Moo Tang Clan: 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wanted: a bidding mod

My bank alt plays the AH like a battleground.

He'll buy & sell Runecloth constantly, snatching up bargains whenever they appear and flipping to a more regular price. One tactic he also deploys is to bid on all no-buyout auctions. He'll do this even if the item has 48 hours yet to run, knowing full well that someone else will come along and place a higher bid.

So why does he do this? Well, there's a small chance he'll actually win the auction with his bid of course, but more importantly he's forcing the floor price upwards. If his competitors win the auction at a higher price, it means they can't flip it at a lower price. There's also a small psyop element in play in that with constant re-bidding he'll simply exhaust the patience of some other players, letting him win more of the winning bids.

Now, there are auction house mods that facilitate ninja-bids -- placing a bid on items at the last possible moment -- but what I'm looking for is a mod that will place bids from the get go, and do so repeatedly up to some maximum bid, and do so on multiple instances of the same items (eg. those 23 stacks of Runecloth on the AH with a minimum bid of 6 silvers).

Suggestions?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Improving the AH UX

The Moo's bank alt installed a couple of mods this week, to dramatic effect.

The first is AHsounds, a simple addon that will play sounds corresponding to Auction House events. Ka-ching! D'oh! It does nothing to directly improve my profitability per se, but nonetheless it is highly gratifying to now play my bank alt - nothing sweeter than hearing a series of ka-chings! while I'm laboriously running back and forth from the mailbox to the AH, flipping stacks on stacks of Runecloth. While it does nothing in the way of min-maxing the AH activities, it greatly adds to the general user experience – ka-ching! – it now feels more like a game than work.

The second mod is Auctionator - the key features for me is being able to alt-click an item in my bags and have it automatically loaded into the auction interface (saving me from dragging it from the far left all the way to the far right), being able to submit multiple stacks for auction with just two button clicks, and the straightforward price recommendation functionality. If anything, the first two makes it a complete breeze to auction off all manner of junk quickly and simply, and the latter means I'll probably make sales rather than waste my money on forfeited deposits. While this addon, unlike AHsounds, simply improves the UI experience of creating auctions making the work element take less effort (ie. less work, but without making it more game).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Alternative to quest texts

A comment on Kill Ten Rats caught my eye:

But I think there’s more to the problem of quest text than just that people are too lazy to read it and too stupid to understand it. Yes, that’s the basic problem for a lot of people, but quest text seems to me to also be a very awkward game mechanic.

What other ways could it be done? Back in EQ (or was it UO?) you'd interact with the NPC via typed dialog - you'd type something, he'd reply, you'd hope you used the correct keywords, and on it goes.

So here's an idea, inspired by the flavour responses that WoW NPCs have when you just click on them (a sequence of greetings deteriorating into annoyance) ... click the NPC and he mentions he wants help, click again to find out more, and so on. Mix it up a little bit so players don't just spamclick - have the NPC ask a question at some point, to which the player could /agree or /disagree or some other /emote as appropriate. The responses would probably be via text, not voice effects, simply because of the massive volume of content required.

The NPC might react differently depending on if you are mounted or not, right in front of them or not, and so on. Not mysterioius-different, but flavour-different. Some might insist you sit down before they talk, rather than flapping away

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Levelling speed and zone sizes

I realised today while flitting the length and breadth of Zul'Drak that I completely skipped the Grizzly Hills zone. I'm now level 78, nearly 79, and the content of Grizzly Hills is more suited for 73-75. I also missed out on seeing various instances at an appropriate level, thus missing out on a decent challenge.

I first landed in the Borean Tundra and worked my way through all that. I didn't leave until I got the Nothing Boring about Borean achievement. I then spent many hours exploring as much of northrend as possible, a challenging task for being only lvl 72. I then completed the I've Toured the Fjord achievement and dinged a bit more. Then the Might of the Dragonblight fell too, I got my winter flying, finished exploring the rest of Northrend, and headed to Zul'Drak to continue levelling.

It's taking about one night per level, which is awfully fast, and I'm not alone in this. I'm out-levelling zones before I've fully explored them. I'm glad there's more than enough quests per zone to level and I don't have to mindlessly grind mobs before I'm ready to go to the next zone ... but the zones are still too quick.

One downside of this rapid levelling is that my guild is widely scattered across the levels and the zones, which means we don't get to play together much at all. Another downside is I'm missing out on hitting the various instances at the appropriate levels, meaning they present no challenge to me. It feels like I'm just boosting others, blech. Also, all the zones have great terrain and features and hidden nooks .. but I'm missing out on immersing myself into them - a dozen quick quests here, a dozen quick quests there, and I've moved on. There's also a huge number of stories going on in each zone, many with an underlying theme or greater story arc, but with the speed of levelling they're just not sinking in. More the pity.

Hmmm...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flying over content, such a waste

The Moo got his winter woolies on the weekend and then proceeded to explore the rest of Northrend. Flying over Storm Peaks was fun, but when I started flying over Icecrown I was struck by the magnificent desolation there, that and the legions of undead arrayed about. The geography of the place is very much linear, with huge elites guarding gates from one subzone to the next. Ominous and spooky added to the scene.

It looks like one huge outdoor raid zone, I can easily imagine a guild or two of raids carefully slogging their way through the zone, capturing safe bases along the way, establishing a tenuous foothold before waves of zombies come in the night and overwhelm what few defenders haven't logged out yet.

Such a pity then that players will simply fly over all that beautiful zone design.

I would design the zone such that there was progressive zone unlocking like the Isle of Quel'danas: fill the air with nasty flying mobs which get cleared in limited flightpaths by establishing a series of ground bases. These ground bases would have ground gunners and magnificent magics keeping the air clear around them, as well as launching powerful NPC patrols back to the prior base.

I can imagine that some of the quests could be escorting caravans of NPCs to forward bases. As each wagon arrives an additional NPC resource gets unloaded. This way, even if you're not on the quest it's in your best interest to help them get through.

Progressive unlocking of the zone, but with a temporary nature - after midnight the zombies, ghouls, wraiths, and stitched horrors come out in greater force, easily overwhelming the NPC defenders, and even overwhelming the lesser numbers of players on at that time of night. Not a good place to log out in, obviously. Don't have any inns where players could set there hearthstone to (not a good idea from the players' perspective anyway .. who wants to hearth into a zombie infested burning ruin?)

Throw in some lower tier rewards for participating in the ground assault, something requiring sustained effort (not just a quest or two). Make it such that the top tier raiding guild would still be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all - sure, they could easily capture successive staging objectives, but they wouldn't be able to do that while simultaneously defending the previously captured bases, and anyway the long slog would be an enormous time-consuming grind before they even get to the raid instance. The top raiding guilds would require the assistance of the rest of the player population, who would already be participating for the ground assault rewards anyway.

Plonk in a few smaller dungeons along the way, some on the main path of the ground assault, some down divergent gullies. Thus: don't have just the one possible path which gets unlocked - this design opens the possibility of a guild rallying the general population to go unlock a side path one weekend, and another side path some other day. This keeps the zone interesting long after the top tier blazes the main trail.

I'd love to play in that world. Much better than the static theme park of raids where you must be "this high" to ride.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

cross faction language barriers

A passing thought: what if it were possible to understand what the enemy was saying, but you couldn't respond in their same language, and understanding the other factions language was an option (available via training or a quest, and a toggle-off setting even then).

Thus, cross-faction communication might be possible, while at the same time ameliorating the worst excesses of spiteful sledging.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

leveling the crafting economy

high level recipes with low level components?

will high level players re-visit lowbie zones to farm components, or will the simply visit the AH?

will this provide a source of revenue to lowbie toons, counteracting the problem of high-level toons causing inflation?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Economy chains and item drains

Inflation usually occurs because more gold is coming into the player economy than which is leaving. Gold enters the economy by drops from mobs and from quest rewards. It leaves the economy through payments to NPCs - gear repairs, griffon taxis, basic consumables, training expenses, auction house deposits and fees, and obvious gold drains like Epic Flying skill and Cenarion War Hippogryphs. Players paying money to other players doesn't remove it from the economy, it simply shuffles it around.

So here I am, working my way to Exalted with the Cenarion Circle. Amongst other things, I'm buying various items off the AH and handing them in for Cenarion Logistic Badges .. and it got me thinking that this is also making inflation worse.

I'm removing items from the economy, but the gold I pay out simply gets shuffled to another player. Consequently, while the amount of gold available in the economy has remained the same (ie. not increased), my actions are contributing to making things to spend that gold on more scarce. Which of course means higher prices for those things (ie. inflation).

So, while gold drains should be designed into the game to combat inflation, any item drains should also be carefully and cautiously planned given their effect on the economy. This is particularly important if your game includes item breakage for purposes of stimulating an active crafting ecosystem (not a problem in WoW, but often considered theoretically).

