The end of Black Desert Online

Black Desert Online was the only survivor of the classic, sandbox-y core concept of MMORPG. Even its existence was singular, and it’s curious that the game that got closer to that ideal was a Korean-made game, since that ideal was born and developed (and then killed) in the West. Now it is going to be corrected.

Pearl Abyss, the company that develops BDO in Korea, and that ironically bought Eve-Online recently, announced a sequel-inspired new MMO titled “Crimson Desert.” Players have already noticed that in the past year development on BDO slowed dramatically, an obvious sign that developers resources are being moved to new projects (PA announced more than one new game).

And it’s more than irony that Crimson Desert is built on the basis of what they learned from BDO, and they decided to develop Crimson Desert… as a single-player game shoved clumsily into a MMORPG.

Doing more things, all of them poorly (nothing in a single-player game benefits from a MMORPG, nothing in a MMORPG benefits from single-player, they are antithetic in pure game design).

So, the reason why these days the mmorpg genre is in the shape you all can see is that it FAILED. These days we can see that the most successful are those with a very conservative design, like Destiny and similar structured games, where only the general context is shared and there’s nothing “massive” going on.

The genre died because it faced significant technical and design problems, and the industry as a whole eventually embraced the path it always embraced historically: the one of least resistance.

The reason for this is that a mmorpg is the most complex game software you can make. It’s the culmination. And for these reasons making a mmorpg COSTS A LOT. Maximum costs are then matched with maximum risks, exactly because there are plenty of things that can go wrong and make you ambitious project (and invested money) collapse into nothing.

Maximum costs + maximum risks = lots of failures in so many years. Eventually all game companies decided to take the easy, safer road. The easy road was making copies of World of Warcraft, and for many, many years that’s all we got. Simply going for that recipe made by others that was proven successful. WoW that itself was rather conservative and very simple in its design. And yet none of those thousands of copycats even got half as good as WoW. Because they were just that, pale imitations without insight or competence. Even “copying” is an art that requires skill, diligence, study, at least a little bit of passion for what you are closely observing to steal its secrets. And those were instead just greedy attempts at stealing some golden eggs that WoW left unattended, since its hoard was so immense.

The mmorpg industry as a whole fed on WoW’s scraps. Like hyenas.

Crimson Desert comes from the same philosophy of trying to copy those paths of least resistance. In this case the lure of a simpler, more directed single-player experience whose recipe appears so much easier to get. It’s a mmorpg that goes to copy the proven recipe, the safe success. The path of least resistance.

That’s why it’s not a mmorpg, even if it will eventually use the genre to excuse its shortcomings. You don’t make mmorpg sequels because mmorpgs exist as if they are gardens, organic environments, alive, that need to be taken care of with dedication and devotion, and then slowly grow and improve. It’s a long journey of hard work and learning, that the developer has to do hand in hand with the player, and that is the very opposite from the ivory tower of superiority and privilege where most developers in leading positions prefer to live in. If you instead destroy everything every few years, you end up with nothing, because things take time and dedication to grow properly (and these games simply aren’t very suitable for an industry that devours and wastes).

We can go all the way back to Tolkien, who also tried to build a world, and still is today the most successful attempt. Tolkien spent all his life building and precisely refining his world. He never restarted from scratch every time he decided that he learned a valuable lesson.

The mmorpg “industry” is dead because it failed. We now have a former, consolidated game industry that “adopts” some mmorpg-light concepts and integrates them into classic games. The carcass of mmorpg has been torn apart and scattered. It is unlikely it will show up whole again. It’s done. It’s dead.

Back to mmorpgs, we continue to see mmorpg-sequels solely because mmorpgs are still being built as linear games. And the industry still today prefers to copy the conservative recipes. Even BDO, as a clumsy attempt of trying a sandbox, is now being sacrificed to go back to the recipe of tacked on single player linear game. And that’s why, being greedy and jealous of what other companies do better, they’ll end up loosing what they had, and obtain nothing else either.

Maybe this time PA isn’t copying WoW, it’s copying The Witcher. The result is just the same. Wait and see.

No Man’s Scam

I’m discussing this on the forums, so I thought I would write something here too. The important thing is that what applies to this game is going to happen again and again.

