Archive for February, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Jack Thompson!

Posted: February 27, 2007 by Kendricke in The Gaming Industry

Crime Trends Since 1972

This is hardly new information.  However, I’ve personally never seen the data put together quite so graphically as it is in the illustration above. 

As the population rises in the U.S., and as more and more violent video games and violent television shows find their way into the hands of our children, it seems that crime rates (especially violent crimes) keep trending downward. 

Note the source.  That’s the U.S. Department of Justice.  According to their data, you were 5 times more likely to be raped when the most violent video games were Pong or Pac-Man.  You were nearly 2.5 times as likely to find yourself robbed when it was Pitfall Harry jumping over some pixelated crocs was the scariest thing you could play with a joystick.  You were three times as likely to be assaulted when stomping out Millipedes was still popular in the arcades. 

I’m not drawing any major conclusions here except to say that the facts are pretty contradictory to the popular media representations these days.  Once again, it would seem that facts are greater than mere assumptions. 

Imagine that.

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The night almost had a taste to it, crisp and slightly metallic.  A breeze stirred the high, dewy grasses and the lead horseman pulled to a halt.  Behind him, his five companions also brought their mounts to a still, as they awaited in the silent starlight, watching the young priest for a sign of command. 

As the breeze stilled, a small patch of grass continued to stir slightly.  Reaching just over his shoulder, the leader took hold of the ornate handle of his ancient warhammer as he began to gently urge his steed forward at a slow walk.    The group began to spread out, as a pack of wolves might just prior to a charge. 

“Now, Kendricke?”, one of the companions whispered.

“Now!”, the boy responded in kind.

With that, he lunged from his horse and leapt to the ground, already swinging the powerful two hander down with a sickening thud upon the vile beast they’d been commissioned to fell.  Around Kendricke, his companions joined in, with blades, prayers, and spellcraft, they valiantly fought the beast.  After an excruciating eternity of moments, they lifted a torch to take stock of the defeated creature.

“Ah yes, another mighty badger slain to help the city of Qeynos.  Only 11 more to go and we can collect our reward.”, Kendricke intoned with no hint of irony.  Into the darkness, the party rode on, in search of more such threats to the crown. 

In all seriousness, I realize the idea of “kill ten rats” quest writing gets beaten to death, butI still fail to see how this type of quest becomes more fun.  Ever.

The title of this particular blog entry is from a bit of a tongue-in-cheek rendition I performed at the first Everquest 2 Community Summit back in June, 2005.  Even then, shortly after only one adventure pack had been released, and with months to go before the first expansion, I was having trouble coming to terms with the idea that to earn status with the city of Qeynos, the members of my guild had to basically go out collecting hunting bounties.  Whether it was badgers, deer, or even gnolls or orcs, the idea that the most efficient way to earn status for higher guild levels within our chosen city was that we should go forth and “kill X number of Y creatures”. 

That’s it.  No epic tales.  Not even a courier quest or three. 

Here we are, nearly two years later, and I’m still wondering why killing badgers (or orcs or droags or basilisks or dire worgs) has any real bearing on my guild’s ranking in the city’s heirarchy.  Why are “writs” based almost entirely around the kill ten rats model? 

Oh sure, in Desert of Flames we saw a brief attempt at other types of writs – collect this or destroy that.  But even then, the basic formula was still intact.  Go to X area, find Y objects, and collect/destroy Z number of them.  Kill/collect/destroy 10/15/22 rats/daggers/urns.

I can’t be the only guy looking for a better way to earn adventuring status on a consistent basis, can I?  Nevermind the relative lack of rewards for actually acquiring the status in the first place – how can we make the process of writs more fun?

Now, to be fair, we’ve seen some definate improvements to the system as well (remember when we had to delete quests over and over till we finally got the one the rest of our group members had?)  Writs aren’t the worst thing in the world, really.  They’ve just taken the concept of grinding to a different level.

I don’t know anyone who willingly performs writs because they are “fun”.  No one gets excited about performing writs.  It’s an obligation.  It’s a means to an end.  It’s a way to help a guild out.  That’s the problem.

Games should be fun.  When running a long bomb pass 22 yards to complete a touchdown isn’t fun for you – when it’s just an obligatory means to an end…you should stop playing football.  When there’s no small thrill left in bringing a knight out to take a queen because the only point is whether or not you’ll achieve a checkmate, you should stop playing Chess.  When you find yourself only performing quests out of a sense of obligation, you should stop running the quests.