This has also set me thinking that perhaps NPCs could be set up to sell many more items, things which are normally farmed by players and sold on the auction house, things which players need as quest hand ins. A really smart system would have NPCs selling items at a dynamic price competitively undercutting the auction house, but in relatively limited supply. It would have to be a limited supply, otherwise no one would ever buy off the auction house, not ever. Say maybe a max of 2-5 units available, spawning every hour or so.

Now, what will likely happen is that the limited supply would be bought and immediately flipped on to market for a modest margin – the players that actually needs the item for crafting/questing purposes would probably not get the chance to buy it from the NPC. Since there are so many items that would need to be supplied by NPCs like this there would need to be multiple NPCs, each selling (limited supplies of) different items. I would fully expect some players would simply ride around from NPC to NPC, buying up stocks as they spawn, keeping themselves busy that way, flipping the lot onto the market.

While some players will grumble at the NPC farming, they are actually performing a service – they are doing all the tedious running about and gathering and consolidating all the stock into one convenient market place. Only fair then that they extract a modest fee from this process.

The neat thing about this process is that while it is actually a gold drain, the players buying from the NPC would actually be making a profit, and everyone else is benefiting from suppressed inflation and increased supply. Much nicer than slugging all players with a repair tax, or 5,000 gold flying lessons, and so on – all sources of player angst and whines.

Also, if the quantity of the limited stocks that spawn is randomised, as well as the respawn timer, then it's easy to gently fudge the random number generator and thus adjust the supply as the economy demands. During times of peak demand for specific items an increase in supply will keep prices reasonable as well as drain more gold faster. Later, as the server population moves on to other activities, the supply of those items can be scaled back to reduce the surplus from the market. It should be a simple matter of tracking how many of the items are churned through the market and how many are being handed in for quests.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innkeeper Norman has a secret

No, not that secret.

He's currently selling Honey-Spiced Lichen and Pungent Seal Whey, two WotLK common foods with very impressive health/mana restorations. I've checked with a few other innkeepers but it seems they don't have the same connections as good old Norman.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The price of Achievements in WoW

Anyone else notice how much gold is being drained from the economy as players buy 10 tabards, 25 companion pets, 50 mounts, etc etc. I didn't mind paying 80g here and there picking up one of each colour mount, and I was even considering getting the Cenarion War Hippogryph until I saw the price. Which made me stop and think about how much I've already spent bit by bit. Ouch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Achievements for Hunters?

With WotLK there will come achievements. There are no class based achievements though, which is a sad omission.

I'd like to see class based achievements - it might actually be a mechanism to teach players about their class some more. How many hunters know how to double-trap, for example?

Apart from that, there could be some fun class-based achievements. While I see an achievement for killing various rare spawns, for hunters I'd want to see an achievement for taming rare spawns - Humar etc.

Another hunter achievement I'd go for would be kiting some mob half way across the world. What class based acheivements would you go for?

Monday, October 6, 2008

zones in contention?

Just a thought .. imagine if every zone in WoW that is "in contention" would only make PVE quests available if your faction controlled that zone at that time? No zone control, no PVE.

I predict huge raging world PVP battles, TM vs SS being the least of it, as it would be nigh impossible to level if you're locked out of the zone.

The mechanics would need to be carefully worked out of course, to compensate for realm population imbalances. The way I would do it would be by having a domination capture mechanic (like the Spirit Towers and Halaa) which would then result in a locked period. The locked period would run for X hours from the time of the capture, and after that it's available for recapture. This fixes the related population advantage problems with the Spirit Towers and Halaa - the former are on a scheduled timer so the population knows when to go there and dominate, and the latter has no lock out and thus will quickly be recaptured.

There are 30+ zones up for contention, so it would be difficult for a faction to dominate and control all of them at once. Nonetheless, it would be advisable to design in some bonus/advantage for the underdog factions - perhaps special new quests encouraging adventurers to go off to battle. Ideally, these should provide PVP oriented rewards - if one side is constantly the underdog, they will obtain advantages not available to the other faction, and the tables will turn. I think this PvP vs PvE teeter-totter balance would be key - dominating zones via PvP unlocks PvE content, being underdogs unlocks PvP content, and no vicious feedback loops of the dominant faction gaining ever more advantages.

Integrating this design into the current game would be messy of course – this is only a thought experiment after all. Perhaps only the quests in the major hubs would be locked out, and since these zones have a hub for each faction it's thus possible for three states to occur: alliance controls both hubs, horde controls both hubs, and each control one hub each. Controlling the enemy faction hub could also unlock additional quests. Ideally, those quests would be completely new content, and not simply re-skinned versions of the enemy faction quests.

Leveling an alt would be different each time, as which hubs are controlled as you level up could be different each time. At the least, you'd have additional PvP quests available. If your side controls the enemy faction base but not your own, that would make a very different journey.

Logging out in your local Inn wouldn't be safe though. Not sure what could be done there.

Update - some related posts:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dread Pirate Roberts

Humble Hobo describes continual content and the comment replies point out the “extinction problem”. This is where if quests get consumed by players, then you will rapidly run out of content for the players, and faster than you can replace that content too. A single quest might take 10-15 minutes to play through, but it would likely take much more than that to set up in the first place.

There’s a related problem too – what happens if the quest you picked up in town gets completed by someone else before you even get to where the villain is hiding? Does the quest get marked as “complete” because the villain has been brought to justice (just not by you), does the quest get disabled in your quest log, or does it remain there, active, but impossible to complete unbeknown to you. Maybe WAR’s public quest system has something to enlighten us here.

Consider this variation on the continuous content idea though: a nasty villain has a bounty placed on his head – you kill him, unmask him, and find he’s just some pretender .. not the real villain. Later, rumours of the villain re-surface in the next borough over and the story continues. The same quest can be used and re-used over and over, with only slight variations in the quest details each time.

This is similar in ways to randomising the spawn location of a quest objective — if the villain is knocked off on a regular basis by adventurers then it will seem to be random. It’s different though, in that the NPCs will give differing reports, and the starting quest text will be different each time. So, while there is some chance of players breaking immersion because they think the content is buggy, it will also add character and depth to the game since the world would now be more dynamic.

You’d still have problems arising from other players completing your quest though.

Maybe WoW’s new “phasing” design mechanic could come into play - this is where the world you see is dependent on what you’ve done, and the world I see is dependent on what I’ve done. Thus your villain and quest remain active and located where you were told and the NPCs you talk to point you in the appropriate direction, but the next player to come along would be given an entirely new version of the quest, with different clues and a different location. Well, that could work but it would really break the game world in horrible ways, changing the MMORPG into an MSORPG. Bleh.

No, the trick would be in pacing the re-spawns. If this particular quest is so easy that it gets knocked over on an hourly basis then it would all seem very unrealistic - first the villain is to the north, and then 30 mins later he’s reported to be to the south, then an hour later he’s apparently been terrorising the prospectors and shepherds in the Red Hills ... how the heck does he travel about so damn quick, and how does he even find the time to carry out his villianry with all that rushing about?

One way to pace this some more is to make it a chain of intermediate steps - the usual plot tricks of “report for duty”, “scout for intel”, “fedex the report up the chain of command”, “search the woods/hills/ruins”, “take out some minions”, “gather some tools”, and finally “kill the boss”. Whew ... that should slow most players down for a bit. Add to that a significant delay (eg. a day or two or more) to the respawn, including the re-appearance of the quest givers, and the illusion of a dynamic world would be complete.

This could only work in a world which is acknowledged by players to have dynamic content though – if you slipped this quest design into WoW as it exists today you’d immediately see reports of the quest being bugged because player’s can’t find it in the same place, and many complaints about the slow re-spawn cycle.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spellborn Chronicles - one to watch

Reading the FAQ for Spellborn Chronicles, and I'm obviously intrigued...

Here's a new twist on death penalties - provide a survival bonus instead:

We intend to put a system in place which rewards good play and not dying. This system will provide benefits over time for those who play in a skilled manner and who are capable of surviving. A short period of time will provide minor benefits, while a longer period of time will provide greater benefits. In general it will be quite desirable to survive and to be cautious, as the benefits gained will be noticeable.


Five factions, sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing, and a hint of environment impact:

In addition, TCoS is a world which a rich storyline, ripe with opportunities to live inside an evolving world. Players interested in making a difference will find themselves at home in the struggle to forward their High House. Those wishing to take up arms for their cause will be able to make an impact on their environment. While members of other Houses may be friendly in general, all bets are off once Houses come into conflict. This mix of cooperation and competition makes for a complex, yet exhilarating combination. No longer are you stuck with being "good" or "evil" . . . you will be a member of one of five differing factions all working together yet apart in order to bring peace to your civilization.


