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The Games I dream of

I used to dream of creating games, but it's difficult to give up a life of comfortable hours and good pay to join an industry that churns through people. So I'm posting my game design philosophy here

Author: mrjimorg

New PvP Concept

Posted by mrjimorg Tuesday August 20 2013 at 5:09PM
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I came up with an idea the other day that I think can best be highlighted with the following scenario:

So, you're rooting around in some dark tunnels and come across some powerful necromancers who offer to teach you necromancy. So, you accept, and this puts you on a special new path. At this point your KOS to all holy clerics, and paladins who may be guards, merchants, etc. You gain some power cool dots, and a new spell- raise the dead. At this point you have a quest to raise an undead army. But- here's the kicker - you can attack other players, and they can attack you. You become a PvP BOSS in the sandbox. Other players will know, on sight, that you are an enemy and that they can kill you and will be rewarded for doing so. You're name will be changed temporarily as will your appearance.

As you kill things and pillage graveyards for corpses you can summon more and more undead, each of which will assist you in fighting players and amassing power. You cannot loot creatures anymore and you don't get experience for killing NPCs- you can only get experience from completing your new necro tasks- raising x number of dead into an army and killing a player town and all of it's citizens (including players). When you do this it will act as a rallying cry for players to work together to take you down! Even after completing this task you can continue to gain experience for holding the town and can turn this town into your personal base. However, once killed you will loose your spells, your army, etc, but you will get to retain the experience that you gained.

My Open Letter to the EQNext Devs

Posted by mrjimorg Wednesday August 7 2013 at 11:16AM
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Before beginning, let me congratulate you on SOELive, the EQNext announcement and especially the amazing technology in EQNext.

There are several trends that have been emerging recently, some of which Sony has been taking advantage of. I beleive these trends could potentially converge into a unique opportunity for Sony

1. Sony has been successful with the player studio which allows us to create new objects and items which are then sold to other players

2. EQNext has announced that it will be releasing the world content creation tools as EQ Landmark

3. Kickstarter has allowed for small development houses to raise funding for projects that the community wants, but would normally never be created

4. Several companies have refocused their game creation focus and ideas on the community and have gone to great lengths to incorporate their players in the game development process

5. 2 Games have recently made the top 10 list of "Best Games of All Time" according to PC Gamer which both began as mods for other games (League of Legends and Portal)

6. Some of the best mods created for World of Warcraft ended up being incorporated into the game itself because their utility was so compelling. This gave the developers a chance to see how useful various ideas were while freeing them from having to create these resources themselves.

7. The OS used on more cell phones than any other (Android) is built upon open source community code

What these trends are leading is toward a greater gaming experience that comes from the minds of common people. So, I would like to propose that Sony allow us to create distinct worlds in EQ Next that do not allow for item crossover with the EQNext world. These worlds could be customized in class creation, spell creation, creatures, and overall game rules(gravity, deformability, etc). I realize this is a big order, but let me show you how this is a big opportunity for all:

There are new games being developed by companies who have an IP (such as Pathfinder) but who are having to deal with the technical challenges that Sony has demonstrated succeeded with. By working with these companies you would free them to focus on their differentiating IP and produce a game faster and with less expense. For Sony, the advantages would include direct profit for their part, and the fact that players would be installing EQNext when playing this new game. With Sonys EQNext IP to jump off from, creating a smaller world could be simple enough that a small kickstarter or self funded project would be enough to create a minigame or proof of concept.

Where this concept really shines is through the variety of gameplay, which would be used to test out and refine new concepts and ideas. While Sony does have an incredibly talented team, game design is an art, and is therefore subject to taste. If the community had a paintbrush in which to create their own style, EQNext could become the canvas upon which the modern version of great works of art are born. The variety of gameplay developed would provide seasoned games with nearly unlimited options of game styles to play which would keep things fresh and new.

If you consider yet one more trend: "8. Two of the most popular and profitable games of all times appealed to non-gamers", you can see that an open system that encouraged experimentation could result in a developer creating the next Farmville - a game that brought gaming to people who otherwise never would have played games. While the current crop of game developers create games that they would want to play, there is a huge market of people who could become game players if games were designed and marketed to them. It won't be the current crop of game devs who bring it to them- it will take someone with a much more limited set of technical skills.

I hope that I have given you some food for thought and I hope to someday hear from you on this subject. Until then, stay hungry, stay foolish.

 

How to End the Trinity

Posted by mrjimorg Tuesday August 6 2013 at 11:32AM
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The tired tank-healer-dps trinity has been overplayed for so long. However, I've found there is a different trinity in Everquest 1 - Tank-Healer-Puller. The puller was just as vital to the group as the tank because he would insure that the group would get the target that they wanted and nothing else. A bad pull would bring multiple creatures and inevitable group wipe. 

