First failed attempt at mapping stuff

I started to toy with Darniaq’s instructions and automapper and I was expecting all sort of problems due to my total incompetence and different syntax since I wanted to create maps for DAoC and not for EQ2 as Darniaq did.

Well, I have another problem. DAoC stupidly DOESN’T LOG the /loc commands. It logs everything but that command. How the hell I’m supposed to gather data without writing manually all the coords? And how the hell Callisti and others managed to map DAoC?

I need to bug people.

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In the meantime

I’m not writing much recently, at least not here.

I spent the last few days reading books, comics/manga, watching the whole Evangelion saga and getting caught in a retrogaming burst. I became a fanboy of japanese console RPG after I discovered the ZSNES emulator and Squaresoft games years ago (see, piracy builds audience), then I bought the Playstation and started to buy every RPG I could find and my collection grew rather big. But then the RGB Amiga monitor I was using to play broke and I got caught into MUDs and then mmorpgs, and most of those lovely pixelated games I collected remained in a corner.

In the last days I started to mess with the PSX emulator and tried to make work properly all the games I own. It wasn’t so easy because every game has its own quirks to investigate and solve. There’s a number of emulators, plugins and configuration guides on the internet but I found rather hard to collect the informations I needed. So I got the idea of putting up a page with my own notes and compatibility list, so that it could be easier to track what works, what doesn’t and remember the correct settings. I’m rather satisfied of the emulator and plugins I used. My goal is to just have the video/sound/controls as close to the PSX as possible so I used the “software” plugin with dithering. Without filters or high resolution textures. To play I use a Logitech USB gamepad similar to the PSX. It works even if it has its own quirks.

In the next days I should put up a page and I’ll link it to the sidebar, probably near the link to WoW’s patches. I’ll add the emulator I use, the plugins and the PSX rom (hoping noone will chase me) in one simple .zip then I’ll list the settings I use for each game with notes to explain if there are problems of some sort. It won’t be a complete guide, just a functional one, to explain how I presonally play and without the settings for the more advanced graphic modes.

Beside this I wanted to write a review of Ryzom but my trial is nealy over and I just spent only a couple of hours into it. I think I’ll wait the 3rd October when they’ll change the pricing policy so that I could decide to convert my trial into a monthly subscription just at the price of the subscription itself (coincidentally my trial is over exactly the 3 October) and write the review I was planning. For now I can say that most of the time I spent in the game was about fighting against the UI to have it behave properly. It is rather advanced but not well designed and often it gets annoying. The game is interesting but it suffers similar problems, it’s not easy to figure out and it doesn’t do much to motivate you, teach how it works and point you to what you are supposed to do next. So I ended just wandering around with my masked doll (that’s my face, I cannot remove it) and dying randomly without a clue about what I was doing (which doesn’t help to encourage me to log back in since I don’t feel compelled to do anything). Oh, and the newbie zone has also these savage bunnies zooming around, aggroing and one-shotting my warrior. There are some interesting ideas, though. The technology, the graphic and the general production value seem not bad, the problems are in how all the parts are put together and the game seriously needs more tweaking to behave smoothly, give the players a clue and make the UI and the game world behave in a way that is understandable and usable. Beside this, I couldn’t even find a way to hide the UI to take some screenshots if not through messing with some really original and odd features. See, the problems of this game are exactly from this perspective. It has some fancy stuff like switchable UI “desktops” but then it misses all those simpler but fundamental features that you *expect*, like a way to quickly unclutter the screen or controls that behave properly instead of letting you regret point&click movement. I guess there’s a lot more to dig but the presentation does very little to valorize what the game has to offer (beside the graphic). I felt like being an ant in a little zoo filled with every sort of odd creatures, some just moving around or staring at me, while others aggroing and oneshotting my poor adventurer with no chance. But then? Should I start the endless grind by killing the little rat, then the bigger rat, then the little dog etc..? Or there’s something else beside walking around this crazed aquarium? I also have a personal problem with the textures, they look too much like noisy stereograms. I have to say that the game also reminded me “Outcast”, that fancy voxel game with its own particular charm. Ryzom also has similar mounts, but I don’t think they are accessible without being filthy rich.

