Sunday, 30 March 2014

Farcry 3: A New Target

[Part of the Diary of a Marked One]

Single-player was just training. Coop mode is where the bad guys really bring the pain! >_<

After a few weeks of hunting the "new" pirate scum, I joined up with two other mercenaries who were equally interested in putting these criminals into the ground - specifically their new captain who we all refer to as "The Captain". We almost caught him at a nearby fishing outpost where we knifed, shot and exploded our way through all opposition but our prey was always one step ahead and ultimately escaped without us ever seeing him in person.

Hopefully it's not -this- captain.

The most memorable parts of the exercise for me were rescuing a captured boatman who became our transport ally, being freaked out by the pirate attack dogs (who are by far the worst enemies since you are helpless if they get up to you), blowing up a bridge to prevent pirate reinforcements from flanking us (because they can't swim across the rather shallow river apparently) and participating in a quad bike competitive race to see who could put the most explosives at a landslide that was blocking our way. Who says we can't have fun on the job?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

MMOs: Ammunition

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

A minor detail that is often overlooked.

During the early days of MMO's (at least the first few I played), ammunition was always something tracked by the game. These days it seems ammunition is in such abundance that MMO's no longer track them. You have a gun? You can fire it. You have a bow? You can shoot it. Foreeeever.

I can see why they might have done it though. If ammo is an item then there are probably different versions of it, like fire, exploding, poison, etc. Then people will want to be able to craft it AND the various versions which will probably eventually lead to the "why does 1 plank of wood = 10 arrows or one chair" argument. Then players that focus on ammo dependent weapons will ask for ammo pouches, because it's unfair that their inventory slots (or weight restrictions) are taken up by bullets.

Instead, they change it into weapon skills - like in Guildwars 2 a thief can use a bouncy arrow or an arrow that poisons the area. Those options are available as long as he holds a bow and has unlocked those skills. If games really don't want to track ammo usage then perhaps they should make use of the Gamma World method more. For those who don't know what it is, it goes like this:

Ammunition: Bullets are a limited resource that you must use sparingly. In the D&D Gamma World game, ammunition is abstract: You either have ammo, or you don’t. If you do, you can use ammunition to fire any weapon you have that requires ammunition. If you don’t, you can’t.

If you use ammunition only once in an encounter: You are managing your ammo reserves carefully. At the end of the encounter, you still have ammunition.

If you use ammunition more than once in an encounter: You’re going whole hog—you might as well rock ‘n’ roll, because at the end of the encounter, you are out of ammo. You must acquire more before you can use a weapon that requires ammunition again (if you borrow some from an ally, then that ally is out of ammo.) Your Game Master determines when you find more ammo.

That design is more built around the scarcity of supplies in that game world and helping the players from doing much book keeping, but slightly modified I think it would suit any MMO and ammo would still be "a thing" players would need to care about. How I would translate it into a game is as follows:

Generic "Ammo" items need to be carried in your pack to use ranged weapons. It takes up one slot if we're using the slot mechanic for inventory, and should be reasonably expensive.

Each "ammo" box has a cool-down timer. Every time you fire it fills x% of the gauge (depending on the weapon). As long as you don't fire then the timer cools down back to 0. Stay calm and collected and in the green, and you can fire forever - but if your gauge gets over 100% then the timer turns red.

If you are on the red cool-down timer, that means you're not being careful with your ammo. You can go nuts and fire as much as you want for the next minute or two as the timer cools down. After which the ammo items are depleted and destroyed from your inventory.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or too much hassle? Should ammo instead go back to being tracked individually or do you feel that having an unlimited supply makes for a more enjoyable gaming experience?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Folding Plastic Bags

Here's an off-beat post that has nothing to do with gaming! :P

If you're like me and you have a ton of scrunched up plastic bags stowed away somewhere, then this post is for you as you can save a fair bit of space by simply folding them. I'm annoyed I've only started doing it lately as it is really quite effective, more so if you have one of those plastic bag holder/dispenser bags with a tightening cord at the bottom.

Step 1: Lay out your plastic bag neatly (or neatly enough).
Step 2: Fold in half and half again, then push all the air out.

Step 3: From a bottom corner, start folding little triangles, working your way up.

Step 4: One you reach the top, fold the tips of the handles down and into the triangle.
Or: If your bag doesn't have handles, also fold triangles from the top and tuck them into each other at the end.


