Saturday, December 23, 2006

Linkfest the Second

More links for those MMORPG fans out there.

Tobold's MMORPG Blog
This weblog not only predates most weblogs, it also predates a good number of MMORPGs.

Free registration helps you find long-forgotten friends of past MMORPGs

Free MMORPG creation kit. The only cost for developpers is that they take a share of whatever profit you make, if any, by using their software.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Too Much Killing (Can't We All Just Be Friends?)

Why is it that MMORPGs have players kill hundreds of the same creature, yet there always seems to be more of them? With thousands of players killing a few hundreds orcs each, you would think the orc population would go down eventually. Now, I don't have anything against killing a hundred rats, rabbits or goblins, those just breed so fast that a few millions kills more or less won't make a difference. But eventually, one gets the feeling they've killed the entire world's population a few times over.

Aside from having slow respawns, there is little game developers are capable of, or willing to do, to prevent the players from farming the same enemies over and over again. Now I'm not going to suggest having a survival system, where the more enemies are killed, the slower they spawn, although that could be a possibility. Instead, why not make each battle more worthwhile? Killing a creature twice your size shouldn't go down to dealing damage to it and hoping it dies before your healer runs out of mana. What about instead making each battle require player participation? It would help prevent boredom of farming, and, as an added bonus, would make it harder to create bots.

Imagine that, instead of killing a dozen orcs, and hoping one of them drops the axe he was clearly wielding, you kill one or two of them, and get pretty much everything they had. You really get a sense of accomplishment when you defeat an orc that opposed a challenge, instead of killing a hundred of them and healing when required.

It's the same thing with team fights. Why is it that you have to kill the same dragon a hundred times to get loot for everybody? Killing a creature as imposing as a dragon should be an accomplishment by itself, and reward the players accordingly. Dragons not only have hoards, from which players can acquire new, valuable equipment, but they also have gold and other valuables for those who didn't win the rolls. And, of course, dragons have scales. Not two or three scales, but hundreds of them. Of different quality depending on their position. And which will require time to extract from the dead body (Anyone got the Teleport Dead Dragon To HQ spell?). Not to mention that a good many parts of a dragon could be used as alchemical components, or that dragon meat could feed a guild for weeks.

With a more realistic body count, players would come to expect challenges at every corner. They wouldn't need a level display for the boss, since there is no real way to know if the enemy can be defeated. It would be a matter of which skill each opponent has, and how much; a matter of coming to the fight prepared, instead of hopping in and hoping they don't get too many adds; and, perhaps more importantly, a matter of each player being able to cooperate to the fight, no matter their strenght.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Skills List

Minor update to the skill list. Some changes, and I added the Fishing and Athletics skills.

The Role of a Tank

In the classic MMORPG, a tank is someone who has lots of hit points and defence, and thus is able to take more damage than his group. A tank gets abilities like 'taunt', to force enemy NPCs into attacking him. This system has problems, however. First of all is the fact that taunts are totally useless on players, since you can't force them to do anything. You could always force them to target the taunter, make their view red, or prevent them from controlling their character in a matter similar to fear spells; however, the first two can easilly be prevented with macros, and the last one is too harsh and prone to abuse.

What I would see, instead of using taunts to protect lesser-armored players, would be to have players good in defence have abilities which allow them to protect other players. Having warriors be able to block corridors would be one of them; dexterious warriors could also stand near the casters and block hits directed to them, or stand in the way of would-be assassins. Whole dynamics could be created for building a protective circle around weakly-armored people, and breaching that circle could become the whole point of the assaulting team.

But more importantly, it would remove much of the current PvP problems of having healers and damage-dealing mages being the first to fall because they are easy targets. A defender could take special abilities which allow him to defend a single target better, or dissuade people from trying to reach casters, similar to the dungeon and dragon-style attacks of opportunity. Sneaking behind enemy lines would become an art, and combat would become closer from what someone could expect a medieval fantasy war would look like.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Questing

Quests are a major part of many MMORPGs, and have been implemented with various degrees of success. Some games have tried to make quests completely automated and random, where an NPC or computer gives you a random reward to go to a random place and kill random enemies in a randomly-generated dungeon; other games have gone with the more traditional approach of coding quests by hands, with various degrees of originality (Kill 10 wolves is certainly less original than Protect my house from goblins). Final Fantasy XI has even gone as far as having cutscenes upon the completion of some quests, to give the player a greater feeling of accomplishment.

What I envision is something greater. Instead of being story-driven, quests would be player-driven; that is, you do a quest to advance yourself (or your friend, or your guild). The system would implement both the traditional and random approaches to some degree.

