An MMO should not require its players to undertake an organisational challenge on a par with that of an air traffic controller at a major international airport in order to form a group from a random set of friends with characters of varying levels.
If the requirements for being able to form a group –from that set of friends who are currently online– creates a decision Venn diagram which starts to look like the one to the right, consider again the nature of ‘multiplayer’ in the context of your game.
City of Heroes, EverQuest II: they both demonstrate that it’s perfectly possible to implement a mentoring system in an MMO which does not break the nature of the game, so why do so many MMOs still present a ridiculous number of barriers to friends playing together?
It is a slightly surreal situation when we consider that the primary outcome of RPG features these days is to act as a block to the MM in MMORPGs. For every feature that you add to an MMO, if the first question should be ‘Is this going to be fun?’, the second question should be a most vehement ‘Will this prevent a person from playing in a meaningful way with anyone of their choosing?’.
Only when these have been considered and answered satisfactorily should you move onto the usual third and fourth questions of ‘Oh, am I not meant to be in this design review?’ and ‘In that case, before I get down from the table, did anyone see where I threw my underpants?’.
“Hindsight explains the injury that foresight would have prevented.”
Second and third hero classes, along with broader and more varied level eighty five end-game content, instead of Cataclysm?
I quite like MMOs of a more instanced design, such as Dungeons and Dragons Online, or Guild Wars; I like to be able to interact with other people in public areas, but when I’m off adventuring with a party I like the fact that I won’t have a bunch of loljumping twits training mobs onto our group as we try to fight a boss.
Taking the instanced design as read then, I thought it Quite Interesting to consider having two different game engines depending on the space the player was in. For the adventuring and dungeoneering side, a detailed graphics and game engine could be used that could only handle a party of six or so players due to technical limitations (something like Vindictus which uses the Source engine) allowing environment destruction and very detailed character models which would otherwise be challenging in a highly populated game space. On the public side, a different style of engine could be used, one able to handle hundreds of players in a communal area. Perhaps a different perspective could also be employed here – such as a JRPG/Diablo isometric-like third person – which would demarcate the two areas and avoid a continuity clash in the players’ perception of the world’s detail level. The isometric world would contain dynamic player housing, crafting games, player shops, and other such elements which are more easily employed in such an engine.
There would be plenty of hurdles, obviously: avoiding having to translate between the engines for items and gear would be one, but characters could have casual cosmetic outfits which they wear in public spaces that would differ from their adventuring outfits, for example.
With a strong demarcation it would then be possible to concentrate on the social side of MMOs in the populous isometric world, while allowing the more intense gamer side to be fully expressed in the traditional group-orientated third person instanced areas, but at the same time providing continuity between the two communities (crafters providing equipment for adventurers, for example) and thus hopefully encouraging interaction and migration between them.
“What’s fairly unusual about this within the realm of action RPGs is that really your character is three characters, because the team you select do not fight together, but can rather be swapped in and out of the fight at will. In certain situations they share abilities, too, so while you might be controlling claw-dude, you also get insect-tree dude’s healing AoE thorns to help you out. It’s a peculiar setup (like much of the game) but it works rather well, especially since you can swap out monsters to take on specific challenges as required.
It works even better in co-op, because the fact that you have three monsters in your pocket means that you can be the damage, or the tank, or the healer at any time. Need two damage dudes and one healer in your group? No problem! More tank, sir? It’s instant, and easy. It’s a splendid take on the MMO notion, but totally versatile and dynamic. This, I would argue, is one of a number of instances of superb design in Darkspore.”
Extract from Jim Rossignol’s musings on Darkspore.
Since action RPGs are starting to inherit and experiment with MMO ideas such as the holy trinity of tank, damage and healer, perhaps MMOs could return the favour and start experimenting with action RPG ideas such as ‘totally versatile and dynamic’ game-play.
