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Stream of consciousness for a cyberpunk MMO

August 19, 2010 11 comments

NOTE – this is a long and mostly personal-reference post. You can read the first bit and skip the notes, or just not read it at all. YHBW.

Damn you, Psychochild*, damn you! I was all set to wake up, have my coffee quietly, zip through my email as fast as humanly possible (still took an hour), and get some quality gaming time that I haven’t been able to snatch in the last few days by dint of having too much work (yay!) and being too tired afterwards (boo!).

This happened to me yesterday, too. But I’m the forgiving sort and I’m also a cyberpunk fan so I am going to drive all five of you (Hi Joe, hi Billy Bob, hi Fuchsia, hi Dickie, hi Scaryboo!) to go check it out. I haz cattle prod and I’m not afraid to use it.

If you need more direction, you spineless internet zombies, here it is. Exhibit A: A Cyberpunk MMO would be a terrible idea! And Exhibit B: A Cyberpunk MMO would rule!

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It ain’t what it used to be

August 17, 2010 10 comments

Time-zones can be a bitch, but they can also be quite useful for inspiration. See, by the time I get up my little British (and Euro) chums have already done their morning posts and, as I peruse them over coffee, I can get all sorts of ideas I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

This one is Spinks’ fault, again. The post itself is on MMO burnout and how to avoid it — a feat I’m not sure is actually possible — but a passing comment in the text was what drew me to comment and then, shock-horror, made me have a thought of my own.

Here’s the catalyst:

The first thing that strikes me is that many players (probably the majority) don’t ever go through the  mastery and burnout phases. They hop straight from ramping up to casual, possibly even skipping the ramping up phase if the game offers that option.

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Categories: Design, MMO Tags: , ,

Off with their heads! Player politics.

August 16, 2010 19 comments

Spinks shared this, so it actually came up on my reader, and I have to cry shenanigans. Oh wait not that one – BS. That’s the one I want.

It’s another “gamer-types” post and here’s the original. It’s another incredibly biased gamer-types post where one side is beauty truth and light and the other is one step down from maggots. I wonder if you can work out which is which from the quote below?

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Categories: Design, MMO Tags: , , , ,

Damn those Joneses

January 18, 2010 8 comments

I don’t care about the MMO Joneses. Really, I don’t.

So why do I so often feel like I’m being compelled to a particular activity in MMOs? If that’s not pure Keeping Up Syndrome I don’t know what is.

Take bonus XP weekends, for instance — when those are running, every time I log on I feel as though I’ve GOT to do something that generates xp, or I’m wasting my playtime. The thing is, as I said over at Dragonchasers (in this very good post), I have no problem levelling crafting characters — it’s what I find enjoyable after all — and I have no desire to level adventuring characters. Or rather, I don’t feel compelled to have max-level characters. If my gals level I’m not going to cry about it, but it’s not a particular aim of mine. There’s nothing in EQ2 I want to do that I can’t do at lower levels, and that includes harvesting.

(Which reminds me, I did say I’d do an EQ2 harvesting post. Oops. I will. Really. Maybe. I don’t know if you’re worthy of knowing the seekrits!)

The same goes for events, and I’ve posted about that before. Events are fun, events are great, but at some point I end up feeling like I HAVE to be doing them or I’m somehow missing out.

This is what I find odd. I don’t feel the need to have adventuring levels, and yet I do feel pressure to get some kind of xp — adventuring xp if I must — when there’s a bonus xp weekend on.

The whole concept of “missing out on” stuff is weird and slippery. Some things I don’t care about so I don’t feel as though I’m missing out. But then there are other things that, on the face of it, I don’t particularly care about but still end up feeling needled with if there’s some kind of event associated with them.

How many bloody glass baubles can you possibly want on one account anyway? That was the deal with Frostfell (Christmas) this year: log in every day with every character and get a present for each and every one of them from Santa. I did that for a few days with ALL my chars on both accounts, after which I wisely decided my world doesn’t need that many presents. But I still felt needled, if distantly, to log on. “Log on! You’re missing out! This stuff is being given out FOR FREE and you’re not getting it!”

