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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

My perfect MMORPG - Part 3: Character Creation and Customization

Posted by BadSpock Friday August 31 2007 at 12:20PM
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Thanks for reading!

This one will be a little shorter then the rest, it's Friday! I write these mostly at work when things are slow, and I don't plan on being in the office too long today! Gotta make happy hour right?

Character creation and customization. I'll be using this to describe the options available at character creation and systems in place to further customize your character in game as you play. Again, this is for my "ideal" MMORPG I have in my head, being that I do not work for a development company.

The number of races available to a player is important. You want a wide variety of options to chose from. That being said, I consider racial choice to be an asthetic feature rather then a gameplay one. I don't think differnet races should have different abilities or stats or access to different careers or skill sets. I believe racial choice should be a choice based off of how you want your character to look and interact with the world, rather then fall into the "have" and "have nots" of other games.

Chosing a race based off of what class/career is available, what stat points they have, what area they start in. I don't like it. I've heard people say things like "I'll pick an Elf because they are the best with Magic, but I don't really like Elves." To me, that is total crap. You should pick an Elf if you like that race, and that's the only reason. MMOs are games in fantasy worlds, why bring in real life issues of racial difference and inequality? A Human magic user should be just as good as an Elf. That's it.

Now the question of how much customization do you have at creation? Do you have a CoH/CoV type of system with sliders for every conceivable body part? Do you go the LOTRO or WoW (or most games) approach of a handful of options, pick and match to your liking?

I believe the "sweet spot" is right in the middle. Give players a boatload of preset faces, hair styles, and other classic MMO options, but also give sliders for things like height, body type, maybe for hair length and a few other random ones here and there. The point is, you want players to be able to create a character they are comfortable with, a character they enjoy, but not have it so complex where you can't make a good looking character no matter how hard you try!

I remember having that problem with CoH/CoV and SWG, I'd spent countless hours messing around with the character creation, and was never quite satisfied. With too many options and too much customization it allows for a lot of really, really ridiculous and silly looking things to occur. Maybe I just wasn't very "good" at it, but I'd rather have dozens and dozens of pre-made parts and pieces to chose from that I know look good and combine/alter them to my satisfaction then the "everything from scratch" approach in CoH/CoV and SWG.

Afterall, the most important bit of customization is the gear/armor/clothing you wear, and sadly the most under-represented in the character creation process.

Why have sliders for 37 facial features, but have everyone start out in the same drab clothing? I'd much, much, much rather see a few dozen facial options with a slider or two, and a dozens costume choices.

That being said, I believe players should be able to chose what weapons/armor/clothing they start with, the style and the colors too. If I want to start in rusty looking plate mail with a short Roman-esque sword and large Gold round shield I should be able to!

But what's the point? As you play through you get so many gear upgrades and pieces of equipment, you never keep the original stuff so why make it so customizable? This goes into the Gear system, which I will post on later, but for now I'll put it simply.

You can keep any/all gear (even stuff you start with) as your gear will level with you. Specifics to come, don't worry.

Also, when you get a new piece of gear, whatever color or style or type is added to the "palette" of options you have for customization. I want to give players a place where they can go and customize the appereance for their weapons/clothing/armor at any time through the course of the game. Any of the options available in character creations, plus any new models and color combinations you get as you pick up new gear and items should be available so you can truly create a unique avatar that you really love.

No more of this mix and match bull, odd looking and mis-colored peices you wear simply because it has better stats, I say let the players change it and style it to what they think is cool, what they think looks good. All the artwork is in the game anyway, why not let players choose for themselves? Obviously, the higher level stuff and rare stuff you get from super powerful enemies and quests and PVP ranks etc give you models and color schemes that are more "epic" and detailed, larger and nastier, more sleak and sexy. You have to be able to show off your awesomeness, but why make players look like crap till they get the "really" cool stuff?

The same applies to hair and similar features. Why not have barbers in game? Why not be able to change facial hair? People in real life can grow hair, can shave, can try new styles, add bows and ribbons and braids etc. It's a game! Make it fun, let people do what they want! Let them style it and color it as they wish, with new styles and colors becoming available as they travel throughout the world.

See an NPC in a new town with a haircut you've never seen before? You bet your britches that style will be available from the town barber/stylist.

Another part of the customization goes into the Combat system. Details coming later, of course. To put simply, you should be able to pick how your character "looks" when you are in a certain stance. Say I'm using a 2-H sword, when I'm in an offensive stance, I want to carry my sword low and have it trail behind me, and when in a defensive stance I want to hold it out in front of me. Why make animations and "styles" specific to certain races or classes like they do in other games? The animations are in the game, let the player choose which ones to use.

The last part (the last part I can think of now) is the Guild system. Obviously, not going to go into the specifics of Guilds yet, just the customization part. Like in most MMOs you should be able to create a banner and tabard, choosing a symbol from a VERY very large list and then chose the color scheme and style. You should be able to wear tabards with your guild logo and color scheme, but also because of the gear customization details I gave before, you can alter your cloaks, armor, shields etc to match. You should also be able to add your Guild logo to capes, shields, and other pieces of equipement. Pretty basic stuff, been done before in MMOs, but why do some developers choose to not have it in game? Just silly in my opinion.

