On “Classes vs. Skills”

From Psychochild’s blog:

The challenge is this: Point out an advantage of either a class-based or skill-based system that hasn’t been discussed to death yet. Or, if you’re feeling bold, describe a system that goes beyond either of these systems.

I really wanted to contribute to that discussion with something worthwhile as I have some ideas but then I didn’t find the time and only scribbled down some notes.

As I wrote in the first comment on Ubiq’s blog I mostly agreed with him and for my “dream mmorpg” I was planning an hybrid with skill-based advancement but within a class system, no levels and with class adaptability.

Adaptability is particularly important. Similarly to Final Fantasy XI, you would be able to switch between “roles” to level and use separately (permeable barriers). The goal is to let the player adapt his character to a group, bypassing class requirements and “mechanics of exclusions” that often force certain classes in perma-LFG.

So your class won’t preclude you to take an offensive, or defensive, or support role (see Raph’s analogies). You would be able to switch between those depending on the group’s needs, while also requiring them to be “leveled” separatedly (which broadens the character progression without the negative effects of the “stacking”). You could ideally switch from “battle” to “mage”, but without the overpowered “battlemage” option.

(The original idea was explained better here and here.)

Another basic point is to enclose skills into “spheres” or skill groups. These would correspond to different “kinds” of gameplay you support, so that, for example, trading and crafting would go in their own sphere, with their own independent pool of points. The important part is that all player and all classes have access to all those spheres (then it’s their choice to spend time into them or ignore them). This was the main critics I had about SWG. If there’s crafting and combat then ALL players need to be able to craft and combat. And NOT a class for combat and one for craft. These pools will then level separatedly one from the other (or have separate caps).

This is part of the “gated content” concept, as the idea of parallel progress and content. Opposed to linear, selective or exclusive content. All kinds of different activities and playstyles should be made available as “parallel” content. Without classes that lock out of parts of the game. And without an “endgame” to reach later on that dramatically changes the way you play.

Everything the game has to offer should be available without requiring an exclusive choice from the player, and without requiring to be “reached” (the level 50 RvR in DAoC, raid content in EQ and WoW). Which also doesn’t mean that all the game world is completely open without requiring any effort (see “threshold advancement” in Ubiq’s speech).

Then within each sphere you would need a certain amount of “templating”, so that not every player can do everything and be alike. With the possibility to gain points to lose them (?!). I mean that instead of fixed templates that you are stuck with (see what I wrote here below about “permeable barriers”) the idea would be to use a system similar to Ultima Online where you can let skills decay so that you can specialize in something else if you want to experiment something different.

An hybrid system similar to what I have described would retain the advantages of classes that Raph pointed out as well (but not completely) the advantages of a skill-based system. And the concept of class adaptation and role switch would also address the other quirks about the “balance” (and “versatility”, which is a great strength in the eye of the players).

But this isn’t enough. The truth is that I still haven’t found a solution that satisfies me. For example I like both passive and active systems. A passive system is one where you go adventuring and while you do that you see skills improving in the background (this happens even in WoW, to a limited extent). I love that kind of feeling of accomplishment, so it’s something that I don’t want to lose. At the same time I like an active system where it’s the player to “manage” his character in detail, so with some control. This is why I’m still looking for a solution that joins those two together. Still a work in progress.

Originally the system I wanted was inspired by the pen&paper Stormbringer (which is also the inspiration for the setting). You go around adventuring but only if you achieve a particular objective you have an occasion to improve (goal-driven progress). Grinding monsters just wouldn’t work if not in the case it was part of a quest. When the achievement was reached then the player had the possibility to rest. The system would flag automatically all the skills that were used along the way. The player would then choose between the skills flagged to decide which one to improve (he could have used ten skills, but he could have only a couple of attempts to “allocate”). Then, the server rolls dices for each “attempt” and tells the player if those attempts were successful or not.

I discared that system for many reasons. One was that the achievements were meant to be not repetable, but this would have turned the game in some sort of “badge collecting” that I just didn’t like (from grinding mobs to grinding quests, it’s better, but a dream mmorpg should aspire at more). Another was that the “server rolls” would have been random and just too frustrating to watch. And another again was that it required either too much micromanagement (in the case you had to do that frequently) or not enough (in the case you made the achievements too spaced out). It was just a system weak on “fun”. It wouldn’t work. I needed something else.

