I wasn’t going to comment on NCSoft’s new Mission Architect system, planned to go live sometime in March, largely because plenty of others have already done so, but then it occurred to me that more exposure for a good idea can’t hurt. Even if you don’t play CoX (and I don’t, right now), it’s worth a look at how NCSoft designed this, especially if you’re one of the people who believe, as I do, that (some degree of) user-generated content has got to be in the future of MMOs. It’s probably not the only answer down that road, but I suspect it’s a prominent part of it.
Look at crafting/trading: whether it’s in fantasy-WoW or scifi-EVE, there’s no real, dynamic trade if there’s no way for consumers to request supply from producers. Sure, you can post stuff on auction houses, but that’s largely a case of post and pray. More to the point, if you make FoozleNoses and Bob needs 100 FoozleNoses but NONE have sold on the AH in the last 3 weeks, you’re unlikely to be making and selling any since there appears to be no demand, and Bob starts to believe FoozleNoses just don’t exist.
Enter purchase orders. I’m pretty sure EVE had them, but my memory is at best coy and at worst downright mendacious, so forgive me if I’m wrong. EVE *should* have them if it doesn’t. Hell, every game should have them. Sadly, it’s much, much easier to design an Auction House interface that it is to work out a proper purchase order system to go with it… even though the latter isn’t exactly rocket science. Some games have them, or had them — I’m pretty sure Horizons (remember that?) had one back in the day.
Sure, you could do what businesses in real life do and have done for millennia: find someone who makes what you want and go to them to place your order. They may be next door, down the street, in the next county or in the next country, but what doing business is all about.
Except I’m not DOING business in an MMO, I’m PLAYING at doing business. There is a real, huge difference. It’s not that we’re not taking it seriously, but play /= work. When kids play make-believe, they do it quite seriously, with proper attention to what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean they’re working at it. And when I run a business in an MMO (or try to, most games make it damn near impossible to play as anything other than a glorified medieval Gordon Gecko), I take it seriously but I do not want to have it become work. I’ve been there, and it’s called SWG, and is closely followed by the slouching Burnout Beast.
Trying to make contact in game with someone who sold something I need on the AH and thus may or may not actually produce what I need on a regular basis, and then getting them to supply me — have Devs actually TRIED doing that, ever? It was hard enough in SWG, which is a game predicated around player trading and crafting (or was) and which has a relatively robust email system. And seriously… I have to try to contact someone who may or may not log on, may or may not speak English (or whatever I speak), may or may not respond, and then may or may not actually adhere to our agreement, with no obligation or accountability on their part at any point in this process? (Or on mine, for that matter.) So maybe, in a few weeks, if I get lucky, I’ll have the FoozleNoses I need? No thanks. Neither am I going to sit in TradeHub001 making endless requests on a chat channel — sure, that might have been how it was done in EQ back in the day and how it’s done in WoW now, but that doesn’t make it a GOOD way, it makes it a “we couldn’t be arsed to cater to crafters so you’re just going to have to spam a channel” Dev-way.
I’m not saying I want everything now and I want everything easily. I’m certainly not saying I want to be able to do everything myself, because a trading game (or sub-game) by definition needs people to interact with or it’s a lot less entertaining. But, if I’m going to “seriously play” at being a trader, then I need a vaguely reliable, timely way of contracting suppliers. THAT isn’t rocket science either. Purrrchaaaase Orrrders. It’s not that hard to say, and it’s not that hard to design.
And that’s just for trading — heck, you could restrict it to materials-trading or whatever you want if you didn’t want to kill your Auction House, though I seriously doubt that would happen anyway. Some people like to order, some people like to browse. No reason you can’t please both.
I’ve pondered “player-generated content” before and, sad to say, my imagination usually lets me down. That’s because our MMOs have become variants on “Kill Ten Rats” and the only real ideas I could come up with were… you guessed it. But then I remembered SWG’s new(ish) Storytelling mini-system — you can buy props, stage settings, effects doohickeys (smoke machines), NPCs, monsters, whatever — and you can place them, load them up with lines and/or treasure, and voila: user-generated content. It can be a show, it can be a treasure hunt, it can be an epic fight. Or it can be all three — bird, plane, pterodactyl!
So here’s what I think: if we players are given the tools, I suspect we’ll come up with some pretty non-killtenrats stuff. Maybe not all of us, maybe not even most of us — but most Neverwinter Nights players never made a dungeon and there were still enough talented guys who *did* that you could be playing them till 2012 and never have to make one of your own. We don’t ALL have to be content-creators — but being empowered to become one is going to be a huge step forward. I’ll be fascinated to see how the Mission Architect system works in practice, when it’s launched. If I’ve the funds, I may even have to resub to CoX just to try it. Who else plays, and where?
