“Innovate!” is the Mating Call of the Lazy Gamer March 8, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, MMO Design.
Tags: Friday Blog Wars, Innovation, Trolling Tobold
There was a cartoon that ran in the New Yorker years ago. I wish I could find it.
The cartoon featured a man dressed up in a clown suit on a television studio set. He was on a fully dressed sound stage with back drops. There was a large studio audience. Cameras were pointed at him. Studio technicians were off on the side. A boom mic hung above him. Everything was in its place.
And on the cue card was the phrase “TELL A FUNNY JOKE.”
That seems to be what Tobold is up to today. He is kvetching that game studios with revenue goals and investors and expectations and all the baggage of big business aren’t reading his cue card, which simply says, “INNOVATE.”
Well, that and the idea that the past is bad, which is why it is in the past. Only fools put on rose colored glasses and bask in nostalgia or some rubbish.
So he doesn’t just want a funny joke, but he wants it to be a new joke as well.
But there are no new jokes. There are only new contexts in which to tell them.
In entertainment, as in jokes, remakes, reboots, re-imagining, and telling the same damn story in a slightly different way is what sustains us. Using old material was old hat when Shakespeare (or whoever) was cribbing his plots from the Greeks.
And the more familiar the story, the more of our dollar votes go towards it. Avatar is where the money is, not Primer. Or, if you want the “higher” arts, the music of Mozart or Beethoven get more performances and sell more albums than that of Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.
The problem is that we’re not used to this being the case when it comes to video games. The video games industry is pretty young. It hasn’t just been a business in living memory, it became a business in my lifetime.
It went from a cottage industry of single person or very small development teams, when what ever they produced seemed new (though they borrowed heavily) because we had never seen such a thing on a computer before… or in some cases, even a computer… to the big business it is today in something like 40 years.
We are just reaching the point where remakes have become the norm.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I have my doubts that something like Wasteland 2 can deliver on its promise. A lot of what made the original great was in the context of the time and the limitations of the hardware. But it could still be a decent game. On the other hand, I am quite happy that somebody is going to fix up Age of Empires II and bring a great game into the 21st century.
And it also doesn’t mean that there is no innovation. There are plenty of developers trying to tell stories or create situations in new contexts that challenge and amuse us. They just so rarely show up from big studios that looking for them there seems to be the real fools errand. Games like Journey or Katamari Damancy will always be the exception on that front.
It is the so-called independent game studios that will likely foster any innovation we see.
If you are complaining about no innovation and ignoring them, then you didn’t really want any innovation in the first place I guess. Heaven forbid you get off your ass and go find something new.
The Real Problem with Levels… February 20, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, MMO Design.
…is that we seem to like them.
Or at least somebody believes we like them, because we follow along willingly.
I can pull from memory a whole series of games and their level cap at launch.
- TorilMUD, 1993 – 50 levels
- EverQuest, 1999 – 50 levels
- Dark Age of Camelot, 2001 – 50 levels
- EverQuest II, 2004 – 50 levels
- World of Warcraft, 2004 – 60 levels
- Guild Wars, 2005 – 20 levels
- Lord of the Rings Online, 2007 – 50 levels
- Warhammer Online, 2008 – 50 levels
- Rift, 2011 – 50 levels
- Star Wars: The Old Republic, 2011 – 50 levels
- Guild Wars 2, 2012 – 80 levels
Levels are part of the mix. The level climb is an essential part of the game.
I think that the last one on that list is the most interesting. After the success of the original Guild Wars, which only had 20 levels and was very focused on other means of progressions, one of the lessons that ArenaNet took away was apparently, “Must have more levels!”
I found that an astonishing conclusion for them to reach.
Richard Bartle posted a series of things he dislikes about the level-focused structure. (Which got me to finish up this post, as it had been sitting as a draft since GW2 launched.) He covers a couple that I have groused about here in the past along with a few I hadn’t considered. He didn’t go into my favorite hobby horse, which is that expansions seem to require a level cap increase, which requires a jump in gear stats and just makes the whole level structure a bigger gap between new players and old hands.
