The Game Has Changed

I have two League of Legends accounts: One in which I solo queue with an exclusive champion in order to reach an appropriate ELO for my personal skill level with four random players (to see "how good I am" with that one champion), and a second account in which I play exclusively with friends who aren't as skilled as I am, where I try out champions and builds and gameplay modes that I haven't before. As you can see, one is my "fun" account, and the other is my "professional" account.

I haven't logged into my professional account since Co-op vs. AI came out, which was when I managed to lasso in a number of friends into the game. But just recently I went for a classic, 5v5 Summoner's Rift game on my professional account, and I noticed how different it was. Suddenly, all the "noobs" I had played with were gone. My amazing zoning skills were no longer good enough for my middle-class ranking, and I lost a number of games before settling into an acceptable win-loss pattern.

What happened? Co-op vs. AI happened. The "play for fun" players dropped out of the PvP queue and went to fight robots.This is not to say that the queue was entirely free of leavers and AP Caitlyns, just that over the next few weeks, after about thirty games, I was still matched against players of significantly more skill. I used to get an absolute mish-mash of players more and less skilled than I was. Now my ratio of wins:losses was quickly lowering.

It would seem that I'm the victim in the scenario in which everyone else won in some way. Although the "play for fun" players were not losing more than half of their matches, they could win more by moving to the Co-op vs. AI fights. The "hardcore" competitive players could continue playing their PvP without the scrubs interfering.


In the first ten minutes of Glitch, I nibbled a pig and milked a butterfly.

...And so can you!

On Tanks in WoW

There's a recent, interesting blog post regarding tanks, with a rather solid suggestion on modifying how tanks get hit: A boss attacks only tank-spec players, and each hit gives a "-10% chance to be target of next attack" debuff that last for a few seconds (maybe for 10 seconds, if a boss attacks every two seconds).

A single tank would never take more than ten blows in a row (since he would have -100% chance to be target of next attack). This would fit well with the "healers need to worry about mana" paradigm, as the issue in WotLK healing was that healers have to land huge heals constantly (thus burning through mana) because the tank would go down in a one hit. As a player takes more hits in a row, a healer has to use their fast, expensive, and large heals (plus cooldowns), but could be assured that the more one tank was hit, the more mana efficient the healer could be, as they had a continually reduced chance to be hit again. A tank who gets hit twice in a row would need a fast, mana intensive heal, but a tank who has been hit 10 times in a row could be healed up using extremely efficient heals, as for the next 10 seconds he would not have to worry about taking a direct hit.

Adding an additional tank to this equation would make it even less likely for a single tank to get hit multiple times in a row. Observe: Having one tank means that tank gets hit 100% chance on each hit. Having two tanks, 50% chance each. With five tanks, each tank has an innate 20% chance to be the target of a given blow. The tank who gets hit first then has only 18% chance to be hit, if he randomly gets hit again, 16%. After five blows, he has only 10% chance to be hit while other tanks have 22.5% chance to be hit each (90% split between the four debuff-free tanks). Adding tanks allows for the reduction of healers in the raid, as the current healers can rely on using more efficient heals, stretching their mana further, knowing there's a continuously reduced chance of a single tank getting brutally smote five times in a row.

From the math in the last paragraph, you can note that each additional tank has a lesser benefit than the one before it, thereby leading to an equilibrium of healers-to-tanks, where it's better to have another healer than another tank.

I Can Imagine An End Game...

I was picturing in my head a vanilla-WoW/Everquest-esque MMO. In the "perfect" end game I imagined it would have, world events were the new raiding. Storylines stretching from the opening levels culminated in high level zones helping one faction or the another defeat their highest-level enemies.

