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Alright, I have a little problem, and since I can’t seem to decide, I thought I might get some opinions.

This little screenshot probably gives you a clue of what my issue is…

MMO insanity

Yes, all of those are _active_… But Wait, There’s More!  I also have World of Warcraft and a few other smaller games (free-to-play, thank god) on a different box. 

So, my MMO subscriptions at this moment in time… just the ones with a cost, mind you…

Title Term Cost Last Played Time played
(that month)
City of Heroes monthly $16.04 Nov 2007 2 hours
Tabula Rasa monthly $16.04? Nov 2007 18 hours
EverQuest 2
Star Wars Galaxies
monthly (Station Pass+) $30.98 Nov 2007
Nov 2007
Nov 2007
6 hours
1 hour
2 hours
D&D Online: Stormreach quarterly $41.85 Oct 2007 2 hours
Lord of the Rings Online quarterly $28.75 Oct 2007 3 hours
World of Warcraft monthly $14.99 Oct 2007 2 hours

With the new TR subscription, that puts me over $100 per month.  For a total of some 30 hours of activity between them (and _that_ was with a holiday in there.)

(Yes, I am a moron.  Why do you ask?)

The issue?  I can’t decide which ones to drop.  I do enjoy them all at various times, in various moods.  TR is getting the lion’s share of attention at the moment, but I can tell that’s already tapering off.

It seems silly to drop the Station Access.  I usually end up playing CoH more than anything else, and with Issue 11 going live, there’s new content to explore (plus I actually have a character close to Level Cap!  A first!)  I lose the special pricing on LoTRO if I drop that.  I’ve got some old friends that will be returning to DDO in the new year, and will be asking me to join them.  How can I keep track of what’s going on in WoW if I don’t play it now and then?  And so on, and so on…

Any suggestions?  Beyond grow a spine?

One of the ways I spent my time while I was sans computer this weekend (long story) was in attempting to brainstorm some ideas about how I would implement a Gamma World style setting in an MMO.  As long-time readers may know, GW is one of my all-time favorite settings… something about the concept just fascinates me.

My trigger for the cataclysm for this implementation is biological, an imaginary disease (rabies variant?) that quickly (but sneakily) reduces the victim to paranoid delusions.  It spreads rapidly through the Ancient population, some of the infected with security clearances are not recognized in time, a little too much automation, a few too many unquestioning in the wrong places, and Boom…


Anyway, when I got to economics, I ran into a bit of a quandary.  One of the facets I enjoy about the GW concept is the juxtaposition of various levels of technological development: everything from Stone Age to Star Trek can be fit in somewhere, one way or another. 

Logically, the same should apply to forms of transaction and currency.  The possible forms I had listed after a few minutes of contemplation were as follows:

Barter: straight up trade of goods and services for other goods and services.  Perhaps implement a “bargaining/haggling” system (optional?), similar to Vanguard diplomacy, to add gameplay value and help clarify comparative values without resorting to direct currency references?

Precious Metals: ingots and coins of various possible materials.  Relatively easy to implement, comfortable to players.  Weight/encumbrance and possibility of loss via robbery/destruction potential issues to be dealt with.

Bearer Bonds/Paper Money: Next step up the ladder, potentially decouples local economy from gold standard, convenience due to lower weight/encumbrance.  Easier to steal and/or destroy.

Ancient Coinage: the future history I am postulating had an economy which had not gone entirely virtual as of the cataclysm which was it’s downfall.  Small, light coins of varying denominations made of nearly indestructible alloys (duralloy was a common imaginary material in the old GW settings) were still in use to a minor degree.  Easiest form to convert between various economic levels: assume conversion to/from virtual economy could occur at ancient vending machines and ATMs.

Virtual Economy: one of the accomplishments the intrepid post-Cataclysm Adventurer should eventually be able to gain is an “account” within the Ancient communications/financial network.  (It is assumed that this system was eventually made largely automatic and self-sustaining, such that it survived the Cataclysm largely intact, and is only slowly degrading over time, although access to it is limited).  

