Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Play to be Challenged

I think the biggest problems in MMORPGs today are that they aren't designed, from the start, to challenge players, but rather to give them means to gain more power. For players like me, this is wrong; I don't want to be told I'll gain new power if I kill three dozens more of those orcs. I want the game to show me a scenario, and to tell me "Ok, this is what you know, now find a way to win this." This can be achieved with reasonably truly random enemies, challenging battles or crafting games which use the players' skills.

Players like me (And I know there's a whole underdeveloped market to be exploited for our demographic) want a game where the story happens all the time; a game where 'monotony' means 'only three new enemies to wipe today'; a game where stuff actually happens, which might scare proponents of static dungeons, but would represent a seven-leagues-boots lunar-gravity leap forward for those of us for whom the bragging right of being the first to complete static dungeon #176 for the metric umpteenth time doesn't portray a perfect world.

In my unloved demographic view, a game has to have actual unpredictable elements to be considered a game, otherwise, it's just a player-paced story, revolving around yet another hero in a world of heroes.

Aaaand that's all the ramblings you will get from this weblog. I'll be back to writing insightful and revolutionary ideas next time, I promise.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rethinking the MMO

There's an awesome article down at Gamasutra about, you guessed it, MMORPGs. Go read it. You'd think that guy was a long-time reader of Thoughts of a roleplayer =P

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Skill Cooldown

Typical MMORPG behavior includes cool-down periods for skills, particularly spells, which means those skills cannot be used for a period of time after being used, presumably because the character is tired, and to prevent over-usage of a single, powerful skill. This cooldown period also exists for some items, for example potions, and is sometimes shared between skills and potions - fireball 17 has the same cooldown has fireball 1 through 16, but not as firebolt 21 or lightning ball 14. While this principle is based on a good principle, that is, to presume that casting spells tires the caster, I believe that simple cooldown does not accurately depicts exhaustion.

To more properly represent fatigue, it should be stats, not skills, which are on a cooldown. For example, we could decide that the Willpower stat is the base for short-term fatigue, with certain skills being able to increase that. For example, Gerad has an willpower of 14, and took an Arcane Lore sub-skill to increase his short-term magic pool by two. If he decides to cast a spell with an associated short-term cost of 6, he will have 10 more power points immediately available for casting more spells. Those 6 points he expended will start regenerating as soon as he's done casting, so if his regeneration isn't too low (Intelligence? Wisdom?), he will get a few more points available before the end of the fight.

To this you could add long-term fatigue, which few spells use, but regenerates slower, and perhaps some form of meditation, or cheap item buffs for regeneration (Hey, Cooking!). So with this system, you can keep lobbing fireballs as fast as you want, but you'll eventually be too exhausted to cast; it wouldn't hurt if you were ready to give those bad guys a good whack upside down the head, either. As long as you still have mana points, short- and long-term fatigue available, you'll be good enough to win another fight.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Top Ten Reason to Play This Game

Kill Ten Rats' forums have a thread asking people what the number one feature would be in a MMORPG (And of course, people don't limit themselves to one feature). So I thought I'd go ahead and tell the world what the top reasons for playing the thoughts of a roleplayer game would be.

1- Class-less, with a realistic skill system, allowing for a wide diversity of characters.
2- Customized crafting system, allowing players to decide exactly what they want to create.
3- A large, ever-changing world to explore or shape to your will.
4- Realistic everything, from combat and crafting to stealth and NPC creatures' lives.
5- Plenty of interesting non-combat activities, including trade skill games and other mini-games.
6- Grind-less combat advancement through the increased challenge and decreased number of opponents.
7- Non-static magic system, allowing for players to create their own spells from lists of acquired magical knowledge.
8- Advanced golem crafting, supplementing the already numerous ways of acquiring companions.
9- Complete guild system, allowing for a guild to have the advantage of both a small, friendly guild and a large corporation.
10- And finally, no monthly fee!
Ok, that last one might just be over-wishful thinking. Besides, monthly fees help keeping griefers away; you don't want griefers to create a hundred hotmail-backed accounts

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Typical Adventuring

So, what would typical adventuring look like in a non-WoW MMORPG? When things are more logical, when there's not a dozen NPCs with giant golden exclamation marks over their heads, just begging for the thousandth player to come by and give him some murloc eyeballs. You might be lucky and find a local farmer - PC or NPC - who needs some wildlife taken away from his farm; you might have a teacher tell you to go elsewhere for education; or you or your guild might acquire enough of a notoriety that that local constables or interest groups come to you for safety assurance or component retrieval. Chances are, however, that unless you're ready to start from the bottom to acquire the trust of your fellow characterians, you'll have to make do with slaying evil without any shiny from the local monarch at the end.

