Boathammer : Age of Bloggening

July 9, 2008

Losers always whine about their gear. Winners capture a castle and kill the king.

Filed under: Theory — boatorious @ 3:06 am

*** This blog has moved, it is now hosted at http://boathammer.com ***

With apologies to Sean Connery in The Rock (“Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and **** the prom queen.”)

Skill, for whatever reason, is probably one of the biggest forum preoccupations in WoW. Who has skill. What kind of play style requires skill. I have skill. You don’t have skill. Why doesn’t having skill automatically make me a millionaire assassin rock star monk. Etc.

Probably the most popular type of skill discussion is the “skill vs. gear” discussion. The issue is that players with less “skill” can often defeat players with less “gear”, and this seems wrong and upsets everyone a great deal.

I had almost forgotten until the topic was inevitably raised in the context of WAR. Bo at The Greenskin kicked it off with a piece on skill vs. gear (part 1 and part 2 up today) and stormcrow over at The White Tower of Hoeth wrote up a couple of pieces as well (part 1 and part 2).

Both seem to agree on certain things. Among others, they agree that inequality is inevitable, and that nobody wants to win due to gear. I agree only with the first.

The problem of MMORPG’s and player inequality

Video game RPG’s (we’ll exclude the table top here) come in all different shapes and sizes, with vastly different gaming mechanics, art, and stories. There’s really only one common characteristic that every video game RPG shares : advancement. You spend time playing the game and your character gets more powerful.

So it seems pretty straightforward to assume that PvP in an MMORPG would involve characters of unequal power. Bo and stormcrow both agree on this point, as do I.

Surprisingly many people don’t feel this way. You can always find a dozen posts on the WoW forums lamenting that gear matters in PvP.

But Bo and stormcrow are right on when they say that inequality in PvP is inevitable.

Nobody wants to win due to gear

Bo and stormcrow also posit that nobody wants to win because they had better gear. I’ll disagree. I just want to win. Play to Win is the best essay ever written about competitive gaming and it is my mantra. According to the essay, the “scrub” is one who

is bound up by an intricate construct of fictitious rules that prevent him from ever truly competing

While a good player wants to develop their skill, they’ll also gladly take any advantage they can get. The wanton desire for “skill” is just devotion to a fictional rule. A good player will instead pursue the combination of skill and advancement (gear) that will lead them to victory.

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July 6, 2008

WAR and the Formalization of Games in Games

Filed under: Theory — boatorious @ 3:28 pm

*** This blog has moved, it is now hosted at http://boathammer.com ***

I wish I remember who said it, but in the past year I read one of my favorite descriptions of video games.

It is not really a primary definition of video game, but more definition from an engineering standpoint. (I really wish I could find the quote, but all I can remember is that some developer said it.) The quote was that “Video Games are collections of smaller games.”

WoW as a collection of smaller games

Being really into WoW at that time, you could really see that WoW is the “video game”, but there are numerous fully supported smaller games. Levelling to max is a game. Each available reputation is a game. Making money is a game. Getting better gear is a game. Each individual PvP battleground instance is a game, and getting the honor from PvP is another game. Arenas are a game. Quests are games. You could go on and on.

There are also a number of “unsupported” games. For example, you can collect as many non-combat pets as you want, but the game does not recognize this or reward you for it. The most famous unsupported game in WoW is probably the most famous game, period : PvE progression. While you do get gear and rep, WoW does not have any sort of formal recognition of PvE progression. There are official no scoreboards for it, even though end-game progression is considered by most players to be the most important aspect of the game — the biggest small game.

This always bewildered me, honestly. The guys at Blizzard are quite smart and I never understood why they didn’t implement this basic feature.

(I didn’t realize it until later, but I wrote a mod that formalized part of the existing game of WoW. It was a mod to show you missing recipes called FGTradeLacker*. This made a semi-formal game out of an informal game. And at least one of my guildies then religiously played the ‘recipe collection game’ after I created the mod, which I thought was really cool.)

Mythic and innovation in small games

Mythic is making two big moves to formalize existing “small” games in WAR. With the Tome of Knowledge they are adding trophies and logs of past accomplishments. This is not totally new even in a massive game, but WAR’s dedication to this mechanic via the Tome of Knowledge is staggering. This is not some tacked-on achievement system : the devs have clearly put a lot of work into the Tome and it’s a major part of the game.

The second way WAR is formalizing the smaller games is the Guild system. Not only do guilds gain XP, they also gain their own trophies and (allegedly) have their own point system. This advances far beyond even what Mythic did previously in Dark Age of Camelot. It takes an existing small game (guild achievement) and makes it much more fun by formalizing it.

I think that this mechanic is a major innovation of WAR. In fact, I believe that in time that these formalizations will be seen, over PvP innovations, as the major innovation of WAR.

* In fact if you use one of the current recipe mods they tend to use my original data — although so far none of the subsequent mod authors who “requisitioned” my data have fleshed out the acquisition info for the cooking recipes, which irritates me to no end. If I can do the research for like 1600 recipes, surely somebody who filched my db can cover the remaining 300!

June 29, 2008

Some Thoughts on WAR, Time Management, and Targets of Opportunity

Filed under: Theory — Tags: , — boatorious @ 3:07 pm

*** This blog has moved, it is now hosted at http://boathammer.com ***

Like many others I’ve been really banking on WAR to be a great game. I want to play a game that has so many neat innovations, but that really depends on WAR mastering the tried and true.

