DAoC: the return of buffbots

This game is so dead.

On the forums people are complaining because it is now pretty obvious that noone is left on DAoC after Warhammer, the expansion and everything else. And I don’t mean the players. Apparently there isn’t anyone anymore working on the game beside all those guys they hired from QA and CS that are now probably rolling their thumbs and stare blankly. Or have VERY BAD ideas.

The pace of development is spiraling down at a much faster pace than the subscribers count.

The last test patch segment arrives after more than two weeks and only contains some database changes. These changes have an impact on the gameplay, but quite “cheap” to implement. As if the designers are trying hard to impress the players more than trying to seriously make a better game.

At a first glance you could say that the new changes are good. All the buffs will now last (WoW-like) from half to a full hour. So less annoyances for the players.

But you see, DAoC isn’t designed as WoW (where there isn’t a “buffbot” class that casts nearly all the buffs in the game) and you cannot port those kind of features like that without breaking the game. If the timers are shorter THERE IS a reason. In fact this applies even to the resists buffs, which have a *significant* impact on the gameplay if you can specialize a toon completely on them, with then the possibility to cast the buff on just EVERYONE (since the resists buffs don’t use the concentration pool).

And yeah. This means buffbots EVEN on the classic servers.

Why? Because the resists buffs, again, aren’t concentration based. And the range limit on buffs on the classic servers works only on concentration based buffs.

And the minotaur model was shown on the test server as well. And, ugh, it’s not so good.

Standard troll model with a different head plugged in. No tail, no hoof. Probably no dedicated animations either.

Complete lack of style whatsoever, and the hair are ridiculous. Mythic is getting lazier than ever. Shadowbane isn’t my idea of good art, but at least they gave it a more beast-like feel and not just a standard body with a super-deformed head taken out of a Disney’s movie.

Mid and Hib versions are even uglier due to bad colors/light used.

Haha. Best quote from FoH:

I saw that minotaur this morning. It was on the front of my cup of Brown Cow brand Yogurt.

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Best. Game. Ever.

2.6Mb, free, singleplayer (or we would have reached the nirvana on earth), in full development and frequently updated, all done in ASCII text.

Name is: Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress

The concept of the game is simply fascinating: a huge, persistent world, completely auto-generated and dynamic, with climates, seasons, rivers, civilizations, towns, wildlife and so on. You begin organizing and setting up a colony of seven dwarves, buying them some necessary skills and supplies. Then you start the game, giving orders and managing your seven dwarves to excavate your fortress and refuge right inside a mountain. If all your dwarves die, your fortress is saved, with the game sometime creating a “legend” out of it. You’ll begin again setting up a new colony of dwarves in another location. With even the possibility to visit again the ruins of your old fortress.

Dungeon Keeper meets The Sims. Others have defined it “SimCity: Moria Edition”. This tiny game has an incredible depth and complexity, and it is dangerously addicting.

(This was my second settlement. The bigger room is a dining room/meeting hall, with a few tables and chairs in the middle. The four “I” represent four support pillars and to the north there’s a small room leading to a well for the water. There is also one dwarf eating a plant on a table and a (c)at. The western wall looks odd because it is engraved. The room next to the dining room is the bedroom with the beds (8) near the walls. Then there’s the main tunnel that leads to the farm to the east, out of the screen, and below the smaller rooms with a workshop in each. Outside the mountain there’s an (H)orse, a (M)ule and two stockpiles for the stuff I excavate. The smiling faces are my cute dwarves and the different colors on them help to recognize the different professions. Yellow carpenter, grey miner, green farmer.)

Do not let the ASCII interface scare you. Believe me. I also approached the game *very* sceptically. I found it through a long thread on Q23, I’m not a great fan of roguelikes so I just initally glanced at that thread with little interest. Then I had a moment of spare time and decided to give it a look. On that thread you can read all sort of incredible stories and I was just wondering how you could really get into that with just a messy-looking ASCII graphic.

I thought that I would never “get” this game. But… Oh, I was so wrong.

This thing is a masterpiece. I’m TOTALLY addicted and refreshing the development page regularly to see if there are any updates (you know I’m a patch whore). I usually get very attached to little creatures in games. But this one surpasses everything.

What surprised be more is that the game has some of the best *game design* I’ve ever seen. Mechanics, AI, interface. It’s truly amazing. See, usually these kinds of games may be interesting and have nice ideas, but they are usually made by “progammers” who don’t have a so great grasp of game design and usability. So they finish to be just unplayable. Instead in this case we don’t have just a great programmer, but a programmer who is even better as a game designer. A rare case of talent in both areas. The game hasn’t just an interesting concept, but also a great execution.

