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WildStar is a 3 Monther

I’ve been in the WildStar beta since June of 2013.  Graev and I both received access early back when there were almost no other people playing on the server.   We’ve seen the game come a long way, and I feel like I can personally give a very accurate overview of what someone can expect to get out of WildStar.

WildStar is a Themepark

There can be no doubt and no surprise that WildStar is 100% true to the themepark model.  Leveling is done by going from quest hub to quest hub.  It’s go here, pick up this, click 10 of those, kill that, come back, get a levels, slot your skills, go kill 10 of those, etc.  End-game is vertical raid treadmilling.  If you love themeparks, you will LOVE WildStar.  This is the themepark fanatics dream come true.

‘Active Combat’ is annoying

First, it’s not original.  The telegraphing has been done in Smite, League of Legends, Age of Conan, a bit in GW2, TERA, TSW, and even ESO.  I hate mashing my keys constantly like I’m playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.  That’s not what I want.  This makes me love the old school original EverQuest combat.  I’ll take white damage over mashing any day.  WildStar’s “skill”-based combat is still highly completely stat and gear dependent; you won’t be out-playing someone if their gear is better than yours.

WildStar isn’t more difficult than Vanilla WoW

I don’t know where this started, but I keep hearing people say WildStar is more difficult than vanilla WoW.   Simply untrue.  I mow through mobs and level in WildStar like there’s nothing in my way.  The leveling process in WildStar is so scripted and holds your hand so well that they practically hand you levels for quest rewards.  It’s meant to be that way.  They want you to feel like you are hyped up on sugar when you play.  As accessible as WoW was back in 2004, WildStar is the accessible version of Vanilla WoW. Seriously… they show you the red circles on the floor you have to avoid. [Read more...]

That Sense of Accomplishment

I’ve noticed a theme in the comments here and on other sites regarding the productive use of time when playing MMORPGs.  There’s a tendency for people to say something like, “I want to feel like I’ve achieved something.”  Players want to log in and know that what they did meant something.  No one wants to feel like they have wasted their time.  However, I think the way in which we perceive progress or achievement has drastically lost focus.

Back in the days of the original EverQuest, or even a few months ago when I played again, I could log in and technically lose experience yet still feel like I made progress.  Progress wasn’t just about leveling up or getting better loot.  Traveling was an accomplishment.  Meeting someone new was progress.  Progress wasn’t measured in huge leaps, but in tiny little steps.

WoW Boss Kill

There are more ways to progress than leveling up, killing a boss, and getting loot.

Part of the problem is the ease of which we progress in modern MMOs.  Leveling up from 1-50 takes a couple weeks at most for the average player.  I remember spending 6 months leveling up in EverQuest, and I was one of the fast ones soloing my entire way there on a Necromancer.  When you consider your time spend as a journey, and not a sprint, it’s okay to log in some days and perhaps appear to make no progress.  Chances are you’ve taken steps toward unlocking the ability to progress.

Then there’s the other perspective I have come to know quite well these past few months; it’s okay to just play the game and have fun.  I know to some people making progress is fun, but what happened to just “playing” the game and feeling satisfied?  This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve been talking about these last few days.  There’s a pervasive mentality out there trying to convince people that unless they are the best raider, the best PvPer, always leveling up, always moving (like a fish) then they are somehow drowning and going to die.  It’s okay to act like a hobbit and kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery!

WildStar Housing

Many of you agree with me that although this problem rests on the shoulders of the player, we have to acknowledge the fact that games these days are being designed to encourage people to move faster, consume more, and go in a straight line.  Games like EQN Landmark are going to start challenging some of those tropes for the MMO industry like Minecraft did for others. But such a big jump is going to be a disconnect for a lot of people.  I feel like we’ll need a smaller more gradual step to reintroduce the idea of ‘existing’ in a world rather than ‘playing through it’ as fast as possible.

Everything here ultimately boils down to gameplay that, no matter what it involves, makes the player feel accomplished.  Whether it’s decorating a house or killing a dragon, leveling up or riding a boat, finding a sword or dying a horrible death, these things have to be independently unique and fulfilling experiences.

Defining an MMOs Identity

everquest veliousBrad McQuaid (Aradune) is kickstarting an MMO. Fellow EverQuest veterans will know exactly who Brad is and the type of games he makes, but the younger generation probably has no clue. Brad is one of the big names behind EverQuest and Vanguard. He is known for a certain style old school games.

Something Brad said in a recent tweet soliciting questions for the upcomoing Kickstarter campaign got me thinking.

The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about and what kind of questions to ask.

— Brad McQuaid (@Aradune) October 31, 2013

Aradune is Stinky

We remember him fondly.

That’s a powerful statement. Brad is implying that EverQuest and Vanguard were so memorable that they imprinted a definition on their players that lasted 10-15 years. He’s right!

If someone tells me “This game is like EverQuest” then I know exactly what they are talking about. Tell me a game is like Lord of the Rings Online and I’ll probably stare at you blankly while trying to figure out which part or in what way.

