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12

Pre-Launch – Do You Really Care About Lore?

Let's talk about pre-launch hype info for a MMORPG, RPG, or really any type of game. When a game is still some ways from launching, developers tend to start getting into the news cycles by releasing tidbits about lore.

Whether it's a backstory about one of the races, a profile on how a certain enemy came to be, the history of a dungeon, or even a novel about the game world as a whole, there always seems to be some emphasis on lore.

Personally, I really don't respond to it. Do you?

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34

Early Thoughts on my Return to WoW

Yeah, I returned to WoW. I’ve put in a few hours casually over the last 4 days and have to say I’m starting to really, really enjoy the leveling experience in Warlords of Draenor. In fact, so much so that I am regretting having not played from the beginning. Technically it would have never worked given I was busy getting married, etc., but there is definitely a twinge of “Ugh I missed out on this in its heyday.”

This post is simply going to serve as a place to dump a few quick thoughts on my experience thus far, and maybe even get a little bit of your feedback and help on some questions.

I decided to roll up a Hunter. I plan to convert him to a melee spec Hunter when Legion launches. I’m enjoying how Hunters have changed since I played one as my Main from Vanilla through WotLK.  Any advice on a particular pet?

Khadgar has Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian

Why does Khadgar have Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian?

Lore

I love the emphasis on lore and story. Right from the get-go we meet Khadgar and Durotan and really big players. So much early RTS lore being thrown at me. However, I’m sorta confused. So uh.. where’d Khadgar come from? Wasn’t he in Outland in Shattrath? And why does he have Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian?! Isn’t that Medivh’s staff?

WoW Garrison

Having a useful, functional place to upgrade and work on is a welcome change of scenery

Garrisons

The Garrison system is fantastic. I think adding a place to call “home” is definitely a much needed change of pace from everyone roaming around a capital city. The feigned sense of social contact in WoW was off-putting. We were never there to chat. At best it made for inspecting people and suffering from gear envy. Having a practical and useful place that generates items, income, and something to do — a reason to log in that isn’t the same kind of daily quest — is welcome.

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Atmosphere & Quests

The zones themselves seem much grander than typical WoW expansions. MoP was so bland and the lore and atmosphere stank in comparison. I really feel a sense of “Warcraft” here.

Quests in Frostfire Ridge were quite good. I like the emphasis on cinematic and leading me around via story. On the main map there is a Story Progress indicator which is nice to see how far I should be progressing through a zone. Thus far, the story has taken me to all of the outposts and I feel like I finished everything I wanted to do in Frostfire Ridge by the time the story took me to the next zone.

[Spoiler ahead] When Ga’arn told his brother the tribe needed their Warchief and Durotan’s eyes widened… then Ga’arn sacrificed himself and yelled “LOK’TAR!!” I had the best nerdy goosebumps and was on the verge of getting emotional. Whew… starting to feel it again… okay, moving on.

Questing itself is definitely not bad. Yeah, it’s the same old stuff but man when you go to other games and do their quests and you come back to WoW it’s like a warm chocolate chip cookie giving you a hug. As far as themeparks go, WoW is king and no one else should even try.

WoW Rare mob spawns

Gathering treasures and hunting “rare” mobs adds fun

Treasure and Rares

One of my absolute favorite additions are the treasures and rare mobs/items around the map. I LOVE the exploration element that exists even when I cheat with this UI mod that shows me where everything is located. Personally, seeing these rares on the map is even more push for me to go out of my comfort zone. I also like how they can require a little effort and acrobatics.

Gear Upgrades

REALLY cool feature I just discovered is random gear upgrades. I got a quest reward that I swear went from a green to an epic. I now have like 5 epics that are way better than the quest reward was going to be. Such a neat dynamic element to a very stale questing model.

Gorgrond

I’m excited to see what adventures the next zone brings

I’m just now entering the second zone: Gorgrond. Setting up my outposts was yet another “cool, that’s neat,” moment. Those moments will keep me engaged and wanting to continue logging in to level.

17

Quests Should Enable Players To Tell Their Own Stories

Yesterday’s post about being given the freedom to do what we want in our MMORPGs sparked a good conversation. One of our readers asked:

“If “any story is too much”, as I now believe, then what of quests?” – Amiya

Quests are often the vehicle for story. In today’s modern MMOs we rarely, if ever, see dialogue or story outside of them. If you google “what is a quest” you’ll see a very simple definition from Google: “a long or arduous search for something.” Quests used to be long adventures where the player would have to truly seek out and, unless they used a guide, figure out riddles, locations, or go on an adventure and see the world to accomplish them.

