Judging games in five minutes

I usually don’t need more than 5-10 minutes to know if a game is going to be bad or good.

This may sound very, very pretentious, but it works for me. It’s not something that I’m writing on a blog to impress, but it’s valid in my case. I don’t need more than 5-10 minutes to know if I’m going to like a game or not. You can ask me 10 hours later if I was right or not, I would probably have a lot more to say, more precise and reliable opinions and critics to make, but my general impression would be mostly unchanged.

Now the point is that I don’t think this is odd. I don’t think it’s my own thing. I think instead this is the NORM.

The real point is that in the first few minutes you expose already a good 80% of the game. The real point is that what required a large group of devs and constant work for years WILL BE spoiled in those five minutes. The great majority of it. Scary but true.

In sport games this is rather evident. You can just launch a quick match and at the end of those five minutes you would have experienced already the majority of the game. Gameplay, flow, interface, controls, art, animations, responsiveness and so on. But the same is valid for every game type. God of War is a masterpiece from the very first minute. It doesn’t take you more than 5 minutes to figure out it’s a masterpiece. Actually five minutes are too much because right after the first three zombies and the first flourish you are already loving controls, animations, camera and the flawless fluidity of it all. Oblivion may be a different case, you need more than five minutes just because you need to get out of the starting dungeon. But as you are finally out, you still need no more than 5 minutes to have a very good idea of the game.

Usually when I launch a game the first thing I do is skip the movies (if I can), and go straight in the options. Looking at the options already tells you a whole lot about the game. Giving a look at the controls completes this. Then you start to play. Just the first impact, the very first few seconds and you have already the interface, controls, graphic, the engine. All these aspects require years of work, but once they are ready and refined they all happen at the same time. Right away.

Today I can already have a good idea of a game by looking at a screenshot. I can see already the type of engine, its power, the art style and quality, maybe the UI and maybe guess the gameplay. I can even see the quality of the animations. You cannot figure out the movement, but the postures can already tell you a lot.

This is why people wait for screenshots. In a second you expose the game. It’s a very important test.

What Shild wrote about Vanguard and the “first impression” made me think. Because I don’t think it’s a problem of “creating an engaging experience from the first moment you log in”. It’s not a problem of presentation. The first five minutes aren’t important because the experience may “bias” your opinion about the game, the point is that those initial five minutes are the PEAK OF FUN in the whole game. The whole impact with a new game is the best part. If the game fails to amaze you on the first impact, then it never will.

So my guess is that it’s not a problem of “reaching the fun”. Shild could force himself to play the game for another twenty hours before writing down his opinion. What I’m sure about is that if he didn’t like the game right away, then his opinion just isn’t going to change.

The original discovery, the first impact is what matters because what you see is already the majority of the game. The game can go on then for 10 hours, 20, 50 or 100 and more. But all those hours will be *variations* on what you see in those first five minutes. And aside exceptional cases you aren’t going to like those millions of variations if you didn’t like the original one.

I think this is valid for everyone. The most fun you get out of the new game is when you boot it for the first time and a whole new world opens to your eyes. The rest is a drift.

Specifically about Vanguard. Use this screenshot as an example.

I’m not pointing to the damage bug (lol!) but the world design. Imho Vanguard is about on the same level of DAoC when it was first released. One thing that always sucked in DAoC is world design. The art quality improved with the time, but the world design remained pretty much mediocre. I like a more realistic style, but Vanguard is ugly and empty. It lacks personality.

Brad publicizes the game focusing on the word “immersion”. That’s good because that’s something absolutely fundamental. I would have the exact same founding principle if I was working on a game. Long clip range, seamless huge world. The problem is that the principle is badly executed.

The players continue to talk about in-game settings, ini config files, hardware. Instead I ask you to give a look to the screenshot I linked.

I don’t know at what settings that screenshot was taken, but I doubt that the configuration or hardware can change the essence of what you can see there. The textures may get crisper, you may see further away, but the point is that the world is empty. Featureless. It completely lacks “world design”. This isn’t going to magically change by moving up a slider in the options. You can see far away and in some cases you have these huge, fancy buildings far away. Impressive skylines. But all this space is not filled with something worthwhile. It lacks consistence. It’s just an envelope with nothing within. There are these huge spaces with featureless terrain and one texture patterned everywhere. These aren’t places carefully handcrafted that are going to be interesting to visit and walk through. The scale of things is awesome, but the player’s perspective SUCKS. Vanguard is supposed to be the explorator-type dream. But the world design is so lackluster that there’s not much to see.

