Friday, December 28, 2007

Advanced Item Enchanting

When enchanting an item, you typically only decide on a single enchant - say, additional strength; yet, you will find items in your quests that bear multiple powers. I suggest that item enchanting be more open to the player's choices.

Item enchanting should be limited by two things - one, how many enchants an item can take, and two, how much power the enchants can have. The first is mostly self-explanatory - items cannot take an indefinite amount of enchants, although some items will take more than other, depending on size, material, shape, craftsmanship and whatnot.

The power of enchants an item can take plays a much more important role in determining what someone can do with it, however. Typically, more powerful enchants would take exponentially more power. If running out of power, one could 'use up' an enchant slot to place a negative enchant, which would allow more power for positive enchants. Such negative enchants could include penalties to stats, skills and peripheral attributes (vision, speed or regeneration are a few), which would mostly be the counterparts of positive attributes; other, less common negative enchants could include added weight, penalties under certain conditions (cold, evil, wet...) or even soul binding - the first person to equip this item is bound to it, and cannot trade it. Powerful artifacts could be custom-made for a particular customer, who would want it soul-bound so they could fit a few more precious points into their prized possessions.

Additionally, enchanting would require components, with components of different quality having different ratios of enchant-power to enchant-consumption. The scales of Queralyx, the Great Black Wyrm, who was slain in an epic battle to be told for generations to come, will give more powerful enchants than the eyes of Robert the Newt Who Happened To Wander Too Close To Town - and whose slaying didn't generate as much as a haiku, much less a ballad. More advanced players will get more advanced enchants, though the difference isn't such that using an item a few notches lower in the power scale should prevent a player from achieving anything worthy of Bardic Tale status; they just won't mention the rather bland spear he used to pierce the bad guy's cardiac locations.

Should an adventurer wish to acquire an item worthy of legends, which they could pass to their proud offspring as a powerful family heirloom, however, they would need to get lots of work done; most likely, they will require help, presumably in the form of loyal guildmates, ready to climb the highest mountains for their beloved friends. Great beasts must be slain, rare resources be found and harvested, great care be placed in growing only the best ingredients for such a creation. Or I guess they could buy the items at the market, but where's the fun in that?

Finally, when all the ingredients are carefully selected and you know exactly what enchants you want, you have to pick an enchanter. The enchanter you pick must be able to create the enchants you want, of course, but should ideally be powerful in the type of enchants you want - a priest enchanter would be better at creating a holy weapon than a necromancer, after all. That enchanter would also be someone trusted, for he would be in possession of an item of great power. Finally, you must pick someone with a renown for creating great items, because enchanting isn't easy, and should they perform poorly at the enchanting game, the resulting item would be much weaker than it otherwise could have been, effectively wasting much of the resources used in the process.

When all this is done, however, and you have your shiny new item, you can parade around town, showing off your new-magic-item smell to the ahh-ing and ooh-ing crowds. Because in the end, we know you're not doing it for the killing or the bonuses - you really just want more pretty lights and fancy colors around your character; and don't we all?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What You Do Matters

So often, in MMORPGs, you see dozens of people killing the same creature over and over. You see them forming a line or entering instances just so they can slay the same boss. What happened to causality? It seems like doing something does not have consequences; if that is the case, then why bother?

Wouldn't it be much better if players could have an influence in the world? If slaying an evil beast would essentially mean that it is gone, no longer to plague the world with its taint? Of course, the players coming second will find only a lair largely devoid of opposition, but at least it would make a certain amount of sense. If you are worried that the world might become unpopulated, simply instill a rule of less killing, more reward; each opponent becomes a challenge, and players are forced to use their tricks much more efficiently, rather than continuously using the same skills over and over.

By giving players the opportunity to change the world, you give them the chance to make a difference. Players will feel special after successfully completing a rescue mission, because they know that, had they not done it, the would-be rescuee could very well have been killed, permanently affecting the world in a negative way. Likewise, players deciding to go on a rampage, killing innocents left and right, would find that not only are they now permanently hunted everywhere, but they have had an effect on their fellow players that could most likely be felt for a long time to come.

If more MMORPG developers were trying new things, pushing back preconceptions that have no room in a modern game, then we would see a real revolution in gaming. For now, we must live with revolutionary games that do things the way they've always been done.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where am I?

I know, I know, I haven't been very faithful in posting. Truth is, I'm posting my new ideas on the Metaplace forums. Give it a look someday, you can discuss new ideas with the brains of tomorrow's MMORPGs.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Multiplayer Crafting

What happens when you want to make a lamellar armor, but only have smithing skills? Without leather working skills, making an armor combining leather and metal pieces would be tricky, at best. While you could theoretically create parts of the armor beforehand, and then leave them in the care of a leather worker to complete the process, such cooperation would most likely imply waste and inefficiency. A better method would be to work together on a single item.

What happens, then, is that one player initializes the crafting, and asks the other player for help. Together, they smith and weave away, using their combined skills and resources to create the masterpiece, their efforts rewarded with an item they both can be proud of.

This could be used for other collaborations, of course. A master smith could get help from an apprentice; the apprentice gets to work on their skill, and get paid for it, while the master gets some assistance, making the crafting minigame that much easier. Enchanters could easily work in parallel with other crafters so that their enchantments can be placed on items of greater power.

It might be wishful thinking, some would think, but I think adding multiplayer crafting would really help the genre progress forward as a true multiplayer game, instead of a multiplayer solo game.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Where Does It Come From?

The enemy? Where does it come from? Ho, it just appeared there, you say? Because the last time it died was exactly 30 minutes ago? Well, that's inconvenient, our soldier died 18 minutes ago; we'll have to wait another 12 minutes before we're saved. Let's hope there's a level-appropriate adventurer nearby who will accept the quest, otherwise we're all going to take a 30-minutes trip to limbo. T'would be a shame, really.

Yeah, OK, not quite subtle, but I got the point across. Mostly. I think.

Where do these enemies come from?
And, while we're at it, those allies? They just spawned there, it seems. That doesn't make sense. Everything should come from somewhere. And I do mean everything. There is no infinitely respawning enemy. There is no infinitely respawning quest reward. And there is no infinitely respawning iron node, herb patch or vendor item. If you want herb, you either get it yourself, or hope someone has harvested some recently. And if you want to kill some goblins, you don't go to goblin camp #121; you go search for them. Get some rumors, while you're at it, it would probably help.

So where do evil goblins come from? The goblin frontier, most likely. What is the goblin frontier, you ask? Ho, you didn't? Should have, it was a good question.

So what is the goblin frontier? It's where goblins come from. More importantly, it's the place that has a very large amount of goblins. Short of a massive invasion force, you cannot as much as hope to push them back a little. If you do amass a massive invasion force, however, then you may stand a chance. Hit them hard enough, and they will be forced to move back and rebuild, leaving their precious land behind, ready to be conquered; lucky for you, you just happen to have (what remains of) a massive army around. So your investment paid off, and now you have some more land to call your own.

Even if the invasion fails, however, it would not have been in vain. Any force standing a chance against the enemy army would most likely deal massive damage to their organization. Such damage is sure to take a long time to repair, meaning that invasion forces, settlers and adventuring parties from that organization will be in shorter supplies for some time, leaving you with an easier defense and the enemy with less spoils from the conquests.

The same would happen in player versus player. If you want the evil player-run city to disappear, you amass an army; the difference being that players aren't always online, so you have to find a mean to organize a raid that gives a fair chance to both parties. Until you do, you can just go scouting for goblins, or maybe ore veins. It beats grinding on foozles, for sure.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Ideally, in an MMORPG aiming for realism, nourishment should be encouraged. Forcing players to eat could be bad, though, since that could mean some players would find themselves in a downwards spiral, with no way back up. That's what we call a Bad Thing.

The way it works right now, more often than not, is that food is an optional bonus. At best, food bonus is a nice thing. Most of the times? It's just a useless side-effect that has no real significance in the game.

How do you make food realistic? By having a morale stat, of course. The higher the morale, the more wondrous feats you can accomplish. And the better the food you eat, the more your morale increases (For a time). So, starting players will not invest too much into foodstuffs; they have other things to care about. Experienced players, however, will prepare feasts for every meal, complete 5-courses sets that send their morale through the roof and makes them that much more dangerous to the local dragon population. They will be sure to always carry the best rations in their bags of foodstuffs preservation + 2, always have a bottle of fine elven wine handy, "just in case", and be sure to bring a picnic golem with them, to really enjoy their mid-raid snack fully.