Here’s a schematic approach to how to judge “No Man’s Sky” and understand the debate going on right now.

1- The “over-hype”. There’s lot of discussion about the hype of this game. Every review will mention this. People will argue endlessly about who’s responsible of this hype and whether the game is good or bad depends strictly on how close it lands to someone’s expectations. As if good or bad depends solely on expectations management.

Answer: the hype doesn’t depend on Sony, or the dev team, or the internet. The hype of this game is caused by the use of “procedural generation”. It’s this piece of tech that carries a baggage of “over-hype” and every future game that heavily relies on procedural generation to build its content will face a similar over-hype. It has embedded the myth: “with just a few rules (or a small team) I can create an almost infinite UNIVERSE that you can have fun to explore endlessly”.

The idea that you can produce a large amount of content with little effort is just plain stupid. It’s the opposite: procedural generation requires MORE work to be good or on par with handcrafted content. Dwarf Fortress is great because it’s been developed non-stop for more than 10 years. There are no shortcuts, there’s no magical formula to produce interesting content.

2- This game uses procedural generation in a very stupid way.

There’s a “good” and “bad” use of procedural generation (tech is not good or bad on its own, it’s the use that matters), and it’s also easy to analyze since it depends on a simple thing. “Good” procedural generation makes the environment dictate gameplay. If the player has a plan, or a list of activities to optimally reach a goal, then for every new game that plan might be followed closely to produce the optimal result. But if you instead “procedurally generate” the environment and make it the center of the experience then it means you force the player to observe and adapt. Not anymore you arrive with a pre-made plan, but your strategy needs to adapt and learn from what you find. Every time the context changes, so every time the experience changes too. This is also the seed for interesting “exploration”. It’s not simply about sightseeing, it’s about making gameplay be shaped by the experience. Changing radically that experience. You transform the environment because you want the environment to transform gameplay (where the best result becomes “emergent”, in those rare cases when the rules are really solid).

But instead this game uses the “bad” kind of procedural generation, which is: cosmetic variations of functionally identical elements. This game is all about stuff looking slightly different but having the exact same function. You travel to a new planet, the previous one had a bluish tinge, this one a greenish one, but what you actually do on every planet is repetitive. You shoot a different looking rock or a plant to obtain the same material. It’s as if every object in this endless world is a box containing the same content, but a different shape on the outside.

It’s the same “sin” in Oblivion: what’s the point of “exploring” and finding a dungeon hidden at the border of the map when the spawn list of what’s inside is always the same? You’re going to find in that far-away dungeon the exact same content because they share the same exact spawn list.

Since this game uses procedural generation mostly for cosmetic reasons, the result is that the gameplay feels “dull”. Not because “there’s not enough to do”, which is what has been discussed for months, but because what you do DOESN’T DEPEND ON WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO FIND. That’s the “sin” of this game, the core of its bad game design. The gameplay function is independent from the procedural generation. There’s a total disconnect between the “exploration” and function. Between what you see and what you use.

Every planet LOOKS different but PLAYS the same. This is bad game design, and a very bad use of procedural generation.

3- Deliberate scamming:

It was one of the most frequent questions whether or not you could meet another player in the game. They always answered vaguely, stating it’s not what a player “should be looking for”. But the question is very precise, did you write that code or not? Can you see another player or not? Turns out you just cannot. No Man’s Sky is entirely single-player. The code is just not there. There’s some indirect information that goes back and forth, so you could see what another player named that planet he discovered, but that’s the limit. It’s not that you cannot see another player because the universe is too vast to meet, which is what they said over and over, you cannot see another player because the networking code just wasn’t written.

And that’s one sign that says that, even if the over-hype is mostly due to a misuse of tech, the devs themselves heavily exploited that over-hype to sell the idea of a game over the actual game. They chose marketing over honesty.

They have a small team, they’ll make tons of money thanks to that hype. The game is a success. But they’ll also deservedly earn a very nice amount of bad reputation because of this, and maybe in the future players will be a bit less gullible to the false magic of procedural generation sprinkled by good programmers turned into bad game designers.

