Posts Tagged ‘loot’

Just a few scattered thoughts and an announcement.

First and foremost, I now have a shopfront over at Shapeways.

Tish Tosh Tesh Toys

This is where I will be offering miniatures for games I’m designing as well as a smattering of other widgets and wodgets.  Yes, I’m making Zomblobs! into a tabletop game that maybe someday will be digital, but it won’t be the only miniatures game that I do (yes, there’s another IP I have in mind, I’ll dig into it once I nail down the Zomblobs! and get it out in the wild).  It will mean codifying some rules into dice rolls and the like (a convenient excuse to design dice, by the way), but that’s just a fun design challenge.  Presently in the shop, I just have some rings I’ve designed as a response to Big Bear Butt’s article over thisaway.

What to Get the Geek That Has Everything

I’ve been meaning to set up a Shapeways shop for a long time, and it seemed like a good time.  I still need to finish illustrating my mother’s book, but that’s close, so I’m trying to find ways to be productive and maybe earn a little coin.  It beats playing games all the time when there are bills to pay.

A few other things online caught my eye of late:

Doodling is good for your brain, apparently.  Seems right to me, but then, I’m an incurable doodler.  Even if I weren’t an artist (I planned on a career in the sciences at one point), I’d still doodle all the time.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.

I also consider this to be doodling, albeit origami-inspired… this is where bad Magic the Gathering cards go to die in my office.  My coworkers play a lot of Magic, and some of the cards are just… bad.  As in, “don’t play with them because it might give you a bad impression of the otherwise excellent game” bad.  So, we may as well do something useful with them, right?  (Yes, that’s my computer, and yes, I made this.  It took a few minutes here and there over about 3 weeks.  Apologies for the phone camera shot, it’s all I had at the moment.)

MTG Menger Sponge

Questing and flow… I tend to think that the problem of losing track of what you’re doing while questing in an MMO task hub is that you have a lot of threads going at once, and that the quests aren’t really linked in any obvious way in your quest log.  I wonder what a better log might do; better record keeping and ways to review what you did before and how it connects would be one way to make quests and narrative work better.

Tangentially, I always find it hard to jump back into Final Fantasy XII after a week or month away.  I don’t always remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, and the game only gives me the barest direction of where to go.  I think a “last time on your adventure…” intro bit (optional, of course, maybe just text tucked away in a log with convenient wiki-like links to key players), like we see in serial TV, in a log would go a long way to making it all feel cohesive.  These games are so big and the narrative occasionally so byzantine (or would that be Gordian?) that a pocket primer of what we’re actually doing might be a useful thing.  Even in a linear game like FFXIII, time away can diffuse the narrative.

There’s a minor storm brewing about gear and the acquisition thereof that the MMO Melting Pot has been keeping tabs on.

Is It Actually Worth Gearing Up Any More?

Points-Based Loot, Difficulty and the Decline of WoW

I’ve only skimmed these, but I’ve written on difficulty before and even the “ease” of WoW, but as to gear, well, I really don’t like the lottery drop system.  Yes, grinding up currency via dungeoneering to buy special loot might seem like more of a chore than the lucky drop in the first run, but to my mind it’s more honest and easier to plan around.  If I’m going to care about gear (I usually don’t, I’m just sayin’), I want to be able to plan for it, not gamble.  The few pieces of loot I’ve tried to find to get the best gear for my level 20-capped Paladin in WoW’s Starter Edition are… frustrating.  One is a very rare drop from a rare spawn, and others are from dungeon bosses.  The randomness of achieving that goal undermine the desirability of doing so.  Getting these bits of gear wouldn’t be me achieving anything (I’ve already demonstrated mastery by beating the bad guys before), it’s not me learning anything new, it’s just me outlasting an evil Random Number Generator.  That’s not satisfying gaming in my book.

Gaming Addiction?  How about putting a face on it?  This is a great video from the Extra Credits guys:

Game Addiction Pt. 2

And I do try to avoid this sort of thing, but sometimes a financial/political post really just needs to be shared.  This is one of them:

OWS: Want to Turn the Tide?

