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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

CoX: The Dead Zone (or Please Wake Me When I'm 21)

Posted by cmagoun Friday August 29 2008 at 8:52AM
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In CoX, a new, level 1 hero gets 2 powers, 1 from his primary powerset and 1 from his secondary set. After that, for your first 32 levels, you get a shiny new power every other level. On odd levels you get enhancement slots that are placed into powers to make them better. This advancement system, while not terribly interesting, is a pretty good conversion of the standard EQ/WoW style progression to the superhero genre.

But this is a blog, so most certainly, I am going to complain about something, right? Well ok, if you insist, I do have a tiny issue with CoX's character progression system.

See, if you are ever designing an MMO, I want you to keep in mind that your character progression system should have one major goal -- keep me interested in my character. As I am leveling up with whatever grossly repetetive grinding/questing system you devise, I occassionally transcend my miserable "kill 1000 radioactive ferrets and bring their eyeteeth to that signpost that looks just like a guy for 13 coppers and a potion of Sweet Release" existance because every so often, I will level... and hopefully be granted some new buttons upon which to click, after which those freakin' ferrets are toast... faster.

Rampant cynicism aside, keeping players interested as they level up is key. Give them new powers... and not just more powerful versions of their old attacks. Give players different powers to play with and hopefully, the ability to deal with new game situations. CoX generally does this quite well. As you level up, you get more interesting abilities and grow more powerful in relation to the game environment.

But then... you hit level 12 and enter... The Dead Zone.

To explain for those uninitiated in the vagaries of CoX, at level 14 you can take your travel power -- superspeed, flight, superleap or teleport. These travel powers are in general power pools, which are groups of 4 powers. Since the travel power is the second tier power in the pool, you have to take one of two possible prerequisites. For instance, to take Flight at 14, you have to take either Hover or Air Superiority sometime before. To take Superleap, you need to already have either Hasten, or some other power no one ever takes.

If you are like many players, and push taking your prerequisite power off until level 12, you essentially have two consecutive power picks that are non-choices -- if you want to leap tall buildings in a single bound, you are taking Combat Jumping (leap tall dumpsters in a single bound) at level 12 and Superleap at 14. Not too bad... and Superleap is worth the useful, but dull, prereq Combat Jumping.

However, there is another desirable pool power called Stamina. Stamina increases the rate at which your Endurance (equivalent to mana in a fantasy game) recovers. Since almost all powers require endurance, Stamina allows you to fight longer and move from fight to fight quicker and with less downtime. It is a very desirable power, but it is also the third tier power in its pool, meaning you can't take it until level 20 and you must have TWO other powers in that pool.

So, you just got done taking sort of mandatory powers at levels 12 and 14. Now for levels 16 and 18 you have to choose between the oh so exciting Swift (run a little faster), Hurdle (jump a little higher) and Health (heal a little faster) so you can get to Stamina by 20. This means that between levels 12 and 20, most of your power picks are almost entirely predetermined and horribly dull. Add to that the fact that your leveling is slowing a bit at this point and you have an 8 level dead zone where the character progression system fails.

Before this dead zone is fast and furious as you get used to your shiny new costume and powers. After, if you push through the dead zone, you get to see your character mature into a powerhouse which is a lot of fun...

But I have a lot of dusty level 15s and 16s on my account. The CoX team has always said they do a lot of "datamining" which guides their hand in developing the game. I wonder if anyone has done a study on what levels of characters are most often deleted. I'll bet you the majority of deleted characters fall somewhere in that 12-21 range.

As new games are created, I hope designers keep CoX's Dead Zone in mind.

Age of ... Bunched Panties?

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday August 20 2008 at 12:59PM
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In recent blog posts and on the forums here and elsewhere there is a hue and cry over the recent release of AoC. Every poor launch brings a cacophony of complaints that, "we are tired of paying for beta" and "the devs/publishers are big companies and they don't care about us", or "do they even play their own game?" and "get it 100% done and perfect before release".

Look, we all know software is complex and MMOs are the mostt complex software around. Add to that the fact that not only are you trying to create running computer software, but also trying to create content and a game's ruleset, and that's quite a bit to get "100% done and perfect". Held to this standard, no MMO would have ever been released.

There was nothing wrong with the releases of Hellgate London, AoC, Fury, and Vanguard. There was nothing wrong with the SWG NGE, or EQ2's revamp, or Enhancement Diversification in CoX.