There’s a Wiki that is very useful to consult while you play, but I was just amazed by how this game is usable and intuitive, even if it’s just ASCII. And now I’m even hoping it will never be converted into graphic tiles, because I grew fond of the style and now I don’t feel the need of anything else. Really, this game is to my eyes as pretty as it can be. And I love my dwarves.

The most impressive thing is how immersive it is despite the lack of graphic. I started sceptically poking things around last night, and was hooked for eight hours straight. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because those dwarves have cute, round faces always smiling.

Considering that you may be skeptical about trying this thing I’ll try to give you some ideas about how the game plays and feels, so that you understand more what kind of game it is. To begin with there are four different gameplay modes:

– “Dwarf Fortress” is the city-building simulation, the one more feature complete and the one that gives the name to the game.
– “Reclaim Fortress” only appears after you have abandoned your first fortress and lets you guide a band of dwarves to reclaim it now that it is overrun by evil creatures.
– “Adventure” is a roguelike classic mode where you control just one dwarf and explore the world seeking power and glory (and discovering world legends that will be enabled in the fourth mode). Though this is currently the more immature mode.
– “Legends” allows you (I think) to read in detail the legends you discovered through the Adventure mode and take again a snapshot (.bmp) of the whole world.

The first one is the one you want, as it is the main game that I’m talking about. Before you can choose between those modes you still have to generate your own unique persistent world where all your adventures will take place. The worlds created will be truly massive and the generation process can take a while. The game will give them silly random generated names and if you want you can create many different worlds. You can then have different games on different worlds, but you cannot create different saves on the same world as everything you do is “persistent”, so without the possibility to be undone.

When the world is ready you can start to play. You have the possibility to start right away (Play now!) with a standard “setup” but I recommend to go with a custom build, as it would already help you to parse the different professions in the game and have an idea of the different kinds of duties that your dwarves will have to perform. The initial setup is very important because it will determine your possibilities to survive the first winter. This phase is divided into three screens: one showing your seven dwarves and their skills, one showing the supplies and equipment you are bringing along and one that lets you choose the location around the world where you want to settle. You have pool of 200 points you can spend between the various options, so you’ll have to plan wisely (the wiki will help).

One important thing to notice is that for the whole game all the commands you have access to will be shown on screen, so you never need to memorize commands and keys. That’s something that this game got right and that instead has always crippled similar games. Despite it’s just ASCII, it’s still easily accessible because everything you need is displayed on screen. The interface is really well designed.

Once your group of seven dwarves is set up, you enter the location chosen and you can start the real game, with your dwarves deployed right next the mountain wall that will soon become your home. At a first approach you need a few minutes to understand what is shown in the small client window. People usually expect to be able to select one dwarf and move it manually, or assing each to a task, or a “go here” kind of command, but what you do is more indirect, and yet still very usable. You basically create a list of “jobs” and tasks and then the dwarves themselves will start executing them depending on the skills they have, their stats, priorities, preferences and so on. You can enable/disable the active skills for each dwarf (select the unit, (p)ref, (l)abor) and even start training your skills from zero. Each dwarf has his owns needs, drink beer or water, eat, rest, sleep and so on. Luckily you don’t need to micromanage much as the dwarves will take care of themselves without any babysitting. Basically for the majority of the game your duty is to provide them the resources and design the environment to avoid disasters, then the dwarves will use what you give them.

The most basic activity is “digging”. This is why you just cannot play without one or more “miner” as your fortress will be carved right out of the mountain. What you need to do to start digging is enter the “Designations” menu (d) and then select “mining” (d). As you do that you’ll be able to move a cursor on the graphical window, by pressing (Enter) you define the starting point where you want to dig, then you move the cursor till the point where you want the tunnel/room to end, and press (Enter) again (you can dig a rectangular room by defining a starting point on the upper left and the ending point at the lower right). The area flagged for digging will then be shown in a muddy green tint and one of the miner dwarves will automatically start digging the tunnel. You’ll see him moving near the wall of the mountain and the block near him starting to blink till a hole is produced. It’s like watching ants working through a glass!

With (Space) you pause/unpause the game (and also exit menus), so that you have time to observe what is going on without getting overwhelmed. With (j) you’ll access a menu where all the jobs you have issued are listed, with the name of a dwarf next to it in the case the job is currently being performed. This menu is quite useful as it allows you to quickly track what your dwarves are or aren’t doing. By scrolling you can select one of the dwarves and by pressing (c) you center him on screen. Another similar menu can be accessed with (u), showing a list of the units in the area, including your dwarves with relative current job, pets and more or less friendly creatures. Even here you can select and press (c) to zoom to the selection and find out exactly where the unit is.

