Appealing to Your Customers

If you're a highly technical website providing information and help for guru-level users, you can't generate revenue off of pop-up or banner advertisements. You just can't. I mean, you can post ads on your site, but they'll never get viewed.

The idea is that the most basic user uses the default web browser with the default settings. Therefore, to appeal to basic users, you need only adapt your strategy around the obvious settings. Advanced users, however, have likely discovered alternative web browsers and add-ons to modify webpages as they like. They're willing to invest in their web-browsing future and have the knowledge and resources to do so. Advertisements won't make it through their complex adblock barriers. And any attempt you might make to discourage their way of doing things will surely be labeled frivolous. In short: don't fight the people you're trying to appeal to.

However, those who would go through such lengths to get what they want are clearly educated. They would understand the concept of needing support to maintain your website. A donate button and a small paragraph about how you pay out of your own pocket for the site would more likely appeal to them.

But how do you get through to the people who have discovered adblock software but scoff at donations?

What I Want From EVE

After a brief discussion with a friend, I realized the problems I have with EVE. They're very simple, but I don't know simple or realistic they are to implement.

  • UI overhaul
  • Additional keybinds
  • Pretty space objects

UI Overhaul

This is easy to explain. There are a lot of words on my screen when I have EVE open. In no part of my life do I need words to figure out what to do next.

The only time I've ever had to rely on words to get where I'm going is in figuring out what's in my oatmeal, and that doesn't work because even though I can now pronounce Sodium Metabisulphite, I still don't know what it is. If they named every item in the grocery store after the first three ingredients in it, you'd never buy anything, because everything would be called Sugar, Water, Natural and Artificial Flavors. On the other hand, if you saw some Sugar, Water, Natural and Artificial Flavors in the shape of a soda can, you'd be like, "Oh, that's a Pepsi."

A shape that wouldn't exist without soda pop. Yet we can recall a name, flavor, sounds, and memories when simply shown a pop can. You know what we call that? Associative symbolics. Actually, I don't know what you call it, but those two words look like they fit.

Anyways, that's what EVE needs more of. I shouldn't have to click a button labeled "cargo." Instead, I should be able to click on a little picture of... I don't know, a car trunk? A treasure chest? A U-haul? It'll open up my cargo for me. And if I'm hungry: I'll click a picture of a banana.

There's also something to say about window positioning. I don't need to turn a light on in my house when I wake up during the night, because everything is going to be where I put it. Even blindfolded I bet I could walk around the house without bumping my toes. It's the same with a UI; consistent object placement makes it easier to find what we want, or to avoid it. Words unnecessary.

Additional Keybinds

I have over 104 keys on my keyboard, plus two mouse buttons and a scroll wheel. Discarding the worthless button with a windows logo on it (I have conveniently labeled it "suicide"), I still have many more buttons than EVE has useful functions to bind them to. Sure, you can bind "next track" or "pause track" from EVE's half-assed audio player to buttons, but I can't bind "target nearest asteroid" or "lock on nearest enemy." What's the point of not allowing those? Seeing the enemy drawing nearer isn't difficult; deciding if you want to fight or just get the hell out isn't difficult either, the hardest part is clicking their name or navigating through forty drop down menus to flee. First person to carpal tunnel wins?

Pretty Pictures

Space, in real life, is big and black. Space, in EVE, is big and black. In real life, there's nothing to do in a spaceship (one reason why NASA isn't spending billions putting people in space anymore, because robots are cheaper and can get more done). In EVE, there's nothing to do in a spaceship. But that far in the future, shouldn't bejeweled come installed by default in all newly serviced ships?

I would like EVE more if I didn't have to look at it. Which is, mostly, how I used to play it. Issue the commands then alt-tab to something more interesting, like Actually, scratch that; I'de rather stare at black space than endure unbiased news.

The Hypocrite Situation

The only problem I found with Blizzard's RealID proposal in summer '10 was the two principals on which they based their decision:

  • Giving out real life names could not harm people. Your name (and much more) is already out there online and no one has come to firebomb your house yet, right?
  • The RealID system would keep everyone on their best behavior because . . . ?

The second principle is the conundrum. The only reason someone would change their forum behavior is if behaving better would be rewarded or if behaving badly would be punished.

There was one additional feature they announced with RealID: the ability for players to up- or down-rank forum threads in order to promote the thought-out discussions and hide the "nerf paladins!" troll trash. This leaves us with two distinct possibilities as to why Blizzard thought we would behave:

  • Reward: Speaking clearly, precisely, and arguing valid points would get our thread up-ranked with a better chance to be seen by the developers.
  • Punishment: If we trolled, flamed, or spammed, we would feel publicly shamed and possibly fear for our real life safety!

But then we are assured by Blizzard that real life names on their forums aren't dangerous, and I think they're right most of the time. But most people are not rational, so they're probably also irrational enough to feel such frivolous emotions as "shame" for expressing a valid idea that isn't liked by the general public.

But then the rest of us, who are paranoid enough to not want our WoW accounts coming up when someone googles us, are less likely to believe that shame is a decent enough motivator/punishment to keep the trolls down.

Which leaves me with only one belief: Blizzard was attempting to use the fear of real life repercussions to moderate their forums for them. Post something unfavorable, then be afraid that your house will get firebombed.

