Monday, September 13, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Players are bad at far-mode game design decision-making. People, in general, are bad at far-mode thinking. People live in the here and now, and they don't want to think too much. They may know that they aren't happy, but they can only take almost-random guesses at why. Most people do not care enough to figure out what is wrong. They just know something is wrong and someone should make it better. When they try to articulate what is wrong, they run into a twofold problem: first, they actually do not know what is wrong; and second, they couldn't communicate well enough to convey the problem effectively if they knew the problem.
Would you blame people for not thinking? Thinking gets you into a situation like mine: I'm at a point where I feel like game design is borderline a hopeless endeavor and that we are doing no more than flailing around in semantic mud by talking about it as if we know anything. If I didn't think about games, I wouldn't be here. I could enjoy whatever I happen to enjoy, write love notes on the forums, and leave the blogging to more qualified meddling mages than myself.
People who are smart, thoughtful, and good at reasoning have trouble deciding what is wrong with complex interconnected systems like games. Taste can wash out reasoning about games easily, leaving a designer feeling like there is no anchoring point for making decisions. Without a logical framework from which to make decisions, a game designer would be no better than some guy off the street. You can only get so far by thinking really hard about fun--or even just thinking really hard about what you, in particular, find fun.
People tend to reason through emotion, not through logic--and I am also guilty of this, as is everyone made of biological matter that I've ever talked with. This means that we'll prefer that game mechanics and interfaces work a certain way, and this preference will have no backing in logic. We'll dig for reasons, but in the end the reasons aren't the source of our preference, they're just an attempt at post-hoc justification. Whatever mechanic or interface will simply feel right to us. It's hard to have valuable discussion about such matters, but we desperately try.
The odds are stacked against meaningful and useful discussion. When a designer sets out to create a system and tune it, he's set adrift in a rolling sea where waves of subjectivity splash incessantly at every odd angle and nothing remains as it was for long enough to be appraised and understood. In this environment, designers are left reaching desperately for some kind of raft, some surface that remains stable in the roiling undulations.
What can a designer do to make something of this intractable situation?
One possible solution is to rely on other people to validate the big picture. Unfortunately, other people just won't get what you're trying to do. If you don't have some kind of idea of why you're making a game, then don't make a game. If you do have such an idea, the advice of arbitrary other people will uniformly be useless if not damaging. Asking the right people for advice, though, can greatly help, provided they understand your vision (not a safe assumption under the best of conditions).
The solution isn't to drift aimlessly in the eddies of popular opinion, clearly, because there is no direction there.
Direction comes from establishing some theory and then trying to test it. To make a great game, you need a (mostly) unified and consistent vision of the boundaries of the game systems and some relatively particular idea of what you're trying to accomplish. Some players can help on small matters, like fine-tuning and balancing within existing frameworks (though players' feedback will almost always be garbage), but when designing the basic concepts of how a game will work, there's no substitute for vision.
Even if parts of the game fail, a designer with vision has something to fall back on: they can ammend their theory to account for the failure, or simply come to the realization that a core idea just does not work and move on. Following popular opinion, the designer will simply get lost and have to thrash about if something larger fails because he has no framework within which to make a profound, solid judgment of what has actually happened. "My source was wrong," is all he can say, "and now we need to come up with something else to try." At this point, you might as well be designing your game by adding random features and sticking them together as quickly and easily as possible.
Even a "follow the leader" mentality fails without vision. You can't choose the right mechanics to copy if you don't have a reasoned way to pick mechanics. Picking at random will only get you so far in game design because games are not collections of independently operating mechanics and their metaphors, but are instead systems of highly dependent systems of mechanics whose results are often greater than the sum of their parts.
