Give us this day our daily quest

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Next, attach a heart shaped balloon to your dragon … (the heart does remind me of GW2)

We are all creatures of routines. In any MMO you play regularly, there are routines you get into when you log in or out for a session. Maybe you check the auction house, send some materials between alts, check bank/guild logs to see what has happened while you were away, make sure you get your character somewhere ‘safe’ to log out, make a to-do list for what you want to do in this session, and so on. We can call this housekeeping, meaning habits you get into which will maintain your character/account the way you like it.

It’s in the interest of any MMO designer that players build regular habits around the game. For subscription games, it encourages you to keep subbing. F2P games may not charge subscriptions, but they benefit from having regular players if only for the content and marketing they provide for the people who do pay. Also players who log in regularly are more likely to form communities; when you see or hear the same people around every night, you will eventually feel that you are getting to know them even if you never stop to chat.

Daily quests are pretty clever, because they can slot neatly into this need for routine. So you log in and instead of the dailies being part of ‘what shall I do this evening?’ they are part of the housekeeping instead that you want to finish before you get some ‘me time.’ I have a good tolerance for daily quests (as long as they don’t expect me to do something I really hate) and if nothing else you will become really expert in the geography and spawn patterns of the daily quest areas of WoW. Pandaria has gone rather whole hog with the dailies, of which there are many and for multiple different factions. Which does lead to the risk that if people focus on dailies, they might not have enough time to do anything else.

I like to think people can sort out their own playing schedule, but the lure of ‘must complete dailies’ can be very strong. Not only that but it’s very easy to “log in quickly, just to check auctions” and end up with “while I’m here, might as well play a bit” and daily quests are an easily quantifiable unit of gameplay to plan. So “might as well play a bit” could become “might as well do the cloud serpent dailies.”

GW2 takes a very different approach, where the daily appears much more freeform and wrapped up in the sorts of PvE activity people tend to do anyway. Harvest X materials, kill Y mobs, kill Z different types of mobs, complete ZZ dynamic events. I love the requirement to kill lots of different types of mobs – it rewards you for knowing roughly where to find them and encourages you to move around. I am less fond of the dynamic event requirement, because those are random elements and hunting round for DEs can be tedious. So basically, although the daily appears more freeform, if you want to complete it you might have to fit it into your closing set of housekeeping routines (ie. things you need to do before you log off : complete daily quest).

In many ways, the best daily at the moment is the farming one in WoW. You log in and harvest your crops, then plant some more. It doesn’t involve fighting other players for scarce mobs, or doing anything onerous (like logging in your lowbie alt on GW2 so you can do lowbie DEs), but there’s a routine you can get into. It’s no accident that Farmville style games took off in such quantities, they’re really good at getting players into habits. It’s a lightly gamified version of the crafting/ AH housekeeping that a lot of people do and mostly you’re just being trained to log in every day.

It would be stretching things to say that daily quests help games to become more than 3 monthers, and really its better if you can set up your own habits,  but getting people into the idea of logging in regularly might play a role in building a more longterm mindset.

[WoW] Assorted thoughts, the curse of accessibility, crafting in Pandaria

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Accessibility is the curse of Warcraft at the moment. Whatever the designers do, they can never seem to please all of the people; even offering a  range of content from chilled out casual daily quests and farming, to high speed challenge dungeons with a leaderboard and ranked battlegrounds will not stop players complaining when they try content that was aimed at a different group and find it wasn’t tuned for them. It must be frustrating for devs who are trying to entertain the masses, and World of Warcraft has never tried harder to provide entertainment than it is right now, with Mists of Pandaria. The new expansion is terrifically endearing, like a puppy that just wants to be loved.

If you have enjoyed WoW PvE in the past but burned out on lack of content or high end raiding or the frustration of being bottlenecked by group content, there has never been a better time to come back to the game. The new continent is beautiful, the zones are stunning, the storytelling is classic Blizzard (spotty in parts, but lively and likeable, and the good parts are really exciting), and the company has also made real efforts to tweak the gameplay with modern updates.

For example, the picture above shows Spinks (who is in the foreground, bottom right) fighting a big elite mob. You can see the shiny spell effect wings of the paladin who is helping her, behind the mob. That character is Alliance. That elite quest mob was not tagged to either one of us, we both got the kill. Now anyone who has been playing GW2 will be au fait with this, because it’s a game where no mob is ever tagged. In Pandaria, only the named quest mobs get this treatment, but they have done it fairly consistently. So while you will still be competing with other players (unless you group) for mobs in farmed out daily zones, when you go for the bosses, everyone can pile in.

