[Thought of the Day] On attunements and queues in group finders

Just in case anyone doesn’t know the term, an attunement is an archaic MMO term associated with a (possibly complex) quest that a player had to complete in order to be able to enter a specific raid or instance. ie. as well as finding a raid to take them. In these days of accessibility and raid finders, they’re largely obsolete.

Attunements have also been A TOPIC in the blogosphere lately.

There are three things that made MMO attunements so incredibly frustrating in the past:

  1. Lack of LFG. (Part of the hassle of getting attunements like Onyxia and BT done in WoW was down to getting instance groups.)
  2. Pointlessly random elements. (Remember the UBRS key in vanilla WoW? Based on rare random drops.)
  3. Confusion as to whether it was the players’ responsibility or the guild’s responsibility to get people attuned.

I  think if vanilla/ TBC WoW had a group finder, people would have been way less stressed about the group stages of attunements.

The reason attunements will not return is that the random group finder demands to be fed a constant stream of willing players, as many as possible. That means you never want to restrict the number of people queueing unless you absolutely have no choice. WoW doesn’t even want to make people locate the dungeon instance before they are able to queue for it because some players found that sufficient of a barrier to harm the queueing times. So remember this when you hear anyone suggest tweaks to the group finder that would result in fewer people queueing (like more stringent gear/ spec checks, or attunement checks); they won’t happen.

This is one of the ways in which group finders have changed the game. I would say for the worse because the experience of completing an attunement and gaining access to cool new content was quite an interesting and MMO specific playstyle.

[Diablo 3] Some links: Barbarian builds, comedy, metacritic scores, Torchlight 2 beta

D3barrel

I forgot to mention yesterday how fun it is to destroy the scenery, not to mention the various barrels, in D3. I’ve seen regular barrels, water barrels and torture barrels – not quite sure what the latter ones are.

Anyhow, since loads of people are playing Diablo 3 at the moment I thought I’d share some links today.

Barbarian Builds

My build changes regularly, like every time I want to try out a new rune or decide to respec for more mobility or more survival or more fury or more heals on crits – you get the picture. There is an interesting interplay between gear and spec that I hadn’t previously picked up on, in that you do need a certain amount of survivability in the higher difficulty levels but you have some choice as to how you want to acquire it. So a highly defensive gearset might support more offensive skills. Or something like that, certainly as you gear up through a level there seems to be more scope to experiment with less defensive builds.

Anyhow, here are a couple of builds that other people are using in Hell/ Inferno level.

Dean’s Hell level barbarian guide

Writhan’s barbarian guide to Inferno level

Sooru discusses his build and play style in Act I of Inferno mode with a barbarian.

Players in general are being quite proactive about posting builds up on the official forums and I’m sure the same is happening on D3 fansites as well.

Comedy Plot Roundup

I found this in the official forums, there are plot spoilers but he’s not that far from the actual plot.

Asmodan: “Puny human! I am the evil master strategist and I show it by frontal assault with no vanguard and a demon in the larder. Fear my cunningivity!”
Player: “Now you’re making !@#$ up. Time to take the fight to you, if only to shut you up. Nothing personal, really. Besides, I can see the family resemblance to Belial.”
Asmodan: “Are you mocking me? ARE YOU MOCKING ME?! I tankrushed hundreds of noobs in C&C, I’ll have you know!”
Player: “Actually, that explains quite a lot. Up for a game of Stratego?”
Asmodan: “RAWR!”
Player. “I’ll say.”

Metacritic and the Problem of Crowdsourced Reviews

I’m all for freedom of expression, but when the haters rush the review sites it’s hard to get a meaningful review from crowdsourced sites like Amazon or Metacritic. Or in other words, yes I get that you hate the DRM but apart from that what is the game like?

Gamepolitics.com reports on the deluge of embittered critics on Metacritic. For sure it’s annoying when you can’t play a game you paid for, but some people like reviews to also consider the gameplay rather than representing a spike of frustration.

So at least pro (or even non pro) game reviewers still have something to offer, even if people hate their opinions too. Metacritic in particular is so vulnerable to this type of hate-bombing that it is losing any value it ever had as a review aggregator and instead is more of a – I don’t know – opinion survey? For a very specific set of opinions.

Patrick Garratt at VG247 wonders about Metacritic’s relevance. He also highlights Blizzard’s refusal to allow pre-release review copies which means that any reviews you read must have been compiled after release and explains why that could be a good trend.

