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Posts Tagged ‘puzzle pirates’

It snowed last week.

The first snow of the season always makes me happy.  I love Fall and Winter.  It’s my time of year, and always makes for some great photography.

It does make moving about a bit harder, though.  We’re looking to move to a new home, and my wife really wants to get in before it gets cold and really snowy outside, which would make things more troublesome.  Still, I’m really loving the colder temperatures.

At the same time, EA/Bioware is giving me the cold shoulder, much as the Gatheryn people did.  See, they opened up the floodgates for applications to beta test Star Wars:  The Old Republic.  I like the sound of the game, and would happily beta test it a bit, but according to the Beta Application terms, I’m disqualified because I work in the game industry.

I’m not out to steal their ideas.  If anything, I’d give them a few.  No, what I’d want out of tinkering with their beta is a chance to take a look, to offer some opinions, and to find some bugs.  I’ve done my share of testing games at my job, and I know what to look for and how to fix it.  I like fixing things, and offering ways to make a product better.  (Which gets me into trouble sometimes, actually.  Not everyone wants things fixed.)

I’m one of those weird souls who plays on a test server and actually tests things, though.  I know, the trend is to use betas as promotional tools (and the response to the SWTOR one, which crashed the application server, is a good indicator of the interest in the game).  I’ll admit, a beta is a good place for me to check out a game.  (I got into the DDO Unlimited beta and loved it, even as I found things to submit bug reports on… they only cared that I wasn’t working on another MMO.)  Still, I consider it my fair bit of the bargain to actually do some testing and help find problems with the game.  Strange, I know.

So, alas, I won’t be beta testing SWTOR.  I wish the game well, though.  I’m not bitter, just a bit… chilly.

In the meantime, though, I’ll be playing Puzzle Pirates a lot more.  One of the Ocean Masters over there (PP’s Game Master position, since servers are called Oceans) bestowed a very kind gift on my unworthy piratey soul.  (Quick plug:  there’s a link up there in the upper right to show you my pirate, and if you join the game via that link, there *should* be some in-game currency in the offering by way of the referral system.)

Demeter, the Greek goddess hailed by Homer as “bringer of seasons“, has kindly granted my PP account a year’s subscription.  She sent me an email explaining this, and that she knows that I like to play on the PP test ocean (effectively their Public Test Realm), the Ice Ocean.  It’s a wild frontier sort of place, where bug hunts are more important than hunting gold, and new species of game design are wont to rear their puzzling heads.

More than once, I’ve noted on the PP forums that I’d make Ice my home and play there almost exclusively.  (The trouble being that only subscribers or those who have purchased doubloons recently can go there.  The gift of a subscription unlocks the realm for me.)  Yes, it’s potentially subject to a complete wipe, but I don’t mind.  Playing on Ice is all about experimentation, exploration and taming the sometimes wild bugs that inevitably come up in game development.  That, to me, is far more interesting than playing on a “normal” server scrabbling around in the water for pieces of eight.  Ice, as a test server, is more about *playing* the game than accumulating more piratey *stuff*.  I can’t help but appreciate that.

(Which means yes, I’d likely do the same thing in WoW, if that were my game of choice.  Test realms are about the last “frontier” of MMO gaming, and that I get to help the devs that I like is icing on the cake.)

Plus, well, Three Rings does excellent work.  I’ve often held them up as an example in the game dev field, and I welcome the chance to spend a bit more time with their work.  I’m still busy and not really an online gaming fanatic, but if I’m going to play online, I’m going to play somewhere that I’m happy to do so.  The Ice Ocean is one of those places that just feels like going home.

So, even as my little family is finding a new home in this crazy “real life” thing, I feel like I’m going home to one of my sanctuaries in the online gaming world.  It’s a gift that I can’t thank Demeter enough for.  These Three Rings people are some of the best devs that I’ve had the chance to converse with.  (Special mention of Apollo, another OM, and the great fun that he’s offered as a forum admin and event runner.)

To be sure, it’s a relatively small thing in the grand scheme of Life and All That’s In It, but to me, it’s a very kind welcome mat and a magnanimous gesture that makes my heart warm, even as I go play in the snow.  Thank you, Demeter!

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…and now I can’t get Y2K or YMCA out of my mind.  Bleh.

Anyway, Gamasutra has a pair of articles up that piqued my interest:

Puzzle Pirates Revenue Specifics

and

Dungeons and Dragons Online goes Free to Play

I’m sure that proponents and detractors can make up their own arguments at this point, but I’ll chime in and note that Puzzle Pirates is one of only three MMOs that I’ve spent money on (the others being Wizard 101 and Guild Wars), and that this move for DDO might just mean I go check it out.  If they have a reasonable scheme on the back end to capture some revenue, they might just be the fourth.

(And if SWTOR and Jumpgate Evolution have non-sub options, they might be fifth and sixth…)

Updated:  Raph Koster has a blurb up on another Gamasutra article here:

Free to Play MMOs

Good stuff.  Raph actually is neck deep in this sort of thing, what with Metaplace and all.  It’s a good read.

