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Quick note: I had occasion to wander through a local Best Buy today, noticed a preorder box for Gods and Heroes… for $49?

This was an error on Best Buy’s part, right?  Someone got a little confused while working the pricing gun… correct?  The Tabula Rasa preorder box was right next to it for the far more typical $10.

Just looking for some reassurance that we haven’t entered the era where people will pay full retail price for a game that isn’t even being released for several months yet…

There have been a few posts in various places over the past couple weeks that have brought up the role of “equipment” in MMOs.  The actual main topics of discussion were quite diverse: in one case, it was a discussion of why players get so few choices in how their character’s look in some games (at mmorpg.com, link), in another, a back-and-forth related to microtransactions (rlmmo.com Metaverse forums, link). 

Obviously, there have been multiple times the MMO blogosphere has touched on the topic in various ways as well… the recent EQ2 update being just the latest impetus. (sorry, a little lazy on the links this morning… post em if you got em…)

What I continue to wonder, and that I bring up as a result of the above commentary, is whether a game with equipment (ie CoH doesn’t really count) that did not scale “heroically” in power would be accepted, particularly one in a fantasy setting.

Now, I’ve never been all that enamored of the typical implementation of equipment in MMOs, anyway.  I just find it slightly jarring that a newbie sword does 1-10 points, while a blade of apparently similar size and weight but tagged as “high level” does 10000-11000 points instead.  I know it’s “magic” and all that… but you could make the same argument related to being able to walk through walls due to poor collision checking, and people would get all up in arms about _that_…

My own idea is to have equipment which empowered and enhanced the use of a character’s abilities, but did not grant anything of it’s own.  A simple example might be a sword which enabled the character to use certain special types of attack if known, and perhaps even gave bonus damage on a subset of them, but could be used as a basic weapon by anyone, specially skilled or no.  In short, the character’s skill is the primary determinant of success… equipment just defines what specific techniques they can use of the ones they know.

Does that fly too heavily in the face of the current model of choice, where equipment literally _becomes_ the primary advancement mechanism at some point?  I go back and forth on that question when I read forums and the like… some people seem likely to be open to the idea, others have so much pride invested in their character’s equipment it seems unlikely they would embrace games using an alternative system that didn’t offer precisely the same opportunity/goal.

Anyone have additional insight?

Been rather busy of late, but I have had a little time to play around with a few things, and one of those things was the game Sword of the New World (Granado Espada).  Haven’t gotten exceptionally far into it (and doubt I’ll go all that much further, to be honest), but I’ve already noticed a few design elements that caught my interest.

One big element that I’ve been exploring a bit is the very different “style” to the combat mechanic.  To me, it is reminiscent of Diablo: lots of relatively fragile enemies coming at you in large groups, one or two shots to kill, but there are so many that it can be fairly easy to be overwhelmed.  The pace is exceptionally fast and furious, as opposed to many of the MMOs I am more familiar with at least.

The characters generally auto-attack fairly effectively, leaving the player free to try to arrange for the use of special abilities to maximum effect, things like AoE attacks (Earthquake is my current favorite), shielding buffs, and so on.  You play 3 characters at once, each of which can have a half-dozen or so active special attacks/abilities at a time, so despite a seeming dearth of options per character, overall it works out fairly well.

Some things I’ve noted: there isn’t a lot of inter-player communication, despite the heavy reliance on auto-attacking.  I don’t know if that changes at higher levels, of course.  I suspect part of that might be simply a matter of being a little less than secure when under nearly constant attack. 

There is a small but noticeable amount of cooperation that occurs… I’ve never seen a single complaint about “kill-stealing”, despite a lot of co-locating to deal with particularly heavy waves of opponents.  Presumably this is at least partially a matter of knowing that many more targets are only seconds away from appearing, at most…

A tight grouping mechanic is not strongly encouraged as far as I’ve noticed, although certain “boss” monsters/encounters have gotten me an invite or two on occasion.

