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What makes an MMORPG good?

Well certainly there are a number of characteristics that would allow me to classify any MMORPG as good, but of course, we must remind ourselves that this is mostly opinion and opinions are relative (as WoW constantly reminds us). With that done, let's go

Author: theguru22

The Crafting System: What not to do

Posted by theguru22 Monday December 22 2008 at 7:28PM
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Hoooolyy shit do games manage to create utterly worthless and agonizing crafting systems. Let me just say that the best crafting system I've seen (besides pre-cu SWG) is that of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. But damn if that isn't boring and slow as well. So here are some great ways for developers to make their crafting system as coma-inducing as possible (which they seem to employ everywhere):

1) Harvesting "nodes": We've all trecked from node to node watching our pickaxes swing for hours on end, but I wonder why more people don't realize that this is a horrible system. First of all, this goes hand in hand with the detestable levelling system in that the "higher level" nodes are placed in higher level zones with higher level mobs and the only way to get there is to be higher level, so really you're just encouraging grinding some part of the game people may not be interested in in order to access another part of the game altogether that should be completely available from the start. Secondly, farming nodes is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and don't tell me there aren't better ways to do it because that's just fucking lazy. I could think of 5 better ways to manage resource gathering than harvesting nodes right now in my skivvies at home, without even having put much prior thought into it! This also creates the problem of respawning nodes which makes no sense and allows people to time the respawns and node locations to a T. When has moving from node to node ever been interesting to anyone? Scrap it and start over.

2) Linear Leveling system: This is always a bad idea anywhere *period*, and in crafting it's an exceptionally bad idea because crafting is supposed to be creative and inspiring, not a dull grind to max level that a chimp could do with his eyes replaced with baked beans. That might be a bit what you feel like when you grind out your crafting skills because first of all you're producing hundreds of clone items that everyone else also has to produce and therefor the market is utterly flooded with and are deemed completely useless and secondly when you do finally achieve max level there's usually hardly anything worth making. Sometimes the stuff that is worth making takes you a month to make because you have to go grind for drops or keep hitting nodes until you get enough of that special rare drop that you need. It's fucking boring and pointless and those two qualifications cause me to avoid the linearly leveled crafting systems as much as possible because in the end it's just another label to tack onto your character that serves no purpose in game whatsoever.

3) Permanent Items: Alright, I'll say it. I fully support item degredation for several reasons: 1) It's more fucking realistic, 2) It creates an item sink so that crafters actually have something to do, 3) It makes sense as a way to encourage players to interact, 4) item sinks are absolutely nessesary to achieve an evolving game, 5) It balances the economy and keeps inflation in check, 6) It allows weaker characters more opportunity to be on par with stronger characters and overall creates a more dynamic game and player interaction. Don't tell me causing items to "bind" is a better system because it's not. Binding items makes no sense and it doesn't encourage player interaction or allow the game to evolve for characters within it. Only a real economy in which items are created, used, traded, repaired, destroyed, dismantled, and augmented by the players will allow players to have the immersive and enlightening experience they want from MMORPGs.

4) Having Small Pools of Craftable Items: Why can I only craft 1/30th of the total amount of gear in the game, and frequently I am also unable to augment it or add personal touches? What's the point of being a crafter if every other crafter in the game can make the exact same items the exact same way? This is not a system that allows individuality or creativity. Only allowing players to craft a small pool of select items with select usage is a sure way to deter crafters from even considering your system. If there's no reason to craft because better items can be found, then why do it at all? Most of the gear players use should be made by players, not dropped by wolves, which brings me to my next point:

5) Allowing Random Drops: Does it make sense to find a +12 Sword in the gullet of a wolf? No. This system is crap and it's the primary reason crafting utterly falls flat in most MMORPGs. Why craft if you find weapons dropped off of random woodland creatures that are almost as good/just as good? It's a giant wasted effort.

Allowing players to scavange everything they find (pelts/swords/shields/armor/etc) and bring it back to crafters to augment or dismantle makes loads more sense and will balance the economy, make crafters essential to the game, and encourage player interaction. Why do modern MMORPGs insist on shoving crafters into such a small corner?

The Storyline Aspect

Posted by theguru22 Wednesday December 10 2008 at 4:40AM
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This really is quite baffling to me...

So we have single player games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row doing their damnedest to be a go anywhere do anything inside of a relatively thin framework of dulled progression sandbox games which ultimately have a main story line but it doesn't ever seem to be one of the drawing points to the game, and then we have MMORPGs like WoW and Age of Conan which seem to be trying just as hard to provide some sort of linear storyline in order to gain the prestiged (posh) title of lore including MMORPGs. It seems to me that although single player games would be bland as hell if they shoved you into a sandbox do-anything world with no overarching storyline or goal (ie. Mount & Blade), MMORPGs which include a linear storyline are really wasting their time for a couple of reasons:

1) No one fucking cares.

- Most players, especially those strapped into the class and leveling system for the next eon, don't give half a crap what mystical ancient sword their wielding so long as it allows them to dice heads slightly better than their previous enchanted, ancient, murder-stick.

2) It makes "hero" a mediocre title.

- One of WoWs selling points which the marketing division seemed to belabor quite unknowingly is also one of it's biggest flaws. "Join over 10 million heroes already online" (or something to that effect) quoth the marketing representative as people began to scratch their heads and wonder just who were the peasants and townsfolk they were protecting.