If you enjoy safaris it’s probably the game for you :)

My interest in the game is mostly because I found it oddly interesting during beta (but left when they expected me to redownload the whole client), because Jessica Mulligan moved there and because they are going to release an expansion that will let the players to “play designer”, which is something I enjoy and look forward to fiddle with.

I’m also looking forward to DAoC’s next expansion, but since I’m not in beta there’s not much I can say despite my interest to discuss what comes *after*, in the form of the “Evolution servers” and the other issues that Mythic should start to consider to pour some more life in its game. Some screenshots (and more here) from the expansion were posted on the european website and they show wonderful art and the confirmation that the capital cities are finally being reskinned. In particular you can notice some before/after versions that show how much DAoC art has improved along these years. Which is also not a justification for the decline of the game. I’m the only one left of the earth, but I still believe that this game (and the company behind) has an endless potential. Don’t let it die. To see better screenshots you’ll have to wait me getting the exp.

A quote from a thread: “Many people have reported DR running smoother than Catacombs.” Yes, it systematically happens with each expansion and it’s also systematically false. In particular I think that DR doesn’t even include an engine revision, so more heavy art assets will have an impact and they surely won’t make the game run faster than how it is now.

Finally I enjoyed one of those hot discussions (which now subsided) about the relationship between devs and the community on Lum’s blog (I hope I made a point) and another on Babylona’s to explain better my point of view on the classes/skill system that I started to examine here.

On Ethic’s blog there are very nice screenshots from the upcoming Final Fantasy XI expansion I vaguely commented here.

What else? There’s lot of stuff, but I forgot. I bought the Neverwinter Nights box with the original game and the two expansions in a bundle. I’m looking forward to mess with that as well. Lots of stuff to play with.

Oh there’s also a long article from Dave that I still need to read.

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My words in others words

Dave Rickey linked an interview to Eve-Online producer (Nathan Richardsson) and I was wondering why since he already covered those points not long ago. I also thought it was about another interview I didn’t really find that interesting.

Then I read the one done by Gamasutra and figured out why he linked it. It is really that good and I felt like reading the exact same stuff I’ve preached about for all this time. All the basic points. I event felt jealous.

He speaks about the virtual world focused on PvP without instancing and sharding, the focus on the players and the social aspects, the unique traits that a “mmorpg” has to offer, the instancing applied to PvE used to “control” the experience ( the problem of authorship I often tried to bring up), the “power to the players” slogan (mine is “give back the world to the players”), content build through the development of tools to be used by the players (opposed to mudflated content), the conquest and control of the game world through PvP, the iterative development as one of the most unique traits and strengths of mmorpg development, the community seen as a resource and not as something to muffle in every way possible, “embrace and evolve”, “we try to put us in the position of “what would I really like to do here?” and then try to develop that” (in-character development), the “open source” attitude (full disclosure to the community, no drama, no hiding, no information control. Just openness and honesty), the PvP as an endlessly renewable and fun source of content, the truly communal goals, the freedom from obsolete publishers that just contribute to sink the potential and nothing else… is this enough?

In particular: the prefect timing to launch something different and dare with the ideas. Right now, exactly when the genre grew so much thanks to WoW and other games, exactly when there are so many players who would like to ask more from this genre.

My ideas on how to deliver that type of experience are different, but I saw him quoting all the exact same principles I have.

– Our strong belief in PvP and a single universe is probably the main differentiator between us and other MMOs. We strongly believe that MMOs should focus on social interaction between people, but many MMOs tend to go in the opposite direction. We don’t like instancing and we don’t like sharding and we believe that too much focus on player versus environment is taking us more closer to the newly coined term ‘Massively Single Player Games.’

We fully understand the reason behind sharding, instancing and the PvE focus. A lot of players want this kind of experience and these tools are far more commercially viable to fully control the experience and content created. We however decided to take the more difficult path and try to take on those obstacles head-on. It certainly has a lot of unpleasant side effects and EVE will never be a mainstream game. We’re complex, we’re open ended, we’re fully PvP oriented and you can lose six months work in a second. But we believe this is what makes EVE so unique and we’re trying to follow this vision and principles as well as we can.

– Power to the players. Nothing compares to a player that is enabled to affect the universe. We create tools for players to create content. For example, a massive alliance of corporations – our versions of guilds – with real, legendary players, leading them, controlling large areas of space and building up infrastructure is truly awesome content. We can never create that, but we can create the environment and tools enabling to happen.