It’s empty, unfinished, ugly.

Look at this particular screenshot from WoW. See the tank on the left and the trail it leaves behind on the whole image? This is an example of a detail that you don’t easily notice from the player’s perspective, but it suddenly becomes evident when you are flying on a gryphon. WoW is built exceptionally from this point of view (and WoW is an unquestionable masterpiece of world design, there’s no competition), it’s built to please both from the eagle-eye perspective, with these impressive, imposing environments and details that can be truly appreciated when you look at them from way back, as well from the ground level with a carefully crafted world in every tiniest detail.

You cannot tell me it’s a matter of taste. If I didn’t know something like this was coming from Vanguard then I would mistake it for one of those amateurish, immature mmorpg engines. Not a recent major release that is expected to be loved by hundreds of thousands of players.

And that’s the EXACT opposite of immersion.

This is a quote from someone commenting NWN2 toolset:

Within days of starting to use the new toolset, I found myself actively noticing many more things about the natural world. How the reeds were growing only at the edges of a pond, but not in it. The way grass leading up to a heavily wooded area doesn’t just stop, but transitions from heavy growth to sparse shoots to nothing at all. How dirt trails and roads aren’t all one color, shape, or height. The way cobblestone in the ‘historic’ portion of the city was uneven and not of uniform color. The reason? For the first time, I had a toolset that was capable of reproducing these things.

THIS is immersion.

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Systemic games

Tarn Adams posted a very fun graph.

It shows the development plan for Dwarf Fortress. The letters can be tracked from this page (I think). Green is “bloat”, light blue is core components, the rest I don’t know.

I’m pointing this out because that’s how things look when you build a systemic game. I wrote many times about this, opposing this scheme to a linear game. In this case all the elements have a precise role within the system. There’s no mudflation. And there’s lot of depth and interaction between all the elements. This builds a virtual and immersive world and it’s a model completely different from the linear games where what you do can be organized in a simple, one-directional sequence (consumed content).

Mmorpgs could of course learn more than one thing from this, because it’s a much more efficient model to use. And because the result is a game world planned to last for as long you desire without never becoming old and keep growing without alienating new and veteran players. A good place to be now and in the longer term.

His plans on the future of Dwarf Fortress are extremely cool:

After grinding away at temperature for a while, it’s time for a change of pace. The previous Future of the Fortress has been put on hiatus — the relevant material is still part of Core42, Core43 and Req96. Now we’re going to add armies.

There are a few goals. The first is to get overland civs to dislike each other, raise armies and destroy or capture each others cities. The next is to get them to do this to you in dwarf mode, rather than having them generate armies on top of you periodically. The third goal is to let you raise armies from your fortress and attack them. Adventurers will be able to be present during army battles, or be present in towns when unfortunate circumstances arise, but they won’t be able to affiliate with armies until later.

To achieve these goals, a few new items are up on dev: Core44, Core45, Core46 and Core47. Core44 and Core47, overland migrants and cleaning of worthless historical figures, are required to keep the world alive when wars start decreasing populations. Core45 and Core46 are the actual mechanics of starting wars, raising armies and attacking other armies and towns. The dwarf mode part was already established in Core26 (now narrowed) and Core27. The bulk of information formerly in Core26 is present in the Army Arc and will be re-Core’d as new goals come up.

Since the ability to send out patrols is linked to the Baron, I’ll add an option to keep the economy off so you don’t have to worry about the current issues that arise when you get the Bookkeeper. Sending out patrols sooner might be considered when it would matter. Right now the primary reason to send out armies would be to halt invasions from kobolds and goblins (or to attack the elves), which you won’t be worrying about or accomplishing until you have more dwarves. Because the armies used to attack you would actually be raised from the populations of the attacking civilizations (Core26), your attacks will have tangible effects on invasions (not that you need to worry if you are just crushing them with a drawbridge, but that’s a side issue). Whether or not the current pace of the game is maintained depends on the effectiveness of repopulation efforts (Core44) — these are adjustable so any problems can be corrected.