As important as the trinity was, there was actually a fourth role that was very important to a group - the buffer/debuffer/crowd-controller. This role was filed with either an enchanter or bard. The buffs were strong enough to improve the groups DPS SIGNIFICANTLY, and the debuffs and crowd control would reduce the healing needed and prevent wipes. A group without a bard or enchanter was like a day without sunshine.

At this point we have a holy quartet. However, we could envision other equally important rolls for a group. Here are some potential roles and yes, I know many of these are not new. Also, many of these would not be sufficient to comprise an entire class.

Spell Tank - If regular tanks were succeptible to spell damage then going into a fight agains a spellcaster would be like a cloth-wearing class trying to tank a melee creature- suicide. These spell tanks would work entirely on spell resistance instead of armor class, and would still also beef up their hitpoints and ranged taunts, resulting in the best tank when fighting casters

Shielder - While a healer can repair damage to a tank, a shielder would prevent the damage in the first place. This could alleviate the need for healing at all in normal situations, and would be essential in combination with regular heals when things go bad.

Infiltrator - An infiltrator would be able to go ahead of the group and 'prepare' rooms for the group's arrival. He would disable traps, unlock doors and chests, lay a few traps of his own, split up groups of creatures to make them easier to pull individually, scout out good potential targets, and of course, pick a pocket or two. When close to the group, he could also identify enemy's weaknesses which would act as a debuff. An infiltrator's main weapon would be stealth and his acheivements wouldn't be noticed until long after he has moved on.

Porter- A porter's main role is getting the group to where they want to be. He would be able to drop maker or mark locations within visible range and port the group or individual members to that location. There are multiple uses for this - when things go really bad he could bring them to a safe place. If a pull goes bad, he could teleport the puller. If the group had an infiltrator who managed to sneak his way to a specific room that they were looking for then the porter could bring the whole group there. With links to cities, he would be able to take the group home quickly after having finished a dungeon crawl, or let them make a quick stop off to sell and resupply.

Jack - A jack would simply be able to fill in for any role, though not as effectively as a specific class. For instance, in the case of a bad pull he may be able to lock down an add, but would then be unable to do much else, whereas an enchanter would be able to keep the creature locked down while still providing debuffs. He would be able to heal a tank who had an overworked shielder but wouldn't be able to become the entire healing for the group. 

Zergromancers - A necromancer who can raise armies of undead. Each undead would have a short lifespan which would not likely last through an entire fight if the necromancer was playing solo. However, in a group when the corpses of the dead begin to pile up, the necromancer would end up having several of these creatures which together would provide unmatched damage. The necromancer would be like a heavy object - difficult to get moving, but once in motion would be difficult to stop.

 

The point of this list isn't to provide a list of classes that I think would be cool to play, but instead to provide of list of classes that would be 'vital' to a group. However, since a group cannot have every class in it, it would have to get by with what they did have- adjusting their tactics. For instance, your group could get by without a tank if the scout class had both a healer and a sheilder. It could use either a shield or healer, without needing both. It could get by without either if it had a good tank, good debuffer, good puller, etc. Any combination of classes could form a good group, but the players would have to work together to figure out how to fulfill the needs of the group.  The trinity can die- if it is replaced by something bigger.

 

What are you looking at?

Posted by mrjimorg Wednesday July 24 2013 at 3:16PM
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Game companies spend a great deal of money and effort creating beautiful landscapes which play host to intricately detailed creatures, some of which use the latest technology to dynamically morph in a given situation..... and the users never see it. Instead, the users and looking at the UI elements- Has that button refreshed? How's my health bar? Has anyone in the group or my guild sent me a message? For healers, the scenery never changes- they have to focus on their mana as well as the entire group's health bars to insure that no one ever dies. So, all that beauty is missed. Sadly, most often when you focus on the 3d world, you are looking down on your character in order to see what's behind you rather than looking out at the world .

Person A: How did you like that new area? 

Person B: It had nice carpet.

The gamer isn't in the game world, part of a group of adventures, fighting to kill a giant deadly scorpion- he's a guy sitting in a dark room managing the health bars making sure none of them fall too low. The UI isn't a part of the game- it's become the game. The User Interface is the part of the program that simultaneously bridges and separates the user from the game. The best interface is the one that helps pull the user into the world instead of focusing away from it. However, the user interface provides us with information that we need. But this information can be represented in a way that focuses the users attention on the world.