I quite like the interplay of both different types of fight. Sometimes you have to compete and others you cooperate.

The world feels very vibrant compared to some previous expansions. I couldn’t say exactly why this is, but there is something very lively and lived in about Pandaria.  They’ve really taken the Chinese inspiration, put a fantasy twist on things, and run with it. As far as the storytelling goes, I will have more to say in future, but the goal has clearly been to make the player feel like a hero. And not just the murdering zillions of kobolds kind of hero. The kind of hero who helps people who need heroes. There are thrilling set pieces where your character helps to defend a village from bandits, in classic wuxia style, or takes part in larger battle scenes, and these offer much better actual gameplay than previous set pieces such as Wrathgate (however cool it was).

And maybe it’s because I play a warrior, but the wuxia storytelling style really plays to the warrior as a class. It felt very appropriate that Spinks might just take a feisty young panda girl under her wings and teach her a bit of warrioring along the way (I hope that panda grows up to be panda Mulan, just saying). So it felt more personal to me than Cataclysm, and more meaningful also.

Accessibility to a fault

Now the expansion seems to be trying to train people to play the game, even though anyone who has managed to get to level 85 probably already has a clue or two about that. So the introductory quests are quite streamlined and don’t encourage you to explore much. You could, but its not encouraged. Later on, the world does open up more, but throughout the first three zones I never had any fights that left me below about 80% health. I was thinking, “This is fun and all but surely they didn’t mean it to be THIS undertuned?”

However, by the time you get to the level 90 content, mobs will put up more of a fight and there is a definite trend for requiring movement in fights. There are mobs which put damage down on the floor, or have an attack which will do loads of damage if you are standing in front of the thing, or need you to run out of melee range, etc.  All of this is very well telegraphed (well I thought so, but I’m an experienced raider), and I’m sure the idea is to train players for instance and raid bosses. Which is great, and all very well, but not very satisfying to players who already knew that.

The panda starting zone, to my mind, is even worse. It’s very fun, very in genre (with nods to Ranma, for example), very railroaded and easy up until the last few encounters. The intent is very clearly to be an introduction to both the pandas and to the gameplay for new players. And as above, this is great and all, but the majority of people rolling pandas are probably not new players.

For my money, the best starting zones currently in the game are the Blood Elf and Draenei areas, and it’s because they open up very quickly and encourage you to wander around, explore the areas, and smell the roses. I would have enjoyed a Pandaran area more in that style, with more quest hubs, more hints about the culture (maybe for the various classes, like Pandaran magi et al) and less about ‘you will follow this questline until it ends.’

Crafting

Crafting actually feels coherent in this expansion. The goal is clearly to make it easy for people to train Pandaria crafting skills, but characters who are actively played will have access to more recipes, and more specialist materials. This is made easy by the baseline materials being incredibly plentiful. ‘Actively played’ doesn’t mean that they need to do hard group content (there may be raid recipes and materials in future I guess), they just need to be levelled through the content and after that can amble around doing the odd daily quest or anything else that involves a bit of random killing. So a casual solo player will have better access to crafting and recipes in this expansion than ever before.

In some crafts, such as Blacksmithing, if you want to raise the skill above 575, you will need recipes that are accessed from a vendor that you will have to open up by completing a questline. But it is a questline that can comfortably be done solo. I think this is a nice balance between gating content and still making it accessible in a non-frustrating way for more casual players.

Accessible Progression

I think Blizzard are aiming for an accessible form of progression in MoP. This is good news for all those players who do enjoy the progression aspects of WoW but have felt frustrated or gated in the past when hitting a progression brick wall that only raiders could pass. There are still ‘gates’ (or things you have to do before you can access other content you want to see), but people who enjoy working on progression goals but prefer a more casual or solo style will also have cool things to work towards.

See, it was never attunements themselves that were the issue, and people who argued in favour of them were always pretty much on the money. A lot of people enjoy planning out how they will attune a new character. Just now you can largely do it with less frustration. Not ‘no frustration’ because sometimes someone else beats you to that rich trillium node, or you wish you could just skip the dailies, but mild frustration is also a part of the genre. For a lot of players, it adds to the sense of achievement when you stick at it and finally get the thing/key/content/progression that you want. And I think Blizzard realise that, and have embraced it.