I want a Dwarf Fortress online.

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Vanguard day

Woot! Five days without writing. I CAN resist!

Now, in honor of Vanguard’s launch, here’s my view.

I expect Vanguard to perform worse then EQ2 in the mid term, not because of game design, but because of execution. Bad production choices, bad focus, bad UI, bad engine, bad art, bad models and animations etc…

Bad pretty much down to the little things. Bad for example in something that shouldn’t be all that hard to achieve in a AAA title: fonts.

What saved EQ2 was the obstinacy and dedication of its devs. Despite the horrible premises the game improved considerably. It required time and work. I doubt Sigil will do the same, especially when Brad McQuaid was already talking about their second and third mmorpg when Vanguard wasn’t even in beta.

In the case I’m right and the game won’t perform well, I blame Brad for bad direction first, not for bad game design. I see the popular “hardcore vs casual” debate as secondary in this case.

The awful premises of EQ2 equal pretty much the bad premises of Vanguard. I don’t think Sigil will match the dedication of EQ2’s team, so this is why I believe it will perform worse. I had NO faith even in EQ2’s team, so this doesn’t mean that also the Vanguard guys cannot prove me wrong. We’ll see. At the same time I also think the two games will compete against each other and I just don’t see enough space for both. Either EQ2 or Vanguard will have to withdraw. It’s not a good scenario.

From a more general point of view I don’t think that having many MMO titles is going to payback, especially in the longer term. The increasing competition will contract the market and push the most strong titles. I don’t see as a very smart plan to disperse your resources too much. I think SOE should instead focus on fewer things and try *harder than ever*. This was already proven true when with EQ2 they decided to make less expansions and make them more polishes and well-rounded.

Scott Hartsman confirmed that the choice had a very positive impact. I believe the same principle is valid for SOE as a whole.

On the forums I see Darniaq and Geldon defending Vanguard rabidly (and in a few cases not even objectively), I respect and value their ideas, but I have to say they have terrible taste with games ;)

Now a few quotes. Haemish:

I’m pretty sure that no matter how many subscriptions VG gets, we’ll never hear a straight, true number of subscribers out of SOE anyway unless that number beats WoW.

Which it won’t.

What’s relevant is how profitable is VG, and those numbers we’ll never get. The rest is dick-waving for press releases, and I’m pretty sure the milimeter beater that will be VG’s subscriber numbers won’t be the subject of a press release. We might get the “X number of VG boxes sold!” back-patting press release, but that’s about it.

And Shild:

That’s exactly it. There’s nothing left to rant about in any way. If these fuckers don’t even want to try to create an engaging experience from the first moment you log in, then fuck’em. These people are never, ever, ever going to learn. And when I say these people, I mean MMOG devs. No one wants to think outside the goddamn box, and the people that do think outside the box almost never create any sort of cohesive experience. I realize f13 started off pretty MMOG-centric, and I realize I used to be a lot more tolerant of MMOGs. But it’s just not worth the expulsion of any sort of energy anymore. The most any shitty game is going to get out of me is some obscure joke and a photoshop. I just don’t have the sort of time to waste that I used to have on this sort of shit. There’s too many good games. When a _good_, from the get-go, MMOG comes out, I’ll gladly come back and talk about it ad nauseum. But until then? Meh. Waste of customer’s money. Waste of development money. Just a big waste of money. Want something positive? I’m sure there’s lots of good people at these companies, and I’m glad they have jobs. The videogame industry is a harsh place and those people are the glue that keeps it together. Too bad QA doesn’t get paid enough to have the cajones to call something as they see it. When that happens, we might see some positive change.

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The collection quests

The “collection quests” (meaning those that require you to loot “x” objects that may or may not drop) are a quest type that is often criticized by everyone because it feels grindy and frustrating. Many also wonder why they just don’t all get replaced with the more straightforward kill-quests.

I don’t think that collect quests are bad but the players don’t like them. Still I believe these types of quests shouldn’t be removed as they fill a different role than simple kill quests. They should be tweaked, though.

While playing in WoW’s Outlands and even the starting zones I noticed plenty of quests that weren’t well balanced. In particular those that require you to collect different kinds of items are usually badly balanced. Often there is one object type that is ALL OVER THE PLACE, while the other much more rare. This tends to feel frustrating.