We’re also very iterative in our work and keep continuous feedback cycles on the features we do, then regularly improve them based on that feedback. The community is an incredible source for how to improve the game and what they do within the game gives us constant inspiration for what we should implement next. Being so open-ended means the players do what they want and we try to keep up and add support and tools to take emerging behavior further. Embrace and evolve are the keywords here.

– The players are the foundation for what we do next in EVE. We follow what they do and listen to their dreams and again: ‘embrace and evolve.’ When playing ourselves, we try to put us in the position of “what would I really like to do here?” and then try to develop that.

We set the course a long time ago on what we wanted to do and we are very open about ideas. Openness creates a certain atmosphere where early in the development cycle you get player reactions and suggestions, which help make the feature better. It’s kind of like “open source” development of ideas and as a result, players have a lot to say about the features.

– Player owned structures which create resources for a player needs to be defended. Since it’s profitable, it will be attacked by players that want to either take that profit from you or own the location himself. By creating more locations where you can put player owned structures and defend it in more innovative ways, players start creating content for other players.

– Being our own master has contributed to a lot of our recent success and we feel we are doing so many things which we otherwise could not have done if we were working for a publisher. This can range from utilizing marketing opportunities to implementing a less-than-politically correct feature, which we feel fit with the cruel nature of the game but might not exactly be the nicest thing to do.

We’re more than confident in the net being a solid distribution method for games, both technically and financially. The technical aspects doesn’t need to be proven by us, just look at the illegal distribution scene, they have the games even before the computer store across the street. That’s what I call quick and effective distribution.

There’s also a last quote. One of those points that make me “angry”. The discussion about “sequels”.

But he doesn’t fail on this argument either:

– We’re currently only working on EVE but we have a plans for at least one more game in the near future in addition to any sequels to EVE. That would however be a totally new team and separately funded, the EVE team will continue to grow. We have more than five expansions worth of features that we want to implement and the list is constantly growing.

I can easily see us having more than two games in commercial service. We have investors eager to participate in ventures with us and we think we have a lot of good things to bring to the table. We’re all gamers and we have lots of games that we’d like to make. We often get those “wouldn’t it be cool to make” moments; it’s just a matter of time.

– We think that constant evolution of MMOs is required. We have the full team still working on taking EVE further – and all our expansions are included in the subscription. We consider it something which should be included in the subscription, because that’s what you’re paying for: Evolution.

Yes, Evolution.

Whynots (skill systems, classes, roles)

(enjoy the proverbial “wall of text”)

I comment this because most of the points Babylona proposed touch my “dream mmorpg” I was planning. Some of the ideas are now almost 7-8 years old, coming from when I was working on a MUD that never got actualized. So it’s all stuff I’m carrying along from a *very long time*.

To begin with I have to say that Babylona’s starting point is already half-broken. The “I wonder how that kind of thing might be done in games” doesn’t work because we are talking of completely different genres, with different goals and principles, going toward diametrically opposite directions. In fact that discussion is more relevant if applied to MUDs and the other “roleplay” variations like MUSH and MUCK. In those types of game the roleplay depth of a character has a meaning and a purpose. It can be the focus. This doesn’t work on the common commercial mmorpgs because they are completely focused on the function. Raph isolated this brilliantly in those few slides I linked some time ago. He talks about the ethical problems but he also describes how we fundamentally perceive these games:

We’re very good at seeing past fiction.

This is why gamers are dismissive of the ethical implications of games -They don’t see “get a blowjobfrom a hooker, then run her over.”

They see a power-up.

We see past fiction. If there’s a roleplay value, we go past it. We dig an hole a go through it. The “roleplay” gets in the way. It’s like a barrier, or a lens. (Babylona calls this the “magic curtain”)

In general it’s good to give (roleplay) depth to a game but this doesn’t work if you revert the model, trying to make the “roleplay” lead the rest. It doesn’t work because you break the basic principle of one genre opposed to another. A good roleplay game is the one with “less rules as possible”. The more freedom you have the more the roleplay can flourish. Rules and roleplay are inversely proportional. You don’t even need the “design” because the players are already writers of themselves. They narrate themselves and the surrounding space and they don’t need anything else if not a matchmaking service (like friendship and common interests) that allows them to gather and set a list of implicit rules (a “setting” would be one). Online, this works best as “text” and guys like Matt Mihaly know rather well why.