Say you want to learn a new pattern for your tailoring skill. You go to your favorite tailoring master and ask for a new pattern; after some discussion, you decide that you want to learn that cool open-sleeve pattern for shirts. Your tutor informs you that he does not know the recipe, but Davis from the next city over does. So you grab your favorite mean of transportation and go meet Davis, who proceeds to teach you the pattern.

But not all quests are that easy; this one was fairly simple. Because everyone knows that great masters are excentric people who can't live within convenient locations, you have to travel further to get more advanced recipes.

Your teacher could inform you that you need to meet a master on his sheep ranch to learn the wool shirt pattern. Or that you need to meet the smith in a distant dwarven city to learn the blade of sharpness. Or that you need to collect the heart of a red dragon and deliver it to a secluded mage in an orc-filled volcano to learn the vorpal enchantment. The difficulty of the quest scales with the reward, and you might even need to get help from your guildsmates to get more advanced recipes.

What divides this from traditional quests, however, is that those quests aren't hard-coded (Except maybe the few higher quests of greater learning). If your teacher can't teach you what you want, he or she will point you to the most conveniently-located teacher who can (Or maybe a few of them, and let you decide). This way, a player doesn't feel like all he does is help other people find their lost chickens; they work for their own advancement, creating their own story, which is different from other people's stories.

On a side note, I really need to work on my concluding skill. Maybe my Writing master could help me with that...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Freedom to Explore

I'm an explorer. It doesn't mean I get bored when there's no more maps to draw, just that I want to learn everything threre is to learn about, well, everything. That's what I do, learn. According to the thesis to which I linked in my previous post, PKers (player killers) hate explorers, because we might know obscure stuff that makes them harder to kill or, devs forbid, might be able to kill the PKer. So if you want your PKer population down, make sure there's plenty to explore and learn.

So how do you prevent your population from uncovering everything within the first week? One way is to have lots of stuff. Keep dreaming. Anything you add to the game will have to be tested first, and you can be sure by the time you're done testing it, it will be no secret to the players... (Not to say I disapprove of having a lot of material, just that it, alone, does not make a game enticing to explorers).

You can also have new content pop out; whether because the developpers got around to adding it, or the players unlocked it (See World of Warcraft war effort). You could have mines that the players actually shape (Have them cave-in when dug too much, so they won't run out of rocks. Everyone knows mountains have unlimited amounts of rocks anyway); forests that the players clear-cut, and which extend outwards if left to their own; cities that the players actually build... Technical limitations aside, there are few insensitives to not adding more content. More room means players will likely not be competing for the same resources; however, they are also less likely to bump into each other. If player-built towns are implemented, then players will likely stay around aggregations (cities or temporary camps), and can choose whether they want to meet people or explore on their own by how far from aggregations they stick.

With the previously-mentionned crafting system and free skill system, munchkinish explorers will have their hands full trying to find new powerful combinations. If you want more terrain to explore, however, you will have to make it. Artists come at a price, and random terrain generators lack the sophistication and charm of dev-made terrains, so pick your poison carefully.

Friday, December 15, 2006


It seems to be tradition, so here's a couple interesting links.
Already slashdotted, this is a scary story of what could happen if Jack Thompson got what he wanted.
A test to tell you what kind of gamer you are. I scored EASK (But I had A and S at the same score, so I'm also ESAK).
An essay on people who play MUDs; it could very well be about MMORPG players. It's a lenghty read, but quite worth it, especially if you want to understand the test above.

And finally something random,
Buy weapons, armors and random junk online.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


So what would I play?

A well-known fact about me is that I like playing a healer. A perhaps less known fact is that I like jumping, climbing stuff and making fuzzy and scaly friends. Fortunately, you can do all that without too much extra efforts with the skill maze system.

Without further ado, here's Hexedian Medical Ninja (Stolen Directly From Naruto, Yes)

Medical Ninja : Healing, Acrobatics, Animal Taming
Protection, Dodge, Holy, Leadership, Mounting, Archery

This setting is pretty good, I think. Healing and Archery allow a person to be efficient without getting too close to the fight, while Dodge, Protection and Acrobatics will help staying alive if the fight gets too close to the healer. I can also apparently learn Dancing (From Dodge, Acrobatics and Mounting) and Music (From Holy, Leadership and Animal Taming), so I would have my hands full for a pretty long time.

This build doesn't include any trade skill, unfortunately, so I can't have any fun with my hobbies.