The point is: it’s not the quest type to be bad, it’s the balance. The quest type just exposes the quest to this vulnerability.

Rule for collection quest and non-grindy gameplay: It’s ok till you don’t push players to kill respawns.

That pretty much guarantees that a collect quest is a good one. It also feels better from the point of view of the immersion. “Respawn” is a workaround mechanic to refresh the world, but it should be as invisible as possible from the player’s perspective. In the case of collect quests the “respawn” becomes an ACTIVE mechanisms of the quest itself. This is all kinds of WRONG.

As an example, one of the first quests in the Outlands (Alliance side, but I guess mirrored even for Horde) asks you to collect 12 badges from the fel orcs in Zeth’Gor. The place is big enough, but with just a few players around and about a 50% (or less) chance of getting the badges you’ll HAVE TO kill respawns at some point. In my case I killed the orc in the forge five times before I was able to complete the quests. This is grindy. Players should be presented new challenges, even with minimal variations, but at least some. If I have to kill the exact same mob, in the exact same location, then the game starts to feel grindy. And I shouldn’t be put in the condition for this to be required.

This is bad. A quests that makes you kill respawns is bad. It’s a very simple rule. And in the classic game there are more than one quests where not only it happens that you kill respawns, but in some cases YOU HAVE TO. As there aren’t enough mobs to complete the quests if you don’t wait for respawns. It even happens that you exterminate a zone, but the quest requirements still aren’t complete (concrete example: it happened me two days ago collecting venom sacks in Stonetalon near the lake).

Come on. This kind of balance and game design is very easy to understand and to execute. WoW could use some tuning. It’s not hard.

Gaming Hegemony

Many don’t see this as a very strong phenomenon.

Since Penny Arcade made a comics about it (can I direct link?):

Gabe keeps coming into the Goddamn office with his Goddamn tales of high adventure, telling me about how there’s tokens or some shit in Burning Crusade now, or maybe tiers, and other words I had scoured from my consciousness. He also says there is hot new five-man content, which initially sounded like pornography. The comic is correct – I purchased it in a moment of weakness. As I must often approach you, the cherished reader, to apologize for this or that indiscretion, it may be more appropriate to say that I have moments of strength which are suspended in cowardice and moral decay.

I’m going to repeat something I wrote on Q23:

The game doesn’t end when you log out. It’s like when there’s a huge release and Q23 is filled with threads. The desire to participate grows on you.

It happens even with TV series. Everyone talks everywhere about “Lost”, so the curiosity rises as well the desire to participate in those discussions. It’s a social thing. And after some point these mass successes influence A LOT how you’ll approach them.

Everyone is in love with something and then you’ll likely approach the thing with a very positive attitude.

It’s about processes of inclusion. You want to play the bigger game and be part of a big community. If you play a game no one knows then you cannot talk with anyone about it and are excluded from every discussion. You are marginalized. While instead people like to melt with the mass and feel like a group.

There was a big movie on TV and the day after everyone is talking about it. But you didn’t watch it and feel left out.

Or you go to school and all your friends talk of WoW. And if you don’t play it you are excluded from that group and just feel envious of them.

Then five years pass and you finally get WoW. To your eyes it’s the best thing EVAR. So you go to school all excited to give them the announce: “Hey guys! I bought WoW it’s AWESOME! We can play together now!” And they go: “What? WoW? Oh that, we stopped playing a year ago. It’s ANCIENT. Now we play this other new game that is SUPERCOOL, has realistic graphic, badass combat…” And suddenly that wonderful WoW in your hands isn’t anymore all that awesome and you are back at envying them.

There are kids who *cry* to no end because all their friends are doing (or have) something that they want TOO. No matter if they really want it. Everyone has it, so they want it as well to not be left “out”.

You can call it hegemony. After something grows past a certain point, then the stone keeps rolling on its own. It’s an inclusive phenomenon. It has the power to influence everyone.

And if you don’t play a game while it’s its “momentum” then you’ll have far less fun (lag excluded). I assure you.