And solutions to the level gap problem haven’t been all I could wish. I have yet to see a system like mentoring that allows players of different levels to play together than really worked well. The higher level player dropping down is inevitably over-powered because the algorithm has to take into account a wide range of possible scenarios. Dropping down to level 20, the level 48 player in quest reward green gear has to be viable, but then so does the level 50 in raid gear. And both end up at level 20 with more skills and bonuses than a character who is actually level 20.
The only enduring solution over time seems to be to just make the levels easier so that everybody is at the level cap. Except, of course, then the level game is gone, and that is what keeps a lot of people playing.
So, levels are bad. They create an artificial and unsustainable gap in your player base. And what do they even mean?
Except, of course, people keep making level based games like this. Are they mad? Do they hate us?
The thing with levels is that they are simple. They are easy to create and explain. They are usually visible to other players, so everybody knows about where you stand in the game. While there are many ways to gate content… factions, quests, or currency could all be implemented quite easily as gates… nothing is quite as simple or as visible as that level number attached to your character.
Despite the fact that gaining any individual level is a pretty minor event… you get a stat boost and a few more hit points… maybe a skill point of some sort… it does provide the illusion of progress. When you level up, you are one level better!
And the level cap provides a very tangible goal. For a lot of people, their primary experience is the journey to level cap. That trip is part and parcel of the package.
And even the level cap provides a benefit, being both a goal and a point of equalization. When you have made your way to the level cap, you are now equal with all those who went before you. Nobody is a level ahead of you any more. You have “won” in as much as you can “win” in an MMO.
Compare this to EVE Online. A common reason people bring up about EVE is that they don’t want to start because they could never “catch up” when it comes to skill points.
Players who have been around for years, like myself at this point, can easily have 100 million skill points, while a new player starts out with a few thousand in some basic skills. There is no skill point cap, no way any new player can join that group of players, as once they get to 100 million skill points, that group will have 200 million.
But levels always seem to contain the seeds of their own destruction. You launch a game with 50 levels, and the level climb becomes an essential part of the game. While a few people race through, a lot more take their time in getting to the cap.
Eventually, though, most of your player base is there at the pinnacle. So you create an expansion. But how many more levels do you add? It is risky to add no levels, because you made the level climb a core part of your game. But adding another 50 levels on top of your game… a new version of the level climb… is a huge investment and puts new players at the bottom of a huge hill. Being able to “catch up” is important to some people. There is something to be said for making the level cap attainable. And how many “dead” mid-level zones do you end up with if you do that?
So you add 10 levels… that gives the level cap characters something to do… and a maybe a new class or a new race with a new starter area to promote the creation of alts and to encourage people to play through your old level content again.
A couple of expansions in and then the system starts to show its flaws even more so. High levels caps, empty zones, end game content that is no longer at the end of the game, and the inevitable declining player base. You can only keep people interested in your levels for so long. Eventually your core players will tire, either from facing the same old thing or from changes to the game that they don’t like. It is practically a no-win situation.
And yet they are so easy and so tangible and work so well when your game first launches, so long as nothing else kills your game.
What do you think about levels?
Quote of the Day – Worlds and Race Tracks December 14, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, MMO Design, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Tags: Edward Castronova, MMO Subscriptions, Quote of the Day
You can’t live on a race track. Races tracks are for racing. You go around a few times and quit. Why subscribe to that?
Edward Castronova, The Decline of Worlds
Ever the virtual world visionary, Professor Castronova, in the post linked above, takes a quick look at how he feels being a “world” might affect which revenue models people are willing to accept, with Star Wars: The Old Republic and EVE Online trotted out as examples.
I think this ties into another quote from him:
Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.
That probably works both with the subscription model as well as the in-game economy. And it certainly applies to elf, Minmatar, and Twi’lek alike.
Do you think that the “worldliness” of an MMO impacts what revenue model will work for it?
Does this play into the “three monther” issue?
Nineteen Years without Raising the Level Cap November 7, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, MMO Design, TorilMUD.
