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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

When Need and Greed Collide (and Why Does Everything Look Orange Now?)

Posted by cmagoun Friday July 24 2009 at 2:13PM
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So, I've always wanted to play Horde on WoW. I have a soft spot in my heart for orcs and trolls in any fantasy game and I think the Tauren have the only male models that don't look like crap. Unfortunately, I have never really been able to play Horde. There has always been someone in my group of friends that was already playing Alliance, or wanted to play a paladin, or hated Horde or whatever.

Seemingly everyone in my gaming circle has had a similar revelation, because this time through, everyone decided to roll Horde. Cool... so Silfain, the Blood Elf paladin was born.

Man, I hate elves. I hate the ears. I hate the "peace with nature" BS. I hate the Legolas clones. I hate the names where someone has replaced every I with a Y. I hate the "ooooh mysterious" glowy eyes. I hate the "elves are soooo magical" vibe. I hate the naked pole dancing outside of the bank. Just hate everything about them. But, of all the interesting class choices I was eyeing were taken. We had a warlock, a couple of shadow priests, a shaman, a hunter. Pretty much everything I wanted to play or had never played, someone else in the group was doing. That left paladin and that left blood elf.  And so Silfain, the self-loathing Blood Elf paladin was born and to meet up with everyone else, made the run to the ...


Ugh... miles and miles of nothing but bright orange pouring out of my 24" monitor. So bright and orange that the neighbors called 911 because when they looked out their window, all they could see was a fiery glow coming from my office window and me seemingly passed out at the keyboard... (which I understand is how all of us look on opium World of Warcraft.) Nonetheless, I got used to the desert as my eyes adjusted to the light (though I am no longer permitted to drive at night in Pennsylvania for some reason) and found the starter Horde areas to be pleasant enough.

One nice thing about the Horde starting regions is that once you get to level 11-13 or so, you can start into Ragefire Chasm which is the first instance. This is great. We have a large group of people playing on voice chat and everyone is into doing the instances as 5-10 mans, so it is cool that after one quick night of leveling (with a few people catching up on their own solo), we could get to something interesting.

We broke into two teams of 4. Our team had one of the more experienced players on it and so he led. Our team consisted of Silfain tanking, a rogue, a druid healing and a mage. Looked decent enough to me, though our leader seemed a little hesitant about going in with my 13th level pally tanking... but as fortune would have it, right before we entered, we got a friendly tell from a 15th level warrior, "Can I join you? Which I took the liberty of translating from this guy's native language. The message was actually something closer to "teamplz".

Even with the warning flags flying full mast, the team leader figured a warrior was just what we needed. The pally was a "weaker tank" he thought and so invited our new warrior friend.

Except our warrior friend didn't really tank. Half the time, he charged ahead and got initial aggro for the most part, but as soon as anything peeled off, he would ignore it entirely and let it eat the mage or druid. If someone attempted a pull, the warrior would attack one guy and allow the others to eat the puller. Not necessarily a huge deal, because I was handling the aggro control duties (though without any taunt-style powers) generally pretty well. It wasn't smooth going... I had to run around quite a bit to corral the warrior's "leavings", but we managed and once we killed our mobs, we would head up to assist the warrior who, as often as not, was already onto the next fight. There were a couple times where our warrior friend jumped the gun a little too much and charged onto the next battle when the casters were out of mana.

Still we were moving fairly quickly and no one had died and it was fun enough.

But at some point, after we dealt with our cultists and ran up to the warrior to help him with his, his true colors started to bleed through.

Warrior: let me solo them a while

Me: Huh?

Warrior: the mobs. let me solo them for a while.

Me: Why?

Warrior: don't you think I'm good enough?

Me: What are you talking about?

Warrior: I can solo here

Me: Why did you ask to be on a team if you wanted to solo the instance?

Warrior: well I can't solo EVERY fight

So we were supposed to sit around while uber-warrior boy fought. Unless, of course, he was having trouble, in which case, we could actually... you know... play. Good to know that our new warrior friend thought he signed on with a group of henchmen bots whose sole job it was to save his butt once he got to the 4 pulls in the instance. I should have introduced him to Guild Wars.

