Ohh, secret projects!

An interesting post from SirBruce at F13.net:

Just curious if anyone else here has heard anything more about SOE’s unnanounced project in development. It’s been over a year now and still no word as to exactly what it will be, but I’ve identified several of the people working on it:

Gordon Walton – Studio Manager
Bill Trost – Lead Designer
Jonathan “Calandryll” Hanna – Senior Designer / Community Manager
John Buckley – Lead Programmer
Vince Harnon – Network Programmer / Technology
Kevin Burns – Lead Environmental Artist
Jon-David Wiesman – Programmer
Lawrence Poe

Some of the above may be incorrect if there is more than one secret project, of course. Has anyone heard anything more?

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So, playstyles exist?

There “was” a thread at Grimwell where we started, once again, to discuss about playstyles. Something I hate because I don’t like strict models that kill any kind of creativity in the design process.

But it’s not important what I believe. Raph’s reply to Darniaq is extremely interesting and deep. Something I really cannot comment or criticize because it goes beyond my possibilities and because I also consider it true.

Here it is:

I try not to get comfortable (first reaction is denial), because I trully feel the only constant is change (second is acceptance ). More so now with a 2 year old. Whether an EQ nerf, an unexpected job relocation or loss, or a car accident, way over 99% of the world is far beyond my ability to control. What’s left is adaptation.

Adaptation and the human ability to rewire the brain this way is a key evolutionary trait (and most importantly, doing it through mental modeling). This is, fundamentally, why I think games even exist.

Which is why I wonder about those external factors.

We’ve all heard stories of people whose mental models and mental inflexibility could not handle unusual situations, and they “broke.” heck, some great movies have been made about that :)

Now, all playstyles are is a predisposition towards some of the following:

– particular learning models (visual? auditory? verbal? spatial? there’s a bunch that psych types have identified)
– bias towards tools which they have applied in the past successfully
– predisposition towards tools that fit their learning modes.

In other words, someone who is verbally predisposed, and is a fast talker, and has used that strength to get out of scrapes their whole life, and who is most powerful when using their verbal ability, well, heck, they are likely to come at the game with a playstyle that is social. Why should we be surprised? They are merely trying to maximize their success.

And if the game doesn’t give a flip about that, because the only successful strategies it allows are ones that involve spatial reckoning, well, that person may well not like the game over the long term, because they may

* fail to get positive feedback because they
– get beaten too much
– reach a cap in their spatial reckoning skills, and realize they cannot improve
* try to play the game in unusual ways and go outside the ruleset for satisfaction by
– holding weddings in Quake
– spending more time on the forums than behind a rocket launcher
* quit

I can see people getting comfortable in a play style; however, I still don’t know how long that comfort lasts. How many new Warcraft knock-offs can a fan of RTS games take? Do they not eventually get bored with the entire genre and seek more action through RPGs or more cerebral gaming with turn-based strategy? You feel age is partly a function, to which I’d agree, but will someone in their 40s stick with EQ forever with so many other options?

They can take a lot as long as the curve of game complexity offered up is on a steady curve that they can follow. That would be the Total Annihilation fan. Of course, the Total Annihilation fan is (sorry) a freak of nature, someone who happens to be heavily adapted to RTS games. Someone highly specialized. The result is that the average person cannot play Total Annihilation anymore than they can fly a fighter jet. The game selects for a base level of competency in the skill set–which includes knowledge of the “literature” as well.

If the TA fan comes to Warcraft III and says “I think I get it, all the differences from TA are really minor and I can apply my entire mental model… huh, there’s nothing new here,” then they may not choose to play.

Or is playstyle independent of a game and a genre? Perhaps it is. Maybe the reason players, particularly veterans, bounce around games so much they haven’t yet found the best outlet for their preference. Or maybe they’ve found it but are uncomfortable with their comfort (And Alexander wept, for he had no new worlds to conquer)?

