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.

WildStar Pre-Postmortem

In the least surprising move this year, WildStar has abandoned the promised idea of monthly updates. Before launch, I remember some of the more hyped up fans stating that Carbine had 6 months of content already prepped and ready to go. Looks like that is simply not the case.

According to the Q2 report from NCSoft, WildStar only sold less than 500k units. WildStar is already bleeding subscribers. Will WildStar go F2P? Yeah, it will. I give it a few months.

All of this has nothing to do with the subscription model. Nothing. This has everything to do with the themepark design model and how it is no longer sustainable in this market.  People do not unsubscribe from $15 a month because of the subscription — they unsubscribe because the game isn’t worth it.

Here’s how you make a good MMO: Make a virtual world that sustains and allows players to sustain themselves with goals and progressions designed to casually scale over time. Oh yeah, and make it fun.

What can we learn from this?

  • People don’t care about end-game raids or how hardcore your promises about end-game will be
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  • Pre-launch marketing doesn’t sustain a game after launch
  • Nothing else matters if the game is simply not much fun

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.

Haven’t seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel!

I’m back from my mini-vacation / leave of absence from the computer, and I wanted to just kick things back off with a good ole fashioned rambling.  Before I begin I want to first say that I missed blogging.  Occasionally I’ll take a day or two off from posting, but I haven’t gone this long away from the blog both mentally and physically in some time.  There are times when I question whether or not blogs are a medium worth continuing in this niche, but in the end I know that I enjoy spilling the digital ink of my thoughts here for you all to see way too much to ever stop.

I’ve been to Disneyland more in the last few weeks than I have in the last 20+ years. The experience as an adult has been quite different than those I remember from being a child.  Everything is smaller, simpler, and slightly less magical.  As a child the walls of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle towered above me.  Now, I can see the facade.  I can see the green mesh on the walls hiding the chain-link fences.  A boy on his father’s shoulders screamed at the site of one of his favorite characters during the parade pleading for that character to give notice.  I looked and saw a guy in his 20s wearing a costume performing a choreographed and generic wave.  Although one illusion is destroyed, others do remain.

The park as an adult still has an atmosphere.  I appreciate the smells, the visual beauty, and the quality Disney has put in to making the park look and behave a certain way.  Attention to detail is key.  From almost any direction you look while standing in the park, Disney has thought of creating an experience.  That’s why I can go to Disneyland and still enjoy myself.  Sure, the rides are fun and I love the Disney properties, but those aren’t as fun as sitting down at a restaurant in New Orleans Square and taking it all in.  Now whether that’s worth paying $96 a trip (or buying a pass) is sometimes hard to swallow…

See the comparison I’m trying to draw?

I found myself comparing the experiences I’ve had at Disneyland as a kid vs. an adult to those experiences found in MMOs.  There will always be that ‘first’ MMO. There will always be the magic of MMOs from days past, and as much as I reminisce about those days they are most likely going to remain fond memories.  However, unlike Disneyland, MMOs are failing to keep that feeling consistent throughout time.  Disneyland for that little boy I mentioned earlier is just as magical or more so for him today as it was for me 25 years ago.  MMOs aren’t better today, nor do they maintain that level of experience or magical wonder and immersion for first-time players.

There isn’t enough attention being given to the entire experience in modern MMOs.  Developers are pushing hard to make the best rides possible or manipulate the ticket price.  They care more about pushing people through the ‘park’ to get them on the rides now than they do letting the players roam freely and consume the ‘park’ as they choose.  Someone like me can go to Disneyland one day and want to ride Indiana Jones, but tomorrow I might go back and wish to simply partake of good food and see shows.  My experience doing so at Disney is always going to be exceptional.  Those choices don’t exist in most MMOs, and when they do they rarely offer the same level of satisfaction.

I’ve had some good thoughts and experiences lately that I’m eager to put to the test in MMOs that I play.  I hope to drum up some great conversations soon — after I get back to playing some games.

ArcheAge: Sandbox, Themepark, or Farmville?

Alright, let’s continue the ArcheAge commentary.  I’ve put in several more hours and I have a ton to say about several of the core game mechanics.

An Ode to Farmville ArcheAge Farming

Oh little strawberries so tiny and red,
I thought I would eat you but then suddenly read,
I need one effing hundred of you to complete this quest,
According to that annoying NPC’s demanding behest.
No big deal, I’ll just wait a few,
I had no idea how slowly you grew.
Five hours later, my coin purse destroyed,
Only then did I realize THIS is when I should get annoyed…

I think I missed my calling as a poet.  Anyway, that poem describes one of my first experiences with farming in ArcheAge.  I was tasked with making Strawberry jam to prove my worth as a hero adventurer farmer.  I was given a tiny little plot of land (8×8 or something) to use for completing these farming quests.  Farming in ArcheAge takes real time  and requires planting, watering, harvesting, etc.  It’s really neat for a MMO, and though I give it a hard time for reminding me of Farmville I think it’s fine.

This quest in particular had me plant about 30 strawberry bushes in order to harvest 100 strawberries.  They take about 2-3 hours per bush, so I was able to plant them then go hunt and come back. Long story short, I then had to run pretty far away to craft the jam, then realized I had to travel almost 40 minutes to turn it in at a location several zones away.  It takes so long because they slow you down while you carry the stuff.

The fun just begins, though.  Now to prove myself worthy of a donkey (to make these errands faster), I must obtain goose down.  To get goose down I must raise goslings that only eat beans.  Well to get beans I need to plant them much like the strawberry experience.  I need enough of them to feed enough goslings to grow into geese that will, one day, provide enough down to complete this quest.  I think I’m going to make a spreadsheet to manage the whole thing (3-4 down per goslings at 3 hours per harvest + beans).

For those of you who love farming, ArcheAge has you covered.

Quests, Quests, and MOAR QUESTS!

This is the part of ArcheAge I do not like at all.  The questing extremely shallow and really quite boring.  The quest text can just be skipped, it’s that good.  You just follow arrows around or look on your map for the indicators and do whatever it wants you to do.  It’s always click this or kill that.  Really too bad since I wanted ArcheAge to be a sandbox.  This questing-to-level system breaks what could have been a very, very good time.  I wish the questing was removed completely in favor of a big open world.  The zones are definitely linear, and you progress THROUGH the game rather than living in it as you grow as a character.

Ahoy there! A Ship!

I finally made my way into this zone where, if you can wrestle one away from someone else, you can try out the ships.  I sailed around for 45 minutes.  That was a really neat experience.  I loved boats in UO, and to think that the same type of experience can be had from this perspective… that’s easily the main draw for me.  Imagine just finding water and sailing out and fishing.  There’s combat out on the water, other people acting as pirates, etc.

If I could find a way to skip all of the questing and just get my ship and sail off into the horizon I would.

There might be a sandbox in here somewhere…

I’m starting to think the game as a sandbox doesn’t begin until level 50.  1-50 is just a filter and time waster.  At level 50 you’ll be able to afford the good ships, build castles, siege people’s property in wars, sail out into the ocean and live the life of a real pirate, drive in race cars, etc.  Until then it’s this weird quest grind.  I’ll keep you updated as I progress as far as I can during the alpha and beta phases.