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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

The Ultimate Superhero Game

Posted by jesad Monday September 24 2007 at 9:46AM
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This entry is actually in response to a question that was asked somewhere else.  Of course anyone here is free to respond or comment on it here I just state this to explain the way it was started and the departure from my normal format apparent here.

What and How. In hopes of keeping my thoughts original I post this before reading the string. My apologies to anyone I may be puling from the same pool as. I am also not taking any restrictions, programming or otherwise into account when I write this.

I first give the short list. Provided so that you don't have to read this entire thing.
1. Players should be able to effect their environment on a wider level than just property damage i.e. gradual changes to the look of areas based on their criminal or hero activity.
2. Tiers should be added to class and sphere decisions. Missions and rewards should be developed with these decisions in mind and rewards should be given only to the appropriate tier completing said mission.
3. Real life and secret identities should be accounted for with penalized options and opportunities to forgo the bulk of it.
4 and 13. Professions that generate player made equipment should be added but should require time instead of grind to complete.
5. Player progression should be very slow while the opportunity for excitement is kept high. Superheroes rarely change and when they do it is an event.
6. Skills and abilities should be configurable to a certain extent. Eye Beams, Standing instead of horizontal flight etc...
7. A large landscape with a reasonable ability to travel around it. Cities, towns, and rural areas should be represented each with their own opportunity for heroism or villainy.
8. The bulk of missions should be developed with duos in mind. 6 man team missions should be long and involved and 12-24 player raid quality missions should be huge and intensely difficult.
9. The choice to respec from hero to villain or likewise should be given as a one (or maybe two) time choice to each character.
10. Rewards should come in the form of equipment or money.
11. An equipment driven economy should be created with heavy stress leaned towards more practical items (computers, cars, etc.) instead of power upgrades (although those will eventually be included).
12. Players should have the ability to build homes (with lairs if they choose) to aid in their ability to house their crime fighting items and fight crime.
14. Natural and unnatural disasters should be added to the variety of things to go after for hero and villain alike. Mysteries should also be included.
Now for the meat.
1. The Ultimate game should allow its players to affect their world in both positive and negative ways. Superheroes should be able to keep the world safe while supervillans should be able to destroy or rule the world if possible. Interaction between the two is a must. Think of it as one big game of capture the flag with the flag being represented in a variety of creative ways i.e. today the flag is a bank, tomorrow the world. Captured areas could be represented by gradual changes in landscape and the look of the population that spawns there so that one could see clearly from being in the area if it is one that is overrun with crime or not. Although there can be struggle represented in a PvE kind of way, the main struggle should come through player interaction with their environment and with each other.
2. The ultimate game should have tiers added to its classes and firm rules of galactic indifference in place. Street level superheroes should only be allowed to participate in galactic level crisis on a limited basis and likewise galactic-leveled heroes should only be able to participate in street level missions once in a while. This can be facilitated in a variety of ways. An easy route is to label instanced missions as "Street Level", "Galactic Leveled", or any level in between and only offer experience or reward to players of the appropriate tier. Another way might be to assign those labels to individual mobs so that players can only effect/attack mobs and scenarios that were appropriate to their predefined tier of importance. This would add a huge amount of variety to the kinds of games that could be played and characters that could be rolled.
3. The ultimate of any kind of MMO needs to take real life into account in a make believe kind of way. On this one I go out on a limb but...think of the Sims only with the ability to become a superhero during certain times of the day. I mean, go way away from the conventional MMO here. We have COH/COH for the people that want the instant gratification. This game would be for people who want the genuine comic book superhero experience only with the menial tasks that their alter ego's must do daily made a bit more entertaining by the Sims or some other kind of interface. As a player succeeds in their secret identity life their opportunities to dress up in tights and run around the city at night or fly off to space and fight some intergalactic threat increases. This would also remove the "Always a hero" factor from the game and make instances where heroes do appear more unique and infamous. Put the lotto in the game so that some schmuck can have the chance to become a full timer without having to do all the work involved. Allow street level characters a higher chance of being born an heir or of inheriting money to allow them to become full timers. Allow many ways to ultimately become a full time hero but always keep the fact that people are not always in the mood to fight crime a reality.
More on this topic, introduce the "Full Timer" to the character generation process. This character being one who, for whatever reason, does not need to work but who in turn does not get to choose which powers they begin the game with and must make due with the cards they are dealt. One per account with future opportunities given out as rewards (such as re-specs are currently given in many games) and even still, do not make this characters resources limitless. Taxes, the market, maintaining staff could all come into play in this kind of characters overhead and keep them involved in the real world even though at the minimal.