To recap:
Irrational people are afraid of shame, so will behave themselves. Trolls and spammers are irrational, so most trolls and spammers will clean up their act or disappear.
'Beyond irrational' people (extreme trolls) will continue to troll and spam, and may pursue dangerous real life activities, posing a risk to irrational people, but not rational (see below).
Rational people won't be afraid of extreme trolls, as they take necessary precautions when safeguarding their home (locking doors, having fire escape routes, etc), and will take legal action to stop the extreme trolls. Rational people behavior will remain unchanged - which is fine since they don't troll or spam.

Meaning... RealID on the forums would have worked.

Stop Posting on Your Own Forums

And really, stop posting on other peoples' forums too. What's the deal with that?

Big companies have a habit of letting their employees browse the official forums and respond to customer complaints. This is particularly noticeable during heavy patching periods in order to gather customer grievances. And there's nothing wrong with that! The occasional "we intend to change X and Y, but Z is fine for us" never hurt anyone. But having any employees posting around like old chums to the forum regulars can give your company a rather lax appearance.

Companies that successfully pull this trick off often have a huge corporate image and a black-hearted CEO that feasts nightly on the blood of other companies' employees (mostly the ones who post on forums), so they can get away with playing both sides: the big company doing anything for a buck, and the little dev who cares oh-so-much about his pet project and will post on the forums to tell you he's working night and day to make it better! And I bet they're both telling the truth, since there's a correlation between good games and making money.

A company who doesn't have a large image runs the risk of appearing like time-wasters, whiners, and of catering to the vocal minority. You could also give away too much information about upcoming features or say something offensive if you don't have a good PR team to check over posts.

Remember: "I'll give this game a second chance because a dev posted on the forums apologizing for the flaws of the game" doesn't last much further than "my class is weak and all my spells are bugged!"


  • If you're a small company, pretend to be a big company. Release your patch notes and figures via huge press releases pushed to all the gaming sites.
  • If you're a big company, pretend to be a small company. Let little bits of information leak here or there, and the gaming sites will pick up on it without your help.

Designing Yourself Into a Hole (Falling Victim to Associative Grouping)

Sandbox. Theme park. Skill-based. Levelless. "MMORTS." Free-2-play. Hybrid. Open world. 32,000 rooms! Classless.

Declaring what type of game you're creating can be good if it gives direction. However, it can also blind you to good ideas that aren't typical in your chosen genre.

Free2play is a good example. There's a hundred different ways to model a game that costs nothing to play. The obvious one is to sell equipment, mounts, pets... further on, intangible perks ("extras"): bigger bags, a wardrobe for outfits, dye to color gear, non-combat items... and finally, just sell the game in fragments. Newbie zones are free, and every zone past there costs a payment.

Sounds good, especially considering that every content patch you release nets you a solid figure of cash. You can easily measure how much a particular part of the game is making you to figure out which parts of the game you should capitalize on. If lowbies aren't paying for bigger bags, maybe it's time to increase trash drops from the mobs they're killing, or reduce the size of all available bags to make yours look more appealing by comparison.

Of course there's a wild other option for making your game free to play: Don't sell virtual items - sell physical items.

I'm imagining a digimon style game where the cards you get in real life have unique codes that you can enter in game to suit up your virtual persona. Then, using the computer client, battle people online just like you would battle your friends in real life using the physical cards. This way, the game costs nothing to download and to start moving around in the world, but players have to buy the cards to pimp out their characters. Alternatively, you could only offer vanity items via the cards, and have the rest of the online world run like a normal MMORPG.

Of course when most people hear "F2P" they don't typically think of a physical card game supporting a virtual fantasy rpg. That's the point: Just because your game shares a label with another game, doesn't mean you have to jump in their grave.

Also note that I don't advocate selling a physical product to support your software. I think it's a bad idea, but was a good example.

Redesigning Quests for a Better MUD

Note: This is a continuation from my last post. You may wish to read that one first.

So while I'm talking about things MUDs do wrong, here's another one: quests. Though quests in MUDs are more epic, and not so much like errands, they're still extremely flawed. First of all, any repeatable 'errand' needs to be removed, and quest points also.

What I propose instead is a simpler system similar to achievements and reputation found in most graphical MMOs. Instead of getting quests from quest givers, you can see a list of all available quests at any time.

For immersion's sake, if you wish to attach it to a town-hall signpost I understand - as long as it's available throughout the game, and not just in one localized spot. The point is to remove the inconvenience of travel. In a graphical MMO, traveling can mean something, since even passing through an area gives you a taste of the zone. But in a text-based environment that's just not the way it is; so eliminate wasteful traffic as much as possible.

Back to the 'questing' topic: Having a list of checklist of goals instead of repeatable quests gets rid of the problem of players only taking the most efficient quests over and over again, or of a particular quest becoming boring. Besides, there are only so many bandit leaders; shouldn't they all be dead by now?

There could be long and short goals, such as "talk to all the town mayors" with a sublist of each town who's constable you need to talk to. (Green for completed and red for incomplete maybe?) Smaller, simpler quests could be "Kill 10 bandits and the bandit leader" coupled with "Bring three bandit insignias to the Constable of Suchandsuch Town." Items which incite hidden goals might well be available; a map used by the bandits to plan an attack could well be found at their base, and upon looking at it players would gain an incomplete goal to tell the constable of the impending attack.