I happened to have a chance to be part of what was possibly a special event (not sure how infrequent it actually is) yesterday, where literal hordes (1000s?) of creatures were unleashed on several zones in succession near the low level city, and players were encouraged to “fight off the invasion”.  The sheer volume of creatures and players was such that even at lowest settings on a machine that can run Vanguard reasonably well, it was basically a slide show.  (Being level 20 against level 40+ foes meant I didn’t accomplish much either… except to add to both the lag and piles of dead characters.)

The combat itself is very flashy… opponents literally fly backward from a killing blow, lots of sound and fury with each attack.  It can be entertaining (in small doses) to just run into a large group of mobs, sit back, and watch the carnage unfold.

Overall, an interesting if somewhat frustrating game… the setting is actually one I’d be interested in exploring, a rather engaging treatment of the early colonization of the Americas so far.  Various translation issues, lack of clear direction on various subsystems like crafting and auctions, very small and constrained city instances, and somewhat abrupt transitions to and from timed instance quests are starting to take their toll on my patience, however… and the combat, while it was entertaining for a bit, is starting to get a bit boring as well.

I do like the music, tho.  And the costumes.

Damianov Family of Granado Espada

The Damianov family: Myridian, Demetria, and Christopher.

(I wonder exactly how silly I’d look in that Marksman outfit.  I saw a coat very much like that at the Renaissance festival on Saturday… 🙂 )

So here’s the thing… (my phrase for the month, I guess)

Again and again I find myself a little frustrated trying to find some old post or comment I know I’ve seen somewhere else on someone’s blog that I want to refer to… but I have no idea where or when.  There’s enough content and commentary out here at this point that some sort of rudimentary index might be useful, right?  Having good ideas and examples fall down the memory hole might make a bit easier to blog regularly, since we can go over the same ground over and over and over again, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose, sorta?

So… my idea was to try to set up an “MMO blog and podcast index” over at wikia.com, specifically in the gaming section.  It needs a better name than that, of course, and it would need a significant number of people willing to help maintain it… even just doing all the blogs on my RSS feed and blogroll would take me more time than I have.

I’d love to be able to just go to “Design: Guilds: Interface” and get a chronological list of links to various blog entries on guild management interface ideas and problems, or “Experiences: Everquest 2” and have links to various in-game travelogues and stories of triumph and woe.

Maybe something like this already exists… if so, _please_ let me know where.  If not, does anyone else think it might have some merit, and want to help me get it established… or is it too much effort for not enough effect?  All comments are welcome, as always…

Looks like a domain issue… how am I going to survive without the snark formerly known as Lum, and Tweety?

Temp links, anyone?

Buried at the moment, so just some linkage today (sorry)…

Aaron at Anyway Games had good followup post on the HAM commentary that didn’t register a pingback for some reason, so I wanted to at least to link it…

As Cuppycake first announced yesterday, Raph’s new project unveils today at 4pm.  Any pre-reveal bets on how wrong we all were with our original guesses?

Raph has another great post further defining his take on microtransactions, RMT, and the like.  There was an interesting thread on the Areae forums at RLMMO on the topic as well, with a bunch of back and forth.  I never quite find the time to write the epic post that could explain my own feelings on all those topics… and given the length of some of the posts I have found time to write, that is saying something. 

The short version… I’d love to see more microtransactions in certain ways (added character slots, EQ2-like “modules”, game time by the hour; I’m less thrilled about but would be willing to look at certain types of game item purchases and the like; and full-on RMT, where the game company essentially starts to become a money-trading venue ala a commodities house or Western Union, doesn’t thrill me at all.

Brian Green (Psychochild) has a good post on which lessons have really been learned from WoW.  (I love the analogy of the investment advice for those with $50 million or more to invest…)

That said, Damion Schubert (at Zen of Design) somewhat demurs with a response that makes sense as well.