Designing this in a fixed form (read as: building gameplay rules) doesn’t work because it forces a model where this model is inappropriate or conflicting. The post she quoted at the origin of her thoughts began with:

I can’t teach you anything useful about RPG design if you persist in thinking that mechanical character creation or the character sheet have anything to do with the character at all.

Well, I think it is evident how this MAY be applied to a PnP game session or a MUSH, but it simply wouldn’t work on a game that focuses on functional gameplay. In WoW, DAoC, Everquest, FFXI or whatever else, you definitely ARE the character sheet and the numeric stats. This simply because you are involved in a simulated world (by programmed algorithms). You play with and along the “machine”. And not exclusively with other players shaping the world like in a “full roleplay” environment (besides, it would be interesting to figure out why “full roleplay” environments often drift toward SEX – see the latest discussions about Second Life). In the classic mmorpgs we know, the world is already shaped and defined, it’s not a blank page where you draw your wishes (and this is why I often say that “authorship” is fundamental in mmorpgs).

But lets go past this “wall” because there’s interesting stuff after it. There are a few “whynots” that I thought about while reading:
– Game mechanics based on “time” usually aren’t that fun or exciting
– Lack of individuality (uniqueness bound to persistence)
– Balancing nightmare (not on diversity but on viability)(lack of templates)(OOC research required)

The first point started off as an alarm. As I read that the skill system she was proposing was regulated on “time”, the alarm went off. Time is usually not the best element of which to found “fun” gameplay. Time is never fun. Even when it doesn’t discriminate between the players, it’s felt as a limit or a barrier. There may be a number of different practical implementations for the system she is suggesting but none of them seems particularly attractive. They suggest a pretty annoying and boring “maintenance mode” where you are forced to constantly grind chosen skills in order to maximize them and then “refresh” them before they decay.

If this is based on “time” it means that the system tells you what to do “today”. The system sets your schedule and it becomes one of the most unfun mechanics you can impose on the players. As much awful as the PvP rank system on WoW. You are always at loss and always running here and there to keep your current skill set. Yes, maybe it makes more sense for the roleplay perspective but as Raph said, the players look past the fiction and will HAVE TO play with the math below. Hence make choices that aren’t based on the roleplay itself but on the function.

Instead if it is based on a capped, finite number of “skill points” that you have to distribute and use (and then lock), you just repeat a rather well known and reused system that everyone probably remembers in Ultima Online. With the only difference that some skills would be precluded through the use of specific equipment. Which would help to encourage standard templates within the system (or at least to have them defined already in the planning stage).

I believe that Babylona bundled together contrasting needs. The needs themselves aren’t “bad”, but she doesn’t go straight to the point (because she started from the broken principle above, which makes her “miss”) and so she doesn’t address properly those problems that should have founded those considerations. She suggests a skill system completely open and free. The goal, from what I understand, is to let the players be creative with it and instill in their characters that depth and uniqueness that is lacking in other games. Plus, letting them develop different competences that do not stack with each other but that add different purposes and roles to the same character.

Since I’ve also considered these points I can offer my thoughts on the problems to deliver such system. The first problem is the “lack of individuality”. It may sound odd since the goal is exactly the opposite: allow the players to build unique characters. But this is the consequence of allowing the characters to develop competencies in different roles. You cannot go down both paths. Or you cap the skills and force the templates, or you remove the barriers and allow everyone to fill every different “role”. It’s in this second case that you “lack individuality”. Yes, you can still prevent the skills from stacking and generate insane unbalances, but you still remove the uniqueness of the character from the persistence point of view. Just think to WoW and its talent system, it would be like giving free respecs at no loss. Maybe we can wonder “why not?” but the fact is that many players had a strong, opposite reaction to that. My guess it’s because it would remove again the “choice” from the game. You can do everything, cover every possibility. The resulting characters would become more or less “complete”, but all moving on the exact same chart and with the same exact starting point and end.