Your first duty in the game should be about finding the river that runs inside the mountain as you’ll have to use it to flood an area to cultivate. As the cultivation is really slow, you need to start as soon as possible or the winter will arrive and your dwarves will starve to death (or better, to madness), so a good idea is to just start digging straight in the mountain till you hit the river. As you hit it, you risk the tunnel and other rooms to flood, but the dwarves should be fast enough to run out without drowning. You then wait for the water to reflow and then you can continue (I suggest to put a door and lock it where the river is, or you risk another flood as the level of the water can raise during the spring).

The rest of the game is about digging rooms. Beware to dig them too big or the ceiling will crumble. In the case the room starts to be risky you should start to place support pillars around. This can be done through the (b) Building menu. In that menu you can scroll pages through (/) and (*) on the number pad of your keyboard. The support pillars (support) are on page two, but they don’t have a letter shortcut, so you’ll actually have to scroll and select them. Then press (Enter) select the material you want to use for the pillar, Press (Enter) again, place the pillar with the cursor and then press (Enter) a last time to confirm the job. As one dwarf with the active job is available the pillar will be built.

You’ll need a dining room with chairs and tables, a well to get the water from (or your dwarves will have to travel to the river every time they are thirsty) and a bedroom with beds. The well requires a stone block and a bucket, so you’ll also need workshops where you can craft items to use. A workshop is quite simple to build as you just need a room of 2×3 (beware getting stuck, though). As the workshop is made you need a dwarf with the skill to use it. For example to craft the bucket you’ll need a Carpenter dwarf and his workshop. Then the correct resources to craft the item, wood in this case (that you can chop outside, designating trees as with the digging). To create a work order you use the “Set Building Tasks” menu (q) and then move the cursor on the workshop you want to use. Instead to examine a building to see if the orders are completed and the items ready to be used you use the “View Items in Buildings” menu (t). When a bed, chair, door or table is ready you can then place it using the “Building” menu. One dwarf will then came to grab the item and then place it.

That’s pretty much all you are going to do at the beginning. Dig tunnels and rooms, designate trees to cut down, create stockpiles where to store and categorize the goods you produce, start building workshops and then craft the items you need. Initially you need Carpenter, Mason and Mechanic workshops. The priority should go to build a “farm”, so that you can start planting seeds that will then provide you something to eat later on. Your first “game over” will likely be about your dwarves starving and going mad through the winter, so the food is the main priority. Setting up a farm is already a quite complex task but you can read the wiki for precise instructions. To finish one you’ll need two “floodgates”, a lever and five mechanisms, so you also need the mason and mechanic workshops ready before you can finish the farm. Then you open the floodgates by pulling the lever (P, after selecting the lever through the task menu, q), flood the area to get the ground muddy and then build there a farm plot (b, building menu), set up a task for it, type of plant/seed and then let the farmers do their work. The first plants will came later in the game and if you have a kitchen and the right ingredients you can even try to cook meals.

A lot more opens up in the later game, as you can craft a lot more stuff and will need to defend your fortress from sieges. Your dwarves won’t be always seven as you’ll get many immigrants (so more workers, but also more mouths to feed). The colony will grow bigger and bigger and you’ll finish to manage a huge group all at once. The risks also go up as you’ll find monsters that attack you or even sieges from hostile populations. Even if there’s so much to discover you can have an idea of the game. Your dwarves will improve their skills as they practice and your fortress will soon become rather big and complex. But at that point you won’t need anymore to read what I write here because you’ll be totally absorbed.

I also point out that the guy behind the project is really well organized. He divided the development into three groups: “core components”, “requests” and “bloats”. And he also defined a long term plan for the game that spawns multiple years, with some incredibly good ideas. This game not only is awesome already, but it has a VERY LONG way to go as there seem no end to all the plans that the guy had. There isn’t anything else I know that is more worthy of being called as “Vision” as this.

The most interesting thing is that once you get the game you’ll feel completely immersed in a way that not even the graphical games seem to achieve. The ASCII symbols will become easily understandable as if you had read them since forever. The point is that the more you play, the less you feel the need of a graphic interface. And it’s beautiful. I mean, nothing can be compared to what your mind will see in those symbols.

And that’s one of the greatest achievements of this game: it just doesn’t let you miss the graphic.

Plus you can generate at any time a huge bitmap of your very own fortress and show it to your friends :) So that you can even study how others have organized their fortresses. At the end the greatest fun is that you are really free to build your own as you like, with your very own style and feel. And the result will be unique, as if you created a small piece of art with its own story. Along with your dwarves.

