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Choices Should Matter

“…Choices matter – even bad ones.”  That’s a quote from our interview with Mark Jacobs in response to whether or not players should be allowed to “gimp” themselves at character creation. I’ve thought a lot on the subject over the past week as I once again dabble into older MMOs seeking that feeling brought on by making meaningful choices. I keep going back to what types of choices there are in MMOs and how they should matter.

We make choices every day in MMOs — easily hundreds of them. What class we want to play, where we want to hunt, which items to use, what to vendor or store in our bank, who to group with, what or who to attack, etc. We used to, and sometimes rarely do make choices about which stats to increase or what factions to gain favor and disdain.

Modern MMOs would have players make these decisions in seconds or without cognition. These types of decisions scare developers. Players thinkings about these things start to look at the big picture –they become aware of the experience. A player who has to think is a player who can become unhappy or even unmanageable. But a player who has to make choices that matter can also be one who becomes invested in the experience.  That same player can grow to love the growth and richness of choice. A game capable of providing such an experience is one that keeps people playing for years. Such a game is typically more than a shallow experience but indeed a virtual world.

People need the ability to make mistakes. I do not feel a mistake that renders someone worthless is ever truly an option, but the choices should carry such weight that choosing one path radically alters the experience. Let’s use stats as an example.  If I am a Ranger I should be able to play as a melee character, a bow user, and be able to use nature magic. If I highly favor strength then my bow and magic should be hindered greatly; If I spread evenly across them all then I should be that jack of all trades. No one path should gimp me, but all paths should be unique.

The mistake to make is when other stats are thrown in like stamina or charisma. How much stamina is needed to be “good?” These types of decisions should not gimp a player if the rest of the game is designed with that same level of decision making. Perhaps I can craft gear to offset the stats. Another ranger who went into strength or dex might have to put more stamina on her gear instead. Methods to correct a mistake in stats should be available, but not readily.

I want to start thinking again in MMOs. Great rewards and/or a sense of accomplishment have always followed meaningful choices. Likewise, failure can come too. Without that opposition, no reward will ever seem sweet enough.  It’s the classic argument that you can not know light without darkness. Without failure, success means less.  Without a potential negative or unexpected outcome, a choice is just an option or a preference.

Thoughts on the Destiny Beta

I haven’t followed Destiny very closely at all, so when I started the beta I was pretty much going in blind. I do remember being excited about what I saw at the last E3, but now the hype has kicked into overdrive and September 9th can’t come soon enough.

I’m not entirely sure how you would classify Destiny as a game. Destiny is obviously a first-person shooter first and foremost, but the game is also heavily invested in several different kinds of online components. Destiny is not a MMOFPS, or at least I wouldn’t consider it one. Some people think that any game that has massive amounts of people playing online makes it an MMO but from my understanding it has always been about massive amounts of players actually playing together. You can’t really win here because there a lots of people on both sides who insist their definition is correct, but I’m getting a little off track here. Destiny is what I would consider a Persistent Online World, or I guess a POFPS. You can go to a social area and visit shops and so on and you are there with several other people but it seems pretty obvious that the area is instanced. When you are out doing story missions or just exploring there also seems to be a smaller smattering of players but that’s actually a good thing since a very crowded zone would pretty much ruin this kind of game.

So when I first started out I had to create a character. Of the three races and classes I went with Exo Hunter, which is pretty much a robot stalker-y type. Each character class gets their own set of abilities. I was able to throw a fire grenade and a throwing knife along with summoning a powerful fiery pistol as a sort of ultimate ability. I don’t know exactly what other classes can do but I’ve seen some interesting stuff like weird shield things and powerful ground-pound moves so I imagine it’s stuff like that. It actually reminds me a lot Borderlands in many ways but there seems to be a whole lot more depth here. I’m not entirely sure how their level system is going to work but it seems that pretty much every time you level up you get a new ability or passive. It doesn’t really look like a talent tree but each ability has a progress ring around them. How exactly you unlock these abilities is something I’m not too sure of. It might be straight progression based or maybe you need to do certain kinds of actions. [Read more...]

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty Review

My experience with the Oddworld is almost nonexistent since Keen and I never owned a PS1, which means we missed out on all that cool stuff. It was one of those really neat looking games that I never got a chance to play, like MediEvil and Crash Bandicoot. Later on I did get to play it for a bit at a friends house and I played the PC demo a lot. Oddly enough a lot of Abe’s gamespeak has stuck with me over the years like the way he says “Hello,” “Follow Me,” and “Okay.” I still pull those out every now and then. A few years ago I tried to get the first two games on Steam but eventually gave up after way too much trouble getting them to work. Anyway… when I found out that a remake of Abe’s Oddysee was happening I was pretty excited to get to play the game for the first time. Well, almost those first time anyway.

oddworld-new-n-tasyWhat Is Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty?