“No Man’s Sky” is a cute piece of tech wrapped around very bad game design.

Disclaimer: most of this was written *before* the game’s release. The point was to determine how to judge between a good and bad use of procedural generation. My comments about the game come from what I read and saw about the game in these first few hours, so you can judge by yourself if what I wrote also holds up as a complete description of the actual game.

Why is this important, why not wait before judging? Because opinions on the internet are entirely worthless. It doesn’t matter what *I* think about the game, it doesn’t matter what *you* think either. What matters and is worth writing and reading is about motivations. It’s about the discussion on the whys and hows. So here you can see my thought process while judging the game. It doesn’t matter if I think its game design is bad, what matters is that I described what, potentially, makes its game design bad. And all that stays valid even if eventually the game turns out differently.

Disclaimer bis: The “scam” of the title refers to the fact no one is actually responsible for the “scam”, or the over-hype, or the chimera. It was all embedded in the misperception and misuse of the procedural generation tech. That the devs have very deliberately and maliciously exploited just to make more money rather than offer an honest image of the game. It’s just intellectual dishonesty, of course. It’s pretty pervasive. I remember at least one occasion commenting on building hype by exploiting false myths. It was Vanguard, or selling the vagueness of an idea so that people’s mind would fill the picture with whatever it is they love.


I found this comment on Diablo-style loot. You know, Blizzard’s secret sauce.

Because it’s more exciting and you always have the feeling that the next item will be better. As opposed to getting a Longsword +3 and knowing that no matter how many enemies you kill, you will never find a better item because that’s the limit of the system.

Also, finding that one perfect (or near perfect) sword or armor feels more fun than finding just another sword you’ve seen 10 times already with exact same stats, name and appearance.

Makes sense, right?

Then I read this reply:

In these type of games, I usually feel the opposite, actually. When I get a decent weapon, I feel that the next 100 or so weapons I will find in the future will be crappy vendor trash. And when I actually find one that is better, it would be only a slight improvement that doesn’t excite me at all. Maybe this is why I don’t get the appeal of these games. I just don’t feel it.

I’ve always felt that more discrete weapons system in normal rpgs make each weapon much more meaningful than the ‘random gear everywhere’ system that loot based games use.

So I was thinking: is that games are like art, making us better.

Or is it that games just exploit our fallacies, the weaknesses.

Feels good man, until you don’t give it too much thought.


(Maybe these aren’t different players liking different things, but just different levels of player’s awareness? Here’s a little insight that probably everyone else forgot: during the World of Warcraft beta Blizzard changed the armor system. They made the numbers much bigger from a patch to the other, without changing the effectiveness. One dev also explained this in a forum post. I remember this because it always sounded like a sort of “fraud” and I’ve never accepted how that explanation could be acceptable. The logic was that in the old system it happened that players would keep a single piece of equipment for a few levels before finding an actual upgrade. You’d find loot, but it was just about the same of what you had equipped already. But by scaling up the numbers they obtained much more granularity in the system. That means that players would find upgrades, albeit smaller, a lot more frequently. You’d find a belt with 107 armor and replace it with one with 110. But the hidden truth behind this was that while before the loot numbers were set in a way that was pertinent to the formulas, in the new system instead those tiny upgrades literally MADE NO DIFFERENCE. They were lost in the formulas due to how approximations worked. Those upgrades are technically just mislead player perception. Manipulation.

The Blizzard guy who come up with this must have felt like a real trickster.)

World of Warcraft and its paid game designers

I suppose the quotes speak for themselves. I’m linking what I was writing on forums in 2014 (but also long before that, I just don’t care enough to dig deeper), and Blizzard, in 2016, finally get that kind of trickle-down insight too.…=1#post3517762…=1#post3517793…=1#post3517939…=1#post3612678

2014 forum discussion.

The faster leveling means that all the quest progression was completely broken. I couldn’t even advance on SINGLE quest line without outleveling it. And if I dared do a dungeon run I’d have to basically skip entirely to a different zone.

Racing through content may be good on paper, but it completely destroys the experience.

