The defenitive solution to the endgame: “gated content”

There are a few concepts in here that I consider particularly important and that have been recurring in what I write. The beginning of the reasoning was an article about the future of the “endgame” over at Nerfbat and it became a good occasion to explain better two terms that I created and that I keep reusing. They are two general design principles that come as a result of my observations and I consider them important because they are more like philosophies that effect radically the way a game can be designed, even if on the surface they are easy to grasp.

These are the two terms and a general definiton for both, then I’ll go more in detail about the second:

“permeable barriers”. While the concept is rather broad and extended to the theme of the “accessibility”, my definition follows the idea of “lines drawn on the ground”. These lines define and regulate a space, but at the same time the player has the possibility to cross them. So they don’t transform into “cages”. Concretely the idea of permeable barriers offers a single character the possibility to change class, use different skill-sets, switch faction, travel between servers, develop special affinities and proficences and so on. All these “states” define what a character is and can do (think to a class), but they are never completely permanent and definitive and they can be reverted. The “betrayal” quest in EQ2, is a concrete example of the application of the concept of “permeable barrier”.

“gated content”. This is specifically about the “content” of the game. In particular it refers to the *types* of content, so, implicitly, the variety that the game offers. It’s an idea particularly suitable for a sandbox game, but not only. Each “gate” corresponds to a different pattern available. It is woth noticing that a “gate” here is a conceptual idea, not an actual gate in the game that leads to different sub-games. The main idea of “gated content” here refers to the coexistence of these patterns and the possibility of the player to choose what he *prefers*. One type of content doesn’t exclude or preclude another. Not only each type of content available isn’t forced on the player (you are at “x” level and have to do “x”), but it also always exists and remains accessible, valid and pertinent throughout the life cycle of that character. Without getting replaced. Instead of passing from casual content to hardcore raids as two distinct and exclusive moments, all these content types coexist as parallel lines. (btw, even here there’s a drift of the term, since I also use it for the accessibility when I use a type of content as a “door” on a different type. Not only to switch content types then, but also to integrate them.)

The first point is that the whole idea of “endgame” is silly. A division between two different games, the “main” one and the “endgame” has no reason to exist.

The very first question should be about which one is better and more appealing. In some cases (DAoC) the endgame is where the fun is, you have to endure the treadmill so that you can finally reach it. In other games (WoW) the “main” game is much more appealing, while the endgame is a complete change of pace that not many players enjoy (but tend to endure).

Why this division?

We basically have two ways to play the game. The only motivation to this distiction is that it adds “variety”. Okay. Then, if this distinction is about adding variety, a much better design choice would be about INCORPORATING that variety in the same model. So that you aren’t bound to a “before” and “after”, but instead the two patterns cohexist and you can switch them based on your preference.

The original model here is the sandbox. Or the idea that says that adding variety to a virtual world is a winning choice. The one that accomplishes more the “mission” of these kind of games and enhances the fun. The variety always adds to the fun when the players are NOT ENFORCED into a one-way, obligatory path.

So the idea to have different patterns available in the same game is not a good one. It is an *essential* one. But an essential one that needs to be presented to the players on the same level. And not separated in two moment. The “before” and “after”. Univocal and selective.

The “main game” in WoW, the one that is responsible to its success thanks to its accessibility and polish, is all focused on “progress”. Not just in character power, don’t let the appearance fool you. But also and in particular in “escalation“. This is something that WoW does MUCH better than EQ2, for example. Meaning the way it leads you around the zones and then progressively adding more and more elements, with the world really starting small and then branching up. Sense of wonder. It’s a sense of progression that follows the whole game and that really involves much more than the character. It involves the world outside and the way the game, step by step, adds elements to the puzzle. Brush strokes that progressively realize an impressive painting. This hooks the players better than everything else because the game not only gives you the correct amount of short-term goals, but also long term expectations and revelations.

There’s a problem in this model, though. It gets spoiled. The first time you go through it is really the best experience you’ve ever had, but once it is spoiled, the sense of wonder and perfect progression don’t work anymore. You can create alts, explore the starting zones you haven’t seen yet, but it’s never like the first time through. After three-four alts it even starts to get annoying. Blizzard is planning for new races and starting zones in the expansion but just adding those won’t work. It’s the model of the game that gets spoiled and you know already what type of progression and what kind of content you are going to see. “Reskinning” this experience won’t do the trick because the experienced player has already generalized all that type of content (kill ten rats, get ten pelts, these are generalizations). He knows already how things work, he knows already that type of “escalation”.

The game doesn’t impress anymore, it loses its original, strong emotional impact.

