What is to save

I’ve said many times that the game industry, especially the MMO branch, needs more failures. There have been many recently, but it doesn’t seem even close to be “enough”. Maybe some developers are concerned because it becomes harder to find money to start new projects, but the point is that in all cases these projects are born from a “me too” intent, more than a need to make something new that is felt as *indispensable*. If your game doesn’t add anything new and isn’t felt as indispensable, in a way or another, then it doesn’t deserve to be made.

Things need to be done because there are solid ideas behind, because they answer a demand. Projects shouldn’t be started before the ideas are there. Today any new MMO announced brings absolutely nothing new to the table, nor has any idea on how to improve what we have already. Under these premises, I’m happy if they continue to fail.

Successes should be motivated, not simply incremented. I want a MMO to succeed not so that other companies have an easier time finding money. I want a MMO to succeed when there are good motivations to make it a success. No MMO released in the last years had good motivations that would justify a success. If we had MMOs being successful without being good games, then we would have an industry that feels legitimated in releasing more crap and lowering the quality level. We should be all thankful if this isn’t happening and if this genre isn’t felt anymore as the goose that lays the golden eggs. That trend just brought us crap and we still aren’t out of it. So the more failures, the better.

From the personal perspective, the way I consider a good game is the same that makes me consider a good book: if after a while I feel that I could do a better work then I stop reading/playing, because I feel that I’m just wasting my time. Fortunately, this isn’t happening often.

These are some examples from games that I played recently and that I enjoyed:

Assassin’s Creed – It is redundant and probably needed more time to add some variety (as Charles admitted on the forums), but it gives a lot of freedom and has that “visceral feel” done rather well. The Controls are also well thought and original in their own way. Where it truly excels is in the animation system and direction. Up to now the crown was of God of War. Assassin’s Creed surpassed it. Best animations ever, and obsessive attention to detail.

Fallout 3 – It’s one of the better realized worlds, visually. Probably one notch above Bioshock (but Bioshock was more creative). I never liked Bethesda’s gameplay design, and even here I believe that the majority of gameplay is rather bad. Everything that moves looks bad and the effect becomes exponentially worse when it involves scripted NPC sequences. It’s the game where the environment surpasses the gameplay. A bad game, but a world that deserved to be experienced (as long you just watch, and don’t pretend to interact).

The Witcher – Another game with terrible gameplay. The combat system has nothing that is worth saving. Counterintuitive, clunky, hard to parse. The reason to play this is the opposite of the usual: it’s a bad game with a good story. It has an eastern european flavor that is on its own unique, and it’s one rpg where you can actually “roleplay”. There’s not much in the way of “game”, but there’s a lot in the way of being in a story and let it flow. A game from the past.

Left 4 Dead – This is a game, like other Valve games, that attempts to do just one thing, but manages to do it exceptionally well. I don’t think it’s worth the full price as it is just a mod idea done with high production value. The narrow scope makes it extremely limited and so not worth the price, imho. That said, there’s virtually nothing I would change in game design. It’s as close as possible to a flawless execution. Good graphic, fast engine, the best cooperative gameplay ever. Playing with just four players represents the perfect cooperative balance. For the full price I’d have expected ten different characters or so to pick, with some subtle differences in gameplay between them. Also one more campaign and even there different gameplay instead of just different environments.

FarCry 2 – It’s the concept of the kind of game I may love. One seamless world to explore. A FPS sandbox that makes you play the way you like. With non-linear paths and different storylines to follow and entwine. This game only realizes a fragment of these ambitions, but it is enough to make an interesting game. It’s immersive, has an engine that runs well and yet accomplishes/simulates a number of features that have consequences on the gameplay. It has many flaws, especially in game design, but they can be forgiven. I still can’t figure out why they haven’t released a patch that increases respawn timers. Everyone rants about that, it’s easily fixable (add a slider maybe), yet they do nothing.

Call of Duty 4 – Last year, but still on my HD. It’s the best shooter gameplay. The game is rather short, but it has a high replay value. The gameplay is so well done and fun that it never gets old. Very good engine, good graphic. It’s entirely scripted, but it’s this scripting that makes it good. Not only you can pick different paths through a level, but every time you die and redo the last bit, you seem to find a different situation. It’s a reactive game, scripted perfectly. Good to play on “hard” difficulty as dying doesn’t really break the flow (you are back into action right away, being surprised again).

