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Archive for August, 2011

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Crunch and Burn

Not much commentary from me on this, but I wanted to point out a couple of articles for those of you who try to look at the game development industry as a viable career choice.

Burnout, Crunch and the Games You Play

Slash and Burn Management: Unsustainable

Both great articles, both worth thinking about, mostly as someone interested in the field, but also as gamers who want to understand the industry a bit more.  It’s a fun and even occasionally worthwhile thing we do, making games, but it’s not all fun and games.  It’s work.  Fun work sometimes, but work.

So You Want a Job In The Video Game Industry?

There’s also the “ea_spouse” kerfluffle from a while back that’s worth noting.  Business does funny things to people sometimes.  Perhaps in a world of fluffy bunnies and free money, we’d have different games.  In the meantime, there are some curious factoids out there.  There’s also this article on crunch that I quite like: Crunch is Avoidable

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Stop, Drop and Loot

One more set of thoughts spurred by World of Warcraft… though I stopped playing a week ago.

With Thumpin retired, I thought I’d play a Warrior for a little bit to see how Warrior tanking felt at low levels.  (I can’t really explain my current fascination with tanking, but it’s actually kinda fun, especially with a Bear Druid, all up front and fiesty.)  The Paladin toolbox is multifaceted, like a Druid’s, effectively letting one fill any of the “holy trinity” roles.  Thing is, compared to a Warrior, a Paladin loses focus.  Since character abilities are parceled out on a drip feed as a character levels, and the pace is somewhat consistent between classes, the Paladin (and Druid) has to cover three potential roles with the same raw number of abilities that a Warrior can use to devote to two roles (the Paladin gets 14 abilities at level 20, and the Warrior gets 13 and a passive Parry ability).  As such, a Warrior will naturally have more “DPS” and tanking tools than a level-comparable Paladin.  At high levels, with a sufficiently large toolbox, a Paladin more or less catches up simply because tanking doesn’t require a ton of tools, and even at 20, they have decent tanking tools… but Warriors naturally have more at that level.

So, Glumpin the Orc Warrior was born.  (I’ve lost the account information I used to play Mortiphoebe, so she’s still off on her own adventure.)  As it happened, I never actually got around to tanking with him, as I was thoroughly tired of the game by that point, but maybe I’ll go back someday.  In the meantime, though, the playstyle of a Warrior did make me think of something else, hence the post title.

Y’see, a Warrior seems designed to be a wrecking ball that functions best when it just keeps killing.  The “rage” mechanic (fuel for a Warrior’s combat abilities, generated by hitting stuff or being hit, mostly) means a Warrior thrives on combat, and indeed, only works best in the thick of things.  The ability Victory Rush is a nice little attack with some self-healing attached, but it’s only available for a short while after killing something.  A Warrior really wants to just be wading into battle every waking moment.  It’s a nice thematic design, and it makes playing a Warrior different from playing a careful, self-healing Paladin.

And yet, there’s this “looting” process that slows everything down a bit.  WoW trains you to rifle through the pockets or parts of whatever you kill in the hopes of material gain.  It’s actually usually a pretty quick process, but it’s a pause in the action, something that throws off the tempo.  This was most apparent with the Warriors I’ve played, as they really don’t want to be stopping to deal with the defeated, they want to go kill more things.  They want to Kill All The Things, not scavenge around like a Goblin panhandler.

So naturally, I compared that to Torchlight.  That game showers the heroes with loot and money like other arcadey dungeon crawlers (Diablo being a big influence on the genre, of course), but unlike others, your character automagically picks up the money that foes drop, simply by walking over it.  (I say automagically because the avatar doesn’t automatically bend over and pick it up, the money just appears in their pack.)  You still have to click to pick up other loot (and there’s plenty of it), but some of the process has been automated.  My guess is that someone in the pipeline figured that picking up money is a “decisionless action” and just automated it (who doesn’t pick up money, after all?).  Programmers love to do that sort of thing.  Since picking up lower quality loot can often be just a waste of time (OK, a relative waste… this is gaming after all), there might be some decisions made to leave “vendor trash” in the dungeon, so picking up non-money loot was left as a player action.

Of course, at some level, one might wonder why and how random bears and boars carry coins and/or mundane and magical gear, but we’re already down the rabbit hole there.  It’s best not to think about some things.

I also compare and contrast with games like Ratchet and Clank or Mega Man, where gameplay is all about the action, but baddies still drop goodies on defeat.  In those games, though, the loot is picked up simply by running into it.  Of course, neither has a direct analogue to WoW’s gear system, but the emphasis on action and how that affects actual gameplay is what I’m looking at here.

There’s also the RPG design ethos, with varying shades of “looting”, all the way from games where looting is often just assumed, like Final Fantasy games where you just gather the spoils automatically after combat, to something like Darkfall, which I’ve never played, but apparently has a more visceral looting system where you have to drag everything into your pack.  The range of “realism” in the looting systems is pretty wide, and each has an effect on the pacing of the gameplay.

So what if an MMO were more streamlined like a Final Fantasy offline game?  Maybe there is one out there that does this, I just don’t know of one (and there are a lot I don’t know about, so this is more about my gap in knowledge than anything).  It seems to me that an action-based game might benefit from a loot system that doesn’t require the player to stop what they are doing to pick stuff up.  My WoW Warrior might be happier if he could just go Kill Stuff without worrying about scraping together enough coin to pay the class trainers.

Maybe that means a reputation-based economy, where reputation is “spent” on gear back in town, or faction outfitters who set up characters with relevant gear.  Maybe characters just carry around first aid kits and some consumables.  Maybe it means no gear at all.  There are a lot of directions to go with this… and it still baffles me a little bit that we’re still stuck with the “kill, loot, vendor” cycle.