Tags: Dark Age of Camelot, Level Cap
When I started playing TorilMUD… or Sojourn MUD as it was known back then… just after their go-live pwipe, the level cap was 50.
Today, a little more than nineteen years later, the cap for players remains at level 50.
A lot of things have changed. The D&D rule set being modeled has moved from 2.0 (THAC0) to 4.0 (D20 simplification). Races have been added. Classes have been reworked and, in some cases, removed. (A moment to remember lost monks, mercenaries, and berserkers.) Zones have been added at a steady rate over time causing the room count to swell over time.
But in all that time they have never added a single level. Level 50 remains the pinnacle.
Which is odd, when you consider that TorilMUD was such a big influence on EverQuest, which must hold some sort of record for the total number of different expansions they have sold (soon to be 19, plus half a dozen different expansion “roll up” packages), many of which included boosts to the level cap (which started at 50 and will soon reside at 100) or added in alternative level progression mechanics (primarily alternate advancement).
And EverQuest itself is the template on which your typical PvE fantasy MMORPG is based. So clearly EverQuest got its expansion mojo from some other source… like a desire for more box sales.
But how has TorilMUD managed this over the last 19 years?
Awkwardly would be my reaction.
TorilMUD was not one of those MUDs where you got special powers or access upon hitting level 50. You were still a just a player and your only real game option was to conquer content and acquire loot. So the staff had to come up with methods to keep people engaged and playing.
Some of that was done in ways you will recognize, in ways that MMOs with many expansions use when they want to do another expansion but not raise the level cap. They have, as noted above, added new races and reworked classes to make them more viable. (Though nothing has ever made rangers really useful for long.) And they have trimmed back some of the less useful classes. (Mercenaries really were just half-assed warriors with a backstab skill.) They have also added new low level areas to make bringing up an alt a different experience.
But primary way of keeping people playing without raising the level cap has been the carrot and stick approach, which was used quite liberally with players sitting at level 50.
The carrot comes in the form of new content. New zones to run, with new monsters, new themes, new gimmicks (including nakedness), and, of course, shiny new loot. Lots and lots of new loot. Getting that one item with the perfect stats for your character and class was something of an obsession in the game.
There was the stick as well. And it wasn’t so much a stick as the infamous Nerf bat and it was wielded with almost gay abandon, much to the dismay of the players.
In order to keep gear inflation in check, equipment with great stats would almost inevitably be downgraded as new gear came in with new zones. One of the problems with taking a break from the game was coming back and finding some of your best items had been beaten into submission by the Nerf bat.
Sometimes particular enchants or stats would come in for special attention. I remember the war on haste. Items began to creep into the game that with that attribute. Haste is a spell mages could cast on melee classes that would give them extra attacks in combat. But it was a very short duration spell. You had to cast it right before a fight and, of course, you had to have a mage with the spell on hand. But if a melee class had an item that gave him haste all the time, well who needs a mage! So haste items like the emerald longsword and the gray suede boots became a requirement for melee classes.
And then out came the Nerf bat and haste was removed and people were left with items that otherwise were generally fair at best. (I remember trading a pair of gray suede boots for a pile of equipment just about a week before the change went in. I got lucky.)
To this day I remember far more old stats for items that have been hit with the Nerf bat than current stats.
All in all it could be a brutal process, like having a semi-continuous gear reset going on around you. Gear advancement became something of a treadmill. If you stopped moving, you would eventually fall off the back.
So I guess I can see why EverQuest, and World of Warcraft in its turn, went with the “increase the level cap” option. Gear resets still happen. All that great gear you got is still trivialized in one fell swoop. But at least you are getting newer and better stuff as opposed to seeing your old stuff literally turned to junk.
Avoiding level cap increases has only been attempted by a couple of otherwise level-based MMORPGs, like Dark Age of Camelot. And while some have praised them for holding the line, it is tough to tell how successful that approach is commercially with a limited sample set.
Games like Vanguard and Warhammer Online haven’t boosted their level caps, but neither of them were apparently successful enough to warrant any sort of expansion, much less one that included new levels.