Nowadays you log into WoW and it's a joke; nearly everyone has the +4000 armor of ultimate doom and the blade of a thousand deaths of which there was only 1 in existence ever according to game lore. It's impossible to tell anyone appart from anyone else not only because said items are about as difficult to aquire as bottled water and snickers bars, but because the game seems to produce an infinite number of the "items of legend" which never even get rusty without a second thought.

(Aside) Let me say this right out: I endorse item decay as long as it's handled properly not only because it's realistic and practical but because the good items should be not only difficult to get or produce but finite and fleeting so that you actually give a rats ass when you acquire one. I would rather be upset when my +90 hammer of smiting breaks and completely thrilled when I find a  javelin launching bow of superior impaling than wade through the sea of mediocre "everyone else has-its" that plague classic MMORPGs.

and 3) It will never compare to single player games.

- You're really just shitting yourself if you think the storyline in MMORPGs can even hold a candle to single player games. First of all it's completely stagnant because the men behind the scenes can't have the world you play in change and this leads to "instanced" gameplay, which to me seems to completely undermine the idea of MMORPGs. Great, so you can team up to slaughter the same keeper of darkness over and over again in order to get your bland baubles in the giant dullathon quest for superiority over all the people who have wasted far less time than you, but ultimately you're playing a half-assed single player game in which the only storyline involves the firebreathing, hatred-engulfed big baddie you're taking down being evil and you being the shining beacon of hope who will trounce him 400 times until you finally get your shiny necklace of slightly-better-than-youness (boy isn't that joke getting old).

In single player games, by stark contrast, there's usually a bit of plot, as well as character, development so that you actually care who the baddie is and why you're trouncing him. Some games even take it so far as to let you be the baddie and smash the shimmering hopes of thousands of innocent dreamers because you like the mist created by your minigun and the screams of terror as you reduce their tiny hovels to smoldering rubble.

 

If you really want to do it right you're going to have to pit player forces against eachother and then somehow maintain the balance, or better yet allow your game to change as time goes on. Of course, being a developer is probably not easy in fact is probably about as difficult as maintaining flacidity during a jello wrestling contest and subsequent nude fondling at the playboy mansion, but if you want your game to keep up with the times you're going to have to be in developer mode constantly. Either that, or you can sit back and leave it mostly to the players to create their own conflict, city-states, and storyline and concentrate on more important things for MMORPGs such as combat, balancing, item creation, and stability. I recommend the latter.

Why I'm looking forward to Darkfall

Posted by theguru22 Tuesday December 9 2008 at 2:21PM
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Well there certainly is a shitstorm of MMORPGs out there now, and with WoW (as always) still leading the pack and EVE biting at its heels we've still yet to see a MMORPG that's as consistently entertaining as games such as... say... Left 4 Dead. Let's examine Left 4 Dead for a moment to find out why it's fun at all.

Left 4 Dead lacks plot entirely, that is, the plot is (chuckle) that you're one of four survivors who happen to be immune to a virus which causes people to inexplicably garnish superhuman strength and speed as well as mutate into people who explode or have 300 foot tongues. As one of the sole survivors of humanity you must run from safe-house to safe-house fighting off "zombies" until you are eventually rescued. In this way it's blatantly ripping off movies Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later. And yet, this game is fucking awesome.

Why? Aside from the fact that you're consistently splattering "zombie" brains unto many neatly placed walls there's an element of tactical teamwork added, and couple that with the ability to play online with friends either co-op against the computer or versus people playing as mutated (all right, I'll get it right this time) infected. In versus mode this game never gets old and co-op campaign doesn't easily ware thin either with achievements to be gained. The point is the game knows exactly what it wants to be and it doesn't bullshit you about it, and the fact that it achieves this goal while being riotously entertaining as well as pretty just tacks the extra gold star on its title.

So now, why am I talking about L4D? Aside from it being the most massive hit at LAN parties since Starcraft it has elements which are similar to some found in Darkfall. One of the many things MMORPGs seem to be missing (more and more as time goes on) is the element of strategic teamwork, something which, if properly executed, Darkfall has the potential to capitalize on. Play Mount & Blade for an hour and you'll gain the realization that this is how combat in MMORPGs was meant to be done. No more autotarget, level/gear based combat where the person who's wasted more of their miserable lives "raiding" or "arena-ing" is automatically declared the victor so long as they have motor skills at least on par with a chimpanzee.

Furthermore, Darkfall proposes to eliminate something which I will harp on constantly because frankly it's the death of fun in MMORPGs by literally turning them into a second job; which is the class/level system. Please, for fuck's sake, haven't we had enough of the grind to level 60, and then 70, and then 80, and the... oh god when will it end? It's monotonous and retarded, and the same job could be done by a machine with 3 output functions operated by a hamster. What's more, classic MMORPG logic dictates that once you achieve the highest status attainable with a character, that character is limited to one or two rolls at best in a party no matter if they're raiding, questing, or PvPing.

In order to do something besides "DPS" you must create an entirely new character and repeat the same damnedable monotonous process of grinding up to max level and then raiding for gear. No one who's sane has ever done that once and said to themselves "yeah, that was great. If only I could do it again with a sligthly different outcome". Get rid of the level system. Get rid of the class system. They are antiques! Even SWG knew how to do this before they got their balls in a twist with internal problems and decided that instead of maintaining the mindbendingly unique and immersive game they had made they should rip it to shreds and make it completely indiscernible from 14 other games already on the market.

I don't know about you, but FPS style action with strategic elements using a character and allies you develop by using skills and not training them on whack-a-mole "mobs" appeals greatly to me. Of course there's always the possibility that Darkfall will be a horrible flop, in which case we will cry our sorry eyes out over what could have been the next step in evolution for MMORPGs.

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