[WoW] Thought for the Day: On playing a new expansion

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It is tempting to go with a first impression, or start making broad predictions quite early on in an expansion, before you’ve played through all of the PvE. Be careful if you try that with Mists of Pandaria, because each zone I have seen so far is better than the last. The cool stuff is paced and spread out much better than any of the previous expansions. I have more thoughts noted down, and the game is still very much WoW at its core. But the questline/event for Savior of Stoneplow is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in any game ever. It is better than Wrathgate.

I have also seen questlines that made me laugh (honestly, that monkey guy in the Horde Jade Forest special assault group! I heard my partner giggling from across the room earlier and knew that was what he was playing through too) and that made me cry (if you are playing Horde, you will know this one when you see it). The music is also wonderful.

I miss the freedom to just head out and explore that I had gotten used to in GW2. Pandaria is less on rails than Cataclysm, and you could just head off and find new quest hubs if you want, but the longer storylines just work better if you don’t push it too far because you will meet NPCs from one zone in another further down the line. You can end up feeling like Doctor Who if you go back and forth (as in: Hi, I know this is the first time we’ve met  for you but I’ve spoken to your future self and I’m really sorry about your wife/dog/favourite sword.)

But when WoW hits the mark, it really does hit the mark and I’m enjoying meeting so many memorable NPCs and places that make me care about them. My advice to bloggers: be cautious about making conclusions about this until you have played it to the end, you may not have hit some of the big payoffs yet.

[GW2] Some things are better with other people: personal stories and social exploring

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Is it a picture postcard? Nope, it’s a GW2 vista

I feel that I am settling into a comfortable groove with Guild Wars 2. My Mesmer dude is now level 60 and I think this may be the first MMO I’ve played where I don’t feel any pressure at all to reach max level. I’ve played games where I got bored of the game before that point, but not sure I cared so little about what level my character was as this one.

This is because of the way levelling content and endgame are set out in GW2; they can all involve the same types of activity (economy, crafting, wandering/gathering/PvE, instances, WvW, sPvP, alts) and you can easily play with your friends via the down levelling feature, so levels themselves don’t seem so important.

And the comfortable groove I am settling into is a slow paced one in which I’m as likely to spend my time shuttling between trading post and crafting station as wandering the wilds of PvE or (occasionally) PvP. The trick to making money by trading is mostly just to look for frequently traded items where there is a large enough spread between buy and sell orders that you will be able to turn a profit once you have accounted for trading post fees. The general idea is to avoid selling or buying for the price offered unless you are in a rush, are happy with your profit/price, or there’s not much difference between the sell and buy prices. So every time you sell, undercut by a copper or so. Every time you buy, overbid by a copper or so (if you want your order to be filled more quickly). Or more than a copper if you prefer.

I’ve been trading bags and runes. There are no secrets about both of these being good tradegoods – people always want them in multiple amounts. Although it is worth trading cautiously for a few days so that you can watch the price fluctuations and get a feel for them, given that there aren’t (as far as I know) any auction house addons.

But I do find that my stamina for long PvE sessions is waning unless I have friends or guildies online with whom to chat. Maybe I am too social a being, but I don’t find GW2 really grabs me for long immersive play sessions unless I am following a story quest. On the other hand, it’s great for shorter play sessions. What is more surprising (to me) is that although the game is still pretty new, and buzzing, there are practically whole zones which can still be very quiet. I’m not sure if that is a good thing in a game that only really comes to life when there are lots of people around. Braving the Elementalist has noticed the same thing and notes that it also means levelling is slower in those less populated zones.

Certainly although I have enjoyed exploring the snowy peaks of “whatever zone it is pictured above” on my own, it’s nowhere near as exciting as racing around Bloodtide Coast with Arb, or chattering frantically to guildies while being drawn into huge dynamic events in Harathi with tens of other players running around. Parts of GW2 do feel massive, the trading post for example. But others really don’t. It is a puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, I tried one of the jumping puzzles in Metrica and got about halfway through before deciding to go and do something else after several attempts. I don’t really understand why people hate them, it’s good that MMOs have content for different types of player. Maybe I will go back sometime for another go.

I have also been working through my character’s personal questline. I have a really good tolerance for offbeat storytelling, so although I don’t disagree with some of the criticisms, I still have liked these quest segments quite a lot and they definitely add to my personal enjoyment of the game. Moreover, it feels that  the mechanics of the story quests were designed to fit the story – so maybe Claw Island isn’t well tuned and can feel like a bit of a mess, but it still told a poignant and exciting story for me. I love that Arenanet tried to do this, even in the places where it doesn’t quite work. It makes the story segments way more memorable. I even quite like Trahearne.