That's all I have for now. More to come later. Have a nice weekend and holiday!


My perfect MMORPG - Part 2: Character Advancement System

Posted by BadSpock Thursday August 30 2007 at 1:37PM
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Finally we get down to the dirty details! Keep in mind; the following ideas are those I've formulated over years and years playing MMORPG games, as well as games of many other genres. The motivations are drawn from what I've seen in games, what I've liked and disliked, what I've hoped and wished for, what I think is possible, and most importantly what I think will be fun and will work for the MMORPG genre.

Keep in mind, the character advancement system (which I'll simply use as CAS from now on) is only a piece of the much larger puzzle. Just one of many systems in my dream game that will work together to create what I would consider to be an awesome MMO. Now obviously, I'm not a developer, I don't work in the industry. The following are simply my ideas and I hope readers will comment and offer constructive criticism and suggestion. The point? To get people talking about what we want in the Next Generation of MMORPGs in the hopes that developers will read them and take our collective ideas into consideration when designing future MMO projects.
This will be a long read, so I apologize in advance for the eye strain!
Levels are important. Levels are a great tool for developers and players to be able to gage their strength and power in relation to the content. We know a level 10 player should be able to fight a level 10 mob or NPC. But how many levels? It's really related to how much content is in the game and how quickly you want players to get through it. For the sake of example, let's go with 50.
So what happens when you level your character from level 1 to level 2? I guess I have to start the answer to that question with a disclaimer: I hate when games put too much focus on level and gear. I'm a much bigger fan of the early UO model, or that which SWG used. I don't think a player should gain more hit points or more mana or energy or whatever when they level, instead a player should be given more options and tactical choices.
Yes, this is to be a high fantasy MMO. However, will also contain elements of technology and industry complimented by magic, which is essential to the storyline (to come later of course.)
So in my system, the player starts with let's say 100 hit points, energy points, and mana. Hit points being a representation of your characters life, when they reach zero you die. Energy being used to execute special attacks and abilities, and will regenerate quickly during combat to allow many skills and abilities to be used in a fight. Mana will be used for spells and certain abilities, and also will regenerate quickly. Health will regenerate quickly when you are not in combat. Point is to avoid downtime, and avoid auto-attack only fights. More explanation coming with the Combat section to follow (eventually).
But how does a player level? The easy answer is experience. You gain experience from killing monsters, other players in PVP, completing quests, running trade routes, advancing trade skills, and progressing your town/city. (All details on this to come later, hopefully!)
Players will have statistics, MMO basics of Strength, Agility, Wisdom, and Intellect. All start at 50 points in each. By max level, you will have a maximum of 300 total stat points to distribute between the 4, with no stat higher then 100 or lower then 50. As the stats get higher, the effect becomes greater. For instance, if you have 100 strength, 100 agility, and 50 wisdom and 50 intellect, if you take 10 points from agility and put those into wisdom, the positive effect on your abilities/skills that use wisdom will be substantially higher then the negative impact of having 10 less agility. This way, we avoid entirely cookie-cutter builds of 100/100/50/50 and 50/50/100/100. More detail in the combat system section, but everyone will use magic and energy abilities, and everyone will have ranged and melee ability. Trust me haha.
You can guess what these do, so I'll be brief.
Strength - Increased physical damage done, reduces physical damage taken, and if advanced enough will grant an increase in health. Reduces resource cost of crafting items.
Agility - Increased accuracy with all weapons, increased critical strike chance, increase chance to parry, block, and/or dodge attacks, also decreases energy cost for abilities the higher this stat is. Increases quality of crafted items.
Wisdom - Increased spell critical chance, increased spell resistance, decreases mana cost of spells the higher the stat is. Reduces resource cost of crafting items.
Intellect - Increase damage done from spells, increase size of mana pool the higher the stat is. Increases quality of crafted items.
Stat points are gained from using skills that are associated with the respective stat. Using skills that would require strength will make you stronger. You can set caps for stats so they don't continue going up or down once you reach the 300 total stat point mark.
When I say you can increase your health and mana, I don't mean by leaps and bounds. Will a complete focus (read below on focus points) toward Strength and a maxed stat you might have 150-175 health points, 150-175 mana instead of 100 if you go the other way.
Why? Kind of goes into gear and the combat system, so details later. In general, I want characters to be really heroic. Not just meat shields with a bajillion hit points with healbots following them around but players who have to make tactical choices and approach situations carefully. Where's the fun in the standard MMO- "I hit you for 500. You hit me for 400. I hit you for 500. You hit me for 375. I use a health potion. You hit me for 250. I hit you for 600 CRITICAL! and you die. I sit down and regain my HP. Next fight." BORING!!!
So back to skills. I see a game with many skill "groups" that the player can pick and choose from to create their own "class." For instance, you'll have a swordsmanship skill group that will contain individual skills for one and two handed swords, for both offensive and defensive use, and for different stances. More to come on stances in combat section. Each skill is assigned a stat that is associated, like two-handed swords would be strength while one handed swords would be agility. However, they all have secondary stat assignments, so the 2H sword will have strength as a primary and agility as a secondary.
You allow the player to pick up to four primary skill groups which can be raised to the maximum skill level of 200. As said before, you gain skill by using it. If you use a 2-handed sword, you gain skill toward your Swordsmanship skill group, your specific 2H sword skill, and depending on your stance, either offensive or defensive skill with the 2h sword. So imagine a breakdown like a tree:
Primary Skills:
            Swordsmanship ---
                         -1-H Swords- (Primary Attribute Agility, Secondary Strength)
                        -2-H Swords- (Primary Attribute Strength, Secondary Agility)
                                          - Defensive
So when you use a sword, let's continue our example of the 2H sword, as you fight you'll gain skill in your offensive and defensive 2-H sword skills, which will build and eventually level your generic 2-H sword skill, which will build and eventually level your overall Swordsmanship Skill Group.