Access to this virtual economy should represent significant added (if only randomly accessible) utility to the character: consider an ability to order additional ammo for delivery “to nearly any location in the continental US by 1-hour robo-courier, guaranteed! (Not available in all areas, void where prohibited…)”  Or an ability to summon a hover-taxi for a quick jaunt downtown (only 25 credits per tenth of a mile, minimum charge 2000 credits)?


The quandary is, while I think there is a decent path of progression that could be built up through the various levels such that players would have time to learn each system separately, is it too confusing for most players (even the hardcore ones I would really be focusing on) to want to deal with so many different forms of commerce?  Arbitrage opportunities would run rampant, values of various goods would logically fluctuate wildly from location to location… is it too many options?

Any feedback would be welcome… thanks!

Yes, I had a nice holiday, thank you.  Visiting the family, a little housework, a lot of reading, a little writing, a little coding… quite relaxing, really.

Anyway, I’m working my way back into the routine again.  Figured I’d start with a “pet peeves” post… relentless whining is always a good blog topic, right? 🙂

My top 5 pet peeves in MMOs:

5) Being unable to establish a “friends” list with people who are not online at that moment (Tabula Rasa, I’m looking at you.)

4) Any subsystem that fails to explain some of the basic steps as to how it is to be used. (Too large a list of offenders to start enumerating.)

3) Feeling forced to wander out to the same remote backwater location multiple times because I happened to do certain steps of certain quest chains in the “wrong” order.  (EQ2 comes to mind, but it’s far from alone.)

2) “Kill X foozles” quests… particularly when X>50 and I’ve already slaughtered enough of them that I should have earned a citation for genocide.  (Again, offenders are too numerous to even begin listing them.)

1) “Crafting”, as implemented nearly everywhere.  (At least on this one, different games irritate me for different reasons…)

So, what particularly grievous irritants did I miss?

Sorry about the dearth of posts over the past few days… I’ve been a bit, er, distracted.

Seems as good a time as any to start that little series of retrospectives I was talking about in my anniversary post.  It’s time for the first edition of:

Recycling Icon Clean



Last year at about this time, I was pontificating about…

Trophy Equipment (2006-11-11)

There was an interesting topic doing the rounds earlier this week, related to a post on TerraNova about the concepts of soul-binding, “trophy equipment”, and how different designs impact the general ability to gauge a player’s level of experience, at least, via a review of their equipment…

RPG Archive: Eternal Soldier (2006-11-11)

Eternal Soldier was a product I accidentally stumbled across while wandering the show floor at GenCon in 1987 or ‘88 (not entirely sure which)… 

Skill of the Week: Stealth (2006-11-12)

My thoughts at the time on how I might implement a Stealth skill in my dream game.  Not for the faint of heart 🙂

Dr. Bartle Strikes Again (2006-11-13)

The esteemed Richard Bartle (of MUD1 and Bartle Classification system fame) lobbed a little hand grenade on a design issue into the waters at TerraNova, and created a really juicy thread of comments to pick through.  (He is really quite good at that.  Gotta admire the man.)

His post titled Pointless Killing asks a deceptively simple question: do we really need “experience points”?…

(I do still feel bad about not initially using his appropriate title.)

Dream Design: Combat (2006-11-14)

Dream Design: Combat, part 2 (2006-11-15)

Dream Design: Combat, part 3 (2006-11-17)

My thoughts at the time on how I would implement Combat in my dream game.  If you decide (god help you) to read it all, bring a lunch… it’ll take a while.

Random Reflections on the “grind” (2006-11-15)

A commenter (David (Talaen)) on the previously mentioned TerraNova thread presented what I felt to be a pretty succinct definition of MMO “grind”:

“Any repetitive activity which is done by the player for the purpose of advancement, but which the player does not consider fun in and of itself.”

The intriguing part of this, for me, is the question of why a player would continue to play a game that they did not find fun… 

New Directions (2006-11-20)

Just some random thoughts and comments related to Psychochild’s weekend challenge for this week, titled Rethinking the Online RPG…

(Recycling is good, right? 🙂 )

Actual new content will resume sometime this weekend. To those in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving! To everyone else, have a peaceful week!