My own character is a bit of a void in comparison, and that’s one thing I really miss from SWTOR. The sense that my character had a personality. Actually, after level 10 I miss a sense of my character’s culture as well, and since he’s human that’s fairly basic.

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Trahearne is standing behind me in this shot, which is why it looks weird

Last time I touched on GW2, I wondered what people made of the WvW. Well, there are major issues.

kiantremayne is very positive about WvW, aside from the queues.

Not sure what Anet can do to alleviate this easily – just raising the pop caps, even if the servers could take it, would make maps more crowded and zergy – but if WvW remains this popular they’d better start working on something. I don’t begrudge others their fun but let me have some too, damn it!

Syncaine links to feedback from his guild on WvW on the official bboards, which talks about some of the issues they are facing in more detail.

All borderlands are copies of each other?? You guys did a great job in the variety and look of all the pve zones, then when it came to your main draw, the feature most people have been clamoring about for years you simply cut and paste the same zone. We all assumed in beta these were placeholder zones and on release the WvW zones would be three unique areas which is how it obviously should be. If someone is looking for uniformity and repetition they have SPVP. The fix for this would be to actually design 4 unique zones which would play out differently.

I was surprised that the borderlands were direct copies too. I still think the WvW is fun as an activity, particularly for players like me who make it more of a sideline, but it did and does have the potential to be better than it is now. And particularly if people want to play and can’t, that’s something that needs to be sorted out. I don’t know how though.

We are also starting to see some more thoughtful reviews of GW2, after a month in. My main conclusion is that I enjoy the game a lot, and the gameworld itself is beautiful and critters are wonderfully animated. I think I will keep coming back for a long time, in between other  games I am playing, and that it’s a great base for Arenanet to add to in future. In particular I hope they do something with the home zones, and I would be happy to see more personal storyline stuff.

There’s a lot of potential here and I think people who like it and stick with it won’t be disappointed. I’m looking forwards to rampaging around with Arb and my guildies some more, although Pandaland is likely to be a preoccupation in the next few weeks.

[WoW] In which I predict shortages of tanks and healers for MoP instances

One of the new WoW features going live in the expansion is changes to how loot is doled out in quests and instances. No more need/greed rolls or eyeing quest rewards that can’t even be used by your class nevermind your spec, the future has the game doing any random loot rolls privately and offering you only rewards tailored to your character’s current spec.

Cuppy voices concerns that she wants to heal in instances but her (druid) levelling spec will be melee dps – and wonders how she can gear up for instance healing. I was wondering about that also but she notes, via Grumpy Elf, that vendors in villages will be selling gear equivalent to that area’s quest rewards to cover off-specs. (So what is the point of the quest rewards then? For the cash maybe? Don’t ask me, I only play this thing.)

I can see a similar dilemma for players who play a different role in raids than in instances. So for example I’m planning to dps in raids but happy to tank in instances if needed. At the moment, you get to roll on all the class-wearable drops regardless of your current spec, so I could queue as dps or tank, let the LFG pick what it needs most, and still roll on my preferred gear. But this new system means it would be pretty suboptimal of me to offer to tank instances while I’m trying to use them to gear up for raids; I would only get tanking drops.

(edit: No, I’m an idiot and read the Blizzard blog wrong. Quest and LFR (random raid finder) loot will be tailored for current spec, instance loot will still be on need/greed, if I read it right.)

So ignoring me being wrong, you can still use your support offspec to instance and pick up loot for your dps mainspec (or vice versa). Although I do wonder if the questing and LFR loot model will start to shape player expectations to be even more vehement about people rolling for offspec loot.

Also if you offtank or offheal in raids,  for those encounters where you are playing your offspec (ie. an encounter needs an extra tank or healer), you will have zero chance for a main spec loot drop. Again, it might be smarter not to offer to help the raid out unless you don’t need any main spec drops from that boss.

I would have preferred a system that lets the player pick the loot they prefer when they queue, and allowing that to be for a different spec than the one they are currently playing.

[WoW] Delenda est Theramore

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Well I thought the scenario was quite fun!

One of the features added to WoW in the next expansion will be scenarios: short 3-man escapades which are designed to be manageable without a balanced group, by characters without raid gear.  We know this because WoW developers addressed this question in a Q&A last night. 

