Archive for July, 2007

MMO quests.

I recently read an interview that Richard Garriott (Father of the Ultima Series and modern MMOs). In this interview (sorry can’t remember where I saw it), he mentioned how MMOs haven’t really changed in the last 10 years. And though I didn’t think he was particularly correct (more like 6 years as UO was drastically different than EQ), he was on to something in particular. The three main points he brought up were quests (and how they are normally meaningless fetch quests), AI (or lack thereof), and player choice (which I think has generally changed for the worse).

He then went on to describe his quest system for Tabula Rasa where choices that you make in the quest will make you branch down various paths in the quest line. So for instance, two merchants will give you pretty much the same quest, and depending on how you chose to complete that quest, only one merchant will give the reward…. and then let you go further down his track, whereas you will never be allowed to return to the previous merchant and get more quests. Now this isn’t really that different than some quests in modern games, after all, EQ2 has a few quest lines that you can only get by raising your faction with a group to a certain level. And by raising the faction of one side, you are lowering the faction of the other so you can’t get the other’s quests… (sometimes you can go back and reverse faction to get the other side, but is usually too time consuming and not worth the reward but this isn’t always). This is the same basic premise, however, I think his is more indepth than just a few random quests that do it. I think he wants every quest in the game to work this way and to really give the player a truly unique feel in the story of his character…

This really got me thinking about numbers… what marketing guys love to tout. I think EQ2 probably has around 3500 quests currently in the game. Most of them aren’t really worth the time, but also there are race, city, class, and faction specific quests. In all, the average EQ2 player likely only does about 650 quests by the time they hit level 70 (the current cap). For percentage freaks, this is 19% of all quests that a player will do, and I would bet somewhere around 66% can be done by an individual without switching cities, or factions. This is really a staggering number, and I think fairly accurate for most MMOs… I bet WoW % is higher, but they emphasize the racial/city differences more than most games and likely have similar completion numbers, though more lik 40-50% completable quests by any individual character, thus players are doing more on average, just not getting as many to chose from with each char.

The problem is that all MMOs these days don’t give the player to choose which quests he does other than “this one is worth it, this one is not” most choices are really tied into class and race, which if you ask me should have little to do with the quest lines (yes I think having class & race specific questlines are nice, but not at the expense of choice). So instead of choosing to split up the player population amongst all the cities that they tend to do, why not minimize cities, start players off with the same quests, but have them fork in different directions. So that two 70s may not have as many overlapping quests. This creates an issue of finding groups as people like to group for quests, but what if everyone who works on a quest gets the reward for it or not? Regardless of if they actually had, or even could have, the quest. Maybe just reduce the reward a bit.

This type of handcrafted story play could be immensely more rewarding to players, not just for more interesting and unique characters, but also you could choose to have much larger rewards for those quests to reduce grind. Current MMOs (even WoW to some degree) intend you to do many quests so they give you lwoer rewards and thus lower the worth of them. However, if you are setting up the quests from the beginning so that players will only see 20% of them with each char, then you can plan your quests accordingly and make each individual reward much better.

Food for thought at least.

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E3

Who cares? Need I say more? GDC Austin is coming up… is bound to be far better.

Man vs. Wild a sham!

Man vs. Wild is a show where they take a british guy, they drop him off in the wilderness and he spends a few days trying to get to civilization, all the while showing us what we should do if we find ourselves in similar circumstances. The show is great, very fun to watch him do various feats and eat weird things. It is like Fear Factor meets Steve Irwin.

Now I had no delusions that this was totally straight forward. I figured how the show operated was pretty much the same as animal shows… it isn’t really spontaneous but is set up to some degree. I figured how it worked with Man vs. Wild (or MvW) was that they planned a route, had people go scout the route for interesting features, maybe had Bear (the host) go through and see some of the parts, had him study directions, and then figured out and practiced various survival techniques for this particular trip. So in essence the trip is real, but completely planned, down to the “stumbling upon the orange orchard in the everglades.”

However, I found out that this is just half the show. They not only do all of the above, but the host also spends the nights in hotels, and the crew sets up everything for him. (One example given was that the crew made a raft on a deserted island, then disassembled it so that Bear could re-assemble it on camera alone, basically providing him with lego pieces to do it).  To me this calls into question the whole show. When he drank his own urine in the Australian outback, I wonder if he was really drinking Kool-Aid. When he was complaining about being so alone and demoralized in the cold snow cave he built himself in the Alps, I know now that he just returned to his hotel 5 minutes afterwards to see his wife. The whole thing is done.

It is too bad really cause it was a show that I really enjoyed, but at this point is nothing more than any other show, just with less story. It isn’t real, it is fictional. Channel 4 (the UK channel that caries the show over there) has responded to the allegations basically saying that “they never said that he was actually doing these things unassisted.” Well that’s not entirely true, the whole show is marketed as if he is actually in the wilderness surviving, and now we know he isn’t. The format of the show dictates that he is unassisted, with only a camera guy to take film.