Here are some examples taken from the forum threads:
Fortress 1
Fortress 2
Fortress 3
Fortress 4
Fortress 5
Fortress 6

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Precisation about the “recruiting system” for Warhammer

Important enough to be used as a post, I was answering to a comment. I also want to say that this idea is easily portable, so not particularly tied to a game, that’s why I proposed it alternatively for Warhammer or DAoC. I believe it’s a good idea, with very important and diverse objectives, and shaped completely around the theory of “permeable barriers” (defining spaces, without enforcing them).

Obviously, when a higher level character enters a lower level zone, his equipment also decrements alongside his level, so that the difference in power between this newly deleved character and a character that has just entered the zone are kept to a minimum.

No, building a system that delevels equipment would be too complicated and even risk to mess with the database.

The idea is a compromise: to enter a lower level PvP zone you need to go to a “recruiting office”, where they will confiscate all your higher level items and put them in a vault, then delevel you and finally give you a paper that you have to consign to the guards so that you can enter the zone.

So each zone will basically have a vault where you can store your used equipment and take it back whenever you want to go playing there. Which would also help to reduce “twinking”.

However, if old armor doesn’t level up with you, then what’s the reason to stay in the same zone to collect all the armor sets, if they’re not going to net you any benefit once you’re out of the zone?

The armor sets you can “earn” in a zone are balanced to be used in that zone. As I said, your character continues to earn experience and levels even if it will be temporarily stuck at the level cap till you don’t leave the zone.

When you leave the zone you will be prompted to get your character bumped up to the max level he reached, but with his current equipment. Items are static, they don’t level nor delevel. So you have to catch up, craft or buy more up-to-date armor and weapons.

Game design should make sure that this isn’t a big issue. It would also encourage the player to not skip the PvE content in the game as it will be used to better outfit your character for the new zone.

After you’ve ‘completed’ a zone and moved on, why would you want to visit it again with the same character?

For three reasons, essentially:

1- Because you may want to join your friends who aren’t at the same level of you.
2- Because it’s about PvP, and PvP doesn’t “wear out” like PvE.
3- Because there are special armor sets, trophies, ranks and medals that you may want to collect.

I’m not sure that level 40 players would particularly want to temporarily part with their best stuff, their levels, and go to zones for level 5s

I’ve given some reasons about why you should “desire” that in the comment above. Besides, it happens ALL the time in DAoC, where there are plenty of players who want to play in one BG because it’s where they are having fun.

In DAoC you would lose ALL progress, and yet the players still want it. In my idea you don’t even lose progress doing so and you are NEVER locked out permanently from a zone as in DAoC.

Assumedly, you’re not going to scale the experience from a zone, so even if you keep earning it, it’s not going to be as good as experience from the zone that matches your level.

No, the experience you gain IS scaled. In the sense that you would gain about the same experience you would get if you were at your “real” level killing a same level creature. Ideally the experience progression is also linear (but it wouldn’t be a big issue if it wasn’t). For example requiring to gain 100 xp points to go from level 1 to 2 as from level 49 to 50.

What I want is that you always gain the same amount of points you would get by killing a same-level creature. So in the case your true level is 20 killing a level 20 creature you would get about the same xp points you would get if you are deleveled to 10 killing a level 10 creature.

This applies to the *experience*. Instead the items are static. So yeah, a level 5 zone will give you level 5 items. When you exit it you could be already at level 10 if you decide to stay for longer and go for the trophies, medals and the other rewards I described. But your equipment would realtively suck and you would have to hunt for better items (which, again, shouldn’t be a problem).

Character customization and development in Warhammer

As I recently commented on Lum’s blog, Warhammer may have the best implementation of “age” in a mmorpg, as I agree with Ubiq that it’s one of those bad ideas that just don’t die.

The way this system is implemented in Warhammer is instead interesting because it adds something without leading to other problems. Already in other games like Star Wars Galaxies (and UO too?) the physical appearance of your character wasn’t just defined and then locked as the character was created, but could be modified later on via other professions, like the “image designer”.

In Warhammer the idea is that “age”, “look” and “level” will be tied together in one progression. So not only you gain levels, but you’ll also see your character age and also further specialize his look. So that dwarves will grow longer beards or braids and so on. It’s a good idea on its own because it just adds more customization without really having an active role in the gameplay. It creates a better bond between the player and the character, but without the “age” becoming a negative element that eventually cripples your character and wastes all the time and dedication you put into it.

It also makes the players more recognizeable, as you would be able to identify a new character from one who has seen already many battles.

