Last beta I didn’t get much chance to play. I messed around the character creator and read up on the base classes and logged in. The game informed me that my graphics drivers were out of date and I spent what little time I was in game chugging along in a partial slide show. This past weekend’s beta was much better. I logged in my already created character, I ran through the introduction area, and I made it through the first few quest hubs.
Most of the game is fairly standard, and that’s not a bad thing. The UI is familiar without cloning (it doesn’t look like the World of Warcraft interface even though it mostly functions like it), and the game play follows suit. Others have praised the soul system, and I will too. I really enjoy crafting my character from three parts and controlling how he forms as he advances. To me, the simple genius of it is astounding: you climb up the tree adding passive traits (damage bonuses, spell modifiers, etc) and the number of points spent there determines which active abilities you unlock. It is the best part of a class system melded with the best parts of a skill system. Add in that you can build several specs on a single character and you come very close to what I’ve always wanted in a game: the ability to play a single character in multiple roles without having to resort to creating alts. And even if you did decide to create alts, you really only need to make 4 characters – one of each base: warrior, cleric, mage, rogue.
The public group and rift mechanics are also fantastic. While they can get repetitive if that’s all you do, mixed in with the traditional quest grind it makes the game feel fresh without feeling alien. Last night on Shadefallen, Freemarch came under heavy attack from Death, with foot holds in every town and all the players banding together in groups to beat them back. For soloing, I had been playing a Justicar/Shaman/Druid with a fairly balanced build to focus on making me a better fighter and increasing my 1-on-1 survivability. But once the giant assault began, I bought a second role, used the same souls but spent more points on the Justicar to reduce my threat and utilize my area heals to assist the raid. It worked out pretty well. I spent the bulk of the evening switching between those roles, the solo build for the early waves of any rift and then to the raid build for the later waves. From the builds to the rifts to the raids, it was much more exciting that any other MMO I’ve played. Even my precious EverQuest.
I really enjoy the Justicar and Shaman aspects of what I’ve played so far, the fighting cleric appeals to me in so many ways. If I so buy the game, I can easily see myself playing that for the long haul, though I may ditch the Druid in favor of a different third. The fairy pet annoys me.
Now I just need to convince the wife and all my friends to switch to Rift.
Over at Horriftic Intentions, brannagar has posted a bit about what he thinks the community wants. My first mistake in getting involved in that discussion was that I was sent a link to the post and didn’t pay attention to the fact that the blog is a Rift fanboy site. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense like some people might. I just mean that the author is clearly excited for the game, has already taken the stance that Trion (the makers of Rift) knows all (and agrees with him). Had I known, I probably would never have commented there at all and instead come straight here to talk about the issues at hand.
Essentially, of the four points he makes, I completely agree with three of them. Two, flying mounts and arenas, on the grounds that just because one game (and for most people that one game is WoW) has them that every game should have them. The third, the random dungeon finder, because while I’m certain it leads to more progress in games like WoW, I ultimately feel that the implementation destroys community. Why bother meeting people and making connections when you can just use the tool, get a group, and then never play with those people again?
The fourth point of his, the one I disagree with, is that some people are asking for an Auto-Face or Stick function for PvP. As you can see from the comments once I stuck my nose in and the two of us bantered back and forth, clearly brannagar likes circle strafing. I’ve mentioned my views on circle strafing on here before. And if you dig around you’ll find a few more times I’ve brought it up, especially where I say that Fallen Earth actually does it well in that you actually move slower while strafing.
Upon reflection, I see that I was actually mistaken. There shouldn’t be accuracy and damage penalties for movement. Yes, it is more realistic, but it would serve mainly to irritate players. Looking back at my old posts, I do think a speed penalty should apply for various reasons, but even so there are much better ways to handle this.
You see, circle strafing has plagued FPS games for a long, long time. The solution on the PC where people use a keyboard and mouse was for players to crank up the sensitivity of their mouse so that small twitches left and right would rotate their character through wider arcs more quickly and allow them to keep the strafing player in sight. However, when FPS games became more popular on consoles, and especially after the introduction of the double stick controller which allowed for much better circle strafing, asking people to crank up the sensitivity of their controllers actually had an adverse affect on the rest of game play. So, FPS games innovated by adding in the ability for players to perform a 180 degree turn with a single button. While not completely nullifying circle strafing as a tactic, it allowed the target player a fighting chance to catch their attacker on the flip side.
