Moo Tang Clan: 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Non-hunters and the new rares

OK, so Blizzard announced a slew of new rare beasts, specifically for hunters to tame, each with their own tricky mechanic to overcome. Gripes about the non-rareness of the skins aside this is a move to applaud.

The forums however have multiple mentions of non-hunters killing the rares.

Naturally, some (or much) of that can be put down to players being bored and deliberately setting out to grief other players (ie. hunters seeking a taming challenge). However, I'm sensing an additional reason: regular PVE players are bored with the simplified solo-friendly content and are seeking a challenge. I know I miss the days when zones would have vicious elites that you'd carefully skirt around and cautiously plan your attack. Now ... elites are wimps.

Except the new rare taming spawns.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

QOTDx2: Kids, learning, games

Two quotes, one common theme:

It's like sitting a kid down at the ORIC-1. Kids are naturally curious. They love blank slates: a sandbox, a bag of LEGOs. Once you show them a little of what the machine can do they'll clamor for more. They'll want to know how to make that circle a little smaller or how to make that song go a little faster. They'll imagine a game in their head and then relentlessly fight to build it.
-- Technology - The Atlantic

malleability of environment is also a key characteristic. Even the most simplistic of farming games on Facebook ranks higher on the “affect your world” scale than World of Warcraft does… and this sort of personalization of the environment is standard not only in social games but across the social web today.
-- Raph Koster - Are virtual worlds over?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blizz, pls stop nerfing fun

Bashiok, a blue poster for Blizzard, tells us that the keyring in WoW is going away in the next big patch.

A minor thing, and yet the thread got maxed out in posts in rapid time, with a great many players decrying the move.

The world of Azeroth is slowly getting smaller and smaller.

Friday, May 27, 2011

QOTD: I nearly died

"When people tell stories about their greatest moments, they often revolve around nearly dying. In games, what's really special for people is not, 'I killed the bad guy and I was perfect', it's, 'I nearly died, but I just managed to kill the bad guy.' How do we set out specifically to give them those experiences? That's a great challenge for us as game makers."

-- Brian Fleming, via The seduction secrets of video game designers

Guild Wars 2, with their downed, defeated, and rally mechanics, looks to be making a smart move. In contrast WoW's battle rezz (in various forms) seems to have missed the point - you are dead, a red smear on the landscape, and btw quite possibly by some mechanic that wiped out 50% of your health in one hit.

A little idea to toss into the mix - make damage and health work on a reverse logarithmic scale. The big nasty blows at the start of the fight when you're full of pep and bluster will knock 5%, 10% or more off your health, but the same blow when you're nearly dead only knocks off 1% or 2%. It might take 10 hits to get you down to 10%, then another 10 hits to get you down to 1%, and finally 10 more knock down drag 'em out hits to finally put you down. Down, but not defeated of course ;-)

It's all smoke an mirrors, but it'll work in the same way that players like having a 200% bonus for rested XP vs a 50% penalty for unrested XP.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Help players tell their stories

Chris Hecker has a fascinating GDC talk up on his site: "Achievements Considered Harmful?". Its long, but totally worth viewing.

In the Q&A section at the end is a notable question, about the 61:40 mark, which is about how sometimes players will take a video of something really cool they did in the game and post it online, sort of like asking for a verbal reward from other players. The question to Chris was then "is there a way to have players decide when it is time for a reward, and what would be the result of that?"

I find this interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly and foremost is that this is an area of game development which, in my opinion, has been largely unexplored.

What support is provided in the game? In some you can take screen-caps, some have built in video capture. I forget which FPS it was, but some even provide instant replay video capture - that is, you don't need to actively and consciously turn on the video capture facility, you can instead say "omg, that was cool, what the hell happened" and press the instant replay button. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a game that lets you do an instant replay and show it from multiple camera angles, not just the one you saw.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Idle thought - name policy vs NPC reactions

Instead of game moderators hitting the "you must rename your toon" button, maybe a flag could be set such that non-player characters would react negatively. At first with various emotes, and then some derogatory remarks, and eventually by adding on an additional 20% vendors fee to any goods they sell.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Linger a while, and hear my story

But if the npc's would talk to each other and talk about events, use turn of phrases and even react to the player inquiring about these things, now that would be something.
They do this to some degree. It's really not too bad. Problem is that there is no character building in the story line. So you don't feel that any of this is important.
-- Nils' MMO Blog
That's an interesting point, and with the accelerated questing and leveling and fast travel and all the leaving zones behind stuff that's becoming the norm ... no wonder players don't bother reading quest texts at all anymore. They just don't get the chance to care for the characters they meet.

I'd prefer a slower paced design, where players stayed for longer in the same place, and experienced more story with the same characters.

Looking back at a few quests in WoW and I see a common pattern: even when there's a bit of story developed between a couple of NPCs, they are nonetheless isolated from other NPCs and other quests. You play through their tiny set piece of story, and then move on to new quests from new NPCs, never to return.