It’s ultimately about math and how leverage and exponential functions are killing us, fueling political unrest.  We live in interesting times.  It will be interesting to see where things go, and just what sort of revolutions pop up.  Be prepared and pay attention.  Hopefully it’s a tempest in a teapot, but it doesn’t hurt to have food storage, water and emergency preparations ready to go.  Even if all the politics in the world suddenly turn really boring and inconsequential, nature can still break stuff and cause some trouble.

If nothing else, you should have enough for pancakes.  Everyone loves pancakes, right?

Star Wars Pancakes

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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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I’ve never really liked item sets in these silly RPGs and their cousins, MMOs.

From Diablo to Titan Quest to Torchlight to World of Warcraft, there always seems to be a subset of items that function as a set, where equipping more than one of the set gives some sort of bonus.  That’s fine design, since it gives gear a little more meaning and fun, rooted in that sweet, sweet loot pinata jackpot endorphin rush.  The item sets themselves don’t bother me, actually, it’s just that actually putting together a set based on random (and usually very rare) loot drops is an exercise in futility.

Combine the leveling mechanism (gain experience points from killing stuff and quests, level up, be stronger and more specialer, ad infinitum) with the rarity of actually acquiring those set items, and the fact that you have to kill a lot of pinatas to get said gear and well… more often than not, the activity of grinding to try to acquire those set pieces makes them obsolete by the time you get all of them because you’ve leveled up a few times (or more) trying to get them.

I do call that bad design, at least if those sets are meant to ever be completed when they might be relevant to the bulk of gameplay.  (And if they are not meant to be so completed, why have them at all?)  Why offer the Perseus Hunter set for the dashing midlevel Hunter if they have almost no chance whatsoever of assembling the set before they start shopping for the Artemis Set?  The storytelling often included in item sets is fractured beyond usability, and the function of the gear gets lost to the winds.

Yes, yes, there’s a market for gear sets for “twinks” in WoW (sometimes, anyway, and mostly just for stuff that doesn’t Bind on Pickup), and gear sets are great for role players, especially with appearance tabs (if you’re lucky enough to have them, like LOTRO).  Some “endgame” gear sets are good, too, since you’re not leveling up any more, and character progression is largely based on gear.  Item sets aren’t wholly useless by any means, they are just… silly.

At the level cap, you can at least “sidegrade” to gear set pieces if they wind up being better as a set than whatever other random stuff you’ve collected.  That’s solid design to keep people playing when the leveling system has fallen into uselessness.  Bonus points if those sets look sweet together.  Guild Wars largely gets this right, since the level cap (and gear effectiveness cap!) is reached pretty easily, and at that point, chasing item sets makes more sense.

And yet, item sets simply aren’t all that special in the leveling content, since the rarity of special items for the set runs contrary to the core leveling mechanic of the game.  Some players will collect the sets anyway, knowing full well that they will be largely useless once collected, but many will just use a set item for as long as it’s useful on its own, since the set bonuses are extremely unlikely to ever come into play at all.  It’s just another piece of random loot at that point.

That’s just… silly.

Of course, I do think that games need a bit of silly here and there to break up all the Serious Gaming Business, but game elements that are internally conflicted like this just set off my “wait, what’s the point?” alarms.  It’s that clash and tension between leveling and collecting stuff for a narrow level band that bugs me.

So… how to do it better?  Would item set pieces work better if they were extremely common rather than rare and special?  Maybe give a real chance for the set to be collected in time for it to be useful?  Maybe shift item sets from random loot drops to purchasable items?  Enhance the purchasable set with upgrades from loot drops, to catch the best of both worlds?  Maybe work like the “satchel loot” from WoW’s Dungeon Finder (guaranteed high quality gear for running dungeons… not really a “set”, but definitely themed and visually unified)?  As in, you’re guaranteed a set item if you do certain tasks, and set items are paced properly to be useful for when you get them and a bit beyond?

What else could we do as designers?

And yes, I know that these sets are one more layer of addiction for the completionist and collection (pack rat) mentalities of players, but since there’s never really much of a payoff (considering pacing and obsoletion of item sets once fully collected), I’d argue that it’s not a very effective layer of addiction.  (Of course, maybe that’s a good thing…)

It’s just that the randomness of the loot mechanic and the rarity of item sets, layered on top of the leveling system, well… it’s silly.

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