Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 28, 2009

In yesterday's thread Baktru wondered whether he was the only person in the world who enjoyed Tortage. Certainly not! I loved Tortage! Everybody loved Tortage! Tortage was the reason why Age of Conan sold 700,000 copies in the first month. The rest of the game being no way like Tortage was the reason why two-thirds of them left Age of Conan after the first month.

Of course that is a huge oversimplification, but like so often with simplifications, there is a large core of truth in it. Tortage, the level 1 to 20 instanced tutorial of Age of Conan had this great mode of storytelling. The same story was told from four different angles, depending on what archetype you played, with your part in the story being appropriate to your class. Thus the fighter would get the kill quest, and the rogue the sneak quest, while the mage feigned alegiance to the evil sorceress to get information. It reminded me of Akiro Kurosawa's Rashomon, and that is no small compliment.

Tortage was also the only part of Age of Conan which was accessible in the various betas, so it hugely shaped expectations about the game. But once you reach level 20 and leave Tortage, the great storytelling vanishes in a puff of smoke. Your "destiny" quest line only has one lousy quest every 20 levels in the rest of the game. It isn't as if Age of Conan was really bad after level 20, but if you loved the storytelling of Tortage, the rest pales in comparison. I trudged on to level 30 for the next destiny quest, was disappointed, and quit Age of Conan. And I'm pretty certain I wasn't the only one. The difference between Tortage and the rest might not be responsible for all of the drop in subscription numbers after the first month, but it certainly explains a good part of it.

Which of course poses two questions: Would Age of Conan have been more successful if there hadn't been a Tortage, but instead a tutorial closer to the rest of the game? And would a game which had Tortage-like storytelling throughout be a smash hit? Bioware is apparently betting on the latter with Star Wars the Old Republic. Here's hoping.
Tortage was indeed awesome. The only downside to it was that once you had played through it a few times, it got boring when you started another character. But yes, AoC should've been like Tortage throughout the entire game.
*coff* Akira *coff*
Tortage may have helped sales a bit, but really it sold so many copies that first week it was out, it's an indication that the market was starved for a big-budget fantasy MMO. Same with Warhammer, which didn't have a Tortage, but still sold like gangbusters.

And both games experienced the same thing -- huge sales, and a fast exodus of players once players got a good sample of the game.

So BioWare's mission is to produce an MMO that measures up well to WoW, because otherwise players will play it and leave in droves again.
Most people don't remember, but the original plan for AoC and Tortage was to have the 1-20 part be completely off-line, and only once a player reaches the end would they then connect to the server and play the 'actual' game. When I first read that way back I basically crossed AoC off my list, as that's just terrible design for the type of MMO I like.

Funny that Funcom would likely have made a much better game just keeping all of AoC offline, and stretching the Tortuga experience all the way up.
I think that what you are going to see is companies having to adjust the standard closed beta->open beta->launch game formula. Conspiracy theorists might conclude that Funcom restricted beta to level twenty to hide the lack of polish that the rest of the game had. There may be some truth to that.

Looking at the Warhammer beta the nature of the beta kept many flaws hidden that did not explode until after launch. With a level cap of twenty, most open beta players would level a character through tier 1 with a mixture of scenarios and public quests. Then they would enter into Tier 2 RvR, the “end-game” of open beta. Thus it masked the impact that scenario experience farming would have on earlier tiers of game play post launch.

Additionally with so many players compacted into just 6 possible zones for their side, public quests were always overflowing with players. Thus no one saw a need for public quests designed for smaller and larger groups until much later.

Just looking at those two games who both had open betas with heavy restrictions, we can see that one benefited from hiding later game flaws from players and the other would have benefited from opening beta up for longer and less restrictions. ~Centuri
People didn't start leaving AOC in large numbers until they discovered that 50-70 was an absolute dead zone for quests that required lots of grinding, and that the end game didn't actually exist, and that pvp was totally borked, among many other major problems, like the fact that the melee combat system started getting really, really old after a while.

If by making the rest of the game like Tortage you mean a game that was actually reasonably complete and well designed then yes, it would have been much more successful game.
What is funny is AFTER the whole "Tortage" is better than the rest of the game, they did go and added voice and story based quests outside Tortage.
Ymirs for level 50+ is one example of a region with some great story based gaming...just not instanced.
A majority of the dungeons have greats hidden gems of story within as well.

But, the "main" storyline was lost through the game, and as I grind through my 70's, with the constant kill 10 x, get this fetcher quests...yea, 80 levels was a bit much, and they should have focused on a killer level 40 or level 60 ending game, with more story.