So we add boundaries to the skills or not? We allow the characters to fill different roles or not? This brings to the third point I listed above. It’s true that we like better the freeform skill systems but it’s also true that the more freedom you give the more the balancing process will be hard, if not impossible. Defining strict classes allows the developers to anticipate safely what the character can or cannot do, while freeform skill systems will be directly exploited by being used OUTSIDE the intended purpose. The players will have lot of fun to break the preexistent patterns while the developers have nightmares trying to fill all the holes in the system and FIGHT against the creativity of the players. That’s the direct consequence of a freeform system. The players will exploit the functions because that’s what the game is about. Strict classes may be bad from a perspective but they allow the devs to anticipate and regulate the behaviourts of the classes more easily. We can see how many problems these games have *already* with the balance (in WoW some of the planned skills given to hunters and rogues were already considered as “exploits” thanks to their “creative use”, someone remembers?), now think to what could happen with a truly “freeform” skill system.

This is also not the only problem because freeform systems also put strains on the players. It takes knowledge to find viable possibilities that aren’t badly gimped. Most of the times the game doesn’t offer enough feedback to lead new players and the result is that they will have to read guides and tutorials OOCly just in order to start moving the character toward a viable direction. Not doing so would be equal to a lot of frustration and hitting on walls that are felt as impassable. The shorter path leading to a canceled account. Of course the possibility to adjust the skills along the way prevents a direct failure but it still forces the players to see beyond the “magic curtain” to understand a system that is overly complicated and that ultimately doesn’t add a real freedom, but just the same old templates made more obfuscate and probably with more FOTM than ever thanks to the frequent, unavoidable nerfs as consequence of a nearly impossible balance process.

The final outline doesn’t look so exciting from my point of view. These ideas would bring more problems than solutions.

I left out two points because I find them more interesting and because I recycled them in my own dream mmorpg:
– Switching roles (multi purpose)
– no caps to skills (endless progression)

The first is interesting because I started to think about it when trying to solve the “healer problem”. We always have problems in every single games about finding healers for the group. Noone wants to play healers. The first direct fix is to make them fun and give them different functionalities instead of just forcing them to watch health bars all the time. The other fix is to allow the characters to step out of their roles and filling spots to an extent. Like a temporary class switch that would allow the group to still be able to play in the case they cannot find a proper healer.

This is one of those points I find valuable because they are aimed straight at solving one problem we all know. So aimed to make the game more directly enjoyable and reduce the downtimes due to the search for specific classes. The goal is set. Once the goal is set we can explore different solutions and see which one works better. During my tinkering I’ve defined a few. But without filling another page with all the examples and considerations I’ll just make one example that is coherent with the arguments I wrote here.

One of my ideas was to define each class (or template) in *all* the different roles. I basically detached the concept of “class” from the concept of “role”. The class was just used to define the form on which the role was executed. But all the roles were accessible. Not stacking, but accessible. This means that a “cleric” would be a class defined into multiple roles. A “tank” cleric that goes in melee with a blunt weapon and uses specific styles and melee skills, an “healer” cleric that casts heals from range and keeps some buffs up (its standard role), a “smite” cleric that has powerful offensive range attacks, dispells and other specific skills. Till to define unique roles, like the possibility to raise or dispell undeads, call the help of the gods for limited power-ups, set up shileds and barriers and so on. ALL of these “roles” would be absolutely open and accessible to EACH cleric in the game. But not stacking. This means that, before an encounter, you could flag and equip yourself as a “tank” cleric and do your duty at best as every other tank. But without the possibility to be a tank, a caster and an healer all at the same time.

This idea actualizes one of the purposes chased by Babylona. She wants the skills to be open so that the player can explore all the possibilities without limits but not by shaping too powerful hybrids. I’ve already explained the problems of open skill systems and the problems of the uniqueness. My idea was a way to set a precise goal (the problem of finding proper classes to build an efficient group, healers in partcular). Solve it and at the same time avoid the other problems. In my system a cleric would always be a cleric and would always be different from a warrior. It would retain the uniqueness of the class. But at the same time it would be designed as an all around class that can switch freely between different roles, depeding on the situation.

My idea was the result of needs and obstacles. A compromise that was still able to produce a viable result (from my point of view).