Windows only though, I suspect.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

what kind of name is Fggfdfggrdgf anyway?

Here I am in AV, trailing the O zerg pack so I bear left when crossing the Field of Strife. This way I can run slap bang into any laggard Alliance passing west of Balinda. I spot a warrior, all alone and trailing his pack, I ride right up and Wing Clip. He stays mounted but is slowed, I stay right on his tail, repeating Wing Clip and Raptor Strike, working a pattern of running just wide enough to get off an Arcane Shot and side-stepping back in to Wing Clip again. It took a while but down he went.

I mount up, and ride on. About the time I reach Stormpike Graveyard I get a tell from a someone named named Fggfdfggrdgf - "WHAT THE *^% ARE U DOING!?! IF YOU LEAVE ALLIANCE O ALONE WE GET A FASTER GAME AND MORE HONOR, YUO *%#!"

Guess I hurt someone's feelings there.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leveraging Cognitive Bias in Social Design

Now here's an interesting slide deck presentation on Leveraging Cognitive Bias in Social Design. I mention this because, obviously MMOGs are inherently social environments, and rational behaviour isn't actually the norm, despite the vocal domination of the min/maxers and others.

They've listed a few sample cognitive effects that bias behaviour...

  • Lake Wobegon effect
  • Self serving bias
  • Optimism bias
  • Not invented here
  • Hindsight bias
  • Prediction bias
.. and they later mention a few more in the presentation (eg. Loss Aversion). I would also add the bystander effect as something to consider when designing.

Add yours to the list =)

quests with alternative objectives?

The typical quest mechanic I've seen is (1) get the quest which states the objective, (2) do some activity resulting in (3) completing the objective, and (4) hand in the quest.

As a thought experiment, imagine an MMOG with a quest engine which allows for multiple alternative objectives. For example, the quest set up might be "The red hill ogres keep raiding our vineyard and stealing our wine. Do something", where "something" is (a) kill the ogres, (b) kill the dragon camping their beer stash, (c) open trade with the ogres, offering wine in exchange for furs, (d) help the dragon find its mate, thus scaring the ogres out of the red hills for good, (e) help the ogres raid the dwarven brewery instead (they prefer beer, y’see), or (e) simply steal the wine back again.

The typical MMOG quest engine system would offer just one of those as the quest objective (although the RP crowd might do something with the rest). You could implement the alternatives as additional separate quests, but that would just be a hack (and confusing when doing one quest invalidates the others, and irritating if you pick one objective and then find out on the way there it would be easier to do one of the others because [eg] you just found help). Much more interesting would be you pick the one quest, and then head off to confront the ogres ... and whichever objective you manage to accomplish first marks the quest as complete.

In the quest UI I don't believe I'd list the specific objectives necessary to complete the quest, certainly not in the TL:DR bullet point summary. I'd like to think that clever players would figure out what some of the options could be, knowing full well most players aren't that clever.

I know that traditional quests with an ambiguous unstated objective are usually regarded as a content development bug by players ... but mostly arising from the frustration of trying to guess just what exactly is the One True Objective to complete the quest. However, offering multiple alternative objections might ameliorate that, especially if the players are re-trained to expect the possibility of alternative objectives (instead of giving up at first glance).

Naturally, in a static content game the various approaches will all soon be discovered and documented in some online wiki, and the wisdom of the crowd will be applied to determine the optimal solution. The next step in this thought experiment is to consider what basic game mechanics and plumbing would be necessary for such a quest with alternative objectives to arise dynamically.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MMOG design anti-patterns?

Some quick background, lifting from Wikipedia:

A design pattern is a formal way of documenting a solution to a design problem in a particular field of expertise. The idea was introduced by the architect Christopher Alexander in the field of architecture, and has been adapted for various other disciplines, including computer science.

A pattern must explain why a particular situation causes problems, and why the proposed solution is considered a good one.

Alexander describes common design problems as arising from "conflicting forces" -- such as the conflict between wanting a room to be sunny and wanting it not to overheat on summer afternoons. A pattern would not tell the designer how many windows to put in the room; instead, it would propose a set of values to guide the designer toward a decision that is best for their particular application.

In software engineering, an anti-pattern is a design pattern that appears obvious but is ineffective or far from optimal in practice. [...] Some repeated pattern of action, process or structure that initially appears to be beneficial, but ultimately produces more bad consequences than beneficial results
I've cross posted this to the Nerfbat forums, where there is already a healthy discussion, mostly focused on whether crafting interdependency is an anti-pattern. What other MMOG design anti-patterns have you become aware of?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ding

Exalted with Zandalar Tribe.

'nuff said.

As an alchemist, this now means I can craft Living Action Potions, which turn out to be very handy in PvP. They don't share a cooldown with the PvP trinket, giving me an extra escape mechanism. It's also not the same as the trinket, being useless against mind control and polymorph, for example .. but it does confer immunity to stun and movement impairments for 5 secs.

I'm a lvl 70 hunter with Kara+ gear, so taking on the trash mobs in this 60's raid instance so getting to exalted was challenging. I had to pull out all my hunter tricks to take on 4 packs, and learned a couple of tricks along the way.

One trick good hunters should know is that when casting Scare Beast, its not only not necessary to keep your target selected, but detrimental to do so: once you're done casting an auto-shot might go off, hitting your now scared beast, and breaking said scare effect. Instead, the non-huntard will target the one beast they want to scare, begin casting, and in the 1.5 seconds they have now select the next beast they will unleash DPS onto. Not only do you avoid breaking your fear, but you don't waste time acquiring your next target.

Another tweak I picked up was to put
/stopattack
/startattack

into my macros for Steady Shot, Multi-Shot, and Arcane Shot. Although it does cause my gun to make lots of superfluous cocking sounds, it doesn't appear to reset the auto-shot timer .. and importantly it clears any lingering Raptor Strike from blocking my auto-shot. When you're taking on a pack of elite mobs, you need every point of DPS.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

hindering the grinding of professions?

A thought offered for debate...

Given the mostly negative impact that grinding/power-leveling professions in WoW have, what might be done to alleviate, hinder, or prevent that activity? (Not necessarily in WoW itself, but in some hypothetical game design).

Previously, I've proposed a textured skill tree system, one where you could fast track your the scope of your profession at the cost of expertise in crafting each individual item.

Another idea to throw on the table today: put a cap or diminishing returns on how many skill ups occur in a given time period. This could be explained in-game as “learning new skills is taxing on the mind and body, the harder you study the more you will need to rest”. Grinding 10 skill points will still be as easy as before, but grinding the next 10 might be difficult or impossible that same day .. or as easy as the first 10 if you wait until the next day.

If a diminishing returns model is used there will inevitably be that one crazy fool that will grind out 10,000 swords for that last skill point (where he could wait 24 hours, grind one sword, and 100% chance get that same point). Most min/maxers wouldn't do that because, by definition, they use a cost/benefits analysis approach in all that they do. Just in case someone does though the game could be designed to give some kind of debilitating debuff - plenty of real world examples to draw from here (headline: gamer dies of exhaustion after playing non-stop for 72 hours).

I'm led to understand that something like this was implemented on the Siege Perilous and Mugen shards of UO - anyone got experience with that?

Friday, August 8, 2008

variable quest rewards for variable performance?

I'm back, fresh from another bombing run through the dead scar. As a daily, I can just about do this one with my eyes shut ... as it is I end up killing off a few extra just for the heck of it. Which got me thinking - how come I don't get extra gold for overkills?

Now, this has got me thinking even further - I can't think of a single quest in WoW which doesn't have a variable reward depending on skill - no wonder players strive to optimise their effort rather than improve their skill. Actually, there are two that come to mind: the Dire Maul tribute run, and the Zul'Aman timed event .. both provide more rewards depending on how you go about them, and a highly skilled (or more likely a highly geared) team will reap more rewards for their efforts.

Seriously though .. can you imagine the deep psychological effect of a wholesale changing of quest rewards to a system depending on skill-based accomplishment?

Monday, July 28, 2008

design challenge: specialist guilds?

In most MMOGs, a guild is more a company of adventurers, a band of brothers, (usually) united in some purpose (usually raiding, often social, sometimes RP).

But rarely specialised by skill. Where's the Potters Guild, the Enchanters Guild, the Guild of Tailors, the Warriors Regiment, the Thieves Guild of Old Town, the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union?

Set aside for the moment of whether this would be a good idea, game-wise, for an MMOG. What game mechanics would you design to encourage a proliferation of specialist guilds?