Let that sink in... nothing wrong.

How can I say that? The companies in question did what they thought was best for them, or possibly what they thought they needed to do to survive. That might mean releasing "too soon" (too soon to gamers might have meant "just in time to meet payroll" for the company), or maybe making huge changes to core gameplay of a mature game. The companies thought they were doing what they needed to do to survive and compete in a tough business.

And... in most cases, the market punished them and rightfully so.

On the other hand, some games survive bad launches or game changes. Anarchy Online was a bad launch and it still exists today. EQ2 made major gameplay changes to character progression, crafting and combat and it is a better game than it ever was. As maligned as Sony is, they saved Vanguard and by many accounts, it is getting stronger with each new update. CoX is better because of the nerf that was ED. People are still playing Age of Conan.

There is a very fine line between a good change and a bad change, or a good launch and a dismal failure. There is a fine line between a "timely release" and "making people pay for beta."

You know what that line is? Simple. Do people like your game enough to put up with the crap associated with the messy business which are MMOs?

That's it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Does the good outweigh the bad? I am sure that the original EQ had issues during its lifetime. I remember problems logging into Asheron's Call when I started. Meridian 59 most certainly disappointed someone. Shadowbane was a clunky mess at times. Every game has issues, but does your game bring something to the table that overshadows those issues?

I bought Age of Conan, played a month, then uninstalled. Why? Because for me it brought nothing to the table that wasn't done better elsewhere. Someone else certainly feels differently. Good for them. I hope, whether they are paying for beta or not, they continue to play and support the game they like because if they do, that game will likely survive and get better and you will continue to like it. As soon as you don't enjoy it any more... cancel and move on. No need to howl and foam at the mouth.

It's just a game, right?

Non-Combat Skill Systems Part 2 (Or The Winner Is... Darklands???)

Posted by cmagoun Monday August 18 2008 at 3:43PM
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So back to the discussion on non-combat skill systems in MMOs. Or maybe not... see there isn't much to talk about. A few posters responded with examples from Vanguard and Eve, but there really isn't much in the MMO world not related to combat & crafting. That is the state of the games we play -- no one has figured out how to do a skill system in an MMO.

Now, I have a solution... not a perfect solution, mind you... but a starting point for us to discuss the Next-Generation of MMOs. And to discuss this exciting new, revolutionary system, we are going to have to change our clocks and fast forward them to...

1992??????

Yes 1992, the year when Microprose put out an ambitious CRPG called Darklands. If you've never heard of Darklands before, here is a link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darklands_%28computer_game%29. If you are interested in game design, or the history of CRPGs, or just cool games in general, this is definitely a game to check out. In its time, Darklands was noted for its open-ended gameplay, its unique setting, the character generation system and its combat system.

The skill system was also interesting in that quite a bit of the interaction between player and the system was through text descriptions and multiple choice responses.

No really, stick with me here...

So, I might be traveling through the wilderness with my team of medieval German adventurers when we would be confronted with the following scenario:

You hear the snap of a twig and an chorus of low, angry growls all around you. Peering into the trees, you see a dozen pairs of eyes glinting with your torchlight. You have stumbled upon a pack of hungry wolves that pace in an ever-tightening circle around you. You have only a few moments before they attack. What do you do?

A. Have Hans use his Animal Handling skill to offer the starving beasts food so as to distract them long enough to make your escape.

B. Have Deiter cast a Fireball at the alpha wolf hoping to scare the pack away.

C. Have Agathe use her Theology skill to pray to St. Ailbe, patron of wolves, and petition him to send the pack away.

D. Prepare to fight!!

For choices A and C, the character in question would make a skill roll and if successful, the combat would be avoided. Choice B would probably apply a flat chance of avoiding the battle. Of course, choice D, or a failure on the other options, would start the combat sequence.

This is a simplistic example, but you can imagine a system in which these "Skill Segments" would appear like cutscenes at certain points in a mission or instance. A Skill Segment would have a descriptive text and a list of powers, abilities and skills that would become the basis for the prompts. Every prompt would then start a bit of logic that would adjudicate the skill test and its results and change the scenario accordingly before putting characters back into the "normal" game.

