We be Illin

Posted: August 21, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like. 

-Jackie Mason

I’m sick.  No, I’m really sick.  I’m also not the only one. 

I’ve been dealing with this since FanFaire, and wouldn’t you know it, at least five members of my guild are still dealing with similar symptoms.  The doc says it’s a bacterial infection which has found a home in the warm, moist linings of my throat and lungs.  I’m on antibiotics, codeine, and even an inhaler.  Apparently this particular bug takes about 3-4 weeks to fully run its course.  Awesome.

And yet, even this has me thinking about MMO’s.  Is illness something that could be done in such a way as to enhance an MMO experience?  Or is it just an annoyance which impedes gameplay?

We’ve all seen “disease” in MMO’s.  Typically, most games handle disease only in the context of spells or poisons.  It’s generally a damage over time sort of effect that can be cured by a potion, medkit, or healer type character. 

In Everquest II, back in early 2005, SOE used a world wide communicable disease event to launch their first Adventure Pack, “The Bloodline Chronicles”.  Both players and NPC’s alike could catch the disease and then pass it on.  Get too close to someone with the disease and suddenly you had a sickly green bubbly ooze spell effect, and your character would start using a emote which essentially amounted to vomiting.  On top of it all, there was a small stat effect.

Unfortunately, the way the disease was implemented left it wide open to abuse.  Players developed no immunity to the disease, so even after curing the “plague” several times, it was still easy enough to catch the sickness again.  Top it off with griefing players who rushed around while sick to every possible NPC they could find and suddenly you found players avoiding any populated areas at all, just to avoid the effects.

From a purely socialogical standpoint, it was fascinating to watch.  From a player’s standpoint, it was annoying.

But was this a case of a bad concept…or just a bad implementation?

Right now, I’m constantly tired.  I’m achey.  I’m distracted.  I’m miserable.  There’s simply no mistaking the fact that illness has an effect on me.  Yet, each illness is also different.  Each illness has a definate set of syptoms that can sideline me in different ways.  Sometimes I find myself feverish.  Other times I’m naseous.  Sometimes I’m weak.  Other times I’m freezing cold – or burning up!

In most pen and paper RPG’s, illness is given special sections for Gamemasters to take into account.  Of course, in most pen and paper RPG’s, illness can enhance a gameplay session.  I wrote several campaigns around the protaganists seeking rare cures to a mysterious plague affecting a local village, or where one of the player’s own characters was affected by a freak illness which was caught through exposure to some particularly trigger (bad water, bad food, bug sting, wound from a filthy animal’s attack, etc.).

Could disease or illness be handled in an MMO in such a way as to enhance the gameplay?  What if sleep were a factor?  What if a lack of sleep were treated similarly to an illness.  After all, some of the symptoms of a lack of sleep would be consistent with being sick:  you’re tired; you’re achey; you’re distracted; you’re miserable.

It might seem counterintuitive to MMO design to create a game where a character starts to get “loopy” after a few hours of gameplay. This would certainly seem to fall under the “annoying” school of thought as opposed to “enhancing”.

However, just for a moment, consider these possible design concepts.  Think of them from a player’s perspective.  Ask yourself if you’d actually enjoy these ideas or not:

1 – Rest state.  Everyone from World of Warcraft to Everquest 2 has used a system to give more experience to “well rested” players.  Even Ultima Online had the “hour of power” system 10 years ago, where the first hour of gameplay provided the most gains.  Now, Vanguard is introducing their own “rest” system where players who log out near taverns will be rewarded with more experience. 

Providing rewards for being rested (without being punitive to unrested characters) seems like a bit of a win/win.  Take the system a step further and provide more options for Tavern play (more on that in a minute), and you could easily set up Inns as the social hubs of your gaming world. 
2 – Camps.  Though the term “camp” is often used in games to indicate “logging out slowly”, we have actually seen player created camps used in other MMOs, from Star Wars Galaxies to Vanguard. 

The idea is that characters would have the ability to set up camps in the wilderness, where they could regain their “rest” more quickly.  In effect, the camps become impromptu minihubs. 

