Things That Aren’t Design

On FoH’s and the thread about GMG I’m sort of fighting over the concept of game design. My opinion comes from here. In particular I’m fighting that quite widespread commonplace that a “game designer” is someone who makes a zone, drops NPCs and spawns points, and creates loot lists.

You would think that it should be obvious to consider “game design” a whole lot more than that. But then you can see a veteran like Lum that also consolidates that commonplace as a proven reality:

Purchase Neverwinter Nights (1 or 2, doesn’t matter, though NWN2’s toolset is closer to what you’ll see in MMO studios) and make a module. Bioware REQUIRES you to make a NWN module to even get your foot in the door on worldbuilding. The experience in general will teach you much about design and implementation, give you a set for what working with tools is like (most of which aren’t nearly as polished as the NWN suite) and will give you something concrete to show in your job interview. Having something concrete puts you ahead of 99% of the people trying to break into the industry.

If you want to be a designer and think deep thoughts, forget it and find something more useful to do.

He is obviously right, but the point is that it’s all part of a wrong culture of “game design”, as I wrote.

If you want to become a WRITER then, sure, go pick up NWN2 because it’s a great tool to demonstrate that. But writing is still a very, very, very tiny fragment of “game design”. And if you prove your talent as a writer this doesn’t make you a good designer on other aspects, in the same way being a good designer on other aspects doesn’t implies or requires that you are also a good writer.

On this site, even if I cannot be considered a game designer, I’ve written often, legitimately, about game design. But without ever giving ideas for a zone, or suggesting stories for quests or something similar. Why? How can it be possible? It’s possible because game design is a lot more than that and the strict story text is not what interests me.

In fact the writing aspect can be considered peripheral to game design.

Today I was cleaning some of the links and I found a pertinent article from Brian Hook, whose experience in the gaming industry is unquestionable and who has something to say:

Things That Aren’t Design

What this means is that a lot of things that are the purview of a designer are not, in fact, designer tasks.

* Level construction: Until a few years ago, traditionally a “level designer” was responsible for all aspects of a level’s look and play. However, playability and appearance are orthogonal, and so you had a lot of levels that were awesome to behold but boring to play, and levels that were fun as hell but bland. As such, I don’t really believe in the concept of a “level designer” anymore, I believe there should be a game designer, who maps the flow of a level, and an artist responsible for building the level and making it aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully this is how most companies are doing it today.

* Writing: At what point did someone decide that game designers were also authors? Writing should be left up to individuals that are proven to have writing ability — this may be a designer, but more often than not I’d argue this should be an actual writer. Go figure.

* Scripting: Being able to write scripts is a handy ability, but it’s not a first order design skill. Should a designer be expected to write code or make textures? Of course not, yet somehow designers are asked to wire together levels and write complicated AI scripts. As with level design, a designer should be able to define behaviour and hand off the coding to someone like, I dunno, a coder.

So what’s left for the NWN modder?

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Rules of engagement

MMOs as services

If you are working on a MMO you have two paths ONLY.

1- Excel
2- Diversificate

If you cannot excel, you have to diversificate, if you don’t want to diversificate, you need to excel.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

On Mythic’s implementation of relics/artifacts

I promised myself to not comment or criticize DAoC anymore, but since it deals with one of my ideas I want to add something.

Reading the boards I see the players complaining about two main points when the relic system is discussed:

1- Adding another RvR space was stupid. PvP action needs to converge, not being spread even more.
2- The bonuses aren’t appealing enough to remain interesting in the longer term.

The point is that while Mythic copied exactly my idea (you can compare their official description page with my original idea to see that one is the carbon copy of the other) those two points are the only ones who were left out and that represent the ONLY difference between Mythic’s implementation and my original design.

Mythic: These relics provide temporary bonuses, but in order to keep the mino-relic, the wielder must actively participate in RvR.

The wielder (and his group, if not solo) of the mino-relic must participate in RvR combat in order to maintain the mino-relic and its effect. Each mino-relic has a feed rate (the number of enemy kills required over a specific time period); there are different feed rates for different mino-relics.