The strength of WoW, and the reason why it will continue to be successful, is that for the brand new players this type of perfect progression is retained at no loss. You could have started to play when the game was released or start to play now and you aren’t going to miss anything. The game is so carefully balanced that it will be preserved perfectly, while other mmorpgs age horribly and become nearly impossible for a brand new player to get into. Impassable barriers that isolate the “before” and “after” of the community. Which leads to a stagnation and the consequent slow drift into oblivion. It’s not just about the “retention” of the subscriptions. It is rumored that WoW has a rather bad retention but one year and half later and it still sells more than 50k boxes each month just in NA. Without new players a mmorpg doesn’t go anywhere and old mmorpgs don’t lose those new players because they look old. But because the accessibility of the game fell to pieces as a consequence of bad design choices and models.

Often the “good” endgame is about the PvP. The majority of the ideas on Nerfbat, in particular those that I consider valid, are about PvP. It’s not a case. “Stalling” is a good mechanic for PvP. Similarly to how the convergence is much more appropriate than divergence in PvP. If every couple of weeks there’s an alien invasion on the world that completely destabilizes the PvP scenario, the players would be pissed off. Because the best mechanic for a PvP environment is a “stall”. A fixed situation where then the players can manipulate some elements and play their game. But something under their control, not something impromptu or surprising. The “endgame” works in PvP because it is a stalling situation. Finally no other elements come to disrupt the conditions and the players “converge” in a similar situation. PvP needs this sort of “space” to exist. A set situation that reunites the players instead of dispersing them.

What’s the endgame in WoW? Well, you cannot gain anymore levels so what is left to do is improve your gear. As a design model it doesn’t seem really motivated, it is a silly idea. So why we arrived to it? The biggest game out there cannot be founded on something completely unmotivated, it would be crazy.Well, we arrived to that model not as a design choice, but as a productive one. A “progression” game is like football. You move horizontally, as a front. You cannot move backwards, it would be an heresy (see how hated are exp losses on a death). You are doomed to go on. At some point the game ends because the developers could add only so much content, it’s always a finite space (and randomly generated content is also still finited) so, eventually, you arrive at the end. And what then? What am I chasing? The “endgame” here isn’t a “necessity” of game design. It’s just a necessity of the production. An excuse so that, despite the game is over, the players could feel motivated to continue to play and pay. “Raiding” is in this case the perfect choice to bind that request with a type of content that is structurally redundant and vain.

Think to the “main game” as a bait. Once they “fished” you they can throw you in a bucket of water and keep you there for a long while. Raiding is that “bucket of water”.

The absurdity that I often underlined is that this model that is supposed to “preserve” content, since it’s the most precious and scarce resource in the game, does exactly the opposite. It *erodes* content and removes it from the game since it’s heavily based on the mudflation. Instead of valorizing ALL that the game has to offer, this kind of model just keeps devaluing and replacing constantly. As a continue, counterproductive reaction that finishes just to put a strain these worlds till they collapse.

So is this really the best model to use? Or maybe it is just a spontaneous drift and negative “maturation” (sophistication) of a genre that has lost track of its true principles and drive?

Let’s imagine a different scenario and let’s say that the content team has finished a small zone with all its quests, dungeons and overall story arc that unifies the various parts. A month later the zone is patched in the game but this time ALL the players can enter and experience it. The player who just bought the game and has been playing for a week as the veteran player who has kept an account for two years. And hopefully they’ll even play side by side.

This doesn’t mean that the sense of progression should be completely lost since all the content is always accessible. See for example these ideas. My idea is more like a collection of story lines. These can be totally independent or connected. But, while separated, they would retain their own linearity. In a game like WoW this already happens. There are story lines and themed quests, think for example to an instance and all the quests that are linked to it to form a story. Where that model doesn’t really work is in the fact that those stories (even a bit too limited in potential) are limited by level. If you skip a part, going back wolud be rather silly. So my idea is about freeing these storylines so that the content never gets obsolete and remains always interesting for the same character. With no distictions between the “endgame” and the rest.

And yes, at the end there could be those ideas vaguely outlined on Nerfbat. But not as a “BAM! endgame”. Not as a sudden event that completely changes the game you are playing. But as an evolution from the current model to one that contemplates all these possibilities right from the start. My idea of “gated content“.

The idea of the player (and character) as a “traveler of worlds”. Who passes smoothly (the idea of “permeable barriers”) thorugh different types of content (PvP, group, single player, raid etc..) depending on his personal preference more than external imposition.

