Broken Systems Were The Funnest

Over the past week I’ve done a lot of thinking back to older games I’ve played like DAoC, SWG, EQ, etc. Raph Koster’s posts have been particularly enlightening since they discussed the hows and whys of their decisions, and even revealed what they were actually trying to create when they delivered something entirely different.

I started to think about the fun I’ve had in older games, and then realized a lot of that fun came from systems that were completely broken or so stupid they should be considered broken. Despite that fact, I still enjoyed them. In fact, I think the games might have been less fun without them!

Here are just a couple examples.

SWG’s HAM

The health, action, and mind bar system of SWG was both brilliant and horribly designed at the same time. Using different abilities depleted these bars. Being hit by certain abilities wounded those bars. Let’s say my pistol used my mind bar, and someone shot my mind to wound it and thus reduce my total available mind resources. I could then use fewer mind abilities. The result was that you were killing yourself every time you used abilities.

I’m laughing right now thinking about how stupid this system was, and how much I wish it was like what Raph describes as “bouncy” where your resources regenerated and the entire thing was a rock paper scissors game of undermining your opponents weapon choice and tactics.

All that said, it worked even by not working. Yes, I enjoyed being able to see someone who clearly didn’t work on their mind pool enough. I would one shot them with my pistol.

EverQuest’s Mob Camping

I remember standing in a single spot for 15 hours just waiting on the right monster to spawn. When it finally spawned, it didn’t drop what I wanted. The wait began again. People would stand in line for these monsters to spawn. It could take weeks for it to be your turn. Yeah, it sucked.

At the same time, forming lines and relying on the honesty of others meant you were communicating and building a community of players who cooperated. If you broke the rules, stole a spawn, etc., you were ostracized; your life was over on that character and you would probably never get a group again.

Screwing Up Character Stats in DAoC (or any game)

Who didn’t screw up a character in a game at some point in time? It was a right of passage! It was also completely stupid. To be able to ruin a character and start over without some form of fixing it? I remember in DAoC back in the early days when you messed up your character’s stats or skills or whatever it meant you … screwed up. They eventually added respec stones so that you could undo a mistake and reallocate those skill points.

Screwing up a character and committing to a path that ends up being terrible is… terrible. At the same time, actually having to commit to something and put up with consequences or having to care about how your character progressed gave us substance and meat to character progression. No decision was made lightly.

Strafing in EverQuest

Mob pathing in EverQuest was terrible, and pretty much broken. Characters could strafe (run at an angle) and that meant that mobs had to make an additional path to move into your path… something like that. I won’t pretend to understand it all (it’s probably geometry or something and I don’t do math) but it meant that mobs struggled to actually hit you. Exploit? Maybe. Broken? Yep.

While broken, strafing allowed us to circle kite, and avoid enemies (who always seemed to run just a little faster then us) from killing us when we flee. It became just something you did.

Okay, now that I think about it this post was sorta stupid and broken itself. But do you get what I’m trying to say here? These dumb features/mechanics, when combined with other mechanics (which were often dumb) made that game what it was and if removed would take away a huge part of the magic that made it all work.

New games can come out that refine those broken mechanics, but I think when we fix too much we lose a little bit of the heart and soul of these MMOs. Rather than remove them, I think they can simply be modernized. Modernizing =\= removing.

EQ Progression Server is… Progressing

The EverQuest Progression Server FAQ was updated back on the 15th. If you follow our forums at all you’ll see that we keep the EverQuest news updated regularly; if not you’ll just have to wait until times like now when I catch up and get it on the blog. Pretty big changes worth mentioning this time around. Let’s discuss a couple of them.

Zone Versions
This is pretty much to be expected, and one of the biggest reasons why P99 is likely allowed to remain open. Many of the zones are not going to be in their proper era-specific state and will have to be altered to a version that Daybreak apparently still has in a database. Freeport, for example, will be in its “revamped” (read: sad) state. Other zones like Splitpaw, CT, some Planes, etc., will be in a loot revamp state but will transition to their newer state over the progression.