(btw, my proposed PvP system was also based on ranks and roles on the battlefield that can be unblocked and then flagged active under specific conditions. Exactly to not make the characters exponentially more powerful with each rank, in order to not open gaps between experienced and casual player. But actively reducing them and encourage them to play *together* toward shared, truly communal goals)

Now the other point, the uncapped skills. I used to have overly complicated ideas that were just insane, but what I’ve learnt along these years is how to shatter those ideas into “atoms” and analyze them for what they are at their core. Simplifying them and looking at the essential. See why they work or why they don’t work, see of what they are made.

In this case, what are the negatives of uncapped skills? The traits I was able to isolate are:
– In PvE: gaps between the players, favor elitism and closed communities, difficulties to group and catch up with friends
– In PvP: unbalance

Both, in their relative case, are game-breaking. What are the positives? I found just one: feeling of achievement lasting on the long term. Actually this positive trait is minimized in Babylona’s proposal. The uncapped skills are possible in her model because the cap is set before. Or the cap is based on “time”, or the cap is based on a fixed pool of points to spend on the different skill. A skill going over it’s “standard” value would bring to an highly specialized character, while the points spent more uniformly would bring to more all around classes but with less specialization and effectiveness, which reminds again the Talent system in WoW, or the specializations in DAoC.

This is again a balance nightmare. Unavoidable. A single specialized character would always be FELT as insanely overpowered. If he invests all its resources in ONE skill he would be able to one-shot almost all classes. Of course he would do just that and nothing else but the other players will perceive only the overpowered trait and the fact that this character, even if with many weaknesses, is able to push the “I win” button. The devs will have to work endlessly to balance the specialized characters with the multi-purpose ones. In general this never worked and the final result is the freedom removed from the system instead of added. It would be hard even to keep the game in a playable state. The “fun” being far from it, and the newbies thrown in an endless confusion trying to plan their character in the less worst way.

Again my point is, what’s the actual goal? The positive trait I isolated above is the feeling of achievement in the long term. Babylona’s system doesn’t take advantage of it because a skill beyond its cap is just a result of a character that does that and just that. Not the result of a character that played for longer and in the long term. Again my dream mmorpg uses uncapped skills but in a way so that the negative traits I listed above are reduced and those positive valorized. The system is based on percent skills. A value above the cap is useful because of the penalties. If you have a 105% on a skill and the action you are trying to perform has a -5% of penalty, the 5% overcap would be useful. At the same time, under normal conditions, there isn’t sensible difference between a 95% and a 130%. In a fight 1vs1 the huge gap in numbers between the two characters would be barely noticeable in the practice. This is how I prevent negative gaps of power between the players. The merit of skill based systems opposed to level based systems is that the gaps between the players are reduced, hence making them ideal for PvP games. Adding uncapped skills in the way Babylona planned would reintroduce the gaps in the game, making it unbalanced and gaining almost nothing from the “achiever” persepective.

In my idea the skills can go beyond the cap and never really stop. But every small +0.1% comes just an an increasingly hard chance. This means that the character always progresses, it NEVER really stops. You can play ten years and still gain something. But at the same time this process isn’t strongly functional. It does’t add a sensible advantage and grinding it would be just an unrewarding practice. It wields no sensible and worth benefits and it’s just there as an added mechanic to further improve your character without making this improvement THE REASON why you play. Just a side-effect.

That’s my way to shape the system in a way that, once again, tries to maximize the benefits and minimize the problems. Percent based skills and actions are easy to parse for every player, this makes the ruleset more transparent for everyone, both experienced and new players.

The mechanics about how these skills are designed and improved are explained with more details here. The system needs a revision but the goals and the base mechanics of the skill system I imagine are still mostly unchanged.

Babylona doesn’t invent anything, she just mix together various ideas coming from other games. Which I don’t criticize, because all my ideas are also coming from what I saw before and a re-digestion of all that.

Half EQ2 and wit

I’m spending some time reading about EQ2 last expansion and current state through message boards and reviews. Two comments on F13 are good and generic enough to deserve archiving:

Complaining about the lack of “world” in a mass-market Diku MMORPG is like complaining about the lack of true love in a whorehouse.

Customizing with respecs is of course retarded. How do you have any idea at level 10 what your skills are going to be worth at level 50+? Then throw in the fact that in some games the end game shifts focus dramatically, abilities are buffed/nerfed, etc. It’s just stupid and makes no sense.