Sins of the Solar Empire – I didn’t have a lot of time to dig in this one but it is the perfect blend between the no-personality 4X strategy games and Homeworld. Mix of tactical and strategical. It is an indie game that deserves success, also because of the absence of copy protection and the good support (with patches, the main reason why I bought it). Good production value, huge battles, decent engine. It’s a pleasure to explore and the demonstration that even an indie game can have a decent production value and very good gameplay. Also good AI.

Fifa 09 – Huh, well. The type of game to fill that niche where you want to have some fun without too much commitment. It’s either sport or driving games. Up to this year the best was Pro Evolution Soccer 6, but that franchise went worse instead of better. Fifa 99 is playable. It gets a bit repetitive and deja-vu, stuck into certain patterns, but it has pleasant controls and avoids a lot of the frustration. Maybe a bit too easy to “game”, and could use a lot of tweaks in the UI and plenty of other minor, and easily solvable quirks.

WoW: WotLK – It’s still the best, better designed MMO by far. When this one launched it brought many, many good ideas to the genre and fixed an almost endless list of problems. A list that today isn’t considered because those aspects are now considered norm. If the game was successful it’s because it had very good game design and many good ideas. If other MMOs fail today it’s because they have bad game design and because they solve or improve virtually nothing. WoW has two flaws. The PvP is still only a fragment of its true potential (I haven’t tried Wintergrasp, but the idea to make the zone so hard to reach is already a terrible flaw), and the game is so big that it may become a problem. Sometimes you have so much to do that it may take too much time to get there that you just won’t bother. You can feel that it is eating your life.

These are the games that I played recently and that I thought were good in a way or another. Add maybe Mount & Blade.

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Oops!… I did it again

But at least there’s no hate nor arguing.

There are two other frequent and well known problems in Warhammer Online that I think my old proposal would address nicely.

Problem 1: Warbands camping Warcamps
This is a frequent situation that players should be accustomed to. Beside trading keeps to quickly collect loot, the other popular form of RvR is “sieging” the enemy warcamp while staying outside the range of the guards. This because the respawn timers are short and so they provide a continuous stream of enemies to kill, so points. The situation partially bandaided with diminishing returns (making recently killed players worth fewer points).

Problem 2: Players throwing themselves at the enemy and respawning over and over
This is a similar problem to the once above, but from a different perspective. The players are disappointed because with constantly respawning enemy players it is kind of pointless to kill them and battles become simply a matter of attrition. This situation makes players suggest all kinds of foul solutions, like longer travel times or respawn timers. In DAoC one example of these foul solutions was to make players wait for 20 minutes on a pad waiting for a port to the frontier zones.

How to solve or at least improve Open RvR in these situations? Long term this can be done with a strategic layer to the battle that is currently missing from the game (making players care more about the campaign than the single skirmish), but since this is a complex solution and the game is nowhere close to make it possible, I’ll go with the simpler fixes.

The first problem is entirely solvable by rewarding players to fight around the objectives. If these rewards existed then it wouldn’t be convenient for anyone to siege the spawn points. the players would stay around BOs and Keeps and fight there. More details about this idea can be found again here.

The second problem can be consistently reduced, without doing more damage, by using another of my old proposals. You revert the approach. Instead of punishing players if they die, you reward those who survive. You make a new rule so that the more players you kill without dying, the more points you earn, increasing a bonus.

At the same time you also make these “hero” players who survive for long like “preys”. In the same way they build a bonus for killing players, they also start to be worth more points progressively, so becoming very enticing targets for the enemy. There should also be some kind of visual recognition so that enemy players would spot easily these “special” players and hunt them. The details of this kind of “visual cues” should be discussed with Mythic’s art team.

This is what I’d do.

While I think those two changes alone would be enough to make a much better game, there’s also one other aspect that should go in:
– Make BOs linked to the keeps, so that the more BOs you have under your faction control, the weaker are the defenses of the keep and much easier the siege. Keeps should be very hard to conquer if the enemy doesn’t hold any BO, and very easy if it holds them all before the siege to the keep. This would also start to shape some kind of strategical layer.

A thing of beauty

Here below you can see some stunning paintings (click for hi-res) with fantastic scenery and some steampunk elements. These aren’t simple images, they are screen captures from an animated movie made by Studio Ghibli: Iblard Jikan.

