Now I dream of games…

Yawn.

I don’t know why but today I couldn’t sleep for fifteen minutes without having a nightmare and waking up shortly after. Beside people shooting at me and fleeing from unnamed things I dreamt of demonstrating a game to a small group of 5-6 people in front of a TV screen and with a game pad in my hands.

The point is that it wasn’t too bad :)

It was a simple hack&slash type of game, similar to Diablo. Top down view, full 3D but the camera was fixed. You moved your character around the screen and swing your weapon at the monsters.

The controls were interesting, you didn’t target anything, but just swing your weapon with the “cross” button and hit whatever happened to be in front of you. It worked similarly to Gothic, where you have to time the swing. Actually in this game you could still spam the button and still swing the weapon, but I remember that I was explaining that if you timed the swing in relation to the weapon speed then the damage would improve. The more you tapped the button matching the swing animation left and right the more the damage would match the max damage of the weapon, while spamming the button would do just the basic damage.

I explained to the guys watching that the original idea was to use two buttons, one for the swing left to right, and another for swing right to left, but it was discarded after playtesting because we got bad feedback as it felt too complicated. If then you continued to match perfectly the swing for two-three times then not only you would continue to deal max damage, but also start triggering special animations and chain attacks.

A 2-handed sword was slower, so easier to match the swing and deal max damage, but at the same time the slow swings would made your character vulnerable to attacks, while with faster weapons it was harder to match the swing perfectly and always do max damage, but you were also much less vulnerable. It seemed to work rather well in the dream.

The two really interesting aspects of the controls weren’t about this swing thing, but how the game worked with movement. Basically whenever there was one or more enemies on screen, your character would start to auto-face them. If there was just one enemy you would circle around it, if there were more you would always face the closer. The position was important because attacks from the side or from the back hit for more damage and you could dodge/parry only attacks coming from the front. The other aspect is that these parries with your weapons or shield were done automatically. If you didn’t swing your weapon then your character would automatically try to parry. It worked rather well but the problem was that it was efficient only when fighting one enemy, while getting increasingly weak if you were surrounded by more than one. So in practice it felt like a game where you always tried to circle around the group of enemies, trying to face only one at time and not getting surrounded. By pressing “L1” instead you would break the auto-face thing and would start to “run”.

The triangle button was used to “use” things, climb stuff or even loot stuff on the ground.

The fun part is that the game was playable in a cooperative mode up to three players and had five classes. I remember the fighter, mage and archer, but forgot the other two. The dream ended shortly after but I remember that someone else was playing a mage and I was using my fighter’s body to shield the mage behind me and the mage had this odd attack that made him spam one of the buttons on the pad. Basically you had to spam it for a couple of seconds and the more quickly you spammed it, the more damage you dealt with the spell. Maybe a bit excessive but it was fun because it was an explosion spell and the damage would also match the animation, the monsters were actually exploding and sending pieces all over the screen, the more the spam/damage, the bigger the explosion :)

Hey, it wasn’t too bad.

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Replying

I enjoy crossovers, so while I typed this in his blog’s comment window, I cut the text and pasted it over here (also because it’s pertinent to a few other things).

Answer to this.


I’d accept your reply if it was accurate against my point, but it isn’t.

I’ve never represented that kind of critics that judge things based on personal aesthetics in spite of popular success. Instead I take into consideration popular success because I believe that popular success is ALWAYS motivated and proves a point.

If I say MEO is mediocre I don’t intend FOR ME, if I don’t specify that precisely. I NEVER judge things from my very own preference if not stated, especially when I write observations about the whole industry as in that case.

What I meant is: another LotR that isn’t just a bland WoW clone could have been easily MORE successful.

And: because MEO is a poor WoW clone, it won’t be successful.

Then you can argue that this is not going to be the case, that making it a WoW clone means making it MORE successful. I accept that point of view (while disagreeing), but I don’t accept if you say that I’m whining because they didn’t build a game for ME.