The whole thing really reminds me of that quiz show from the early 70s in which they fed the answers to contestants and coached them how to answer the questions to make the show more interesting. The format of a quiz show says they aren’t feeding answers to contestants, however the network could have always said “we never said we weren’t” which is true, but then they saw themselves on a losing side of a federal investigation. Will there be a federal investigation here? I doubt it, in those days the government was interested in their citizens not being deceived, now a days they are only interested in deceivign.

EQuinox unveiled

SOE last week announced a new magazine for Everquest 2 called EQuinox. Now I don’t necessarily think an MMO magazine by SOE is really that bad of an idea, after all they have several games to cover and would have insider access that the other MMO magazines wouldn’t be able to get. However, this magazine is only for EQ2, which by all accounts isn’t even the big MMO that SOE has, certainly EQ1 still has more subscribers, and with new games coming up (The Agency made quite the splash at E3) I would think these would be slightly better choices.

Originally, I had no intention of getting this new magazine, however, like any sucker I went and pre-ordered it because they were offering a  beta invitation into Rise of Kunark with any pre-order, so yeah I’m a sucker. But still I have a ton of hope for this next expansion. WoW is actually not doin very well currently, in fact people seem to be fleeing the game in droves since the expansion. Something that is evidenced not only in the people I have been seeing join EQ2, but also in the people I know offline who are leaving as well. In addition, EoF was the best expansion of MMO history as far as I can recall and they are looking to improve upon that formula. The combination of these two (as well as additional EQ1 content to attempt to bring in old EQ1 players) could mean a drastic improvement in player populations to EQ2 which I am very excited about. We need some fresh new blood.

Still, I am interested in the magazine. If they do an ok job, it should work out great considering it really is the only MMO that I play.

WordPress

Yesterday I played around a little bit with my blog. I changed the categories into the more aesthetic key cloud, some arrangement changes, and some other minor things (thinking about adding a graphic to the top or something like that in the near future).

I also added a new widget for sonirific (or something) as well. This one is supposed to allow you to have streaming music on your site, I thought it might be cool. All the artists on their site are independent which i appreciate, however it also means I don’t know any of them and I don’t have the patience to sit and sift through them all. My biggest complaint with the program is that in order to put something on your site you have to make “soundspots.” This isn’t really that bad except for the fact that you can only have one song in the spot at a time. This is kind of silly as I’d like to have maybe 4 or 5 songs on a small playlist. I just can’t justify spending the time to listen to all these groups and songs for 1 song on my blog… I hope they work on that though because it is a very nice idea.

Guild Troubles

This last weekend we had some guild drama. So our guild has never been big, and many in our guild do not want it to be big (leaders included). It is a rule free, fairly rank free guild, that by design is meant to limit the drama and strangers (some might call this family oriented).

A couple of months ago, someone left EQ2 for Lords of the Rings Online. This actually hurt the guild quite a bit. When a guild only has about a dozen regulars, losing one is big. But this guy was different than just a regular, he was home and disabled and thus always on, and even more importantly, always willing to help.  This meant that he was a big part in the day to day life of most of the other guildmates as he was even on when the rest of the server wasn’t. When he left, shortly after another person left, whom I think had only stuck around for the other player in the first place, and that guy took with him 1 regular and several who rarely played. So in the span of about a month, our guild lost 3 regulars and some random others.

Like I said, for a guild with a dozen regulars, this is huge (25% of our regulars, can you imagine?). However, this wasn’t the end of it, simultaneously to this, many of the main core (which numbers another 3 or 4) decided to spend more time out with each other (they are family) and their kids and enjoy the summer.

We could have likely dealt with one of these two scenarios happening, but we had both. We went from a small guild to a tiny guild. What makes this yet worse is that the few who were on came on at dramatically different times; day side, night side and kiwi time. So we opened up recruiting. We’ve always been on the lookout for new peeps, but we never actively recruited. We brought in a bunch of people to replace some of the older ones. Some worked, some didn’t.

On Friday morning I was talking to a few of these new recruits and trying to get them to come on a raid that evening. The impression I got was that 1 of the 3 would come, the other two were unsure if they could because the woman called her family back in the states at that time (a couple who lived in New Zealand). I said that was fine, maybe another time would work. That evening, the husband logged in, asked if they were coming, he mentioned that his wife was on the phone but he was coming. I assumed that meant she was not coming, but in truth he apparently mentioned that she was and I totally missed it. I saved a spot for the two i knew were coming, and then when the third one came and asked to join I said we were full. Which we were. She told me that he had in fact said she was coming and I realized that this likely happened though I missed it. She got really pissed off… I offered her a plat to start with for my screwup, she didn’t want it. Then I offered her my spot and she didn’t want it. At this point I pretty much gave up because I had no idea what else to do and she left the guild. She said she wasn’t really leaving because of me, but more because there was never anyone on during their time zone and they were fed up with the lack of people in the guild (apparently they also misinterpreted our guild leader when she told them that we didn’t want a bigger guild as saying we were happy with the 3 or 4 players we had).

