Saturday, November 26, 2011

Other People Ruin My Immersion

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know I am a Roleplayer. Those of you who don't, well, now you know.

I can't say I've been a part of many RP guilds for very long. I believe my longest stint was a year and a half. Pretty long in Internet Time but not so much in the grand scheme of things. I've done a lot of casual RP'ing to say the least, though those terms tend to be incredibly imprecise. I still don't know what constitutes a Heavy RP'er, for example, and I'm sure I could think up some weight related joke to go along with it, but that's not what this post is about.

 Let's start with a little story. I just finished Arkham City yesterday, having spent the past few days with family and my brother's Xbox. Ra's Al Ghul is in the game, and inspired by the great depiction of him that the developers had created, I wanted to make a character in City of Heroes based on that design. A Vigilante who dispenses lethal justice. And a stalker, that works great! He could have some great moral stories...

That is where I stopped. I thought about all the roleplayers I had met, not only in City of Heroes but in every other game, and immediately scrapped my project.

You see, setting up a storyline that involves other people is far more trouble than it is worth. I will admit, this becomes easier when you have a group of friends you know, but even then you have to take into account the player far more than the character. Every step must be planned in such a way that it would not offend or intrude on another person's character. From my experience, people roleplay to immerse themselves in a fantasy world, yet at the same time demand a high level of control over their character's story.

And because of this, roleplayers find themselves unable to trust anyone else to respect the supposed sanctity of their character's story. I have run into people who outright /ignore any character who brings unwanted conflict to their character. Though City of Heroes should be a fantastic ground for roleplayers to create comic book worthy tales, they are unable to do so when pitted against one another. An NPC group must be the target of the heroing/villainy in order for it to reliably work. I am extremely dissapointed that epic rivalries such as Superman and Lex Luthor, and Batman and the Joker cannot arise in RP because the players of those characters would never be spending most of their time arguing rather than allowing something bad happen to their character.

To bring this around to a relevant point for all you non-roleplayers, this is also the reason why Skyrim would make a terrible MMORPG. It's a fantastic world that you can immerse yourself into very easily, but put another person in there and you find yourself losing that immersion. Change nothing about the game except adding other players, and by simple act of people talking you will be jaunted out, forced to examine the game mechanics rather than the story and world, because that is what everyone will be talking about.

I think I'll make that Stalker anyway. But I'll be playing in the game, not in the world like I want to.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tin Mechanics, Because I'm No Longer in the Cool Club

Yup. I don't own Skyrim. My 15 minutes of being relevant is over, at least until SWTOR releases.

With that, and having worn myself out in the beta this week, I decided to load up an old favorite of mine: Monster Rancher 2. Many moons ago I played the hell out of that game. Never won the final tournament, but I enjoyed the whole raising and combining monsters gig, as well as stealing every CD in the house to see what monsters I would get. My favorite was the pile of goo in camo colors and a bandana you got from the Metal Gear Solid disc.

I rediscovered this game in college, specifically after my roommate decided to play Playstation games while drunk. He ended up making his monster run away after non-stop shooting range practices.

Liquor fueled escapades aren't what this post is about though. My recent thoughts about Salem and permadeath have put the idea of temporary versus permanent progression into my mind. For example, in MR2 the monster you raise only lives for a certain amount of time. Before they pass, you can freeze them and combine them with another monster. If both are sufficiently leveled, you get one that has far better stats than a normal one. Despite this, you still have to train them from youth to adulthood again. You suffer a setback for sure, but it is one that allows you to progress further than you could originally.

Which is why I think developers should capitalize on a reincarnation system in a permadeath styled game. Let's use League of Legends as an example. Each time you enter a match you need to level your hero once again, but the more matches you play the more points you get, and you can spend those on permanent upgrades to your Summoner, which affects every hero you play. Why not apply that to an MMORPG? You have a Soul, which serves as your permanent progression. Equipment and Gold are not carried by this soul, because as everyone knows, you can't take it with you when you die. Yes, you with the gold plated hubcaps. But your actions in "life" can improve your next life.