Superheroes exist in a Sci-Fi environment anyway so there is no reason why the majority of so-called real life professions cannot exist in the technological field with smackings of media (i.e. Superman/Lois Lane) and medicine. I know there are quite a few folks that would really eat up the ability to be able to produce news and entertainment programs based on a world full of superheroes while others still would love to take a more active role in their characters development via the creation of gadgets and equipment that would enhance their characters ability to effect change. Ok, enough about that for now.
4. The Ultimate game would also feature extremely slow progression but an extremely high amount of opportunities to fight crime. In other words, Superheroes from the comics do not grow in power like characters in an MMO grow. Comic book heroes rarely change in fact and when they do it is usually an event. Therefore, the ultimate game should be 3 parts excitement to 1 part change. Allow an open opportunity to choose skills, costumes, and such yes, but once such choices are made the burden of being a good hero or not should rest in ones ability to use those resources to fight crime and not their ability to level through content. Rewards for successfully completed missions should come in the form of spend able experience and/or money (i.e. Marvel Ultimate Alliance).
5. Combat should be fast and fierce. Again, I make reference to Ultimate Alliance, which I find very enjoyable. That model from maybe a behind and slightly above perspective with a larger variety of attacks made available at one time might work well. 
6. Skills and abilities should be configurable to a certain extent i.e. Doctor Strange stands up when flying while many other superheroes prefer horizontal flight. Cyclops projection powers come from his eyes while Iron Man's power can come from his hands or even chest.
7. The world needs to be complete and big but with a reasonable ability to travel across it. Cities, small towns, the country should all be represented to support all styles and imaginations. Think of it this way, a guy who lives in Boise Idaho may dream of going to New York to fight crime but a guy from New York may likewise dream of going to Boise. This leads me to realize that many that are reading this far into this are probably thinking right now that such size has proved dangerous in other titles in the past. This leads me to another point.
8. The ultimate superhero game should allow the individual or duo to progress through the content with relatively little need for more help except in only the most extreme situations. Formations of super groups and super teams should require what 6? 8? How many X-Men go out at a time together? The quests for these kinds of teams should be involved and difficult to complete as well allowing the real teamwork styled players to enjoy a challenge that can only come from their style of play. This could serve to be the lower tier of raid styled content while keeping the 12 and 24 player content unique and intense.
9. The choice to change from hero to villain and likewise should be given to each account (or character) on a one time basis. This supports the Venom/Sandman theory that a person can change their stripes and adds to the mystery of who is really who.
10. Certain quests should be developed for specific rewards in order to support the super villains desire for world domination while heroes should likewise be able to benefit from thwarting these schemes via commensurate rewards in a different form i.e. donations of equipment for their secret hideout. HAH!
11. Equipment needs to be created that will make it easier for the superhero or villain to track, solve, or plan crimes. A couple of quick ideas might be a crime computer that would track (on a map) the last several locations of any crime committed by any players name that could be typed into it. Maybe a clue skill added to the game that would effect how often a villain left clues behind to give away their identity to a pursuing hero and likewise a clue finding skill that would allow the hero to see and process these clues. From that a variety of different types of computers could be made, Cerebro, H.e.r.b.i.e., even, dare I say it? A Moon Knight computer (you know who's computer that really is) :)
12. Since we are going for the Sims theory for daytime life, the ability to build homes, with lairs in them should be included so that we can build our own Sanctum Sanctimoniums and such. Places big enough for teams to reside in could rely completely on that teams ability to earn money and pay for such things. A market for said items (attainable by all but usable only by the original equipper) could be created which would allow players to interact and trade between each other.
13. Since I am now into the crafting stage of the game I want to say something about that also. Crafting in the ultimate superhero game should not require grinding; it should be set up more like the Eve Online system. There will be enough to do without having to sit there grinding all day.
14. Finally missions need to involve more than just fighting. Natural and unnatural disasters should be added to the variety of things to go after for hero and villain alike. Mysteries should also be included.
What we end up with, at least on paper, is a game where the player logs in and plays in a Sims like environment taking care of their daily duties and creating an environment that will allow them (but also restrict them) to go out and fight crime via PvE or PvP during their off hours. Storyline can and will develop on both ends of the spectrum and allow for players to both socialize and dedicate themselves to the fight when the time arises. Instances of superhero (or villain) activity will be controlled to the respect that the appearance of either will be something to see and notoriety as well as enmity can be developed among the community members in more constructive ways than griefing and or grinding.
The slow economy and player progression can support the gold farmer and gold buyer alike (who aren't going to go away) while forcing each to at the minimum pay their monthly for the ability to use, or create items to the same extent as active players. At the same time it will add more of an individual flavor to the game as players get to choose exactly how their characters will progress in their tier and gain the ability to decide between being a detective or just an unbridled force for good or evil.
Inspiration to play will come from the changing environment, the ability to grow (albeit slowly), and the creation of items and limited content (newspapers, TV shows, movements) which will allow all players to completely immerse themselves into their world.