What I said is that MEO is another huge wasted potential. And for “potential” I NEVER, in any case, intend a kind of niche and selected audience. I never write with a niche audience in mind and I never mistake my personal preference for what everyone else must like as well. This is valid both for my opinions as for my design ideas. The great majority of things I write here are intended to be in the interest of the majority of people, hopefully, but not obligatorily, including me.

And I surely don’t believe that SWG wasn’t successful because NOT COMPLETELY a diku in space. That’s a wrong lesson that you and many others have learnt. Or better, a wrong assumption.

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O.W.L.

Woot! One week without writing, I CAN resist!

Just a few comments about some latest thingies.


Warhammer and collision detection. There were some discussions about how it is going to work and I have some pertinent quotes:

Collision is most definitely in and working. It’s much easier to “feel” it than to see it, however, because it’s not like running into a brick wall when you hit an enemy player. You can “push through” or around them (which is what you’ll often see in RvR videos), but it takes time and effort to do so. Think of it like (American) football – where you CAN get past a defender, but it takes fancy footwork or a heckuva push to do so.

There is enemy collision currently. Friendly collision doesn’t serve nearly as many purposes and also poses significant risk of abuse in some cases.


EDIT (added later).

Some well founded hype in regards to Tabula Rasa. From an interview with Lum’s boss:

Instead of like with most MMOs in combat, you highlight a target, then you ignore the target, because he’s just going to stand there and whack you—and you are staring at the interface and clicking fireball/fireball/swordswing/healing potion—Tabula Rasa is a game where you’re really shooting through the reticle. You’re constantly observing what’s happening on the screen where you’re aiming. It’s still a role-playing game in the sense of when you shoot at something, it’s based on your equipment and attributes as to who will be injured…but they’re not just sitting there hitting you. Your opponent is moving and is aware of, say, if you’re behind sand bags, he has a lower probability of hitting you, so he may instead run around to the side, kick you to the ground and start rifle-butting you as required, or however they can find their best position to engage you.

It reminds me what I also wrote a number of times about interfaces and having the battlefield have an impact on the action, without being just a flat box decorated with pretty graphic, but also becoming tactically relevant. The bottom line here, what is really relevant, is to deliver all that consistently with the immersion. Visceral combat, the opposite of convoluted and math-intensive.

There are some parts of this game that sound interesting (like the dynamic PvE “shared” zones), while some parts are less convincing (his examples about the AI aren’t so good, even if the overall idea is great).

This other quote goes without commenting, as it was one of my main themes lately:

So, anyway, that’s what leads you up to the elder game. In most MMOs, the first decision you make is what class you’re going to play, and that’s a permanent decision for that character. And once you’ve started leveling, you can’t really go check out the other classes without starting over at Level 1. So what I think often happens…people will focus on one character to get up to peak level. If you have to start all over again, that’s what I would call one of the “opportunities to exit.”

Tabula Rasa is going to have some features that support my two general principles: “permeable barriers” and “gated content”.

we think people will explore a much broader suite of all the content we provide compared to most MMOs.


Brad McQuaid claim on Vanguard subs:

I can’t get into specifics, but we are well over 100,000 and growing steadily every day.

Which is already above my own expectations. Yet, not really meaningful. The interesting milestone is the three months after, as always and overall trend. My opinion is that Vanguard will peak sooner than similar mmorpgs, so it will grow faster (in relation to its own curve) and then remain steady or decline.

Players are still in their free month, so the only “fact” is that Vanguard is selling.

I also noticed this particular line in the patch notes:

– Updated camel mount speeds to be equal to horses of the same rank

Since different types of mount was also a feature in my “dream mmorpg” I wonder if their implementation is meaningful in Vanguard.

My idea was to have different types of mount, but also make them excused. It would be interesting for example see players use camels in the desert, or other mount types, even equipment, depending on where they go adventuring. It’s part of the “immersive” world, that is also a goal in Vanguard. The idea to encourage players using different mounts was to give them different “qualities”. So, simple example, a camel would move faster than an horse in the desert (and the horse even risk death), so making players USE different mounts. It was part of my attempt to give the terrain a role, different movement speeds and so on.

So I wonder what’s Vanguard implementation here. Are different mounts justified in the game with their own specific role and quality, or are they just a different looking model with a similar movement buff applied to it?