So, you are playing Generic Fantasy MMO #5028 (GF for short) and you take a quest to from a merchants' guild to punish a local merchant that was late on his dues. You enter a building which spawns an instance (instancing is not necessary, but we'll assume it here to make our "design" easier to picture) and just inside that instance is another door with two burly guards blocking the way. As soon as you approach the guards, you get a skill segment. The two guards block your way. They are very tough and could possibly be a match for your party... I will not assault your eyes by trying to write flavor text for the scene, but you get the idea. How are you going to get around these guys???

The game then checks through the list of skills (or powers) that the quest designer has listed as active. For our hypothetical example, let's say the designer has listed bribery, deception, and streetwise as the skills and has also marked the spells/powers create illusion, invisibility and sleep as active. Your group consists of a burglar with the skills deception, stealth and streetwise, a mage with invisibility and sleep and a couple fighters, one of which has the bribery skill and tactics.

The players might see this list:

A. You can bribe the guards. FighterGuy is uncertain of success, but thinks that 200 cp is a good price to start.

Choosing this option has FighterGuy roll a skill test against his bribery skill. If successful, the guards disappear. Otherwise, the group might lose more than the 200 cp, the bribe might be rebuked (meaning you go back to the options screen, but with option A greyed out), or the guards might be incensed and attack.

B. ThiefGuy can trick the guards into chasing him, leaving the door unguarded. These guys look dumb, ThiefGuy is fairly certain of success.

If ThiefGuy makes his deception roll, the guards disappear, or perhaps even start to chase ThiefGuy (who must then evade them the normal MMO way) while the rest of the group continues on. There would have to be some benefit to taking the skill option as opposed to simply attacking the guards. Perhaps the guards would chase ThiefGuy, but be slowed so as to give the PC an advantage...

C. Perhaps there is another way into the merchant's house? ThiefGuy could ask around.

Success here takes the group to the back door, or some other unguarded entrance that is otherwise unaccessable.

D. MageGuy can try to cast invisibility, turning the entire group invisible. This will take a great deal of effort, but will allow you to get past the guards.

Since invisibility is generally self-only, this will cost MageGuy a ton of mana, and perhaps some kind of skill roll to make it work. Success puts the group beyond the door with the guards none the wiser.

E. MageGuy can cast sleep on the guards, allowing you to walk past them. If the guards resist the spell, they will certainly attack.

The guards would get saving throws and if they succeeded, they would attack.

F. The group charges the guards... but FighterGuy notices (tactics) that they have horns on their belts. Is it possible they will call for reinforcements?

This puts the group into combat with the guards who unless silenced, or otherwise disabled, blow their horns and call more guards to the scene. In this case, the system made the tactics roll beforehand and because FighterGuy succeeded, put that warning in the last option.

So, here is a start... something to think about and discuss. I will continue with this line of thought in my next post. Is this sort of system actually possible in an MMO? Interesting? Not worth it? What do you think?

Remind Me Why I Rolled on Freedom? (Or One PUG's Story)

Posted by cmagoun Saturday August 16 2008 at 9:54AM
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Generally, I run with a group of what I call "post-modern" CoX players (I'll talk about them some in a future post). They are good friends and great players, forming uber farming teams and rolling through pretty much everything they come across. It's great XP ... but sometimes boring. See, these guys have been playing pretty much straight through since beta. I've been offline about half that time and so every time I reopen my account, there is something I've missed. Of course, these guys have mostly seen it all, or don't care to see it all and so while I can farm to 50 with these guys all day... I might never see most of the game.

To experience the rest of the game, I created a new character on the heavily populated Freedom server and decided that I would level to 50 in pick-up groups with only the occassional interlude of soloing. Thus a new Plant/Storm controller, Song of Land and Sky, was born. Yes, I know, the name is fruity... but I sort of like it... and do you have any idea how hard it is to get a reasonable name on Freedom???

So, after a few solo runs and a few more pick up groups (have I ever told you how much I truly love the Hollows?), I have leveled Song to 16. Late last night, I am tooling around, trying to figure out what to do, or if in fact, I should just head to bed, when I get that fateful tell:

"Can you heal? We need another healer."

I sadly replied that I did not in fact, heal, but instead brought confusion and holds to the table. I figured this would kill the conversation, but surprisingly I got another tell:

"That might work. We are fighting CoT." And along came the invite.

Now, I should have been wary. I generally feel that most teams in CoX don't need any healers and this guy indicated that they needed another healer. Not one... another. With that single word, I created an entire scenario in my mind; a scenario of scrappers charging into a horde of purples, of wanton fire blasters firing Rain of Aggro... I mean Fire, of team wipes.

