Lately I’ve been getting a bit of traffic on the site, mostly because of the Urban Dead post I made over 3 years ago. So, I decided to take another look at the game… which lasted about ten minutes before I remembered exactly why I left.
The main crux of that old post, and the reason I quit the game, and the reason my return was so brief is that I have no desire to play a zombie. On the whole, I tend to find stories about zombies to be boring. Stories about survivors in a world of zombies on the other hand are awesome. Even when the survivors don’t win and they all die, because a good zombie story is about humans, and what we will do to and for each other to survive.
Imagine this: you are playing a game where you are a cop hunting down rapists. You find clues, perform interviews, gather evidence and eventually, if you are lucky, you get to shoot them. Now imagine if in this game, when you fail to catch a rapist you are forced to be a rapist until you can be turned back into a cop. Totally unappealing, right? I mean, I hope that is unappealing, because if you want to play a rapist in a video game you need to stop reading and seek help. Now.
I don’t want to be a zombie. I don’t want to eat people. That game just isn’t fun for me at all to play.
What would make Urban Dead worth playing for me?
First, a simple “reset” button. When I die, rather than be a zombie, I’d like to be able to just start over without having to create a new account. I don’t mind losing experience and skills or having to wait a period of days, I just don’t want to be undead.
Second, a world reset event. If all the world is undead, if no survivors remain, wipe the slate clean and start over. If you let people pick zombie or survivor from the start, had levels and skills with the personal reset button causing some skill loss and a waiting period (24 to 72 hours), then you create a true “us versus them” style of PvP, and at that point you can define a win condition. If all the survivors are dead or all the zombies are dead, the server declares that side the winner and the entire game resets. When the world resets, everyone starts off human, but people who pick the zombie side start infected and in X days they’ll all die and be able to stand up as zombies.
You might have noticed that the last couple of weeks have been filled with half-hearted posts and automated reposts of things I’ve tweeted. Sometimes I just can’t think of anything worth saying, and other times if I think of something worth saying I just can’t find the energy to say it.
Still, at other times, I have something I think is worth saying, but I’ve said it so many times before that I’m running out of new ways to say it without repeating myself. This has been pretty much the reason for my lack of posting lately.
When it comes to game design, I’ve pretty much said the same thing over and over for years now. Games like World of Warcraft are fun, but they do not excite or engage me. I want more story (and by that I mean more put into the world for me to discover and use in my story, not to be confused with clicking through a story someone else wrote – or worse, sitting and watching cut scenes of stories where I don’t even get to participate – in my view EverQuest had more story that most current games), and I want grouping, and I want less focus on levels and gear and racing to the “endgame”, and I want a slower pace that allows me time to interact with other players while playing as opposed to button mashing extravaganzas where I have to stop playing in order to talk to people. And if a game needs to have voice chat it should be in the game, not a 3rd party tool (or ffs integrate some damn controls through your game’s UI so that I don’t have to alt-tab out to join chat with people).
At this point, my gaming talk will probably fizzle out and just be the random post now and again about a game I’m playing or something I’m doing (or if I win the lottery, the game I’m building), so I apologize in advance if the posts I do make don’t interest you. Since I’m no longer motivated to ramble on about game design, I’ve got to seek out other motivations…
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.
The other day, I went to tour a colocation facility. For the uninitiated, it’s a place to put your business servers so you don’t have to house them yourself (and maintain UPS and generators and other things like that). Outside this facility were some protesters. They had signs about unfair wages and other stuff. I found out from the employees that the reason for the protest was thus: this company decided to expand, took bids for sheet rock work, and accepted the lower bid, a company with a higher bid didn’t like it and claims the only reason the other bid was lower was because “that company doesn’t pay a fair wage”, but it turns out the upset company is a union shop and likely pays more due to contract not because it’s “fair”.
That’s fine. I understand, company upset, protests. But the kicker is, the protesters are not employees of that company or members of that union. The protesters are homeless people that the company is paying (well below the minimum wage) to stand there 24/7. I know, I asked, and protesters, when approached, often ask if you know about the protest and offer to give you details, they don’t usually ask for cigarettes and money – homeless people do.
Look. If you don’t care enough to do your own protesting, then I can’t be bothered to care about your protest. And the ironic part of paying people an unfair wage to protest unfair wages is not really helping you.
Besides, have you been inside? Their setup is freakin’ sweet!