Part of me says “So what? I don’t need it!” but the part that gets needled doesn’t understand the whole “don’t need” concept. If it’s there, it must be obtained/striven for/taken part in. Even as I opt out of doing this I can feel the pillars of a consumption-driven society shake under my feet. As above (RL) so below (MMOs). Okay, enough metaphysics.

I’m beginning to wonder if this is what drives so much of the playstyle I don’t understand. Is that why people raid? To get stuff because it’s there, it’s there for them, and they therefore HAVE to get it whether they really want or need it in the first place? I’m sure there are lots of people who enjoy raiding for its own sake, but I also know there are tons of people who don’t like raiding at all and only do it for what they can get from it. If you go by what people say, anyway — which isn’t always entirely reliable, I guess.

Anyway, the long and short of this is, as Pete said: Play the game; don’t let the game play you. And that includes playing on your expectations.

Categories: Design, MMO Tags: , , , ,

Pricing Models: pay what you want

January 8, 2010 7 comments

Rock, Paper, Shotgun reports that Crayon Physics Deluxe has gone “Pay What You Want” which has apparently already worked relatively well for one of last year’s Gooey games and, of course, has been more famously done by big bands and big author names. (Note: this is a time-limited sale, not a permanent pricing model.)

The problem is, apparently, that most people only pay enough to stop making them feel guilty, or enough to get them a look at  the thing. Or nothing at all, if they can get away with it.

I’ve noticed this in MMOs when crafting: what I think something is worth is not what most customers think it’s worth. Many customers, in fact, think it should be free. In SWG I head this argument more times than I can count: “It’s not real stuff, why should I pay for it?” Well, for starters, it’s not real money either, so pony up you little shit.

But even away from the utterly stupid arguments and closer to the realm of the somewhat reasonable, I was often offended by people who’d say things like “You didn’t have to fight anything for it. It’s only crafting. Anyone can do it.” — all of which boils down to “MY time is more valuable than YOUR time, for which I can’t be arsed to pay you, so hand over the product and stop being a whiny gouging crafter.” To which I would invariably reply, “Then do it. Happy grinding to Master Weaponsmith. Byeeee!”

I’ve also noticed that when other people charge, it’s gouging. When it’s oneself doing the charging, it’s what the market will fairly bear.

Ah, humans. Hate em, can’t get rid of ‘em.

So anyway. Crayon Physics isn’t an MMO and presumably doesn’t require staff to keep stuff going, make up new stuff, put out new stuff, and deal with whiny customers. But even so. Consider for a moment what you might pay for a PWYW MMO. Say DDO, which is already free, decides to go PWYW. Would you pay anything?

The problem is, of course, that people will want to know what they get for their money. For the one-time purchase of a game it’s easy: cash = game. But for an ongoing MMO, what do you get if you pay $3 a month that you don’t get if you’re not paying that money? And what do you get if you pay $10, or $20? Should you get anything special at all?

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that if we pay for something, we should get more than if we don’t pay for something, and if we pay more then we should also get more. Of whatever it is.

Consider the radical notion that it doesn’t actually have to be that way. You could pay $5 a month because you think the game is worth it and it makes you feel good to contribute to paying game staff salaries. Does that really require you to get an in-game noncombat flatworm pet? You could pay $25 a month for the same reasons and because you’re a rich bastard with a bit of a conscience.

The upside of all this would be, if you’re enjoying the game, you pay. If you’re not, you can stop paying.

The downside, of course, would be that most people are lying, self-interested shits and wouldn’t pay anything, or would only pay a pittance. And that this is not a very predictable or secure revenue model for a game with monthly expenses on the creation side.

Still, it’s nice to be idealistic once in a while.

(In the interest of full disclosure I should add that I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which may be influencing my views on fat capitalist bastards.)

Window on the (game) world

January 6, 2010 26 comments

As everyone knows — well okay, the three or four people who have heard me rant about it before — I’m a UI Nazi. Seriously. I’m not just concerned with UIs, or mildly interested in them, or even rabidly interested in them. If I can’t make the UI do what I want in a game, chances are I’ll eventually stop playing that game. That’s a hard theory to test though, since the games I’ve played that have had awful UIs were also pretty awful games generally.

