Boathammer : Age of Bloggening

July 6, 2008

WAR and the Formalization of Games in Games

Filed under: Theory — boatorious @ 3:28 pm

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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!


July 4, 2008

The Massive Multireader Online Rolereading Blog

Filed under: Totally True — boatorious @ 11:00 am

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To truly serve the fans of the MMORPG, Warhammer : Age of Reckoning, we here at Boathammer have decided you need a new type of blog. A web 4.0 blog. A blog that is actually a game.

(At this point you should start humming some theme music in your head. If you hum something public domain that would save us some money, we would appreciate it.)

Welcome to Boathammer : Age of Bloggening! Thanks to our innovative design, we guarantee that we’ll be the best game blogging game that you’ve ever seen!

Just look at our feature list (WARNING : NOT YET IMPLEMENTED)

  • Multiple Modes of Advancement : You can advance in comments posted, trolling, lurking, or cursing
  • Comment Dyes : Earn the right to post in custom colors! Pre-orders will get unique comment dyes that will never be available again!
  • Guilds : Just respond to a comment to join that person’s guild! To quit a guild, don’t respond to that person’s comments!
  • Comment Combat : Players of the opposing faction can delete or alter your comments!
  • RVR : RVR included!

Or take a look at our implemented features :

  • 15 dollar monthly subscription fee : Just stick 15 dollars cash in an envelope, go to the park, and duct tape it to the bottom of the bench by the tree. It’s that easy!
  • For non-US residents : please attach the envelope to helium balloon, wait until the wind is blowing towards the US, and release.
  • For US residents, if you find a balloon with an envelope attached to it : That’s mine. Please stick an additional 15 dollars into it, go to the park, and duct tape it to the bottom of the bench by the tree.
  • Released in 2011 : YEAH!

July 3, 2008

Five Things That Worry Me or Encourage Me About Warhammer

Filed under: Enumeration — boatorious @ 1:31 am

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There have been a number of these lists floating around. You’ll notice I spend a lot of time comparing WAR to WoW. In my mind there’s really no other game in town.

Five Things That Worry Me About Warhammer

  1. The NDA is Still Up
    With less than three months to the projected launch date the NDA is still up. Although that kind of secrecy isn’t unprecedented, WoW had dropped its NDA around seven months before the game was released.

    Especially considering that you can easily close off “unfinished” portions of the game — what isn’t the general public ready to see?

    One thought is that, while the NDA will allegedly still be active during the guild beta, it might be smoke and mirrors since Mythic may be waiting until the Guild Beta starts to announce the drop.

  2. There are still CE’s available
    Mythic has made it clear that there are only 60,000 CE’s available. The CE should be attractive to players because it offers a head start and guaranteed access to the beta.

    However, there are evidently still a number of CE’s still available. Considering the recent success of Age of Conan, selling 60,000 beta keys shouldn’t be that hard.

  3. Bastion Stair
    Mythic recently released a video of one of the end game dungeons, the Bastion Stair.

    What can I say about it? Well, the exterior looks great. The inside … well, the inside has an awful lot of red hallways with blue columns connecting small red rooms.

    A raider is going to spend a lot of time in a twenty-five man dungeon and it helps if the dungeon reminds you of how great the game looks instead of how you’re sick of looking at the same wall texture for 20 hours a week. If I were Mythic I would hold off on the Stair at release.

  4. Variety of Gameplay
    Most MMORPGs have PvE as the main game and PvP as the sideshow. That’s OK, because there’s generally a lot of solo PvE to jump into, and since PvP is always easy to jump into there are always two options for players who can’t find a group.

    Warhammer inverts the equation. Crafting seems a little sparse, and there doesn’t seem like there is much solo PvE at max, via repeatable quests or honor or what have you. So what do you do in Warhammer when you’re bored of PvP?

  5. The Wife Doesn’t Think She’s Going To Play
    I realize this doesn’t affect most of you, but the single most important factor in my MMO adoption has always been my wife’s tastes. When I start a game and she doesn’t pick it up, I tend to quit. I also tend to quit if she quits.

    It’s really for a number of reasons. It’s nice to chat with her in game, and I’m not trying to schedule my game playing around hanging out with her (since it’s fun to play together). Really , a game doesn’t seem massively multiplayer to me unless I’m playing with my wife.