HRose: In order to keep them on your character, you need to “feed” them by killing the players on the opposite factions and have a role in the conquest, participating actively in the PvP. Exposing yourself. If you are hiding you won’t be able to fulfill the “feed” requirements and you’ll lose the artifact.

Mythic: If the wielder of the mino-relic does not get sufficient kills to sustain the mino-relic’s feed rate timer, the mino-relic “decays” from the player and it is returned to its encounter location in its locked state.

HRose: If the feeding requirement aren’t met, or if the player with the artifact has been logged out for too long, not meeting the active requirements, the artifact is reset to the original PvE instance that will remain sealed for a set amount of time depending on the type of the artifact.

Mythic: Mino-relics cannot be taken out of RvR areas and cannot be stored in keeps.

HRose: They artifacts aren’t usable in PvE, they lose all their properties if they are brought in a PvE instance.

Note: since the relics need to be “fed” the prohibition to take them out of RvR zones that Mythic added is superfluous.

Mythic: The wielder of the mino-relic is visible on the RvR map and the zone map (or dungeon map) via a special icon.

HRose: The other faction will also know that one of the artifacts was summoned and will be able to “divinate” your position in the map. They can track you down. you will be hunted.

Mythic: If a player is carrying a relic upon death, LD, or logging, the relic will drop to the ground. Due to this, mino-relics will constantly change hands while they are active. This complex game of “hot potato” will present a fresh new twist for standard RvR play.

HRose: If you die in a PvP battle, your artifact will be dropped on the ground and one of the players in the opposite faction can loot it and use it, acquiring the powers that were yours.

So. I’m paranoid, egocentric, or maybe my “feelings” are a bit justified?

Let’s see these differences concretely.

1- Adding another RvR space. Even if my idea wasn’t traced upon DAoC, it still avoided that mistake. While in Mythic’s implementation these relics are taken from PvE encounters in another, huge, RvR space (the labyrinth). In my idea the relics/artifacts were taken from an instanced PvE-only space. The players could “race” toward a relic. When a relic was captured, all the instances would be sealed.

This effectively removed the mistake of adding another RvR space while providing a perfect environment for truly challenging encounters. Getting an artifact, in my idea, was really the “hardcore” part (to then be brought back to the rest of the community via the full-loot system and feed reqs). The harder PvE experience in any game. Something that happens rarely, not every day. Plus it was also planned to be tied to an innovative, different placement of “PvE raids” (more about the new form of raids).

2- Mythic’s relics aren’t all that desirable. They are relatively small bonuses to skills, nothing that created directly new forms of gameplay and that the players carve. It’s just about adding yet another kind of items to loot and toy with. Completely forgivable after the novelty wears off, as they don’t really have a “place” in the gameplay. They are a transitory “cool” system. A gimmick. Instead in my idea the role of relic/artifacts was more significant. I often described them as the “heroes” in Warcraft 3. It was something planned with a strong impact and, instead of small bonuses to skills, each relic/artifact was supposed to infuse and channel new powers. Not just significant for their impact in a battle, but also graphically spectacular.

One interesting part of my ideas is that a relic/artifact would mutate graphically the aspect of the player. And this idea of “mutation” and “corruption” was taken directly from my own source of inspiration, Michael Moorcock’s Elric.

This second point is particularly important because it’s not the first time that Mythic wastes good ideas with a poor or inadequate implementation.

The ideas were valid, and not because they were my own. The idea of the “hunt”, of the mutation and the collaborative, “epic” effort to take down a player demi-god, with a spectacular graphic impact on the battlefield. Those were seeds and they needed water, not sand.

Conclusion: while there are parts of my idea that would have required more work than what Mythic has allocated to it, from the other side the “divergencies” between Mythic’s implementation and my idea are what the players are complaining about. Some of them required more work, but some of them are blatant design flaws that I had avoided.

