This webpage is boring. Go look at naked ladies.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

PS3 gets use shock sensation!

I bought two games for my PS3 yesterday. The first I only bought because it's cheap and I wanted to see what the graphics were like. Not because I have much interest in playing Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. It is indeed very pretty and handles well but it's really only for petrol beards. I prefer my driving games arcade style. Something like Burnout, Daytona or Outrun style.

The second game however I've played much more. Everybody's Golf. I'd never played one of this series before but I must admit to being very impressed. It's a good solid golf game wrapped up in huge great bags of fun. The first set of tournaments is pretty easy (With nice unlocks when you win or do something tricky) and the second course I've just unlocked has really started to ramp up the difficulty. Two Flub thumbs up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I'm weak

On Saturday due to sheer boredom I spent hours farming wolves near Oatbarton in LOTRO in order to train my tailoring skill up to Master Expert. Then when I was done I realised just how much work it's going to take to do the same for Master Artisan.

I feel shame :(

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Front page of reddit

It seems my little ramblings about MMOs have reached the front page of Reddit (And only I suspect because the rules were changed recently to stop the front page being dominated by US politics :) ).

It was certainly a surprise since I had no intention of submitting it and didn't really write it with the expectation a lot of people would read it (Except for one forum full of really great people. Hi guys. Boo Teamonkey). I suppose you can call it a high point of a rather dull life if you like.

Hello to those people who made nice comments. I fart in the general direction of the people who either didn't get what I was saying or were just trolling Reddit for the lulz. It was just something that had been kicking around in my head wanting to escape. It's not like I'm expecting any change in MMO development. At least not while Blizzard is still solvent although I'd kill for a non-PvP game in the style of Eve.

MMOs. They're doing it wrong Part II

WoW was both a blessing and a curse. The single clever thing WoW did was take all the good bits from other MMOs and put a large amount of shine and polish on them. I'm still at a loss to explain so large a success though. It has however made it much harder for any other MMO to be "different".

The biggest problem I have with MMOs (And remember this is all from my perspective. Another player will have different needs) is levels and the associated grind that goes with that. Every dev team and publisher seems utterly focused on churning out what is pretty much a guided tour of their game. "I'm level 43. Now I go to this area to play". It's a fundamentally broken and redundant mechanic for many reasons. Not least of which is penalises people with less gaming time than the zoned rats who dominate these games today. It also means you have to spend a lot of time developing a path through your game that you expect the players to take rather than creating a world. Levels are imo the single worst thing in MMOs today. They do more to promote static and unchanging player experiences than anything else.

Let's look at two games you'd think were like chalk and cheese but are actually very similar. Ultima Online and Eve Online. Ultima Online was the first big graphic MMO. Eve is a more modern Elite style MMO. I'll describe each one in turn.

1. Ultima Online.
UO has changed a lot over the years but the fundamentals are the same. It's a classless and leveless fantasy MMO. Skills are trained through repeated use and almost the entire game world is open to play from the beginning if you're nimble enough to get somewhere. Occupations are varied. Many characters in the game have vocations other than combat and many have never fought a battle at all. UO has many problems but it also gets many things right.

2. Eve Online. Eve is a classless and levelless space MMO. Skills are trained in realtime. You set a skill training and a certain amount of time later it becomes trained. This even continues when the player is offline promoting a constant sense of progress. Eve like UO is an open ended sandbox. No levels means no need for a strict progression through the game and most importantly no need for an "endgame". Players in Eve can be miners, pirates, industrialists, company managers or anything they damn well want. Eve however is probably the most hardcore PVP game currently on the market. Nowhere except for docked at a station is safe. Players can be killed anytime and anywhere (Although in certain circumstances there are consequences for doing this). This combined with the many ingame ways to "be a bastard" makes Eve a very hostile and unfriendly game. Obviously there's a sizable playerbase who likes this but I do wonder how many players would leave if a PVE alternative came along.

One other thing I wish to talk about is the second biggest problem MMOs can have (Although to be fair this is not as bad as it used to be). Putting PVP and PVE players in the same environment. It just doesn't work. Apart from the two sides of the player base being utterly hostile to each other's playstyles (Disclaimer. I hate PVP in almost any form) it adds extra burden to the poor dev team trying to keep the game "balanced". What works for PVP doesn't always work for PVE and vice versa. For me the best thing any MMO can do is segregate the two side totally.

MMOs. They're doing it wrong.

I tend to play MMOs more than anything else. Even though I'm rabidly anti-social towards most of the people who play them I just love the idea of playing in a shared world full of stupid talking scenery.

But they never get it right and until I read Halting State by Charles Stross I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. Halting State is set in Scotland in 2017. In it Stross decides that MMOs have become very big business indeed and proceeds to build a rather good conspiracy story around a robbery in one of these MMOs. At as basic level he says this "The economy of an MMO is based around fun. If your players aren't having fun they'll go somewhere else".

Here's my list of things that Stross's MMO did right that current teams haven't managed to figure out yet.

1. Scale. The first time we enter Stross's game it's in a city 2km across floating in the sky above a landmass that doesn't seem to end. You can start off and head in any direction looking for action or performing quests. According to Stross upon the realisation that manually creating content was expensive and time consuming companies put a lot of R&D money into procedurally generated content. Both quests and landmass. So in a 2017 MMO no two people will ever do the same things. You might get a quest to go to a dungeon that has been spawned just for you but will still be there for other quests later for anyone. Compare that to WoW or LOTRO and these games begin to look very small and very static. Most current MMOs never really change the early game (Which is odd considering how many people end up replaying them with different characters). One thing I really hate in an MMO is starting a new character since I know I'm going to have to do exactly the same things every other one of my characters has done. It's boring.

