As you no doubt may have heard, Nintendo announced their next console: Wii U.
The short of it is this… pretty much a Wii on steroids. Better processors, better memory, better graphics, embraces HD, wiimotes and the balance board are supported as are all Wii games. The early word is that it will beat out the 360 and PS3 for power, but don’t expect that to matter too long as Microsoft and Sony will probably launch their new consoles a year after this and put it to shame… unless the market decided to go sideways instead. I mean, it’s very possible that the next Xbox will be the same as the 360 but with better processors, memory and graphics (and maybe 3D) with an integrated Kinect over a separate peripheral. Sony could do that as well. Iteration over innovation.
But then you get to the other part of the Wii U: the controller.
Aren't you a little big for a game controller?
Yes, that is a screen on the controller. The obvious bits are that you can use it like a tablet and surf the web, and you can also use it as a main display (freeing up the big TV for other activities if needed), it even has a stylus for drawing, but it can also be used as a secondary screen. Immediately many people pointed out it could be used for maps or inventory or other bits of a normal game that could be shuffled off to this second mini screen. I started trying to think of other things…
How about an Aliens game where the pad if your motion sensor? Even just as a large controller with extra touchscreen buttons and virtual keyboard, MMOs become much more possible. A flight or driving simulator where one player controls the action while another player with the pad navigates, does damage control and performs other duties.
So many lost hours...
My best idea yet? Dungeon Keeper.
In the original game, you play the overlord of a dungeon. You set up traps and other things to run your dungeon and protect your treasure room from the heroes who come seeking to steal your loot. It was great fun. But with a setup like this, you could have one player being the hero on the main screen, hacking his way to fortune and glory. On the tablet you have the second player, the overlord, playing the RTS similar to the old game, laying traps and scrambling to react to what the other player is doing.
Really, any game that requires one person to have hidden information from the other players would work beautifully. The only shame here is that thus far word is that only a single new controller will be supported and so card games and board games played local multi-player may be out.
I’m excited for the possibilities… now I just need some people out there to make games like these. Just in case, I’m going to start putting away a couple bucks per paycheck so that I can afford this when it comes out. For once, I actually might want to be an early adopter.
So, I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again. In large part to play with a couple of friends. The wife and I have been playing a couple of weeks now, but we’ve yet to actually play with the friends we came to join. You see, they started before us and as such they are about ten or so levels ahead. We have been trying to catch up, but since they keep playing also we essentially only succeed in keep the gap consistent.
Another friend of ours decided to join us too. A little later than us. He’s about ten or so levels behind us and in similar fashion he is trying to catch up but is really only keeping the gap consistent.
People keep telling me that it’ll be okay when we hit the level cap, which will only take a couple of months (or so they tell me). For the moment, the wife and I are splitting our time between some characters to try and slow ourselves down a bit, which will let the man behind us catch up but lets the people in front of us get further away.
I really dislike this, and it happens in every game. Well, not in EVE. Whenever I get into discussions about class based or skill based systems, after going back and forth for a long while I always end up settling on the fact that either system works and either can be better and that it all depends on the quality of the system. But one tangent that always emerges is that I wish less MMOs were level based.
I understand that, in general, people like levels, because it’s an easy way to measure progress and be rewarded. Ding! But levels divide your players, which can be good (spreading them out over different level appropriate areas) and bad (you now have to deal with special coding for any PvP interactions around the power increases levels provide and prevention of power leveling, etc). In my opinion, games need to find other ways to reward people, and to separate power from what is essentially time played. In EVE, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played for 5 years or 5 months, once you get into a ship the only thing that matters are the skills related to that ship. And a 5 month player can kick the ass of a 5 year player given the right ships and situation. But when was the last time a level 15 killed a level 80 in WoW? Never? Is it because the level 80 is better or because he’s been around longer? Neither actually, it’s because the game doesn’t allow people of that sort of disparity to fight in most cases because they are well aware of the futility of the position of the level 15 player.
We need an alternative to levels/time defining power in fantasy games. And we need ways for people to play together no matter how long they’ve been playing without starting over.