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Age of Mythology

I’m currently reading all that Marvel and DC have published in the last few years. It is taking a while but I’m reading some excellent stuff. I’m not one of those nostalgic readers who say that nothing will ever be as good as what we had. The style surely changed, but this is definitely an excellent moment for comics. Great artists, great writers. Sometimes you have to wade through some crap, but overall I’m having fun as a kid.

Still today Marvel is definitely ahead and still “connects” and “marvels” a lot more than DC. DC is more detached and abstract, a bit more classic. While Marvel really connects with our world. Comics could never be more actual than today.

Marvel still lives on the original, simple principle: super heroes with super problems. This is a very basic and distinct difference. Marvel has always been about the man behind the mask, while DC has always been about the mask. A DC mask can be worn by different characters. The mask, as a concept, persists. It’s abstract. While the “actor” can change. So DC is more about the essence of the mask, while Marvel has always been about the man, his problems, his life. Then sublimated to the level of the mask. The mask is only a modality.

This is why mutants became a predominant sub-universe. They connect to the readers and they connect to some essential symbols. If you are a comics reader you know how classic super-heroes like Captain America or the Fantastic Four are considered much differently from mutants. This may sound as an odd idea because both save the world, both have super-powers. So what’s the difference? The difference is that mutants are a mutation of a DNA code, you born as a mutant, while other super-heroes acquire their powers. Spider-man was bitten by a radioactive spider for example, he isn’t a mutant.

In the Marvel universe the difference goes beyond this superficial level. Classic heroes are celebrated. Mutants are FEARED. That’s the point. But why? Mutants are popular because of what they represent. Because of their symbol. It’s not a case that mutant powers manifest during adolescence. Adolescence is also the “commercial target” of comics and this is the first type of “connection”. The adolescence is also a critical moment in the life of everyone.

But why the fear? Because mutant powers manifest abruptly. Sometimes they explode out of control and they can become disasters. There are victims. One of the most awesome cycles I’m reading is Buffy’s Joss Whedon on Astonishing X-men. It’s really a masterpiece. What could happen if we find a cure for mutants? That simple idea is piercing. It goes right to the heart. If being a mutant is seen as a disease then there may be a cure. But this isn’t just a choice of the mutant. This is a choice of all the people. It’s a way to defend themselves. To defend from the monsters.

Mutants have always been the representation of racism. Yes, you can learn from comics. But you don’t read the superficial, apparent level. You learn what’s below. The shades of grey. The real conflicts that aren’t distinctly black or white. Comics go way past the appearance. What if we find the cure for gay and lesbians? Are these even diseases? Curses?

Mutants not only represent the “different”. But they are a DANGEROUS, menacing different. And that mobilizes people a lot more effectively. You aren’t left indifferent. The interesting point is that this overall theme is not anymore a mutant exclusive, but it’s becoming a leading one throughout the whole Marvel universe. Civil War (the latest crossover). I just finished to read “Illuminati”. It’s another masterpiece. But on the exact same line is the Mark Millar cycle on Spider-man (the one with Venom’s death, Osborne etc..).

Today, in our real world, the problem of “security” is the main one. How far you are willingly to go? How much freedom you are willingly to trade in the name of security? And who watches the Watchmen? We don’t know exactly from what or who, we are scared by everything, even ourselves. So I’m reading comics, but on comics I’m reading the exact same thing that you find on newspapers every day. With the difference than in a comics it is purged of all the frills and presented in all its metaphorical essence. And this is strong, because we don’t live a real life. As human beings we live of symbols.

Our world gives only importance to the conscious, the superficial level (tip of the iceberg) only because it’s the only part that the society can “transform” to its use. That can be influenced, conformed. While the symbols are mysterious, uncontrollable, fervent. And in the same way in Bendis’ “Illuminati” special, they recognize their role (in a very “meta” way):

The big themes of our world are fought by our heroes. They are metaphorical figures. They are both our conscience and our nightmares. Exactly as greek mythology was archetypal of that culture (and today geniuses like James Hillman study human psychology as a form of myth – archetypal psychology).

Reading comics today is like assisting a mass psychotherapy of an entire culture. And it’s damn fun.

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Eve-Online quote-play

In a recent comment I wrote that I don’t like much Eve’s current direction. I’m done commenting game design so I won’t go in detail, but here some meaningful quotes.

