Archive for May, 2006

Per this article, you'll be able to fight Curt Schilling within Everquest II "for three days during the Yankees vs. Red Sox baseball series June 5, 6 and 7, 2006 at Yankee Stadium."

Every time someone defeats Schilling, SOE will donate $5 (up to $10,000) to the ALS association, which assists victims of "Lou Gehrig's Disease".

 

Now, I'd like to point out that I think this is great.  Seriously.  I've met Curt Schilling twice now, both at SOE sponsored FanFaires.  The first time, I didn't even realize who I was talking to till someone (hi Gethani) walked up with some Red Sox shirts and asked him to sign them.  The second time, I was at a press event and got to watch him play on someone else's character and having the time of his life talking smack to other players on the server (all in good fun).

My point?  Curt was just another gamer both times, so far as I'm concerned.  No one cared that this sock hangs in Cooperstown.  When we talked to him, we talked shop.  We talked raids.  We talked class balance.  We talked gear. 

Do I think the promotion is a little hokey?  Sure I do.  Frankly, I think most promotions are to a certain extent.  However, this is one that I not only find entertaining as a games writer, but also as a player – especially as a player.

Why entertaining?  Because it opens up all manner of possibilities.  The idea of a real world model for a virtual villian is just great.  But why stop at Curt?  For example, who else would make good targets within Everquest 2?

  • Tycho and Gabe from Penny Arcade, perhaps?  As an added bonus, you could make their character graphics as cartoony as possible, with gigantic, spiked shoulderpads and uberbright colors (as a nod to the artistic style of their preferred game).
  • Barry Bonds?  You don't really attack him so much as insult him to submission.  As you do, his grotesque size deflates.  He doesn't really hit often, but when he does – you pretty much just die.
  • Blackguard?  The only way to defeat him is by donning special "ninja clothes".  (You could use Moorgard in the same encounter, but only those in "pirate clothes" could defeat him).
  • The infamous "Little Brother", that villian who is blamed so often for hacking accounts to make players do or say things they probably shouldn't.  As such, this villian could be a coercer.  Only useful.  (/ducks)
  • The wily "Dubbya", who would appear as a gnome?  This particular menace starts out at 27% health and isn't really a threat.  Just watch out for "Cheney" the ogre ranger.

Haute Couture

Posted: May 15, 2006 by Kendricke in Uncategorized

Let's change gears and talk about fashion for a bit.  It's a hot button topic, to be sure.  With more and more shows telling me how to dress, how not to dress, what to wear, what not to wear, how to feel, how to act, how to cook, how to decorate, how to talk, and how to walk down the street, it's impossible to turn on Bravo or TLC without being overwhelmed by shows telling you how to … "be".

That said, there's something to be said about fashion in online gaming.

It's a massively important element to many players, who work for hours, days, or even weeks within some games just to earn the right to wear some clothing or gear that just looks unique.  Even if the stats or mechanics aren't all that good, players will still go out of their way to look different..  Sometimes, folks just wanna stand out from the crowd. 

However, most online MMOG's would have us believing that every player-citizen walks around armed and armored just to go to the library.  No one is ever suspicious that you just rode your warhorse into the bank, with plate mail covering every inch of your flesh, a sword twice the size of the teller, and a few hundred pounds of assorted bags and packs full of additional death-dealing devices and sundries. 

I'd love to see a game design team that steps up to the plate with some ideas on non-combat wear.  Imagine walking into a city zone and having your character automatically putting armor away to put on his or her "civvies".  Essentially, you'd have two full sets of gear to wear in such a system:  your heavy combat armor and then your everyday city clothes. 

That way, when my Templar is out in the Bonemire waiting for a raid to form up, he's in his heavy relic plate armor, but the moment he calls to North Qeynos, he's wearing general travelling clothes. 

Go read my Jethal Silverwing interview at Caster's Realm and let me know what you think.

I've been consumed over the past few days with the news that Microsoft's FASA Studio will be releasing a Shadowrun game for the Xbox 360. 

Before I get into the details on this latest announcement, I should point out a little of my long history with the game.  Unlike many gamers these days, I didn't cut my teeth on TSR's Dungeons and Dragons.  Instead, I first bumbled into gaming (literally) when I happened to find a copy of FASA's original Battletech rulebook sitting on top of a Mechwarrior RPG volume, hidden underneath a bush in a public park near Richards Junior High School in Columbus, GA.  Being the scrupulous 12 year old that I was, I of course took the books, and thus began my clandestine and illicit gaming career.  (To my defense, it was after dark and no one was in the park.  The books weren't exactly in mint condition and looked as if they'd managed to survive at least one light sprinkling of rain.)