Getting back into traditional fantasy MMOs has of course led me to thinking about their flaws and my desire to correct them.
One of the long standing issues with the genre since EverQuest is the holy trinity of design: damage taking, damage prevention/recovery, damage dealing. And while games continue to try to include crafting and other non-combat elements, the vast majority of people actually want to kill things, so combat remains, and will remain, at the center of most game design. In this trinity mold, you end up with a tank, a healer, and then assorted damage dealing classes. Fighting runs the same, tank taunts to control where the damage goes, the healer heals the tank, and everyone else tries their best to make the tank’s job very very difficult.
Right now, tanking is all about hitting taunt abilities to focus the attention of the target on to the player and keep its damage output in one place where it can be measurably tracked and dealt with. As games have advanced over the years, taunt abilities have become more varied and interesting, but at their base they are about manipulation of the aggro list (the priority in which an NPC “hates” players) to put the tank at the top.
What I’m considering, and by no means is this a finished idea, but one that needs discussion, so please, discuss, is to replace taunt with a cover system. If Monster A is attacking Player B, rather than having Tank X target Monster A and click a taunt ability, saying “Hey stupid! Come get me!” (which always just seemed idiotic to me, from the stance of someone who enjoys role playing in games), you instead have Tank X target (or secondary target, or target of target, or whatever) Player B and click one of his new protection abilities, putting himself between Monster A and Player B and taking the damage.
This appeals most to me because it eliminates taunt, which from a role play and logic standpoint has always been broken. Why would a monster ever stop beating on the healer just because the invulnerable turtle is calling him names? Nope. Healers first, then those pesky damage dealing people who are killing me and lastly I’ll deal with the invulnerable turtle when he’s a little less invulnerable. On the other hand, the idea of a monster going after the healer and the invulnerable turtle stepping in between them, now that has merit. Effectively, we are taking away the roll of tank as we know it, and turning him into a healer type who utilizes shield/rune spells, preventing damage but not recovering it.
The main downside I see with this is the creation of the new role of DPS Tank. That’s where the player with the highest DPS becomes the defacto tank by virtue of doing the most damage while the healer heals him and the old tank protects him.
I’ve been a big fan of No More Kings from the moment I heard Sweep the Leg. Even bigger once I’d seen them live and listened to the entire first album. Then bigger still after getting my copy of their second album and listening through that. Both albums are always on my MP3 player and I love every song. That’s pretty rare, to love every song by a band. Even some of the “best bands in the world” like U2 or The Rolling Stones have a few songs I can’t tolerate. But No More Kings has joined Better Than Ezra and Seven Mary Three in the short list of “can do no wrong” for me.
They don’t have a new album out (though I’m hoping for one), I haven’t seen them live recently, nor do they appear to be coming to town anytime soon. So why am I talking about them?
Because it’s Zombie Wednesday here at Aim for the Head, I didn’t have any other zombie news to post, and I love this song (not the video so much, it’s not done by the band, but it lets me hear the song, so it has that going for it):
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.
If you travel in the gaming blog circles, you might have heard about or even read a little anonymous diatribe about Warhammer Online. And there are responses. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. And I’m sure there are more… But really, I don’t want to talk about that. Instead, let’s talk about what constitutes a failure in the MMO world.
I’ve seen a number of places, in comments on the above linked posts and all around the Internet that Warhammer “failed”. However, they sold 1.2 million boxes, which I have to assume covered a good bit, if not all of the development costs. We know they bled subscribers, and the last official numbers were that they had 300,000 subscribers as of March 2009. They have cut back on servers, down to 9 (4 US, 2 UK, 2 German, 1 French) and are most certainly down below the reported 300k. Still… if we can assume that the box sales and the first couple of months recouped the development investment, and if the current operating costs are below their subscription revenue, while the returns for the investors aren’t good, is an MMO operating in the black a failure? I mean, they haven’t shut the game off yet, so I kinda have to assume they operate in the black, or damn close to it. I could be wrong.