Moreover I also proposed Mythic in another context to add another RvR zone. So was I stupid too? No, because I proposed a special zone that wasn’t “always on”, but that would open only on special occasions. When the new zone was open all the players were supposed to converge there and leave the classic frontiers deserted, this zone would remain open for one, two or three days and after the event was complete the zone would be sealed till the next “event”, that could trigger one week or more later (for example you could set it open for 36 hours and triggering every 10 days). With the purpose to not overlap with the standard RvR activity while offering a different kind of gameplay (physics system in that case) and also giving the feel of “epic” and “uniqueness”. Something that the players could “wait for” with anticipation.

And also something that has never been seen before.

The other perspective (after “Revelations”)

So the “Revelations” patch for Eve-Online, or at least its first part, was deployed.

I don’t know if the servers came back up in time because the account management page didn’t work yesterday and I couldn’t manage to reactivate my account.

Today everything seems working ok and it’s quite an achievement. During previous patches the week after release was pure hell, with servers having problems and frequent reboots. So, as far as stability is concerned, this is one of their best patches to date.

From the perspective of a noob character not much seems changed.

The new map system is nice and, as CCP would say, “classy”, but it isn’t more useful than how it was. I find annoying some decisions with the UI, for example the constant pop-up as you move the mouse around, sometimes when you are just trying to pan the view and instead the mouse pointer loses focus to one of those menus. An option to turn off the mouseover actions and just trigger them on a mouse button click could have helped a lot (and something I suggested long ago).

There is now also a ring of stars/dots in the background representing the whole universe and that is part of the new “seamless” transition between normal view and the starmap.

On the other side the rings around planets now flicker as the textures on the Amarr stations. They talk about Vista and DirectX 10 and they still have massive texture flickering. Heh.

The other two things you notice right away are the wrecks instead of the loot cans and the contract system.

The wrecks need work because as they are implemented right now are just an added annoyance. Before you would blow up a ship, go loot it, and the loot can would disappear. With the new system the wrecks sit around in space and it’s really hard to know what you looted and what you didn’t. You know, the kind of problem that in WoW was solved with the sparkles ;)

The contract system is what I expected. Right now most of the offers I saw were scamming attempts (courier missions where the “collateral” cost was hundreds time larger than the reward, hoping to get rich quickly in the case someone gets the mission and then forgets about it), and some legit auctions. All the other types of contracts aren’t possible if not for your corporation or alliance, so not open for the public.

I still don’t see what is so much better than WoW’s system. Yes, it’s more powerful. For example instead of selling one item or a stack (as in WoW) you can bundle all kind of stuff together in a custom package. And there are more “freeform” contracts only available to your corporation or alliance (by the way, is it possible to create logistic groups within the same corp and open a contract only to that group instead of the whole corp?). It will become more interesting when, with the Factional Warfare late in 2007, NPC corps will open contracts and all sort of missions for the players.

For now it’s one of those features that sound “cool” but that I doubt will be used all that much. Outside of the standard auctions and scam attempts.

Finally, one of the smallest but most important changes that affects radically the gameplay is that now all the insta-jumps are gone and you can “warp to 0” everywhere by default. This means that travel times in general should be reduced significantly and that some PvPers will complain. The change was inevitable, though, and it’s actually bad that CCP waited this long to take a definitive decision.

Or you institutionalize a feature (like they decided to do), or you remove it altogether. You don’t leave in the game a semi-exploit whose use is limited just by the fact that it is tedious.

I wanted to check the new character creation, but to do so I have to delete one of my old characters and I discovered that the process takes ten hours. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

The “other perspective” is to underline the contrast with the typical playerbase of Eve. You can go in one of the forums where there are some Eve players and, in all cases, you find very hardcore players discussing concept that are nearly immpossible to grasp. You can be as experienced as you want with games and MMO in general, but Eve is another beast, and what I noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be ONE player who isn’t deep in the game to the hardcore level.

My idea is that there’s nothing in between. This is one major weak point in the game. Or you fall in the hardcore category and go deep in what the game offers, or you bounce back. There is no middle ground.

Some say that this is due to the steep learning curve, but I’m one of those who fall in the category that “bounces back” and yet I know very well how the game actually works. I joined when the game entered beta 2, at the beginning of September 2002. I was there till the release (May 03) but I subscribed for the first time only in December of the same year in occasion of the first expansion. From there I occasionally returned to check new things and it’s the same I did yesterday for this new patch.