The player can also pick 2 secondary skill groups that can only advance to skill level 100. All other skills not in the primary or secondary skill groups selected can be level to skill level 50. As you level your skills, you will gain new abilities to use, new combo options, new recipes become available, new city options, and new stances with training. More to come in other sections lol. Sorry, like I said, all systems are related, and this is just a piece of the puzzle.
Now, something well worthy of mention. Skill gains aren't limited by your level. It'll be nearly impossible to continue to level skills without leveling your characters base level as you'll have to kill monsters and craft things and everything else in order to gain skills. Pretty much, if you can level your skills by doing it, you'll be getting XP for your character's base level. But you don't "stop" leveling skills when you hit skill level 10 while you're level 2 and can't get to skill level 11 till your base level is 3. None of that.
So what happens when you level your base level? You gain stats and abilities from leveling your skills, but what about your base level? I want leveling your base level to be important. Very important. Not the quick and dirty systems we see in modern games. I want each level to mean something. This is where my Focus system comes in. When you level your base level, you gain a focus point. What's a focus point? This is where things get interesting.
Every character has a Focus Web. In this web are tons of slots where you can choice to put a Focus point into. Each point on the web has a different use. Some will give extra defense again melee attacks or magic, some will increase resistances, some will increase your attack speed, some your attack power, you regeneration rates... etc. Lots of options.
You have to start the web on the outside and work your way in toward the middle and across the web. The Focus points toward the middle of the web are the most powerful. You have to start on the outside because you can only place a Focus point into a slot that's connected to a Focus point you already have spent in a slot. So you start to build a chain across the web with your Focus points. Now you can also start multiple chains. Each "corner" of the web will be associated with one of the four stats, strength, agility, wisdom, and intellect. As you can imagine, the Focus slots will correspond with increases that will contribute to that stat. The plus attack power will be in the Strength portion of the web, the increased spell damage will be in the Intellect part. And so forth.
Does that make sense? True, it's kind of a rip off of some of the grids and maps from some of the Final Fantasy games, but why not? It was a great idea in those games, and a great idea to be applied to an MMORPG. I'm just surprised no one has done it yet. You can compliment the abilities and stats of character by putting Focus points into slots that correspond with your primary and secondary skill groups, and supplement your weaknesses by putting Focus points into areas you are weaker in. As I said before, everyone will use a combination of magic and physical combat, ranged and melee, it's just that you'll have personal preferences and play styles and through that pick your primary and secondary skill groups that define your character.
Will these be huge differences? No. 1% here, 2% there etc. But all MMORPG gamers know, every little edge or weakness can make/break the outcome of a battle. You will of course be able to reset your Focus points if you feel you made a mistake, or decide to pursue another Skill Group path for your career.
On to changing careers, you can freely swap between different combination of Primary and Secondary skill groups by visiting trainers in the cities. You never "lose" any work you put into a Skill Group. If you got your Swordsmanship up to level 150, then place that skill group into one of your Secondary Skill group slots, it'll drop your Swordsmanship down to the max of 100 for a secondary, but if you swap it back to a primary you'll be back up to 150 skill and regain all abilities and stances etc that you gained from 100 to 150. Kind of like the FFXI job system, and only because it's a really, really, really good idea.
You'll also be able to re-focus your Focus points by visiting certain NPCs in the cities.
So why do it this way? For a lot of reasons.
Flexibility and control being number one. You choose how to make your "class" and you choose how to focus it. Want to be an offensive powerhouse of melee death? A defensive spell caster focusing on protection and deception? A combination healers/nuker? Tank/healer? All options are available. You shouldn't have to re-roll a new character to change what you are doing in the game. You shouldn't be punished for trying new things.
With the focus system, even two players of the same Primary/Secondary skill groups and stat allocations can be vastly different. One can focus on direct damage while another on damage over time. One on fast burst damage and another on steady, constant damage. Same with healing and defensive tactics, tanking with a strong arm and shield or quick blade and nimble feet. With the stances and focus system (more detail on stances in combat section) you can focus on fighting groups or single opponents, fighting as part of a group or by yourself. Focus on PVP against other players or PVE against mobs/NPCs, though, my hopes with the combat system is that no matter the focus players can succeed well at both.
The point is freedom and flexibility, yet a measurable standard through the base levels for developers to balance and fine tune game play. They can know what kind of Focus point web you have at what level and the general range of your Skill Groups based off of your characters base level.
Also, this applies to PVP. Other games have done similar as I propose (like CoH/CoV) but never for PVP. What happens when a level 20 player fights a level 50? The 50 wins every time. No more!
Having a level system allows you to alter interaction between players dynamically in PVP. If a 20 and 50 fight in my proposed system, their relative power and defensive abilities are altered for a fair fight. On the fly. The 20 would fight as lets say a relative 33 while the 50 would fight as a relative 35 or 36. This way, the higher level player still has the advantage, yet isn't totally overpowering and dominating and actually has to approach the fight carefully or risk being defeated. You want to reward the higher level player with the advantage for their work getting to the higher level, yet not allow griefing and vastly unfair fights to keep things exciting and interesting. More details to come in PVP section.
What else? Hmm. Leveling your base level will be much slower then in your typical MMO. Instead of having really fast levels in the beginning then really slow it the end, every level requires a committed amount of time and effort to gain, but nothing ridiculous of course. That way you aren't spoiled with useless fast levels in the beginning and terribly slow and sparse leveling later on. Obviously, leveling is faster in the beginning then in the end, but not at the ridiculous extremes we see in most modern MMOs.
Oh yeah, gear and gear upgrades. I'm going to need an entire section to go into it, so that'll probably be next. The main point, your gear levels up with you and like the focus points, is only in small increments (1 or 2% here or there kind of stuff). So where is the fun in getting more powerful and advancing your character if it's all in baby steps? That's where the combat system comes in, for a later post! :)
That's all I got for now. I'll probably be going back and editing over and over. Especially for spelling and grammar. Let me know what you think! And keep in mind, this only "works" because of the combat, crafting, social, gear, and other systems which I'll be going into later.