Guild Wars also stuck with a level cap of 20, but the business model was clearly one of selling boxes since they also went without a subscription. Guild Wars 2 has the same business model, though one of the lessons they seemed to draw from the original was that they needed more levels. I suppose we will see what that really means for expansions when they get their first follow-on box ready for sale.
Meanwhile, DAoC is pretty quiet these days as I understand it, though I am not sure if 8 years of a static level cap is a big factor in that.
And TorilMUD is still going, but my gear is totally out of date.
Crimewatch Update – Visible Timers, Best Timers! October 5, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, MMO Design.
CCP has a regularly scheduled expansion coming out in early December… just to add to the all the stuff that has launched since Guild Wars 2 went live… called Retribution.
Like most EVE expansions, the name reflects some of the content being offered. In this case, there has been a detailed dev blogs about updates to Crimewatch, and there will no doubt be one coming up on Bounty Hunting soon.
On the Crimewatch front, my gut feeling is that what is being proposed is generally good. It seems to close some of the more ridiculous loopholes in the dynamics of high sec PVP (or griefing, if you prefer), while not really making high sec space safer for anybody. Poetic Stanziel and Jester have applied a lot more thought to the changes than I ever will, and there is a write up about it at The Mittani.com, where I expect the comments to be informative.
But here is my favorite take away from the whole thing: Visible Timers.
And I will tell you why.
One of my biggest complaints about EVE Online over the years hasn’t been about the game being hard. It has been about the game making things harder than they really needed to be. The game hides data and timers, or presents information in such obtuse ways that you need to go to an external tool to figure out what it really means.
To give CCP some credit, they have been working on this sort of thing over time.
I think one of the best additions to the Inferno expansion was the ability to mouse over your weapons modules and get a simple readout of things like range parameters.
That is the sort of thing that can be influenced by skills, other modules, and ammo, so the answer to the question “how far can I shoot” can be completely non-obvious.
So people may argue about whether or not the Crimewatch changes are good or bad, but I am just happy to see that more relevant data is being made visible to the user.
The aggression timer has been a bit of a pisser in the past. It is something I have run into any number of times. You do something that causes you get to flagged, and then for 60 seconds you cannot dock or use a jump gate. As it currently stands, you only know you are flagged when you try to dock or use a jump gate. And then the message that comes up only tells you that you have in fact been flagged and that you cannot dock or use a jump gate until the timer runs down. But no data on the timer itself is presented.
With this change, you will know you status right away, and hold long it will remain.
There is, of course, the old argument about how much data a game ought to give to players. Some things ought to be opaque, lest the mysterious nature of the universe be revealed and spoil things. And I know that, at times, in fantasy settings like WoW, Rift, or LOTRO, comparing weapon stats and bonuses and raw DPS makes me cringe and wish for simpler things. Is the blade rusty or well honed? Is it balanced and light enough to swing handily? Great, let’s go find some orcs!
The price we pay for levels and gear progression I suppose.
But in a futuristic setting where we have spaceships, advanced computing, easy cloning, and multiple variations on faster than light travel, it seems like NOT having a computer to hand that can display your aggression time is more immersion breaking than having one.
EVE Online is complex enough without hiding such minor things.
I look forward to more changes in this vein.
Some Insight on Free to Play September 3, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Gaming Industry Trends, MMO Design.
Tags: David Edery, Game Developer Magazine
The September issue of Game Developer Magazine dropped into my mail box this past week.
Game Developer Magazine does not print their articles online and I am sure would object strenuously to my reprinting it wholesale, but I though just a repost of the paragraph headings would be instructive. They were:
- Don’t Assume Other Games are Profitable
- Don’t Design Yourself Into a Corner
- Don’t Expect Recognition for Your Restraint
- Don’t Expect Miracles
- The List Goes On…
While he was writing about Triple Town, which fits into the social gaming bucket, a lot of what he wrote clearly hits the mark even when looking at the MMO world.
