Moo Tang Clan: 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Theory by Flatfingers

Go read Theory by Flatfingers, I am.

I'll fish out my favourite posts and link from here later.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Design Challenge: mapping as a game?

Ryan Shwayder has posted a poll on his Nerfbat forums

How much quest direction do you want on the map? None? A perfect "X" every location? Something in-between?

The discussion is very interesting too, turning towards how mapping could be made into more of a game.

So, a design challenge: how would you make making maps in a game into an interesting activity in itself?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Two factions, two themes, two destinies

Setting: a border town, controlled by one faction, struggling to survive. A rebel faction is hiding out in the hills, skirmishing, scouting, waiting for the chance opportunity to take control of the border town.

In the town there would be available a number of quests, but since this is a settler outpost they would be geared around peaceful activities, and give rewards appropriately. You'd be sent out to the forest to gather firewood and chestnuts, delivering rations to guard posts, bring back reports from those guard posts, digging up ore in a mine, planting of crops and so on. Your rewards would be new mounts, fancy clothes, opportunities to learn new skills or recipes.

The rebels have no such luxury though. The rebel leaders would give rewards like magic tinctures that guard against detection, finely crafted weapons of war, special combat rations and so on. They'd want you to go raid a guard post, to intercept deliveries of guard post rations and reports, to gank the farmers in the fields and steal their crops.

If successful, the town folk become stronger in peaceful capabilities. They can mine faster and deeper, their crops are more bountiful, they learn to sing and dance and craft. The remote guardposts form into hamlets, then villages. The rebels meanwhile become stronger in hostile capabilities, become sneakier, hit harder, take less damage, negotiate dark deals with the wilder forces such as ogres and worse.

Eventually though the town defenses will fall to the rebels, and the factions switch sides. This story repeats across a dozen different border towns. The settlers flee one pillaged town to seek sanctuary in another, perhaps stronger, border town. Some rebels, their blood tainted with everburning anger and knowing they could never take up the settler's lot, will seek out some other border town to go harass.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Arnold vs Benjy

Catering to the time poor casual crowd, vs the expectation of attention for the all-you-can-eat gluttons...

Arnold = $15/month, plays 10 hours per week, keeps on playing
Benjy = $15/month, plays 50 hours per week, quits after 4 months

Arnold plods along, Benjy burns through all content in a few short months.

Arnold provides $180/year, Benjy pays just $60.

Arnold only puts 10 hours of load on the server per week, Benjy takes 50 hours of load. For every Benjy, the server could support 5 Arnolds (more like 3, given peak hour time collisions).

And yet ... Benjy is the one that whines "I pay $15/month, I play lots of hours, I deserve to be treated as the most favoured customer".


Monday, September 7, 2009

Measuring progress in a story based MMORPG?

Evizaer posits that popular MMORPGs invert the advancement/story structure of PnP gaming such that story is simply a means to an end instead of the point of the game (and advancement being the means).

He does suggest that it would be possible to design an MMORPG where story is the point, setting the structure right again. My question then is what game mechanics might be designed to record and measure this story-based progress?

With advancement based games it's easy to see progress - the game is full of stats and abilities which can be enumerated. If I wanted to display and explain the story based progress of my WoW characters though I would have a hard time. The best I could do is point to my Achievements and to all the bric-a-brac cluttering my bank. I have very few screen-shots stashed away (the game doesn't directly facilitate keeping visual mementos), my quest log is now empty (completed quests simply disappear). It's a lot of work I have to do to show off my story progress, no wonder then that I don't.

What game mechanics would you want to see to facilitate measuring story progress?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What price for a new game?

Say you were about to release a new game. It's not a F2P. How do you determine what price to charge new players?

Well, you could simply auction off game passes. Let the market determine the price.

Pray this doesn't come back to bite you in the tuckus.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More kill 10 wolves please?

I'm levelling an alt, and thus am revisiting many zones.

In my travels I wandered into the Warsong Labour Camp in Ashenvale and saw no quests here at all. Lots of orcs, busily labouring away, but not a single quest.

Fair enough that creating interesting quests with rich backstory and characters and polish and quality checks and all that is a lot of work, but c'mon .. not even a simple request to go kill some wolves because their howling keeps them up at night, or they'd like some warm furs? Heck, a simple fedex quest back to the Mor'shan Rampart would be better than nothing. Even if the quest was grey and I could happily ignore it, it would add a bit of life to this camp.