My perfect MMORPG - Part 1: Introduction

Posted by BadSpock Tuesday August 28 2007 at 10:38AM
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So I've gone through my history with MMOs and opinions of them, and I've alluded to the current State of the MMORPG and also where I think the genre is going. I was flamed a bit for only spending really "serious" amounts of time with UO, SWG, and WoW but that's ok. I've at least played trials/demos of everything else, and I've had decently long stints with FFXI and E&B. I've also played a lot of single player RPG's from the Final Fantasy series to the Morrowind series to Knights of the Old Republic and more.

So the next couple (maybe more) entries to this blog will be descriptions and ideas behind what I would consider to be an extremely exceptional, truly next generation MMORPG.

The most popular character advancement system (I'll use CAS for short) we see today in MMORPGs (by most popular I mean what most devs put into their games) is a level based system. You gain experience from killing mobs and completing quests, and when you get enough XP you advance in level. We've all played these games; we've all played that extra hour to gain that next big level. As you level, you generally gain access to more abilities and better gear, advancing your character's power.

The second CAS is a skill based system. This is more of a throwback to systems like UO and SWG, where you have no levels. You advance your skills, and thus your character, by using the skills. You use a sword in combat and you gain sword skill. We've probably all played games like this too.

You can't talk about skill vs. level based systems without talking about classes / jobs etc. Most (if not all) level based CAS use classes to differentiate characters, and most have different sub-systems in order to diversify within that class. Like the talent system in WoW or the sub-job system in FFXI.

Skill based CAS tend to be more open, you are not defined nor limited by a specific class or skill set, but rather have the freedom to advance the skills you want to advance, not those which are a generic part of your class.

So why would anyone use class/level systems over skill systems? The reason is balance and the ease of creating level appropriate content. All level 30 characters should be about the same level of power, and thus you can create content appropriate for that level of power for players to partake of. It's not necessarily a "cop-out" by devs in order to make their job easier, it allows a lot more of a fine tuned and "polished" experience then would otherwise be possible. It's a lot easier to balance. In my previous post about SWG I stated that there was a large problem with "flavor of the month" skill builds after patches. It's very hard to balance skills in comparison to levels/classes.

But is that acceptable? Are we content with generic cookie-cutter classes where are only freedom is min/maxing developer determined statistics? I'd say no.

What about combat? Most MMORPGs use a semi-real time, semi-turn based combat system coupled with imaginary "dice rolls" of a multitude of numbers. You hit your opponent based off of your weapon skill number versus his avoidance numbers, and your damage is based of your weapon's damage, your characters strength, your opponent's armor, and any status effects etc (just a rough example). Where is the skill in that? The "skill" comes in knowing when to engage, when to retreat... also when to use certain abilities to maximize their effect, but in many modern MMOs your level is gear is equally important if not more important. Also, because of the level based CAS combat between players/mobs of different levels becomes very skewed. Hence, why we see most PVP reserved for the "end game" when players reach maximum level to help balance the equations.