This is why I started to think that the idea of a “customization-in-progress” of your character would match prefectly the other idea I suggested about the recruit system (the second one). The problem is that with a linear customization, as the one Mythic suggested, all the “uniqueness” of your character is kinda lost. Why? Because the zones are tiered (I think). Every ten levels you move to the next “tier” zone. So you’ll always be surrounded by characters that more or less have the exact same customization choices you had as well.

The surprise and interest about seeing a veteran player passing by and looking much different would be lost, because all the players will be likely instanced around their levels, so that veteran player will never share the same space of lower level players and be admired for his unique look. The kind of awe that you feel looking at something still far away from your own achievement and that adds so much “flavor” and uniqueness to the game won’t be there. The fact that the player can further customize the character as it gains levels is a good idea, but it would be so much better if new and old players could play *together*. Emphasizing that differentiation.

It’s like if you are in a room filled with people that all have the same height. The customization loses its value if you are surrounded by people all alike, even if you know that outside there are rooms with people with different heights. But if in the same room you can have people of all different heights, then the customization becomes much, much more interesting. A value for the players, a way to actively differentiate themselves and even acquire “status”, because a veteran characters would be suddenly recognized.

But if you move linearly from zone to zone, this is lost, because the progessive customization will be staggered with those zone/tiers. As I tried to explain in the example above. Rooms where all players look alike because they are sharing the exact same moment/progress, instead of giving a value to the unuiqueness that would be possible if different kinds of characters shared the same space.

My idea plugs directly here. Instead of moving “forcefully” from one zone to the other as your character gains levels, the idea is to give the player a CHOICE. He would have the choice to move to the new zone or continue playing where he is. In this last case, THE PROGRESS ISN’T LOST. The player continues to earn experience and levels, but what he gains is only “archived” on his character. Then, as the character leaves the zone, the player will be prompted to bump his character up to his “real” level.

This means that instead of moving from one zone to the other without the possibility to visit again the places you left, you would just unblock the zones, progressively, having them ALL available once unlocked. As the character enters a lower level zone, the system would delevel it to respect the level range of that zone. If your character is level 40 this means that you would be able to access all the zones from level 1 to 40.

Now, why a player would decide to play in a lower level zone? In other games if you do this, you gain zero experience. In DAoC you can disable your experience so that you can continue playing in a Battleground you like. But this would mean that you don’t progress anymore. And you also have no way to access a Battleground below your level, so you can only enter one and only one. But not in my idea. In my idea your character continues to earn progress as if he was playing normally. A character could be active in a zone capped at level 10 and that character would continue earning experience that would be counted toward higher levels. That experience and progress is archived by the system. The character won’t break the level cap of the zone, but as he leaves it, he would be prompted to be bumped up to his real, current level. So no progress would be lost.

I explained better this idea and its goals in the post I linked, but in this case I’m looking at it from the perspective of character customization. The point is: the characters would be level capped to be balanced with the players in that zone (like a “mentoring” system applied to a whole zone), but this could still take full advantage of the character customization described above.

While the characters would be delevelled to respect the cap, the progress made on the physical appearance could be preserved without unbalancing the game. See what I mean? New and veteran players could play side by side in this system and the customization would have a whole new value. Veteran players would be easily recognized as their graphical “perks” would be easily noticeable. A longer beard won’t unbalance the game, of course, but it would become itself a valuable “trophy”. A recognized status. And players love these things.

I reproposed this idea recently on Corpnews. The idea is that not only you have the choice of playing in a lower level zone without losing progress. But there would be incentives doing so, with every zone having something unique to offer and to achieve.

Since it’s shaped around PvP, let’s say that to move to the next zone you need to score about 100 kills. Ok, the idea is that you can get those 100 kills and have enough experience to move to the next tier, continuing to level up. Or you can stay in that zone for another 1000 kills. Why? Maybe because there are special armor sets and perks to unlock and “collect”. Every zone would have some of those and the players could decide to just continue levelling up their characters, or instead try to collect all the special sets.

As I explained on Corpnews these would be an “horizontal” type of reward. Not more powerful gear to farm, but just unique *looking* gear to farm. “Trophies”. Something to reward your dedication to that particular Battleground and make your character unique. A symbol of status.

If all these ideas would be implemented the game would have three customization paths:

– Class specializations, levels, skills and spells (linear and progressive)
– Physical features/decorations (linear and progressive)
– Special armor sets, trophies, medals and “status” items (parallel)

But without those ideas the scope of the costomization that Mythic planned would be weakened. Because new and veteran players wouldn’t be able to play side by side, making the “status” and customization earned kind of redundant as you would be always surrounded by players that share your exact same progress.

(some more precisations here)

What Mythic isn’t lacking: talented artists

WordPress spam filter swallowed (I think) my comments over at Lum’s blog, so I’m going to save them here, nyah, nyah!