I think food buffs should last longer, too. Something like 24 in-game hours sounds good, so you can afford to eat a modest dinner or something; just as long as you have a full, 10-pounds breakfast. Wouldn't want you to starve halfway towards the deadly dragon den now, would we?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To Serve And Protect

What do you do to prevent ganking in an open PvP MMO? On the one hand, if you don't allow player PvP in the open world, your game ends up as a glorified single-player game; on the other hand, too much PvP with too few penalties lead to a world populated by player-killers. What's the right middle point?

Obviously, you'll want to have some level of PvP, but limit the capacity of malicious players to harm their fellow sentients; either of them is missing and you lose credibility as a MMORPG. There are things players can do to prevent being killed, of course, including staying in the main cities. If they never leave it, then they'll be safe; they just won't be adventurers. Many people want to be adventurers, however, and few of them want to deal with evil players.

One solution is to designate areas where PvP may happen. You'll want areas near your main cities to be safe, so that adventurers can get some good, clean fun bashing goblin skulls away. You might also want to protect areas where players may be weaker, such as when adventuring, so gankers don't use the fact that they're weakened to slaughter them. Finally, it's a good idea to be sure that wherever a new player can go is safe; they are the easiest targets, after all.

Another thing you can do is penalize griefing. Player killers can be declared criminals, and be pursued by armed forces whenever they try to enter lawful settlements; by making sure they aren't safe in most cities, you decrease their power, and make other players safer. Merchants can look down on people of low morals, and decide to charge more for their services. You can add some supernatural penalties as well; players with a negative Karma get penalties on many things, to a point that evil players will have to expend resources trying to negate these penalties. Finally, you can forgo any kind of excuses and just add meta-gaming penalties for player killers, such as harsher death penalties, limited skill usage and, in the most extreme cases, character deletion by the developers, if the player's action are against the out-of-game rules.

Griefers can be penalized by the players themselves, of course; many will not hesitate to pursue evil characters simply to rid the land of them; but you could also have the ruling NPCs pay bounties on criminals, such that they would never feel safe, even in cities that accept them. Players who decide to go hunting evil characters could also receive a bonus to their game Karma, improving their standing with certain factions, or possibly deities.

There may be other ways to protect the average player's game experience, for example by making death penalty almost non-existent, but more extreme cases need to be considered more thoroughly; you don't want your penalties or compensations to get exploited, after all. If you can't agree on a good way to prevent player killing, however, it might be better to take it out entirely. Better a fully cooperative game than a ganker paradise, after all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sand Boxes

The term "sandbox" gets thrown around in MMO discussions sometimes; in this case, it refers to games that do not force players into the normal treadmill gameplay of gaining power to get access to the next area, by instead offering an open world which players are free to explore as they wish. This has the advantage of being more immersive, but is often confusing to new players. World of Warcraft has proven that a low barrier of entry is a good policy for games aiming for a mass appeal.

But why would it be called a "sandbox"? True enough, a pit of sand is hardly the most exciting thing to expose players to, but it does offer a good analogy as to how to make a simple world be open.

Take a swing. Kids can swing from it. Inventive kids will try jumping from it, or maybe standing on them, but in the end, that's all there is to it. Swinging. Same thing for a slide. You slide down the slide. Trying to climb the slide just doesn't work. It's just a slide.

In a sand box, however, things are a bit different. You're not limited to only one thing. Most kids will want to play with the sand; building cities and castles. That's the core of the gameplay; most people who play MMOs do it for the adventuring. Some other kids will go
sculpting faces and animals, practicing their crafting skills. Some will just sit in the sand and chat with other kids. By their very presence, they make the sandbox a more social environment. Try chatting with a kid going down a slide, or building a castle out of a swing. Yeah, poor results.

Of course, there can be more to it. Kids will bring their trucks and dolls (sorry, action figures) and make-believe great stories. Stories of heroes going out to kill evil dragons. Stories of explorers finding new lands. Stories of imaginary people having great, imaginary adventures. That's what kids want, and it seems there's a bit of a child in all of us. A child who just wants to play in the sandbox again.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Item Identification

Phil the Barbarian was fighting a ferocious demon, one that has been ravaging his homeland almost without stop for days now, yet showed no sign of fatigue. The demon wielded a powerful sword enveloped in flame, which seems to faze in and out of existence almost continuously, making it hard to fight against. Just the same, Phil was able to summon his natural berserking abilities and added new orifices to its body. The demon fell, like all of the barbarian's previous adversaries.

Searching its remains, Phil found a twisted long sword. That the sword was magical, Phil had no doubt about it; he was so well-attuned to magic that he could easily tell such simple things. What the enchantment did, however remained a mystery, and until the spell was identified, the sword would remain useless.

Trekking his newfound weapon and glorious victory to the nearest town, Phil joined the line to get the quest reward for killing this powerful enemy. That formality out of the way, the barbarian headed to the nearest identifier, who informed him that the sword was in fact a powerful Flaming long sword of Fazing; seeing now that the sword was immaterial and emitting flames, Phil thanked the identifier and went on his way, wielding his now-burning acquisition.

If you can count all the things wrong in this story, congratulations, your IQ is probably higher than the average MMO player. That being said, I have only one question remaining : why is it that items which have an obviously-identified magical property cannot be used until you ascertain that it is indeed what it obviously is?

Ponder that one, young grasshopper. Find the answer, and ye shall receive a king's ransom of gold; that is, 9 silver pieces. It seems kings aren't as valuable as they used to be.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Second Hand Sword

In MMORPGs, there is only one way to get an item; usually, that way is to kill the one who owns it (sometimes more than once). If it's not a drop, it's a quest reward, or a craftable. Yet one is left to wonder, who made that sword in the first place? Ophelia is so great, that the gods appeared in front of her to give her the sword? Or maybe she was BORN with that plate helm on; we all know what happens with all that chaos magic...

And what about quest givers? You would think that he would run out of wands of incineration eventually, but it seems he's always willing to hand it to adventurers who slay his life-long enemy.

In a more realistic world, items are created by someone for a purpose. When not created by players, the sword has to be thought by an A.I. somewhere, who will decide that with the materials at hand or easily available, the best sword to make is one with fire and speed enchants. Then the NPC will simulate playing the smithing minigame, and create a sword according to those results.

That's how you get a new sword; and if an NPC can make it, you can bet that players will be able to do it too. There's no reason to limit what they can do just because they pay the monthly fee.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pack Yak

Your party's inventory space is limited. The barbarian is already knee deep in priceless artifacts and the rogue has run out of room in their bags of holdings. You found plenty of bags, but the only animals around are bulls and yaks, and those can't be used as pack animals. Why? Because the programmers didn't think it would be useful.

In real life, anything from a dog to an elephant, and then some, has been used to carry stuff around, and that works great. Cheap to feed, quadrupedal animals have always made an easy living by carrying humans' stuff on their strong backs. Not so much in video games, which have yet to acknowledge the carrying capacity of anything beyond mules and llamas.

And that is common practice in video games, to give each object a single purpose, ignoring all others. Hammers are for hitting things, not building them (Or the other way around; but never both). A vegetable is to be used in recipes, never to be eaten. And don't you dare suggest that axes can cut trees. Trees are for decorating, and sometimes burning down for your enjoyment. You can get wood at the general store over there.

Objects are for much more than just their primary scripted purpose, but it seems people think it too hard to do more than one thing at once. I certainly hope that trend disappears sometime soon, otherwise those points spent in animal taming and leather working would have been for nothing. No pack yak for me!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Metaplace MMOArrPG

Metaplace is a service that allows you to build your own virtual world or MMORPG; just like Multiverse, but Metaplace has the name Raph Koster tackled to it, so it's going to be good, right?

The goal is to allow anyone to make a virtual world, big or small, if they feel like it. You can put it on your web site and have people look at your latest projects, or make a whole game out of it and see people swarm to it. And that is interesting. That speaks to me.

It means I could start coding a world, and have natural selection decide whether it's good or not. It means I could be part of a team, and help make a virtual world become true.

So what do you say? Does the prospect of building a world after your own mind speak to you, or will Metaplace go down in history as yet another ambitious project that didn't work?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Market Analysts

In MMORPGs these days, the one best way to make money isn't always to kill stuff or get some kind of resources; often, you can make bundles by playing the market. People make their living in the virtual worlds by buying low and selling high; indeed, sometimes, people play for no other reason than to make more money. Even gold traders get some of their supplies from virtual market traders.

But not everyone wants to play the market. Not everyone wants to care about the price of copper in their cities. Sometimes, people just want to make an honest profit. So I suggest a "sell to market" feature.

For a nominal price, players can put their hard-earned goods for sale on the market, tweaking some bits about desired profits and wait time. The goods are then put for sale automatically at a variable price, determined by factors only market analysts would dare delve into; the player's hands and mind are free of caring about whether or not they got a fair price, or whether or not someone is going to make a quick profit from their hard work.