Without vision, the chances of success greatly decline, the value of success declines (because you chose at random and cannot reproduce success through reapplying reasoning), and the value of failures is almost nothing (because the only alternative to choosing certain random elements is to choose certain other random elements). So when someone asks me why a dev isn't doing what the players want, I respond "maybe they know what they are doing". And if the devs are thrashing about and demonstrating there's no vision guiding them, I know it's time to abandon ship.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
MMORPGs are games that should require and thrive on a large number of concurrent players. In order to keep players logged in, the game needs to go one of two routes: Massive numbers that ensure that the servers seem busy even if everyone plays only 15 minutes a day; or requiring existing hardcore players to play the game for long stretches in order to the get the kind of rewards that hardcore gamers love.
Clearly the casual market is the easiest market into which to grow an MMORPG playerbase. Being casual-friendly is not far from "going mainstream" and "selling out", though. Casuals are generally non-gamers--in order to appeal to them, game designers need to assume less and less knowledge is at the disposal of a new player.
A designer can take two paths here. The hard and "right" path: he can do his best to design the game well by keeping mechanics simple but deep and by designing interfaces that are easy to learn but powerful. The other path--the "easy" one--involves stringing together the cheapest, most addictive proven gameplay mechanics on the market and wrapping them up in an inoffensive and relatable shell, replete with social tie-ins and micro-transaction money sinks.
Casual players will not have developed tastes in gaming. Cheap tricks can keep naive players entertained for a surprisingly long time. The number of naive players is so high that even if a naive player gets bored of a cheap hook within a few days or a month, there are enough naive players around to cycle through the system that there won't be much of an issue making more sales and keeping servers busy.
Regressive design preys on the naive casual gamer. We see this with the retro game resurgence--new generations of players are growing up in a world where their first game experience is in a 3D, multi-ten-million-dollar blockbuster game like Halo, Modern Warfare 2, or Mass Effect; game mechanics ancient, tired, and overdone in the eyes of experienced older gamers are novelties to the younger generation. They will play these games and give a market for the regressive and inferior. Of course some games can do justice to the old ideas, but most--as is the case in almost every arena--such games are crap.
Recycling the same tricks in better wrapping seems to make plenty of money. This is disheartening to me as someone who cares about games and enjoys seeing game design evolve towards radical new directions.
MMORPG design is falling into the same degenerative pattern that players of MMORPGs fall victim to: always taking the path of least resistance at the cost of long-term fun and success. It's worse in MMORPGs than it is in other genres, though, because the cost of putting an MMORPG together and running it dwarf the same kinds of costs for other games. And players have come to expect ridiculous amounts of polish and content from each new MMORPG. Expectations are in the wrong directions and far outreach almost every single development team's capabilities.
Where do we go from here?
To players: I'd suggest leaving the MMORPG scene and finding better games to entertain you. Or just stick to a polished and successful game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online or enjoy a niche game that suits you like EVE, Darkfall, or A Tale in the Desert. Give games with alternate payment models (not F2P or P2P) a shot--like Guild Wars 2 (are there others?). Don't waste your time and money playing games that seek to exploit you instead of provide you with consistent fun.
To developers: Ditch the approaches where success will cost you upwards of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Make smaller, well-crafted games. Try new things on the cheap. Try different business models: don't fall into the micro-transaction conflict of interests and don't try to charge subscriptions which encourage artificial content extension. Or maybe just give up on MMORPGs all together and try to branch out into a different kind of MMO that may have a better market at the moment.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Realism is one specific path towards immersion. It's neither a necessary condition of immersion, nor is a game's level of realism at all correlated with how immersive an experience it can provide. Realism is nothing more than a game's resemblance to real life. Real life has an open, impossible to fully articulate (as far as we've been able to, anyway) set of rules, while games have their own sets that are generally self-contained, fully-definable, and self-sufficient. When we're immersed in a game world, it's not because it is real, though strong realism can aid in immersion; we become immersed because we buy into the systems and metaphors of the game. This buy-in requires that the systems and metaphors be smooth to our mental touch. Awkward metaphors, obvious technical issues, and broken game systems can open gaps in the closed system and force us out of buy-in. Other activities outside of the game itself can also hinder buy-in, too, like a crying child, feeling ill, a headache, or just being in a bad mood. When immersed, you and the game are communicating smoothly. Any break in that communication or unwillingness on either side to communicate has a significant chance of breaking immersion.
