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Posts Tagged ‘mmo’

Seems I poked the ant nest a little, sparking a bit of a conversation with my last minipost.  Not that I’m claiming credit for anything but sparking some thoughts, though; these fine folk are doing the heavy lifting:

Syl

Rowan

Klepsacovic

I’ve commented at their places, so I’ll keep this short and hit something I haven’t touched on there, speaking of specialization and generalization.  (Since one of the tangential topics is about players and their approach to their characters, as well as how characters fit into MMO design.)

From Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Disclosure:  I work at a small gaming studio, where I’ve carved out a niche of being a multifaceted employee.  I’m primarily an artist, but I dabble in design, animation, even scripting.  I love that I can be a bit of a generalist, as it makes me valuable in more situations, and keeps things interesting.  I’m not as fine of a painter as my concept artist buddies, who paint all day every day, but I’m happy where I am.  This is also why I’m not a minor cog in a big studio like Disney or EA, where I would be a specialist.  I’ve been there, and I didn’t care for it.  That said, those specialist positions don’t threaten me… they just don’t interest me.

I also play a Druid character in World of Warcraft.  It’s the most flexible class, and I latched onto it precisely because it does allow the greatest variety in play.  And flight form.  I love that.

(Oh, and as I noted at Rowan’s place, I’d push it further and let passive and maybe even active abilities persist on the character, no matter the class.  I loved Final Fantasy Tactics for how I could build a strong character by pulling from a variety of jobs/classes.  I could keep a Ninja ability on my Knight, and it was great fun.  I’d love to see that in an MMO.)

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I thought this worth noting:

Allods Online is experimenting with letting players change the class of their character.

I endorse this game design, though their implementation is timid, expensive, and extremely limited.  I’d love to see this as a crack in the MMO design gestalt.  It’s a simple little thing, but it could create some interesting ripples.

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Not a lot of time around here, but I wanted to comment on this while it is vaguely relevant.

This TESO thing?  Silly.  Absolutely wrong for what Elder Scrolls games bring to the table, at least as far as I’m concerned.  I played Morrowind for many hours, just noodling around, exploring the world and messing with things.  Once I found a few mods, I did more tinkering.  Sure, it could have been fun to have a good friend or family member in on the fun, but having a world full of other players with varied and often conflicting agendas, all screwing around?  No, that’s not even close to the same experience.

Sure, maybe TESO will leverage the interesting setting and lore and such, but that’s not what interests me in the Elder Scrolls games.  No, the gameplay’s the thing, and dealing with random internet people and the static modless world that an MMO generally has to be really isn’t adding anything to the gameplay.  It’s wrecking it.  TESO is a totally different sort of game, by its nature, and that’s not a bad thing, exactly… but when there’s a very clear split between the setting and the gameplay as is necessary in this case, I firmly come down on the side of gameplay.

Of course, EverQuest Next is playing around with terrain deformation a little bit, but again, that’s just griefer bait.  I want to like it, I really do, but I just don’t trust people not to screw it up.  If the solution is “the deformation goes away after a while”, we’re still just back to a weird sort of static world, it’s just a bit more pliable in the short term.  Fun, in its own way, but really just another glaze of squishy paint on the theme park experience.

What I’d have loved to see from both of them is their own spin on Minecraft servers.  As in, let players control their own populations, connect to each other on a whim (even directly via IP address instead of through official channels or *gasp* even a LAN), stop screwing around with subscriptions, and go all in and let the worlds really be modded and molded.  Sell the game via a one-time fee, maybe rent out server space for those who don’t want to run their own, and let players really go nuts, again, like Minecraft.  Contain them to their own, small population worlds where it really doesn’t matter if Leggolass142 makes a Lord of The Rings Mt. Rushmore, because his friends approved of the project.

That’s what I’d like to see as “innovation” in the MMO space.  Not “Massively Multiplayer Online” games, but “Moldable Multiplayer Online” games, with small, private servers and a metric crapton of player agency.

But then, I am a Minecraft fan.

