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.