Again, I still haven’t found a solution, but at least I know more or less where to search one. I want one that is more automated, more in the background. And, in particular, I want one where the skills improvements are gradual and better paced. It would be better also if the improvements arrive in a less predictable way. If you transform experience points in skill points (as in Warhammer), then you know exactly when you are going “ding” the next skill level. While I would like a less predictable system where the “ding” is less expected and awaited. So passive and active as two aspects that I want to join somehow.

There are basically a bunch of goals that I want to reach, but I still need to find the right combination of the puzzle so that they all match together:

– No levels, more realistic progression
– Percent skills, because they are familiar at least as much as levels (see also the principle of “transparent mechanics”)
– Different skill groups so that the player doesn’t gimp the charater by selecting skills that take away points from combat
– “Passive” skill-ups through server checks
– “Active” character management for the player (control, allocation)
– Customization
– Adaptability (possibility to switch classes/roles to adapt to a group, instead of being excluded or included on requirements)

One possible solution that I’m considering is this one:

– Capped spheres/skillgroups, so that the player can customize and “template” each while still having access to the different parts of the game.
– Use-based, percent skills (server checks in the background) which each its own rules
– A system with special abilities on top, to unblock/enable through questing or PvP

Rough example: your “sword” skill % will be involved in to-hit rolls. But you would need PvP achievements or questing if you want to buy special attacks. Basically each special skill would have a requirement of base skill, but the base skill would be independent from the special one. An “eviscerate” special attack could require 70% in axes, swords or whatever. The special attack would need to be unblocked through achievements, while the percent base skills through use.

That’s where the “dream game” sits at the moment, even if I’m still not completely satisfied. You may even say it doesn’t sound too far away from WoW if you think at the skill progression as a level progression, but there are still some core differences that I see as improvements:

– Class adaptability and balance (solo/groups)
– Narrower, more realistic power growth
– Percent-based mechanics, transparent and easy to familiarize with
– Less linear growth and progression (as you pick up the skills to use and improve)
– Different spheres/skillgroups to explore that would open the game toward aspects that aren’t just focused on combat

Instead I just cannot understand this (from Raph):

And really, the fact that there can be multiple reasons to play is at the heart of it. This is why class-based systems have real trouble absorbing crafting, for example, and we often see the notion of having a separate parallel class system for crafting alongside the combat classes. It’s like asking a hockey team to also do embroidery during the match.

I have real trouble grasping that concept. I can understand having “multiple reasons to play” if I can access different parts of the game. But if those parts are accessible only through an exclusive choice (like a crafting class OR a combat class) how this brings to “multiple reasons to play”? The game forces you to select ONE, where it could have offered instead those reasons to play one by the other.

Take together “more than one thing to do” with “multiple reasons to play”. How you can achieve the latter if you can only pick one between the things that the game can offer? What’s the advantage of a system that precludes large amounts of content to be experienced?

I just cannot get it. Maybe he’ll explain that more.

About the rest of the discussion that spawned multiple blogs, this is a note I had taken:

Secondly, a skill based system kills “lesser skills” and “sidetracks”. You are encouraged to “maximize” what you have, so you are almost forced to leave behind some fun possibilities just because they don’t fit the “template”. Instead of taking advantage of the diversity of many skills and the freedom you are supposed to have, concretely only the opposite happens. You finish to be stuck in a template and locked out of activities that would be fun, but that would be detrimental for your character efficiency.

Raph and Ubiq best of the show

After having read (by proxy) pretty much everything that came from the AGC I have to say that Raph’s and Ubiq’s speeches were the best. I’m quite impressed in fact, lots of very good stuff and not all that obvious as many other things that were said.

With Ubiq I agree pretty much on everything. Both the overall idea (innovate for a reason, not for the sake of it) and the smaller details.

I’d try to quote, but there aren’t best parts. It’s all just very, very good. And it doesn’t happen often that I agree so much with him, on every single point. Instead of quoting concepts I could take out particular aspects:

there’s a lot of bad innovation from people trying to solve these five problems.

Actually listening to the customers and understanding their needs is a core function of game design.

system design that is more interesting to watch than to play

Smart innovation. Which is what WoW did.

videogames are a good medium for a visceral experience

Our games teach you how to play gradually and you forget how much you have learned. Combat scales very gracefully.

You don t need classes, but you do need to allow making character choices without fear. People will spend all day customizing their appearance with no fear. People like that. But people agonize over choices that matter. Players have been trained that choices are irrevocable.