At level eight or so you would, say, encounter your first spider. The zone would play out for a few levels with you killing spider minions, burning webs, infiltrating their base and overhearing their war talks/stealing their maps/destroying their weapons. Later in the storyline, you'de be defending from a spidery invasion (modular, based on how many weapons you destroyed/minion you killed/etc), and by level 12, you would be killing that zone's non-instanced boss. When he's dead, you'de go on a few more recon missions to discover who the real spider force is, and the instance of the zone would unlock. The level of the instance mobs would cater to the zone. If the zone finishes at 12, the mobs in the instance would be level 12-16, with most being level 14, and the boss being 15. Once you kill the instance boss, that's it for that particular zone of the spider storyline. Now you can proceed to spider zone #2.

This approach would also work very well with a level-less game design. In fact, most of it already is, given that one quest would unlock another quest, would unluck an invasion, which would then open the instance. The instance could then be run any number of times for the spider-specific loot without risking the player outleveling the next spider zone.

Creatures could also drop more realistic, non-trash loot. Spiders would drop their limbs, mandibles, eyes, webs, etc. The blacksmiths at the spider-defense town would happily craft you gear of varying quality as thanks for killing the spiders. That also solves the "NPCs are mean to me, they are charging me money even though I just saved them!" issue.

With each new zone in a storyline, the threat of the story could grow. In the second spider zone, they could start immobilizing players/NPCs and using ranged toxic spit attacks. In the third spider zone, they might be able to set web traps that'll immobilize, cause poison damage over time, and have heavy, web-enforced armor, as well as all previous abilities. By the final zone, and presumably the most bad-ass, they would have web-enforced armor, be breeding gargantuan, mindless spider-hulks, and be able to burrow under the ground and make sand traps, pulling you into their maze of underground spider-infestation.

After you've completed all the quests in the last zone of that storyline and gotten the "Collapse Spider Cave" zone ability, the "web-armor melting" weapons (storyline based, so that you'de be able to one-shot the first spider zone enemies, but still get new items when you go to fight a different enemy), you'de defeat the end boss of the spider campaign and unlock the zone instance (or possibly just allow the player to proceed to the "end game," an open-world group zone).

The final spider event could be an open zone with no player limit, or an instanced/phased world in which only your group is there. The "war effort" would be on a week lock-out, or in the case of an open world, would occur every ten days, and if completed sooner, the remaining days the zone would be quiet.

The war effort would be able to be entered even if you're alone, and some parts of it would inevitably be solo. It would not require all the players to enter at once. There would also be small group parts (5-player events, enemies tuned around two players, etc). In a war effort instance which could register 20 people to it (and thus have 20 people in it at a time), the biggest boss would be tuned to a group of 13-17 people.

Achievements would be available for those who could complete with ever-rising challenge; defeat the boss with 20 and you get the "completion" achievement. Another at 15, another at 10, another if no player is damaged by ability X, and another if you manage to defeat the boss with only one player taking damage, only one player casting healing spells, and only eight people in your group. There would also be zone wide achievements, such as to complete a war effort task in five days or less, and then a super-achievement to complete them ALL within a five day period.

There would be multiple tasks requiring different skill sets for different people.

Some tasks would require dexterity: the ability to execute a script quickly, such as jumping out of the poisoned-web before a single tick, or using an ability in time (silence a casting spell repeatedly). There will be speed tasks, where you have to do whatever they ask within a difficult timer.

Other tasks would be "hard work" parts: gather X items, kill X enemies, bring X spidercrystals one-at-a-time to spiderbase to power the spidershield. "Hard work" tasks are typically untimed quests which are often referred to as being "grindy."

There are also thinking tasks. These would be puzzles, randomized by the week, such as to plants bombs in the spider nests. All the bombs would have to go off at once, but you have to take into account things like how long it takes for you to walk from one nest to the next, or what if you get stopped and have to fight a spider. Other thinking games could include limited versions of chess, majong, and plants vs. zombies (with a random set of plants).

The intent of a 7-day timer on an instance zone, or a 10-day timer on a public zone, would be that it gives plenty of time to allow for a sufficient group to try the harder achievements on the group boss, but also allows for the 'thinking' player to come up with an optimal strategy for their non-twitch tests. Rewards will favor those who complete the harder achievements, not those who do the simple achievements fast.