This will literally take you 5 seconds or less. Hopefully someone out there finds it as useful as I have! :)

Monday, 24 March 2014

Today I Smiled: Silly Goat!

Words fail to describe the sheer silliness that is Goat Simulator and, regardless if it is an April fool's joke or not (see the humorous disclaimer), the trailer did a fantastic job of making me smile today - so I thought I'd share it with you all.

Who needs TESO when you have Goat Simulator? :P

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Star Trek Online: Where Everyone has Gone Before

Since I already have a Cryptic account I figured I'd give this, the predecessor to Neverwinter Online, a try.

Set zipper to stun!

After creating your character, which I think actually has more customizability than in NWO, you soon end up with your own "starter" spaceship which just like you and your officers (party / away team) can be upgraded with various gear and "injured" if you lose combat. Yep. Spaceships get injuries. Poor spaceship! Terminology aside, the overall feeling I got was that space, especially near planets, is messy! Given that each player is a captain of his or her own ship, you can see why this would be the case. This is not a bad thing though, as without all that clutter the universe would be a pretty lonely place.

The space travel and space combat are actually pretty well done, and are the highlights of my experience in the game. In the end you are still basically a boat, and trying to cross the "T" in combat for efficiency. That is, you want to broadside your full payload at enemy vessels who are either directly facing or running away from you. Sure there's shields (which you can adjust the facing of) and photon torpedoes and lasers, but switch that out for old fashioned cannons and it's the same principle. The little artefact mini game that you'll often encounter is also a nice enough diversion for a small amount of loot. I also really like the "random space" sector that doesn't seem to have main quests but instead randomized missions that pop up as you approach points of interest.

Ground wise movement and environments are quite nice too, but the combat is... clunky at best. You don't get the phasers with only 2 settings of stun and kill like on the show. Nope, this time they act like the same math driven weapons you find everywhere else and the formula of "If old weapon dmg < new weapon dmg = switch to new weapon" certainly applies. Once you have a full away team though you might not even have to worry about the ground fighting so much as they will basically handle everything for you (at least in the little I played they did). I actually tested this on a Gorn planet. Didn't fire a shot, yet my away team slaughtered all those lizard men with no problems. Some of the randomized missions though are... lacking in decor to say the least. I did one where basically all I did was run through an empty cave. Exciting stuff that.

Still I can see cool potential in this game, and if I wasn't stuck into Neverwinter Online (D&D is more my thing) then I'd probably give it a more expansive look. For now though I think I'll give it 3 tricorders out of 5. Not the best MMO out there for my tastes but certainly not one of the worst.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Dune: Why didn't this become an MMO?

Fear is the mind-killer...
Just finished watching it (and Children of Dune) again recently and while it is quite dated I still found them quite entertaining and can't picture anyone but Alec Newman as Paul Atreides. Not even the dark haired guy that fought Captain Picard in the (even older) movie. Still, the question stands though. With quite the lore, the unique setting, and I would guess fan base background behind the many incarnations of Dune (books, movie, mini series, RTS game, board/card games) you would think it would be prime MMO material.

Gameplay wise it is probably best to set it before Paul Atreides shows up for a few reasons, one of which being that he mainly curb stomps everyone once powered up and then his son does for 3,500 years (yikes)! So with that in mind lets see how it does in the other "usual" MMO categories.

Setting and Environmental Weather
Sure, you can make all the extra home planets and / or space ships if you really want but I think you really just need to focus on the titular planet itself. Given it is mostly desert and rock that should even make it easier to render, leaving most of the designers to work on space ports, underground locales and seitches (villages). This means there's no rain, no snow, no clouds. Just need to make day and night cycles and the occasional sand storm.

Most of the bad guys in Dune come in the standard human shape, because they basically are all humans. This means it's easier to design shareable armor and clothes all around since your figures can share the same base models. The only other major critter is the sand worm. Sure you can make sand trout (the smaller ones) but those are meant to be rare. It's the gigantic sand worms that people really remember, and they are nigh unkillable through conventional means.

Mounts and Fast Travel
Ornithopters serve as the usual light transport mode for those who can afford it (meaning catering for flight). Those skilled enough can also try ride the giant worms like in the books. Then of course you can throw in all the mechanical units from the RTS game at your leisure. General rule is the bigger the engine, the more vibration, the more chance of attracting them worms. Probably should also require spice to run. :P

This is a setting where there are lasguns, gatling guns, personal shields, and ordinance of all kinds. Yet most of the killing seems to happen with bone knives. Really depends how the game designers want to go here. I'd think that the easiest way to not go berserk is just to create a few weapons and have expensive ammo (or use the Gamma World method) for the ranged stuff which will really force players to decide how much they want to pull the trigger.