This last is part of the concept I define “permeable barriers”. If you are designing a new game this should be in the top five principles. Imho.

Our business model as it stands right now depends on devotion.

Threshold advancement is even better when they are not levels

You build use based systems to be more realistic, but if they cause spastic behavior, then…

but don’t confuse the delivery mechanism with the reward

You don’t need fantasy but you do need a fiction with resonance.

And that covers also licensing.

You don’t need fantasy, but you do need a setting that is doublecoded. This is Rob pardo’s donut concept. You need both codings for a successful game.

And this is what I was saying when at WoW’s release I continued to repeat that the key was the accessibility. The problem isn’t the “hardcore”, the problem is about ferrying players to that point. Which also translated to the Blizzard’s philosophy of “easy to learn, hard to master”.

But it is also the core concept of games in general. Learning stuff. The game is a bridge.

It’s not about whether the license is hardcore and casual, it is whether it has a hardcore and a casual component.

You don’t need fantasy but you need an inviting world. People want to spend their spare time here. This is their corner bar. You don’t need fantasy, but you need a world where the player starts out larger than life.

Fantasy encompasses lots.

Make a world, but protect your young. The gamey games are fanatical about protecting newbies.

Make a world, but don’t depend on players finding their own fun. You don’t want users to wade through crap.

Don’t over innovate, but be sure you improve the player experience. And when in doubt, be true to the Vision.

Identifying innovation is hard.

Always be true to yourself. This is the important thing. Eve and Earth and Beyond came out at the same time. If you were a betting man, you would have been an idiot to bet on EvE. E&B had a great team, money, marketing. Eve had a dedication to a vision. Eve kept to their mantra, and they won.

A lot of times people confuse bad execution with concluding something is a bad idea.

Success confers virtue. When EQ was out, it was grind, group. Now it’s woW and it’s solo and so on. When things are successful, we say that there must be something about that.

It only takes one person to come along and change the rules.

The only part I don’t completely agree with is when he says that classes help players to “easily find each other”. It’s not inherently true and there are better ways possible (“better way possible” is the kind of “smart innovation” he is demanding, after all). In particular I like the concept of “participation” in a game, but I don’t like “requirement”.

From a design perpective I’d try to build a game where you can participate, but where you don’t need to go past a selection. So to the “requirement” of a particular class in a group I would prefer another concept: adaptability. And if you think at the concept of “permeable barriers” here above, maybe, you’ll see where I’m going.

Raph speech is also kind of great and very enlightening, even if I’m not too friendly toward it as there are a couple of concepts that I just cannot digest. So while I quoted the best from Ubiq, I’m going to quote the worst from Raph (which doesn’t make it “false”, but just that I don’t like to hear it):

Since consumers are less willing to pay for content, publishers are turning to advertising.

Content: aim at different markets. Designed to be consumable and disposable.

Revenue: not driven by sales to consumers. Merch, sell shares in future content, use advertising as a major driver.

Web-based MMOs (Neopets).

Media companies merging online world elements into their content.

Fewer artist jobs, but more procedural content jobs.

Celebrity (reputation) will matter more than eyeballs.

And one “good” quote because, like it or not, I think it is true:

WoW is the last gasp of the dinosaurs – not because WoW is going to die off any time soon, or because nothing can follow WoW, but because nothing can do to WoW what WoW did to Everquest.

So while reading Ubiq’s speech I nodded the whole time and liked it a whole lot, Raph’s one less so as I don’t like eniterly his “Vision”, but it said things not so obvious to me and made me think more.

Imagine the ideal designer as a trinity: Ubiq has the gamey core, Raph has the unique perspective and Lum has the clarity.

I know that I try to borrow from all three :)

The circulation of ideas

I’ve read the report on the 3rd Party Community Sites panel at the AGC. Hm, quite boring.

The quotable part is something that Grimwell said:

Craig: Back to the flow of information thing, it’s okay to talk to us even if you can’t talk about your game. There’s a lot of room for us to talk about the people involved with the game rather than the game itself, and that shouldn’t cause you any legal problems since it’s not going to leak any game features.

Here’s an example: I talked to one of the guys working on the Stargate game, and he couldn’t say anything about the game itself, but I was able to talk to him about his past experience, what he’d learned from tabletop gaming, etc. And that was useful stuff.

My opinion about the discussion is still the same: it is taken too seriously.

