Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Word on Gaming Journalism

A quote from this Massively article.

"I've even been in contact with an insider who is scared of the risks CCP is taking with the jobs of over 600 employees in four countries, scared enough to leak internal documents and emails."

I have a lot of respect for the people at Massively, as they take their jobs as journalists very seriously. I would love to see more sites like this, where people choose to report because they want to be a part of the journalistic crowd, rather than write reviews simply because they want to make the connections in the gaming industry to get a job. I like this kind of journalism. There's a story behind public press releases that many "game journalists" are afraid to look for in the event they could lose their chance at getting into the industry.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rewards for Having a World to Explore

I've been playing console games these past couple of days, the traitor to my PC that I am, and have been enjoying L.A. Noire. The open world aspect of it reminded me heavily of the days of playing Grand Theft Auto 3. It was in playing this game and reminiscing that I realized what type of gameplay I was currently missing.

I wanted to explore. I wanted to be given a setting, and though I'd have a goal and everything, but also be rewarded for going off the main path and just exploring, finding the nooks and crannies in the landscape. Find a hidden path up a mountain to see a fantastic view, or wander off the trail in the forest to find a hidden sanctuary. It's these kinds of little touches that I think makes a world more believable and more enjoyable. Anyone who played GTA3 remembers the hidden packages all over the cityscape. To have the option to just wander around where you please and be rewarded for it is something I'd like to see more of.

Now, this is not to say current MMO's don't have thing that resemble this. DCUO has those tokens hidden about the city that give you lore points, race challenges, and landmarks from the comics. I think it's a fantastic implementation, as most of these things can be collected right out the gate just by wandering around with your travel powers. A good number of them are scattered about questing areas though, and you can collect them just by looking around while questing. WoW has little easter eggs hidden about as well. My favorite spot is in Duskwood, the small creepy monument near the border of Duskwood and STV. There is no explanation for the area; no quests lead there, no dedication to anyone, nothing.

I enjoy these little touches. Sometimes the best spots are the ones where you can make your own story, rather than follow someone else's.

As a side note, I've done free trials for SWG on multiple occasions and enjoyed it, but not enough to subscribe. But oddly enough, this is one of the more bittersweet game closings I've ever read about. Players and Devs are seeing the end of an era, the end of a lot of connections and memories they've created, and the sadness around it shows. I really feel for all of them, and hope they can find a place to reunite and make new memories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Simulations and Bad Choices

I considered writing a post on City of Heroes and their F2P conversion given my history with the game, but to be honest there isn't much to say. I like how they are going to do it because it is similar to LOTRO's conversion, which was successful. It'll most likely work out for them, and I'll most likely play it.

On the forefront of my mind, however, is a conversation I recently had with a friend on the differences between Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and 4.0. For those out of the loop, 4.0 has been commented on as being more like an MMORPG: It has defined healer, tank and DPs classes and players gain powers as they level up. Anyway, a comment of my friend's has been pinging around in my head lately since I've been reading Nils' articles on Death Penalties, specifically the parts where he talks about simulations. Anyway, my friend's comment was thus:

"The developers of 3.5 even specifically said they put choices into the game during character creation that were bad choices. They rewarded the people who studied up and figured out how to min/max, but newbies would pick something cool and end up being gimped. It's stupid."

In a level based system, where changing your character's build is not in the rules, making a bad choice is going to screw up your optimization. Of course, this makes the game more like a simulation. You live with the bad choices you make, because that's realistic. I can no more change my starting stats anymore than my friend's father can change that he got a degree in maintaining room-size computers the year before PC's came out. We both screwed up and have to live with that.

But does bad choices make for a fun experience? More importantly, do harsh penalties for those choices contribute to a fun experience? EVE Online possibly has the harshest death penalty of most online games that I know: your ship gets blown up and it's gone along with everything you put into it. It makes players more careful, makes them think more before launching themselves at a target.  Whereas every WoW player has no qualms creating a pile of skeletons launching their raid groups at Ragnaros.

Each has a way of covering up for mistakes in character building or choices in career. EVE Online only really penalizes you in time spent researching, and you don't lose the skills you already have. WoW lets you respec and have two specs.

There must always be a compromise between the game and the players then. We all know permadeath is a bad idea in MMO's, for example. Despite our possible desires to live in a fantasy/sci-fi/My Little Pony world, we want to do so without the problems that comes with too much reality. So yes, my friend is correct in saying it is stupid for there to be purposefully bad choices in a game. While much like a simulation, it just isn't fun. And that's why I believe that a great simulation is a pretty shitty game. The more you try to make it close to reality, the less people are going to want to play it. You need to be able to catch your players when they fall. Even EVE does it, for all its fame as a merciless game.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is Steam the Future for F2P?

