Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Currency

Forget gold pieces, platinums, dollars or even buckazoids; give me shinies.

That is all.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mabinogi Review

Mabinogi is an MMORPG developed by the Korean game corporation, Nexon (Also responsible for the popular platformer MMO, Maple Story). The medieval-fantasy setting of Mabinogi is certainly nothing to write home about, but where the game shines is with the core game mechanics, which lie a long step ahead of the competition in term of player interaction. One's success in the game is actually largely influenced by the skills and knowledge of the player.

Taking combat as the first example, by picking the correct skill to use against an enemy, a skillful player can overcome an enemy much more powerful than themselves; conversely, one who does not understand or has not mastered the combat system will often fail, even against enemies of a fraction of their level. The combat system itself is quite complex, and requiring a lot of time to fully understand, but it revolves around a rock-paper-scissor system, which is shared by the players and enemies alike - although some enemies do enjoy some natural abilities outside of the normal combat skills. Magic is done in a similar manner, and choosing between fire, lightning and ice, each having their own distinct effects, can determine the positive or negative outcome of a battle.

Player advancement takes the form of levels, skills and attributes. Levels are what could be expected of an MMORPG, with the exception that level alone does not determine much of a player's survival abilities. While gaining a level does grant increased attributes and the highly-coveted ability point (AP), it is not, by itself, a one-way trip to great power and adulation. Levels simply help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. The second form of advancement, skills, are simply a more advanced form of skill levels from other MMORPGs. One advances skill by spending the aforementioned AP, available upon leveling, completion of some quests and aging (More on that later). Skills, however, must be trained before being increasable, either through usage, studying, or both, where appropriate. Characters have no strict classes, and are given the choice of picking as many or as few skills as they like; increasing skills, in most cases, requires exponentially more AP, meaning that mastering many skills (getting the rank 1, with ranks going from F to 1, in a reverse hexadecimal numbering system) would require lots of dedication and knowledge from the player. Finally, attributes are the stats that determine the exact outcome of most actions; high strength means more melee damage, high intelligence better magic, high luck more item drops, etc. Attributes are increased through leveling, increasing skill levels, aging and dieting... well, food consumption, at any rate. You can eat meat all day, and it WILL increase your strength - by a small amount - but it will also most likely make you fat, with your character's appearance matching the part. Luckily, gaining or losing weight does not otherwise affect a character.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the 'life' skills, skills not directly related to combat. You can gain skills like cooking, smithing, enchanting, campfire and resting (which allows you to sit - you don't otherwise have the knowledge of the arcane magic of "sitting"). Of these, the main production skills include a small minigame, using the player's skill to determine, in part, the outcome of the production; cooking, for example, requires that the player select the proportions of the ingredients, using a fuzzy and somewhat unpredictable minigame, meaning that more skillful and experienced players will create better food, which allows for better temporary attribute boosts and, in the case of exceptionally good food, short cutscenes showing the character's level of appreciation for the food.

Players also have access to musical instruments, allowing them to play music in the game; in conjunction with the music composition and music theory skills, the instrument playing skill allows the player to play whatever song they can create, from great classics to the anime-du-jour's theme song.

Also interesting to note is the character's age, which plays a great part in determining the type of game the player will be confronted with. Characters can start between the ages of 10 and 17, with 10-years-old characters having lower starting attributes, but gaining them faster over time; this means that experienced players who start at a younger age will end up stronger than their older counterparts. However, attributes increases on leveling up are not flat, but dependent on a character's age, so starting at age 10 might be better for, say, increasing one's luck, but their intelligence will not increase upon leveling up until they get older, meaning that mages will be at a disadvantage if they decide to level up at a lower age. Age also determines a character's height, from short 10-years-old to adult characters (those of age 18 or above).

There would be much more to talk about here, but I believe the point is made; this game is, I believe, along the path of evolution for the MMO genre, propelling the genre forward with convention-shattering mechanics which would make gaming philosophers red with shame. Any real MMO enthusiast owe it to themselves to try this game at least once, and with the coming of the 'first generation' (G1) update, there is now much to do in Mabinogi (Although we can only hope that the game will be able to catch up with its Korean counterpart, which has been enjoying more advanced features for years now).

On a final note, the game is free to play, with additional features available through the cash shop. Pets and fluff items are planned, but most importantly, the characters cards are available, which allow one to either create an additional character on an account (Limited to one initially), or rebirth an existing character, re-setting their age and attributes (Except attributes from skills) and optionally changing their appearance, but keeping the character's skills. At high level, rebirthing is the only viable way to increase skills, since APs are slower to come by the more your character gains age and levels. This way, one can pay to increase their character's power, which acts similar to an optional monthly cost that increases the rate of power gain.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Concentration as a Resource

Last time, I mentioned that getting hit could temporarily reduce your concentration. One is in their right to ask; what, exactly, does concentration do?

In the Real Life MMORPG, concentration is what allows you to keep track of what's in your head. Better concentration will allow you to solve more complicated problems, avoid distractions and ignore annoying people. In an MMORPG trying to emulated this all-time favorite, concentration would be a resource, which gets filled with what you do.

Say, you're a sword fighter; a barbarian. You don't have much to think about... The foe is over there, try to hit him while he doesn't hit you. If you start fighting defensively, you start concentrating on your opponent's moves, trying to find an opening. Your concentration is fully taken by your opponent. But what if some idiot starts throwing rocks at you? You can either ignore them, or try to avoid them; either way, it's going to start eating at your concentration. Fighting more opponents means you have less time to dedicate to beating them to a pulp.

What if your barbarian is also a tamer? You can send your pet panther at the village idiot, but that would mean you have to give orders, and you have to make sure the pet isn't doing anything bad. Overseeing minions does take away from your concentration.

What if you also have a friend with you? Your trusty mage sidekick is behind you, tossing pain and destruction at your mutual opponent, while relying on you to defend him. You have to keep between the friends and the foes, lest the friends start looking for a new meat shield. Concentration is taken away, once again, by having to worry about something. A tank you may be, but you're a tank with lots on his mind. Now you really wish you had paid more attention in those meditation lessons.

The concept would be the same for a magic-user. The spells you cast will take away at your concentration, and gosh forbid you should cast a continuous spell; simply keeping into effect would take parts of your concentration away, not to be recuperated until the spell is gone. Of course, you can always customize the spells you use to fill exactly as much concentration as you need them to, but that doesn't mean the system is any easier on you.

Keeping track of every effect affecting concentration may be more complicated than what the average gamer is used to, and with today's attention spans at an all-time low, one would be better off picking one role, and sticking to it. Sure, you can learn all the skills you want, but don't expect to marsh in the middle of armies, completely invincible. Sooner or later, your concentration will be overwhelmed, and you will fall. Hard.