Sign me up!!!! I accepted, greeted the team and headed straight to the mission door.

Once in, we were faced with a gaggle of level 19 purple CoT. The first few battles went... ok. Slow, but steady and we didn't get into too much trouble. However, the first room we came to, the tank charged in and three Ruin Mages (and sundry minions) started pounding him... He dropped like a stone. I missed my Seeds of Confusion... which would not have handled the bosses anyway... and managed to buy my team an entire 0.3 seconds to flee as they eviscerated me and chuckled over my corpse. Within seconds, everyone was at the hospital heading back to the mission.

You know it is going to be a long night when you find yourself thinking how convenient it is that the hospital is less than 300 yards from the door.

Now, the tank is talking about finding another healer and though I usually try to stay off the soapbox, I felt the need to point out that healing wouldn't have helped much in that room. No healer of our level would have kept up with that onslaught.

We decided to pull.

Pulling goes OK for a few minutes and then people start getting antsy. Inevitably, "corner" pulling degrades into "hallway" pulling, degrades into "at the door of the room" pulling, degrades into "I will go with you pulling". So, our dark defender was essentially following the tank into the room, forgetting he had his targetted heal on auto...

At least this hospital serves Jello!!!

We head back and surprisingly, we've learned our lesson. The non-pullers stay back somewhat and we have a couple good pulls and start slogging through the room pull by pull. Hey, debt's gone... time to make more!

This one is totally my fault. We have mostly cleared the first room. There is maybe a group left and we have charged it. I am spamming confuse and holds and the occassional attack (I have serious energy issues at this stage). It is tough, but we are doing well. Suddenly, I see a flash of red in the corner of my screen. It seems we have an add or perhaps a runner. I WILL TAKE CARE OF HIM!!!!

So I dash after him... and am instantly gutted by the dozen or so of his buddies sitting just around the corner. I pull the adds, die, and then the baddies roll up the rest of the team.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get bloodstains out of Lycra?

Ok, lesson learned... no need to be the hero... or at least use some stealth when dashing willy-nilly around corners.

A few more battles and we have our collective stuff together. We cap a couple more groups and head into the next hallway. I am following the tank closely when we walk through a doorway and back out again, pursued by a convention of angry CoT. Strangely enough, this doesn't cause another team wipe. We pull the CoT through the door and the controllers manage to get the fight under control. As the enemy comes through, they are held, confused, debuffed and subsequently slaughtered. The doorway is clear... we are still standing...

And that's when the dozen or so Unbound Nictus start pouring through...

Not a Kheldian in sight, but somehow, we spawn a Crystal. And while we were valiantly fighting the CoT, what we didn't see is that there were two crystals spawning their little black clouds of death the entire time. There are at least a dozen of them and they make quick work of our unprepared team.

Back to the hospital... again... and again... and

See, those crystals had built up quite a head of steam and had filled the antechamber with nictus. We had to zip through that mess to get to the crystals and engage them. All the while, more nictus are spawning. It made quite the gauntlet to run. Finally, we bust through, attack the crystals and...

BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh right, forgot about the blowy uppy thing when you kill one of the crystals... and presumably our blaster has never seen it because she is dead and spouting a whole load of WTF!!! on the team chat.

But now the final door is in sight. Victory is ours with just one more room. Click the door and there are no less than 3 bosses sitting right there, all in a tight clump, staring at us and daring us to cross the threshold.

It is at this time that my own boss... my wife gently reminded me that it was 1:00 am in the morning and the baby was awake and perhaps I should tend to him. And so I had to leave my team in the lurch... I wonder if they ever got that other healer?

Now, it might sound like I had a miserable time. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had a great time. The mission was hard. The players were fun and did a nice job given the circumstances. I was laughing the whole time. This is why I still play CoX and why I rolled on Freedom!!

Non-Combat Skill Systems (Anyone seen one?)

Posted by cmagoun Thursday August 14 2008 at 8:22AM
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Having dabbled in way too many MMOs, I find that generally, aside from crafting/gathering skills, non-combat skills are second-class citizens. This makes sense of course -- the games are combat games, after all, but wouldn't it be nice, as a change of pace, if you could use diplomacy to convince the goblins to stop looting the village as opposed to wiping them off the face of the earth? Or perhaps, when confronted by a surprise attack by wolves, if you could use your superior animal handling skill to avoid the attack?