Rewards would be handed out when the instance/zone resets, or if all of the war effort tasks are completed, the zone would lock right then (Victory!) and all players would receive their credits, which can be spent on loot. Credits are distributed evenly to the entire group based on how many of all the war effort tasks were completed, and how many of the achievements were gotten for that week. Therefore, you are always encouraged to complete as many of the tasks as you can in order to maximize weekly gain, encouraging players to get better at their tasks. Casual, small-group players who even collected minimum credits could spend it on more gear/abilities to increase the speed at their simple killing/gathering quests (which would then net them even more credits next time), while the group players who killed the boss with 16 players last week would be encouraged to do two of that boss this week (in different instances, if it's instanced), each with 8 players, or just to increase their rotations to do it faster next week.

The Biggest Problem With Mortal Online

I was thinking, and I realized I never stated the one thing I felt most strongly about: the most glaring problem with Mortal Online, the reason that, no matter how many 'come back to us!' trials they give me, I won't play:

When you start the game, you start in a town. In that town... there is nobody. Not one living soul. Not even an NPC soul. The only animals are round you are rabbits. You can kill them and take their guts. You can mine the rocks. What can you do with rabbit guts and rocks? Well, not a whole lot, since there are no players to trade with or NPCs so sell them to. There is not even a global chat, and, as far as I can tell, there isn't a private chat, either. Maybe there's a guild chat.. but I don't think people who start the game start in a guild. As far as I can tell, every time I log on to Mortal Online thinking "well, maybe this is it," I can't seem to figure out if there's anyone else playing the game with me.

I'm alone, in a "massively multiplayer" void.

Quests are Killing Co-op

I saw a quote recently that drove me into a philosophical frenzy.

the quest driven MMO faction is slowly killing the co-op MMO faction

Here’s the context, though it’s meant entirely as it sounds.

Quests are killing co-op play. Wow, that’s a thinker. I’m more prone to believe that some popular MMOs opted to do what would make them more money by allowing classes that were previously limited to only playing in groups to be able to play alone. Then, those MMOs opened their doors to a larger market by making their game appeal to people who wanted a single-player experience with social tools like chat and buddy list built in.

Then every other game under the sun took notice of their ridiculously huge numbers (because big numbers means success, right?) and started stealing ideas from it. “Let’s put the MMO tag on our game even though it’s lobby+instance based and you can only have 5 people in an instance at once.” “Let’s make all the mobs weak so players feel really powerful and want to keep playing because they ROCK!” “Let’s exclude PvP from the game entirely since it’s such a small portion of Successful Game X.”

That’s how it works with movies, isn’t it? One zombie movie spawns and ten more follow to capitalize on the craze? One decent time-travel movie reports record breaking box office sales and soon every theater has ten more sub-par time-travel movies? Video games are just like any other media outlet: capitalizing on what works. So don’t blame the game: blame the customers who keep it going.

I’m Not Playing Vanilla WoW Right Now, But If I Did...

  • Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage.
  • Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage. Not enough rage.
  • Woo, 1 silver! I’m rich! Oh, looks like I have a new skill to train. Let me just… hm, down to 5 copper. Well, it’s 5 copper farther than when I started!
  • Questgivers don’t show up on the minimap, only quest hand-ins.
  • How do I turn on autoloot? Or even shift-to-autoloot?
  • The rare warrior set has spirit on it, but not a drop of defense, dodge, or parry.
  • Spells can’t miss, but they sure do get resisted often.
  • Aggroed three grell in a cave and died. Not getting out of this one without another two deaths, at minimum.
  • No vendor prices in tooltips.
  • No clock up by the minimap!
  • Battle Shout COSTS rage!
  • Your dagger skill has increased to 2.
  • Your dagger skill has increased to 3.
  • Your dagger skill has increased to 4.
  • Zero quest tracking whatsoever.
  • Your dagger skill has increased to 5.
  • No class name coloring in /who
  • As a warrior, I don’t start with two handed sword proficiency… and it can only be learned from one major city, which is not Darnassus.
  • Daily quests don’t exist.
  • No netherdrake mount.
  • No flying mounts of any kind.
  • Where’s the ban’ethil barrow den? Ah, forget it, this game isn’t even that great and I’ve already stayed up until 3am playing it!

