Moo Tang Clan: May 2008

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 grâce.

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.