This might be a bit early, but I thought it might be best to get these out there before everyone is buried in end-of-the-year holiday preparations…

Gabe and Tycho over at Penny Arcade are organizing the Child’s Play toy drive once again this year.  From the Child’s Play site

Since 2003, over 100,000 gamers worldwide have banded together through Child’s Play, a community based charity grown and nurtured from the game culture and industry. Over two million dollars in donations of toys, games, books and cash for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world have been collected since our inception.

Another option that is available again this year is the MMO Calendar 2008, being offered by the folks at, proceeds to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  If it is anything like the 2007 edition, it will have some pretty nice game-related art… it made a nice addition to my study here at home.

As I run across additional ideas, I’ll post links.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been exposed to a few different perspectives on the concept of looting in quick succession.  This circumstance has highlighted that subsystem for me, and gotten me musing again (as time has allowed) on the impact such a minor element of play can have on the overall experience in game.  (Long time readers know that this is the type of thing that fascinates me…)

The typical implementation of looting in MMOs has usually run along the lines of the following:

  • when a mob is defeated, a “corpse” or “remains” object of some sort is placed in the game space;
  • no reward is accumulated unless/until the corpse is selected and opened/searched, and for some defined period of time, it is “locked”, meaning that only the player(s) granted credit for the “kill” are able to open it;
  • there is no indication of what loot the corpse might contain until it is opened/searched, which requires a distinct action on the player’s part;
  • opening/searching a corpse generally prevents or is interrupted by other activity, particularly combat and/or significant movement;
  • after some time frame, the corpse is “unlocked”, and anyone can open/search it, regardless of who received credit for the kill;
  • and finally, after some further amount of time has passed, the corpse and any items remaining assigned to it, are removed from play entirely.

Until recently, this seemed pretty to be a pretty ubiquitous implementation of the concept of “looting” in MMOs, in my experience.  I can think of a couple of variations on this basic theme, but nothing stood out enough for me to really engage my attention until recently.

Sword of the New World (Granado Espada)

The first title that I ran across recently that brought a new twist on looting to the forefront was Sword of the New World.  It’s not really all that different from the basics I’ve presented above: however, there is one twist… the items that drop upon defeating a mob literally drop to the ground next to the body, for all to see.  There is no action that the players need to take to view the potential loot… it is automatically revealed to everyone, even passersby.  (BTW, Hellgate: London was recently described to me in a way that sounds very similar to this.  I haven’t played that game yet, however… there may also be significant differences, not sure.)

There is still a period of time where individual items are locked and can only be picked up by the original victorious player, although other elements of play can make it difficult on occasion to do so (the combat is relatively fast and furious, with multiple foes attacking with great regularity… it is not always easy to take the time to vacuum up fallen loot).

Now, the loot which generally drops is not of the highest value: while there are occasional weapon, armor, and other equipment drops, the vast majority of such loot falls into the category of crafting components of limited intrinsic value, such as iron, cloth, etc.  Coin, and typical consumables such as ammo or spell components, are pretty much unheard of as a loot drop, by comparison.  This seems likely to be a consequence of being a free-to-play title, supported by purchases of game items (including in-game currency), but it does impact the basic gameplay… it is not uncommon for players to simply ignore most of the loot that falls during play.

Tabula Rasa

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to play around with Tabula Rasa a bit as well, which incorporates a couple of small, interesting twists on the basic looting concept.

In essence, TR looting is a three-step process.  First off, gaining credit for a kill automatically grants a certain number of credits (TR’s basic unit of wealth) to the character’s account, with no further action required on the player’s part.  This is as automatic a process as gaining XP, to the point that it becomes about as noticeable at times, i.e. “where did I get another 5k credits from? Oh, that’s right…” 

This works fairly well in TR’s particular setting, being essentially a bounty paid by the overarching military the character is automatically a member of.  Also, in a game dominated by ranged weaponry of various types, and a need to maintain significant quantities of ammunition, automatic accrual of wealth is a godsend.  (As an aside, are there any RL military organizations that require their soldiers to purchase their own ammunition?  Is that a fairly typical procedure, that I’m just unaware of?  Para-military orgs, I could see it… I know, I know, it’s just a game.)

