The experience of grouping

July 28, 2009

A lot of people  have lamented the lack of grouping in an MMO, but to be honest I wonder if they have done such recently, and are just being nostalgic.  I wanted to post my history on grouping in FFXI to show why it’s not so cut and dry.

-the newbie experience: I played at ps2 launch, so there always were lots of people wanting to group, enough to not get the downsides of long seeking times.  With the game being full of other ps2 newbies, we tended to overlook or deal with things like sucky parties, camps, and other aspects of the game.

-the midlevel experience: I started to get my first job to 75 in a time of serious change. Right as we hit level 70ish, the TOAU expansion came out, and players suddenly discovered that it became hard to impossible to tank without a DD build at those levels, and impossible at all past 74. I was a tank, and a newbie one, and simply couldn’t afford the neccessary build.

I argued very much against it, but the mechanics were correct. However, that wound up making me solo instead of group, since I felt I was gimp and couldn’t contribute. I soloed about two levels till 75 on weaker mobs.

-the endgame experience:  I started doing beginner endgame in FFXI, which at the time was sky and dynamis. Both required large amounts of people and a lot of time spent per day. I did it for a bit, but it wound up being too much like a real life job, because of the need to group and the schedule.

While I leveled other jobs, my experience as paladin wound up making me gravitate to solo jobs, simply because I didn’t want to have to deal with the problems the TOAU experience had. I leveled dragoon, which was  a party/solo hybrid, and beastmaster, which was pure solo.

The problem is that grouping affected even those. FFXI’s penalties are actually mitigated in a group because of the ability to crowd control and heal-solo jobs can eat a large death penalty and die with a single weaker link just because of the grouping-friendly design. In FFXI, you usually cannot fight two tough mobs simulatenously except as a holding tactic briefly, and partying is killing a single mob one at a time. At endgame meriting, it’s just a lot faster, with mobs being staged to be killed with little time in between.

The group friendly design made soloing very much a pain because of that. I soured on it after beastmaster, and went back to levelling party dependent jobs. However, even levelling corsair which got to cap absurdly fast wasn’t fun, and eventually that led to me quitting.

That’s just a personal play history. There were mant, many other problems. Inever got a lot of quested weaponskills because i felt bad about asking people to help me do something which could take many hours yet give them no reward. My jobs mostly had good party invites, except for BST. A lot of other players couldn’t get many at all, especially DD’s. My best friend in game wound up doing strong endgame, and he started to grow weary of spending his whole day doing it.

Grouping isn’t bad at launch, and that really disguises the problems with it until its too late. Once players start to theorycraft seriously, you begin to see excluded jobs and playstyles. TOAU killed black mage as a party class due to theorycraft finding out that it was quicker to meelee colibri than to traditional party on regular mobs. Killed it dead, now black mages solo for their entire career.

Without solo aspects, players won’t be able to deal with change over time. FFXI didn’t change until it was too late, IMO. They enabled campaign and fields of valor to give solo xp, but they were still too hesitant, and it gave much less rewards.  They were worrying about people not wanting to party at all, but they didn’t realize that people already were not partying and needed to be able to solo because they would never or rarely get invites. So they gimped the solo aspect except at lower levels, making it crap exp return compared to a party, and just let other jobs solo for about as much a beastmaster could exp per hour-wise.

When you combine that with endgame being party only, you are causing players that become solo-oriented to leave, and so I did. I really could do nothing except be less efficient: endgame is locked for soloers, and solo play almost always is much less efficient and more riskier. Grouping also had problems which prevented a lot of us from liking it, and some of us had bad memories from the times when the community’s attitudes forced us to level another job or solo.

There’s a lot of hidden negatives you really only see when you go beyond theory and look at actual gameplay, which is why I am very skeptical about grouping fans.

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Back in Topic: TOR and story

July 27, 2009

While working, a thought occured to me: will TOR’s story actually be all that good?

KOTOR pretty much focused on one character and his plot revelation. All other npcs reacted to that, and also the light/dark side mechanic. However, Bioware is going to need to take the same instanced NPCs and settings, and somehow rework the overarching plot that connects them for 6 classes, some jedi, some not, some good and some evil.

That means you can’t make areas too specific if you intend multiple players to engage in them plot-wise. A bounty hunter will have much different plot motivation than a jedi, but both may have to go through the same instance due to cost control or reusing assets, or partying up.

That makes me wonder if bioware can really do a decent story in an MMO setting unless the game is not just instanced, but instanced often per character with interludes. At some point a sith is not going to be interacting with mos eisely the same way a bounty hunter would, even if partied. not without making story predictable or too similar to each job.

And each class should have different and unique goals. You can’t just have what happened in KOTOR, where jedi class had no real plot point to it, there is a strong difference in motivation and goals for a sith versus a mandalorian. But you’ll have to somehow tie the events together if you want them to party on a main quest line.