I thought it was interesting that, in the last section, one of the mistakes he pointed at was emphasizing aesthetic (cosmetic) items rather than consumables. That makes me think of EverQuest II and their apparent cosmetic mount based economy as well as League of Legends, which sells only cosmetic champions and grind reducing buffs. People always point at the former, but I wonder how much of the money they make is really from the latter.
The end of the article points to a video of a presentation he did at GDC which gets down into the nitty gritty of money. You can find the video here, and it has bookmarks so you can skip right to the “But does RotMG Make $$$” section if you like.
In the video he mentions his own blog, which I ran off to find. Titled Game Tycoon, it has more insight into the free to play scene.
And while the focus is more on independent development, the basics certainly apply to the larger budget MMO sphere, especially given the impending demise of City of Heroes and SWTORs F2P plans, which they aren’t sure will even be viable.
Addendum: And the CEO of Wargaming.net just weighed in on free to play and how publishers do not understand it, which seems to fit with the theme here.
Elemental Absurdity June 11, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design, Rift.
Tags: trade skills
Rhenium is a chemical element with the symbol Re and atomic number 75. It is a silvery-white, heavy, third-row transition metal in group 7 of the periodic table. With an estimated average concentration of 1 part per billion (ppb), rhenium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust.
-Opening of Wikipedia article on Rhenium
One of the aspects of the tiered harvesting and crafting systems favored by games like World or Warcraft, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, and Rift is that it really puts a burden on the person in charge of making up names for each new level of raw materials.
For example, in EverQuest II, which adheres to a hard and fast “new stuff every 10 levels” model, here is the list of metals from which you craft armor and weapons:
- Level 1-9 tin (bronze)
- Level 10-19 iron (blackened iron)
- Level 20-29 carbonite (steel)
- Level 30-39 feyiron (feysteel)
- Level 40-49 fulginate(ebon)
- Level 50-59 indium (cobalt)
- Level 60-69 adamantine (xegonite)
- Level 70-79 ferrite (incarnadine)
- Level 80-89 titanium (brellium)
- Level 90 rhenium (tungsten)
Those are the primary metals, with the rare versions (which make better items) in parens. The level indicates what level of crafter you need to be in order to use the material and well as the level range of the gear that can be made from it. (Data taken from a great chart at EQ2 Traders Corner.)
This is not an unusual stack of metals. WoW and Rift do the same. We seem to get tin, copper, and iron into the mix pretty quickly and then quickly launch into the realm of the very rare or mythical. LOTRO tries to walk a line between rare and common by coming up with variations on iron ore, as well as some tin and a something called skram.
So while the thought of armor crafted from adamant of some sort is cool, the whole thing does seem to be get to the point of silliness pretty quickly.
Take, for example, rhenium, whose rarity is attested to at the top of this post. I haven’t been on EQII for a while, but I would bet that on the market right now, rhenium is cheaper in price and more plentiful in supply than any number of the more common items down the stack. This used to be a way I made some quick money in EQII, checking to see which mid-tier harvestables were scarce on the market and then run out and collect some.
And, leaving aside the rarity factor and the technology required to fashion rhenium (a furnace, hammer, and anvil aren’t going to cut it), when it comes down to it, some sort of steel alloy is going to make for a better weapon or base for a suit of armor nine times out of ten.
With all that in mind, I would kind of like to see a fantasy MMORPG go down the EVE Online route for crafting materials. I would like to have some sort of base metal… probably iron… remain useful throughout all tiers of crafting, ala tritanium, which is the common basic building material for most things in EVE online. And then you could introduce different alloys as the crafter’s skill progressed.
This would also make sense in the economic aspect of the game as even new players could harvest iron… which I would imagine would be seeded as a harvestable throughout the game… and then turn around and sell it on the market because the demand for it would be there.
You would have to increase the amount of iron required as the crafter advanced to keep demand up. Perhaps ones advanced harvesting skill would be required to extract less common materials needed for alloys, something that would be more likely to appear in higher level zones.
It might even be interesting see a full-out EVE style crafting system in a fantasy environment, where all the base equipment is player created.