Game design is communicating interesting problems to the player and then giving him the tools to communicate back solutions that the game then somehow tests and gives feedback on. Game mechanics are communicated through metaphors that reference fantastical or conceivably real objects through the simulacra of sprites, models, textures, and sound. The most obvious way to communicate with a player is to use a "language", or set of metaphors, that they already know: such a language is how-the-real-world-generally-works. This is a shortcut to immersion. Of course no game is truly realistic, but we don't mind that because the exceptions to realism in an immersive game are generally mechanically and metaphorically consistent and make the gameplay better. Games that don't aim to be realistic still use the real world as a basis for the metaphors that pull the player into the game. Realism isn't necessary for immersion, but the game does need to provide the player with ways to relate to the game world.
All games have a base level of likeness to the real world. Realism beyond this point has no correlation to the game's ability to provide an immersive experience.
Monday, August 23, 2010
To the degree that we engage in an activity purely to achieve some end, or goal, which is separate from the activity itself, that activity is not play. What we value most, when we are not playing, are the results of our actions. The actions are merely means to the ends.In play, however, all this is reversed. Play is activity conducted primarily for its own sake. The playful student enjoys studying the subject and cares less about the test. In play, attention is focused on the means, not the ends, and players do not necessarily look for the easiest routes to achieving the ends.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
(I’ve been playing a lot of World of Tanks lately. I can’t talk much about it because of the NDA, but as soon as the open beta rolls around I will make a post about the game.
I have a few other articles I’ve written this month that are awkwardly close to completion. Hopefully I’ll get them up soon. Here’s a short post to tickle your brain while I put together more substantial content.)
Predicting casualties is easy when two even-skilled sides are fighting in melee, says Lanchesters' Law:
In ancient combat, between phalanxes of men with spears, say, one man could only ever fight exactly one other man at a time. If each man kills, and is killed by, exactly one other, then the number of men remaining at the end of the battle is simply the difference between the larger army and the smaller, assuming identical weapons.
But what about when units with ranged weapons engaged? The same simple model can no longer hold.
With firearms engaging each other directly with aimed fire from a distance, they can attack multiple targets and can receive fire from multiple directions. The rate of attrition now depends only on the number of weapons firing. Lanchester determined that the power of such a force is proportional not to the number of units it has, but to the square of the number of units. This is known as Lanchester's Square Law.
This fact is of critical importance for RTS design. Games that mix melee and ranged combatants can face strange balance issues that arise because of asymmetric forces of melee and ranged combatants combining in different ways. Ranged units may be balanced against one another, but when melee units are added the balance is damaged more than the addition of another ranged unit would have.
In games that consist entirely of ranged units, like Company of Heroes, balance is a fickle thing. When developers make even a small change to a unit’s capabilities, the squared effect of that change can cause ripples through the entire metagame and cause certain crazy strategies to become viable (pioneer spam was one such issue in CoH).
This fickleness applies to both unit strength and the cost of units. Adding to a numerical advantage by cheapening a certain unit for one faction in an RTS can cause very severe issues if the other faction isn’t also adjusted, because the asymmetry will cause a much larger effect on the battlefield than most anyone will expect.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Air units are a source of tremendous cognitive dissonance in RTS games. As a metaphor, air units usually seem awkward. They hover in the air infinitely or, if the developer wants to be "realistic", they fly to accomplish some objective and then run out of fuel and ammo and have to fly back and land again. The sorties usually do not see units going too far afield, which makes sense considering air units that would realistically go 100x the speed of ground units instead travel at barely double their speed (at most). In terms of game mechanics, seldom do air units make sense and offer balanced viable options for a player. Air units often are the most powerful units in the game (Battlecruisers and Carriers in Starcraft, bombers that can level base buildings in one run in RUSE) if they are allowed to be built on-map and are treated as units.