Oh, and there was also an fun comics. It’s the immersion and immersive game design.


(related to the last EQ expansion and rumored subs numbers)

Predictions.

today’s EQ + today’s EQ2 < yesterday's EQ In a year... today's EQ + today's EQ2 + today's Vanguard < yesterday's EQ -- EDIT (added later). My speculations and assumptions on Eve-Online revealed to be accurate (quoting their dev blogs):

So you framed factional warfare?

Yeah, an unfortunate fact of the re-focus, which has been known for some time now, is that the factional part of the factional warfare is on hold. We could do a small start of “factional action”, but it wouldn’t be the same and expectations are quite high.

You see, one aspect is that warfare has been levitating to a point which we, and we believe you, don’t necessary like. We all like player infrastructure, we all like the goals they create, and some of at least like to defend or attack that which we, or others, strive to create. But we don’t necessarily like to have to gather fleets in the size of 100’s to achieve anything at all, while possibly crashing server nodes – or at least lagging to hell and back.

Weak excuse, as the main goal of Factional Warfare should be, again, the bridge between casual players and the organized player’s corporation warfare. It’s the EXACT opposite of stacking large fleets to be able to accomplish something. It should be instead about setting goal and a campaign-style progression accessible for EVERYONE.

“Factional Warfare” should be the possibility to “affiliate” to NPC corps and fight in well-defined environments. You may portray it as a vaguely directed PvP structure that opens that layer to everyone, right away. Doing without the ultra-complex layers related to the big corps and their politics. Imagine it as some sort of WoW’s BattleGround, made flexible and adaptable, with these BGs and PvP-driven missions that adapt to a world that is being changed.

So we should have WoW’s BG accessibility from a side (everyone can jump in, participate and have fun right away) and a flexible, adaptable overall structure that transforms the game world and makes these battles have *consequences*. Shaping and transforming the empire space.

That’s the main strength of Eve, used right against its main weakness. Eve’s main strength is the overall, dynamic world structure, all its complex and intricate layers. Eve’s main weakness is its lack of accessibility for new players or even veterans who didn’t find a way to access the layer about corporations warfare and world conquest.

At this point I’m even doubting that my idea of “Factional Warfare” coincides with CCP’s idea.


Tobold on MEO:

LotRO is going to be the “next big thing”, the game you can’t possibly miss of 2007.

I laughed.

I’ve read that MEO is supposedly targeted at bored WoW players, but what I read from the boards is that in the best case playing MEO made people want to resub to WoW. Wonderful achievement there ;)

But that’s also the perfect description of MEO: an uninspired and soulless carbon copy of WoW.

Best review from Haemish:

LOTRO is a boring game that’s a mishmash of D&D Online with every other diku ever made. It failed my 30-minute MMOG rule.

Margalis also:

I think the “hate” for LOTRO is that it is a WOW clone that is a step below WOW.

I wouldn’t say there is hate rather than disinterest.

Don’t take me seriously, I’ve put everything Turbine’s in the garbage bin. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to regret it.

You have to have serious talent to shit on so much potential (meaning Turbine ruining D&D, LotR and even their own IP, AC2). And yeah, you deserve NO RESPECT if when you have a LotR license on your hands and the best thing you can think of is making it a WoW clone. And I don’t mean those at Turbine who put their work in the game, I mean those who made the calls. So, again, you deserve no respect.

Turbine, the wither of mmo worlds.

Btw, where’s this “great graphic”? Better than Vanguard? Sure, but that’s something hardly to be proud of. From what I see it has a LOD worse than Oblivion, with a sharp cut between close and far clip plane. There aren’t even LOD transitions, trees seem to go from full detail right into flat bitmap billboards. The far clip plane not only has muddy textures, but these placeholder trees aren’t even put on the terrain, they look all flying with their roots in the air. World design is slightly better than Vanguard, but still very lackluster and plain, same for the textures. The graphic looks as bland and uninspired as the game design. A coherent game, I guess.

I don’t think MEO is a terrible game that deserves “the hate” or scorn. But, taken for what it is, it is a mediocre game.