I am quite curious to see what the more authoritative pro reviewers make of D3, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the upcoming week. I enjoy it very much as a game (which is my personal bottom line), but it also has major failings that leave questions in my mind.

Torchlight 2 Beta

Runic rather smartly held a weekend beta for Torchlight 2 last weekend, with no NDA, so first impressions are scattered around the internet. My personal feel is that I plan to play it, but it will be really hard for me to go back to a talent tree based system after D3. I also love storytellling, even if it’s really cheesy, which is another point in favour of D3 for me.

(I know, my tastes in games are not cool Winking smile )

Pete at Dragonchaser is more of a fan of talent trees and feels differently. Even reading this I die a bit inside when he gets excited about spending 5  points per level on stats – I always hated that aspect of RPGs.

Arb waxes lyrical about her ferret, and that’s not a euphemism.

Here’s some discussion about the T2 beta from rpg.net

[SWTOR] The numbers game

So EA held an earnings call earlier this week and revealed that subscriptions for SWTOR were down by 400k from earlier this year. This still leaves 1.3m active subs, depending on how far you trust their accounting/ reporting, so it’s far too early to conclude from this that the game is dead as a lot of commenters seem very keen to do. Their immediate plan is to get a group finder tool into the next patch (1.3) which they talk about in the official podcast, as well as their plans for conventions this year, the rakghoul plague, what else is coming for Legacies and so forth. (Best thing about the official podcast, as well as the guys sounding genuinely keen, is that it isn’t too long.)

I imagine a solid group finder will provide a lot of content for players who have been struggling to find groups for flashpoints, and they hinted in the podcast that you might be able to make groups for planetside heroics and random op groups also. Certainly as emphasis shifts to alts, the group finder will be invaluable.

They will also need to implement some kind of server transfer. A cross server group finder will mean that they can push this out a little further, but there are low pop servers which need to be sorted out so that players have a community to interact with.

In context, SWTOR is following the sort of subscription number curve that the vast majority of themepark MMOs see, and may even have better retention than most at the moment. But if EA and Bioware were expecting this to be the game that broke the mould, it clearly hasn’t done that either. I do seem to recall at some point they said they needed 500k subscribers to turn a profit, and they’re still well above that level.

More worrying for the longer term is that they don’t seem to be expressing any solid plan for what to do about endgame, which leaves us with these beautifully crafted levelling storylines (as a Bioware fan and lover of storytelling, I’m very thrilled with them so far), perfectly adequate ops and flashpoints, warfronts, and solid MMO-style gameplay. And that won’t be enough to keep people once they are done with alting. This was ALWAYS going to be an issue with a heavily story based game. Always. I’m happy they made it anyway because I like the game a lot and hope it makes some decent returns for them at some point, but you do sometimes wonder what they were thinking.

They are also now stuck with a playerbase that is expecting these voiced storylines with extensive cut scenes and dialogue options from future content. I think what they have done is great and raises the bar in a way that will make it difficult for storytelling in other MMOs to compare, but it will have to be part of future SWTOR development plans. On the other hand, the rakghoul event was very promising and the majority of players seemed to have enjoyed it. As a fan and a keen player, I’m happy to keep paying subs for a few more months to support a game I enjoy a lot, and see what they can come up with.

And I think SWTOR should be an easy sell to WoW fans who are done with Cataclysm content but not burned out with that style of themepark MMO. It’s a high quality offering of a type that we probably won’t see again. Which is why it’s disappointing to see WoW Insider crowing about the numbers when they could instead support the genre – maybe a lot of WoW fans are bitter about people who play other games? (Although you’ll see in the comments that a lot of people say they play both but not at the same time.) It’s not as if Blizzard has been actively putting out content recently.

So what is a casual player again?

One of the comments Riccitello made was that they felt that the drop in subs was due to casual players leaving. This is a new definition to me for casual, because I’d have guessed that hardcore players were just as likely to burn through content fast and then leave. But it’s actually not a bad definition for an MMO so let’s look at it. Imagine if instead of talking about casual vs hardcore, we talk about casual MMO players vs core MMO players.

If you are a core player, then you are quite attached to your current MMO of choice. You may not be burning through cutting edge endgame content, but you are happy to potter around and find things to do because you just enjoy the game and like playing it. You are unlikely to jump to the next flavour of the month game and ditch the MMO completely, or if you do you will probably return. You may well be part of a guild, but you might equally be a soloer or someone who only players with a small group of RL friends who are also core players.