Land-based RTSes are generally based on map control. The map is critical to how the game unfolds. Where are resources? Where do players start? Where are the impassable boundaries the players have to work around? All of this is circumvented by air units. Air units generally do not exert map control unless they're implemented simply as ground units that ignore terrain. Ignoring terrain is, itself, an issue in games where much of the interesting strategic choice blossoms from terrain.
When given the viable option at the beginning of a match, a player should almost always choose air units before they begin to use ground units to cement map control. An air unit that is equally as effective as a ground unit at ground attack is significantly more valuable in that it can ignore terrain to harass the opponent from any angle. Since games have a sharp divide between units that can shoot air units and units that cannot, the early game units generally are putrid at air defense. If they were good at air defense, then air would never be a viable strategy because building basic units would hard-counter it.
Most standard RTSes circumvent this problem by requiring a bit of tech research before the player can buy air units, or by nerfing air units to the point where they are weak enough to not be much of a threat unless massed. Both approaches remove air from viability in the early-game. The best approach to air unit design allows air to be effective and viable throughout the entire game--or at least until the opponent builds counters.
Air units are too fast and too long-ranged to be presented effectively with similar mechanics to ground units in most RTSes. Unless the game is on a very broad scale--a scale which is very rarely attempted in RTSes--air units will not fit into the balance of the game. The speed of air units can cause then to be a must-have in the early game because they can project force much farther and much faster than any other unit and then run away from danger just as quickly. The advantages of going air may be too great for competitive palyers to pass them up, as they were in RUSE during open beta, which leads to the set of viable builds being constricted because the player needs to build air (or a significant amount of ground-based anti-air) first.
There are two ways to "fix" air units in land-based RTSes.
The easier but less satisfying way involves making all air units act as if they're nothing more than ground units that ignore terrain. These air units have to have speed comparable to land units, or perhaps be slower, to avoid obsoleting ground units.
The best way to solve this problem (at least that I've encountered) is to make all manifestations of air power into special abilities. "Off-map" air. Company of Heroes does this to great effect. The key is to not make on-map anti-air units required or common. Give otherwise-useful units the ability to shoot down planes if the planes take certain paths. For instance, the flak 88 in Company of Heroes is a powerful, long-range anti-tank gun primarily, but also acts as a supremely powerful anti-air gun that can shoot down a plane in one volley. As long as air use is relatively rare in the context of the game, making all air units off-map call-ins tremendously increases the seeming realism and fun of air units while doing nothing to damage the metagame.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
- a real name which is as global as it gets;
- a player handle which unifies a player identity across characters and Blizzard games;
- and a character name (or player alias in the case of non-RPGs).
Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It's about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting. When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul.
Zuckerberg and gang may think that they know what’s best for society, for individuals, but I violently disagree. I think that they know what's best for the privileged class. And I'm terrified of the consequences that these moves are having for those who don't live in a lap of luxury. I say this as someone who is privileged, someone who has profited at every turn by being visible. But also as someone who has seen the costs and pushed through the consequences with a lot of help and support. Being publicly visible isn't always easy, it's not always fun. And I don’t think that anyone should go through what I've gone through without making a choice to do it. So I'm angry. Very angry. Angry that some people aren't being given that choice, angry that they don't know what's going on, angry that it's become OK in my industry to expose people. I think that it's high time that we take into consideration those whose lives aren't nearly as privileged as ours, those who aren't choosing to take the risks that we take, those who can't afford to. This isn't about liberals vs. libertarians; it's about monkeys vs. robots.
There was a time when Blizzard was viewed as a company run by and for gamers. That time is now over. Even aside from the wrongs or rights of the proposal, no company that fails so badly in understanding gamer culture can really claim to be one of us any more.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
HiRez announced last week that Global Agenda will never charge players subscription fees. Global Agenda will follow the same business model of almost every game in existence: Charge for the box and then charge for expansions. The only twist is that they’ll offer token- (to buy loot with) and XP-boosting services at relatively low real-money prices.
