Tag Archive for discussion

Inviting Discourse vs Shutting It Down

Of late, I have become disgruntled with one of the forums that I frequent. I go there because I like to discuss things with people. Things I enjoy, things that I don’t, random subjects from all walks of life. Sometimes I’m there to participate, and sometimes to read and learn, and still other times to write and educate. That might make my view of forums sound lofty and snobby, but it really isn’t.

However, I do expect a certain level of “average” behavior. I put that in quotes because I couldn’t think of a better word. What I mean is that the majority of a given users posts must be used to gauge the personality of the user. Everyone goes off the rails once in a while, but if 90% of your posts are “going off the rails” then you aren’t really. Those are your rails, and the posts where you are calm and reasoned are actually your deviation.

Think of it this way… you can like something ironically – i.e. a genre of films that is bad and you are enjoying it because it is bad, not because you think it is good – but if you like everything ironically, you aren’t, you are just liking things. This is what people mean when they use “hipster” as a derogatory term – people who are living their entire lives as some sort of “anti” statement, liking things that people don’t like, not liking things that people like, wearing clothes that aren’t in fashion because they aren’t in fashion, etc. At some point, you have to admit that you aren’t doing those things “ironically” but in fact doing them because you truly enjoy them.

Back to forums… No one likes to be called a troll in the forum world. Even the people who are trolling and enjoying the trolling, they don’t want to be called it. And if 90% of your posts are reasoned, well written posts, and every now and then you “go off the rails”, you won’t get labeled as a troll. However, if 90% of your posts are loud, vulgar, contrarian diatribes, you might get called one, you might even be one.

Mostly though, the problem I’ve been having has to do with tone, which doesn’t translate well in the written word. You often have to suss out an author’s intended tone based on their body of work. It is much easier to empathize with someone who is going off the rails because a subject has pushed their buttons than it is to empathize with someone whose default position appears to be yelling and screaming. Someone could be joking, but if all of their posts are written in the same filth-ridden snarky tones, then either they are always joking or no one is ever going to know the difference between real rant and joke rant. (Honestly, I believe they don’t even know the difference until they offend someone and backpedal with the “I was only joking” excuse.)

The other half of the problem is that when someone goes deep vulgar negative on a subject, there is simply no corollary on the positive side. No level of explanation, no amount of “I love this show and think it is good” can quite make up for the other side saying “this show is shitty, the writers are hacks, the directors are witless and anyone who enjoys this unfettered garbage is a brainless moron who plays with feces!”

When someone says, “This show is insulting my intelligence.” there are two ways you could read that.

  1. I am dumb and this show is smart, therefore if you are enjoying it you must be smart.
  2. I am smart and this show is dumb, therefore if you are enjoying it you must be dumb.

No one ever posts with the first one in mind. It is always the second.

The overuse of vulgarity and insults often serves only to shut down discussion. A person on the positive side of an argument will tire of being called stupid and of the thing they like being called “a barely watchable pile of shit” and so on, eventually choosing to leave the conversation – resulting in a negative droning echo chamber.

More than once I’ve been told, “The general consensus around here was that it was garbage” and when I go look up the original thread of discussion I’ll find that in the beginning there were dissenting opinions, people on both sides, but as the negative side went vulgar and insulting the positive side backed away and the thread ends with pages and pages of people agreeing how awful it is. I suppose if you consider running off people who like something until you are left with only people who dislike that something reaching a consensus… well, I don’t know what to say to that.

In general, when I dislike something I try to be specific in what exactly I did not like and why I think I did not like it. Was a scene in a movie unbelievable because of my own personal knowledge of the subject that exceeds the average person or was it blatantly ignoring obviously things that are actual general knowledge? And I always try to frame things with myself as owner of the problem. “I didn’t like the writing…” versus “The writing is terrible…”

And ultimately, that really seems to be the central problem with the things that get under my skin. It is okay to not like things. It is not okay to continuously frame everything you don’t like as being inherently unlikable.

To bring this meandering diatribe of my own to a close, I’ll end with one final thing I don’t enjoy on the Internet. When someone likes a thing, it is apparently okay to tell that person they are wrong, that they didn’t understand it. Doing this is simply expressing your opinion, and should be considered protected speech. However, when someone doesn’t like a thing, telling them they are wrong or that they didn’t understand it is oppression and attempted censorship of the highest order and you should be burned at the stake or banned for life, or both. Doing this is offensive and you should never ever do it.