Unfortunately, most MMOs don't have non-combat skill systems that can go that deep. You get stealth and crafting and that's about it. Vanguard's Diplomacy system is one notable exception. (Anyone know any others?) I am talking skill systems that allow you to solve quests in ways aside from combat, or systems that change the players' interaction with the world and the NPCs... and aren't about DPS.

I can't think of any either :) Help me out here. What games have you played that have the best non-combat skill systems? Heck, what games have you played WITH a non-combat skill system?

More to come on this topic, but first I wanted to see what others had experienced.

Balance By Tedium (Or Get Your Freakin' Bots Out of My Doorway!!!)

Posted by cmagoun Tuesday August 12 2008 at 2:54PM
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I do love MMOs, and of all the MMOs I have played, CoX has been one that I keep finding myself coming back to. I enjoy the fast combats, the costume creator, and the tons of permutations of characters made even more interesting with the addition of inventions. I love CoX.

But it certainly has its flaws.

Character balance is a huge one. There are definitely ATs and combinations that overperform and others that underperform. There is n doubt in my mind that scrappers, tankers and brutes have an advantage in the high level game due to their status protection. Likewise certain mastermind combinations are essentially tank-mages (say Bots/Force Field) that can tear through almost any content solo or on teams.

But I am not really posting to complain about overpowered classes. I don't really care. I enjoy the game for what it is and understand that I can customize my level of challenge and team/solo effectiveness by choosing one combination over the others. It isn't an imbalance; it's a feature!!!

Nope, this blog post is about a one-off comment a friend made while playing his mastermind. This was a mission team, jumping from a sewer mission, to a cave mission, back to a sewer mission... and this guy had to resummon every mission and had occassional issues with bots getting stuck or lost. So, eight missions in and we are standing by the door in yet another cave and this guy sighs and says,

"Masterminds, balanced by teduim"

Ok, that was a long buildup to that punchline, but that comment stuck with me. Could that really have been the intent? 'We'll make this powerful class that can do damage and tank and buff and debuff but it will be a pain to play..." Huh?

And I see the tedium elsewhere in the design. All of the shielding defender sets have 4 minute buff timers. Not horrible, but can get tedious on big, fast-moving teams. Kinetics has Speed Boost on a two-minute timer. Does it make any sense that on an 8-man team, my Kinetic just spams Speed Boost whenever the team isn't fighting? Does that really make me a better player? And is it really a balancing point for the awesomeness of Fulcrum Shift?

I am not sure I have a good point here aside from the fact that it would be nice if Speed Boost was on a longer timer and if mastermind pets would come through a door. What do you think?

Competitive Missions in CoH

Posted by cmagoun Monday August 11 2008 at 9:43AM
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(Reposted from CoH forums...)

So I was thinking that it would be really cool to have missions in which players competed in a variety of events. Some ideas off the top of my head:

Steamroller -- The Steamroller mission would be a standard warehouse mission map containing enemies of a certain type and level (based on the highest member of the team probably). The difficulty would always be the same (say the 4th level in the list for teams and 2nd for solo entries). The goal is to clear the map as quickly as possible, pushing your team's limit by rushing from spawn to spawn. Best times are recorded for a given category of level ranges at the end of the week are given a temporary power.

Ambushville -- This map room large enough to move around in, but not so large as to allow characters to disengage and flee from combat. The terrain is mostly open, but with some stacks of barrels and crates so as to permit some positional tactics. After a brief setup period, the room starts spawning ambushes from random locations along the walls. The ambushes come slowly at first, but then increase in frequency until 2, 3 or even more groups are likely to be spawned at the same time. The goal is to survive the onslaught as long as possible, racking up kills until the inevitable team wipe.

Zone Jumper -- This solo event would only be for superjumpers (or a temp power could be given). The goal is to leap from building to building to get across a zone (King's Row is good, Bricks, I am sure there are others) as quickly as possible without touching the ground. If you touch the ground, you are teleported back to the start to either exit or try again.

Precision Flying -- This solo event is only for flyers... and everyone's flight is boosted to the cap for the duration of the mission. The goal is to navigate a sewer course, complete with doorways, pipes, crates and other obstacles, and touch the glowie at the end.

Superspeeder Course -- Similar to the above two movement power events, the superspeeder course would pit characters in a race on a series of hallways, platforms and stairs and would require that the participants exhibit precision running and jumping techniques.

