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In my humble opinion

One players opinion on why everyone is doing it wrong.

Author: Daelus

MMORPGs: What does WAR bring to the table?

Posted by Daelus Sunday September 14 2008 at 7:40PM
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Note: All of these opinions were formed based on the beta program and, while it is basically released, these things are subject to change and, over time, will likely be remedied to a degree. None of what is written here is considered hard fact, it is just my opinion. If you've already bought WAR, the full apparel line, and tattooed your face to look like a greenskin, this is unlikely to tell you anything you don't already know in some form or another.


What does WAR bring to the table?

I know I've said in previous posts that I don't currently play any MMO's, but like many others I've been drowned beneath the tidal wave of hype following the game Warhammer Online. So, upon surfacing for air, I located an open beta key and decided to see what it has to offer. I guess you could call it a review of sorts, although I'm not big on grades, numbers or stars. Read on and make your own conclusion.

First of all, upon entering the game, the first thing that struck me is the reason for all the comparisons to WoW. I know all of you just cringed at that, but the truth is that upon first sight, it could be mistaken for an upcoming graphical patch for WoW. It does indeed look better than WoW, but the art style, interface, and combat style are clearly cut from the same cloth. This is neither good, nor bad. Just an observation that basically is bludgeoned over your skull when you start.

That out of the way, the game play is pretty much what you have come to expect of MMOs on the whole. Click an enemy, click an ability, and poke him with a variety of objects until he falls over. There is absolutely no innovation or change as far as basic combat is concerned. Once again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you like or are comfortable with the combat from pretty much any MMO out there, you won't find this obtuse or find a learning curve that represents Everest.

The next thing I came across was the main focus of WAR; RvR. This is basically their way of saying, "When you stab that guy, you're not just stabbing him, you're stabbing him for the good of the country!" While the PvP was indeed plentiful and varied, there was nothing really original here. The scenarios were things I've been playing for nearly 10 years in Quake, and the RvR "lakes" seemed to be basic control points. As I find myself repeating, this is not a bad thing. One thing WAR has going for it is the fact that it, even before it is released, has more ways to kill your fellow opponent than any other game on the market. If you fantasize about killing a person while sipping tea at the bottom of the Pacific, it would not surprise me to find something that sates that in WAR. While I never got to experience sieges properly (there were never enough people in T2), they don't seem to offer anything world shattering.

Moving on to the next selling point; Public Quests. Now, to say I was extremely disappointed would be an understatement. However, this may be because they simply weren't built to handle the amount of players running them. They scaled extremely poorly and the way they calculated contribution was so far off reality it was laughable. One time I spent 3 cycles of a PQ writing a paper, and guess what? I placed first, second and first without killing a single thing or casting a single spell, and came away with two pieces of loot for all that hard work.

Also, to the claim that PQs are new, innovative, and just generally the next big thing for MMOs. Well, all I have to say is that this thing is hardly new. All Mythic have done is taken static events, put a name on it, and drawn up an interface for loot. I have not played a single game that does not do "Public Quests" to a degree. I've found these types of events in many games, both new and old. This is not a new invention; it's just a very polished version of something most dev. teams never really focused on.

With the specific portions out of the way, I'll talk about the actual game. Talking about individual parts of a game is really rather pointless because it just isolates specific things about the game and takes them out of context. If I tell you, "In this game you're a scientist and you basically run from point A to point B, with an unclear goal of trying to save the world," you would think the game sounds relatively pointless and boring, however if I told you the game I was talking about is Half Life, and you're shooting exotic weapons at aliens, zombies and you're wearing a kick as environment suit while doing that, it sounds a little better.

Anyway, the game has a very strong flow to it. There was never a moment where I had nothing to do. When I complete a set of quests, generally they direct me to where I get my next set. Eventually, they will lead to an area sitting next to the RvR zone or a Public Quest and they will direct me in there. It all flows easily, without having to ever look at a guide, scour my map, or grind through monsters.