If you could ask God one question what would it be?

At some point in everyone’s life, be it because they are totally baked or just because it happens to everyone eventually, they’ll have this discussion. If you could ask God one question what would it be?

To begin with, I think it is important to frame the question properly. Which God are you talking to? The Christian God? Allah? Yahweh? Zeus? Odin? Any one of literally dozens and dozens of gods that have paraded through the world over the thousands of years that man has been worshiping them?

The next thing would be to understand the circumstances under which you are being allowed to ask the question. For starters, if you have died and are standing in Heaven talking to God, then that alone answers a whole mess of questions. I mean, because if you were in Valhalla instead of Heaven then just by virtue of being there you’ve answered a pile of questions.

In the end however, none of that matters, because the only question I would ask God, no matter which god it is or under what circumstances, is “If you could ask God one question what would it be?” I figure God would probably know what the most important question in all of creation is, and once I know that I, being a pretty smart fellow, could probably arrive at the answer myself.

Unless God is a dick and tells me that the question he’d ask God would be “If you could ask God one question what would it be?” That’d be just plain mean.

Ask me anything

Looking for People

Wolfshead made a great post about chat in MMOs.  I often find myself agreeing with Wolfshead.  We seem to come from the same place in that EverQuest got a lot of things right about building communities and having players be social while they play.  Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about because, honestly, if you read his post, that’s how I feel.  But along side the chat discussion is a discussion on the Dungeon Finder in WoW.

In the comments, however, Tesh used the word/phrase “self-professed” and it got me thinking, and I commented as well.  In most games, we have to trust other people when they tell you what they’ve done or where they’ve been.  Well, not so much anymore… with gear score and achievements and bind on pickup items, people don’t have to trust you, they can inspect you or check your Armory profile and verify it.  People used to have to be social, now they don’t.

Anway… back to the Dungeon Finder.  The truth is, Blizzard named it properly.  You select the dungeon or dungeons you want to do, you select your role in the group, and then you queue.  You are finding a dungeon.  EverQuest had an LFG tool.  Looking for Group.  It was poorly named.  It should have been the Look for Experience Points tool, because that’s how many people used it.  They didn’t want to make an effort to find a good group, they just wanted to join one already formed and then soak up exp.  However, because of the nature of EQ, while Exp might be what you were after, what you got was a group since getting Exp often meant sitting in the same place with the same five other people for hours.  If you didn’t talk and socialize, you had better at least be excellent at playing and making the exp, otherwise you might get kicked from the group.  But in WoW, you use the Dungeon Finder to find a dungeon, you then do the dungeon and then you are done.  Then you use the Dungeon Finder, ad nauseum…

What I really want is a Looking for People tool.  I don’t want an objective and a role, I want a funny guy who plays with style and makes playing the game more fun than grinding the floating bags of exp and loot.  The tool should be half a personality test, and matching should be made on more than just people going to the same place.  A chatty guy should be placed with a group that wants a chatty guy.  And so on…  I know it would be a pain to build, and some people probably wouldn’t want all those options, which would be why you’d hide them.  The main screen could be as simple as the Dungeon Finder: where I want to go, what I want to do.  Then, under an Advanced Options or Social Options or Fine Tuning you put another screen with a whole mess of check boxes and/or drop downs that allow people to self select a narrower group of people.  The defaults would, of course, be Any/All and then those who wish could go from there.

The first option I’d add?  The ability to say, “Only pick people/groups from my server.”  You know, the people on the other servers in the Battlegroup might be great people, but I’d rather play with people who, if they turn out to be great people, I can play with on a regular basis.

Removing Grouping – Part I

Before anyone freaks out, no, I’m not advocating solo play, nor am I actually suggesting that the grouping mechanic be removed from games.  This is simply a thought exercise.  This and the posts that follow in this series will take a look at aspects of what grouping bringstechnologically and if we can retain it while removing the mechanic of forming a formal group unit.