It would also be a good time to implement triggered events: Upon telling the constable, an event would start where bandits spawned all around town, along with town guards, and would fight. Of course they would require player interaction to die (as NPCs resolving their own disputes is both unheard of and unfun!) and you would gain an additional complete goal for participating in a successful defense. (How you would fail the defense, I don't know. Time limit, I guess?)

Completed goals would give you a set amount of points. Most should only give 1 point to avoid inflation and the confusion of having to count your zeroes. Instead of spending points to gain items, you simply gain access to better items as you gain more goal points. That is: items are free once you gain enough points, and bound to your character.

This also helps to regulate newbies. Even a player who is bad at combat can gain a simple set of items (better than the level 1 newbie gear) by completing non-combat goals. As they gain more goal-rewarded gear, they can start to complete the simpler combat goals without feeling too overwhelmed due to lack of experience. This will help them to get used to your MUDs combat, and then they can move onto the harder, more advanced combat goals.

NPC Dialogue

Lastly, I'll touch on dialogue: Making people type "talk to Geryn" or "say Geryn quest" is stupid. Not only stupid, but clunky and it lacks immersion. It would be much more professional to give a dialogue option. "Talk to Geryn" would prompt the following:

"Good day, adventurer! Darn bandits are out in the lots today..."
0) End Dialogue
1) "What bandits? I haven't seen any bandits."
2) "Where might they be? I'll go hunt some down for you!"
3) "Serves you right - learn to hold a sword and maybe you won't be so afraid!"
4) "Do you know where I might find the town hall?"

And then you would use 0-4 to 'chat' with NPC Geryn, with 0 (or leaving the room or talking to another NPC) taking your number keys out of dialogue-lock and returning them to whatever they do ordinarily.

Edit 8/25: I found a mud that uses this dialogue system, and I'm very proud of it. I still think they're too wordy, and their use of color is appalling, but one step at a time! It also uses the combat system from my last post.

A MUD for Graphic-kids

In designing a MUD to compete with most MMOGs, one would first have to consider that text is unnecessary. I won't make a non-text MUD to prove it, but I know it is true. The reason being that our brain converts text into symbols. Our brain doesn't break apart known words into letters, it takes the whole word into the brain and finds a matching image or emotion to place with it. 'Cat' isn't read C-A-T - our brain immediately turns the letter grouping into an image. It works as well as if we put a picture of a cat on the paper instead.

The good part about text is that we can express abstract concepts, such as 'brown-furred animal.' How would you go about trying to tell someone about a brown-furred animal if all you could use were images?You could use a bear... then someone might think you meant 'bear' instead. You could create an animal that doesn't exist, draw it, and give it brown fur. There are even more issues of that which I won't get into.

But MUDs don't use images. Besides text, they use ASCII art and maps, simple coloring, player interaction, and rate of text to stimulate player responses. The first are easy to interpret, but I may need to go over the last two.

Rate of Text - By definition (as I have coined the term for this blog, I'll be defining it also) rate of text is the grouping by which a MUD server chooses to send to a client, or a client chooses to send to a MUD. A high rate of text implies that the server or client is constantly sending messages regardless of message length. On RP MUDs, where players may wish to describe detailed actions (as the purpose is often prose and beauty of textual execution), the outgoing rate of text would be low. For players in the same room as you, incoming rate of text would also be low. It is difficult to judge how rate of text will affect a player's decisions, but I can predict that a high rate in both directions would be stressful; that a high outgoing rate but a low incoming rate would feel unresponsive; and a high incoming rate with a low outgoing rate may be "just right."

Player Interaction - Another aspect which is difficult to judge due to the fact that not all players are of the same quality. Logging on a MUD late at night you're more likely to meet the 'mellow' crowd, who's idle chitter-chatter may put some relaxing vibes into your gameplay. On the other hand, logging on right after school meets you up with all of the 'I want it all and I want it all RIGHT NOW!' children (though to a lesser degree since those kids gravitate towards graphical environments). Having those players zooming in and out of your area, snagging your quest mobs, rifling through your mob bodies, then zooming out of there before you can even say hello will definitely put an edge in your gameplay. Manipulating player interaction is not something I intend to cover in this discussion.

You may observe that my predictions for both of these concepts is rather close to how you might say they'de affect a graphical MMOG. Although there certainly isn't any scientific data recorded, my observations combined with many others show that player activities are very similar between MUDs and MMOGs, likely given the similarities between the environments themselves.

Using Color as Significance

My first suggestion to make a MUD for graphic kids is to use color in an obvious and unified way, similar to how WoW icons are used. Icons with weapons are attacks. Icons with shields typically require a shield equipped. Icons of a certain coloring reflect a certain school. (See: Warlock, Mage.) Color could easily be used the same way, even amongst different classes. Your offensive attacks might be light red (along with the damage you deal, since attacks and damage are associated), your incoming attacks might be dark red. For a mage who doesn't typically use physical attacks, their spells would be color coded the same way. Defensive magic and defensive physical tactic abilities would be light blue, and possibly defense breakers and curses/afflictions would take the magenta hues. The idea is there.

