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I Hate Mounts

Here’s a random topic for you today: I hate mounts in MMOs. I was watching a video of Camelot Unchained where Mark Jacobs was fielding questions and two of them dealt with speed: (1) How quickly can players get into RvR, and (2) Will there be classes with speed buffs. For some reason I thought of mounts; My mind stopped listening to the video and went back into the depths of my memory where I recall how wonderful it was when MMOs were mount free.

I can remember how long it took to run places in EverQuest. Grouping with a Bard brought this feeling of pure ecstasy as the speed song kicked in and I felt so fast and free. I remember trying to get back to the RvR fight in DAoC and how crucial it was to group with a Bard, Skald, or Minstrel to have that run buff.  Without it you were so much slower, and without it you wouldn’t get back to the fight quickly — or you’d be left behind and ganked.

Not having speed or access to speed made having it better.  Again I find myself going back to that feeling of opposition and deprivation adding so much value to the experience. Classes with speed had something to offer and filled a key role.  That role existed because there weren’t prolific speed increases.

Mounts make everyone fast, shrink the world, and remove a huge dynamic layer from many systems. Mounts have become zany and an out-of-control arcade element.  Mounts are something sold in cash shops, earned with achievements, and akin to the prize you get with your tickets at the arcade.  They are an accessory yet can influence so much of a game’s design.

If the decision were mine to make in the future… I wouldn’t include mounts in my game.

Landmark’s Massive Discount

Okay, so this happened.

landmark-markdown

Some people are miffed. Some people are laughing. Some people wonder what the early adopters think. Hey there, I’m Keen — I’m an early adopter of EverQuest Landmark. Here’s what I think.

I got my money’s worth, and I recognize that this is simply SOE marketing their product. Do I wish I payed $34 instead of $100? Yeah. Do I regret having paid $100 8 months ago?  No more than I regret buying an iPhone knowing in 6 months there will be a new one — anything related to computers or technology for that matter.

SOE isn’t marking this down because no one is playing. They aren’t struggling for cash. Landmark isn’t failing. Think about it… this is now on the Steam top sellers list. People are blogging about it and putting it into the news site rotation. Let’s evaluate what has happened:

  • More people bought a “free” game
  • More people are talking about a game still in beta
  • The real fans are still going to play and be happy regardless; The EQ brand has not lost any value

That sounds like marketing success to me.

If this is the type of thing that bugs you then don’t be an early adopter. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this founder pack stuff is a growing trend for games. We’ll have to see how these companies balance integrity with marketing. That’ll determine how all of this plays out.

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.

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.