Unfortunately, for most games, crafting is a second tier activity, there to serve the “quest/kill/level” aspect that is central to the game. And that does not promote a sandbox-like crafting environment.
I know that, despite the fact that I pick up some form of crafting/harvesting in every game that allows it, crafting has never been the prime motivator for me. I probably would not go play an MMO solely for the crafting aspect, so something like A Tale in the Desert is out. Combat is a requirement for me.
Is anybody doing a hack and slash fantasy MMORPG with crafting like I brought up?
Echoes of a Crashing MUD May 29, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, EverQuest, MMO Design, MUDs, TorilMUD.
Last week’s crash bug fixing bonanza has resulted in a near-record uptime of 150 hours and still going.
They have been working hard on crash related bugs at TorilMUD.
TorilMUD has been around, in one form or another, for nearly 20 years now. Next year I will get to write my “20 years of TorilMUD” post, a follow up to my 15 year post, as I will have played it off and on for that long.
In all that time, running without a crash for less than seven days is a record.
I guess there is a reason that uptime was displayed only as hours, minutes, and seconds. There was no need for days to be displayed.
So this is a big success, this huge increase in reliability, right?
If you had asked me that when I was playing the game actively, back when there were 50-100 people on all the time, I would have told you that seven days of uptime was a disaster!
The thing is, crashes were points of opportunity to be valued, not disasters to be avoided.
Yes, sure, if you were doing a zone and had finally gotten through to a big fight and the game crashed, that was bad. And you didn’t want to the game going down every ten minutes… unless you wanted to farm Bandor’s flagon or some other easily obtained item. But no crashes for days could mean no loot for days in a very loot oriented game.
The thing is, most monsters in the game that carried anything worth having only carried that item at boot. Once you slew the monster and took its item, it would respawn, but would come back empty handed. You might get some coins from it and some experience, but the special item was only there once per boot.
In addition, there were a lot of rare mobs that had a chance to spawn at reboot, often mobs related to key quests in the game.
So a crash and a reboot was a time of renewal in the game. You would spam your way out to pick off an easy item or two, help friends scour known locations for special spawns, and then start forming groups to tackle the zone content, which was the MUD equivalent of raiding.
We all loved a well timed crash, and there were few things as depressing as logging in at prime time on a weekend and seeing the uptime sitting at 18 hours. All the easy drops would be gone by then, all the good zones done, and the world mobs likely spotted already.
Players would begin whining about the uptime and how all the good stuff have been done. And often an administrator would take pity on us… they were all long time players and knew the importance of a timely reboot… and announce a reboot.
So key aspects of the game… loot and raiding… were predicated on the system crashing at fairly regular intervals. How crazy was that?
And this, of course, had influence that was felt long after so many of us moved to 3D graphical MMORPGs.
TorilMUD was the Diku template on which EverQuest was based. Brad McQuaid, Aradune, and other EQ devs were long time players of TorilMUD, and if you played them both you could see the many things that were influenced by… or copied wholesale from… TorilMUD. Races, classes, equipment stats, racial home towns, the layout of Freeport, and much more came from EQ’s text-based predecessor.
But not everything could be copied directly. What works in text does not always translate well to a 3D virtual world. You never dropped your weapon in Norrath for example, which was something of a relief. They actually turned off the fumble mechanism in TorilMUD in the last couple of years, so you need not worry about losing your weapon forever in a shallow stream or a duck pond.
And the concept of aggro management started to take shape, as there was no such thing in TorilMUD. Monsters switched to attack casters all the time and the tanks job was to use the “rescue” command, which would switch the monster back to focus on the tank.
And one of the things that the EQ team no doubt felt they could not depend on was the crash/reboot mechanism to repopulate drops and spawn rare mobs. Depending on crashes is fine in a free game, but can you imagine a commercial MMO where a crash or a reboot a couple of times a day would be seen as a good thing?
So they had to come up with another solution to meter out rare mobs to simulate the whole crash/reboot cycle. The decision was to put such mobs on extremely long respawn timers.
And thus the insane camp was born.