And our team leader ought to have kicked him... but we didn't. Instead, we continued fighting until the next...

Warrior: let me solo these guys

Me: No

Warrior: ok

So we figured that was that.

Then came the first boss. Our leader pointed out a patrol he wanted to kill before aggroing the boss. Unfortunately, our buddy had decided he wanted to solo the boss a little before we got there. He charged and we immediately moved in to help. Ultimately, we won the battle and the patrol didn't come down on us. Still, I think the group leader was starting to get annoyed at this point.

And yes, as in any annoying player story, there was the "Need"ing of loot. First there was the needing of the gems, malachite, silly stuff and then a couple trashy greens. I hadn't noticed, but at some point the leader mentioned, "Why did you just need that malachite?"

Warrior: what's wrong with needing

I will spare you the long-winded explanation of need vs. greed; you have likely heard it all before. The point is, we'd already been down the road more than once by the time we capped that first boss (for which I got an achievement, which is cool). A blue sword dropped and our warrior friend needed it.

Leader: Yo warrior-guy, are you going to equip that sword?

Warrior: can't use it

Leader: What do you mean you can't use it?

Warrior: have to find training. can't use it

Leader: You shouldn't need something unless it is an upgrade you can use right now. If you can't equip it, you shouldn't need it.

Warrior: what's wrong with need


Warrior: why you kick... (poof)

We continued as a 4-man team and completed the instance. It helped a bit that I leveled into a taunt power and the mage leveled into his sheep spell. And though I had a good time, I have to admit, I was a little annoyed at our warrior friend. Not because of the sword -- though the sword would have gone to me and it was an upgrade.

No, what drives me nuts is the disregard for the group's etiquette. Regardless of what we said, or his saying "ok", this guy was soloing and we were along for the ride. There was not a moment of teamplay from our warrior friend. Not once did he help with aggro management. Not once did he check on the healer's mana before charging into his next fight. Not once did he pay attention to anything the leader said... and he certainly didn't catch the need vs. greed concept.

Normally, I like dicey groups. Groups where everything goes super-smooth are lucrative, but can also be boring. I like near-misses and double pulls and running out of mana in the middle of a pitched battle. I don't mind the occassional team wipe... yelling, "Jon, nooooooooooooooo!" into the mike while the mage blasts the bad guy from across the chasm and a level down, only to see him and his two dozen buddies clamor around the corner three minutes later to wipe us from the face of the dungeon.

I love that crap.

But I also like good team play and people generally watching out for each other. I like when people go out of their way to keep their teammates alive... and having fun. I like when someone sees an item that would be perfect for them and yet, they ASK before needing it, just in case the group had something else in mind.

So, the next time someone asks if they can solo mobs in an instance... the correct answer is yes, you can solo in instances...(kick)

WoW Again... Naturally

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday July 22 2009 at 4:06PM
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So someone in my regular gaming group started an email chain with the intention of getting everyone in the group on the same game. As you might recall, this is no easy task, but the emails flew and suggestions were made and ultimately, the only game we could all agree on was WoW.


See, as much as I wanted to get everyone together and playing again, I've done my stint in WoW and really hadn't ever intended to go back. I am not bashing WoW. It is a decent game and it is the cleanest, "purest" version of the themepark game in existance... which is why it is the #1 Western MMO. People like themeparks and thus, people like WoW. Heck, I like WoW, but of the dozens of games that I would love to play with a regular group on voice chat, WoW was at the scummy bottom of the barrel.

So, even though I ridiculed my gaming group for being too picky for its own good, here I was being very picky when it came to choosing WoW as our new game. Even my friend Jon, who swore he'd never play WoW for as long as Dick Clark is alive, who hates the art style in WoW to the point where it works him up so as to make him nauseous, for whom the probability of playing WoW was about as high as the Pittsburgh Pirates having a winning season, agreed to play WoW. Actually, I think he agreed to "take one dry for the team" which I interpreted as either playing WoW, or drinking a martini.

