Wednesday 29 November 2006

RvR in Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

Slashdot just had a Q&A with the developers of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. One thing that comes through very strongly is that the game will focus on "Realm vs Realm", grand scale PvP.

Now, I like PvP. Or at least, I like good PvP. That's a bit like saying "I like food. At least, I like nice food", but still. When I say "good" PvP, I suppose what I really mean is balanced. The worst possible experience is getting beaten again, and again, and again, and not being able to do a damn thing about it. For some people winning is everything (or as the quote goes, "winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing"), but winning with no challenge gets boring pretty quick too. Also, my ideal PvP really needs some reason or structure. A straight-up deathmatch can be fun, but I much prefer something with objectives like Onslaught mode in Unreal Tournament 2004 (as did the majority of the player base, if the number of servers per game type was anything to go by). With objectives other than just "KILL!", there's space for players to be good at different aspects of the competition.

So if I purport to like PvP, why wouldn't I touch a WoW PvP server with a barge pole? Because... it's not PvP, really. I mean the "general" PvP, the fact that you can attack anyone while out and about (as battlegrounds and the like are common to all server types). It's playing a PvE game, only with extra being-killed now and again while trying to do your quests. Balance is non-existent; you're running around as a level 50, see a level 60, chances are you're dead. Vice versa, sure you can kill him, but what do you get? The laughably mis-named "honor" system attempted to give an incentive to "fair" fights, but I won't go into the train-wreck of 14-hour-a-day honor farming which the new patch is hopefully fixing.

Obviously a whole lot of people like the PvP servers, fair enough. In discussions about it, the most common reason I've seen is the extra sense of excitement, danger, that you constantly have to be on your guard. But the frisson of being randomly killed is about as appealing to me as the frisson of playing on a dodgy internet connection. After all, in both cases, without warning, at any moment... boom! Something happens which takes a few minutes to recover from (reconnect to the 'net and log back in to the server, or run back to your corpse). Yeah, it's a pretty facile analogy, but still.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how Warhammer does it. If they can really get meaningful large scale PvP working, I'll be impressed. If it's random ganking with occasional massed lag-inducing zerg rushes... meh.

History of a time to come

I like to think I can see different sides of an debate, though I'm sure I'm as guilty as anyone of assuming that my experiences/opinions are universal (and as such TEH DEVS SHOULD DO EXACTLY WHAT I SAY OR EVERY PLAYER WILL QUIT). So, as a bit of a background to frame my posts, I've been playing PC games since about 1989, starting with an 8086 with 512k of RAM, mono CGA graphics (4 shades of gray) and games like Zork, Elite, Rogue and The Ancient Art of War on 5.25" disks. No hard drive; Curse of the Azure Bonds was about four disks, and as I remember you had to swap disks around pretty much every time you got into combat.

About the earliest multi-player gaming I can think of (aside from clustering around a single keyboard trying to play some beat 'em up, which never really worked so well) was carting a PC round to a friend's house, connecting it to another PC with a null modem cable, and shooting each other down in Falcon (yes, Falcon before it had numbers on the end...) This LAN party-without-a-LAN wasn't a frequent event, though, as lugging PCs around was a bit of a pain, and trying to get them to talk to each other via the null modem cable was an exercise in frustration involving a couple of hours of changing random options, maybe five minutes of playing, then losing the connection. (So, good training for a life of computers). Skipping over ten years or so, there were odd bits of multiplayer fun, like getting an actual LAN going for Doom and Descent and playing XPilot on the university Sun stations instead of working, but generally games were still single player, offline experiences. I was vaguely aware EverQuest and Counterstrike existed, but was playing Baldur's Gate and Half-Life. Not much choice, really, with a dial-up internet connection (not if you wanted to stay sane, at any rate.)

I only got broadband a few years ago (thanks to the fantastic telecoms infrastructure and absurd prices for even 512k connections until recently), and dabbled in a few online games; a bit of Neverwinter Nights, some Unreal Tournament 2004. With a broadband connection I looked more seriously at MMOGs, but was put off by the monthly fee and the prospect of being months or even years behind players in established games. I almost got Star Wars Galaxies when it launched... lucky escape there, I guess! I'm not entirely certain quite why I went for City of Heroes a year later. A few slashdot comments, some buzz from a friend-of-a-friend, the client was available as a download and I wasn't doing anything else that evening... but that was it, and I've been MMOGing since.

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Of guilds and raiding

What finally motivated me to start this blog was Tobold's post "Guild management in World of Warcraft", and the comment in reply to it:

"I don't raid in WoW to make friends. I'm here kill new bosses and get new epics. I expect everyone else to be putting out as much effort as I do."