And do not get me started on "events" (the bane of Funcom!)
One of the things that interests me about Bioware's The Old Republic is something I read on one of the developer's blogs. He said they were working on putting so much content that it felt to him as though he were organizing KOTOR 3-10.

I know that's an exaggeration for PR, but it really did get me to thinking about how the game would be set up.

The original KOTORs were amazing, but my main gripe was that each planet was limited to certain quests and worked relatively linearly. With TOR Online, I doubt that gripe will come into play because each location, each planet, will be built with long-term exploration and narrative in mind. There will no longer be the feeling that, no matter how much fun that section was, Kashyyyk only bridges Hutta and Dantooine together. There will instead be the feeling that Kashyyyk has its own storylines and atmosphere which entices people to "live" there rather than simply pass through.

That's my main problem with WoW these days; there are no "living" zones. I don't want to spend 60-80 hours adventuring in one place (let's say Icecrown for example) because of repetition and burn-out. I want to do a few things and move on because nothing seems to "matter" despite the phasing.
Perhaps the root of the problem is that MMOs are too linear in character advancement. This addiction to designing games that have levels 1 through 60+ may not be tenable for the industry. We see the flaws with the limited betas that only show players a fraction of the game content and restrict the game too much for the actual flaws in the systems to be encountered.

Perhaps it'd be best to have the game be rather short in its linear advancement, but longer in its variety of content. Make levels less important for character power and more important for character versatility. In this way, content doesn't have to be pigeonholed to one level group, it can be played by players at multiple power levels without it becoming trivial.

If there were less power change between level 1 and max level, it seems to me that MMOGs would really open up; Perhaps it would be possible to have a whole game like Tortage. If we keep the current design strategy of strict and significant linear advancement, we may be doomed to repeat the same flaws the the last fifteen years of MMOs have displayed in their youths.
They could have set the max level to 20 and made all content outside of Tortage available for everyone.

Additional skills etc could be gained through quests or other tasks.

Then there would have been many more that thought the game was nice and fun to play.
Ultima Online had the best system of opening the world up of any game. You just gained aptitude in a skill as you used it, and thus you were able to hold your own better. There were easier and harder monsters, sure, but there were no real "off-limits" areas based on level. The whole world was open to you.
Here's the thing though -- you can do away with levels, but you can't really do away with character progression. If you do, you don't really have the hook that will hold players.

It's something that WoW struggles with now. It doesn't take that long to get to the cap and then what do you do to improve your character? Chase gear. The gear chase might as well be leveling.

Even if Blizzard let people start with level 80 characters, they still need something for them to do, something that lets them improve those characters.
Beej, I absolutely have to agree. I still think Ultima Online was ahead of its times, even ahead of contemporary MMOs in many regards. Especially in terms of World interaction. It is unfortunate that many players and even designers nowadays did not play it back in the day, do not really know it. They could get some ideas for world design and what works and what does not work.

This world worked initially without any quests, but had solid crafting, item decay, and player power limits (700 max skillpoints could be spent, each skill trainable up to 100) and it also pioneered the joys and griefs of online PvP in MMOs, resulting in the (in)famous Trammel/Felucca split.

I always remember how empty Felucca was all the time I hear cries for "MOAR PVP" from young MMO gamers...
@Mark: They probably believe Achievements to be their saviour. But most achievements are do thing X in the really dumb way Y achievements, not really that exciting.

I think they should focus on creating more of a world, less combat focused online game. Player crafting, economy and all that need to be improved.

But there is still something about finding an alternative to nowadays quest driven progression.

Maybe the story needs to end, character death or things like that.

I do not claim to have found the holy grail, but I think it is about time to at least try finding it! It would save the genre.

It works better than ever for new players, but they should not forget that there are old veterans that grew up with online gaming and have tons of money to spend... more than the young ones! :)
I was in love with tortage and it still is the best example for alot of things I miss in other MMOGs: Great storytelling, a slow-paced introduction to sharing the world where you had your night-security-blanket, a sense of accomplishment.

I held on to it until the mid-30s, when the full impact of the 1 30 minute long destiny quest at 30 kicked in and I realized I had to do 15 more levels just to get another one.
I'm hoping that the Bioware MMO will be like Tortage, except for the whole game of course... And seeing how Bioware made gems like NWN, KOTOR and Mass Effect I have good hopes.

Heck, get me a Star Wars game that works like Lotro and I'm addicted...

What I also liked about Tortage (and yes I put 4 chars through Tortage, one of each group of classes), is how the quests hint to the other classes as well. As a mage you hear about the rogues doing something etc.

If only, indeed, the whole game had had that polish...
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