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.