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.

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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.

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MMO Rant #16: Here Lies the Sandbox PvP MMO

Remember my MMO Rant series? Neither do I, but it turns out I used to rant now and then. It’s time to resurrect ye olde Grouchy Gnome and rant. In this series, I put on my gamer cap and act like an MMO player who doesn’t know what’s behind the curtain. Actually, since I’m not currently employed as a game developer, I am an MMO player! This’ll be easy!

What better topic for my first rant since last decade than one that is near and dear to my heart: Sandbox PvP MMOs. More specifically, how they don’t really exist. I know what you’re thinking: “Idiot, have you ever heard of EVE Online?” Okay, yes, I have heard of it and I’ve played quite a bit of it. Perhaps I should have qualified this further and specified fantasy sandbox PvP MMOs. I’m not going to. This is my blog.

What happened to them? Well, there weren’t many of them in the first place. Ultima Online was the first major sandbox PvP MMO. It was also the last to meet with much success in North America. Eventually, in order to survive, it split out into two parts of the world and got rid of sandbox PvP as a requirement. There were others that tried: Shadowbane, Darkfall, and EVE Online (okay I said it) to name a few.

To see why they haven’t generally worked out, let’s briefly examine what makes them so fun: Dominating other players, doing almost anything you want to do, exploiting, holding territory, griefing, taking things from other players… in short, the Wild West. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, it is fun as long as you’re one of the people doing those things to other people instead of having them done to you.

Why did it work early on? Because there were wolves and sheep. There were predators and prey. As other games came out, the sheep (prey) all flocked to other worlds like EverQuest where they were (relatively) safe from being directly impacted by other players. We were left with servers full of wolves fighting over the last scraps of roadkill.

Why did so many attempts at creating a new sandbox PvP MMO fail? There are many reasons. The obvious reason after reading my previous paragraph is that to recreate that original experience, there must be both wolves and sheep on one server. That’s not gonna happen when the sheep don’t have to play the same game as the wolves.

What other reasons are there? Some of it was simple inexperience. The developers responsible for attempting to recreate that experience simply didn’t have the experience or budget to do so. Sometimes it was scope. When you have a limited budget, you can’t expect to get all the features of a modern MMO in such a project and layer sandbox PvP on top of it. It simply can’t work.

Ultimately, the real problem is that the original sandbox PvP MMO is dead and buried. It’s gone. You can’t resurrect it even with the proper scope, the right talent, a publisher that understands what you’re trying to do, and limitless cash. But do not despair…

A great sandbox PvP MMO can still exist. You just have to set out to make a new kind of game. Get your head out of the past and come up with something new.

Can a sandbox PvP MMO still be fun without all the sheep? Why not? There are plenty of people out there who love fighting over territory and controlling parts of a game world. There are many who enjoy the challenge of fighting other players instead of only getting to fight NPCs. Many like being able to explore and use their heads to create fun for themselves.

Why can’t we make a game that this type of player will love? Can we not create the Wild West in an MMO again? What if we stop concerning ourselves so much with PCs as the wolves and sheep and instead focus more on them as Outlaws and Lawmen. What if we help facilitate this with rewards and punishment, by formalizing methods of territorial control, by providing some form of sheep as NPCs whose demise can impact other players?

Is it really possible? Could there be a sandbox PvP MMO in the future? “Yes,” I tell myself so I can sleep at night. There has to be a way. If side-scrollers could be resurrected, so can sandbox PvP MMOs. How did they do it? With novel ideas. They did it by embodying what made side-scrollers great but advancing the genre. They did it with passion and the understanding of how to make a side-scroller fun rather than musing about how great it would be if you could just resurrect side-scrollers exactly how they were and be successful.

It’s about time that we stop complaining that it’s impossible to make a sandbox PvP MMO because nobody will help you fund a AAA project. Stop trying to make WoW+ Sandbox PvP. Understand what made those games attractive and find a way to revitalize the genre with something new rather than just attempting to put a pretty face on something old.

What it’s going to take? A confluence of events? Perhaps. It’s possible that some other MMOs that don’t necessarily focus entirely on PvP will find a way to embody enough of the elements of a sandbox PvP MMO to make that style of play attractive to more players (Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning come to mind as games that dedicated portions of their worlds to a similar style of play).