Fine, but then don’t say the game loses subs because it’s “old”. It loses subs because it systematically destroyed all the good things it had, without even introducing something new and appealing.

pre-Cataclysm WoW had an excellent balance with quest progression and leveling. Post-Cataclysm this balance was carelessly destroyed in the name of SPEED, NOW, MORE LEVELS. FAST FOODS.

But if they knew they were going to cut so much the leveling times then they should have rebalanced the quests accordingly.

Instead it seems the speed up was an afterthought and no one cared if they broke the perfectly crafted balance and one of the major features of the game. To me it feels like they handed a perfectly crafted thing to some new guy, and this new guy didn’t even remotely understand why the thing worked so well in the first place.

It’s not up to the player to balance this. If the game even lets you then it means there’s something fundamentally broken.

The point here is that pre-Cataclysm WoW was perfectly balanced, and, imo, the real BIG reason why it became hugely successful: WoW’s secret sauce was that the quest flow removed the feel of the grind you’d get in EVERY other MMO those days. But by speeding up so much the leveling process and disrupting all the quest chains and normal progression they simply destroyed their main feature. They TURNED BACK the game into a grind, with most players just burning through content without even looking at quest text or whatnot (or simply do dungeons and bypass all that).

WoTLK was the last good expansion and this is not my personal opinion. It’s just what pretty much everyone agrees with. Game design has taken a nosedive (and this is my opinion), WoW became just an affair for raids, and we know what happens when you specialize to hardcore players while leaving everything else behind. WoW’s leveling pace in now lightning fast, and the experience so bland and shallow, just because it’s all just at the service of the raiding game.

Blizzard 2016. Paid jobs.

Basically, low-level players now plough the game, killing everything easily in unsatisfying combat so they spend comparatively far more time simply running between objectives.

Some of this is down to changes made with the end-game in mind.

“There have been a lot of trickle-down effects from balances changes made to the max-level game. Things that used to be talents we now bake in as passives, we buff abilities, we move things that used to be high-level abilities down to make them available at level 10…”

we made levelling through the prior expansions a bit faster, and a bit faster, and a bit faster, because we didn’t want levelling to be such a barrier to entry.”

you shouldn’t be out-levelling zones before you’ve finished their story. You shouldn’t be doing one dungeon and finding that the zone you’re in is no longer relevant to you at all.”

the levelling-up experience through older zones at lower levels is “pretty broken right now. It’s not really very well tuned.” He added, “It’s not even about difficulty; it’s about pacing.”

But as the Warcraft development team focused on the live game of World of Warcraft, it definitely has shone a light on some deficiencies and areas where the game has been lacking recently, and that’s something we want to do something about.”

Good job? Round of applause?

Wildstar – a game design lesson

Wildstar is an upcoming MMORPG by NCSoft. From the look of it, it seems they sank in it quite a pile of money.

It ultimately represents what’s truly wrong with the game industry, especially in the MMORPG branch: piles of money burnt on stupid game design (and stupid management as consequence).

Look at this video, showing a feature apparently well received:

This must be some comical failure of game design. It appears as a very nice thing but if you think about it for more than two minutes it’s revealed as totally stupid (and apparently the game designers only thought about it for 1 minute 59 seconds).

At the time we called this type of stuff “gated content/permeable barriers”. In the case of this game they decided to make something like the Bartle test into a CLASS SYSTEM. So that if you are an “explorer”: you’re given tasks to run between places or find hidden areas, or if you are a “scientist” you can examine stuff to learn about the lore.

So if you actually want to enjoy the diversity of the game you have to REROLL different characters.

I mean, the goal should be the EXACT OPPOSITE: letting the player enjoy directly all the game offers, and especially let one CHOOSE on which particular aspect to focus instead of forcing the experience into a linear and obligatory path (hint: Guild Wars 2 tries to reward different playstyles without shoehorning them into classes).

And at the end their idea is so ridiculous that in order to balance it, all these “custom” activities will be limited to silly trivialities, and in the end the system is pushed back to being irrelevant. That’s its potential: oscillating between irrelevancy on one side (because you need players to enjoy the best of the game fully, and so keeping the “gated content” as minor extra) and frustration on the other side (because every time you bump into something interesting BUT not “for your class” it’s like the game force you to log out and relog with a different character).

