Horizons with no horizon

Schmoo @ F13:

“All things considered, it seems to me that AE has no chance at all to become even a marginally profitable company with or without its current management.”

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Well and not so well

The work on the site is proceeding well and not so well.

Well because I reworked the layout by deconstructing and analyzing Jeff Freeman’s blog and now the site is more solid, without tables disappearing or moving around in IE. I’ve solved also other issue and the layout is more coherent. I’m quite satisfied with the result, at least till I decide to build something completely new. The engine for the blog is also behaving and at least the comments should work with no problems (when I define the templates, not yet).

Not so well because this blog engine is basically mantained by just one guy and, obviously, the support is near zero despite his constant work. I think it’s a tweak based on Nucleus. The fact is that if he doesn’t answer directly to what I ask, noone else will. So if I hit a wall I have to renounce and go in another direction.

The current layout and progression can be checked here.

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Mythic makes me smile

Mark Jacobs is gone wild by announcing free levels and gold for their game. The demagogy cannot fail and in fact the players are rejoicing. Not different from real politics where the promise is about less taxes… while all the rest goes to hell. I’m not even sure how exactly this works, even after Sanya’s clarification I still don’t understand if the free level will be gained only if you level once or less each week, but it’s not important from what I want to say. One thing is obvious, the idea is to counter Blizzard’s “rest system” with something similar but more effective. And here’s where they making a big mistake.

Mythic has always been extremely receptive about what happens in the market. They observe attentively and try to learn from what happens in other MMOGs. It’s a very good model and I like the attitude. A pair of month ago they copied CoH’s sidekicking and even if not perfect it was an interesting attempt. Now they are trying to imitate WoW’s attitude about being more casual-player friendly. A crucial challenge for this genre as a whole. This time is not important to delve in the design model to see if there are better solutions or if that’s really the problem to solve. What is important is that Mythic is failing completely at understanding the scope of what Blizzard is doing.

The “rest system” is only a very tiny element of their approach. Perhaps the most striking but surely the less important. Blizzard is planning their game to be accessible from the ground up. Accessible “out of the box”. This means that not only they have silly mechanics like the “rest system” to give a cookie and a wink to the casual player that still need to be seduced by this genre (or mass market player, in Lum’s definition). But they have the whole game built with that aim. It’s cohesive, it’s an “holistic” design that defines a basic principle. It’s not an attempt at solving a problem by adding a workaround. It’s a strongly effective approach that starts from the ground and reaches the top. I’m saying that the “rest system” is only a small part because by playing the game you’ll notice how deep is this idea in the design. The very fist step is about the character creation. It’s obvious how different is WoW from other MMOGs, DAoC in particular. You don’t need to know anything about the game mechanics because during the creation of the character you’ll only choose what you are supposed to know without a strong knowledge of the game: a name, a race, a class and the aspect. That’s all, exactly all you need before starting to have fun. Other games force you to choose the statistics, but you cannot do that without knowing already the ruleset of the game. This is just the beginning because everything is planned to be intuitive and fun. You start on a newbie zone and in a few seconds you have already a pair of quests that teach you the very basics of the game. Blizzard’s work isn’t about a cookie here and there. It’s about an extensive design that involves the controls, the interface, how the zones are built. And more. Because the real, important part is that the ruleset itself is built to be compelling but at the same time easy to understand and master.

DAoC is the opposite. Years of band aids have transformed it in a colossal mess. Too often problems have been ignored or just partially “solved” with ineffective workarounds. This new idea included. Thinking that WoW will appeal the mass market just because it has a very silly “rest system” is a huge mistake. WoW is a lot more, it is cohesive. DAoC is loosing pieces instead. Entire parts of the game are becoming useless and obsolete because they are left out of the design evolution. Mythic modifies a part but another one crumbles. They apply a patch and the wound begins to bleed heavily only months later. Being receptive about what happens around them isn’t enough. DAoC’s body isn’t healthy at all, there are a lot of symptoms and if Mythic keeps ignoring them the game will suffer more and more.