At the end the goal isn’t good or bad press. At the end the goal is make a better game. Good or bad PR comes after, as you can fool the players only as long you can hide things behind an NDA and pretty screenshots.

What I mean is that sooner or later you have to come out of the hole, and that’s when things start to matter.

Now the point is: how to make a better game? And how “making a better game” can imply better communication?

The answer is “the circulation of ideas”. Communication isn’t one-way because it isn’t *needed* one-way. It’s not just the players that need communication. It’s in the interest of both sides, and both sides including different companies and different games. So not a network that is limited to the specific game or game company.

You need to keep yourself informed about what is going on, you need to know all the games out there, you need to examine problems and solutions. See above the very specific problem to draw better conclusions and find out where things don’t quite work. This is why the circulation of ideas brings to better games. Facing problems, openly discussing them. Having a broader view. This is useful for all kinds of developers, not just designers.

Concretely? Concretely it means that the control over what the developers say should be more lax. It doesn’t mean to FORCE devs to write blogs and read and post on multiple forums.

It means letting them free and contribute in the measure they feel useful.

Blogs, official or not forums, rant sites, more or less known news sites… All these matter only in the measure they communicate with each other, not in the measure they get exclusive content or are self contained. The developers should only work to reduce the distance between themselves and the players (scary, eh?).

In their own interest. In the interest of the game. And in the interest of the players at the end.

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Vanguard, unibodies, unianimations and the Philosophical Stone that turns digitalized stones into real gold! All true!

I’m not at the AGC but this is my rant.

One of the most popular discussions at the moment about Vanguard is the choice of using “unibodies”. It sounds as the most irrelevant detail you could discuss about a game, instead it’s the one between those that will matter more and that will be brought up more often.

What’s a “unibody”? Well, it’s just a fancy term to define the design choice to share the same “body” for each character’s race while only changing the scaling (which is as simple as setting a variable) and the head plugged on that body.

This means that all the playable races in the game will look alike, but it also means that it is much easier to create armors and clothes as they don’t need to be race-specific or tweaked to fit the different models and silhouettes.

Imho the compromise is completely unacceptable and the real, deeper reason is similar to the old debate about the balance between handcrafted and generated content. The reason is only one: not using “unibodies” and “unianimations” would actually force the developers to, you know, DO SOMETHING.

Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I can draw from very old forum posts that I happned to reread recently:

SirBruce: The first panel I went to was “The Right Content Mix” with Starr Long, Rich Vogel, and Jason Durrell. The panel debated what was the right mix of static vs. dynamic content in MMOs

HRose: Oh my god. These guys are able to repeat the same theme for every conference?

They aren’t intelligent enough to realize that “the right mix of static vs. dynamic content” is ALREADY a wrong premise that won’t bring anywhere?

Yeah, like if there’s a “right mix” of doing and not doing your work. Or the right mix between good and bad art. Or the right mix of content and lack of it.

“How can we do the less possible and make money?”

If you START from that premise, you’ll never go anywhere. This is very close to what Rob Pardo wrote and that I quoted. You don’t polish later. You polish from the beginning. It’s a mindset. The “culture of polish” he speaks about and that is the MAIN DIFFERENCE between Blizzard and EVERY OTHER MMORPG STUDIO OUT THERE. Every single one.

Create art and style that is specific to a race. You know, *content*. You know, what the players are supposed to pay for, instead of just a hole with nothing into it if not an excuse to ask for money.

Even Valve with Team Fortress 2 has understood how important is the “typization” of the characters, how important is to have recognizeable silhouettes.

We pay to have lore, to see beautiful locations, the consistence of a fantasy world. Giving each race unique-looking models and animations is part of the same creation process. It is *what we pay for*. It is part of the “value” that the developers are going to sell.

So yes, if each race, and even sex, needs unique models and animations it means that the devs will have to work on that. But, hey. That’s what they are paid for.

If now WoW raised the bar and player’s expectations for every other mmorpgs out there, then I’m HAPPY. Because others developers won’t get away with their horrible design choices. And all those attempts at creating “fun” random generated content will fail horribly.

It’s not so far away from what Lum ranted about:

The primary task of an MMO provider is, again, to provide the MMO.

Yeah. And the secondary task is to provide the content. You CANNOT get away without doing that. You cannot find “shortcuts” because there are no goddamn shortcuts. There is no game that builds itself if not as a stupid, ingenuous dream that many in the industry share.

The better is the content, the more work goes into it, the more the game will be successful. Well deserved success.

