Out with the Old, In with the New?

Posts here tend to reflect back on older games, our love for them, our memories, what worked and didn’t, the evolution of MMO design, etc. As a result, we often see a theme in the comments section:

“X game would never work if released today. If X game were released today it would fail. People don’t want X game.”

Those saying these things are correct, but not for the reasons they think. It’s like anything old vs. anything new. People want and gravitate toward the newer thing. The market changes as people’s tastes change. What we want and think is heavily influenced by the here and now of our culture. But don’t lose sight of why something worked in the past.

An old PDA if released today would fail. Why? Because people want the iPad. Does that make what the old PDA did bad, or undesirable? No. People still want a touch device, an organizer, something that can make phone calls, store contacts, take notes, play games, etc. People still want the same things, but they want them ‘sexier’. The limits of what we desire today have expanded. There’s no reason why new games can’t do what those games did while taking into consideration the proper expanded desires of today’s market.

I think Apple has done a nice job proving this point.

iphone evolution

‘The original iPhone would never work if released today. If the original iPhone were released today it would fail. People don’t want the original iPhone.’ That doesn’t mean we disregard everything from the original iPhone. We take what worked and we adapt it for what the market demands. The market demands bigger? Give them bigger! The market demands faster, more color options, higher resolutions? Give it to them! But the core concept and design of the iPhone — from the user experience down to the very core of what the iPhone does — remains consistent and can not change or else the iPhone ceases to be the iPhone, and would fail.

So when I see people saying that a game like EverQuest, DAoC, or SWG wouldn’t work today, I’d like to see proof that someone has really tried. Release a sexier version of DAoC, EverQuest, or even SWG (maybe The Repopulation?) and let’s see if it simply wouldn’t work. My honest belief is that it would work, just like it already did, and it work a heck of a lot better than the games releasing today with models that are supposedly ‘what the market demands.’

Lobbies, and Resets, and Point Farming! Oh My!

This whole Crowfall ‘campaign’ thing is giving me a headache…

I see people talking about temporary worlds, reset timers, people having no reason to keep playing until after the reset if they are guaranteed to lose, how much someone wins if they join a campaign late, jumping ship to a winning campaign, victory conditions, and on and on.

Holy crap guys are you hearing yourselves?

All this talk of temporariness, campaigns, and trying to maximize how to earn the most “points“… It’s sounding like Battlegrounds — this is like Alterac Valley on steroids. It’s sounding like Warhammer Online’s RvR all over again. Do I need to start waving my arms screaming “BAD IDEA” yet?

Crowfall is sounding extremely arcade-like in its design. It’s also showing signs of being needlessly complicated to be different. Those aren’t good things. Those are warnings signs for a potential 3 monther. I’m in agreement with those saying Crowfall is not an MMO. For all of the bellyaching we all do for something better, I’m somewhat shocked by the hype and excitement over yet another world of instancing, lobbies, point farming, and campaigns.

There are way, way too many warnings signs right now. I’ll maintain my same position on Crowfall: It’s worth keeping an eye on… but yeesh I’m doing it from a distance.

The Support Role

Some of my fondest MMORPG memories came from playing a support role. Today’s MMO’ers can’t fully appreciate what it actually means to be a support class — most probably think it means healing. Today’s MMOs focus squarely on everyone being a DPS class. Even the “holy trinity” is being done away with, and by “holy trinity” I mean the modern version which did away with the original true Tank, Heals, and Crowd Control trinity. Everyone just smacks the mob until it dies and rolls out of the way of telescoping red lines and calls it a ‘group’.

Support classes usually had one role in the group: Make everyone else better. This wasn’t the easiest role to take on for many reasons. It’s difficult to be the class that doesn’t actively do something like do the most damage or ensure no one else gets hit. Often the support role is under-appreciated by ignorant players, and it can be a thankless job — even more so than healing.

Some of my fondest memories are playing an Aug Shaman in Dark Age of Camelot. My buffs were so dang good that people wanted me in their group and were willing to have me take up a slot just to give those buffs and very little else. I felt extremely important, especially when downtime used to be a real thing. What’s downtime? Perhaps that’s best left for a post unto itself, but suffice it to say downtime was when the group had to wait and do nothing to regain mana, stamina, or health.

Support roles could also be a little more dynamic, but that often meant being a ‘jack of all trades’ and doing lots of things decently but nothing good or great. I’m thinking back to my year playing a full-time Druid in EverQuest. They could heal and dps along with others (not great but helpful) but they could also root, snare, debuff, pull decently, and buff.

I’ll even go as far as including the EQ Enchanter as a support role. Although capable of incredible DPS when played by an expert in the right situation, the Enchanter was best known for two things: Crack and Mez. Again, probably meaningless to the modern generation. Crack was a buff called Clarity that would greatly enhance mana regeneration. Mez was a spell that rendered enemies incapable of moving or attacking as long as they were not damaged — essentially allowing your group to fight multiple monsters at once while only technically having one enemy active.

Support roles were done away with over the years because specialization has been done away with and seen as a weakness. Players used to pick a class that was really good at one thing, and that one thing wasn’t just  broad “DPS” or “tanking”.  Classes used to be very, very specific and known for anything from being the class that can mez to the class that can pull (I realize even “pulling” is now a foreign concept).