I like the concept of the core player because it describes how I’ve tended to play MMOs once I got out of hardcore raiding. And I am sure it describes other players too – I’ve known plenty of longterm core WoW players who happily pottered around there for months or years without obsessing overly in a hardcore way about the game. It describes a type of player who loves their game of choice and plays it regularly, but without necessarily feeling they have to do cutting edge stuff in it all the time. The type of player who is in demand by just about any guild leader.

Interestingly, it’s at about this stage in an MMO (3 months in) that you will start to find out who the core playerbase are. I think SWTOR may take longer to bed in, because people who enjoy Bioware content have plenty of alt storylines to explore, so it may take a few more months for them to really be done with it. It’s the people who stay after THAT who are the core group.

Or else Bioware provides enough new single player content to keep the semi-core playing – but it is entirely possible that they won’t be able to do this quickly enough. Designing a new core endgame mechanic that will be appealing to players who enjoyed the intense storytelling of the levelling path would work too; but it’s hard to imagine what that might be. It’s not impossible to procedurally generate stories to some extent, but not in a way that will be satisfying. Sandboxing the themepark (ie. player/ guild colonised cities, space stations, trading hubs, etc) could be another way forwards, but not in the short term, and it’s not clear that it’s in Bioware’s skillset or plans to do it, nor whether server size is large enough to make it work.

But MMOs, at their heart, may not really be suited to the mass market. The mass, by definition, will never be core gamers. Those of us who are, whether we be hardcore or casual, sandbox or themepark, PvE or PvP, probably have more in common with each other than we know.

Does it actually make financial sense to create good storylines?

One of the impressions I have gotten from seeing Bioware responses around SWTOR is that while they estimated the average levelling time for players reasonably accurately, they were still surprised at how intensively many people played the game – ie. how many hours per day.

I don’t really think this should have been a surprise. They should have figures for how quickly people played through their single player RPGs, and then realise that MMOs are a more competitive levelling environment. But ultimately, my experience is that if I played more than I had intended, it was because I was really into the story and setting and wanted to know what was going to happen next.

So maybe really compelling storytelling just encourages people to eat up content quickly, and grindy repetitive quests would be better business sense for a subscription themepark MMO. This is not especially good news for consumers or producers. Yes, emotional engagement with the game can make people more attached, but if they play to the end of the story and then leave, was it really worth the effort? And if you like storytelling games, then ideally you’d like companies to feel incentivised to make more of them.

Really this sort of model would work well in a F2P or main game + DLC type of setup. I don’t for a moment think that EA plan to take SWTOR F2P, but actually the content style would work quite well. You could easily sell class or planet storylines – they’re good quality and would be worth paying for.

And lastly, are people really talking too much about SWTOR?

Another point Riccitello made was that investors have been very focussed on SWTOR in comparison with other EA offerings, noting that it isn’t in their top 5 when compared to properties like The Sims and Madden.

On the one hand, they were the ones who hyped it as a competitor to WoW. On the other hand, EA and Bioware do also have a ton of haters who are only too keen to dogpile on them, including journalists. I think a lot of gaming journalists detest MMOs anyway.

I have a theory that this is because RP and themepark fantasy MMOs are more appealing to female gamers and a lot of people think that the holy grail of gaming is still 4-5 male mates logging in every week to shoot the crap out of each other in their FPS of choice and resent anything else that might be popular. I can’t prove it, but when RPers and MMO players are widely disparaged as geeks by EQUALLY GEEKY gamers, it does wind me up.

Stropp airs a few ideas he has about where Bioware are going wrong, but I don’t really agree with all of them. I don’t think Bioware have forgotten their true fans, they keep making stuff I love! Who were the ‘true fans’ anyway? People who liked BG?

Targeter at Imperial Intelligence has some thoughts on what could stem the tide.

Rohan shares some thoughts on the subscriber drop also.

Ethics and the Morality Wheel. Why choices create characters.

One of the appealing factors of MMOs for a lot of players is that you can create your own character.  But what does that really mean?

The standard setup is you can design what they look like, pick a gender, maybe race and age if the character generator allows it, and give them a name. In a sandbox game you can then decide some goals for that character (and show that they are the goals by going off and actually doing it.) In a themepark game your goals are more restricted but you can still say “this will be my PvP alt”, or “this is the alt I’ll level with my bf/gf.”  If you are a RPer (or just like writing backgrounds) then you might also give your character an in game back history. Some games or addons let you share that with other players.