Of course, this same friend, ever the min-maxer, immediately bought two accounts so he could refer himself for the big xp buff and the mount. (facepalm)

Everyone was gearing up to play, but this time, I was being the jackass who was ruining the plan. I really didn't want to play WoW and so I figured I would just sit this one out until Aion, Mortal Online, Champions Online... heck even Darkfall NA would be more interesting. But I had to find a reasonable excuse, oh heck, any excuse really and so I thought, "I probably uninstalled it a while ago. I would hate to go through the install and then the patching again. If it is not on my hard drive, then forget it."

But no, buried in the Windows menu, somewhere under the program titled, "Wouldn't you rather play this than WoW" was WoW... still installed, recently patched and ready to go. So then I thought, "Well I cancelled all of my MMO subs months ago. Certainly my WoW subscription has lapsed and I have no interest in paying $15 a month for a game I will not enjoy. If my subscription has ended then forget it."

And I logged into my Blizzard account, checked my subscription and lo and behold... of all my MMO subs, the only one I FORGOT to cancel was the WoW one and being that I never cancelled, it helpfully and cheerfully resubbed my... just yesterday... until December... with elipsis...

Obviously fate has conspired against me and I am playing WoW again. So, if you see Silfain the Blood Elf Paladin, say hello and yeah, you can laugh at me for my pitiful attempts to avoid the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft.

An Experimental Crafting System

Posted by cmagoun Wednesday July 8 2009 at 4:40PM
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To start crafting in our ECS, you would choose a pattern. Each pattern would have different material slots that would accept a certain type of crafting reagent. So, a dagger might have 2 blade slots and a grip slot. Different metals could go into the blade slot and a leather or cloth could go into the grip. Based on the type of reagent you placed in each slot, and the quality, you would affect the base stats of the crafted item.

So, let's say we want to craft daggers. We would gather or buy various materials, head to the crafting station and choose the dagger pattern. A window opens where I can see the material slots (2 blade and 1 grip slot) and can choose materials to place in there.

I decide to start cheap and choose 2 stones for the blade. Now stone is a terrible crafting reagent for most purposes and as I put the stones in the slots, I can see that the blade becomes slower, does less damage, has poor armor penetration, has an accuracy penalty and low durability.

I am not happy with the stats on that blade and so decide to try a better grade of material, switching iron for stone. The iron blade is still pretty slow (not as bad as the stone), but has decent armor penetration, damage and durability. The stats I get out of the iron blade are good enough for now and so I move onto the grip where I have similar choices. I can create a wool grip which does very little for my weapon's accuracy and speed, or choose a hide grip, which boosts those two stats a little.

I could see crafter skill coming into this system several ways. Each crafter would have an overall pattern skill level. So, I might have a Craft: Dagger, or Craft: Sword skill. I think crafters would also have skill levels in the various materials they work with. So, as I worked in stone or iron, I would gain skill in those specific materials.

When you pick a pattern and place the materials into their slots, the skills would affect the final result in various ways. I think both pattern and material skill would play into the overall success chance of the crafting. A master swordsmith working with a known material would almost never fail whereas a novice working in a difficult material for the very first time would possibly waste quite a bit. Next, I think a high pattern skill would give a small overall (randomized?) boost to the stats of the final product; a low pattern skill would lower the final stats. Finally, the material skill would change the rate at which the material added/reduced the item's attributes. So a master of Quickiron would get more quickness and less reduction of damage than a novice.

The basic system is very similar to what is in Ryzom and sounds a lot like what the Mortal Online team is creating. I think this system has a lot of advantages. The first is that you get thousands of combinations of materials that lead to tons of slightly different items. More items with more variation is a good thing. Crafters would tailor their choice of materials to their customers' needs, creating lighter armor for rogues, or more damaging swords for warriors.

