Vanquish Evil With the Power of ROCK!

Soon I will begin my journey as a Game Designer on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. I am immensely excited and can’t wait to create enjoyable experiences for all of you in Azeroth! After the 38 Studios turmoil and uncertainty of the past several months, I couldn’t imagine a more positive scenario for my family and career. As you might expect, ye olde Nerfbat is going to suffer and revert to ghost town status while I work hard at making great games again. Thank you for all of your well-wishes and support, and I hope to see you beyond the Mists of Pandaria!

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of my game development career begins. Perhaps it’s more like Chapter 3 or 4… no matter. I can now accurately claim that I am “between jobs.” I am very excited to begin my journey with the best game development company out there! Learn more ambiguous information in Chapter 2 of my not-really-ongoing series of text adventures. If you can’t figure out where I’m headed after playing the game, I would advise you not to admit it if you don’t like being criticized.

It’s Time to Slay the Dragon

Sometimes one needs inspiration of a serious tone.

Sometimes, I am willing to be inspiration’s provider.

Sometimes, one just needs to slay the dragon.

More Kingdoms of Amalur

People keep leaking videos of KoA (aka Project Copernicus), and I thought I’d link to them to show off some of the work we did on the game. I wish I had the foresight to smuggle videos out of the office, but I was a good boy and decided to abide by the NDA (wish I’d at least taken some videos of content I created, but hindsight doesn’t do me much good). Anyway, check these out:

  • Valiance: One of the main capital cities in Kingdoms of Amalur
  • Jottunhessen: The other main capital city in KoA before optimization
  • Jottunhessen 2: Post-optimization
  • Kotaku Videos: Character creation and Vino Terra (w/ some gameplay)
  • KoA Music: Some Kingdoms of Amalur music by Gene Rozenberg

Also check out Danuser’s website for explanations of the Valiance and Jottunhessen videos. I wish we could have finished the game for you all.

Impossible Studios

Congratulations to my old compatriots in Maryland (38 Studios Baltimore/Big Huge Games) who are now part of Epic Games’ Impossible Studios. I wish you folks all the best and I’m happy to see some positive come from the ashes of 38 Baltimore. I look forward to trying out Infinity Blade: Dungeons as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Find out more about this great news by checking out the press release: Epic Games Announces Impossible Studios!

The Laws of Online Communities

I went ahead and updated an ancient page called The Laws of Online Communities. It includes some of my observations of online communities over my many years on all sides of the game development fence (player, fansite creator, community relations manager, and designer). I added a few more laws to the mix, and I’ve mirrored them below.

Law #10: Developer posts are valuable as long as what they post has value. It’s great to allow for transparency and open communication between fans and your development team, but it is only valuable as long as what the team posts is useful. The Signal/Noise ratio doesn’t only apply to members of the community, it applies to the company as well.

Law #11: Never announce something before you’re 100% sure it’s going to happen. If it’s something very minor, it’s often okay to mention that you are thinking about doing it, but always be clear that it isn’t a sure thing. If it’s something major, don’t even go that far, or people will expect it to come to fruition even if you indicate that it may not.

Law #12: Never lie to your community. Honesty is the gateway to trust. It is better not to answer if you aren’t sure, and it is better to tell the hard truth even if players aren’t going to like it. They will respect you and your company more for your honesty.

Law #13: Never try to mask a negative as a positive. A nerf is a nerf, a buff is a buff. Players are smart. You can’t fool them into thinking something is a good thing if it isn’t. If something that players perceive overall as negative has positives, feel free to highlight them, but don’t pretend that everything is pie and cake if it isn’t.

Law #14: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it” – Kay, Men in Black. Build relationships with individuals, and realize that an individual can be reasoned with. People are smart. Treat members of your community as individuals, not just as a faceless crowd.

Law #15: Encourage and reward constructive contributions from community members. Whether positive or negative, acknowledge and thank players who provide constructive feedback, organization, and sanity to your community.

To see the rest, check out the page: http://www.nerfbat.com/laws-communities/

Rise Up

The Trailer You Weren’t Supposed to See for a Game You’ll Never Play.” Apt title. Sad reality. Someone leaked an incomplete Copernicus trailer to Kotaku. Some of the assets were temporary and the voiceover is placeholder. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch these days. So many things in there that I worked on in my 5.5+ years at 38. I wish you could have experienced our world.

MMO Development Lesson #47

Time is a player’s most precious resource. Use it wisely. Do not create time-sinks for the sake of taking up their time. Don’t make them waste their time doing things that aren’t fun in order to get to things that are. Don’t arbitrarily create timers that will be likely to spend a player’s time. Don’t make a death penalty that needlessly makes  a player sit around doing nothing. This is a fairly straightforward lesson, but it’s easy to violate if you aren’t careful.