The Journeyman’s Boots quest is a great example. Players were sent across the world and back in search of a shadowed rapier and a ring of the ancients. The shadowed rapier came from shadowed men and the only clue you had was, “Many lands do they walk. Invisible are they, but for the items they wield. Seek them out and return to me a shadowed rapier. Return it with haste before ‘poof’ goes the rapier!! No time to camp have you.'” For the ring your clue was, “Seek the plains, seek the island in tears and search the dunes for there is one who is last. His clan was blown from the sands.'”

EverQuest Seafury Cyclops Jboots Ring Quest

Not the Ancient Cyclops but I remember his ugly face from the Bard Epic and the fact that if you were a caster he would drain all your mana.

Shadowmen were fairly common across zones, but the Ancient Cyclops could only be found as a rare spawn in one of a few locations. The main location I camped him was on the Island of Tears where his spawn ranged from 24 hours to weeks at a time since he was a rare spawn shared across multiple zones. ‘Arduous’ is an understatement. When finally all of the pieces of the quest were obtained, and the money gathered, turning in the quest yielded a pair of boots that, when clicked, would grant a speed boost almost as good as Spirit of the Wolf — awesome!

This long, long QUEST — in every sense of the word — created a story. The fact that I remember this quest fifteen years later, and I could tell you easily 2-3 hours of stories about how I helped others complete it, is a testament to the powerful stories and adventures a true quest can tell without having to lead you anywhere.

Quests can be simpler. Much simpler. In my adventure hunting orcs as a young player I could collect belts from orcs and turn them in for a reward. This was a repeatable quest that allowed you to collect as many belts as you please. These belts yielded amazing faction (reputation) and decent rewards for low level players. The faction was huge for everyone, and since players wanted to kill the orcs anyway it was a great asset to the economy and interaction between higher and lower level players. While little story is being told from a lore perspective, the world is having life breathed into it through player interaction.

The moral of the story here is that quests can and should exist. They should be long, arduous, epic adventures where players end up creating memories they later share around the virtual campfire. Quests should be rewarding and momentous occasions, and truly rewarding without having to be something players must follow in order to ‘play the game’ or ‘consume’ content. Simpler quests, when woven into the game’s economy or assisting in giving a purpose for going out and slaying monsters, can be just as affective.

20

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.

24

How Much Story Is Too Much?

How much story is too much? The topic is once again brought to my mind, this time in a blog post about “The Right Amount of Story” from Steve Danuser aka Moorgard aka #Loregard. Moorgard, who has shown over the years to share my view of what it means to be a virtual world, shares a pearl of wisdom that I wish more people would understand: “As much as creating the tale itself, the role of a narrative lead is to pare the story down to its minimalist core. Part of being a memorable storyteller is being a judicious editor.”

My take on the subject is quite similar, albeit slightly more extreme. If you have to tell me the story at all, you’ve already said too much. Stories should be felt, seen, and experienced — not read. I can think back to games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online — games I played for years — and I can’t even begin to tell you what the story is about.

In EverQuest I was just an insignificant speck of a player gaining strength and adventuring through a world ultimately trying to beat back gods who were running amok simply because it was fun to do so. In Dark Age of Camelot I was one out of thousands of players defending my realm against the other realms; I lived to conquer. In Ultima Online I was living in a world with loose rules while trying to gain a leg up in the economy. Even in Star Wars Galaxies, a game with very rich backstory and lore, had such a loose story that I can only remember the story I made for myself as a billionaire chef and entertainer.

Players must be given the tools to create their own story while remaining an insignificant part of a bigger world. That’s key. In every MMO that I remember playing for a long time it was always me being truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I think just about every MMO I played for 3 months or less had me as the main hero following some prefabricated destiny.

Games needing a story to drive the player forward or give the player purpose are destined to be 3 monthers or less because the player will never have been empowered to continue on their own. MMORPGS built around a story all share one thing in common: The End.

10

EverQuest Next: How Players Experience Lore

The EverQuest Next Round Table response video for the lore poll was posted today, and I want to follow up with some of my feedback.  But first, let’s watch.

Overall, I like that nothing is ‘forced’ on me. I think that’s a great way of saying there won’t be these annoying quests forcing me to live through a contrived story simply because the game follows that path.

I am slightly concerned about the delivery, though. I do think it sounds like the lore is going to be delivered in the form of something close to Public Quests from Warhammer Online or Dynamic Events from Guild Wars 2. For example, being able to follow orcs back to their home base or stop them from attacking the town to steal stuff, and the line about players being able to drive the interaction between AI and the world sounds a lot like a PQ. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

Moorgard, I know you lurk here a lot and probably can’t say anything more on the subject, but will the majority of lore be delivered via the emergent AI?