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a puzzle platformer. You take control of a Mudoken floor-waxer named Abe who overhears a plan to turn Mudokens into meat products. From there you make your escape from the RuptureFarms meatpacking facility while rescuing as many Mudoken buddies along the way as you can manage. Soon after that Abe pretty much falls backward into the role of fated savior of the Mudokens. It’s fascinating stuff and it’s told with a lot of rhyming.

Abe is a pretty weak dude. There’s not a lot he can do other than run, jump, duck, roll,talk, and throw stuff. He can, however, perform a mystical Mudoken chant that will turn birds into portals and take over the minds of Slig guards. I’m not entirely sure why Abe can do this or if only certain Mudoken have the power but I guess that’s not really important. When making your way out of RuptureFarms you will need to dodge various security measures, slig guards, and several nasty ways to get killed like mines, pits, and grinders. When you encounter fellow Mudoken slaves you can chat them up and tell them to follow you. Upon finding a ring of birds you can chant open a portal for them to escape through. They’re not terribly bright though and they will run into hazards if they aren’t cleared and if there are sligs around they will get gunned down.

The platforming elements are very good and the controls seem very tight. I can’t really recall a single death that wasn’t my fault. What I really like about this game is how well it works as a speedrun game. The way Abe moves actually reminds me a lot of the original Prince of Persia game. The way he runs and jumps, hangs and rolls, etc. Actually a lot about this reminds me of PoP and I wonder if that game was influential at all or if it’s just coincidental. Unlike PoP there are quite a few nasty bad guys that want you dead. Sligs will gun you down, paramites will follow you and attack in numbers if cornered, scrabs will run you down but will fight each other, and slogs which just want to chew you up. Elum are pretty cool dudes however and will let you ride on them in some portions of the game. They run faster and jump much farther than Abe can on his own.

You will face a lot of hazards on your adventure. Not only do you need to worry about falling down pits and the local wild life but also mines, floating bombs, rolling boulders, grinders, and electricity fields. Here’s where a lot of the puzzle elements also come in. You have to sneak around bad guys to pull levers to disable stuff or open areas and try not to get gunned down. Sometimes you will have to do all of this while worrying about fellow mudoken buddies who might get caught in the crossfire. Other times you will just have to worry about remembering a a mudoken whistling password or how you are possibly going to run through this area, activate what you need to, and make it back without being killed. It’s fun stuff.

So What’s New?

So as I mentioned before, my experience with the original game is limited. However I have noticed quite some big differences between each version. Firstly, and most obviously, the game looks and runs a lot different. New ‘n’ Tasty looks visually very impressive while still capturing the aesthetic of the original game. It’s actually pretty interesting because while playing the game it felt like this was what the old game looked like but after tinkering around in my Steam version of the original I saw that was very much not the case. So either they did a very good job at recreating the original game or I just have a very bad memory of what old games looked like. In addition to the impressive visuals the game also runs a bit differently. The game screen actually scrolls as you move rather than changing screens every time you get to edge.

Another big addition to New ‘n’ Tasty is the inclusion of three difficulty levels: Easy, Normal. and Hard. I imagine Hard probably resembles the original game the best but the other difficulty levels are great for people who might have thought Abe’s Oddysee was too much of a challenge. Probably one of the biggest changes added in New ‘n” Tasty is 200 additional Mudokens that you can rescue which brings the total to 299. That’s a whole lot of dudes to rescue. I thought I scoured the levels but I was still only able to get 175 at the end of the game. There are also several different kinds of leaderboards for anybody who really wants to compete on speed running and saving mudokens.

The only real negative change that I have noticed involves jumping while standing still. In the original game you can jump forward just by pressing a button. In New ‘n’ Tasty you will have to also press forward or else you will just jump upwards. That was a little annoying at first, especially since pressing forward and jump at the same time didn’t always seem to work for me. However not long at all in the game I figured out you can press jump first and then quickly push over on the stick and execute a standing side jump 100% of the time. It’s a small complaint, and really my only one in the entire game. Even then it doesn’t seem like anything that couldn’t get patched. Even if it doesn’t it’s not that big of a deal.

abeShould You Get It?