Today begins the first part of an ongoing project. Basically it is the embodiment of those “a reason to write every day” things that some communities do that I could never get any communities I belonged to to get interested in. The idea is to write, essentially any idea that comes into my head, all into one story, just to get it out of my head. Perhaps some of these ideas will eventually become full stories on their own, perhaps this whole thing will evolve into something different. Who knows!
I’ve already said I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. I’m also a sucker for romantic action comedies. Plus I’ve already admitted my man-crush on Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston is hot. I’ve basically got no reason to avoid this movie. Like the gravity well of a black hole, I feel myself being pulled toward the theater.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
Looks to be a good family/kid friendly movie. I probably won’t see this in the theater, but I’ll surely catch it on Netflix.
I want to see this. I mean, it doesn’t look like it is going to surprise me. The plot appears to be Minority Report but with organs instead of predicting the future. The enforcer has the tables turned and suddenly realizes that what he’s been doing isn’t as right as he thought it was. But it looks gory and fun. Now if I can just convince the wife…
Personally, one aspect of design I’m eager to change is level based progression, but that’s a separate issue. Reward sharing actually comes in two forms. The first I’m going to call inherent. These rewards are things like experience points or deed flags where simple membership in the group (and proximity to the event in most games) garners you a share. The main reason for this sort of structure is to prevent exclusion of “support classes” from rewards. If your group is fighting a group of monsters and you are the healer and during the entire kill of one of them you cast no spells, the group structure ensures you get a share. Obviously, more complicated “cast spell on person who fought” award trees could work most of the time, but I specified “cast no spells” for a reason. You are a vital part of the group, they need you, but it just so happens that for sixty seconds during one fight no one was hurt enough to require healing, so you didn’t. I suppose you could get even more complicated and add to the award tree anyone who cast a spell on someone who engages the monster within the last X minutes, but that could easily bog down the system with keeping track. A better solution is actually to remove rewards from the act of defeating a monster, at least for experience and move it to quests/tasks. A number of games, most notably World of Warcraft, have already begun moving in this direction where grinding experience points fighting monsters is far less rewarding that fighting monsters that contribute to a quest that will yield a large chunk of experience as a reward. Even though, group membership is still used to assign the quest flag (the kill of a rat for a “kill ten rats” quest).
At this point, we could start looking into different methods of awarding flags, such as the award being an area effect so that any player character within range gets the flag whether they contributed or not. Each of them valid, and each can be done, but every method, even grouping, has exploitable elements, so the issue becomes which exploitability are you more comfortable with and to begin looking into ways to combat it -like logging out people who are AFK too long and trying to eliminate users who “macro”. Of course, the main reason some people don’t participate in combat is because combat design around things like the holy trinity (tank/healer/dps) encourage it, but that is a separate issue.
Its beginning to look like the current design of the reward structure, how players progress, and how combat functions in many MMOs (primarily the Diku style ones) are very dependent on the group structure and trying to remove that group element is going to require thinking the whole thing over from the ground up.
Last time I talked about communications, because to me that is the single most important aspect of an MMO. The reason I play is the other people. But I know the social aspects aren’t why many people play. To many people the most important thing a group does is provide status updates.
One of the key elements in modern games and the focus on the trinity design (tank/heal/damage) is that joining a group puts the other players’ health and other stats on your User Interface where it is easy to keep track of. In this way, grouping and raid groups become vital to the game. Can you imagine playing a game where you couldn’t see the health of the other members of your party? Imagine having to call out for every heal or assist. Most games these days even include buffs on the UI so your priest can tell if that armor spell he casts has worn off or been dispelled. Sure, these elements didn’t always exists, but with them being so predominant in games now, could we do without them?
Without the group structure, if you wanted to retain these UI status updates, you would need another way to get them. So, instead of restricting this capability to groups we could unhook it and make it available always. Target a player, click on an option button on the target element, select “Pin to UI” from the menu and they get added to your screen just as if they were in your group. There might be some technical limitations to this, perhaps a maximum number of people you can pin to your UI, and it would be nice to know who has pinned you (so you can yell at a healer who doesn’t have you, the main tank, pinned), but I definitely think that a group of designers could sit around and hash out all the problems and find solutions to make this work.
This solution, of course, is more labor intensive than just joining a group or raid, so there might be resistance to such a change. But I think the overall increase of utility would be worthwhile.
