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.