Which gets me thinking - would adding more trivial and banal quests into a world make the epic quests stand out more? What if the trivial quests were added as daily quests, to further differentiate them?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I've noticed there's some confusion about what "persistence" means in MMOs (ably addressed by Raph and others).

Still, for my 2 bits, I like to reference Newton's Laws of Motion to explain what persistence means. Stuff is what it is until something happens.

You don't get much for 2 bits these days =(

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Moderating player generated content?

It's been noted that if you let players design content, they'll design set pieces which provide maximum reward for minimum effort. The reward might be in the form of achievements, xp, or loot. It would be impossible to get devs or trusted CMs to pre-emptively moderate player content, there would simply be too much of it.

What you could do though is deem that all un-moderated content will have zero rewards. No XP, no achievements, no loot. Players would have to play the content for the love of it, and if those players rate it highly then it's likely to be interesting content. "Interesting", as defined by devs. This highly rated content could then be slated for dev oversight and moderation, and rewards activated for that content.

Another idea is to have, at least, loot being dynamically determined. If endless gangs of adventurers are able to tramp on in and kill all the monsters, it's only reasonable to assume that their treasure chest will likely be bare. If on the other hand the monsters are snacking on a growing pile of adventurer corpses it would be reasonable to expect the mobs to have accumulated more treasure.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

guild math?

The math behind mechanics can be interesting.

Imagine if you could invite anyone into a guild, and the larger the guild the bigger a bonus to the power of the members. A mage in a smallish guild for example might do 1% more damage, while a mage in a larger guild might do 3% more damage.

A simple bit of math. Net result would be a game which encourages larger guilds, even your basic zerg guilds.

Add a twist - make the mage bonus be dependent on the number of mages in the guild. Now it's likely that there would be some tendency towards specialist guilds, but not that much. Consider: a guild with just 20 mages would have the same bonus as a guild with 20 mages and 20 priests, while the latter would have priests on hand to help out with healing.

One more twist then - divide the bonus by the total number of guild members, mage or not. Now, a guild of just 20 mages might have a 2% bonus, while a guild with 20 mages and 1 priest would get a 1.9% bonus, and a guild with 20 mages and 20 priests would only get a 1% bonus.

With this arrangement there is an active discincentive to forming zerg guilds, and active incentive to forming specialist guilds.

The same math might be available on other factors too - perhaps a guild of mixed classes might instead specialise in one particular form of crafting, and another guild specialises along racial lines.

So .. what ramifications does this have on the game world, what are the subtle ways this might change the way the game is played?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The eternal readiness of mobs to eat your entrails

In WoW, the difference between an unpulled mob and a pulled mob is simply their intent. The former just stands there, the latter want to eat your entrails. The combat capabilities of both are the same, there is no advantage to be gained by a sneak attack unless you have special abilities.

Consider though if mobs by default stand about in a relaxed mode, unbuffed, weapons in the rack, some are asleep, some are not even in full armour. Some might even be absent-mindedly grinding away at some craft-work like cooking or blacksmithing. The side door might be left open. A few guards keep an eye out but that is all. A sneak or rush attack here would be devastating, and would reward the well prepared adventurer group with easier kills and thus more loot for less effort.

Let the guards hear you approach though, let them see you from a mile off, and by the time you get within pulling range you'll find them fully buffed and armed to the teeth, spoiling for a fight. They won't necessarily race to engage though (why would they?). They will however keep an eye on you and if you are wounded or distracted by a tussle with some of the local wild life you just might find yourself on the end of a sneak attack to devastating effect.

Hunt the wolf?

Consider a quest like "find the bad wolf and bring back his head". This usually results in gameplay mechanics like: 1) check online to see where the mob spawns, 2) go to the exact GPS coordinates, 3) kill it. The only variation to this might be if there are multiple spawn points, and then it's just a matter of quickly cycling through each of them until you find the bad wolf.

Where's the quest where you have to track them, where are the mechanics where you examine the trail looking for clues, where are the dead sheep littering the landscape?

In WotLK there's at least one quest where you do have to go find some creature's trail .. only the paw print you find is a permanent fixture of the landscape, not dependent on the current location of the wandering mob, not even phased to the player in that quest. It's an attempt at colour, but nothing new game wise.

I want a game where I play cat and mouse with my prey, tracking it's spore through the forest, where NPCs along the way will give useful intel keyed to the actual location of the mob. And if during this time the bad wolf has circled around and is now shadowing me, waiting for an opportune time to pounce? All the better.