The fact is that you cannot transform a messy game for catasses into a one that appeals the casual players just by adding free cookies. It will be obvious when WoW will be out. DAoC has problems everywhere in the design, from the char creation to the whole PvE and the whole ruleset. After two years I need various hours of reasearch before I’m able to create a non-gimpled character. Even the classes I play have still very obscure parts about how they work concretely. You’ll never completely understand the dynamics involved because they’ll change for each class. Nearly impossible to understand how the spec points influence each style and spell. And those are just a few examples. DAoC is absurdly complicated. Mistakes have been built on other mistakes and the whole game is weak because the design is never coherent even with itself. Rules have been built on broken rules and exceptions have been added and re-tweaked constantly. Real world’s laws are more easy to understand. Even two weeks ago they added overlapping res sickness. Plus the sidekicking system that isn’t documented anywhere, even less in the game. It will be soon forgotten just because noone remembers about it. Half of each of their patch is about mysterious slash commands that 95% of the playerbase will never remember.

Installing Linux and recompiling the kernel is easier than playing DAoC. Linux isn’t mass market.

DAoC needs the design to take a complete different direction. Problems that have been ignored for too much time must be addressed at their core, without waiting more. The deisgn needs a more holistic approach, without loosing pieces along the road with entire parts of the game becoming obsolete. Things like the epic armors must have a role, must be redisigned to provide the fun. The whole PvE needs work to be compelling and interesting. Providing alternate advancement paths is good, but not if it corresponds to dodge the attention over an unsolved problem. I don’t want a new expension to fix the errors of the previous one. I want the errors “healed”, not replaced with a new part built on top of the other.

A MMOG is a living body. You cannot fix it by adding more and more superstructures. You cannot heal it by applying too many plasters or ignoring and dodging some of the symptoms.

The new proposed system won’t make the game more casual players friendly, nor it will solve population unbalance. It will just make more obvious that the game is suffering this design strategy about ignoring problems and adding workarounds at will. When a game with a different approach will be out, all that I’m saying here will become more clear. The players’ enthusiasm about a few new cookies will vanish when something else will offer something really different.

It’s fun that, while Mythic was revealing the plan to the public, their server programmer was explaining during a conference why it will fail.

It’s what makes me smile.

It’s gonna be a mess

I’ve decided to build the whole site on multiple engines.

PunBB is too lovely to not be used, so it will power the forums on this site (that aren’t used, sadly). The temp path is here.

Drupal will keep powering the news aggregator and it will mantain also a copy of all the articles/news I write, since I can use multiple categories. I won’t use teasers, the page will be always filled by long and short articles together. And it will remain here.

Nucleus/BlogCMS will go on the main page, replacing completely MovableType. It’s a blog engine quite powerful even if a bit messy. The best feature is that there’s a plugin to integrate it with punBB so it’s a must now that I love that forum engine. I’ll go back to use just the four categories but at least I’ll be able to use the teasers so the page will be more readable. I’ll also work on the theme so that it will be a lot less messy and more readable. I could also try to imitate the design of the punBB theme. Right now I’m still fiddling and solving the problems I’m encountering. The temp path is here.

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Fiddling with the site (and falling in love with a forum)

I’ve worked for various hours on this site. Studying other CMS and installing them on the server to see if I find better solutions.

I tried e107 and my attempt is still active here. There is an incredible amount of stuff in this CMS but it also misses very basic features, like the possibility to group the news entries under the same “day header” and the possibility to classify each news with multiple categories. Anyway it’s probably the best CMS around feature-wise. And there’s also an awesome tutorial to theme it. Not easy at all but very powerful and well documented.

I don’t think I’ll work a lot more with it because it’s one of those CMS similar to PHP-Nuke or PostNuke. A fuckload of features but nearly zero costomization that isn’t about the definition of how a block appears. I want to manage what’s IN the block.

Now I’m working on something else and I’m in love. I found a forum engine that is absolutely wonderful:
Tons of features. Simple. Amazingly fast. No images. Sleek layout.

It’s a dream, it’s really the best you can ask from a forum and more. The engine is called PunBB. You can see it working here.

It has all the features of the most troubled forums engines like phpBB but combined in a perfect harmony that can easily seduce whoever passes by. It’s so beautiful that it’s a pity that I don’t have anything I can put in it. It feels too good to be left like that.

I would love to see a good community using a forum so relaxing, easy to use and powerful.

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Fuck Drupal


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Katricia leaves WoW

World of Warcraft’s Community Manager Katricia leaves the team to chase “other opportunities”. I wonder what’s better than working for the most fun and promising game that is going to enter the market.

I really cannot understand this. She was doing an awesome work.

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Team play

Raph Koster:
We may not like it, but all empirical evidence at the moment seems to show that requiring cooperative team play for success causes greater retention.