Hopefully the game intro  will then give you some setting framework to hang your character on. In WoW you will start in your racial starting area and pick up extra information about your character’s home culture as you go, for example.

Maybe you’ll pick out a personality or character for your new creation as you go along. (The default in games is the chaotic greedy alignment who doesn’t like taking orders but goes along with whatever gives the best rewards. Sometimes you’ll get the lawful lazy alignment,  where your character follows orders and doesn’t think about it much.)

So what difference does a mechanic like the morality wheel in Bioware games make to that?

A very different type of chargen (character generation) was in Ultima 4 where… you were asked to answer some ethical multi-choice questions in a gypsy’s caravan. The answers affected your starting class, and in the rest of the game you were vaguely encouraged to be virtuous by the game mechanics. It was interesting and different at the time, and felt as though you were really generating a personality … or at least a few traits.

agent1

It’s a feature in Bioware games in particular that you will be making a lot of semi-ethical conversation choices as you play through the game. So in a way, you can keep defining or redefining your character’s personality as bit as you go along. I was trying to decide this week why that felt effective to me. So here’s one particular example where I made a choice in a conversation in SWTOR, and although it made no difference at all to the plot, I felt strongly afterwards that my character had become more real to me. Or at least, I knew how to keep ‘playing’ him in conversations if I wanted to keep that character trait.

This character is my agent, he’s pretty dark side which means ruthless, unforgiving, kills at the drop of a hat, all that regular nasty stuff. I usually pick dark side options in conversations. Well, almost always. So the occasions when I don’t are quite memorable to me because I had to stop and think about it.

In this example, I’d been sent off to kill someone. They weren’t especially nice and probably had it coming. But I knew a bit about their history and I’d felt a) I could see why they’d ended up that way and felt a bit sorry for them, because it was a fairly traumatic  upbringing b) the person who was telling me to kill them was way worse, by an order of magnitude.

So during the conversation, at one point, I warned the NPC that their life was in danger and they should get out of dodge. They ignored the warning so I went ahead and fought/ killed them as per orders. I had decided though when I took that light side choice that if they decided to listen and did leave, I’d have let them go.

So here’s what I am wondering. Why is it that a gameplay option that made zero difference to the story (like I say, the NPC paid no attention and I had to kill them anyway) made ME feel different about my character? Like, suddenly I saw him as someone who was a brutal, efficient operative, but not completely heartless or unsympathetic any more. More of a hard man doing a hard job (which is still not a morally strong position) than the total emotionless psycho that he’d seemed up to that point. I’d let the gameworld affect me and my decision making rather than just going along with the ‘yeah, he’ll be pure darkside’ script I’d started with.

Later I added a moral rule that despite being ruthless and all that, he’d probably not kill someone who was injured and alone but would (grudgingly) provide some medical attention instead. That was because he was a healer. Not a nice person still, but there’s an instinct not to hit someone when they’re down if there’s a choice. Again, there was at least one instance where I spoke to someone who was injured, gave them some painkillers, but they died anyway. Didn’t affect the plot; DID affect how I thought about my character.

Ethical Rules in Action

So one of the features of the decision wheel is that you’re encouraged to make ethical decisions all the time, all the way through the levelling stories. But what does that really mean?

Ethics is all about how people decide what they’re going to do in any situation. If a situation demands “what should I do/ say next?” then that’s an ethical decision. One of the ways we make this easier for ourselves (so as to avoid having major moral dilemmas every time we leave the house) is to figure out some basic personal ethical rules that are going to form our own morality.

These might include rules such as:

  • I will not lie.
  • I will be punctual.
  • I will be nice to strangers.

Religions have a lot to say on the subject of ethical rules and will doubtless have some to suggest too (ie. love your neighbour as yourself, judge not lest ye be judged, don’t gossip  – that’s a Jewish one, believe it or not.)

You could get more complex (and most people do) and say:

  • I will not lie, except to prevent harm.
  • I will not lie, unless someone really close asks me to.
  • etc

Professions and organisations often have ethical codes too, to define how they want members to behave.

  • A doctor should act in the best interests of the patient.
  • The customer is always right.

So really, in a Bioware-type game, you’re being given the opportunity to define a code of ethics for your new character, and see how it plays out in the game. You could instead pick random options, or define a code that involves, “Always pick the top left option” or “Always pick the option that my current companion will like” which is going to end up with a character that feels unpredictable or who always is swayed by the people they are with. And that’s a choice too.