My first thoughts are three-fold:

  1. A hierarchical tree of additional benefits unlocked by specialisation (eg. think WoW talents, but for guilds).
  2. A rationing of resources used to unlock these additional benefits (ie. more benefits than what points can buy), with various feedback mechanisms to encourage focussed spending.
  3. And support for inter-guild support/collaboration/alliances.
Points (1) and (2) work together of course. Feedback mechanisms could include compounding buffs, tiered talents/abilities, or unlocked content such as guild quests. Point (3) would be necessary because if you don't the pressure will be huge to go for a mediocre but self-reliant hybrid guild.

The principle of unlocked benefits could be applied in many ways: through specialised guild bank tabs, guild wise auras, specialist NPCs, and more.

Guild Bank tabs could be specialised for different purposes, with discounts for additional tabs of the same type. For example: instead of paying 500G for the first tab and 1000G for the second tab, the bank could be designed such that the guild could select their first tab to be specialised (eg. enchanting) and thus get a discount (pay only 400G), and the second enchanting tab would only be 750G .. vs some guild buying a generic bank tab for 500G, and then an enchanting specialised tab for 900G. Buying one of each kind should be expensive, buying all generics/multipurpose should be outrageously priced, and buying all of the same type should be really affordable.

Guild wide auras could be things like all members of a guild specialising in alchemy could have an increased chance of bonus procs on crafting, all members of a warriors guild have 20% off all repair costs and some kind of bonus in melee.

What game design elements can you think of to push a game world in this direction?

Monday, July 14, 2008

player driven pvp policies

The guards on the Isle of Quel'danas are severe in punishing pvp within their territory, but they could be more severe in policing: they could punish all the participants of the pvp action - both attacker and attacked. The only way to remain safe would be to not flag at all. (Incidentally, this will also get rid of the asshats that flag and stand on top of the NPCs.)

Such a determined design would be immediately decried by players: some would say it's too harsh (and should be softened), some would say it's too carebear (and made even harsher), and some would say it was fine before so why change it. There's no satisfying the mob.

Consider though if the devs put their effort into designing self-balancing systems, where players can, through their influence and reputation with the local government, determine what the security policies are for the area. Some servers might drift towards a harsh anything-goes climate, while others would reflect a prevailing carebear attitude.

If the world was big enough to support multiple towns/villages acting as alternatives to each other, rather than the token civilisation centers along a linear progression path (a la WoW), then you might well have different policies evolving on the same server. One town might drift towards a carebear crafting utopia, while another might be a lawless den of iniquity, home of the quick and the dead.

Will simply flagging bring down the the wrath of the constabulary, or even entering town with your pvp flag already on? Maybe the guards will take action if you've recently done pvp outside of the town. On the other hand, maybe the local warlord is a sadist and hands out candy and gold to everyone that does pvp .. if you can stay alive long enough to talk to the NPC, that is.

As to game mechanics, consider if PvP deaths result in two tokens dropping – one into the killer's inventory, one into the dead player's inventory – either of which could be handed in to various NPCs to influence the local policy (or just trashed if the player doesn't care). Different NPCs, and different options at the same NPC, would determine which local policy gets voted on.

If each town/village had it's own reputation faction then your vote could also be weighted by your current faction standing, which would make it difficult for an outsider guild to zerg the vote.

Would such a design make open free-for-all pvp viable, or at least tolerable?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008

some hunter tips

Here's a small skill I've been developing just recently: while casting Fear Beast I select my next target in preparation for my next action - I don't wait until the casting is complete to change targets. Especially if I don't want my next auto-shot to break that fear.

When in WSG and you're on defense duty, and you have a cat pet: pop down into the tunnel, about where it has that side branch to the roof, tell your pet to stay, be aggressive, and also to prowl. Then high tail it back up the tunnel and park yourself in that little room, and select your pet as your target. Now, when your pet jumps on the next sneaky rogue coming up that tunnel you'll see your pet's target under his faceplate, and you can easily target them too. Commence fire. Laugh maniacally. Sometimes they come in via the ramp, and then take the tunnel on the way out. Hit intimidation but leave your pet parked and prowled, it's quite the nasty surprise.

tying skill to gear

It's an ancient debate: gear vs skill.

My idea: make it such that better gear provides value, but only in the hands of a skilled player. One way to do this is by making gear which has situational uses, instead of a simple +bonus that applies at all times.

Some ideas: instead of a helmet giving +25 magic resistance, make it provide +50 resistance for 30 seconds on use, with a 30 second cooldown. Instead of simply boots of swift striding (slight speed increase, some resistance to slows), make them boots of muck walking (some resistance to slows, roots, and snares, and extra speed when walking in watery terrain). A shield of spell reflection that only works on spells that hit you from the front/left. A cutlass of shredding, with damage bonuses against cloth wearers but no bonus vs plate. A two-handed mace which puts a debuff on the mob which causes extra damage from pets (note: hunters can't use maces, warlocks can't use two-handers, so this is also a team-play skill opportunity).

This could be extended to longer time frame strategic use, such as with resist gear sets, however it would be better to have lots of tactical time frame usage options .. otherwise the main skill that gets developed is how to read a website to look up what's the best gear to equip for a given dungeon. And that's no fun.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

wresting control of a zone from mobs

Imagine if Halaa was controlled by NPC mobs instead of the other faction. Imagine if that basic design was extended to an entire zone. Lethal mobs would spawn constantly .. but only while certain locations remain uncaptured. If the number which has spawned exceeds a base level, they would group up and move to attack other locations. Locations deep within hostile controlled territory would have more terrible beasts and demons being spawned. Once an location is captured by players, mobs would no longer spawn from that location. Mobs would still travel to that location from other locations, putting it under constant threat.

Control of the zone would ebb and flow throughout the day and week - 3am would see it overrun by hostile NPC mobs, while during peak player hours more of the zone would be under player control.

There could even be more than npc faction in play here. In Nagrand, there are two ogre factions, some occult worshippers, the demons, and two factions of space mummies. Probably even more factions. Each NPC faction would have their preferred territory, but specific locations could well be in contention between more than one NPC faction. Some of these might well form temporary alliances, some might viciously fight each other given the right provocation. Players could thus factor this into their broader strategy - instead of fighting tooth and nail for objective A, they could go attack objective B (weaker due to fewer reinforcements?) .. and then stand back as many of the occupants of objective A issue forth to capture objective B. Now would be the time to strike at objective A, which they might now willingly retreat from.

Locations could include quest centers, grave yards, repairs, mines or other resource gathering locations, vendor centres, etc. The entire zone would have one final objective, being a major instance - the entrance to the instance would be guarded by elites that spawn from nearby locations, and opening the gate may even require the assistance of an NPC from another location .. thus you won't be able to just rush in on your fancy flying mount.

Logging off in the zone wouldn't be a safe thing to do. More exactly, logging back on wouldn't be safe .. you might find yourself totally surrounded by elite hostiles, where you were previously surrounded by friendly NPC guards. It would thus be sensible to have the base camps for Horde/Alliance being located on the edge of the zone.

This zone would be interesting for casuals who could enter the fray at any time to do their small part, perhaps doing a daily quest or two. It could also be designed to reward group efforts, with deeper locations controlled by an elite boss with massive loot drops - a guild group could thus conduct an hour long (or longer) campaign and thus be in position to be the ones to capture a strategic location and claim the loot.

(The backend infrastructure of WoW doesn't really support this style of design at all - they have very minimal server side status/AI going on at all. The zone-wide progress measures at the Isle of Quel'Danas is peanuts compared to this. More the pity.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zul'Gurub adventures

I'm in ZG, solo, taking out the trash.

Some trash mobs are just damn impossible to solo - the Gurubashi Axe Throwers specifically. Once they enrage into their Axe Flurry will target a random player and hit for a moderate amount but also knock you down and stun you. By the time you get back up another Axe will be thrown at a random player .. which if you're soloing the place means you. Again. And Again. Knock down, 500 dmg, stunned, get back up, knock down, repeat for 15 seconds. The fact they usually come in pairs is just rubbing salt into the wound.

The packs of adders and serpents on the other hand can be soloed. A four pack is borderline lethal to the pet, but if it survives long enough then it's a game of chain trapping and double trapping and scare beast and intimidation and 120 seconds of frantic excitement.

The crocs are easier - trap, misdirect, double trap, one down, scare beast, wing clip, kite, kill, trap, kill, kill. If there are five or six in the group there's a challenge, but otherwise.

Easiest of all would be the tigers and panthers. Snore. They are total pussy cats playing patty cake.

Only two more bijous until I'm revered with Zandalar, then the long grind starts to exalted. I sure hope that Living Action Potion is worth it. At the least, this has been a good test of hunter prowess .. I must remember to bring all my hunter pals in for fun and games.

types of leveling systems at word of shadow

Crimson Starfire has many interesting posts at his Word of Shadow blog, well worth reading would be my recommendation. I just added the following comment there to his post on Best RPG leveling systems:

I'd like to see an alternative "leveling" mechanism, one which leverages the MMO aspect of the game: your character himself doesn't level up, but all his actions (and actions of other players) contribute to the success of his village/clan/kingdom .. and as your community becomes stronger then additional powers become available.

