Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
Taking the best features for the next generation

Tipa of West Karana muses how SOE could use the Free Realms engine for Everquest 3. That might or might not happen, but it reveals an often overlooked truth: Even games you hate might contain some great features.

The problem is that we judge games as a whole. Some people have a short look at a game like Free Realms, see pre-teen graphics and microtransactions, and decide that this game isn't for them. Which might well be true, but in the process of quickly dismissing the game, they failed to notice the features of Free Realms that are innovative and independent of the actual game. Free Realms is streamed to your computer via a browser, which means you can start creating a character and even start playing without having to download or install several gigabyte of data first. It is totally possible, even likely, that we'll see completely different games using that technology in the future. Free Realms has multiple servers, but you character is *not* bound to a single server. If your usual server is down, you can simply keep playing with your same character on a different server. And if you happen to have friends on different servers, you can play with all of them, or persuade them all to move to the same server. World of Warcraft charges you $20 for moving even just one character from one server to another, with loads of restrictions.

The same thing is true for Luminary. There are good reasons why this might not be the game for you, with the graphics being 2D, and the combat even less tactical than the already not very tactical combat of World of Warcraft and similar games. But then you log on and see a list of people lining up to become your mentor and help you over the first couple of levels (not because they are so nice, but because they get advantages too from it), and you wonder why WoW doesn't have that feature. You take a quest in Luminary, kill the 10 foozles you are asked to kill, and your quest giver pops up, and gives you the reward and the follow-up quest without you having to run back to him. Why doesn't every game with quests have that? And the biggest feature of Luminary for me is the Game Info, where you can look up every item and monster in the game, complete with location and loot table. Why do I have to alt-tab to some database site for all the other MMORPGs to get that sort of info?

I so hope that when game developers start planning their next game, they look at *all* games for a list of the best features they could use for the next generation, and not just World of Warcraft. It is well possible that WoW is the best overall game (or at least the most successful one), but that doesn't mean that every single feature in WoW is the best possible implementation. Crafting in WoW is boring, the auction house is seriously missing buy orders and a sales history, and some quests can't be solved without using an addon like QuestHelper or a site like Thottbot or Wowhead. Lots of smaller games have single features that are better than the WoW implementation. It's just that nobody notices them, because the rest of the game isn't as good and successful as WoW.
Comments:
Reminds me of when someone from the fashion industry came to give a talk at our school when I was young. The first question was, why do people make such wacky outfits for the runway? Her answer was that a fashion executive isn't necessarily interested in the dress as a whole. She is also looking at each detail: the sleeve, the hem of the skirt, the neckline, and assessing which of these features works, and which work together. They see the runway as a sandbox as much as a show in itself.

The pros know that there's always something to learn.
 
Just a reminder that the server feature you mentioned was already done in Wizard101.

As for the rest of the features, It would be nice seeing more of that, with the exception of the quest giver poping out of nowhere just to give you your quest reward. That is just silly. At least have them mail the reward to you or something.
 
I have also wondered why other games seem to copy everything from WoW... including the bad stuff.

For example, I think the default WoW UI is a mess. There are UI packages/addons out there that do a way better job at showing a proper UI. MazzleUI was a great example of a good UI.

The default UI just spreads out things too much for my liking. I have to look at the top of my screen to see my own and enemies health and mana. And at the bottom of the screen are my spell cooldowns. And I also need to look in the middle to see what's actually happening. That's bad UI design. Ideally you just just have to take a look at one place and see all you need. It's why I have a hud with my health in the middle of my screen, my cooldowns in the middle,...

And yes, Warhammer online also features a nice ingame quest database. It's clearly inspired by games such as questhelper.

I believe that new developers would do a better job to look at what the community did then what Blizzard did with their UI. And of course, see what other developers did with their systems and just steal that. I'm sure that WoW will have public quests one day...
 
I believe Paul Barnett said it best when he said something to the effect of how bad it was to copy WoW since you can’t tell which parts are genius and which are crap. The real answer is that all parts of crap and all parts are genius to different players. ~Centuri
 
I think it's more of matter of evolution. WoW is a very old game now, and when it launched 4.5 years ago the MMO landscape was very different.

A lot of things that WoW helped to evolve people take now for granted. Your GameInfo for example, Tobold, was unheard of both inside AND outside of the game 5 years ago, and the concept of a readily available database of mobs, items and locations was really novel at the time. It took years and years of data mining effort by the folks at thottbot, allakhazam and later on wowhead to achieve what you now see as a standard feature. In my book, that's called evolution.

Or the download streaming process, I remember WoW doing that quite a long way back for their free trial client. You just downloaded the starting area assets which made the download size very small (compared to the whole client at least) and streamed everything from there on. I don't doubt that's where Luminary got their ideea, and it's good thing they did since the process is way better than the original alternative.

Or incentives for veterans to help newbies, Asheron's Call did this brilliantly decades ago. You could choose to be a "vassal" to anyone in the game, and in return for their advice/items/help you were giving them extra XP. This made for a real fun dynasty/political system, and gave real incentives to be in a guild and try to help people. A guild wasn't just an artificial construct where you got in because they needed warm bodies to fill a raid spot.


Aaaanyway, I fully agree with you that game developers should take a closer look at the features of previous games in their genre. I would even argue that is what makes a good game designer: the ability to identify features and gameplay systems and use or improve those to find better ways to improve your product.
 
I'd endorse this idea Tobold. I'm in the beta of a game right now that borrows ideas from a ton of different sources (heavily from wow and warhammer, but also from lower-profile MMOS), mixes them together in it's own way, and plays very nicely. This is the way to make a next-gen MMO, and as more of these come out it will be tough for WoW to remain so dominant (though obviously always on top). Maybe the game won't be at the overall quality level of wow, but it will have a different setting you prefer, and play at least as well if not better (tactically, etc), so it seems like a viable alternative way to spend your time instead of WoW, even if it has less content and not quite as much polish, the quality level can still be high enough to make a good comparison (especially since, for many, wow is pretty much out of content).
 
When I look at Free Realms, I see influences from a lot of SOE's older work; SWG, EQ2 Faydwer, the Exchange servers, Legends of Norrath, just in general their style of world building, etc.

It will be interesting to see what the Agency is like...
 
Which might well be true, but in the process of quickly dismissing the game, they failed to notice the features of Free Realms that are innovative and independent of the actual game. Free Realms is streamed to your computer via a browser, which means you can start creating a character and even start playing without having to download or install several gigabyte of data first. It is totally possible, even likely, that we'll see completely different games using that technology in the future. Free Realms has multiple servers, but you character is *not* bound to a single server. If your usual server is down, you can simply keep playing with your same character on a different server. And if you happen to have friends on different servers, you can play with all of them, or persuade them all to move to the same server.Small nitpick, all this is in Guild Wars (so has been around since 2005.) I was surprised, though, that warhammer didn't do something like this, since a server architecture along those lines seemed unlike it could be useful for that game.


Otherwise, I agree in general with the post. it does seem with some of these new games that developers just kind of copied game ideas without really thinking about whether a different setup for the game would have worked better, or about trying things a little differently.
 
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