Of course, in a world where the average MMO player needs to ask where to find Mankirk's wife (a corpse with a fixed location), I despair in thinking how they might cope where the target is roaming.

Monday, May 4, 2009

in-game journalism?

A passing thought - instead of recruiting community management personnel to patrol the forums, hire some budding journalists to hang out in your game writing up daily dispatches. Get several in game, put them on various beats, and make their reports available in-game as well as out.

Beats could include various raid dungeons, being embedded with an attack force assaulting Wintergrasp, a suitable bimbo reporting on the AH shenanigans, some wheezy old geezer hanging about the starting zone, and so on. You probably couldn't afford to have people permanently posted everywhere, some would have to be roving reporters.

If the in-game element had a decent UI then this could become quite popular. The UI should include capability for decently sized graphics like screen-shots. They could be supported in-game by criers walking about shouting the headlines and directing those interested to the nearest inn at an appointed time.

This is a more proactive design to community management, and with a deft hand at the editorial tiller could be used steer the community in preferred directions (rather than frantically reacting to flamewars).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Achievements overheads

A few patches back Blizzard removed some of the statistics tracking from their new achievements system: the way it worked is that (e.g.) every time you do damage or take damage it looks to update the max damage statistic. That's a tiny overhead on every attack you ever do, and the tiny bit of cpu distraction really begins to add up, especially in a 25-man raid where you can afford it the least.

Why not just log everything, and then process it during downtime, such as resting in an inn? The character could even be notified in their system/chat log of updates, or possibly even some kind of emote visible to others.

You could even stage out the processing a little bit, so instead of it being a spam attack of statistics it trickles in over about five minutes or so .. just enough to have it prompt social discourse and the occasional /flex.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Optimal builds/spec/gear

Melf_himself writes about how different aspects of gameplay are basically side-stepped by just looking up what is the build of the week, what the best-in-slot gear to grind for is, etc.

All that depends on theory-crafting being universally applicable. Which in a game like WoW is pretty much the case. Take any level-cap character, strip them of all their talents and gear, and they would have the same base template as any other character of the same race and class.

Change this somehow though, such that there is variation in base abilities, and while your talent spec may well be ideal for you but wouldn't be perfect for me. My hunter might have more base agility than yours, while yours has more stamina or intelligence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Counterintuitive travelling

An odd observation .. I'm taken to riding my land mount around instead of flying everywhere. My Albino Drake is much faster than the second-hand nag I looted from some corrupt official, and yet I'm riding the latter. I'm also trying to avoid looking at the map, instead following the paths and landmarks to find my way to my destination.

This is a lot more fun in Sholazzar Basin than in Dragonblight, of course.

Revisiting quest encounters for fun

In WoW there are many cases of mobs that only appear as part of a quest. Once you've done that quest, you can never fight that mob again.

Now, for some mobs that's fair enough, that's the way the story works. For some mobs though I'd like to come back and do it again. I'm especially thinking of the various gladiator ring mobs, such as in Nagrand, Grizzly Hills, and Zul'drak. There's also a really fun quest in Storm Peaks, where you jump from flying dragon to flying dragon. Again, you only get to do this once.

Why would I want to fight them again, especially if there's no further quest xp or loot to be gained? Well, these mobs are usually extra tough with an interesting gimmick, and usually need a group to take down ... which makes them great for testing my solo skills later. (This I know because there were a few group quest mobs I didn't get done back at the appropriate level because I couldn't find a group.)

So, two basic reasons then: (1) gauging my increased skill/gear against a known constant, and (2) fun (remember that?)

Why then are these encounters designed to be once only? (I suspect the reason is more that they haven't been designed to be revisited, rather than being deliberately restricted). If the xp and the loot drops from them are kept low (the quests being the main reward) they wouldn't be farmed or exploited.

What might be the downsides to making these encounters able to be revisited?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

classes in a skills-based world?

While reading the latest blog meme, which includes discussion of classes vs skills based character development, I had this passing thought... instead of all players being able to improve whichever skills they want, how about providing in-game trainer NPCs which only offer a specific set of skills. Thus, Master Yoshi of Black Mountain might offer a bunch of stealthy combat skills, but eschews anything better than a hard leather cuirass. Meanwhile, Warlord Wagan can teach you everything you need to become a master of arms, capable of dominating close combat, defending others.