I mean, really, what’s wrong with letting players pick their favorite activities instead of shoehorning them into tightly defined boxes?

Since I have 5 minutes here’s a lesson on GOOD game design:

Game design is about being able to provide the HOWs and WHYs. That’s all. Good game design’s goal is maximize the good aspects, and minimize the suck.

Every idea usually has some of both, so let’s examine what we have here:

  • The good: the game offers interesting/varied side activities that don’t simply focus on boring and repetitive combat, and so possibly appealing different players enjoying different playstyles.
  • The bad: for some absurd reason they decided to shoehorn the playstyle into a forced choice at character creation, so putting a limit to the freedom of choice of the player. All the while without acquiring any other positive thing. It’s just masochistic (or clueless) design. Hence the "bad" is entirely removable.

The bottom line/design principle: players come in different types. MANY types. Different players enjoy different stuff. Your best interest is to accommodate the majority of them, and so give everyone something they enjoy. This also means that a variety of players require a variety of gameplay.

Now I can unfuck the system without even require a major retooling of the assets they have:

  • You remove the class "path" choice at character creation, enable all this content for all characters.
  • Within the game you add to the "character sheet" a "Path" tab. Under this tab you show all the paths available to the player.
  • Let the player check checkboxes corresponding to each path, which simply "hides" in the game content that isn’t selected (so that you can select all of them, or none, or whatever mix you enjoy).
  • Create a global "Paths" currency system, so that experience you gain in one path still goes into the same pool. Which means that you gain experience regardless what you decide to do.
  • Optional: add "perks" (special skills, gifts, or other bonuses) for players who especially gain their path experience in one path area.

That’s all. Applause.

Guild Wars 2 and ass-backwards game design: why we have lived and fought in vain

This is a leftover. I already ranted well before Guild Wars 2’s release anticipating the problems about overflow servers, long queues in PvP and difficulty for social play in general. My point: this was not only obvious to see ahead (which mmorpg doesn’t have launch issues?), but also avoidable for the most part, if they rearranged the game spaces.

The post where I wrote about this at that time is here.

What drew my attention is this:

During this initial surge of high concurrency, and especially while most characters are low-level and thus playing in the same starting areas, it’s common for players to be directed to overflow servers. To play with a friend on a different overflow server, form a party together, then right-click on the friend’s portrait in the party list and click “join”. We expect the use of overflow servers to naturally subside as players spread out more through the world.

The interesting part to me is how bad game design has a naturally tendency to surface on its own. Guild Wars 2 was designed (deliberately AS OPPOSED to Guild Wars 1) as non-instanced PvE.

The game launches and the norm is: instanced PvE. Because overflow servers are the norm, and overflow servers are an instancing mechanic.

When in practice you get (instanced PvE) the opposite of your ideal (non-instanced PvE), then it means your design is quite broken. I say it surfaces on its own because it just won’t take the form you wanted. It misbehaves. Why? Because the patterns you designed are wrong.

Now the line I underlined is also a wrong assumption. Players’ activity will never balance on its own. It doesn’t happen with linear progression games. At the game’s start all players swarm the starting zones and the rest’s empty. Six months down the line there’s no better balance: the end zones are crowded and the rest of the game’s empty. It’s the exact same situation but upside down.

So their assumption (that the use of overflow servers subsides BECAUSE players spread out) is WRONG. What actually happens is that the use of overflow servers subsides, but simply because it’s the high concurrency that also subsides.

This is not nitpicking, because the problem is that you’re designing a PvE that relies on large public events, that will be essentially broken when six months down the line those zones will be almost completely empty (the right answer here is “who cares” since these days mmorpgs are designed to make money fast and become irrelevant in less than a year, as disposable as single-player games. And in GW2’s case players’ retention is actually a THREAT since they don’t have a monthly fee).

The analysis and consequence about GW2 PvE is this:

– RIGHT NOW: lots of problems for people trying to play together. Public events are popular but PvE is instanced.

– SIX MONTHS LATER: PvE is finally non-instanced but there are not enough players to enjoy the public events.