Another advantage is that crafters with higher skill and access to better materials will tend to create better items. I could see this system leading to players who flock to Crafter Bob for fast swords, or Crafter Sally for the most durable armor. Even a mundane sword produced by a master swordsmith who had mastered the proper materials would be sought after for its exceptional base stats.

If we take the raw materials and add refining skills, then we can see another possible advantage to this system which is an effective use of combines and interdependent trade skills. Now normally, I hate excessive combines in crafting recipes, but in this case, you would not be required to use them. You could use the base materials and still get an item -- the combines would just lead to better items with higher stats.

So, let's say I am a swordsmith and I have a lot of raw iron in my inventory. I could use the iron to make swords, and get a few nice ones, but I really need to up the stats on my product to compete with what is already on the market. I could contact a metallurgist, hand him the iron and some coal and he could use his skills to make steel. I would then use the steel to make swords with higher attributes, getting an edge on the market. However, I pay for this quality by having to provide coal and a fee for the metallurgist.

Now, all of this is for creating "mundane" items. Items with character stats, procs, special damage, or other special powers are created via crafting "aspects" into our items. Every crafting material item would have an aspect score which would generally be hidden, but might be visible to characters with high crafting skills or special abilities. The aspect score is tied to an individual item, not a class of items, so if you loot 3 different rabbit's foot items off of corpses, they all have different aspect scores. Typically, low-level, common items have very low aspect scores, while rare, high-level items have high aspects.

The aspect score of an item is roughly the chance it has of imparting a specific quality onto an item. An quality would be something like "Quick: +2 speed" or "Caustic: 10% chance to proc 10-20 acid damage." Every item has a list of these qualities that it can give to each type of pattern.

In addition to the normal material slots you see when creating an item, you would also have 2-5 aspect slots based on your pattern skill level. Pretty much ANY crafting item can be placed into the aspect slots. When an item is placed into an aspect slot, the computer chooses one of the item's qualities like a reel in a slot machine (though it does not show the player). When the crafter hits the button to finalize the crafting process, the randomly chosen qualities each have a chance (based on the item's aspect score) to be applied to the final crafted item.

So... that needs an example badly... Back to crafting iron daggers.

I am crafting daggers using 2 iron for the blade and leather for the handle. I am happy with the stats I am getting, but I would like to try my hand at creating a magical weapon. Unfortunately, all I have is some granite I gathered from a nearby quarry. I have 2 pieces of granite, one with a low aspect score and another with a very high aspect. I put the low aspect granite into a slot first.

At that point, the computer looks up the possible qualities for granite and dagger and comes up with the following:

(0.5%) Stoneskin: +1 Toughness
(0.5%) Stalagmite: +1 Earth Damage
(0.1%) Statuesque: +2 Strength, +2 Toughness, -2 Speed
(0.3%) Blockhead: +2 Toughness, -1 Intelligence
(0.1%) Piercer: +1% Critical Armor Penetration

From this list, it randomly picks (0.5%) Stalagmite. The 0.5% is the chance that this quality will actually stick to the crafted item. The dismal chances are because of the item's crappy aspect score. My high aspect piece of granite has the same potential qualities, but with much better chances of them occurring. When, I put that piece in, the computer picks (1.5%) Blockhead from the list. Now, when I hit "OK" and craft the item, I have a 1 in 200 chance of doing extra damage, a 1 in 67 chance of getting a toughness bonus and intelligence penalty, and a 1 in 13333 chance of both.

Now, a couple of possibilities here. One is that the character's material skill could influence the chance of a quality sticking to an item. In the above example, a granite master might have his percentages of producing a magic item increase by fivefold, whereas a novice might have half the normal chance.

Another factor would be the slot machine concept where if you put two identical items into aspect slots and the computer chose the same quality from each, both would have a higher chance to "proc". So, in the above example, let's say both granite pieces landed on Stalagmite. Because there were two of the same quality, the chance of each sticking would be doubled.

