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H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.

Item Luck in MMORPGs

Luck plays all sorts of roles in MMORPGs. I’m wondering how much randomness we really need, and how much of this random luck based gameplay can be replaced with the player actually engaging with and doing something in the game.

There are those moments of luck when you crit that monster right before it kills you and you survive. I think those elements of luck are less avoidable and are generally ‘okay’. They add to the spice of life and the thrill and dynamic nature of combat. Sometimes twitch based play isn’t always necessary, and even most twitch gameplay has elements of random luck.

The kind of luck I want to see change mostly has to deal with items. I’ve experienced a variety of item drop luck. EverQuest monsters would often have a loot table, and one particular mob might drop a pair of pants I need. I could kill that monster 100 times and it might never drops the pants, but it could drop them twice on the 101 and 102 kill. Raiding in WoW is another type of luck. When 10-40 people go into a raid the luck factor becomes much more complex: Does the item you want actually drop? If so, are you the one to win it?

That kind of randomness leads to frustration and is purely “Did it drop? yes or no?” Almost no skill or active input is required from the player other than attending and making the kill. There are slightly better ways which I admit do not remove luck entirely from the equation but use it more as one tiny cog in a much larger system.

One of these forms of item randomness I did find workable was that in SWG. For example, Krayt Dragons on Tatooine could drop an item called Krayt Tissue.  The Krayt Tissues would have stats like “Enhances: +30 (to 300) to Max Damage, -0.3 (to -2.0) to Speed.” The +30 was common and low end, and anything around 100+ was really good but pretty rare. This item was used in crafting by Weaponsmiths to make Acid Launchers, DH17 Carbines, and a couple of other weapons better. They would take the tissue, use it as a component, and rely on their skill levels, modifiers, recipes, etc., to output a weapon that itself could have a range of stats.

The difference between item luck in these examples (EQ/WoW vs. SWG) is significant. One is luck or “randomness” (call it whatever makes you sleep better at night) worked into a larger system and the other is simply ‘did it drop or not’. One feels integrated with the game, and the other feels lazy to me.

I want players to have more control over this randomness. It’s not enough to simply craft 100 swords and have 30 of them crit into pristine quality. What else can the crafter do to have control over that end result? Is there a way the crafter can use the materials or a skill he can acquire? It has to be more than whack-a-mole or combine and pray. It has to be more than “did it drop for me?” These all have to be combined into something more dynamic and complex.

I still think SWG was on the right track. The raw materials had variability in their quality based on several factors: Conductivity, Decay Resistance, Flavor, Malleability, Overall Quality, Potential Energy, Unit Toughness, etc., etc. Any combination of these could have a different quality, and it was up to the crafter or a supplier to find them in the world and harvest enough to be used.  Crafters then combined the resources, used experimentation points, and crafted an item that itself had varying degrees of stats and qualities based on the outcome of the components and experimentation. Very few items were the same, and crafters could leave their mark based on their recipes — this is what made someone the “best weaponsmith on the server.”

Integrating this all into a crafting system seems to be the easiest way to remove the dumb or lazy luck factor. While I get that some people enjoy loot pinatas, it’s way too one dimensional for me and won’t ever lead to something new or better.

The Council of Gaming Elders

I had a very interesting dream last night. I was evaluating the current state of MMORPGs and decided that the current state of affairs had gone on for too long. Our beloved hobby and industry was degrading past the point of recovery. I took action into my own hands and called a Council of the Gaming Elders.

I was standing in a dimly lit room with a solid round wooden table in the center. A chandelier with glowing blue flames hung above. There were 6 chairs. As I stood at my seat the other Elders entered, each announced by a low voice. First to enter was Mark Jacobs. He stood next to the seat at my right — the table in front of his seat embossed with the realm triad from Dark Age of Camelot. Next to enter was Raph Koster stood by his place marked by a lightsaber crossing a crafting station and house. Steve Danuser was next and took his place by a lore book.  Dave Georgeson entered next and stood near his place marked by a map. Last to enter was Mike Morhaime who took his place next to a seat marked with golden coins.

Once all of the Elders had entered, we sat together in unison. I began the meeting by stating that I had called them all there to discuss how we can restore these games to their true potential. Each of them possessed talents necessary for restoring MMORPGs to their previous state. What followed was an enlightening discussion and meeting of the minds. Each Elder brought up ideas and we began to craft the perfect game… the game to restore balance. It ended with the Elders departing, each committed to bringing their resources together to make this game (which we completely planned out) happen.

I don’t know why my mind chose these people. Mark Jacobs is an obvious one because he has become a friend and I value his contribution to PvP and the MMO community. Raph Koster is someone I’ve always thought of as a virtual world connoisseur. Steve Danuser is someone who gets the idea of a living world and I like his sense of lore and continuity. Dave Georgeson because he is attached to EverQuestand I respect him as a person and his career. Lastly, Mike Morhaime (who surprised me since I thought this would be Chris Metzen) because of his position over WoW.

The game we designed was ideal. That’s the general impression I get. I remember only minor thoughts I was having during the dream. This perfect MMORPG was some sort of mix of every game these Elders had worked out. I was in charge of the vision and I know that I felt like this was the true spiritual successor to every ‘great’ game I remember playing from 1996-2004.

I woke up feeling like I had accomplished some great work. For a moment I was even anxious to go play this game. If only…

Social Progression vs. Gear Progression

In yesterday’s entry I hinted around the idea that players often want the newest gear because they want to look ‘cool’. I’m not necessarily speaking to just the aesthetics of the gear itself either. Many people want the latest and greatest for the ‘standing in town on the mailbox’ effect. It’s the idea that people are inspecting them, drooling over their gear, and wishing they could be just like that cool guy wearing the newest items.

Gear Progression is about being able to go past the gate standing between you and the next tier of content. It’s the treadmill. Gear Progression is the mechanism through which MMOs halt the speed at which players consume content. The actual stats on the gear and what it adds to your character matter far less to people than what they feel from being the “best Paladin on the server.” Such a notion does not imply that you truly have the skill, but rather you got the items to drop for you first. You are the cool guy standing on the mailbox and that makes you the “best.”

Once we understand that people seek Social Progression over Gear Progression we can begin evaluating other ways in which players can achieve the social side without having to raid or run on one type of treadmill. Social Progression can be weaved throughout a game. What if players sought after being the maker of the finest weapons in the land, or provider of the rarest gems, or the guy who has the coolest new pets following him around? These social transactions can take place all around us in a virtual world and achieve the same level of goal setting and progression as raiding without the need to always go through raiding.

Outlandish Gear

wow-tier-17

World of Warcraft started the whole crazy gear trend. Gear in raids has always been more elaborate, but when it comes to massive shoulder pads, flaming eye-hole-thingies, and ridiculousness, WoW remains king. The preview for Tier 17 (sheesh) was revealed by Blizzard today. Is it outlandish (pun intended) enough for you?

paladin-original-cats

Paladin from Dark Age of Camelot

The point of today’s post is not necessarily to discuss WoW latest fashion trends. I’m thinking about gear in general. On one extreme there’s WoW. The other side of the coin is realism with basic chainmail, leather, etc. It’s plain. There’s something authentic about it, especially if wearing it matters more than looking cool in it. More on that tomorrow.

I like somewhere in the middle. I remember the raid gear in EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. Those looked just cool enough for me. Ornate enough to stand out yet at least within the realm of fantasy believability.

What do you prefer? Do you prefer the glowing eyes and flaming swords or the realistic metal?