Gaming Massively

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Unsurprisingly, I'm not the only one who hates paying too much money. The Ancient Gaming Noob did a post on the subject almost exactly one year ago. He proposes a 'prepaid mobile phone' style plan, where you pay by the hour, month, or whatever, depending on which plan makes the most sense for you. Of course, this could run into the capacity question, since in theory all those people could log in at the same time. But overall I think it's a great idea.

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More Pirates, but different

Tobold and others have pointed out that Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean MMO is out today. This is an interesting form of in-game advertising, in that the game itself is an advertisement. Like Stargate Worlds, I'm not sure whether the brand can support a game. On the other hand, if the game itself is good enough, the game could be self-sustaining, and thus drive additional products. I am personally attracted to this model because I hate the monthly fee model (or more precisely, I hate paying for things). I suspect, however, that the annoyance of other models would make me happy to pay a fee instead.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Eve Online newbie review

There's a story up at that offers a newbie's view of Eve Online. I've been reading an awful lot about this game, and everything I've heard seems to jive with this article.

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alternate endgame options

I was reading some books by fantasy author Dave Duncan, in which the various classes in his world were divided into seven levels, each being marked so people could tell what level people were. Political power was, to some degree, related to one's level. And I thought about how that would work in a massive game, but decided that people wouldn't be happy levelling so infrequently. And then I decided that the endgame would actually support it quite well - since many people at endgame tend to be pretty dedicated to the game, it would be interesting to create a separate form of level, and make the highest rank virtually impossible to achieve.

I had also thought it might be interesting to, for example, create more skill based endgame abilities - aimed shots and blocks in hand-to-hand, for example (if they don't already exist in your game of choice). It might be interesting to have various ways to progress through these end levels, for example a strategy route if you didn't want to deal with twitchy hand-to-hand, or something like that. The quests could be ridiculously long and involved, and require extensive travel, negotiation, etc.

In the end, I envision a system where perhaps a dozen people end up at the final level. Then give them real power - let them decide who to war with, or create new items, or something crazy.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

lies, damned lies, and...

WarCry has a post about low population realms in World of Warcraft, which links to a forum post by Drysc on the official forums, who points out that some of the realms people think have low populations actually don't.

Which obviously depends on how you define a low population.

Is it the total characters on the server? The total active characters? What about horde/alliance balance? What about level balance?

Maintaining all of these things, while accounting for massive churn, is a pretty complicated thing - one which I don't think the setup WoW has chosen is necessarily able to effectively address. Or rather, it might be able to address, but only with seriously active intervention, which I don't think we're seeing right now.

Hopefully future games are keeping an eye on this, and figuring out how to deal with it (if they're lucky enough to find themselves in this spot).

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Monday, October 22, 2007


Is it ironic that the same day the BBC posts a story about how massive games make distributed business easier, Sony Online Entertainment support is shut down by wildfires - a distinctly local event. It would be interesting to see a business that makes massive games using massive games for their internal communications.

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population density

There's an interesting post over at Voyages in Eternity which asks what the preferred population density of a city should be. This ties in nicely, as well, with a post Tobold did this morning asking how to deal with falling server populations in WoW. Both of these, in some way, address the question of ideal population density in a game. Of course, they aren't identical, as the problem in WoW is that many quests are group quests, and those can't be done if you are all alone in an area. There does exist a way to combine the two questions to a degree, as you could set up NPC adventurers that could help you with group quests.

I am of the opinion that cities should be as densely populated as a 'real' city would be. This is especially true if there is going to be player housing. Random scripted events between citizens makes the game more fun, IMO. I like to see that the metalworker is stopping by the bakery for coffee before heading to the forge.

This holds true for quests, as well - I hate the fact that the quest villagers simply wander around in straight lines or circles. Hate it. Introducing cyclic events in those quests makes them more interesting - if you do the quest three times, and every time the people are in different places, going about their business, it makes it just a bit more challenging - and interesting.

The poster over at ViE notes that empty towns do "make it easier to 1) maneuver through the streets and not become distracted/lost, 2) find what or who you are looking for, and 3) highlight 'important' NPCs and other PCs, as opposed to those that have nothing to directly offer to the ongoing activity of the character". But this implies that the end game is the goal, whereas for some people, all those little side notes are just as much the goal. It depends on whether you are end-game focused. Certainly if I were creating a character for crafting, I would love to be able to set up a shop, or befriend a shopkeep, and know that the populace at large were buying my things.

And don't get me started on the shops in WoW where there isn't even a shopkeep. Argh!