The first comes from a dev blog and demonstrates I wasn’t so wrong:

Invention was supposed to be the revolutionary feature of Revelations and should have changed the entire science and industry genre as we know it, with the potential side effect that could change the biggest part of the player economy; Tech 2.

However, the effect that invention was supposed to bring has not yet been seen.

Only a couple players had managed to build an interface.

Then we can pass to give a look at Eve current development schedule. For reference you can use the previous battleplan and the E3 news.

The biggest disappointment to me is that the main feature of Kali seems completely GONE from their plans. Not delayed, gone. They used to describe the whole expansion as:

The upcoming expansion to EVE Online—codenamed Kali—will introduce an innovative Advanced Reactive Content System (ARCS), in which the political landscape and physical borders of nation-states within the game can be altered dynamically through the collective outcome of player actions, thus directly controlling the game universe destiny and resulting storyline.

This was in the form of “Factional Warfare” that I described throughly, analyzed in design potential and praised as one of the most interesting thing ever.


In their dev blogs there aren’t anymore references to Factional Warfare. The Kali patch isn’t anymore named Kali, but “Revelations”. And the three chunks (Spetember 06, December 06 and April 07) once again delayed. Oveur:

The engine itself is a bit different, depending on whether you are talking about our optimizations to our DX7/9 engine or the optional Vista engine – or the actual combination of both which is the big package. Currently, the big bada-boom is in Revelations 3 at the end of the year.

“End of the year” almost surely meaning you won’t see anything till 2008 and later. Another full year delay on top of the year delay on their 2006 plans.

Don’t mock me when I think of Vaporware when they talk about walking on stations with models turning their head dynamically toward noise to simulate human behaviours. From a dev blog:

This brings us to an area of computer graphics called dynamic avatar human-to-human interaction. It tries to apply knowledge derived from years of research of human body language into the actions of computer generated avatars, so that their behavior mimics human behavior without the user or NPC controller micro-managing every little twitch of the body or glance of the eyes.

This is one of the areas that we intend to research and apply to our animation system.

V – A – P – O – R – W – A – R – E

But I was writing about Factional Warfare. You would think that CCP has OODLES of time if they waste it on this kind of TOTALLY USELESS (and very, very pretentious) shit. Oveur says that Revelation 3 at the end of 2007 will be the engine upgrade to Vista. So Factional Warfare is for Revelation 2? From a dev blog:

Following Revelations 1.4, we’ll be refocusing our efforts on Revelations 2. It was covered at fanfest, that we have the hots for warfare in Revelations 2 on all levels. But what does warfare & the increased emphasis on improving current content rather than adding new stuff really mean?

So “Warfare”. No more “Factional”? Why? Just playing with names? Not adding more “new stuff”?

Uhm, no. It looks like the “increased emphasis on improving current content” means that the “Factional” is gone. Or at least that’s what I understand when they describe the new “Warfare” without the “Factional”:

We want to improve the goalsetting in warfare, by improving and adding options to player buildable infrastructure. This means improving Starbases, Outposts, Stations and Sovereignty. However, Warfare also needs something to fight with, so we want more tactical and strategic components there.

As you can imagine, this isn’t only for the people shooting, this creates goals for everyone, a fighter can’t survive without his industrial backbone. The industrialists must build the infrastructure and the merchants are there to supply the essentials you can’t acquire yourself. It’s all interconnected.

Then they go commenting fleet combat changes. Uhm, that’s a blatant U-turn. Factional Warfare was about everything but combat.

The orginal Factional Warfare was NOTHING about big ass fleet combat and uber guild PVP. It was instead a “bridge” between casual players and those big corps. It was a way to make the NPC empires an active part of the game. The kind of work that Eve needs from a very long time. See the quote above about the “Advanced Reactive Content System”. Or the bottom level of the Factional Warfare right from their own description:

The initial idea is that players can elect to take on missions as mercenaries – in which case the reward will be mainly monetary – or as enlisted soldiers, where they will be rewarded with increased standings and discounted ships and equipment. With the contract system in place alongside it, FW can be something individuals or even alliances can sign up to, with contracts for single missions or for the duration of a long-term campaign.

Whether through trade, bounty hunting, resource allocation or even combat, FW is entwined with the very EVEness of Eve itself. It is where the rich background of Eve will come to life.