The PvP combat felt very polished and seemed to be balanced as well as I've seen any game. Most scenarios were relatively even on who won it, and, with the level buff, even level 1's could compete. As a level 1 warrior priest I was generally one of the top two healers in the scenario, so it is somewhat refreshing to be able to enjoy PvP, which is usually end game content, immediately from the word go. The only problem I had was that if you wanted to queue for another pairings scenario (dwarf/greenskin, high elf/dark elf, order/chaos), you actually had to find the flight master and fly there. This made it rather troublesome if you got bored of a specific scenario and wanted something different. It also meant than some were more unbalanced than others because some sides of pairings just lack damage.

Every single class felt unique, which I felt was a nice achievement considering everyone basically has basically a carbon clone on the opposing side. They look different, but their spells are pretty much exactly the same save for one or two spells. Even given this they felt very different, and they were all easily recognizable. You would never mistake a Chosen for a Marauder, or a Sorcerer for an Archmage.

In fact, there was only one class I really thought was completely useless, and that was the White Lion. As a pet class, having a pet that just doesn't work is frustrating. The Lion mirrors the Marauder, but, unlike the marauder, relies on the pet to do any sort of crowd control, as well as a large proportion of his dps. There were two major problems I found for pets. One, when you directly order a pet to use an ability, it will always trigger the cooldown, even if the pet doesn't use the ability or is out of range, and two, the pet simply doesn't respond to orders. If you order it to attack a person, the only way you're getting your pet to attack another person is to recall it or kill the target.

In summation, WAR brings basically nothing that is new. However, what it brings is polished, refined, and plentiful. It has taken what has already been done and improved upon it. Whether it was your basic deathmatch, or the dreaded "Kill 10 rats" quests, they are all, at the very least, as good as anything I've seen in any other MMO. This seems to be a very polished, but very run-of-the-mill MMO.If you like MMOs and like PvP, try it. If you are into crafting, hate PvP, or just want to hang out and chat, you might want to give it a miss.

Tom "Daelus" Pettus


MMORPGs: Genocide is an amusing pastime...

Posted by Daelus Friday August 15 2008 at 1:35AM
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MMORPGs: Genocide is an amusing pastime...


  MMOs are, by and large, combat centered games. They are usually a game containing X amount of levels, and you kill monsters and complete tasks (which are usually built on killing monsters) to increase your level and attain equipment. And... well, that's about it. That's generally the core of any MMO. After this, you throw in the ability to attack other players, add some simplistic crafting, create a compelling story to run behind the core mechanics and you've got the general MMO.

  Why all the combat? Why do we need to slaughter hundreds of woodland critters and murder the firstborn of a nearby village to advance? Last time I checked, there are hundreds of ways you can advance yourself in this fantastic place called reality. While not all of them could be considered entertaining, with a little skew on it, and enough ties into other mechanics, it doesn't seem that it would be very difficult to pull off.

  I understand that combat is a simple and exciting way to create conflict and competition between players or between the player and the environment around them, and I am not suggesting creating an MMO with zero combat. What I'm suggesting is that you shift the focus away from combat somewhat and make a game that intertwines several aspects and creates multiple ways to play the game effectively.

  There are all sorts of things that you could use to augment a game without resorting to simple, meaningless genocide. I've yet to see any MMO with a political system, where the players could be elected or hold a government-styled position. Also, I've seen very few games with a compelling crafting system; most of them follow the one click craft system WoW uses. Even if they are deep, even fewer games make the crafting world linked to the adventuring world. Usually the player will buy something generic from the crafter, later throwing it in the trash for something looted and never even speak to or see the crafter himself.

  Another thing, if GTA has taught us anything, is that crime can be entertaining. It would be an incredibly easy thing to tie into a combat centered MMO. I remember a long time ago, playing a game called Baldur's Gate. When you were too evil, killed innocents and the like, whenever you turned up in a town you were chased off by the guards. You had to be careful and do any business you had to away from town if you could. Few games really have a system in place that lets people be evil to their twisted hearts content.