Once you've associated certain colors with certain abilities (red = offensive, cyan = protective, white = healing) you can color-code mob names according to what the mob can do. An enemy cleric who can heal and cast defensive magic gets a name of blue and dark grey letters, the colors of enemy healing and defense. Then you would be able to exclude some of the descriptive text from appraising or looking at a mob, or from it's stance description. No more "A shifty-eyed, rat-nosed man flashes a dagger between his fingers, trying to keep people from noticing." Now it's just "A shifty-eyed, rat-nosed man." I don't know what dark green means, but it must mean something about daggers or sneaking, I guess, because the symbolic/subliminal messaging says he's dangerous, and then whatever green means. Meanwhile, a friendly cleric mob who'll heal you would have a white name, and a mage mob who'll buff you would have a cyan name.

Give More Useful Information To The Player

Rate of text should be adjusted to a low volume, high speed transfer. The following four individual messages could be condensed:

MOB1 turns his attack to you!
MOB1 draws his sword back to swing!
MOB1 slashes at your arm!
MOB1 misses his attack against you.


Incoming attack from MOB1!
MOB1 misses you: [0]

A simple countdown only detracts from flavor (the imagery) but in this case, the flavor was already in the way of function (filtering useless material from his attention instead of devising a plan to deal with the mob), which means players were getting a lesser game play experience on behalf of the developers wanting the world to look pretty. Rose bushes are also pretty, but are kept trimmed to the garden, and never allowed to grow onto the walkway. These 'thorny' messages should be treated the same way. (There may be an issue where attacks are incoming from two mobs simultaneously - I say this is a wide-arcing flaw with DIKU-style combat, and can be addressed by a queueing system, or any other number of small changes or large-scale makeovers.)

Expect Less From the Player

Text outgoing from a client, to the server, should also be truncated as much as possible. Whenever able, a single keystroke (then 'enter') should suffice. The keys 1, 2, 3 and 4 come to mind. A simple system where you could assign them as server-side macros would work well. This way, even bad typists with quick minds can keep up with happy-hacking fingers. So pre-combat, you assign basic sword attack to 1, basic defend to 2, magical attack to 3, and 'flee combat' to 4... and you're all set. Clearly, more will be needed, though with 26 letters, 10 numbers, and an assortment of other keys on the board, I doubt you'll run out of quick-combat keys to use anytime soon.

Edit 8/25: I found a mud that uses this combat system, as well as the dialogue system from my next post.

I Wouldn't Read It, So Don't Waste Time Typing It!

The biggest problem I see would be room descriptions. It's almost necessary to have a description, and typically colors are used here to describe a texture/'feel' of the area. If we already have colors associated with spells, someone might interpret a dark-red colored room as very bad (which could be useful, say, for a 'detect trap' skill which turns room names dark red if they're harmful and require disarming).

To solve it, I simply ask for a purpose. That is, what is the point of a room description? To point out interesting and noteworthy things. The caveat comes when you can't point out everything; some exits and objects are hidden and meant to be discovered. Though, since most room builds I know get lazy, typically a lengthy room description means they're trying to hide something, so you should look closer. The solution for this is quite simple: make finding hidden objects a character skill, not a player duty. A low level 'find hidden exits' skill with add a few lines of description that might now show up to the average joe, simply pointing out that something is amiss or such. A high level 'find hidden exits' will flat out show the exit in the direction list.

Another way of cutting bloat from rooms would be to not go into more depth than you might in a book. It's always tempting to describe an open field as something exciting to behold (which the Immortals want, in order to make each room feel unique, like there's never a dead spot) but I think it's important that plain rooms remain plain. A field of nine rooms (3x3) doesn't need 9 unique descriptions. The middle might be unique and short because it's simply a field, and the rooms along one edge might all the same, describing the change in terrain from mountain to field, and on the other side field to forest. Three, max of five descriptions for your nine rooms right there. A few extra lines in one for the 'find hidden' users to sneak into a rabbit hole, and you're done with that nonsense.

Concentrate Similarities

Alternatively (or maybe concurrently) reduce the number of available rooms and repeatable mobs. A 9-room field with a rabbit in each room could be reduced to maybe a 3-room field with three rabbits in each. Or just one or two rabbits in each, and increase their respawn rate so that you can go through them as fast as you could when there were more. The point is, one room does not need to represent one square  measurement of land. One room on a MUD could represent everything visible from a standing point. Such as having one room for a long hallway, and then another room for a perpendicular hallway, or after a turn in the hall.

There are definitely more topics here to discuss, but this is enough to think on at once, so I'll let it be.

Part 2 is available.

You're Wasting Your Time.

Lately, a number of Blizzard employees have been burning their finger muscles trying to explain things about Cataclysm that have already been explained multiple times, in as many different ways as there are rocks on this planet.

Yet, they don't give up. I find it frightening, and I shake my head. I understand that some people need things laid out for them, but does GC & Co. realize that someone who didn't read your last post about design goals probably won't read this post, either?

To me, these hit-and-run whiners are the best practical jokers. They come in, cause grief, and get out before they have to suffer any consequences, getting to have a good laugh while the blues struggle to find yet another unique way to spell out their philosophy. If you love these guys as much as I do, you're welcome to investigate The Compleat Practical Joker, which is just a long list of gags, many as fresh as the forum-whiner stunt. I got it for $1 in the used section of a Barnes and Noble.