We wondered if part of the issue with Dragon Age 2’s mixed review success was down to the unfulfilled expectations that the game’s title invoked. Reviews might have been more favourable and the Internet outrage less if, instead of Dragon Age 2, Bioware had instead named it ‘Dragon Age: Don’t take it personally, Hawke, it just ain’t your story’
And although the combat is fairly frequent and repetitive, it is thankfully quickly dispensed with, and therefore never really gets in the way of this most excellent dating simulator.
A search for “voice of merrill” using Google – because I couldn’t remember Eve Myles’ name – actually returned nothing to do with the Bioware RPG character until I amended my Google-fu by appending “dragon age” to the search string. What it does turn up is a British mystery B-movie called The Voice of Merrill. You learn something new every day, and now I’m going to have to search out that film and watch it.
Strange how we make discoveries sometimes, and strangely apt that Bioware’s RPGs are part of the subset of games where you can still make obscure discoveries through accidental action, be it a conversation option which had unintended consequences, or by searching for something specific in a quest and stumbling across another quest line entirely.
So here’s to the grand RPG tradition of the out-of-the-way quest; the mysterious object off the beaten path; the good deed repaid in kind at an unexpected time later on; the stumbled-upon puzzle; and other such deviations from the course considered tried and true. And here’s hoping that our theme park MMOs never forget these traditions as they attempt to optimise game-play for an ever-increasing audience seemingly uninterested in the delights of discovery, only in the projection of performance and prominence among peers.
“But unlike the current raid endgame, a pure leveling game can tune that a lot better: A lack of performance would not mean that you get totally stuck like a guild that can’t get past a certain raid boss. In a pure leveling game your performance would directly be reflected in the speed of your progress. Thus somebody playing badly would still advance, because sometimes he gets lucky and kills a mob and gains xp. But somebody playing better would advance a lot faster.”
Personally I think the best sort of levelling game is one where you forget there’s an XP bar at all, and thus there is no concern for ‘progress performance’.
I’ve had those moments occasionally in MMOs, where I’ve enjoyed the game tremendously to the point where gaining a level was an incidental bonus to my entertainment. For me, that’s got to be the aim of it: make the game-play the reward for playing, the ‘role-play’ trappings should still be entertaining and involving, but perhaps no more than supplementary diversions.
I wonder if MMORPGs have perhaps maintained the fixation with the character sheet to the detriment of actually making things fun.
Put another way: has progress in the MMO genre been stifled by the fact that we’re all still obsessed with the idea of character progress?
I like a moderate pace of combat action in my MMOs. Put another way: I like to have time to consider my options in combat, but not enough time to draft those considerations into a thesis. At the same time, the frantic finger ‘pile driving’ required by games like Starcraft doesn’t really interest me.
Mixing the pace of combat based on role seems like it might add an extra level of flavour to character classes. Some classes might play slower but require more critical thought – the mage archetype seems apt – where the player mustn’t play for the moment but instead should consider the big picture, slowly and carefully building a foundation of power before unleashing their game-changing abilities, yet still having to adapt their plans based on the ebb and flow of battlefield. Other classes might require split second decisions – warriors being a prime example – where reacting to your enemy from moment to moment is the difference between victory or defeat.
With the primary aim being to give players a choice of pace within the same game context, is it wise to mix several types of combat into one game system?
“What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”
—- Lazarus Long
A motto for pre-release/beta MMO reporting among bloggers if ever I heard one.
Objectivity first; save the emotionally invested testimonies – good or bad – for when you’ve been playing the game for six months after release.
Two-handed swords, axes and polearms nearly always look cool in MMOs, which is great for warriors and the like, but I play clerics who are very often restricted to wielding a two-handed mace or hammer; no idea why, I can’t really picture a bishop explaining it either:
“Ah, my son, we don’t cut and hack our fellow man, for that is a cruel and hateful thing. However, blunt force trauma to the head, well that’s a little bit like Jesus, isn’t it?”
This arbitrary restriction would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that every two-handed hammer I’ve encountered in an MMO looks like a small paperweight taped to an umbrella, and every mace like a baby porcupine with a curtain rod shoved up its bum.