  I'll sum this up and finish it off with an example (keep in mind this is just a rough example). Imagine a game world composed of two cities. These two cities are balanced by conflict, trade, and politics. Players can be elected as the leaders of various aspects of the cities and do as they please to a degree, whether it is to declare war, change taxes, or maybe change the laws themselves.

  Everything these elected officials do would affect trade. If you declare war, suddenly the traders don't like you because they can't ship goods there (or perhaps they will make a killing smuggling in goods?). If you raise taxes it's more expensive to sell something or buy something. If suddenly it becomes too expensive to sell in one town, perhaps they might find themselves suddenly short on high quality weaponry and leave themselves open to war?

  Everything the politicians can also create conflict. If they make trade too difficult, or outright declare war, corruption will reign, and soldiers will be battering down your walls. However, if you support free trade too much, you will likely create a population of bandits seeking to steal from the travelling traders, blossoming crime and conflict.

  Likewise, the interests of the traders, the soldiers, the criminals, or even the politicians themselves will effect who gets elected, and in turn the outcome. As I hope you can see, by creating alternate ways to advance oneself and linking it all together, the results and intrigue are exponential, rather than a static, "Add 10 more quests" sort of progression. It’s time we asked for something more than putting the pointy end of a sword into our enemies until they fall over.


Tom "Daelus" Pettus 

MMORPGs: What makes a memorable moment?

Posted by Daelus Tuesday July 29 2008 at 10:25PM
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MMORPGs: What makes a memorable moment?


  When we talk about MMOs that we previously played, or still are playing, there are always a few moments that come to mind. Be it when you finally sacked that uppity, elitist guilds town, or when you only just scraped a victory against that dragon when all thought it was impossible, I'm sure every player has a list of events that they loved. But what is it that seperates these things from the more mundane, every day events?

  To make something memorable, first of all, the player has to care about the outcome. If you're in a duel to the death, if losing means next to nothing, then no one really stands to lose. When no one can really lose, who can call themselves a winner? If a player truely cares about the outcome, it creates an instant intensity to the event, and it focuses the persons attention more than all the pretty graphics and particles in the world can hope to.

  To be clear, I'm not an advocate of something like permadeath, or corpse looting. There are other ways to make some care about the outcome of something, be it PvP, PvE, or a crafting scenerio. But, even so, I'm sure if you talk to someone who played a game that used permadeath, corpse runs, and full corpse looting, I'm sure they'd have plenty of entertaining stories about all of the above.

  There are other ways to create a meaningful outcome in a game, and not all of them have to be negative. You could, for example, give the option for the first group to defeat that dragon to take a screenshot and upload it to that game's website to display their achievement for all to see, with a comment and the date when it happened.  Or perhaps you could create personal player flags in a players profile based on how the perform in PvP combat that were publicly viewable. If losing or running from a fight labeled me as a weakling or a coward, I might try just that little bit harder.

  These are of course merely examples, there are multitudes of ways to do this, and many games have been using them for quite a while, and many of them can be quite simple. Most first person shooters have a respawn timer in them, or force you to wait until the next round to play again. This makes a player less likely to throw themselves into a hopeless situation, and should they die, it gives them time to stew over their defeat.

  The real problem, however, is how can you do this without making gameplay frustrating and inaccessable. If a person only gets one 'life', they're going to spend it trying to avoid death constantly. This goes back to what I said earlier; these meaningful outcomes don't have to be negative. Lets say, for example, every time you killed a person, you got just slightly stronger, but when you died, you lost all that benefit. Over time, if you got a real killing spree going, you could reach the point where few people could match you, but one day a group of people are going to hunt you down. Whatever the outcome of that, you're going to remember it, and they will too.

  Now, in reality, if you lost that encounter and died, you're likely to be very annoyed, but you've lost nothing really. You're back to where you started, not behind where you started. For PvP at least, why must the penalty and the benefit be two seperate things?