Classes, in other words.

Provide lots of different trainers with different skill sets, possibly even add new trainers as interesting hybrid builds evolve. Provide some bonus skills or skill points if you keep going back to the same trainer so as to discourage rampant skill shopping, but nonetheless still allow the player to pick and choose nearly any skill of all available. Have some skill trees only become unlocked from a given trainer if the player completes a difficult task or quest for that trainer. It will still be possible to build a completely custom hybrid character, but you'd need to put in a lot more work.

Would you play in a world like that?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

we barely got out alive

We carefully picked our way to the boss's inner sanctum, went over the plan one last time, and then unleashed hell. The fight was going well, our hero commanded the villain's attention while our cohorts pummeled him bodily and pierced him through with our sharpest arrows. Brother Ereidos kept our spirits up, and tended to our wounded too.

Where things went wrong we don't know, but suddenly our champion was mortally struck down and it was now our turn to suffer his wrath. What few survived his initial assault fled - all but bold Tomas, he gave his life in one last desperate bid to distract him with some vile taunt, but to no avail alas. The rest of us took that boon offered by Tomas, we heeded his final exhortation to flee.

Now, we were scattered and broken, and the alarm had been raised. Patrols were fervently searching for us, some of us took cover in side rooms, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, making our way to the broken door which was our entry to this hell.

Hmm ... a scenario unlikely to occur in WoW - when the tank dies the raid will typically quickly wipe. If you run, if you can, if you're not locked in the room, he will relentlessly pursue you with incredible speed and unerring omniscience, and deadly potency. The lair will not be abuzz with patrols freshly roused. There are no games you can play with line of sight to escape capture and a sound beating. It matters no difference if you release your spirit or await the return of your comrades to render aid, there is only one state of defeat, there is no lingering incapacitation.

Side note: how about, at least, instead of being locked in the room there would appear additional enemy troops who stand back, obedient to their master, letting him deal with the interlopers (oh, the folly of the arrogant evil overlord, so used to their omnipotence they little realise the real danger facing them). If the boss goes down, the patrols are routed, fleeing in fear that our attention will now be turned to them. If any players attempt to flee then they face certain death for themselves, and may even trigger an all-in reaction (to their immediate and eternal ire of their fellow raiders).

Side note the second: just once, I'd like to see a raid boss set up such that once he's down we now have a new fight on our hands just to simply get out, or for our colleagues to rejoin us. I don't mean finish off the adds, I mean your exit is blocked by mobs. There should be ample time to recover from the boss fight, raise your dead, patch your wounds, summon reinforcements. If however you down the boss with only the tank and one dps still standing then they have an uncomfortable choice on your hands. Simply surviving the fight wouldn't be enough now.

In Naxxramas there's at least one point a little bit like this: to fight Gluth you must drop into his room, and once done there you have no way you can simply walk out. You must either hearth, port, be summoned, or fight through the rest of the construct quarter. Or die. Your comrades can join you in this predicament very easily though - you can simply walk in then jump into the room with you. So, not the same.

There's also a few cases where time is used as the limit to your freedom - both timed events for strathholme mean you don't have the luxury of releasing and walking back in, you not only have to survive each fight but must survive it with strength to spare.

Conclusion: yeah, getting bored with the reboot-video game design of raiding right now. Someone please make a more interesting game kkthxbai.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

new quests found

So, I'm flitting through Zul'Drak gathering some herbs and I notice a shiny quest marker. I'm at a main quest hub, I'm 100% certain I've done all obvious quests here ages ago, and yet .. a new quest?

OK, I accept [Tails Up] from Chronicler To'kini at Zim'Torga. The quest doesn't show any hints or any info in my quest helper mod, and a quick check at Wowhead finds nothing. I do a quick google .. same thing. Look on wowwiki .. same thing.

The quest is a simple job: take a blow dart and zap some leopards and bears and find 3 females of each. Easy, done and dusted.

I travel on, and then find another new quest out at Dubra'Jin - [Eggs for Dubra'Jin], being handed out by an NPC named Ha'wana. Again, no mention on wowhead, wowwiki, etc etc - not even the NPC is listed (she's standing next to Chronicler Bah'Kini). Again, a simple collection quest: they want eggs. They can be found on the ground nearby, or carried by the raptors. Simple, done, dusted.

So ... patch 3.0.8 wasn't all bad news then =)