Two that I can think of. You have the spice. The whole reason everyone wants the one planet that produces it, and it is used in pretty much everything (crafting, healing, fuel, gaining powers). Then you have guild credits (or some such) which is what everyone that doesn't have spice uses. Which one is your pay for money currency depends on what you can buy with what.

Factions and PvP
Dune is all about PvP. Apart from the houses of Atreides, Harkonen, Corrino (and maybe Ordos for the RTS guys), there are also the Spacing Guild, the fremen, and the Bene Gesserit - all with their own agendas. NPCs of warring houses would obviously constitute the PvE side of things.

Anywho, that's my simple layout of what could be. I would certainly like to hear your opinions not just on Dune as an MMO, but on other works that have a strong enough identity to warrant one. Game of Thrones maybe? Also if you do know of a Dune MMO, please let me know! I'd like to try it out!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Future Tech: Exosuits and Invisible Helmets

Time for something a bit different. I love coming across tidbits of technological advancement, especially when they come with cool video clips! Not sure if these are of interest to anyone else but I thought I'd share. Note that some of these are actually older now, so I can only imagine the progress that's been done on them. :)

Let's start with the Invisible Bike Helmet. Scroll halfway down this page to watch the video. I think it's pretty amazing. Then let's move on to exoskeletons!

This is now the -old- model!

The exoskeleton projects have also always interested me, however in the past there's always been the slight problem of having a huge power cable running along behind you. Well, that seems to have been solved and now it seems there are exoskeletons being deployed in nursing care (Japan tech) and the armed forces (USA tech). Shouldn't be too long till we see ground based Iron Men I would think. Here's an extra TED talk about the HULC system for those keen on this technology. Would be cool if they combined it with the new combat armor tech too!

Lastly is the highly viewed jump by Felix Baumgartner. It's a pretty cool vid and one certainly worth at least one watch, especially if you like sky diving. In this case I think he's starting pretty close to space though. :P 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

NWO: Dirty Rats

Yay, I've finished constructing another solo friendly foundry mission in Neverwinter Online and openly invite you all to give it a try (and hopefully leave a positive review)! :)

Quest Name: Dirty Rats
Short Code: NW-DGLB37WLW

Again it's a 15-25 min, combat focused quest. The steps to try it out are the much like last time:

1- Log into Neverwinter Online
2- Press L
3- Halfway down is "The Foundry" section. Press the "More" button next to it.
4- Go to the "Best" Tab. (if it doesn't come up search on the other tabs)
5- Search for "Dirty Rats" (without the double quotes), it should come up on the right hand pane and the author should be @josephskyrim.
6- Accept the Quest
7- To start it, you'll need to get to an exit and find the Dirty Rats marker on the overworld map.

You are welcome to try my other quests too, if you have the time. ;)

Quest List so far:
Dirty Rats [NW-DGLB37WLW] (15-25 minutes)
Rebel Incursion [NW-DFHLFGNQY] (15-20 minutes)
One Step to Darkness [NW-DNJC9SK7A]  (1 hour running time)

I'm trying to get a fourth done before the TESO "bleed" begins, we'll see how that goes.

Monday, 17 March 2014

MMOs: Fame and Influence

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

Astalnar asked yesterday how to make quests feel like quests while still remaining useful to the players no matter how many or few quests they do? This is part of my answer. The other part being the removal of levels.

Gold (and other collectable currency from enemies) has been a main stay of adventure games for a long while now, but I think it's time for it to go.

There are a few reasons why I want it gone or phased out, the most basic being that sometimes it just doesn't make sense that you find a bunch of coins on every flying rodent, flaming snake, and sometimes crazed chickens you kill. Really? If you lived in a world where everything eats your currency, you'd think that people would look into changing what it is made from. Secondly, farm bots are annoying pieces of scum that stain the very soul of the planet but they are encouraged to exist through the often repetitive nature in "harvesting" gold.

But it's so shiny!

