Infinite Leveling

Here begins a series of posts, when I remember to do them, in which I will discuss the elements that would make up the perfect MMO for me.

One of the things I hate most in games is levels that “matter”.  And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level.  However, I do understand the desire to have a constantly rising metric by which players can compare themselves or show some aspect of their selves to others.

In my perfect MMO, there would be levels and there would be experience gained through killing, questing, crafting and any number of other things.  These levels would be entirely a measure of effort.  If you kill 8,000,000 rats earning 10 exp per rat, your level will be higher than someone who has killed only 1 ogre for 1,000 exp.  However, if the two of you were to face off in combat, how you played, what abilities you used and other factors would determine the outcome, not level.

Level would simply be… well… experience.  A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”.  As that person played the game and did things they would become a “Novice” or “Neophyte” and progress up through different titles until they eventually reached something like “Extraordinarily Experienced Grand Master” or some such.  This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience.  If you did so through a majority of exploration you might be “Worldly Grand Master”, or if you did so by crafting you might be a “Grand Master of Labors”.

Looking at a person’s “level” (which would not be expressed by a number, at least not a single number) would actually tell you a bit of the story of their lives.  And that is why such a system appeals to me.  It also appeals because unless you plan so poorly that you exhaust the entire English language by allowing people to gain ten or twenty levels per session, you could literally have infinite leveling.  All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.

For Your Consideration

I have held, and will always hold, that it is the little things that matter most.  You can have two items, two stories, that are in large strokes exactly the same, but it is the little details that end up endearing one to a generation while the other winds up mostly forgotten, completely independent of its success.  The endearing tale could be one that hardly makes anyone any money but it a cult favorite for decades, and the “forgotten” one could make millions in the short-term and in a few years people barely remember that it existed.

Almost every MMO these days uses some form of the color con system.  Red often means that it is going to be hard or impossible to beat, some form of grey or green often indicates an easy kill, with shades of blue, yellow and more in between to let you know your chances if you decide to fight it.  And yet, beyond the color or number or whatever other indicator they use, there is nothing more. We are, at this point, expected to know what that means.

A giant diseased rat scowls at you, ready to attack. What would you like your tombstone to say?

Sometimes, however, I think we’ve lost something by moving entirely to numbers and UI indicators.  EverQuest added flavor to the consideration system by spelling it our for you, giving you your faction relationship and a difficulty assessment all in one quick message.  But the most important part of it was that while some information might be readily available in your targeting window, you had to actually /con the target to get the message.  It lent just a little push toward the RP in MMORPG, that your character, that you, had to stop and look the target over, reading his demeanor and body language, that your character was a hero who kept abreast of clan markings and signs of madness, that the hero you controlled, that you embodied, would be able to look at a monster and say, “Not only does that thing probably hate my guts, I’m pretty sure he’ll beat the crap out of me too.”

To me, it’s the words that made that happen, and it is the lack of words, the purely UI based blinkies and numbers that make my brain flip immediately to math and calculations and I wind up saying, “The level disparity will reduce my effectiveness to the point that I don’t believe my DPS is enough to bring his hit points to zero before he does to mine.”

It’s just one more things that brings me again to my conclusion that I seem to be out of sorts with so many MMOs because they’ve reduced themselves to being just games instead of being more than games.

Welcome to 2011

I don’t like making predictions, but for fun I’ll make a couple now as I talk about the year to come…

2011 is going to be the best year ever … for someone, and maybe that someone will be you, so get excited at the possibilities!

2011 is going to be the worst year ever … for someone, and on the bright side with the likelihood that the world’s population is going to cross 7 billion at some point in the next twelve months, the odds are totally in your favor that it won’t be you, so get excited at the probabilities!

It’s going to hurt. This year will contain pain, both physical and emotional.  From stubbing your toe yet again in the dark on the coffee table that has been in the same place for as long as you can remember yet you still seem to forget that it is there to the soul crushing defeat of realizing that you will be unable to get out of debt, for yet another year, 2011 will be filled to the brim with pains both big and small.

It’s going to feel good. Outside of all the pain, you’ll have a (fairly) happy birthday, and you’ll give some gifts to that make people happy which will make you happy which makes them happy and we will all spiral off into a happiness whirlwind.  You will sing (probably when you are alone) and you will dance (probably when you are alone) and you will laugh so hard that you will pee, just a little, in your pants (hopefully when you are alone).  2011 will be full of joy and love and family and friends, and despite all your best efforts to sabotage it, it’s going to be a good one.

Most of all, though, 2011 is going to be a year. Three hundred and sixty-five days of being.  I guarantee that at least one of those days will make you lose all hope and at least one of those days will make you feel warm and happy from the tips of your toenails to the hair on your head (or just to your scalp if you don’t happen to have hair on your head).  No matter how good it gets, it can’t last forever so don’t forget to plan for rainy days, and no matter how bad it gets, it can’t last forever either so keep an eye out for rays of light.

