Archive for April, 2007

Not Much New on the News

Posted: April 20, 2007 by Kendricke in 38 Studios, Interviews, The Gaming Industry

If you didn’t get to see it today, Curt Schilling and Brett Close talked up 38 Studios on CNBC today.  There wasn’t too much that we hadn’t heard before.  We already knew about the team.  We knew about the location.  We knew about the generalized statements to one day lead the industry. 

About the only new thing that was relatively specific was the tentative release date for 38’s first game:  September 2010.  Though that’s obviously up in the air, the fact that any date at all has been announced is a major shift from traditional MMO design. 

Most companies tend to give very broad ideas regarding release dates, suggesting “sometime in 2008” or “Winter of ’09”.  Only when the eventual date starts to near do most companies start to announce more information publically, and even then, many times the eventual date either surprises us (as with Everquest 2) or is moved near the last minute (as with Burning Crusade).

What might not be immediately obvious is the fact that this essentially confirms a project plan has been written up deep within the 38 Studios offices.  One assumption we might be able to draw from this is what general phase the game could be in based on knowledge of staffing levels and general resource deployment.  We know when the Maynard office was secured.  We know when the majority of staff were brought onboard.  We know when the company was formed.  And we know when Brett Close was brought on to captain the ship.

Now…we have a tentative date that tells us we’re looking at roughly 42-43 months before this date is met.   Now, I can’t say what 38 would do (and frankly, I’m not sure how traditional they’ll be approaching the process), but if I were building the plan for this I’d probably have requirements and analysis wrapping up about now with a roughly 9-12 month design cycle leading into/overlapping a 24-30 month development/construction phase set to start in the first quarter of 2008.  That would give a nice 6-10 month testing phase, with actual release in early 3rd quarter, 2010. 

If it were me, I’d expect to bring on a second major wave of hiring to start relatively soon for lower and mid level conceptual designers and artists (not to meantion administrative and business side resources), with a third wave of staff (heavy on lower level programmers and CG artists) to come onboard in late 2007 in time for the heavy coding and bulk art assets which would start going in around the turn of ’08.

Again, that’s just my quick armchair projections based on nothing more than my own  experience and speculations on what I think might be most likely (unless they just go off the wall and try some Agile/FLSS methodology).  I could very well be way off on my projections.  If so, chalk it up to wild eyed enthusiasm and Monday morning quarterbacking.  If anyone thinks they have a better/different opinion, I’d sure love to hear it. 

We could even start up a sort of office pool on the subject.  😉

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A Case for Faster Gear Swapping.

Posted: April 10, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

Don’t get me wrong.  I like the revamp of the macro system in Everquest 2.  I do.  Just being able to set up different gear set keys made the macro change nice.  Adding in the ability to alter the icons to whatever I wanted made it better.  Topping it off by adding in timers to the macros based on the first ability/spell listed was just icing on the cake.

That said, I really wish that the developers had just taken it a few extra steps further.  For one thing, you can only set up 10 steps per macro.  Now, that might seem like a lot, but for those players who started to set up gear sets, it started to get messy.  Most players I know actually needed one or two slots per gear set.  By setting up the macros to allow for more spots, they could have alleviated the issue.

Of course,  why use the macro system for gear sets at all?  Even Diablo allowed for some semblance of gear swapping during fights, right?  With the touch of the “W” key, you could instantly switch from one set of weapons to another.  Depending on what (or who) you were fighting, this could be a great boon – especially during combat. 

Now, some time back, Everquest 2 made it harder to switch gear during combat.  It was necessary, really, because players had figured out early on that the best way to keep going in dungeons without needing backup gear was to simply remove all of your gear when a wipe looked likely.  Since in-game line commands have long existed that allow for removing equipped gear, many players developed macroed hotkeys in those days that would instantly remove all gear with the touch of a single button.  Go on and die all you want…the gear’s still in tip top shape, right?

Even UI designers got in on the trick and started including buttons built right into their mods that would strip all gear with a single click.  Players who wanted to remove gear didn’t need to have a hotkey anymore – or even know how to create one in the first place.  Just load up the right UI, and *poof* watch your gear repair costs plummet.

Now, to be fair, repair costs WERE high then.  It wasn’t till after repair kits were introduced that mending fees were dropped significantly.  Of course, having repair kits at all removed a great deal of the underlying motivation to remove gear in the first place. 

For those who either weren’t there or don’t remember, raiding in early Everquest 2 was much harder than it is now, because you basically had 10 deaths in any dungeon before your gear was stripped out.  If you were smart/well off/both, you had backup gear that was almost (but not quite) as good as your primary gear.  If you were smarter, you’d even wear that backup gear first till you got to a harder fight.  However, even then, it was only a matter of time before the raid force as a whole started to lose effectiveness due to gear hitting 0%.

By having the “remove gear” buttons, raid forces could effectively continue to fight much longer – through dozens of wipes – provided they recognized the incoming wipe, and hit the button in time.  It essentially removed the only real pain of dying that was left in the game (Soul shards?  Those were removed aeons ago…and no one at top level cares about experience debt). 

So, eventually, the developers grew wise and slapped a 2 second built in delay on gear changes during combat.  Players got around this by /yelling to break combat, then removing gear.  Developers responded by putting in a two minute timer that pretty much stopped the situation cold:  Any gear worn by your character in the previous two minutes leading up to his or her death took damage. 

Whoa!  What’s that again?  That’s right – any gear worn by your character within the 2 minutes of death will take damage.  Now, it seemed like a good idea at the time and it pretty much had the effect of stopping gear stripping cold.

Fast forward to today.  Not only can you take repair kits into a dungeon with you, but you can also now have a tinkerer call up a full mender that can repair every person in your raid (oh, you pay for it…but it’s still usually worth it).  The days of having to stop a raid after people started to eat that 10th death are a thing of the distant past.  Today, so long as you have the money and the time…you can stay in a raid zone as long as you feel like.  Die all you want…we’ll just repair more. 

And yet, to this day, we still have the 2 second delay on gear swapped during combat:  the first attempt at stopping gear stripping that proved to be largely ineffective, after all was said and done, anyway.  What’s the point?

Personally, I’d argue that the delay should be removed, finally.  It never did what it was supposed to do, and in the post-achievement era, it actually makes it more difficult to use diverse achievement builds (specifically gear limited abilities).  With the new macro system in place, it would make a lot of sense to equip an item, use the achievement that requires that item, then swap back to the original item.  Achievements that have long languished in the backs of spell books collecting dust, would suddenly become useful with the ability to swap gear instantly once more. 

Beyond that, a player could determine during combat that a different resist set might help better…and hit the macro to swap gear for it.  It’s risky, because the player might die within 2 minutes of the swap, taking hits on both sets of gear, but that’s a cost/benefit scenario that players could decide upon individually.  An offensive fighter might suddenly be called upon to help off tank.  A scout might need to beef up some defense before jousting a particularly nasty AE, then swap back to DPS gear.

Is it less immersive?  No less immersive than the game was the entire first year it was out.  No less immersive than gear in your bag taking damage when you die (but not if you live while fighting a dragon, mind you). 

The original reasons for putting in the 2 second delay simply no longer exist.  I’d argue that since the particular problem no longer exists, a fix is no longer necessary – especially a fix that never really worked in the first place.