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Syp of BioBreak and Syl of MMO Gypsy contacted me a little while ago, asking for some art for their newest project, the Battle Bards Podcast.  I’ve been looking forward to this, since I’m a big fan of video game music, and these two have tipped me off to some great stuff.  MMO Gamer Chick is on board as well, and it sounds like they are having fun with it.

The soundtrack for Chrono Cross by Yasunori Mitsuda is perhaps my all-time favorite album in all music genres.  (Though it has stiff competition from The Piano Guys, Chrono TriggerSleepthief, Enya, Austin Wintory, and pretty much any Nobuo Uematsu CD.)  I’m still just dipping my toes into the MMO music scene, but from what I’ve heard so far, there’s a lot there to like as well.

So go check out what those Battle Bards are up to!

Oh, and here’s a set of 1080p desktops of the art that I did for it, and even some shirt options, or maybe a mug, should you feel so inclined.  There’s just something entertaining about an Epic Lute in the MMO conversation space.  Yes, that has to be bolded and italicized.  And purple.  Do not question the Epic.

EpicLute1080pRightText EpicLute1080pLeftNoText EpicLute1080pLeftText EpicLute1080pRightNoText

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Just a quick thought today.  The venerable Big Bear Butt and the inimitable Syl have articles up today that reminded me of one of my old wishes for World of Warcraft: Housing.

Big Bear Butt’s Putting the Pieces Together

Syl’s Off The Chest: Midlevel and Endgame Grinds No Thanks, I Rather Have A Castle!

And just for reference, my old collection of Allods Online screenshots.

Y’see, I’d love to see private Outland/Allod style floating islands as housing locations in WoW.  Wizard 101 does almost exactly this already, and for their trouble, they earned some money from me when I bought my Marleybone steampunk island home.  (That I currently can’t find any screenshots for, sadly.)  I’d love to have a little floating island home out off the coast of Nagrand, or maybe a Dalaran satellite.  Maybe I could have a little research hut out by Area 52 and a winter home tucked in the Grizzly Hills. Of course, these would all be phased, so they wouldn’t be a blight on the world, but that’s OK, I don’t necessarily want visitors anyway.

…it all reminds me a little of the system of outposts I tend to make in Minecraft, actually.  That’s a delightful game that I’ve spend a great deal of time in.  When I’m out exploring a Minecraft world, I build little waystations in interesting locations, and I link them with shortcuts via the Nether, since moving one “grid square” in the Nether is equivalent of 8 spaces in the normal world.  I have developed a good sense of how far to go before the Nether portals don’t just tether to existing portals, so I can leapfrog a series of Nether portals and overworld exploration to cover a lot of ground.  I wind up with the Arctic home, the Swamp home, Anvilania, the cliffside village, the Burrows, the tree farm, the diamond mine and so on… a whole system of locations that fit into the larger world, but that are uniquely mine.  (Get it?  Minecraft?  OK, my humor needs work.)

If I could have a set of private islands or shacks in the World of Warcraft, especially if they were linked via a portal system… I’d spend more time in the place.  It’s even another monetization vector.  Yes, it would cost something to develop, but I think it would be worth it.  I’d prefer the game to go subscriptionless, of course, and note that I’d spend money on said housing… y’know, while I’m dreaming.

And yes, I know WURM Online kind of scratches this itch, as does Minecraft.  I know LOTRO has housing, as does Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates.  I’m not hopeful that Blizzard will do this, and I’m not really looking for them to take over the world.  I just think this is an obvious design area that WoW could go in, and I’d have fun with it.  Just ruminating a bit on a Tuesday morning.

Ah, and many thanks to DÀCHÉNG for taking the idea and running with it over thisaway.  There really is a lot of fertile design space to mine in this housing concept.  Blizzard is missing a trick here, I think.  Maybe they don’t need to leverage the Minecraft/DeviantArt “artist” impulse to be successful, but I’m pretty sure the cost/benefit ratio is firmly tilted in the benefit direction.  Letting players modify their experience a bit and share their creativity is at least partially the heart of the whole “transmogrification” scheme, and that’s been a success.

