Gaming Massively

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mission Architect

I'm sure we all knew something like this was coming: Slashdot pointed me to an article in Wired about the abuse of the Mission Architect in City of Heroes. The forums appear to have exploded (a post trying to clarify what was going on had 350 pages of responses).

What should be clear is that manually policing these missions will never work. I don't know what will, honestly - scripts to detect certain behaviour, maybe? In the immortal words of whoever said it first, 'this is why we never have anything nice!'

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tabula Rasa, Player Ownership, and the Open Source question

So Tabula Rasa is going to be killed. There's something especially sad about watching a game you beta tested die (sounds like I may get to do it again with Conan before too long).

As always when a game is to be shut down, a wealth of articles proposing various ways of saving the game come out. This time is no exception, and I'll grab the one at massively as an example.

The usual idea with these things seems to be 'if players like the game enough to want to save it, they can all pool their money (which would have gone for subscriptions) and save it'. Of course, if every good idea only required cash, the world would be a much better place. To even begin to save the game, you would need people with particular skill sets to arrange the move to a player-owned game, and people with an entirely different set of skills to keep it going once the transfer had been made.

It's very difficult to separate the idea of 'player owned' from the idea of 'open source', not because they aren't different, but because they would behave so similarly. So, for example, with open source when you have a problem with the software, you generally go to the community and ask a question. There are three or four helpful people, three or four assholes, and several hundred people who might help if they knew anything at all about your question, but they don't.

Given what I've seen of MMO customer service, this part sounds workable, or possibly even better, than what you get with your paid service.

Of course, the trick with an MMO is that, in addition to supplying the software, the folks holding the game in trust have to supply some fairly hefty back-end hardware. This costs real-world money, and means that, despite the fact there is no longer a company to yell at, people would still have to cough up some maintenance fees (shall we call them 'subscription fees'?) And this is where I think things might break down.

On the other hand, there is the possibility of making this work, despite the high end hardware requirements. If you could get enough tech people interested in creating an open source gaming server platform, you might be able to have the servers supplied by the developers of the back-end. Additionally, because keeping costs in check would be such a high priority, the gaming servers would have a much higher incentive to be as efficient as possible. Whether the open source community could create a server platform that is more efficient than the gaming servers already on offer by commercial companies is debatable, experience would indicate that exposure to so many more developers would lead to a better platform than any closed source platform.

The other reason this might work is because you could open the server platform to other games. Creating a simple front end (or even a complex front end, though simple would be better) and allowing other games to access the same server technology (and hopefully, the same servers) would allow you to maximize server load, and hopefully thus use the equipment as efficiently as possible, and draw in the maximum number of paying players to keep the servers running.

If, as the massively article suggests, Tabula Rasa is breaking even, it might theoretically be possible to keep it running while transitions to a more sustainable business model took place. But the challenges of creating all the teams necessary to promote and develop the game (software and hardware) long-term are daunting, and I don't know if the gaming world is ready, or willing, to embrace the kind of changes that would be necessary to pull off a TR save.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Glider, round one

Well, phase one of the Warcraft v. Glider lawsuit is over. Glider lost. But more interesting are the future legal issues. From the article: "At issue will be whether MDY broke the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act and whether [Glider software creator Michael] Donnelly will have to pay the damages from his own pocket." It's interesting, because the penalty was six million dollars, whereas, if the article is correct, only "100,000 copies of the $25 (£14) program" were sold - which would mean the total take was $2.5 million. Ouch.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some seriously tasty geekiness - and something I'd been wondering for a while - check out how Eve Online does their servers.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

They've got rhinos?!

I really like the idea of mounted combat. Age of Conan apparently has it, and more:
The game offers three mounts: horses, rhinos and elephants. Two of them - rhinos and mammoths - are available through pre-order deals, though. If someone pre-orders from BestBuy they will have a fancy new rhino waiting for them. GameStop pre-orders unlock the mammoth, while horses are purchased in the world. At this time, there is no plan to make the elephant or rhino mounts available through the game itself.
It's quite nearly enough to make me pre-order, the idea of a shiny new rhino waiting for me at level 40 with which to crush my opponents underfoot. I'll be very curious to see how this game does on release - I think timing may be everything, as I'm not sure how many outlays of fifty dollars or whatever people will be willing to make. So you get out before WAR, or you make a lot less money.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


Taunting is one of those things that has always bothered me about massive games - it works against the computer, and not at all against other players, even though in theory it is a power your character has to attract attention. Aggro management in general is very different in PvP, which is fine except where an ability that should be able to affect it, doesn't.

Tobold directed me to a post which indicates that, to some degree, WAR intends to fix this.

Their solution, to reduce the damage caused by affected targets, wouldn't be mine - I would much prefer if the taunt caused affected players to actually target the tank instead of their current target, and even run towards the target if a melee attack was indicated (basically a reverse fear). But that's a lot more complex, so I understand not doing it. But hopefully at some point the games get complex enough to force these kind of behaviours.

It would be interesting to have an AI that learns your attack strategy and mimics it on occasions when you are being taunted.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Metaplace beta test

Tobold pointed out that Metaplace will be doing a beta test to see how robust their servers are. In reading through their blog posts it occurs to me that I may not have been thinking through the game architecture they have proposed as well as I should have. It looks like, in addition to some form of web-based MMO platform, they're also planning on implementing APIs - functions that you can call from other applications.

Now, I don't know that their strategy works this way, but it suddenly occurred to me that the ability to call APIs from multiple servers means never having to instance, and never having issues of concurrent users.

Here's the deal - we need to track the location of everyone in our game, their current health, what they are doing, whether they have aggro'd monsters, etc. etc. That's a whole lot of computing power.

But rather than having each area chew up a giant server, we could allow certain functions to live on one server, certain on another. For example, hand off combat to a combat server, that only knows you, your weapons and spells, and the beasty you are fighting. Let another server track positions (use a mobile phone tower model, where position just gets handed off). Another just for chat. Etc.

Now that I've said it, it's so obvious I can't imagine people aren't doing it. What am I missing?

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Monday, February 4, 2008

NVIDIA gets PhysX

Only slightly off topic: news (from kotaku)that NVIDIA is buying AGEIA Technologies, the ones who make the PhysX card that is so darned awesome:
NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA), the world leader in visual computing technologies and the inventor of the GPU, today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire AGEIA Technologies, Inc., the industry leader in gaming physics technology. AGEIA's PhysX software is widely adopted with more than 140 PhysX-based games shipping or in development on Sony Playstation3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii and Gaming PCs.
On the subject of photorealistic gaming, this will go a long way towards making everything more alive.


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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Saturday, November 24, 2007

MS SQL? Really?

I'm always interested in the way an MMO gets put together, and while I don't read a lot of dev blogs I will pop over if one has something particularly interesting to say. Thus I found myself at Joe Ludwig's blog reading the post how to make MS SQL cry like a baby. I will confess - I'm an open source fanatic, and when MySQL can't get the job done I turn to Oracle. So it came as more than a little bit of a surprise to me that Pirates of the Burning Sea was running Microsoft. I would have said it couldn't be done, but they are obviously out to prove me wrong.

If you have survived my tech talk, here's an article on crafting in PotBS to help you unwind. I've been following this aspect of the game with some interest - I really like the idea that everything in-game can be built, though it makes striking a balance even more important - how do you prevent someone (or a cartel) from cornering the market on a key good? Of course, maybe there's a military option I haven't heard about....

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