Such a shame, because there's so much more potential there once you let Metcalfe's Law kick in, and you'll get to see more sides of the same characters. Maybe the lovestruck frontier warrior also has a shadowy gambling habit with a traveling goblin trader, is estranged from his father, and is also being groomed for promotion by the local captain. The captain who sends you on the inevitable series of kill-ten-then-repeat quests, also enjoys taking off with that goblin trader to do a bit of quiet fishing, and thinks he's left behind some unfinished business at his previous posting. And that gambling, fishing, traveling goblin trader ... well, best not to ask why he's got such itchy feet.

Then again, maybe I've been watching too many daytime soaps.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

One benefit of long travel times

It would help stop the spread of plagues and zombie outbreaks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Would you cross the street...

Would you cross the street to gain a skill improvement that buffs your key performance metric by 1%?

Would you travel to the other end of the world to gain another 1% improvement?

Would you set off on a journey which would take you several hours of game time to get a 0.1% skill buff?

I'm pondering the design of a skill based mmo set in a massive world, one where there are a small number of common 1% skill buffs, available pretty much everywhere, and then a large number of 0.1% buffs scattered about the world.

A rookie warrior could stay in the one general zone and pick up all the skill training buffs for a total of (say) +50% damage, and then set off into the wide world seeking out 0.1% here, and 0.1% there ... all adding up to another 25% again. It would be like traveling from Paris to Tibet to learn the ancient art of mumble-fu from a secretive clan of Mountain Warrior Monks (0.1% buff to unarmed combat), and then deep into darkest Africa to track down a mysterious Zulu Exiled King to another 0.1% buff to berserker stance combat.

All without teleports or any other fast travel. And even then, the Mountain Warrior Monks want you to prove your dedication and virtue by [killing 10 rats], the Zulu Exiled King generally mistrusts everyone and doesn't give training away for free, and so on.

I would plan the design such that it would take several months to travel the world and gather the full 250 x 0.1% buffs. And all while you're doing this you're not in your home zone contributing to the development of your village/estate/guild/kingdom.

But it wouldn't be necessary to do so. The Big Bads would be balanced around players having only a total of 50% – 51% skill buff. That would be all the common training, plus a dozen or so of the nearest rare skill buffs.

The design intent is that there would be a lonely few insane individuals wandering the dusty roads of the world, perfecting their personal skills; and meanwhile everyone else is putting time and effort into improving the quality of the smithworks, securing high grade ore, and other activities which give players additional bonuses.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Measuring the quality of community?

Wolfshead writes in an excellent post:

Most MMO enthusiasts have noticed a sharp decline in the quality of the WoW community of late. Cursing, nastiness, bullying and other forms of rudeness have now become endemic in Azeroth.
I can imagine at least one prominent blogger arguing that "no, the community hasn't changed, it's just your nostalgic recollection of the past".

Here's a challenge then: how would one measure the quality of community? I'm suggesting quantitative statistics, not gut feel opinions. Do that on a monthly basis, and continue to do that year on year. Get some objective data.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Just varying the difficulty adds difficulty

I played against an AI in a game of Reversi/Othello over the weekend. It had three levels of difficulty, and once I'd played for a while I could easily beat each of the three levels of difficulty. There was a distinct difference of difficulty amongst those three levels, by the way: the first level was utterly trivial, and the third mildly challenging.

Then I tried something ... before each game, I would change the difficulty level, either up or down, no particular rhyme or reason. The same three difficulty levels now became a whole lot harder, and I found myself actually sometimes losing on the third level.

Read into that what you will.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reputation design patterns

These Yahoo Reputation Design patterns are very interesting, particularly the table further down the page. They are specifically for managing reputations within online communities, like forums, but they could also be applied to game design on further thought.

On the community front, this suggests to me that CMs could do well to be proactive in managing their community, and not just reactive to posted comments. Something like a kinda-weekly wrap up of good posts, handing out the plaudits. This would be different from the case of a CM weighing in on an existing thread.

It also puts paid to the idea that you can't design community, that forums are fated to be terrible, and that designers/publishers are not responsible for a lousy community.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

That didn't last long

Dungeon discovery prerequisite removed — There is no requirement to have discovered the dungeon entrance in order to queue for that dungeon in the random dungeon finder tool.
-- patch notes for 4.06

Will they storm the caves?

Sure, the soldiers of your faction and the Earthen Ring might still be in trouble, but again, the zone depends too heavily on telling us that our allies are in danger without ever showing us how they are in danger. Do these naga that we need to be afraid of ever storm the caves we get our quests from? Do they send out scouting parties to see if we have become a threat yet?
-- Ardol, WoW Philosophized - “Oh dear, Vashj'ir”
Yup, I had the same sense of non-danger.