There is a lot more to ethics than this. You can decide “I want my character to act like a good person would act’” (virtue ethics), or “I want my character to do whatever gives the best outcome” (consequentialism), or “I want my character to do the right thing whatever the cost” (deontological ethics), or even “I’d do what a good person in this society would do” (pragmatic ethics.)

That’s one way to build a character in a morality type conversation game. There are also others by which you decide “my character is mostly going to do the right thing, but there are exceptions and these are them.”

Anyhow, here are some ethical rulesets I’ve either designed or worked out in play for my SWTOR characters so far. One of the things I enjoy about the morality wheel is that it does allow you to figure out your character in play.

  • My Bounty Hunter is mostly about getting the job done and having some fun. She’s even quite chilled out and humane. But she has a very short temper and itchy trigger finger so if someone pisses her off during a conversation, they may well get shot in the head. (I decided to be light side, but take every conversation option that involved ((shoot him/her))).
  • My Agent is a stone cold bastard, but he’s loyal to the empire and not as heartless as some of the people he works with. He will hesitate before killing people who are in front of him and obviously vulnerable – which is a weakness in an agent, probably.
  • My Sith Warrior is powerful and chafes against being ordered around,  more of a force of nature than a force of evil. She trended light side initially as a way of acting up against her masters, but sank into it deeper because it’s often quite effective, sets people off balance,  and is a sign of how independent she can be. (She’s not ‘good’ so much as likes to assert her own personality – but I think probably has become a better person than she’d think.)

I don’t know if I think they have more personality to me than my WoW Warrior, but I know that her persona is mostly internalised. With these characters, you actually get to act it out.

[Links] GW2 beta, Jita Burns

avengers

Here’s a couple of Avengers* screen shots. That was good fun, an ensemble film that did justice to all the individual characters. Recommended for any superhero fans. Incidentally, Black Widow doesn’t actually wear stilettos anywhere in this film, and especially not while fighting. She’s seen carrying her heels after the first scene where she has a fight, but never actually wearing them.

Given all the hot characters swanning around in tight/ revealing outfits, it’s kind of noticeable how sexless superheroes are as a genre. Gwyneth Paltrow lit up the screen in the few scenes she was in though.

* How did they ever get away with having him call her a ‘mewling quim’? Hilarity all round.

GW2 Beta Feedback

So this weekend was the first ‘open’ beta for GW2, and consequently there are a lot of initial impressions around the web. I’ve linked a few here, but my summary is that opinion was generally positive (although if you’ve paid £50 to be in the beta, there’s quite an incentive to look on the bright side). People enthused about the active combat, the pretty environments, the dynamic quests, and the WvW. However the game isn’t yet finished or fully polished, and in particular issues around server choice (all your alts need to be on the same server) and the overflow mechanism which currently splits parties up when they zone will be red flags if Arenanet leave them as they are now.

Working out how to evaluate a beta is tricky. Most people will still only have low level characters, the server economy and PvP setup won’t be fully mature, and performance issues and balance tweaking could easily change before the end of  beta.

Core mechanics and ‘theme’ are much less likely to change. A warning note to me is Keen’s comment that combat is much more difficult for melee than ranged, with the dodging etc. A few people have also commented that circle strafing is an important strategy, which is worth noting to any players who really hate all the bunny jumping/ circle strafing type of tactics. It will be interested to see if more people comment on this in future betas as they have higher level characters, because that’s not a great balance feature.

GW2 Feedback:

  • Chris at LevelCapped“there are some issues, and not all of them can be attributed to “beta””
  • Tremayne’s Law — “the automatic levelling down of players to match the area they’re in is pure genius”
  • Tales of the Aggronaut“This time around I allowed myself to wander aimlessly, explore, and work my way through the various objectives on the map in a much more fluid way.”
  • Of Course I’ll Play It“every mechanic in GW2 seems designed to just be as player friendly as it can possibly be.  Buffs don’t work on your party, they work on people in your area.”
  • Raging Monkeys“I am enjoying the combat mechanics in GW2, as I knew I would. Auto-attack and circle strafing take some getting used to”
  • Melmoth at Kiasa – “The devoted passion of EVE’s players is something which I also recognise in the Guild Wars community, as well as in the team at ArenaNet, and I feel that it is this passion which is intrinsic to the best of MMO experiences.”
  • Keen says Overflow has got to go and wonders if the combat feels clunky
  • Cyndre at KillTenRats“Within an hour I wasn’t even bothering to do most of the events because they were terribly uninspired and the rewards were simply not motivating enough to grind content to achieve.”

