Moo Tang Clan: March 2008

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

guild housing vs the urban sprawl

I've been thinking about guild housing again, and remembered that one of the arguments against non-instanced guild housing would be that the world would be very quickly cluttered. There are lots of other arguments against guild housing, instanced or not, but it's this one issue I want to discuss for now.

But then I wondered just how many guilds there are on my realm, and I wondered what if perhaps guild housing was something not available to all comers, but instead required some basic qualifications to be overcome first. That is, you can't simply go to a vendor, pay 10 gold, and bingo you've got urban sprawl.

For example, say for discussion sake guild housing was only available to guilds who are up to the level of raiding Karazhan or better. If so, then according to WowJutsu my realm would have only 34 potential guild houses horde side, and up to 52 alliance guild houses. If guild housing is restricted to being placed to only outside the faction cities, then things are looking pretty good. Even if the distribution between cities wasn't even it would still look good.

Personally, given those numbers, I wouldn't limit guild housing to only outside cities, but instead allow them just about anyplace within faction controlled territory. Given those numbers too, I can imagine that the process of siting guild housing could be mediated and vetted via Blizzard peons - maybe the guild leader goes to a vendor to purchase a surveying kit, picks a site, returns, and submits a land claim to their faction leader. Twenty four hours later they get notified via in-game mail whether their claim was successful or not.

OK, a couple of questions:

  1. what are the numbers for the above scenario for your realm?
  2. how might the raiding-guild-qualifier scenario be implemented? I'm thinking maybe a semi-rare drop from raid bosses, or even an accumulation of token drops to ensure against lucky one off pugs.
  3. what alternative limiting factors would you want to see? I know there are large guilds that would want guild housing but never raid .. so maybe allow guilds of 200+ members to get guild housing too?
  4. where would you locate your guild housing? I've got some sweet spot located out of the way in Mulgore in mind.

Monday, March 10, 2008

guild bound bank items?

Just a passing musing: what if some items in a guild bank could be marked as guild bound? When guild members remove them from the guild bank they can use them, or trade them to fellow guildies, but be blocked from passing them to non-guild members (including via mail and the auction house). If a guild bound item is removed, and the member then /gquits (or transfers off-server), the item should be removed from their inventory and mailed to the GL.

One way to put a stop to bank ninjas?

lessons from the EQ paradox

bookmarking this classic, plenty to think about and digest.

The EverQuest Paradox Revealed

hero class? phfft

The WoTLK expansion for WoW will include the Death Knight class - one touted as a hero class, but on closer inspection it seems to be more hype than hero.

I'm thinking there's an opportunity here though - a way to have their cake and eat it too. The opportunity arises because each player is different in their demands: some are casuals, some are min/maxers, some are hard core, some role play, some PvP, and so on. Trying to balance every character class to satisfy all player types is difficult and frustrating .. so how about introducing a character class that appeals to the hard core types only?

Make the "hero" class more powerful than other classes of the same level, but make them pay to have that power. Pay a salty price of blood, sweat, and tears.

Make it damn heroic to have that class, and not just some past glory of a qualifying quest either. Make it damn hard to level a character of that class, make it damn hard to even maintain that class. Make the class heroic, such that the average scrub looks at your Death Knight and says two things: (1) that's one mighty fine laudable achievement you got there, and (2) you must be crazy and totally off your nut to have even tried.

Firstly, given that the class would be more powerful for it's level than others, it follows that knocking over similar level mobs would be much easier. Therefore, don't give experience for same or lower level mobs. Heck, give only minimal experience for mobs one level higher. You want to be a hero? Take on some real challenges. A Death Knight should scour the land for elites to defeat, not min/max the optimum grinding of XP/hour.

Secondly, since there isn't anything particularly heroic about just putting in lots of time to progress, institute penalties that punish the character if they fail to perform at an exceptional level of capability at all times. While other classes have it ez-mode for leveling when it comes to death penalties, Death Knights should be more hard core. Dieing too many times through incompetence should result in slower progression, perhaps even backwards progression. Heck, simply running away from a fight should result in a penalty - do or die please, you're a hero, behave like one. And just for kicks give them a bigger aggro radius.