Even when they’re reasonably well designed, UIs come out of the box looking pretty crap because they have to suit the lowest common denominator, or in this case screen resolution. And one thing even the best-designed UIs out there love to do (and I can’t name any good UIs off the top of my head, just a few decent ones) is waste visual space with unnecessary scrollwork, decoration, or just plain empty UI-element space.

EQ2 is no exception. When I saw Werit’s otherwise very entertaining video of his EQ2 heritage quest experiences, I couldn’t help cringeing at his UI. It’s not his fault, of course, it’s how the game presents it to you — and that’s after some customisation on Werit’s part. But now I understand that whenever I thought he was intentionally ignoring me in game, he was just probably not seeing the chat, because 17 million other chats were spamming to one chat window. (Which also kept fading — what is it with fading windows? Is it an FPS thing? I detest that with a passion. The last window I will ever want fading away is chat, because 99% of the game’s information — let alone the minor aspect of its bloody social side — is echoed in chat.)

And now Syp is also trying EQ2. My prediction is that it won’t stick for him — the game is too huge to adequately try out in a few weeks, which may sound like a good thing but has actually become a rather large barrier to getting any kind of new players. It can take several tries to find your EQ2 legs, and in my opinion the freaky, highly uncanny-valley, brown-dominated art style really doesn’t help there. (There are some gorgeous views and great textures in EQ2, but the art style is still weird no matter how you spin it.)

Part of what puts players off, I’m sure, is the yucketty (technical term), unwieldy, and apparently intractable UI. When you first log in, there are boxes and hotbars and crap knows what else all over the place — you’d think at the very least that, by now, there might be some kind of a default layout that loads based on the screen rez you’ve chosen in the game. Well, a better default layout, I mean. One where all the windows aren’t squished together in the middle. Some of the windows are opaque, some are not, and some fade when you’re not looking. It’s a mess, and it’s unusable until you’ve at least dragged a few elements here and there on your screen. That’s bad: you should have something usable right out of the box, even if it’s fugly; this is fugly and useless.

Fortunately, as Syp points out, you can load UI settings from other characters. They’re just text files, so you can even load settings from other people’s characters if they let you have that file. For my Test server characters, who occupy an EQ2 folder of their own, I just copied over my main character’s settings from the live EQ2 folder. Easy as pie — once it’s set up.

The first thing I do in any game is mess with the UI, and I’m constantly tweaking and messing some more. I’m using a couple dozen UI mods (all sourced from EQ2interface), and 90% of those are designed to replace basic UI elements like bag windows, hotbars, equipment windows and the quest journal. A couple of them extent the functionality of elements like the broker. I only have one mod that actually does anything in the strictest sense of the word, and all it does is allow me to cast heals and cures on groupmates without having to untarget, target them, then retarget whatever it was; given the number of debuffs that get flung around in EQ2, this is really handy though it’s not actually essential.

As I said I’m always tinkering with my layout, trying to find the perfect balance between being able to see lots of game info when I need it while still keeping as much screen space free as I can. When I see WoW-screenies that show a teeny-tiny visible window surrounded by scads of group info, raid info, DPS meters and crap knows what else people need to see in WoW I always shudder and wonder how people manage. Yes, I need my UI elements, but I also need to see the game. Most of them are worth looking at.

So here’s Fairuza’s more-or-less current UI layout. If you click through you can see it full-size, which for me is 1920×1200. After years of cramped screens, being able to have loads of stuff showing and still see lots of the game is a wonderful luxury.

Fair’s hotbars are in a constant state of flux, because the higher she levels the more stuff she has to throw on there, and I’m still looking for the most intuitive arrangement for me. The one where in the heat of battle I’m not going “OcrapOcrap where’s my healing spells argh!” but can still access her damage spells because nuking is what Fair does (yeah, she’s a healer, but a nuking healer. Best of both worlds, right?!) And because I craft and harvest a lot, I’ve also got hotbars with recipes (for doing crafting writs), hotbars with bag shortcuts, hotbars with gear-swapping macros, hotbars with pets, etc. etc. etc.