I also noticed comments about the voice acting not being very good and stories a bit lacking. SWTOR has raised the bar hugely in this respect, I think players haven’t entirely realised yet how much. (I was playing an Agent over the weekend and … frankly the storytelling on that class is phenomenal. And such clever use of MMO mechanics like quests to simulate mind control. The only reason I’m not writing posts about it is because I don’t want to give out any spoilers.)

ie. Expect all future MMOs to feel lacking in voice acting and storytelling if you’ve played SWTOR at all. They won’t come anywhere near. Judge them on other aspects instead.

Another thing to watch out for with the WvW setup is that players will tend to flock to the realms with the best WvW reputation, at least if there are bonuses to be had from winning the WvW battlefronts. Especially the PvE players who want the bonuses but aren’t personally interested in PvP. I’m going to be interested to see if ArenaNet has any plans for server balancing to try to spread the PvP guilds out a bit.

Burn Jita

OK, EVE event coming up. Goons decided to siege a high security trading hub this weekend. The problem with trying to report on EVE events is that there are three reasons why these player driven events are meaningful to people:

  • You were there, or personally involved. Events that affect a large amount of players are more meaningful to more people. There is some debate about exactly who gets affected and by how much.
  • An impressive amount of player organisation was involved. Like, an event which took 3 months of planning by hundreds of players.
  • Many players are deeply invested in the game/ event and will be talking about it as if it was the most important thing in the universe. ie. lots of spin.

EVE has a lot of highly invested players, and being on a single server means that a single player driven event can affect a lot of players. Having said that, congrats to everyone involved in making it happen – but I still wouldn’t go near EVE with a bargepole.

I am a bit puzzled how if the blockade happened for 2 hours per day in US prime time it could really count as a blockade. I mean, I don’t even play EVE but presumably if I could just log in before work and do my trading while the americans were asleep, it’s not a very exciting event. If you do this properly, you get your minions on other continents to get involved too and have it happen around the clock, surely.

Gevlon argues that Goons are spinning their influence out of all proportion. Well yes, that’s what happens in every EVE player event. Something happens, and then everyone argues about whether it affected them or not – because if you buy into the sandbox, then you want to FEEL as though you were affected by other player’s actions. It’s the next best thing to being there yourself, which if stuff tends to happen in other timezones, won’t always be possible.

More Links

The Wizard 101 guys announce a new Pirate themed game. That’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

Jester at Jester’s Trek wonders if players have an abusive relationship with EVE Online. I’m not thrilled with that metaphor – I think addiction works better to describe what he’s talking about. But I also don’t think it’s a positive way to look at a game, I would have stopped playing before that point.

Scary carries on with his Bloggapalooza, in which he asked a load of MMO bloggers (including yours truly) some deep and meaningful questions about gaming such as “if you got reincarnated as a game character, who would you be”?”

Harpy’s Nest considers what it means to achievement minded players if Blizzard make all achievements account wide in the next expansion.

“I repeat content on my alts just because there is a blank space in my achievement list. I explore places I know like the back of my hand, flying over old familiar hidey holes, taking screenshots and thinking about all the memories they gave me. I do old favourite quests and farm rep with people who already love me on four other characters. I get out into the world because my achievements aren’t currently shareable and I know plenty others who do the same.”

This is pretty much the opposite of how I play, incidentally. So I think it’d be kind of amusing if I could create a new panda with the “Hand of A’dal” title from my old druid, and the Chinese Olympic memorial pet (it’s a little flying chinese dragon, so v appropriate actually) from my warlock. But I can see that for people who love grabbing achievements on new alts, this would actually cut down their content.

Skaggy, who is one of my SWTOR guildmates, has a new blog intended for newcomers to SWTOR. So go give him some love! (And watch out for new blog encouragement events all over the MMO blogosphere next month.)

[Question of the Day] What is your favourite live event/ holiday event in an MMO?

The rakghoul plague continues, with additional daily quests being unlocked as time goes by. We hung out in guild groups last night and headed out to complete the quest that gives the crimson rakghoul pet, which was a lot of fun. Mostly for the company and jokes on voice chat.

Because you get rakghoul DNA when you die of the plague and there is also a daily quest to infect other people, large infection ‘parties’ have been rolling on the fleet. This basically involves everyone standing around in a group for long periods of time, waiting to be infected/ explode, and then repeat ad infinitum. I wouldn’t exactly call this fun, but if you just want to keep the game window open while you do something else online, it’s a very easy way to get the tokens.