None of these changes truly bother me.

Game Function
Here’s a tough one. Several of the newer game functions will be in at the launch of the progression server. The map (booo hiss), AA’s (hrmm) and even [rumored] starter gear quests (bleh). There’s no winning here, and nothing will change what we’re getting. This is another reason why P99 is allowed to stay afloat because they offer something Daybreak can’t or won’t.  Regardless, nothing here is TRULY going to ruin my fun, but it’ll dampen it a bit… namely maps. Why? Part of the fun is people getting lost, not knowing where to go, asking the zone for directions, etc. These things contribute to the social structures of EverQuest.

Instancing the first few level 1-15 zones for Population Control
Here’s the one I’m struggling with the most. I don’t like instancing newbie zones. I don’t like the lobby system. I don’t like when players populations are truncated. I think the true experience is to see 50 newbies in a zone and have there be no mobs. This forces people to spread out quicker. It’s the way the game was meant to be played. Is it annoying? Yes. Is it even impossible to level sometimes? Yes.

I know I’m in the minority here. Wilhelm over at Ancient Gaming Noob thinks even more zones should be instanced. I know that most people think they should have a monster in front of them ready to be killed the minute they want one, but that’s not EverQuest — that’s not a true MMORPG.

Not Instancing Raid Encounters
They deserve a pat on the back for this one.

[Technical mumbo jumbo]… “Besides all of that, creating instanced versions of raid encounters wouldn’t be true to the original experience of EverQuest. This playerbase formed raid rotations or other rules on its own before, and we would like to believe that it is capable of doing so again.”

Developers believing in the players? Thinking we can implement social structure and a community?! It feels almost like 1999.

Anyway, check out the polls. Vote on them. I’m fine with Maximum Nostalgia or whatever keeps us in the Kunark era the longest. Whatever it takes to prolong the time until Luclin or PoP which is actually several of them. Very few ways to lose in these polls.

Of Society and Carrots

Raph Koster is still on a roll with his retrospective analysis of all things SWG. He’s written about TEFs, Dynamic Worlds, and now today he’s written about something that once again draws my commentary: Living Societies in Games.

While the entire post is enormous (only part one…), and actually worth reading, I want to focus on just one small and tiny quote. In fact, this is Raph quoting himself from well over a decade ago:

“A sad fact about you players, as a whole: you only do what you are rewarded for. You will do something less fun if you see a carrot at the end of the stick, and you will ignore something more fun if it doesn’t give you a “ding” or an XP reward or a title.” – Holocron (11-26-2002 10:55 PM)

This is why…

Battlegrounds are favored over Open-world PvP
Players endure Raiding
Exploration is dead
Combat is always king

I could go on, but I want to stop there and flip that quote upside down. Developers realize players only want to do things they are rewarded for, and despite being less fun and underwhelming/underdeveloped players continue to do so ad nauseam — and pay for it! This means that creating content that is more fun, and yes quite possibly much harder to create, is easily set aside and deemed less profitable, niche, and “not what the players want.” You see? Players seek the path of least resistance, but what they are seeking after is actually that which the developers themselves have done — the path of least resistance! It’s a vicious cycle!

The solution is, quite simply, to never have a situation wherein players are given the opportunity to chase a carrot that is contrary to a ‘fun’ and desired experience.  Yep, that’s one of those “WTF obvious” moments, I know. Yet Raph quite perfectly points out a similar phenomenon when developers come to him asking him to create a crafting system for them like that found in SWG. He has to go back to them and point out that they have already created their game, when in fact the game should have been created around crafting. This idea of working backwards or putting the cart before the horse is happening all around us every single day in game design.

As Raph says, “players flow like water around obstacles.” Yeah, but so do developers. While in the end quite true of both sides, I’m in the camp that believes it is up to the developers to take control as it is the developers who are creating the experiences through which players exercise their inherent shortcomings.