Commenting elsewhere and going into a mini-rant about the Victorian Era made me think of Steampunk (which us closet punkers/punkettes have been writing a bit about lately, especially with reference to Gatheryn), and together they made me ponder realism in games.
See, I detest the Victorian era as a whole. It was bigoted, supercilious, self-satisfied, stupidly sentimental yet coldly cruel, and incredibly hypocritical. It was also, of course, an era of unmatched exploration, discovery, and invention. (Artistically, however, I’d contend it was kinda stale, apart from the emergence of the novel as art form, but that’s getting a bit rarefied even for this blog.)
On the other hand, the Victorian era does make a really cool setting for games. I loved Cthulhu by Gaslight even though we didn’t really play Cthulhu all that often (mostly to preserve what little SAN our chars had left). I suspect Victoriana would make a great setting for online games too, visually — grimy streets, plush interiors, rags and riches, danger and/or adventure lurking around every prosaic, gaslit corner. It’s the age of Sherlock Holmes, H Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, the Industrial Revolution and its contrasting Romantic Movement. It’s the age of Babbage, Charles Darwin, Dracula, Extraordinary Gentlemen and, of course, Hyde and Mr le Ripper.
So yes please, definitely slap me some Victorian-era setting. But don’t include (too much of) the bigotry and self-satisfied fat-cat cruelty unless you allow me to be some cheeky young sprat who fights it (or upper-class twit who discovers there’s more to life than cricket on the green and promenading in Hyde Park). Gaming is entertainment, similar to movies, and most of us like a healthy dose of rose-tinted nostalgia with our historical entertainment. Show me the great gowns in Elizabeth but don’t bother with too much of the scofula and starvation, kthx. I’m not saying I’m happy to throw historical accuracy out of the window, because usually I’m not, especially not in settings that purport to be “historically accurate.” (You should see me get all irate about stirrups on saddles before that piece of riding kit had actually made it to Europe.) But in games especially, we have a great deal more latitude. Medieval becomes “fantasy-medieval” where we can take all the fun bits and leave all the bits we don’t want, or even take only some of the fun bits, like the Hanseatic towns & league, and ignore other bits like the Reconquista; and the same principle can be applied to any other era. The idea, in games, is to make a thematic era recogniseable without necessarily making it 100% accurate. Verisimilitude, that’s what we want.
But while I’m happy for the realism to be a little fuzzy, what I’m dying to see is a little more depth in the portrayal of a given era. Don’t just make a grandiose Victorian-ish city — make a grandiose Victorian-ish city that has people in it! I mean, more than just the 2 vendors near the train station and the 18 quest givers scattered around from the docks to the creepy churches to the flower market. Vanguard’s New Targonor was a great concept and looked pretty good, but it was sterile, empty, and dead (and also a lagfest of almost Ironforge-esque proportions); Khal, one of its Qalian counterparts, was a little more lively but I kept wondering where all the people in this supposedly-bustling town actually lived. And besides, when did a dozen static NPCs become game-shorthand for “bustling”? Twelve is not bustle. It’s barely a small crowd, and only if you pack them into a broom cupboard. Bustle only starts at 25, and that’s the rule (that I just made up).
I realise that adding NPCs whose sole purpose is to move around and provide background colour requires resources, both to create and to run. But I’m long past the point when I can see a few houses, with a few NPCs standing always in the same place by these houses waiting to quest me up or buy my rat tails, and not find that ridiculously UNrealistic. There’s got to be some kind of middle ground game design can find between hogging all the resources on “decoration” and creating places that are devoid of life. Some settings require it more than others, and the “teeming masses” Victorian era is, to my mind, certainly one of those. Frankly, I’d give up many many polygons in order to gain many many “fluff” NPCs.
Better yet, have some sort of rolling NPC-call where only part of the created colour-extras show up at any given time. Create, say, 50 of them, and use 30 of those at a time; after a while, have some of them go away and bring out some of the other ones. That way I’m not always seeing “Kevin the Cheeky Urchin” when I pass the corner of Tentacle Steet and Lepidoptera Lane; sometimes I’ll see Bob the Miserable Brat (his cousin), and other times I may see Sam the Shady Sausage Salesman (last name Dibbler, of course).
Oh and hey, designers — listen to your artists, and vice versa. “Really pretty” (sorry – “visually stunning!!”) does NOT equal “atmosphere.” There’s more atmosphere in some of the much less polished older games than there is in most of what’s been touted as “amazingly atmospheric” in MMOs in the last few years. Atmosphere, my kingdom for some atmosphere.