For example, your village has recently secured some achievement (which you might have had some small part in), and all members of that village now have a specific boon available. The boon might be a character buff (eg. a bonus on resistance to some kind of magic), or might be availability from vendors of more powerful gear (eg. steel swords, instead of bronze).

That buff or boon would be permanent .. unless a rival clan comes along and causes a reversal in fortune. Or you seriously betray that community and become an outcast.

The communities should be elect to join, not invite to join (like guilds), and there should be hundreds (not two factions or eight races as in WoW). It should also be possible to increase your reputation with these communities, with higher standings according greater access to boons or access to more powerful boons.

This means you could, if you so choose, decide to abandon a losing community and join a stronger community .. but you'd lose access to all your previous boons and you'd need to work hard to gain access to the boons of your new hearthland.

If you choose to go renegade, outcast from all civilisation, then you'd better have some mad pvp skillz because your character will be effectively at the starter level once again .. and not aligned to any communities.

Monday, June 23, 2008

more honor for the underdogs

Sometimes, it is not your day to be victorious on the battlefield - your opponents have 4 capped AB or EotS, they have 2 flags to your zero, you are rapidly running out of reinforcements in AV.

Your backs are against the wall, the enemy arrogantly advances, the smell of your blood and a swift victory on the wind ... Now is the time for great courage, to die gloriously on the field, to make them struggle for every drop of your blood. Let the nubs and farmers hide in dark corners and their spider holes, lamenting with the womenfolk - the brave fight on for there is honor to be gained, the song of battle does call.

Thus: increase honor per kill for those on the losing side to encourage getting in there and at least making a last stand.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

warlocks, mana, and health

(This is just a passing thought)

How cool would it be if warlock spells cost not just mana, but the same amount of health? Thus Curse of Agony might cost 100 mana and 100 health, and similarly for all other spells. Toss in a couple of talents to adjust the ratio involved (eg. 40%/60% or 60%/40%), and rebalance all the base mana costs to suit, and you've got an interesting game mechanic which sets the lock apart from other spell casters.

Friday, June 6, 2008

is there a MMO design wiki?

Is there a MMO wiki someplace, one which profiles all MMOs and their various game mechanics, without necessarily delving deep into the MMO specific content? Someplace where the differences between positive and negative reinforcement schedules are explained in MMO terms, where time honored terms like “Diku” are explained (especially the MMO mechanics aspect, for which that wikipedia page is full of fail).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More than terrain in the territory

Fantasy lore often has reference to magical ley lines, shifting rivers of hidden energy. Knowing where these ley lines are, especially where they cross or join, is of strategic import.

Yet how many games include effects from ley lines in the actual game play? I don't mean simply in the lore itself, providing colour to NPC chatter or at most serving as an excuse for a quest or two. The closest I've seen in WoW is in Netherstorm, where you can stumble into patches of invisible free flowing mana which replenish you - it's a pity these don't exist in the Eye of the Storm battleground though, that could shake things up in interesting ways.

Imagine a game world where the ley lines start out as unknown, where building your guild fortress on a ley line provides benefits equivalent to building on tactically advantageous terrain, where different ley lines are associated with different forms of magic (shadow, nature, demonic, spirit, fire, etc) which buff or debuff your spell casting. To make it even more of a game these ley lines shouldn't be blindingly obvious to passerbys, not even in their effects (adjust the random numbers, don't apply a buff). Let players wonder why they seem to get more crits in one place than another, watch the stats junkies pile on saying it's just superstitious interpretation of blind luck.

Later on, introduce quests or capabilities to map these ley lines. The full extent of these ley lines would remain incomplete because they occasionally flow through inhospitable territory. The capability for the mapping of a ley line could be dependent on the type of ley line, and the capability limited to those classes that can use that type of magic. Holy ley lines would remain a mystery to warlocks, demonic leylines a mystery to crusaders.

Later still, let players discover for themselves that these ley lines move about - gradual shifts usually, sometimes sudden re-wiring jumps. Be prepared for the whining from the early adventurers that built their power base on a nexus which has shifted. Introduce some means, expensive grand projects like cathedrals, where the flow of these ley lines can be influenced. The flow could influence not just their path across the map, but also in their strength - let there be wars of strategic interference, damming the flows to cut off the enemy further down the flow, etc.

As much as maps are not the territory, neither is physical terrain the final story.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

teaching situational adaptation

Syncaine describes a common quest chain pattern: (a) kill 10 boars, (b) find some boar relic, (c) kill the boar boss.

Consider instead if the first quest you got was to eliminate the threat of some monstrous ogre. You head off to do so, but discover that he's no dummy and has surrounded himself with dozens of guards and so on. Not only that, he's a full 5 levels higher and is an elite. The pig-headed adventurer would grimace, and plow right in. The smart adventurer would return to the quest giver and explain the situation .. at which point the quest giver would then offer some intermediary style quest - perhaps raid an outpost to draw off some reinforcements, maybe a quest to gather some special herb or stink bomb or other aid for the coming showdown. The quest to deal with the ogre boss would remain in your quest log the whole time.

The point being there could be a game mechanism in place to reward thoughtful situational adaptation by players, a design approach which transcends the “kill 10 x” and “kill x for y” grinding pattern of quests.

Note too that so far I haven't said the quest is to "kill the ogre boss" - instead I said "eliminate the threat". You could complete the objective by killing the ogre boss, but you could also uncover some additional quests which leads to you holding some object which causes the ogre boss to react differently, be friendly even. There could be an alternative quest line which results in you eliminating the threat by convincing the ogre to swap sides, to enter into a trade arrangement, or even eliminate the threat by convincing some other NPC group to lead the attack and kill the ogre boss or force him to flee.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

partial cooldowns?

Here's a stupid thought to start the day - what if the cool-downs of various abilities were replaced with a chance of success mechanic. Thus, Bestial Wrath would be available with a 100% chance after 2 minutes, and a degraded chance before that time - it would have a 50% chance of working after 1 minute, and a 75% chance after 1:30. Failure would result in the cool down timer restarting, as well as the full resource cost.

How might this affect your game play?

I know I'd stop spamming my Feign Death button while stun locked, and weaving Arcane Shot into my shot rotation would be trickier. The lazy macro I use that attempts to cast Kill Command after every Steady Shot would need to be tossed out. That said, I'd definitely know there will be a few hail Mary moments where a partial chance of success is better than getting wiped - how cool would it be to get the kill shot on a boss as he's heading towards me, knowing I've only got a 10% chance of the shot even working?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

social is desired, don't give it away

In most MMORPGs there are plenty of chat options available but I wonder if that isn't such a good idea.

Sure, people want the social, and adding chat channels makes that easier, but I'm haunted by the memory of PUGs where one or two members weren't quite "there" .. turns out they spent half the instance on auto-pilot while their attention was on guild chat or whispers. Additionally, I've forgotten the number of times a fellow guildie turns down an offer of help while they solo some area, yet they continue socialising in guild chat.

Whenever I visit an old-world city I see small crowds hanging about outside the bank/mailbox/AH, but they are usually silent. In truth, they may be deep in conversation in guild chat, party chat, trade, city, or general. Sometimes a couple are engaged in a conversation in the /say channel, and that's pretty cool as it makes the place come alive. That said, it's all the more incongruent when one talks in /say, and the other is in /p or /g and only one side of the conversation can be heard. It's borderline irritating, in the same way overhearing only one side of a phone conversation is irritating.

Naturally, if all those gathered around the mail box were chatting in /say instead then things would get very noisy. I wouldn't see that as a problem though, more of an opportunity for increasing immersion in the game: either hang out at the mailbox, suffering the din of the maddening crowd, or sneak off to some private hut for a quiet chat.

I'm also wondering if there are other opportunities possible if the game took away ubiquitous chat channels: they could be put back in via special abilities, spells, and items. Spirit messengers, Guild Commune, Trinkets of Telepathy. Characters don't have ubiquitous “teleport anywhere” capabilities, but some classes can learn limited versions of that: mages can make portals to enable travel to various destinations, while warlocks can open a portal to summon comrades in the opposite direction.

Would you embark on a long quest with your guild mates to secure an Orb of CzNN, a critical piece of gear which when equipped into your guild hall would enable whoever is in your guild hall to broadcast a message to all guild members? Would you gather the mats and commission an engineer to craft a Catwwezl Talking Bone, a marvelous device that enables one to one communication over long distances?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

moderating miscreants

If your goal is to encourage behaviour over a sustained period, then intermittent positive reinforcement works better than periodic positive reinforcement ... but which works better for negative reinforcement? That is, if there is some specific behaviour you wish to punish.