Five Things That Encourage Me About Warhammer

  1. What we’ve seen so far looks good
    With the exception of Bastion Stair I haven’t seen any feature of the game that seems poorly designed or just un-fun. Indeed, there are a lot of nice things in the game, like the dynamic landscape (capturing, leveling cities), and the Tome of Knowledge. Not to mention that the Warhammer IP is just rich, fun, and … old.
  2. The devs seem to say the right things
    The interviews with Jeff Hickman and Paul Barnett seem to go well. They talk a good game and talk like they know what a good game is. They seem spontaneous but never seem to throw any red flags.

    Of course I never really understand what Paul Barnett is saying. Who knew Canadians could be so silly?

  3. It’s the Age of the MMO
    Many people worry about the effect of WoW on WAR, but not me. Nearly everybody who plays WoW needs a break sooner or later. What do you play during your break? How about something a lot like WoW but with some cool, different features?

    I played one MMORPG that I took seriously before WoW. During breaks from WoW I’ve now tried out four or five.

    In an age where lackluster MMORPG’s survive and flourish, an even half-decent Warhammer has little to fear.

  4. How successful does it have to be?
    We often talk about WoW’s 10 million players but not much about how relatively small other MMOG’s have been. It took EVE online two or three years just to hit 100,000 users. And how long have they been around? 100,000 users paying 15 bucks a month gives you almost 20 million dollars a year. When you’re paying a lot of technical people that’s not an infinite number of money, but it does let you staff more than enough to keep your game going.

    If Warhammer manages 100,000 players in North America and 100,000 players in Europe, subscription fees alone will get them about 35 million a year, which should be more than enough to keep the devs, EA, and the fans fat and happy.

  5. They’ve done this all before
    The game doesn’t seem to have the polish of WoW, but I’m also fairly confident that we’ll never see a WoW-original-honor-system level catastrophe from Mythic. They have run a successful MMO in the past and hopefully have all their big design mistakes behind them.

June 29, 2008

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

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

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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 🙂

Setting the Odds on the WAR Release Date

Filed under: Speculation — Tags: , — boatorious @ 1:36 am

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The last time WAR was pushed back, it was pushed back from Q4 2007 to Q3 2008. Since Q3 is already upon us and we’re not yet in open beta, some of us are no doubt wondering — will we see the release date push back again? And if it is pushed back, how far?

I’d say we probably will not see the date pushed back, and if we do, it will probably not be pushed back very far.

The two reasons why I don’t expect to see much of a delay now are the original delay and the simple facts of MMOG economics.

Why the Original Delay makes another delay unlikely

At some point Mythic went to their bosses at EA, hat in hand, and said “Please oh please please please can we have another 9 months.” Their bosses at EA said, “Why?”, and Mythic replied “The game is not in good shape and it will make you a ton more money in 9 months.”

EA went along with the replan and I think it’s been a good decision. However this greatly reduces Mythic’s options for further delays. It’s one thing to ask your boss for a short extension (let alone a long one). Asking for a second is another entirely.

Why MMO economics favor release or at most a short delay

Mythic did the right thing in delaying the game the first time because, in terms of phase planning (or whatever gaming companies call it), they were still entrenched in the “development” phase. While in the development phase Mythic is paying, say, 100 artists and developers and also a skeleton support staff (for alpha or beta servers). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they are burning through (not a real number) about a million dollars a month in payroll and overhead.

So when Mythic asked for that first delay, they were basically asking for a nine-month delay of return on investment, and also nine million extra dollars.

What about now? Well, we’re now getting closer to release. As Mythic ramps up to release they are going to start burning through money much more quickly. They’ll need to buy or rent a ton of server equipment, the space for the equipment, the bandwidth for the equipment, and support staff for the equipment. They’ll also need to hire a 24*7 customer support (GM) staff. These are not things you can do overnight and are likely well underway.

So how much money is Mythic burning through now? We should be able to at least triple the original monthly cost of the game, so now Mythic is burning through (not a real number) 3 million a month.

So it’s likely that a relatively short three month delay, were it to happen today, would cost EA and Mythic about as much money as the original nine month delay.

If I were a betting man

The game will be no more than one month late.

June 25, 2008

This is My New Blog

Filed under: Boring And Useless Site News — Tags: , — boatorious @ 11:55 pm

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My Name is Boat.

I am a software engineer, I am married and have one son, and I play videogames. This blog is about Warhammer : Age of Reckoning, a game that hasn’t even been released. I’m not even in the beta.

That’s basically everything you need to know about me.

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