I suspect, though have no confirmation, that the EQ devs never expected players to actually sit on a rare mob spawn point for extremely long stretches of time waiting for it to appear. I have to imagine that they thought that players would treat that sort of thing the way we did in TorilMUD, which was to run by and check the spot at intervals. In the TorilMUD, that interval was at every reboot. But with no such similar timer in EQ, people just sat down in a group and waited.
And waited, and waited, some times for days at a stretch, for a specific mob to appear.
Eventually, other mechanisms were created to replace the long spawn, though not all were necessarily more successful. How many hours have I spent killing the placeholder mob over and over again in hopes of spawning that one special mob I needed?
In the end, certainly with the advent of WoW, I think most such mobs were stuck in instanced environments and metered based on difficulty rather than the amount of time you and your group could sit in one place and wait. The age of the long camp was over, though I am sure somebody will tell you they miss it.
But for a while at least, our behavior in MMOs was influenced by the fact that they simply could not be allowed to crash a couple of times a day.
On Talent Trees and Skill Points May 24, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, MMO Design, polls, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Irrational Hate, talent points, Talent Trees
When I was writing yesterday’s post comparing aspects of Diablo III and Torchlight II, I was somewhat dreading the possible comments, and all the more so when Massively linked to the post. (Thanks, by the way.)
My fear was that there would be a parade of Hulk-like “Me smash always online DRM single player game!” comments. That seemed to be the primary focus of Diablo III hate at launch, at least when the servers were down.
But I actually did not get any of that. The joys of a small readership. Or maybe I successfully deflected them all to Straw Fellow. Evil plan achieved.
I was, however, a bit surprised to find, both here and over at Massively, that the presence of talent trees and skill points was being pushed as a big pro-Torchlight II differentiating factor. It was sometimes hidden under “character customization,” but it was there and oft mentioned.
And I found this a bit odd because I do not like talent trees. I see them as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face.
We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past!
In theory, talent trees are great and represent a way to create a unique and special snowflake of a character. I get that. Lots of things seem great in theory.
In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal.
So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer. In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right? I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.
And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being. At first it was grudging… Diablo II got patched to give you ONE respec… or expensive… recall the mounting respec bills in WoW way back when. But eventually the devs threw their hands in the air in more recent games and gave us respecs that were cheap and plentiful while they went off to try and find that elusive “many good choices” talent tree formula.
Even EVE Online gives you a stat respec up front for free, and another one yearly. And that is for five stats that really only impact the rate at which your character can learn skills.
But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure. They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.
And even cheap and easy respecs were not enough in some cases. Rift, whose big feature was the soul system, which could be viewed either as the best character customization ever or the talent tree from hell depending on your point of view, caved in and as much as admitted that the whole thing was too vast for the average player and gave us some templates to help curb the rash of bad builds.
This is, of course, my view of the world. It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game. And that is clearly an opinion. Even as I was preparing to publish this, I saw that Syp over a Bio Break has a post up asking why we don’t have MORE talents and stats and such to tinker with in games. To me it is like asking that we ignore the last 15 years or so of MMO development. But we all play these games for different reasons.
Anyway, from my point of view, the choice made by Blizzard in Diablo III seems like a clear win, and improvement over the past.
Instead of constraining character development by making me spent points in a tree system… and running to a vendor to get a respec when I make the inevitable errors… Diablo III just opens up new skills as you level up and constrains your character development by making you choose which of those skills you want to use. With elective mode [boobies] in the options, you can build up a set of six abilities from your choices as you see fit and never have to spend a talent point or get a respec.
Of course, the system is not perfect. As Keen points out, some of the Diablo III skills are sub-optimal. Hey, you can still make bad choices. But it still seems like a step forward to me.
As I said, the idea that this is a step forward is clearly not held by some. So today I will let you validate your opinion with a poll. Numbers always add value to opinions!
And, of course, you can post your anti/pro talent tree manifesto in the comments.