One of the big factors in Everquest that didn’t exist in Everquest 2 was the concept of “camp checks”.  A big part of this was due to the fact that players in Everquest 2 are essentially trained to grind-on-the-go.  You don’t need to have healers and casters sit to regain mana faster, and monsters don’t typically respawn as quickly as they did in the old days.  Hence, scoot-and-loot became more efficient than  sit-and-pull. 

So, what if in addition to restful properties, better camps might also provide proximity buffs – small healing regenerations, minor defensive bonuses, small boosts to damage, etc.  Set it up so only certain classes could set up the best camps (or set them up more quickly), and you’ve got a bit of a additional value set up for some classes.  More than that, you’ve given the idea of sit-and-pull a second life – and even created miniature social hubs for certain areas. 

Only allow camps (or at least certain types of camps) to be set up in certain areas, and you’ve created a way to help balance the system out a bit. 
3 – Illness as villian.  Some of the best campaigns I ever wrote for some of my old Earthdawn and Mechwarrior campaigns used microbes as antagonists.  Whether it was a biological agent being released by a terrorist group on an unsuspecting planet (and the players just happened to be local free trader/smugglers working in a nearby system) or a mysterious plague which afflicted only the young girls of a local village (and the players had to quest to find some rare cure/hard-to-find priest), illness itself can be a great plot device. 

Even if a formal illness system isn’t just let loose upon the game world (excuse the pun), designers could still utilize disease in larger scale quests.  Perhaps during one stage of the quest, a player becomes inflicted by a disease (either as a catalyst to the quest itself, or perhaps it’s the same disease the hero was already trying to find a cure for someone else).  Till the quest is completed, the player remains afflicted. 

Annoying?  Perhaps, but in this case it’s also enhancing the gameplay experience is the quest is written correctly or in such a way to help the player feel the character is actually part of the larger world (and not just afflicted by a “stupid game mechanic”). 

As well, even outside of questing, imagine a dungeon steeped in filth which has a built in timer.  However, instead of just putting a clock in the UI, imagine the players having to rush through the dungeon faster – because the longer they remain inside, the more affected they are by the disease inherent in the place. 
There’s plenty of ways to use disease within an MMO to actually enhance gameplay, to draw players into the world as opposed to just annoying them with a random mechanic.  I’d like to see more MMO’s using the ideas of sleep and illness as more than just backstory or afterthoughts. 

In the meantime, I’m going to drink more hot tea and try not to think about how much more I’d rather be sleeping. 

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Comments
  1. Tallika says:

    The Plague in EQ2 was an extremely positive event and was implemented in a rock solid fashion. How was it positive you ask?? People were seeking out healers for a cure, which I’d count as social interaction, as the biggest issue that the disease provided was a negation of innate out of combat Regen. Hardly what I’d call an overwhelming burden to be suffered. When other games, such as a certain unnamed 800lb gorilla for one, did a similar thing it was not so positive of an experience. Newbies and npc’s across the world were dying like it was the an actual Level 5 plague running rampant.

  2. kendricke says:

    I was there too, and as a Templar I was having a blast on some nights…but I can’t say I missed the plague when it was finally cured on Guk (and we were one of the first servers done). Just as I sometimes switch to an alt to avoid being constantly asked to join groups now, I found myself overwhelmed with cure requests at the time. Nights where I just wanted to hunt with guildmates turned into constant harrassment by other players seeking a cure so they could go and continue soloing. Of course, the moment these players came near our group, the entire bunch of us would take ill half the time.

    I knew several players – and entire guilds, really – who were avoiding any populated areas they could just to get away from the annoyance of the plague, especially once the novelty of the event wore off.

    Perhaps one thing SOE could have done differently would have been to shut the even down sooner instead of tying it to a specific raid event. It’s a similar criticism that’s been levied against SOE for other events they’ve let go long (the 2005-06 Frostfell event lasted for nearly 2 months).