This is what MMOs need for PvP. A 180 degree flip would do wonders to level the playing field as immobile casters have to deal with highly mobile melee characters while still allowing attentive melees to change direction of movement and not giving the immobile players automated assistance.
In the end though, while I’m glad for the outcome in that it let me realize what is really missing from MMO PvP combat, I was also reminded how annoying it is to argue with the faithful. It’s possible that brannagar could read this (that’s the downside to linking to things, the authors can find out you are talking about them), and he might even come here to tell me how wrong I am and that a 180 flip would be stupid or game breaking and how Trion is luckily smart enough to never consider putting something like it in. And that’s a shame, because I’d much rather discuss how to make PvP fun for everyone without breaking it for anyone, and as it stands, circle strafing makes the game broken for people who can’t defend against it.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch on collision detection and line of sight issues. Being able to break a caster’s spell by stepping through the caster is totally broken design, and yet is the way most games work. Maybe we’ll cover that in another post.
Taking another angle on yesterday’s post, now I want to look at the major protest against the sparkle pony: the slippery slope.
As with any time a change is proposed, the alarmists immediately paint it as a step toward complete and total destruction. No change can be in a vacuum, but not every change needs to be the tipping point for Armageddon either. So the argument goes like this:
Pets for sale.
Mounts for sale.
Epic raid gear for sale.
The only way to “win” is to have the most money and “buy” victory.
The planet explodes.
Yes, I’m exaggerating. But only for step 5. Here’s the thing… you don’t need pets. There are pets available in game, and they’ve given away exclusive pets at Blizzcon and other events as well as sold them as part of pre-order packages and collector’s editions. But as far as I know, the pets for sale don’t actually do anything to affect game play. If I’m wrong, please correct me. (A quick run through some wikis tells me that there are no bonuses but some will detrimentally affect play by ruining stealth or debuffing the owner.) They dance, they talk, they are silly and fun, but having a pet doesn’t make your character any stronger than someone of the same class, same level, same gear but without the pet. The pet is a toy. And so is the mount. (Wiki link.) The mount gains you no extra in-game advantage. None. It just looks pretty.
So, why the jump in step 3? Why go from two consistent levels of selling items with no affect on game play to suddenly selling gear that does? This is where the argument falls apart, and it is clear to see why they go there.
The pets, the mounts… the coolest pets and mounts in the game comes from raiding or hard quests. Regular players get pets and mounts, but they are, in comparison, bland. Blizzard has giveaways and collector’s editions and pre-orders, but again, those are somehow considered special, just like the stuff you get from playing the game at it’s highest level. The fact is, most of the people complaining wouldn’t have an issue with Blizzard selling a $25 plain brown horse that worked that same as the Celestial Steed. The issue is that Blizzard is selling the (arguably) coolest looking mount in the game for cash and not reserving it for their hardest working players to earn with blood, sweat and tears.
Even if Blizzard followed the advice I laid out in yesterday’s post and introduced appearance only items (items with no stats at all), it would not be an escalation. They might end up selling the coolest looking appearance items in the game for cash, but it would not be selling raid level gear. The thing is, to define a slippery slope, you need at least two related items that show a clear escalation which you can extrapolate to further escalations leading to destruction. No such thing exists here. People might not like Blizzard selling game stuff in the store, but there is no slippery slope here.
The minute Blizzard starts selling raid gear, though, you’ll find me in line throwing rotten tomatoes at them. Until then… nothing here to get worked up about.
Spawned from this article from Kotaku and Gamespy, this post by David Jaffe got me thinking… I’ve played through a few single player games that end up taking twenty or more hours to play, some longer. Which since I tend to only play for an hour or two maybe once or twice a week means that these games take ten to fifteen weeks to finish, some longer. Now, while I’m willing to accept that part of that is my fault, another part of it is that one of the reasons I only play for an hour or two once or twice a week is because there are parts of many games that feel like repetition or filler. Many twenty hour games could easily be pared down to ten hours, if not five or less, by streamlining.