What makes a game definable like that?

For a long, long time someone could say “That game is like World of Warcraft” and most of us would have a good idea. I don’t think that’s really the case anymore. The definition of “WoW clone” has become a little more fuzzy over the years. The reasons are simple: (1) WoW itself has changed radically over the years, and (2) So many games copied WoW just enough that it felt like 50 versions of the same game were all diluting what it meant to be a WoW clone.

I’m learning that consistency in the MMO industry matters a lot. Good game or bad, niche or mass appeal, an MMO has to have a clear identity. The formula is just as important. MMOs are the sum of their parts; The good parts add and the bad part detract, but the entire game wouldn’t be the same if any piece went missing.

Going back to the dilution of the WoW clone, I blame the fact that games continually try to emulate what they perceive as the good and strip out the bad, failing to realize that the bad parts may have actually been making the good parts better — if nothing else, they add depth.

To Brad and MMO developers at large, I urge you to take into consideration whether or not the game you are making is refined enough that it will be memorable in 15 years. I hope Aradune remembers that ‘why‘ he is able to solicit former players matters just as much as ‘what‘ he gets from them.

Top 5 Scariest MMO Locations

kithicor woods

1. Kithicor Forest

Every EQ veteran can tell you the horror we all felt hugging the very edge of this zone as we ran between Rivervale and West Commonlands.  Few people were brave enough to traverse Kithicor at night.  Even during the way I wouldn’t dare look into the zone for fear I would see something terrifying running toward me.  No zone in any MMORPG has ever come close to being this scary.

Estate of Unrest

2. Estate of Unrest

“Never a child to rock and hold, all that she loves has grown dead and cold.”  Maybe this belongs at number one.  The ambient knocking, creaking, and the voices… THE VOICES! … “Pop goes the weasel.”   EverQuest 2′s Unrest was legitimately freaky. Amazing ambiance for a zone.  Thinking about it makes me want to /logout and go play something like Free Realms.

secret world bridge

3. Kingsmouth

The creepiness factor is high throughout all of The Secret World, but Kingsmouth still gives me the willies.  Everything from the mystery of it all to Solomon Bridge makes me want to play with the lights on.

Nektropos Castle

4. Nektropos Castle

I guess the EverQuest franchise scares me more than I realized.  Nektropos Castle is home to a lot of just… oddly disturbing things.  From Billy the burlap sack doll thing to the ghost dogs, there’s no shortage of freaky monsters coming at you from all directions.  Getting lost in Nektropos Castle might be the scariest thing of all.

Raven Hill

5. The Abandoned Town of Raven Hill

I really don’t know why, but something about Raven Hill has always creeped me out.  Usually when WoW tries to be scary it comes off cute and fun, but thinking about this town full of dead people fighting their relatives who come back to life makes me want to avoid the area altogether.

Improving Themepark MMO Dungeons

utgarde keep themepark MMO dungeonsI’ve done thousands — maybe tens of thousands — of dungeon runs in themepark MMOs, and they all seem to suffer from some of the same issues.

  • Repeating the same dungeon over and over
  • Too many trash pulls and not enough bosses
  • Encounter variety and mechanics are always the same

In themepark MMOs the gearing or experience systems inevitably involve running the same dungeon(s) many, many times.  Right now In FFXIV I am running Ampador Keep repeatedly over nad over because it is the only dungeon to offer me both Philosophy and Mythology Tomestones (tokens to buy gear) at a reasonable rate.  It takes ~35 minutes to complete, and then I go back through.  World of Warcraft is the same way.  In WotLK I think I ran Utgarde Keep 750+ times.

Knowing that this system of repeating dungeons isn’t going to change, one solution would be to increase the number of dungeons available.  I want 10 or more dungeon options, each providing a different atmosphere just so that I don’t have to stare at the same walls every time.

Dungeons are inundated with trash mobs.  Sometimes they are difficult, but for the most part they act as a time sink or busy work to limit the number of times a boss can be killed.  First, I would remove 50-75% of the trash mobs.  The remaining pulls I would want to be entirely unique.  I hate having to pull 5 groups of mobs and have that group be the same each pull.

I would love a bit of randomness thrown into the mix.  I think that’s the best part about sandbox or open-world dungeons.  Although I’m sitting in the same dungeon, in the same room, day in and day out, at least there’s a chance of something unique happening if a train goes by or something completely random and out of my control occurs.  Maybe have bosses utilize random mechanics, or have the trash mob composition change.  Anything to change it up so that I’m not always standing to the side of a mob or avoiding his breath every time I fight him.

One of the biggest changes I would love to see in Themepark dungeon design would be to add way more bosses.  I think a dungeon full of nothing but boss fights would be fantastic.  Other variables can be adjusted to make up for it.

Themepark design may be here to stay, and it may be the easy route for developers to go, but there’s still a great deal of ways to improve the execution and delivery.