Virtuality, PvE and story-telling

(lame title)

This was actually a (too long) “comment” to a message written by Ubiq on his blog. The focus is the quest system in World of Warcraft, trying to understand why it succeeded to break the feel of “gind” in a mmorpg and how it became the main activity and gameplay of the whole playerbase when the perception and use of the quest systems in other games had completely different results.

His original article is here. My own is here blow:

On this aspect the game is just a single player game. And it draws from that experience by removing the ‘bad habits’ of the quest systems in the previous mmorpg.

SWG has no quest system. You cannot compare a random generator of spawn points where to go grind your way to a world that is handcrafted from the first pixel till the last. SWG in this case is gameplay built around an “hole”. It makes you believe that you are doing something but in a world randomly generated you feel just like in a box with nothing inside.

WoW has a cohesive world. It’s built exactly like a single player game where every niche of the world has a specific story to tell you, if you want. Removing the ‘bad habits’ (like not knowing where to get the quest, not knowing if it will reward you properly, not knowing how to accomplish it without using spoiler sites, not knowing if that quest is appropriate for your level, not knowing if you’ll be able to finish it alone or in a group and so on…) made the experience of a quest particularly appealing, fun, interesting and gratifying.

One of the general qualities of this game is that it lets you love it, it doesn’t stick its finger in your eye as you attempt something. In DAoC, the game I know better, questing is something you FEAR. Goin on a quest is a BURDEN that you avoid whenever possible exactly because the quests are aimed to be annoying, boringly hard and disappointing.

It’s two years that I write this in my critics and only *now* Mythic is pillaging World of Warcraft of its quest system mechanics because they are blatantly superior.

To summarize my point. DAoC has a quite “flat” world with no depth. The PvE is rather unappealing, but it’s an horrible, badly used quest system to ruin the experience. SWG, instead, is just a box without nothing to tell. There’s no story to tell exactly because it’s shaped as a container, to work as a container. You cannot tell a story when everything can just be everywhere, where elephant-sized mobs wander around happily on mountains with 90% degrees slopes. Where 95% of the whole landmass is just randomly generated content and terrain without a past, a present and a future but just a potential to exist or not and to appear just everywhere.

You CANNOT tell a story, even the most simple one, when everything in your world is in a “potential” status, without something not contingent, with an IDENTITY. SWG negates directly these basic *human* and *world* mechanics. It has nothing to tell because it’s all virtual and again the virtual has no story (no history). By definition.

So from a side (DAoC) we have a storytelling that is *painful* to experience because of an awfully quest system collecting ALL the bad habits of the genre, from the other side (SWG) we have a world that simply has nothing to tell you. It’s “quest system” is a generator of “holes”. And you can only directly experience this absence. Like someone who has a story to tell but who has forgotten what it was about.

The “E” in PvE is about an hadcrafted work. It’s about a book, a movie, a tale you heard from someone. It’s about what you hear, it’s about who tells it to you, what it is about etc… It is about a *strong* identity factor. This cannot happen if the world is in a “potential” status where things can change and be displaced everywhere.

This quest system in World of Warcraft not only works because, again, it’s fun and possible as an experience by removing the bad habits, but it’s also built on top of a world where every nooks and crannies have a story (an identity to discover). The quests actively segment this hadcrafted space and you build your own story and path by intertwining it with the one of the world itself.

The facts that you underline (the segments/quests with a start and a “closure”, along with a “finited” amount of unique segments/quests) cannot exist without a WORLD designed and built to deliver a *strong* identity.

Our loot is REDEEMED!

World of Warcraft will patch the next week, we have the notes. Highlights:

* Group loot has been fixed to work as originally intended. It will now work exactly like round robin does, with the exception that when an item of threshold level or above drops, it will use the auto-rolling system. (Prior to this fix, when in group loot mode, the round robin system was only being used for items (all players could loot coins), which was rather confusing).