I think it is definitely broader than game and genre. In the book I am working on I have one page which has drawings of four different avatars from four different hypothetical MMORPGs. All four are instantly recognizable as the same person. This is a very very common phenomenon, we’ve all seen it.

And yet, we can also see in certain people gameplay tendencies that go beyond one genre. My grandmother plays both poker and Scrabble in rather similar ways. I think it’s because of who she is, and how she thinks.

And more importantly, is there a way to capitalize on this?

Games can train you in new cognitive skills. That is what they are FOR, at their core. It’s why the young of all ages play. But new cognitive skills are a tough sell on people, particularly older people. Games that call only on old cognitive skills tend to pall among those who are familiar with the mental models required.

So to capitalize, the formula is simple (and impossible): deliver fresh cognitive puzzles and new mental models of the world, but make them so easy to get into that nobody realizes they are learning whole new modes of perception and thought.

Piece o’ cake. But most games rely on very basic, hind-brain sorts of mental models, like territoriality, force projection, visual similarity and difference, and so on. That right there is why it is so hard to invent a truly new game.

World of Warcraft: quality screenshots

I finished to upload a page with 58 “quality” screenshots I’ve personally taken during beta.

58 quality screenshots

I’m a good photographer :)

World of Warcraft represents a step forward on this idea, even if it doesn’t accomplish the interaction. We don’t have anymore horizontal levels, instead the verticality is present and largely used. You don’t walk on flat terrain, nor on random hills. Each small corner of the world is designed with a sense, there are uplands, long slopes, peaks and so on. You could find a small town on a lake, bordered by high mountains and, on top, a castle, accessible only from a tortuous road and a bridge on a chasm. The terrain isn’t anymore boring and random, instead it has a strong role in defining the environment. Not anymore as the “background”, but as the “subject”. Finally.

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One bugged guy has crashed the server before

A comment I wrote over at Terranova. It’s mainly about SWG most famous dupe and the stupid reaction of the managment:

Jeff Freeman:
But all the things you mentioned are problems, too. The difference is those things are the result of players trying to play the game, and this was the result of players trying to break the game so that other people couldn’t play it. And they didn’t get banned, they were just forced to stop.

Yes, but a protest must cause a disservice or it gets simply ignored. That’s why in real life you can stop your work causing problems in “customers” during a strike or why manifestations have the goal of blocking roads and things like that.

It’s too easy to create a special room where peoples can go to protest and where they can easily be ignored and laughed at. In fact in UO protests where about blocking moongates.

This is why what the players did is a big success anyway. Because they caused a problem and discussions everywhere. Forcing SOE to deal with this.

Raph Koster:
There really wasn’t much reason for the protest in the first place; the replacement of the word “banned” with “suspended while we investigate” (which is in fact what happened) would have been enough to radically alter the perception of what was going on.

… Really?
It’s ridiculous.

A guy on DAoC noticed that his character was bugged. He reported the bug and he got banned for a week.

A part of the reply from Sanya:
“One bugged guy has crashed the server before.”

Bringing back the issue to SWG:
FIRST you investigate.
THEN you suspend.

Or perhaps even in SWG “One bugged guy has crashed the server before.” ?

I don’t know if I should laugh at this.

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Delving on the comments of what I wrote below.

Jason McCullough:
So my official Doom 3 comments:

1. *Uncertainty* is scary. Knowing something is there, but not quite where, or what it is, is scary. Note these are not equivalent to “really dark and enemies jumping at you every single time you’d expect them to if you were designing a b-grade predictable horror movie.” The game is so goddamn predictable I got bored after an hour.
2. What the fuck is up with the armor and ammo scattered all over the place? It makes no sense in the context of the game world at all, and it isn’t fun.
3. What’s the point in having secrets and lots of items when it’s just ammo and armor? This might be fun if there was Duke Nukem 3d-style items like the holoduke that you actually could use and plan around, but nope. It’s just drudgery.
4. The scripting is static. That guy who tells you to stop moving in the initial airlock where they bio-scan you, fresh off the arrival ship? He always says that, whether you’re moving or not. Lazy.
5. Single well-lit monster syndrome!

