August 2009

If I knew where to buy pox wholesale, i’d put some on a few houses.

Ferrel is our new king.

Syp is anxious for comments.

Riv is desperate for attention.

Ysharros started this mess.

Slurms is in a fightin’ mood.

Comments, ho! (join the League for Greater Comment Volume)


Southern Barrens

Rather than blather on about Cataclysm things people have already read about a million times, I thought i’d tap on some things people may have missed about Cataclysm that should be bigger news:

1. Character health levels from gear will be largely normalized, irrespective of class. This means that your healer may have close to as much health as your tank (though your tank may have more because of talents). Changing this will allow Blizzard to move fights away from the tank-healer-DPS holy trinity that requires 1 high-health person to absorb most of the damage for the group. It also gives them the freedom to improve creature AI and make PvE play a bit more like PvP play.

Furthermore, it moves Bliz closer to its stated goal of changing healing to be less reliant on pumping out big heals fast, monitoring every cooldown, and more on healing the right player at the right time.

2. “Gated, not grindy” is the new “bring the player, not the class.” Developer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street first used this phrase last week to describe the new Path of the Titans alternate advancement scheme. Blizzard, he said, decided against adding 10 experience levels in order to take part of the “leveling up” process out of the hands of players who, he said, were racing through content very fast compared to others.

Five experience levels will still be able to be ground out, he said, but the new Path of the Titans system is intended partly to replace the other 5 levels they didn’t add — and the system won’t be the kind that you can grind out easily. Rather, he said, you’ll likely advance along the Path at a pretty measured rate, with upper bounds on how far along the alternate advancement scheme you can move.

He contrasted it with reputation grinds and experience grinds — specifically the notoriously unfun Sons of Hodir chain in Wrath.

How will “G not G” work? Will it work? Can anything stop people who are bound and determined to maximize their toon’s advancement?

3. The expansion will add 7 new zones to the game. OK, so this has been reported, but the focus on the old world makeover has left a lot of forum rats complaining that Blizzard hasn’t added new places to visit, which patently isn’t true. Wrath added 8 new zones. A steep dropoff this isn’t. Seven new zones in addition to an entirely new leveling progression and more max-level content than vanilla, BC or Wrath launched with.

4. Blizzard is taking raiders at their word. The biggest valid complaint of raiders in the past 2 expansions has been the slowish rate at which Blizzard releases raid content. It’s launching this expansion with 4 complete raid zones. They’ve also said every encounter will have optional hard modes.

Basically, with 3 and 4, Blizz is acknowledging that the game most people are paying to play now is pretty dramatically bifurcated — there are endgame players and there are leveling players. This expansion pack is designed to funnel content to those two groups.

Overall, I’m pretty happy about what i’ve heard. I have some concerns about the new guild leveling system. Blizz has been pretty hands-off about how guilds work in their game, and that’s let me make a guild the way I like it. Now that Blizz is imposing a structure on my guild that I didn’t create, I’m wondering how it will square with my guys’ goals. We’ll see.

Gamers, this is not your enemy.Gamers, especially veteran players, often express exasperation at new or casual players’ difficulty accommodating some basic gaming conventions.

The classic example is mouse turning, as opposed to using the keyboard. It’s self-evident to us that mouse turning is a superior way of gaming: turn speed is faster, and you’re free to use your left hand for hotkeyed abilities rather than for turning / movement.

Personally, I think designers are being unfair to new gamers.

People who are not hardcore gamers come to games with a pretty sizable pre-existing set of skills at computer use. These skills are, unfortunately, largely of no use in games, given interface design choices that game designers make.

  • Most of the time nongamers spend at a computer, the most efficient arrangement of their hands is to use both hands on the keyboard and only occasionally use the mouse for the selection of objects (files, menu choices) in their desktop environment.
  • Movement within the desktop environment is most efficiently done not with a mouse, but with a keyboard.

People come to gaming with a set of skills that are the most efficient for what they do most on their computers: navigating documents and manipulating text. Cutting and pasting text, navigating documents, even most aspects of page layout and design, are all more efficiently executed with keyboard commands than with the mouse. It’s one of the reason users of text editors like vi and emacs scoff at “inefficient” word processing programs like Word: they rely too heavily on mouse use and not enough on efficient keyboard commands.

If a new gamer spends 5 percent of his time at the computer playing games, why should he bother learning an entirely new way of interacting with it that doesn’t build on the interface knowledge he has from the other 95 percent of the time he uses the computer?

