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?