Note: Please keep in mind that all discussion that follows is from my own experience, so if I mention that some game did something first, don’t yell at me because some game I never played actually did it first.  Who did what first is actually irrelevant to the discussion.

The first element that comes to mind for me is communications.  Joining a group in most games provides you with a group only chat channel.  At one time this was necessary because it grew out of the design.  Some games originally only had two forms of communication: local and whisper.  Local would be just saying things and the people in range (in the room or on the screen) would see it.  Whisper was something you said directly to another player and only that person could see it.  Occasionally, games would have yelling or shouting, allowing people in adjacent rooms to see; and global, usually used by GMs to inform the entire game/server of something.  But onceEverQuest came out, and local became distance limited and shout covered only the single zone, and the game had a formal group object, they needed a way for group members to talk to each other across zones without using masses of whispers and relaying information.  Since then, most games now have the ability for players to create their own chat channels for any reason at all.  With that, rigid group chat isn’t strictly needed anymore.  Sure, its nice to have a channel you automatically join when you join a group, but since part of this is to eliminate group joining, we’ve established that the communications, if needed/desired, can be handled without the formal group.

In fact, to some degree, players don’t seem to care about group chat anymore.  When it comes to raiding or even guild chat, many people (though certainly not the casual majority) have moved over to 3rd party voice chat like Ventrilo.  This contributes to games becoming more “silent”, in my opinion, as members of your group may be happily chatting with their friends while they button push their group role with you.  I’d say this, on some level, is borne out by the recent LFG tool implement in World of Warcraft.  In that tool you can easily, almost instantly, get a group and go run a dungeon.  However, those players may be from different servers, so social interaction becomes less important beyond the dungeon and the combat happening “right now” since you are not likely to play with them again.  That is, unless they love playing with you so much, or you with them, that one of you decides to pay to move their character to a new server.  Given this, WoWcould remove group chat today and replace it with a Wizard 101 style of menu selectable phrases (“Thanks!”, “Help!”, “Kill this [insert target monster]!”, etc) and most people wouldn’t be adversely affected by the change.  They might even welcome it since the silence of a group could simply mean that everyone knows what to do and how to play, and not that people are being anti-social.

Combat Pacing

One discussion that comes up from time to time when talking about game design for MMOs is about combat pacing.  That is, how long should a fight last, and how “active” should the player be?  In fact, just last week a thread about this showed up on the forums over at Nerfbat.

Because I’m more interested in group play and social interactions, obviously my stance is to make fights longer and reduce the need for button pushing.  I’m extremely fond of the old EverQuest design where fights were counted in minutes and players often had between 3 and 10 seconds between actions.  In my opinion, this allowed for more tactical play, allowing you to see what was happening and consider your response as opposed to faster games where you tend to approach the fight with a plan and execute it, the individual fight lasting 30 seconds or less (excluding boss and raid encounters, which are obviously tuned to large groups and to last longer).

I also like slow combat because currently, unless you are playing exclusively with friends and using voice chat on a Ventrilo server or similar service, social interactions have to occur through the same keyboard that controls game play.  If you are hitting a key to perform a combat action every 1 to 2 seconds, that doesn’t give you much opportunity to chat.  The more “intense” the combat, the more “quiet” the game gets, and you have to practically stop playing the game in order to be social.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, also expressed in the thread.  If you want to join in the discussion, I encourage you to sign up at the Nerfbat forums and do so.

Who Loves You And Who Do You Love?

I love that quote from The Running Man.  Its the tag line/catch phrase for the host of a game show where criminals are allowed to try to win their freedom by out foxing a gang of hunters who chase them, all while an audience wins cash and prizes.

“Who loves you and who do you love?”

When building, and then running, an MMO, this is probably the single most important question to ask, and ask often.  Its the mantra of watching the trends, both the short and the long, to see where the tide is going to flow and hope your game continues riding the crest of the wave and not washing out.

Ryan Shwayder and Grimwell both recently posted about if an aging demographic should affect a game in production and future game design, and there has been much recent discussion about change in WoW by Heartless, Foton and others.

