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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.

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?

My First WildStar Dungeon Impressions

I was finally able to do one of the dungeons in WildStar.  Thanks to the mentoring system, everyone in our group was scaled down to the appropriate level and we were able to experience this dungeon in all its glory.

For the last two weeks all I’ve heard is how difficult or hard the dungeons are in WildStar.  That statement is a little inaccurate.  Dungeons in WildStar are… exact.  They really aren’t difficult at all if you press the right buttons.  Don’t stand in bad telegraphs (red spots on the floor), interrupt when you need to, and have a decent understanding of your class with appropriate gear and technically… technically… the dungeon should go off without a hitch.

We wiped several times while running through the dungeon despite having level 50s with experience in the place (on both normal and veteran) scaled down to help us.  The cause of every wipe was positioning or not interrupting fast enough.

Veteran dungeons are simply these same places on steroids.  You’ll need to kill fast and be more exact while completing additional objectives.  That is certainly a challenge until you meet the requirements.

To me this is quite different from dungeons I’ve experienced in past games where I felt the difficulty was measured by danger.  For example, in WildStar the difficulty of a boss is interrupting him and staying out of red circles–obeying mechanics.  In EverQuest the difficulty of a dungeon was knowing you COULD die, maybe have a corpse recovery with experience loss, and have to work your way back into the dungeon.  Difficulty in EverQuest was avoiding death with 100% certainty and taking into consideration the dynamics of random “oh crap” moments as well as factoring in other groups. Dungeons were there to give you the experience of playing in rather than playing through, which only added to the danger and difficulty. Slight difference there, maybe somewhat semantics, but to me it really does make a huge difference on how the game plays.

Overall, WildStar’s first dungeon is certainly the most challenging first dungeon I’ve played through in a themepark.  Very straight forward–kill trash, kill boss, obey the mechanics, etc,. but worth doing for anyone looking to experience a taste of what end-game might be like in WildStar.

Back in the Saddle Again: Leveling in WildStar

I’m settling back into my gaming routine now that I have a few weeks of extra time.  I jumped into WildStar last night to finally dig in my heels and level up.  My Warrior gained two levels last night (15-17) and completed a solid chunk of the second zone.  About two hours into playing I started to get really, really burned out on the whole questing thing.  Having 10 quests at a time to run around in circles was actually making me experience motion sickness.  I found a solution!

I asked in guild chat about whether or not the tasks were necessary.  Tasks are like the lowest form of bottom-dwelling quests — they are aptly called tasks. According to one of my guildies I can skip doing the tasks and just focus on the world and zone stories.  I gave it a go for another hour and gained more experience than I had the previous two hours combined.  One of the people in my guild actually leveled entirely 1-50 on just the zone stories and said that the worst thing you’ll experience is the mobs might eventually get 1-2 levels ahead of you.  I’m cool with that!

After I had my fill of questing we formed a group to head into the first adventure.  It went remarkably smooth, but that’s what happens when you bring a level 50 (even if they mentor down) and everyone else has been there before.  My first takeaway: Telegraphs are annoying and I will be turning them off for other players.  My second takeaway: EXP was great and I wish doing this type of grouping to level was the norm — I miss this play-style so, so much.

I think I’m going to shoot for level 20 tonight.  I’ll keep you all posted on how the first official “dungeon” (not adventure) goes and whether or not I’m able to muster up the courage to try tanking.  So far my verdict on WildStar will remain that it’s a well-made themepark capable of holding most for at least 3 months. How accessible and fun the end-game is will determine the rest.

What… is your quest?

Critiquing quests is quickly becoming the norm around here.  Every time a new MMO comes out the first thing I’ll say is how much the questing sucks.  Killing ten rats has become completely cliche, but seriously the extent of questing innovation has been to change what monsters you kill or what they drop — that’s it!  To this very day, even in the upcoming WildStar, my level 20 Engineer was killing 10 oozes.   Why do I do it?  Because the NPC in the camp with the ‘!’ over his head told me he would give me experience.  Why do developers do it?  I could insert a dozen critical remarks.

If I were to suddenly and miraculously have total control over the direction questing would go in all games, here are some of the changes I would make immediately.

Questing ≠ Leveling

I would remove all desire for players to complete quests in order to level up their characters.  Questing would provide great items, epic adventures, and glorious tales to recount.  Any one of those three things are worth more than a thousand levels.  Leveling should be based on your character’s profession.  I’m going to write an entire post on this soon.  Here’s the quick of it: If I’m a warrior who kills things then I should level up by killing things.  If I’m a thief then I should level by stealing.  Worst case scenario, and there’s nothing wrong with this, everyone should level by simply killing monsters.  It sounds simple, but it works.

Questing should be EPIC!

Yes, the overused word ‘epic’ is yet another cliche, but there was a time when this word meant something grand.  The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and the quest for Jboots all share one thing in common: They were anything but easy, short, and unmemorable.  Quests should require effort.  Notice I haven’t made a single mention of ‘time’ as a mechanic.  I think time is a dangerous beast unto itself and an easy pitfall. A long quest can still take a short amount of time.  How involved something is that play into the perception that something is ‘bigger.’

Go on adventures.  See the world.  Truly have to accomplish something to complete that quest.  Even the name ‘quest’ should evoke something.  It’s a QUEST!

Quest Rewards

Quests should never reward a few coins and a sword you’ll use for 10 minutes. Who would go on a ‘QUEST!’ for such a meager offering?  I demand a king’s ransom!  I want that epic glowing mace with the ability to resurrect.  I want the boots that provide me permanent near-spirit of the wolf speeds. I want the items that will radically alter the way I interact with and enjoy the game.  Quest rewards should be character advancements.

Never Design Around Quests

The world in which we play our games should never be designed around quests.  In today’s landscape we see the entire world shaped around hubs offering up dozens of quests.  The world is shaped in order to offer a pathway from one quest hub to the next.  Loot, character advancement, balance, heck — everything is centered around them!  It has become so extreme that once a player reaches max level it’s almost like they have unlocked a completely new game.

Quests should be added after you have a fully-realized world designed to incorporate your lore and goals.  Quests should offer opportunities for players to go places and see things, not lead them by the nose and tell them how to progress through a world.