I log in, give a look to those new things, warp to an asteroid belt, blow up two pirates and after an hour I feel already like logging out without much desire to log in back later.

From my point of view Eve lacks an “hook”. something that motivates you to go look past the next corner (figuratively speaking, as we are in space). Something that can give you the desire to go back in the game because you have something left to do. Instead I feel detached from the game. The major goal seems to be wealth, but money matters only when it is an “enabler”. Money as a goal just sucks.

With every patch CCP devs legitimately develop content that is targeted at their hardcore players. Whether it is about player-owned stations, high level crafting/ships, jump clones, death rays, COSMOS systems and all the rest. Again the problem is that there’s not much in between.

Everyone says that till you don’t join a corporation and don’t get involved into that higher level layer you don’t really know where the worth of the game is. And I agree. But this is also one major flaw. In other cases we would talk about “obligatory grouping”, but in Eve grouping isn’t really obligatory, even if it’s actually a lie produced by a wrong perspective.

The point is: I’m forced to find friends to enjoy the game. When the opposite should happen. You play the game and by playing the game you get to know people, from there you build and enter a community. The game and the fun bring you there. And then you get to the other players.

While in Eve this is reverted. Get to the other players comes AHEAD of the fun. Getting to other players is a prerequisite to arrive at the meat of the game. While the opposite should happen. Your hook to the game should bring you to the other players. Firstly you develop an interest for the game world. You are hooked, having fun. You slowly get immersed, addicted. THEN you slowly get to know other players.

For example. Let’s say I enjoy comics. Okay. I read comics on my own. I have fun reading comics. I’m not part of a community, but the fact that I like comics can bring me to other readers and from there build a community. But it’s not like I had to join the community so that I could enjoy reading comics.

In the same way, using WoW as an example as it does this perfectly, it’s when you are already hooked to the game that you are slowly “brought” to other players. It begins with an occasional meeting in a cave where the other player has your same objective and it continues later on when you are brought to your first instance. The key for the success is that all those steps are connected. While in Eve there’s not enough in between (you got the pattern).

Lack of interesting content is one of the flaws. The missions are usually quite boring and not just because of the travel, but also because the combat encounters aren’t exactly designed to provide an ESCALATION of challenge, or stuff to discover or figure out. It’s also true that it’s hard to develop interesting and involving content in Eve, as the player getting a mission can have all sort of different ships and loadout. If you cannot predict the player’s potential, then you cannot plan an encounter that is fun and challenging without being or boringly easy, or frustratingly hard. Actually NPC agents check the ship of the player before picking a random mission, so there is surely room for improvements.

In a game like WoW the “hooks” aren’t just the new skills and loot or the classic “ding”, all of those simulated to en extent even in Eve, but the consistence of what there is outside. I got a sort of illumination while fiddling with a starmap. So big… but still so empty. What do I *care* about in all those thousands of systems? Not much, because the large majority of them are redundant. That’s the typical generated content: nothing to see.

This is a phenomenon very close to Oblivion’s rubberbanding. If the world “moves with me”, why moving at all? Simply put, there’s a lack of exploration, but this is a limited perspective, because what misses here is an “interest”. Why should I care for the world outside? What is there to learn, be part of?

Players are here to be entertained but Eve just empowers them so that they entertain themselves. But, obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone. That level often is either invisible (what should I do next? where’s the fun?) or unreachable. Again, there’s nothing in between.

And maybe it’s time to connect those two parts. Maybe with what they call “Factional Warfare”, if they don’t make it hardcore-only content too, and if they can finish it before the majority of the staff is moved on the new World of Darkness MMO.

On Bioware and the story thing

I was checking other things and noticed something I wrote a while ago. Look at it from the current perspective of all the talk about Bioware and their desire to focus on the story:

Recently we touched so many fundamental points. About the limits and accessibility problems of a sandbox, about the linearity and staticity of a narrative, about the unexcused, negative transition from the levels being a way to progress in the story (classic pen&paper RPG) to the story being a way to progress through the levels (classic DikuMUD progression). We have lost the story. Some also said that we lost the possibility to affect and change the world, like branching quests that open up different possibilities.