Outside of towns, it gets trickier - it's much harder to believe you're doing an awesome quest that only your heroic character can do if there's a queue to get in to the instance, and a mob of folks hanging out waiting for other party members. But you do need people to pick up group with. And chat with. Etc.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Stargate Worlds release date announced

Ten Ton Hammer has noted that Stargate Worlds now has a release date: the end of 2008. I really can't decide what to do with this one - it seems like it could easily be a Tabula Rasa - pure shooter type game. Which didn't appeal to me at all - I tried it a couple times, but just didn't find it engaging. But I love stargate, so I really want to like the game. We'll see what they do to appeal to the non-shooter fans. With any good luck I'll be able to beta it before it comes out.

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Slashdot has posted a story about using AI to reduce the effects of lag on gamers. The actual paper is a bit more complex. From the abstract:
Predictive contract mechanisms such as dead reckoning are widely employed to support scalable remote entity modeling in distributed interactive applications (DIAs). By employing a form of controlled inconsistency, a reduction in network traffic is achieved. However, by relying on the distribution of instantaneous derivative information, dead reckoning trades remote extrapolation accuracy for low computational complexity and ease-of-implementation.
The 'reduction in network traffic' will be nice, as although I would like to think the network will cease to be a block to a good online experience, I don't honestly believe things will get radically better soon.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Of all things, my USA today this morning greeted me with an article on the two upcoming Conan games. Nothing special, but I thought it was an interesting statement on how mainstream these sorts of things had become.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

PotBS stress test notes

The folks over at PotBS have an article up on their stress test from last weekend. It's a pretty interesting run down the fun they had over the 72 hours or so the stress test ran. If you ever needed a reminder of how much more fun playing games is than running the servers that run the games, this is it. From a technical standpoint, it tells you a lot about how they've designed the game to operate.

One thing you'll notice is the discussion of the zone servers. Based on the fact that players wait for these to start, it must be a form of instancing, which is one of the big MMO debates. The trick is, instancing is easy - you can easily load balance servers that are running instances, whereas it's much more difficult to keep things up and running when everyone is in the same place.

I'm kind of of the opinion this represents a failure of the developers to properly leverage the hardware, but that's not really fair of me - there's nothing worse than an armchair programmer. In my head, I imagine massive clusters powering a single, crazy large instance of a game. This is tough if you're going to be located in various sites around the world, though you can speculate that if you could get fiber between your sites you could run the whole thing as one global mass. But that'd be quite a network setup.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

farming and rep

Female Gamer has written a post title Farming is Boring, which addresses the rep system WoW and apparently LotRO have decided to use, whereby you earn reputation with a community for each of their enemies you kill, and since you need a lot of reputation to get their super-duper-awesome thing, you end up killing a bajillion of their enemies in a pointless rep grind.

What makes more sense? Well, think about it - do it like your favourite book or movie. You live among them, get to know them, do a big quest for them. Since in the game world 'living among them' and 'getting to know them' is synonymous with doing quests, then the most sense is to have quests, little and big, that relate to the tribe or town in question. Simple stuff - 'can you find my sheep' or 'Timmy fell down a well' or whatever. And frankly, some of the stuff should be irredeemable. Kill the chieftan, forget ever getting their help (except through some crazy 'I rescued your new chief's son from some absurdly powerful enemies' type quest - and even then there should be factions in the town who will never trust you).

Either way, in addition to being boring, earning reputation exclusively through killing is a bit morally dubious, isn't it?

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Ten Ton Hammer is reporting that Perpetual, a gaming studio responsible for some big name mmos, is being bought out. This may or may not pan out, but it does raise an interesting aspect of the massive game - it costs a lot of money. Some people have said (non MMO) games are uninteresting because of the budget - noone wants to take risks. It would be easy to extend this to MMOs, which many are saying are a bit bland these days. One way to reduce exposure to any single title, of course, would be to consolidate a bunch of them under one roof. Obviously SOE isn't a perfect example of this, but that isn't how it has to go. Right now if I were an investor, I wouldn't want to have my eggs in one game basket. I wonder if the direction this is headed is exactly where we are with the movie industry - a few gargantuan companies slogging it out with mediocre drivel. Let's hope not.

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more on WAR

Keen and Graev have more info on the Warhammer beta shutdown. One of the people with the game made a long post. Me? I'm all for a shutdown - that's why it's called beta!

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this could be good... or bad...