    As a short term event, the plague was fine. It was different, it was novel, and it was even a little immersive. That didn’t mean it wasn’t negatively impacting players who just wanted to log in and play for an hour or two without worrying about having to hunt down a healer.

    Even the players who liked the plague weren’t exactly still excited about it months later. At that point, many players were truly getting sick of…well, of being sick.

  3. Tallika says:

    Has there been any event that has gone into the game that you’ve actually liked?? Because I’ve been seeing you write over the years that you want more events and more dynamic and immersive content but so far I’ve not seen you say one positive thing about anything that has been done. I know you hate the frostfell events…. more so cause we all pelt people with snowballs. I don’t recall you having anything good to say about the halloween event either. Nor the building of the spires or the griff towers.

    For the plague event i was just starting out in the game and was playing a variety of alts over on the Qeynos side and i didn’t let the plague effect me. I kept eating my food and leveling. I also recall how everyone erupted in cheers across all the zone channels when the cure was finally found. THAT kind of response would never have happened if the event was so transparent as to be unnoticed by all players. It might have been considered a nuscience by many but it wasn’t an overwhelming hardship that was difficult to live with over the short term. In the end i felt that it was a very positive event, and one that all of us look back with like a shared memory of “where were you when the plague ravaged the land” kind of thing. I realize you like to have your cake and eat it too but in reality you can’t have it both ways all the time.

    And with Frostfell you know as well as I do that SOE has their major events tied into their LU patching schedule. They start with a big patch and they end with a big patch, not on the hotpatching but the LU patching. This year the LU got a small scheduling bump so that explains why it didn’t leave in a timely manner. but really… did it really cause such a big problem that whole threads needed to be devoted to the issue?

  4. kendricke says:

    First, I’m not sure where you’re getting the impression I dislike events, because I’ve participated in most of them and enjoyed most of them – actually, I’ve enjoyed all of them, for the most part.

    But after a few quick searches, I can’t find a single reference where I’ve made a public opinion known on any of the live events (except the Plague) and most of those posts where positive anyway. I’ve only ever used the word “snow” three times in any posts ever, and not once in regards to snowballs. I’ve never once referred to the Frostfell event at all, having only used the word itself just once. I’ve never once referred to the griffin towers. I didn’t actually participate in the Spires event, so I can’t imagine ever posted an opinion either way on it that wasn’t entirely general in nature, but to satisfy any curiosities on the subject, I’ve never referred to the “Spires event, either. I’d love to discuss the Halloween event, but again, I’ve never made mention of it as far as I can find.

    Since you’ve been seeing me write over the years, perhaps you could help me out a bit and provide a link or two to some of the negative things I’ve said about these things so I’m not as such a disadvantage in responding to your accusations? I’m sure there’s something out there floating around on the web that lead you to believe I’m against live events, but I’ll be damned if I can actually find anything of the sort – perhaps you can shed some light on it for me?

    To clarify what it is I actually dislike about events are implementations which allow players to grief one another or exploit the system. I dislike event implementations which allow players to gain 20+ Achievements in a week just from monopolizing snowball tag contests; or where dozens or even hundreds of players can work on building a structure only to be suddenly ignored when a raid guild jumps in to kill the dragon which shows up; or where a couple of players can use snowballs to kill dozens of brand new Fae players on PVE servers when they figure out that snowballs cancel the Fae Glide ability. …or when players use the bugs and mechanics of the spreading plague event to prevent players from leaving combat, zoning, or even camping out properly.

    That’s right. Even in the “rock solid” implementation of the Plague event, there were a myriad of bugs. This should hardly come as a surprise considering it was SOE’s first major in-game event. Did anyone really expect there to be no bugs? Does anyone still expect no bugs? Of course there were bugs. There were flaws. There was griefing. There was angst. There was annoyance. Some servers blew through the event in a few weeks. Other servers took months.