2. They feel like games. With the possible exception of Eve Online all current MMOs do a very poor job of hiding the fact that they're a game so that in the end they all become an exercise in min/maxing, stat tweaking for max dps and effective exploiting of the game mechanics. Why? Because there's nothing else to do but rush to level 50 and see all the new content that they've spent the last 12 months creating to keep you interested. Why should I play an adventurer in a fantasy game and be somehow unable to figure out how to ride a horse until I've been playing the game for 35 levels *and* then find it costs more than I paid for my house for the same character. It's fantasy land. I run around killing orcs for a living. I should have known how to ride a horse since I was a nipper.

We know why I have to wait for level 35 to get a horse of course (Sorry). It's because the devs are focused on creating a game and a game requires a reward and something to strive for and timesinks to keep you playing. So Ultima Online lets anyone with 500 gold (10 minutes for a new player) buy and ride a horse (One that you have to stable and doesn't vanish the second you dismount) while everything since would rather you spent most of your time traveling. What I'd like is a big sandbox that features plenty to do (Including save the world epic quests) but no two players should ever have to play through the game in the same way.

3. Combat is everything. Only Ultima Online to my knowledge has ever tackled this. It's the only MMO I've played where it's possible to create a successful character without ever having to pick up a sword. It was easily possible to spend your time running a shop or being a blacksmith. In almost anything else those sorts of occupations are secondary and normally directly tied to fighting. Stop it please.

4. Odd stuff. I've already mentioned seasoned fighters being unable to ride horses but what about other issues? In a huge game world you might not be near a town when night falls or you want to cook some food and have a kip. In LOTRO only specialist cooks can cook food and create campfires (Creating campfires used to be the Hunter's job). Say what? You mean to say your traveling mercenary has no idea how to get a campfire going and cook some salted meat he has in his backpack? Seriously?

I start up my game client and login. Upon choosing the character I want to play tonight (I have several) a map appears with towns, villages and special areas I've already visited highlighted and I'm asked to choose where I want to start. On the map I can see where my friends are but tonight I'm going solo. I choose to start in a stone circle on a hilltop near a small village. A real life friend told me he'd passed through there yesterday and was told by a npc that an orc warband had been sighted in the area. I want to investigate and see if they're still around. I can go anywhere I've previously been in this game. Why shouldn't I? What dev team in their right mind would expect their players to trudge halfway across the game world before they can start having fun (Oh wait. Most of them). I look around and immediately notice the bloody corpse in the center of the circle. A quick examination of it shows it's a ritual sacrifice and I have a new quest. It's not the orcs I was expecting though. It seems I recognised the killing as the work of a cult that worships an insane god. I'm told I can see tracks heading off into the woods to the east. I decide to accept the quest and investigate. I head off to the east and when I reach the edge of the woods I switch on my tracking skill (This character spends a lot of time in forests. There are no strict classes in the game but you could probably call him a ranger) and discover the people I'm following passed by here a few hours ago and then turned north. I follow the trail until I come upon a small shack in a clearing. Two cultists are standing guard outside. I unsheathe my bow and stick and arrow in the throat of the one on the left (Those damage bonuses for stealth kills are very handy :) ) then unsheathe my sword and run at the one on the right. As I'm killing him another two run out from the shack but don't worry. It's an MMO and not real life. Despite being realistic and huge it's still possible to fight a few mobs lower level than you ;). I finish these off and head into the shack. Inside I find a woman bound to a chair crying. I ungag her and she asks for my help......

And of course if I'd started in the village instead of the stone circle I'd probably be in another part of the map fighting orcs now.

Note that I'm not saying my way is the only way or indeed easy to do. I just wish that MMO developers and publishers would grow a pair and start working on making their games live and breathe rather than churning out the same thing over and over again.

What does everyone else think?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Connect and more

Connect on Saturday was a lot of fun. I met some nice people, didn't ban anyone :( and got to try Jumpgate Evolution which looks very promising.

Today I bought myself a second monitor and as soon as I get home I'll get that set up. It should make my strip mining in Eve and playing other MMOs a lot more flexiable.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Connect 2008

I'm off to the Codemasters Connect 2008 convention in Birmingham on Saturday. There I expect to see many, many nerds, collect lots of free swag and hopefully blag a Jumpgate beta key.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New games today

Today I happened to be in Tescos and spotted that they had a load of video games on sale. Happily one of those happened to be the new Harry Potter game. I nearly bought it for the PS3 for £24 but then I spotted that the XBox 360 version was only £22 so I bought that instead. I've played the demo and found it to be decent but not worth full price so I was happy to find it cheaper today.

I also bought Moto GP 07 for £18 on a whim. I haven't played a motorbike racing game since Manx TT so I thought I'd give it a try.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lost Odyssey Thoughts

What an odd little game. I'm about 6 hours in and I've noticed a few things.

I was right about the plot. It's your standard emo drivel that the FFVII fanboys go nuts over for some inexplicable reason. A lot of the dialogue is quite unintentionally hilarious. Graphics are fantastic in the cities but fairly poor while wandering around the very small wilderness areas. Combat is turn based with one real time element but quite enjoyable.

The skill system is very interesting and very simple to get your immortals trained. I approve. The game also appears to have systems built in to deter you grinding for levels (While not making it impossible to grind for skills). I've been following the players guide while playing (Or I'd probably have thrown the game out the window at the first boss) and it appears just playing the game normally (Not fleeing every battle) puts you at the level you need to be to fight the next boss. Which is nice. I don't know if that changes any.

As I said earlier. I'm 6 hours in and I really haven't done that much combat when I think back. As usual the game is pretty top heavy with cut scenes but it hasn't been too bad at all.