  Beyond this, you can create meaningful encounters without having any real loss or gain, by tweaking the perception of the players. A duel between two players with no stakes doesn't mean much, but a duel in front of five hundred other players quite definately does, even if there is nothing to gain or lose. Bragging rights, whether it is having your achievement noted publically or by defeating a player under the watchful eyes of your server, matter quite a great deal to many people.

  However it is done, making something meaningful serves to turn something that otherwise would be quite mundane into something a player can truely care about. If there is nothing to lose, why try to avoid losing? Likewise, if there's nothing to gain, why try win?


Tom "Daelus" Pettus

If all else fails, add/cut content!

Posted by Daelus Monday July 28 2008 at 11:13PM
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If all else fails, add/cut content!
  In my first post, I listed a few of the things I think are wrong about MMOs. One large perpetrator is content. These games take such an exceptionally long time to develop, and take even longer to polish and debug. If a non-MMO game took 5 years to develop and release, towards the end most people would be labeling it as vaporware, but for an MMO four to five years is basically the standard, and year long delays aren’t uncommon.
  Why do these games take so long to make? Well, when a game has 20 miles of game world, and thousands of quests, and more classes than you can count, all needing work from everyone from writers to QA testers, it isn’t hard to see where all the time goes. But do we really need all of that? What is the purpose of having thousands of quests, when each player can count on one hand the amount of quests they really care about having done? Why do we need a game world the size of a small country when most of it ends up being a barren wasteland devoid of any player life?
  It’s a common occurrence in the MMO world for games to be released lacking promised content, or having area of the world basically unused. To take a recent example, Age of Conan, it was released with virtually no quests from level 40 all the way up to level 80. You went from being able to level purely from quests to having to level almost purely from grinding monsters. Not only that, but all the end game content (and I mean all of it) was either broken or non-existent. There was no pvp reward or penalty system, city building was broken so this prevented siege combat, and most of the raids were bugged or unavailable.
  Why did this happen? They had a massive amount of time to work on this project, yet it launched with basically the bare minimum of what was planned. Well, in my humble opinion, they tried to do far too much. They created 12 classes, each with 80 levels worth of abilities and each with three trees of specialized feats to select as you level, a massive game world, three races with different starting zones, and all the content that never made it in at launch. The sheer time it would take to develop the assets for this would be immense. To make it all interesting, and balanced would take even more time. It comes as little shock to me that much didn’t work or had to be cut at the last minute.
  So what can be done about this? Well, first of all, condense the content. Instead of making 20 miles of game desert, make a smaller world. Increase the size, and you need more content to fill it. If you need more and more content, you will have less time to spend on each thing you add. The less time you spend on each piece, the lower overall quality of each thing added. Logically, if you make a huge game world, either you’re going to have a relatively empty world, or you’re going to have very basic and repetitive content.
  Another thing adding to this insatiable hunger for content is the system common to many MMOs; levels. Levels may have worked back in D&D, but this is a game system that is positively ancient, and has been bastardized to a degree that is shameful. In D&D, gaining a level wasn’t something you strove for, it just happened as you played, and it was an interesting event. MMOs however used levels as the primary form of advancement. Instead of going to kill that evil sorcerer to end his reign of terror, you’re doing it to hit level 20.
  Why do we need levels? Most players who play a game beyond the opening week spend most of their time at max level anyway, so surely levels aren’t, truthfully, a tool to retain customers. Furthermore, they are a significant barrier to entry. If you convince your friend to play World of Warcraft, chances are the first thing you’re going to do once he starts playing is attempt to get him to the maximum level or create a new character so you can actually play together.
  Why this arbitrary boundary? Levels have no grounding in reality, and they seem to serve little purpose beyond an incredibly simple tool for gloating. I suggest we remove levels altogether, and replace them with an achievement driven skill tree, similar to the feats of Age of Conan, or the talents of World of Warcraft or something of this nature. By doing this you stop people from being able to “level past” content, and open many doors to what you could do with the content itself.
  One of the problems with levels is that, with them in place, it is hard to create “difficult” content. If something is difficult people will ignore it until they reach a level where it is trivial. Not only this, but a large amount of the content created from the game will be completely untouched by a player because they reached too high of a level before they even found that area or quest. Without levels, both of these problems are effectively eliminated; you can make challenging content that will always be relevant to a player.
  Another thing I want to write on briefly is restricted factions, i.e. WoW’s Horde and Alliance. First of all, this is a completely unrealistic scenario. Even in the bitterest of wars, there is negotiation between enemies, cooperation between opposing citizens, and neutral land where both parties can coincide. By restricting interaction between the factions, you’re effectively reducing your player base in half, meanwhile by restricting access to content based on faction, you’re doubling the amount of content needed to satiate your players.
  In the end, content is relative to what restrictions you put on it. These games wouldn’t need so much of it, nor need to cut as much come release if they didn’t keep shooting themselves in the foot by restricting access to it or by creating such vast pointless space. Condense your content and make it work instead of creating ten thousand “Kill ten X” quests, and thirty variations of mage, warrior, priest and rogue.
Tom “Daelus” Pettus

