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washedupgamer

MMO and videogame blog from a grizzled gaming veteran. Check out my full blog at washedupgamer.com.

Author: washedupgame

Interesting Gamers: Raph Koster

Posted by washedupgame Tuesday June 2 2009 at 11:27AM
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This is the first entry in what may end up being a series regarding interesting figures in the gaming community. Raph Koster, the lead designer of Ultima Online and former Chief Creative Director of Sony Online Entertainment will be my first subject.

Raph began his career in gaming after graduating from Washington College in Maryland with an English degree in 1992 and started work on LegendMUD. From that point he moved forward with his education and ended up graduating with a Master’s degree in Poetry from the University of Alabama. He then somehow made the jump from there to the hugely influential Origin Systems and became the lead designer on Ultima Online.

Using this experience Raph then moved to to Verant Interactive/Sony Online Entertainment and began work as creative director of Star Wars Galaxies. With Sony Online Raph grew into the role of Chief Creative Officer and worked on Everquest 2 and subsequent expansions until 2006.

At this point Mr. Koster moved on from Sony to form his own company, Areae, with the intention of creating a software platform that lets users create their own virutal worlds. This plan was realized with the release of Metaplace. Mr. Koster changed the name of his company from Areae to Metaplace and as of today that is where he is at in the world.

I first read about Raph when I came across his blog, simply titled “Raph’s Website“. Intrigued I typed his name into Wikipedia and began reading about a guy that was recently placed at #11 in the top 20 most influential people in the MMO industry. I then checked out Youtube and found a video featuring him speaking at a industry conference. At this point in his career he has the luxury of being able to speak on topics such as the theory of virtual economies, social networks, and games about tasting a peach, but I found it very interesting to watch.

The topic of the video seems to be the distinction between “playing” and “gaming” and how they should be approached. The primary point that he presents is that games today are essentially giant spreadsheets that keep track of what a gamer accomplishes and assigns them imaginary rewards for reaching different milestones. He then presents the idea of creating a game about the abstract concept of tasting a peach and talks about the questions that brings up.

A point he brings up during the discussion is that the biggest and most successful games on the market are the ones that present very little choices for the gamer, and pegs them into roles that need to be fulfilled or they fail (World of Warcraft is the example). He says that the games that present the most amount of freedom to gamers, with the biggest worlds and least amount of restrictions fail to find an audience and never make it off the ground.

I feel that though Mr. Koster has noble views on what games should be, he hit one of the major issues of game design on the head with those statements. The average gamer cannot function without a defined set of rules to follow and achievements to fulfill. If there is no carrot on a stick for a gamer to chase after then there is no reason for the game to go on. The challenging part of this idea is that also, if the carrot is too far out of reach for them they will stop and move on to something else. This is really the supreme challenge for MMO designers and something most of them fail at. This need for fulfillment through achieving different milestones is something that exists at a basic level in human nature and something that games, especially MMOs, feed on to successful.

There is an interesting question from the audience during the discussion where someone mentions that social networks like MySpace have such large populations that the lowest common denominator becomes the accepted norm so that a baseline for communication can be established. I feel that this also holds true in the social network that exists in games such as World of Warcraft. However, I believe that MMOs have become so popular that this network has extended beyond individual games and rather exists as an MMO community rather then one particular game. When you speak to an MMO gamer they have generally tried a large number of different games and when a new MMO comes out they run out and try it right away. What we see now is large numbers of gamers from different MMO populations converging in a new game and falling back on the lowest common denominator of communication and expectation.

So a problem is born from that base level of expectation. A game designer needs to fulfill what is expected of their game to hook gamers in, but they also have to find ways to push the boundaries and create new experiences to keep gamers there. Creating different versions of the same grinding treadmill doesn’t work and that is why we have so many MMOs failing these days. Just look at this announcement today saying that Matrix Online is going to be shut down in two months.

I applaud Mr. Koster for exploring new ways to bring games to gamers, and thank him for his thought provoking ideas presented in this discussion. The video can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXliVs0JCR4

If you found this article interesting check out my full blog at http://www.washedupgamer.com.

My thoughts on Will Wright's comments on game design.