I personally think both of them (as well as Moorgard, of course, who actually started all this) have a point.  It is easier to get a product out the door “when it’s done” when you’re not wondering where money for the next payroll will come from.  Also, having built a brand where you get a truckload of pre-orders on little more than “we say this game will be cool” makes things a bit easier, too.  On the other hand, money alone doesn’t get you a solid, enjoyable game… it takes a level of vision and execution that is far from easy to achieve, money or no.

SUWT #9 podcast is up, and I think it is one of the best ones yet, to be honest.  No, not just because my name was mentioned (tho that was nice, too 🙂 ).  Also, Brent’s newest podcast, Virgin Worlds #86 is up… however, I haven’t finished it yet due to interruptions, I’m afraid.

Got to get moving… more later…

Hmmm… a huge bump in traffic, and on a weekend, no less.  Brent must have linked to me on Virgin Worlds again. 

(clicks the link…)

Yep.  (LOL.)

(@Brent: Thanks, my friend… hope the podcast guest stint was fun.)

So, taking advantage of all these additional eyes and minds while I’ve got ’em…

Here’s another idea obliquely related to encouraging grouping that I’d like some feedback on.  What are people’s thoughts and concerns about allowing a group to have “NPC placeholders” fill specific roles?

For example, you’ve got a half-dozen players grouped up, but you can’t seem to find a cleric/healer for love nor money.  Instead of continuing to spam /broadcast with sorrowful pleas for alt-switching charity, what if you were able to add a generic NPC with basic healing capability, with an understanding that said NPC would be instantly replaced by the first PC cleric of appropos level that joined the group (and you would not generally be able to decline such a request), once that player reached your group in dungeon/hunting grounds/whatever.

I know there are a lot of provisos to making such a concept work… but what are your feelings and concerns about the basic idea?

There are many topics that that migrate through the MMO blogosphere and similar environs (forums, interest groups) time and time again… collective murmurs of discontent, distillates of remembered experiences and hopeful conjecture.  One of the more common ones of late centers on the concept of “grouping”.

Now, I am sympathetic to the feelings and desires that drive the selection of that topic of conversation.  I have fond memories of groups in games past (and present), and I can understand the desire to recreate that experience.  However, I must admit to some frustration as well, because to me, much of the commentary blames the wrong “suspects”.

In short: your fellow players are neither the problem nor the enemy, whether they choose to entertain you or not.

Bad Reactions

Every time I see a comment to the effect of “I don’t see why people even bother playing an MMO if they’re not going to group…”, I have to fight down several basically unfair and counterproductive reactions.  First, I have to fight off the temptation to add “…with me, to perform for me and keep me entertained” to the end of that statement.  That’s what it typically sounds like (tho not always)… I know that’s not the intent.

As someone who does not often group (and who gets to actually play only slightly more often), I then have to fight off the temptation to post an offer to discontinue paying some $60-80 per month (plus box prices, of course) for various subscriptions to various MMOs, since I’m obviously not worthy to grace the same forms of entertainment by their standards.  How dare I, right?

Then I have to fight off a nasty reaction to give them exactly what they are asking for… literally “stalk” them with all my various characters on the games I do subscribe to and group up, then just let events run their course… be the lone healer that logs off in the middle of a combat because my emergency pager went off, go afk outside a mission for 15-20 minutes to deal with an after-hours customer request.  In short, just let all the reasons why I don’t regularly group out of consideration for others drive the situation, instead.  Not exactly a strategy that would lead to an after-life of heavenly grace, I expect…

And then, after all that, I finally get to the heart of the matter: that this is a somewhat misdirected, but sincerely heart-felt yearning for all those great experiences that groups can provide… and that seem to become less and less common as time goes by.

Allow me to present a few random thoughts in hope of redirecting the collective musings to other lines of attack?

Point #1: Are you sure it’s not you?

Now, I used to group quite a bit more often than I do now.  In various MUDs, The Realm, UO, and EQ, I spent hours at time, days in a row, playing in groups of all types, RL friends, guildies, PUGs, etc.