Envy = The Flavor of the Month

Posted by jesad Tuesday September 18 2007 at 4:06PM
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Today I want to address a serious affliction that has reared it's ugly head in the fantasy MMO genre since it's inception.  This plague, this ugly scourge of death and destruction, if left unchecked, could be the end to life as we know it and a return to the stone age where our only quests were day to day survival and a safe place to sleep.

You know what I'm talking about, that's right, ENVY

This disease, formerly known as "DPS Envy", had to be renamed when the huge number of tanks who had rerolled their characters into Rangers, Monks, and Rogues left a gaping hole in the damage taking department of many servers.

The older generation knew this germ and overcame it relegating those who could not to the dark corners of obscurity and solo play.  Those mighty warriors are gone now though, and in their wake a new generation of soldiers who, like their weaker predecessors, spend more time looking at what the soldier next to them is doing instead of at what they themselves are doing.

A lot of what takes place during an MMO battle is invisible.  No one ever see's the speed buffs or dps debuffs placed on the group by the enchanters or bards in the EQ games.  No one realizes that the black cloud of smoke or the fact that the majority of the team seems somewhat intangible in Cryptic's "City of Heroes" game is actually someone back there away from the front lines doing work.  What they see is only the primary and primitive layer of what's going on.  They see the DPS, they see the direct heals, and they see how much of this the tank either can put out or can take in return.  Sometimes they don't even see the latter.

This is the beginning of envy.  The beginning of the end.  But it gets worse.

It only takes one skilled player of any class to shift the masses in one direction or another.  A rogue gets a glimpse of a druid kiting three or four mobs at a time.  The next day there is one more druid in the world and one less rogue.  A tank see's a cleric capable of leading their group at the same time as keeping them healed.  Tomorrow, one less tank, one more cleric.

Multiply this effect by the amount of times this one skilled player will interact with others during the course of their day and you end up with "The Flavor of the Month", the class that everyone wants to try out because it is the "Best".

And while so many envious re-rollers are wallowing in the early game switching from character to character trying to find the path of least resistance, the smart and the old pull away and a rift is created.  By the time endgame comes many guilds are often scurrying to find that one or two classes that could never impress anyone enough along the way to develop a strong enough base and what they are left with are botted out substandard versions of some of the most important classes in the game.

It's no wonder the term "Zerg" (fighting, dying, running back, and fighting again until it's dead) was invented.  How can anyone win if no one is willing to do their job?

So here is my contribution to the Fantasy MMO genre.  A simple profile of every game we have played to this point.  You may keep this information in mind until the industry decides to change it but do not be fooled by pretenders to change, this is the way it is when it comes to classes.

The Golden Rule of MMO's - Your game experience is subject to change. (loosely quoted from the Everquest start-up screen).

This means that as the game progresses different classes will rise and fall as the dominant class of the game, thus, there is no flavor of the month, there are only good times and bad times to be who you are.

To help you decide which class you really want to play I will go one step farther and tell you now what many of us didn't know then.

