Realistic loot (and inventories)

I read what Raph wrote about WYSIWYG loot and I cannot avoid to criticize some parts.

The point is that, again, Raph keeps doing really smart and interesting considerations from the point of view of the SYSTEM and of the DEVELOPER. But never from the point of view of the PLAYER.

The problem with WYSIWYG loot is noise level, just that. Not (only) database noise level, but “info to player” noise level.

Think to the fun in a game as a “signal to noise” ratio. Noise isn’t affordable.

Think if when you killed a boar you would be prompted with tenths of different items that you could get and that are part of the daily mmorpg experience. Eyes, livers, meat, skins, teeth, bones and whatnot. This is why often in WoW quest objectives drop only after you are quest-enabled for that item. You only see what is relevant for you. With minimal noise. Without the quest those items would be invisible.

So what’s the point of this kind of loot system? From my perspective only the desire for realism and immersion. This is why in my “dream mmorpg” notes I write about realsitic loot and inventories. I had planned a system where bags aren’t abstract entities, but need to be located precisely, have weight and *volumes* and the same for every “manipulable” object. It’s part of a whole different layer with its own purpose in the design. I believe it contemplates all that is interesting and valuable in a WYSIWYG loot system while removing the useless noise that has no purpose.

Realistic loot means that a boar doesn’t drop swords or gold coins. But it also doesn’t mean that one goblin drops a leather jackets, coins, shoes, bags, a dagger, a slingshot, stones, teeth, nails, eyes, hair, a tongue, pieces of skins and tenths of other potential objects. Because this is just “noise” that is not relevant for a player.

Raph imagines a cloth system to randomly generate groups of mobs with trousers of different colors and “wear” and “decay” to justify a WYSIWYG loot system. Why?

It’s a game, all the elements that are superfluous and don’t add to the fun… are CUT. Without even a hint of regret.

Why adding annoying and frustrating mechanics like wear and decay only to support a loot system that seems to not have any other worthwhile purpose? Is this design because there’s a NEED for it, or it’s just bloat for the sake of it?

Any time spent on making kobolds customizable NPCs with attach points and morphs and whatnot is time that could have gone into making different monsters altogether. On the flip side, if you spend a lot of time with the kobolds, it’s extremely apparent that they are cookie cutter. A little algorithmic variation would go a long way towards making the process of killing 45 of them less tedious.

You can develop a complex cloth system that randomly generates each kobold and makes it look different. But what’s the point? The gameplay needs to be tuned, it needs designers that plans fun encounters, give paths and patrols to guards, put certain mob types in certain locations. Bundle casters with melee fighters to create interesting encounters. How they are dressed matters in THAT context. In the combat. In the different patterns that it creates.

You cannot spawn fifty kobolds, randomly generate how they look through a clothing system, add two tents and call it a kobold camp. It sucks. It has no depth. No crafting.

A Cloth system on kobolds is superfluous? BEEEP! Wrong.

Cloth system, yes, it is superfluous. Different kind of kobolds aren’t. Not from this perspective of the loot. But because you want equipment to bring to varied gameplay. Kobolds that attack you in melee, kobolds with more or less armor protection, kobolds that attack you from range, shaman kobolds and so on.

The “algorithmic variation” is needed to create varied gameplay. Different kinds of kobolds that don’t just look slightly different, but that also have different behaviors that go to intersect with the gameplay and that require the players to adapt and react in different ways.

The former case can easily be illustrated by the ways in which these things worked out in UO and SWG. The famous green cloth that Janey always pursued in UO was the result of one of these random customization spawns: a particular NPC happened to randomly get a shade of green dye that wasn’t necessarily easily available. People chased after NPCs with particular colors of clothing in SWG because they wanted it for their own customization (in fact, there’s an additional side effect there, of people “killing for sneakers” so to speak). Both of these are examples of further detail in the simulation creating value for the players in what might have been useless throwaway loot. (Obviously, the majority of what is generated is still useless to most people, and has little market value).

Condensed pharagraph: for every chunk of content randomly generated, 98%+ of it is usually garbage. So why we need to save it? Remove the superfluous (again). A game is a distillation of reality with a hint of magic. You take in only the best. The available space is limited and should never be wasted with something that isn’t the Very Best.

Then he also throws in the mix other complicated elements like economy and customization, and looking at them from a perspective I consider surpassed (that kind of overcomplication is something that I would definitely cut LIGHTHEARTEDLY).

Fear my PvP

I was searching my old design notes about my “dream mmorpg” for something else but I found a part that caught my attention.

Today there are many players who complain about PvP because of bland death penalties. Because there’s no permdeath, there’s no full looting, no harsh exp losses, corpse camping is often considered griefing and so on. They don’t want these possibilities to exist, they want them even encouraged by the rules.

Well, I’ve always been strongly against those positions because I always thought that PvP should be accessible and fun for everyone. Never punishing or elitist. But I found these notes where PvP is quite harsh, harsher than what you’ve seen till today, and yet without getting in the way of the gameplay.

It was part of a bigger scheme to make the combat more visceral and cinematic. The idea was about letting players chop off heads and limbs from corpses to create totems with which “decorate” a battleground. “Trophies”. That is something with a strong effect but that doesn’t remove character progress. It has a strong emotional impact that doesn’t leave you indifferent, but at the same time it doesn’t cripple the gameplay.