I wrote my own opinion about all these points and suggested many solutions. But it’s always hard to make a synthesis of all that. It’s hard to have a “one size fits all” answer that is truly satisfactory without those “deficiencies”. I wrote that some of the problems, goals and solutions are antithetic. You cannot find a solution for everything because one will be opposed to the other. I gave up here. I’m not good enough to think something that works so smoothly. A story, to be a very good story, needs identity and authorship. Control. It has a start and an end. It’s more or less linear, even if you can segment it and let the player follow a personal order. But all the pieces would still be there.

At the basic level: a good story has an awful replayability.

After you have spoiled it, part of the fun of the exploration and discovery will go away. Yes, we could chase the myth of of the branching possibilities. So that you can repeat a story and find out different possibilities. But this makes the development time increase exponentially and these games have budgets, and these budgets depend on time. This would also not remove the artificiality of a falsely persistent world where you can go back and repeat something to see it going in a different way. It’s a paradox, a false solution.

Eve-Online yearly patch day

So, Eve-Online went down for the September patch. Yes, I know it’s almost December ;)

As I commented months ago when the features were announced, it’s fun to see at them from another perspective, The WoW perspective.

Even Eve-Online can be inspired and “copy” WoW. And what it is incredible is that they are doing this without making look things out of place. I mean, you would think that adapting fantasy game mechanics to spaceship game wouldn’t be trivial.

So, this is what we have:

Rigs – In Eve “rigs” are modules that change a ship’s setting in a permanent way. So they aren’t modules that you can switch on the fly, but adaptations to the structure of the ship that till now weren’t possible. In WoW these are the “socketed items” that Blizzard is going to add with the expansion. They also involve the “hardware” (in WoW: your gear), they allow to specialize it more and they are also permanent.

Contract system – In Eve this is a powerful tool that allows to set auctions but also tasks that can be seen as player created quests. Obviously in WoW this is the Auction House, made more powerful and deep.

Combat Boosters – In Eve these will be temporary bonuses that will likely be used during combat. Combat Boosters are crafted through some new mini-professions. In WoW these are the “potions”, they are crafted through the professions and have a temporary effect.

And there’s also a mix of enchanting & disenchanting (invention & salvaging in Eve) made functional to the game.

So yeah, Eve-Online is adding auction houses, socketed items and potions. For the Battlegrounds wait next year :)

It’s actually odd that even CCP didn’t use those comparison to explain better how those new toys work. Maybe they want to appear original ;)

(disclaimer: You can find all kind of ideas represented in older games, but it’s obvious that the power of influence of a blockbuster is greater, even if it didn’t invent anything.)

Moreover the Kali 1 patch is named “Revelations”, and I think that even this “Kali 1” has been subdivided into ANOTHER three branches. Revelations Part 1 of 3.

So we are like… part 1 of 9 in total? For something that was expected to be concluded for May 06, and that will probably be dragged till we ding 2008 (wanna bet?). Heh.

Nevertheless their work is good, as I underlined a while ago when I commented those features (in the first link above). And I’ll probably resubscribe to check. Even if I doubt I can notice any difference with my noob characters and considering how all the content is usually only targeted to the hardcores. At least I can play with the new character creation. Which is amazingly good (and maybe I’ll quote and comment later).

In the meantime I also noticed that Pann has returned as Community Manager (not really manager but something else, I’ll edit when the forums come back up).

She left long ago to work for Auto Assault *chuckle* I wonder why she’s back, eheh… Kieron instead (he replaced Pann when she left), was coming straight from UO and he did a SO MUCH BETTER work than her. I don’t miss Pann at all.

Luckily it looks like she will do work on the background and not on the forums or directly with the community. Good.

On the matter of good communication (CCP is stiull doing better than everyone else with those great blogs and a good forum activity) I point out that they are working on a “Dev finder” function on the forums and they are also compiling a “daily digest” of all the posts (all stuff that I can link only when the site comes back up).