Police Course -- For solo players, the Police Course consists of a series of rooms linked by closed doors. Each room contains a number of initially friendly NPCs milling about. A few seconds after the player enters the room, several of the NPCs turn hostile (as indicated by a subtle change -- the color of their name perhaps). The player has several seconds to react and defeat the newly hostile NPCs without hitting the civilians. After a few seconds pass, the NPCs open fire on the player, making his life even more difficult. Once all hostiles are defeated, the door opens and the player can move to the next room. Your time is recorded, but every hit to a civilian adds a hefty penalty to your time.

See you in game,
 

MMO Combats Are Silly (or Do We Need More A or More I?)

Posted by cmagoun Friday August 8 2008 at 1:14PM
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(Warning: This is a bit of a rehash of an idea I had a long time ago... still worth mentioning and posting here I think)

In almost every player's MMO life, in every game, there comes a time where combat becomes a rote exercise. Ok... group of three guys, start with the debuffs, then my AoE attack, then pick off the weak guy, if I get into trouble, try my hold and retreat... Teams are often even worse. Tank goes in and grabs aggro. Healer heals the tank. Cannons assist the tank and wait until he has sufficiently taunted the spawn. Crowd Control be ready for adds...

Now, there are slight variations game to game, and I still think that in the right situation, any game can produce a challenging and fun combat. It is just that after a certain point, the cool combats become few and the mind-numbing, "hit the 2 button, then the 3 button, then the 2 button, then the 4 button..." stuff becomes more common.

Often, I will hear talk, or read posts where people talk about "better AI" in a computer game. In fact, one of my friends was recently bemoaning the boring combat AI in CoH. "I feel that combats in CoH have become dull and repetitive, Chris. Certainly a better AI would be the proper solution." Well, he didn't really say it like that. In fact he was a tad drunk and so his critique came out more like, "Dude, the f'ing opponents in this game are f'ing stupid. Those f'ing programmers need to stop f'ing nerfing f'ing Energy Melee and write some f'ing AI!!! (burp)."

But here's the key: programming a computer opponent for a game is hard. Programming a computer opponent that can actually engage and challenge a human player with any level of skill is even harder. Chess programs are perhaps the most successful examples of this type of program and the techniques used there, not to mention the coding effort, and processing power involved would not translate well to an MMO.

The good news is that you don't really need a good computer opponent to run your MMO combats. You are trying to provide interesting and challenging combats; you aren't actually trying to win against the players. Players don't want to be beaten as much as they want to be surprised, challenged and given interesting situations to which they have to react. The current aggro-based system in CoH does none of this.

What if we change the system and give the computer opponents a few more behaviors from which to choose. When the players first engage a spawn, it usually behaves in the old, dull way. However, there is a small chance that they will react with a pre-set behavior, chosen randomly from a list (but based on the characters in the attacking group). In CoX, I can imagine that if a group had a boss in it, the boss might call out the orders to his minions, thus giving the players a heads-up as to what was coming.

Divide and Conquer -- All enemies in the spawn pick a random target from the player team and aggro onto him. Player tanks and crowd control will have to act quickly to save their less hardy teammates. The aggro is enough that a single taunt won't cause the enemy to retarget, but it will take multiple taunt-type powers, or holds to get the situation back under control.

Scatter -- The enemies aggro as normal, but also do their best to keep players at a distance and use ranged attacks. This spreads the fight out, making AoE attacks less useful. It also adds potential danger as the PCs spread themselves out to engage the outliers, possibly getting into 1-on-1 fights they cannot win, or wandering into other spawns. A disciplined team ought to be able to stand their ground and pick off opponents, but an undisciplined team might get themselves into trouble.

Spring the Trap --  The enemies aggro as normal, but also cause a similar-sized group to spawn nearby and rush to the combat. Within a few seconds, the new combatants arrive to make life difficult. Crowd control characters will have to pay close attention, find the new spawn and neuter it before any damage can be done. Alternately, for a nastier surprise, the enemies can teleport in, or deactivate their invisibility shields and appear right on top of the fight.

Use the New <blank> Rays We've Acquired -- The enemies aggro like normal, but instead of their normal attacks, they get a new attack of a random type that they don't normally have. Not a big deal in most cases, but it is possible that the new attack type hits a specific hole in the characters' defenses (could be psi in CoH). Players will have to grin and bear the new attack type, or use holds to prevent from being attacked.