I’m curious to hear feedback from other players who experienced games like the original EverQuest. We had very, very little story or lore being fed to us. Yet somehow we knew that the Humans didn’t like the Dark Elves, and we knew the deities were running amok from the planes. There wasn’t lore to be experienced, the lore was simply in the essence of the world. Whether it was intentional or simply a result of what developers had at their disposal back then, the subtle infusion of feeling and almost inference-like quality to what was going on — heck, the lack of knowing in many cases — made the world all the more mysterious and worth figuring out.

You guys have your work cut out for you, but if you can pull off an active version of the original EQ’s passive delivery of lore/story, I’m behind you guys all the way.

1

Camelot Unchained: Luchorpan!

Camelot Unchained LuchorpanWe’re long overdue for a good Camelot Unchained post!  Mark Jacobs and his team have been publishing regular updates with everything from concept art of races and their origin stories to a very transparent rundown of their sprint cycles.

Knowing how crazy I am for the little races like Lurikeens, Gnomes, and Dwarves, Mark allowed me the opportunity to communicate to him some of my thoughts on the Luchorpan (or Leprechaun) race.  I think I screamed MAKE THEM LURIKEEEEEEEEENS … and he said no.  We got the next best thing, though, after begging for big eyebrows and tons of ear hair.

Camelot Unchained Luchorpan Faces

 

You can find a rundown of some of the potential racial abilities here.

If you’re not familiar with the how the lore of Camelot Unchained is developing, you really should read some of the origin stories.  The Veilstorms are bringing about what’s being called “The Change,” and all of the races are experiencing its effects.  Be warned, some of the lore can be dark and twisted and is not suitable for younglings.

Lore and art are fantastic, especially the leprechaun variety, but what all of us desperately want are the nitty gritty details!  That’s one of the tiny downsides to closely watching an MMO with transparent development.  I see every little update like getting paperdolls to work, and suddenly I envision my Luchorpan shooting arrows at people from the treetops, leaping down onto unsuspecting prey and poking their eyes out with my long sharp fingers, then robbing them quite literally blind.

I’m going to have to temper my enthusiasm.  We have a long ways to get yet!  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep poking Mark until he gives us some goodies to share with you guys.  Stay tuned!

4

How should lore be consumed?

Map of Norrath

This map alone tells me a story, and I only played long enough to see half of it.

Lore is another MMO topic I am passionate about.  I’m picky because I’ve seen lore handled in so many different ways, and I know what I like and dislike very much.

The most important part of conveying lore, or a sense of story, in an MMO is the world.  I strongly believe the simple act of traveling through the world should tell a story.  Everything from visual cues to sounds, dangers, and NPC involvement should act like a perfectly synchronized orchestra sending lore waves straight to my brain — in a way, almost passive in nature.

I want the majority of the lore in an MMO to be apparent and something I can digest almost through osmosis.  Forcing me to read tons of  text or watch cutscenes is too obvious.  Even having to go to a website or read books in-game requires too much input from the player.  I think books and additional lore pieces are fantastic, but don’t make them a requirement for me to understand what’s supposed to be going on in your world.

Something MMO devs do too often these days is focus on the individual for the source of the story.  I hate that!  I don’t want to be the focal point of everything going on in the world.  One of the reasons I play MMOs is to feel like just another adventurer.  I think EverQuest handled this perfectly.  I never, ever, felt like I was advancing a story of any kind, yet when the continents of Kunark and Velious were uncovered I did feel like Norrath as a whole had uncovered something special to go explore.

Quests are the cheapest and crudest form of delivering lore and a story in modern MMOs.  I simply don’t like them anymore.  Quests should be reserved for nothing short of something right out of an epic poem.  They should be enormous stories with outrageous adventures, and maybe have nothing to do with lore at all.

In a way, there’s something to be said for letting a player create their own story — especially in a sandbox.  If the lore of a game gets in the way because it is too rigidly defined, that’s a problem.

24

Why are MMOs trying to make everybody THE hero?

MMO heroesI was thinking about this earlier, and I find it kind of odd. It seems lately quests in MMOs are trying to portray you as some important person or somebody who interacts with important people. What I mean to say is that according to the story in the game you seem to be quite the mover and shaker around these parts. This really perplexes me because I don’t see how thousands of people all existing within the same game world can all at once be the hero of the story without cheapening it.  If you really want a unique story that casts you in the role of the savior of whateversville then why aren’t you playing a single-player game? They tend to do the job a whole lot better.