Why did this happen?
AvA was supposed to be the key selling point for the subscription. AvA is a garbage mode. It’s not a good competitive mode and you can’t be competitive in it as a casual. AvA satisfies no one, and there are no fixes forthcoming. On the US servers, one alliance (JL) dominated. Your choices were to join them or lose. The mode only rewards first-place finishers, so competition is shelved in favor of collusion—this renders AvA a complete joke as a competitive mode. HiRez made an attempt to improve AvA by putting everyone into one huge zone with player-set territory opening times instead of having multiple independent geography-based zones that are only open for two hours a day at various times of day and night. This decision led to JL dominating the entirety of AvA instead of just a couple of US zones. AvA went from bad to pitiful in 1.3A, and AvA was the main reason why people would subscribe—at least theoretically.
Without AvA to draw players to the subs, why would players bother? There are only so many good-spirited people who would blindly throw their money at HiRez in the hope that they might get value in return. The potential low number of subscribers would have crippled all of the other subscriber content, each mode of which would have required queues to be busy enough for matchmaking to happen. None of those modes alone—and probably no combination of those modes—would justify paying a subscription (there were two arena, full arranged team modes and a PvE mode). The fact that matchmaking may not even be possible because of a low population of subscribers means that if matches were made, they would be terrible due to the matchmaker being starved of players at different skill levels to match-up.
A Bright Future?
I still don’t have much confidence in HiRez after the half-assed attempt to MMORPG-ize the game in 1.3A. I think that the decision to remove the subscription was necessary to avoid the game completely dying. Now players can reasonably have some hope for the future of Global Agenda. What HiRez will do with that future, we will see.
Current indications show that they are going to continue on the path of adding other diversions that will extend the number of half-baked things that you can do in the game—they’re adding “open-world'” zones in the next patch. I have no confidence that the “open-world” zones are going to be sufficiently “open” to please anyone; early indications show that zone populations won’t break 50. And HiRez had to spend a lot of time and resources reworking the UT engine just to get this excuse for an open world off the ground, let alone fun. Such poor benefit-per-cost decisions don’t bode well.
I have severe reservations about GA, but at least I know now that it will survive to see something of its potential. If HiRez polishes and builds on the strong points of the game instead of implementing, in an expensive and time-consuming way, half-assed MMO-impersonation features, they would have a much brighter future ahead.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Either make player characters truly immortal or build the game around death being a meaningful and inevitable event. In this article I’ll discuss removing death from PvE MMORPGs.
We can see that moderating the effect of death leads to a watered down, minimal slap-on-the-wrist. Death is not a notable event more than taking a flight path is an event. Serious players deride weak death concepts because if death doesn’t have meaning, then, in an analysis of mechanics, combat where the only punishment for failure is death cannot have much meaning.
PvE MMORPGs generally have long, steep vertical advancement. These games are reward ladders intertwined in an interesting fashion. The decisions the player makes aren’t on the “what should I do to kill this lizardman”-level, but instead on the higher level of abstraction on which rests character advancement and time budgeting. Long and dramatic advancement encourages the player to invest a lot of time in a single character. The player naturally hates the concept of losing that character—and the time it represents—in whole or in part. PvE MMORPGs are supposed to be fun, and seeing 300 hours evaporate in the context of a game is not fun.
In a PvE MMORPG, skill growth is easy and short. You learn how to play the basic aspects of your character in the first few levels. Over the next several hundred hours of your character’s life, the game will grant you access to new abilities at a slow trickle, giving you plenty of time to fully adapt your play to use whatever has become available. The content doesn’t give you a reason to learn to play at anywhere near an optimal level, either. Because players don’t have much room to grow their skill, there’s little skill carry-over to make being forced to start a new character (because your old one is permanently dead) anything but a chore compounded on existing chores.