The fact is that Scenarios in Mists will be more tailored for players in quest gear and dungeon blues.

The Fall of Theramore was released early and tweaked for level 85 characters (in rather better than quest gear) to give people a preview of scenarios with one that is related to stuff that happens in the lore between the end of Cataclysm and the beginning of MoP. You can queue randomly for a PUG, although I guess waiting times are longish because people were also calling for groups in general chat.

In this particular scenario, your current goal pops up on the right of the screen and you’re guided from encounter to encounter, with patrols and suchlike to avoid/kill on the way. The storytelling works fine on a micro level, you always know what  your next objective is even if you don’t really know why. Clearly (as Horde) you are doing destructive things in Theramore, and eventually rescue a snotty Blood Elf spy – I don’t know why we didn’t just leave him there either. On a macro level, the storytelling isn’t a failure so much as completely nonexistent. Even a paragraph of text on the LFG screen would have helped.

Unsurprisingly, this is a widespread complaint. Blizzard also addressed it in the Q&A (different site from above because this is the full transcript).

Guest-37: The story of Tides of War is really interesting. I don’t think players can get engaged if they have no idea what’s happening, the bomb dropping is really anticlimactic. I felt a bit disappointed so little got included in the scenario. Was this because of lack of time, of developers or because you rather keep all that info in the novels.
DaveKosak: To Guest-37 I’ve been watching the Theramore feedback closely, and this comment seems pretty universal. We tried to keep everything all in the scenario, to make it really self-contained, but not burden it with lots of story that you have to slog through every time you played the scenario. It’s pretty clear from the feedback that people wanted more story. We should’ve surrounded the scenarios with more quests or explanations to help round out the story for the people who wanted to know what exactly was happening. Lesson learned!

It looks as though the developers heard all the complaints about the long preambles in lore heavy instances like Old Stratholme and decided to just skip it and let players get on with the random devastation. But I bet most people really quite liked the preamble the first time they saw it. They might have liked it even more if they had first seen the preamble in a solo instance with plenty of time to listen, explore, or just spacebar through it if they really have no patience.

LOTRO, I think, had the best solution to this with respect to their skirmishes (similar to scenarios but better, at least based on what I have seen atm). A LOTRO skirmish is a shortish (20-30 mins) scenario which scales up from solo to 6 player groups, some involve defending a location (such as Weathertop or The Prancing Pony Inn in Bree) from waves of attackers, others involve heading into an enemy held location and freeing it by capturing one goal at a time.  Where skirmishes were introduced into the game, some were immediately available and others had to be unlocked by completing the (mostly soloable) epic questline in which they played a part. Only after you had finished the quests did you realise that you had just completed the one man version of the skirmish as part of the storyline. So players knew all the background to the skirmish and had familiarised themselves with the layout and goals BEFORE being able to queue for random groups. I thought that was fairly genius, and it’s a shame WoW skipped that part.

As far as the actual storyline goes, Horde dropped The Bomb on Theramore (at the end of the scenario, when players are no longer at ground zero). It’s like we have our very own Hiroshima – naturally there was no exploration of any ethical implications. Which is fair I guess since players had so little to do with it all. Plus they’re only Alliance. You even get a miniature bomb memento in the mail afterwards. My goblin priest probably thinks it is the best thing ever.

So in that context, the only surprising thing is that it will take the Alliance an entire expansion to get round to invading Orgrimmar.

I am however, intrigued to see the other scenarios. I think we’ll really enjoy them at that sweet spot between reaching the level cap and zooming into heroics (a sweet spot which currently lasts about 2s but may be more drawn out in MoP.)

My scenario adventures

I ran through the scenario a couple of times on my shadow priest (who only just makes the gear requirements). Fun was had, we found the instructions clear and easy to follow, the boss fights aren’t very interesting but it was cool to be able to run around Theramore. I liked that the scenario didn’t feel like a long corridor with mobs in it, but more like an actual location. The challenge level felt fine with a random group of 3 dps. I can easily imagine that with a guild group involving some tanking and healing on the side, it would be trivial. And you get a loot bag at the end which may contain iLvL 384 shinies, or may not.

The first time one of the random people went AFK at the start and we weren’t able to boot him, and the other player was a resto shaman who kept telling me he was just there to heal. Needless to say, it didn’t go brilliantly well although we got about 2/3 of the way through before a mass unexpected pull just sapped my will to be there.