Battle System – A design idea

Version 2.0 of my Battle System.
Less messy and more organized.

I’ll try to not be too boring like I usually am (and despite the horrible english). The idea comes from a long experience in DAoC, from its mistakes and what could be taken and developed from there to build something different but more *fun and compelling*. I’ll take an idea that went terribly wrong in DAoC: the Master Levels. Everything, from their achievement till their role in the game are seen by the community more or less as a disaster. What I think is that the idea is still awesome but with an awful implementation. Now I thought about “salvaging” what’s good and use it to “fire” my imagination and suggest a complete new system for WoW. With these goals:

+ Provide a good reward system/treadmill for PvP
+ Give the players a reason and a concrete purpose to fight for, avoiding to provide excuses to “host” completely faked and maningless battles
+ Develop a number of skills that will be used exclusively on -large scale- battles, leaving the PvE aspect alone
+ Add depth to the system so that it will involve a complex strategical gameplay and not a sudden zerg instant pointless battle
+ Develop this system so that it will be deeper than just access a set of determined skills. The idea is to build a battle system where everyone has a concrete different *role* based on the achieved rank
+ Epic feel, endless possibilities to expand the system (patches and/or specific expansions) and the sense of wonder that the current game misses

In DAoC the reward system is based on Realm Points. By killing enemies you earn these points and by collecting more of them you earn ranks and cumulative points that you can spend to gain directly new skills. This system works nicely because it gives you a concrete reason to go fight in a PvP environment. The “treadmill” feeds the fun as the levelling does in the standard PvE: killing monsters must be fun but you also need to provide reasons to excuse the gameplay and hook the players. Levelling and gaining skills are hooks. In PvP you need both the hooks and a reason to give depth to the PvP, like a conquest system where the battles have a purpose aside the single encounters.

Considering WoW, it’s obvious that copying DAoC’s system isn’t the best way to go. WoW will have “Hero” classes and they sound already a pain to design without destroying the game. Another new system that gives more skills to the players and that need to be extensively balanced isn’t a good idea. My opinion is that there should be a completely new “battle system” that will offer its own gameplay and rewards (and also define differences between battleground and a possible, different endgame). How to achieve all this?

1. Ranks, squads and generals

The PvP should be defined by “ranks”. These ranks will not only give to each player the access to new sets of specific skills (creating a specific treadmill, undependent from PvE), but they will also define the role of each player during a battle. Opening possibilities and setting specific goals depending on your role. These ranks depend on points you can gain during the PvP. And these points can be gained in two ways. The first is by killing opponents, the second is by accomplishing set purposes (like specific missions). This shapes already the structure of both the reward and the gameplay system. The ranks not only define the new treadmill with its own rewards (the “hooks”) but they define also the gameplay since both your goals and possibilities in a battle depend on your rank. Plus there should be a visualization system for them. There should be graphical elements that will allow other players to “read” the rank of a player just by looking at them. This should be done by just setting a zone on the armor (like a shoulder or the chest) where the ranks are graphically displayed.

At this point the players could organize in “squads” and each squad will be able to choose a player (between the highest ranks) to become a “general”. When a general is set, a big flag with the symbol of the guild will appear on his back and will vanish only when he’ll disband the squad. This flag is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Advantage because a general has access to skills that will produce bonuses for everyone fighting around him (bonuses to magic, resistence, defence, attack..). A disadvantage because a leader with a flag on his back is easily recognizable, enemies could just focus on him to kill him and wipe the bonuses he’s infusing in the allies.

To conclude this section a few words about how PvP points should be gained. As I said, aside specific missions and goals related to a whole squad (like killing a leader, forcing a retreat and so on), points can be gained just by killing opponents. How the amount of these points should be defined? This is a complex part that I define more precisely here. The idea is to reward group survival. If a group survives an encounter (51% alive) it will gain a bonus multiplier (with a diminished return softcapped at 2.5). The more a group survives the more the bonus builds up (and the same group will be worth more if killed). If the group flees from a PvP battlefield OR is defeated (only if 50% or more of it dies) the bonus is lost and resets to zero.