As I wrote in a comment there isn’t a single mmorpg out there that I think deserved more than what it got. Nor a mmorpg that deserved less than what it got. WoW is up there, far away, because that gap is a gap of QUALITY. Concrete quality. No PR stuff or brand or whatever. It’s *quality*. Quality, hard work and dedication that paid back.

If mmorpg developers decide to take the shortcuts then the players will see. If you flip the pages of a book and there’s a blank one, you will notice. YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THAT.

As in the “emperor’s new clothes” story, the king is naked.

Continue that way. Right along with the generated and player created content. All stupid excuses to find ways to sell a VOID. Tho sell the LACK of something. The “Philosophical Stone” that turns digital rocks into real gold.

About the unibodies and unianimations, this is another very old discussion. So interesting to reread nowadays (and at least acknowledge how what I write long ago stands the test of time):

Raph: The tradeoff is that SWG permits greater animated expressiveness for every race. This is, again, mostly a matter of taste. There are technical challenges both ways as well, of course. In WoW, tying each animation set to each character type means that you have to assume a budget for animations equal to having every animation set on screen. That almost certainly means less animations total in the game. It eats into your skeleton budget, and requires greater animation time, of course, which could have been spent somewhere else. In SWG, you lose distinctiveness per species. This gets spent instead on character customization…

HRose: I like way better WoW approach. I don’t need “fluff”. I feel more important an unique feel of my character than setting the pattern of my beard. The only thing I’d change in WoW is the possibility to set an height. That’s it. Specific animations really give you a different “feel” of the character, imho. More than the control of details that create lag, problems to the netcode and are barely noticeable by anyone aside you.

Raph: Yeah, to me the Tauren walk is the fluff, and the beard matters to me. *shrug*

I’m sure out there you can find someone who believes that WoW’s success is only due to the race-specific /dance emotes. Of course it’s an exaggeration, but even today part of what people are interested about the expansion is the new dance emotes for the two new races. Go again to read what Rob Pardo writes about “polished features”.

SWG didn’t have the unibodies, but it did have the unianimations. And it sucked. Vanguard will have both unibodies and unianimations.

Brad McQuaid: “Given the fact that we’re likely the only other AAA MMOG for the year 2007 means that we can do no less.”

Eheh, come back in a year and tell me I was wrong: “Warhammer will be more successful than Vanguard”.

More on Oscuro’s Oblivion mod

I’m still messing with Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul and still discovering and pointing out its “flaws” or inconsistencies. Yet I think it still is a good base to work on. I wish I had the time to hack together a similar mod that is at least consistent with some well-thought design principles, also motivating the changes so that the players understand why those choices were made.

Btw, I also found a “fix” to make the game run in windowed mode (I play at 1088×616, that is very pretty) without the excessive stuttering and warping movements. It was also quite straightforward: just go in the taksmanager after the game started and rise the process priority to “high”.

I found out the inconsistency in the Sideways cavern (again).

All the “floors” of this dungeon use the same leveled list, so the probability of meeting a “mystical imp” are the same no matter if the spawn point is just past the first door or deep in the dungeon.

Beside that leveled list there are also a couple of spots that reference to a “LL1MythicEnemyBossLvl100”. So a spawn point that is supposed to spawn a “boss”. In fact this is used exactly where I was suggesting: in front of the door to the third level and in the throne room.

Now the inconsistency is that while all the other spawn points can spawn base imps as well as crazed and mystical ones, the two “boss” spawn points that are supposed to spawn the harder encounter instead spawn the EASIEST one. In fact, if the player is level 1, that “boss” spawn point can only spawn one base imp and nothing else. A mystical imp won’t spawn till the player is at least level 8.

Simply put: the “standard” spawn points are spawning the weak imps as well as the super-buffed version, while the spawn points that are supposed to spawn “bosses” instead not only don’t spawn them, but spawn in their place the weakest type of creature present in the dungeon.

Now I would try to fix that inconsistent behaviour and tweak that levelled list so that it can spawn properly “boss” encounters, but I think I’m looking at a widespread problem instead of a circumscribed one (which means that to correct it would require an insane amount of work).

What I’m noticing is that Oscuro packed the “mythical” creatures all together. So it looks like that imps, trolls, ogres usually share the same spawn points.

This means that, for example, the Sideways cavern isn’t *the* cave where the imps made their lair (as I hoped, with a world more static and consistent), but instead, at the higher levels, it’s a place where a random combination of imps, trolls and ogres would spawn.

