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.