Before you think all of this sounds impossible, SWG — despite its shortcomings — managed to pull this off the best we’ve ever seen. Every activity matters. Every activity is connected to something else someone had or has to do. Everyone is tied together. It’s a world. It’s a society.

The Great Jedi Purge

Raph Koster (Google him) wrote a fascinating narrative on how the entire SWG Jedi fiasco unfolded. Although quite long, and honestly not saying anything particularly new, it’s well written and a much better explanation of why SWG failed than what Gordon Walton threw together.

Jedi ruined SWG. This isn’t news. This isn’t something MMO news sites should be announcing as a reveal. If anyone out there thinks CU or NGE were what killed SWG then they weren’t actually playing SWG at the time. CU and NGE were why we quit, but Jedi were why SWG was put onto a failing trajectory. Raph does a nice job of accurately explaining why.

I’m one of the people who loved SWG in its launch to shortly after launch state. Yep, I was one of the people building a crafting empire with my own employees and supply chains. I was one of the people enjoying playing a musician and socializing in the cantinas. I was the mayor of a glorious player city. I was even one of the people who enjoyed the broken combat. SWG gave me an opportunity to embody each of the Bartle-types — and I loved every second of it.

I was also one of the beta testers. While I wasn’t one of the people flown out to talk with the dev team, I was still actively involved with the community and I can remember how shocked we all were that the game was going to launch. Still, as Raph said, we supported them because this game — this game set in the Star Wars universe — allowed us to create a character and thrive in almost any way we desired.

I remember the rumors we would all whisper while playing. I definitely remember the conspiracies about player councils and electing Jedi. For a while we thought that we might even become Jedi by visiting these special caves off in the corner of dangerous planets where force-sensitive witches would reside. Honestly, the speculating was great fun.

There’s this sentiment floating around lately about “the game that could have been.” Yeah, that “game that could have been” sounds fun. That’s the game we were wanting too. Hardcore Jedi were one of our conspiracy theories. The more action-oriented SWG with Jedi and all of that set in a different point on the timeline is another game we wanted. You could have made that game, but you didn’t. We got SWG. It was awesome — flawed, but awesome. What I don’t like to see are the after-the-fact reveals about what could have been. Those types of retrospectives make me wonder if instead of focusing on making what you had better you just floundered around thinking about how to make it something else. Focusing on trying to make something else is why we all quit.

WildStar’s Next Stop: F2P

Sitting back and watching WildStar's future unfold

If the rumors are true about box recalls, WildStar might be going free-to-play. Having predicated WildStar would be free to play months ago, this change should come as a shock to no one, myself least of all.

Unfortunately, ignorance leads down the path to the dark side F2P. It’s not a subscription keeping players away from WildStar — it’s the one-dimensional content and gameplay. The developers had a myopic vision of what they thought people wanted, and ignored the blatantly obvious signs all around them that such a plan would fail. Playing WildStar simply isn’t fun, and no price can change that.

The relatively small group of players still enjoying WildStar are doing so on a subscription (or CREDD?). Reading the official forums and outlets where real players actually speak out, they don’t want the game to go F2P either. They’ll end up having to pay more for less if it does.

What NCSoft should do is push the game into a B2P model. Going F2P is just as foolish as developing a “hardcore” themepark game. If they go B2P with an optional subscription for added perks (maybe like a DLC season pass, still capable of being funded with CREDD) and actually put PvP and PvE where they should be at, then WildStar can most likely still chug along. All of that is a pipe dream though. Realistically, the community and interest have shrunk so badly that NCSoft is likely to align the China release with a F2P announcement in the West for their quarterly report. They’ll do the F2P conversion, ride it for a year or two at most, then close it down.

[Update: See comments below for a semi-official lead on what might be the direction WildStar is going (B2P).]