Gaming Massively

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

examples from the real world

I was thinking, in one of my less lucid moments (or maybe it was more lucid, but regardless) of a way to ensure that everyone participated in, or at least had an interest in, some sort of PvP area that could be controlled by either side. I drew on the real world example of mobile phones. Mobile phones use an ultra rare ingredient called Coltan that can be found in only a few places around the world. Since mobile phone production is so important, securing coltan has led in some cases to a real-world PvP sort of situation.

Once I had a real world crazy example, I thought 'why not get really crazy' and base the game on RMT, with currency having both a buy and sell rate (with a commission earned by the game maker in both directions).

Assuming you make the game fun enough in all other respects (big assumption, I know), this in-game element could become as contentious as the real-world example I drew from. Since we already know large organizations get involved whenever there is money to be made, one can imagine the whole thing blowing up into serious RL drama.

Obviously, this is all a thought exercise, as I don't think, in the end, this would make for a stable game play experience, but it is interesting (for me, at least) to think about ways in which the real world could be drawn into the game, giving the game a richer background.

I have the impression that Eve Online may live on the fringes of this sort of thing, but I need my games a lot more carebear, so I'm not sure.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

It's a good thing I'm slow on the draw

If I were a faster poster, this would have taken two three blog entries. But now it only takes one, which says that Age of Conan is coming out in May, not March, not 2007 (both of which were previously announced release dates).

I suppose it's a tough line to walk, trying to steer between delaying beyond the time your money runs out, and releasing a product that just isn't ready. It's especially tough with a game that you know will change again as soon as you release it, but by the same token, these are well known problems in IT, and in the end the problems are much the same - users want lots of features, programmers can't deliver them all. So you choose the important ones to get out the door, and put the rest in the next release. So why people seem to be getting their release dates so completely wrong, given that this problem is well known, is beyond me. The only thing I can say is that getting your dates wrong on an IT project is not unique to the gaming world.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

ZG redux

What a difference the level cap increase makes. We blasted through Zul'Gurub with nary a wipe, and hardly any close calls. Realization number one: that is a heck of a long dungeon. We stopped after about half the bosses and 4 hours. But it was entertaining - I am reinforced in my belief that raiding is the part of the game I enjoy the most (or perhaps rather that doing anything in a group is more fun). Now, unfortunately, I have to grind rep in order to actually claim the prizes from the items I picked up inside. And I hate, despise, detest, and generally disdain grinding rep.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Raiding

Finally, finally, finally I'm at a level in WoW that I can actually run something with my guild. Tomorrow, if the spirits smile on me, I'll be in Zul'Gurub with 19 of my guildmates.

It's been an interesting, frustrating climb to level 58, and has shown me one of the major weaknesses of the game mechanics World of Warcraft uses: once people are done with a section of content, they're done pretty much forever. Even though, for example, Black Wing Mountain has fun content that is certainly replayable, people have moved on - they're in Outlands now, and for the most part they are not coming back.

I don't know what the solution is - others have suggested the only game that would be totally replayable is PvP, or that PvE stuff should scale (to each according to their abilities, if you will). I like the idea of a PvP where everyone is equal, so a guild could run it together, but I know there are other opinions on that. Either way, the company that solves the endgame problem will most assuredly be very successful.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MMOs and perception

This topic had been hovering in the periphery of my mind today, and then Voyages in Eternity did a great post on the subject, complete with one possible way of implementing it.

The basic question is, how do you accurately reflect different skills or abilities in perception - noticing or hearing things. This is tricky, because of course the computer interface is not your head - you don't have peripheral vision because the screen isn't wide enough (exceptions apply). And it's your eyes looking at the screen, and your ears listening (maybe) to the sound - not your character's.

It's actually easier to reflect a lack of ability (sight/hearing) than an exceptional ability. If you don't show the object at all, you can guarantee the player won't see it. Ditto for sound - don't play it, it doesn't get heard.

As much as the glittering objects in WoW since 2.3 may be maligned, I think they were on the right path. Why not make things really obvious when your character notices them? By the same token, for peripheral vision, why not flicker one side of the screen? That would get the player to stop and look around.

You could have multiple levels of this sort of thing - don't display the object at all, show it but don't make it stand out, and then various levels of 'hey - look at me' for objects the character really noticed.

This could extend to all the other senses - hearing could be done using either sound or visual cues. Taste and touch and smell also - general visual cues that represent the character's perception of his or her environment.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Romance Novel MMO?

We discussed further this morning the idea from a couple days ago for a 19th century MMO. Things like skill trees (gambling, drinking, flirting, driving and riding), action bars (flirt, simper, rap knuckles with fan), PvP (duels, boxing, racing).

It leads to a question, though, about how to escape the fact that if the game designers are themselves gamers, and primarily male, and the gaming audience is primarily male (the daedalus project suggests mmo gamers are 85 percent male), how do you execute a game based on a genre that appeals primarily to women (according to the Romance Writers of America, 78 percent of readers are female). Something like this represents simultaneously a huge risk, and a huge opportunity. If you build it, will they come?