On “reset buttons” and “progressive” territorial control

-Part 1-
This spawns from a blog post where Ubiq talks a bit about Mythic’s Warhammer (at least what he reads about the game).

Now I already followed and discussed things in the past, so I could better portray how Warhammer PvP and territorial control should work. *IF* what I understood is correct and there haven’t been significant changes in the meantime (I give them the benefit of the doubt).

You can see one of my previous analysis here (or check its category).

In short you may think to Dark Messiah multiplayer and have a good idea about how this system (here I’m focusing on the territorial control) should work.

At the “endgame” Warhammer should have five zones for each of the three “war fronts”. One war front for orcs/goblins vs dwarves, one for Chaos vs Empire and one for Dark Elves vs High Elves.

Of these five zones two should be the rival “capital cities” raid zones that Ubiq talks about. The ultimate siege that may trigger the definitive victory and the supposed “reset button”.

Now, as in Dark Messiah, each of those zones should be closed and instanced “scenarios”. If your faction achieves particular objectives and “wins” that scenario, there’s a “map switch” that moves ideally closer to the losing faction capital city.

So these capital cities aren’t player-populated “hubs”, but only combat scenarios that are “unlocked” through a campaign mode that implies the victory on previous maps/scenarios.

You start from the neutral map -> win it -> move to the one closer to the enemy capital city -> win that too -> and finally the “capital city” scenario is unlocked -> win it -> (supposed) system reset

If Mythic is smart, only one of the five endgame maps is going to be active at the same time (outlining the campaign progression), so a player should have a choice between three maps where he can go PvP (one for each warfront). Helping a lot to focus the PvP action instead of dispersing it among too many zones as it currently happens in DAoC.

On the other side, if there are too many players packed into one zone, the instance system triggers and creates more balanced “mirrors” of the same scenario.

So this should address effectively the two main issues, the convergence required for the PvP and the overcrowding.

-Part 2-

Ubiq: That being said, the question I’m most interested in is how a side that has been utterly decimated to the point that the capital is in ruins can hope to come back to turn the tide. While I genuinely love city conquest scenarios (I feel they capture the ‘massive’ part of what MMOs are supposed to be), most territorial control games are progressive – a game design term meaning that the winners tend to keep winning, as they gain more and more spoils of war, and more and more players on the losing side feel the desire to join up and/or play. This problem was a very tough issue for both Shadowbane and Dark Age of Camelot to deal with.

Long ago I had proposed an idea for DAoC that I think would work well (if not, I’m still wondering why).

Basically each keep can be upgraded to level 10 and levels make guards stronger, among other things.

Currently all keeps can be upgraded to level 10 with no limits (if not limits of time).

My simple idea was add a fixed cap for each realm.

For example you have five keeps for each realm, 15 in total for all three realms and you give each realm a cap of 50 points.

Since you begin with five keeps, you can upgrade all five of them to level 10, using up all your 50 points.

But then, as you conquer keeps from other realms the situation changes and you need to spread those points. You’ll likely try to upgrade your new keep so that it is well defended, but doing so would mean removing levels from your other keeps to upgrade the new one.

The other side of the medal is that the realm losing one keep gets back those 10 points that it used there. And the idea was that you could “overload” the level of your keep above ten, but where every point above ten would cost (x-10)+1 (so to go from a level 10 keep to a level 11 you would need to use two points, to go to 12, use 3, then four and so on).

The result would be that the more a realm expands, the more it becomes also harder to defend, because it exposes more weak spots as the points need to be spread between more keeps, while the realm who is losing can concentrate the strength on a stronghold and make it really hard to capture.

This means that the realm who is losing isn’t left staring passively, but it is given the possibility to counterattack effectively through smaller strike teams aiming at the weak points.

The overall idea is the one of the rubber banding. The more you force a situation, the harder it is to maintain it.

(that was the problem back then. Today players don’t even care about keeps and it’s all reduced to 8vs8 ganking groups)

Jason Booth: Territory is tricky, but I think it can be done in a satisfying way. I think the trick is really in convincing people that the inevitable loss of territory is part of the fun. It’s hard to convince people of this, so it must be some fundamental part of your reward system instead. Push the boulder up the hill, get distracted by shinny cookie, let the bounder roll back down again – but you get to keep your cookie.