Death is a pointless mechanic in PvE MMORPGs. It means very little and usually has a crappy lore justification. When designers tack penalties on to death in order to give it meaning, players will avoid interesting, risky content, and when they do die they will end up unhappy for no particular gain. Let’s get rid of it.
Make the game so that the player character can’t die. The player can fight indefinitely against any enemy and eventually probably win, but he can’t be killed and forced to respawn. Give the player an ability that allows them to teleport out of battles (or bad places that would usually cause death) at will. Let the player disengage an enemy’s aggro, but then bump the enemy’s health and expendable resources back to where they were before the battle. Build the game around rewarding players for efficiently dispatching with enemies. It’s already this way in effect, why not make it the central issue?
Removing daeth would make PvE MMORPGs a smoother and more enjoyable experience, while sidestepping the awkwardness and mechanical faux pas that a concept of death needlessly brings to such games.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Tips for Travel in FFXI
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
We must look at death both from a game mechanical perspective and a metaphoric perspective.
Death is a consequence for defeat in combat. The current structure of MMORPG combat is similar to how combat works in bad movies. The hero fights a bunch of nameless trash and the fight ends when the trash are all dead. The trash are designed to be killed. Designers have made every fight essentially a fight to the death—players expect this and would be confused by having it otherwise. Other outcomes are nothing but cheap excuses for death—mere icing on top of the death-cake meant to make it look as if it is not death but instead some form of retreat or injury. But the effect of the prettified death-cake is still practically similar to unadorned death-cake: namely, death.
Regardless, we all know that the death-cake is a lie. It’s the cooing noises a parent makes at its child to ease the child down from the brink of a tantrum. We are no more than petulant children, looking to have some vague feeling of mock-accomplishment we can pass off as “fun”. Death is an unpleasant detour on the path towards that mock-accomplishment, and so designers find death a difficult obstacle to either include or exclude.
Some people want their character’s death to be a mountain, some want it to be a speedbump. The mountainous death is meaningful, the speedbump death is the smallest obstacle possible on the road towards the accomplishments that many think give meaning to MMORPGs.
Lord of the Rings Online cheats death on the player’s end by making the player’s death not actual death, but a mere shock to the character’s morale. The effect is the same: you lose the fight and your character becomes unusable until someone brings him back to the fight with an ability or the player elects to be teleported at some penalty back to a place of relative safety.
How do you design death into an MMORPG without “cheating”? Without being too punitive? Without it being meaningless?
- Come up with death mechanics that actually make sense and aren’t such a cop-out.
- Get players used to the concept of death being meaningfull and not just a speedbump.
- Come up with a metaphor to make the mechanics fit tidily into a game world. Hell, you could even design the game around death mechanics if they’re going to be serious and important to how the game plays.
I’ll go into more detail on each of these points in a future post.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
HiRez is normalizing Global Agenda to MMORPG standards and this will kill the game. In a few crucial ways, this normalization is half-baked and has no hope of capturing the MMORPG crowd.
A summary of the game’s concessions to the MMORPG normal:
- A per-item loot system instead of a whole-character upgrade system.
- A randomized loot system instead of craft or AH purchase-based gear acquisition.
- Maxed gear is now much more difficult to get—you used to be able to get maxed gear for one build in a month or two of 60 minutes per night play. Now you may never get it.
- Open-world “zones” (instances with higher player caps than 20) will be added in later phases of 1.3.
- Solo missions were added and open-world solo missions will be tacked on in a later phase.
- Token-purchased “wellfare epics” were added to the game.
HiRez doesn’t understand how these additions appeal to the players they are meant to draw. They’ve missed the point of doing what they’re doing.
- The loot system is boring, linear progression. Loot needs to be cool-looking, powerful, and very diverse to keep MMORPG players interested.
- You can’t trade loot, which means that you are forced to keep crappy drops without hope of trading them for something better. The “advancement at all costs” mindset that makes MMORPGs so addictive relies on trading up through the loot ladder by harnessing the value of past loot. With all equipment being bind on pick-up, an economy that is already a joke has no hope of maturing.