Yes. Yes you should. This is coming from the perspective of somebody who hasn’t played through the entire original game before, though. Even so I can’t imagine old fans not wanting to play this just to see the new additions. Even if you mastered the original game there are 200 more Mudokens for you to rescue this time around and the game looks and plays better than ever. I got 7 or 8 hours out of my first run through and I plan to go back and try to do it all over again–and rescue more buddies along the way. Oh, and it works GREAT with remote play on the Vita. I played through about 1/3rd of the game that way, but the game is cross-buy/cross-save anyway so when the Vita version comes out you can just use that. So yeah, support the game and hopefully New ‘n’ Tasty does well enough that we get a remake of Abe’s Exoddus and even some new Oddworld games.

9/10

Review Code Provided By Oddworld Inhabitants.

MMO Server Sizes

Over the past few years the trend for MMO servers has clearly been to increase the population size and decrease the number of servers–even down to one. The mega server idea seems awesome. One big server for everyone? Sign me up. That is, until it becomes clear that instancing is used to separate people into different instances and the population feels smaller and more divided anyway.

MMOs in the past had smaller server populations and larger worlds, but they worked better. Why? I have a few ideas.

Zones were laid out well (so was the world) and players were encourage to spread out yet group up creating the feeling that you were always with other players yet not constantly surrounded by crowds.

Players knew each other. Some of the things I’ve written about recently, like downtime and slower combat, brought people together to socialize. Reputations mattered. You might hunt in the same zone or dungeon as another player for days or weeks. When looking for a group you would often get back into groups with the same people. This fostered immense camaraderie.

I’m all in favor of individual servers without instancing remaining the standard. The number of servers needed at launch is always a point of debate, but playing it smart isn’t difficult. Don’t make too many servers. Don’t launch a world with everyone in one or two starting areas. Avoid the instancing and mega server mentality that creates a shallow world where players needn’t interact with anyone.

I’m curious to hear whether or not you guys are all into the idea of individual servers or mega server tech, and why.

Lack of Information

The idea for today’s post comes from one of our long-time readers, Bhagpuss. While discussing yesterday’s topic of older MMO combat being much slower, and as a result much deeper, Bhagpuss reminded me that this can also be due to a lack of information provided to the player.

“What does that mob con?”

I love how this phrase originated, at least for me. I first started using it in EQ, and I think that might be its origin. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, a mob “con” is usually referring to its color and aggression status. Back in EQ one simply targeted a mob and pressed the ‘C’ key. In the chat a description would appear in a certain color. The description might say the mob considers you an ally, warmly, kindly, amiably, indifferently, apprehensively, dubiously, threateningly, or ready to attack.  Then the infamous color con system was incorporated to give players a general idea of where the level of the mob might be–We had to figure out what “dubiously” meant and whether or not the mob was our level.

Con’ing a mob was just one step. Sometimes that con meant very little. Certain mobs would wreck certain classes regardless of their level. Some mobs would be massive undercons meaning they could con blue but hit you like they were 10 levels above (Dorn in NRo anyone?).

As Bhagpuss bring up in his comment yesterday, a group pulling a red con might be in for a surprise. That red con might be among other reds that are just 2-3 levels above your group… but that red might be 10 levels above. There was really no way to know.

Figuring Out A Fight

Once you were satisfied that a monster might be safe to pull you still had to deal with what came next: What can this mob do to me? Pulling a new mob in EverQuest was always an adventure. Sometimes those mobs could nuke ridiculously hard compared to how hard they melee. Sometimes they charm your own party members, blind, etc. While this element of not knowing what a mob does can exist in every MMO while people are just starting out, it always felt like a constant in a game like EverQuest.

This sense of unknown created danger. Danger slowed people down; Danger brought people together.

Aggro

I talked on this yesterday but it’s worth bringing up again that mob aggro wasn’t something people could really grasp because it didn’t appear to be exact. If a tank engages a mob and only stays on it for 5% of its health, and a healer casts a heal, that mob might decide the healer needs to die and nothing is going to stop it. Proximity to a mob affected how much it hated you. Healers should never heal standing near the mob.

Interpret and Predict

Players had to do a lot more interpreting and predicting to overcome the challenges presented by a lack of information. I like how Bhagpuss put it, “That fuzziness in itself made for much more thoughtful, tactical combat.” That can apply to everything about old school MMOs. Players weren’t given UI addons, mods, data, or instruction. They were thrown out into the world and told to adventure.

Sure, people charted the world and revealed the approximate level of every mob. Maps were made, guides were read. That still never seemed to remove the ‘fuzziness’ or the danger, and certainly never made anyone have to think less. Players learned to predict and learned to interpret, and as a result they became better players.

As you go about playing your MMOs today, or thinking about them at work, consider what a little less information and insight might do to make your experience a little more dynamic and enjoyable.