Gurgthok is an orcish rogue. He is not a very good rogue, because rogues need to be sneaky and Gurgthok is built like a linebacker. Despite this, he gets by on brute force alone and manages to get up to level 15 before he is bludgeoned to death by a group of enemies he over-pulled. Because he wasted his life points, a system used to revive in the field like a normal MMO, he must return as a new character. His life experience brought him a good deal of points to spend on his soul, as well as a few to put into the stats of his new character. Now an axe-swinging Barbarian, Gurgthok has never been happier. He and his axe are married and have three children together.

Souls can serve as a measure of what you have accomplished in your (potentially) many lives and what you can bring to your next character. Perhaps you unlock a trait you can apply to new character, thereby increasing exp gain, or strength, or giving a future class proficiency in something they would not normally have been proficient in. Design it less like a tree and more like a store, where players can pick and choose their own rewards, and add in some unlockable ones by completing special or challenging tasks in the game, and you are in business.

With these changes, raiding and daily quests can be nearly eliminated in favor of a crafting and exploration based game world. Everything is more dangerous now that you can permanently die, yet you still have a measure of progression while doing so. This eliminates one of the major drawbacks of permadeath. I did say one, not all. It would still not be a system for everybody. But I think it would make an excellent compromise.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Target Audiences in Advertising

Everyone is talking about the NDA drop and SWTOR.

I wanna talk about WoW. Because I'm a rebel. Or something.

So, a little tidbit off of MMO Champion from today:

"This Sunday, an all-new World of Warcraft television commercial will debut on CBS during the Chargers-Bears NFL game (kickoff time: 1:15 p.m. PST/4:15 p.m. EST). The ad is set to air sometime during the first half… and when the star of this spot asks, “what’s your game?” you’d best have an answer ready."

 The Cataclysm commercial as well was aired during the Super Bowl. Now, I realize that WoW attracts large audiences who undoubtedly come from diverse backgrounds. But when I think of the target audience for World of Warcraft, I don't think of this:

Those guys don't look ready to raid anything but a keg. But you know what? They may just play WoW.

Last time I talked about target audiences, I talked a bit about the phrase "It's not for you." Many people who keep up with gaming news are aware of Nintendo's infamous declaration that they were no longer targeting gamers with their products. I am curious if WoW is going a similar direction with that. Let's face it: I can't find many bloggers on my blogroll who still play WoW anymore, and if they do (as I mentioned in a previous post) they have to justify it. Sometimes at length, over a series of posts analyzing it to assure people that their experience was, god forbid, actually enjoyable.

Is that the general consensus amongst gamers? Though we have few sources (read: none) to back this claim, many have mentioned that WoW is many people's first MMO's, or even their first games. 12 million could possibly be more than the amount of people who consider themselves gamers in the US alone.

So perhaps Blizzard is no longer attempting to target WoW towards gamers, and instead trying to catch new customers in their nets. They still have Starcraft, Diablo and Titan to cater to their fanbase, which is a far cry more than the subtle middle finger Nintendo is giving us. But why football games? I mean, I understand the superbowl due to the high amount of people who watch it who aren't football fans, but why not the World Cup? Or maybe Shark Week? Hell, even during an episode of Family Guy would work pretty well.

I don't claim to know much about football fans, as I was raised in a household that loved baseball (despite being the odd one out who didn't like sports). So you could say my impressions are fairly minimal. But of the impressions I have, I can't put together WoW and football in many ways. Except maybe the rampant swearing during competitive matches, but that is more of a universal constant.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Is this simply Blizzard's attempt to advertise outside the gamer crowd and change WoW's target audience, or is there something about football fans that would make them enjoy orcs?


Just wanted to give everyone a heads up on this today.

I'll be working with ForceJunkies to prepare content for those who are interested. Keep an eye out for it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Audiences and Focus

Like many people, I got into the SWTOR beta this weekend. I will not comment on it due to the NDA, and because I save that writing for ForceJunkies, but I just felt like chiming in to say I'm a part of the MMORPG cool club now.

In all actuality, I wanted to talk about a thought that spawned off of the discussion in my last post. Specifically, audiences that games are targeted at. WoW spent most of Cataclysm with a narrow focus (Raids or Rated BG's), City of Heroes is extremely PvE and RP focused, to rattle off two examples.