For myself, in the new year I really don’t have much in the way of goals.  I plan simply to keep on keeping on.  I exercise a little each day, I eat (mostly) better than I used to, and I write.  My only real plan is to just do more of the same.  Looking back at last year’s first post:

  • I went the whole year without gaining back weight, but I didn’t lose any more.  While an accomplishment of note, I do need to keep losing, so as I said more of the same.  The plan is good, I just need to step it up a notch.
  • I did get a netbook, and I did write more.  I won the NaNoWriMo (though was disappointed in the win).  I do watch less TV shows, but it hasn’t really turned into more writing.  I need to work on that last bit.
  • I didn’t finish any of my coding projects, but I made progress.  Mostly, my business efforts in the last year resulting in redoing the website, fixing the forums and theme, and putting out the first draft of our first service that I’ve given absolutely no publicity to (I didn’t even blog about it).  I was very nervous about that, hence the no publicity, but simply having it out there makes me feel better.
  • And I did clean up the yard.  In fact, we plowed up a huge chunk of it and planted new grass, which has come in quite nicely.  I’m no longer ashamed of my backyard.  Also, we cut down one tree, and my next door neighbor is having a crew take down some others between our houses.  It is inspiring enough that this year I might actually finish clearing the back yard.

As you can see, I really mean it.  For the next year I just want to stay level or do more of what I’m already doing.  No need to break new ground or start new ventures.  No need to radically change my life.  So I don’t have much in the way of resolutions this year except to make a concerted effort not to backslide.

Finally, as this first morning of the year approaches noon and moves on into late day and onward into the rest of the year, I leave you with this one piece of advice, the single best paraphrasing of the Golden Rule ever conceived:  Be excellent to each other.

Happy New Year!

Finding my 'Why'

Nearly two years ago I had an idea.  A tool to build, a website.  But no matter how much time I spent on it, I never really got anywhere with it.  I wasn’t inspired to finish.  When I first watched yesterday’s video nearly a month ago, it got me thinking about my own project.

Originally, the idea had just been about making money.  I was working a contract job that was running out and all my attempts to find new work were failing.  I had one of those moments where I realized that it was entirely possible to create a job for myself rather than rely on finding one.  Despite the idea I had, which I still think is a good one, I found that I didn’t have the drive to work on it.  The potential for money wasn’t motivation enough.

After watching the video on starting with why, I asked myself, “Why do this?”  I figured, if I couldn’t state why I wanted to do it then there was no point daydreaming about doing it.

I found it.  I know “Why”.  Stay tuned…

Venom and Spite

I wrote a blog post last week.  And I rewrote it several times.  I even touched it again a few times this week.  The post is entitled “The Animosity of Hope”.  I actually originally made it to post on inauguration day.  But I haven’t posted it…

The meat of the entry is that holding on to hope can be one of the most destructive things in life.  My example, using my own life, is that when you are unemployed and looking for work in an “educated” field, getting nibbles and the occasional interview keeps you hoping that you’ll find work in the field of your choice, all the while your savings are vanishing and your credit cards get filled up and common sense tells you that you should go out and find a job, any job, because if you hold on to hope too long you are just going to end up messing up your financial future.  And face it, a person’s finances touch everything else in their lives.  While people surely can be happy with less, its hard to be happy under a mountain of debt and creditors beating down your door.

I haven’t posted that entry because no matter how many times I have rewritten it, and no matter how true I feel that message is, I can’t seem to really tell it, beyond the quick summary above, without the page being filled with venom and spite.  Animosity.

Sadly, I still have hope… but what I need is a job… maybe this week I’ll have both.

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from Video Games

This month’s Round Table is about learning from video games.  The truth is that I actually learned quite a bit from video games.  From things as simple as Math Blaster forcing me to be able to do math fast enough to win, to budget management in games like Sim City, to teamwork and risk versus reward evaluation in EverQuest.  Games can teach quite a bit, in many cases they teach the same way life teaches: through experience.  You do, you learn.

Of course, not everything you do in games is a quality learning experience, and some games are best approached as a game only and not a lesson to be learned.  For example, no matter how many Grand Theft Auto games come out, hopefully no one “learns” that killing hookers is a decent source of cash.

The title of this entry is moderately tongue in cheek… because, obviously, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know from video games.  I learned plenty of things from TV, movies, comic books and an old homeless Navy man named Morty.

I’m kidding about the homeless guy… or am I?

But what exactly could I pretend I learned from video games?