(so I'll now copy and paste my comment on the comment...)

I guess that's why raiding is so utterly alien to me. (Not saying that quote is representative of every raider/raiding guild by any means, but I don't think it's a small minority view.) I get enough of work at, er, work! I don't need administration, performance reviews, office politics, all that stuff, when I finish for the day.

I started in City of Heroes as my first MMO, played with a small group of people for a bit, then most of them drifted away. Browsing around the forums, I found a supergroup recruiting, and joined up. Never looked back. Through pure luck, I guess, I found a bunch of people who were generally cool, laid back, didn't take things too seriously, and had a blast playing. The game itself helps a lot; death means very little, you can team pretty much any class with any other class/combination of classes, and the sidekick system allows disparate levels to group far more easily than anything else I've ever seen. The flip side is that there's not really much to the game itself, as Tobold notes when he talks about it; basically, instanced mission after instanced mission, over a few different tilesets. But the people kept me playing.

When WoW came along, quite a few people headed over there, set up a guild. But it wasn't quite the same; where in CoH you'd just shout and see if anyone was teaming, in WoW you'd try and work out if you had the same quests, in the same areas, whether the other people would have finished them by the time you flew over there, ran there, got the ferry there... You couldn't just run an instance with whoever was kicking around (CoH missions scale according to the level and number of people in the team, and almost any class combination works), you needed exactly five people, and you needed your tank and your healer and your DPS. Loot started getting divisive; in CoH there isn't really any loot to speak of, "money" hardly exists. In WoW, x was jealous that y got the roll on the UberLewt of Niceness. Some people would offer loot to the guild for nothing, others for vendor prices, others would keep quiet and list it on the auction house to make a bit of money. I got to level 60, ran a few late game instances (it was difficult as there were an overabundance of damage dealers compared to other classes; usually it would end up as a Raid, no quest completion, tiny chance of a decent drop which seldom happened), but then what was there? As a "hardcore casual", as I think someone else termed it, I play quite a lot but can't commit to x hours on night y so raiding is out. 5 man instances in a good group were fine, but good groups were rare and raid-zerging the same thing again and again and again for a 10% drop? No thanks. The guild was more or less finished by then anyway; the raiders had moved onto raiding guilds, others to new games, and the general "hanging with friends" vibe had never really been the same for all the previously mentioned reasons. There'd always been more "drama" than in CoH, and if there's one aspect of online communities I really hate, it's "drama". Sure, it's inevitable that people don't get on, but where in CoH you needed a pretty colossal personality clash for everything to kick off, WoW had all the additional niggles. Do you, as a guild, try and legislate and have strict guild rules enforced by officers? Or just say "play nice, kids"? It's a sort of mass prisoner's dilemma.

When City of Villains came out, I went back to that, and put the WoW account into hibernation, and to be honest, never really missed it. I flitted around various betas and/or initial months of other MMOs since, but always came back to CoH/CoV for the people, never found another guild/group like it anywhere else. Then, a while back, I got together with a bunch of friends, and they were all talking WoW. Some had been playing since launch and kept going as raiders, some were inveterate game-switchers and had been dipping in and out, and they'd ended up with various combinations of mains and alts around the same level. I'd been thinking about coming back for The Burning Crusade, but got so nostalgic for it that I reactivated my account right then. And I've been really enjoying it since, just playing with close friends; we're fairly similar levels, and happily have synergistic classes, so can team up pretty well in most combinations. We all get on, so there's no drama over someone getting better loot, or someone else getting that place in the instance. We're not actually in a guild, as there's no point, we just use the friends list and a custom channel.

I don't know if I really had a point or was just rambling... I guess a "guild of friends" is possible, even for raiding, as brian shows in the comments, but it's a pretty rare beast compared to groups of people held together by DKP rules and the desire for epics. I'm hoping the Burning Crusade will have enough to keep me going for a bit in my little group. From what I've been picking up, it *sounds* like it's moving in the right direction for me (winged instances you can do in "bite size" chunks, more emphasis on turning in tokens to get class items rather than praying for that 6% drop chance from a certain boss, variable difficulty instances (in my case, so hopefully you can run the instance for not-too-bad loot without agonising over optimal group make-up, rather than ramping up the difficulty for uber-items)). But we'll see.


So, inspired in no small part by Tobold, I thought I'd inflict my random MMO thoughts on the world. I should warn you now that my attention will probably be diverted by something else entirely different within a couple of months, I never could keep a livejournal going, but never mind, eh?