Already I can see part of my problem… can you?  “Hours at a time, days in a row”.  Boy howdy, I wish I still had that much free time.  There are days I can’t find 10 minutes in a row to respond to comments on the old blog here, let alone “hours and days”.

Grouping in MMOs, at least at the level implied by the type of commentary I note above, requires a certain base level of time commitment to be respectful to the other players in that group.  It is as simple as that.  If you can’t pretty much guarantee that amount of time… grouping as it exists today isn’t a comfortable option if you have any concern for your fellow players, IMO.  Personally, I feel like I’m pushing the limits of imposing on others if I can’t dedicate 45 minutes to an hour… and given all the various people with varying levels of expectations or demands on my time, that often feels impossible to offer.

Now, if I gave up some of my other interests and pastimes, I probably could.  Blogging, for example.  My exercise routine.  Technology research.  The occasional movie.  The even more occasional date.  Sleep… I never liked that one anyway, but my doctor says I have to.  I already usually eat while doing one or more of the above, so no time savings there.  Work… hmm, now there’s an idea…

Point #2: Convenience is key

I posted on this a while back, but I’ll rehash it here a bit.  Grouping in most of the games is also a royal pain in the keister.  I can count on the fingers of 1 finger the number of times it’s taken less than 15 minutes to form a “decent” group…

“What about a healer?” “We need a tank, too.” “Jeez, does anyone even play healers any more?” “Need some crowd-control.” “I have a cleric I could switch to, I suppose.  He’s a bit high level for the group…” “Damn, someone got to that warrior before I did.” “Is that druid over there in a group?”

Sound familiar?

Allow people to see basic LFG information before they even log in.  Allow them to chat via /guild and /talk channels before they select a character to play.  Present LFG information constantly, and make it convenient to opt-in at a moment’s notice.  Also, make it easy to opt-out, so as not to waste other people’s time.

I have yet to see an interface or design flow that truly stresses the importance of groups by making them obvious or convenient.  In essence, I have yet to see a game that seems to agree at the level of it’s design that directly interacts with the player that the second M in “MMO” has real meaning in the gameplay.  I’d like to see that change.

Point #3: There Can Be Only One (Guild)

The above has been assumed by nearly every game I can think of.  Why?

I can kind of see a point in “hardcore” PvP settings… yet, Shadowbane, one of the most hardcore PvP games ever created, allowed subguilds.  AC with it’s patron concept had a gameplay reason, of course.

I can only have one set of acquaintances?  It might be confusing to chat with more than one guild at once?  I need to dedicate my entire virtual existence to a single entity, or I’m not worthy to play? (great, we’re back to that again…)

As a player, I’d like to have multiple allegiences/guilds to tap into to find people to play with, especially at 3 in the morning (which is the time I’m most likely to be able to group without fear of interruption.)  Whether it would actually make finding a group any easier at that time, that I don’t know… but it couldn’t hurt.

I’m genuinely curious on this one, actually.  Is it crucial to have one and only one guild per player on the social level?  I’ve only lead guilds twice, once in EQ and once in Shadowbane, and I didn’t see any need to be draconian, but they weren’t exactly “dominant” guilds, either.  Any guild leaders around to offer insight?

Conclusion

I could go on…

  • the promise of solo-accessible play gets people to log in that otherwise wouldn’t, and some of those do end up grouping, so that’s not your enemy either;
  • even players that _never_ group add to the vibrancy of the world simply by moving around in it, auctioning items, crafting and repairing equipment, etc.;
  • D+D style levels are signs of the Apocalypse and cause everything from strokes to tooth decay (oops, that’s a different rant… now how did that get in there 😉 )

… but I suspect I’ve already made the point to those I didn’t drive off with my little diatribe at the beginning.  Solo players are not your enemies.  Allowing solo forms of play in an MMO is not one of the 7 signs (levels, OTOH…).  Grouping has a draw and a power of it’s own that is not at all threatened by “allowing” people to play the game without it… it just needs to be a bit less ignored as far as how it’s implemented, IMO.