- Solo missions appeal to players because they allow for advancement alongside others, but not having to work together. Global Agenda’s solo missions are instanced so the player is entirely alone versus legions of enemies. The missions are so difficult once you get to a respectable level that none but the more hardcore players—given some practice over several failed runs—can hope to succeed.
- The open-world zones will just be instances that allow more players on the same map. The largest number of players on any playable map in GA right now is 20, so the number of playres allowed in the open world zones can’t possibly be much larger. The UT engine also does not tend to support large numbers of players (over 64, I think). This will be by no means “massive”.
Let’s look at the real problems with the game as it exists even after the first phase of the messiah patch 1.3.
- The loot system is boring. Loot doesn’t do much to differentiate you aside from making you flat out more powerful. But you can’t even become that much more powerful. It’s 4% gains. Flat, small gains do not make for an exciting loot system. It’s just an excuse for a grind.
- The economy is a joke. There aren’t enough interesting items to trade with other players. Everything’s too locked down and confined to being used by specific characters. Goods can’t be traded freely enough for the economy to take on the kind of full-bodied nature that makes World of Warcraft’s economy remotely interesting. Global Agenda has not been doing anything to improve the viability of the economy in new patches, either.
- There aren’t enough PvP maps. We have had maybe 3 or 4 PvP maps added in five months. Existing maps are slightly altered as an excuse for “more maps”—this is transparent bullcrap, laziness, and it’s lame. Make maps for your players to play; make good, thoughtfully designed maps that look like you actually gave them some effort.
- There aren’t enough tilesets—the maps all look surprisingly similar. Crates, metal floors, metal walls, open doors, mainframes, invincible glass barriers—that’s all these maps consist of. The new maps recently added look like they came from an entirely different game. All of the other maps need to be overhauled to reach this standard of design and art.
- There aren’t enough (innovative/unique) modes. There are six PvP modes. No new ones have been added since release. The existing modes are all point-based and most of them are rehashes of modes we’ve seen in other games, like Team Fortress 2.
- The story is not integrated into the gameplay. The only story you see is in the tutorial. After that, the game does absolutely nothing to get you into any story whatsoever. Global Agenda is transparent through to the game mechanics.
- Alliance vs. Alliance is a failure as a competitive mode. The US zones were not competitive before 1.3’s release because all the good players piled into one agency/alliance. The competition was too fragmented to provide much of a fight on a scale broader than a few individual battles. Because there is no reward for finishing anywhere but in first place, there’s no reason to compete—just join the best faction and get your shiny helmet.
- Half the devices in the game do not have a role to play for anyway—they are not viable in any build for any reason. And there have been little-to-no balance adjustments since the game’s release. This is inexcusable.
- PvE is boring. The maps are linear. Tactical variety doesn’t exist. The AI is bad, though it has seen limited improvement recently.
- PvE’s difficulty is primarily due to increased enemy damage, health and increased spawn rates of elites. Hirez did the cheapest possible thing that would increase the difficulty of PvE. They could’ve improved the maps, AI, and added new PvE objectives. They did not.
Global Agenda will not fail because it’s not enough like MMORPGs—it’ll fail because it tries to be like an MMORPG yet doesn’t have the one critical aspect of such games covered: content. Global Agenda has nowhere near enough content to keep a PvE player satisfied—it barely has enough content to keep PvP players playing.
In a market full of much more polished addictive MMORPGs executed significantly better, Global Agenda doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Global Agenda needs to innovate in order to succeed. As events unfold, it’s clear that HiRez does not understand this. They’re satisfied mainstreaming the game right out of its niche and into a market where it cannot compete.
Global Agenda’s lack of vision and direction will kill it. I’ve finally, after playing since release day and earlier, left the game because of the clear disdain for innovation and interest in appealing to a kind of player that cannot be satisfied with a Global Agenda that I would like to play.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
There are three major issues with 1.3:
- Massive offensive ability power creep with no equivalent defensive bonus power creep.