Think of the word “quest” and what it’s come to mean for MMO’s.  When I think of “quests”, I think of epic storylines regarding hardships involved in daring rescues, recovering lost artifacts, defending the lands against enemy forces, and basically living out an adventure. 

Kendricke slays a mighty badger,
Kendricke slays a mighty badger,
Kendricke slays a mighty badger,
Queen Antonia is pleased.
  

How adventurous does that sound?  Does it sound like a quest?  Does it sound like fun?  Does it sound like something you can’t wait to get done?

If I never saw another kill ten rats quest again in any game, I’d be thrilled.  I want quests that create a storyline.  I want quests that involve me in a plot.  I want quests that feel like …well, like I’m questing

City writ quests should feel more like questing, not less.  Increasing status with a city faction should matter.  Come to think of it, city faction should matter.  Right now, acquiring status with one faction does NOTHING to other city factions (this is a change to the original system).  The original story lines and promises of Freeport and Qeynosian internal politics having any impact on the game’s storyline and gameplay have long since fallen by the wayside.

No, these days, the only thing factions are good for is a title or some unique house furniture.  There’s no reason to follow a storyline, really.  There’s no interesting NPC’s or bosses that matter.  There’s no engaging storylines.

Make the factions mean something again.  Make the highest status writs similar to the old faction system – where you raise your standing significantly with one faction, all the while lowering your standing with other faction(s). 

I’m in Freeport, my writs from one faction could be direct assaults on members of other factions.  If I’m in Qeynos, my writs from one faction should have some negative indirect effect on other factions.  Bring some political intrigue into the game.

What a great way to place guilds front and center, once again, eh?  What a great stage to set to introduce guild halls on, eh?

Imagine if an entire guild’s standing with a city’s factions affected the type of guildhall they could gain.  Imagine if certain guildhalls had different types of bonuses or rewards available. 

If my guild acquires a great deal of faction with the Celestial Watch faction in Qeynos, shouldn’t we get a break on a guildhall in a quarter of the city they have influence over?  Wouldn’t such a guildhall come with some perks and architecture choices that only they might grant – such as a built in chapel (with reduced costs on altar/tribute costs, perhaps?).  What if a  a Freeport guild with high standing with the Seafury Buccanear faction picked up a guildhall that was actually a ship sitting in East Freeport’s harbor? 

Bring back factions as a viable system for storytelling.  Bring back actual intrigue within the cities.  Bring a new system for writs that doesn’t automatically involve X action to Y number of Z targets. 

That’s a system I’d love to see.  I’m sick of badgers.

61*

Posted: February 23, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts, Guilds

In 1961, Yankee fielder Roger Maris set a controversial record for the most home runs hit within a single season of baseball.  This feat wasn’t actually officially recognized till 1991, some six years after his death.

Why the controversy?  Why the lack of recognition? 

Some would say that it was purely numbers.  The previous record for home runs within a single season had been set 34 years earlier by Babe Ruth, when he hammered 59 homers in 154 games.  In 1961, the MLB had beefed up the season to 162 games – meaning Maris had 8 additional games to break the Babe’s record.  By game 154, Roger had merely tied the record with another 59 home runs. 

Others would say that there was a great deal of politics involved.  For one thing, you’re talking about trying to break a record in the House that Ruth Built…that had itself been set by the man himself.  There’s a lot of emotion tied up with Babe Ruth in 1961 New York. 

More than anything though, was the manufactured “rivalry’ between Roger Maris and his much more popular teammate, Mickey Mantle.  Maris wasn’t the only slugger closing in on the record in ’61; Mantle was also in the running. 

Whereas Maris was generally looked upon as surly and even confrontational by the media, Mantle was painted as a bit of a golden boy.  The press loved Mickey and showered his every hit with praises, while constantly finding ways to badger the less popular Maris. 

To make matters all the worse, Commisioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, decrees halfway through the season that unless the record was broken in 154 games, the record would be forever listed separately as a different record altogether.  Even though the MLB had no official listing of records, and though Frick never stated how the record might be listed separately, urban myth quickly propped up the idea of an asterisk (*) to distinguish any record which took more than 154 games.

What does any of this have to do with MMO’s?