Tags: Fippy Darkpaw, Instancing, Raining on the nostalgia parade, Rants without Reason
While I have not been playing on the Fippy Darkpaw for several months now, I have been keeping an eye on it and occasionally mentioning events on the server.
Somebody has to do it, I suppose, and after the big (for them) build up to the Fippy Darkpaw launch back in February, SOE has since seemed determined to keep a lid on all information about how things are going.
Me, I would have made the roll-out of each expansion a front page item on EQ Players. The purpose of the progression servers is to SELL nostalgia for the game. Actually mentioning what is going on once in a while might actually help serve that purpose.
But such is life. One more disappointment from SOE. Add it to the list.
So, there being no official information coming out about the time locked progression servers, I am pretty much left with the time locked progression server forum as a source of news.
Fortunately, SOE implemented RSS feeds for their forums, so I can subscribe and let new messages find me. And this also means when SOE deletes posts from their forums, I can still read them. At least if the reader grabs them in time. SOE forum moderation is very quick to lock, edit, or delete.
So you can get posts like this.
Subject: So GMs need to start gettin involved in the Raid targets..
B/c from watching Redacted and what they have pretty much said is they dont care if your in there way. Thy dont care if your about to engage they will run over you. I saw this with vindi.. 2 guilds sitting there waiting they bum rushover ad say F you and take it anyways… They are crude and just plain dont care. O yeah an the Revamp CT shouldnt be in yet… so all those earings they got ect shouldn’t be awared to them and should be taken back and the new CT taken out. But do GM’s care? I would say not till you get a ton of petitions against them for KSn mobs.. (which will happen) b/c we all know on this TLP server Redacted does not care about any other guild.. (yes stated by some of YOUR members Redacted) So when will GMs get invlolved.. When we train Redacted back for the BS they do to us? Or will you all do something about it now.. JUST like last expansion… Redacted has always been this way… even on ther other server as Redacted but different… but hey SOE… if we keep this up who knows how the server will go…. downhill or uphill…
The word “Redacted” was substituted in by Piestro, the EQ community relations lead, because naming names in the forums is against the rules.
This post also illustrates one of the three flavors of posts that seem to come up regularly in the time locked progression server forums, guilds fighting over raid targets.
Left to itself, multiple guilds hanging around waiting for the same target ends up being survival, or at least success, of the fittest contest. And while some (the winners no doubt) see this as right and good, SOE has it somewhere in their head that all of the people out there are paying customers. And so the game masters, such that they are, get involved now and again, policing those waiting for a given target and determining who was there first in adequate force.
This, of course, leads to more forum posts:
Pocket GM to grant raid targets to guilds who cannot mobilize fast enough to beat real players. And have such a high attrition rate due to bad management that most of their guild is comprised of boxes being run through 3rd party programs. PST to 2nd rate guild in Fippy.
P.S. It has come to my attention that they already have one.
Just a guess here, but I am going to say that this guy was in the guild whose name was redacted by Piestro in the first post I quoted. These sorts of posts go back and forth.
And this is exactly the sort of thing that comes to mind whenever I read somebody’s piece on the evils of instancing, because this represents a good chunk of the reality of the situation. I recall on an episode of Shut Up We’re Talking Karen responding to an assertion that PvE is not competitive. Her response was essentially a recap of guilds and the very real and very aggressive competition for bosses in a non-instanced MMO, with EQ being the poster child.
So if you are one of those dreaming your happy dreams of an MMO without instancing because it is bad for “community,” make sure you have an answer for this situation. EQ is an example of what happens. Either the company has to put a yard duty on the playground to make sure everybody plays nice or the whole thing becomes Lord of the Flies, and neither is a good answer.
I suppose instancing does not have to be the answer, but it seems to be the one companies choose. People revile WoW for instanced content, but even EverQuest II had raid bosses in instances from launch to keep some of their most vocal customers from complaining about the spawn camping situation.
What other choice is there?
And for those of you waiting for me to tie up that thread I left dangling, the other two regular post flavors in the forums are “something is broken” and “I wish I could change something about the progression servers.” Some of the latter are amusing, but generally only the former have much value.