This is all gone. Now “Warfare” just means a patch that will affect fleet combat. It’s a combat mechanic patch. Nothing about the original plan. Not even close. It’s a completely different direction.

Which couldn’t be put more clearly:

all Warfare improvements in Revelations 2 are aiming for the same thing. Even though it’s improving current features, it’s encouraging gameplay which not only is more fun and easier to jump into, it’s also good for the general performance of EVE.

Time to backfire on CCP? Is this the result of TomB replacing Lekjart as Lead Designer? Quoting myself at that time:

Of course these are all early claims with no substance. Yet. But mmorpgs are long term projects and the shit that happens *today* is crucial for tomorrow. When everyone will have already forgot what happened and what brought the change of pace.

Of course all these delays also mean that CCP staff is so idle and bored that they decided to keep themselves busy by working on a new MMO.

And to conclude, subscriptions news that you can compare with my previous report:

less than 20% of the EVE community have 2 or more subscriptions. The other 80+% are single account users.

We have just over 156k subscriptions and an average of 15k active trial accounts as of the reported metrics at the beginning of the month. There were 34,420 players logged in on Tranquility Sunday afternoon.

Sir Bruce, the owner of mmogchart.com is a great guy.

What it takes to become a game designer

Up for some snark.

Moorgard makes a good resume about this other discussion. But I’ll tell you that’s not really the point. You learn those parts afterwards. They are valid but all optional.

What is essential is just one thing: contacts.

The rest is superfluous. You need opportunities before you can do something with them. And contacts will give you those opportunities. Without opportunities you could be god on earth, but you’ll never do anything. Then there are multiple ways to make contacts. You can have charisma, you can kiss asses, you can live next to the big building, you can be in Austin, you can have friends that pull you in, you can have luck. Whatever. Every way is a good way. But you still need contacts.

Of course this doesn’t make you a good designer. But it’s also true that before you can become a good game designer, you have to become one.

So don’t believe those guys. They are just scared of the competition.

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Having fun playing WoW pt. 2

Answering indirectly Raph’s comments and blog.

I suspect we’re reaching a little bit of a language barrier. :)

I don’t know if it’s a language barrier but it’s probably a term that defines two different things. The one I’m talking about is strictly “functional”. Content -> purpose/function. Mudflation doesn’t exist till the function of the content is preserved. And it is always preserved till it’s not deliberately replaced.

This thing I’m describing is also completely independent from the “social” aspect. It can be reproduced even in a single player game.

For example before the expansion the levels 58-60+ were covered by five dungeon instances (Stratholme, Scholomance, Upper and Lower Blackrock Spires and Dire Maul). From there you could get experience and gear upgrades along with the “tier 0” armor set, then move to raid instances. This was the intended progression.

The launch of the exp pack provided everyone an alternative path. Instead of doing those five dungeons multiple times now you can run a few quick quests through the new zones and obtain MUCH BETTER gear. With MUCH LESS effort.

What is the consequence? That suddenly the first path becomes completely irrelevant because devs have provided a much better alternative. “The path of least resistance”: over time content with the same “function” in the game system is progressively selected till there’s ONE path left (and here the players asking more “middle” content are in a wrong position). Content is eroded to the essential.

The content of this expansion doesn’t stack on previous level 60 content. Or we wouldn’t get any mudflation as the old content would retain its function. But the content in the expansion replaces the standard 58-60+ content. It allows you to skip old content entirely. It’s a jump forward.

Faster, soloable, better rewards = FUN

The point is: this not only the goal, but also the “escamotage”.

(2) The point is: by devaluing old content they can valorize the content in the expansion. That sort of “artificial fun” that is the KEY of these kinds of games. Here you manipulate desires. What people want, what people do. In the game you can create a “need” just by devaluing and replacing.

(3) The point is: without the devaluation, there cannot be new value. No baits to throw to the players.

Your Epic Sword of Pwn must become a toothpick so that you can then restore your lost power. You need to lose power (mudflation) so that you can gain it anew (valorization).

Hell, it even happens on movie sequels. The Hero who won both the kingdom and the girl at the end of the first movie must lose everything so that he can demonstrate how badass he is once again.