Update 2, more data from a War Cry interview:

More on DDO F2P

Update 3, more from the devs on why they are changing things up.  Notable among reasons cited are the changing demographics, and the need for shorter session gaming, and the restrictive binary system of subscriptions (in or out).  Someone gets it, and this is heartening to hear from the devs, since it’s part of what I’ve argued for a while now:

Why DDO went F2P

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This is why you really shouldn’t think too much about economics in game design:

Destabilizing the Economy

(Or, perhaps, why you really should think about economics in game design…)

I trust anyone inclined to do so to make their own political conclusions.

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We all live in a steampunk submarine, a steampunk submarine, a steampunk submarine

(Yes, that’s three links to different articles about the same office, but there are some unique pictures in each, as far as I can tell.)

OK, so it’s not exactly a submarine, but the “Captain Nemo” steampunk flavor of the Three Rings office (the Puzzle Pirates guys) sure looks like it would be a fun place to work.  The design alone is awesome, but even better is that it was fairly cheap.  Quick router cuts and simple colors fit the Three Rings design ethos, and with enough attention to art direction, even the flat colors and fairly simple shapes look fantastic.  (Chalk another one up for simple but consistent and interesting art direction over pixel shaders, gigantic poly meshes and huge texture footprints.)

These are the guys behind the office construction (with some more pictures of the same):

Because We Can

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(Note:  This started as a tangent in the Tired of Killing article, but for organizations’ sake, I’m splitting it into its own article.)

I’m a fan of Puzzle Pirates, and I’ve not been shy of that.  I’m also looking forward to Gatheryn, which looks like a fun riff on Steampunk themes.  Interestingly, it’s also going to be a bit of a minigame suite.  This has caused a bit of miffed kerfluffling here and there among those who were hoping for a more “traditional” (read: DIKU level loot grind) MMO design.

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to that notion.  Steampunk is fertile ground for gaming, but is poorly represented in the MMO genre.  Wizard 101 has a great little steampunk “world”, NeoSteam takes a magical tack on the theme, and even WoW has steampunkish elements.  It’s just… there’s no “hardcore” (heavy Victorian steam-driven) steampunk themed game out there.  That seems like a curious oversight to me, and I definitely think there’s a call for such a game in the market.

At the same time, I’m very, very tired of the DIKU loot lust model, built with combat as its backbone.  And there’s where we come to the title; the combat minigame.

As far as I’m concerned, combat in these games is little more than a highly specialized minigame.  MMO combat, just by the nature of the beast (internet connection, time>skill) isn’t nearly as involved as what we see  in the God of War games, Kingdom Hearts or Prince of Persia.  It can’t be.  It’s been distilled to an autoattack/special attack veneer on top of the prototypical RPG “dice roll” combat resolution engine.  Modern MMOs have polished it to a nice sheen, but as pure combat gaming, it’s just not in the same class as Dante in Devil May Cry or that scary dude in Mark of Kri.

So, when I see people complaining about the minigame nature of Gatheryn or Puzzle Pirates (or even Stargate Worlds with its Archeologist class hacking and research minigames) while extolling the virtues of WoW or the like, I can’t help but see a little irony.  (And no, Saylah, you’re not the only one in this boat; many people are dismissing Gatheryn for the more social, minigaming focus.)

To be fair, reskinning Bejeweled and jamming it into a large multiplayer lobby and calling it an MMO isn’t all that fulfilling, either.  If that’s all Gatheryn has to offer, it will indeed be unfulfilling… but at the same time, people DO play PopCap games or MSN games for hours, and giving them a persistent world where that indulgence can mean character progress beyond a high score leaderboard or Kongregate trophies might just be a winning formula.  It won’t appeal to the WoW crowd or the Darkfall denizens, but that was never the goal anyway.

Puzzle Pirates does well by having a series of minigames that are a bit more involved than the Flash-based PopCap fare.  For one, their games tend to have a bit more depth than those venerable gems.  Even Sailing, a Dr. Mario riff, has target platforms that change the dynamic of the game for the better, and Bilging is more than a mere Bejeweled clone, since you can make swaps that wouldn’t immediately cause a match, and it changes the gameplay significantly.

Beyond that, though, these minigames are integrated into the world.  Minigames on board ships contribute directly to the function of the ship, and the player at the helm winds up playing their own minigame that is a sort of metagame of balancing the crew’s efforts (working with people, for you who love sociality in games) while attending to their own duties.  Out of combat, captains have a Navigation minigame (unlike any other match three game I’ve played, and great for it) that multiplies Sailing efforts and can indirectly modify combat frequency, and in combat, the Battle Navigation (BNav) minigame incorporates a new subset of players who run the Gunning minigame, as well as an isometric tactical board game where the “deadly dance” of intership combat is played out, either to sink, engage crew-to-crew, or dodge until escape is enabled.

Once crews board their opponent, a round of Swordfighting or Rumbling (fisticuffs) ensues, which is a multiplayer Puzzle Fighter variant or Puzzle Bobble variant.  The simple innovations of sword strikes in SF or dual shooters and two directions of attack in Rumble mean they are more than their progenitors, and the multiplayer dynamics make for yet another layer of skills to learn and employ efficiently.