I was first introduced to the band No More Kings because of a funny video for a song of theirs. The song was “Sweep The Leg” and the video is…
The infectious groove of that song immediately had me hooked. Shortly after discovering the song, I found out the band was coming through Atlanta and playing a gig down at Smith’s Olde Bar. We went, and there I heard more of Pete Mitchell’s music. I bought the CD and it has remained a staple of my changer.
Not too long ago, No More Kings put out a second album, which I pre-ordered and it has joined the first in remaining a staple of my CD changer. One of the best parts of Pete and company’s style is that while many of their songs are littered with and about pop culture (or specifically 80′s pop culture) like the song in the video above they never really come out and beat you over the head with it. The song is called “Sweep The Leg” and not “The Karate Kid song”. For another example, take the following lyrics:
there’s no reason to look under the hood
a slight malfunction, doesn’t mean i’m no good
i won’t be shut down, i’m not ready to die
i said that i was sorry, but robots don’t cry
the very thought of losing out now is making me tremble
i am alive, i am alive, i am alive
please just gimme a chance now, no disassemble
i am alive, i am alive
there’s no reason to take me apart
extension cords and circuit boards don’t mean there’s no heart
i can tell somehow you relate
we’re indifferent to the difference between program and fate
now i know i’m alive
can’t you see i’m alive
i finally know i’m alive
i wanna show i’ve arrived
i wanna stay up all night
set all circuits to jive
i wanna prove i’m alive
do so much more than survive
i’m gonna reach for the sky
and give the world a hi-five
i wanna shout it out, i know what life is about
i wanna laugh wanna scream wanna cry out loud
You might need to read through it a couple of times if it doesn’t jump out at you, but this song is called “Robots Don’t Cry” and is about Johnny 5, the star of the film Short Circuit. Many of their songs are like this, although they also do a number of fully original tunes that are not about movies and TV shows.
This past weekend I spent my time in Free Realms grinding out some Brawler levels. I was only level 4 and had that stupid “Get level 5!” as my only brawl quest. Well, I had other quests for the brawler, but they all required that I fight things recommended for level 5 and over. So I went and found a few random encounters and got level 5, then set about questing again.
Back in the days of EverQuest, I played a monk. The reason I chose a monk was because the guy who introduced me to the game said it was hard to play and was the class least reliant on equipment. And it was true, in the beginning. My monk was about 80% effective when “naked”. Of course, as the game expanded, monks became just as reliant on gear as every other class. But the point is, I played a monk. One thing monks did in EQ was called “pulling”. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means that my group would pick a safe spot to sit and I would run out and find monsters for us to fight, dragging them back to the group for the kill. The reason monks did this was because they got a skill called Feign Death which allowed them to escaped monsters if they happened to get too many chasing them. Play dead, monsters go away. As all monks did, I learned the observable mechanics of the game, how monsters would walk back to spawn points at different times, how some would “reset” their “hate list” upon reaching their spawn, and lots of other little things. Over time, as I observed more and became a better puller, I used Feign Death less and less. I learned how to pluck a single monster from a group just by standing in a particular place a particular distance away at a particular angle. Honestly, being a puller in EQ was probably what kept me playing for so long. One of the main reasons I quit was at the high end game during raiding your team only needed one or two monks for pulling, and any extra monks were just a part of the killing team. Auto-attack is boring, especially after a life roaming zones in search of danger.
The point of that little trip down memory lane is to preface the following: Monster pathing and aggro hasn’t changed much over at SOE.
I find myself going under equipped and lower level than I should into brawler fights and using my monk skills to splits monsters and fight them one at a time when they are clearly intended to be fought in pairs or threes. You can even run from most groups of monsters and watch your “radar” to see when most of them turn around and go home, leaving just one tenacious follower to combat. I’ve even gone so far as to defeat “events” that clearly shouldn’t be something I do alone. In one quest instance, you get to a certain point and it triggers waves of monsters to attack. If you stand and fight, you have to take them on 3 or 4 at a time, but instead you can run off to the side and hide, wait for all the waves to show up, and then use aggro and positioning to pluck them one at a time out of the mess. Sure, it takes longer, but seeing as how actually finding people to group is one of the most difficult things to do in Free Realms, taking the time and doing it on my own is preferable.
Anyway, I managed to get myself 4 levels doing Brawler quests, and then I headed back to Sanctuary to see if I could exhaust it like I did Seaside. I haven’t yet, but I’m getting close.