Run for Help -- The enemies flee from combat to the nearest spawn. Once they reach that spawn, both spawns will turn toward the players and attack. Players will have to kill the enemies quickly, slow them, or hold them to avoid adds.

Bob, You Run for Help -- Similar to the above order, but instead, only one guy will run for help, while the rest of the spawn fights. If Bob reaches a spawn, it aggros to the players' location and Bob will continue to the next nearest spawn. Players will need to find Bob in the chaos of battle and deal with him quickly, or else the whole map could come down on them.

... and so on... I could think of more, but I think you get the idea. What do you think?

 

Ding!!!

Posted by cmagoun Thursday August 7 2008 at 1:43PM
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So I have finally gotten a character to level 50 in CoH. One of my original characters, Monochrome Girl, dinged last just last month. This after me playing City of Heroes on and off since open beta. Man, am I slow... Lots of alts and lots of time away from the game.

Not a whole bunch more to the story than that. I played CoH for a long time and finally got to 50. It has been a fun ride and it is interesting to me to see how the game has changed.

I remember City of Blasters
I remember City of Burn Tankers
I remember when Smoke Grenade was King
I remember Perma-Hasten and Perma-Accelerate Metabolism
I remember when I could summon 3 Phantasms or 9 Fire Imps to do my bidding
I remember cursing those Tsoo Sorcerers trying to get the badge
I remember when Flash was useful... really, really useful
I remember when Tanks could herd whole zones into dumpsters
I remember getting hit hard by ED
I remember getting hit hard by the AoE Control nerf
I remember when Dark/Dark defenders stunk
I remember the joy I felt becoming a Tank Smasher
I remember the relatively brief period where Containment made Mono a force of destruction

The game has changed a lot and I think for the better. Here's to four more years... maybe I'll get another character to 50 in that time :)

No Really Age of Conan, It's Not You, It's Me

Posted by cmagoun Thursday August 7 2008 at 8:21AM
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Fueled by memories of Anarchy Online and the promise of a new, spiffy combat system that would free me from the drudgery of boring MMO button-click combats, I bought AoC. I found my Herald of Xotil and my Dark Templar to be fun enough, and the new combat system, though nowhere near delivering a truly new MMO fighting experience, was reasonably engaging. The graphics were certainly pretty and I thought the character models were some of the best I had ever seen in an MMO.

And yet for me, it didn't rise above a certain level of mediocrity. I thought the character progression was a dull rehash of what you could get in WoW. Like every other MMO, combats became repetitive after 100 iterations. The game felt heavily instanced and often times empty. The single player experience was interesting and I liked the story, but well, I don't play MMOs to be alone... even when I am soloing.

I don't think AoC is a bad game. In fact, I think it is a good game. But when I fire up a new MMO, I am largely doing so for the novelty and well, AoC isn't novel enough. There is not enough there that is new and different from other MMOs to grab me and pull me in. After a week of play, I wasn't feeling compelled to continue.

So, back to CoX.

Off the Wagon!!!

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday August 6 2008 at 4:21PM
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So, a couple of months ago, my son started cutting our grass for me and in return, he gets $10. Being the inveterate gamer that he is, he decided to put his money toward a subscription to City of Heroes. The poor kid has been DYING to get back on CoH ever since I pulled the plug some months ago. A bunch of my friends still play and hang out on TeamSpeak and he enjoys teaming with them, making goofy characters and generally partaking of the fast-paced, but relatively easy play of CoH. Ok great... my kid wants to re-up the CoH account. That's fine, I thought. I have no interest in that old game anyways.

Then my dad learned that my son had activated the CoH account. You see, for something like 6 months, before my dad got hi-speed internet access, he would come over the house every Saturday, visit for a while, and then sneak into the computer room to sully my pristine CoH account with crappily named superheroes and grind his crappily named Illusion/Rad controller. Of course, when he heard my son was going to be playing regularly, he decided it was time to get his own CoH account.

Do you understant the pressure from both sides here? How could I resist the inexorable pull of the multi-generational superteam? How possibly could I turn down both the man who raised me and my eldest child? How could I resist the best possible excuse I am going to have to open yet another CoH account, put my kid to bed and ruthlessly multibox??

So yeah, I am back on CoH, again, for like the 20th time since beta... and I have to say I am enjoying it quite a bit. Hope to see some of you there -- look for Unluminous Man, Monochrome Girl, or Prime Mercurial on Pinnacle and DeltaV on Protector.

Good Gaming,