Well said!

From John Smedley in an interview at TheMitanni.com:

At some point as an industry we need to realize that we have already lost the race to outpace players in making content. … The problem is you get to the endgame and as game makers it’s not just expensive. it’s impossible to stay ahead of the curve…We need to focus on game systems that are perpetual and give players a lot more control over what they can do rather than JUST putting yet another dragon in front of them with scripted content. We need to be doing both in order to be successful. And that’s our plan.

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“It’s easier” is NOT an excuse

It just means your lazy.

I got to that article, from the article that linked it, which I got to from Syncaine’s post today. This guy in the video is hitting the high-points of what turns me off from modern MMOs, and all in a handy 5-minute clip.

“Story driven”

“Character based”

“Easier to balance”

“Solo”

“Your story”

“You’re the hero.”

I loved Skyrim. I’ve gone back and started to replay it with an archer character the last week or so when I’m not sucked into EVE or DoTA2. The industry really needs to realize that the drivers in a single-player heroic story don’t port over to the MMO genre. Period. The qualifiers for what defines the MMO genre is counter to the heroic journey in a single player experience.

What would make Elder Scrolls Online awesome:

  1. Take Skyrim, and cull a chunk of the NPCs.
  2. Allow players to build their own and destroy other player’s structures.
  3. Iterate this concept across a land-mass about 8-16 times larger than Skyrim for the entire world.
  4. Create limited resource “choke-points” required for player creation across the entire world.
  5. Throw in some territory control systems.
  6. Expand a bit on the skill system.
    1. More skill types
    2. More specialization
    3. Points expenditure would need to be re-examined.

Other than that, you’re basically in the clear. You wouldn’t need to add a lot of extra quests, or developer directed content. If you made that above, you would probably see a good surge of player initially, and if you did what you’re supposed to with my $15/month, you’d keep developing and adding new SYSTEMS to the game world. Not just new quests and skins.

After 6 months or so, you could start releasing ways to better harvest/refine resources. An eventual expansion could be sea-faring adventures (player created ships of course). Expanded territory control requiring actual scouts with stealth-like capabilities to keep an eye on roads into-and-out of your hamlet/region to prevent intruders from getting a foot-hold. Maybe even an NPC worker population that can be attracted to your land because you have better pay and living conditions than your neighbors.

Players in this game could decide if they wanted to be craftsman, and make the best goods possible. Perhaps setting up shop somewhere and making enough money from their trade to eventually build a seat of power for themselves. Or adventurous types could seek out deep dungeons filled with increasingly nasty enemies the deeper they get (typical dungeon crawl). Control of territory would mean regular access to these dungeons and the rewards therein. Tie in precious metals and goods deep inside as well, so that the creators of the world would share a dependency with the destroyers in the world.

Obviously PvP and item degradation would be an absolute must. In my vision, your gear would be lootable by others AND would break down to the point where it’s unusable eventually, and probably a chance for outright destruction. That spear the troll hurled at you hard enough to skewer your ticker behind your breastplate means that hole is probably never going to be patched properly.

Anyway, enough rambling. That video was bullshit and indicative of everything wrong in the industry. “It’s too hard an it’s been done, so why bother to change?”

Derrr… What?

Ever read something that just leaves you with a giant question mark? Something, that you kinda-sorta expected, but you still think the writer should have known better. So you get double hit with a confusing sense of self-confusion mixed with a boat-load of surprise at someone’s complete opposite take on a situation. Made worse when you thought the outcome was self-evident.

Well, I just did.

The thing that really surprised me was the off-hand, casual comment at the end in regards to the (lack-of) UI in Skyrim.

Read for yourself:

Now to see if there’s a HUD for Skyrim to render that game playable for PC users, so I can pick up where I left off there.

I love me some hyperbole, so calling it unplayable is just artistic license to make a point. I think the point is wrong, the game was more than just playable on PC, it was enhanced by the invisible UI. A small mutable cross-hair in the center, and fading status bars are all I wanted. The very absence of some cluttered, over-saturated, information-laden UI would be on my list of top 5 things I loved about the game.