I'm told that random negative reinforcement works best (if you're attempting to instill terror).

The problem with random negative reinforcement in social systems is that the absence of punishment on others is used to rationalise away guilt: "he didn't get punished for doing X, therefore I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have been punished, therefore action X was not a wrong thing to do".

What if, instead of meting out punishment 1:1 in response to crime, but instead the total punishment due is accumulated into a growing debt and eventually meted out, in whole, by random selection, to some unlucky miscreant? For example: abusive name calling in the forums is punishable with a banning of 1 hour, but there's only a 10% chance you'll get punished .. after some time there have been 7 infractions of this type, none punished (so far), and then some poor sod goes off the handle. Instead of copping just a 1 hour banning, he cops the 1 hour ban plus the accumulated punishment debt of 7 hours.

This might sometimes be known as the "daddy is getting angry" model.

For this system to work (ie. not appear entirely capricious) it would be necessary to provide ongoing feedback to the community as to the current level of punishment debt. Other forms of community status/feedback might include a list of currently unpunished miscreants, or (more positively) a leaderboard of well behaved frequent posters.

Variations to this basic model are possible: the punishment debt could aggregate from all crimes instead of separate totals for each type being kept, the chance of the punishment being applied might increase as the debt increases, the chance of punishment might increase if you've previously escaped punishment, there could be some modulation of the upper limit according to the severity of the crime, there could be a gradual decay of the debt over time, and so on.

What might the effects be? If the community has been particularly naughty lately, it would be wise not to do even the littlest thing wrong, lest daddy's wrath descend on you. An acceptable (i.e. non-perfect) level of misbehaviour might be arrived at through community consensus. Some characters might take on the role of lightning rod/martyr, intentionally invoking the wrath of punishment so as to release the built up potential.

Monday, May 19, 2008

teaching patience

Here and there I read the commentary of others on various quests, and I see various complaints about quests. Things like a quest to "go see this guy in Zangarmarsh" but doesn't say just where in the zone he is; or a quest involving killing a number of a type of mob but there are not enough spawns.

The first type of quest usually results in the player looking up the coords on wowhead or similar .. and the player then whining about travelling all the way over there just to talk to the guy, who then sends you all the way back again. The smarter approach is to just leave it in your quest log and go about your business, knowing with a sure certainty that there are lots of other quests throughout the zone and you'll eventually stumble across the guy.

The “kill 10 rats” style of quests .. many players I know approach these with a one track determination, and often I'm similarly tempted. I need to stop and look at what other quests are in the same place - sometimes I focus on completing the kill count, and then look at another quest I already have and realise I now need to fight (and kill) my way through the exact same type of mob to complete some “pickup a thing” quest.

I can understand the determined approach though: you're a hero, you've got a quest, of course you're going to get stuck in. Completing quests as a by product of going about your daily business just doesn't feel particularly heroic.

What game mechanisms might be brought to play to encourage less single-mindedness?

For example: what if there was some quest involving killing 40 vicious crocodiles .. but there are only 1 or 2 that spawn in an area which you need to travel many, many times in pursuit of other quests. The spawns would need to be randomly distributed across a wide area to make spawn camping futile. The quest hub shouldn't make this quest available until maybe a fedex quest has already been completed across that area - you certainly wouldn't want this quest giver being the first guy you meet as you approach the area.

Another: a twist on the daily quest mechanism in that you keep the one quest the whole time but only one kill per day counts. No one would seriously want to do 40 kills of this type, although 7 kills might be tolerable.

What else?

Friday, May 9, 2008

more than death itself

Death is the usual penalty for failure to be victorious over your opponent. Sometimes you can escape by running away. It bothers me though that defeat has only one outcome.

Possibilities here, thinking out loud ...

Falling on the battlefield could result in a near-death state, one in which you are incapacitated but not dead quite yet. If help is at hand, then you can be "rezzed" through swift application of simple first aid, a skill available to all classes. This might encourage more grouping. To avoid players exploiting this as an in-combat rez, perhaps it requires 60 seconds of "cast time", and applies a further 60 second "woozy" debuff.

Your near-death state is on a timer though ... you will eventually succumb to your wounds. When you actually die persons with special magical skills could still rez you, or you could release and do a ghost run.

Different mobs will result in different outcomes - simpleminded non-predatory beasts would be satisfied with you being severely wounded and retreating, while predatory beasts will want to kill you (at least). More intelligent mobs would likely investigate any corpse stinking up their compound, so please have the good grace to get some distance in before falling else you’ll find them applying a coup de grĂ¢ce.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

exploring maps

Some quick thoughts on an exploration/expansion themed world game:

  • No "you are here" cursor .. if you lose your way, you can't just take a quick look to see where the cursor representing you is located on the map. You need to look around for a landmark.
  • The player map doesn't auto-fill .. the player has to stop and perform a "scribe map" function for a short while.
  • If you "scribe map" from a location not adjacent to an existing map space, then the map scribed is a free floating fragment which you have to shift into position (like a jigsaw puzzle).
  • Distant landmarks, if visible, would be added to the map when scribing. The area around those distant points wouldn't be.
  • The quantity of space which gets added to the map is small, quite small. It should be a major effort to exhaustively map out an entire zone, not a quick jaunt around the zone.
  • The map, as scribed by each player, will have errors, omissions, and distortions which makes each player's maps different.
  • Players can control just how much area they want to scribe on each attempt. The greater the area, the greater the inaccuracies.
  • Players will have opportunities to improve their map making skills.
  • Players can acquire items which improve their map making skills. Some might be rare or difficult to find.
  • Landmarks and such can be added to maps by the player, but won't be automatically added.
  • Names of zones/areas won't magically appear.
  • Maps describe the territory as at the time of scribing, thus if the territory changes later then maps become outdated (eg. a new village is founded, a road established, a mine opened, a forest felled, etc).
  • Maps or fragments of maps can be shared, sold, traded.
  • It should be possible to craft false maps (for whatever devious reason you can imagine).

Monday, May 5, 2008

places above, below, between

I dream of a zone which is a vast forest, where you could not only travel about on the ground, but also climb into the arbosphere and follow an intricate maze of skyway paths. The tree level wouldn't simply be another flat level overlaid on the ground level, but a 3 dimensional space, one where paths criss-cross above and below each other, where shortcuts are available by carefully jumping down in just the right spot, where apparent dead ends reveal ladders that open up whole new opportunities. Mix into that the occasional high protuberance from the ground level such as a hill or building to further complicate the potentials.

Floating above the tree level there could also be a cloud level, where gas leviathans lazily drift from place to place, and you'd need to now take into account the fourth dimension: time. Once all that is happening, build in an underground level too. Tunnels, caverns, precarious paths along cliffs. Some tunnels would wind upwards, exiting on cliffs overlooking the tree level.

The underdeep evokes memories of Wailing Caverns, with it's interesting possibilities of different paths, of having to leap across a gap to get to the next area ... which is most unlike Karazhan - while that place has used the vertical dimension you can't do a whole lot with it. There are no short cuts I know of available, and unless you have a parachute cloak or some magic skill a wrong step would usually be fatal.

Different sub-zones or gateways would be controlled by different factions, necessitating careful balancing of reputations. Certain paths should be mutually exclusive, determined by which rivalrous faction you have reputation with.

An explorer's paradise.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Storytelling 101

Go read It’s Story Time, Boys And Girls! for an excellent write up about building storytelling into MMO design.

Monday, April 28, 2008

why only one end to the game?

The game starts with different starting zones, based on your choice of race. Each is different and interesting, some are better than others, but eventually everyone converges into the same few zones, such as the Stranglethorn Hole. After that the game then progresses with some divergence and paths, but all eventually leading back to the same end-game series of instances, and eventually to Black Temple.

The design concept underlying all this is that all roads lead to Rome - a plethora of choices early on, narrowing as you go, and ultimately being funneled towards one end destination. This idea is all well and fine at first blush, but there are problems becoming very evident.

Problems like: the only way to add new content is by shifting the goals further down the road, resulting in an even longer leveling death-march; and then whatever was the previous end destination becomes obsoleted and henceforth completely skipped; end-game epic gear becoming obsoleted by the trash greens that drop in the expansion; and fewer and fewer choices of where to play just at the time when your character finally has lots of capabilities (spells, talents, skills, etc).

What if the game had multiple ending zones, each rivaling the other, each requiring the same massive investment of time and effort to gather necessary faction reputations, resistance gear, etc. Now, not only could you experience a totally different game by choosing a different starting zone, but you could experience a totally different game by choosing a different ending zone.