Anyhow, this has all been making me think about other live events or holiday events that I have enjoyed in other games. Here are some of my favourites:

LOTRO: The Yule Festival Theatre

LOTRO has tended to go with hobbit/shire type of themes for holiday quests, with the local equivalent of maypole dancing, apple bobbing and foot races featuring strongly. Some of these themed mini-games are more fun than others, and then there are elements like this theatre which are like nothing I have ever seen in any other game.

The theatrical event involves an NPC theatre company putting on a play. If you are in the audience, you may get a chance to participate as one of the actors.  This involves being given a role and at certain points in the play, you’ll be given a chance to do an emote – you can get titles for picking appropriate ones. If you are in the audience and not selected to act, you can also take part by throwing flower petals or rotten fruit at actors who perform well or badly; doing this appropriately also gives you tokens.

I love this because it’s so completely bonkers, doesn’t involve killing random mobs, encourages players to have fun and interact,  and is still somehow completely thematic. More of this kind of thing please!

 

WoW: Hallow’s End

WoW has some great holiday events, although they press you far too hard to be a completionist (this is probably a bonus if you are a completionist anyway) and tend to get dull after you have seen them once. I had to think quite hard to pick my favourite, which came down to either Brewfest  (which probably has the best minigames) or Hallow’s End but the manically rhyming headless horseman pipped this one for me. Also as a Forsaken player I love this quest because it is so thematic and actually plays a real role in the game world (ie. festival for forsaken to celebrate their freedom from the lich king) other than just being a standin for a real life holiday.

There is plenty to do during Hallow’s End, including saving the poor starter towns from the headless horseman’s wrath once an hour, heading into the Scarlet Monastery graveyard with a high level group to lay him to rest and try to win cool pets and mounts, playing trick or treat on your guildmaster and other notables, collecting wacky masks, and so on. This was actually the first holiday event in which WoW included a holiday boss, if I remember rightly, which is something they have started adding to other holidays also.

So it’s the well themed holiday along with the vast amount of cool stuff to do for everyone from newbies to endgame players that makes this one a winner for me. I think it’s generally one of the more popular holidays.

 

WoW: Gates of Ahn’Quiraj

This was possibly the most epic event that ever took place on WoW servers, involving everyone in helping to unlock the new raid and daily quests associated with Ahn Quiraj. It also crashed a lot of servers when the gates opened, and Blizzard decided never to do anything like it again.

But I remember it fondly, and some of the hardcore guilds got involved with organising and rewarding more casual players to get them to help out. There was a time when every server had to have at least one player who had completed the questline (which included raid kills and crazy grinds so they would have been a member of a hardcore guild) in order for those zones to become available. Back in the day before server transfers, this was a much bigger deal than it is now.

 

DaoC: The Poetry Contest

When I played Dark Age of Camelot, I don’t remember holiday events being much of a thing so if we wanted events on our servers, they were either organised by players or by GMs. The poetry contest was a genuine live event, and was organised by GMs on our server in the Hibernia realm (I guess they felt it was thematic for mythic ireland to have poetry contests).

So they advertised the event on forums and encouraged guilds to submit entries. When the event itself happened, GM characters took on the role of storytellers and marshalled the competitors, and then led everyone off to hear a story and kill a boss mob (I think). What made this event stand out is that players really got involved. We had a good crowd of players at the contest, people were enthusiastic about cheering the poets who they found most entertaining, and everyone was generally playing along happily and not griefing.

For me and Arb, this one is particularly memorable because we had formed a newish guild for alts on the realm and our guild was broke and the prize from the poetry competition (which was about 1000g I think) would have let us do some stuff we really wanted to with guild banks. One of our guildies entered the content, and the player was a 15 year old who was   very nervous about this. As soon as he stepped up on his little lurikeen with his poem about how much he liked blowing things up (which was in contrast to the more po-faced earlier poems), the audience  went wild and everyone was bouncing up and down and casting buffs on him to show that they loved it.

He won the contest. It’s one of my favourite memories from that game.

I recall Warhammer Online also had some good holiday events, I think Witching Night was one of our favourites there. And sandbox games can spawn some fun live/ player-driven events too if you happen to be in at the right time.

Do you like live/ holiday events, and which are your favourites?

[SWTOR] A live event! Starring rakghouls, pets, and blowing people up

(If you are reading this post because you are hoping to find a detailed walkthrough of the Rakghoul Plague event and associated quests and rewards, you can find that here at mmo-mechanics. I want to talk more about the storytelling and how we experienced it).