It’s undeniable that DAoC has some of the best art I’ve ever seen in a mmorpg. In many cases far superior even to WoW, even if crippled by some overall carelessness and things too rushed out and approximate. But what is sure is that they have some GREAT talent. And that kind of talent is inestimable as you just cannot find it easily.

I don’t remember anything particularly great in ToA (but I also never went too far), but I was definitely impressed by what the artists did with Catacombs and all that came after it.

I praised DAoC’s art in many occasions, even if I don’t exactly know who I’m praising. Maybe it’s that guy (Mat Weathers) Lum is talking about, maybe it’s someone else, maybe it’s the whole art team.

I know I am easily amazed by smaller details like this, this and this. That’s some magistral work on those textures. Definitely not something you see often. And remember that at least one player stopped there to stare in awe.

At the beginning the art style was a bit too generic and not particularly inspired, but with the time it became much more consistent and today the quality of the art is the very LAST problem that DAoC and Mythic have. Maybe some approximate execution and lack of polish, but the overall quality and skill that the artists have shown is simply awesome.

The same for Warhammer. The art in Warhammer is already head and shoulders above WoW’s character’s art. Without a doubt. Mythic has definitely the potential not only to be on par with the quality of the other game, but easily suprass it. Also because they are building a PvP game, so they need again to consolidate the space and not make an infinite number of zones. The initial screenshots shown were a bit deluding, in particular because of the lightweight atmosphere they chose compared to the more harsh and worn look we were all expecting for that setting, but with the time things seem improving and even for Warhammer it looks like that the quality of the art will be its last problem. The dwarf model is still the one I like less as it is too imprecise and undefined, but what they did with the orcs and goblins seems very good. And I do hope that a particular attention goes into giving them unique and appropriate animations.

Give a look for example at this orc in shiny armor. That’s the idea I have when I think to inspired armor that fits the setting. That’s why I CANNOT HATE MORE the direction that WoW is taking, with all those goofy, exaggerate, plastic armor pieces that Blizzard started to patch in post-release. Imho the equipment of a character should be defined exactly in the game world. It’s not a model and a color/texture. I want to know the material it is made of, I want to know where it came from, I want to know the utility of it. I don’t mind some exaggeration, and I love how each item has an unique look that is suddenly recognizeable, but if you compare that orc from Warhammer to whatever you see in WoW nowadays you can easily understand why I’m starting to love Warhammer’s art direction and hating the path that WoW is taking now.

That orc in that page is awesome. the model is detailed enough, the textures well done and every piece of the equipment fits perfectly the setting and it is suddenly recognizeable. It looks great and it looks unique. I just love it and I hope that for the whole game they stick to that style (and I want to see what they do with Chaos).

But this is also why browsing through my old screenshots in DAoC and looking at the progress in Warhammer makes me feel furious. Because Mythic has and still is wasting the so great resources they have. Wasted because of the not so great design. They have great artists, but terrible designers (and a crippled client).

And the result is that those great resources they have are NEVER put at a good use.

DAoC had and still has the numbers to be the best, and yet it has to struggle in the relative mediocrity.

New kids learning the ropes

From Vanguard’s forums:

There once was a game called Dark & Light. It was supposed to be the MMO to rule them all. It enchanted me with its hype. It was my precious. I told people over and over how good it was going to be. Alas, it was nothing but an illusion conjured up by fanboys and smooth talk by developers. While the game still exists, it’s safe to say that it utterly failed. I thought I was going to be a great pioneer, but all it left me with was the feeling of being a complete fool.

The lesson I learned here was to never ever devote myself blindly to a game without first having at least tried it.

Ahah, everyone has to go through that phase. For me it was “Dawn”, even if at that time devoting yourself would just mean refresh the site every five minutes to wait for the Important Announcement.

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And now Mark Jacobs talks about Ultima Online

There’s an interview about UO: Kingdom Reborn, the expansion/client upgrade that I already commented, and instead of the producer of the game who I find? Mark Jacobs.

To refresh the memories:

This was in production before EA bought Mythic.

Which also sound as a revindication of the work (good or bad) that the UO team was doing on the game and that now cannot be ascribed to Mythic just because they took over. I do fucking hate when people take credit of things that they have nothing to do with.

In fact Mark Jacobs has very little to say (aka: nothing at all) about the game itself.

FiringSquad: Why is Mythic helping in the revamp of UO when they are already very busy with Warhammer Online, as well as the continued support and expansion of Dark Age of Camelot?

Mark Jacobs: Well, we are pretty fortunate that there is a lot of talent on the UO team. If we had to take on this project ourselves, we would not been able to expand Ultima Online given our current commitments.