The ideal that I think many players could like better would be instead to break up the “Mythical” leveled lists (again taken as an example as it may be the case of other creature types) into a number of mob-specific ones. So that you have separated leveled lists for imps, trolls and ogres, with the possibility to have dungeons in the game that are “home” of that particular type of creature, instead of spawning a different types of creatures depending on the character’s level (which isn’t different from the standard Oblivion).

But this would also mean to go through ALL the spawn points to readjust them and, honestly, it’s just too much work.

So, again, I’m just pointing out to problems I’m noticing as I go. Hopefully helping to suggest some reasonable changes (which, again, are NOT aimed to make the mod easier. Quite the opposite).

AGC: Rob Pardo’s keynote

World of Warcraft’s Deus Ex Machina Rob Pardo finally talks about the game as a whole.

I read it but I didn’t find anything particularly interesting or unexpected as he points out all stuff we have already discussed and analyzed ad nauseam. Often even before WoW, unheard.

These are the parts I liked more:

The Blizzard polish. Polish is the word associated with us in reviews. There’s this big assumption that polish is something you do in the end. That we’re successful because we spend 6-12 months at the end polishing. We do get more time, but we do the polish right from the beginning. It’s a constant effort. You have to have a culture of polish. Everyone has to be bought into it and you have to constantly preach it. if you leave it to the end, it’ll be mor difficult.

You’ll get a lot of “why does it matter that this feature is polished? it’s so small.” But people notice 1000s of polished features, not the single polished feature.

Polish starts in the design process.

Control is king. Game control is taken for granted a lot of times. I remember on Warcraft 3 I could feel a little bit of lag on the mouse cursor, and I kept saying it to the programmer, but he kept saying he couldn’t see anything wrong. Finally he coded in a hardware cursor so we could run both cursors at the same time, and lo and behold there were three frames of lag. And that matters, it’s important. People will leave over that, but you’ll never know that is the reason.

I hope we turn this genre into something special. The thing I think is really unique about MMO games — you look all the other genres, and the genre depicts a very specific type of gameplay. But massively multipayer, this genre has the biggest frontier, it has the most we can achieve, and we should be pushing at all kinds of differnet directions.

The rest was pretty much obvious to whoever has kept the eyes open in the last few years.

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A short “review”: Oscuro’s Oblivion mod

“Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul” is undoubtedly the most ambitious mod out there. I saw many people liking it and decided to give it a look, even if I’m not so fond of mods that aggressively change and add content.

This is an excursus of comments and things I wrote around the forums.

What I mean is that with these large packages based on users mods you always have tradeoffs of quality.

It’s different when you take a certain mod that tweaks a certain part of the game with a goal in mind, but when you aggressively add content and change the direction of the game you are always going to accept those tradeoffs. There will be interesting things as there will be things that really suck.

It’s great if you are on the second run through the game and want to see something different, but in many cases those “improvements” are definitely arguable.

Yes, choice is good. I discard about 98% of the mods I try. That’s the point.

With the big bundles instead you are sort of stuck with what you get. And it’s often “meh!”.

This was BEFORE trying the mod. And it seems I knew exactly what I was going to find.

(Based on a clean install. I have only bethesda’s official mods, unofficial patch 1.4.0, Book Jackets, DEJ Harvest, Living Economy, Oscuro 1.3 full and a small mod that sets the “timescale” variable to 15 instead of 30).

So I went on a clean install and gave that mod a try after reading up the readme and thinking it had some good premises.

The problem is that it didn’t made a very good impression on me. The tutorial part is pretty much identic. Rats and zombies do almost zero damage and die with two hits. Then you go outside.

Outside I had a few problems with lag, possibly because of grass and fish spawns added to the game. I notice that the crabs spawn in groups now. This is nice and they also have a veried size. I like the idea but I also noticed that the smaller crabs seems as resistent as the large ones. Not really a consistent behaviour when you see this tiny crab fleeing from you and you still have to swing repeatedly your big sword at it.

Then you have the same options as always. Your can cross the river to fight the two bandit and enter the Vilverin dungeon or go right where there’s a cave guarded by an imp.

Well, the bandit camp doesn’t have anymore the two weak bandits, but a whole squad of 5-6 of them, well equipped and almost unbeatable even if you “pull” and fight only one of them. With the bowman that takes almost 1/4 of your health with each arrow.