Posted by washedupgame Sunday May 17 2009 at 8:40PM
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So I found an interesting video from FORA.tv depicting Will Wright talking about how game design and Web 2.0 are intersecting (see the end of the post for the link). Basically he touches on how he believes that most people are narcissistic by nature and the more you power you give a gamer to express themselves through their character or game, the more involved they get in the game. I kind of have to take his word for gospel on this one since he designed the best selling PC game of all time, The Sims.

He then goes on to speak about how Web 2.0 and the whole social networking craze links in to his theory. In my opinion services like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter are narcissistic in nature since they allow a person to create their idealized identity online. A person doesn’t have to deal with their broken down car, mass layoffs at work, or a pending breakup/divorce online. They can create as glitzy of a profile they want and let others think their lives are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They can also wallow in their own self pity and solicit the sympathy of others to boost their egos. People can do whatever they want on social networking sites and portray themselves however they want. That is why they are mega popular, and that is why Will Wright’s theory should be promoted to fact.

Will Wright’s point also applies to MMOs as well. They have exploded in popularity because they let people create an idealized online version of themself. Who cares if you are jobless 30 year old living in your Mom’s basement when you are a valued member of an elite WoW raiding guild? You can turn yourself into Superman if you want to. That is the allure of an MMO and what draws gamers to them like magnets.

So, Will Wright, you are a much smarter man then I. I mean the guy just left his job at EA to form a think tank.

The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFtt25k873U

If you found this article interesting check out my full blog at washedupgamer.com.

Thoughts on the Going Rogue City of Heroes expansion.

Posted by washedupgame Wednesday May 13 2009 at 11:34AM
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NCSoft/Paragon Studios has announced a second expansion for City of Heroes. Entitled “Going Rogue“, the expansion will examine the gray areas between good and evil and allow characters to change their morality through special missions. Through the morality system hero characters will be able to access areas formerly only available to villains, and vice versa.

The timing of this announcement seems a bit odd, considering that the CoH player base is in turmoil at the moment over the newly released Architect System in the game. To summarize what happened, a system was released in the game that allows players to create their own missions (quests) and release them to the public. When the system hit the live servers players attacked it like a fat kid attacks a cake and proceeded to create hordes of missions that exploited various bugs to create a power leveler’s farming paradise. The normal game basically came to a stand still and the only thing available to do was run bugged farming missions with names such as “Meow Mixxx 9.0!”.

I was personally playing CoH at the time and had to cancel my account over the whole thing. It neatly demonstrated that today’s multiplayer gamer will actively exploit any flaw in any game system to get ahead in any way possible. I mean, the game went from a laid back casual friendly atmosphere to an EXTREME HARDCORE FARMING BUILDS ONLY! grind fest literally overnight. It felt like I had logged on to a completely different game.

So, what makes the timing of the press release funny to me is that it is an obvious attempt to sweep their little blunder under the rug and show their players the next shiny new thing that they get to keep paying their money for. A Lead Designer from Paragon Studios event admits that there is “(admittedly) very little information we’ve released at this time” regarding the details of the actual expansion.

I’m glad that the developers learned from their mistakes here and are doing the right thing by banning exploiting players. I hope that other MMO developers are keeping an eye on this, because if they give an inch in their system their players will have no problem taking a mile from them.

If you found this article interesting check out my full blog at washedupgamer.com.

Wild West MMO… Oregon Trail on roids?

Posted by washedupgame Saturday May 9 2009 at 8:15PM
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It’s a slow news day so I’ll link an interesting article on mmorpg.com. It discusses historical based MMOs and specifically one set in the Wild West era in US history. The author talks about his vision of what a Wild West MMO should be and different game mechanics that would be involved.

To summarize, he describes an FPS PvP driven game based around “reputation” earned and lost on either side of the law through gun fights, cattle rustling, bank robberies, bar brawls, things of that nature. He touches on other MMO aspects such as crafting, economy, services, and so forth.

Sounds like a cool idea but I see a major flaw, there would pretty much be no end game. There are only so many gangs to bust up or high noon gun fights to sling bullets in. I think the focus of the game would have to be shifted to the other MMO aspects such as exploration, crafting, and survival.