Recently, SOE’s new Community Manager, Craig “Grimwell” Dalrymple, publically recognized the guild Pandemonium for their “World Wide First” kill of the Avatar of Valor on February 12.  What’s confusing to most players is that the Avatar of Valor was actually killed back on January 11.  You can see the news of this event on Second Dawn’s news page.  You can also see item discoveries which credit a January 11th kill on SOE’s own EQ2players.com site.

So who’s on first here?

To hear Pandemonium’s version of events, they get to claim the ‘first” kill because previous to their February 12 fight, the Avatar of Valor encounter wasn’t spawning correctly, and SOE changed the fight.  To them, they apparantly feel entitled to the recognition of being “first” because their version is the “correct” version of the kill.

But is it really?

According to most accounts, the encounter hasn’t changed in any significant way – or at least not significantly enough to merit a new “world wide first” available kill.  When Second Dawn first killed the Avatar, it wasn’t much different from the “new” Avatar that Pandemonium downed over a month later. 

The difference?  Second Dawn didn’t get recognition of that kill officially.  To be fair, they’ve had their own time in the sun when SOE officially recognized them for their world first kill of Wuoshi, the green dragon Guardian of Growth.  However, there was no fanfaire or public accolades from SOE on their first Avatar kill a few weeks later.  No, not till Pandemonium contacted SOE about their own “world wide first” was another guild recognized by SOE.

That’s right.  You read that correctly.  Pandemonium contacted SOE, and not the other way around.  That’s the other tricky part of this story.  You see, Pandemonium now claims they never contacted SOE, but the official announcement and follow-up posts by  Community Management all indicate that Pandemonium initiated the discussion. 

So, where does this leave us?  Faced with increasingly hostile and growing response from the playerbase, SOE moderators deleted 3 full pages of posts (from the 5 page announcement thread) and at least a few suspensions were handed out (at least, that is if reports are to be believed from those claiming to have received such punishments).  Grimwell, faced with some pretty heavy evidence that the first kill actually took place more than a month earlier first responds that SOE has confirmed the actual date of the first kill…and then responds that he’ll look into the issue further.

To be fair, I don’t envy Grimwell in this position.  He’s definately not in a spot I’d want to be in, damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.  And though I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing his actions and reactions to this unfolding drama, the real question here has little to do with any statement he has or ccould possibly make.  No, the real question is still unanswered…

What determines a world wide first? 

Is it the first time a target is killed?  If so, does this mean that Ne Plus Ultra has the world wide first for Tarinax (even though they were able to enter Deathtoll weeks before other guilds due to a GM accidently awarding them full access to the zone when they hadn’t yet killed all the dragons necessary)? 

Is it the first “legitimate” kill then?  If so, what counts at legitimate?  If an encounter is obviously bugged or broken to be much easier than it should be, does this belittle the accomplishment of the “first” kill? 

What if SOE just changes an encounter after the fact?  Remember Darathar?  How many times has he been changed?  Who really gets to claim the “real” world wide “first”?

And so the question remains?  What counts as a “world wide first?”

More to the point here, does Second Dawn’s kill of the Avatar of Valor on January 11th count as the first kill, or does it go down in virtual history as having an asterisk (*) forever affixed to the accomplishment?

UPDATE:  Grimwell has acknowledged the error, and awarded the kill to Second Dawn. 

C-C-C-COMBO!

Posted: February 21, 2007 by Kendricke in Character Development, General Game Concepts

I was speaking with Araman from Warcry not too long ago, and the discussion turned to game design (as it often does).  We got to talking about the idea of combination attacks in MMO’s and console games.  We came up with several ideas we want to see in “Game X” someday.

First, any combination system should encourage its own use.  I know how ridiculously obvious this sounds, but it amazes me how often I find the Everquest 2 Heroic Opportunity system actually gets in the way of itself.  It’s not just clunky…but it’s actually counterproductive many times to use the system.  It’s not that the rewards for the system aren’t decent.  It’s just that the effort to get the rewards is often not worth the effort, and many times the effort involved to complete the combo can actually involve using skills that aren’t immediately useful right now – but more on that in a bit.  The bottom line – I can think of no game (no, not even Final Fantasy XI) that has a combo system that really, really encourages its own use.