So I tried the other cave with the imp. And the imp fled as soon as it saw me and I had to chase it down for a while. Then I go in. There are more imps on the first level and again all they do is flee as soon they see me. Unfortunaterly fleeing in a cave just means that they run straight against a wall, with me repeatedly slashing their naked ass, till they die. Okaay…

Second level. More imps that flee as they see me, I chase them down the corridor, then I see a phantom like figure far away. Then I see a HUGE glowing projectile coming toward me that takes the whole corridor (impossible to dodge). It hits me. I die. I was at FULL health.

That’s pretty much it. From what I seen the difficulty scales HORRIBLY. You go from trivial to impossible in one step. From rats that do no damage, to imps that are stuck against walls without even trying to defend themselves (great AI, duh), to one-hit kills or even zergs of bandits RIGHT ACROSS the river in what is supposed to be the noob zone.

Beside that, there must be something that messes with the AI because in many, many cases the monsters didn’t notice my presence till I was very close (and not in stealth).

So, the impression I got wasn’t really good. There are some good ideas and I accept a mod that tries to make the content static. But if you decide to make the content static then YOU HAVE TO design the progression so that it is consistent and flows naturally. Without being overly frustrated or with unbeatable, one-hit kill monsters placed in a starter dungeon.

As it is right now the content just calibrated and designed very very badly.

That’s what I see, now tell me I’m wrong.

I wrote that and people told me they had different experiences. So I went on explaining my point and also had a discussion with the mod author about these points. At the end all that I wrote revealed to be true.

If I was complaining about the difficulty I could understand.

But I’m not complaining about that. I’m complaining about the scaling. The fact that I went from a monster that represents no harm at all to one that killed me in one hit. Without anything in the middle.

Not a very good, fun progression.

Sotobrastos: The bandit camp happened to have 4-5 bandits in your case… So why did you, a lvl 1, again, fresh out of jail, attack 4-5 bandits with crap equipment and a rusty sword? Just as there were 4-5, it could have been that only 1 or 2 were there. So, it was your luck. Would you prefer if I make it so that every place has a set number of enemies? No variety? No surprise? I don’t think so, personally.

Just good design.

You don’t find many games that put your character next to an unbeatable monster right at the start. Considering that a noob character ALWAYS comes out in that point of the map it makes sense to at least give him a possibility to familiarize with the game instead making him face sure death wherever he moves. I tried three things: bandit camp, Vilverin and the other cave. Those are ALSO the options that most players usually consider. Because when you play a new game you usually start by exploring the nearby space.

It is very frustrating if you are punished at every step you move and cannot figure out how *the game* expects you to play.

Sideways cave: Imps are wimps. Why? Because they now hang out with much powerful kin. You entered sidways cave, which, if you are careful, you can effectively hunt in it pretty well. But, as soon as you run into a Mystical imp is going to be time to run, especially if you are a weakling level one.

Again my complaint is about the scaling. On the first level ALL the imps I met just ran into walls and waited for me to kill them without the slight reaction. I just didn’t find this realistic, nor really fun. I’m sure that they can do better than that even if they are wimps. It just looked awkward and I’m reporting this.

Then I moved to the second level and there were MORE imps, who again just ran in the other direction. I chased one and I found that ghost-like thing. I died with one hit.

Again it’s the scaling. I went from absurdly easy to die in one hit.

So I WOULDN’T suggest to bring the difficulty down. But I think it would be a good choice to make the difficulty scale more GRADUALLY.

Then there’s the other problem that I don’t know if it’s a bug, a side effect of some script or what. But I noticed that the monsters didn’t react promptly to my presence. I saw idle rats staring a wall with me just a few feet away and, finally, I was able to shot down an imp in that sideway cavern with my bow. The imp NEVER MOVED. It never reacted. I fired the first arrow and he was facing the other direction. I hurt him and he just sit there doing nothing, till I killed it.

I was right about the gap between the starting dungeon and what you find outside as the mod author said that the starting dungeon is so heavily scripted that he didn’t want to mess with it.

I was right about the mud crabs all sharing the same stats even with their varying size, in fact the mod author admitted that he forgot to update those values.

I was right about the framerate problems as it seems that the scripts ruling the new fish spawns give other problems to the game.

And I was also right about the difficulty being set just too random. After I went to look up things in the editor.

The reason why imps don’t attack and just flee is because they have very low “confidence” and “aggression” values.

