Good Teams Delay Games

Feels like early access, alphas, betas — whatever you want to call them these days — are so heavily monetized and marketed that the next logical step is QVC/HSN. Even browsing the news sites this morning I see games that aren’t even in beta going ‘on sale’ for a discount — Wtf?  When someone sells access to their game and pushes it hard I start losing respect for them and their product.

Over the past few days I’ve witnessed what feels like a breath of fresh air: Devs failing to meet a deadline. Yep, I love it. Why? Because (1) They had a deadline and (2) They are communicating about it. Who am I referring to? The City State team working on Camelot Unchained.

I’m an original Kickstarter backer for Camelot Unchained so I get the almost-daily emails from Mark and the team about their progress. What I love is the ‘realness’ in them. The ‘crap we missed a deadline and failed you’ and the ‘Here’s what’s actually happening in the office’ live streams. Yep, I’m still a fan of transparency.

While I’m not a huge fan of the “buy access to our game through one of fifty tiers” shops, even those in Camelot Unchained, I like and respect a team that won’t launch a half-baked product and respects quality control.

What I REALLY want to see is a MMO gets announced, the team works on the game, they market the game, recruit testers, sell the game, launch the game, then support the game and continue development. Sounds like 1995-2007, I know, right?!

Anyway, keep up the good work CSE. Delay the alpha. Delay the beta. Delay it all. Rushing is for games with overlords and no vision with a lifespan of 3 months to a year. It’s not worth being in that category.

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.

 

You’ve ruined your own lands! You’ll not ruin mine!

EverQuest Ruins of Kunark Art

My hopes for a fast-moving Daybreak Games Company (DGC) might actually not be completely insane. My last entry was Daybreak alluding to a new progression-based EverQuest server. Throughout the post and comments I have maintained the position that Daybreak needs to move quickly to show the community that they care about the EQ franchise, they care what players want, and that they aren’t stuck in a rut after layoffs — in other words, they can actually still make games.

Last night a forum post went up on the official forums explaining potential rulesets which are up for vote on the live servers (which I do not have access to since I am not currently a subscriber). Since I can’t actually vote in-game, I’m going to vote here and explain why.

1. Existing rules:

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

This is Fippy, the current server’s ruleset. Meh. I don’t like the voting.  I think players can actually crank this out quickly and progress this kind of server at lightning speed.

2. Slower progression

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a three-plus month countdown timer starts. When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

A little bit better, a little bit slower. Still meh. Not my ideal.

3. Locked progression

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • OPTION: When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Dev determines the unlocked progression based on the player completion rates.
  • At a specific point, determined by Dev, votes are no longer available and progression is complete.

Now we’re talking! I would take this ruleset but add Kunark on a 6-8 month countdown with a vote for Velious. I love the idea that the devs would identify a point in time where progression is complete. A permanent classic server? Yes, please! Maybe lock it around PoP?

4. Seasonal Challenge Server

  • The server starts with only original EverQuest zones active, or with content enabled through a later expansion. Players start at level 1.
  • OPTION: When players kill a set of predefined targets, a vote begins within a week. Each vote lasts two weeks. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Alternatively, Dev may choose to unlock content when progression targets are complete.
  • Players have a set period of time (one season) to complete as much content as they can. The player(s) who get the farthest will receive recognition and a prize (to be determined later).
  • Once the season is complete, the server is reset and the challenge begins anew!

By far the worst idea. It turns EverQuest into a power-gaming level grind for the elitist guilds and doesn’t allow for players like me who love to relax and teleport players around, or camp objectives to earn neat items, to play my way. I may not want to rush to 50 to camp the planes.

Despite clearly favoring the third option, I would play on any of these (except maybe the 4th… even then I’d be tempted). My biggest complaint about all of them is the inclusion of voting, hence the title of this post (name that quote!). I would much rather see a time-locked progression server where the expansions release at the same historical pace (or LIGHTLY accelerated if at all).

The key here, however, isn’t necessarily the ruleset! I want Daybreak to understand this point very, very clearly: Charge a damn subscription! Require All-access! I do not care what you do, but do not screw it up with “Free to Play All the Way” and RAF nonsense.

So could it be? Could DGC actually be doing the smart thing and moving full steam ahead with an EverQuest progression server? My hope is growing once again.

EverQuest Progression Server

EverQuest Progression Server

Last week’s dev Q&A hinted (or actually sorta directly stated) there will be a new EverQuest Progression Server. I’m all about the classic EverQuest experience,  and a chance to relive even an updated version of that piques my interest.

Official progression / classic servers are something I have often championed. If you have an audience begging to play your game in a state it was in decades ago, not asking for any additional development (just maintaining), and they are willing to give you money, doesn’t that sound great?

An EverQuest progression server could be great. I have a few ideas as to how I would like to see it go down. Launch could start with the original version and Kunark. Kunark added enormous value and made the core game experience nearly perfect. I’ve toyed with the idea of launching with Velious as well and think it could work, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing it 6 months to a year later.

Later expansions should release at least a year after launch. I am completely against servers unlocking content based upon completion of current content, especially if done only by one or two elitist guilds rushing through the content.  Even a voting system where the players vote can be annoying.

I will happily become an all-access subscriber to play on a well-done EverQuest classic era progression server that slowly ages at an appropriate rate. There’s nothing else even on the near horizon that looks good, and I’m not in the mood to play pre-early-alpha-access bs. Daybreak will need to avoid mucking it up with stupid F2P mechanics, and ensure they do not add game-breaking mechanics like RAF (recruit a friend) experience boosts.

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.