Don't Waste Money on High Quality Graphics

Recently I've played a bit of Alien Swarm, and I think that once you've played one level, you've played them all. That doesn't mean it's boring, oh no. I still find it frightfully fun. Between the four classes each seems to have its feature that sets it apart, making them fun to play for different moods. Plus, the fact that it's multiplayer means you're often left pushing yourself harder to make up for that one guy who just couldn't figure out that fire is hot and spikes are sharp.

My concern is that all the maps look the same. It appears as though they've tried to make them unique, and each level has its own interactive gimmick, but the textures just look the same when I rush by them, missing all the detail and hard work they put into them. This is not unlike another game I've been playing on and off since it was released, Diablo II.

Yes, Diablo II's maximum graphic resolution is 800x600, yet I don't care, for the exact reason I don't care about Alien Swarm's graphics; I don't see them for long enough for it to matter. I run from here to there, the monsters become corpses, and the only time I care to look at the low-res images of my inventory is in decided what to equip or vendor, and then I'm more concerned about the tooltip text.

So why would I ever look at graphics? Only to figure out if something is interactive. If I can talk to a person, I'm going to want to know what kind of person that is (vendor, quest giver, corpse, etc). If I can shoot an object, I'm going to want to fathom a guess at what will happen. (Will it explode, release poison gas, set free a swarm of gnats, free a trapped teammate, drop some loot?) If it's the ground I'm walking on, I will want to know if its going to hurt me, heal me, or just remain stably under my feet (or collapse!)

I also don't see why every character needs seventeen different attack animations, and an equal number of casting animations. Every single one is as ridiculous as any others, so one would work. Most of the time when I'm casting anyways, I'm not looking at my own character, I'm looking at what it is I'm attacking, or glancing around the screen while preparing my next move. Hardly ever do I care what color my hands are glowing or whether I shove my right hand or left hand forward. (I also don't care if I shout 'Hyah!' or 'Nuh!' at the end of my cast bar.)

The obvious disclaimer applies that if your game exists solely to be beautiful, or a large part of the game is spent on close-up examination of game-world objects, you should definitely go all out.

Depth in Video Games

The type of 'depth' we require in video games is typically not the type of depth that is featured prominently in real life. For good reason! Real life depth has silly things like atoms and chromosomes and DNA and a moon that's 390,000 kilometers away! In most video games, the sky is painted to the ceiling.

When developing a world with a goal (beat the end boss; acquire certain objects; gain first place in race) any resource (time, money, processing power) that is not spent on a goal-related feature is wasted effort.

Something that matters is worth putting time into. In a racing game, time spent fine tuning cars and courses is appreciated. In a battle game, developing and balancing new abilities is key.

Meanwhile, it makes no difference if the sky is painted or actually features celestial bodies billions of lightyears away. It will not change the most optimal course on a race track, it will not make a boss easier or harder to kill.

The only exception is gimmicks. Such as racing on a beach with high and low tide, or a lunar-based boss. Naturally, gimmicks are special occasions, so spending a large amount of resources on a gimmick is a waste.

Definition of Sandbox

Chat log with a friend. Here's the verdict:

Sandbox - not affecting your ability to complete the game - whether that means defeating an end boss or experiencing an event of completion (such as a cinematic).

Theme-park - a decision in which only one choice leads to the completion of the game. Such decisions are primarily boolean. (Do X or don't do X.)

Some edits for clarity and understanding.