* Fixed a group loot permission bug that was telling players they did not have permission to loot.

* Fixed a bug that was causing the game to freeze when scrolling through auctions in the Auction House.

Well, that’s all. Very good usability fixes but where’s our ‘stuff’?

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Vitality systems, rest bonuses, free levels – WHATEVER!

You probably know about the recent spin of EverQuest 2 on the solo aspects of the game.

The fun is those links that continue to show up between apparently unrelated “happenings”. Just here below I mock sarcastically Mythic because they keep copying directly game elements and design ideas from World of Warcraft (which, again, isn’t bad). I underlined that it’s not about the last patch, in fact I provided a link to show that this is more like a trend than an isolated episode. But then, thinking more about it, it’s really not just that. Around May Mythic implemented non-combat pets to carry around, about one month after they were patched in World of Warcraft. Their “free level” mechanic also arrived at about the same time, to counteract the rest system that Blizzard introduced in the genre a month before. The changes to the interface “borrowed” from Warcraft aren’t limited to the onscreen messages appearing as you complete parts of the tasks, the messages appearing when you enter a new zone, the new mouselook mode, the keybind with ALT, SHIFT and CONTROL, the tooltips on icons and the graphical marks on the quest NPCs. No. They also implemented a new, in-game map system. Something that they always refused to do because it was going against their plan. Because it was part of the discovery. But Warcraft set the standard and now the map system is included in DAoC. For this February they’ll instance the RvR, maybe anticipating Blizzard this time, but following a path that for sure isn’t their own. Again Mythic kept negating the possibility to instance the RvR till two months ago because it was a design idea not matching the purpose and structure of the game. Is it all? No there’s a lot more. In fact, aside World of Warcraft, they “pillaged” City of Heroes too, “borrowing” the sidekick system. Just as an example.

Hell! They even copied the SUBSCRIPTION FEES!

In most of these cases the orginal idea and implementation is way more stonger, polished and consisten than Mythic’s bleached copy and adaptation. This message isn’t a critic to the design, this time, but for sure it gives hints about why DAoC feels so much like a patchwork.

Maybe Richard Bartle was right?

So where are these fancy links that I see so obviously? Here.

Mythic is in the first position to smell chase the ass tail of World of Warcraft but this trend isn’t their exclusive.
EverQuest 2 seems determined to copycat at least by the same degree:

How Vitality Works

All characters gain a chunk of Vitality every hour, on the hour, and keep accumulating it until the maximum amount is saved up. Each time characters gain experience, they use up a portion of their Vitality and receive a bit more experience than usual. When the character runs out of Vitality, he or she no longer receives bonus experience.

A plurality of views and ideas. Indeed.

World of Camelot

DAoC and its last patch:

– You will now get progress update messages (displayed on the center of the screen) as you complete parts of your task in Instanced Kill Task dungeons (for example, as you kill 1 of the 6 necessary mobs that you need to kill, or when you complete your task entirely).

– Moving your mouse over the top of icons on your quickbar or your active spell effects will now show a tooltip containing information about the effect and a reuse/duration timer.

– Mouse Pan: Setting this to a mouse button allows you to pan around with a single click. Previously you had to hold down Mouselook and the Camera Pan Toggle key.

Blatantly copying good design elements isn’t something I consider bad, really. It’s good that Mythic is reacting to this.

The point is still the same, though: we really needed World of Warcraft to realize those obvious interface issues and design elements?

The trend is set.

From an interview, story or whatever:

Larian: Okay, so you do have plans. Is “Strategic Planning” something that you all sit down and do here at Mythic? ?

Matt Firor: As for detailed changes and plans, no. Things just change too rapidly in the MMORPG market, and you just can’t predict them. We do have a general direction we want to steer in though, but these are all modified by new technology, other company’s games, and community demands.

This “interview” is being debated on CorpNews as misleading (or something).

I don’t know… It seems quite correct to me. Or not?