Some time-wasters are fairly obvious. For example, you don’t want to make a death penalty that makes a player uselessly weak for 15 minutes. You’ve just wasted a quarter of an hour of a player’s time. Some are a little more subtle. For example, if you make a daily instance run/quest/whatever have a 24 hour no-repeat timer, you’re going to waste a player’s time. Why? If I complete the quest at 8:00PM on day 1, I can’t do it until 8:00PM on day 2. It takes me 10 minutes to do it, so on day 3, I can’t do it until 8:10PM. I might also fail to start the quest instantly, so I will slowly push the time I can do the quest later and later. How do you solve it? Either make the daily timer actually correspond to once a day (e.g. you can do it on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on) or adjust the timer back from 24 hours (to something like 22 hours).

This extends to poor quest design as well which is, again, a fairly subtle thing. Do you have the player searching for 3 copies of an object that only drops 10% of the time? That could theoretically take forever. Instead, you should institute a fail-safe system that prevents this worst case scenario. How? Check out this drop chance escalation simulation. In short, every time a player fails to get quest loot, they are more likely to get it on the next try. You can also calculate the maximum kills necessary for any scenario. And, if you’re into pain, you can look at the normal way of doing things. (Note: Please don’t use these TOO much or you could make the web server very sad and I might have to take them down. Thanks!)

A player’s time should never be needlessly wasted. It is a valuable resource and should always be treated respectfully.

MMO Development Lesson #46

Remember than an MMO is social. This lesson goes hand-in-hand with Lesson #45. Massively multiplayer games are multiplayer, and they should be social. Unfortunately, a lot of games tend to fail in the social realm in many ways, and the genre needs to make strides to get back to its social roots.

Let me be clear here: I am not saying that you shouldn’t make solo content in an MMO. It is absolutely vital to accommodate solo play, and in most MMOs it is going to make up the majority of your content. However, soloable content is completely different from solo-only content.

Let’s use World of Warcraft as an example. If you have a quest to Kill 10 Rats in a cave and there are two other players around with the same quest, what goes through your mind? For me, it’s generally something like, “argh, I’m gonna have to compete for these quest updates.” That is the exact opposite reaction that players should have when they see someone else. The presence of other players should help you do your quest faster, not make it go slower and cause minor frustration.

There are many other examples in games of inherently–though usually unintentionally–antisocial features. This might get me crucified, but the Dungeon Finder in WoW is one of the biggest violators when it comes to discouraging socialization. I will admit that I use it repeatedly (to my own detriment; if I haven’t explained that in a previous post, it’ll probably be my next MMO Rant subject), but it allows people to group up with no socialization, do an entire dungeon without speaking with each other (or connecting afterward because they’re on different servers), and allows trolls be held unaccountable for their actions. Great idea for a feature, but its negative social implications are pretty profound.

To drill down to my actual point: consider the social implications of everything you do in an MMO. Create features and content specifically intended to encourage positive socialization. Create, foster, and encourage communities to develop in and outside of your game. Look back at some of the older MMOs for ideas and come up with new ones. A focus on the social aspect of MMOs will help create a healthy community and will significantly reinforce player retention, but it takes a backseat in developers’ minds all too often.

MMO Development Lesson #45

Remember that an MMO is multiplayer. There are multiple lessons in that one phrase, but I’ll just split this one into two (the next lesson will cover the other half). One of the most important considerations when you’re making a decision about a quest, event, population, or feature is to consider the multiplayer implications of that decision. All too often I see content that isn’t multiplayer friendly; it’s developed with a single player in mind, and as soon as more than a few players are around, problems occur.

For example, content bottlenecks are pretty common with named bosses, particularly with the first major wave of players in any MMO. You get a quest to defeat High Lord Brekhalu and you ultimately find him where the quest said he’d be. Unfortunately, someone’s already fighting him or he’s just been killed. Find a way to fix it. Can you share credit to all players who helped defeat him? Can you trigger a near-instant respawn of the boss if someone who needs him is present? Can you make it so players summon him in some way (e.g. lighting a pyre or hitting a gong)?

Every decision should be made with multiplayer in mind. From the ground up (literally). The environments need to accommodate enough players, the mob population needs to be dense enough and have some form of respawn throttling (low mob population respawn acceleration), events and objectives need to account for multiple people, quests objective numbers need to be tuned against objective availability, intricate scripted sequences might best be left to instances, features should be multiplayer inclusive, etc.

The fact that MMOs are multiplayer is the genre’s greatest strength and greatest development challenge. Leverage it.