    The annoyance I personally felt toward the Plague event had nothing to do with the idea of the event. I thought the idea itself was original, novel, and imaginative. I just found it annoying (even on Guk, where we were done with the Plague event in weeks) to have to deal with CONSTANT requests for cures, even when I was just trying to harvest or quest or group with guildmates for the night. Some players weren’t just persistant, either. Some players would come out to us, beg a cure from me, then unintentionally infect some member of my group while standing there asking – while we were in combat. Since some of the bugs associated with the plague were preventing some players from leaving combat while infected (or even after being cured in some cases), it involved relogging for some of our group members – which is most certainly a gameplay effect.

    Was it world shattering to have to relog from time to time, or to interrupt gameplay constantly from players who kept getting infections? No, but it was a source of annoyance, which is what I believe were the exact words I chose to use to describe some aspects of the event.

    In any regards, SOE obviously learned a lot of lessons from the Plague event. The next big event (freeing of the Frogloks) came with both a server wide AND a personal quest associated with it. Every player could unlock a Froglok character by running a personal quest, without having to wait weeks or even months for a raiding guild to finally complete the Spirits of the Lost event. In fact, there hasn’t been another event since the Plague that was really similar to how the Plague itself was carried out. Since the Plague, events have been designed to be optional and voluntary. If you don’t want to participate in an event, you’re not required to (which is really how an event should be, typically).

    Events since have been generally well-implemented and typically well received. There haven’t been major complaints about most of the events, except generally to complain about duration. When Frostfell lasted for two months, there were a sudden flurry of threads complaining about the candy canes and holiday music (especially as February started to come into view). When the Plague started to approach it’s fourth month on some servers, there were definately players who spoke up about it.

    All that said, this entry wasn’t really about the Plague event anyway. It wasn’t really about live events. I only referrenced the event during a few of the 23 paragraphs here, and even then only to illustrate one way in which design studios have used disease in-game outside of the standard norm, and to raise the question of idea vs. implementation.

    As I’ve already clarified here, I’m firmly of the mind that it was a great idea with a less than perfect implementation. As always, the devil’s in the details and the road to Hell was paved with good intentions (and other such similar applicable cliches). I certainly don’t fault SOE designers for putting forth a good effort then, and actually thought they did a good thing overall. However, there were certainly ways in which the event could have been better, and I think you’d find more than a couple of the SOE developers would be in agreement with me on that.

    Generally speaking, the concept of disease and illness in gaming is one that stretches back decades. From those first charts and sections of the original Dungeonmaster’s guide into everything from NetHack to the Wizardry series, illness has definately had an impact on the forebearers of MMO’s. However, rarely do we see character illness used as more than a generalized spell effect (typically similar to poisons) or as an occasional event in today’s MMO’s.

  5. Tallika says:

    thats a nice bit of reading… like War and Peace. Anyhow its a waste of time for me to bother attempting to dig up anything as after the SOE forum revamp most of your rants circled the drain. like i would even care to anyway… lol.

    oh and while on the topic of illness.. here is a sick little site that is stealing your content. http://www.mmowtf.com/ just thought i’d let you know about that.

  6. kendricke says:

    Ok?

    So basically you claim I don’t like SOE’s live events, though I actually do. You’re claiming I dislike the Frostfell event, though I actually do. I apparently dislike the Frostfell snowballs, even though I actually held a snowball event in my guild (based largely on the fact that we were originally founded as a Minnesota based guild).

    You claim you’ve been reading my negative posts for years on the subject of SOE’s live events, and yet you can’t pull up a single post to corraborate your memory on the subject – claiming that all rants which support your argument were conviently erased in the SOE forum revamp even though several other posts I’ve made responding (largely positively) to posts on live events exist as far back as early 2005 – during the Plague event. That darned revamp!

    There’s no real way to prove one way or the other then. You have your memory of what you say you’ve seen. I have my memory of what I say I’ve written. You feel that I’ve written “rants”. I feel I almost never write “rants”, particularly on the official forums. It could be a matter of perception. It could be a bit of the Rashamon effect. Either way, I can’t argue your beliefs except to tell you that how I actually feel/have felt is not how you’re telling me I feel/have felt regarding the events. I’m really not sure how to convince you that what I feel is not how you believe I feel.

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