I imagine the design concept of the “gated content” visually like a number of portals that can be opened and that lead the character exactly to that type of gameplay he is looking for. A number of “opened doors”. Possibilities available. The character is an “enabler” but the lack of a level system keeps the choice always “flat” and valid instead of higly selective. The “traveler of worlds” is the idea of a character that isn’t strictly defined, but a roleplay point of view. Ideally that character could enter a portal and become a level 1 guy. Or enter another portal and become a level 50. Or enter another again and become a merchant. The same from the point of view of the content. Dungeons runs, epic raids, PvP territorial conquest, tournaments, storylines. These elements should work like portals that should never be dependent on a obligatory, imposed choice. The game shouldn’t cage you into one pattern or one role. It’s the player who decides what he wants to experience.

In a sandbox all the options should be available and valorized. And not as in SWG where the game was trying to lock you in one role to preclude all the rest the game had to offer.

These realities should coexist as possibilities.

There are four main points that should be at the center and that I continue to repeat:

– Accessibility
– Immersion
– Gated content
– Permeable barriers

What’s the concrete consequence of all this? How concretely changes the game? For example the raid content wouldn’t be anymore the obligatory “endgame”, nor the only option you have past a certain point. The raid content would be just one *type* of content always available and always valid (and if you want to know concretely my idea of raid content, motivations, execution and reward, look here). Along with all the other types of content/patterns that the game has to offer.

Lost in (pirate) Comicdom

In the last few days I’ve been idle here because, beside being sick, I discovered another geek paradise. The Napster of comics.

On the internet you can really find whatever you want, if you know where to look. The problem is always about finding it. In my case I was frustrated because it’s more than a year that I keep waiting to read “Avenger disassembled” (one of the lastest Marvel crossovers). I own every single issue to this day (published over here, not the originals), “House of M” is starting and I’m still stuck to a year ago. This because I miss two issues of Thor right at the beginning of the story arc and decided to wait till I was able to get them. I’m quite picky about these things. The problem is that the crossover was published on a not so popular comic book series, over here, and I was never able to find the copies in a normal newsstand, nor from a specialized shop since they sold out and the publisher still hasn’t decided to reprint them. One year and I still have holes in the plot.

So I decided to look on the internet to see if I was able to find a place where I could read the issues I was missing and maybe even find a correct “reading order” so that I could read the whole crossover linearly. I KNEW that there was somewhere a super-organized place archiving meticulously all that was being published. It happens for everything that is vaguely part of the geek world, games, manga, anime, movies, music, pr0n. You would be amazed about how some of these places are organized through a bunch of complicated .cvs lists, directory structures, CRC checks and so on. Beside the moral and legal implications of their questionable activities, the dedication and care of the internet pirates is amazing. They create museums and encyclopedias. So often you find things you have been looking for years without success. It’s really not so much about getting stuff illegally to avoid paying it, but more about an *opportunity* to experience things that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s similar to the feeling I was having as a kid when I was riding on my bike for two hours during the summer to reach a city nearby and pass another couple of hours in a book shop finding sci-fi and fantasy books (Van Vogt, E. E. Doc Smith, Heinlein, Moorcock and, of course, Lovecraft were some of my favourite authors). A discovery, a world disclosed. The money is just the opportunity but the world you are interested about is elsewhere. The money is a barrier between you and that world. We aren’t interested in the money, or to spend. The consumer mentality isn’t the one of those who have interests and passions, but in the one of those who rise barriers in the culture. We are naturally meant to share experiences and to communicate. If I draw a comic I would ideally like it to be read by as many people as possible, and not have an high cost so that only a small group has access to it. This is the mentality of the internet pirates.

Of course it doesn’t work. It’s a silly utopia. If I’m an author I need my stories to sell or I wouldn’t able to get what I need to continue to create them. If the pirates distribute my stories freely they steal my work and kill what I do. They kill me and my possibility to continue to communicate. It’s kind of obvious that this model is wicked because it gets legitimation from a system that inhibits the original purposes. I’m here to communicate, but the only way to communicate is to create a barrier around what I do, so that only a limited number of people can have access to it. It sucks! I know it’s inacceptable and I know that this world was designed by an idiot. But things work like that and our very reality is based on compromises.

The internet, as in other cases, brings up some basic contradictions of our real world. It happened with the music. You cannot stop people to hear and enjoy the music. It’s a *perverse idea* to pretend to transform the music into a commercial product. The music is meant to be heard by the largest number of people. The music shatters paradigms, it shatters barriers, overthrows governments, it changes the world. You cannot confine it. You cannot create borders, lines of separation, barriers. The music is meant to cross them. It’s its very nature. Nothing does that better than music. An artist ought to know this, but at the same time he cannot comply with his principles and the principles of what he does, because our real world imposes a value, a price on everything. A quantification of everything. A silly idea of the private property, even if everyone was born on this world and should have the right to walk everywhere.