I suppose I should have made it clearer, but yes, I am assuming that players would be able to invite friends to see their homes/islands/fortresses.  They wouldn’t just be private instances, forever sealed away.  They might be instances, but they would be places that other players could access in some way.

…as far as I’m concerned, that builds community while granting players ownership and letting them invest emotionally.  That sounds like a game design WIN to me.

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Grazing

Spring cleaning is traditionally done in the spring, for reasons unknown, but my family always tends to have a post-Christmas bout of cleaning as well.  We try to declutter a bit, maybe just to compensate for all the new clutter from the holidays.  I find myself doing this with gaming as well, going through my game library and either finishing games or uninstalling them and calling them “done”, mostly so I can get on with playing other games in the bits of time I get here and there to play.

…and there’s the crux of the matter; I almost never have blocks of time to play.  I get an hour here, fifteen minutes there… and that’s about it.  That’s part of why MMO subscriptions are a pathetic value for me; I simply don’t get 20+ hours a week to sink into any gaming, much less devote myself to a single game.  There are way too many good games out there to tie myself down like that.  (As my Steam library, GoG collection and Humble Bundle folders will attest.)  So, I have a large library of games, and way to little time to play them.

As a result, my gaming is more like grazing than gorging.  I nibble a little on something like Uncharted, then I go munch on Tactics Ogre, then savor a little bit of Guild Wars 2.  (By which I mean, I create my characters before the game inevitably crashes, then maybe move around the starting areas a little bit.)  The next week, I ruminate a little on Journey, then chew a little on LEGO Batman with the kids.  Once upon a time, I’d ride an exercise bike and play FFXII for a nice 45 minutes or so, but circumstances have made that indulgence obsolete.  (And I find that FFXII just doesn’t work well as a game I only play for 15 minutes in a sitting.)

So it’s no surprise that I play more Plants vs. Zombies, Symphony, Triple Town and Puzzle Pirates these days.  It’s all I can sneak into the schedule.  I still haven’t finished FFXII, and I have FFXIII, FFXIII-2, FFVII: Crisis Core, Blue Dragon, Infinite Undiscovery, Lost Odyssey, Batman Arkham City, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, LEGO Batman 2, LEGO Harry Potter and a host of other, smaller games that I really want to dig into… but just can’t right now.  They aren’t really grazing-friendly.  Heaven help me if I get the itch to play an MMO.  I still have WoW, STORIFT and GW2 installed, and I grudgingly uninstalled LOTRO.  I want to play all of them.  I probably never will.

…there’s something sad about that.

Still, I’m not complaining.  I have a lot of gaming options, and that’s a good spot to be in.  Since I work in the industry, it behooves me to play a variety of games, and be aware of what’s out there, rather than simply be a game fan and devote my gaming time to a single or few fandoms.  And then there’s the fact that my kids and I still love Minecraft (if I only had one game for the rest of my life, that one would do), and my oldest wants to learn the Pokemon card game… yeah, my plate is full to overflowing, but it’s all I can do to nibble at the edges.

Is it any wonder why I like the Tauren, perhaps?  Moooooo

Tishtoshtesh, Tauren Druid

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It’s the Decennial celebration for Puzzle Pirates this month.  It’s the plucky little MMO that thought it could, so it did, largely by making people happy to play.  ‘Tis the perfect time to check it out! (I’m Silveransom over there, the genesis of my little pirate avatar I use on Twitter and around the web.)

It’s kind of odd, thinking that it’s been around for ten years.  It was one of the pioneers in microtransaction monetization in the MMO space.  They started as a subscription-only game, but really exploded with their take on what we now call Free to Play (F2P).  Sadly, they aren’t quite as big as they used to be, but I suppose that’s true of most MMOs, given that the market exploded.  Still, the game is still alive, still developing in new ways (the alternate Sailing puzzle being the most recent addition), and it’s still one of the most solo-friendly games I know that still makes it easy to group up on the fly.  Guild Wars 2 might challenge that (if I ever get my computer running it for more than 20 seconds), but even then, Puzzle Pirates is still great fun, just a different sort of play experience.