(9:48:52 PM) Xax: Do you know what 'sandbox' means?
(9:49:40 PM) Azarak: like in computer terms or a box of sand terms?
(9:49:45 PM) Xax: Well
(9:49:49 PM) Xax: I know what a box with sand in it is
(9:49:52 PM) Xax: so video game term
(9:50:11 PM) Azarak: an open ended game, like GTA is considered a sandbox game
(9:50:33 PM) Xax: How do you mean open ended?
(9:51:17 PM) Azarak: like being able to do whatever you want without a linear story
(9:51:27 PM) Xax: Interesting
(9:51:34 PM) Xax: do you remember in D2 there were 6 quests in each act?
(9:51:43 PM) Azarak: yes
(9:52:06 PM) Xax: But you could skip by them and just go for andariel in act one, just kill the bitch and get your free port to act 2
(9:52:31 PM) Xax: never kill bloodraven and get your merc, never have charsi imbue your item, never rescue cain.. would those quests be a sandbox element?
(9:54:07 PM) Azarak: no, because you are meant to do the quests in order to advance. You have to know the andariel thing in advance in order to bypass the other quests
(9:55:46 PM) Xax: Okay, so they're theme park because the main story IS kill bloodraven.. then after killing her you're explained to rescue cain, then after rescuing him charsi explains to go to the monastery... sothe game doesn't explain B until after A, and doesn't tell you about C until after B, and so forth, so that's a main story
(9:57:27 PM) Azarak: yes, using GTA as an example, you can do quest A, B, C, D, or E, and doing one of them will get you to quest F, regardless of which you choose to do. or whose side to take, etc
(9:59:20 PM) Xax: Does there have to be a deciding choice to make it sandbox? For example, in D2 you could rescue cain, or you could not. That's a choice, but deciding NOT to rescue him isn't deciding, because you can do it later.
(9:59:34 PM) Xax: If the game let me get him killed, would that be sandbox?
(9:59:51 PM) Xax: Ie if minotaurs came up and started attacking him, and I let them, and he died,
(10:00:30 PM) Azarak: if making that choice progressed the game in some way, it would be a sandbox game, yes
(10:01:38 PM) Xax: Even if it took me to the same after quest? IE if I rescue him, he can identify my items for free. If I let him die, then the rogue healer learns how to identify items
(10:02:48 PM) Azarak: that could be considered a small sandbox decision
(10:03:29 PM) Xax: What would be a BIG sandbox decision?
(10:04:25 PM) Azarak: if your decision made a difference on what the next quest entailed. Did you ever play oblivion?
(10:04:54 PM) Xax: I'ev been playing gothic 3 lately, I have heard they're a lot alike
(10:05:15 PM) Xax: its first-person, you can takeq uests from the rogues or from the orcs, you can (sneakily) do both but if yo uget caught, bla bla bla...
(10:05:43 PM) Azarak: yes, thats a sandbox game
(10:05:50 PM) Xax: you can either lead a revolution and push the orsc out of towns and reclaim them, or you can become a merc for the orcs and wipe out the rebels
(10:06:15 PM) Xax: But what I was thinking is that the 'end' of the game is the same... the first quest you ever get is 'find Xardas' who is the leader of the orcs, a mage.
(10:06:29 PM) Xax: Well if you go the rebel route, after you liberate all the towns, Xardas appears to put you in your place, and you fight him.
(10:06:30 PM) Xax: OR
(10:06:49 PM) Xax: If you go the orc-merc route, after wiping out the rebels Xardas appears to congratulate you and put you in charge of the town
(10:07:16 PM) Xax: That sounds like your GTA example... you can go the Blood or the Crypt route, but at the end you end up in a gun fight at the bank or whatever, you only affect what team you're fight for in it
(10:08:12 PM) Azarak: if you can make seperate decisions in each quest to affect the rest of the game and still complete it, i think thats a sandbox game
(10:08:23 PM) Xax: I like that definition
(10:10:51 PM) Azarak: WoW I would consider a partial sandbox game. you can pick and choose what quests to do and the end result is that you hit 80 and still have the end game regardless if you saved the beginning town from the wolves or left them to thier fate and went to quest in a diff zone
(10:11:30 PM) Xax: So choosing a class is a sandbox decision, because no matter if you're a priest or a rogue you can still kill the LK.
(10:11:54 PM) Xax: But choosing to level up is a THEME PARK idea, because there is no CHOICE, if you choose not to level up, you CANNOT kill the LK, cannot complete the game.
(10:12:06 PM) Xax: And then deciding HOW you level is is a sandbox decision
(10:12:11 PM) Azarak: Mercenaries was an AMAZING sandbox game. you had your goal (to kill all 52 main bad guys) but you used the 4 different factions to complete the goal
(10:12:26 PM) Xax: was that a ps2 game?
(10:12:46 PM) Azarak: Xbox, i think
(10:16:08 PM) Xax: okay, another one
(10:16:11 PM) Xax: Say... If there are fire elementals that are immune to fire, and ice elementals that are immune to ice, and you get a quest that says 'kill 10 fire elementals' that's pretty theme park, right?
(10:17:11 PM) Azarak: yes
(10:17:36 PM) Xax: fior most classes it wouldn't matter, but for a mage, dk, warlock it would affect your roation and stuff
(10:18:00 PM) Xax: now anothe quest could be... "Kill 10 elementals"
(10:18:08 PM) Xax: Any elementals, even earth elementals that are only immune to nature.
(10:18:25 PM) Xax: This way you could HAVE fire elementals that are immune to fire
(10:18:31 PM) Xax: without everyone going "nerf XYZ!"
(10:19:29 PM) Azarak: yep
(10:21:05 PM) Xax: Okay, another point
(10:23:59 PM) Xax: Okay, this is primarily an MMO problem, it doesn't affect small-world or single player games
(10:26:05 PM) Xax: In a single-player game, the developer decided goal is 'reach end boss/event' - simple enough. If you must complete the quest kill 10 rats to get there, its a theme park quest. If there are only 10 rats in the game and you killed 1 before you got the quest, then you have affected your chance to beat the game, so rats are a themepark concept in that game.
(10:27:02 PM) Xax: But in an MMO, there is no 'end boss.' In fact, there isn't even a quest to kill the LK, is there? If you decide to do that raid, its YOUR decision, not the games.
(10:29:02 PM) Xax: So for MMOs, sandbox can't mean 'affects your ability to complete the game' because there is no 'game' there is only 'goal' - if you are doing Hodir quests, the 'game' is to reach exalted. If you are playing the AH, the 'game' is to profit. You can set a specific goal if you like, 50k, 100k, gold cap.
(10:29:40 PM) Xax: So I think a good definition for sandbox in regards to MMOs would be' affecting your ability to complete the end goal'
(10:29:51 PM) Xax: where 'goal' changes based on activity
(10:34:12 PM) Xax: I think a good example of explaining sandbox dceision in MMO would be an item search. If you are after Bone Arbiter, and you down Marrowgar and it doesn't drop, you can make the decision to kill other bosses, and it will not affect your ability to get bone arbiter. In this case, sandbox would change to mean 'affects your ability to get bone arbiter' - and you can kill every enemy in ICC and it won't affect your ability to come back next week.
(10:36:07 PM) Xax: Alternatively, what WOULD affect your ability to get bone arbiter to drop? Having other users in the raid affects the CHANCE you get it, but does not make it impossible that you'll end up with it. It makes achieving your goal more difficult but not impossible... it's like wearing low level armor to fight the last boss - more difficult, but not impossible. so filling your raid with 2h users is still a sandbox decision, does not affect your ability to achieve your goal.
(10:37:34 PM) Xax: The only theme park decision you could make in that goal is choosing not to log in next week - andt hat is only temporary. Not logging in for the raid reduces your chance of success to 0% for that week - like choosing not to kill andariel, you will never reach baal
(10:52:28 PM) Azarak: those are all very good points
(11:03:11 PM) Xax: Is there a point where sandbox decisions can become theme park decisions?
(11:03:41 PM) Xax: Like in the past you might be able to say 'this decision does not affect my ability to reach my goal' but when you say it now, its 'this decision DOES affect my abiilty to reach my goal'
(11:04:59 PM) Azarak: im not sure. I was thinking about your example of letting a guy die, but if you let him die and then it says: "quest failed" and you cant advance until you save him, then it was never a sandbox decision to begin with
(11:05:51 PM) Xax: True, it was a theme park decision, which means 'not a decision at all' since you have to choose a specific way or you cant win
(11:06:43 PM) Xax: I was thinking on the 'Get Bryntrol' goal, saying 'next week I wont raid' only affects yuor ability to get it NOW, but you can run the week after, and after that, so its a sandbox decision to raid this week or next week, but what about on the last week?
(11:07:15 PM) Xax: On the last week, its 'raid now, or never raid' and when you goal is 'get bryntrol'... raid never means you fail your goal
(11:07:48 PM) Azarak: that would assume there is a last week in a never ending game\
(11:12:13 PM) Xax: My goal is... WORLD FIRST 85.
(11:13:06 PM) Azarak: that rules out sandbox gameplay, then
(11:13:15 PM) Xax: Not so much.
(11:13:33 PM) Azarak: your goal has become theme park in that you need to quest and level
(11:14:35 PM) Xax: True. But it remains sandbox in HOW I quest and level. For example, I assume whoever is competing with me has a pretty fast way to level... But I odn' tneed to be PERFECT, I just need to be... better than second place
(11:15:00 PM) Xax: If the 2nd place guy won't hit 85 until 10 seconds after me
(11:15:16 PM) Xax: Then I have 9 seconds of sandbox time, where I can run around in circles around the final quest turn in and STILL accomplish my goal
(11:15:28 PM) Xax: in this case choosing to run circles in a sandbox decision; does not affect my abiilty to be world first 85
(11:16:25 PM) Xax: however, if I only have 9 seconds left til he dings 85... my SANDBOX decision 'run circles around quest giver or turn in quest' becomse a THEME PARK decision, because if I choose one way (circles) all of a sudden I lose.
(11:17:05 PM) Xax: It USED TO BE a sandbox decision, but because the goal is time-based, after a certain time a sandbox decision becomes themepark
(11:17:58 PM) Azarak: self motivated goals seem very borderline to me
(11:18:34 PM) Azarak: though i guess alot about MMOs is borderline. Its neither sandbox nor theme park
(11:19:23 PM) Xax: Counting achieve system, 85 is developer rewarded, however for MMOs, since there is no singular developer goal 'kill last boss,' only self-motivated goals exist