Any combination system should have a visible interactive effect that feels like a combo.  Oh, I’m not talking about a brand new spell effect that just appears.  I mean the effect should be relevant.  If character A is a fighter and character B is a healer, then the combination they create between the two of them should involve them together in some way.  Either the priest suddenly places a holy aura on the fighter’s sword for a moment, or the fighter suddenly jumps throws his shield in front of the priest for a moment, or something.  For the love of Mike, it’s a combo – not two folks doing their own thing individually.  Seriously, when I think of combos between different game characters, I immediately think of X-Men  Legends titles (Collossus and Wolverine performing the Fastball Special) and the Suikoden games. 

What about command options instead?  I’ve been playing a lot of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos lately, and some of the command abilities there are pretty good. The “captains” (aka: fighter/melee types) are very, very good at single combat, and in taking a regiment of spearman and turning them into a virtually supernatural fighting entity. There’s several ways something like this could be emulated within an MMO. 

One major way would be to tie combos even more firmly into grouping (duh!).  However, the main difference would be that combo starters would be less random and more controlled..and that advancing in skill as a “leader” would actually open up more and better combo starters.  These functions would lead to more value for the combo system in groups with fairly well defined “leaders”.

These combos might lead to short term buffs/debuffs or blessings that stay up for a limited amount of time (making certain types of damage more powerful, or helping defend a group from a different type of attack).

Keep these functions short term to preserve the tactical value. Instead of cooldown timers on players that affect all abilities, only allow X number of abilities to be in use at the same time (something similar to a Concentration limit used in EQ2).
Fighters might start with a concentration/focus/tactical skill of 1, allowing only one single basic “Tactic” to be in use at a time. More experienced or skilled fighters might have a higher tactical skill allowing the use of more involved, complicated combinations of tactics (i.e. – can use more short term “Tactic” buffs at the same time).

Give very distinctive sound/visual cues to the fighter “Tactics”. An “Officer” class character using his “Flanking Manuever Command” should not only have a very audible command associated with it (e.g. – voice emote, specific trumpet blast, specific drum beat, etc.), but should also have a particle effect of some sort, or a specific icon/name that appears in a specific UI element to inform the group that right now, attacks to the side/rear of the target perform extra damage. 

Combinations could occur from using certain, specific tactics together. Using the above “Flanking Manuever” Tactic at the same time a scout style character uses the very short term “Short Cut!” group ability might trigger the special “Caught Flatfooted” effect which stops the target from being able to turn or reposition temporarily.

Basically, the idea would revolve around group or raid leaders getting special abilities based on the Planetside concept of Command levels (similar, but not exactly the same as the old Everquest concept of group or raid leadership experience/levels). 

Allow for any class to be a leader, but the specific leadership abilities might be flavored more toward the class. Fighters might add more strategic bonuses for the group’s combinations, whereas a Priest might add more mystical bonsues (additional power regeneration or other divine gifts).

The group/raid leadership skills/abilities would be relatively class specific, so a Warrior class wouldn’t have the same Leadership abilities at level 5 as a Druid class would.

In addition, you’d get a small amount of leadership experience any time you’re the leader of a group that accomplishes anything worth accomplishing (group dungeon named, scripted events, raids, etc..). Having more folks in your group means more group experience (likewise for raids).

It’s just a quick idea (and one I’ve posted elsewhere, actually), but I think it’s at least one idea on how to make a “combo” system a bit more sensical, while at the same time encouraging more grouping to begin with.

First Video Footage of Unrest at EQ2 Warcry.

Posted: February 19, 2007 by Kendricke in Preview, Warcry

The initial file is large, but worth it! This exclusive high quality footage shows the first video preview of the new Estate of Unrest instanced group dungeon currently undergoing trials on the Test server.


43.3Mb, Windows Media 9 format

The Way We See Our Worlds

Posted: February 15, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

Dasein said something over on the Nerfbat forums that got me to thinking:

Dasein wrote:

Why do you assume creatures are using sight? Smell, sound, ground vibration, pheremones, thermal signature, life force or magical aura might give away your position. I’ve always wondered why alternate forms of detection are not more fully developed in most games. I’d like to see a game at least take smell into account.

I think that would be great.

I actually had a rather interesting exchange on a very similar subject just 2 weeks ago in San Diego with one of the top SOE developers. I asked why the lighting in Everquest 2 was brightened at nighttime or within dungeons and why racial vision was essentially a novelty fluff item when it had the potential to be so much more.

The general response was that it was annoying to players to be unable to see farther, especially after they’d already gotten used to being able to see farther.