My two cents.

This was an earlier version of the same Grouping rant (posted above) from a couple weeks ago that never got finished or published due to an absolute onslaught of interruptions… presented mainly for comparison’s sake. 

Be warned, it ends in mid-thought.  I know, I know… what’s so unusual about that?

Edit: BTW, VirginWorlds visitors, there’s far more on the same topic here.

This one was prompted by several posts at various sites over the past week or so, including this post at West Karana, the discussion following this post at Kill Ten Rats, and this post at MMOment of Zen.

I have my own prescriptions for how to encourage people to play together without returning to the “good old days” of settling in for 8-10 hour marathons at the keyboard, colostomy bag and adult diapers at hand because stepping away from the keyboard might prompt the group to drop you from group, guild, friends, and Christmas lists, and threaten you with assault for weeks after adding you to the FBI’s terrorist watch list, since obviously only a commie terrorist scumbag would go afk to relieve their bladder in mid-dungeon.  Have you no shame?

Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit.  But not much.  (8-10 hour marathons, people joking (bragging?) about wearing adult diapers, people dropped from guild as well as group, and threats of assault are all elements I’ve personally experienced.)

As I see it, there are three aspects that could be drastically improved to make grouping far more accessible and common, with the likely result of increasing player’s enjoyment of the game.

Convenience

Convenience is the A-number-1-primo issue with playing together in these games, IMO.  It simply isn’t.  Convenient, that is.

I’ve written on various aspects of this before… I listed some things that I felt could be done to make the LFG interface more useful in this post, for example.  It goes far deeper than that, though.

Why do we have to go through the entire log in process, including character selection, just to find out whether or not there is a group that could use my character’s talents?  Devs can’t figure out a way to present a list of groups looking for my class and race before I’ve gone through the 5 minute “enter world” process?  Then when I find out the “class of the evening” is Cleric instead of Fighter, I must wait a minute or two to log out, of course, then 5 minutes to re-enter the world to find out that, well, actually, that Cleric _would_ be more useful…

I’ve already asked multiple times why most of these games require you to log back in at Downtown B.F. Egypt, Middle Of Nowhere, if that’s where you logged out.  (Immersion?  Whatever you’re smoking, let me have some too, k?)  Wouldn’t it be just ever so nice if you could instead search for groups and chat up potential playmates before you pick a character, form/join the group even, then choose a log-in location close to where you will be adventuring for the evening?

Lars of MMOment of Zen mentions quests in his post as one of the impediments to playing together, and I agree.  However, in addition to what he details, I would also come at the problem from a slightly different angle.  Part of the problem, as I see it, revolves around the fact that everyone gets the exact same quests.  When I do your version of the “General Strongbad asked me to save the orphanage” quest, I know that mine will be precisely the same when/if I do it.  Thus, I am driven to either make sure I have that quest already (to “get it out of the way”) or to not join you to save it for later.

Simply personalizing quests in various ways would be something less-than-obvious that I think would go a fair way toward encouraging grouping, changing the mindset from “skip that door, there’s never anything behind it in this quest” to “I wonder what Snidely Whiplash did with the Kidnap-O-Matic remote control THIS time?  Last time, he hid it in his chamberpot.”

I know, I know: take away my Gamer’s card.

Here’s the thing: I was deeply involved with challenges at my business during the initial release of SWG, so I never got to play as much of the game as I would have liked, nor dig as deeply as I would have liked into the systems thereof.

I am curious as to what challenges were encountered in terms of the HAM system.  Anyone who’s seen some of my dream design rantings knows that I’ve got something fairly similar in mind: I’d really like to learn from the past here, but I can’t seem to find any reasonably deep detail on what the past was!

I know the basics of how system worked originally, and the general order of the changes that came along.  My question is, what were the effects/problems that prompted those changes?  Anyone?  (Bueller?)

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