Comics and games. Common ground. This is a quote from Bryan Hitch about the delay of Civil War, also somewhat pertinent to the game industry:

These days we have the benefit of hindsight and there are precedents. You can’t set out to create a classic or a series with longevity but it’s getting easier for publishers to spot them as they unfold because the collection market is so large now and one can see what works and what doesn’t. A fill-in might potentially stave off an unfortunate delay but hurt the long term property potential and the only reason a company would consider a fill-in necessary would be to avoid a financial hit in the short term not to keep you guys happy. If they are willing to take what must be a massive hit in the pocket, believing in it’s long term potential, to allow it’s creators to finish the book as intended then that isn’t really a bad thing.

If we do things the way they have always been done then we don’t develop. It pays to be flexible, I guess and Marvel obviously believe they are doing the best thing in the long game for a product they believe in and one that has already proven more successful than they belived possible.

Comics and games industry are closer than what you may expect. Both have to deal with art from one side and industry from the other. In the form of production, time constraints, deadlines, plans and projections. They involve hundreds of people, each with his own competency.

Both comics and games are an industry built on art, but still industry. Industry and art naturally collide, but that conflict sometimes produces authentic masterpieces.

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Justifying RMT is justifying speculation

I had already read Psychochild’s justification of RMT as a comment on Sara Jensen’s blog, now he goes further on his blog, and he is still WRONG.

Does WoW suck as well because people are buying gold and paying others to skip “the boring parts”? If so, I think we’re pretty fucking doomed when it comes to making a game that doesn’t suck! History doesn’t look very kindly on us in this matter….

Yes, WoW SUCKS on those aspects. Guess what? Even WoW isn’t perfect and still carries with itself some old, bad habits. Blizzard didn’t eradicate all of them and there are some core design points already unresolved.

It’s absolutely not a case that RMT infiltrates exactly in the most flawed and vulnerable parts of the game. In WoW RMT gains its legitimation (meaning creating a desire) in two main cases. One is the “epic mount”, on which Penny Arcade made a comics, the other is on endgame raid maintenance. The third being powerleveling services, which is a different aspect I already commented.

What is WRONG is to JUSTIFY the potential problem and refuse to observe it from the game design perspective. If it’s all good and all justified then there’s NO REASON to try to make better games.

The destructive effect of RMT is on this industry is exactly because it leads to justify everything instead of looking at things from a critical perspective. Justifying RMT is the first step to justify speculation, justify bad habits and justify bad game design. Justifying it because there aren’t solutions. That’s what they want YOU to believe.

The real issue is what Raph points out in the power-leveling article above: the primary motivation is to keep up with your friends.

Yeah, and what’s this? Is it not an important aspect to think about? Or maybe we just justify this one too, because WoW is perfect and so IT CANNOT BE CRITICIZED. And since it’s perfect and YET RMT happens, then it means that RMT is justified too.

while I’ve said that RMT is usually something that people use to make up for time they can’t dedicate to the game, I think the stronger motivation is variety.

Oh yes. And how’s this justified as well?

These are all hints of something wrong. You can keep justifying all of these, or you can strive to make better games. I thought the role of a game designer is to QUESTION how things work. To not sit on the superficial level but to DELVE, observe and figure out different possibilities. And this process starts with asking questions to ourself, to refuse the simplistic answers. To NOT FEEL CONTENT. And not to provide justifications for all kind of crap they are trying to feed us just because they want to speculate on it.

Game design HAS TO start from discontent, because without discontent you cannot wish for something better.

Anyway, in the end RMT is going to happen.

Yes, till RMT is supported and encouraged, it is going to happen. The truth is, again, that game developers want to perpetuate it.

It’s a DELIBERATE choice, so have the courage to admit it.

A game designer should NEVER justify anything in any case. Because that coincides with the end of the job.

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Call RMT for what it is: Speculation

Let’s be honest. The ultimate goal has always been about making players pay MORE. Not less.