2. Battle System: skills and spells

Each rank you achieve gives you access to new skills and spells. This is a brand new system that will coexist with zero impact on the PvE. How? These skills and spells don’t affect a single character nor a single group. They are ALL area-based. They can affect: – The environment – Allies – Enemies. The three targets are general. This still doesn’t prevent the use of these skills in the normal PvE or PvP. The point is that the effectivity of each of these spells is extremely limited. Each of these skills and spells is designed so that it will have a radius and a *stackable* effect. If only one player cast one of these spells the effect will be nearly zero. But then more players could “add” to the spell and strengthen it, building up its effect and affecting more and more players. So these spells and skills are planned to have an “impact” and a purpose only during large battles or sieges. With a nearly zero role in small and fast encounters. This to leave unaffected all the PvE and group-based PvP. The system I’m defining is about creating a battle system with its own tactics and dynamics. Working toward building a depth where the game usually becomes just a pointless zerg clash.

To prevent balance problems the effectivity of each spell works again with a diminished return value and a softcap. So that the cap will prevent these spells to become too overpowering and out of control while the stack will give a sense to each player contributing to strengthen the spell effect.

That’s the general structure. To this I added a “spellcrafting” system working like alchemy. Each spell cannot be casted at players’ will. There’s a complex system below. The first “stage” is about creating a “recipe”. Recipes are general spells based on different “magic schools”. They define just the general “type” of the spell. Recipes can be casted only with a communal effort of the players (rituals) and they need to not be interrupted for a certain amount of time. When a recipe is ready the players will then be able to add “ingredients”. And these ingredients will just modify the final effect, for example by expaning the range, invigorate an effect, add an effect and so on. Recipes will only be able to affect the three targets, only one for each recipe (environment, allies, enemies), but they can still be casted for different purposes (you could define recipes that follow the leader of an army, recipes that will be casted on the ground to affect the zone and prepare ambushes or defend hotspots, recipes that can be used in sieges, recipes as divination to “see” what the opposite force is doing… and so on). While the ingredients define the concrete effect and behaviour (add effects, increase the power, increase the radius, increase the duration, add movement, boost effectivity in rushes etc…).

3. Resource system and geomancy

If you look at my goals you can still see that the system misses something. It misses a real purpose and something concrete to fight for. To achieve this I imagined a resource system linked to geomancy effects. I haven’t defined every single detail here because a lot depends on how many resources you can use to add and expand this part. My whole design is built so that it’s easily expandable and this section is particularly near to this concept. The general idea is about giving the players the possibility to fight and conquer “nodes”. These nodes not only are structures with defenses, creating the base of a siege system, but they also work as a resource system. Each node affects a geomancy power. If you control a node it means that various characteristics of that zone will change (and they can be monitored and regulated). These nodes affect directly the “recipes” of the previous section. So, each geographical zone will have a different effect (and gameplay) by boosting or hindering the various “recipe” spells. This both based on the location of the battle (so, naturally) AND on who controls the various nodes.

The system is really more simple than how it sounds. Each zone will have by default a “natural” specific effect on the “recipe spells”. But the players will be able to conquer and control nodes so that they will be able to “tweak” these general bonuses and maluses at their advantage (boosting a magic school for example). The effect is not out of balance because pushing a magic school will make another one weak, the balance is already *inside* the system. Who doesn’t control the nodes can still use the strategy, the difference is that they won’t be able to control those bonuses and maluses directly.

The idea is simply about adding a concrete purpose and reason to fight for. The system can be expanded at will, by creating a real siege system and adding more purposes to the nodes (you could extract resources to build defenses and different structures. Building villages and so on.).

Housing anyone? :)

4. War machines

Here I’m leaning even more toward the endless possibilities to expand the system. This idea is about creating more differences between “casters” and “tanks” during a battle: The reward system, then, isn’t limited to new spells. It should be planned with various possibilities, where casters will have a *prevalent*, but not exclusive, access to the “ritual/recipe/ingredient system” and tanks to a different one. What is this new system for tanks (but not exclusively)? War machines.

The idea is to plan a real battle system where tank classes will be able to fly or drive more or less large steampunk machines, from zeppelins and dirigibles to large motorized rams. Bringing back Warcraft’s soul to this game. Casters will use the “ritual system” described to produce collective spells, while the melee classes will have access to major engines to drive the sieges. Obviously to move one of these machines the players will need to organize, they will move as a communal effort (same as the ritual system), making sure that each players still has something to do (since sitting there just for “presence” isn’t good gameplay).

This is all. The result is that we can forget about a dumbed down zerg-combat and really create an epic scale war with strategical and fun elements. And, once started, the possibilities are endless.

I hope it’s not too late for suggesting some ambition :)