Another possibility would be that each time the computer rolled a different quality, the crafter would have a chance (based on his material skill?) to "learn" that quality. Once a quality is learned, the crafter could choose it in the crafting screen and it would have a higher chance of appearing in the slot machine. This would allow a crafter to influence what kind of stats appeared and if the matching qualities == higher chance idea was in place, would increase the chance of a magic item being produced.

Keep in mind, the numbers are totally out of thin air and a lot of tweaking would have to be done to get something that keeps magic items rare, but makes them worthwhile to pursue.

Now, here is the final piece of wackiness. Once a magic item was produced by using the aspect slots, the crafter would have the option of purchasing a blueprint for that item. If he held the blueprint and used the same materials in the same slots, he would be certain of producing the same magical item with the same qualities -- no random roll involved. Once a crafter has "discovered" a magic item, he can purchase the means to replicate it over and over.

So, going back to my example, let's say I get fortunate and create an iron dagger with the Stalagmite quality. I now have the option to purchase the blueprint for an iron dagger with bonus earth damage. When I craft again, I can start from scratch, or use the plan, put in 2 iron for the blade, leather for the handle and 2 pieces of granite for the aspect slots and I am guaranteed to create another iron dagger with +1 earth damage.

Now, the catch is that there are a limited number of each unique blueprint (in my case it is iron dagger with +1 earth damage) on any given server... let's say 100. So, the first 100 crafters to discover this item (and have the cash to lay down for the plan) get the means to replicate it. They now have a unique item to sell on the market. Everyone else has to stumble upon that particular item, and will never be able to reliably create it. Blueprints are items like any other and could be traded, sold, or stolen (in games where that is possible).

That's all for now. If there is any interest, we can expand on this idea a little more and talk about teaching, or copying blueprints, or even reverse-engineering blueprints from items. In the meantime, post a comment and tell me what you think.

Note to Devs: kthxbye... Can We Have Your Stuff?

Posted by cmagoun Monday July 6 2009 at 12:05PM
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Imagine that your favorite MMO turns off its servers -- there simply isn't enough support to justify keeping the thing running. The MMO-space is littered with the corpses of decent games (and crappy ones) that for whatever reason, their company decided to shut down. More often than not, these dead games leave behind a small core of dedicated fans. I know folks who loved Auto Assault and were sad to see it go. Others are hoping that Aeria picks up Shadowbane (me included), and even 5 years later, I would love to see Earth and Beyond revived.

Normally, your only recourse would be to start a forum post, or a hopeless petition. Good luck with that. My guess is you are stuck finding another game, but what if that weren't the case? Instead of closing up shop and leaving the game to rot, what if the developer/publisher of a dead game made the code open source?

Now making the code of your favorite, dead MMO would not guarantee that you could resume playing. Someone (and more likely a group) would have to have the time and resources to compile the source code and host a server. Performance would probably be pretty bad, support non-existant and updates would be done when they got done... keeping in mind that everyone involved has a day job.

Still, the computing world is filled with very successful open source projects and so I could envision a case where the right project crossed roads with the right dev team and a just-rabid-enough fan-base to resurrect an otherwise dead game.

Until then, Aeria Games... PICK UP SHADOWBANE! (or Earth and Beyond)

Note to Devs: Pray Your Game Has the Red Ring of Death

Posted by cmagoun Thursday July 2 2009 at 9:30AM
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I am on my 4th XBox 360. Well, it might not literally be my 4th 360; I would have to check the serial numbers to see if the boxes were actually different or not, but this is the 4th time I will get an XBox into my home after a return or repair.

So... 3 hardware failures, more specifically 2 network port failures and, just so I didn't feel like a wierdo, a red ring of death. In total, I have spent over 6 hours on the support website and an estimated 18 or so hours on the phone with tech support. The most epic of those calls lasted over 2 hours and ended with me getting disconnected just before the tech authorized the repair, forcing me to repeat the whole call, and I mean the WHOLE call, including the "Is the cable plugged into the back of the console, Sir?" The second most epic call had the tech trying to convince me that the network connection really was working... hard to explain. I wish I would have taped that one.