One of my biggest worries is the issue of time management, and how this affects the content accessible to casual players. Since I don’t know much about how this will function in WAR, let’s look at how the issue is handled in WoW. While many people fault WoW with limiting the access of casual players, they’ve actually done a number of things to even the playing field between the casual and the hardcore player. Unfortunately, they’ve kept a lot of the old standards that limit the ability of casual players to experience content.

Straight Time in WoW

I’m not sure what to call game tasks that take the same amount of time for hardcore or casual players, so let’s just call it “straight time”. Keep in mind that there is some amount of expertise that will shorten the task for more experienced players — it’s just that the game does not do anything specifically to penalize or reward players based on time played.

The perfect example of a straight time task would probably be the auction house. There’s no big time bonus or penalty depending on how much you play. There’s no penalty if you only spend fifteen minutes on the AH, since the AH is in town you don’t have to travel to get there.

Questing and rep grinds are also close to straight time tasks. There’s little bonus or penalty for either casual or hardcore players.

Evening the playing field with diminishing returns

I’m not a huge fan of penalizing hardcore players but at some point it becomes desirable. A skilled player with no job and a hundred hours of playtime a week is probably going to be the master of your game and there’s no way around that. The issue is how much better they are relative to other players. The hundred-hour-guy, all else equal, is going to be better than someone that spends 50, 25, 12.5, or 6.25 hours a week playing the game. But we probably do not want them to be twice as powerful, four times, eight times, or sixteen times as powerful as the less hardcore.

The best way to do this is with diminishing returns and WoW has a number of these. Some of these things are more overt — rested XP allows casual players to level in fewer hours played, and daily quests literally throttle every player to one iteration of that quest per day.

The biggest diminishing return is one that’s often thought of the other way — raiding. While much is made of the time requirements of raiding, it’s little mentioned how it levels the playing field among players that spend thirty or more hours playing the game every week.

Long before I had a son, my wife and I were “hardcore” raiders. We spent about 20 hours raiding a week, and probably another five to twenty additional hours just playing the game. This is a lot of time in the game, but many in our guild played even more. However, the timing of raids limited everyone in the guild. So the guy that played 25 hours a week spent 20 hours in the best raid dungeons getting gear. And that guy that played 75 hours a week spent … 20 hours in the best raid dungeons getting gear.

Of course, these days there are plenty of guilds that raid more than 20 hours a week. But there’s definitely a “weakest link” factor in raiding that limits the time a hardcore player can spend doing it.

Rewarding the Hardcore Player

Unfortunately, there are game mechanics in WoW that provide increasing returns on time spent. In other games this can be much worse, to the point where players can’t be competitive unless they can invest large blocks of contiguous time in the game. EverQuest and FFXI spring to mind as games where people would camp spawns for literally a day (24 hours) or more.

WoW removed the rare spawns that made spawn camping necessary, and hopefully removed that mechanic forever from the genre. But they still had outdoor raid bosses, which are cool in theory, but in reality these bosses are inevitably devoured by players that are online all the time. I probably killed five hundred raid bosses in my WoW career but only two outdoor raid bosses. Usually the outdoor bosses were killed during the day while I was at work, by people that either played WoW all the time (no jobs) or that could play WoW at work. Outdoor raid bosses were absolutely inaccessible to anything but the hardest of core.

But outdoor raid bosses, fortunately, were not a big part of the game. There might be a few great pieces of gear available only from an outdoor kill, but generally you could ignore them and still have awesome gear.

No, the biggest prize for the hardcore player is the five-man instance. Five man groups only take two or three hours to play, but it’s often difficult to find a group. If I only have a fixed amount of time to play each night (work the next day) there’s only a very small window to find the group I need.

For example, if I have four hours to play at night, that gives me only an hour to find a group for a three-hour instance. Even if I spent twenty hours a week playing the game, if I can only play at fixed times I might only have a few hours each week to find the group I need. If I spend thirty hours a week playing the game, the time to find a group doubles even though the hours haven’t. A player that spends forty hours a week playing (and has more flexibility) probably has twenty or thirty hours to find the same group. The 20-hour-a-week player on a fixed schedule only has 25% of their time to find a group, while the 40-hour a week player with a flexible schedule probably has 75% of their time available to find the same group.

So the five man, ad hoc instance is the biggest obstacle to the casual player.

Time and the Casual Warhammer Player

I’m not in the beta and couldn’t discuss if it I was, so this is all conjecture. But I do have some worries about WAR.

My biggest worry is the public quests — how hard are they? How many players do they require? If public quests require 20 or more players it’s hard to imagine that most players will even experience them. How long do the public quests last? If they last several hours will I get a chance to do them in entirety to get the best reward? Will they always be available?

My second biggest worry is other PvE content — I’m hopeful that there isn’t enough raiding content to require a “raiding schedule” like in WoW. I can meet with a guild once or twice a week to do a dungeon, but three to six raids a week is right out.

PvP content, from what I’ve gathered, is going to be available to pretty much all players, pretty much all the time. That’s good, but how important is winning? Will the game reward players that don’t play in guild (and so are losing a lot)? The Warsong Gulch battleground in WoW comes to mind as a particularly miserable experience if you are not winning, while AV and AB can still be rewarding in a losing group (if you are not getting completely rolled).

I guess time will tell. I’m hoping that my fears are completely unfounded 🙂

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