The sandbox PvP MMO is dead in its original form, but it doesn’t mean it has to be gone for good. It’s only a matter of time before someone brings it back and does it right. I’d play. Would you?

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WoW First Impressions

A trip back in time to when World of Warcraft came out. People tend to forget that WoW is a mature game, and new MMOs are always compared against the current state of WoW rather than its state at release. While it’s not fair to new MMOs, it’s going to happen and… well, it is fair. As the game ages, it becomes even harder to be compared against it (e.g. think any game can have anywhere near as many zones at launch of any decent level of quality? Think again). Was this worth me coming out of hiding for? Probably not, but here’s your link: MMORPG.com’s First Impressions of World of Warcraft

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Minecraft, DDoS Attacks

First off, Minecraft is incredible. It’s got a bit of a learning curve but it is absolutely wonderful. It is going to create a new genre. There are so many places this can be taken there WILL be a new genre started by this game. Secondly, you people who are participating in the DDoS attack are complete idiots. You have no idea what it takes to make a game, and your child-like bitching is screwing over other players, not the person working his ass off on Minecraft. Get off your jackass horses and stop it so we can play. More about the DDoS attack here.

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Dear CCP, Your Customer Service Made Me Cry Inside

Just a little rant. It’s been almost 12 hours since I submitted a petition on their website. I decided to reactivate my account for the dozenth time today. It was a giant pain to even figure out which account I wanted to reactivate, in part because I had to be on a very specific login form to even get it to tell me anything (if you account isn’t active, most of the login forms just act as if you put in the wrong info). When I finally found the right one (yes, I have two or three and there’s only one I care about)… “Account is banned.”

Derp?

The last time I played was at least a year ago, and I played up until the subscription lapsed without ever having done anything against the ToS or being contacted by anyone official. I let my subscription run out, was never informed that the account was banned (for what reason, I have no idea), and they have no phone CS and are not responding to my petition to let me give them my money. I would also have noticed if an email was ever sent stating that my account was activated by a hacker.

Dear CCP, please advise. Why did you ban an innocent account holder and why won’t you respond to my please to let me give you cash moneys? Sometimes it’s hard being on the player end of things.

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Final Fantasy XIV: Fatigue != Grind Dampener

Yet another issue to take me out of hiding, albeit briefly, is the fatigue system in Final Fantasy XIV. If you don’t know about it yet, read up. My comments here are actually based on a response on Massively that asserts that players want a grind, and uses the complaints over the fatigue system as proof. I will only criticize very briefly. First of all, “grind” does not mean “gain experience for putting forth effort.” The grind is simply a state of mind that players get into. It’s negative, and everyone has a different threshold. Nomenclature aside, here’s my main criticism: Players don’t like to grind. What they do like is to be rewarded for their efforts. The fundamental concept of most MMOs is that Effort = Reward, and the fatigue system as defined breaks that paradigm. That is all.

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PK Your Savings Away? Don’t Mind if I Do

This is a post I didn’t publish about a month ago in response to EVE’s PLEX changes: “I’m curious as to the legal ramifications this may have. I’m guessing they’ve already figured any of those out because you can already sell PLEX, just not outside of the station you got them. Still, it’s $14.95 that can either be taken by another player or destroyed entirely in a blast. The latter is actually the scarier of the two for CCP, I think, because you’re now able to give them $$ for something that they can (be accused of) destroy(ing) via code.” Less than a month later, and someone destroyed more than $1000 of PLEX in one PvP battle. Continue Reading »

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Worst Idea Blizzard’s Ever Had

This is bad enough for me to come out of hiding. According to a post on the official forums, Blizzard will begin displaying everyone’s real first and last names with their forum posts. This is not only an invasion of privacy and something that will lead to stolen passwords and accounts even beyond the scope of Blizzard’s products, but it’s an incredible risk and will likely result in major real world problems (such as people being murdered because of who they are on the forums… and no, I’m not exaggerating). I’m linking the original post by Nethaera below because I assume they’ll get wise to how bad this decision is and will rescind the post eventually. Continue Reading »

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Derek Smart’s Open Letter to David Allen

This is Derek Smart’s Open Letter to David Allen. I don’t feel it is prudent or even necessary to comment further.

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