Importantly, pursuit of one particular ending zone should come at the opportunity cost of the other ending zones - the simplest means might be via different resistance sets, more complex means might involve rivalrous factions. The point being that you don't get everyone congregating in one end city/zone/instance, but instead are spread out over different places. It should still be possible to take your champion from one place and go explore the alternative end zones, but the success in that first place shouldn't result in easy success in the second place (due to gear etc). Some advantage, but not much .. the same way success in the PvP arenas doesn't result in being equally suited for success in PvE raiding (and vice versa).

This divergent-endings design could be further enhanced by introducing meaningful faction rivalries, such that it might be quicker to level an alt to take on different ending, rather than grind down the hatred your main accumulated with the faction in charge of the other end-game instance.

I can imagine entire guilds being formed around different end-games. Fellowship of the Mountain, Black Rock Raiders, Underdeep Underdogs, Southsea Buccaneers.

Each expansion of the game could introduce new end-zones and instances, but no raising of the level cap (by not raising the level cap, you don't further exacerbate the death-march grind required to reach the level cap). Introduce new talents and gear and potions and enchants which are tuned for that expansion, but all at the same level as what is already in the game.

This idea isn't without it's own problems of course: many players get precious about their one character, and after the hard struggle to topple Illidan they would want to take the same character into the content of the next expansion. Counter that by ensuring there is enough divergent paths through leveling content, with the barest crossovers and melting pots like Stranglethorn.

Monday, April 21, 2008

a wild west of magic

Are most fantasy MMOs set in ancient worlds, places where the extent of the lands have not only been explored at some time, not only been settled at some time, but are even littered with the ruins of ancient civilisations? Sure, there might be pockets of wilderness, but they are like national parks, preserved, carefully delineated on the maps, and nonetheless likely to contain the aforementioned ruins of ancient civilisations.

Are there any fantasy MMOs which are instead set in an "new world" environment, one where the frontier beckons, vast and unmapped? I wonder if a fantasy "new world" setting could be developed to include wild west themes. I don't mean steam punk elements like guns and trains and such, but instead sociological themes such as dirt poor pioneers scratching out the beginnings of empires, boom towns under constant threat from wild natives, a constantly moving and expanding frontier.

At least you wouldn't have to go write up a few millenias of lore with fanciful creation stories involving doomed immortals and such. Well, not until some intrepid adventurer stumbles across an ancient monument in the jungle or a hidden valley of ruins.

big worlds, big problems

What would it take to make a large world work? I'm talking of MMOGs with worlds bigger than Manhattan. One of problems with huge worlds is that unless you fill it with lots of content, there will be vast expanses of empty wilderness, and there would be long tedious travel times involved.

That's assuming that the whole expanse is part of the game from the beginning.

Imagine a world which has vast wilderness areas, with pockets of civilisation along one edge - perhaps primitive colonies on the coast of a new world. Everything you need is pretty much within close distance, but the frontier beckons. You could, for instance, set off into the new world and never see a civilized soul for days at a time.

Add to this the possibility of player impact on the world, something deeper and richer than simplistic "player housing", and this vast empty wilderness might slowly fill up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

balancing solo dungeons for different classes

On WowInsider, I saw this comment and similar like it:

Sounds like a great idea in theory, but just trying to balance a "solo" dungeon for any character class seems to be a bit daunting. How do you balance it so a squishy mage can crowd control and burn mobs while a tankadin can't CC and needs to tank try to DPS?
Good question. My answer would be to design dungeons such that they are not so damn linear. Provide a multitude of alternative paths from the entrance to each of the bosses - in Shattered Halls you can skip some tedious oozeling trash if you have a rogue with lockpicking, or an engineer with a seaforium charge; in Karazhan there's a seldom used route from the stables to the back entrance, another route that starts from Opera and goes upstairs, and there's also the kitchen off the side of the Moroes encounter .. I have no idea where that goes.

In Kara, these alternate routes are a failed design - everyone ignores them simply because it's just more trash to clear and there's no advantage. The design of the locked door in Shattered Halls works. Apart from that one encounter though I'm struggling to think of any others, which is a real shame as this is a missed opportunity.

Imagine some dungeon where behind door A is a series of trash requiring lots of AoE, while the trash behind door B is handily despatched via CC, while door C is locked and leads to encounters which can be avoided via stealth. Someplace further in there's a long winding path downwards requiring either lots of tanking or clever ranged attacks .. or some classes could skip all that by jumping off the edge and slow falling, levitating, or bubbling.

We've already seen that some existing dungeons are more suited for certain class combinations than others, some dungeons go real easy if you have a warlock, others require plenty of CC, and so forth. Just put all that into the one dungeon, with alternative routes.

Update: another timely post at wowinsider reminds me of some old world dungeons with alternative pathings: Dire Maul, Blackrock Depths

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

slow, stupid, but fun

So there I was in AV, and one of them, still mounted, gets past our blockade and is making a dash for FW. I pop a Concussive Shot which slows them just enough for Garumeow to catch up, his Intimidation lands giving me time to catch up too .. and he's still mounted and with enough health to get away.

What does a hunter do? Spams Wing Clip and chases them, keep spamming Wing Clip and they can't ride away fast enough to get out of range.

It's a slow and stupid way to kill anyone.

Sure is fun though.

Monday, April 14, 2008

two quick moments in the city

I've been meaning to upgrade one of my rings for quite some time, and spotted a pair of [Truestrike Ring]s on the AH. I only needed one, but they are pretty spiffy so I figured I'd grab both and gift one to the nooby hunter of the guild. I place my bids, time passes, and sure enough one of them shows up in my mailbox. I equip it and feel pretty darn nifty.

More time passes, and the other auction concludes and I now have one more in my mailbox. Time to be generous ... oh crap, now I discover that [Truestrike Ring]s are Unique, meaning I can only have one in my possession. The first one is already soulbound so I can't forward that one on, and it doesn't matter whether it's equipped, in my bags, or in my bank: it still counts as in my possession, and thus blocks me from grabbing the second one from my mailbox.

Crappity crap crap.

Conundrum, and I'm pretty sure I'd get the usual totally unhelpful response from a GM petition. So I let it sit in my mailbox while I go take out my frustration on some alliance in AV. Winning is good for creative thought as there is a happy end to this tale: I simply asked Barkeep Morag to hold onto the soulbound ring for a while, I cleared the second from my mailbox and sent it to my guildie, and then went back to the ever helpful host of the Orgimmar tavern to buy back my precious. That qualifies as creative use of game mechanics, right?

Drama over, time to chill for a while ... and then I get a whisper, a hunter asking me for some gold for his first mount. I'm feeling charitable tonite, so I whisper back "ok, here is your quest: go kill ten boars, return with proof, and I shall reward you handsomely". Well, he didn't get all huffy like most beggers do, just said "really? serious?" and the next thing I see him heading out the front gate lickety-split. Wow. A few minutes later I'm now the proud owner of 6x Chunk of Boar Meat, 7x Broken Boar Tusk, and a Practice Sword, and he's a proud owner of a spiffy new Timber Wolf.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

hidden ways

Neat. I just discovered the back passage from the Wayfarer's Rest in Silvermoon city. It affords a shortcut from the Walk of the Elders through to the Bazaar. There's another one through Silvermoon City Inn, connecting the two main throughfares.

more quests for healers?

Reading What Makes the Healer Class Unpopular? it occurred to me that most questing/leveling activity in WoW involves going out and killing stuff (and of course you can't kill a mob by healing), and very little involves standing your ground against waves of attackers, supporting the defenders, and surviving.

All that comes to mind is a Netherwing daily, defending Sergeant Bly, counterattack against centaurs in the barrens, and an epic priest quest. Add Torek's Assault for a twist on the theme. Surely there are more?

Additionally, why couldn't healers also travel the land seeking out sick and the frail NPCs, and gain some XP for healing them? Also, surely it would be a more interesting world if various nasties were to come bounding over the hill and attack some unlucky NPC farmer or traveling merchant. Sometimes the NPC will fall and die, sometimes they will prevail but with great wounds or lingering pestilence .. both opportunities for a passing healer to ply their craft.

The basic paradigm of WoW seems to be find, kill, loot, repeat, with the occasional fedex quest designed to move you on to new areas. It could be a richer and more interesting game with a different underlying paradigm.

Now, if class specific quests were to be provided during the leveling process, then there's a good chance that some of them would quite simply be skipped which would be a shame. They could also be provided as daily quests though, which would provide repeated opportunities for players to hone their skills.

hijacking quest returns, and other hypertext opportunities

So, here I am with a sack full of bears' hearts or some other gory trophy for some lazy peon, and I'm heading back into town.

How cool would it be if on the route home I got a whisper from some shady character lurking in an ally way, and he says "hey, don't be returning them thar parts to that lazy peon for a pitiful reward -- give 'em to me and I'll make it worth your while."

