the end, when a game developer wants to add challenge to their game, they create situations that require players to work together, to socialize. Naturally they can create bosses with more hit points and other such things to make them more challenging, but  bosses have to be able to be killed and PEOPLE are often more challenging than the boss itself.

Do I think that MMO developers should ban group content because its sometime difficult to find good people with whom to group? No, of course not. I just find it interesting that other players can be just as big an obstacle to success as the meanest dragon or toughest grind.


EVE Player Record - What CCP Didn't Tell You

Posted by TesterNGS Friday December 14 2007 at 3:51PM
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EVE Player Record - What CCP Didn't Tell You

I think I was logged in when EVE broke its concurrent player record. It was an impressive jump, going from their previous record of about 38k players to around 42k, but there are a couple things that weren't mentioned in the blurbs CCP released to the media.
Popular locations in the game were unplayable. The trade and newbie hub of Jita, always a lagpit, swallowed players like a fat kid swallows cake. You would literally wait minutes for actions to register. This turned Jita into a prime spot for suicide griefers who would take advantage of the lag to blow up a few helpless players. Smart pilots avoided Jita like the plague, but Jita is an important hub for trade and Agent-given missions, so passing through Jita was almost unavoidable for many new players. Why didn't CCP shut down Jita or turn off missions going to that area in light of the player surge? See the next point.
Much of that record-breaking number was made up of trial account players checking out the new expansion. This doesn't invalidate the record, but it should be mentioned. I imagine that many of the trial accounts were former players checking out Trinity to see if EVE is worth subscribing to again, and brand new players wanting to get in on hype of the new expansion. CCP knew that many of its concurrent players were trial accounts, and they knew that once the initial gotta-see-the-graphics surge was up, that the number of concurrent players would drop. This may be why they didn't take any steps to make Jita playable during the surge. When I logged in yesterday, EVE had a more typical count of around 34k players.
I'm not saying that CCP is a bunch of liars - Trinity is a great expansion and deserves all the good press it gets - I just didn't want anyone to be fooled by a one-sided press release.