Best Q&A ever

Best Q&A ever (on Slashdot, even):

Q: How much economic monitoring do you do?

A: We monitor the economics of the game very closely.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently, and when?

A: We learned from those challenges and used that knowledge to improve the game at every opportunity.

Q: What is the process the dev team goes through for balancing character classes, items, NPCs, etc.? Also, How much of an effect does feedback from the community have on this process?

A: Our designers work very hard to try to balance the game. The feedback of our beta testers has always been invaluable.

Q: Are you planning to introduce “events” into the gaming world that would actually shape it permanently, like in Asheron’s call?

A: That’s something we’re looking into.

Q: The early game is brilliant, and playing it was a joy. Why is that so hard to retain in level 60 play?

A: It is difficult to please all gamers all the time.

Q: Would your company encourage, allocate time for and generally nudge willing developers to blog?

A: Huh? We feel that the World of Warcraft community site is a great way to keep gamers up to date and informed about every aspect of World of Warcraft. The forums are also a great place for gamers to express their opinions and give feedback about the game.

Informativeness for the win.

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DAoC’s “Evolution”

Some more comments about the latest poll. If I wasn’t awfully deluded for my own reasons I would be all hyped up, because I definitely appreciated Mythic’s interest toward this direction. This game and Mythic are still able to tickle and awake my interest more than anything else out there, sometimes they surprise me and this is one case. What I appreciate is the hint of a probable on-going debate within Mythic about the game itself. I find this positive because it’s different from a lack of interest and from the perceived sensation I had in the last months. I thought they just wanted to drop the game as quickly as possible because it wasn’t anymore positively successful (read as: growing). Jump off the ship before it’s too late and bet on brand new projects while DAoC is put in a conservative mode to transition both the players and the dev team while Warhammer is in the work.

The poll isn’t directly breaking these impressions, but it suggests that this transition could be at least interesting and challenging on its own. And not just a boring transition process to suffer (and forget). Not as a declining game that is becoming more like a burden and a negative weight for Mythic instead of a resource and a reason of pride. This is why I register the poll itself as something definitely good and positive. This is the first step.

Then the critics. If you read some of the active forums and threads, my opinions aren’t really different from what everyone is thinking right now. The idea of more new rulesets just doesn’t sound as something viable. I strongly criticized the release of the classic servers. Despite I play there and despite they are better than anything Mythic has done till today. My reasons were that Mythic was refusing to solve the problems. Instead of addressing them properly and dare with the development, they were just seconding the rants of the players without really understanding them and deciding that a rollback (such are the classic servers) was a positive path to try.

When those classic servers were released we were worried that Mythic wouldn’t have supported them properly, in particular when the ruleset become divergent and head toward completely different directions. The prioritization of new features and problems doesn’t work anyomore. As time passes DAoC has more and more problems and misses more and more basic functionalities. Splitting the dev team simply doesn’t work under these conditions, it just cannot bring to positive results in this situation. It would just stretch an inappropriate model till it breaks.

The real point isn’t really the development and launch of a new server type. The real point is the support from release onward. Mythic needs to decide if they want DAoC to sit in a place and remain there till it lasts (and without moving, it will die, sooner or later. Immobility = illness = death) or if they want to keep daring with it, adding new ideas, exploring new possibilities. I hope the “Evolution” server follows this second path. Without just drawing a line that doesn’t move again. Without the need of an Evolution 2 server to release one year after the first to address the new issues that the first brought up.

The “Evolution” server I’d love to see is what DAoC (and every other mmorpg) was supposed to be since release. An ongoing project that reacts and grows as the result of the interactions between the community and the developers. The possible mistakes would be the very substance on which to found the premises of the actual “evolution”. Instead of representing failure. A failure is a problem without a development. Mmorpgs have the innate characteristic of being malleable and never fixed in a form. They have the innate possibility of transforming a failure in a strength. So lets speriment, lets discuss passionately, lets rant, lets feel deluded and then excited again, because this is what founds a growth as opposed to a stasis.

DAoC has been a stillwater pond. If done right the Evolution server could be a way to break the model, in the hope that it will set a trend and will continue to move instead of sitting again and starting to show the negative stasis of the current DAoC.