The dearth of concrete stimulus lead to a far more visceral game-experience. Lacking the details of traditional RPGs like numbered hit points, or status icons, I was drawn into the gameplay and exploration of the world. I was learning behavior by feel and (player) experience rather than by regimented timers and notifications. Combat in Skyrim was enjoyable largely in part because you didn’t have exacts.

I have (had) a lot of wishes for the Elder Scrolls Online. Large sandbox world, full of exploration in the established world. An action-based combat system that eschews the trite and terrible stigma of tab-targeting hotkeys. Player creation of homes, buildings and communities in-game. A clear, beautiful view of the game with minimal interference from the clutter of a traditional MMO-HUD. No quest hubs (have I talked about that? oh, wait, yes, I did).

Anyway, I’m baffled, and to use a device suggested by Wilhelm:

Prime Incentives

I lightly participate in Prime’s forums, but I do lurk fairly extensively. One thread did entice me to respond, as it was a wide arching discussion on a subject that interests me: game incentives. Here is my post.

PvP incentivization is a very hard thing to get right. Hard core PvPers just want everyone to go out and fight, for the sheer thrill of pitting wits and talent against an opponent. That wish is a (pleasant) fantasy on the whole. Creating wide open fields, devoid of any compelling objectives will not entice conflict. What draws people into battle is a scarcity of resources required to complete an objective. The resources don’t need be tangibles, but they are usually the easiest to implement.

Examples help clarify.

EVE online is arguably the most succesful PvP MMO currently. Beyond just a sandbox game, its distribution of rewards and resources compels players to seek out dangerous and unsafe regions to get the greatest acquisition of goods, wealth, and control. WAR got players out to fight at first by placing vertical progression rewards in the world,but as expected, once the community achieved that goal, conflict dropped – the impetus for going out was gone. This shows us something else, whatever incentive is used as the driving factor, should need to be continually renewed/defended to encourage constant participation across all spectrums of the player base.

It’s important to recognise the motivational differentiatiors between PvP MMOs, and other PvP genres. FPS’s, MOBA’s, and RTS’s don’t have the persistance and long term progression to contend with. So the need to make a renewable motivator does not exist. Creating a PvP system that requires players to partake for no other reason than to fight won’t work in the MMO model long-term.

Drawing a line in the sand(box)

The defining factor that differentiates a sandbox from a themepark is an end goal. Wait, Fallout games are considered sandboxes aren’t they? Okay, so the defining factor that differentiates a sandbox from a themepark MMO is and end goal. Different rules for different genres, I am on board with that, and it makes sense to apply them as such. So, if we proceed with that being the line upon which genre-specific titles fall, then we have a clear definition and understanding of what to expect.

Except things are never that simple.

In the typical sandbox, you set out with a decision of “what do I want to DO?”. Pick a vocation of sorts, or just a type of gameplay, and you can go have at it. Want to be a space tailor? Have at it! Want to be a bar-room dancer? You can still do it, but not as well as you used to. Build ships and sail the open seas, braving the ocean depths with each league? I think you can do that, in a limited fashion at least.  You can play a pirate (space or sea), a trader, a craftsman, a bar owner, an entertainer, a warrior, an assassin, a leader, a manager, an economist, or even a farmer in some games. The goal behind the sandbox is to provide you options of how to play in the world. In themeparks your options are more limited, or sometimes it’s the world that’s limited. What happens when a themepark becomes astoundingly huge, and your options of what you want to play are exhaustive?

This is the question I’ve been bouncing around in my skull for the past couple weeks, and I haven’t really come up with a clear answer.

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Social Groups are Segregation

It keeps the group tight, but also keeps others out.

News at 11 – MMOs are not like the real world.

Except they are. Sort of.

Sweeping generalizations have their place, and can be used to effect at times. This was not one of them. The problem lies in just how frequently the statement is wrong. This statement about a genre of game that grew from the attempt to realize virtual worlds, started off way off base. Some MMOs are games, and some are worlds, but even in the MMO that is “just” a game, they share a lot of similarities with the real world. Particularly in regards to the social groups that arise in them that Tobold seems to want to force together, as he attested in a contrary post to a couple of pro-segregation bloggings.