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Stargate Worlds

Well, West Karana may not believe in Stargate Worlds (or Stargate at all, apparently), but The Common Sense Gamer certainly does!
Stargate: SG-1 [...] lasted 10 seasons and is probably THE longest running sci-fi series in television history. I’m going to tell you… we have nine of those seasons (…don’t think that season ten is out yet…) and each one is very solid. The series itself is very well written with a deep story line with lots of "meaning of life" stuff in it. The characters, although a bit weak to start, really, really grow on you….especially Jack O'Niell.

I do think the IP is very strong. The game? We'll see.

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19th Century MMO?

My wife and I were discussing why there aren't more MMOs based on 'real-life'. She suggested, for example, a game based on the Napoleonic wars. As we discussed it, it became clear that many of the game elements World of Warcraft introduced could work very well for a game based in history (or in the present day). Because time is more or less fixed, you could run things through a little bit at a time (the armies are here, etc.) You could even stage 'events' where the actual battles would take place (since really, the war was a whole lot of maneuvering and very few days of pitched battles).

We also discussed how interesting the social side of a game set in this milieu could be - with a bajillion readers of romance novels and/or period pieces, why not have the game set in the upper class social world of the 19th century. The key statistic, then, would be your reputation, rather than health or stamina (although stamina could be used for, for example, the ballroom or the drinking hall). Levelling would include such traits as promotion within the government. You could grind rep with particularly influential people. Etc. It fits very well using the basic mechanics already well established in other games. And the audience, interestingly, is completely new - which either means great success, or great failure....

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

PvGM

Iain Banks has a series of science fiction books in which one of the social groups (empires) is called The Culture. The basic element you need to know for this post is that most of the governance comes from a group of artificial intelligences - beings specifically created to govern justly and efficiently, with those at the highest levels having almost godlike knowledge. Many of the plots involve people interacting with these robots, and trying to outwit them. I had thought this introduced a rather interesting option for a sort of 3rd path for gaming. Not PvP, nor PvE, but rather Player versus Really Well Informed Gaming Company Employees. Thus you are interacting with a real person, so the events never happen the same way twice. This could be part of any other overall game - in fact, it already happens, but generally accidentally - the game designers leave a hole accidentally, and people exploit it. But what if that were part of the game - what if there were intentionally left exploits. It would be tough - as a designer you would have to be sure to insulate these gaps so they didn't break the game as a whole. Then people could play the game straight up, or try to exploit, with XP (or something) being rewarded for successfully beating the system.

Mobile Gaming and the Virtual Economy

With CES going on, folks are talking about gadgets. Tobold has a post on multi-platform gaming, with a specific reference to auction houses.

However, it was a later post, about material production in PotBS, that really made me think about the mobile possibilities. Why not go beyond - create a real (game based) economy, complete with loans, stocks, etc, all accessible in the same way real markets are. Since clearly people seem to enjoy participating in (fake) economic transactions, let the game become literally two games. Pure traders need never set foot (so to speak) in the game. It would be a way to create a profit center as well - you could let people buy the currency with real money. To prevent inflation, however, it might be better to limit this exchange.

But there's also the game, whatever it's based on. Putting some production limits in place (like PotBS does), and making everything player produced, allows you to control the availability of higher level items. Allowing them to be permanently destroyed is another limit.

Then, for giggles, allow natural disasters (to keep investors on their toes). Combined with the natural chaos a market will induce (runs on certain items, etc) the game will never be the same twice.

I think the biggest key is not to let the level of the characters determine the value of items - make sure that the lower level stuff stays valuable, even as the upper level stuff gets out there.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Someone else likes Stargate

I was really pleased to see I'm not the only one waiting for Stargate to release, as Keen notes "If you’re as much a Stargate fan as I am" while posting about the contest to become a character in the game. At least now I know there's one other person!

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not dead

Merely on holiday. I've been reading a bunch, but haven't seen anything that really struck my fancy too much. It's funny how much I don't know, even about the game I actually play (WoW). A big debate has been going on about how PvP gear is better than PvE gear, and so people grind PvP even though they don't like it, etc. etc. I only recently figured out that the badges I got from PvP were worth anything. I certainly can't have an opinion yet on the high-end gear. I love the fact that when people talk about the casual players, they still don't mean me, as I'm apparently more casual than they can conceive of.

For the most part, this has been fine - I don't have to worry about end game, as I probably won't get there before they extend it out another ten levels. But if, as has been asserted, the minority hardcore are the ones driving development, I wonder if the next generation of games, which seem to be taking their cues from the 800 pound gorilla, will be completely unaccessible to me. Which implies it will be the third generation when things really get interesting. I just wonder if, for example, WoW will be able to adapt when the new types of games start rolling out.

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