Think of Oregon Trail on steroids. There you are constantly fighting for survival against disease, hunger, and raiders. A wild west MMO would be an excellent scenario to inject the feeling of danger into. Who cares how many bandits you can grind out in one sitting when your character’s body is being ravaged by a particularly savage case of dysentary? How long can you hammer away on an anvil repairing cart wheels when your dude hasn’t eaten in 5 days? What happens when you come back from a successful hunting trip and find your house/wagon ransacked and burned to the ground?

A huge problem with MMOs these days is that there is no feeling of mystery or danger involved. You can just go to each game’s version of WOWHead, type in a quest name, and instantly get a step by step set of instructions on how to complete every quest in the game. You can even download plugins that points you where to go and gives you popups on what you should be doing.

I would picture a western MMO as starting out as a clean state. Just the original US states and a vast expanse of wilderness and the occassional frontier town to the west from there for players to explore and populate. If there was an ever changing terrain of players moving and towns popping up it wouldn’t be practical to establish any sort of detailed map on a website. There would be mystery and danger involved, like how the old west really was.

So yeah, you could incorporate the FPS elements into the game that the original author was speaking of, but that should only be a part of a larger picture. I’m hoping that the next generation of MMOs evolve past the do X amount of quests and kill X amount of creatures until you hit the max level mold that developers are beating into the ground right now. Hopefully they move towards dynamic areas and dynamic content that can’t be tracked and cataloged on 50 different websites.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out my full blog at washedupgamer.com.

Chronicles of Spellborn Impressions

Posted by washedupgame Friday May 8 2009 at 9:43PM
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So here are my impressions of the newly released in the US MMO called The Chronicles of Spellborn. The game was developed by the cleverly titled Dutch developer Spellborn International. The game utilizes the Unreal graphics engine and appears the use version 2 of the engine, which first saw action back in 2002. The title was initially released in the UK on November 27th, 2008 and was released in the US on April 23rd, 2009. You can currently download the game for free and pay a $14.99 monthly fee starting after a two week trial period.

I can’t really call this a full review because I couldn’t bring myself to play the game long enough to get anything other then an impression. This is the type of MMO that immediately punches you in the gut with that sinking feeling of been there done that. The best way to describe the feeling would be to ask you to imagine reading the entire Sunday newspaper from 2 years ago for the 5th time in one sitting. A sane person would have thrown the thing in the trash (or recycling if you prefer) a long time ago. For some reason there are people out there that eagerly rip open the old paper and read until their eyes bleed. When the tutorial dumped me out in front of some motionless NPCs with icons floating above their heads asking me to extinguish some grizzlies to the north I just logged out.

The game basically plays like a cheap version of Wow, which sadly seems to be the norm these days. Once I struggled through the character creation (getting kicked out of the servers once during the proccess) I logged in and was immediately greeted by antiquated visuals and a rather strange tutorial. It basically asks you to walk forward, backward and sideways about 40 times and then gets you to beat up some straw dummies. The only highlight of the game is that the tutorial wasn’t bad once you got out of the initial area. You are flying through some type of outer space area on a “shardship” and beating back monsters being spewed forth from a large winged vomit demon… Ok cool, I think to myself. The game then takes a dramatic dive for the worse. Once the tutorial finished the game goes from battling flying creatures in outer space to dumping you into a small village in a wooded area. I look around and find a few NPCs doing their best imitation of a statue. When I approached them they mumbled something about killing grizzlies and gave me vague directions north of the village.

I just have to say, I’ve played many MMOs during my gaming career, and there are only so many times that I can charge into a field wearing the equivilent of a loincloth and clutching what amounts to a butter knife to battle hordes of bunny rabbits, toads, bear cubs, or piglets. Please… please… please, no more. If you are developing an MMO out there and this is what you have envisioned as the opening experience for your players, just stop, scrap the whole idea, and start over. If you are a current company and wondering why your 5 year development cycled multi-million dollar wonder project is biting the big one, this is why. People simply do not want to do the same things over and over time and time again. They were hooked in a few times since the MMO genre was born but people aren’t buying it any more.

So, to top it all off, the Spellborn website features a special Spellborn music video done by a Dutch clone of Evanescence named “Within Temptation“. Ugg. Oh yeah… the website, almost forgot about that. It is pretty much impossible to find any type of gameplay information on the site, the classes were a mystery to me and still are.

Did you find this article interesting? Check out my full blog at washedupgamer.com.