The biggest problem that I have with Tobold’s assertions, is that any social group, in any setting, has imposed a form of segregation on the world around them. A group of friends who get together and watch movies and talk about them afterward won’t create a welcoming environment for someone who wants to turn their hobby into a book club. A team of people who play softball aren’t going to welcome someone coming in and trying to play baseball instead. There’s the entire gamut of examples that could apply to this from extreme to subtle, and the result would be a collection of person’s who only include those with similar goals and drives. A devout Baptist won’t attend a Latin mass. Segregation doesn’t need to be a dirty word that indicates a separation based on inapplicable reasons. It’s a reality of something that we all do in our own social lives, and it makes sense that the social behaviors would extend to our gaming activities as well.

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Instituting limits to provide options

Yes, this post is here just a day after I talked about the virtues of options, and how ‘more is merrier’. In a sense, that is true, but there is also a caveat, and a pretty important one at that. If everything is equally viable in all situations, nothing is different. The important part of that phrase is “in all situations”. I wanted to make this topic today because I didn’t want any readers (or my future self) to think that I was in favor of options for option’s sake. The only options that matter, as far as I’m concerned, are meaningful ones. If the choice a player makes has no impact upon them, then the end result is a useless option, which degrades the product as a whole, and is wasted development time.

I remember when I was in high-school, I would watch the cartoon Daria, often with my mother actually. In one episode, Daria was required to write a story, and she was, literary speaking, flailing about madly. Her work was all over the place, and not ending up with something she was happy about. Eventually, her eccentric and mostly dim-witted teacher put a stipulation to help narrow the project – the story must include a card-game, which Daria of course scoffed at. What was then portrayed as a flimsy inclusion to her previously attempts, ended up with a poignant story about her family envisioned in the years ahead. What had been a seemingly innocuous inclusion had helped drive her in the direction she needed to go to craft a paper worth reading.

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Options are good

Yes, that's a vegetable gun.

I’ve said it more times than I care to think here. For me, when it comes to gaming, options are good. Options provide choice, and making a choice is intriguing. Being able to decide how to do things on your own and complete them in the manner of your choosing is the essence of freedom. As I see it, the more this philosophy is carried out, the more interesting the gameplay.

For example, I’ve only played* the VERY early portions of the original BioShock so far, and this levels are very limited on what you can use as far as powers, buffs, and enhancements. You can unlock more slots for each of these things as you progress through the game, but there is an upper cap at which point, you need to make a judgement call on what you are going to use. This has been a lot of fun for me so far. When going against a Big Daddy, I had to decide if it was more useful to take my electric power, my charm power, or my telekinesis power (to throw his grenades back him) – I got to pick two. That’s a meaningful decision with a host of options dependent on how I wanted to play.

So, with that said, when I read a post yesterday on Gordon’s blog, I was floored by just how much I absolutely disagree with his stance on one area.

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Where is this all going?

Hand

I can’t help but wonder what route MMOs are going in the future. We have games like Rift, that are revolutionary in their playability, and polish – changing the perception of the industry only releasing rough products, but at the same time, reinforcing the same repetitive themepark PvE gameplay that has been done ad nauseam. As players, is this really what we’re all looking for? Am I so singular in my tastes that the style of Rift is something I can only take in small, irregular doses? Have we, as a gaming community come to the point of development that we want to be guided by a nose ring to each “event” in a game? I can’t help but look at what is constantly released, and think to myself, that the game creators obviously seem to think this is what we want.

I’m over this paradigm.

I don’t want levels anymore. I don’t want zone lines, or explicit groups, or dungeons, or scripted raids. I don’t taunts/detaunts, I don’t want traditional aggro mechanics where one guy takes a beating while everyone else supports him. I don’t want a finite number of repeatable, divided playrooms that hold no permanent impact beyond the couple of minutes or hours I put into the task. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one specific style of play, and I don’t want to be coddled from my mistakes.

