Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Outrageous Tasks Revisited

Building on some of the "outrageous tasks" (long travel times, forced grouping, harsh death penalties, grinding mobs for money) I mentioned in my previous post, I'd like to talk about what they accomplished in terms of dynamics, and thus what MMORPGs have lost over the years. I would be an interesting exercise to then reinstitute these mechanics and discuss methods to improve them rather than cut them.

Long Travel Times

The first journey into unknown lands is thrilling, but that excitement suffers extreme diminishing returns. The 80th time you fly from Ironforge to Stormwind, that mock Drawf battle isn't cool anymore. So to pass the time to chat with your guild or party. This is downtime for the player: a time to stop and smell the roses. Problem is that not everyone has the time to have downtime. Casual gaming is coming to the forefront and players want to get in, play the game, and get out.

Exploration should be a part of character progression, not a hurdle. Make the player undergo memorable sojourns to a new town, but then accelerate his trip thereafter. I think WoW's travel system is near perfect. A change I'd make would be to require players to have been at a teleport destination (much like the taxi system) before they are able to teleport there. I think the Summon spell needs to be tossed out the window also.

Forced Grouping

I've already commented on forced grouping and how to lubricate party creation.

Harsh Death Penalties

Games need to have a losing condition and some risk and reward. MMORPGs have gotten soft though. There is no more loss of experience or that terrible experience debt system (seriously, how did this even get past the alcohol-saturated napkin is was written upon?). Players praise Blizzard for removing these Draconian practices yet curse the newbs in their end game content. Guess how these baddies got to the level cap? Insufficient death penalty which failed to properly teach the players.

In Mario Bros. or Portal if you can't learn how to use the tool, you don't progress. If you don't understand that you must run full speed nonstop in order to cross the series of tiny pits, you have to restart the level. If you don't get the hint to "fl...ing you...your...elf", you don't get to hear GlaDOS' next snide comment. In WoW, if you don't understand how the threat system works, don't worry about it, you'll be level cap in no time.

(My first level 60 was a Tauren Warrior. I had come from FFXI in which tanking was done primarily by spamming an ability called "Provoke" every 30 seconds. Think of Provoke as Taunt. So when I was tanking Scholo for the first time, I would spam Taunt and watch my party die mercilessly. It was then that a kind soul informed me to use Sunder Armor because it generated Threat. Sunder Armor wasn't even on my hotbars. I had gotten to level cap and tanked various dungeons along the way without even a basic understanding of a very important mechanic. That is design failure.)

A resolution would be to change the attitude toward leveling systems. If players are in a Diku-style MMORPG, the mobs need to get more challenging. As players get new abilities, AI designers must present situations in which those abilities must be used in order to advance. The fun comes from learning how to use these tools. Leveling in an MMORPG becomes monotonous if players can succeed using a only tools from the beginning of the game and they aren't tested with the possibility of failure.

Grinding Mobs for Money

This actually hasn't gone away. WoW's daily quest system has reduced its importance slightly, but grinding is still grinding, whether you are just killing mobs or "killing with a purpose". I find there is a meditative quality to grinding mobs for money, but perhaps I'm just insane.

I don't know how to reconcile this. There has to be a mechanic to inject money into the MMO economy, and you can't just toss out the MMO economy; that's a major feature in MMOGs! Perhaps economic advancement can be the main attraction, and players play together for resource gain rather than Experience. Now we have issues with illegal gold farming and selling.

Maybe this is just one of those "real life" lessons where you hate your well-paying job but do it to pay the bills... Yea, I didn't think you'd buy it.

10 comments:

Kevin Serafini said...

Here's an idea that goes along with the "learn to play your class while leveling" theme. What if some of a classes seminal abilities could only be learned by completion of a quest chain? Further, what if the quest could only be completed solo, perhaps in an instance to remove helpers. If the the quest is designed so that it uses class abilities, it could almost be viewed as a test of your ability to play the class. For example, a thief quest might revolve around stealth, a mage quest around use of crowd control, etc. I think it would be pretty interesting. The quests shouldn't be impossible, but should require some basic knowledge to successfully complete. I realize that the theme park crowd might not like it, though.

FWIW, my friends and I are software developers that talk about developing an MMO all of the time. If only we could come up with $10 million to implement it...

motstandet said...

There were class quests in WoW. I assume all the pre-60 ones are still in the game. I remember doing a "heal this NPC" quest on a low level Priest. A really nice class quest in WoW which I was always impressed with was the Hunter quest to get Lok'delar. Hunters had to track down and kill some difficult mobs all by themselves.