SOE has always pioneered on this field. They were the firsts to rise the monthly fee, to try to push up the standard monthly fee with SWG, to offer pay services as the ones for EQ2, to push out expansion packs every six months regularly, and then mini packs in the case of EQ2 again. Then RMT and even the Station Pass. Yes, cumulatively you pay “less”, but they probably noticed that the majority of the players didn’t keep subscriptions active for more than one game. So it’s always the same, trying to make the customer cumulatively pay more than the 15 dollars every month.

I’m pretty sure that if Blizzard and other prominent MMO companies went to propose SOE to make a cartel and all agree to rise the monthly fees, SOE would gladly accept.

So it all comes to “make you pay MORE”. Find ways to persuade you to pay more. And this is even legitimate for a commercial company (even if upside down).

If you are aware of this, then you also know exactly where it is going this myth of the “free game”. To be commercially viable, they would need to make a game where if one player plays for free, there’s another who not only pays for himself, but also for the player who didn’t spend any $. So, if someone can pay “less”, then someone else HAS TO pay “more”. You cannot escape this situation.

Whenever someone is trying to offer you something for “free”, he is trying to fuck you. With no exceptions.

So if you make a game with no monthly fee you have to COMPENSATE it through other means. And this compensation must equal or exceed the standard monthly fee, or this business model would be a fiasco. The only good part of all of it, being solely about the “accessibility”: if the game has zero costs upfront, then more likely players will approach it and decide to stay.

That’s one aspect. The other is about game design.

The problem of “alts”. It’s true (as Darniaq repeated on a thread on F13) that the most desirable aspect of RMT in “our” kind of games is buying leveled characters. It’s boring for EVERYONE going through the game after the third, fourth time and more. It is perfectly understandable if some players look for “shortcuts”. And if they accept RMT to be a good one.

This also doesn’t take anything off the quality of the game. It would happen even in WoW, where the treadmill is still an excellent experience. But it’s an experience that gets redundant.

Now the point is: you can decide to SPECULATE on this aspect and use the demand of the players as a perfect occasion to put your hands in the players’ wallet. Or you can observe this aspect and offer GAMEPLAY alternatives that can lead to better games.

I did already these kinds of homework. The main reasons why people feel the necessity of creating more alts are to (1) switch servers, often to go play with someone else, (2) try out different combinations/classes. I completely solved BOTH of these with my own design ideas that I repeated recently and that always been the basis of all I wrote since when I started writing.

Server travel goes to solve the first problem, and the “permeable” class system goes to solve the second. If I can start a new character with a different class, why it would be negative to let players develop different careers/classes on the SAME character? Why imposing the players to build brand new identities when what they want is MAINLY just a gameplay variation? Why we cannot offer this variation they ask without taking away forcefully also their identities?

All these questions are THE BASE OF GAME DESIGN. If you don’t consider these, then you have NO RIGHT to be in the game industry. These goals coincide with making good games, that are seen as good. They provide answers to needs and wishes of the players.

The contradiction with the wicked model of RMT is that it’s not convenient to think and provide those solutions. They are asking game designers to go against their job. Design trappings at the EXPENSE of players. Make worse games in order to profit. Create flaws in order to speculate on them.

Medics who don’t completely heal in order to continue to milk money off you. Medics who deliberately HURT in order to speculate.

And this is utterly disgusting. Not only it is wicked, but it will also BACKFIRE SPECTACULARLY, as it is completely foolish and contradictory.

And that’s the second aspect. The third aspect is that Smed’s laudable purpose of making a free game, based on RMT, but where the RMT only affects “non-game impacting items”, is just impracticable. And I’m don’t say this because I don’t like it. I’m saying this because it’s not commercially sustainable. It goes nowhere. It’s a soap bubble.

The basic problem is: how can you fund a whole game where the small minority who practices RMT is supposed to cover the costs for every other player?

It’s not going to happen. Second Life is a soap bubble itself. People forget that it isn’t commercially profitable. So or you do these kinds of stuff for researching purposes, or you HAVE TO put there a “trap” so that some players spend enough to cover the costs for players who are spending less. A game with “non-game impacting items” is a game completely playable without paying one dollar, and without a substitute source of income it is a game that is supposed to run without any money. Are now game developers benefactors?

