Guild Wars 2

August 19, 2010

They finally got around to releasing some gameplay footage. The official one is here at Massively.

It looks basic. A bunch of people in a small room, fighting a couple of centaurs. They then go out and fight an earth elemental who goes down pretty damn quick, although he spawns in an impressive cutscene. It’s over in 2 minutes.

I’m down on it. This is not a clip you show to get people excited. I’m not keen on the hype the game has been getting overall, but to be fair if they delivered on it with gameplay I’d gladly eat my words. But even for a noob area, it didn’t seem that exciting. Maybe it would have been better to log the event from start to finish to get a better sense of pacing.

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My Dream MMO

August 17, 2010

I don’t think I’ll be in a position to make one any time soon, so I’m putting down my idea of a WoW killer. Feel free to make it if you can. It’s a radical change in what we consider them to be, and here’s what I want to see.

1. No levels. Oh, this isn’t about a love for sandbox games. This is even more radical. I don’t want any character advancement at all.

Character advancement is shit. It’s solely designed to appeal to the squirrel in all of us, who loves nothing more than to see a huge pile of nuts form from a smaller pile. Gameplay centered around advancement is very much like that: piling nuts, except instead we pile experience points and money.

The joy in an MMO should be from engaging in a well-designed combat system with others. It should be playing, not piling. That we’ve accepted this is because that kind of character advancement strikes a compulsive-obsessive chord in us: it appeals to subrational drives in a Pavlovian sense. Strip character advancement entirely.

2. The goal of an MMO should be large scale participation in a common story. This story should have purpose. Without both it suffers. Current MMOs manage to get the first half right sometimes in raids and large scale battles, but there is no REASON to any of them. They are just  cyclical like the weather, and stuff people do with no long-term goal.

Games should have purpose. Each raid should not be just a repeatable instance to gain gear-events in game should have some form of impact to the world’s story, and the world must have one. EVE is the best example of failing at this. You can do a lot of it, but there is no reason to: a person you gank in lowsec doesn’t matter to anything larger than your own desires.

3. Use real-life people to voice ingame NPCs. Imagine playing a game for the first time. You see a npc in the middle of a square, and try talk to them. You find you can’t click on them, but to your surprise they turn to face you and say hello, talking to you in character about the world you are in. While you talk, they are suddenly attacked by another NPC and their minions, and they proceed to call for help and fight them in an intelligent way. All this accomplished by paying someone ten dollars an hour to “act” a virtual character.

This is taking live events to another level by making key NPCs part of the world in an active and persistent sense. These NPCs drive the story and are real humans, allowing them the ability to shape a plot and be shaped by it. Imagine a game where GMs with their powers served as bosses, or as generals, with the ability to shape the world and respond to characters individually.

4. Turn the rest up to eleven. Make players feel powerful, and make them feel threatened by powerful enemies. Remember the first time you watched an anime, and one of the characters was slammed into a building from the force of an attack? Remember watching the treetop kung-fu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Give players joy in playing the game by turning up the drama and the situations in it: don’t just make auto attack with a flash of color and a slightly different attack animation: make every attack dramatic. Make your players feel like heroes in a dynamic world filled with danger: don’t make them beat up on rabbits with a club.

These are my core principles for my dream MMO. There are more, but I think out of all of them these four are desperately needed.


APB in trouble

August 13, 2010

From Massively, APB is rumored to be in trouble, with Realtime Worlds shuttering their new social game and maybe worse.

What worries me is the direction of the market.

-Aion underperforms and is suffering through server merges.

-Fallen Earth underperforms

-Global Agenda needs to go F2P

-LOTRO does too

-and EQ 2.

-…and Alganon.

-Mortal Online exists but from all accounts is a bug-ridden mess.

-Champions Online and Star Trek Online are underperforming.

-Crimecraft is dead.

-Warhammer Online is not doing well I hear.

It goes on. The only good news tends to be coming out of legacy games with a fixed base, like City Of Heroes or the original Everquest. If you want an interesting experience, go to mmorpg.com, run down the forums by list of games, and count how many have any real population.

I’m worried because I’ve seen this pattern in console games. It reminds me of fighting games.

Street Fighter 2 released in arcades. We saw an explosion of fighting games around that time: Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown, and a lot of c-grade stuff like Martial Champions and Fighter’s History. But in time all the franchises started to dwindle, and fewer new games were made. Those that did never managed to live past one or two games: Bushido Blade, War Gods, or others. Only the ones by legacy companies like Capcom made it.

Soon all we have left are a few companies dominating the market. Right now, it’s Capcom and Namco. We also only have a few other companies in a niche: arc systems with Guilty Gear, and SNK with their King of Fighters retreads. The only “new” fighters I can think of recently is Arcana Heart and Blazblue. Everything that gets made is a retread of an existing IP.

I’m worried that MMOs are the same. We’ll just see the market become dominated by a few companies and soon niche and lowbudget games will die off. Once the WoW buzz is gone, just like Street Fighter 2 cooled off when it took forever to get to a lackluster SF3, you’ll start to see the indies die.


Creator responsibilities

August 9, 2010

Psychochild wrote a perceptive post here about games as a mirror to ourselves. He is right, but I also took some exception to it, because creators build the mirror, and some mirrors may be fun-house ones: designed to show us a distorted view of ourselves. I think creators don’t realize how powerful that distortion effect can be.

It’s not a one way street. Creators have responsibilities to their readers and should not abuse them in the name of art, because they can have long-lasting effects throughout the entire span of the work. While each person approaches a work of art in a different way, and each work differs from medium to medium, I can think of a few principles creators should keep in mind.

Don’t use content to shock for shock’s sake, especially to piss off certain audience members. If you do, use it sparingly, and with respect. Religion in particular is abused a lot, and this ties in with my next principle.

Realize your own biases before you commit to making a work. Otherwise you will project them to a whole audience and affect them in varying degrees. Religion again: that fundamentalist character, is he truly how they are? Or did you just make a stock character because you are lazy? Do you think marriage is a patriarchal construct to imprison women? How will you write someone who is happy in it?

Don’t abuse your audience. MMOs. Is it that vital to have insane advancement grinds? Is getting subs more important than creating an addictive system similar to skinner boxes and casinos? Does your game structure draw out the best in people or the worst?

Finally, happiness is not an enemy. One of my favorite anime is called Kamichu. It’s a very sweet story where a young girl has to deal with becoming a shinto God, and everything works out okay. No one dies, no one is mutilated for drama, no one has dysfunctional families, humanity is not seen as brutal and evil, and entire episodes have no violence whatsoever. And it works.

There is nothing wrong with creating content designed to uplift and show the joy in life. The fact that so many works slap on heartbreak and violence are in many ways a reflection of their creators. While sadness is a part of life, so is happiness and joy, even to those that suffer. Remember that the purpose of art can also be uplifting, and not just social commentary or adrenaline surges.

I think very much that content creators have hid too much in the mantle of art and have avoided many of their duties as people. I’m not saying this in an organized way, as in state-mandated duties. But each of us has a human duty I think, not to hurt but heal. Art can be powerful that way, as powerful as a weapon. Or as powerful as fire. Yet I’ve seen very little on how to safely handle Art, which can set fires greater than any literal flame.