MMORPGs: Cutting edge games built on outdated concepts?

Posted by Daelus Monday July 28 2008 at 1:32AM
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MMORPGs: Cutting edge games built on outdated concepts?

  MMORPGs are undoubtedly here to stay.  They have shown themselves as a wave of the future and many other games are taking up some of the many aspects of them, in an attempt to mimic their extended lifecycle and to attract a crowd that are drawn to RPG-like advancement and stat tracking. But while MMOs are influencing many other games, why do MMOs remain relatively uninfluenced by these other games?

  I have yet to experience any of the cinematic greatness found in Call of Duty in any MMO, nor have I seen any of the moral dilemmas and storytelling prowess I experienced in Knights of the Old Republic. Why do I find myself more attached to a character I’ve played for 5 hours in Mass Effect than one that has clocked 200 hours in Everquest?
  The answer, I’m afraid, is simply that you are not important to the game world. Your character is one in a thousand, and not in a good way. These games are built from the community they support, yet that community are largely supporting and affecting only themselves. When you get a large group of players together and are the first, world wide, to take down some epic monster, it rarely impacts the game at all. If you take your best set of armor out and manage to take down several opposing players at once, most will forget it even happened within a few moments. With so many players inside these games, why are there so few ways to accomplish something meaningful?
  Originally, players were restricted from affecting the game world to prevent them from being able to negatively affect other players, however I think we’ve evolved past this. If a group of players ransacks a town, it should affect the day to day life of its inhabitants for some time, even after the raiders have left. When you are the first to accomplish something, there should be a way of letting it be known. Player interaction, in whatever form it takes, is vital to the success of any MMO.
  Furthermore, why are there so many barriers in MMOs? Why should a maximum level player be completely uninterested in playing and socializing with a newly created player? How is an “evil” player incapable of associating with a “good” player? Why create these restrictions?
To me, these restrictions only seem to serve as a way to gate people from content; both social and game content. Creating content that is only useful and relevant for a short period of time seems to be a vast waste of resources. Opposing and restricted factions can also serve to immediately double the amount of content needed to satisfy both of these groups. Why make the same thing twice?
  When you add content gated by location and content gated by level together you quickly see why MMOs require so much damn “content”. We should be trying to do the opposite of what is happening, taking one piece of content and creating multiple ways to use it. To give an example, take Call of Duty. There may be less than ten multiplayer maps, but when you add in several game modes, and differing weapon sets, you’ve created a map that will play differently virtually every time you load in.
  An MMO should be about accessibility, socializing, and having an entertaining, meaningful game experience. To create a truly great MMO we need to support all of these fundamentals. Few MMOs seem to embrace more than one of these goals and, until they are, I think I will remain a spectator of the MMO world, rather than a player.
Tom “Daelus” Pettus