I can see why Blizzard might have thought it of lesser importance to implement a boot mechanic (to boot people from groups) in content that is only 8-`12 mins long, but they underestimated how dickish some players can be. Hopefully some ability to book afk people will be in sometime.

The second time I ran the scenario (same character), I had a  better feel for how it was intended to run. This time it was my shadow priest, a hunter, and a mage. It wasn’t hard but it was fun and we had to be on our toes. I threw some heals, there was crowd control, if the hunter had actually brought a tanking pet they could have tanked. I can see my spriest having a ton of fun in scenarios during MoP, there’s a real role for a dps who can throw clutch heals. I also got a shiny iLvL 384 healing staff in the reward box afterwards, and getting shinies always improves my mood (shallow, I know).

[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

We are just coming up on one of the traditionally busy times of the year for the gaming industry, and this year is busier than most for MMOs with a slew of big new releases, new expansions and media blitz. You might almost think that the traditional (whatever that means) MMO is not in fact dead.

Unless, like City of Heroes, it is dead in the water. One of the reasons the news about CoH inspires such emotion around many of the blogs I read is that it is an older MMO, from an era where social networking was not as widespread as it is now. Back then, if you played an MMO, it may well have represented a much more important part of your online social life and online support network, at a time when these things didn’t greatly exist anywhere else.

Welshtroll notes some memories about the UK CoH community. Bree thinks about how this will affect how she plays MMOs  in the future, and how she feels about GW2 now. Strawfellow writes about what CoH meant to him and why the news that it is closing has hit him so hard.

What I am left with is a profound sense that no part of my life is sacred from the feeling of loss. Online games used to be my refuge, and now I am acutely aware that this ground is not safe either. It is difficult for me to trust to begin with, and investing myself in a new game will be significantly harder. You never do trust as easily as you do the first time.

Peter @ Markovia also reflects on what it means when a virtual world shuts down that had been active for so long (relatively).

… I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

<…> this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

Unsubject analyses the state of NCSoft to think about why they made this decision.

NCsoft wants big successes, not titles that have limited future potential for growth. If the money might be better off going to ArenaNet (you bet NCsoft wants Guild Wars 2 to an incredible success) or Carbine Studios (Wildstar is on its way) than staying with Paragon Studios, then it makes sense to divert the cash.

Another game that has had a rough ride recently is The Secret World. Funcom announced that the game failed to meet their (crazily high) expectations, and that they have laid off some staff, and the promised monthly update is also running late.

A former Funcom CEO is also under investigation for insider trading.  Tobold suggests that figuring out that the game would not meet Funcom’s expectations and that this would affect share price, and therefore selling ones shares before launch may not indicate insider trading so much as common sense.

But I am sympathetic to all the players who really love the game and hoped for it to have a long and prosperous future. It’s far too early to announce doom and gloom, but clearly things aren’t going to well at the moment, and they’ll have to make do with the players they have.

lonomonkey argues that players who want MMOs to go places other than fantasy need to back new ideas with their money by supporting games like TSW when they are released. I would rather give the industry the message that if they make fun games, I will buy them.

A word from our developers

Alexander Brazie (who is a WoW designer) has a great blog on game design, and his post this week touched a nerve with me.

If you consider the pacing the macro level of a game, dungeon or encounter, you don’t want players to be going balls-to-the-wall nonstop for the entire experience. To cater to their human nature, you want luls, breaks and breathing periods between moments of intensity. Players, however will continue to naturally seek higher and higher levels of intensity until they breakdown from exhaustion.

You need to give them a hint that pushing forward harder is wrong.

Although I think I’m fairly good at knowing when to stop, I’ve definitely played games that felt like the gaming equivalent of a sugar rush. It was exciting, there was so much to do, and I played to where I was (mentally, if not physically) exhausted. So I appreciate efforts by designers to design in this type of lull as a pacing mechanism.

Because sometimes you want chilled out fun and not balls to the wall fun.

Whatever you think of GW2, the trading post/ auction house/ economy is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parts of the game (in my opinion). John Smith, the house economist, writes a great blog on the state of the economy that I hope is going to become a regular update. And incidentally, why don’t other MMOs other than EVE have their own economists?

We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.

While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.

It’s the fact that they are making constant adjustments in a way that players can respond immediately (via trading, naturally) that makes this so interesting. The day after he posted this, the ‘massively surplus items’ shown in the screenshot on the blog saw a huge increase in value, presumably because some players decided to stock up so that they could gamble on the new limited-time Mystic Forge recipes.