As stated in my previous post, I've been playing the Steam supported game Spiral Knights lately. The integration of this game as well as the game itself has got me thinking on other companies with F2P titles, such as Nexon.

The Steam client would make an excellent platform for simple MMO's. Have a single profile to connect all of them as well as a client that easily updates and connects the chat systems across all games. Your single account can manage subscriptions, cash shop purchases, achievements, mail between players...hell, add some Facebook connectivity there. All the cool kids are doing it.

This presents a huge opportunity for companies that manage multiple games. Even if they choose not to use Steam, the type of platform has many benefits for its users and the companies. Cash shop purchases for example. If there is anything that Apple has proven, it is that customers are very hesitant to input their credit card information into many different places. Creating a single, easy to use and trustworthy system like the Apple store that saves your account information for when you want to use it, and purchases become a lot less scary. I know this first hand: My brother ended up downloading over a hundred dollars worth of songs from the iTunes store when it first came out. Bringing multiple games together onto one trustworthy platform makes those cash shop purchases just as easy.

Now, this would be a difficult proposition for larger MMO's. Not for the companies, mind you: Subscriptions between multiple games could be handled easily as well as in-game services (character transfer, CoH costume booster packs, etc.). No, this would be a hard pill to swallow for gamers. Most of us are well aware of the devotion many MMORPG players have towards their game of choice. The amount of time needed to advance in a game lends itself to a market where players don't hop around subscription based MMO's very often, not to mention the high cost of entry.

But let's put together a hypothetical scenario. Sony decides, hey, that Steam stuff is pretty cool. Let's make Station Access just like that. You have your F2P section with PotBS, EQ2 and the others, and then the subscription section with DCUO and SWG. The cash shops would all be manageable from this one client, as well as updates to any game you have installed. That, and their Station Pass deal would be readily accessible and available though it as well, allowing players to easily hop between all of their games without hassle.

Even if Nexon took this up, it would still be just as useful. I say it's a Win-Win. Is Steam the future for F2P game companies? Maybe. Should it be? I think so.

What say you?

What I'm Playing Now

A small apology to my readers: I've been going through a move and it has prevented me from concentrating on my writing. Settled in now, so posts should be more frequent.

That aside, I wanted to talk about a game I've been spending time with recently called Spiral Knights. For those who keep up with that sort of thing, Steam has started offering F2P titles and this was the only one offered that has Steam support: Achievements, use your Steam Account, that sort of thing. And from my point of view, the integration was not only successful but could be a step in a new direction for MMO's and Steam in general.

Let's start with the game itself. Spiral Knights is a top down hack and slash game in the vein of Diablo and Torchlight. You play as a cartoon androgynous knight and you venture into dungeons to gain gear and money and you know the drill by now. The cash shop uses its own currency, though it is nice to see you can also buy that currency using in-game money. Much more time consuming, of course, but very possible. The features that make it different are how dungeons are created and the grouping system.

When inside a dungeon, you can find large crystals that you break down, and out of which will pop out a colored crystal of varying size. You're encouraged to take the bigger ones, as you can only carry one at a time on your back. At the end of the level you put it into a pool and everyone gets the crystals, so no need to fight over them. Regardless, you can put these crystals in a terminal at the dungeon selection area to create a new dungeon. The crystals you (and everyone else) puts in determines the qualities of the dungeon. A nice feature, but currently the lack of coordination between players makes dungeon creation more than a little random. Also, each dungeon is set up into three tiers with a boss at the end. Your level of gear determines which tier you can get into.

The grouping system, unless you have friend you specifically invite, throws you in with three other random people. The players I've encountered have mostly been helpful, and splitting up isn't penalized too much due to there being no assigned roles (no classes, everyone is a "knight") but sticking together makes the dungeon go much much faster. Also, there is integrated voice chat, with which I was treated to an entire dungeon run of a British teenager saying "Spinney Pots" over and over.

Over all, the game is easy to get into and a good time. The dungeon floors are small enough that you can play for fifteen minutes, do a single floor and leave your party and still have some sort of progress.

As for the effect Steam has on MMO's? I think I'll break that off into a post of its own.