- The strategy of building a character has been significantly reduced. Many decision points in the old system were replaced by gear progression.
- The gap between new players and well-equipped players is wider than ever with the new patch, even though HiRez supposedly made these changes to close that gap.
All devices are now at the same “rank”, which is basically equivalent to rank 4 of the old system. Each device can have modifiers and modifications put on it to give it the equivalent boost to a full set of epics, but localized to that one device.
This is huge power creep. Everyone now does more damage and does not have to specialize their device point build (because device points no longer exist) and upgrades. You can do everything better without good equipment, but with good equipment you can do everything 21% better on top of that.
You used to have to pick two things to get a 21% bonus in across your whole character, but now you can pick one thing per piece of gear.
Character Building No Longer as Strategic
You used to have to pick one stat for armors and one for weapons if you wanted to get a full 21% boost in those stats(armors and weapon upgrades boosted exclusive sets of stats; you couldn’t have +damage armor, for instance). Now, you can individually boost one stat on each device you have. No longer do you have to make particularly difficult decisions about what you want to boost or switch out your upgrades because you are using a different build. Now it’s simply a matter of getting the perfect item—and it’ll take a damn long time to get the perfect item considering they cannot be purchased and must be randomly dropped.
Time is now more important relative to build decisions than it used to be.
THe device system’s removal also eliminates lots of difficult, interesting decisions and small trade-offs that could make a big difference in competitive play (or even PuG PvP sometimes).
The Gap Between Rich and Poor; Much Higher Time-focus
The old method for obtaining epics was to play the game a bit, get some credits, then buy the epics off the auction house for a total of roughly 1 million credits. That does take a month or two of gameplay, but even then it’s not a big deal because you can buy rare upgrades that give you a 14% cumulative bonus for significantly less. You can also buy the upgrades piecemeal throughout your career and see steady growth in your characters capability.
The new system requires you to find epic loot, which does not have a particularly high drop rate from anything, then make modifications (or buy them for roughly the price of what an epic upgrade used to be) to bring them up to a full complement of bonuses. You can buy an epic that is one modifier short of perfect for 200 mercenary tokens. You can earn twenty such tokens per day as a non-sub. So that means you have to be blessed by the RNG, or wait 10 days per piece of equipment to have something that’s roughly competitive. There are 14 such pieces of equipment.
It will take you at least 3 months in 1.3 to have one character outfitted in epics that aren’t even optimal. And the difference between a character outfitted in epics and a character in greys is much wider due to the specialization of modifiers on individual devices replacing the blanket bonus system. And this calculation assumes that you are being a good puppy and playing every single day and seeing success—it may take you as much as 5 or 6 months to have a single character in sub-optimal epics otherwise!
Perhaps if the drop rates were convenient, this process’ time-consumption would be mitigated, but that’s not the case. Drops are quite random and the place where you used to be able to do fast runs for loot—high-end PvE—is now much more difficult. All equipment isn’t useful for each spec, either. My minigun-wielding mobile assault has gotten an epic headhunter rocket launcher as his only epic drop so far. This is entirely useless to me—and its mods are garbage, on top of that. So you have to basically win the lottery to get a good epic item out of the RNG: you have to get an item you will actually use, and then it has to have feasible mods on it. It takes at least 10 minutes to earn one such random drop. Even with some luck, you’re still going to have trouble getting useful epics in any reasonable span of time.
New players have a hard 3-month path ahead of them before they can compete with the play-everday bunch. It was frustrating in the old system to play against opponents wearing epic upgrades when you were just trying to level an alt who barely had uncommons, now a new player or an alt has to look forward to a few months of being beaten senseless by players who have done nothing but invested more time.
It was arguable before that GA’s equipment system could be overcome without much tribulation by sheer skill—HiRez has made it much more difficult for this claim to hold up.