I guess the tank didn’t do their job properly, because I’ve caught a deadly amount of work aggro this week. I therefore figured I’d see if there’s any particular topic folks visiting this blog would like to kick around and/or read about. Not traditional, I know, as these things are usually done over the weekend (as with Tobold’s Open Sunday threads), but needs must. I haven’t got the time to write a proper entry today, but I can at least apologise for it and put the rest of you to work. ;)
I’m headed back to the translation salt mines. Speak up, I can’t hear ya from down there!
EDIT — Yikes, something horrible has happened to my theme when I view the site. If it’s happening for you too, a) it was like that when I found it and b) I hope it’s fixed soon!
In spite of my fervent attempt to avoid any enthusiasm about new games in general, and Champions Online in particular, Syp’s regular outpouring of cool screenshots and information is proving hard to resist. For one thing, I don’t think anybody is immune to the lure of the superhero and I’m no exception; and for another, it’s looking pretty damn good.
I never really got to play Champions as a tabletop game (an intro session doesn’t really count), though I had a friend who’d been in a campaign that had been going for years and who waxed lyrical about the freedom and complexity of the system. Superheroes are cool, yes, but for me they’re at their coolest when they’re multi-faceted — more Watchmen or V for Vendetta than Batman the TV series, if you see what I mean. (Which is not to diss the latter at all, which has an enduring and unique camp charm.) I like my heroes to have, at very least, a darker wrinkle here or there. Heroism — and that includes super-heroism — is at its most powerful when it involves a measure of sacrifice, if doing the right or necessary thing is difficult and somehow costly. I like dilemmas. I also firmly believe that story is rooted in character (and not the other way round, for the most part), so complex characters are essential to any enjoyment I may derive from story-telling.
Deep analysis aside, however, what got me thinking yesterday was leafing through the “Rate My Champion” section of the official website and looking at the various names and looks people come up with. Yes, this is a shallow pursuit, but looks and name are integral to designing a good superhero and, to be honest, I tend to spend ages deciding on both even for my characters that aren’t super-powered. Names are important: a character’s name may mean nothing to anyone but me, but it resonnates for me and that makes a difference when I play. Which is why I’ll never have a character called xxSlayAxx; I’m not bothered if you do (much), but that’s the online-game equivalent of a cold shower for me.
I recently gave my worse half the nickname of “Mr Methodical” because, unlike me, he usually knows what he needs to do and in what order and spends a fair deal of time making sure stuff is correctly planned for and laid out. Even in games! (My attempts to emulate this usually end up with 2,487 pieces of paper scattered around my desk and me having no clue what the scribbles on them mean.) It then struck me that this wouldn’t be a bad superhero name: it doesn’t take much to imagine an obsessively organised person with all manner of neatly laid out tools, maybe an underground forensics lair (with humming devices and machines that go ping), and possibly a Mr. Monk-like compulsion to neatness or other repetitive activities. Mr Methodical might be a bitch to go on missions with unless you’re prepared to wait 3 days for him to come up with the perfect plan of action, but he’d be invaluable in terms of research and investigation.
Sadly, I don’t appear to have a real life superhero name. Tangent Girl? Mr Methodical suggested that I cook a mean potato (baked, roasted, sauteed, saladed, you name it), but “The Tater Maker” doesn’t quite have the ominous quality I’m looking for. I suspect I’m just not ominous enough to warrant a myserious and ominous nickname. Fortunately, that won’t stop me from making such characters when Champions comes out.
What’s your real life superhero name, if you have one? I’d ask people for names they plan on using when the game launches, but that’s akin to industrial espionnage in MMO terms and I don’t want anyone to send out flying mechanical (or mutated) monkeys to hunt me down.
Spinks tagged me for this growing MeMe (read: me! me!), and while I’d like to think my ego is small and well-behaved, being namechecked turns it into a ravening Hulkish brute. That, and it’s a fun meme. The originator, incidentally, is here.
Like many others (as you’ll see if you follow the meme threads up and across and around), the screenies I have available on this machine are only the tip of the iceberg. Ah, if I’d known in 2000 or 2002 that I’d want my Asheron’s Call, EverQuest, and UO screenies… or my AC2 beta screenies… or even my Horizon beta screenies… Those were the days. Sadly, my occasional fits of deleting (because this comp only has a *cough* 80 gig hard drive) apparently led to my deleting screenshots with it, so I don’t even have my Vanguard or EQ2 or EVE screenshots anymore, and some of those were rather nice. Maybe by the time I’m 80 I’ll learn to have a little more foresight.
I’ve been taking a few WoW screenies since I’ve been back, but loads of people have much better ones, and I tend to take landscape shots more than anything else. For amusement’s sake though, the 6th screenie in my WoW screenshots folder is rather fitting, given the blog name. (It’s been cropped and resized.)
The for-real sixth screenie, though, I picked from my SWG screenies folder. It’s partly nostalgia (isn’t that what most screenshots are for?), but also partly to illustrate what cool things SWG let you do and other games should let you do, though in many cases the actual implementation could be improved.