True, there are those who are trying to expand on this idea and reach outside the box. We see games like The Chronicles of Spellborn with Oblivion style FPS combat, or Age of Conan with the ability to choose what body parts you aim for, and also eliminating the auto-attack. We see MMOs with more "depth" in terms of pre-combat strategy and selective skill use like Guild Wars and WAR. Or combo and skill chain systems like FFXI. But is it enough? One of the biggest hurdles for more fast paced, player controlled skill-based combat is latency and client performance. You can play a FPS game with a few dozen people with decent frame rate and little latency issues on a strong connection, but what about in a MMORPG where you have thousands of players occupying the same space? It's very hard to aim a strike/spell if you and your target are lag-jumping around the place.

Is that acceptable? Are we content with min/maxing stats and gear-based combat? Are we content with the only skills we need is knowing when to hit our macro keys? I'd say no. 

We've seen crafting systems near perfection with old school SWG. I thought resource gathering was too "hardcore" in SWG due to the necessity to have resource harvesters and maintain them, but the ability to create custom parts and the depth behind the factory and schematic systems was unparelleled.

The PVP and PVE content, as well as questing and storyline elements I got into a little on my last post, and will go into them in much greater detail with later posts.

What about character customization? We've seen the extremes of character creation with games like SWG and City of Heroes/Villains. But what about in game customization? Few games have gone as far as good ole' Ultima Online, where you could change hairstyles and facial hair at any time, including color, and you could dye any piece of armor or clothing. Why did games move away from that? Instead they give equipment designed to what they devs think looks cool, but only if you get the whole set. Not only does this lead to everyone ending up looking similar as your progress through the gear "progression" grind, but it also leads to ridiculous looking miss-matched gear.

True, the advantage is you can see what your opponent wields/wears and judge their ability / difficulty accordingly, but in such gear based, level based games it's generally the only consideration made. "That noob is in ___ gear, I'll own him no problem" and they usually do.

The point of all this is, all systems in a game are interrelated. The character advancement system is dependant about the combat system, how gear works, how crafting works, on what is available for PVE and PVP... it's all related. I see many posts on these forums and others suggesting changes to this or that, this system or that one, however little consideration is given to how it would affect the other game play systems of a game.

Even a player skill based combat system will fail if there is too much gear dependency, or the game uses levels and the difference in power between levels is too great. How do you create level based advancement without having gear and abilities get more progressively powerful?

These questions and more is what I hope to address and solve, in my own way. I'm tired of so many games taking the "we know it works" approach as WoW did and most games post-WoW have done. I think most of us are tired of the same old thing, however at the same time we shy away from things that are too different, too radical. We need a balance between new/innovative and tried and true.

And if we can find it, we will find not only an evolution of the MMORPG, but a revolution. A revolution that will bring us into the Next Generation of the MMORPG.

Details and specifics on all the crazy game systems in my mind to come with subsequent postings!

The State of the MMORPG Part 4: The "Next" Generation

Posted by BadSpock Monday August 27 2007 at 3:59PM
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So we've come this far! Thanks for reading and I appreciate the comments on the previous posts! When I saw my blog on one of the tops spots of the "popular" blog list I was surprised to say the least!
One again let me state that the following (and previous entries) are not meant to be factual but instead the perspective and opinion of a long time MMO player. I can't comment on games like EQ2 or AC because I never played them more then a free trial or demo.
The next generation of the MMORPG: what is it? Is it here? Is it coming? MMO gamers have been asking these questions and more for some time now. With the release of the latest round of consoles, the PC gaming market tends to follow the buzz about the new consoles and declare their upcoming releases a "next generation title for the PC!" or something to that effect. But what defines a generation in the world of MMORPGs? For any game genre?
From my perspective it's all about choice. The first generation of MMOs was Ultima Online and Everquest mainly. The games (for the most part) were open worlds, a "sandbox" of game play as we here at like to say. Players were given little (if any) direction, but instead a hole world to explore and shape as they saw fit.
The second generation of MMOs was the generation of quests. We went from open and non-linear to highly directed, linear progressions. Here we see games like World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, and Lord of the Rings Online. You may be asking, what about popular games like Star Wars Galaxies and Final Fantasy XI etc. I consider those more generation 1.5 then anything else, as they tried to bridge the gap between the niche markets that MMOs were to the mainstream titles as they are now. Hence why I listed SWG and FFXI, because of their highly known and loved IP's they had the best chance of bridging the gap between the MMO gamer and the non-MMO gamer.
These second generation games gave players bountiful options of things to do, hand crafted, scripting experiences to show you. Rather then finding the fun as we did in the first generation, we were led to it and it was handed to us on a silver platter. And as I said before, it spoiled us rotten.
So what's next? What is the third age of the MMORPG? Vanguard was probably the closest thing to it, and may have been the first G3 (generation three) MMO if it wasn't for the terribly buggy and broken product they released. I say Vanguard was close because it was promised to be a clever mix of open ended free-style game play and developer crafted, linear progression. It's really too bad it failed so horrible. Hopefully they can pick up the pieces and at least offer a nice G2.5 experience.
I think that is where the MMO is heading, in a sense back to its roots but with all the lessons of the second generation taken into account.
I consider games like Warhammer and Age of Conan to be G2.5, as they may be really great games; neither is doing anything really knew and spectacular. Both offer improvements on the questing/grinding game of the current G2 titles, but offer more open world game play with massive PVP, city building, and world-altering content like the G1 and G1.5 games had. However I don't think they are doing enough to push the boundary that would place them comfortably into the next generation.
So what do I see as the real "next generation?"
I want to see a return of the truly epic PVP we saw as far back as Ultima Online. Were players could chose to become evil, wanted men not bound to any rule of law, however they faced much peril. The UO factions system was still one of the best PVP systems to date, as multiple factions fought a never ending war for total domination and control of the map. Now, I think instanced PVP with even sides is fun and important, but not as the basis for a successful PVP game. That is one of my concerns with WAR is that it focuses too heavily on instanced scenarios and not enough on the open world combat. I'll play FPS games like COD4 and Halo3 for that.  I think AoC is going the right direction with their Siege PVP, especially the hiring of players as mercs, but time will only tell if they can pull it off right.
I think games need to take the "story driven quest" system to the next level and create truly epic storylines and character involvement like we see in single player RPG's. Let players have quests and adventures that actually matter, even if it's all instanced and plays out like a single player RPG but where you can invite a few friends along. I don't think quests and missions following the all too familiar kill x and collect y formula count as "story driven quest content" by any means.
I want to see the return to truly open and free PVE game play as well. Let players create cities and run their own trade routes. Let them explore and actually conquer and control new areas. Have the NPCs and MOBs behave and fight like the enemy 'faction' of the game, fully capable of defending their areas from player attack, as well as launching attacks on player cities and other locales they control. No more random mobs walking around in the woods on set patterns, just waiting to die as I like to say. Give bears caves to live in and Bandits camps to call home. Let them attack caravans and traders, let them capture forts and settlements. Let the enemy 'faction' raid towns and lay siege to keeps. Make the players work together to fight back the invading hordes.
So there is my list, the short (ish) version. Lots of dynamic, open PVP with real control/loss mechanics, and 100% separate from PVE play (like Trammel/Felucca split in UO). Have truly epic and involved storyline involving the player in a character-driven experience similar to a popular offline RPG experiences. You can even have world changing events by breaking the game into chapters like Guild Wars did. Open PVE game play allowing players to choose their role in any ever changing world filled with danger and opportunity. Give them the power to create and destroy, to conquer or be conquered by the A.I. not grind factions and memorize scripted fight sequences.