Monday, June 13, 2011

DUST - Insert Dirt Pun Here

Just a quick aside, Massively posted this sentence in regards to SWTOR: "You can keep asking for Star Wars: The Old Republic's release date, but it won't make a difference. You won't get it until Electronic Arts is ready." I feel a bit better about this game from that. Companies with big budgets take a lot of pages from Blizzard's book, but waiting until the game is done to release it is one they should copy more often.

I really want to talk about DUST though. I've been incredibly impressed at the scope of this project for Sony and CCP. To be able to integrate a first person shooter not only into the canon of a game, but into the already wide scope of EVE as well is a huge project. There are a lot of places this can go wrong, and balance issues will be abound for a long time after this is implemented. My major concern here is actually the fact that it will be only for the Playstation 3, a move that will not only limit the audience but (in the event it is a lasting part of the game) will cause issues should we get a Playstation 4.

There are plenty of great possibilities for this though. I hope the game to be on par with EVE's difficulty and unforgiving nature, if only to create a similar experience, but I wouldn't be surprised them to smooth out the learning curve as first person shooter fans are not typically the type to be invested in their characters or the game as much as MMORPG players. And here we find another potential issue: Is the FPS crowd willing to deal with certain EVE standards, such as battle needing to take place at certain times of the day, or the strict rules of contribution that some corporations may require. Interaction in EVE typically requires a serious commitment of time. There could be ways of reconciling these issues using game features, and I'm sure there will be corporations with some skilled and dedicated squads at their command. But will it be the rule or the exception?

Even so, I have to applaud CCP and Sony for innovation. I'm far more interested in seeing how this turns out than most other announcements on the market.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Crafting and Gear Drops Working Together

As a quick side note before I began, I watched the new SWTOR trailer. The only thing that got me excited was the fact that they used Bastilla Shan's voice actor. Otherwise...well, they've bored me with those. I'd like to see the actual game.

So I've been toying around with Steampunk ideas lately, and I thought for a moment, what if a system was created where all items that were dropped could be created? Think of a theme park MMO for a moment. You receive an epic level gun from some end-game boss. Nobody can use it, so you hand it over to your crafter. He disassembles the gun and learns a recipe from it. Now, given high level materials, he can create a BoE version of that gun.

The system would be a bit like disenchanting. You destroy the item, but instead of gaining parts you gain a recipe. Possibly one or two parts from its construction too, if that is deemed necessary, but mostly the item is destroyed in figuring out how to create it. In a Steampunk setting it would make sense, given that items would be mechanical in nature.

Now, there would most likely be a certain set of items that could not be disassembled. For example, Gorehowl in WoW is a weapon that is known for being great not for its properties, but because it was once owned by Grom Hellscream. That's not a thing you can create.

Let's say then, that the first tier of raiding all the equipment dropped can be disassembled. Then, for tiers after that, the amount of gear dropped is significantly less. Maybe a 1/4th of what it was. Instead you receive BoP raiding materials. These can be combined with your current gear to "level it up" so to speak, bringing it up to par with an item of that raid tier level and allowing you to customize it a bit, somewhat like the legendary item system in LOTRO. Depending on what you want to customize about the stats (more stamina, more intellect, more cowbell) you would need different kinds of materials.

Let's say your trinket, ring and some other slots like belt and wrist still drop. But tanks can create a legendary breastplate or shield that bears their name or insignia, or engineers can make a signature gun. Even allow them to pick the model, being able to choose from some special item models only for this system.

They would also be given the option to customize an item and make it an heirloom item as well to send to their lower level characters.

This could allow for an interesting progression in raids, and give players who might not be able to get into raid groups right away to save up money to buy some first tier raiding pieces to start up.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Atari put the Death Sentence back in F2P

Remember when DDO went F2P, and everyone thought it meant the end of the game? And then it all turned out fine and now they have a stable, successful game?

Remember when Champions Online did the same thing and now they're being sold off, thanks to causing approximately 5 million dollars worth of losses to the company?

Remember when I started a blog post without a rhetorical question?

I've been curious what the selling of Cryptic Studios will do for the F2P industry. Truthfully, I've always had a biased opinion against Champions Online (being a fan of City of Heroes myself) but I've had respect for the angle they tried to go for in terms of gameplay. In terms of content, however...not so much.

And now we know that Conan: Loincloth Optional Adventures is going free to play as well and I can't help but wonder how they'll fare. Rumors are abound that Fallen Earth is going to as well. More and more Western MMO's are switching to the F2P model due to lack of revenue. But not that Cryptic has "failed" in a way, not in that their game shutting down but they were sold off, I'm curious if that will make other companies hesitant in entering the market or if we will return to the idea that going F2P is the equivalent of death row for an MMO.