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Posts Tagged ‘AI’

Blizzard sent me their occasional “come back and play pleeeeeeease, so you’ll get hooked and buy more subscription time” email recently, and I decided to take them up on it.  Of course, they pitched it as “come take part in the Siege of Orgrimmar“, but since that’s a raider thing, I chose to interpret their email a little bit.

…and really, I know that this sort of “play for a few days for freeee” email is meant to lure back in players who have been out of the game for a while, but it seems to me that isn’t limited to end-game raiders.  Especially since it seems like you have to be out of the game for four or more months for them to even extend the offer, and by then… are you really on the cutting edge of raid content any more?

Anyway, I did break down a while back and buy a Collector’s Edition of Mists of Pandaria.  (It was something like $35 or so, which netted me the art book, soundtrack and DVD that I really wanted.  The other extras were icing on the cake.  Oh, and the game expansion was nice.  I’ll make a Dwarf Monk at some point.)  You see, WoW and I, we have a tenuous relationship.  It’s a game I could easily spend a lot of time in, mostly just looking around at the nicely realized world and art.

And yet… what time I do spend in it is torn between “ooh, that is a good screenshot opportunity” and “man, this game design needs work”, with a fair bit of mindless questing and dungeoneering in the murky middle.  The combat isn’t terribly engaging most of the time, but sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes I want involved, tactically awesome combat, sometimes I just want to zone out for a bit before I go to sleep.  It’s a bit like watching a Stargate SG-1 episode I’ve seen before; I can just sort of turn off my brain and enjoy the ride as I coast to a stop at the end of the day.  WoW is a game that I just “graze” in, really, and that’s OK.  I’m happy to just putter around here and there during those times when I’m in the mood, and I love that my Druid has flight form and the cat form’s stealth so I can poke around in places where I’m not generally supposed to go.

This is also why the subscription model is such an awful fit for me.  I don’t binge on the game, or commit to it.  I just play it a little bit, and the value calculations of a subscription make that an expensive bit of gaming.  For the $15/month I might pay to play, I’d get in maybe 15-20 hours, tops, and even getting that much in would mean not playing any other games or working on Kickstarter (Go, Go, Tinker Deck!) or other art projects.  I just don’t do that sort of single-game thing any more.  For that same $15, I can buy three Humble Bundles or the like and get hundreds of hours of gaming over the next year or so.

What stood out to me last night, though, wasn’t the value proposition.  No, it was the design.  My Tauren Druid was tasked with fetching rattan switches for this quest:

A Proper Weapon

And as it happens, there’s a bunch of these switches by a neighboring merchant.  That Wowpedia link describes it a bit if you want detail, but I, quite mindlessly, as is my wont when I’m doing these bog-standard fetch quests, just grabbed one of those switches.

And then the merchant started yelling at me.

Immediately, my response was to right click on the guy and see if I could give him back the switch.  There were plenty in the neighborhood, and I was sorry I took his.

This quick incident was at once intriguing and disappointing.  For once, a character in the game exhibited small signs of an AI that was more than just “be present in the world”.  That was awesome.  It was a glimmer of what the AI in Everquest Next might get up to (and I hope that they make it interesting; there’s a TON of potential).  I thought it delightful that a NPC would chew me out for an admittedly stupid minor theft.

And yet, and yetI couldn’t react to it.  I couldn’t give him back the switch.  I couldn’t attack him and kill him for his insolence.  (I didn’t think of that option until later, as it’s not a reflexive response for me, but I still couldn’t do it, even if I had wanted to.)  I could /bow to him or /laugh, but there wasn’t really interaction there.  It was little more than a scripted event that’s just barely beyond what most NPCs do.

Still, it was an NPC reacting to something I did nearby, not something I did directly to them.  That was a nice touch, and I’m looking forward to seeing games take that further.  There’s a long way to go, and it’s sad to see only the very rudimentary efforts when there’s so much potential, but I choose to see that as a glimmer of hope for these MMO things.

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I happened upon this article over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

Outcast

I never played the game, and I’m not sure I’d care to make time to do so now, but it sounds like the NPC AI has shades of what we’re asking for in MMO design.  They live lives and react to player actions, rather than sit around with glowing punctuation over their head, or waiting to respawn.

Yes, a single player game has more latitude to do this (the Elder Scrolls games flirt with this as well), but there really isn’t any good technological reason that this couldn’t be addressed in MMO design.  Even a simple daily routine for NPCs would be a step beyond the stiflingly static MMO worlds of today’s mainstream.  Little things like that can lend greatly to the feeling that a world is alive, rather than a stage.

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In another entry that is probably largely redundant, I just wanted to take a quick look at the role that a customizable skill-based character mechanic might have in breaking the stagnant Tank/Healer/Damage Dealer triangle in most modern MMO combat.

Firstly, I see the mechanics of healing, protection/mitigation and damage dealing as being key functions of combat.  I don’t dispute that.  You need a way to kill the enemy, not be killed in return, and heal up when things go sour.  Throughout “real world” history, that has meant a weapon, armor, and some sort of medical support.  Notably, the real world doesn’t really have “instant heals” or even “heals over time” that function over the span of a few seconds, but we do get to make concessions to make the game fun.  So, ignoring that healing was something usually done after combat was over, and often over the span of days if not longer, we’re back to kill/defend/heal.

Question #1:  Why do those functions need to be filled by different people? (more…)

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