I had divided PvP vibes into two groups. The first was “personal” (corpse looting, permdeath, corpse camping all fall in this category). While the other was “communal” (conquest modes, domination and everything that is usually goal-based). And I decided that the second group was always ok, while the first should be used to “punish” the loser, but without depriving him of his progress or his possibility to play the game. So the idea to go with the emotional impact, on the “roleplay” level.

Think to the extreme scenario where you could kill a character and then rape the body. This would be *more than enough* to drive away from the game in shock and disgust half of your players and create so much noise that the “Hot Coffee” case would be nothing compared. But it is just to say that you CAN make death harsher and have more of an impact without crippling the gameplay or impairing the characters.

It’s part of what you may call “taunting”. It doesn’t have any weight on the rules themselves, but it adds a lot of “spice” and I’m sure it offers something that even the hardcore PvPers would appreciate. Adding the personal satisfaction through totems and similar mechanics (I had planned even a hostage system), while the persistence and purpose through goal-based systems (the conquest mode, housing, city building and so on). Actually I even added notes to give these totems some effects, with enough totems in an area the other faction could suffer a “morale loss” that could work like a slight penalty while fighting in the area. Giving for example the possibility to “decorate” your city walls with these totems as a deterrent for an assault (I didn’t decide if the morale penalty would apply only to NPC guards and patrols or also to the players).

In my design notes these totems were also tied to the crafting system, requiring materials to be made, with the purpose to limit their number somehow. The totems would also decay over time, becoming unrecognizable and turning into skulls.

Below these notes about totems there were other ideas for visceral combat. One in particular was about the use of “finishing moves” or “fatalities”, with choreographic, dramatic animations and everything.

You could think that the implementation could be problematic because of the netcode, but the way I described them seems doable. Basically I had considered them like normal attack skills to be used only as finishing moves. They could be dodged or parried (I actually described these as the “grabs” in Tekken). The server resolves the action before the whole animation is triggered. If the attack misses, is parried or dodged, the cost of the move (like “rage” or whatever) is paid and lost. Instead if it hits and it deals enough damage to kill the enemy the finishing move animation is triggered and can run freely for a few seconds. During the finishing animation the attacker is invulnerable, so the animation can run uninterrupted without problems, in all its spectacular effect (if you think about it God of War does pretty much the same, making your character invulnerable as long the animation runs).

This gave the possibility to add spectacular, cinematic animations and special fatalities for all classes, maybe in various combinations triggered randomly. A warrior could throw his victim on the ground, block him down with a foot on his chest and then push down his sword on the body. A mage could burn to ashes his victims or freeze them with a cone of cold to send them to pieces shortly after. The more gore-ish, violent and cinematic was the animation, the better.

In particular these animations could be completely in synch, without technical problems thanks to the way they are triggered (after an enemy is “already dead”), offering a strong sense of “touch” between two fighters that is completely missing in today mmorpg’s combat. And you could also have a lot of freedom, not only adding 1vs1 animations, but also 1vs many if it’s the case.

Thinking about it, it isn’t so unreasonable to think these special synched attacks not just as finishing moves when a fighter is already dead, but also to use them mid-combat. You may think that taking out the control from the player to play a synched animation could be frustrating and unfun as a “stun”. But a stun locks one player while the other continues to hit, while a synched animation is one attack only. It would become more like a “matrix” mode, a “pause” or a “slowdown”, a temporary suspension (of disbelief) in the combat that actually gives you a couple of seconds to plan your next move.

And, of course, the monsters could be enabled to have something similar and very special, cinematic attacks.

It would deserve at least some prototyping to see how far you could go (and no, your middleware won’t allow you that).

Condensed comments about WoW’s expansion delay

1- Oh, rly?

2- More than Blizzard’s polish this looks like classic MMO delay.

3- This is the first time Blizzard gave an official release date (January 07)…

4- …And is going to miss it. (I’m ready to bet it won’t be out before January 31 2007)

5- Maybe now EQ2 and Guild Wars will sell some copies of their expansions ;p

6- It’s pretty fun to remember the end of the world when a Blizzard designer in August 05 said that the expansion wouldn’t probably be ready for Dec 05.

7- Someone has seen X-files too many times. (come on)

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Another great example of Mark Jacobs communication talent

Excerpts from latest stuff he posted:

System reqs will not be on the tippy-top, bleeding edge, etc. Don’t expect to play this on your your Apple IIc though.

Our unannounced release date hasn’t been pushed back, pushed forward or pushed in any direction whatsover.

It’s incredible how he is able to always say NOTHING AT ALL.

He’s never wrong.

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Looking at Age of Conan screens

Kind of pretty, but leaving me skeptical.

Will it take one real day to walk across a so huge city? And how many NPCs it will need to look believable? And how many of those will be just walk-ons? And how many NPC functions you can add to give that kind of environment a purpose?

Or maybe it’s like Guild Wars, and what I’m seeing is a passive backdrop. The cardboard city.

Look at all these towers. Will I be able to enter in every one and look outside those tiny windows. Or they are just zone walls with nothing past them?

It feels like the world builders and artist are going in a direction, while the game designers in another. Creating an environment isn’t just about making it look great, but also making it PLAY great. And those screenshots show environments that aren’t meant to be played.

Give the world back to the players.

Interesting the use of distance fog and bloom. On this aspect there’s also Dawn of War which implemented an effect that I suggested years ago and that is about making objects not just “fade”, but also becoming translucent. Maybe one day we’ll have perfect transitions, without any apparent glitches.

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