These are all contradictions and we are all victims in a way or another. Our practical compromises want everyone to conform and comply, with the contradictions and everything. There aren’t real answers. But we know that we all have inclinations that aren’t exactly going in the same direction this world is. And so we’ll keep dragging behind us those contradictions. We ought to love our world, even if it sucks.

So I was looking for those two numbers of Thor. It’s wasn’t a problem of money. If I read something I want to sit on my armchair, not in front of the PC. Reading doesn’t work on a computer. It’s a year that I try to find those two friggin numbers but they are sold out and it looked like that I had to start reading without the beginning of the story. So I started to dig the internet to see if I was able to locate one of those corners where you can find everything you ever desired. And I found it.

This time it’s not about hidden chat channels, newsgroups or torrent sites. The pirate comicdom lives through a program called Direct Connect. Here some linear instructions to step into this wonderful geek paradise who can offer more than you ever desired.

You can get the latest version of the client from here. The installation and configuration is rather straightforward. This type of peer2peer is based on themed hubs/chatrooms where the users share their hard-disk directories. The most important step is to find the right hub and be able to access it.

These hubs usually have three requirements that you have to satisfy if you want to enter them and stay. The first is about sharing a minimum amount of content before you join the room. It can go from zero to 15 Gigabytes, so the real problem is about having already something to share before you can become a cog of this machine. The second requirement is about sharing content appropriate for the hub. So if you share 5Gb of pr0n and the room is about sharing music you risk to be kicked out as soon as someone spots you. The third requirement is the simpler one and is just about opening enough upload slots on your client. The more hubs you join at the same time the more slots you have to open, which is not recommended since one hub has more than enough stuff to keep you occupied for months. You can increase the number of slot from the “file” – “setting” – “sharing” screen.

To find a good hub and start this journey you go to this site. Here you can search for the public hubs available. In this case we are looking for comics so you type “comics” in the search field on the right and press the button. The list you’ll get is a good place to start, but remember that you need to meet the requirements. Here I’m on a ISDN connection, which is barely better than a modem. If I was able to lurk and get enough stuff to meet those requirements I think everyone can.

The best hub for sharing comics seems to be – if you cannot connect at all it means it is down (it was yesterday for a full day). If you can connect but cannot manage to enter it, the error message should give you enough hints about why you cannot get in (not enough slots open, not sharing enough content). The requirements for this hub are 5Gb of comics or “cartoons”. You can then read in the detail the rules when you join.

If you don’t have those 5Gb you could find other rooms who have lower requirements. Another very good one is which wants you to share 2Gb. And the one with the smaller requirements I could find is – which requires only 1Gb but that is also much smaller. The idea is that you start to grind the treadmill so that you can get access to the better hubs. At the beginning I didn’t have enough “on topic” content, but you can easily gain some time by sharing other stuff and hope you don’t get reported. I know it worked for me :) Other options could be about getting initial content from torrents or newsgroups.

When you are in the hub you can start browsing the legendary library of Alexandria. Whatever has been published is probably available in a way or another. Old, new, it doesn’t matter. You can find everything, it’s amazing. If you know already what you are looking for you can just use the search function. For example if you want the issue 80 of Thor (one of the two I needed) you just type “Thor 80” in the search box. The client will start looking for all the users in the hubs where you are connected with that issue. The great majority of the files are in a .cpr format. This is something like a faked format, you can manually change the extension of these files to .rar or .zip and unpack them. Or use a particular program. Inside there are just simple .jpg files. In my case I just unpack them somewhere else and use an old version of ACDSee. An issue of 24 pages is usually around 10Mb or so. Quite agile even with a not so fast connection.

When you have the list of the files you can order it by size so that you can see what’s the more popular format and get it. Sometimes the scans have a variable quality but in general they are decent. Another good idea is to check the “slot” field on the list. If the first number is not zero it means that the user has an upload slot available, so you can start the download right away. No waiting queues. Since the sharing happens between just two users the download speeds are good.

While you download a file it is possible that the user disconnects or that you lose the connection, but the program allows you to resume the downloads. To do this you just need to go in the “download queue” window, click on the file in the queue and “search for alternate”. This system will check the CRC of the file, so even if the results have different names you can be sure it’s the same file. If the previous download was interrupted you can take it here from another user and the program will automatically resume the download on the same file. Quite simple.