Now everyone needs to be able to DPS, take a hit, do some sort of self-healing, have a buff that falls into a category of buffs, and wear bitchin’ gear. There’s this idea out there that ‘If I can’t do it all then I’m being gypped and robbed of my fun!’ Lots of entitlement running rampant.

 

Improving Monster AI

We’ve had quite a productive discussion in the comments of this week’s articles. Another great topic came up about improving monster AI. Lately the trend has been more toward highly-scripted encounters resembling ‘intelligence’. We all know that’s a bunch of crap. Public Quests, “Dynamic Events”, etc., are all just scripted events that run, complete, then reset.

One idea from the comments yesterday was: “An orc facing a lone opponent will attack, but if there are three or more people nearby, he runs away. Unless there are other orcs nearby, in which case he calls them over.” This is very similar to the “bring a friend” (BAF) type system we saw in EQ and DAoC. Also the “call for help” some monsters did when they would run away and bring more monsters back with them.

Camping a dangerous area full of really tough mobs (note the 2 words ‘dangerous’ and ‘tough’) back in early EQ days required you to use spells to manipulate mob behavior. I remember needing spells like “Lull” to pull one mob at a time. I remember one person’s job was to snare or root a mob (usually snare since it would slow them enough, and if a mob was rooted it would still attack which increased downtime) so that the mob could not get away and bring back more friends.

Another idea for improving mob AI was more along the lines of unpredictable elements influencing monster behavior. “A long list of random hidden stats would affect how mobs interact. Using the orc example again, one lone orc that spots three players may attack if his strength and bravery stats are high while intelligence is low. A different orc may gather friends.” I love the idea of having visible cues for these traits such as bigger orcs probably having more bravery, and scrawny orcs having more magical abilities or intelligence — intelligence would likely mean getting friends before charging in alone.

One of my favorite ideas was something else brought up: Players taking control of monsters. I remember this being a feature in EverQuest for a short period of time, and a PvP feature in Lord of the Rings Online. I think the idea of letting players take control of monsters from a zone and even level them up is a fun idea worth exploring. The more a player played as a monster, the more powerful their monsters would be the next time they play. This way players are encouraged to be great monster players and not just use them for griefing. Obviously tons of work on a system like that is needed, but it has potential.

All of these ideas are really just getting at the fact that mob ai in today’s MMOs is weak. It’s really predictable, not much of a challenge, or hasn’t changed much in years. There are lots of ways to increase the dynamic nature of PvE without just increasing health, how much damage something does, or making it happen in phases or waves. Players like myself would like to see more variety, and development time spent, in this areas.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

Don’t tell me to kill 10 orcs. Build me a world where I will want to.

That’s the overall theme for this morning’s blog entry. I started thinking about this yesterday while reading the great replies I received in my discussion of ‘How much story is too much?‘ One reply in particular resonated with me.

Early EQ had perfect story pieces and lore scattered about without hitting you over the head with it in text boxes and shiny quest markers. You knew that the elves in the Faydark were at war with the orcs in their own backyard and those orcs were bold enough to venture into elven territory just by what was going on in the zone. – Gringar

That got me thinking about why I went out and killed monsters in EverQuest, and the type of ‘hunting’ I like(d) to do in MMORPGs. Orcs in Faydark are a great example. As Gringar pointed out, it felt like the orcs were at war with the elves as there was the general feel of conflict. Since monsters, particular orcs in the Crushbone area, could be quite difficult for newer players, they were always ‘training’ or running them back to the guards for protection. This created a general overall sense of there being orcs in the zone to kill, but it wasn’t my personal reason.

I killed orcs because they were a great source of experience. Killing orcs was incredibly efficient. They spawned in camps regularly, dropped decent loot, and had a great modifier if you managed to kill them inside of Crushbone. Finding a group to kill orcs was usually reliable, and as a result I always felt like I could see the progress I made while playing when I killed orcs.

No one had to tell me to go kill orcs. I didn’t receive a quest (though later I did find a question to turn in their belts for increased experience) and no one had to tell me the story about why the orcs hate the elves (to this day I still do not know). All I knew was there were orcs, they were a good challenge and yielded lots of experience.

It’s really that simple. I killed orcs because I wanted to. I had the choice of killing any number of things. I could have gone to several other zones and killed other kinds of monsters but these were located close to a  city and provided the experience I was looking for while leveling up from levels 5-12.

Opportunity and means are huge in MMORPGs. We so often rely on quest dialog to say, “go kill me some orcs and bring back 10 of their axes.” When completed we move on. What if we wanted to keep killing orcs? What if the process of hunting orcs was something more enjoyable — a process increased over multiple days or even weeks if we so choose. What if people could form groups to continually hunt orcs? That kind of free thinking puts us right back in 1999 — and it worked.

So I return to my original statement. Build me a world where I will want to go kill orcs and spiders and skeletons. Don’t build me a world where I have to be told every second of every day what to do and where or how to do it. Let me explore and find a graveyard with skeletons, start killing them, and realize the experience is amazing and their bone chips can be traded to other players. Let me have the freedom to come back tomorrow and pick up where I left off. Give me the opportunity to do so by setting me free instead of pigeonholing me into following an arrow to the quest objective.