Class quests are nice, but there is no reason why the difficulty level of content (particularly group content, since that is where the player is heading) should not increase prior to level cap. Why not require players to understand their role mechanics in the 30s or 40s at Scarlet Monastery?

Kevin Serafini said...

Right. The WoW class quests were the inspiration for my idea. I'm thinking that you could make the quests somewhat challenging to make it more of an accomplishment. I would also make it apply to all classes, not just a couple.

FWIW, I liked the class quests in WoW. I thought it odd that some classes had them and some didn't. Plus, there were odd disconnects like the Druid class. There was a very involved swim form quest, but you simply learned cat form from the trainer.

Kevin Serafini said...

Also, I do think that group content was harder "back in the day". The first time through, most people didn't have twinked characters, didn't have the instance memorized, didn't have anyone to run them through it, and so on. I seem to remember running instances on my first character was quite a challenge. By the second and third character, no so much.

Dblade said...

In FFXI they actually bypassed a lot of the experience penalties from death when partying at levels, not because the developers made it less harsh, but because the players brought high level friends to speed up leveling through outside heals.

That's mostly because no one wanted to die because some newbie was learning the ropes. It's easy in a design sense to say "penalties are good." However as the player who spent the night partying only to lose total exp, they soon try and mitigate it as much as possible.

It got to the point where a lot of vets just skipped the newbie area valkurm dunes because they could solo easier than risking a newbie wiping their party.

I think maybe less penalty and just more teaching would work. You never really train in an MMO, before you get sent out into the world.

motstandet said...

Healing in FFXI wasn't exactly easy nor fun. It was pretty much spam Cure until Regen, when you maintained Regen and interweaved Cure. Then when you got Haste, you maintained Regen, Haste, and popped an occasional Cure.

Cast times and cooldowns were long. And if you interrupted the spell cast, you had to wait the entire cast time before you could try again. This is what caused a lot of death.

However, by the time you were Lv.20 you understood the spell system.

There are plenty of mechanics in FFXI which needed improvement and have evolved with newer MMORPGs. But player competence and challenge is something that was lost along the way.

Melf_Himself said...

Thoughts:

Travel times - I don't think WoW has the "perfect" system, as watching a flight path for 10 minutes is the epitome of boredom for me. I like Guild Wars - explore to get to a place once, and instant travel to anywhere you've been previously.

Forced grouping - This is only ok when people can not be excluded for not being "pro" enough. When players get to pre-form the teams, it turns into the "LFG" game rather than the "play the actual game" game. WAR's PQ's >> raids as far as accessibility goes.

Not that picking your own team isn't fun. But those that do shouldn't get a bunch of stuff/content that the "pick up and play" types can't.

Harsh Death Penalties - I don't think punishing people and making them waste their time is the right way to teach the game mechanics. Finding the right way is what good game design is all about.

Also, having a combat system that made some amount of real-world sense (i.e. is somewhat intuitive, as opposed to the threat system) would help.

Grinding mobs for money: If we remove between-player trading but leave them with an auction house, does that get rid of gold sellers? Feels like it would.

motstandet said...

Global Agenda has no open-form trade. All transactions, even mercenary contracts, must go through the central auction house. We'll see what happens to RMT and the player economy :)

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I think one problem is the disconnect between what the concept of a class is and what it actually does. Going with the WoW class quest: a healer's job isn't as easy as going around and casting heal on X different people. If you have the optimal plugins, it's about staring at a bunch of bars and clicking he right mouse bar on the bar that goes too low. The core concept, "my heal spells give people hps" is pretty easy to grasp.

As motstandet points out, part of really learning a class is learning how it works. Learning your spell cycles in FFXI is vital to survival. Same with a lot of other classes in other games.

One last thought about Kevin's idea: my least favorite quests in LotRO are the ones where I have to leave my friends to go do them. These are usually done to give you the feeling of "being the sole hero helping the fellowship", but it's just disruptive to my preferred style of play. Plus, a typical rogue's role in a group isn't stealth, it's doing enough damage before the healer lets the tank die.

Tesh said...

I'll second Melf's comments. I'll add that a no direct-trade economy is unfortunately stifling. Trade is the heart of an economy, and while a great AH interface can do wonders, it can also make the economy underwhelming.

Wizard 101 has a very strict economy, and the equivalent of "bind on pickup" items that more often than not mean that high-end loot drops are little more than vendor trash. There are no "disenchant into ingredients" mechanics, so useless bound items can't even be crafting fodder.

It probably does keep gold selling down, but I'm not convinced that it's ultimately a good trade.