The other way to find the files is about clicking on one of the users in the chat and “get file list”, this will download the full directory list with everything he is sharing at the moment and here you can start to explore and get some suggestions. Like entering a library and starting to browse what is exposed.

And a whole world discloses in front of you :) Things that I would never be able to find over here. Past issues of Astro City, the first issues of Grendel, Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Jeff Smith’s Bone, the first mini of Longshot drawn by Arthur Adams that I lost so many years ago, the delicious Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls”, De Matteis superb (and unfortunate) “Seeker Into the Mystery” mini, Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, Rising Stars, Grant Morrison’s “Kill Your Boyfriend” (I bought and lost this one TWICE. One lost to school friend and another to a.. uhm, girl. I simply love that comics, it inspired my adolescence) and, yes, even those two issues of Thor that I was desperately looking for a year. Finally I can start reading the crossover and I was even able to pull a complete reading list order from an user who had all of it organized :)

See, it’s all stuff that I thought I had lost forever, or that I had no hope to find. Things that aren’t being translated over here and that I don’t have the opportunity to read. Tomorrow I’m going again to a specialized shop to get some other things that I had ordered. I am not going to stop reading comics because I found a well with no end on the internet. In fact this has lighted my interest again. I think I’ll never download things that I can buy because a scan on a monitor just cannot compete with really reading. In fact it could happen that I go buy something that I initially discovered online and that I want in my hands.

Another example is the DC universe that here has been published randomly. Now I can finally dig those absurd crossovers like “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. I had never thought that I would have the possibility to read it. Here I discovered crazy reading orders that group more than 700 issues. From the original crossover to Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. These comics don’t arrive here and for sure I would have never had the possibility to read them and all those tie-ins. Money or not, it just wouldn’t have happened.

I don’t know how many of those “pirates” that share up to 500Gb of stuff are avid comics readers, but I suspect a lot. I suspect they are some of the most passionate fans that Marvel and DC have and that still buy real comics on real paper. Of course this is always dangerous. I was thinking about why Marvel or DC don’t support these kinds of archives directly, offering themselves directly high quality versions of those comics, for example as a service with an accessible monthly fee as it happens for mmorpgs. This wouldn’t become a way to make a lot of money, but it surely would extend the reading public and would also give more life to old comics that are still worth reading but that everyone ignores. The archive is bottomless, it’s sad that all that stuff doesn’t get read anymore.

I guess this doesn’t happen because nothing stops a pirate to take even that material and made it available to everyone else for free. That would be a real piracy. Not anymore about sharing a passion and let people read things that would be ignored or forgotten otherwise, but just stealing to avoid to pay even a small fee. Again the ideals don’t work really well and we are left to lurk in the illegality to nourish a passion.

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On player-created content

There’s a comment from J. (Vs Jessica Mulligan, hehe) that I really enjoyed:

Yeah yeah, I know, players eat the content, they should be allowed to make their own. No argument there. So why are so many of the supposedly ground-breaking attempts by developers to put the tools in players’ hands so they can make their own content done for games that have user bases that are marginal at best?

I’ll have to take your word on whether Nevrax planned Ryzom Ring from the beginning, but whether they’re being given away free doesn’t make much difference to me, because I don’t know anyone who plays Ryzom. I’ve been wrong about such things before, but unless someone builds some pretty impressive stack of Legos, I doubt much noise is going to be made of any of these projects other than they exist and are available for someone to get busy making more fun, because there’s not enough fun to go around.

I’m not trying to look “edgy.” Rather, I’m annoyed that what many assume is a grand corner-turn in the business of making games looks like one big excuse on the part of developers to shove the business of making games wholly onto their player base. Yeah, it works sometimes. But the developers end up adding a new discipline to their works: Publisher. And that always works well, when a developer decides they’re good enough at business to rely on the work of others, right? No reason to question their motives or future success, right?

Cut me a break, here.

Then let’s talk about PvP :)

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I started writing a lengthy post to explain more in detail some ideas that I consider particularly important and dear to me but now I’m rather tired and I don’t have the strength to edit it in a final state.

As a teaser I’ll say that it is about the “endgame”. What it is, why we have a word to define it, what is its design purpose and role. How to solve radically the problems it presents. Then ideas and comments on the raid content and one important reason about why WoW’s PvE is still much more “powerful” and successful compared to EQ2, even if it gets old rather quickly.

You can do your homework and answer those questions on your own :)

I started writing after reading on Nerfbat “The Future of the Endgame”. He wrote from a general point of view. I’ll do what he cannot do and go in the concrete details. And solutions.