So later that evening, they approached another regular member who actually recruited them and asked him to start his own guild that they could all join. He did. This started a panic on my part because without him, there really was only one regular left besides myself. I realized that with just 2 people in the guild being regular, we had no chance to rebuild the guild. Hell even with 4 (assuming 2 of the leaders returned) we didn’t have a huge chance of doing it. I immediately began talking to some friends who are leaders of another guild about a merger.

Well as all mergers go, that didn’t work out… they didn’t wanna merge into us, we didn’t wanna merge into them. It is difficult to pry leaders away from their position. I don’t think it was helpin that the other guild wasn’t even willing to bring us in as anything more than recruits, to us that isn’t a merger, that is a mass recruiting… to merge, you really gotta offer at least one person of the opposing guild a leadership position, or at the very least officer so that the other guild can make sure that their former members will still be attended to.

Eventually we talked to the guy who left as the new guild leader, and cooler heads prevailed and he came back. I think we also made it known that the other two were not really welcome back. I think the consensus was that while she had valid complaints, the way she went about dealing with them was not appropriate for a good guild. So the issue has resolved for now. The leaders have decided to try to increase their playtime a little more, to be in conjunction with the guy who left to start the guild. In order to help him stay entertained until we pick up numbers. The guy has resumed his recruiting of various people, he is working on an illusionist now who seems to have some more daytime like hours which would help a lot. I’ve personally started inquiring about people who I didn’t want to really approach previously because they were already in guilds. Though they haven’t turned out well, I applaud my effort to try. I also have begun work on creating a real website for the guild to help showcase who we are to allow people to join easier.

I have a feeling we will be dealing with this again soon, but the hope is that we can make it to the expansion because it is likely that many people will be playing more, as well as a new influx of newbs may bring more people into the guild again. We’ll see.

GLS Conference 3.0

I went to the GLS Conference this past week. I wanted to start going to more conferences so that can network better and chose this particular one because it was here in town so that I didn’t have to worry about paying for hotel stay and travel arrangements and such. This conference is a small conference which really focuses on how games can be used for learning purposes and how they teach players how to use the game. This is a topic that I find somewhat interesting, however it is a very base interest. I mostly like when they talk about the games or the social aspects of games because I find that more interesting being in the MMO field myself. However a good majority of the field seems more interested in the learning so I do pick up stuff here and there.

The Conference itself is mostly used as a forum for students, professors, and other teachers, however there are some more mainstream developers and writers as well. This year’s speakers included a writer from the New York Times, a game critic from the New York Times, a couple of writers/designers from GameLab, Pathfinder Linden from Linden Labs (Second Life), and some guy that works at the company that made There.com. Rich Vogel (of Ultima Online fame) and Jeff Briggs (one of the producers of the Civ series) were also supposed to attend, however they both did not which was a major upset for me as I was really looking forward to both of them.

All this said the two day event had its ups and downs.

The ups were that the food was fairly good, though some was questionable. I was mostly disappointed that the beverages were weird (tea, milk and coffee). The snacks between sessions were great (nummy cookies, muffins and fruit). The Monona Terrace was beautiful as expected, though surprisingly small considering how big it seems and how much of a fuss was made over it, though I understand that part of that is meant as a transportation hub too. Several speakers were very good, I liked the two NYT speakers, as well as Constance Steinkuehler, and Katie Salen from Gameslab was absolutely amazing (she is seriously underrated, I put her up with Will Wright as far as speakers on games concerns). I got to meet plenty of people, including a couple in town I plan on hooking up with over the next week or so (and incidentally got myself pictured a couple times in Mark Chen’s blog.)

The downs really was the lack of the two that I was looking forward to seeing, as well as the lack of much strictly about games and even society to a lesser degree. It really is a meeting meant for people studying learning which just isn’t what I am into. I also had some issues apparently with paying. I thought I did back when I registered, and now they are telling me I did not so I don’t know how exactly that works. What makes it worse is that now they want to charge me the full price instead of the early entry price that I should have paid. This sucks only because I thought I had paid.

Would I go again? I don’t know. For networking purposes I suppose I would. What makes this decision more difficult is next years I will not be a student anymore so I will have to pay more. This makes it far less worth going to. For the student price, I think it is worth it for the networking, the food, the cool location and the about one session each day that was really worth the while. I don’t know if I will go again next year, depends on my situation. But I will definitely think about it.