Hobbyist : Alchemy, Engineering, Golem Crafting
Chemistry, Herbalism, Sorcery, Enchanting, Smithing, Arcane Lore

I like stuff that blows up, so I picked potions and explosives (Stopping just short of taking Demolition). I'd really like to make a few golem, and the sorcery part is just so I can be useful in an adventuring party.

It's so easy and fun to make new classes, I have to stop before I bore people any further. Perhaps someone else could share class ideas too?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fun with Templates

Now that we have the whole skill maze, we can start making classes, can't we? Then let's go crazy! (This chapter won't be at the final exam, feel free to skim through it)

How it works :
Name of the class : 3 primary skills
6 secondary skills

Warrior : Slashing, Dodge, Blunt
Mounting, Piercing, Bone Crafting, Leather Working, Unarmed, Throwing

Fighter : Piercing, Blocking, Dodge
Slashing, Blunt, Archery, Acrobatics, Smithing, First Aid

Paladin : Slashing, Defence, Healing
Blunt, Blocking, Protection, Leadership, Smithing, Mounting

Ranger : Archery, Tracking, Dodge
Slashing, Acrobatics, Leather Working, Sneak, Trapping, Cooking

Thief : Sneak, Archery, Pick Locks
Piercing, Dodge, Acrobatics, Trapping, Poisons, Illusionism

Assassin : Sneak, Poisons, Throwing
Trapping, Alchemy, Acrobatics, Tracking, Dodge, Blunt

Necromancer : Necromancy, Demonology, Curses
Poisons, Sorcery, Arcane Lore, Bone Crafting, Alchemy, Illusionism

Mage : Magery, Elementalism, Arcane Lore
Sorcery, Healing, Defence, Protection, Alchemy, Herbalism

Sorcerer : Sorcery, Illusionism, Elementalism
Alchemy, Magery, Arcane Lore, Demonology, Curses, Herbalism

Healer : Healing, Defence, Protection
First Aid, Magery, Alchemy, Chemistry, Biology, Herbalism

Priest : Healing, Blunt, First Aid
Protection, Dodge, Tailoring, Leadership, Music, Defence

Armorer : Smithing, Leather Working, Tailoring
Blunt, Mining, Engineering, Stone Carving, Wood Crafting, Siege Weapons

Elementalist : Elementalism, Arcane Lore, Illusionism
Magery, Sorcery, Enchanting, Holy, Alchemy, Necromancy

Master of Golems : Golem Crafting, Alchemy, Stone Carving
Engineering, Smithing, Arcane Lore, Magery, Enchanting, Jewel Crafting

Golem Crafter : Golem Crafting, Engineering, Stone Carving
Wood Crafting, Alchemy, Bone Crafting, Chemistry, Mining, Demolition

Scholar : Teaching, Arcane Lore, Biology
Tactics, Music, Scroll Writing, Chemistry, Engineering, Arts

Tactician : Tactics, Leadership, Siege Weapons
Tracking, Teaching, Demolition, Engineering, Mounting, Archery

Tamer : Animal Taming, Music, Leadership
Protection, Healing, Herbalism, Biology, Cooking, First Aid

Artist : Arts, Music, Illusionism
Wood Crafting, Stone Carving, Dancing, Tailoring, Teaching, Jewel Crafting

Sword Dancer : Slashing, Dancing, Acrobatics
Piercing, Dodge, Sneak, Blocking, Mounting, Arts

Farmer : Herbalism, Piercing, Animal Taming
Mounting, Tracking, Wood Crafting, Cooking, Biology, Music

Bard : Music, Arts, Dancing
Leadership, Dodge, Acrobatics, Protection, Healing, Illusionism

Clown : Acrobatics, Trapping, Throwing
Sneak, Dodge, Blunt, Dancing, Mounting, Music

Whew, that was fun. Any more to suggest? As you can see, it's quite easy to create a class with this system.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More on Skills

I took some time and created a skill map, so it's easier for people to know what I'm talking about. Created using ArgoUML's deployment diagram.

If you think I did anything wrong, feel free to tell me; this skill map could use some collaborative work. Or ask for the UML file itself, if you feel like playing around with it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

World of Warcraft

Everyone knows World of Warcraft. Some have played it and, of course, have become addicted. But few people realize the real reason World of Warcraft is so popular. It can't be the game itself, because it's just another grind-fest for levels and loots. So what makes World of Warcraft so popular?

First, it's the convenience. Everything is there to make the game more enjoyable. For fast travel, players have a choice between the free goblin zeppelins, the pay-per-route air travel, or walking (with or without mount). There's a few other things, of course, like some classes getting 'travel forms', which allow them to travel faster, with the cost of some (most) of their other abilities. And there's the heartstones, to teleport back to a pre-selected inn. And the warlock portal. In short, time is almost never wasted in
World of Warcraft. Players can play almost non-stop, which is a reason why it's so popular.