It’s the sixth in a series of screenies I took that day — Christmas Lifeday 2007 at Galactic Senate city on Test Center Prime. The vegetation is the result of special Lifeday presents you could only open outside, that would cause a riot of wookiee-goodness plantage to flourish wildly for half a minute or so before disappearing. The rest is player-set decoration (or should that be player set-decoration?), the possibilities of which have expanded even more since the introduction of the Storyteller props & systems. The red-robed Wookiees are NPC “props,” for instance. (If you really need to know, I’m the Zabrak second from the right in the front row, with the baby Gurreck pet. That Kashyyyyyyk bantha isn’t mine, it’s just trying to sniff my butt.)
Now, I’ve done my share of griping about player cities in SWG, mainly because they abetted (if not caused) the progressive ghostification of the “real” cities and especially their cantinas, but then again there were many other things driving nails into that particular coffin (the increasing uselessness of the doctor profession as anything other than a buff-machine, and so on). Besides, the benefits of player cities were pretty enormous. I still have a wish-list a mile long for how those should have been done, one item on which would be allowing us to add ROADS or at least PAVEMENT so that our cities didn’t look like jumped up campgrounds plonked on the grass, but still… it’s a great and essential idea in principle. Fluff to the Nth degree.
And yes, fluff and player-driven stuff like housing, decoration, city-building and event-holding really DO promote community. They won’t create it for you, but they sure do make it easier. If you want to get a gathering together it’s a damn sight more fun (and attractive) to hold it at the Spanking Tusken Cantina in Spinksville, Tatooine, than to just mass up in front of the bloody starport. If you want people to lounge about and chat, it’s a damn sight easier to achieve if you have furniture players can *gasp* sit on.
Nostalgia isn’t always a waste of time, especially in MMOs. What we’re nostalgic for is (mostly) stuff that we really enjoyed, which makes it a signpost for future development.
But enough of the tomfoolery and MMOetaphysics. Now to try and get people who haven’t already been got… TAG, you’re it!*
– Melmoth AND Zoso from Killed in a Smiling Accident. Yes, you both have to do it.
– Pete S at Dragonchasers
– Wiqd at iMMOvation
– Ethic at Kill Ten Rats (not all of you — I’ll let other people tag the rest of your nefarious crew!)
– Sara at Symptom of a Greater Cure
– and last but not least, especially if it’ll make the bloody man post, Genda at Grouchy Gamer
PS: Not being tagged doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means my stabbing finger didn’t hit you when I was blindly poking through my blogroll. Can someone lend me some LCD-screen cleaning fluid?
* Psst, if you’d like to be tagged and I missed you, just comment. Nobody said six was binding. I am not a number! I am a free meme!
(EDIT — curse you, Spinks, unto the 6th generation! It’s all your fault that I’ve added about 73,239 (hyperbole? moi??) to my feed reader. Gah!)
(EDIT 2 — 6 tags just isn’t enough when you have a gajillion blogs linked and 100+ reader feeds. GirlIRL, you have been TAGGED! Git ‘er done!)
As announced here, yesterday.
The PTS is back in business for your testing pleasure at 5:00PM EST! With this weeks turn of events on the Public Test Server we’ve had to shift things around a bit! What does this mean for you?
Good question! When you log onto PTS you will be greeted by the grinning faces of Greenskins and the grim resolve of Dwarfs – The Slayer & Choppa will be available for the first time to all players. These long awaited careers stand at the ready for your inspection and we can’t wait to hear what you have to say!
When logging into PTS tonight you will notice all characters have been wiped, you won’t be able to copy your character during this phase. This is because we want as many players as possible focusing on the new careers and helping us whip them into shape before their big debut!
In case you were wondering this means that the Zone Domination test planned for tonight will be postponed until next week. We’ll post more updates on it as it approaches, so stay tuned – It won’t be something you’ll want to miss!
We’ll have plenty of Tier 4 testing in the PTS phases to come for now enjoy the new careers and be sure to post your feedback on the Official PTS Forums! With your help we’ll continue to make 1.2 even more awesome.
So Get BERZERK Get FURIOUS Get TO DA CHOPPA!!!
To try ‘em out or not to try ‘em out, that is the question. I like test servers, and I like helping to find the “zomg his head is on backwards, how did this get through?!” issues, preferably before they reach live… but on the other hand I don’t want to spoil the anticipation of the careers’ live release either. My enthusiasm for WAR remains undiminshed, though my enthusiasm for playing WAR has waned rather sharply — there just isn’t enough fluff in the game for a, err, fluffer like me; so I’m afraid that previewing the careers before they’re live will only take the shine off them too quickly.
Anyway, for those of you not burdened with such philosophical considerations, there they are!