God, what a turd.

All your comments are in-line with the other thread I wrote:

Doom 3 starts to become extremely annoying NOT because the unexpected is expected. This is a side-effect. It becomes annoying because we know what the possibilities of the game are. We define better the shape of the box and we start to be able to look at it from the outside. A scene isn’t scary anymore because it happens in-text, but it’s scary because it *always* happens out-of-text.

Jason McCullough:
But mine has bullet points!

Yes, but what I did was about collecting all those points and summarize them under the same flaw:
– The design breaks the “suspension of disbelief” because it exploits artificial “out of game” design strategies.

What you wrote in those points is true and originated by the same flaw in the design stage: “out of game” design.

Jason, even though (as H. Rose rightly j’accuses or il t’accuses or something) you ripped off H Rose’s penetrarating denunciation of Doom 3’s design flaws wholesale, I’d like to thank you anyway. So here goes: Thanks for neatly summarizing Koontz 2’s plodding forty paragraph post on things we all said about Doom 3 a month ago while expunging from your summary the bizarre comparisons he made to an MMORPG completely dissimilar to it in every way.

Fun that PcWorld has just posted a “mixed” review between DooM 3 and City of Heroes:

“Both are hugely entertaining, and both cater to a very specific desire of gamers: to remove one’s self completely from reality for a few hours per day (or week).”

Just a re-iteration of the flaws I focused. The purpose is the immpersion of the “spectator” inside an experience. And there are basic flaws in this process.

It isn’t important if the experience are completely different (single player FPS and a mmorpg), because there are many, shared purposes and mechanics under the skin.

“Out of game” design

Summing up two articles I wrote about DooM 3 and its correlation with MMOGs:

Doom 3 starts to become extremely annoying NOT because the unexpected is expected. This is a side-effect. It becomes annoying because we know what the possibilities of the game are. We define better the shape of the box and we start to be able to look at it from the outside. A scene isn’t scary anymore because it happens in-text, but it’s scary because it *always* happens out-of-text.

Answering another message:

Yes, but what I did was about collecting all those points and summarize them under the same flaw:

– The design breaks the “suspension of disbelief” because it exploits artificial “out of game” design strategies.

What you wrote in those points is true and originated by the same flaw in the design stage: “out of game” design.

EverQuest and “flat” development

Interesting comment from Loral:

Omens of War brings us over a dozen new zones, half of them instanced. It expands the physical worlds of Norrath even further. I wonder if SOE might best spend their time working on new expansions that take Everquest into directions other than new zones to explore. Everquest is certainly wide, it is the largest physical game I’ve ever played, but it isn’t very deep. The vast majority of content builds around combat against bosses. The numbers increase but the gameplay is generally the same. New lines of progression need to be developed.

It’s also my main fear for WoW after release.

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I seem to be able to just spit venom on DAoC while everyone starts to define me a WoW fanboy.

I tried hard to do some RvR with my level 50 wizard on Merlin in the last two hours but I’m damn bored and got no more than 1k of Realm Points in total.

Part of the problem are the players, the other part is the design of the game. Too much time sitting on a keep and staring at a wall. The real action is like 2% of the whole time. But I also don’t care anymore at trying to discover where the flaws are.

I also noticed that noone even cares to group anymore.

Mezz, root, interrupts … Bah. A stack of problems that noone even cares anymore to consider.

Let’s sleep. I hope to not have nightmares with buffbots.

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Random comments about WoW

Random comments about World of Warcraft I’m writing in various threads (specifically over at Grimwell) that could be interesting for who still hasn’t tried the game:

WoW surely gives you a lot, a lot more tools than, say, DAoC. Where you really are limited in what you can do. This makes the combat more creative and strategic, in particular if you consider the death system that pushes you to try something new in how you fight.

