Oh Darkfall…

Darkfall holds this bizarre place in my heart. On one hand the game itself is mostly terrible. The company that made it is also mostly terrible. The people who play it are — you guessed it — terrible. Yet at the same time, Darkfall is the game where I met some of my best friends. Darkfall is where our gaming community had the most fun playing together.

The reason for our enjoyment rests solely on one of the only things Aventurine got right: They created a game where players had to rely on each other. That’s the magic right there.

So why am I writing about Darkfall of all games? I saw a post on Reddit from a Darkfall dev asking (unofficially) if people are interested in bringing back Darkfall 1.0.  No, I’m not interested. The only way I would be interested in playing Darkfall ever again, 1.0 or otherwise, would be to cut Aventurine out of the equation, turn development over to a team of people who know what they’re doing, and give me (or someone sane) full power and authority to ban just about everyone who currently or previous played, and retain that power to protect the community.

I would try a player-run server of Darkfall if operated in a similar fashion to P99 or SWGEmu. A team of people who are passionate about the game, remove what sucks, bring back what works, and continue to develop more things the game needs.  Otherwise, nah.

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.

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.

Keep Your Eye On Crowfall

Crowfall

When it comes to community, crafting, and virtual worlds you can consider me a super-fan. I have written post after post since we started blogging in 2007 about UO and SWG crafting, relying on other players, creating virtual economies, etc.

There’s a new game on the horizon — a tiny speck on the horizon — worth looking at: Crowfall.

There aren’t a lot of details. Lots of little tidbits of info are dropping out there, and some bigger announcements are being teased. Their interview on MMORPG.com caught my attention. Here’s a snippet:

There are a ton of lessons to be learned looking at games like Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online which had and still have success with their crafting and economic loops. From a very high altitude, crafters need to be able to: craft unique items, explore new recipes and profit from the results of this exploration, and create customized items for all styles of play. Crafters must have an audience to buy their goods. The loop between crafter and combatant has to exist! And, ideally, crafters need to be able to “mark” their product so that they can build a social reputation and a following.

The very concept that players can and will lose their items at some point is required, otherwise the game loop breaks. It is a very controversial topic for those who don’t like the potential of losing their items, and we understand that.  But sometimes you have to embrace ideas that may not be popular at first glance, because they open up amazing areas of gameplay that are otherwise not accessible.

They’re saying the right things. Some of the leads on the team have experience with SWG, UO, Shadowbane, and other older great titles. They’ve brought in Raph Koster as a consultant or sorts to weigh in on the project’s crafting side. Sounds to me like a team looking to hopefully make a game harkening back to the games these guys enjoyed — the same games I keep preaching about.

Here’s hoping!

Pay 2 Win

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 days, you probably saw something about H1Z1’s early-access launch debacle. SOE clearly stated several times that guns, ammo, etc., would not be something players could acquire with real money. They would not be purchasable from the cash shop, yada yada. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true.

In what is now being apologized for as a misspeak by a dev during an interview, SOE is cleverly getting guns into players’ hands via the cash shop … indirectly. Players can buy airdrops with a random chance of dropping these types of items.  The problem with the airdrops was that they were landing too close to where the player ordered them. Supposedly these have been tweaked for balance already.

So yes, players can get guns and ammo from the cash shop. It’s just not a direct option. You can’t go to the cash shop and buy an AR-15 with ammo. You have to order an air drop and hope no one steals it from you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if the semantics matter. Smed and his team are 100% pro-air drop, so unless they change their minds it looks like it’ll stay.

What I love about this entire affair is how hard the community policed the anti-pay-to-win philosophy. Reddit blew up on Smed, players started demanding refunds (to which SOE is currently obliging) and a massive spotlight was shined on some pretty crappy decisions and (maybe) bugs leading to a style of play that isn’t in-line with what players want these days.

If only the community would pick up on the design implications of F2P and police it just as hard. The world would be a better place.