The storytelling opportunities would be interesting.

Currently, quest lines are strictly linear, with only a few exceptions. While there are many cases where the completion of one quest opens up three or more dependent quests, all which must be completed before the next link the the chain unlocks, I can't think of any substantial quest line which forces a choice of a branch.

Another dynamic is possible too for those quests which are started by an item routinely dropped by a mob - you might be given multiple choices as to who you could return it to, with each quest giver starting a different branch.

For example, Daniel Whitcomb at WowInsider presented this scenario:

Say you intercept a messenger from the Venture Company speaking about a stealth clear cutting operation in Ashenvale. Do you send word to Astranaar and help them ambush the logging crew, saving the trees and becoming a hero of the Night Elves? Do you negotiate with the Venture Company to keep quiet about the operation for a cut of the profits? Or do you offer to help them slip past the Night Elves and into Ashenvale, setting up the possibility of further business dealings with them on down the road?
Now that would be interesting.

One caution though: you can't afford to design dynamic quest lines like this as a rare exception. Since the players would be trained by repeated exposure to linear quest lines, they wouldn't even stop to consider if they could hand it in to different quest givers, instead handing it in to the the first obvious one they stumble across. Stupid mistakes will occur if branching questlines are rarely encountered.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

PvP vs world impact - retarded?

Go take a look at the Sunwell Progression leaderboard, and note which types of servers are at the top of the list, and which are well down the list. Yep, if your realm server is a PvP server, then your world progression will be retarded. No big surprise once you think about it for two seconds, I just didn't expect the difference to be that much.

It's got me thinking .. what if the dominant player forces in an area were granted the capability to dictate local policy? In game, this might take the form of giving standing orders for all guards to attack flagged players on sight at one extreme vs not coming to the aid of friendly players at all, acting only in self defense, at the other extreme. Combine that with sending out more, or fewer, patrols, and designating some zones as auto-flag or not, and various other tricks, and it would be very interesting to see whether player attitudes evolve. The safe haven zones would prosper, providing more services and resources, while the free-for-all pvp zones would be barren wastelands, where finding a blacksmith to do simple repairs would be hard.

player created quests?

I want to see player created “quests” in an MMOG, but then again maybe I don't. I have this ominous dread that quality would be a major problem, and even basic literacy would be a problem. Seriously, would you be engaged by a world filled with quests of "lolz, u pwn 10 ratz, i gif gold, kkthx" handed out by toons named "StabbityPwnsJu"?

Maybe a tool could be provided which facilitates construction of a quest from a library of parts, something like a mad libs for quests. The larger the library of parts, and the consequent combinatorial possibilities, the more interesting it would get. It could even support the design of special “quest item” drops like animal parts and such, although that would entail the player-designer specifying the drop rate and such, which breaks the game immersion veil for them. Unless .. when nominating the creature to be hunted for the quest they then get to select from a predetermined list of quest item drops, with no specific control over the drop rate of said items, other than the system advising which quest items drop always, frequently, uncommonly, or rarely.

Another problem is that quest descriptions would be bland ... but if the bulk of the quest description is auto-constructed for the player, then all that remains is adding some flavour text. This flavour text element would be optional though, and since the quest would be fully functioning without it I would expect it to go spare most times .. except where someone is feeling creative. It would depend on the user interface down ranking the importance of the flavour text, so players don't feel obliged or expected to enter something. If they (mistakenly) think they need to enter something, anything, into some field then you can be sure that field will get filled with lots of crud.

This would of course be completely incapable of creating the more interesting, clever, and detail rich content we all like, so there would still be a need for game developers.

I see the value of this as a way for some players to engage other players, to recruit them to their agenda or objective, and providing the safe and comfy wrappings of the progress-reinforcement game mechanics of quests. So, if as an alchemist I wanted to start experimenting with a wide range of herbs in hopes of making some new discoveries, it would be helpful if I could let people know I would pay a shiny shekel or two for certain rare but otherwise useless herbs. Meanwhile, if I also held a certain dislike for the gilled denizens of a local swamp, and have brokered a secret deal with their arch rivals, then I could put a bounty on their head and let others do my dirty work, and hence effect a change in the world. All the better if those rare herbs were found in that local swamp.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

cheeky npcs

Now that I'm exalted with the Sha'tari Skyguard they greet me - they salute and say things out loud like "I hear you fly without a parachute cloak, Garumoo" and "Mister Garumoo, what an unexpected pleasure, sir" and "Garumoo is an officer and a gentleman".

I wonder if they also say things like "Sheesh, that tauren has no life" once I'm out of range.

keeping time poor players competitive

Hardcore Casual asks:

The key balance issue is how to reward those with lots of time, while still keeping those with less time competitive enough to keep pace.
How indeed? The thought that occurred to me was "shift the goal posts". If the time you put into the game last month didn't really count as far as this month goes, and the top rewards require actual skill and not blind repetition, then maybe. Those with less time available, if they are skilled, could outpace those that spend a lot more time with less skill.

How could the goal posts be shifted? I'm no fan of game resets. Instead, consider faction reputation grinds: with each major release those that invested huge amounts of time grinding to exalted in previous factions gain no direct advantage in the new release - they too must start from neutral. Consider a world where the important faction to grind for shifted around more often, and furthermore consider a world where gaining reputation with one faction results in losing reputation with another faction. Those that invest a lot more time would be spinning their wheels more often, while a casual player could come in fresh, grind just the faction of the day, and be competitive.

Now, most rewards for faction reputation comes in the form of gear and recipes. This means what you've gained in the past stays with you as you move on to another faction, and even if you lose reputation with that faction you still have those rewards. That would need to change.

This could be changed in two ways: First, the gear rewards could be sensitive to changes in faction reputation. Second: there could be non-gear rewards, like services.

Perhaps there's something inimical to the soul binding that reacts to you no longer being exalted with a faction, and thus the armor burns when you put it on? Perhaps faction specific gear can only be repaired by faction specific vendors?

Other services currently include common vendors as well as reputation reward vendors (those selling head and shoulder enchantments particularly), stable masters, profession trainers, and class trainers. What other services could there be made available in game, contingent on sufficient faction reputation? Yet more special purpose vendors of course, the likes of dance trainers and barbers and tattoo parlors. Anything else might require a deeper change to the game: hiring bodyguards for example, or land grants for guild housing, mining outposts, and tree farms.

Of course, anyone that has lots of time available will still be at the front of the pack whenever there's a sea change in faction rewards .. the point here though is that the time they invested months ago is no longer relevant in the equation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The two edged sword of distance

I've been thinking about distances and travel times and the effect this has on guild cohesion and other social effects. In WoW right now it's possible to get anywhere in pretty short time - swift griffin and bat taxis, epic mounts, flying mounts, summoning stones, warlock summoning, mage portals. So many options. What this means is that members of your guild are typically scattered to the four corners of the world, even though that world might actually be quite small.

Sure, it also means they can come together relatively quickly ... however that still would take a conscious decision and consequent effort. It is important to remember the power of defaults, and here the default situation is that members of your guild are not in close proximity, are not reaping the benefits of serendipitous collaboration, are not building social bonds.

I believe there would be benefits to guilds having a geographical focus. Not only are there social advantages, it could even become part of the guild identity. It would require a different world design though - not only is there the long travel element, but it would be important that all members of a guild could operate from the same general geographical area.

Hmmm, instantaneous travel to anywhere = bad, but tedious to travel anywhere also = bad.

So, how to do this? Here is the idea that came to me: design the world such that it takes a very long time to travel from one place to another, seriously mind-numbing and game-breaking long time... but design it such that automated travel in ships and on griffins continue while the player is logged off. The player boards the ship, and can then either sit there and watch the waves for literal hours, or log off for those hours. When they log back on the next day, they have arrived.

Let players still be in contact over those long distances, they could even establish remote colonies and outposts. Guilds could pick up and relocate too, this would be similar to guilds embarking on server transfers, only they are still on the same server.

Obviously, you'd need to plan your travels and activities such that you don't need to travel right in the time you have available for playing. You'd settle in some zone, do all your questing and activity and adventuring there, and prepare for the time when you will embark on a great journey to far off lands.

I have no idea as yet just how a world might be structured to accomplish this. Something to think about.

crafted items vs mob drops?

I don't remember where I read it, but apparently crafted items in WoW are designed to be slightly inferior to what drops from mobs. Consequently, there is very little market for crafted items.

Consider though if the reverse was true - there would be more demand for crafted items, everyone would want to be a crafter, but there would also be greater demand for materials too. What to do with all the mob drops then? Scale them back, or change the crafting recipes to also require magic essences, dusts, shards, etc.

Quest rewards should still be competitive, and of course the phat lewt from dungeon and raid bosses should be superior to most other gear, maybe even the best epic crafted goods.