Instead, I'd like to see it replaced by Influence and Fame. Yes I've talked about it before (but the idea has been a little more refined now), yes it's another "currency", and yes there could still be pay walls but at least this one would make more sense. I know I'm pretty outspoken on getting rid of levels too, but Fame will require a level tracker. In fact it would require a level tracker per "zone" in the MMO world, meaning someone can be very famous in their home town but relatively unknown in the next village over. You gain fame by doing quests in the region. You LOSE fame if you don't do quests in the region (every day maybe). It is a fleeting thing after all.

Influence will also need to be tracked per zone as each level of fame gives you some level of influence in that area, and influence will be the main "currency" you have to purchase goods and services from NPCs. Everyday you start at your maximum level of influence for your level of fame. No need to go farm it. Once spent it is gone with no way to recover it until the next day ticks over at which point you will again have the maximum influence for your fame again (in that region). This also means you cannot "save up" influence and if you want to get that pricey mount or use the expensive repair shop, you have to earn it.

What about trade to other players? Sorry, barter system only. I'm a big fan of the barter system actually as it increases player interaction, and will take it over the non-personal automated trading posts most games offer any day.

Quest wise this still sounds like its mandatory to do all the quests - well not really, unless you are a completion-ist. You just have to do the ones you like in the zones you like (the ones that give whatever gear you are after) to build up enough influence there. I'd definitely want to see item deterioration too which means that after gaining the ultimate suit, you cannot just sit on your laurels as eventually they will be destroyed.

What do you think? Is it a step backwards or a step in the right direction? I'm eager to hear how you would improve it.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

MMOs: Unmarked Quests

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

Much like a shepherd herds sheep, MMOs have become too efficient at herding players.

Do you find yourself drawn to exclamation points or question marks or other strange sigils on your map when you play an MMO? That's the game enticing you to go where it wants you to go. While it is convenient, I wish that there were still the unmarked quests that require players to decide for themselves what path to take and who to talk to. If you come across someone who asks you to do something then you should pay heed to their directions because there won't be a highlighted area or quest marker to assist you on where you need to go. That should be up to you to work out.

Your quest journal should also record who gave you these quests and where they are so you know who to go back to without relying on some magical orbital relay satellite and your mystic GPS. The less games let you use your own head the worse it is for everyone I think, especially as people get more and more used to being robots running from point A to point B to check off another in their laundry list of tasks to do. Might be hard to get rid of the laundry list unless you're playing in a sand box but the game should at least stimulate your mind to solve some things out on your own, otherwise it's just casting "polymorph to sheep" on us, and it's working.

Also I foresee that while a "shared" system of marked and unmarked quests would be ideal, people will just complain that the unmarked ones are "broken". I suppose this would require an all or nothing approach then for consistency.

The irony in this is that in my own NWO Foundry quests I've found that people expect to be led by the nose to their objectives. The minute I drop all markers and make it open questy type, my review score drops. It's a little frustrating to say the least.

Update: Looks like I'm a bit late to the table with this as the Extra Credits channel recently did a pair of videos talking about Quest Design and they are definitely worth a watch. :)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Question Time: The Same Character

In my head, the character I've played from my first MMO is still the same guy in my current MMOs, at least the "main" ones (as opposed to when I trial games and sent alts) - the same goes for what I think of all my guild mates characters. I'm wondering if there are other people who think this way too, or if you segment each character into their own little "chapters" who retire or die off when you decide to neglect them and/or move on?

Joseph Skyrim drawn by Christy Lijewski

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lost Planet 2: Master of None

I've been trying to hold off on reviewing this game until I get to try the co-op version of it, but thanks to the rather clumsy way the Windows Live accounts are handled and the simple fact that I have better games to play co-op on that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

So I'll start of with the positive bit first. The graphics are sharp and pretty damned good. As for the rest of the game... well... it's like they couldn't decide what they wanted the game to be. So they tried to make it everything. At it's core, it is a futuristic shooter - that has FPS elements when you aim some weapons and other times you are stuck with an over the shoulder camera and HUD crosshairs. You can dodge roll out of enemy attacks but also have a shield and health that you replenish by... picking up cartoony yellow cubes of... who knows what. Or shooting / being shot by your allies with healing rounds. Got to be careful to use the right ammo type though as there is friendly fire.

You also have a grappling line which lets you maneuver up towering structures and the maps occasionally have minor branching paths but generally they are all small areas separated by loading zones and with the amount of enemies you can expect to be respawning a few times. There are also combat robots you can climb in or hang on to gain more firepower at the loss of agility. From what I've seen you also spend at least half the time fighting alien creatures, some of which are gigantic bosses - while the rest of the time you fight human scum with ridiculous group names. In chapter one you go after the Jungle Pirates. Because they live in the jungle. Really? Also the cut scenes I've seen makes it feel like some guy was trying to copy Metal Gear.