Dungeon Keeper taught me that I can get more work from people if I beat them, but that beating them costs moral and breaks their spirits, so while they may work faster, they won’t respect me or be loyal.  Sim City showed me how to balance a budget, and understand that no matter how great things were, Godzilla might still come and destroy everything.  EverQuest taught me to be nice to people in random encounters because you never know when someone you chose to shit on is going to be the recruiting officer of that guild you want to join, or when its going to be that guy who you helped get his corpse back when no one else would.  Burnout Paradise showed me that you can work hard, pay attention, and be great, but the cross traffic at the intersections are still going to get you now and then.  Playing almost any console game online has made me understand the importance of preparation, because there is nothing more frustrating than playing with someone who jumped online and into your room as his first action, without even knowing how the controls work.  King’s Quest III taught me the importance of semantics by only allowing certain words, conjugations and word combinations to mean anything, everything else was frustration.  Warlords, and many other turn based and real time strategy games, showed me the importance of production schedules and how to think ahead before committing to decisions.  And Dead Rising taught me that when the zombie hordes come, everything is a weapon.

Of course, little of that is strictly true.  I don’t have any fantastic story about how a game helped me overcome dyslexia or cure cancer, but I do feel that games have, throughout my life, helped encourage and reinforce certain aspects of my education.  And I think that almost any game has that potential, given the right context and perhaps a guiding voice (of a teacher or parent).  Sometimes, though, games simply provided a break from learning, a rest for my brain, so that I could attack learning again later with renewed vigor.

30 Days of Game

I’m starting up a new category here at the blog: 30 Days of Game.

The topic of this category is going to be to review a game I have played for 30 days.  The idea came to me quite some time ago, but to be honest the thought of buying a bunch of games, or even one a month, just to play and review them, no matter how much they sucked, was unappealing.  So, until game companies are willing to send me 30 day free trials, I am going to stick to games that are free to play.

I want to start this in September, after I return from Dragon*Con, with my review coming in on the last day of the month.  That said, I need some candidates, some recommendations.

Previously on this site I have reviewed Urban Dead and Mafia Matrix (a new review of that one is coming, since I am considering quitting), so those two are out, because I want to approach 30 Days of Game games as a new player.  For right now, I do want to stick to free to play MMOs, so, if you know of one you think I should give a shot, post it here in the comments or email me at jason (at) probablynot (dot) com.

Choices That Matter

Reading up my morning blogs, Tobold has thrown down a decent shot at the missing “good vs evil” elements of WoW. He’s right, of course, the design of WoW can be described as “colorfully bland”, its vibrant and exciting, but strip away the artistic elements and both sides are the same. Kill those guys, collect these items. Later on, they even share all the same quests in the “neutral” settlements and can choose the same side in the Burning Crusade’s faction division.

I’ve got high hopes for Fallen Earth. For one, a sci-fi apocalyptic MMO that works would be awesome. But beyond that, having had a chance to talk to the developers at this year’s Dragon*Con, they plan to have 6 factions, arranged around in a circle each one will have an opposing faction, two semi-allies, and two semi-foes. And they are working on making the factions matter. Since they can take over and control/influence a town, it will be important to help your faction win and to assist in the defeat of other factions.

Realm vs Realm was what attracted me to Dark Age of Camelot, sadly I found the PvE game (which was the only way to level up at the time) to be boring, repetitive, and exactly like EQ, which I was already playing and I just wasn’t inspired to start over. Had I gone to DAoC later when they put in battle grounds and other things the game might have stuck. World of Warcraft’s stabs at it had left me wanting. The battlegrounds were predictable and short, and not overly fun when raiders beat up on the non-raiders with their superior gear. The open PvP in WoW was a joke, and the tower stuff they added in Burning Crusade was great for about a week or two… then it devolved into a bizarre cooperative dance, each side letting the other side win, trading back and forth. Capturing was better than holding, so its better to let go and recapture, for both sides, that it is for either side to hold it, unless they have a strong desire to withhold rewards from the other side while reducing their own reward gain.

I really want to play an MMO where things I do, things everyone does, really matter. And the first person to suggest EVE Online will get bitch slapped. Call me when they allow me to get out of my ship and walk around the space stations and planets.

Hey you!

Yeah, you.

I’m going to level with you.

I’m going to be honest with you in a way that none of your friends will.

Honest in a way that even your family has yet to attempt.

No matter how much money you spend, no matter what kind of tires, or head lights, or tail lights, or spoilers, or decals, or hub caps you put on. No matter what kind of stereo you put in. No matter how often you wash and detail it. No matter how much effort you put in. No matter how hard you try. You are still driving a 4 door Honda Civic.

You are not cool.

Quit lying to yourself.

This vehicular delusion intervention has been brought to you by probablynot.com, because frankly, we don’t like you.