Many will try, most will fail. Do you have what it takes to be a Hero?

penalties for dishonorable kills?

What to do about high level players going about and ganking lowbies? How about imposing a debuff which can only be removed by successful honorable kills. Make it a long lasting debuff, so others (both same faction and opposite) can see it and act accordingly. On PvE servers, make the debuff include a longer wait before unflagging. The debuff should also be readily visible - perhaps as a title which appears under their name instead of their usual title.

The debuff might have different effects, depending on how severe the ganking is. It might simply be a label at first, with no game mechanic effect, then something which blocks earning honor points, or prevent you from entering a battleground (like the deserter buff), later the debuff might induce your own faction guards to attack you, and eventually you might even be flagged for free-for-all pvp ... meaning your own faction can attack you. Nothing like a bit of community policing.

But what about the situation of a big battle which has one or two lowbies mixed in, where you can't avoid killing them? QQ more .. read what I just wrote: "be removed by successful honorable kills." Thus, killing the occasional lowbie in a big battle is not a problem, the penalty will clear itself very quickly ... unless there are more lowbies than honorable opponents ... in which case it's not an honorable battle to be in, now is it?

But what about the situation of a big group of lowbies chasing and griefing a high level player? They could make life hell, draining his honor. Well, in theory this could happen ... but given that most high level players don't even frequent zones which have low level players they don't have much to fear... unless they are in that zone intent on ganking some lowbies, that is. If by some chance a raid of lowbies ventured into high level zones intent on griefing some high level player ... well, they'll have their hands full with many high level hostile mobs with their enormous aggro radius.

Monday, March 3, 2008

finally named my cat

I play a tauren hunter, and for a while now I've had a black lion as my pet. Tamed from the Barrens when I was already level 70, getting it levelled was quite the experience - really taught me how to kite better, if you know what I mean.

Anyhoo, I didn't name it during that entire time. I deliberately held off even thinking about naming it until it hit level 70, and by then I forgot all about it. So, the other day there I am in Arathi Basin, guarding stables, and I see another hunter with a black lion pet named "Cat". Time to name my pet, I think.

Hi, I'm Garumoo the Tauren Hunter, and this is Garumeow the Black Lion.

the stupidity of mob IA

Over at Zen of Design, Damion comments on aggro circles vs "realism":

"It would be trivially easy to make it so that every monster within eyesight attacked you when they saw you walk by or attack their friend."
Attack on sight? Realism? Firstly, wild animals in the wild don't attack you on sight .. they ignore you, they prowl, they sneak, they stalk, they move away, they bathe lazily in the sun .. they don't behave like mobs in WoW: blatently ignore you until some binary switch flips, and then immediately and mindlessly charge ferociously to attack.

It's this binary nature of mobs which is unrealistic and unsatisfying. Sure, there are exceptions scattered about - there's a bird critter in Nagrand that "senses danger and flees", and there are some mobs inside instances that immediately take flight and bang some gong or some other non-attacking action. But these are the very rare exceptions, and would seem to be specially programmed for just those specific mobs.

Currently, in WoW, apart from some rare exceptions programmed into instances, the usual pattern of responses for mobs is the following: first, completely ignore you until you get too close, then immediately charge to attack, and keep fighting until either dead, or (for some creatures but not others) when severely wounded attempt to flee .. but then turn around and come back. Every time, every monster, again and again, and again.

Once you've twigged onto this pattern, the only other factor to work out is just how big the aggro circle is. That's it. No further thinking required. Commence grinding now.

How come more creatures don't try to run away at the first sign of danger? You take a whack at a zebra in the real world and it will flee, perhaps getting a kick in as it goes .. but you try the same on a zhevra on the barrens and it will be right there with you, attacking you back.

