Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 05, 2009
 
Open Sunday Thread

I bet you hadn't expected this: It's another open Sunday thread! The place where you can discuss or ask questions without me providing a subject. You can also suggest themes for blog posts.
Comments:
One of the biggest limitations of MMORPG's is, in my opinion, the inability to provide content in a timely fashion. Often this is due to technology limitations and a complex vision from the game/world designer translates into harder challenges for the engineers.
In software development there are tools that generate low level code for high level designs. What if the same could be applied for MMORPG's?
A tool, or framework if you will, that would have interfaces with other software (such as 3D tools, graphical engine etc.) and would allow graphical/logical content to be generated based on a necessarily complex huge array of choices. For example, to design an area of forest one would set options like density, species of trees, average size and deviations, type of soil, you name it. The area of forest would then be generated and could be edited. Without ever writing a single line of code up to that point.
When well implemented it can save precious time in coding and Q&A. Do you think it could be applied to video games to allow faster content creation?
 
With regard to coding I would be very surprised if MMOs weren't already developed that way, RAD (rapid application development) has been around for decades. You'd be pretty dumb not to make life easy for yourself, but hey, who knows what these developers get up to... hehe

With regard to updates, I would love to see an MMO that had a dynamic world. The current trend seems to be based on same principal for nearly all MMOS, announce update, put update on PTR, release update... next patch interval, repeat. How about having a team that are dedicated to making almost real-time changes in the world, without announcements, PTRs and all that so predictable pre-amble; I know the QA process would need to be really hot. How cool would it be if when you logged into a game things changed, NPCS moved, quests came and went, events changed the world, quests changed the game world. A bit of a simple example but how many boars can you kill before there are no boars left in the forest? Maybe after a while the boar killing quest goes and something new comes up for you to do.

I just find, particularly in WOW, the fanfare that accompanies every new patch takes the shine off the world. By the time it goes live there has been so much info that everyone practically knows every minute change already, how is that fun? What if you logged in one day and without any warning or patch notes or PTRs, Dalaran was at a 45 degree angle, maybe the Kirin Tor have messed up the magic or something that keeps it in the air, maybe there are some new quests to help it get straight again and things are back to normal after a week or so.

MMO makers need to make it feel more like a World and less like a static game.
 
I feel that dynamic content is the future wave where MMO advancements are concerned, but the main issue with dynamic content is how do developers address/implement the learning curve associated with such content?

Static content gives the player a chance to research and plan the best course of action in completing the associated goals.

Dynamic content, by virtue of its very name, introduces a different type of learning experience, and requires a totally different skillset where the player must be able to make decisions in almost real time in order to accomplish the associated goals. What would the life span of the dynamic content be? Would new players be able to reactivate older, abandoned quest lines?

I love the concept of dynamic content, but I fear that any implementation would have to be so well thought out in advance that the time constraints associated with content creation, storylines, ect...would quickly become an issue.
 
What if you logged in one day and without any warning or patch notes or PTRs, Dalaran was at a 45 degree angle, maybe the Kirin Tor have messed up the magic or something that keeps it in the air, maybe there are some new quests to help it get straight again and things are back to normal after a week or so.

You don't remember last year's zombie debacle very well, do you? Breaking basic game functionality like being able to use cities that people (especially casuals) expect, just in the name of "shaking things up" can go over pretty badly. The griefers and RPers enjoyed it; lots more just logged out for about a week.
 
For a poaaible look at the future of MMO developement you could do worse than have a look at this: (http://iloapp.quelsolaar.com/blog/news?Home&post=41).

As you may or may not know Eskil Steenberg is the solo developer of Love, and has developed an entire set of tools which allow him to undertake such an endeavour. The above post outlines how he thinks the developement of content for large projects should be rethought to allow sustainability in an environment where graphics technology improvements are assumed to require more and more man-hours to be dedicated to the developement of art assets and other content.

The use of procedurally generated content looks to be an interesting alternative to the manpower intesive methods currently in use.
 
I'd already be happy if there were randomly created dungeons. Suddenly scouting and sneaking were important, because you needed to know what is behind the next corner and you could not know it without looking.
 
@Chris and @Maniac. Awesome idea, very inspiring. I believe we indeed need more of a dynamic WORLD of Warcraft and less of a static GAME of Warcraft with added content, Blizzard probably already feels the burden of having to add more, better and faster content all the time.

I would like a discussion of dynamic content, and I think comp raised a valid concern: Some people hated the VERY short Ghoul Invasion, while I was hoping for even more disaster to happen! I am neither a griefer nor a RPer... but I loved it. :)

I cannot understand the point of people who opposed the Ghoul Invasion. God beware that something happens, especially something dangerous, in our world? It was not as if people were cleanlooted or annoyed to death, starters in starter areas had issues, definitely, but we know that 95%+ of the population are level 80.

Add a event carebear bubble for lowbies, but... add more dynamic events, lets them be dangerous, exciting. Just like the Hakkar "AIDS" plague, which was not an event and annoying at times, but it added SPICE to the world!
 
Some people only have an hour or less to play on a given day and with an event like the ghoul invasion they can be completely blocked from playing on a given day which pretty much sucks if you were looking forward to your small amount of time available to play. Remember how many truly casual folks play this game.

I'm sure some of the folks reading Tobold consider themselves casual but if you even read an out of game blog about WoW you're far from being the truly casual player that helps Blizzard reach such crazy subscriber numbers. So the ghoul invasion sure didn't bother me but I can totally understand why some folks would correctly hate it.
 