I'm happy to say that there are several games that have made a good effort in minimalistic design, and so I want to give them credit for this. However, I have yet to find one that takes minimalistic design truely to heart. Some examples (There are too many to list, but here's 3):

Tera online uses the mouse for looking around, and requires the player to press Alt in order to release the mouse in order to click buttons

Everquest is the only game I've seen that set the default camera to be looking from the perspective of the character

Wow trains people to know their hotbar by touch and to focus on the targets and world.

 

Save the Dragons! The case for an MMO without levels

Posted by mrjimorg Thursday March 19 2009 at 12:40PM
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Massively Multiple Online games have been out for a while, and for the most part they follow a simple formula - kill stuff, do stuff, get stuff, and most of all, gain levels. But, we need to rethink this concept. What does having character level gain and cost us in our world of MMOs?

Congratulations, you have won life! Roll credits
The greatest defense for putting levels into a game is that it gives the player a goal to reach - something to strive for that keeps the player logging in. Its the challenge of conquering that goal that makes the game interesting. However, no matter how many levels you put into a game, chances are that there are players who will reach it (providing that your game doesn't put people off before they reach it). So, as a creator of an MMO, you need to provide content that the players will find entertaining at that point. Of course you can use raids, PvP, and getting uber loots. Can you make your game such that players are entertained at max level? Can you continue to provide them with goals that will keep them interested? If so, then you didn't really need to have levels, did you? If fact, what you have done is split your companies focus onto 2 games - the game of "Get the max level" and the game of "Do stuff at max level". By splitting your attention between 2 goals your crippling your ability to perform either exceptionally. Stay focused - do one thing really really well!

Things to do, people to kill
When developing an MMO, the creators spend an incredible amount of time creating the vast amount of content for the game. This includes the quests, the dungeons, the boss creatures, etc. However, all that content has to be split into levels. You need to have enough content at each level to keep the player entertained until they've leveled enough to move on to the next content. A player at any level will only have a small fraction of the game available to them at any time. When the player is a lower level they have to stay in an area that they can survive in. When they are at the max level, fighting in lower level areas is fruitless and boring. When the game has matured and most people are at the max level, most of the lower level content sits empty of players.
This also presents another problem - how do you encourage players to explore all available content for their level? For instance, an dungeon that requires a full group of level 20's would require that a player who is the correct level must find a full group of people that are the same level, who are available, and who want to join you in that dungeon. When the game is new and there are a large number of players who are lower level, there are plenty of lower levels to join you, but as the game matures you many rarely find another player looking to join you on the dungeon attack, let alone finding 4 or 5 others.

Mistaken Identity
An important part of any MMO is the feeling of belonging with your fellow players. However, levels make this difficult on many fronts. First off, if you enjoyed questing with someone and you look up that person a week later, he may be too far ahead/behind in levels to be able to join you again. If you're trying to maintain a guild of players this can be a major problem when trying to form parties or raids. If you try to bring a friend (or spouse in my case) into the game you're faced with having to start over so that you can be in the level range of her. Even when you do this, you need to be careful that one of you doesn't play unless the other is also playing or else you risk having a level skew. Starting over for a friend can result in your main character falling behind your other friends or guildies. To sum up, levels tear apart friends and guildies. This is the last thing that an MMO should ever do!

Killing Gods
When creating an overall back story for an MMO, it is inspiring to the players to have creatures of great power that require entire guilds to take down. Examples of this are the dragons Lady Vox and Nafigan from Everquest or Onyxia from World of Warcraft. The problem with this is that by having character levels, you will have higher players who can kill these great creatures using a group or even by themselves. The simplest solution to this (and most used one) is to make the creature tough enough that even at the max level a full guild is needed to kill the creature. The problem is that expansions will come, and level caps will grow, and the dragons will fall. Everquest tried to protect the dignity of these dragons by teleporting players away when they attacked these dragons if they were higher than a certain level (the orginal max level). Warcraft didn't even bother to do that. As a result, the creatures of lore and legend, the great creatures that inspire us to do our best become nothing. All that great content, so well developed, tested, and balanced, gone to waste. It's not just the dragons, or the gods, but even something as simple as head of a small dungeon or even the big spiders that roam the deserts become commonplace and boring. An additional consequence of this is that it breaks game immersion. One day you fear that great creature of evil that kills you in one hit, the next day he's a wimp that can't touch you. Confusing and annoying, and entirely caused by levels.

Welcome to ganksville, population YOU!
Ganking is the process of killing another player who is much lower level than yourself. You can think of it as imagining an NFL football player running onto the field of 5 year old s playing football, slamming a kid to the ground,  then gloating to the whole world how incredibly awesome he is because he took someone down. It's not a honorable victory if your opponent can't fight back, but ganking is very pervasive in MMOs. It's yet another result of having the incredibly artificial mechanism of levels.