Then players can go back to playing the game like it was meant to, whatever that happens to be in their case; but not playing the market. Market's doing very well on its own, thank-you-very-much.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Traditional MMORPG Progression

In a traditional MMORPG, the player is expected to put some inputs in the system. First, you usually give some cash; sometimes more, if the game allows real money trade for in-game resources(Or if it has a black market). Then you give time. Time is the primary input resource of an MMORPG; you input time, and the game outputs progression. Better knowledge of the game means you can output more progression for the same amount of time, but in the end, it's still the same time => progression graph.

In any other type of game, where there is an ending, progression means much less. Nobody will care that you have collected all the sparkles of power once you've defeated the final boss. Your progression becomes meaningless once you have uninstalled the game, so the developers have to make sure every moment of the game is enjoyable.

In an MMORPG, however, there is typically no ending, meaning that to keep you hooked, the devs have to give you more progression. They will give you harder and harder bosses all the time. After a while, it won't be possible to progress anymore all by yourself, you'll have to team up with more progressers to defeat bigger, nastier bosses to get more progress points. It's always about progress; never about fun. It seems that you can't have fun anymore, because fun doesn't sell.

If you need me, I'll be playing progress quest. Wake me up when there's a progress-less MMORPG out there.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Good versus Addictive

MMORPGs sell well usually because one of two things; either they're good, and people enjoy playing them, or they're addictive, and people can't bring themselves to stop playing them.

Most people who have played MMORPGs have some insight in the nature of addiction; it's what happens when you see something you don't overly enjoy, but you can't bring yourself to stop doing it. (Technically, an addiction is a "compulsion or overpowering urge to use a substance, regardless of potential or actual harm", but who's counting?) Addictive MMORPGs will offer you a fun and easy start, where everything is smaller than you and gives you great (relatively speaking) rewards. They'll hook you up to leveling, loot and quests so that you have a feeling of accomplishment when those happen, thus insuring that you will WANT to play the game. Then you're hooked.

Good games, however, will present you content that is thoroughly enjoyable all along, and let you decide how to spend your time - thus ensuring that you enjoy the parts you like most while minimizing the tedious ones. Good games don't need to bribe you with levels and big loot, they only need to present you with activities you might find enjoyable, and let you play them. Then you're hooked.

The big difference, in my opinion, stems from the fact that you are better off after a Good game - you've enjoyed yourself, and are happier. Addictive games, however, will try to present you with more goals to reach, with less regard to the actual enjoyability of reaching these goals.

Some of the upcoming games right now seem to have understood the distinction, and seek to give you an enjoyable experience with innovative design and non-repetitive events. They might not be the skill-boasting free-to-explore MMORPG of tomorrow's dreams, but they try their best to entertain the players, rather than hook them, and that is certainly worthy of mention.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Choices of Advancement

Now, I've talked about a pure PvP advancement, but that doesn't mean it's the only form of non-regular advancement. Players can be whatever they want in the game, including simple civilians.

Some would find buying resources and making items boring (even with the great minigames), but that's normal; different parts of the game appeal to different people. The important part is that one does not need to kill anything to progress in the game. They can be crafters, of course, or gatherers, but they can be much more.

For one, with an open market, they can be merchants or traders, buying low and selling high. Or they can be bookies, taking bets at the arena. They could provide various services, perhaps scouting new ore deposits for harvesters, or maybe taming exotic pets and selling them to city dwellers. And if all this is not enough, they can be politicians or activists, where they wouldn't need any skills for their characters, simply the support of the population, and be able to make a difference in the (virtual) world.

It doesn't matter what one likes to play, there is something for everyone; that is, after all, the point of a role-playing game.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pure PvP Advancement

Sure, there's plenty to do on the PvP side, but would that be enough? Is it possible to play the entire game, as some kind of adventurer, fighting other players almost exclusively?

On the one side, starting players don't offer much to a confrontation. They would have to take odd jobs or join a mercenary group; which, hopefully, should be possible. Battlefields can be won with a heavier purse, should one side have no head for finances. Beyond that, however, when characters gain more power, reputation and allies, what options open for a pure PvP increase system?

The main concern with players fighting only other players, of course, is that the resources stay within the system. You might have gatherers mining, cutting and harvesting their fortune from the land itself and adventurers bringing home the loot from their latest conquests, but those who PvP have only their own skills to count towards income. They can form groups of mercenaries, fighting for the highest bidder and recruiting aforementioned newcomers, or they could join standing armies for a regular income, but can't slay evil and take their stuff, since player looting is just out of the question. A Pvper's income has to come from non-PvPers, even if it just means their harvester friends.

If demand for mercenaries is good, however, it's absolutely plausible that someone who doesn't like to fight NPCs could both make a living and have some fun playing the game simply by posting offers or checking the latest want ads; and since they will be fighting all day (and most of the night), their skills will increase by themselves. So yes, it's possible to gain power by fighting only other people, it just might require some more work than the regular adventuring would.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What about the PvP?

Some people like safe PvE, some people like arena-style PvP, and some people want unrestricted PvP. You can't please everyone, of course, but I realize I've talked very little about possible PvP rules. What could be done to try to please everyone would be to split the server into multiple parts, allowing different rule sets for each server. I, however, am not a real fan of multiple servers situations, so I will use my impressive intellect to find a better solution.

The first condition is that newcomers must be protected from killers, so as to not lose them to griefers. This can be accomplished by making protected zones for newcomers and a harsh legal system; you don't expect a pardon in real life because you killed two people less than the limit this week, and so people who kill others without justification will be counted as criminals and will be fair game for bounty hunters and guards (both player and Non-). Criminals would have to establish their own cities, hidden and protected from the rest of the world, just to be able to survive in the harsh world.

Another condition for a well-established PvP system is that people in need of non-non-player-character blood can find somewhere to soothe their anger. For that, duel, events (of, say, the jousting kind) and battlegrounds need to be established; and I'm not talking about fighting over and over and over and over again the the same, boring maps against (and with) random people to collect meaningless tokens. What I mean is that war has to be a very real thing, and people can go to war if their neighbors aren't trustworthy. Or they annoy them. Or they looked at them funny. Might want to be careful though, alliances are a hard thing to forge sometimes.

Finally, you can't have a decent PvP system without some reward for the winner, and penalty for the losers. In World of Warcraft, winners are rewarded a few shinnies more than the losers. You get paid for participating, and even that is optional, as you can be standing still the whole time and get the same rewards as your allies. That's not a decent PvP system, that's throwing some bones at people who request fillet mignon.

What they should get is a reason to kill people, a reason to group up against evil and a reason to run away in front of superior forces. Of course, corpse looting is out of the question, as it is too harsh a punishment when the cause of the death can be in no way the fault of the player. Experience penalties could exist, but in this case they would have to be per-skill, which means people with more skills get punished more; it also means that you would either have to lose some moves, or not have any penalty if you have no skill points left, so the whole thing is out of the question. You could have a monetary penalty, but banking, whether official or not (through the use of mules) would make losing money for death pretty pointless. And of course, permanent penalties, like stat loss, would drive players away faster than an exploiter on pre-patch day.

This leaves us with compulsory monetary penalties, a.k.a. item damage, and temporary debuffs. The former is pretty self-explanatory, and although small, does provide an important deterrent to risky actions. The latter, known as resurrection sickness, means that the player would be next to useless for a certain amount of time after death. Resurrection sickness could use a small overhaul, however, as a flat (dependent on level, usually) rate for death hardly seems like a fair deterrent.

First of all, the amount and time of the sickness should depend on the type of death the player suffered. If it is Death From Having Your Toes Bit Off By A Rat, then there's no penalty; you just get back up somewhere safe and go off killing more rodents. If it's Death By Player Killing, then check how Killed you were. Is it just a bad guy killing an unwary traveller? Then the player is found by local authorities and can resume normal activities within a few minutes. Or is it an army pillaging all in its path while mowing down all opposition? Then chances are you won't be of much help in the near future, otherwise you would just as soon go back into battle. The harder the death, the harsher the penalty should be.

But death penalty alone does not create a fair PvP system. To be fair, you also need to reward the winner. Of course, when you fight, you gain skill experience; there's no reason fighting another human being wouldn't teach you just as much as fighting NPCs would. The real problem is that, since corpse looting is a big no-no, and duplicating items to the winner is out of the question, then there's little incentive to fight. Rewards can be posted for killing enemies, but those would have to be either small, or come from the players' own collective pockets, otherwise they are too prone to abuse. The only way to reward players who help their team by showing up regularly in the battlefield is to give them fancy titles, which gives them benefits toward allied NPCs, as well as bragging rights (read : show how much they lack a social life).