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Site fix

Now this website will remember and log in automatically the authenticated users for three months. If they do not deliberately log out.

EDIT: Or at least it should…

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Grimwell is starting to feel worst than Terra Nova. Goodbye.

Btw, saving comments before it’s too late.

What you write here is a recurring topic over the years.

The point is: how does it play?

Ecology, like Artificial Intelligence, is interesting for the devs. To study it. Not to play with it. That type of stuff is *hard* to polish and misses completely the archetypes that make these games “genres” and then popular.

You attract geeks, because it’s interesting and maybe deeper. But not everyone is a scientists. What would matter is what you can build ON TOP of that system. And again you are working too much on a model hard to develop, manage and control to bring where you want (and deliver what to expect).

That’s an interesting experiments to draw conclusion from it and use those conclusion concretely. But I’m not sure if it could be a good game.

I can explain my personal point of view.

I always draw a visible and sharp line between PvP and PvE. But considering PvP as everything involving a cooperation. Socialization is PvP for example in my model.

These games are just diluted copies of single player games on the PvE aspect, this is obvious. I don’t think the best way to go is to transform the PvE because PvE belongs somewhere else, imho.

Making something static more dynamic doesn’t addresses the core issues. It draws control away from devs, you have to face and solve what you didn’t expect to happen and your world must be generic enough to host this virtuality.

Virtuality means that a spot where you kill murlocks could become a spot where you kill goblins the week after. It may work in a barren world like SWG, where the world design is a fractal automatically generated.

My opinion, instead, is that PvE is ALL about the control in the hands of a dev. Completely. PvE is about stories and situations that must be as much handcrafted as possible.

So instead of creating virtuality and experiments I would focus in crafting. Give each spot of the world an unique look. Script every single mob so that it behaves in a different way, using the small area where it lives strategically. And so on.

Instead your virtuality is useful somewhere else. In the PvP. It’s in the PvP that you can offer a world to the players, let them toying with them. Here you can give control to the players even about some PvE elements. But it’s again about building layers and structures that work this way.

In this perspective the plan would be about thinking how the players interact directly and use the features of the game.

I mean: first you plan what you want to happen, then you give a shape to the features. And not: you build a feature like an ecology and then try to fit it into a game.

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I updated my guide to the instances with probably all the quests that can be done in Uldaman. I’ll add more detail as I have time.

And a memo about something I want to write -> why WoW’s good design has also bad counter effects that till now have never reached the surface.

EDIT: Updated again to correct/add Uldaman quests. It’s one hell of a dungeon.

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PvP ramblings

In the last days I spent way too much time trying to track back things I remember to have read but forgot where. For example I hunted down something from Lum but after half an hour searching on the forums I gave up (it was a post where he wrote about the cannibalization of subscribers).

Anyway, here I save some comments about PvP models. I wrote extensively about this already and I still believe that the successful model is to offer a constructive experience instead of a destructive one. These comments go right to the core, without being too wordy.

(about full loot PvP models)
The gameplay is founded on vengeance. Getting hurt and then being able, over time, to hurt the other guy even harder is far more fun than not being hurt at all.

A gameplay founded on vengeance sounds to me unattractive and unfun. And a good way to promote every form of griefing, in particular when a good 90% of the playerbase is built by kids that cannot put a line between RL and the game.

The fun is in making the other guy lose his, and then dropping it in the lifestone so he has to stand there and try fruitlessly to grab it for ten minutes as the inevitability sinks in that the uber sword that was his pride and joy is going to rot.

A game that to be fun for one player needs to be unfun for another is a game badly designed. In the best case possible half the subscribers will cancel. When half of those will go the other half will have to cannibalize itself. This till there will be just one player left.

Now, a more realistic and dangerous world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and should be explored.

There’s a definite difference between a dangerous world and a world that must be unfun for half the playerbase.

The broken part is to found the fun of a player on the unfun of another.