It’s definitely not the usual anime. 30 minutes, without a real story, without dialogue and with minimal animation. It’s pure mood, beauty and harmony, yet extremely powerful. Poetry made picture. Naohisa Inoue is the visionary artist (and director) who built this kind of word.

It simply deserves to be seen, especially because it fills the heart while being so sparse.

I doubt this can have a commercial distribution on our side of the world, so, maybe, it’s almost acceptable if I link the torrent file and the website from where it comes.

Welcome to the age of high definition (the video may require a powerful CPU to decode, either try VLC player or the CoreAVC codecs).

Enjoy one of the greatest spectacles ever made. A world of epic-ness and beauty.

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Quote interlude

From Colours in the Steel, K. J. Parker. This is a passage that doesn’t seem meaningful in any particular way, but that I think is a good, non clamorous, example of the clever characterization in the book:

‘Now then,’ Alexius said, ‘close your eyes, and then I want you to tell me what you see.’
The twins shut their eyes obediently; the male, Venart, with his face screwed up into that inevitable embarrassed-but-determined scowl a man always wears when he suspects he’s being made a fool of but daren’t give mortal offence by refusing; the female, Vetriz, with a rapt expression of pure bliss, as befits a nice girl having a wonderful adventure.

This other one instead is a ‘technical’ description of the realistic handling of a two-handed sword. The books is filled with this type of research, while managing to not bore the reader:

Athli, who had imagined great haymaking sweeps and cuts, was disappointed to discover that in practice the Zweyhender was used more as a long-bladed poleaxe or halberd than as a sword. Employed in this way, with its nicely calculated weight and balance, it could be used for fast, accurate lunges, wicked little prods and intricate parries, all executed with a minimum of movement. Far from being a heroic weapon, she realised, such as a dragonslayer or mighty man of valour might wield, it was the tool of the man who plays the percentages, providing a solid and foolproof defence as first priority while allowing its user to go on the offensive quickly and with an acceptable minimum of risk when it was reasonably prudent to do so. At least with the slim, sharp law-sword there was a degree of grace and style, a residual trace of flamboyance in the ebb and flow of the fight. The Zweyhendermen trundled forward into a minimum-exposure scenario and negotiated rather than fought, tracing a series of formal measures which made it hard to lose and equally hard to win. It was sensible; it was businesslike and extremely practical. It was no fun.

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Tired of this

From F13, some more unfounded accusations from people who are completely clueless about what they talk:

Hrose was banned because he had an unstoppable pathological hatred for and compulsion to troll one particular person (if you can stand the stupid, there was some argument about how MJ disrespected Hrose when responding to one of Hrose’s secret personas on other boards that were created to troll MJ)

1- I was banned because Shild was ready to jump at the slight occasion I gave, since he doesn’t like me and that’s his message board (no problem with this).
2- What triggered the ban was a bait that MJ threw himself, and I fell on it instead of replying to him in a PM like I should have done. It was him to call me out twice, on the Vault and F13, but the thread on the Vault was locked before I could reply.
3- I have no pathological, nor compulsive hatred for MJ. In fact I don’t have anything against MJ as a person. I don’t know him, don’t pretend to have any idea about how he is in person. I criticize MJ the game designer, solely on the public figure and what he does in practice.
4- MJ didn’t respond to any secret personas. He *thought* I had made accounts to troll him, but I have no responsibilities if someone else makes accounts on a forum and posts things from this blog without asking my permissions, in the same way I can’t be responsible for spam that may appear on the blog. MJ never apologized for accusing me of this.

There’s a very wide gap between truth and its perception. No one cares about these details but I’m always forced to explain. So if you want to accuse me then you also have to consider the details. If you don’t fucking care, then drop the thing instead of exhuming it again and again.

It is true that MJ is a “target” for me. It is true that I wrote many posts where I call him out directly. This is not representing any particular fixation with his persona. In the same way I never had any fixation with Lum, Dave Rickey, Raph Koster, Jeff Freeman or Tom Chilton. The frequency these people appeared in my posts is proportional to my interest. It’s not incidental the fact that for nearly five years I wrote about game design, in particular about PvP, and these guys have been most involved with those aspects. Especially lately Tom Chilton and Mark Jacobs. Both lead designers of the two mmorpgs I played in the last years.

This is alike saying to someone who has a blog about politics that he is obsessed with either Obama or Bush. So lets forget this stupidity, please. And when you explain why I was banned have the courage to say simply I wasn’t liked.

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