Of course, all of this needs some serious balancing; no doubt important exploits would be exploited, loopholes looped and flaws taken advantages of, but with lots of hard work and hours spent telling your boss you're just testing the game, you'll eventually come with a good, stable system. That, or you'll just revert back to the lowest common denominator, and in the process scare away players who wanted something new.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On Altering Body Shape

Some games let you change some of your character's looks, like hair style and stance; some games have so few characteristics to change, changing anything isn't even worth considering. But what about more basic physical attributes? You can't go to the hair stylist to instantly change your fat into muscle, but why not a trainer?

Of course, you can't change everything instantly; it would require a large investment of money, a long wait period, and even maybe some player interaction, but in the end, you get your new body type. If your appearance isn't set by your stats, why not let the player change it over time?

Monday, August 06, 2007

The More, The Merrier

It's a well-known fact that adventuring parties generally want more people when they can; the guys playing Dungeon and Dragon will happily take another member in the party if that member can pull his weight. Yet in MMORPGs, half the times you can't take someone else, because the instance or encounter is limited to parties of a certain size which, logically, makes absolutely no sense. Why can't more than five people come in to fight Lars the Mean? And why are you limited to 25 people when raiding Melzebut? The short answer is because game limitations make having too many people at one place inconvenient. The real answer should be because everyone wants a go at the treasure.

When raiding the Lost Ark of Neephta, it's a good idea to have a strong party. Let's say that the dungeon or encounter has an Arbitrary Challenge Rating of 6, meaning players should add up to a Arbitrary Power Value of 6. Your warrior's a 2, mage is a 2. They find a beginner rogue for one more, and a beginner healer for a final 1, so they got a 6. They could try it with one less, which would result in a more challenging encounter, but with 1/6th more reward per party member; or they could try with one more, taking reduced treasure per person, but diminishing the risk greatly. This goes right along the idea that casual players should be able to help.

This also goes right along the risk-reward axis so well known to MMO players; you don't go fighting mobs your level when 'green' mobs only give a little less experience, so players don't bother with higher risk, they just take the safe reward; and in fighting without risk, you fight without glory. But at least the XP's good, right?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

MMORPG : Scavenging from Other Games

Most MMORPGs nowadays are simple games, where you smash monsters around with a big stick, and perhaps get the chance to make a bigger stick for yourself (which invariably ends up being worse than anything you get from monsters). A MMORPG, based on its virtue of being a virtual world, should be able to do more than that. Why not incorporate elements from other game genres that would fit well within an MMORPG?

The Thief games, arguably the fathers of stealth games as we know them today, incorporated lots of scenes where the player was expected to avoid enemies rather than engage them - even when killing said enemies would be easy, doing so could alarm more guards to your presence, compromising your mission. In Thief, the player had to jump from shadow to shadow, avoid loud floors, knock down guards and extinguishes fires to avoid detection, the performance of which represented most of the game's gameplay.
In MMORPGs, the concept of stealth is usually limited to a character basically turning invisible until someone of a high enough level gets close enough, and there is no consideration of lighting, nor do you care much about loudness. Stealth does not require any skill from the player.

In the Prince of Persia series, the player is challenged with complex acrobatics maneuvers, both during the platforming times and during combat. The player will successively walk on walls, enemies and columns, demonstrating the prince's incredible agility. Some will be quick to point that acrobatic-enabled sections of the game were hard-coded, meaning that it wasn't possible to walk on any random wall, but still, the idea of using short steps on the side of a wall to increase one's jumping distance is certainly something that is worthy of being considered for an MMORPG.

In the Civilization (rather long) series of games, the player must build cities to collect resources and make their empire grow. Yet, in MMORPGs, whenever the cities aren't fixed at game creation, the best thing players can do is place their house close to where they want to be. There is no resource consideration, and finding a source of drinkable water is never really a consideration. But what if that was actually important? Player might need to go scouting for locations before building up, considering natural resources, trace routes and potential threats. Successful cities would bring hundreds or thousands of players, challenging in popularity the NPC-operated cities.

In Flight Simulator... Yeah, OK, you see where I'm going with this one. Those so-called flying mounts would certainly take a whole new significance if you had to watch for wind direction and potential obstacles.

I'm not going to touch the economic simulations games, but suffice to say that there is a world of difference between a true open economy and a free-for-all auction house.

This is already a nice list of genres to borrow from, and I haven't even touched city simulators, sports, racing, puzzle or card games. MMORPGs can be much more than simple monster mashers, and if more MMORPGs trying to incorporate new ideas become successful, we might see a true revolution of the genre. MMORPGs of the future might have nothing to do with their simpleton ancestors.

Friday, July 27, 2007

How Unfair is Unfair?

There's lots of discussion possible about the subject of fairness in MMORPGs. Some say that since life isn't fair, then neither should a MMORPG depicting life in some form; others will simply refuse to play a game where success is a result of random or arbitrary events that aren't fair to the player's skills or commitment. Of course, everyone will agree that giving a Sword of Doom to a starting character is unfair, but exactly where does a line need to be drawn between keeping the game simple and fun and making it fair for everyone?

Basically, if a monster has one chance in ten to use an ability to instant kills the character, it's unfair. If Warriors can deal ten times the damage mages can, while retaining the best defenses, it's unfair. If Joey gets a red lollipop while I get a blue one, it's unfair. But here's the problem, if you give Karl a red lollipop too, then Joey will complain that he got a smaller piece of the cake last time, and he deserves a redder lollipop for that. Everyone knows it in the MMORPG industry, and they'll repeat it : you can't please everyone. As a corollary, I would like to submit the more people you try to please, the less will be satisfied with the results; those who get the nerfbat feel threatened, and those who were already balanced will feel forgotten.

So, how much unfairness do you need before things get unfair? It depends on who you ask, but I would say, not very much. Older gamers will remember the old days of the original Warcraft and Command and Conquer games, where fairness was mostly attained by making every side basically the same. Games like Warlords Battlecry tried to break the mold, and had various sides, each with their own powers and abilities, and most of them had exploits allowing you to gain quite unfair advantages; those that didn't were considered too weak to play in most cases.

These days, the easiest way to get good balance is to do your best, and then ask the fans to break the game during beta. And break they will, since number crunching, exploit-finding MMORPG players are a dime a dozen during betas; so much so that by the time the game ships, players will already know the shortest route to any point, whether it be some place or some power.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question of how much unfairness you need until things become actually unfair; I don't think anyone could answer that question correctly. It's all a matter of what type of game the player wants to play. In the end, just make sure that the fairness follows the game's philosophy, and it will likely attract people who want to play it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Randomness in MMORPGs

Once again, Tobold initiates some brainstorming, with his much-touted concept of random cards in an MMORPG; the basic concept is that the actions a player can take at any time aren't fixed, but taken randomly from a pool of all possible actions, similar to Magic: The Gathering or other trading card games.

Now, I'm not completely against randomness in gaming, because always hitting for the same damage gets boring fast, and most people will like some randomness, but the concept of random abilities has quite an important limiting factor. Random abilities mean that even a well-built character can get a bad streak of events, and end up dead through no fault of their own; that's not what a fair MMORPG should do.

It's not to say that such a good concept can't happen, though; you just have to put it into perspective. Random powers beyond with inherently random elements; say, Chaos Magic. A caster of Chaos Magic has a much wider and powerful array of spell at their disposal, but they never know what powers will be available next; kind of like the trading card game example. You can add certain elements, like chances of random events upon casting a spell, but that's outside the scope of this post.

The important part is, random powers could be available, but they shouldn't be forced into the player. Some people like to play the slot machines; others want their own skills to matter in the game.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Realistic is Too Realistic?

You should know by now that I advocate an MMORPG where realism is given an important part; not to say that magic or science fiction are bad, on the contrary, but it would be nice if they weren't just mysterious elements tossed in to add a few more classes. When you ask for realism, however, it's a good idea to precise when you want to stop.

Take food, for example. It seems it has become the norm in MMORPGs that food is to restore lost hit points, and perhaps give some small buffs. I don't know about you, but I rarely grow back lost limbs with a sandwich, and the only thing that gets better when I eat is my stomach (But hey, if your game has morale, more power to you!). So in a realistic game, regular, every day food shouldn't restore hit points.

How far do you push realism, however? You want there to be food in your game, because real people eat, but how important is food? In Ultima Online, not eating gave you penalties to your actions, but couldn't kill you directly. But you could make starvation kill, or at least make you take damage; just as you could have players require water, which they have to drink manually every hours to avoid dehydration. You could do these things, but they would just be tedious, especially for newbies, who might end up dying every few hours because they don't know how to get food or water. You want realism, but you also want fun.