In fact, let's use City of Heroes as an example. When City of Villains was introduced, one of the touted features was the introduction of PvP. They though, Hero vs Villain, this could work great. Except the game systems didn't work well at all, and certain builds could clean the floor with anyone who didn't have a specifically beefed up build. PvPing without these Flavor of the Month builds was an effort in futility. Numerous patches attempted to remedy this, until one patch both nerfed many builds and marked the end of development on PvP. The devs simply gave up, and haven't added any more PvP content since.

Now, there is a small sect of the game that likes it immensely. There is a much larger segment that enjoys the PvE more. Their second expansion, Going Rogue, has exactly 0 PvP content in it, but plenty of story and Roleplaying content.

Here's where we get into my opinion: I don't think games can truly "Do it all". Not only from a time and money perspective, but from a design perspective. Any WoW player can tell you all about how their favorite class was nerfed because of imbalance in PvP. Yet, theme park games such as Age of Conan, WoW, and as I mentioned, City of Heroes, have all had to make sacrifices in their far more popular PvE systems in order to accommodate the far smaller PvP audience.

Now, this isn't to bash PvPers. I wouldn't want a mainly PvP game to sacrifice in order to please PvE players. What I really want is far more specialized titles. EVE has proven that a niche market, if developed, can be profitable and even grow. Sure, many investors would prefer big name titles that turn a profit soon rather than titles that develop over years, but I'm going to ignore that factor for the sake of this post.

Darkfall fans would likely want to throw me down a staircase for this, but I don't believe we have a solid and polished PvP RPG title on the market. I'd like to see one, even if I'd never play it. Same goes for a sandbox title, or a crafting title. Star Wars Galaxies and A Tale in the Desert are good games in their own right, but one is shutting down and the other was showing its age from the day it was made.

I'm not going to ask why they haven't been made, because I know why. I simply wish to express that I want to see niche titles grow. I'm not a fan of permadeath or things of that nature, but I plan on playing Salem because I want to support development like that. Hell, I'd even go for a non-creepy version of Second Life. Because the internet can be used to form all sorts of communities that don't neatly fall into the games category, and I'd like to know some developer has a vision for that sort of thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Salem and Why It Might Not Be For You

That title is a good thing, mind you. I'll be going over some week-old news and an old topic in the blogging circle here.

The week old news is the Salem AMA (Ask Me Anything) that one of the developers held on Reddit rather spontaneously last week. You can find the results here, and I found it extremely interesting despite not having any interest in playing the game.

The old topic is "It's not for you", a kind of phrase that gets passed around very little in the MMORPG community for a variety of reasons, most of which involve alienating potential customers.

Anyway, so reading through this I was surprised at the lack of bile or irrelevant things posted, but perhaps that is due to moderators or maybe the Reddit crowd being more mature or something. I dunno, I don't use that site. However, the tone I got from this guy is that he is completely unapologetic for the various systems in his game that can be considered "unforgiving". If you commit a crime, you have a good chance of having your character killed off, even if you are offline. Your character can be summoned and killed off when you are offline, should the series of clues left after the crime lead to your character. It's a system they used in their previous game, Haven and Hearth.

Let me pull a specific quote from there.

"That being said, I've played our previous game H&H...
...for months and through multiple worlds and I've only died like three times, and when I have died I've done so because I've been a thieving bastard and deserved it. You don't die very often, and if you want to stay out of trouble, you usually can.
But I fully understand that that cannot be everyone's cup of tea. And I'm fine with that. :)"

I'm fine with it too, Björn Johannessen. I have a lot of respect for a developer who can say that. Right now the MMORPG industry is in a place where games fit a certain criteria in order to appeal to a certain playerbase, and that is the theme park playerbase. I can't sit here and chastise companies for funding projects for that, because it is the largest market available and the one with the safest elements. I believe SWTOR will succeed because it is safe and it embraced that, and then went on to improve on the system rather than simply copy it and call it a day.

Whether we like it or not, the industry is in a place right now where it is subjected to the whims of that playerbase, and many companies can't afford to ignore complaints in order to keep subscribers. Despite the raging success of the F2P systems lately, I highly doubt anyone would say that DCUO was made free because it thought the system was a good fit. They did it first and foremost to get warm bodies in the door for revenue.