Of course these are my dreams, not my expectations. I write this exactly because I expect something else and I would hope Mythic to consider these points and share my ideas. There wouldn’t be any reasons to discuss if we all agree. But these points are important because they are exclusive. Mythic cannot continue to branch the game, furtherly shattering its integrity and its resources. I hope the Evolution server is the beginning of a journey and this cannot work if they need to focus on contrasting plans, multiple ruleset with opposite needs and split their teams continuously, losing more and more resources (and dev personal interest toward the game) as Warhammer approaches.

The point is about planning in the long term and put the developers in the condition to be creative, see the results and react consequently. Curiosity. A vibrant development and a vibrant community as a result. The Evolution server instead risks to be just a “light” version of the same game. A sop for the players to second their supposed needs, instead of actually understanding them.

In fact lets see the actual fundamental points. This poll can be seen as just another attempt from Mythic to make everyone happy. Another superficial attitude disguised as the intention to listen the community and give it what it demands. The reality is another. Mythic is refusing to take decisions. They are just failing at deciding where to lead the game and so they just react sparsely, without a defined direction. They do everything and nothing at the same time. They dodge the problems without dealing with them directly. They fear change and so they branch the game, hurting it in the long term.

The point is that this is just not possible. You cannot please everyone and this attitide will just bring them to fool themselves. DAoC needs its strong personality as it happened when it was released. It needs to “impose” its quality as it happened because no remarkable game, book, movie or whatever else was shaped up through polls. DAoC needs a strong direction and authorship. It’s not important where it goes as much it is important that it goes *somewhere*. This is why in the other comment I wrote that I’d like Mythic to focus on something. Anything. They must make choices and face the consequences, positive or negative. They just cannot avoid this, they cannot please everyone and they cannot keep shattering the game in a FOTM (applied to a ruleset) that just doesn’t lead anywhere in the longer term. They are deluding themselves because “avoid to take decisions” isn’t something possible.

But what about the present beside these words? It just wouldn’t be possible to fix the standard servers. DAoC has been still and unresponsive to problems for too long and fixing its issues all at once is just not a possible or viable path. It cannot be done at this point. The problems are now too deep-rooted and fused with the fabric of the game to be addressed efficiently at this point (despite I had suggestions). The “Evolution” server can be an occasion and the reason why I wrote all this is because I hope this occasion won’t be thrown away and get wasted. So what this new server needs to do is to set a new standard to tackle the problems and address them with courage and determination as they come up. Without letting them rot. Building on the actual, progressive “evolution” (the real evolution) the strength of the game.

And if there’s the will to dare and transition *this* game (and not Warhammer) toward its *real* evolution, why not open two different servers? One as a brand new, clean server. And another with the possibility to convert and port old characters to it. Maybe in the simpler form of an old idea I suggest more than a year ago: a single-use key code to spend to instantly bring one (and only one) character at level 45. This would allow everyone to quickly get involved in the RvR without suffering the treadmill and without, at the same time, killing the community at the early levels in the longer term, since all the alts beside the first will be required to start from level 1.

This doesn’t solve all the problems. The players don’t want to leave their servers not only because of the wealth they gathered but also because of the social ties they have. But through the design it is possible to ease up at least one part of the problem and this is something that should be done.

The final question to Mythic is: Are you willingly to focus on this new server and set the premises for the future of this game? Decisions must be taken. A defined stance must be set. An ambiguous behaviour that tries to please everyone at the same time is just not possible nor good for Mythic or the game.

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Old, silly DAoC’s bug (and interesting poll)

I was logging in to give a look at the new poll but as I launched the patcher I got the message that it couldn’t connect. Without even trying to.

Then I remembered about an old quirk. Early today I launched Outlook Express while not connected. It put it in offline mode.

The bug is: if Outlook Express is in offline mode, DAoC doesn’t connect. I have no clue why this happens but it happens (it’s also easily verifiable). The first time I got this bug I spent HOURS trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with the game.

Of course I voted for the “Evolution Server”. But the point is that I’d like Mythic to focus on something. Anything. And not start to shatter the already small playerbase and their already limited resources on multiple projects that just won’t go anywhere.

Btw, wasn’t the “Evolution Server” also known as “Warhammer”?

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