Just as magically healing food is unrealistic, so is being able to run all the time; yet I don't see, nor do I want, an MMORPG where running gets you actually tired, because realistic walking speed is boring; walking is for stealthers.

What about sleep? You can't stay up a week playing the game, and neither should your characters be able to stay up for days with their plate mail on, bashing goblins. The sensible thing to do is to give penalties to players who stay up too long (Blizzard tried that, and they got angry explosive letters; so they changed the tiredness penalty to a well-rested bonus, and the fanboys shut up); staying up for days will result in your characters gaining next to no experience, and having heavy penalties on actions. The problem arises when the game world has different time sets than the real world; if your days last only a few hours, then you cannot expect a player to stay up more than a few hours at a time, which will discourage many, and not just the hardcore players. Many players enjoy playing for hours on week-ends without having to worry that their character is tiring. Magic and alts can allow you to game longer, but eventually you'll have to get some rest yourself.

So in short, getting a good balance of realism is hard; you have to decide where to draw the line, and make sure it's before the fun ends. In the end, you just have to make sure you alienate as few people with your decisions.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Elemental Damage

It's one of my pet peeves, something that always irks me when playing fantasy video games; that casting a big rock at the enemy deals earth damage. Or piercing the enemy with an icicle is ice damage. Or that you put some fire on your sword and suddenly it starts healing the fire elemental.

You don't see it that much in MMORPGs, but it's still there. There is no such thing as earth damage. That big rock deals blunt damage. And that icicle? Yeah, it's cold and all, but the cold won't kill the opponent; the piercing will.

Please, developers, stop thinking in numbers once in a while, and see the logic behind reasonable damage types.

That is all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Create Your Own Dungeon

Yet again, Tobold steals the scoop on an idea that's been in my head for a while now : that of player-created dungeons. But unlike sir Tobold's idea, my player-created dungeons are less about players setting spawn points and more about what happens when mines get too deep.

Dungeons in The Dream MMORPG aren't little instance doors that sparkle or flash in the world, which you can cross to get somewhere where level-appropriate monsters get killed; dungeons are what happens when people don't or can't use their caves or structures anymore.

Just imagine; Little Town #42 needs iron, starts mining iron. When they don't need iron from the mine anymore, either because they've secured a better supply, or their need has diminished, they abandon the mine; it's only a matter of time until some baddies take it as a lair, no?

Or how about this... Littletownians start mining the iron, and soon discover a precious mithril deposit. If the word gets out that there is mithril in Little Town's mine, they might get in trouble; they will need to hire guards to protect the precious metal, or risk some evil overlord taking over the mine for his own needs; then they would have an overlord with mithril to fight, which is significantly harder.

So yeah, player-created dungeons aren't really create, they just happen. Think carefully next time you start a mine, it might get taken over someday.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Skills of a Leader

So the game lets you create characters with pretty much any skill combination you want. That's good; but what about people who's skills aren't character-based? Take a leader, for example; a king or a general. Their skills, of maintaining a kingdom and leading troops, are mostly that of the players, not the characters.

What skills does a general have to take to be considered a general? In truth, not much. You would want the Leadership skill, of course, and a few skills like Tracking and Siege Weapons could be of use, but beyond that, it's all about character development. You could take Mounting and Holy and make a Paladin; you could take theoretical skills and be a scholar; or you could take Necromancy and Curses, and lead your troops simply by their fear of you.

That of course leads to the facts that a leader doesn't have to be a high-roller. Pretty much anyone with a tactical mind and strategy skills can be a leader; they don't even need actual game experience, they're just there for their sparkly mind.

Of course, a leader without fighting skills wouldn't last long in case of defeat; I guess there is a point to taking fighting skills, then...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Endgame? What Endgame?

Over at Tobold's, there an interesting article about endgame in Lord of the Rings Online which, apparently, sucks. Tobold goes to say that this comes to no surprise, as every endgame necessarily sucks. I propose that this doesn't have to be.

In a linear MMORPG, where persistence is moved aside in favor of grinding and levels, then sure, the endgame has to be bad. You programmed your game to have a big stone wall called 'level cap' at the end, of course players will get hurt. What a game really needs to have a good endgame is an open player battlefield with persistent battles.

When you move away from the safety of NPC-protected zones, there's a whole world just needing to be conquered. There, players can acquire bits of land and, together with their associates (often called guildmates), they will found villages, towns and cities that rival those of whatever NPC royalty they happened to start in. Of course, in these parts, anything can happen (which pretty much insures that anything WILL happen), so these towns will not be safe. People playing evil characters will not hesitate to attack, pillage and raze cities; and so will good characters likewise attack and conquer evil cities.

How is this different than normal PvP endgame? The keyword is persistence. Sure, in the normal game, when you kill that wererat lord, he's gone, but soon enough some other beasties will find the lair attractive and you'll have to see how hostile he is all over again. In the so-called endgame (Because there's nothing forcing you to go to war once you're powerful - and nothing preventing you from going monster-slaying again if you go to war), when you successfully attack an enemy city, they'll have a hard time taking it back - which means you made a significant difference. The world is now a little bit more in your favor because of it. That's persistence.

And that, kids, is how you make an endgame that doesn't suck.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Can an elite MMORPG be financially successful? An elite MMORPG is one made for people who would consider themselves to be elites - people with more money than time, who don't mind using their brains and don't like having to spend screen time with the leet-speaking youngsters. An MMORPG for the elite would have a greater monthly cost, and most likely implement many of the ideas this weblog has exposed.

With a cost of, say, 20$ per month, you're keeping away many of the people who are looking at World of Warcraft and your MMORPG, but you also make more profit from the game; if the game is good enough that enough people want to pay that extra 5$ per month to kill baddies (or maybe sew tunics), then you might still make a profit; that, of course, wouldn't stop your eager fans from comparing the MMORPG to its lesser brothers.

For an MMORPG to really be considered elite, though, gameplay would have to be elite as well. Gamers should feel threatened when going adventuring, otherwise it's not really elite. They should never feel that the game is easy, even when it is, because they come to the game for a challenge, and challenges and grinding are mortal enemies.

Can it really exist, though? Are the 8 million subscribers of World of Warcraft really role-players, or are they simply in for the feeling of accomplishment of grinding levels in an addictive game? The latter would certainly not want a difficult game, let alone a challenging one. What do you think? Would you play such an elite game?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Undead Play Concept

So, hopefully, everyone knows about monster play by now. If not, go check the LotRO web site right now. I can wait.

Good. Now, I think everyone would agree that monster play is a great concept; it lets people be antagonists without making evil characters themselves, thus everyone gets to be a good guy in the end. It's a such a great idea, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised if we were to see similar concepts emerge in the coming years. With a little luck, undead play could be it.

Undead play is different from monster play in many ways. First of all, everyone starts the same, or very similar, as an incorporeal spirit. Those spirits are tasked, obviously, with killing the living creatures that step into their territory. By killing such creatures, the spirits can claim the parts of their bodies that were moderately undamaged, and use them on themselves to become corporeal; for example, a spirit managing to kill an enemy could decide to take only its head, and become one of those flying-head undeads. Or they could take whatever part is still in good condition and bring them back home to store for later use. When enough body parts are assembled, they create their new bodies; perhaps they'll simply stay human-like, or perhaps they'll add an extra torso and set of legs for mobility. They could also decide to go all-in and build a real monster, using extra parts as layers of armor. Taking bodies back isn't easy, however, and would leave the spirit vulnerable. If they killed enough people before, they might be able to summon a lesser spirit to carry the body for them.

For the undeads, the goal is clear : they have to kill everything in their path, no matter what it is. They are dominated only by their hatred of the living and need not worry about such things as material possessions, or even death.

For the living, it's simply a matter of security; they cannot let the undeads invade their lands, or the civilians would quickly become preys, leaving the undeads with better bodies to fight the forces of good with. If we assume that there is no perma-death for the characters, and since the undeads do not loot the dead bodies, there is little risk to going to the front, and they might luck out with undead essences or whatnots for their use.

For the living, equipment could matter. Holy water and sanctified weapons would help greatly in destroying the undead; holy symbols and explosives could insure that the enemy does not get bodies upon their eventual defeats.

Likewise, the undead could choose between a variety of powers to use, some of which coming at the cost of living essences collected from the deceased (The currency of undeads). Fire spirits could appear as flames, and ghostly spirits be almost invisible. Zombies would be expendable militias, summoned from the undead's own body reserves, while monstrous brutes would come into battle with defensive enchants.