I'm sorry, but you must be this high to use this item
Most MMOs recycle their art multiple times because producing that art is expensive and time consuming. Artificial Intelligence is even more so, and so it is even more reused. So, what is the incentive for gaining higher levels when the creatures that your fighting look the same, and act the same. The reason is that they drop better items and more gold. So, as you level you can feel richer and greatly more powerful than those lower level players who can only kill the lower level creatures. However, this imbalance results in some game breaking issues - twinking and gold sellers. Twinking is the process of giving a lower level character an item that he normally wouldn't be able or likely to get. This may be because it drops of a higher level creature or may cost more then he would be able to afford. However, if you have a higher level character these barriers are non-issues. As a result, you see high level characters slaughtering their way though lower-level dungeons 'farming' equipment so that their lower level characters can have the best equipment available. Since that great item or piles of golds represent a large investment of time and energy for a lower level player, there is a great deal of people selling in-game gold or items for real world cash. Despite the greatest efforts of the developers of MMOs, this persists today.

In World of Warcraft, twinking has had major implications on PvP at lower levels. Typically you will see the level 10-19 battlegrounds filled with level 19 rogues with the best equipment slaughtering all the players who are trying battlegrounds to see what they're like. Quite often you'll seem then 'one-shoting' other players and even sitting and laughing at other players who can swing, cast and shot for several minutes without even making a scratch on the twinked player. Some say that this is ok since it's an even playing field- after all, anyone could buy the gear with real-life money or level a character to 70 and transfer massive amounts of wealth to their lower level character. But in truth, it just ruins the game for normal (sane) players. When I was a kid and someone challenged me to a race to the end of the block, I'd assume that we'd both be running. I wouldn't expect that 3 thugs would be wrestling me to ground and beating me while the other kid was rushed into a bullet proof hum-vee and driven to the end of the block at top speed.

What is old becomes new again
As you gain levels in games, in addition to having more hitpoints and mana points, you quite often gain new spells or abilities. Most of these are the same as your old spells and abilities, yet scaled for the new amount of hitpoints and mana that you have. So, although they're new, they're really the same old thing. First of all, it is really disappointing to work hard to gain levels just to get what you already had. Secondly, your creating a system of discrete jumps in abilities followed by long periods of stagnation. You may go for many levels without a new healing spell, during that time your healing abilities worsen relative to the pools of hitpoints that you or other players may have. This results in players being poorly equipped for a task one moment, then overly prepared the next. When this is mixed with twinked gear, the results can be unbalancing.

We're all made equally, give or take
Most MMO's have a fixed set of classes, each of which having a set of skills or spells that are specific to that class. Trying to make those classes different yet equal is a difficult task that often takes an incredible amount of time and energy from the developers, and is the source of a lot of complaints from players. You must also make sure that the equipment for players scales them equally. Players with poor quality gear should be equal to other players in poor quality gear and the same for great gear. This makes the task monumental. When you add levels to the mix you multiply the problem by the number of levels in the game. It's not enough for players to be balanced at the max level, they have to be balanced at all levels. This compounds the difficulty of balancing your game, especially when you take into consideration twinking and new spells.

The Alternative

If playing your character won't gain you levels, then what would replace it? The endgame of Everquest has a good solution to the issue, which they call Alternative Advancement. As you gain experience you receive AA points instead of levels. These AA points are then spent on minor (some major) upgrades to the character. For instance, you can spend 1 AA to increase your STA by 1. After doing this a couple of times the cost of more STA points is 5 AAs, and even then there is a cap. Some of the major improvements cost up to 18 points - for instance, allowing rangers to recoup their arrows and thus allowing them to use the expensive arrows rather than disposable ones. These AA points could be used to buy spells that are usually just given to the player as they level. There is no shortage of nice upgrades that a person wants for his characters.

A major advantage to this system is that is provides customization that allows players to be unique. The player can concentrate developing those aspects of their character that they are most enamored with. A ranger could become a master at tracking and pulling, or at ranged or melee dps, snaring, doting, or the special ranger buffs.

The upgrades gained by AA's should never be so power as to make the player out of touch with the content or with new players. A wise dev once pointed out that if a player can get even a 1% advantage over other players he will do whatever it takes to get that advantage, and these upgrades on par with that.  Although this would give the character power than a new character, it wouldn't be so much so that they couldn't group and play together. Although they would be able to defeat a new character, the fight wouldn't be so imbalanced that the other player wouldn't have a chance.

In addition to rewarding players with AA's for experience, they could be given as incentives for completing a chain of quests, or for the first time you are part of taking down a major boss.

 

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