Clearly, the game did not perform as well as people would have hoped. They didn’t make WoW-style money hats to wear while driving dump trucks of money to the bank, but did they lose money? Is the game bleeding cash? Each perspective on a game defines failure in different ways. An investor, for example, will define failure as earning less money than other, less risky, options. If he earned less on his cash than he would have just putting it in a savings account, then it’s an epic failure. A publisher or game company probably defines success or failure on the affect the game has on both the bottom line AND the company reputation. If a game is making money but the press keeps bringing the game up as being crap or failing, then overall the game is probably a failure since it might affect getting future investors to give you their money.
For me, as a player and a wanna-be developer, success means the game runs and I, as a player, can play it and we, as the developers, are still able to release more content. Failure exists only when the game is in the red and we have to shut it off to keep from bankrupting everyone involved.
How many MMOs have truly failed? Asheron’s Call 2, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, APB, Motor City Online, The Sims Online… Are there more bodies in the MMO graveyard? How do you define failure?
The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind. Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose. And that sucks.
On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server). All I need to do is warp to them and we play. Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.
Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people. During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers. My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there. But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available). I also did time as a guide. Each server had a distinct personality. As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci. E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled. E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns. When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did. But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories. If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean. But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings. But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.
I hope more games take the single-shard design route. Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers. When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups. For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.
Last month, being forced to buy something at Best Buy before a gift certificate reward expired and finding nothing for the both of us, the wife let me buy Red Dead Redemption.
One thing that always kept me from playing the Grand Theft Auto games is that I don’t generally like to play the bad guy. But RDR’s John Marston is a man with a troubled past as an outlaw who has tried getting out of the life and getting on a more law abiding path. John’s job is to track down his old gang-mates and bring them to justice, a job he only undertakes because his family is being held hostage.
This game is beautiful, not only in its graphics but also in its overall design. The story unfolds so well that unless you are purposefully trying to break the system and color way outside the lines it all feels natural. Well, mostly, but I won’t go into that now. I want to talk more about this game because it was so good, so well crafted. There were even two scenes in the game that broke my heart. For now, let me just say that I absolutely loved playing through this game, and look forward to continuing to play the single player for challenges/achievements and the multi player aspects as well.
I wish I was posting to tell you I won the lottery and would from this point forward be wiping my ass with hundred dollar bills, but I didn’t and I’m not. Besides, I’d pay someone else to wipe my ass with hundred dollar bills. Duh!
Anyway… One thing people often complain about in the design of games is the over emphasis on the monsters you fight in an MMO of being “floating bags of experience and loot”. Seriously. Think about it. In a game that is a grinding exp-fest, you track down monsters and then beat them until they break and gift you with progress. In some games, like WoW, they try to wave a hand over to the side to get you to forget about the bags of exp by hiding them behind quests. It’s still the same thing though, to the point that when a player enters town and sees a sea of quest icons floating over the heads of NPC, there is often a rush of excitement at all the exp and loot you’ll be earning. Any time a player focuses too much on the bags, they usually experience a decrease in “fun” while “progress” speeds up. This leads to many players grinding the bags until they reach the “end” where, I’ve been told, the game really begins.
So, Darren, who has been outspoken in his opinion on $10 and $25 horses has written a little diatribe about how companies view players. To be honest, for a “for profit” business, players are bags of money, just like the monsters in games are bags of experience. The trick is for companies to get money out of the bags without the bags ever realizing that they are, in fact, bags of money. So different companies toe different lines. In the case of WoW, they’ve made their game “fun” enough that a whole bunch of bags people don’t mind $15 a month being taken from their wallet, and the recent foray into vanity pets and the sparkle pony is them sketching out another line in the sand, see if they can get a little more money from some bags people without losing too many of the bags people that are at their limit with $15 a month.
Obviously, there are many examples of games that have crossed lines and caused players to notice their bag-ness and they leave, and there are many examples of games where despite practically labeling their players as bags of money a segment of their players don’t mind at all (see: Zynga) to great profit.
I don’t really have anything to add to this, I just thought it was an interesting thing to notice.