There are timed obstacle challenge modes too which take place on race arenas. Complete it within the allotted time and you unlock something you can use in the main story. Then you can run the same map with more obstacles to unlock something else. This becomes increasingly difficult not only because of the obstacles themselves (from holes in the floor to missile turrets) but from the very awkward controls the game has. Yeah, maybe I can change the default key bindings but I don't feel it's worth it. As an example, mouse up changes your gun. Mouse down doesn't change back to your old gun, it switches your grenade types. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Someone that doesn't play shooters no doubt.

Strangely it feels almost exactly like Avatar: the game (I played the demo), which suffered from much the same mess but at least there I got to kill off a few hundred Nav'i natives. Screw your tree, give me my Unobtanium! HUMANS RULE! RAAAAAAAHHHH! Alas Lost Planet 2 doesn't give me that same sense of team spirit, despite always having an NPC team with me (and they respawn as often as I do). In closing, Lost Planet 2 tries to be many things which ultimately degrades the game as a whole I think, and I give it 2 cartoony cubes out of 5.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

MMOs: A Test of Morals

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

Isn't playing a mass murderer is fun?

In your entire MMO career, how many pixelated creatures and people have you slain? Just think up a number. I'm guessing it's quite a big number that's come to mind, and that's not entirely your fault given the main focus of most games is combat. I'm guessing the number is higher still in your FPS or RTS careers if you avidly play those too.

Does the game usually give you a good enough reason to kill all these things? Vermin extermination is pretty low in my "heroic goals" list but that seems to frequently come up, as is the "oh no, help defend our village by killing x number of those monsters!" Really? I'll save your village by offing 10 pirates or 20 flaming iguanas... who then respawn in 5 minutes?

More disturbing are the guys that want body parts. Tanners and butchers I can let slide, but when people start asking for paws or ears or eyeballs do you ever stop and wonder what they do with it? Or do you just go at face value of, I need the eyeballs to break a magic spell excuse? Even more concerning is when you are tasked with collecting say... ears, and only pull ONE from a two eared target. MUAHAHAHAAHAHAH this way I get to kill TWICE your number!

I think Tobold said something like this before: that since a game usually focuses only on combat then the players (and by extension the developers) will explore all sorts of options that only deal with that mechanic. I've not yet seen a modern MMO where random NPCs will flee, or surrender, be taken to jail by players, or can be talked to and befriended, all outside set story pieces.

If all the bad guys are just painted as "black" (you racist!)... I mean "bad" and our only possible interaction with them is to kill them in various ways it's not surprising that no one really gives a second thought about mass murder. Hopefully this is something that will be changed in MMOs of the future, but for now as players I think it's best if we just don't think about it and enjoy the visceral hacking, slashing, and exploding of our opponents. That's what heroes are made out of right?

Dexter agrees.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Warframe: Weakspots

Just a quick feature that I really enjoy in Warframe, one which most of its players are aware of too - weak spots. While the Grineer and most Infested take extra damage if hit in the face, the Corpus troopers who wear super effective helmets as well as their robotic MOAs are better handled with body shots (between the legs) while the infested ancients that look a lot like mini Cthulhus are weakest in their ankles, a quite literal Achilles heel.

Is that you, Cthulhu?

This was really highlighted for me recently when my brothers and I were running a mission full of those big guys. I told them to shoot their ankles and they were dropping like flies. What is just a really small feature does keep your mind doing that extra effort of picking your shots which can often be overlooked when you are being swarmed by a whole bunch of different things. Very cool stuff Warframe. Very cool.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

MMOs: One of a Kind Items

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

"I sell one of a kind items," is something I often heard in World of Warcraft. Too bad it isn't true.

I've spoken before about rarity, but after hearing this line from the vendors in WoW it gave me an idea that would help player circulation throughout an MMO world. Players are like the life blood of the place and most often they are channelled in one direction (up) to more difficult zones and more popular hubs where they clot and eventually die off (from boredom).

What if vendors DID sell one of a kind items? Especially if it was a craft necessity and/or items in the game were prone to perma-decay, people would have to travel back through old areas to acquire said goods. Even better is if the vendors only sold 3 or 4 items randomly chosen from their regular inventory which swapped over every x amount of time (a day minimum). Then you can have vendors with the same stock, but the availability of that gear is still a question mark, making people travel even further to find the item they seek. And that's just the stationary vendors.