So the end point is that devaluation and valorization are strictly connected. WoW expansion is practically this: you take away from the players so that you can give them again. In a endless loop.

being able to go back and see something that was once powerful and is now trivial helps that, and both of these feelings are core to the value offered by this style of game

This is often brought up, my opinion is that it’s not really relevant. What matters is what you see ahead. What’s behind, in these kinds of games, is soon forgotten. Games based on this model are successful when they don’t even give you time to look back. They keep pushing you forward endlessly. As an obsession. If you stop, you lose interest.

How many players that are having fun with the new content are going to run old level 60 instances for the “nostalgia”? Some for sure, but this isn’t a core mechanic or motivation. It has a place in the game, but it’s a part that isn’t directly relevant. If players start to go back to past content it’s mainly because they lost interest in the expansion content, or because they already finished it. These cases are not good cases for the game.

restrict players from helping each other (limit trading, twinking, use soulbinding, etc)

Powerleveling happens (in fact the first 70 worldwide was poweleveled to victory), twinking is so limited that it’s not relevant in WoW. But in a game so founded on the solo experience the powerleveling isn’t a main phenomenon. What I mean is that the mudflation doesn’t interest the game as a whole, but just that part of content that is now “sided” by new content in the exp. Not content “stacking” (on top), but content added aside past content. And replacing it as the “new” was designed to be artificially more desirable.

As an hypothetical example let’s say that Guild Wars offers periodic packages, each offering the exact same level 1-20 experience, just in all new environments. If every package is balanced then there would be no reason for the players to buy all of them. So the devs decide that in every new package the 1-20 experience is shortened by a 25% and the gold dropped upped by 25%.

What happens? That new content looks graphically better and it’s even “functionally” better. So the new content completely replaces old content. Their function overlaps, so one is preferred to the other. As if we have two quests with the exact same reward, but one can be completed in half the time. Which one do you think the players will choose?

This becomes also a quality problem. There may be a quest that it is written very well and original. But there’s another quest with the same function that gives a better reward and that you can complete in half the time. “Players see past fiction”. That’s a quote from Raph. Players go for the game’s goal. Not for “quality”. And here we are at “The best route should also be the most fun route.”

The kind of mudflation pertinent to WoW (and that I commented here as a very SPECIFIC case) isn’t of the “social” kind. But is the fact that the lower end content in the expansion OVERLAPS with classic 58+ content. If the very first quest was only possible if you had a character in a complete Tier 3 set (last raid instance in the classic game), then Blizzard could have released a full expansion without an hint of mudflation.

The progession could have been: level 58 -> 5-man dungeons -> Tier 0 set -> Molten Core raid -> Blackwing Lair -> Ahn’Qiraji -> Naxx -> first quest in the exp

Instead the progression is: level 58 -> first quest in the exp

All that we had in the middle is gone. Bypassed. It lost its function in the fabric of the game.

And this mostly because WoW is a GAME. Pure game. Where more social, virtual world-like features like the Auction House are a minor phenomenon. A gimmick with relative relevance. In fact these work within VERY STRONG restrictions exactly to NOT GET IN THE WAY of the GAME.

Which is what Lum explained perfectly in the follow-up to that thread I linked.

Every MMO economy is false. Duh. Trust me, you don’t want a real economy in an MMO. It will, with stunning rapidity, result in a tyranny of a very small minority. Much like, well, real economies.

The problem with the typical MMO economic model is that crafting items compete with dropped items. Literally: crafters are in competition with the items that world builders are crafting to make hunting attractive. The problem is that one “faction” in this equation is always losing; either craftsmen complain (justifiably) that the results of their labors are marginalized because the Shiny New Sword from Deepest Dungeon is better than anything they make, or everyone else complains (justifiably) that the stuff they’re getting from monsters is worthless, because it isn’t as good as the stuff crafters are making.

So points Raph listed, such as:

– New users now have less “buying power” so to speak.

– Social contacts get harder early in the game, because users accelerate out of the shared low level experience quickly.

These are irrelevant in a game where you can (and, mostly, will) play solo and where what is *required* to buy are skills from NPC trainers that have fixed prices.

One interesting point is in fact that since WoW is so solo-friendly (single player game), it will also age much better than similar MMOs. Just because the social aspects and virtual world-like elements are already so weak and bland that the negative effect due to their degrade is next to none. Heh.