Basically, yes. Taking credit for something that they aren’t even going to touch. We’ll see if they also take the blame, beside the credit, if the end result sucks.

FiringSquad: Will the UO team in Redwood Shores be moved to Mythic’s Virginia studios or will the two teams work together at their two locations?

Mark Jacobs: The UO team will be working under Mythic’s supervision but will remain in Redwood Shores. There are no plans for them to move here as that would be counterproductive. Besides, who wants to leave a really cool campus at Redwood Shores to come to our bare-bones offices in VA?

And this sound like a remote possibility that eventually the opposite will happen. Mythic moving from their bare-bones offices to the really cool campus at Redwood Shores. Heh.

FiringSquad: Finally, why do a revamp of UO at all when the team could work on a full sequel to the game which might have better graphical features and more content than the original?

Mark Jacobs: Like Dark Age of Camelot, I think there is still plenty of life left in UO.

No. *I* fucking believe that. You DON’T. That’s why you are making Warhammer, because you’ve driven DAoC to the ground and now need something brand new to take its place.

This decision by EA to put a lot of additional resources (and money) into the title shows, in a big way, its renewed commitment to online games. With the acquisition of Mythic and the revamp of UO, EA has shown that it is determined to regain the leadership position in a space that they helped define many years ago. It’s a new day, a new EA, and this is only the beginning…

And yeah. There cannot be an interview with Mark Jacobs without empty rethoric.

Of course EA/Mythic has NOTHING to do with the project and will just have the role of supervising the rest of the development process till the release. This is also why it is sort of justified that Mark Jacobs has absolutely NOTHING to say. He’s just sitting on the new chair and going on with the corporate-speak that, I’m sure, surprised even himself to discover how good he is at it.

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Crysis, again on the myth of MMOFPS

I saw the news quoted on Joystiq but the original article is currently unavailable, so I cannot read the details.

Here’s what they say:

Power Struggle’s general concept isn’t innovative. You begin the game as a grunt, with just a pistol and basic armor. You’ll gain ranks and earn credits, which can be used to purchase upgraded equipment, by fragging your opponents and completing other tasks (e.g. securing capture points). The end goal is to help your team overthrow the opponent’s base. Now here’s where Power Struggle gets interesting …

To successfully destroy the other team’s HQ, you’ll have to harness the power of alien technology. Randomly generated throughout each map are various crash sites where players can scavenge for alien cores. These energy sources can be used to transform your team’s arsenal into weapons capable of achieving victory. However, you’ll first have to build up that arsenal by capturing structures that manufacture basic weapons and vehicles — and you’ll also have to provide the manufacturing materials.

Apparently, it can take up to 10 hours to launch an attack capable of winning a Power Struggle match. In-game, this feels like days, as one full day/night cycle is completed in two hours. Which means, yes, Crysis’ multiplayer will feature dynamic light – cycles as the icing on the cake.

I’m sort of reluctant to write about this because all I was thinking I managed to explain rather well in some old posts and forum threads. And right now I’m don’t feel as enlightened as I was. That discussion about “the myth of MMOFPS” was even spawned by some thoughts and anticipations about WoW’s PvP that are more actual today than how they were at that time (the theory is: “skill” and RPGs are antithetic, trying to match them is stupid).

Many FPS are already biting into the mmorpg genre or planning to do so. The point is that they can draw more useful ideas from it than what the mmorpg genre can draw from FPSs.

I was planning to write a follow up to that article and that forum thread I linked went in that direction (see the first page), then other things caught my attention as it often happens and I forgot to write it.

In the meantime I had managed to isolate three basic rules that say “why a MMOFPS cannot be a good idea”:

Exclusive choices

– You cannot have detailed character customization if you want large battles.
– You cannot have a satisfying and deep character progression if you want “skill” to matter.
– You cannot have persistent, huge environments if you want the situation to remain accessible for everyone

My point is, a FPS can integrate RPG-like elements and be a better game doing so. I believe that the FPS genre is already much more innovative and interesting than the mmorpg genre, so I expect to see interesting things. A FPS can already have all the persistence it needs, so inverting the model and make a mmorpg like a FPS just cannot be a good choice because it would lead just to many issues without doing really any good to the game.

In that original article I listed the only two “features” coming from the mmorpg genre that I think would be appealing to a FPS. The first is the more complex environments with various layers overlapping and interacting, the other is the persistence.

The first is already happening everywhere (as an example think to the upcoming “Enemy Territory”). Even this last description about Crysis tries to achieve that, hinting at the possibility to break the 10-hour game into a number of smaller missions. Those missions are there to add variation to an otherwise monotonous and static game (who is going to play 10 hours non-stop?). So it adds a tactical depth and a layer of complexity to the environment.