Anyway, I was hooked.  Not just on the idea of massive Battlemechs piloted by elite Mechwarriors (oh, how I loved Robotech back then), but also at the rules that were put into the RPG.  Small arms tactics?  Leadership?  Climbing?  Health totals?  It was like reading holy scripts, thought long lost and forgotten.  I took to the terms and started to write in my own skills and rules as well. I became…a gamemaster.

For years, I ran Mechwarrior campaigns.  After I moved to Minnesota, one of my first missions was to find a gaming store within driving distance (well, driving distance for my parents, at least) and I began to learn how to paint the small metal minature battlemechs.  My first attempt wasn't that horrible, and a friend of mine still has that miniature to this day (and I was wrong – the paint job IS horrible). 

About the time I was graduating high school, I started to branch out into other FASA games, such as Earthdawn and of course, Shadowrun. 

Shadowrun was fun.  A friend of mine (we'll call him Mike W.) was the Gamemaster.  He was a techno producer and DJ on the side, and so our gaming groups tended toward a more imaginative slant.  He created a Minneapolis campaign for the year 2050, and it wasn't long before we were running the Shadows of Hennepin avenue megacorps like Honeywell or Alliant Tech.  My first beloved character was an ex-corp combat mage, who died in a blaze of glory trying to buy his crew some time to escape a bad run.  My second was a dwarven rigger who lived in the back of a Bulldog armored semi.  Even then, I was always playing the part of support for the street sams and deckers.  I was the unsung hero who got the crew out of danger and back to relative safety. 

Fast forward a decade or so, and I'm reading that Microsoft is going to release a Shadowrun game.  I'm excited.  I'm thinking I might have to pick up a 360.  Friends of mine are also excited.  We're trying to figure out how we can take those characters from years ago and import them into this updated PC/Xbox version of the game. 

Then the details come out.  It's a first person shooter.  Most classes we're used to aren't there.  There are no riggers or deckers because there's no Matrix.  That's because they've chosen to place the game in the future of 2020 instead of 2050 when the original Shadowrun was set.  They've chosen to conciously throw out the 15+ years of established canonical backstory, and rewrite the entire storyline from scratch. 

In other words, it's Shadowrun in name only. 

The developers claim they're doing this to make the game more accessible to people who have never heard of Shadowrun.  That makes no sense.  None at all. 

If someone had never heard of Shadowrun, why would they care that it's called Shadowrun?  You could make a game that has the same concepts as the game they've made –  with cybertechnology, magic, and metahuman races – and still have a killer game, without the nameplate of Shadowrun.  However, the problem here is that they've attached that name plate…and with that comes a fanbase with a great deal of expectation.  Those players – the ones who have heard of Shadowrun – aren't happy at all with this announcement.  At all.  In the words of one player:  "Congratulations on making the game nobody wanted."

An analogy was raised that the game captures the "essence" of what Shadowrun is.  For me, that's nothing more than weak justification for not performing your market research correctly.  Know thy audience.  If you're trying to build a game for Shadowrun players – a fanatical bunch, to say the least – you'd better make one that at least includes the most fundamental concepts that attracted many players to Shadowrun in the first place, and it wasn't the killer combat system (ugh).  It's the shadowruns, stupid.

Shadowrunners are mercenaries, either working for or against the corps – and sometimes both at the same time.  It's plans within plans and the storylines frequently use double-cross, double agents, and double speak to great effect.  It takes place in the urban jungle, in the "Sprawl", and 'runners were constantly moving through nightclubs and backend streets.  To this day, I feel that the Wachowski brothers HAD to play the game at some point, as inspiration for their Matrix universe. 

This new Matrix?  It's in the jungles…of Santos, Brazil.  On the one side, you've got "shadowrunners" who are essentially treasure hunters (ala Lara Croft), trying to find and take control of a magical ziggaraut which is tied to the reawakening of magic in the world (what the?), and on the other side, you're the natives, protecting the ziggaraut (what the?).  In short, it's modern cowboys and indians…but with katanas and uzi's. 