As the battle rages on, significant points could be taken or destroyed by either side, pushing back the enemy forces. Undeads being pushed back would benefit from greater supernatural support from the proximity to their home. The living have only the desire to defend themselves as a protection, and hopefully more people would be attracted to the fight if it gets too close, perhaps motivated by a shorter walk, or bounties on undeads defeated.

In the end, it doesn't matter who wins or who loses. What matters is that people get a way to beat up each other silly, without forcing anyone in the role of bad guys.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Scroll Writing!

Scroll writing is when a character takes some of their own magical power and infuses it into a scroll for later use. It is not enough to infuse the power, however, one must also write the runes on the scroll that will make it stay and become usable later.

Scroll writing

The mage begins by assembling the power to be infused in the scroll; this is done with a minigame similar to enchanting's magic-catching game.

When enough power is caught, it can be placed in the scroll; this is done by 'painting' the scroll with the proper magical colors, all the while staying as close as possible to the desired pattern.

Finally, you have to write the runes that will make the spell stick to the scroll until they are read. Patterns will be presented to the character, and they must reproduce them as closely as possible.

All-in-all, not a bad game, though it might require a bit of patience and dexterity. You'll just be happy when you can cast that spell on your foes.

With this, the week of tradeskills is concluded; while I haven't touched nearly all the skills and games possible, this should give a good example of how one can implement games that are simple and fun without forcing programmers and designers into another all-nighter.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


"Fishing?", you say? How can I make fishing actually interesting? You might recall that World of Warcraft had one of the least engaging fishing minigames (Click on the floater when it bobs), and that lead to a bad impression of the fishing trade to the role players at large; it doesn't have to be so. Fishing has been implemented successfully before, with the Breath of fire series as a prime example. Fishing CAN be fun!


The basic fishing game is a two-parter; first you set your equipment, choosing the pole, lure, bait, floater and/or sinker, then throw the line. In shallow water, you might be able to see shadows of fishes, which helps considerably, but most fishing will be done the traditional way : throw the line and wait for a fish to bite. Hopefully, this is shorter in an MMORPG than in real life.

The second part of fishing happens when a fish bites; the player has to wrestle the fish back to shore. Good physical stats will help against bigger fishes, and so will better equipment. The player has to pull when the fish is tired, and relax when the fish is pulling. You get the fish when you manage to pull it all the way to shore.

Of course, there's more to fishing than fishing poles. Net fishing exists, too, but it's harder and more expensive. For net fishing, you need a boat (or a choke point near land). You go at large and try to spot schools of fish; then you throw your net down, and try to catch as many of them as possible before pulling the net. You probably won't get record fish sizes that way, and some areas might be net-proof, but at least you'll feed the family (and perhaps your guild's families as well).

The third and final fishing game is done with a spear or harpoon; the player stands on the side of a fishable area, typically a river, where the fishes have to come close, and then try to hit fishes with the spear; this is similar to a bear trying to catch his lunch (And might be playable if, say, the player is polymorphed as a bear). This game can also be played underwater, if the player can breath there long enough; it's easier to spot fishes within water, but you'll also be easier to spot and avoid.

With three different games to play for potential fishermen, here's hoping people will demand better fishing games pretty soon. A one-click game isn't exactly the most engaging event in a player's life.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Forging a sword is not an easy one to translate to gaming. It primarily consists in hitting the blade until it takes the desired shape, then adding the hilt and other extra parts; not something that sounds overly fun to play, but it should be possible to make a game more interesting than 'watch the bar fill up'.


The first part of smithing consists in heating the material, which is then sent into a mold. Metals too hot or too cold can affect the quality of the item, and may make other parts of the minigame harder to play.

Then comes the shaping of the blade. The player is presented with an overview of the shape the item is to take, and must hit the metal until it is roughly the right shape; making the item the right thickness decreases overall forging time.

You might have to cut away some parts, to obtain the desired shape. Cutting is done simply by following a pattern with the mouse.

Now, that's not exactly everything there is to smithing. Many items will require polish to last longer, or the need for annealing may mean the item will have to be shaped more than once. And of course, if you're making a chain mail or scale mail, or perhaps just a pick axe or key, the process could be completely different. Smithing is a complex art, and might require a more complex game than other trade skills.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Teaching is an odd thing; it's a tradeskill where more than one person has to work towards the same goal : educating the uneducated. It's a cooperative minigame, where the results are based on both the results of the teacher and the results of the students, so it's hardly 'wait and watch the free skill increases'.


Before the teaching starts, the teacher has to prepare his material; this is done in a kind of hide-and-seek game, where relevant materials are hidden among irrelevant ones. Once time runs out, or enough material has been found, the course proper can start.

Class takes different looks, depending on what it is about (blackboard teaching for regular classes, practical work for some trade skills, or maybe training dummies for combat classes). The teacher has to make sure students stay aware by concentrating their attention on them, and make sure the class progresses at a decent pace.

For students, the system is similar; they first need to find what they will need for the class, just as the teacher does.

The second part, however, is different; they will need to play some kind of tetris with the information they get. If they play poorly, the teacher has to give them attention to lower their 'field'; if they play well, the class as a whole progresses better, since they don't take the attention of the teacher. As well, the students get some bonuses too; if they notice that another student close to them isn't doing well, they can try giving them help directly. In a way, this is a cooperative tetris-like game.

Now, some may oppose to a player's result being tied in to another player's capacities, but that is essentially what happens in group adventuring in MMORPGs; if one player plays poorly, the whole group suffers. The most important thing, in the teaching minigame, is the skill of the teacher; poor teachers would get smaller classes if their name isn't well-seen, while a good teacher would be known enough that students will come from far and wide to attend his top-notch classes. Likewise, a top-tier teacher could be entitled to refusing certain students they deem unworthy of their attention. Good sensei don't teach neophytes; that's what introductory classes are for.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Weird stuff, that, enchanting. You have to put magic into an item and make sure it stays there, despite all else. But how does one go into enchanting an item? Well, glad you asked! (Because otherwise, I'm post-less on this tradeskill week).


First, you make sure you collect all the ingredients for the enchanting. Some enchantings will require only the basic enchanter set, available at every magic mart near you; others will require uncommon items, to be quested for (or paid for) by the enchanter.

Once you've done this, you have to perform rituals to catch the magic proper. This could take many forms, but most likely would be a color-block game. Everyone likes those, right?

Once this is done, you get to the enchanting proper. First, you grab some magical power from the reserve. Then, magical patterns are given to you, and you have to reproduce them with the magics available; if you run out of magic, you take some more from the stock.

With the enchanting done proper, you have to make sure the enchant stays. You will see the magic escaping from the item, and have to patch magic holes with your own mana reserves; if your reserves run out, either take something to replenish them or wait for them to replenish. The better you patch the holes, the quicker the enchant will implant into the item and the faster you can be done with the enchanting.

Now, thinking about it, I come to realize that enchanting would kick major behinds as an all-in-one game. You play all the games at once, catching magic when you run out, and patching the leaks before they become too big. The better you play the games, the closer you get to the pattern and the faster you fix leaks, the stronger would be the enchanting. Is this bad, though, asking for player skills in an MMORPG?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Alchemy's a weird thing. At its base, it's just like chemistry, but you have to acknowledge that alchemy is supposed to be magical; making it just like chemistry would make it lose its 'magically unknown' charm.

So I'm going to try to make a game that's a lot like chemistry (Don't go looking, I haven't done chemistry), but which also has magic-like elements.


The first game of alchemy is choosing what you want to make. Borrowing from the Elder Scrolls series' Morrowind and Oblivion, you do this by picking ingredients until you are satisfied with the predicted result.

Some ingredients might require preparation; it's cooking all over again! Or maybe part of it. You have to play Dance Dance Revolution, keyboard-style, with the ingredients.

Then you choose amounts. You are presented with the requirements in weight of a certain recipe. Using a scale and some sets of weights (More expensive weights will be more precise, meaning you have to guess between-weights amounts much less), you have to pick the right amounts of ingredients presented to you.

Then you place everything in a pot. Easy, right? Not so much; you have to place them in the right order, stir, shake and keep the fire just right. It's not easy being a mad alchemist, but once you're done with this, you have some potions you can play with.

Some? Yes, well, it would be kind of silly to make just one potion and drop the rest of the cauldron, right? So you make many at once. This means that making potions is not a small enterprise.

Now, some potions, like food, might not require every step, or be so short to make it would be silly to play the game fully. When that happens, you don't get penalized for playing bad and not reaching the end faster; the game simply ends. You don't want the game to take longer than if the person had decided not to play it at all.