This is what I call “ass-backwards design”. It’s when PvE is finally non-instanced that you want it instanced. Why? Because instancing can be used so that if there are a few players they are put together. And when there are too many, they are split so that gameplay is always optimal.

Guild Wars 2 realized only the first part: that instancing is essential to avoid overcrowding (overflow servers), but they haven’t realized that instancing is also essential later on, to avoid the depopulation of players outside the endgame.

When you realize also that point, you arrive to a simple conclusion: if instanced PvE is a good thing both early (to avoid overcrowding) AND later (to avoid depopulation), then instanced PvE = good.

It’s that simple.

But Guild Wars 2 designers think game design ass-backwards. They try to design PvE non-instanced. And they try to design PvP instanced. Result: queues EVEN on PvP because their PvE server structure doesn’t actually allow to load-balance PvP. They have the WORST in both worlds.

See the post I linked above for a scheme that solves both problems (by putting players into non-instanced PvP server first, and load-balance PvE through instances).

This is the stuff that was being discussed in 2005 and before, try to search the blog for “mudflation” if you want more. Or see Raph Koster, Brad McQuaid and Scott Jennings go at it. Not to say that things at that time were gloriously good, but the fact is that these problems were being at least discussed and today mmorpg game design has seen an enormous decline that is only offset by the technological progress.

Hence, we have lived and fought in vain.

I wanted to add some of the reasons why I won’t buy/play Guild Wars 2. Beside all the above:

– I prefer a consistent personal style (like Dark Souls) to the rainbow colored and theme park oddball settings of GW2 or WoW.
– Zone design looks once again as elaborate cardboard cutout scenery instead of focusing on content that you use and usability in general.
– The combat I’ve seen in videos is overblown with effects of all kinds, from particle effects that obscure your screen to heavy highlights. Whereas I prefer a combat system with tactical transparency (where you can see what happens and can strategize appropriately, even when it gets crowded) and UIs designed to be subtle and unobtrusive.
– PvP in Guild Wars 2 sounds more like enhanced Alterac Valley than enhanced DAoC. No thanks. Too late, not enough.

Mentioning Dark Souls, that’s a game with almost perfect game design on shameless display. Western game design has gone the way of ding, bling, DLCs and trivialities, and looks, honestly, pathetic and unrecoverable.

Modern Warfare 2: the simple and cynical and deliberate and lucid commercial success

On Twitter I said that the RPS review of Modern Warfare 2 is one of the best reviews I’ve ever read. Precise, insightful and to the point. Instead I disagree with the sort of rant that Kieron Gillen wrote today about the particular level. So here is what I think about it:

Modern Warfare 2 never intended nor was expected to be a realistic simulator. It’s not Arma 2 or Operation Flashpoint. It’s instead a bombastic, gratuitous and exploitative Hollywood experience. It wants to be cool without being smart. So, as with everything, the point is to criticize it for what it wants to be. What this game wants is to sell copies and be hugely profitable, shatter records. And it seems that it is doing just that. What it is interesting is to understand why it happens and why this game sells so much and is so much successful.

It’s successful because it arrogantly boasts how rich it is. In your face. That level is no exception compared to the others. It’s lush. The shock value is secondary to the visual, and even in that level the gameplay is gold. Many people this week go to see that awful movie that is 2012. In a very vaguely similar way Stephen King wrote a book where he traps a small town within a dome. To observe people get pushed to the limit and see how they react. That level in the game doesn’t need to be realistic. The RPS article says: “As others have noted, the most disturbing part of No Russian is its context. A few seconds previously you’re involved in a high-speed James Bond chase involving snowmobiles. A few seconds later, you’re mowing down civilians. That tonal shift isn’t brutal. It’s laughable.” There’s no brutal transition instead. The whole game is like that. In the same way the snowmobiles chase was so utterly unrealistic and bombastic, so is what follows. The game wants to resemble reality, pretend to be recognizable and familiar enough to be fun. So what they do in that level is putting a lot of work in the animations and scripting to the extremes and polish and detail. Make an airport and make it good to watch and play in. Make it lavish. Tons of stuff goes on and everything is very nicely done and resembling reality enough to feel somewhat unsettling. What works here is not the moral dilemma, it’s just that kind of open massacre that, justified or plausible or not, stays in the mind of the people. In the same way you could have set it in a school or some other densely populated place (a church, a mall, whatever). It works.