First-person is Not an Accurate Representation of Reality

There's a long running debate on first-person vs third-person camera angles for video games. Typically it's seen that a first-person view is more realistic than a third because we use first-person in real life. And that argument is bullshit.

A third-person camera angle combines touch and sight into one sense. A first person camera cannot do this as intuitively.

If you are walking through a bramble patch in real life and you catch on a thorn, you will know what it is without looking at it.Your body experiences the touch sense regarding pain, and you know what hurt you without looking at it. You'll know if you were touched by a person, or a bramble, or a bird landed on your shoulder, without looking.

Now walk through the same bramble patch in a video game with a first-person camera, and your character stutters in his walk, or takes 1 damage. You won't know what hit you! Was it a bird pecking you, someone clipping you with their sword, a misguided arrow, or a simple bramble?

And now the same scenario... with a third person camera in the bramble patch. You'll know. Not by touch (since you can't) but by touch-replacement: third-person angle.

First person has always felt funny to me. Now I think I know why: I feel alienated by lack of an important sense - touch. In third person I don't feel it so much because I have extra sight to make up for it.

Automatic Use vs Equip -> Use

In Gothic 3, there's only one 'use' button. Using an anvil or alchemist's lab will open up your profession window. Using a lootable object (corpse, flower, dropped item, chest) will loot that object. If there's more than one item to pick up, it will open the loot window, your inventory, and a 'take all' button, so you can take one or more objects from the chest/corpse.

But what about locked chests? Pressing the 'use' button will automatically pull out a lock pick, and you'll attempt to pick the box. You know in advance if it's locked or not (red names are locked, orange are unlooted, white are looted), so you can make your decision in advance of whether or not you want to use a lockpick on it.

Are there keys? If there are keys, then which is used first, a key or a lockpick? I would assume keys have specific uses (for hard locked doors, like armory doors and kings' quarters and whatnot).