You are pulling a rashomon if you have a unified quest: essentially you have to retell the same tale 6 times for each class, because each class will view the main quest line differently. I’m wondering how welll bioware can do that.


Out of topic: Sexuality

July 25, 2009

This is in regards to a post here with Lum. I had made the point that this generation has been the most comfortable with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, and Joshua, another poster took offense with the wording.

Rather than tie up Lum’s Blog, I’m posting my response here, since not many people view it and it will cause less derail. Please keep in mind that this is not what I intend to cover, I really don’t like discussing my views on it, but I owe a response. Read the link for the context.

I think homosexuality is a choice because sexuality in practice is not cut and dried. A man may be married for years, have a few kids with his wife, and then come out of the closest and divorce her. Or a woman after a divorce may find she would rather seek out women than men. Or some people are attracted to both genders, and choose to settle with one or the other. Or in times where the opposite gender isn’t around, or the culture is different, people change their sexual expression.

Some people even defy genetics altogether and are either sexually attracted to things that make no evolutionary or even anatomical sense (animals) or repudiate their own biology given at birth to change sex entirely  (not gender, the sexual organs are changed too) to the other sex based on reasons  of heir own.

The attraction exists, and the general desire imo. That’s a part of being sexual beings, and that is what is genetic, based on the desire to reproduce. Gay or straight, the plumbing still works for the purpose intended, it’s not like gay men have evolved over time to be able to reproduce with other men. I know thats being a little out there, but my point is that sexual desire can only be said to be genetic when it exists to fulfill sexual reproduction.

It’s the same way with eating. We have to eat, the base biological purpose is to give us energy. However the expression of eating is based on cultural mores, and since the biology is omnivourous, our attitudes vary. The desire can be put into many ways, you can be a vegetarian, or eat too much, or overeat, or even sexualize the eating desire. It’s not perfect, but I’m trying to show that expression and biology are often two different things.

I’m going to have to edit this post for part two, approaching thunderstorm.


Champions and action figures

July 25, 2009

From here at Massively, it seems that one of the microtransactions Champions Online will have are pet-like action figures.

What’s odd about this to me is that these to my knowledge are the first real humanoid pets I have seen in a game.  By pet I mean an existing, permanent A.I. companion that is not an actual character, but sort of an auxilliary in battle.  They are usually charmed, given to classes, or bought in cash shops.

A pet is subservient, and not in the way a sidekick NPC is-the pet doesn’t have an identity much or a personality, and we don’t give it the same weight as a character. Usually they aren’t inteligent beings, but animals.

I think that’s why this is so odd. Either you have human automata acting as pets, or little mini-humans, which are more sidekicks, but you “buy” them with real money.  Mabinogi in some of the korean generations has goblins and baby ratmen, too.  Buying sentenient creatures just screams against the rules for me, even as companions.


Mabinogi G1

July 22, 2009

I’m midway through the generation 1 quest in Mabinogi. It’s mostly a main storyline quest giving backstory on the game itself, as opposed to generations 2-5, which focus more on players unlocking powerful transformed modes.

What’s very interesting is that they use a unique concept called RP dungeons. You do not play as your character: instead you play a flashback sequence in which you take the role of a past NPC with their own skills, inventory, and abilities. It’s a great idea as it lets you experience past events in the quest instead of passively learning about it.

The quest chain though is long, info is here at http://wiki.mabinogiworld.com/index.php?title=G1 It’s not short at all, although parts can be soloed.

The story is actually interesting behind it, but like many games, it’s too brief per cutscene. They make good use of books though to fill the gaps.


So it’s done.

July 19, 2009

I canceled all my content ID’s for Final Fantasy XI. I couldn’t bear to delete the actual character, mostly because she has a life of her own. Its just too much history to cast into nothingness. So I logged her out by the old boat in Valkurm Dunes, during sunset.

A lot of fun memories were had there, and I spent a year of my life in Vana’Diel. I can’t say much more, emotion is rising up in me.


A tale of two updates

July 18, 2009

In FFXI, they just released a sneak peek at the next update, which was very weak. Posted earlier, it was adding new capability to the bell item, and fulfilling a japanese request to make curry buns a food. It was met with disdain if not anger, and was seen as wasting time on trivia when they could be spending effort on balancing some of the more weakened or neglected jobs.

In Mabinogi they also did an update. It added several new abilities, but also adde a fair amount of fluff, like being able to buy cymbals, drums, and throw paper airplanes. Same amount of fluff, but since the game culture is different, no real anger.

It’s really two different cultures. In FFXI you need a group to do anything. In Mabinogi not only could you solo many things, you can level without fighting at all. So in one game, heavily results oriented, bells are failures. In the other, throwing paper airplanes are fun.

Go figure, eh?