Independent studios, like the one creating Salem or the one behind Glitch, don't have those large production fees associated with intellectual properties or high-end graphics. Now is a fantastic time for those companies to come in and start building their own playerbases around systems we now consider niche. The sandbox genre, for example. SWG is closing down, but an independent studio can revive that style of gameplay and have a following. Granted, the American economy is not in a place where starting a company is a sound plan, but you understand.

Permadeath might not be your cup of tea, and neither is a game where the main goal is to make a community. But hey, it's somebody's thing, and they'll play it and love the hell out of it. I'm glad that Björn here knows that, because it means more time spent cultivating this style of gameplay and less time scrambling to rope in players who aren't interested in your game to begin with.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Surviving is Gameplay Too

Yes, surviving: As in, not necessarily winning, just being able to get away with your life.

Ahtchu left an interesting comment on my last post that got me thinking: "Canadians might not get along between themselves, but when Winter's Worst makes her visit, differences are set aside. They are set aside because no other option exists for survival."

There is a reason there is a tremendous following behind the idea of zombie apocalypses. They involve survival in a way that many people will never experience in their lives. We live in a society where we are at the top of the food chain and where our continued survival likely is contingent on how well we can keep an office job with benefits rather than throwing spears at gazelle. Furthermore, during a zombie apocalypse, it is essentially an entirely new world to explore. Familiar locations are dangerous and exciting, where you can find loot in the form of food, medicine, or bullets.

Now, I am free to make up bullshit statistics and guess that 90% of the people with those fantasies would prefer they be fantasies and not reality, but the ideas presented through these are excellent for game design. Even if we avoid the zombie apocalypse genre altogether (which we shouldn't: Some AAA company really needs to cash in on this) we find that the fun of surviving and exploring is minimized in favor of walled off predictable encounters. Our quests tell us where to go, and numbers tell us how likely we are to survive against an average foe.

There is no worries of survival or losing progress in WoW-like games these days. There are no deep dungeons where you may lose your gear, there are no expensive ships that you would have to work to replace, and the rewards from the bosses are not necessary at all because hey, you're going to replace it in the next tier's heroic dungeons or the next expansion's first questing zone. There's a reason EVE Online stories are way better than WoW stories: Even with minor death penalties that can even be entirely avoidable, EVE players have something to lose. And losing something can make for a way better experience than doing nothing but gaining things.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Don't Have Anyone Else to Blame

It's a popular topic whenever Dungeon Finder systems come up in conversation that they are the cancer, the reason communities are dying in theme park games. The topic came up in a podcast I recorded this weekend with ForceJunkies and the main response was that it would be a mistake for SWTOR to release without it, as RIFT tried to not incorporate it and buckled soon after. The idea that server-only Dungeon Finders was shot down as well as not being feasible due to long wait times.

City of Heroes has a Trial match-making system that is a Dungeon Finder system. It is server only. Yet, I still see people forming up groups to do these trials in Broadcast chat, and then using the queue to teleport there instantly. Groups are still getting formed without a cross-server Trial finder.

So...we have a limited example of this working. Is it us? Are we, as gamers, just too lazy these days to work to put a group together for these runs? Especially after the introduction of it, has our collective patience been whittled down due to being spoiled by 2 minute queues for Tanks and Healers?

With systems in place to teleport directly to the dungeon, we no longer need to worry about everyone flying to the entrance or summoning their lazy asses. We no longer need to worry about everyone being dedicated for a long dungeon run, as many of them take 20 minutes tops if you're prepared, 30 or 40 if you need to explain it, unless for some terrible reason you're playing some terrible game with hour long dungeons and pointlessly difficult encounter mechanics. I can't imagine a game like that might exist.

So really, the only job placed on our shoulders is to put the group together ourselves, either through our guilds or through broadcast chat. Many games have central areas where people congregate naturally at end-game, so finding like-minded individuals shouldn't be that hard. And with the other conveniences to the system, the only problem that might wreck the community is somewhere between the chair and the keyboard.

Are we wrecking our in-game communities? Did the introduction of extremely short dungeon finder queues encourage anti-social behavior rather than try to discourage it? We can blame all the weather-themed video game companies we want, but at the end of the day isn't it us who took these mechanics and used them to shield us from other people?