Automatic use is great because it's a fairly accurate simulation of humans' speed. In a system where you have to open your inventory, equip a lockpick (or key), then use the locked chest, a lot of time is consumed. It breaks immersion and is tedious. I am a firm believer in the idea that anything a player can do in an easy-yet-tedious way, should be given to the player in a difficult-yet-simple way. Instead of making a player open up their inventory to equip a lockpick or key, have a box pop up when you try to open a locked chest with a number of large buttons. One with a thief's tools, which says "Use lockpick (6 in inventory)" and possible other options being: "Use skeleton key (2 in inventory)," and "Use key to king's bedroom (1 in inventory)." This would allow players the options of an "equip -> use" without the slow, tedious, immersion-breaking UI.

Over all, I feel automatic actions are more intuitive. Or is my character really so stupid that he can't figure out he's supposed to use a lockpick on a locked chest?

Stats Are Realistic!

A post from Larisa got me thinking. The important parts:

By Klepsacovic:
WoW gets a bit boring when we stop caring about loot.
 By Perdissa:
Over the past month or so, I got 3 of the items I most desired on my main, including Deathbringer's Will, and 2 other 10HM items I had lusted over ever since ICC started up half a year back.

I was elated for a while, to be sure. But actually getting the loot now makes me feel a little empty. Clearly, gear isn't the barrier holding back progression, or what passes for progression in these twilight days. In fact, we have cleared what we had set out to clear in ICC, and gear isn't the barrier holding us back from what we can't clear.

Remember when 'character' wasn't synonymous with 'place to hang your gear?' I think the last game I played like that was pokemon for Nintendo's portable systems.

A similar series of games I've played didn't depend entirely on gear, either. Sure, one whip might have been better than another, but most of the upgrades were marginal at best. Plus, there was a much larger emphasis on boss-like scripts. If an enemy was standing on a ledge that you needed to climb onto, you couldn't jump up and brute force him. The way to deal with that enemy would be to convince him to jump off the ledge in pursuit of you, at which point you would climb up to take his place.

On bosses, you had options. You could do it the hard-hitting, simple, and dangerous way by jumping into the line of fire and letting loose your holy cross of boomeranging, or the slow, tedious, but safer method of remaining crouched and out of way while slowly pinging away with your whip. Or, if you farmed up a lot of potions, who cares? Just stand in one place and whack it til it dies. It's matter of playstyle, and not gear.

WoW is not as gear-dependent as most people think, either. By adjusting your strategy, even some of the latest bosses can be downed in creative ways. So, Klepsacovic, I have a solution: join Undergeared. Then you'll have something to be interested in that isn't gear.

So what is gear, and why do we care about it? Well, I'm convinced that it's a psychological trick to get us to play more, but by simply comparing characters to real-life people we can see that we actually need gear.

In real life, we do not have fancy spaulders with saronite spikes on them. Nor do we have giant swords that look like tuning forks. Instead, we have personalities. It's Perdissa that made me realize that connection: When she said, "gear isn't the barrier holding us back from what we can't clear" I instantly asked, "then what is the barrier holding us back?" What prevents me from becoming an accountant? An actor? An airline pilot?

Some people, both in game and out, have nimble fingers. Writers, programmers, thieves, surgeons. Others can follow maps, instructions, and layouts. Plumbers, soldiers, electricians. Others make those maps. Stategists, architects, developers. Some people... are good at playing other people. Politicians, nobles, succubi. Altruism is also a trait. Priests, Paladins, Nuns, Doctors. And a strong arm? Barbarians, bricklayers, sportsmen.

The list of real-life attributes goes on and on, and throughout each person's real life, they pick up, to varying degrees, each of these attributes. There are many professions in the real world, and each requires a certain distribution of skill over all possible attributes. If you're a rocket scientist, you probably need a lot of problem solving and logic skills. Rocket scientists who have, say, a lot of muscle and little brain... will not go very far.

The same is true for WoW; a rogue needs a lot of agility. A rogue who has a lot of, say, intellect, might be smart, but would not be good at what she's trying to do. I hope she has enough intellect to realize this and re-roll mage.

So yes, there can be strong scientists and smart rogues. I certainly wouldn't scoff at a +15 agility, +5 intellect bracer if I were only wearing a +12 agility one. That would be like a scientist who pumps iron in his spare time.

The stat system in RPGs makes a lot more sense to me now that I've broken it down. Thank you, Perdissa.

The only thing in this regard left to conquer is, "why are stats associated with gear, instead of your character?" The only answer I can come up with 'psychological trick.'

Stop Being So Paranoid.

I am appalled by this idea that people have that Blizzard never listens to us. They always have. No, they don't always do what we want, but they listen.

If I have a very complicated math problem, and I go ask a crack team of well-trained, professional rocket scientists to help me solve it, should I doubt the answer they give me, despite the fact their pay is dependent on being correct? Especially when their job description is to think, discuss, and dismantle equations, finding all possible solutions, and choose the best?

I understand that there's such a thing as being good for the whole while being bad for the individual (Gov't run welfare, anyone?) but I just can't figure out what people are thinking when they start complaining that Blizzard doesn't listen to its customers. Their job, for crying out loud, is to think up all the goods and bads well before it hits the public.

Everyone someone posts a response to a new idea, saying, "Well, have you thought of..." I really want to hit reply and say, "Yes, they have."