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Warhammer Manifesto

“Epic, heroic, pe-petuual struggle…”

Some leftover still from the E3. In this case an hilarious video interview with Paul Barnett (a “design manager”, something along the lines of a Mythic – Game Workshop coordinator) who explains what the Warhammer universe and Mythic’s game will be about.

Now I know who Paul Barnett really is.

Ramus from Lunar: Silver Star Story!

That small sound clip is an almost perfect parody of Mythic’s plan with the game. Sneaking in the cave where the WoW dragon is sleeping without waking it and get back what is legitimate of the Warhammer franchise.

“Now that the warm weather has melted the ice near the dragon’s cave, there isn’t any time to waste getting started on our big adventure! If we hurry, we may be able to sneak in without waking the dragon. Then we can get a fantasitically huge diamond from its lair worth thousands and thousands of silver, making us filthy stinking rich and very popular in the process!”

The first line is a reference to the time that has passed since WoW’s release, with Blizzard having secured their position and success with the game. Thinking they don’t need to do much else to continue to tap from that bottomless source of money, not fearing any competition. The dust settled, it’s all calm. “If we hurry” is about the correct timing of the launch for Warhammer. And the huge diamond is the symbol of hopes and dreams (popularity! money!), of something that is being stolen back and forth to the point that noone knows anymore to who it legitimately belongs. WoW stole from Warhammer setting and lore, and Warhammer is going to use WoW as a direct ispiration and open antagonist to lure back those players that WoW brought in the genre.

…Or, in other words:

Three reasons why Warhammer is a great licence for a MMO:

1- Iconic look
2- An excuse to smash the living crap out of each other
3- A-pe-pe-cciual work with no ending from where to draw from (lore, backstory etc..)

Three “devices”:

1- Zone story arcs – With the theme that defines a contested zone
2- Racial story arcs – Race vs Race
3- World story arcs – Between the races, plots, trickeries, “convoluted excuses” to fight etc..

“Everybody fights everybody, for-ever! That’s all we are interested in.”

Race cliches:

“The greenskin are soccer hooligans. All they do is wander around, pick up sticks and try to hit other people. There are no long term plans, no long term concepts. There’s a group of soccer thugs, on the march to glory.”

“The dwarfs are the northern(?) working class of England. They live down mines, all they want to do is get drunk. They just want to fight people who call them “short”. They have no money, they are very proud of their holes in the ground.”

“The high-elves are British posh people. Never done a day working in their lives. Don’t understand about “doing the washing”. Have had too much time, so they read the la-dee-dar-dee books, get really good with the swords and doing special magic.”

“The dark-elves are English posh people who have taken drugs. Basically Lord Byron. They’ve got money coming out their ears. They have taken a load of opium and have decided that they can run the goddamn world and can have it any way they want.”

“The humans. The empire is basically humans. You know, wonderful dreams, terrible nightmares. They don’t really pay attention, build huge amount of technology. They like to explode and destroy the world. Cut down all the forest, they don’t really understand it.”

“The Chaos is humans that have been totally corrupted, tentacles, crab claws, extra eyes, horns. Some people get confused and think Chaos is like the devil. No, no, no. It’s not fire and brimstone, it’s chaos. It’s custard falling from the sky. It’s an arm that turns into a sword. It’s the ability to cut open your arm and mice(?) pour out rather then blood. It’s chaos, it’s corruption.”

“It’s not a computer game. It’s a total hobby experience. We want you to buy this game, and never buy another one.”

“We want you to spend all your time playing it. We want it to involve: skill, commitment and imagination.

– The more skill you put in, the better the game is, the better you feel.
– More commitment you put in, you got piles of money, you got a great(?) of played, the more the game rewards you.
– Imagination. Over in America they call it “immersion”. It’s not immersion. Immersion is playing Half-Life and not realizng the house is burning down. And your wife’s left you. And you haven’t slept for weeks. Imagination is: I played the game and then I want to talk about it, go to the websites, draw pictures about it, have t-shirts, I wanna think about what I’m going to do when I play next week, I talk to all my friends about it.

If you get skill, commitment and imagination, you get a total hobby experience. And a hobby experience should grab you to the core of your being and be the only thing you want to do.

That’s the game we’re making.”

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Solo players “plaguing” the genre?

Here’s a poll I’ve noticed on EQ2’s forums (need to be subscribed to answer):

In other words 76% of those who answered the poll prefer to play up to a full group, while a small 14% likes larger groups.

I bet that in WoW the raid lovers would be even less in comparison.