Second is the thoroughness. Everything has been thought of. There's mailboxes for sending messages and items to other players, auction houses to prevent sell spamming, meeting stones for forming parties for instanced dungeons (although those have met moderate success), quest markers to find and complete quests faster and even profession skills that help you find harvestable resources (herbs and ores) on the minimap.

Finally, you have the addiction factor. While it is relatively easy to reach level 60 (maximum level until the expansion) (compared to other MMORPGs), there's always something more to do. A lot of players will feel compelled to spend day after day trying to get every piece of equipment they can get their hands on. Others will go to battlegrounds to gain honor, or go grief lower-level players (in player-versus-player servers). Those who aren't compelled to any of those can start new characters; Blizzard has made sure that everything you do, even if you've done it a dozen times before, holds at least some interest.

But when you look at the game itself, there's very little in the way of innovation. The game is divided in races and classes - 8 races, 4 for each side of the conflict, and 9 classes, with each race having the choice of only a few of them. Players choose within a range of talents to further differentiate their character from others of the same class, but there aren't that many sets to choose from. In addition, each player can choose 2 professions (in addition to the 3 secondary ones, which are essentially free), though usually, one will choose a profession which suits their class well.

When you look at all this, you realize that the success of
World of Warcraft can be recreated; furthermore, it can be recreated without looking like plagiarism, since most of the things WoW did well aren't noticeably part of the game's mechanics. So when you create your own MMORPG, don't try to emulate World of Warcraft too much. The main game mechanics are probably more limiting to players than they should be; it's the smaller, less noticed aspects of the game that gives World of Warcraft its sharp edge that has yet to be emulated fully.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On Golems

Golems. For some reason, I really like the idea of building a golem. Selecting the parts carefully, casting the final enchant or screwing the last screw, and seeing the result come to some semblance of life, I think, would be a very rewarding experience to any roleplayer. How do you build a golem?

First, you choose what kind of golem you want to make. Engineered golems would be made of some kind of metal, with perhaps stone and / or wooden parts. Magical golems could be made of magical rocks and crystals, or perhaps more mundane materials enchanted and alchemically enhanced. Rarer materials could be used to obtain desired results, like bones, leather, perhaps some magical jewelry. Or perhaps you want to mix many types, to have a partially engineered and partially magical golem. You just decide on what you want and start working.

First, the casing. How big a golem do you want? If you're a neophyte golem crafter, better stick with small golems. A henchmule golem or lab assistant (if you have a need of those) would certainly come in handy. Perhaps you want to fight; then make a fighting golem. Will it be made of adamantium and smash at enemies? Perhaps he'll carry firearms and send death from afar, or carry explosives and kamikaze at unsuspecting foes. Or perhaps it'll wield magic - sending fireballs from behind, or electrifying enemies on touch, while preventing them from reaching you. You just have to choose parts and functions, like any crafting skills - except that many of the parts will have to be built separately, since a golem is such a costly creation.

Once your golem is built, you have to command it. You can't take too many golems with you, since you can only command so many at once; the amount you can command depends on your Golem Crafting skill and, as a bonus, commanding golems allow you to train your skill, at low level. And if you want to upgrade it, just remove some parts (arms, legs, anything that isn't essential) and replace them with bigger, better ones.

What about those who have really invested in golem crafting, is there anything more for them? Well, you could always have specific-function golems - a golem enchanted with air magic could allow you to travel much faster, while a golem made of wood could double as a picnic table. And if you're really good at crafting golems, and are ready to invest a large amount into one, there's another possibility. Instead of commanding the golem, you can ride inside it. With levers (for engineered golems) or command crystals (magical golems), you control the golem from the inside. There are, of course, many advantages to this. For one, the golem protects you from battles. It is also much more intelligent, since you control it directly, and if it is magically charged, you can add your own magic regeneration to its powers, increasing its resilience and devastation potential. The look on the faces of your allies when you come charging into battle in a 10-tons machine of destruction is just another bonus.

What if you don't have enough Golem Crafting skill to make a decent golem, but want a powerful one anyway? Well, you can get help. Hire a golem artisan to make a greater golem for you; as long as you have the skill to command it, it should be fine. Be ready to pay a bundle, of course, but at least you'll get some decent skillups for commanding it...

Such powerful creations, of course, come at a price. For one, once destroyed, the golem is no more. You can pick up parts from the remains if you want, but a new golem will have to be built. Also, golems are not perfect. Wood golems are flamable, rock golems are smashable, magical golems are dispellable or disruptable while necromantic golems are smitable... You have to choose your golem according to what you're facing, unless you can decide what to face according to your golem...