MMORPGdot linked to a Warhammer Herald note that the WAR beta will be closing for a while, to revamp the game. This is probably good news - do some major rehauling, and not have to worry about the beta people while you do it. At the same time, there is some concern in my mind about how messed up things must be to need to shut the system down altogether - it seems like, in a beta, you can jerk almost anything around. It could be a community management thing - you could build up a lot of ill will during an overhaul if you keep screwing with core elements. In the note, they say they close the beta periodically, and perhaps this really is just SOP.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Spent a good part of Sunday doing happy druid things. Leveled to 41 (finally!) and ran Uldaman one and a half times (had to bow out the first time for some IRL stuff. My druid has all his talent points in nature, but now I'm starting to rethink some of the early points - a couple spells and effects I'm now wishing I had. One thing I'm very happy with is hurricane, an AOE that I put to good use (some in my guild might say too much use) on the run. Raining down lightning on half a dozen giant scorpions is good for the soul, I believe. As my guildies recently ran me through Scarlet Monastery as well, I'm suffering an overabundance of powerful weaponry, and I'm going to have to decide which I like better relatively soon. Do I take the big hammer, or the big spell damage?

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Bungie go bye-bye

Seems Microsoft and Bungie are going their separate ways, now that Halo 3 is out in the wild. I'll be interested to see what they do next.


weekend beta

The beta stress test of Pirates of the Burning Sea has opened to all, so I went and downloaded a copy yesterday. More accurately, I tried to download a copy. FilePlanet is now fairly far down on my list of likes, after I discovered they don't support downloading to a Mac. As we use a Mac mini for our home server, it makes sense to download files to it, then pop them over to the game machine (which sucks approximately ten times the electricity when it's turned on). But no soup - their ActiveX downloader doesn't work on Mac, and the link to bypass it was broken. So I used the gaming box to download the client, which finished just before I left for work today. So hopefully there will be piratical action this weekend. I understand I'll be subject to some sort of NDA, so details may be thin.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

but then it's work!

So, less than a week after I start this thing, one of the gaming blogs posts for a position writing blog entries on MMORPG's. I thought about it for a second or two, but realized it wouldn't be fun if it were work. At least for me.



One of the things I do like about online games is their ability to be seasonal. Right now it's brewfest time in World of Warcraft, and they've set up some amusing little quests and visuals to add color to the game. It's not really something you could very easily do to a traditional game, and I think it's something that will be taken advantage of even more in the future. There are actually a lot of opportunities in this area - a game which is supposed to take place in a certain real-world location could tie in to local forecasts, for example.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fall Game Preview

Tom's Hardware has a gaming section which recently published a two part Fall Gaming Preview. For the most part there's nothing new, but it does give a nice overview of what's coming out, and it's great for non-MMO titles. Tabula Rasa does make an appearance, but otherwise it's a whole lot of FPS (unless we count Tabula Rasa as FPS as well).

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Pirates beta

Tobold just posted that you can get a beta for Pirates of the Burning Sea, but it's through FilePlanet, which is subscription only. I just can't bring myself to do someone's server stress testing for them, and pay for the privilege beside. If my interest doesn't wane, I'll consider it, but I think that's a long time off.

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the game within a game

A post over at female gamer made me think more about sub-games. The post is all about the new chicken game in LotRO, in which our intrepid hero (that'd be you) is transformed into a chicken to complete some quests. The idea, at least as I have seen it proposed and discussed, is that you have a quick game within the game that you can pick up and put down.

I thought there were a couple of revealing things about the review of the chicken play - the most interesting was that although it was possible for the player to suspend disbelief enough to accept they were a sword-carrying hobbit (or whatever), they then wanted internal consistency - having your character suddenly turn into a chicken without a good reason was unacceptable. I think this is an interesting point about these games - once you have changed the rules of logic, don't go fiddling with them anymore.

The subgame concept also made me think of what I consider the most brilliant application of the concept - Legends of Norrath. This is a customizable card game built directly into EverQuest and EverQuest 2. Absolutely brilliant! I love the idea. It's like playing the Yu Gi Oh cartoon! Actually, I don't know how it's been implemented, but I really enjoy the concept.

I think this is an area that will only grow in the future - I mean, why not do something like Yahoo Games, where you walk into a bar in your favorite MMO, and can pull up a chair (and a virtual frosty one) and demolish that arrogant level 7000 warrior in a game of chess? Sure, he'll liquefy you and have his pet eat the remains because he's a bad loser, but you'll know you pwned his king in six moves.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Tabula Rasa

So Tabula Rasa, the new sci-fi shooter MMO, went to open beta last weekend, which basically means anyone who wants to can download it and try it out. So I did. Other people have written reviews, some of which have been positive, more of which have been negative. I only made it through the first few quests so far (I think I have ten days to try it out), so I can't give a comprehensive opinion, but from what I saw so far my thoughts are 'meh'. Not because I don't think it's a good game for a certain type of player - merely because that player isn't me. It's very first person shooter-esque. And army game-esque. I did like some things - you can apparently lead teams of NPCs, which I think is a really good idea that all games should incorporate - as your character becomes epically powerful, give 'em an army. Sack a town. Etc. But for the most part it just didn't speak to me. I'll try it some more and see if it grows on me, but for the most part I think it's not my bag, baby.

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