You can not succeed in Puzzle Pirates by relying on autoattack and a “shot rotation“.

Beyond that, there is a complex player-driven economy, where commodities are foraged up (with another minigame) and shuffled into a fairly complex market, where all but the most simple of goods are crafted via a suite of crafting minigames.  These aren’t interconnected like the shipboard games, but the economy as a whole is built on the back of players doing the crafting labor (playing minigames) to make items available.

As a result, the game world is very much under the influence of player actions.  If players don’t step up to the plate and Distill up some Rum or Blacksmith up some cannonballs, other players can’t go out and sail the high seas looking for combat.  If the combat-heavy players don’t hit enough of the spawned enemies, that primary currency fountain dries up, and the crafters don’t have anyone to sell stuff to.

This fairly extensive economy is fairly simple in that it demonstrates the interplay and symbiosis between the crafters and the combatants.  Each type of player (or a player who just likes both and meanders around) can do what they like, and find ways to contribute to the game as a whole, their fellow players, and have fun while still earning a bit of coin for their effort.

We see rudimentary aspects of this in WoW and the like, but crafting there isn’t so much a minigame as a metagame pursuit of ingredients and then sitting AFK while your avatar puts things together.

And maybe that’s the point.  Ixobelle wrote a while back about crafting interfaces, and the notion that crafting itself should be an active part of the MMO.  In other terms, a minigame.

Getting players of all types involved in the game world is part of what I’d like to see in my ideal MMO.  Giving them minigames is one way to do that, as it allows for greater involvement and player skill.  The combat minigame is certainly fun for some, but if it’s the only real way for players to get involved and display even a modicum of player skill, the game will naturally be limited.

Of course, at the same time, a game that demands skill and involvement from its players will also be limited, since not everyone wants to deal with actually playing all the time; they like that you can go AFK for a while and still get things done.  I’ve felt this myself at times.

Even so, I can’t help but feel more involved when I play Puzzle Pirates, and I feel that I’m actually playing more than I am just existing when I go about doing things in the world.  You can certainly just exist in PP as well, say by walking around on the islands or building up and furnishing your dream home, but actually playing the game, as opposed to playing WoW, is more fulfilling for me, as it asks more of me.

WoW certainly abstracts the combat minigame a bit, integrating it into the world and spatial concepts, so it’s not a completely shallow thing.  No, it’s a fairly highly polished minigame in the suite that is the WoW MMO as a whole.  As I wrote earlier, though, it’s just not all that satisfying in the long run, and having a suite of other minigames to round out the world and the interaction therein would seem to be a good thing, at least in my experience.  It increases involvement and emotional investment in the game world, and makes for more time playing and keeping things fresh, thanks to a whole suite of things to do, rather than just a fairly binary choice of “kill stuff” or AFK craft stuff.

As always, I’m not talking about excising the combat, merely adding other things on top of it.  Providing more choices and more ways to play is part of what I aim to do around here, after all.

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I was prowling the Escapist’s latest issue, and happened upon this little article:

That’s Entertainment?

One point that Mr. Zacny makes is that game themes have polarized to the dark, immature “M” rated stuff and happy shiny pretty world, with little in between.  I exaggerate a bit, but there’s truth to it.  I have to wonder:  can gamers handle subtlety?  Do they want subtlety?

Framed in MMO terms, currently everyone is a hero (or a scrub who is just training to be a hero).  I touched on this back in Fewer Heroes, MMOre Adventurers.  Where are the games that allow for small, modest, humble lives?  I’d argue that the social framework of an MMO is the best place for such subtlety in games, since you’re dealing with a large variety of players.  There will be those who just want to stake out a mining claim on the side of a mountain, or plant a small crop and build a house, or make a pub and cater to travelers.  They can’t do that in real life, so they do it in a crazy, fantastic alternate world.

A Tale in the Desert and EVE apparently have some of this sort of “low key” activity going on.  Notably, I think that they are possibly the biggest MMOs with functional, in-depth economies.  Puzzle Pirates has a good economy, but isn’t quite the same sort of game.

More and more, I believe that a vibrant, healthy world with room for subtle lives and player creativity will need a strong economic model and a healthy crafting suite.  Yes, there should be opportunities to be the Hero, but sometimes, it’s enough to just go to the digital equivalent of the Cheers pub; a place where everyone knows your name, and it’s OK to just relax and be some dude whittling a new trinket.

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Edit: Update!  My “final” word on Atlantica Online is here:

Atlantica Online: Review and Summary

———

I’ve written about Atlantica Online a fair bit recently.  I’ve played Puzzle Pirates for the last two and a half years, and written about it in various places.  Both are a breed of MMO that eschews the subscription business model, and I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly.  They are good examples of two alternates to subscriptions, and I think both will be successful… but I do think that Puzzle Pirates has a clear edge.

I’ve written before about the natural balance of demand and supply as it applies to MMOs.  Item Shops and Dual Currency systems (IS and DC henceforth) provide ways for real world cash to balance the time investment of other players, and for the company to monetize demand and support their game without subscription fees. (more…)

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