Getting back on track… a significant number of corpses in TR will also contain some type of equipment or “recipe” item, locked to the PC credited with the kill.  TR’s minor innovation in this instance is that simply running over the corpse will automatically “loot” it… it seems to be a very effective alternative in a game that is attempting to emulate an active, FPS style of play.  It is also possible to target the corpse and press T to first examine the item, reminiscent of a typical looting interface in other games… but it is not required.

The third potential step in the TR looting process is to use a couple of scanner type items on the corpse in order to gather the most basic crafting elements: a tech scanner-type device to loot “metal scraps”, and a biological scanning device to gather “genetic material”, which can then be used in combination with looted recipes to create weapon mods and the like.  (Since TR currently lacks an “auction house”, a feature which is still in development/testing, this is actually functionality that is a little difficult to utilize to it’s full potential atm, but most of the pieces seem to be there.)  Obviously, this is highly analogous to Skinning in WoW/EQ2, amongst other examples, but it stands out as part of a fairly well-planned progression in TR.


Anyway, the point of the above musings is simply to again highlight how even the simplest, most mundane elements can have an impact on the style of play in a game.  By automatically displaying potential loot as opposed to leaving it concealed, opportunities for “ninja-looting” could potentially be somewhat restricted, tho not entirely eliminated; requiring different levels of activity to gain different kinds of resources from defeated foes helps to accommodate multiple styles of play; and those are just a couple of possible impacts off the top of my head.

What other twists on the basic looting paradigm have I missed or overlooked?  Anyone have ideas that expand even further on the concept?  One of my own little pet peeves has always been the lack of wealth “unattached to a corpse”… treasure chests, vaults, that kind of thing… what concerns do people have in terms of adding that kind of thing to a game in some measure?

The “unlucky” episode is up… and Darren (Common Sense Gamer) decided to really put his luck to the test and invite me back as a guest!  John from The Ancient Gaming Noob and Dennis from Potshot were there to save the day, thankfully.

Actually, I thought it went pretty well.  And for additional humor and a look at the “process” behind each show, take a look at the first round of suggestions that was passed around as to topics for this show..

Just a quick reminder: Early Bird Registration for this year’s IMGDC ends on Nov 15.  It was a great show last year, one of the best chances out there to rub elbows with actual development teams, from small to large, and get both inside anecdotes and independent thinking in a concentrated 2 day event. 

I definitely enjoyed the conference last year… this one is likely to be even better.  Highly recommended.

Prompted by just one of the topics during the Maelstrom #18 roundtable podcast.  All three of you that haven’t listened to it even before I did… good stuff, highly recommended. 


I’m one of those people that, when I take a vacation, I usually don’t like to have a strict schedule.  Enough of my normal life is constrained by schedules… being a little more footloose and free-form is part of the relaxation process for me.  So, in general, if I go anywhere on such a vacation, it’s going to be to get in the car, point it in a direction, and move until I find something interesting.

I have related this (apparently peculiar) perspective to more than one friend and relative, and there is one question that often comes up that somewhat confuses me in return.  At some point, there will be some form of the question, “so, how long do you usually plan for it to take you to get where you’re going?”

If I don’t know where I’m going, how could I possibly have any idea of long it will take to get there?

Game development

After some further reflection on the question raised by Brent during the Maelstrom #18 podcast, I suspect a large part of the problem game developers have with meeting schedules and deadlines also falls under this rather basic premise.  My initial response when he brought this question up at the MMMOGIG this past weekend, to get our takes on it as well, fell into much the same category as during the podcast itself… “probably a deadline-driven mentality; gaming industry is pretty young, lacks experience, etc.”  With further reflection, however, I think we all might have overlooked a rather crucial point.