I want the freedom to cause myself more troubles further down the road.  I want the tree I chop down for lumber to actually be chopped down. I want that steel broadsword I forged after spending months mastering the skill to last the rest of my character’s life. I want to take that sword to an enchanter to imbue it with magical properties. I want to name my sword, and have it be a part of the character of my avatar, as iconic and intrinsic to who my avatar is as his eye color and race. I want my corner of the world/universe to really be just a corner of a greater, far-reaching, MASSIVE whole. Just a portion of a system that functions beyond my understanding, and that I will only find out about if I go and discover it first hand. I want that discovery to take time, travel needs to be actual travel. Going to the south of the continent? The quick way is by boat, the slow way is by horse, and if you expect that horse to run the whole way, you’ll be in for a surprise when it drops dead of exhaustion.

I don’t know if those things are possible anymore. The existence of recording programs, screen-shots, proliferation of internet and refinement of search tools may have just created too much information access to be able to adhere to any of my above desires. Others though, surely must still be able to be retained, and are separate from information propagation. None of those things seem to be what developers are trying to make though. The majority seem to be “telling a story”, or “crafting an experience”, or “guiding the fun”. It seems to me though, that the more explicitly these things are trying to be artificially engineered, the further they get from hitting the mark.

Basket

Because it works.

Players stopped wanting to work for reward, and companies saw profit in facsimileing achievement through faux effort. They were right, and profit has been achieved – at least for those who disguised the effortless achievement well enough. So, MMOs have become more about gaming, and less about player habitation in the environments. I’ve talked about what I see as the difference between games and MMOs. I’ve talked about the difference between virtual worlds and games. Both of those concepts form legs of the entire reasoning of what I believe has caused the divergent path the genre is headed on, and I do mean divergent. The genre started as a graphical realization of the free form games played on pencil and paper, or (more chronologically relevant) in text via telnet clients. The place where MMOs are going now, is not the natural predecessor of those limitless worlds.

I remember reading an article when in I was in highschool, about the fundamental differences between JRPG’s (Japanese RPG’s – i.e. Final Fantasy, Fantasy Star, etc…) and WRPGs (Western RPG’s – i.e. Fallout, NWN, etc…). It highlighted the linear, singular path available in most JRPG’s contrasted with the more free-roam, open-ended WRPG’s. Where one focused on telling a very specific story, the other told the story, but let you influence how the story was told. The themepark MMOs of now are as much different from what was originally idealized, and are as different as JRPG’s are from WRPG’s. Today’s MMO games are limited, walled off, and narrow, artificial boundaries abound, and prevent the player from experiencing anything outside of the predetermined experience envisioned by the creator of the game,and that runs counter to what it is I love about these games, as well as my oft-written statement of “options are good”.

So, is the entire genre headed to a themepark guided “bliss” of queues and sanitized experiences that you and thousands of others can “share” via identical experiences separated by actual cooperation? With games like Rift being as big of an initial hit as it is, and the temporarily abated fervor of SW:TOR, it seems that way. Players want to play alone, but they want to be alone with everyone else. There’s an apparent desire for all the trappings of a single player game, but with the inclusiveness and Scooby Snacks of progressive accomplishments, but none of the collaborative effort that makes those prizes actually rewarding.

Hell

There’s a large part of me that hopes Zynga keeps exploding, and takes up so much of the market that it will be very clear that what the believed segment of MMO players were, was actually just a lot of people who enjoyed some games. I love the MMO genre, but what it’s turning into, is something that I don’t really recognize on the whole. It’s become a beast of monotony and repetition, brimming with illusory prizes and illusionary accomplishments. If it means that the bottom has to fall out for companies to get a realistic read on the customer base for players who actually want virtual worlds, then so be it.

Of course, maybe that’s already happened, and that’s why what’s happening, is happening.

Weather Game

Actual view from my car this morning.

Inspiration comes unexpectedly at times, and these last two mornings for me are perfect examples of that. Here in “sunny” Florida, we’ve been having insane amounts of fog the last couple days due to a huge rain system that’s decided to basically chill out and grab a breather before moving on. So, as I did my daily drive into work, I found myself suffering in the visual department by orders of magnitude. Outside of the typical reaction to it, the situation triggered a portion of my that is constantly firing impulses about gaming. The slow metamorphosis of thought traversed around vision, weather, visibility, targeting and interaction. Round and round, a circle of repetition, not truly leading anywhere, but bringing forth a few conclusions and more questions.

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