Well, that should be enough for alchemy. Maybe I'll do enchanting tomorrow. That sounds interesting enough.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Before I start crafting, I have to explain what my criteria are for picking a certain minigame. They are :
- Minigame must be fun. I wouldn't consider it a game if there was no fun to be had by playing it.
- Minigame must be challenging. If it's not challenging, then you might as well not have a game, since everyone would get pretty much the same results.
- Minigame must be hard to automate. I know fun minigames shouldn't need to be automated, but if a bot can outperform a person, then I want to at least make it hard to MAKE a bot for the game.
- Finally, the minigame must reflect the crafting in progress. A lot of the crafting skills have real-world counterparts, and those that don't can either have a parallel to real world, or have rules made up that need to be followed.

With that being said, here comes the first crafting skill.


The cooking minigame is a multi-part one; not all cooking recipes will use all parts, but these parts constitute the maximum in term of minigame playability.

First, you prepare the ingredients. That includes cutting, dicing, pureeing or otherwise modifying ingredients as long as necessary. To do this, the player is given instructions coming at them at high speed, and they must try to follow them as best they can; those who played dancing games would recognize the formula, and it should be easy enough to understand by most. You just press the four direction keys, with a few extra keys (Numbers, maybe, or perhaps clicking) once in a while to change the instrument.

Then, you prepare the dough. This is done by reading the recipe booking (potentially with simple captcha, in the form of ink stains and spilled food) and scooping the ingredients with the proper instrument. If the recipe requires one cup of something, then you take the 1-cup cup and try to take as close to the right amount as necessary. A skillful cook will get it right almost every time, and thus save time cooking.

After the dough is prepared, you cook it. When the dough is in the oven, you have to watch the fire and make sure it's not too cold or too hot. You can open the oven to let the heat out (Though you risk damaging your recipe) or add fuel to the fire. You also have to watch the dough to take it out when it's ready.

After it's cooked, you can add ingredients. You are presented with an image of the resulting food, and have to come as close to it as possible. In a cake, for example, this means adding the frosting equally everywhere, and the decoration, for example fruits or chocolate, as indicated. Some recipes, say, a pizza, could require you to put these ingredients in before you take the recipes to the oven.

Once you're done with any number of these games, the food is ready. Enjoy the meal, knowing it was created with your hard work (By opposition to your hard waiting for the bar to fill up).

Now, as I mentioned before, crafting minigames should be optional. One ought to chose a minigame they can more easily relate to and excel at, but it doesn't mean that they are barred from a crafting skill if they don't possess the related player skills. The game will just be a little more boring if they choose not to play it fully.

See, cooking is easy! Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for the next crafting skill.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Week of Crafting

Starting Monday of next week, I will be publishing ideas daily of crafting skill minigame implementations. I will give examples of how minigames could work, and how those ideas tie in to the real world counterparts of those crafts, when appropriate. I hope I can get players' imaginations kick-started on a game they might want to play simply for the excitement of crafting skills...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Recognition to MMORPGs

If MMORPGs are to get the recognition they so badly need, we have to get rid of the stereotype that MMORPGs do not require skills. Ideally, however, the skills required would not be ones that put avid gamers at an advantage; reflexes, dexterity and perfect memorization shouldn't be overly involved, but instead replaced with reasoning, strategies and understanding. An MMORPG player who understands the world around him and reacts wisely to changing situations is one who, while maybe not able to trade rockets with the best of kids, can explain the difficulties of his game, and how his role plays an important part in the grand scheme of things.

Now, I say that dexterity and reflexes shouldn't be overwhelmingly involved, but I understand that they can add important aspects to the game. Stealthing people, for example, could be required to hop from shadow to shadow, or perhaps rooftop to rooftop; their combat would be faster-paced than average, and opponents who cannot react quickly could be at a disadvantage; that is to be expected of people who choose a job requiring such finesse.

Crafting, on the other hand, could, in certain cases, require a lot of dexterity; if tradeskill minigames are to mirror their real world counterparts (when we're not talking about magical crafting), they should ideally require the same skills from the players. Intelligence and planning are other traits that can be required for crafting.

If we, as players, fans, perhaps developpers, but before all gamers, can imagine an MMORPG that allows us to say "Yes, my game is challenging, but I like it that way", we would certainly have come a long way from the over-simplifying days of yore. It's what we need, to feel good about our hobby; a reason to play that doesn't involve the infinite acquisition of power.

Addon: It seems a recent post dealing with that aspect has attracted some attention. You can read the comments at Kill Ten Rats' forums.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Someone Else's Idea

I don't have the monopoly on ideas, wouldn't you know, and my brother recently came up with a concept that could warrant being further analysed. His idea is derived from LotRO's monster play system, which makes players take the role of bad guys; but instead of gaining intangible points that can be used to boost the player's game experience, monster players (or any other similar concept of opposition) get extra time added to their subscription; a player could play the game for free, if they play as monsters a lot.

This concept of paying the player to play the theoretically more boring aspect of the game would create a game where people who have more time and less money (traditionally called "kids") could still play the game, enjoying it for free (or cheaper), while helping to create a better game experience for those who are ready to pay the full price so they can play whatever they want to play. (Some would also argue that keeping kids out of the grown-up playground means paying customers get an overall more mature game to play).

Of course, one has to be careful just how far the gap between Elite and Free Play players extends. Too much of it, and you end up with a game that's not actually fun to play for the time extension part, and nobody wants to play it.

Or you could have a game that's focusing on tiered play even more; Savage has proven that the RTS and FPS styles can mix, but what about going further? You could make a game that's free to play for FPS players, requires a valid cd-key for RTS players, and has a monthly fee for the all-encompassing Civilization-like game, where battles are fought in the RTS-and-FPS game.

I might have derived a bit from the original MMORPG concept, but tiered play is certainly something to watch, if anything so that we don't become meals for the Elite users ourselves.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

User-Generated Content

It has been said before, the future of gaming is in user-generated content. By allowing users to create and vote on content generated by other users, developers can increase their art database tremendously, with the only cost being the user-generation system itself.

Of course, you can have a good crafting system, which would keep players occupied for a while, but they will eventually demand - and create - more. You can give them the chance to create their own PARTS of their own items, by giving them, say, a sub-item crafting. Or they could create new haircuts by missing parts of different haircuts. Create their own blade by taking the sharpness of one, the shape of another and perhaps the point of a third. Or create their own sleeves with the basic shape of one, the size of another and the fringes of that other one.

But what if they could do more? Second Life may not be as popular as certain journalists would want us to believe, but it has shown that user-generated content can be quite powerful in attracting attention and talent.

Players don't want to create something for nothing, though. How do we reward artists who use their own time to better the game? Free game time is of course a possibility, as are in-game rewards. Monopoly on their creation could be a great insensitive, as it would mean that those who create something great get rewarded accordingly.

Whatever the reward is, it must be allowed to both show great creators to the world, and keep hacks and griefers away. Because for every great artist, there's ten beginners, and a hundred potential griefers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What Quests Really Mean

Quests in MMORPGs are gross derivations of the original meaning of the word, which were an enormous investment in time (Think quest for the Holy Grail); today, you go questing for lettuce to get sandwiches, and learn new spells by walking between two people who are too lazy to do it themselves.

Quests, if even they are to be called that, should have a broader range, a longer input, and perhaps a larger participating population. You could put as a quest to eradicate the local zombie population, or to supply the blacksmiths with the materials they require; anything that needs to be done, as long as it has some relevance and importance. Those missions, however, can't be done by a player alone, nor in an evening's play time. Players will have to form group and communicate in order to achieve their objective, and the spoils of the actions would be split according to each player's acts during the events.

If you want to clear the orcs, you have many things to do; first, send scouts out to find out their intentions, numbers, equipment and readiness level. Once that is done, a war proper can be fought, starting by thinning their numbers with attacks on their scouting parties and quick hit-and-run strikes, or perhaps by organizing a militia from the local adventurer population, and leading an all-out assault on their camps.

Material-gathering quests would evolve similarly, with prospectors finding new minerals, and selling the locations to groups of gatherers, who would then organise camps to gather and carry resources.

With this system, any Harold Casual can come in, do what he can for the quest efforts, and get rewarded for his actions, without having a dozen more Isabelle's come behind him and slay the orc chieftain again. With a dynamic world, quests would form themselves out of necessity, and players would find reasons to put bounties on baddies, creatures or resources they need for their long-term accomplishments.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gradual Item Power Increase

Don't you find it silly that, with a strength of 59, you simply cannot use that two-handed sword, while a strength of 60 lets you swing it around wildly without getting tired? I think a softer limit to item usage would be better.