I’m definitely a fan of the game.  It’s my MMO home, the game that has the most traditions I’ve taken part in, delightfully early access to the freedom of personal ships, and it happens to be a perfect fit for my puzzle-infused mind, one as fond of Tetris as Gyromancer, of Professor Layton as Puzzle Quest.  I’ve done a fair bit of fan art for the game, and even chipped in a little with some art that wound up in the game proper (the rare Easter Egg for the 2007 contest).

Happy tenth, Puzzle Pirates!  May Three Rings have continued success and fair winds!

…oh, and the Three Rings offices are sweet.  Really sweet.  Seriously, go check this out.  It would be a blast to work there.

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I “tweeted” last week that I was going to take advantage of an offer from Blizzard (seven whole days of free game time, woot!) to go and take a look at Karazhan.  The venerable Big Bear Butt offered to show me around the joint.  So, I finally saw Karazhan.  And took almost 250 screenshots of the place.

…it’s way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Oh, and in BBB’s son’s continuing quest to Control All the Things, he managed to grab control of one of Moroes‘ beefy melee henchmen.  That would have made a nice difference if we were running the place at level.  Also, Tinhead is creepy, but the Opera Event is pretty cool, and the Chess Event is awesome.  Yes, it’s not real chess, but it’s good fun anyway (and, like in real chess, knights are nicely useful).

Some highlights (in no particular order, because I’m short on time):

…and then, just because Blizzard finally got with the program and decided to allow anyone, even trial accounts, to play any race, I fired up a Pandaran Rogue.  The Pandaran starting area is really nice… even if I can’t fly around in it.  It’s the new shiny, and I like it, but I still like Gilneas and Mulgore about as much.  The Pandarans themselves are very well done.  I like the “Red Panda” look the females can access, even if the real world red pandas aren’t actually pandas.

So I guess I’m a Tauren/Worgen/Panda kinda guy.  Though I still say Blizzard missed a trick in not letting Pandarans be Druids.  Still, their starter area is open to pretty much anyone, so have at it!  There are plenty of photo opportunities and some fun character animations.

Google+ collection of Karazhan shots

Google+ collection of Pandaria shots

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I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance lately.  Silly name aside (get it, KH:DDD or KH:3D ’cause it’s on the Nintendo 3DS?  Hur hur), it’s a pretty sweet game, building on Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, weaving in the other tangential Kingdom Hearts games that have been released.  They are finally moving the Sora narrative forward instead of navel-gazing and weaving backstories.  It’s technically excellent, with fantastic visuals that rival the original (on the Playstation 2) and some decent use of the 3DS 3D feature.  It’s not necessary to play it in 3D (games that require the 3D would bug me), but the effect is great for some of the storytelling bits, setting the scene nicely.

So, KH nerdfanning aside (I do love the games), what strikes me most is the sheer fun of moving around in the game.  The KH games have always been “action RPGs”, but this newest iteration has the characters zooming around the landscape, performing impossible air dashes, jumps and attacks that are just… fun.  I’ve had similar fun just moving around in the Prince of Persia games.  KH:3D lacks some of the elegance of the ‘Prince and the fluid athleticism of almost-plausible Parkour, but it makes up for it in speed and flexibility.  I can use Sora and Riku’s “Flowmotion” abilities to ping-pong around a level or even scale a huge cliff in a few crazy jumps.

Here, I can admit that I’d probably love the Assassin’s Creed games, and their focus on Parkourish motion and exploring rooftops.  They are M-rated, though, and I just don’t play M-rated games.  It’s a personal choice that does cut me off from some games I suspect I’d really like, like the AC games, Mass Effect, The Secret World and BioShock, but that’s just one of my lines in the sand.  It’s not a commentary on the potentially great games they are, just that there are some things I don’t want in my entertainment.  Too much “coffee in the brownies”, as it were.  That’s also not to denigrate any players who like those games or those developers who make them.  I’m just a picky consumer.