For part 5, I'll probably go into much greater detail about my ideal MMO and why I think the technology and gamer attitudes will be ready in the future to make it a resounding success. Or maybe I'll talk about coffee… and penguins.

The State of the MMORPG Part 3: And then there was Warcraft (updated)

Posted by BadSpock Friday August 24 2007 at 3:59PM
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Upon reading comments, some clarifications. WoW was a lot of people's first MMO, and as someone said, WoW didn't invent a lot of the things I originally stated, but it did bring them to the masses. It did make them the "standard" for MMO's more so then any other game. Hence, my perspective that WoW was the "first" to bring these things out of the niche market that MMO's once were, before WoW. I thought I had made this clear, I'm sorry I did not. And to someone who said this was my first MMO, please read part 1 and part 2 :)



World of Warcraft.

There is little doubt that nearly every single gamer has heard of it. Most if not all MMORPG players have played it. Many non-gamers have probably even heard about it. I'm sure every South Park fan has!
We all know how big and successful WoW is. We all know the numbers; we here at have probably all played it. That being said, I'm not going to go into any details from my experiences. Instead, I'm going to try and determine what WoW did for the genre of MMORPG's as a whole.
WoW really brought the practice of quests into being. Quests, quests and more quests. We all know the formula; go here and kill x, go there and talk to y, go there and gather z. WoW also brought something else new to the genre. An easy to pick up, generally considered fun to play, content driven MMO experience that no one else had ever done before.
WoW had the advantage of the Warcraft IP and the Blizzard name. From the Warcraft and Starcraft RTS series to the highly popular and successful Diablo series, people knew that Blizzard knew gaming and knew they put out quality products. Even WoW "haters" can agree that no MMO launch was as successful and well received by the masses as WoW.
WoW featured a lot of game play systems and features that were very friendly to the non-elite gamer, a lot of new innovation to the previously niche market of MMOs, and they were really the first to push the marketing machine into overdrive (and still do today.)
WoW spoiled a lot of things for the MMORPG genre. It had a great launch, and as we saw with Vanguard or other titles with poor launches, it can instantly kill a game. The quest system (at first anyway) gave players so much more to do then simply grind mobs. Now, when we are presented with a game without a good quest structure, it's labeled quickly and simply as an "Asian grind-fest" or something similar. As much as we may hate to admit it, we've gotten used to the idea of a bountiful supply of quests and other story driven experiences. This is the complete opposite of the "sandbox" nature of MMO's before WoW. Look at LotR, TR, AoC, WAR, EQ2, or any other MMO with a clever acronym. They all have quests, quests, and more quests thanks to what WoW did to the MMORPG market. Is this a bad thing?
WoW became the giant of the MMO genre as games like Halo became the giant of the FPS. Every new game after WoW was labeled a "WoW killer" and wild speculations were made (and continue to be) about what effect this game or that will have on WoW's subscription numbers. But none have been able to shake WoW from its top spot in the MMO world. Truthfully, with a new expansion on the horizon, I really don't think anything will. Even with awesome looking games like AoC and WAR coming out, I don't expect either (or any other upcoming MMO for that matter) to be able to shake the solid foundation WoW has made. About the only real competition I see for WoW is Starcraft II, but, it's still Blizzard so they don't care!
Few can argue that leveling a character through the many zones and quests of WoW (at least the first time around) was a grand experience unlike any other MMO has delivered. But then when you got to the end-game, when your character was at max level, what next? The grind.
What else did WoW do? It taught us to chase the carrot on the end of the stick more so then any other MMORPG. New levels meant new gear and new spells, new areas meant new gear and more quests and new levels and… it is a grind all unto itself. Even PVP, the great "competitive" play that isn't supposed to be a grind, became one. We were now grinding Honor points for gear upgrades and medals, grinding Arena points for gear upgrades. And of course there is the raiding game, taken directly from the EQ following minds of the developers. You put the raids in a progression with better and better gear, getting people to log on night after night after night in pursuit if their next big upgrade.
Add in the reputation grind, money grind, crafting grind, and any other grind you can find in WoW and what you have is a winning financial formula. Notice I said winning financial formula, not winning game formula. People will keep playing to keep advancing and keep getting better and better gear. Add new expansions and updates here and there, and people will continue to pay and play for the next big upgrade. To some, this is enjoyment enough. It keeps people hooked, but is it truly good gameplay? Did we ever see gold farmers and power level services before WoW? I didn't personally.
WoW taught us that timed played, the actual amount invested equated to the best gear. Sure, skill was a factor. You had to learn how to deal with different situations in raids and in PVP, but in general any lack of skill could be made up for by exceptional gear. WoW taught us that upgraded gear was the end all objective of MMORPG gameplay. As much as you and I may disagree, most of us here are guilty of following the guiding parental hand of Blizzard and enjoying it for a time anyway.
I think the most important thing WoW did for MMORPG's was force us players to ask ourselves a lot of hard questions. In the time before WoW we complained about lack of polish, about lack of content and lack of direction. Blizzard gave us that in mass, and at the time few complained. Now, years later, we complain about the lack of variety, meaningless PVP, and forced content progressions. I'm not going to mention people bickering over class imbalance; all games have "perceived" imbalances due to personal bias.