I’m not saying that quests where you play an important role are bad. However, it seems that so many games nowadays are designed around questing. Also, every MMO is trying to infuse a story as well because, hell, that’s important right? No… No it isn’t. It REALLY isn’t. And this is coming from somebody who loves to hear a good story and loves even more to write them. Stories in games can be FANTASTIC but MMOs really don’t need them. You can have an overall theme or direction that shapes the lore of the world over time but when you try to tell important, epic stories through quests it is just bad. It’s so because you are making each player the main character of the game and that’s really not the point. Like, at all. It really isn’t, trust me. People that are looking for this experience, again, should seek better offerings. No, really, there are some great games out there where you don’t even have to interact with other people.

Deep down I know I have no right to dictate that players should play something else, but I still really want to. I mean, I liked it when MMOs were a certain way and catered to a specific demographic. However now it seems like there exists a large population of players that want, basically, a single player experience with the option to play with others if they so feel like it. What the hell is up with that? I just don’t understand this at all… The point of MMOs, or at least what I thought, is to exist in a world with MANY additional people and communities of which you needed to rely on and be apart. You are just a cog in the machine as it were. This culture of self-centered players and games that essentially put you at the center of attention primarily, and oddly enough, to your own self… it just… there are no words, man.

Go play a freakin’ single-player game.

26

TSW Early Observations and Impressions

It’s day 2 of The Secret World’s official launch, and we’re settling in with the mechanics and feel of the game.  We’ve made a lot of headway into the first area of the game.  I want to share a few things we’ve learned.

Skills and Ability Builds are awesome

TSW Weapon Synergy

TSW Weapon synergy chart. Find your weapon and see what weapons have good synergy from left to right.

It’s becoming more clear to me how this system of choosing skills and abilities works.  The key is to pick weapons and abilities with good synergy  There are ‘states’ that can be exploited to your advantage.  Let’s say I have a blood ability that makes the enemy ‘afflicted’.  I want to choose other abilities that get bonuses from the enemy being afflicted.  I also want to use abilities that build points for both weapons I’m using.  So it’s advantageous to do a little research and figure out if you’re making a build that will have the greatest performance.  I’m sure you can do whatever you want and make it work, but there *are* optimal ways to spend those points.   I’m still trying to figure out if there is a limit to the total number of points I can earn (Update: There’s not).

See the chart pictured to the right.  Find the primary weapon you want to use.  The leftmost column is that weapon’s states and triggers.  Weapons with the most synergy will be listed in subsequent columns left to right.  I didn’t make the chart.

Questionable Re-playability

It dawned on me yesterday that this story is very linear.  While playing I am having a lot of fun exploring and figuring things out, but what happens if I want to go back and play again with another character?  Technically, I’ll have already figured out every puzzle, found every lore item, explored all the hidden locations, solved the mysteries, and essentially experienced all that this game has to offer.

I thought SWTOR had little replayability, but TSW is the same for all three factions.   There isn’t even the option to switch sides and do it differently.  Let’s hope once is enough.

Questing

Questing is a mixed bag.  Some of the quests are really good.  The main story quests are interesting and fun, and the sabotage quests or whatever the ones are that have you solve puzzles or do avoid/jump puzzles are really neat.  The side quests (running man graphic) and the repeatable quests (the ones you can have 3 of) are pretty boring.  If they didn’t give such good exp I wouldn’t do them at all.

Performance

System performance is horrible.  TSW isn’t optimized well.  Graev’s computer can barely run the game; Zoning takes him literally 5 minutes and he’s constantly hitching.  My computer zones quicker but has performance issues.  Nvidia beta drivers supposedly help fix some problems, but this doesn’t feel like a graphics issue;  Perhaps CPU or RAM related?  If anyone has some tweaks or tips to improve performance, shoot us a comment or an email.  I am *positive* that performance issues are hindering my enjoyment.

Customer Service / Technical Issues

Graev made his character on Cerberus, but this morning it says he’s magically on Arcadia.  Many others have experienced the same issue.  This threw a huge wrench in our ability to play.  Sure, we can technically play together since anyone from any server can group, guild, raid, etc., together, but we can’t do the Fusang Projects (open-world 24/7 PvP) together — that’s a deal breaker.  It took 20 minutes of waiting for a GM to finally move his character back — 20 minutes with the third GM after several fail conversations with GM’s.  I have no idea, nor do they, why characters are being moved or things aren’t working properly.

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