Adding some comments. I’m often (more often than you imagine) a “solo” player but I don’t like this general trend. In fact I believe it’s pretty negative for the solo players, the community and the overall game.

It’s important to understand these trends and not just dismiss them superficially. In this case the situation is not encouraging. And that poll could be considered more as an “alarm”. Something that is also generalized to all mmorpgs, so not a specific problem of EQ2.

Stealing a comment from Darniaq that has some implications in what I’m describing:

* Sometimes, yes, people just want to get in for 15-30 minutes to kill some stuff. So forced-grouping is a problem for them.
* Other times they’re just shy. They want the opportunity to see other people, and experience the economy, but they won’t want to openly interact.
* Other times they don’t match the requirements of a group. Like, how many guilds would let a pickup raider join them on an AQ run if that raider still had green equipment?
* Other times someone just rubs them the wrong way, but leaving ostracizes them from the larger group.

I think there are design implications if the players start to deliberately avoid group content. It’s a symptom that needs to be considered seriously because it may say that something in the game doesn’t work too well.

In my case I said I’m often a solo player. But the real truth is that what I do depends above all on the *game* and not on my personal preferece of a playstyle over another. There are mmorpgs where I NEVER grouped with anyone even if I played for months. There are mmorpgs where I passed the majority of my time in groups and got even quite involved in the community.

Are solo players growing consistently in the genre because they really don’t want to bother with other players, or because they bump against accessibility barriers and design models that aren’t exactly encouraging and rewarding the cooperation?

Is “solo play” a real necessity or just a reaction to a lack of accessibility?

I have my answers as always and I know about these problems rather well since when I started playing mmorpgs I could barely write some words in english. Being “shy” isn’t a small detail, in particular when you face something completely new to you. Game design can do a lot in these cases, to overcome those “barriers”.

In fact I think there’s noting more important and pertinent to game design than that.

Brad Vs SirBruce

Haha, this one is really fun.

SirBruce’s E3 report was linked on Vanguard’s forums beside other places and it got the attention of Brad. The result is great.

Both with their usual shortcomings. SirBruce desperately attempting to defend his credibility with the result of ridiculizing himself more than what everyone thought possible and Brad continuing to use EQ1 as a quality standard (combat more action oriented than EQ1, beta longer than EQ1).

Two noteworthy passages, because I’m mean:

Actually with the gamespace growing my estimate has grown too. I said in the past that we’d likely do 250k-500k. I think now we could on the more optimistic side go north of 500k.

Along with Turbine with MEO and Bioware with the undisclosed project, they are the third company now to consider the 500k at arm’s reach. Fun how WoW is feeding silly dreams. Everyone wants a slice of that pie.


heck, I took back Lum to see everything and his report was pretty positive

That’s just because Lum is now always nice and optimist :)

EDIT: More from Brad:

We do need enough subscribers such that Vanguard is a profitable venture such that Sigil can go on, making expansions and the like, as well as achieve meaningful profit sharing with our employees.

As I’ve said, however, to achieve that requires around 200k. I think given the appeal of the game, it’s design and focus on immersion, long term gameplay and retention, freedom, etc., the size of the audience we are targeting, how much the gamespace has grown, the assertion that a significant number of people for whom WoW was their first game will find themselves wanting a game like Vanguard for their next MMOG, and the fact that because of our pedigree that we will attract a significant number of EQ 1 and EQ 2 players (and I don’t mean just existing subscribers — EQ 1, for example, while it peaked at between 450-500k subscribers, also has sold 2-3 million boxes — so there are a huge number of people who played EQ 1, for example, over the last 7 years that while they aren’t currently subscribers, were at one time, and are likely to be looking for the ‘next’ EQ)… I think if you consider all of that, a very conservative number for Vanguard is between 250k and 500k, a likely number 500k+, and a more bullish number one that approaches a million.

And from Lum:

More to the point, Vanguard is a game aimed at a very specific market: people who played Everquest 1 and wanted “more Everquest”. I don’t think it’ll make the 500k+ numbers that Brad McQuaid’s talked about, but it will make enough to carve out a respectable niche, much like Eve. There’s easily 100-200k ex-EQ players out there who miss Vox raids. (Most of them post on FOH’s boards, I think.)

Honestly, niches are where you’re likely to see originality and new design ideas, not in World of Warcraft version 2.4.

I did warn the Sigil guys at E3 that the people who post on beta forums are not the people who are going to be playing when the game goes live, more often than not. I’ve yet to see an MMO where the message board traffic didn’t drastically change as the game transitions from beta to live. Expectations change, massively. The game is no longer a dream or an ideal, it’s a service.