Targeting stuff is as close to the middle of the screen as I can get it without them being on top of the character. Lots of people like having stuff on top of (or very near) the character, but I can’t stand that, so this is my compromise. Remember, I don’t raid — I don’t usually see particularly urgent combat situations, so this works for me.

And most of my UI is taken up with chat windows. EQ2 spams a LOT of chat and I like to be able to catch up on stuff without having to scroll for 18 miles to see it. So on one side I have main chat, showing xp stuff, guild chat, tells and the crafting channel, with tabs for combat, sub-channels and narrative spam (e.g. “You successfully counter Burn Your Eyebrows Off crafting event!”). On the other I have tabs for NPC tells — quest conversation logs, basically — loot (mostly to see what I’ve been harvesting) and skill increases. Some of those tabs are a bit redundant and I could probably mush skill increases in with other stuff, but I’ve got it set up that way because it makes things easy for me and because I can. It just takes a while to get everything juuuust right.

The main point of this post is that although the default UI in most MMOs is poo, you don’t have to put up it. Taking the time to set up an interface you’re happy with and can navigate rapidly will be amply repaid every time you log in.

And yes — if people want, I can set up a default 1920×1200 UI for people to use in EQ2. Because I’m a giving UI nazi. ;)

Categories: Design, EQ2, MMO Tags: , ,

Why write my own?

January 4, 2010 9 comments

…when Elder Game does it so much better — and they actually know what they’re talking about, being insiders and all, rather than just blathering on the edges like I do.

Most fascinating, Captain. A little painful, as truth can be, but it matches up with what I experienced in WAR* and what I’ve read others experienced in Champions Online. I haven’t been too sanguine about STO largely because Cryptic insisted on launching CO way before it was ready — ok, an MMO is never ready, but there’s “omgnotready!” and “ok-we’ll-live-with-the-remaining-bugs-ready.”

Most fascinating of all was the obvious-once-you-read-it assertion that turning the screws on a game’s leveling because you’re afraid people will outlevel the content too fast means you’ll end up with NO players, instead of with players who outlevel the content too fast but who have fun doing so, and who therefore WILL come back when you do an expansion or add more content in whatever way.

Oddly enough, that’s been working pretty well for WoW since 2004. People copy everything about WoW except its way of retaining (or regaining) subscribers.

One thing everyone agrees on is that 2009 hasn’t exactly been a beacon of excellence in the MMO world. Full of hype, sure — but we need to not confuse vast amounts of hype with vast amounts of goodness. What I’m seeing in the last few years is a LOT of hype and not much actual delivery, going all the way back to 2007 and the Vanguard launch (yes, I was a Vangirl for a while). Eh, we could go back to Horizons as far as that goes, if we wanted, but we won’t — and the hype machine wasn’t quite as well-developed and pervasive back then.

These days the hype juggernaut’s good enough to show me a clog and make me believe it’s a glass slipper, and I’m pretty cynical and suspicious of hype-like things in general. I don’t froth easily, so when I do get enthusiastic the subsequent disappointment is almost worse; and boy has there been a lot of disappointment in the MMO scene lately. Thank god for little sleeper hits like Fallen Earth — and I could have told you that’d be fun a year ago but I was respecting the NDA /nod. (Hey, I can jump on the ToldYa Bandwagon if I want, there’s room at the back there!)

I guess that’s why I’ve spent most of the last year playing a 5-year old game. If nothing else, it’s lasted long enough to iron out most of the big kinks. And they added quite a lot of content. Can’t really quibble with that.

~.~

* And I’ll admit I’ve never caught on to the {insert developer name — in this case P Barnett} cult of personality thing. I don’t get it. He’s just a guy — they’re all just guys. (Actually, way too many of them are guys. Can’t we get some women devs in there please?). Is he really funny? Or something? What am I missing? I’m not saying he’s a BAD guy, I’m sure he’s very lovely and all. But fascinating in and of himself, and worth following all over various social media? Not that I’ve seen so far. Then again I’m not all that desperate to follow famous or quasi-famous people anyway. But that’s for another post some other day.

Categories: Design, MMO Tags: , ,
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