In the end, golem Crafting is just another way of making the game more entertaining, and another possibility for the player who doesn't like being just average. After all, why should NPCs have all the fun?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

On Teaching

Edit: I've revised the teaching system here. This post is no longer relevant but for historical purposes.

Having one player teach another is no new thing; Star Wars Galaxy had a teaching system, in which newbies could learn skills while more experienced players enjoyed free experience. This, however, doesn't reflect the reality of time spent teaching and learning. How, then, would I implement a reasonable teaching system?

Teaching is not an easy subject. One has to remember that it must be rewarding to both the teacher and the student and must not be boring for either of them. How do you do that? By making teaching and learning an offline activity.

I believe players should not waste the character's time while offline. To this goal, a player should be allowed to learn while offline. How much you can learn depends on the skill : half of what you have learned through experience for regular skills, and any amount you want for purely theoretical skills (more on that later). The rate at which you learn should be slower than learning from experience, so hardcore players can still learn faster than casuals.

So how does the teacher come in? A student can learn by him or herself for most subjects, as long as they have some experience already; a teacher simply improves the rate of learning. How much faster the student learns depends on the teacher's skill in the taught skill and in their Teaching skill.

How this would work is similar to a localised auction house : a teacher going offline would offer their teaching skills at a local house of learning for a certain price. Students going offline can then see if any teacher is available for the skills they want to learn, pay the appropriate price (which may be fixed, time-based or skill-based) and learn while offline. In this sense, Teaching becomes just another tradeskill, which allows a trader to convert a resource (time) into cash.

With the possibility to learn skills theoretically, why not make skills that are purely theoretical? Skills like Biology, Tactics, Arcane Lore or Arts could be learned only by studying, alone or under a teacher. Those skills would give bonuses to other skills (Biology is good for healing, for example, while Arts could help a variety of tradeskills), making them a worthwhile pursuit.

This could also encourage social interactivity; friends could set up private lessons, while guilds could give priority or exclusivity to guildsmates, or even build their own, private school, renting their classrooms to other teachers.

I believe teaching would add another nice variance to killing stuff for XP, while giving players' characters something to do while offline (making hardcore players pay extra is just a bonus). There's no reason teachers couldn't make a living in a MMORPG.

Friday, December 01, 2006

On Freedom of Crafting

Why limit the crafting capabilities of players to pre-defined items? In times of yore, when Ultimas and Everquests dominated the market, one could understand the limitations imposed on items; but with ever-increasing computational power, there is no reason to stick to the pre-defined items, even in a highly-sensitive domain of massively multiplayer games. I say break the shackles of single-item limitations and let the players decide what they want! How?

First, a simple idea of crafting. Instead of making a Scimitar of parrying, why not let the players decide what parts they want? A scimitar-style blade, with large guard and short hilt would make a decent weapon for parrying. Let the player decide to have a longer hilt, and they can wield their scimitar like a bastard sword.

Before anyone complains of the inherent difficulty of creating a completely free item creation system, let us think of what is really needed. The crafting system itself would be simple enough; a series of select-next decisions, or perhaps a few drop-down menus would create the item, and the player would have information on the final item before accepting the creation. Displaying the item is just as easy, with different parts being displayed separately. A good amount of testing would be necessary, of course, to make sure that more complex creations still function properly, but with a decent foresight, problems shouldn't be overwhelming.

But why stop at a three-parts weapon? Let's make it 6 parts, then: Point, blade, edges, guard, hilt and pommel. The combination of the point, the shape of the blade, and the edges, would decide what kind of sword it is. The guard would define the defence capabilities (or lack thereof) of the sword. The hilt would define the grasping possibilities, while the pommel would be used for counter-balance, pommel attacks and, perhaps, a magical gem or two.

A similar system can be used for practically any creation. A shirt would be defined as the sleeves, shoulder, collar and finallly chest parts. Colors and styles can be used at the creator's discretion, to create the most elegant attires or the most frightful horrors.

Of course, not all types of blades, sleeves, shaft or frosting can be used at any time. One has first to discover or invent it, by gaining enough skill points in a skill, finding a competent master, or undergoing quest for lost knowledge or self-development (Hey, quests!). Earning skills and undergoing quests are the basics of MMORPGs, so I will assume that anyone who takes interest in these humble rantings already has thorough knowledge of those. Teaching, however, is a rarely-used concept, and one that I believe requires further development than this weblog post can offer to it.