They could do it, so why not? It’s cool in a stupid way. The plot doesn’t make sense but it never wanted to. It’s a joke, an excuse to be spectacular. I suspect that even the purple prose about war is just there as a parody and the fake pretense to make it “serious”. Bombastic drama. But not serious in the sense that it has (or wants to have) an actual depth, it only needs to give an excuse to explore the possibilities that are “cool” to see and play, and that are vaguely connected with a common idea of “modern” warfare. A massacre in an airport is cool to see and play. The russian invasion is cool to see and play, so is the snowmobile chase. These are all silly excuses to “enable” and pack together the most disparate experiences I’ve seen in a shooter. If you strip that level of its story elements you get a very fun shooting sequence. You can replay it various times and always find something new you didn’t notice. The first part starts in black, hearing just sounds, then a terse dialogue that builds the tension, then the opening that is rather spectacular and sudden. From that point onward the experience is mostly visual and well crafted. The music is right, the extremely slow speed mimics in a way how you are trapped in a role, forced into a role. This slowness also makes everything kind of detached, yet deliberate and unavoidable. It doesn’t want to really make sense, it just sets a mood. Then there’s the sequence where you fight the cops. Again wonderfully executed. You can blow up the airplane engines, you can shoot at the helicopters and make them explode, lots of stuff going on and a rather fun shooting sequence with lush graphic everywhere. No other shooter out there is so well realized and filled with details. Beautiful to watch, fun to play.

This controversial level in the end won’t produce any important debate, or make people think. It doesn’t want. It wants to be cool and spectacular. In the end that level sells copies, and it probably sells more copies than if it wasn’t there. People talk about the game, it draws the attention even from those that wouldn’t look at it otherwise. In the end people don’t buy it because the plot gave them deep thoughts, but because the game is lush, rich, fun to play, varied, spectacular.

The story stays stupid enough to not get in the way of the shooting. This sells copies. There is no over exposition or dense stuff that would turn people off. It’s what Entertainment wants to be. Accessible and straightforward and without any other pretense than selling copies without scruples. It’s the simple and cynical and deliberate and lucid commercial success, done the way it has to be done. The writers that worked on Modern Warfare knew what their role was and didn’t pretend to act as protagonists. They knew very well the story is very secondary, only “enabling” the shooting to happen and weakly link together the most disparate and edgy shooting scenes.

WoW reached its peak, will decline now. Smart people at GDC are cheating you.

1- Blizzard has no competition and they don’t need to try anymore to stay ahead. There isn’t any need to fight even on the last thousands of players. They win, everyone else lost. Game over.

The patches are getting slower and more insubstantial, filled with pages of convoluted class changes. It’s quite obvious that the there’s no creative push behind this and that they are only trying to please the current many subscribers, especially the ones still heavily invested in the game. There is no attempt to reach further.

It’s also quite obvious that resources are being moved. A while ago Blizzard was only working on WoW. Now they have WoW, Starcraft, Diablo and another MMO project. They were never able to do more than one thing at once and now the focus will start to shift. As always in this industry you only see the effect of what happens behind the scenes a few years later. It starts now, the effect will come later.

The lead designer, Jeff Kaplan, left WoW to move on the new project. We know only of the public figures but it is obvious that he is followed by many more that work in the back.

WoW is now in the (un)capable hands of Kalgan. Have fun.

2- Lum quoted various pieces from a conference (where industry people only go to feel proud, boast their cultivated shortsightedness, feel validated among equals, avoid challenges, avoid reality, shake hands, and whose game design relevance is a negative number) where Jeff Kaplan talks about quest design. Jeff Kaplan is in my “good guys book” and I’m not entirely sure if he was mocking the audience thinking that they would only grasp the superficial level anyway, and so talk in a language they could understand.

It’s not the specific of what he says to be wrong, it’s the overall sense. I only read Lum quotes but those ideas were considered good ideas “on paper” that revealed to be poor in practice. Bottom line: these ideas should be avoided.