"MMO makers need to make it feel more like a World and less like a static game."

I wrote a small piece about virtual worlds and MMORPGs being fundamentally different games that I would appreciate some input on- no one's told me I'm wrong yet, but I get the distinct impression that a lot of people feel that way. But, more on the point here, I think that a lot can be said about the gamer's expectations and where the fun can be found in your game.

In WoW people love the formula they've got going. People expect everything to be in the same place every time they log on, so they can pick right up on the fun they were having last session and continue from the same spot. In a sense it's almost like saving your game in a single-player game. There's almost a promise that the world will stay the same until you log on next time. The result is that when you have random unannounced events that alter the game (I didn't play WoW during the zombie thing, but someone up there mentioned cities being inaccessible) the game changes on people that aren't expecting it. The fun of WoW is primarily in the game, events are a far more secondary form of enjoyment(/frustration?). In other words you pick up WoW to play the game, not to experience random events.

If unannounced game-altering events were both expected and a significant part of the default gameplay then they would enjoyed by everyone. Doing that, however, would require that unannounced events be considered from the bottom up during the design process, if you make a game then add them in they will feel just that- added in -and their unnatural feel will drive people away.

The bottom line for me is that WoW is an MMORPG not a virtual world, and that's probably why their zombies did not go over quite so well with everyone. I think we need to tune our expectations to different sub-genres of MMOs, and unannounced events can be an incredible boon for virtual worlds but also an enjoyment impedence in an mmoRPG.
 
Do you think that having more games available is bad for the community, Tobold? I know it sounds like a weird thing to say but when there were only a few games/ servers, I wonder if players were much more likely to stick with their character/ game and put more effort into putting down 'roots', building social circles, organising and attending events etc.

I know you've been talking about WoW tourists but I figure we're all tourists when we try out new games, and ... maybe less likely to want to put any work into getting settled.
 
Some people only have an hour or less to play on a given day and with an event like the ghoul invasion they can be completely blocked from playing on a given day which pretty much sucks if you were looking forward to your small amount of time available to play. Remember how many truly casual folks play this game.

This. Want to level an alt, check the AH, etc. today? Sorry, some bored idiot needed SPICE, and couldn't stop giggling as he infected all the NPCs and cursed out anyone trying to cleanse them.
 
It's hard to say what really works. Warhammer is a game that features more dynamic content in that players are fighting players so you never know where or what exactly is going to happen, but it can be frustrating just because of that -- you log in and have an hour or two to play, and you can't find the good fights. Players also figure out how to game things, so if the dynamic content is exploitable, it will be exploited. Static content seems to me to be a bit easier to make, since it's easier to predict player behavior. Just look at all the difficulties Mythic is having getting players to fight instead of keep-swap.

I don't mind static content as long as new content gets patched in. Blizzard has done a decent job with that with two big expansions and some notable patches. I'd like more, but I can always take a break from WoW for a few months or longer and come back and have a nice time.
 
This is how you could make dynamic environments work without "ruining" the game for 1-hour a day players.

- A lot of dynamism can be small-scale. Have quests alternate with each other. That boar genocide quest idea someone had was brilliant, have people kill boars until it's been done X times, then have the quest alternate to something else, like replanting shrubberies or feeding piglets. Too much ore in the AH? Nodes become slightly harder to find, etc.
- Stretch and multiply the concept of "holiday" events. Have more events like the Darkmoon Faire, but make them more interesting and matter more.
- Randomize instance layout. You might know what Z species of Naga does, but you won't know when you'll face them in the dungeon. Like the Brutes/Priests in Gruul's Lair.
- Give a boss 5 different possible abilities, and have 2-3 picked at random each fight. People can still prep and learn, but there's an element of dynamism and adaptation. Something like Malacrass.
- Give questing mobs greater tactical intelligence but require less grinding to compensate for the extra fight time.

I'm sure there are other ways to subtly add variety without making things too difficult for the once-a-week player. You just need to avoid huge grief-potential events and linking uber-awards to rare events.

Ultimately with WoW, you have to wonder whether Blizzard has either created an MMO or just the best subscription-based single-player game available. It's clear what gamers want, but unless they're wealthier they can't supplant the tour bus/easy gratification crowd.
 
One of the astonishing successes of WoW and to some extent other games has been their ability to harness players to code add-ons to extensively test add-ons at no risk to the parent company and then to complacently accept when the developer decides to incorporate the add-on into their own UI. All of these stages could have been stumbling blocks. If you had outlined this scheme ten years ago people would have said amateurs won't want to write your program for you without being paid, won't do it well, players won't test code written by random non-professional members of the public, and even if they do you'll never get away with taking amateur copyright code and incorporating it into a product you charge for.

But of course it's worked and Blizzard's UI is not only superior to anyone else's but has been written, and will be written in future by amateurs, tested for months and years by thousands of players and co-opted into the game by Blizzard once they know it's a sure-fire bet.

This will broaden as it's such excellent business for the game company.

I expect to see in future raids dungeons and classes written and tested by players then "lifted" by Blizzard. Perhaps they'll even name an NPC after whichever unpaid genius makes them the most millions.

This, not RMT, is the future of the MMO industry.
 
Hows your Lifetime Sub to LotRO worked out in terms of value so far?
 
Hows your Lifetime Sub to LotRO worked out in terms of value so far?

So far horribly, as I didn't play that game at all after an initial period. But statistically I should live another 40 years, so all is not lost. ;)
 
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