So what do we want now?
From what I have heard, we want meaningful and competitive PVP. We also want more variety in content, less reliance on equipment and more on skill, and less grinding. New games like AoC and WAR promise us this and more, and hopefully they do deliver. But what else do we want? Blizzard gave us everything we wanted back then and more, but now our wants and needs have changed and the next "generation" of MMORPG's plan to fulfill our new wants and demands.
Where do we go from here? What's next?
In part four, I'll fill you in on where I think MMORPG's are going and where I think they should go.
Part four: "A step forward" coming soon to a blog near you!

The State of the MMORPG part 2: The Great Sandbox

Posted by BadSpock Thursday August 23 2007 at 10:43AM
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Star Wars Galaxies.
Probably the most beloved and missed game by most viewers. The hype surrounding the development and release of this game was gargantuan. The chance to live and adventure in the awesome universe of Star Wars; how could this game not be hyped up beyond imagination?
They promised everything, and eventually, delivered (to some degree at least) on it all. Dozens of professions, vehicles and mounts, space ships, player created cities, dynamic events to participate in; SWG had it all.
Arguably the best and most involved crafting system ever created in a MMORPG. An open ended skill based advancement system, with dozens of professions from Bounty Hunters to Doctors to Cantina Dancers; even a shot and being a Jedi.
So what happened? Why did the game (in most eyes) fail?
First off were the bugs. Man there were a lot of bugs and glitches, and every patch that fixed some, only created more.
Then there were the balance issues. Every patch there would be a new "flavor of the month" character template. I remember one of the first was Riflemen, as they could 1-shot mind kill anyone. There was the Commando phase, the Creature Handler phase, the Combat Medic phase. Not to mention the insane stupidity that was the Doctor buff craze.
Third I'd say would be lack of content. Yes, this was an open sandbox world where you created your own adventures. In actuality, it became a mission terminal grind. Most of the "content," the Theme Parks, were so broken and buggy, or required you to be very high level (I know there were no levels but you get the point) with awesome equipment to even attempt. It was the same with the monthly story arcs. Can anyone tell me why you had to spend weeks and months grinding your skills and upgrading equipment to be able to kill a single Stormtrooper? This is Star Wars! Luke Skywalker was a moisture farmer and he had no problem blasting all kinds of Stormtroopers to bits.
I was a smuggler/pistoleeer. If one class was broken beyond repair, with absolutely no true direction or purpose it was the smuggler. We couldn't smuggle anything. We had some fancy tricks, that weren't nearly as powerful as Bounty Hunter or Commando tricks, and we could slice weapons and crates and make spice, which no one used after Doctor buffs. Pistoleer was really broken too. For being a class revolving around the use of a Pistol, we had terrible abilities in comparison to the before mentioned Professions that also used pistols.
Then came the Holocron grind. It was found that by collecting holocrons, the game told you what profession you had to master in your path to becoming a Jedi. I heard some stories of people have to master 20-30 profession in order to unlock their Jedi slot. Absolute insanity.
That's pretty much when I drew the line and stopped playing. I know afterwards came the Combat Upgrade and later the New Game Experience, but we've all heard endlessly about those and know what they did to the game, so I won't go into it.
The greatest downfall of SWG I think was that it was too big and too complex for it's time. Too many systems, too many professions, too many features… it became a nightmare of bugs and patches and as fun as the game was (for a time) it really killed it for a lot of people. The constant waiting for features long promised, re-rolling new professions with every patch so you could remain competitive (or in some cases even be able to hunt at all.) Also was the terrible grind. The developers seemed to take the few activities players found could generate acceptable levels of experience gain and later nerf them to hell. It was as if they really didn't want people maxing out their characters, because I think they really knew once they had, their really wasn't anything else to do. PVP was also very broken, especially during the AT-ST phase.
The developers had very wide eyes but lacked focus, with new games like Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft on the horizon, poor SWG just couldn't keep up.
SWG was really a UO player's game. Vast and open, skill based with little direction, a virtual sand box to hop into and play as you wanted to play. Some people never left the Cantina's, dancing and playing music nearly their entire game time.
But something was changing… MMORPG's were still a very niche market. Most video game players were used to being led along a storyline, with recognizable characters and heroes follow. The idea of being thrown into a world and being forced to create your own fun, to use the game systems to play your own adventures; most video game players scoffed at the idea. I think SWG had a peak player based of what, 500,000? UO I'm sure had less.
But that was what a MMORPG was. It was an open world. Sure there were things to do, developer crafted experiences to be had, but the main appeal of these games was the freedom. It was about creating your own goals and striving to reach them. About exploring and conquering new challenges. We didn't need to be told who our enemies were and who our friends were, we'd decide for ourselves.
Then a little game called World of Warcraft came out, and everything changed…