There should also be wandering vendors who carry even better stuff (but also few and random) wandering unmarked on the road - encouraging people to go track them down or wait at a settlement that is regularly passed. Their goods change every time they leave a settlement, but they are also prone to getting killed by wandering wild life and have a long respawn time.

It may sound too difficult to then find whatever it is you are looking for, but this is where player interaction comes in. You can help each other, or just resell the goods - either way I think it is better than the current system of having every vendor being a supermarket with everything you need in the one spot.

That one stuck in a rock? Don't worry, I have hundreds more at the store!

They also shouldn't be buying stuff from players that isn't relevant to them. What the heck does a carpenter do with the mangled innards of random critters you've slain? Does he moonlight as a sorcerer or is he just a sadist? Think about the stuff you've sold in game and to who you've sold it to. I think I'd rather not know what goes into the potions I drink in NWO since the potion lady buys *everything*. >_<

Agent of the Enclave

Part of the "Odd Jobs of Neverwinter" journal!
*The writing style in the book is now in a different hand.*

This diary is now property of the Scribes Enclave. While its previous owner is nowhere to be found, we will make use of the many more blank pages to record the plentiful up and coming quests available in and around Neverwinter. This week, our agents tried:

Jump Test @ Vashsama01 (NW-DF7WS108M)
No apparent combat, but our agent found the jumps too difficult and had to abandon the attempt before the first checkpoint.

Monster Hunter Version 1.03 @ 11MIRAGEX (NW-DDSFQ9KSA)
A valley with slowly spawning zombies (literally a zombie farm) that just needed slaying. Our agent found they were slowly becoming a zombie too due to the monotony so they were forced to flee.

A Simple Request @ OoKeNnEThOo (NW-DIC2E7M92)
A very enjoyable quest that our agents ran twice. Good designed encounters, optional flavor text all around and a decent hidden boss battle make this the most memorable one of the week.

Valia's Last Stand @ Lorheith (NW-DHNRM4CR3)
A straight forward and unpolished quest that saw our agent finishing off an undead army in their crumbling castle while rescuing some captives.

Towers and Trolls @ choose4me (NW-DIXHTZ2JH)
A humorous and easy quest involving a table top RPG played in a tavern wherein the players really "get into" the game. Features a difficulty adjuster in the "Stone of Difficulty", should you decide to pick it up during the adventure.

The Chicken Maze @ pegasus666 (NW-DD4KQBB3Y)
Our agent couldn't find the start point, so this quest was quickly dropped.

Part One - Learn the Basics @ xxkamasangelxx (NW-DINUOMOTR)
The first part of the Merlin tale where our agent played as the titular wizard which followed the source material pretty closely (a lot of reading, probably breaks EULA though). Disappearing and reappearing actors and props made for a slightly jarring experience.

An Unmarked Grave @ xTripleshotx (NW_DHOTQVHUK)
A pretty solid quest where our agent helped Elwin the Sage put her father's spirit to rest. With a lot of violence.

Hired Blades @ isojourner (NW-DQN2UP745)
Very simple quest of evil alignment that also seemed broken. Fitting since crime doesn't pay.

The Marked Queen - Part 1 @ rph4ze (NW-DBVWAZNU)
Combat heavy quest with many challenging fights for a solo quester. Frustratingly, there is also no reward chest to be found after our agent slaughtered the Marked Queen and her army. In short, a big waste of time.

Prueba01 @ currolordofcaos (NW-DD6YF8RF3)
Our agent couldn't find the start point, so this quest was quickly dropped.

Against the Red Wizards @ GuitarZan698 (NW-DEX75VHLQ)
Part two of "the Vulgar Unicorn" campaign, it makes use of interesting map conservation methods and is on the light-moderate side when it comes to combat. Unfortunately it is plagued with flashing/rendering pieces that gave our agent a minor headache while playing through it.

Shadowfell Disciples @ orangefire (NW-DEBISCCCR)
A fantastic quest that quickly grows from a simple "hunt the goblins" mission with excellent custom made maps. Highly recommended especially as it's the first one of a campaign.

Crimson Descent @ mymecoleon (NW-DRWNLMGYV)
A deeply lore based mission where our agent was assisting another mercenary group against some Thayans with a lot of extra reading for those who look for it. It also features a highly custom map and is very combat heavy.