Take another, but related form of RMT, already active in WoW. Why if I want to join my friends on another server with my current character I have to pay for the transfer?

Let’s assume Blizzard sold leveled 60 or 70 characters. I’m sure players would buy them so that they could play with their guilds.

Now the problem is that you can be an idiot and see these as perfect occasions to make money, or you can see these examples as GLARING examples of games’ flaws. I defined them “emergencies”, and emergencies they are. In the first case you are SPECULATING on players’ needs. Deliberately avoiding to fix these problems and make better game in order to speculate on these flaws. In order to perpetuate them.

They keyworld is: speculation. Those who support and promote RMT are speculators in this industry and you should know that speculators are by definition parasites that don’t help at all the cause. Because the interests conflict.

Speculating on the same barriers between players that it’s years I’m fighting against. I asked people in this industry to react and do something about those emergencies, but the current discussion about RMT is already an answer. These people have NO INTEREST of doing something, because their goal is just about PERPETUATING THE STATUS QUO AND SPECULATE ON IT.

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Smed, the visionary who sees the past

I promised myself to not comment, but I’ll spare this (Smed on RMT):

We all know farming is rampant in MMOs (yes, ours included), but there is a very concerted effort in most of the major MMOs to stop it. It absolutely negatively affects people’s gameplay.

And:

I believe the real future of RMT is actually a really bright one if we can work on our game designs in such a way as to make it a cool part of the games.

An apparent contradiction. But it’s not, because he has a Vision:

What if an in-game tailor had the toolset to actually put cool designs on clothing and literally make them custom for different players, and then that person could open a virtual storefront on Station Exchange. That’s the kind of cool thing we see in the future and frankly it’s the direction we want to steer things.

But wait. I would consider “Vision” as something that is “not here yet”. Am I wrong?

So I wonder, if he wants these cool things why doesn’t he go play Second Life? Or buy it. He has an habit about buying things, shouldn’t be hard. Or maybe he could have embraced what Raph is doing, that should be close and YET more game-y. But he didn’t. There was in fact a complete disagreement: “his current interests take him into areas that don’t match SOE’s strategic goals”. So what? Maybe Smed got the Vision too late when Raph had already packed his things and left?

I really wish he went “Second Life” route. So that we could better recognize these things and KEEP THEM FAR AWAY.

Your hands off my loved games. Stay very away.

To create an ecosystem for players to make money from these games while they’re having fun.

Almost like Google ads on blog sites.

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The last nail on DAoC’s coffin

From an interview with Copper:

what we’re doing is taking the resources we would devote to an expansion – artists, quests, content, programmers – we’re taking those guys and they are all focused on delivering high-level content every two weeks.

When you replace the last bits of game development with “live events” it means it’s really over.

Game devs can only grow in Austin nowadays

From Sunsword’s blog:

Last Friday was my last day at Codemasters. I’ve started a new company called “Heatwave Interactive, Inc.”, as a vehicle to bring great games to the masses and “right” some of the “wrongs” in the games business. Currently, Heatwave only has a few employees, but we’ve already landed our first contract for a major client.

Codemasters & England.

Heatwave & Austin.

If you aren’t in Austin you are no one.

Sometimes I can touch Game Design with my finger

Sometimes I can distinctly FEEL it. I can sink my teeth into it. It’s meaty.

It happened in the case of the quote from Jpoku (here below, and I repeat it’s a wonderfully “pure” design lesson) and it happened again in a discussion on Oscuro’s mod.

You can read all of it here, or just this quote:

Let me say this bluntly. The concept of “rarity” in a single player game is STUPID. Because rarity can be perceived only if you play through a number of times to appreciate the differences. It works on games like Diablo because these games are relatively empty of content and the fun is to rinse and repeat. But in a game like Oblivion what truly matters is the “one time through”. And the design goal is to make this one time through as the very BEST possible. So you don’t allow random dice rolls to fuck the game. You don’t allow the “best of the worlds possible” to be generated in one between millions of cases. Instead you take that best case and make absolutely sure that it happens in the exact same way on everyone else’s computer.

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