As it comes to the age stuff, I think both Ryan and Grimwell are fairly dead on, if your game got successful on a certain demographic, you shouldn’t change based on them growing up unless you aren’t gaining new people at the entry level.  If your game once appealed to teens and young adults but is no longer attracting those people, then you have to choose either to change to try to attract them again, or change to continue appealing to the people already playing your game and maybe attract more people at that demographic.  And that leads into the other discussion…

When it comes to World of Warcraft, just as with many games before it that mix PvE and PvP styles of play, changes are sometimes made to favor either the PvE or PvP side of the game over the other, often to the detriment of the other.  A spell might be too powerful against other players so they need to reduce its power, thus affecting the power of the player in combat with NPCs as well.  It does indeed suck when changes are made to favor the side of the game you don’t favor.  However, of all the companies out there making MMOs, Blizzard is the only one I inherently trust to completely understand their entire player base and do what is best for the bottom line of the company.  They didn’t get their reputation for wildly successful polished fun games for nothing…

So, why is it that they seem to be favoring the PvP side of the game so much with changes to classes and abilities?

While WoW has always been a casually friendly game, is has also long been accepted that rolling into large scale PvE content (raiding) at the high end was where the “real game” was.  More recently, however, the Battlegrounds and Arenas seem to have taken more focus.  For one, it often takes less people to participate in, and a pick up Alterac Valley is more likely to succeed than a pick up Kazharan raid.  For another, their restructuring of the reward system of PvP has made the PvP gear much more accessible to the casual player than raid gear.  This denotes an understanding from Blizzard that BGs and Arenas are much more accessible to the majority of players than raids, and will net them the largest continuous player base.  I know if I were back playing WoW, I’d be over in the PvP elements of the game as often as possible, if for no other reason than a few rounds of Arathi Basin would be more productive, personally, than a night of raiding with a guild.

Another aspect to keep in mind with WoW, is that unlike many other MMOs out there, it is truly a global game.  And in the Asian countries, professional gaming is much more a reality than it is here in the United States.  I wish I could find it again, but there was a video a while back showing some (Korean, I think) professional gamer (national Starcraft champion or something) getting mobbed by girls in the street.  I’ve seen pictures of the audiences that will come to watch pro-gaming over there.  I doubt girls will scream or audiences will come watch a carefully orchestrated 3 hour long raid bound to net the guy with the worst items and/or the most points an item upgrade.  But for Arena matches… they will come.  So when you consider that more than half of WoW’s 10 million subscribers are in the Asian markets, markets where previous PvP Blizzard Games like Warcraft and Starcraft were monstrous successes, it really is no surprise that they might be giving WoW a little PvP nudge and luvin’.

In the end, it all comes back to the quote… Who loves you and who do you love?  Answer that, and keep answering that, and you can run a successful game.

Putting Your Stamp On It

I have in the past worked with and from time to time still do work with people who absolutely must put their own stamp or spin on everything.

Let me give you an example. We are designing a database and a process for managing and populating the tables. I sit down with the other developers, we hash out what we need, then we lay out the database. Next, we have a meeting with the project manager to show the design, flesh out the process and begin documentation. Table A, Table B and Table C are source tables for Process 1 that populates Table D. Process 2 takes Table D, Table E, Table F and Table G and produce Table H. Table H is displayed to users. Process 3, initiated by users, takes user input and an entry from Table H and inserts into Table C, which is as indicated prior a source for the first process. Essentially, this design maintains an inventory, matches it with traffic data, then provides the user with a list of available space and equipment usage. The user then picks a unit for making new assignments to and that is stored to be fed into the inventory to keep it up to date.

Simple.

So, the project manager runs off and comes back with a document that states: Table A and Table B are used by Process 1 to Populate Table D; Table C, D, E and F are used by Process 2 to create Table G and Table H; G and H are used with user input to update Table C. The design team gets this document, disagrees, rewrites it to match the original discussion and submits it back to the manager. The manager runs off again and comes back with another document that matches neither the original discussion or the document he first did. This time the user interface is feeding Tables C, F and H, and Process 1 is using every table except G. Totally wrong. So we go around again. And again. And again.

We waste hours and hours, and the manager keeps saying, “Let me see if I understand…” and then always explains it wrong because, clearly, he does not understand.

Eventually we come to a point where someone on design gets mad and says, “Trust us, if it doesn’t work the way WE say it, we can redesign it later.” And of course, we aren’t wrong, it works and we don’t have to come back to it.