Tanks - Come up hard, are very efficient in one on one combat in the early game but will ultimately serve as a whipping boy outlet for other classes damages and skills in the endgame.  In other words, no matter how hard you hit, how many hp you have, what armor you wear, the only thing that will validate you in the endgame is your ability to keep the enemy focused on you while others in your group dish out what they themselves can not take in return.

Healers - Heal.  Although as the game progresses and maybe in a pinch they may serve as good substitutes for a tank, their ultimate responsibility, the reason that people are going to invite them to groups is to heal. 

DPS classes (this includes Monks, Rangers, Rogues, and the like) Kill what the tank decides needs to be dead.  This is a big one because most DPS players can't let it go but the truth is as simple as math.

Time of the kill = 1 Mob / the strength of the entire group

Thus, in situations where there are more than one more than one mob, the length of time it takes to kill all of the enemies separately will be the exact same amount of time as it would have taken for the entire team to kill all the bad guys as a unit.  Sure, there will be times that you may be called on to branch off from the team to take care of a pesky add but for the most part this is a dangerous and risky practice as most DPS classes simply can not take what they are dishing out.

Casters have always been misunderstood but have always been built to do the same thing as the melee classes only from a distance.  I will not go into that yet as it is probably just going to cause problems that I seek to alleviate with this post but keep that in mind for the days when you feel bored and just want to try something new. 

Casters - Heal free dps is your responsibility.  Either through providing it or facilitating, what you will do at the end of the game is allow the team to put out more than it's taking in. 

With these things in mind then, we now know what their polar opposites or the "suck" version of these classes are.

Suck Tank = Tank that is more concerned with hitting things than protecting their teammates.

Suck Healer = Healer that is more concerned with hitting things (or chatting in tells which they are notorious for) than keeping their group alive.

Suck DPS = DPS that is more interested in pulling, tanking, or doing as much damage as possible than they are at keeping themselves alive.

Suck Caster = Any caster that needs to be healed. (I know that is harsh but it is the truth).

Envy is the enemy.  Everyone plays a role in the endgame and knowing now what you will ultimately become later should make the choice of your class easier to stick with no matter what stage of the game you are in, at least, that is my understanding of it.


Achieving Goals as a Guild, Democracy or Dictatorship

Posted by jesad Tuesday September 4 2007 at 5:06PM
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Last week Vanguard released it's new "Update #2" with numerous changes and improvements to the game such as guild housing.

At first glance, the list of items required to procure a guild hall seems substantial.  At second glance the word "sadistic" comes to mind.

Taken from a list posted on Vanguard Warcry the raw materials alone would constitute something akin to a full-time job for several weeks for any small "family styled" guild (ranging from 10 - 25 active members) to complete.  At the minimum this would be a steady part-time job for guilds of greater numbers of players dedicated to the task to organize and that is just in materials alone. 

Vanguard guild houses will require everything from raw materials to crafted items, diplomacy rewards, and even some items only attainable through adventuring.  This is only one of the many goals set forth by many different games being played by the community.  The question then becomes,

"How do you rally that many troops toward a single, and not always so personally rewarding goal?"

Do you put it to a vote and let the members decide who is going to do what (if anything) toward the whole?  Or do you assign tasks to those best suited for them, running the risk of overwhelming those people, in a world where quitting your job is as easy as clicking a mouse button?

The more I look at the goals being set in the MMO world the more I am reminded of the real world and what is required to keep things running from day to day.  Democracy, such as our government, moves slowly as the sheer size, girth, and worth of those involved in making our policies dictate the direction in which we will move from thing to thing and must be judged not only on the numbers they represent but the quality of those who are voting (See Electoral College  Dictatorships, such as what exists in many businesses, move more swiftly (albiet still depending on their size) but challenge it's workers more to make decisions about the quality of their lives in relationship to the quality of their work.

The Epiphany that I gained while thinking about all this is that "Our government is made up of a democracy of dictatorships."

But that is a whole different entry on an entirely different kind of website.

The question I ask however is -

As an individual, which form of goverment do you prefer from your guild?

As a guild leader, which form of goverment do you run?  What successes have you had and what losses?

I got a lot of hits last week so I decided to step off the podium for a minute and thank you all for taking a look.  There is room for plenty of discussion in this one, at least, that is my understanding of it.

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