Then there’s the second point, the persistence, which I said was also divided into two parts. The persistence of your character and the persistence of the environment. In the case of Crysis we see the persistence and progression of the character directly tied with the one of the environment as the players progress by accomplishing tasks that depend on the world and “power struggle” itself.

But ultimately I HAVE to ask myself. What is the point? And you should ask yourself too.

In my mind that type of game described will likely lead to a bunch of issues. For example, how you keep the team balanced? It’s not a big issues in a CTF or Deatmatch, where the people you start with aren’t probably going to disconnect in the middle of the game. But on a game that can last up to ten hours you DO expect people to leave. Even if you keep the balance by forcing the players only to join the faction with less players active, you are still going to create gameplay paradoxes. What if, for example, a player drops out only to reconnect and join the opposite faction? It happens often in CounterStrike where a match only lasts a few minutes, so slef-contained, but how’s this coherent with a game mode that is based on the persistence? What’s the point of fighting for 10 hours, trying to slowly obtain progress for your team, when you can switch in a heartbeat to the other side and negate all the persistence? What prevents a frustrated team to gives up right in the middle of a game, drop out and go search for a more favorable situation in another game?

And if we admit that over the course of a 10-hours game there will be (obviously) a constant recycle of the players, then we have to justify the “worth” of the game within the limit of the playsession of ONE player. Where’s the interest of joining such a mode if you are only going to play for one of the total ten hours? You probably won’t ever know who won the match, so everything should be contained in that hour. How the 10-hour persistence adds to the experience of a single player who joins for his own hour?

How they prevent a game to remain balanced so that new players can feel motivated to join instead of jumping from server to server trying to find a match with a favorable situation? I mean, if the match lasts 10 hours then it means that both teams had the possibility to win for all those 10 hours, or one team would have just left the game if they were going toward a sure defeat. Isn’t this happening all the time in WoW’s Alterac Valley? And if the match remained perfectly balanced for ten hours straight, then it wouldn’t likely mean that the whole situation was rather static? And in this last case, where is the fun if for the hour that you can play you are just trapped in that immovable, static situation?

At the end there’s again that doubt that I expressed back then:
– Where are the benefits of a persistent environment in the middle term (week/month) compared to one that resets at the end of a play-session?

Or, more precisely, what are the benefits of a semi-persitent world that lasts longer than the average playsession?

So why trying to do all that?

Well, I have a theory. I suspect it’s all just in the name of the immersivity.

Monsters’ movement patterns

I thought about this while commenting the EQ2’s video here below.

Have you noticed how in ALL mmorpgs ALL the monsters ALWAYS move just in straight lines? They aggro and run to you, or they flee, more or less randomly. In between there’s not much.

One of the things that caught my attention while I was playing God of War is how all the monsters had rather complex movement patterns that I would find hard even to describe technically. Complex rotations, retreats, fast dodges. They all look rather “fuzzy”. Not so easy to recognize and predict, in particular when you fight more than one at the same time.

That’s another element that has significant role in that game and one that completely misses in mmorpgs: the movement.

And another that I would really like being developed more, both aesthetically and for gameplay (different movement patterns during combat).

Add it to the “realistic aggro behaviours”, and mobs attacking in organized groups (unfinished post).

Think how much it would be cool to assault a goblin camp and have all those goblins start to fight in groups, parse the environment to take cover behind trees/tents as they fire arrows at you and while another small squad of three or four are running toward you to engage in melee.

And then you can work to “branch up” from a typical goblin mob to create a number of different variations, depending on the weapons and armor they use, their rank and so on. Instead of one mob type cloned everywhere, you would obtain a more organic environment that could offer much more interesting and deep gameplay.

This is again what the genre has still to offer. You just need to not stop at a very superficial level and “dig the myth”.

Then again, there are technical hurdles to overcome. This goes along with the lack of “physicalness”. The sense of contact, weight, solidity. In mmorpgs everything that moves is immaterial. You cannot reach out and “touch”. You just move through. Phantom-like. This isn’t just a limit for the emotes (cannot really “hug”, for example), but also for the combat, where you never really feel an impact. Stuns and roots are as far you can get. The monster cannot, for example, grab your arm and toss you away, or jump on you and keep you blocked under his weight. And if you are disarmed you are only losing the use of your weapon for a certain amount of time, you don’t see your weapon bouncing away and you don’t have to jump after it to use it again.

I think next-gen games will have to start to delve more on those patterns, see what’s doable and push some more the technology.

That’s innovation too. Without the need to look at other genres or fancy business models to experiment.