I’ve got no solution, nor really much else to say. This is just something that frustrates me as a worker that I’ve added to the list of things I will never do if I’m ever manager. That is all.

How do you play?

Ryan Shwayder over at the nerfbat has begun a discussion on the definitions of Hardcore and Casual.

I think, especially if you delve into the comments, he is pretty near the target. Essentially, I think its impossible to define a player simply as hardcore or casual for their entire entity. Instead, you have to break it down into many factors.

For instance, game play time. Someone who is casual with their time in games wants something they can pick up and play with in ten minutes, or two hours, or whenever they happen to want to play. Often this is referred to as “time-starved” but I feel adding the usage of “starved” there just gives it a desperate and needy connotation… also, it implies that if the person had more time they’d spend it gaming, but that really isn’t true at all. Someone who is hardcore with their time is going to schedule blocks, often large blocks, of time to play… three hours, five hours, Saturday. The time hardcore player is the kind of player who spends all their free time gaming.

Further down you can get into distinctions like “knowledge commitment” which would be how willing is the player to remember bits of information or lore of the game. I know when it comes to this, I’m very hardcore… not by choice really, it just sort of happens. If EverQuest (the original) were to have a free weekend starting today, I bet I could log in and get around fairly well. Even though I have not played it in a few years, I still know where stuff is (as long as the zone hasn’t been revamped). The wife on the other hand, well, we play World of Warcraft about once a week, and lots of times she just doesn’t remember where anything is. Its not because she has a bad memory, but because its simply not important to her to remember it. Plus, she has me, and I remember everything, so…

You can literally take any aspect of any game, show a hardcore and a casual approach to it, and show how its not really dependent on any other aspect. To use the example above, the wife and I both love to explore and are fairly hardcore about going new places. She just happens to think that almost everywhere is a new place since she doesn’t commit to memory having gone there.

So… what’s the answer? What is the definition of hardcore and casual? I think the answer is, “It depends.” Even Ryan’s attempt to narrow it down to 4 points isn’t going to cover everything. Is it enough to design a game by? Sure, and as long as you accept that no matter how few or how many boxes you draw there will always be players who live outside them, you’ll be just fine.

Stuff on the Net XI

Ever wanted to know everything that was never true about Television? Go here. Every time I go, I find something to laugh about.

It came from Ofasoft… a well intentioned thread about Pirates of the Caribbean 2 turns into a discussion about Johnny Depp’s Americanness.

Picard vs. Vader … at last the “Trek” versus “Wars” dispute is settled.

A guy I know is in a movie… check out the preview on its MySpace page: The Signal.

People want the President of Russia to answer some questions. Mostly about young boys, humanoid robots, and Cthulhu.

Over on Yahoo, Stephen Hawking asks “How can the human race survive the next hundred years?

They ARE out to get you!

One big topic of discussion when it comes to any MMO game is its “death penalty”. Mostly this is because people want to know, up front, what’s going to happen when they are too stupid to live, but the other side of this is that most MMOs are specifically designed to kill you.

Its the one thing I find lacking in online games as oppose to the pen and paper games I enjoy with my friends. Yeah, Brian is actually out to kill us too, but he’s generally nicer about it so that at least in part its our own damn fault. But in online games, there are so many encounters that get designed to be killers, to the point where playing a game is more of an exercise in triage than an adventure. You can hear it in the uber guilds as they lay out their tactics in which they are actually calculating losses. “When the first tank goes down…” Not IF the tank goes down, WHEN.

To a degree, this is acceptable, when you are leading an army against a god, you should have some fatalities, but this attitude leaks over into groups as well, and sometimes you can even see that it leaks into the developers as they design expansions. Of course, the developers may just be reacting to player tactics.

But, is introducing permanent death and encouraging player fear of death the answer?

Well, yes. But not alone. The best thing about real life is that not everything kills you, even muggers. Sometimes you just get hurt, incapacitated and left alone. This should happen more in games. Why is everything not only out to get me, but wants to kill me and lick my bones clean? Why can’t some of them be happy with knocking me unconsious, stealing my money and leaving me pantsless in the woods?

I think designers really need to get more creative with defeat. Death shouldn’t be the only answer.