What I'd like to see is some kind of counter, showing the number of naga outside, gradually ticking over and growing. Once it hits 100 then a swarm of naga come busting in .. if you don't beat them off then quest givers and vendors die. Don't worry, they'll come back in five or so minutes. Five minutes, that'll feel like an eternity if you're trying to level.

That "number of naga" mechanic would of course also be affected by players killing naga, reducing the number. This could give rise to interesting dynamics - say you're returning to hand in some quests, and see the naga count inching close to 100 .. do you detour to kill a few first, or rush in hoping to get your hand-ins done before they attack?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Make it impossible to document these locations?

What is wrong about exploring a really big forest that is filled with random spawns? You earn EP while you do it, you do it only if you like to explore (important) and the designer can even put a few things in there to find. (But make it impossible to document these things in internet sources!)
-- Nils
OK, how do you make a MMO where the locations of things are not trivial to document (saying "impossible" might just be a bit much).

My first strike would be to eliminate x,y coordinates entirely. Don't show them on the map, and don't let them be available thru any in-game API/scripting. Of course, if you have a map, then you've got a de facto coordinate system: the pixels of the image of the map are arranged into a regular grid.

What next then? OK, have the map you see be different from the map I see (thus not a standard shared image). I've written before about mapping as interactive game activity.

You'd still want it possible to find your way back to the thing you found. It might need to be a case of "head up the mountain path until you see a rock shaped like a dog, then climb down the slope until [yada yada landmark landmark] and there you have it! The lost treasure of Sierra Madre!"

What about you ... how would you tackle this design challenge?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Solving the prisoner's dilemma of Tol Barad

The Tol Barad battleground has apparently been a big fail with lots of win trading going on. This was due to the massive honor being awarded for successfully attacking and scant rewards for defending. In some cases win-trading was coordinated or at least discussed and argued for on the forums, but on some servers it just naturally and organically occurred. Why defend this time if instead you could just come back later and attack, and gain (literally) 10 times the rewards.

There are changes incoming, but they sound like simple tweaks of the numbers and not a change to the underlying system.

The problem is that, apart from the rewards of the battle itself, there is no difference between successfully attacking and successfully defending. Win-trading is still an optimal path to rewards, whether planned and coordinated or simply by herd instinct.

Consider though if successfully defending multiple times in a row gave some additional benefit, and continuing to successfully defend increased those benefits further. One successful defense might give (say) a +2% buff, two successful defenses (in a row) might give a +4%, and so on, and on. Now, the defenders have a reason not to engage in win-trading because the longer they can hold Tol Barad, the greater the rewards. (Whether it's +2% cumulative or +5% cumulative, has diminishing returns, is capped etc are parameters that can be tweaked. Lets just use +2% for sake of example.)

Tricky thing though is that you can't make this buff apply to PvP, otherwise you've got a positive feedback loop that will eventually make it nigh on impossible for the attackers to succeed. Especially since fewer and fewer potential attackers would even bother queuing.

Thankfully, Tol Barad includes a raid dungeon which only unlocks for the faction that won the last battle. If the defender's buff were to apply to that PvE content then you don't have a positive feedback loop but you do have a motivation for defending, a motivation that grows and grows.

Problem solved? No. A strong defender faction has greater motivation to successfully defend, which in itself demotivates the attackers. They failed in their last attack, and they know the defenders have even more reason to defend for your next attack. We still need some reason for attackers to get in the game, and this is even without the defender's buff further motivating the defenders because, by definition, they are the weaker faction.

A PvP buff needs to be provided to the attackers, one that is also cumulative with successive failures. For simplicity sake say it's a cumulative +2% to all attackers for damage, healing, health, movement, and so on.

This way a generally weaker faction will be buffed and buffed to the point where they can actually win the battle and control the island. The buff to movement could be really interesting: eventually the attackers could chase down lone defenders with ease, zerg from point to point faster than the defenders, and easily escape getting overwhelmed by a numerically superior pack of defenders.

As additional incentive, a successful attack could result in the attackers receiving the full PvE buff the defenders had for one round, before it resets back to the initial +2% for a successful defense. If the defenders have dominated Tol Barad for six successful defenses then the attackers know they would be receiving a +12% buff to raiding if they win. Plenty of motivation to show up and try harder.

Note though that if the recently defeated defender's were to rally the next round and successfully attack they wouldn't regain that +12% buff. They'd start over at no buff, otherwise the buff will only rise and rise and rise, just changing hands every now and then, and that would be untenable. Mechanically, call the cumulative PVE buff for successively defending the Defender's Buff and the transferred PvE buff for successfully attacking the Victory Buff, and the rule then becomes easy to express: successful defenses grant a cumulative +2% raiding Defender's Buff, successful attacks grant a Victory Buff equivalent to the losing defender's Defender's Buff, but the Victory Buff only lasts one round (ie. gets replaced with the cumulative Defender's Buff).

Would this work? In what nasty underhanded ways can you imagine this design could be exploited and abused? Would the forums asplode in flame?