But, but, what of the lottery drops?  Y’know, those little things that make you say “YEAH! I totally got that rare drop that made my 8 hours of play so much more than a Skinner exercise!”  Maybe that’s just the province of treasure chests that the baddies were guarding.  Maybe reputation factions have rich patrons you can appeal to via quests or pure luck of the draw, and they operate like other landed gentry; randomly granting largess to the underlings.  Maybe today, it’s a fantastic sword.  Maybe tomorrow, it’s a shiny little bauble they have no use for (but naturally makes your character better).  Maybe they heard that you defeated the Ugly Hag of Urgurgle and they just happened into this lovely helmet that they have no use for and wouldn’t you just love to have it-howzabout-I-sign-it-for-you?  Seems like there’s storytelling potential there, too, whether it’s a genially insane upper class to please or a pantheon of unpredictable deities, there’s plenty of opportunity to create in-world lottery mechanics.

I’m thinking of pacing, mostly, but looking at why players do what they do does opens opportunities to make the mechanics match the message, and to enhance the playstyle, storytelling and worldbuilding of a RPG.  If a Warrior wants to just always be going, going, going, perhaps there’s opportunity there to let them do so, beyond just their hotbar abilities.

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WoW Armor Customization

If WoWHead is to be believed, World of Warcraft has finally seen the light of day and is allowing armor customization.

World of Warcraft Patch 4.3

I’m still deciding just how snarky to be about it… “it’s about time”, “welcome to the twenty first century”, “better late than never”, “too little too late”… it’s all rattling around in there somewhere.  In the end, though, I just think that it’s a good idea (I have for a while), and it will be interesting to see what happens.

——–

Edited to add: Gwaendar’s excellent writeup of the (superior, I think) LOTRO system for comparison

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Twenty Thumpin

A little while back, I figured the new sub-level 20 “free” World of Warcraft to be a way to get a taste of the vaunted “endgame” of an MMO, since a level-capped free trial character is effectively progress-locked on the ol’ leveling treadmill.  Their only progress comes from gear hunting, reputation grinds, PvP honor grinding, collecting, achievements and other assorted busywork.  Since then, I’ve been playing intermittently with my new Dwarven Paladin, Thumpin.

Home is where the hearth is

Perhaps ironically, Thumpin’s best weapons have only rarely been maces.  He has gotten the most use out of axes, and indeed, his present weapon of choice is an axe; either the Cold Iron Pick or the Razor’s Edge.  It’s been fun having a Dwarf whose apparent “best in slot” two handed weapon is a mining pick.  It just feels so right.

Fish outta water

At any rate, perhaps half the time I’ve been playing this character has been when he’s at level 20.  I’ve been chasing incremental upgrades to his gear, some from quests, some from world drops, some from dungeons.  It’s been an interesting scavenger hunt, driven by the Wowhead database, inspired by Psynister’s “Trial Account Twinking” commentary.  It’s been interesting… but ultimately kinda, well… dumb.  I could never persist in the real“endgame” raiding scene.

PvP not so much, either

It’s all about the ends; finding the stuff that make my numbers go up.  I’m just not all that motivated or entertained by that quest (though I’ll readily concede that it’s a perfectly valid way to play, it just doesn’t do much for me).  The actual gameplay hasn’t been anything inherently different from just playing the game (including occasional dungeoneering as I usually do), except that it’s a bit more targeted now instead of just playing as the flow takes me.

Onna boat

One notable exception has been hunting for the “best in slot” Foreman’s Leggings.  It’s been pretty mindless, as they drop from one baddie hiding in an armpit of the pre-dungeon Deadmines.  That’s where I got the Cold Iron Pick (and a Petrified Shinbone and the Skeletal Gauntlets, several copies each, actually, as well as a fair dose of ore that the ghouls drop… a potentially viable alternative to mining, actually), but since the ‘Leggings only drop from one unique, semi-rare foe, it starts to feel like a quarter of Thumpin’s life has been in that little pocket of the world.  I gave it a good shot, I really did, but I can only do that for so long.

Freedom!

So, I’ve gone back to my world-traveling ways.  I’m making the rounds in Darnassus and Darkshore, then I’ll go to the Exodar and the neighboring islands.  I kinda want to get a Night Elf kitty to ride (hence the Darnassus tabard for reputation grinding in dungeons), as I love absurd mount/character mismatches.  I feel like I’m adventuring again, going where the action takes me, rather than hunting for numbers.  Of course, I’d rather be flying, but hey, free players can’t have it all, or so they say.

Not the same

I also almost wish I’d done this on a Role Playing realm, so I could really play the “one-eyed miner Dwarf” schtick to the hilt.  Then again, I have a lot of other games I’d rather play, so I’m really going to just leave Thumpin in limbo and imagine that he’s off, having grand adventures, making his way through the world with his pick in hand, belting out a hearty drinking song as he crushes skulls and collects ore.  What more does a Dwarf need?

Bring it.

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…that is the question.

Donate money to a good cause out of the kindness of your heart, or donate because you get something out of it?

Donate an indeterminate amount of money to the Humble Bundle system to get 12 indie games (I recommend Cogs and Crayon Physics Deluxe highly and Braid is in there, too), or donate 756 bells to the neighboring town in Animal Crossing, Wild World, with only the knowledge that your neighbors are eating dirty rice instead of grilled dirt?  Donate cloth to the quartermaster in your capital in World of Warcraft to gain reputation (and unlock rewards) or take a newbie on an auction house shopping spree?  Give your money to the State and trust the philosopher kings to do the right thing with it for the Greater Good or put it in the economy yourself and trust your fellow man to do the Right Thing?

Questions, questions.

What do we do with our time and largess?

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