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.


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.

Am I having fun?

Piggy backing a little bit on yesterday’s post, I started thinking about why I play MMORPGs and how my reasons have changed over the years.  Back when I played The Realm (1996-1999) and EverQuest, I played for fun.  It was something totally new and a pastime that gave me great enjoyment simply by being able to log in and play with hundreds of other people.

My motivations gradually changed over the years.  Around the time of Dark Age of Camelot I started to play because of this transcendent sense of pride and duty.  Still, it was about having fun.

When World of Warcraft came around, things for the entire industry changed.  I know some of you are going to reply and say how no matter what you always play for fun, but hang in there and hear me out.  WoW introduced MMOs to a younger generation of gamers who don’t play for “fun” or “realm pride” or any of  that — they play to be the best.   That’s why raiding is successful and the arena formula works for PvP: Deciding who is the best is almost black and white.

I think it goes beyond people simply preferring to slay big monsters over decorating houses.  There’s no way to say you are the best if all you do is collect resources or make hot tubs out of baubles.

Back when I was a serious WoW player, getting server first kills of major bosses and leading some of the top raiding guilds, I played to be the best.  I can look back and say from experience that the mindset exists and people fall into it without even realizing what they’re doing.  One day you wake up and have this epiphany that what you’re doing isn’t fun.

I’m only closing in on 30 years old, but I get the sense already that I’m one of the older players.  I still have plenty of free time, but my mindset has changed completely.  I’m back in that “I play for fun” mentality.  Everything I do is driven by asking myself, “Is this fun?”  If it’s not, I stop.  This helps me squeeze enjoyment out of some games, and stops me from playing others entirely.

That’s why I ask questions about what kind of activities are available to players at the max level.  I want to know that I can do something other than raid for gear three hours every night of the week.  I want to know that the game is designed to make the crafting, housing, PvP, exploring, gathering, etc., experiences just as fulfilling as the raiding.  I want to know that there will be many ways for me to look for the ‘fun’ without being trapped by what people expect from every MMO.

Isn’t that what you do in every MMO?

I was playing in an unnamed MMO this afternoon and asked a particularly loaded question: “Is the goal of the game pretty much to get to the end and raid for better loot?”  Whew!  The responses I received.

My favorite response was, “Huh? Isn’t that what you do in every MMO?”  There was a legitimate innocence to this individual’s confusion as though he truly was confused by my question.

I used to be the type to want to save this person’s soul. I used to think it was my duty to educate this person about the other side, the other options, the experiences he or she may have never even known exist.  I have since learned it’s impossible to do such things in MMO chat channels, and prefer to do so here on my blog.  But the more I think about it, maybe he’s right.

Let’s assume someone started playing MMOs when WoW came out, and this person probably only plays the most popular or new MMOs and rides the same wave we all do.  I guess there really aren’t any examples of non-raiding end-game.  The same can be said about quest-driven leveling, capture the flag pvp, instanced dungeons, etc.  There aren’t any modern examples to contradict or oppose the themepark model — at least none you can seriously bring up in a conversation with the masses.

Millions and millions of people have only ever known one way of playing MMOs.  To them, this is what an MMO is all about.  This really is what you do in every MMO.  Since that’s all they know, that’s all they want.  And since that’s all they want, that’s all MMO devs deliver.  Since that’s all devs deliver, we get the same recycled/cloned game year after year.

MMOs weren’t always about combat.  Combat was just one of many ways to ‘play’.  MMOs weren’t always about getting loot to progress.  We used to spend years learning new skills and leveling up.  In some games we never even had levels!   I could decorate my house in some MMOs and never worry about being judged as “casual;” having a nice house used to mean people looked up to you.  Having a good reputation used to be more valuable than all the gold in the world because people traded in social currency and cared what other people thought of them.

That sounds nothing like the MMOs we play today.  It’s no wonder the people get all confused when someone questions the status quo.  If only they knew that’s how we got to where we’re at today.

(MMORPG) Racial Inequality

everquest-1-ogreI saw the latest poll from the EQ Next team about large races — meant to be more playful for Thanksgiving — and it got me thinking about large races in MMORPGs and how back in the days of the original EverQuest the races were definitely not created equal.

Ogres were massive creatures!  The world of gnomes, halflings, and humans simply isn’t made to accommodate them.  I can remember seeing these large ogres in EQ not able to enter certain buildings because they could not fit through the door.   They were also so big that they couldn’t wear certain pieces of armor; same goes for the small races.

Iksar were haaaaated by almost(?) everyone.  Just to be an iksar meant you couldn’t go anywhere but your own city.  While the humans could go almost anywhere, if you were a certain race in a certain zone it meant you were constantly looking around for the patrolling guards wanting to slaughter you.

Stats are another way in which races are not equal.  The strength of an ogre is ridiculous compared to a gnome.  In more ways than one, certain races made better warriors than others, and often it made no sense to be anything but a certain race when choosing a class like an enchanter.

Inequality adds replay value, danger, intrigue, and makes one have to think a little.   We should demand more than gimmicky cool-downs when considering which race we want to play, and embrace the idea of one race’s strengths being another’s weaknesses. Inequality makes MMORPG life interesting.

Day/Night Cycle in MMOs

kithicor woods

I love how such a simple mechanic can add so much depth to a game.  When used properly, time of day in a MMO can do more than just make the world dark or light.

Night time can:

  • Bring out different types of monsters
  • Raise the difficulty of an entire zone or area
  • Reduce visibility to make it impossible to travel
  • Give a reason for certain races to have different types of vision bonuses
  • Make light sources important
  • Influence the story and lore

I remember in the original EverQuest that my Dark Elf had no trouble seeing at night.  I could run around and it really wouldn’t phase me one bit.  I met a human in the North Desert of Ro and we decided to team up and fight Dervishes — a type of bandit set up in camps throughout the zone.  We were on our way there when I realized he was running right at a mummy… “Stop, wait, what are you doing?!”  I asked him why he ran right at the mummy and he responded that he couldn’t see him.  It was then that I realized how different the races could see at night, and how blind humans were compared to my elven eyes.

I think Ive told the story a million times of Kithicor.  That zone was moderately scary during the day, but when it turned night you simply didn’t go in.  People waited at the zone line and chatted because entering at night was like asking for a corpse run.

Day time can:

  • Be just as scary as day for some races.  Think about a vampire race, or a race that sees better at night than day.
  • Swap out the monsters in a zone.
  • Provide a window of opportunity to travel
  • Open shops for business
  • Alter the ‘feeling’ of a zone to be happier and come alive

I see daytime as an underutilized part of the day/night cycle in every MMO.  Most MMOs with any emphasis at all on time focus only on the night, with day being neutral.  I say make them both equally as impactful on the gameplay experience.

How long should one day/night cycle be?

I typically play later in the day because of my schedule, and usually for only a few hours at a time.  I need the day/night cycle to be fairly quick, but long enough to impact gameplay.  EverQuest I and II timed it perfectly.  I think a 72 minute full rotation works perfectly.  Anything longer and I may only see night or day, and anything shorter will probably night give enough time for a zone to change or players to feel a difference.

How about you?  What neat ideas do you have for the time of day, and how long should a full rotation take in a MMO’s day/night cycle?