I’m playing mostly solo and I didn’t even care to grab many skills that are group-related (that are under the berserk and defensive stance, which I don’t use). Right now my default behaviour is:
1- Charge a mob (it stuns it for a pair of seconds and builds up my rage)
2- Use the shout that weakens the mob’s attacks (with the rage I got above)
3- Land two normal attacks
4- Use the shout that boosts my attacks
5- Apply DOT
6- Spam the damage style
6a – Use the reactive style when it lights up in the interface
6b – Use the stun style if the mob is a caster and casting effects appear on it

Parry, dodge and block are done automatically.

Things change depending on the zone. For example if I fear aggro or if I fight more than one mob I’ll use an AOE attack or a semi-root style that prevents the monster from fleeing and calling for help.

Then I could use some rare health potions if things go wrong, reduce downtimes with food, use ranged weapons to finish a fleeing mob, trigger the damage shout at the end of a combat so I’ll gain effectivity for the following fight…

This is all gameplay for a solo player. And I love it.

About the mechanics..

– The shouts don’t depend on the stance.
– The styles are, so the stance you use will affect which style you can perform.
– Switching styles empties your rage.
– There are talents that give you possibility to keep rage when switching styles.

The rage is basically the endurance in other games, I wrote a lot about it in my article on the death system that I linked in the other thread. The fact that you begin the combat with an emptied rage is *wonderful*. Because in other games you want the fight to END SOON. The more you fight the more you’ll lose power and possibilities to win. In WoW this is revolutionized. As you go on with the fight more and more options open to you. It’s a positive direction that pushes you toward the combat and makes it way more appealing and fun.

Geldon is right. They didn’t simply add more and more styles with a simply different effects. Each interaction has a SYSTEM below. And it’s not about the classes even if that’s what is most obvious. From the map system, the quest system, the interface. Everything has its own depth and it’s not just a tool to fill a space.

Just in the last patch they added something wonderful. Now the question mark above the head of NPCs changes color depending if you are ready to finish the quest or if you still need to accomplish the goals. If you select a quest and you are done with its goals a green point will appear on your mini map to let you locate the NPC easily. Both in and outside buildings.

And just to make other examples: it’s true that 90% of the quests are a mask for the average grind where you have to kill 50 mobs and collect specific loot. But there are also quests using, again, specific systems. For example there’s a quest where you create a spell, evocate a ghost and follow it through a level till a secret spot where you’ll get a new mission. Another quest (I did two days ago) was about an NPC that buffed me and told me to run in a dungeon filled with mobs and come back in no more than an hour (and a clock appears on your screen). Another mission was about escorting an npc till a specific point and defend him from ambushes. Etc…

you can get quests from NPCs, placards or even dropped items. Often you have packages that you can read (like letters)…

What I mean about the “story” is simply that you don’t kill mosters in WoW because they feed you of exp. But because there’s a quest that tells you to do so, it has a stupid story but at least something. In another forum we are discussing about camping and grinding. This in WoW doesn’t happen because it’s the quest to tell you what you have to do next and where to go. All the world assumes a sense and you are pushed to do stuff and explore as part of your experience.

Yes, a real impact on the world is also my ideal aim but WoW is already doing something. At least. And it is 100 times more fun than grinding in another PvE game.

I’m confused. Here you say that MMORPGs are boring when you have to repeat things over and over. And yet on the Warcraft Hype thread, you describe a “default” attack sequence, which, presumably, you repeat over and over with great enjoyement.

It’s mitigated by the fact that I fight different mobs for different quests/purposes. Move through different zones that are /completely/ different etc…

The grind in WoW is masked by a story and a purpose. Even in Baldur’s Gate you keep fighting in the same way but the gameplay changes. In DAoC I speak of grind because for whole levels you have to camp a specific monster. In WoW you don’t camp anything because you do everything inside the scope of a quest and what the quest tells you to do.

Tobold also commented about creating “exit points”. Quests not only allow you to do this (encapsulating small play-sessions with their own purpose and sense of accomplishment). but they are also the reason that push you forward to reach and see the next step.

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