Kolde Acres: Grandmother @ koldelegacy (NW-DDKURMXWQ)
A story based exploration quest through expansive custom maps with extra side missions for those who chase after it. The first mission our agent has encountered that actually has some ingenious cutscene mechanics.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Question time: The Stuff you Build (UGC)

Now that I'm really getting back into the Neverwinter Foundry a question has popped into my head in regards to other user generated content, specifically for the EQN Landmark people. After you build your house or statue or castle, do you hope that people come to visit? Do you hope that whatever you built will be ported into Everquest Next and used as part of the world even if say it is set on fire, destroyed, and maybe inhabited by evil creatures?

Just curious.

In NWO I'm finding that the biggest challenge from before is still there - getting people to play my maps. As I thought, making a shorter quest really helps the number of plays. My first quest which has been out for months and goes for one hour has a total of nine plays. My second quest which runs for around 17 minutes and has been out a week or so is up to 30+ plays and is eligible for the daily foundry mission reward.

It's not surprising then that there are "farm" quests that become so popular. Quests with literally no story, just a premade or blank map and a truck load of enemies to kill for the EXP or loot. I'm really thinking of doing a crusade against these (ranking them low or reporting for TOS violations) as they push down the better designed, more story orientated user content.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

MMOs: Voice Actors

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

I think most voice acting should be removed from MMOs.

"NO! You're Crazy!" I hear you say. Well let's think about it first. There have been so many MMO's that have managed to do without a single bit of voice acting in game. You can probably think of a few if you put your mind to it. Sure a few battle grunts and yells are ok, and maybe a generic welcoming "hello" or two but fully scripted dialogue? How often do you actually sit and listen to everything a voiced NPC has to say, without skipping because you've read the text faster than the voice actor? Do you also listen to it in its entirety if you have to see it again, or maybe with an alternate character?

Voice acting can be one of the big money drains on an MMO. This is even more pronounced if the player character has a voice since you then need one of each gender or each race, with additional lines for all each expansion. Ask Guildwars 2, they're feeling that design flaw now with their Living Story which is why there are no more cut scenes outside the base main story where your protagonist speaks audibly. And that's just in one language.

What about cut scenes? Those need voices right? Maybe. Firstly, you can tell a story without voice. Secondly, do you watch every cut scene fully each time one plays, even if you have seen it before? Just something to think about. I know I for one often skip repetition - and on days where I want to "play" instead of "watch", I skip right past most of the talky bits too because I simply read the text faster than it is voiced for me. 

Buffy's Hush episode was awesome.

Other than having a smaller download size for the game (as audio files can get pretty huge) having less voice would hopefully encourage people to read more, and increase their literacy level at the same time! What do you think? Would knowing there is or is no voice acting affect your choice in playing an MMO?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

TiS: Battle Bards! :)

I don't usually win stuff in real life, especially luck related things but today I found out I won something courtesy of the Battle Bards! Thanks Syp, Syl and Steph (or... Stef?)! That certainly made my day. :)

MMOs: Rewarding the Ordinary

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

"What we need in MMOs is content and systems that endorse, encourage and reward the choice to be an ordinary Joe or Jill, someone just doing their best to help their friends, their family, their neighbors, their community in difficult circumstances." -Bhagpuss

In a previous post, Bhagpuss disagreed with my notion of needing more Heroes and less Soldiers. While we still don't see eye to eye on that matter, the quote above got me thinking about how a game would encourage and reward the "ordinary". My initial thoughts were something along the lines of "WTF? I defeated the enemy army solo and got the same reward that farmer who stayed in his field planting crops got? Well that's unfair."

Then I thought more about it. More about this term... this label, "ordinary". What separates the "ordinary" from "heroes"? The answer I came up eventually was: nothing. No one is just ordinary. Everyone has the potential to be a hero. They just need the will, the means and the opportunity to do so.

Heroes come in all forms after all.

Translating all that into an MMO, the best solution I could come up with is still the individual skill levels, which increase as you use them and degrade as you neglect them. In this way people can shine in the actions they prefer to take. Maybe I can slay dragons solo with ease but when it comes to building defences for a village I'm as useful as a bucket, while the master builder who would rather not fight dragons at all could build a wall in no time, and the farmer can harvest food and herbs quickly, and the alchemist can make the best potions with those herbs, and so on and so forth.