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Ubiq is with Bioware

It seems that Ubiq isn’t going to miss Shadowbane:

Back to the pixel mines I go. Today is my first day as the Lead Combat Designer for Bioware Austin.

In the jobs page at Bioware it is interesting to notice one of the “skill sets” recommended:

Familiarity with fantasy role-playing games is a must.

From SirBruce (attendible or not):

In a surprising statement at E3, Rich Vogel says they are aiming for 1 million subscribers, with 200K – 400K being at the minimum of what would be considered successful. This should give us an indication of the potential scope of this game and the resources BioWare is committing to it.

It seems also that the game will have a focus on the “story” (also confirmed by this request), which doesn’t really appeal me since I’m waiting for more interaction, PvP and sandbox-types of games more than content-driven.

This is all I’ve gathered till now. Only one thing is sure, we won’t see much for at least another couple of years:

BioWare, like Blizzard, does not rush things.

Game design strictly dependent on software development

I was reading the second part of an article on the evolution of level design in 3D games (mostly FPS) and it made me think that the game design has always evolved after new technology was available. In the FPS history the big titles have always corresponded to brand new engines and features. Significant advances in the technology to support new means of interaction.

This brings me to an older post:

One (of the many) requirements for new content is that it must be backed up by new systems.

Basically, content is a variation on systems.

You can only produce so much worthwhile content using a given system without having the player say, “It’s just another fedex quest, except I’m delivering jelly babies instead of flour” or “This monster is really just and orc with a different 3D model.”

Game design is and should be strictly connected to software development. Innovative games will need to be based also on significant progresses on the client and server technology. And this is also why innovation is more likely to come from consolidated, veteran companies instead of indie game development. Right now it looks like to have a mmorpg you just need chat functions, a trerrain engine, a pretty render for the water, a skybox, monsters and combat systems.

The high number of clones of mmorpgs is also due to the fact that the software development is much more complex and it barely progressed. Both EQ2 and WoW are supposed to drive the genre forward since they can take advantage from their many resources, but their upcoming expansions add very little on the front of software development. New levels, new zones, new monsters, new skills and spells. Stagnation. Maybe only the flying mount in WoW is something new.

I’m also thinking to Guild Wars. The second chapter is supposed to have roughly the same amount of content of the first chapter, in fact it was sold at the same price. But when the game came out I didn’t buy just the content. But also all the new technology that made the game possible. Technology that was then reused for the second chapter with very little improvements or additions.

The same with the upcoming release of “Episode 1” for Half-Life 2 (1 June). It isn’t expensive because they want to sell roughly six hours of content for 20$. But because the game is based on old technology (beside new filters like HDR) that is being reused, so the final price should also reflect this aspect. The production costs should be much lower. So the price.

It’s undeniable that when you pay for a game you also pay for the technology that made it possible. Episodic releases and expansion packs more and more cut to zero the software development and still pretend to be sold at a full price. This doesn’t sound right to me. Content isn’t “time wasted”. Content is variation and support for variation.

Beside the considerations about the costs, the main point is that the game design cannot progress without being integrated with an active software development. This is a CRITICAL issue for a mmorpg, whose technology research and progress is often completely abandoned just after the game is released (beside bug fixing).

It’s quite ovious that the limited life cycles of the current mmorpgs are a consequence of this behaviour. Software development stops and you can only stretch the game systems so far before the players see that there’s really nothing new beside cut&paste of the same stuff. The downward trends aren’t a rule. They are the consequence of a stagnation that comes as the result of a lack of support on the game. Even if mmorpgs continue to release expansions there’s often little to no development on the technology to support new features and evolve the game.

Immobility -> Stagnation -> Downward trends

The cause is still the lack of a true support.

At the same time this has also brought to the useless “sophistication” of the latest mmorpgs, with Vanguard as the most glaring example: aggro lists, multiple targets, complicated relationship and intergaction between the skills. All kind of GUI-intensive gameplay that I defined as a direct byproduct of the meta-game we are forced to play.

The way Raph rewrote my point:

he argues that the traditional healer role that exists in the modern MMORPGs only exists to fill a need in the core combat game system; that it is, in other words, purely mechanical, and present merely as a formal system, not because it captures the spirit of healing in any way.

Along those lines the current evolution (or better, convolution) of combat systems with the insane multiplication of hotbars, buttons, triggers, colored bars and pop-up messages.

It’s like if we hit a wall and are trying to compensate the lack of advance through the sophistication of what’s already available. A “specialization” of a genre out of its natural context and evolution.