Honestly, I can't think of which is worse – that the game will flop, and Microsoft will likely blame the failure upon the intellectual property itself, thus effectively ending the Shadowrun franchise on computers for good; or that the game will do well, and thus we'll continue to see more Shadowrun titles that essentially aren't Shadowrun. 

If there's anything good that's come from this, it's that those friends I've been speaking to over the past week about this are now considering starting up another Shadowrun campaign.  It's time to dust off my old dice bag, and to go pick up a pack of mechanical pencils.  Seems I've got a rigger to build. 

Look, up in the sky!

Posted: May 9, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

With the upcoming Echoes of Faydwer expansion, we're going to see a new race brought into the Everquest 2 world, the Fae.  Now, besides the obvious questions which come up with the introduction of a new race into any game (Stats?  Armor restrictions?  Racial bonuses?  Visual appearance?), I've got a doozy that matters to me:

Can they fly? 

Now, I realize the game's simply not built for outright flight.  We're not likely to see anyone buzzing the Oracle Tower or trying to race Griffons, but the idea of the Fae as a ground bound running class just…well, it annoys me. 

For several years, I Gamemastered a pen-and-paper RPG for the Earthdawn system.  One of the primary races you could play was a Windling.  We had some fairly talented players who picked up Windling characters and ran with the whole concept of a life loving fairy, apparently devoid of common sense (but who held a deep intelligence and wit under the guise of nonsense).  To this day, several of my old players still lament over the pure joy that was "Noggly the Greatest Ever", a Windling "Windscout". 

These little guys were great, and infused with magical sight, the ability to alter body coloring, and of course, flight. 

Now, even within the game, we rarely had these little 18" faefolk zipping hither on yon without restriction.  Frankly, that would have just made the game a bit on the crazy side as far as balancing went.  So, we held to the ideal that flying was for sprints, not marathons, and that Windlings were constantly hungry and tired as a result.  When travelling, they'd typically find a comfortable backpack or pack animal to rest on, and fly only as needed…which was apparently quite often (but again, for short spurts). 

Now, I'm already hoping the player who owned Noggly decides to bring him back, but we got to talking about what Fae will really be like.  Does the game really need a 17th race?  In a game where any race can be any class, what's really going to set the Fae apart?  Initial starting statistics don't really matter in Everquest 2, as gear overcomes all hurdles by the highest levels.  Racial bonuses are really more fluff than substance.  Unlike Everquest classic, differing sight types don't tend to help at all in Everquest 2.  I know I rarely use any of them, except for the novelty effect.

So, what's going to set Fae apart?  Flight?  In a game which is specifically designed without levitation in mind, how do you accomplish real flight?  A version of innate safefall?  Faster sprint?  How do you introduce such racial bonuses for this race without equivilant bonuses for other races? 

Everquest 2 is much more Marxist than Everquest classic.  Differentiation and uniqueness are broken down at the class level as opposed to the racial level.  I can understand the desire for more accessibility that this brings, but at the same time, it's missing something that I enjoyed in games such as Everquest or Earthdawn.  There's something to be said about racial diversity and restrictions.  There's something to be said for uniqueness.

Sadly, I can't imagine Fae getting real flight.  What we'll likely see is a hover that means Fae will simply "fly" at eye level for taller races, but in reality, the race itself won't be flying in the traditional sense of the word.  So, other than the novelty effect of the race, I'm left wondering once again – what's the point of a 17th race?

When the Frogloks were first released on all servers (both in Everquest and in Everquest 2), you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Guktan.  Frogloks were hopping and skipping EVERYWHERE.  A month or so later, and you had trouble finding Frogloks to group with.  Where had they gone?  Where were all of these Froglok players?

If they were like me, they were back on their mains, because they realized they didn't really want to spend that much time on an alt after all.  The novelty had worn off, and there was no real bonus to having a Froglok as opposed to an Ogre or a Ratonga.  Realistically, the only real difference was in what you felt like playing…and I personally don't think that justifies the expense and resources put into another new "novelty" race from a design perspective.  I wonder at the ROI on something like that.  Is the art work put toward a new race worth losing a few new armor designs or a new robe, as a possibility?  Is it worth another new dungeon or raid zone, for example?  What IS the bottom line on manhours and resources used to create a new race?

These are the type of questions I ask myself every time I see a new feature. 