Yesterday, Bioware surprised the player base by launching an unexpected and unheralded live event, which looks as though it will last for at least a week. It starts on the fleet/s, or if you are like me starts with your partner yelling across the room “Log in, we’re going to Tatooine….”

This is because the first indication players had that something was going on was via announcements over the fleet about a dangerous contamination on Tatooine of the rakghoul virus from Taris. News terminals also appeared on the fleet, which played a cut scene of news announcers talking about the dangers and the imperial edicts that rakghouls should be destroyed.

rakghoul1

(the announcement said that people should on no account go to Tatooine, so clearly all player characters took this as a sign to head out there immediately!)

I’m a bit unclear on the actual process by which players found the event quests and location, since by the time I got there, my guild were sorting themselves out and there was a lot of voice chat around getting everyone to the right spot. Or in other words, I found out via other players rather than through Bioware’s carefully crafted cut scenes and NPC announcements in local chat. However, more patient players or people who like exploring will find all the information they need in the town by the Tatooine spaceport – wandering around and clicking on anything that glows is a good way to start.

There’s plenty of colour text and background to the situation as well, from the TV screens on Tatooine offering a news report where a reporter explains that all rakghouls or suspected rakghouls are to be terminated with extreme prejudice, while a guy transforms into a rakghoul in the background behind her and is shot by imperial soldiers, to regular NPC announcements from an imperial official on general chat.

None of this, incidentally, is delivered via quest text from an NPC with a quest symbol above its head.

When you get out into the wilds of Tatooine to chase down the crashed spaceship that released the virus and help to contain things by murdering infected sandpeople, the daily quest shows up as soon as you get into the right area. I am assured that the quest scales with level (so as long as you can navigate Tatooine safely, you can take part), and the mobs that spawn for you to kill are related to your own level.

NPC chat in local channel near the outbreak is more about people trying to persuade imperial soldiers that they aren’t infected, no really guv.

rakghoul2

This leads to the typical daily quest setup where you have to kill some mobs, locate some items, kill some more mobs, collect items, then head off to another quest area and do it again, leading to a final encounter with a slightly tougher mob, a cut scene with LS/DS choice, and a final followup. Your quest rewards can be turned in at a special vendor for a number of items including weapon crystals and a pet pale rakling, once you have collected enough of them.

But there is more, including a couple of ‘secret’ quests. The walkthrough linked above discusses those in detail, but one of them involves becoming infected yourself. There are two ways in which you can become infected. Either you pick up the virus from being in the area (on one occasion I got it after just walking into the quest area) or fighting infected mobs, or you can catch the virus if another victim expires near you.

For ease of identification, one of my guildies here models the effects of the rakghoul virus.

krellinfect

It starts with a green aura, then progresses into glowing purple, and finally ends with you as a greenish smear on the ground after having exploded messily. This can all take a varying amount of time.

If you contract the virus you have two options. Take an antidote (which are now sold by stim vendors all over the game world, and also turn up as daily quest rewards) which cures it, or let it run its course and see how many other players you can infect. There is a quest associated with infecting other players that you’ll find out about once you have expired of the plague at least once. Clearly because this is an MMO there are already forum threads by people complaining of being infected against their wishes (although you could just move away from the infected person.)

As part of the daily quests and associated event secret quests, you will also be able to unlock lore about the rakghoul plague outbreak and how the sandpeople have been trying to find a cure.

rakghoullore

As you can see here, these end up in your codex under a new heading of “Events.” And if you get bored of dailies or blowing people up and want to try a different way to get event tokens, you can take out two new world bosses that have been drafted in just for the occasion. (As earlier, check out the walkthrough link at the top of the post for more detailed information.)

We had a lot of fun with this event yesterday and I’m hoping to find more time for pursuing secret quests and blowing people up over the next week or so. Bioware have done a super job with this event, and despite including a lot of standard daily-type quests, it doesn’t feel formulaic or forced. The cut scenes and voice overs from imperial news are excellent. I love how you can find information about what is going on by just going there and getting involved, there’s no questgiver on fleet who pops something up in your quest log but all the information you need is in front of you.

I also love how adding world bosses on Tatooine encourages players to PUG, since they’re going to be there anyway and presumably all want tokens.

It’s really very nicely done indeed. And here finally are some action shots of us fighting more rakghouls in the dunes …

rakghoulfight

Thanks to Arb for some of the screenshots!