What if, instead of designing games that went 180 degrees in the opposite direction from how people use their computers outside games, designers actually tried to make game interfaces work more like applications nongamers use? Would that make PC gaming more accessible? Couldn’t hurt.

I await the epoch-making first-person shooter that’s designed to be played with 2 hands on the keyboard. I’m not entirely joking. 😉

swtor trooper

I think Star Wars: The Old Republic may possibly be coming up with the best solution to a problem that has plagued a lot of MMOs before: How do you get players to tank and heal, when most of them just want to do damage?

(This is  a function of the Holy Trinity of tanking, healing and DPS, around which most crappy MMO AI and encounters are built.)

Take a look at the Sith Warrior, the latest class unveiled by Bioware in its glacially slow rollout of information about the game. Now, on background — all of the previous classes they’ve introduced have been pretty clearly damage-dealing classes: the Trooper, which uses heavy guns and armor; the Smuggler, a sort of stealth / ranged type; and the Bounty Hunter, a ranged damage dealer.

Now they’ve announced the Sith Warrior (note the two-word construction; strong indication there are other Sith playables planned), a heavy armor-wearing melee class with what appear to be tanking skills and limited crowd control abilities.

So let’s just put some lego pieces together here:

1) No healers or tanks had been announced previously.

2) No Jedi or Sith had been announced previously.

3) Four of eight classes as yet unrevealed.

4) Hints at more than one kind of class for Jedi or Sith.

To me, it seems like Bioware is using the “everyone will want to be a Jedi/Sith” problem to solve the “nobody wants to be a tank or healer” problem. Make Jedi and Sith tanks and healers. It’s quite ingenious, if that’s what they’re at.

So when I go on vacation, I come back more rested and ready to work. Birds tweet a little louder, my coworkers seem less irritating, and my workday seems to move much more briskly.

Massive titles have adopted something similar, with XP gains growing larger after a period of inactivity, but what about in-game vacations? What about a system that encourages you to do something besides what you do most?

Imagine a system whereby if you, say, spent most of your time raiding, you could increase your raiding performance (health increase, damage increase, whatever) for a certain amount of time by, say, PvPing? Conversely, if you went on your first raid in a month, why not buff the damage you do against other players? Or if you were a crafter, and you won your first pvp contest in a month, you’d get an extra chance of critical crafting gains.

Would be a gentle way to nudge people into exploring different aspects of the game and gently suggesting people explore all the content games have to offer.

So it’s another patch day in WoW. I’ve faced these in LOTRO and EQ2 and DDO, too.

You wait hours and hours to get the game back up only to finally log in moments before you have to go to bed, or whatever.

Wouldn’t it be neat if, during patch days, MMO companies could incorporate a minigame into their loader software? Imagine — you launch the Turbine launcher, or the Blizzard launcher, or the SoE station launcher, and it launches a minigame that lets you win, I dunno, buff food or something in game while you’re waiting for servers to get back up. Think of something like Legends of Norrath, but it could be as simple as something like Peggle. Just something to let you feel like you were progressing your character while the servers were down.

Hell, it could even be something as different as a web-based game like Kingdom of Loathing or Legends of Zork that only ran during times the servers were down. Could even offer special vanity prizes or something that were only obtainable if you played the minigames while servers were down.

I think what frustrates people about patch days is the sense that they’re missing out on time that they had planned to use achieving goals in-game. A game-tied minigame could help that.

Mrs. Beasley. Photo by Hayley Bouchard.

Famlies anger us. They motivate us. They frustrate us. They bring us joy and wonder.

MMOs do all those things — some of them intentially. So why aren’t family ties more important in the genre?

There are games that allow you to create family ties within them. LOTRO’s family system moves the genre a bit in that direction, but I’d be interested to play a game that took family seriously as a source of both challenge and reward. LOTRO’s system is basically a RP tool, it seems to me, with a dash of guilding thrown in.

What I wonder would work is a system that treated families, and all their positive and negative interactions, seriously.

Just throwing out silly ideas, what if:

  • Increases by a family member with a faction also slightly increased your reputation with that faction, based on the idea that your last name “carries weight”?
  • Players on the opposite faction who were “related” to you weren’t aggro, or if you did attack them, you got greater faction gain / loss because you proved your family loyalty counted less than faction?
  • Marriages meant something, in that some element of the benefits of being part of one family could convey to members of the new, conjoined family?
  • Your father gave you a quest to kill the snakes in the back yard, and he got aggro and attacked you if you approached him again without completing it?

These ideas are really crude, but I’d be interested to hear of games that that do family ties right. Any notions?

photograph by Hayley Bouchard