The State of the MMORPG Part 1: Beginings

Posted by BadSpock Wednesday August 22 2007 at 5:04PM
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I've been quite vocal on a lot of forums about a lot of different MMORPGs. I figure, it's time for me to really lay down what I feel is happening in the MMO world. This is going to be long and in multiple parts. I'll start with my history as a MMORPG player to give a better sense of where my analysis/thoughts/critiques come from....

It all started with Ultima Online. I started playing before they split the world into PVE and PVP. Trammel and Felucca. The very concept of a MMORPG was so new, so different. I'd create this character that meant nothing to the world I entered. He was no great hero, no son of so and so, nothing like the hero's in the single player RPG's we were used to. This character had no destiny, no path, and that was what was so amazing about it.

Yeah, there were some rough times at first. Being ganked by PK's that would wait outside town for noobies like myself to venture out for the first time, and take the 100 starting gold (or whatever it was) and disappear back into the shadows. I think that being my first MMORPG experience is what really has made me hate gankers and greifers so much over my many years playing MMORPGs. I just never got the point, why would you want to kill someone else so easily? Were you that afraid of losing? That afraid of a fair fight? The answer, as it turns out, would almost always be yes.

The great thing about UO was that it really didn't matter. None of the gear was any good, it was all the same, bland crap. No stats, no special modifiers.. the earliest "special" thing I remember was Silver weapons, which were much better at killing undead. They were common enough where you could almost always have one ready incase you decided to wander into an undead dungeon.

When they released Trammel, a PVP free area copy of the world, man was I happy. Now I could wander about killing and exploring, upping my skills and stats in search of greater challenge and reward. That was the thing about UO, without levels, and without any "uber" gear to aquire, many people now would ask "well then what's the point?"

The point was that it was fun, it was new and different. I'd venture out with my friends who had been playing a bit longer and they'd take me to new and exciting locations. We'd build money, create a guild, and erect a massive guild house. We'd fill it with all kinds of dyes and piles of gold and weapons and armor, we'd create rooms like kitchens and bedrooms..

Then another really big turning point came in my MMORPG days. Real PVP. I joined the Siege Perilous server, the "hardcore" server where skill gain was 1/2 as fast. I became an orc, through roleplayer and tactical helmet choice only of course, become a murderer, and really became a part of something. We had our own language, customs, rules, we'd fight each other, help each other, train how to best kill humans and anyone else who attacked the fort we made our home. Those were probably the best days of MMORPG playing I've ever had.

After that came the Factions PVP system. There were like 4 factions fighting for control of all the towns and cities in Felucca. It was a thrill to hop through a teleporter and see 15+ enemy faction memebers waiting, then hop back through before you died to warn your comrades. City sieges were quite the event, as we'd have to capture and hold the city while it turned. I really don't remember all the specifics, but no PVP system in any game I have played since has been able to match it.

That lasted me for a good long time. I never got into Everquest. By the time Star Wars Galaxies was announced, I was all hyped for it. In between UO and SWG I had a stint playing Earth and Beyond, which, at the time had the most beautiful gameplay, the first quest/mission system I had seen, and despite all the tedius grinding, was a challenging and rewarding experience.

Then came SWG....