There's even room for a jack of all trades who can help out each specialist better than those with no knowledge in the specific field, but alone he's simply not as good at dragon slaying as the hunter, or building walls as the master builder, and in turn will find it harder getting the varied rewards for each task. Maybe the builder gets a better hammer while the slayer gets a better weapon. So yes, while I would like a system where you can be anything you want - it should be left up to you where you want to shine the most and that way everyone can be rewarded for how they would like to play.

Monday, 3 March 2014

47 Ronin vs Bunraku

This odd match up has come about simply because I watched them within a day of each other. Also, both have samurai. That's about as far as the similarities go! :P


I'll see your Neo...

47 Ronin is set in the past, when samurai were lawful stupid and the people of Japan spoke Engrish. Keanu Reaves speaks it better than the rest, having been taught by the demons of the woods which makes him an outcast. Still, he longs for the day he can become a samurai and gets his chance sometime after a "hey I'm a bad guy" bad guy shows up and ruins the day with his shape shifting witch ally. There are some all too short fights and very good CG critters along the way but I feel the movie is let down by the main lead girls - especially the "good-sided" one with poor/over acting.

Note: It's very rare that I dislike someone's acting ability (I'm a fan of Steven Seagal), so that says something about the previous line. Also the last part of the movie sucks, regardless if it is based on history. Not the sort of thing I'd like to promote anyway.

...and raise you a Gackt.

Bunraku is set in the future, after an Armageddon has seen the human race throw away all firearms and build cities out of well-designed cardboard. It tells the tale of how a brawler (Josh Hartnet) and a samurai (Gackt) meet up under the guidance of a bartender (Woody Harrelson) to take down the most powerful warrior (Ron Perlman) and his gang of killers that control the odd looking city. This is a very artsy film, but it also has a lot of good fights. There's less CG here and actually more Japanese is spoken in this film (still not a lot) than in 47 Ronin. If you can get over the style of the whole piece and can set aside some disbelief then you are in for a fun ride.

The winner: Bunraku. Easily. It's a pretty good, low thinking, high action film and worth a watch if like me, you enjoy the strange combination of combat and art. If the "art style" has you worried then here's the opening part so you can get a feel for the movie before borrowing it. :)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

MMOs: Spells and Spelling

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

All this l33t speak and short hand in MMOs can be convenient, but I'd like to see games that actually encourage people to increase their literacy skills, rather than decrease it.

My initial idea is probably one that will be unpopular (I can hear the grammar nazi yells now) to many but we have to start somewhere.

Mages and clerics in most fantasy MMO's are often meant to be wiser or more intelligent than their more physical counterparts so I would focus on them and their skills first. What I'd like to see is a change to the way their spell / prayer abilities work and there are three variations I can think of right off the bat: "Cantrips", "Prepared" spells and "Aura" spells.

Cantrips are the simplest of magic that can be done with the flick of a hand or a nod or simply through sheer will, and would basically function exactly how spells currently work in most MMO's. Activate, wait for cool down, repeat. Easy.

Prepared spells are more powerful skills you can ready before hand. To ready a spell, you simply have to type out the exact wordy chant for that spell - a whole sentence (more if the spell is stronger, and each has to be typed individually - can't be pasted in as one big chunk of text). Upon completion your little icon to fire or cast the spell is available, until you use it - upon which time you must ready it again (or maybe you can fire x amount of times before readying again). Failing to complete a chant properly (mistype) can cause a variety of effects depending on the spell. A "weak" class spell will probably have no ill effects. A "strong" class spell might set you on fire. This is much like the old D&D where mages prepare can prepare their spells before hand but once they are out they'll need to be quick and precise with the word smithing to regain their powers.

Aura Spells on the other hand have no little icon. They begin when you key in the first sentence of the spell and continues/strengthens its effect as you continue typing out the rest of the spell. The best example I can think of is a cleric reciting the Apostles' Creed (for example) in a demon infested crypt. As he finishes each sentence the radius of the spell aura increases, as does the damage it is doing to the foes within it, ultimately instantly destroying the ones left upon its completion, provided he didn't make any mistakes in the incantation.

Obviously both the Prepared and Aura spells also have a time limit to type in the next line with weaker spells giving you a few grace seconds while the stronger variants require you to pretty much be touch typing at a pretty high speed to pull off fully.

More bible and less machine gun.

What do you think? Any suggestions to improve on this would be welcome! :)