With some features, it seems obvious the work paid off, such as climbing; movable objects, or destroyable walls.  These were fun advances that were put to good use after initial creation and which furthered gameplay.  However, what about Arena Champions?  Was the work and effort put into creating dozens of arena pets and several arena zones even worth the effort?  I would love to see the level of arena participation on an average server over the course of even a month. 

I hope the Fae end up being a good choice.  I have a lot of good memories of windlings from my Earthdawn days, and I can't wait to see a forest full of Fae on day one of release.  However, it's my thinking that these little guys are going to go the way of the Guktans shortly after release, and by Ground Hog's day of next year, you'll have trouble finding them in groups at all.

For Noggly's sake, I hope I'm wrong.

And in this corner…

Posted: May 8, 2006 by Kendricke in The Gaming Industry

If you haven't heard by now (and honestly, how could you not?), Sigil Games has purchased their Vanguard publishing rights from Microsoft and then elected to use SOE as a "co-publisher".

Now, there's a dozen or more excellent essays on what this actually means (Aggro Me has a great write-up, as always), but the long and the short of it for me is that the SOE logo is on the Sigil website.   For myself, I can't help but supress a bit of a giggle.

Why?

Because of the rabid, anti-SOE sentiment we've all been subjected to for the past several years – much of which comes from players who have been looking to Sigil as the ultimate savior from the evil that is SOE.  These players would have had us all believe that we're all doomed to an eternal damnation in the worst possible hell imaginable if we continue to support any product that has any monies flowing back upriver to line Smed's pocket. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth, as is evidence by this.  Gamers are gamers, just as gaming companies are gaming companies.  The "fights" are no more real than professional wrestling.  The difference is that gamers seem to buy into the presented reality as actual fact, whereas wrestling fans seem to recognize that their favorite sport is not really real (even if they pretend otherwise).

Now, the masks have come off and the final bell has rung on this most recent round, and with the cameras off, it seems that SOE and Sigil have actually been out buying each other post-match drinks all along.  Why not?  These aren't mortal enemies, regardless of what popular myth would have us believe.  These designers aren't running battlelines between San Diego and Carlsbad, running tactical raids on each others' offices. 

These are professional game designers.  That's what they do.  It's a business.  It's a fun business, but a business none-the-less.  The competition is about bottom lines and market share, and anything that detracts from that isn't in anyone's best interest. 

So, if it's in Brad McQuaid's best interest to get back into bed with SOE, even if it's just to cuddle for a while, then that's exactly what these two "mortal enemies" are going to do.  Why?  Because it's all about the bottom line, and that bottom line means releasing good games within certain guidelines, that can hopefully make a few bucks along the way.

Size Matters?

Posted: May 5, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

I was reading Saavedra's blog recently and he'd made some pretty good observations about the latest Tomb Raider title.  In the process, he noted that several reviews of the game concentrated on how Lara Croft looked, rather than on the gameplay or level design.  This got me to thinking…

 Before every MMOG launch I've ever participated in, there's a huge discussion on…well, size.

Both Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft had hundreds, if not thousands of posts on various message boards dedicated to the analysis of breast size. Seems that the latest indications are that Vanguard will introduce a slider that allows players to adjust their cup size however they want.

Now, this really piqued my interest. Recent polls have indicated that while 85% of all players in Everquest 2 are male, 51% of all characters are female. Yes, I'm aware that females are an increasing demographic of the playerbase, but even so, that's a whole lotta virtual cross-dressing right there.

Obviously, with a market saturated by male players, you have to wonder who's really going to "benefit" from Sigil's chest choices.

I'm suddenly struck by images of 1985's Wierd Science, where a couple of hapless and nerdy outcasts set out to create the perfect woman. Obviously, time was spent deciding the perfect chest size…just as Arnold Schwarzenegger did before his mind trip in 1990's Total Recall. To be fair, none of those protagonists chose the largest size possible on the scales they were presented, but that fact was likely due to casting choices for leading ladies as opposed to actual desires of the characters involved. After all, when designing movies for the masses, you don't want to go too far out of your way to outrage a chunk of your demographic.

So, why is it that gamers are so different in their thinking? The relative anonymous comfort of the internet? Backlash against the political correctness of the late 80's and 90's?

Whatever it is, this focus on "bewbs" will likely make it easier to pick out the real guys. Honestly, I'm going to be inclined to believe that the average uberbusty female character I encounter in those games where you can choose chest size are likely to be owned by male players.