Instead I think it can be done through gameplay. My idea is that being on the losing side with the possibility to turn the tide can be even more satisfying and fun than being on the winning one.

The problem is to provide gameplay alternatives, ways to effectively counterattack so that the losing side has something to do.

If what is left to do is get steamrolled by a zerg for the next two hours, the player logs out frustrated. The point is to offer gameplay alternatives.

The point is to foresee these situations, and design solutions so that the game offers things to do in those cases.

About the “reset button” or the boulder pushed up hill, Mythic model in DAoC is already stronger.

The donut is represented by the relics. Not only you get to keep the donut/relic, but the donut also becomes a “ransom” that the other realm will eventually want to get back.

So a victory doesn’t also lead to a reset (after a relic is captured things slowly fall back in normality) but also as the starting point for what’s next.

At the court of the Green Monster

From a post I wrote on the forums.

Moorgard: You can do all the planning and theoretical design in the universe, but trust me: when it comes down to actually populating a zone, implementing the quests inside it, creating the loot that drops there, and making sure it all ties together in a cohesive way that makes it feel like part of a living game world, all the armchair design stuff flies out the window.

It’s a totally different beast, and it’s really hard to appreciate the challenge of it until you’re actually tasked with doing it.

And populating a zone, implementing the quests and creating loot lists is a very, very, very narrow point of view on what game design is and its scope and meaning.

Even the fact that THERE IS a zone, that the zone is populated by quests and there are loot lists is already not a proven truth. That’s only ONE of the models possible, and one that today is particularly STALE.

So even your experience at SOE, which is absolutely unquestionable, is still a VERY limited point of view of what game design IS and the way you can portray a game. Your experience on EQ2, because of the derivative nature of that game, is very narrow.

If anything your experience can be a very good reason why the game you will build will look exactly like every other. Where what a designer do is solely about populating a zone, write quests and scripts and build loot tables as he was taught to do.

At this point things may sound as the other clueless guys that jumped between a bunch of projects before landing at Bioware to bring their TOTAL lack of ideas and inspiration there:

RV: The key points that we’re gonna do that no one’s done before in an MMOG are bring story, character, and emotion to it. Decisions matter, and NPCs aren’t pez dispensers, and you’re not in a grind.

And when you ask them how they found the magic recipe for Endless Stream of Quality Content and No Grind Ever what they say?

That they hired NINE writers and will use instancing. OMFG!

See, this is to say that those guys, and I use those guys as just the today’s example, just cannot see things from another perspective. Despite also THEIRS experience is ALSO absolutely unquestionable and to which your own pales in comparison. They have absolutely nothing to bring to the table if not a green monster envy for WoW.

“Me too! To the bandwagon!”

So, is the experience useful to think of something new or just to fall in the mold of uninspired mediocrity?

Of course I hope it will be not the case.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Bioware: as clueless as you can get

The firsts, vague details about the already hyped, upcoming Bioware MMO are coming out from the first interview they released about the project.

As a first comment I’ll copy what Haemish said: “I see a whole lot of naivete in that interview”.


Gordon Walton, co-studio director, BioWare Austin: We announced the game around March, but we’d really started on it in the beginning of December 2005.

James Ohlen, creative director, BioWare Austin: We’ve got a lot designed — we’ve got the GDD [game design document] done, we’ve finished more than three quarters of the detail design documents. We’ve got a couple prototypes up.

And we can talk about the high-level goals: We basically want to bring what BioWare’s famous for to the online space, and one of the things BioWare’s famous for is storytelling … and it’s something that pretty well doesn’t exist in the online space right now. Most “storytelling” in MMORPGs is just FedEx quests — you know, you have to go get some eggs — and it’s presented in a format that’s just a bunch of text thrown at you in paragraph for … and that’s not so exciting. We want to bring a level of storytelling that’s equal to the single-player box games that BioWare has done.