Not every creature needs to have a custom AI behaviour, that's a lot of work, you'd just need maybe a half dozen or so basic response patterns. Every creature of a given type would respond in the same manner, so it's deterministic and solvable. You've just got to work out how each time for that general species, and probably make safe assumptions according to whether it's a herd animal or loner, whether it's a predator or not.

How much more interesting would it be if the zhevras would immediately flee, and keep fleeing, only turning to fight to the death if you somehow get them below 50% health? If there was a quest to gather zhevras tails you'd need to solve this puzzle .. probably involving a few team mates spread out so it has nowhere to run, or maybe have most of your group waiting behind a log while one goes out and scares it towards you. Don't have a group? Try maneuvering such that the direction away from you is into some dead end gully. Maybe you could scare it off in the direction of some natural predator, and let it finish it off. Puzzle solved.

So, a half dozen response patterns .. it would help if the mobs had more than three choices available (ignore, fight, or flee). Can you imagine the mayhem and the fun if certain predatory cats would generally ignore you, would move away if you breach one radius, but attack if you got really close ... and would also sneak up close if they see you are distracted, perhaps attacking if they see you are wounded ... or running off again back to it's usual spot if they see you more than capably dispatching your current distraction. Deterministic and predictable behaviour, but typical for a predator creature, whether it be a lion in the Barrens, or a panther in Stranglethorn Vale.

So, design the mobs AI such that it has multiple possible responses, and design these responses such that they don't all commit the player to combat. Provide the possibility for the player to gently probe the encounter, to gather intelligence, to learn something about the mob before committing to combat. Doing so sets up the game play of making predictions about how the mob will react, and then testing it, all without every experiment being potentially lethal.

Some types of mobs might respond to being stalked by closing ranks. If you slowly approach them, they slowly group up, such that if you then attack you're within the aggro radius of many more. Puzzle. Solution: wait until they are scattered, then rush in to attack just one while it's away from it's friends; or try to outflank it from it's herd and then close in on it.

Some mobs might put on a show of ferociousness once you breach some outer radius, howling and charging right at you .. but then pulling up short, snarling at you, daring you to further intrude on its territory. It has a large reaction radius, one where it will defend it's territory, but it's real aggro radius is actually quite smaller.

Imagine some creature that has a very small aggro radius, but a large reaction radius. One where if it sees any of it's kind being attacked inside that reaction radius it will then also aggro. These would be a real bugger to go hunt, and be a nasty surprise the first time you sneak up on one. Maybe the key to this puzzle is to notice that such a mob has an innate curiosity to any intruders of it's reaction radius, meaning it slowly wanders over in your direction. So, let it wander over, draw it in, then once it has wandered far enough away from it's fellows that is when you spring your trap. Lower level spawns of this mob response would curiously sniff groups of intruders, but have higher level spawns be a bit smarter and only approach intruders who have no colleagues within 40 yards. For those, you'd need to have one of your party be the bait, with the others a bit further away. Puzzles with solutions.

Some randomness can be added to further spice the mix. The usual way the aggro radius mechanic works is that as soon as you breach that circle, and I mean immediately, they will respond. So here's a simple change to the mechanic .. make it a % chance of response, evaluated every tick. Stumble a bit too close and maybe it will attack, maybe it won't, but stay too close and it damn well will eventually. If you're lucky, or foolish, you might even be able to walk right up to the mob before it responds. For added realism, you could have the mob emote in some way even when it doesn't decide to attack, just as a warning or signal to the player that they actually are now within the aggro radius.

The mobs don't need to have real AI programmed in, just some variety of responses, and these responses don't need to be custom programmed for each mob but instead just a broad variety of general response patterns with some tweaking of the variables for each mob. Decide whether it's first instinct is to fight or to flee if you breach the aggro radius, add a reaction radius outside of the aggro radius, is it aggressively protective of it's territory if you breach the reaction radius, or is it cautiously curious and will stalk you, or is it skittish and will move away from you, is it a herd/social creature and will move towards others of it's own kind?