My Hero

I just found my new favorite person. Mr. (Ms.?) Helistar, whom posted the following snip on another blog.

“I play it "the DK way" (when I first leveled my DK, I chose the talents with the most impressive names and put on my bar the attacks with the biggest numbers, screw anything else. It worked perfectly....).”

It’s brilliant!  I’m not even being sarcastic, despite I do so love to be. The idea of ‘biggest numbers wins’ is not new, but in this day and age of video games, biggest numbers are not intuitively the best anymore. You have to do complicated theorycrafting math to figure out things like cooldowns and mana use over a period of time. I propose a system where Sir Helistar would be the best: a game world where choices are intuitive and straightforward.

I can only hope there are enough developers to make intuitiveness a trend.

What’s Wrong With These Games?

A list of things I found wrong with some of the games I’ve tried.

LotRO – The entire interface feels laggy. It doesn’t matter if they intended it that way or not – when I push a button to use an ability, I expect some sort of instant acceptance – an error message or the ability to go off. Instead, it seems like my character will finish their current attack animation, THEN use the ability. There’s also a number of general ‘feel bad’ features – like how your characters slide when you let go of the movement keys, looking like they’re skidding to a stop. You also can’t strafe on a horse. Debuffs also aren’t readily readable, despite they’re very important! The interface doesn’t respond well (particularly the unit frames) to mouse clicks, making healing a PITA. Also, mounting a horse takes an additional 1/2 second in addition to the cast time. I though the cast time represented the time it would take to get onto a horse, not the time it takes to go, “Wait, where’s my horse? OH YEAH ITS INVISIBLE DUH".”

Atlantica Online – The chat sound plays even when a player on ignore says something. The in-combat ability display doesn’t stay minimized between log-ins. The quest-tracker arrow automatically turns on when you use auto-run (WHY!? The point of autorun is that you DON’T CARE where the quest is!) Auto-run in general is a bad idea. If there are parts of the game the player should skip, then let them skip it altogether. Holding down the left and right mouse buttons to move around sometimes locks your characters direction. The quest system… why? Just why? The ‘world’ doesn’t seem to matter – there probably shouldn’t even be one. There’s not a forum for people to congregate to form groups, so it takes a while before you can legitimately group with strangers and start making friends. The random “player has purchased an epic item” spam is way annoying. Some of the time-sensitive popups don’t fade automatically. It’s really difficult to tell what some of the debuffs afflicting you are. Stupid logon method (for ANY nexon game!) I also can’t figure out how to rebind zoom in/zoom out, or even if there is a choice, since I don’t have a scroll wheel.

Dofus/Wakfu – Getting into and out of combat takes a while. Battles should be bigger but less frequent. The questing system is also somewhat silly. Turns could be shorter, and characters in the fight could respond quicker. Keybindings definitely could use an overhaul to help speed things up.

Grand Fantasia – The camera controls are bad. The refresh rate setting keeps falling to 30 for no reason. Kill –> Loot game play is uninspiring. The pet system is very nice but hits a roadblock too quickly. Launching the game from the patcher crashes on my Windows 7 PC, so I have to run the patcher, exit it, and then run the actual game exe.

4Story – When you try to run forward with a loot window open, your character will run towards the right, because when they kneel down to loot the corpse, they face right. Jarring, but adaptable. Dead targets aren’t automatically dropped from your target frame. As such, live targets aren’t automatically picked up when you try to cast a spell while targeting a dead enemy.

Grand Chase – Controls respond verrrry slowly, making combos difficult to activate. Characters also move way slow, so collecting the coin drops is a pain.

Lunia – I can’t figure out what was wrong with this. I just got stuck early. Gameplay is simple but so is the tutorial, so you get lost early if you don’t read the quest. Which I don’t, because readable quests are stupid. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the game at all.