That’s a wrong conclusion. Wrong interpretation. It’s about trying to understand aspects of the game with only one rigid model. That’s the inner flaw. It’s not in the quest ideas, it’s in the approach.

Everyone of those examples isn’t just a “good idea on paper”. Gone bad in practice. Why? Because it obviously was a bad idea even in paper? Nope. It was a possibly good idea with an inappropriate execution.

That’s the point: good ideas with bad execution. All of them.

Take the example of the quest in Stranglethorn. The idea is cool. It is also not an obligatory quest, so if you don’t like the added layers you can always skip it. Where’s the big flaw of that quest? Not in the concept. It’s in the limits of the inventory. So. You may solve the problem by erasing the quest entirely. Or you may fix the one problem. In this case you could create a container object that takes 1 slot in the inventory and that can contain all the parts that can be then taken and sold in the auction, traded or whatever.

“For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”

That’s right. That’s why you solve the one problem, as the cool concept behind the quest wasn’t to consume all those spaces, but to create an economy and add a new layer.

Now this is an example, but every one else following is the seed of the same consideration: inappropriate quest concepts because they don’t fit the standard framework. Not BAD quest concepts. Just quest concepts that step out of the limited tools given.

Problem is the framework, not the material. The problem is execution, not quest concepts. Given that implementation, the quest didn’t work. But this doesn’t make it an universally bad quest that wouldn’t or can’t work in other cases.

The “quest chains” aren’t bad because of what they are. They are bad because the quest UI is standardized and doesn’t support them properly (in fact the only way to see even a short chain quest is to use MODs like Wowhead). It’s again a flaw in the framework. You are bringing creative ideas to a framework that doesn’t support them. Either you dump all creative quest concepts, or you invest in programmers that expand the framework to support new quest types properly. But, again, the rigidness of a framework is the real true cause of a good or bad idea applied to it. Its context.

So enjoy your GDC. Either I’m overestimating Kaplan, or he was there just to deceive you with apparent sincerity. He keeps the good lessons (solutions) for himself.

Ubiq on this as well. That would lead to think that he doesn’t get it either, but look further, deeper. That’s the hidden war he’s doing to Bioware. His purpose is there. Nowadays when devs have an hard time to impose themselves internally, they rant externally.

Warhammer 1.1a patch aggravating ORvR instead of improving it

Had to be expected. After the gold bags at keeps encouraged avoidance instead of conflict (keep trading) now there’s the new influence system that takes player kills in very little consideration while it hugely rewards keeps takeovers.

Result: another incentive to avoid a fight and cooperate with the enemy faction. You trade keeps and maximize the rewards. Before it was gold bags for gear, now it is gold bags + influence. I also note that now there are three overlapping systems just in ORvR that provide gear: gold bags, renown vendors and influence system. How many broken systems you are going to pile up before you start to make work what’s already in the game?

This is a perfect example of Mythic not understanding the basic of game design. Not only they made the mistake with the gold bags, but instead of recognizing it, they make it worse.

Official response from a CM:

James Nichols: Unfortunately the path of least resistance is also tempting,

Nope, it’s not tempting. It’s the way the game is designed. Doing quests in WoW isn’t “tempting” it’s the way the game was designed.

Simply put: You continue to design RvR so it promotes avoidance. You got many occasion to correct this, instead you make it worse.

James Nichols: rest assured though we’ll continue to improve RvR to make it so that conflict is a common occurrence as best we can,

How? Does your team even recognize how game design works? Because with every step they are making things worse.

James Nichols: but players adjust to massive RvR may still have yet to learn that a lot of the fun of RvR has to do with what you make of it.

It’s hard to be fun in a game when bad game design is an obstacle. Blaming the players because they don’t know how to have fun is blaming them for your very own faults and failures.

James Nichols: We expect to see players naturally migrate towards conflict as the initial influence frenzy calms down.

After the players understand even better than avoidance maximizes the reward? I don’t know what trends you see in games, but over time things get “gamed” more and more. If players pursue the path of least resistance NOW, in a week or a month they’ll do it even more.

Making mistakes is one thing, but making them over, and over, and over… well, there are no excuses for that. See below, Warhammer had its chances. It wasted them all.