Of course, I am not alone. The failure rate of the XBox is well-documented, with current estimates hovering around 1 in 6 360s failing. By any reasonable measure, the XBox is a mess. It has cost Microsoft millions, probably billions of dollars in shipping and repair costs, not to mention further burying the image of a company with a less than stellar reputation for quality.

One night, I had this dream where an enraged Vin Diesel comes to my house, angrily picks my PS3 above his head and repeatedly smashes my XBox 360 to bits. Then, once the 360 is nothing more than a pile of electronic components, unrecognizable except for the pathetic, still-flashing red-rings, he sets the Playstation down, pops in Metal Gear Solid 4 and plays while whistling the theme song to Katamari Damacy.

Proving only that 3 burritos before bed is not the best idea.

But you know, the PS3 is a darn nice piece of hardware. It has a pretty innovative architecture, a sturdy, sleek black case, a blue-ray player, a full-on PS2 chip in there for great backwards compatability with my extensive PS2 collection (why they dropped this feature, I will never know), a hard-drive I can replace without paying a premium, and a respectable 3% failure rate.

It bears repeating: the PS3 is an awesome piece of hardware and the XBox 360 hardware is crap.

The PS3 also collects dust while I anxiously await the return of my lovable piece of crap 360. (And let's not even discuss the Wii... because that is by far the best $250 paperweight I have ever had the pleasure of owning.)

See, if there is one thing the XBox has taught me, it is that failure is not absolute. In fact, consumers will be quite willing to ignore your failings if you offer them something worthwhile in return. We will put up with red-rings, repairs, tech support folks with painfully heavy accents, terrible hold music, being at the UPS store enough so that the clerks there know you by first name... we will put up with this and more, as long as the overall experience is good enough. The sum total of the XBox -- the dashboard, the online experience, the downloadable content, the game library -- comes together to provide an experience that transcends the crappy hardware.

If we look at the world of MMOs, I think we will see the same thing, because you know what? 90% of games suck at launch. Almost every game ever launched in the history of MMOs has been incomplete, buggy, unbalanced, laggy, glitchy or worse at launch. Software development is difficult and an MMOs are some of the most difficult programs to develop, so it is almost an impossibility to get the perfect launch.

Yet some games overcome their launch woes and enjoy success. Anarchy Online had a good run despite a terrible launch. Shadowbane managed to last for several years despite a poor launch and nagging performance issues throughout the game's life. EQ2 had a very shaky start and has grown into one of the best fantasy titles in the genre. Vanguard is enjoying renewed life.

On the other hand, Auto Assault died very quickly after its launch. Tabula Rasa had a decent enough launch, but could not survive. Darkfall seems to be the latest in terrible launches, and it seems to be on life-support. The Chronicles of Spellborn was not horribly flawed at launch, but it seems to be DOA.

I think ultimately, that games survive or die based on the sum total of the player experience. Certainly, the launch is part of that experience, but not all of it. Certainly bugs are part of that experience, but not all of it. I believe the single, most important part of the player experience is the GAME. If your underlying game is good, you will eventually find people want to play.

Vanguard, for all of its flaws and its legendary bad launch is a solid MMO with an old-school appeal to it. EQ2 started as a mediocore game, but has since transformed itself into an excellent example of the genre. Anarchy Online was unique for its time and has one of the most awesome, crazy min-maxing character advancement and gear systems I have ever seen. These games offer something that transcends their problems.

Someone recently asked me if I thought Champions Online will kill CoX. I replied that I didn't know, but in the current MMO market, bet on the game that has already survived its rocky period. Why? Because invariably, Champions is going to have serious flaws at launch. I am sure there will be ample lag, too slow leveling, power imbalances, grouping is pointles, combat glitches, issues downloading updates, too little content, too fast leveling, video card incompatabilities, forced to group...

All of that is certainly going to happen. The question is, will Champions Online also have something in it that will make us play in spite of all that. CoX did... and it survived.