Microvolts – This game is great and could be the engine for an actual shooter if it had an AI enemy for PvE content. It’s just that I have 200ms latency (ONLY in microvolts, <100 in other games) so when I think I’m hidden behind a wall I’m actually already dead.

The Place of Tutorials in Video Games

For further reading on tutorials, check out The Escapist, and Game Design Guild.

Where do tutorials belong?
In the manual? On the back of the game box? The website? Under a heading labeled “help” or “new player?”
Quite often I see players complaining that tutorials are “carrying” new players, that tutorials are “taking the fun and adventure out of the game.” I’m not sure I can agree. There are some games, like Mortal Online and Darkfall, which have barely any instructions. Developer aid is spotty at best. These worlds are figure-it-out-as-you-go.
A recent post at Tobold’s place made me think about judging games that don’t have adequate tutorial/help systems. There isn’t much distinction made between a game that has decent help for beginners and a game that doesn’t. For a player trying to tell if they want to play the game, it simply boils down to this:
With help:
“I played through all the quests and at level 10 there were more quests. I didn’t like (insert one: how sequential the quests were/the AFK-autoattack combat/the art style/kill-loot-kill-loot-kill-loot-DING-kill-loot-kill…) so I’m going to quit playing.”
Without help:
“I ran around town for 5 minutes because the only thing I could figure out what to do was WASD. A wolf attacked me so I double clicked him, I even right clicked his health bar to choose attack but it wasn’t an option. Then I spent thirty seconds dead and had to choose a resurrection which weakened my character. Then some goblin archers ambushed me and I died. I need to figure out how to become their allies because a player in really good armor ran right by them without being attacked. They must have given him the good armor. I waited 45 seconds to resurrect and then died again while running away. I must have done something to piss off those goblins. I had 60 seconds to spend dead. I just logged off and uninstalled the game.”
The difference here isn’t the decision of the player to continue playing the game; it’s the thought process the player goes through in reaching that decision.
If they have help, they can quickly identify the direction the developers want them to go and decide if that’s what they want to do with their time.
Tutorials also set the minimum bar for player expectations. If a tutorial teaches a player how to target allies and cast healing spells, then it’s reasonable to expect players to be able to cast a heal once in a while. A player who doesn’t is either very forgetful, slacking, or just below the skill threshold for the game.
If they don’t have help – if there’s no description of a class and its abilities before you roll it, if abilities didn’t have tooltips, if potions didn’t tell you how many HP they would heal – you will end up with mid to high level characters who have no idea what their doing. A level 10 might be using a level 1 potion and wondering why it doesn’t keep him alive. A paladin might not know he can use holy bolt to heal allies instead of damaging enemies. They wouldn’t know what they’re doing wrong! They might start assuming that all the bad things that happen to them are just part of the game.
Even if a player knows what they’re doing is wrong and that it shouldn’t happen, they wouldn’t know how to fix it without trial-and-error or researching possibly wrong or outdated advice on a 3rd party site, and that’s a terrible time investment. It brings the question, “how many hours should I have to work at a game before I can start having fun?” or even worse: “How much should I have to research before even downloading the game client?”
Of course, much of this is solved by starting the game very simply and easily, then linearly increasing difficulty up to the “end-game.” You could offer a lot of help to the low levels but gently remove the training wheels one at a time as you introduce a player to new concepts. Three bosses in a dungeon might all have fire puddles you should move out of, but the first boss would be forgiving and give a warning to the spot he’s going to drop it on, the second boss’s fire is instant would only deal moderate damage and could be negated through resistance, and the final boss  would have a stacking debuff that increased all future fire damage.
This way, instead of a new fight being, “I have to do what I already can, + X + Y + Z” it becomes, “I have to do what I already can, + X,” then “What I already can + Y,” then “what I already can + Z.”
There has to be something wrong with this line of thinking though. If it’s really such an attractive system, why isn’t anyone doing it?