Anyway, with the fun of Flowmotion rattling around in my head, I look at this Guild Wars 2 thing, with its respect for the Explorer mindset that I’m so deeply infused with, and, well… I kinda wish more MMOs would experiment with Parkour and new ways of getting around their game spaces.  Yes, I hear TERA has some sort of climbing system, but that’s rudimentary compared to what I’m thinking about.  I look at the ruins of Ascalon and think “I’d love to just climb around and go all monkeyish on it (Charrish, whatever)”.  And yes, I love flying in MMOs, but climbing around like a superagile simean Spider-man is just… different.  I hear City of Heroes has some pretty great movement options, too… maybe I should check those out before the game is shuttered forever.

So yes, I look at places in games and think “how can I get there?”  I love Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City for the same reason; I can just go explore and climb around the place.  I wish we had more of that sort of flexibility, especially in the MMO space.  Developers are making these beautiful worlds… I want to go explore them.

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The Pirate 101 Beta NDA has been officially dropped!  (OK, it dropped last month… I’ve been busy.  Still.)

Consequently, I can show off some of the screenshots I’ve been able to get while I was tinkering with the beta.  I’m a fan of Wizard 101, and it’s been fun to see where King’s Isle has expanded on their multiverse they call the Spiral, and their art and game design has stepped up a notch.

And, well… combat in Pirate 101 is tactical, sort of a Pirate Tactics Lite, as it were.  I like tactical games.  I even made one.  (Yes, Zomblobs! still needs work, yes, I’m still working on it, yes, I’ve been busy… I’ve only played a little of this Pirate 101 beta.)  Wizard 101‘s card combat system is quirky but solid, and I’m a fan… but tactical grid combat?  Yes, please!

The Pirate 101 combat engine is pretty good, from what I’ve seen.  I’m a little disappointed with the Musketeer “line attack” special moves, but overall, it’s a very solid light tactical system.  (Musketeers function like artillery in most tactical games, namely move OR shoot, which is generally fine, but their special moves place higher importance on position, so it’s harder to make use of them.  Melee and magic characters have much more useful special attacks.)  You place your units on a square-based grid, and try to knock out the enemies before they defeat you, occasionally dealing with an optional or side target.

It’s worth noting that characters can attack and move diagonally on the grid, something that isn’t common in square-based grid games I’m familiar with.  This does make choke points a bit more vulnerable, or even impossible to set up, so you can’t count on one solid melee unit holding the line while ranged units blast the foes.  You can certainly do some of that, and such is just smart tactics, but it’s not as easy to use positioning against enemies as it would be without diagonal options.  That’s neither good nor bad, just a difference from, say, Final Fantasy Tactics.

Pirate 101 also gives you a ship pretty quickly (a dozen or so quests into the game), and a wealth of cosmetic customization options for your character and ship.  I love this decision to give players their own ships early.  That’s one aspect where I think Allods Online really dropped the ball, as they made ships endgame toys.  Puzzle Pirates (another great game) gives you access to ships fairly early as well, but Pirate 101 is even faster, and it’s a wonderful thing, giving a great sense of exploration and freedom.  Ship to ship combat isn’t quite as awesome as that in Pirates! Live the Life!, but it’s still nice and smooth, plenty of fun to play.

I haven’t seen a lot of the game, nor have I played all the classes with much depth (I focused on the Musketeer in the beta), but Pirate 101 is a great game from what I can see.  It will share the Crowns microcurrency with Wizard 101, and I presume it will have a similar setup for buying bits and bobs of content.  I am happy with this system.

I’m looking forward to spending some more time in the Spiral, and I hope that the game does well.  Once the beta phase is over and I nail down a permanent pirate name, I’ll add it to my roster of characters, if you feel like stopping by and saying hello.  I may well be hanging around this fascinating little shantytown:

Crazy Ship Architecture

Fair winds!

Oh, and for more perusal, here’s my Picasa album of the screenshots I’ve collected thus far.  It’s a bit of a mess, but there are some gems in there.

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