JO: You can’t stop the world from being destroyed by [Sauron], but you can do a lot of things that are personal to your character. You change how your character evolves over the game, the player’s personal story — and a player’s personal story can be quite epic. It can involve parts of the world that, while they’re epic, exciting, and interesting, don’t change the landscape of the entire world for everyone else.

Rich Vogel, co-studio director of product development: One thing we don’t want to do is NPC Pez dispensers, as I call them — go over there, dispense a quest, and then go “vacuum-clean” a zone. We want to make sure you listen to NPCs, because choices matter. And that’s really important.

JO: and they can still — especially when you use things like instances — go on a quest that involves killing an ancient huge red dragon.

JO: In WOW, you get XP when you finish a quest, but the weighting on that is pretty low; there’s not much benefit to doing that over finding the perfect monster to grind and kill. If those quest experience points were a little higher, it would make a lot more sense to go along with the story.

GFW: How many of your key staffers migrated from SOE [which also has a studio in Austin]?

GW: I don’t know that we have a count. Some from SOE, some from BioWare Edmonton, some from other companies completely. It’s not like we had to go knocking. Experienced people want to work on a product that can be successful.

We probably have the most experienced team in the business, as far as building MMORPGs.

JO: we don’t want players to be stuck grinding through the same content over and over again.

RV: is our game going to be a simulation? No. Our game is an entertainment experience.

RV: it’s very important to have directed content … especially if you want to get to a mainstream audience.

JO: If we’re going to create immersive, epic stories that are believable, that really goes against having a simulation-type world.

RV: The key points that we’re gonna do that no one’s done before in an MMOG are bring story, character, and emotion to it. Decisions matter, and NPCs aren’t pez dispensers, and you’re not in a grind.

JO: One of the things we want to do is create more story content than in any other BioWare game before, and we started a writing team earlier than in any other BioWare project — more than twice as big, nine total. The reason is that the world is huge and has tons of paths and options.

So they found the magic recipe for the Endless Stream of Quality Content and No Grind that no one was able to find till today: hire nine writers.

And when it was asked how to “bring the story, character and emotion” the answer is: instancing.

If there’s one thing that irks me is when people disown what they have done in the past (SWG). You know, the more I hear them talk and the more I think that the “dinosaurs” Raph Koster often talks about are those two guys. Rick Vogel and Gordon Walton.

They come from a systemic game, it fails and now they are all for the directed gameplay “because you cannot be successful without”. And because of the WoW “me too” syndrome.

They are just running around aimlessly, glad that they now have “Bioware” printed in their resumes.

It’s not like we had to go knocking. Experienced people want to work on a product that can be successful.

Experienced people are looking for the Bioware name. Between these people are Rich Vogel and Gordon Walton.

For these “experienced people” what matters is their resume. And the fact that now there’s “Bioware” printed there. The rest? Irrelevant. They are leeches.

By the way. I also wrote a bunch of design notes in the past about how to bring “story, character and emotion” (part 1part 2). With the difference that I explained *concretely* how to achieve that. It’s there and you can agree or disagree with it. And surely wouldn’t be the only thing to make a game significantly different to be INDISPENSABLE and EXCUSED in the market. Because if no one feels the need for another cookie-cutter game (beside those “experienced people” who care only about a new voice on their resumes) then it shouldn’t be done.

One thing is an excuse to get a job. One thing is working because you believe in what you are doing. Because you have something to say.

But of course they would say that they HAVE innovative and interesting ideas, but, of course again, they cannot disclose them JUST YET. All those other MMO companies out there are just waiting the occasion to steal all their incredible, brilliant ideas. Okay. Sure. How much time do you want? One year? Two? Three? More? Whatever. Because I’m sure that no matter how much time we will wait, at the end there won’t be absolutely anything new behind the curtain.

Maybe a brick: in the form of instancing, nine writers and, maybe, branching quests (that will effectively double the time of content production).

In the meantime I really have one question. Honest. I hope someone will ask them in an interview in the future. The question is: Why a MMO?


Why a MMO?

Better :)

“Because I want it on my resume” is NOT an answer.

If this project deserves some attention it is because, as I wrote on the forums, there’s Ubiq working on the combat system, and lately he seems more enlightened than usual.