If you make a game that consists of three or four hours of genuine “fresh” game play and then seventeen or more hours of “repeating” game play, I think you might be doing it wrong. Multi-player games can more easily get away with repeating content because it is the other players than change. A good example of this is Left 4 Dead. I can play the same campaign with the same three other people and still have a different experience because the weapons are in different locations, the hordes happen at different time, and the other players don’t play the same every single time. But in many single player games, once you learn how to fight monster X with weapon A, repeating that a thousand times gets boring, and this is usually the point I save the game, turn it off and go do something else. I’ll come back later and play some more.
Like David, I think I’d rather see game companies trim down their product, give me a concise, powerful, exciting four or five hour story for about $10. Then sell me downloadable story additions, four to five hours in length for $10 each. If your game works as multi-player, give me a multi-player mode and then sell me new map packs or game modes for $5 or something. But as it is, despite their being a good number of awesome looking games on the shelves, looking is all I’m doing because $60 and all that time is just too much.
Over two years ago on this blog I decided I was going to investigate the idea of building a game where the player was only allowed to create one character. From thinking about it on my own and from discussions on message boards, I came to realize that most MMOs simply couldn’t do it. Mainly because their design has actually come to not only expect but actually count on players playing more than one character. With shared bank space to easily swap items and continuing to limit characters in the number of trade skills and other aspect, as well as encouraging people to play alts and race through the old game again and again removing as many barriers to speedy leveling as possible, you simply couldn’t release a clone of any current DIKU-style MMO that only allowed one character. You’d need to rebuild the game from the ground up. And most MMO players simply weren’t interested.
Enter the Facebook game.
By default, the design of almost every Facebook game is that you only have one character. As well, there is only one world and everyone shares it. It is this element, and this element alone that has me taking a second look at the Facebook games that I originally dismissed.
The game play of most Facebook games still irritates me. Some of them are what I refer to as “intensely casual”. They are casual in that they require very little effort, but they are intense because their design is that there are actions to take and buttons to click all the time. These games often provide so much micromanagement that a player can get lost in there quite easily.
I’d love to see some games that can dial back that intensity, like D&D Tiny Adventures (though they go a little too far and it barely feels like I’m playing a game at all), and I’ll keep looking for them. Sadly, though, Facebook games are almost less diverse than traditional MMOs, so it won’t take long at all to go through them.
But maybe this is what it takes. I said that to do one character in one world that MMOs would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, and maybe Facebook games are where that rebuilding can happen.
I have to admit, seeing a game company announce that their game is feature complete while still in the alpha stage gives me a tingly feeling all over. I am tired of games getting into beta and still adding classes and entire sections of game play.
So what does this mean, this “Feature Complete”? In theory, it means that they have implemented some rudimentary form of every game mechanic required to play the game in all the ways they intend the game to be played. The nuts and bolts. If true, it means that now they will begin overhauling each feature looking for bugs, making them more robust, and polishing them until they shine.
Of course, I will believe it when I see it… I really do hope this game turns out well. After talking to these guys at Dragon*Con, I want to see them pull this off, and I want to play it.
One of the things that continues to baffle me is the push for more intense, more realistic graphics in games. While I’m sure that focus groups have show that people respond to the “better” graphics, and that shelf sales increase based on graphics buzz, every game I’ve ever played, and every game everyone I know has ever played, gets played longer based on the game play and has nothing to do with the graphics.
Seriously, if the game sucks, you put it down. In MMORPGs while box sales are important, continued subscribers and word of mouth are what make a game a long term success. World of Warcraft doesn’t have the best graphics in the world. Sure, they are highly stylized and pretty, but the fact that my 1GHz, 1GB RAM, 256MB ATI 9800 machine runs it great is just awesome. Other games that have come out almost refuse to install on my computer at all. And while I don’t want to put down WoWs graphics, its clearly obvious upon long and repeated play that Blizzard spent alot more time on game content and less time on the graphics than some of their competitors.
At arcades all over the world, despite their being a number of “better” games graphics wise, people still continue to put quarters in games like Pac-Man. Simple graphics with immediately engaging game play. City of Heroes grasped this concept well. With its fast paced wham-bang superhero action, its almost pure fun. Its only real flaw is that the snail’s pace at which later levels progress will make any but the more hardcore gamers and diehard fans stop logging in to play.
So, for me, the perfect MMORPG would have “good” yet not overly expensive or time consuming graphics. Less polygons and shaders, more variety of color and style, and with the millions being saved not being spent on a AAA graphics team, I’d be able to hire a few more content designers to help keep the game exciting to play even if its not the most exciting to look at.