A game really is not all that similar to a FIFO inventory control module or many other examples of business software.  You are not taking an existing, well understood process, with highly defined inputs and outputs, and simply reconstructing it in code.  With most business software, there’s a good blueprint, a nice map, and most importantly… everyone pretty much knows _exactly_ what you are trying to build.

The end goal of the game development process is to create a “fun game”.  That is a goal, a destination if you will, about as well defined and mapped as such popular vacation spots as Atlantis and El Dorado… not quite as hard to actually get to, tho, apparently.

So again: if the development team doesn’t know precisely where they are going, how are they supposed to accurately tell anyone how long it will take to get there?

Design Documents FTW! (not)

I can hear the clarion call now… what about design documents?  That should define exactly where you are going, be your “map” to the “destination”.  Why can’t they use design documents to map out the project, and use that to set schedules and deadlines?  (Most already do, btw…)

The problem here is that while a design document is great for defining a destination, you still likely have an issue in terms of game development.  Briefly: is that destination, that product, any fun?

Essentially, in game development, a design document is often analogous to throwing a dart at a map and saying, “we are going here”.  Celebration ensues, plans are made, the travel is completed… and you standing looking out over a sewage plant, an actively erupting volcano, or some other spot even less enticing than waiting at the airport for your already twice-delayed flight to finally come in. (Not that _that_ has ever happened to me… much…)

Game development as “art”

This underlying difficulty in precisely defining what exactly will be “fun”, as opposed to say, simulating tooth decay (Archlord, anyone? (sorry)), is where the concept of games as art often flows from, I think.

It is not an easy or straightforward task to look at some nascent concept and not just be able to say “that would be fun!”, but to be able to identify the mix and balance of elements that will actually make it fun.  To then be able to accurately describe those elements to a bunch of others to go out and do all the things necessary to bring it all together…

Returning to my already-beat-to-death travel analogy one last time, this is the trail guide/mountain man approach.  This voice-in-the-wilderness can get you to the “place where fun is”, even lead you there… but there will be ambushes and avalanches to overcome, flooded rivers and parched deserts to cross in the meantime.  He/she can probably get you there, but you will get there when you there… no guarantees you’ll make it before the winter sets in.

Sitting in the back seat asking “are we there yet?” every 5 minutes isn’t going to make that journey any faster, either.


Hopefully this helps illuminate why there seems to be so much interest amongst industry and academia in trying to figure out what “fun” is.  If someone, anyone, can pinpoint a location for “fun”, people can build airports and schedule daily flights, lay tracks and run roads to it, and so on, and then the guy in the toll booth can lean out the window and say “you’re headed for Fun?  Take the second exit, follow the signs.  30 miles, tops.  Have a nice day.”

Until then, I suspect there’s going to be a bunch of Columbus-wannabes setting sail, Lewis and Clark style expeditions rowing up rivers, and a whole lot of “Dr. Livingston, I presume” going on… but not many solidly set schedules and precisely met timelines.

My two cents.

A theme, almost an “unwritten law” or “sacred cow”, of typical MMO design that I have been contemplating for some time is the prevalent philosophy of “winner take all”.  Particularly in combat, but in other systems as well, there usually is a highly discrete “victory” state which must be reached to achieve a reward.  Doing 99,999 points of damage to a 100,000 hit point creature nets you nothing; essentially, only the 100,000th point counts.  Conversely, there is also a highly discrete “loss” state to be avoided.

A few games have experimented with minor intermediate rewards, the most obvious examples being skill-based systems like UO and Oblivion.  AC had a similar mechanism granting small amounts of XP per action, in combination with a more typical XP-per-success/victory mechanic.

What I keep going back and forth on is, is the winner-take-all philosophy a necessary/desirable component of this type of game?  Is that a crucial component of the enjoyment factor, or can other, less absolute systems be successful as well?

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Promos and Events

Live in or near Mpls/St. Paul? Interested in talking MMOs with other like-minded people? Join us on either June 30th or July 14th at MMMOGIGs #1.9 or #2.1 (or both!), details coming soon. You can also join us in Google Groups or to discuss the when/where of the next meeting, provide feedback, etc.
November 2007

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