I see the point he was making, but I still disagree to an extent. I believe that a lot of the immersive “mood” in a game comes about from how well you can place yourself into the position of the character without having to think about it.

My friends and I love to mock the Blair Witch Project now. However, at the time of its release, a lot of us were buying into it and the first time I saw the movie in the theatre, I was scared out of my wits. It wasn’t because the movie itself was scary to me, or because of what I could see – but rather because of what I couldn’t see, and how I found myself thinking back to every camping trip I’d ever taken and how much my imagination ran wild.

Fast forward a few years and I’m playing Resident Evil 2 with the lights out, and every few scenes something else causes me to jump. Maybe something moves by the window. Maybe a lightbulb flickers just right. Maybe it’s a strange noise. Whatever it is/was, the game had me spellbound all the way through.

I think that having a darker world overall (especially at night, or in dungeons) where you can’t see individuals in your group if they move outside of your torch light. There could be spiders hidden in the walls or even on the ceiling of the cavern you’re crawling…but you might not see them till you pass right under them. I love that idea. It’s typically something horribly implemented in games like World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 (it’s slightly better in old Everquest, though).

Add in some additional “vision” types like sonic vision (think Pitch Plack/Riddick Chronicles), hybrid infrared/ultraviolet, or even “smell” vision and you could have an interesting (and useful) set of racial (or spell/potion) enhanced visions. Go one step further and take a page from the Earthdawn PnP game and bring in Astral Sight for casters, some artifacts, and perhaps a magically imbued race and suddenly you can introduce “true forms” of some fairly nasty planar beasts (or the ability to sense auras, etc.).

Non-Traditional Rewards

Posted: February 14, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the idea of non-traditional or even ‘fluff” rewards.   Most of these are specific to Everquest 2 right now, but could easily apply to other games (now or in the future): 

Emotes as Rewards:

 I was very pleased to see the idea that one of the rewards for this year’s Erollisi day is a choice between two different emotes. This is a long overdue and innovative reward idea that I feel could be expanded upon. For example, imagine some quest rewards that allowed for the long missing /rofl emote. Imagine a /sworddance emote or even specific /classdance emotes.

Each of these could be fun rewards built into quest lines that would advance the game without directly awarding gear or further cluttering hotkeys with “fluff spells”.

Moods as Rewards:

Similar to the above, I’d like to see more /moods used as rewards. Ideally, this would lead to special alternate /emotes that only work with certain moods. For example, earning the “/mood silly” mood might lead to a different type of “/dance”. A “/mood drunk” might lead to a very interesting version of “/flirt”.

Signatures for Signatures:

Imagine new signature quest lines that ended with an in-game memorial being placed publically that actually states the name/guild/date of the first person to complete a particular quest line. Really interesting quests could involve a statue being erected based on the character model of the first person (though that involves art assets). The idea here is loosely based on the old “Kendricke was here” markings that appeared all over the old world in original release.

Claiming the Land:

Imagine if certain dungeons or other instances would start to include your guild design on the tapestries within, based on whether or not you’d completed this particular dungeon/setting/difficulty already. You could take it a step further to only show such flags in the specific areas already completed. This could work very well in new guild raids.

Dungeon Replay:

Complete the Obelisk of Blight dungeon right now and you get…to do it again later if you want. What if completing it the first time opened access to a second story taking place in the same dungeon. Now that you’ve defeated the forces in the Tower, they’ve begun to send an army of Nightbloods to begin repairs on the same dungeon (something similar to Nek 2 and Nek 3 even…but with prerequisites).

You could set it up on solo dungeons, even. Complete this dungeon by yourself, and now you’ve opened the group version. Complete the group version, and you open an even more difficult solo version…which opens a new, more difficult group version.

An advantage here is that few art assets would need to be created and it adds a legitimate immersive purpose to reusing the same geometry/maps.

New Quested Recipes:

I’d love the idea that you could only receive certain recipes if you completed certain quests (there could be multiple paths to gaining recipes, mind you). What if you had to fulfill an old monk’s request to recreate an old family recipe for a particular wine he used to love, and as part of the reward for completing the rather long quest line, you get the old family recipe for yourself (product could be no value/no trade).

Unlock new UI features:

What if helping the gnomes in Steamfont gave you access to a new tinkered timepiece…and that could be used to replace the sun/moon dial on your UI if you wanted.