We start by renaming the minimal stat requirements for item use to optimal stat requirements. You can still use that two-hander with 59 strength, but you'll swing it slower and less efficiently. Similarly, when you hit 255 strength, you don't need to switch to a Really Big Two-Hander, you just get more out of your old sword, from being able to swing it harder and for longer periods of time.

Equipment and stats should be more separated; as long as he's strong enough to lift it, you should let little mister mage wear a chain mail armor; he just won't be able to cast many spells, as such an encumbering load would quickly get in his way. Anyone can swing a mace around and hit stuff, but it takes actual skills to get the most out of it.

Of course, this wouldn't work in a typical MMORPG, where the Sword of Ultimate Imbalance can only be acquired by killing the arch-giant, deep into mountain Grind; such a weapon could, without limits, be passed down to a new player or character, who would then become stronger than his level, simply for having it. If you do away with levels, however, and tie the capacities to use an item with the actual skills linked to that item, then you can give any of the Ultimate Imbalance set items to that new character, they just won't do him any good.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Roots of MMORPGs

For everlong as the roots of a MMORPG aren't clearly defined, the game can only find as inspiration other games of the type - copying from other MMORPGs. In truth, MMORPGs come from many different sources, which may create many different results.

If you found your MMORPG based on single-player role-playing games, you will create what amounts to a single-player RPG with many player-controlled NPCs. The goal of the game will be power acquisition, and as long as acquiring more of said power is possible, challenges will be overcome by being more powerful than them, instead of outsmarting them. Players will come to expect a linear story where they are only tokenly involved. There is a market for such MMORPGs, but they are often regarded by outsiders as being games for simpletons.

You could also base your MMORPG on human history; conflicts wouldn't be lacking, but perhaps not that many people are interested in long, boring walks punctuated by short periods of chaos. Players would, for the most part, have to play the role of simple people, doing simple (and often boring) things. Again, there might be a market for this type of game, but I honestly doubt it would be worth considering.

Of course, you can base your game on tabletop games (call it AD&D). Tabletop games have the advantage of being more open-ended, since game masters can make or break rules as they see fit; that part would be kind of difficult to implement in a computer game. Luckily, you can still do something similar, by having a very open-ended game, with few rules imposed on the players. Such a game would probably require longer development and testing time, but it is a market where competition is quite scarce.

There's other sources of inspiration, of course, but these three should cover the basics; you have to define your game at least relatively to these three, or other similar concepts, before you can move ahead and design the actual game.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Player-Created Lair

In discussing player-created towns and player-created buildings, one subject is usually missing: player-created lairs, with traps and secret doors. Of course, a complete, world-like MMORPG wouldn't be complete if you couldn't create one of those, too.

Your building doesn't need to be approved by GMs before you can build it, since you will be building it with actual materials. Make some plans, buy the materials, and set to work on your cottage, castle or cathedral; you could even create a future ruin, where explorers of the future will seek riches and fame by fighting the legions of evil/good.

You will have to choose between materials of different qualities and prices, structures of varying degrees of complexity, and perhaps traps hidden everywhere for the unwary to stumble upon (and in). You will have deadly pits, poisoned arrow traps, signal alarms and perhaps explosive runes to protect your inner sanctum, where you will await adventurers, who will go through waves after waves of your legions of doom just to kill little megalomaniac you.

Because a complete MMORPG wouldn't be complete if you couldn't be megalomaniac, right?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

On the Uses of Friends Lists

MMORPGs, by their massiveness, and their role-playingness, are close to social networks. There is still plenty to be done, however, to come close to social networks in terms of interactivity. One step in the right direction would be the addition of friends/enemies lists.

You can tell a lot about someone by who their friends are, and the same should apply to MMORPGs. If you have a griefer, content in disrupting other people's fun, they will get lots of enemies, which might be a good way for game masters to find them. On the other hand, someone who gets lots of friends is probably someone you want to group with, since he's proven many times that he's friendly, reliable, or maybe just knows how to write.

But that can't be the end of things, otherwise groups of griefers would call each other friends and get themselves good reviews. You also have to watch who someone hangs with; if someone only ever gets good reviews from people inside a small clique, who all get bad reviews from outsiders, then you can tell people that they are unlikely to want to befriend these people.

Going further, you will realize not all nice people want to associate with other nice people. Role-players will want to associate with role-players, achievers with achievers; casual players will hang with their kin, as will hardcore ones; and people with a basic grasp of grammar will want to listen to people who can likewise spell correctly, while that kind of behavior would be infuriating to Internet-spellers.

So a high friendliness rating would tell you that a person is likely to be like-minded to you, while a lower one might indicate that they are either griefers, or simply different-minded.

Of course, as always, I leave to the programming team the task of designing such a feature. Us designers can't be bothered with details such as 'feasibility'.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Role of Non-Player Characters

Friendly NPCs in MMORPGs nowadays are usually one of two things: either they're super-humans who send the player on quests they can't be bothered to complete themselves, or, more commonly, they're there to perform repetitive tasks that explicitly serve the players.

The problem with that is that NPCs don't have a purpose, a reason for doing what they do. That NPC vendor will buy any crap you send their way, no matter how useless it might be, and with only indication of price the level of the creature which dropped it. That is wrong on many, many levels.

Non-player characters should have their own purpose, which serves their own interest. They will not buy items that the players don't want, because they can only do what players can do.
NPC vendors should not be used as trash cans for players to dump their unwanted loot to. They don't need bear gallbladder. They need iron, wood, cloth, sugar and herbs, for which they will compete with the players. Should players run NPCs out of business, they will attempt to start over again, perhaps in another city, or they might offer their services for more menial tasks (Such as vendors for lazy players).

NPCs should follow the same rules that dictate the actions of players; they should have the same skill system, stats, equipment, and be governed by the same rules that govern players; NPCs simply don't pay monthly fees, so they don't mind being used for menial tasks.

When that mentality of NPCs-like-players is achieved, we can see a MMORPG that achieves a reasonable amount of immersiveness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On the Edge of Gameplay

I know I said I wouldn't talk too much about myself, but there is one particular bit of game experience which clings forever in my memory, and I think it is particularly meaningful in explaining the type of game I would like a MMORPG to be.

The setting is World of Warcraft, the Deadmines (Low-level party instance). The party is sub-optimal, consisting of a paladin as the only healer, the only one capable of casting resurrection AND the only one being above minimum level for this instance; the rest of the party was made of tanks and damage dealers (Did I ever mention how opposed to gnome warriors I am?). I was playing a rogue; this is important.

Needless to say, this was a hard win, but we progressed onward anyway, despite a large number of near-wipes. Once, the whole party, minus the paladin, was killed; the paladin saved his own life by jumping down in the water, a feat NPCs aren't smart enough to accomplish. This allowed him to climb back up and resurrect the rest of us.

Now, we cleared most of the instance, but the final boss would have been a problem. Simple tactics working best, we decided to target the boss only to get credits, ignoring its friends. The fight went on, and after much damage taken, the boss dropped; our own party did soon after. Now, the rest of the party all did their looting, taking one head of the boss each (Yes, each got one head of the human boss. That's MMORPG rules for you), except myself; so into the fight was I, that I forgot to do it. Everyone being dead, and having finished their quests, it was decided that we wouldn't be fighting through all the respawns again just so that dumb little rogue could get his quest done. Then it dawned to me that as a rogue, I could use stealth to go right through all the respawns to get to the boss.

The party disbanded (I think the paladin stayed in the party, curious to know how I did; he didn't help in the sneaking part, unfortunately), and I returned again to the instance entrance. I sneaked past the encounters, feeling the adrenaline rush through, as if a single one of them saw me, it would undoubtedly be the end of me.

Long sneaking quest made short, I managed to go through the whole instance in stealth mode, all alone, and reached the boss' corpse, only to see that it had de-spawned in the mean time.


A few weeks later, Blizzard increased the de-spawn time of bosses.



So little Hexedian the gnomish rogue might not have been the best at sneaking part guards, but one thing hits me when I recall this story. I've played a character to level 50, and a couple more to mid-level; I've done Shadowfang Keep, Gnomeregan, The Scarlet Monastery, Uldaman and even ZulFarrak; I have tried a wide range of content in the game; and yet, despite all this, the one bit of gameplay that always comes to mind when I think of World of Warcraft is a failed instance run I did with a secondary character. The game I played wasn't even part of World of Warcraft's intended gameplay; the quest to sneak past all the guards didn't exist, yet it might be the most enjoyable moment of all my WoW history.

I think MMORPGs should have more Hex the rogue moments, where the events that happen are what players make of them, not what was scripted to happen. Gameplay will emerge by itself if you let it do so, and do not constrain the game with artificial limitations.

I hope my story, while not the most interesting one around, at least managed to entertain you, and give some kind of idea as to what I envision of a game.