I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP. They also have an easier task because GW2 isn’t a completely sandbox game so they can tweak elements like the Mystic Forge and what is sold by NPCs in a way that CCP can’t. I think it will be interesting to watch, and interesting to play if you are economy-minded. I’m already loving the buy orders.

Smith also discusses economic issues around gold making ‘exploits’ in MMOs, and the karma vendor exploit in GW2.

The game has gotten to a point in size where there is no such thing as a single player discovering an exploit. Exploits come in waves of mass participation and in the end, if they aren’t dealt with, the economy becomes hyper-inflated. After mass exploitation, your wealth is only relative to how good you were at exploiting, rather than your success in the game. This damages the integrity of the game and makes it unfriendly to new and honest players. There have been cases where exploits have severely damaged and arguably killed a game.

Exploits are mostly generated by a mistake on our end and are really hard on players. When an exploit is discovered, players are tempted to participate by the draw of becoming wealthy and out of fear of being left behind the massively wealthy players who do participate. We take a harsh stance on exploiters because this decision should be easy: find an exploit, report the exploit and move on. It isn’t worth the risk to the player or the game.

Let me give you all my money

If you are one of the 36k players who have already thrown some money into the Kickstarter hat for Obsidian Entertainment, you probably know all about Project Eternity.

If you are like me, you got as far as the first paragraph of blurb ….

Obsidian Entertainment and our legendary game designers Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, and Josh Sawyer are excited to bring you a new role-playing game for the PC. Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.

… and then gave them some money immediately, before finding out what this game is actually intended to be about or when it might be released (2014 is the current estimate.) I do not pretend that this is either sensible or smart, but what is life without a little risk? I hope it’s more like Planescape than Baldur’s Gate but I won’t quibble either way.

The Kickstarter still has 29 days to go and, amazingly, made it’s $1.1m goal in about the first day. What makes me excited as a player (and pundit) is that with the success of games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games and that we would like more of them.

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

So the game has now been out for a few weeks, plenty of  time for bloggers to get stuck in and come out with a stronger idea of what they do and don’t like about it.

Syncaine describes the game as ‘enjoyably meh’ and feels that it lacks meaningful decisions. Or at least the sort of decisions and challenges that would feel meaningful to him. It feels as though he can’t quite summon the energy for a full blown rant, but knows that something isn’t right.

Keen explains that he really enjoyed the levelling experience, and talks about what he and his guild are doing at level 80, with suggestions for other players. (Mull around, get bored and/or burned out, write an insightful post about flaws in the game and hop on the next hype train?)

Verene at Under the Pale Tree gives her two week summary and  touches on something Arb brought up while we were playing. The game is like crack for people with short attention spans.

Nearly every time I set out to do something, I spot another thing going on, and then another, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it’s three hours later, I’ve leveled up several times, and I realize I never got to what I was going to do in the first place!

Ravious is looking forwards to giving Arenanet more of his money in return for fun toys, like a pirate outfit that comes with its own emotes (we thought that looked quite fun when we saw it in the store too.) He also writes about his attempts to slow down and smell the roses in game – this is related to what Brazie wrote (see link above) about the natural lulls.

One of the cool things about being British, apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and having a weather system that isn’t trying to kill us, is that “afk 5 mins to get tea” is one of the great universal codes among British MMO players for “need a lull/ slow the pace.”

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

Dusty writes about roles in GW2 and discusses dungeon tactics. Since my main takeaway from the one dungeon we did run was “That wasn’t really very fun compared to roaming in PvE/WvW,” I’m trying to be open to the possibility that I was just doing it wrong. However, he does conclude that it would be useful to have a plate wearer around to take damage, which doesn’t quite gell with the whole ‘no trinity’ vibe.

Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas.

Doone summarises some of the rest of the feedback from bloggers.

It’s interesting that I don’t have a lot of bloggers on my reader discussing WvW or sPvP in GW2. Feel free to recommend any blogs that cover those in more detail (or if you have written about them, feel free to add links in the comments, I’ll post them up here.)

On another note

Lord British (Richard Garriot) is getting Zynga to publish his new Ultimate Collector game. Don’t hate me but it sounds kind of fun and I think both of them are going to have a big success on their hands. You heard it here first.

Although I will probably be too busy playing on the GW2 auction house.