For regular adventuring, there wouldn't be much to discuss. Players would track and take out targets as they see fit, be they food- and leather-bearing wildlife or evil invaders (Or maybe not-so-evil bystanders). Then someone comes across something noteworthy; perhaps a dragon has migrated in a cave nearby, or some evil creatures or cult has emerged and is getting prepared to wreak havoc on unsuspecting villagers and needs to be stopped. Either way, the adventurer has found something that he cannot do alone, and he will call upon friends and countrymen for help. Together, be they a handful or a hundred, they will discuss tactics and strategies, in hope of protecting that which is dear to them, because, in this game your actions count, and your inaction could cost lives - virtual ones, but lives nonetheless.

So they enter the stronghold, with the plan in mind, and contingencies accounted for; and when the plan inevitably dies, and contingencies are unprepared to deal with what lies ahead, they must improvise to the best of their abilities; because there is no telling what you will face, no help to know what your opponent has prepared but the means you have at your disposition, be they stealth, divination or whatnot.

And when the enemy lies defeated, allies resurrected and evil schemes thwarted, the loot can be distributed, the farewells be said and the portals home opened. Satisfied with having saved the world (Or perhaps their locality), the heroes can take care of business as usual.

Come to think of it, this sounds a lot more like a tabletop game then a typical MMORPG. Is it bad to dream of such thing?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Not WoW

Having recently tried Lord of the Rings Online, as well as reading reviews of it, I often heard people commenting, both positively and negatively, that the game is too much like World of Warcraft. On the one hand, some people like that fact that the interface and general gameplay are similar to that of World of Warcraft; on the other hand, people complain that the interface and gameplay are just rip-offs of World of Warcraft.

Now, as far as MMORPGs go, WoW has what people want; while it is certainly not the best MMORPG possible, it seems to have hit close to a local maximum (That is, the best you can get considering certain premises, like a class-based system). For a MMORPG to be very different from World of Warcraft, it would have to be very innovative in many ways, because, within the (albeit very large) niche of players who want class-based grindfests monster bashing, World of Warcraft has done very well, and there is little left to add. Games like the Lord of the Rings Online just have to change what they can and hope that the LotR theme will be sufficient to make the game profitable. Because, really, the only things LotRO can offer to fans of the genre is a story based around the sagas of the ring-bearer and a different world for those who have exhausted their WoW capacity.

It's not say that LotRO is bad; it's really well-done and polished, and I expect there will be very little need for patches after launch, which is certainly a very welcome change from what MMORPGs want people to get used to. You won't pay to beta-test LotRO (Unless you pre-order and get to play the pre-release game, but meh, you know to expect if you do that, and that is to actually get to keep your character after launch. Tobold said it best). But you won't need to learn how the game works if you've played WoW, which is a blessing and a curse.

Now, the point here is not to lament the lack of innovation in LotRO; Turbine thought that a class-based system would work best for Lord of the Rings Online, so they stuck to a WoW-like system of questing, monster-bashing and leveling. The real problem is that people will keep comparing LotRO to WoW, completely missing the fact that MMORPGs existed before WoW. MMORPGs have a rich and diverse history, and the fact that WoW was so popular simply means that they hit the demands of the market at the time with great accuracy.

What we need now, though, more than ever, is a game that can be defined not only as being not WoW, but as not being WoW (Take a moment to think about it). With LotRO, I think the market will hit the limits of how much of the same people can take, and the next big thing could very well be a game that shows more innovation than fans of the genre dared hope for. We don't need another UO, another EQ, SWG or DAoC; we need a game that can only be compared to itself. We've endured hack-and-slashes long enough to deserve that, right?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Flexible Voodoo Science

Three new skills added to the skills list : Voodoo, a new type of magic; Science, a theoretical skill, and Flexible Weapons, which isn't a new form of damage, but includes whips, flails and nunchakus.