In the exact same spot where these can spawn, this mod can spawn a “mystical imp” as well (48% normal imp – 20% rat – 16% crazed imp – 16% mystical imp). This creature is the one who killed me in one single hit.

– The “rats” have 4 hit points and do 2 damage.

– The “normal imps” have around 15 hitpoints and do from 4 to 15 damage (if they actually fought back).

– The “mystical imps” have 150 hit points and hit from 13 to 50+ damage.

That gap is just *excessively wide* to share the same spawn point.

My character had 60 hitpoints but I had the difficulty slider moved just enough to get 10 more and die with one hit.

Which confirms my theory. The mod just has the difficulty scaling really bad. You just shouldn’t have spawn points that can spawn a level 1 creature that just flees or a level 10 creature with that kind of power.

The original game had the content completely scaled and it wasn’t fun because you always knew what you were going to find. While this mod makes the difficulty completely *random*. From super easy to impossible in one step.

Wasn’t the main purpose of this mod to make content “static”? And if that’s the goal, isn’t a contradiction to have the spawn points show a so random behaviour?

RPGs to be immersive should be consistent. This means that they must follow an implicit or explicit logic. That the player will then understand and manage. Having GODLIKE creatures spawn randomly in the same place of trivial creatures is not a consistent behaviour. Nor one that helps the game to be more fun.

If there’s a dangerous place in the game, that’s good. What isn’t so good is when that place is going to be dangerous or absurdly easy on just a dice roll.

It just isn’t a consistent behaviour if the same spawn point can generate a rat, a troll or a dragon. The sense of persistence and consistence would be lost, because it would be just a random game without a sense or a logic. If this game tries to achieve “realism” then that’s NOT the direction where it should go.

Now what I’m criticizing in this precise case is that, okay, lets have varied mob types. Lets have multiple types of goblins and imps. It’s all good. But the gap between all those type shouldn’t be too wide to retain some consistence, or the game would lack logic. In the same way you don’t just take a rat, give it 400 hitpoints and make it bite for 100. It’s just stupid.

Those mystic imps spawning randomly in the place of normal ones felt to me just like a cheap trick to make the game feel harder.

Now I could try to hack together a small patch for this mod. I think it wouldn’t be too hard to address those problems I pointed out. Even if it would take too much work to rationalize the levelled lists I think it could be still possible to have a band aid and make the difficulty of the game at the early levels more forgiving and fun overall.

Problem is that the mod behaves awkwardly in the editor and I cannot save changes to a custom plugin. The mod author told me this is going to be solved when the official patch for the mod will be out. So I’ll wait for it before I try to put together my own “rebalance” mod over his own.

As things are right now, I still think that using the mod combinations I had already commented and suggested (with a drift here) is still the best choice to play the game in its best form.

Eve-Online IS still growing

Yesterday Eve-Online had more than 30k players active online (30.538).

Active subscribers are currently at 142k.

I wish I could say the same about DAoC.

In the meantime I’m waiting CCP to actually develop and show something. They patched recently but it was just a whole lot of work on the backend in preparation for Kali (performance improvements are always great, though). I was expecting that patch to come for the end of July, instead it arrived for the end of August. Still no mention when we’ll finally see something done. What about the Battleplan?

I cannot avoid to think to Mythic everytime. They are like one the negative image of the other. Eve-Online has a great direction, a growing, dedicated team, but still cannot manage to develop things at an acceptable pace and respect deadlines (but, despite this, the growth of players is rewarding them even if development is super slow). Instead DAoC has a bad direction, a costantly shrinking dev team and ambition to “feed” Warhammer, but they always respect deadlines (but the players feel directly that the project is just being left behind and are trickling off).

When is Kali One coming, you ask? I’d like to see it in the end of September, but Dragon still needs maintenance on TQ, so we can’t assign as many resources over to the final push of Kali One as we wanted.

The communication through the dev blogs is excellent, though. Thanks a lot. That’s the VERY BEST communication I’ve seen in this industry so far.

If someone from CCP passes here: could we have a “dev tracker” page with links to dev posts on the forums? That would be nice.

That blog from Tuxford about fleet battles is great (you can still see in the dev blog with the title “post vacation thoughts”). Good ideas as well. Reduce the range of ships, formation flight, AoE weapons and directional defences. All great. The problem is to get them in the game in the foreseeable future. Should I remind you that formation flight was promised for release? ;p

Usually the large battles are completely ignored in game design and nothing is made to make them more fun and interesting.