Wednesday, February 25

When PvE becomes enforced PvP and diversity is discouraged

Now I've had my ups and downs with Age of Conan, from release and those first blissfull 40 odd levels through Tortage and beyond until their bug fixes became bigger bug additions and I rage quit in disgust at their ineptitude after the first 2 months.

A new game director and a couple of months of patching later, having not found anything that I enjoyed, I decided to give it another go, a decision I haven't regretted over the past 3 months and I've loved every minute of this beautifully rendered game, it's sturdy lore and its grittyness along with some very good decisions by the new GD, a promising future and a fun but overly large guild (read my previous post and the decay of the fun part - which has great relevance to this post) had me singing it's praises and combatting the left over woe posts from those early players who never wanted to give it a second chance.

All good things must come to end is a saying and why it should be so is something I would usually leave to the pessimists to ponder, sadly I can't help but feel and say, after what now feels like a lifetime of support for AoC - FC you seriously F****d this one up!

Last weeks patch introduced consequences to owning a battle keep
  • Owning a Battle Keep means that any guild can declare war on your guild whether you consent or not
  • Any guild involved in a war has all of it's members flagged for PvP during the siege timeslot (48hrs)
  • PvP is open FFA PvP in all areas except Khemi, Old Tarantia and Connal's Valley
  • These rules apply on all servers regardless of ruleset
  • A guild cannot get rid of its battle keep unless it is destroyed and captured by a guild who don't already own a battle keep
At present this is being hotly debated on the forums, the GD has offered to 'look at it' but I think I may be joining the pessimists on this one and we are now seeing the end of diversity of play styles and therefore playstyle opportunities within guilds in AoC. If your in a big guild whose leaders decided that hey a BK might be fun then really if you dont want to have your playstyle or play times dictated to you you have no choice but to leave.

I relish the idea that you can, with consent, enter into differing playstyles and enjoy everything the game has to offer, I also relish the idea that a guild can cater for differing playstyles and therefore offer more opportunites to it's members.

What FC have effectively done is said this : You cant enjoy the big, fun sounding PvP aspects of the game unless your a PvP player willing to get involved in FFA PvP, PvE players who don't want to be zerged while questing are now excluded.

Of course there is talk of declerations of war with rules that warring guilds should follow but knowing the nature of MMO players can anyone honestly put their hand up and say they will work ? It will only take one idiot to turn the well meaning rules over when those who enjoy PvP jump at the chance for sweet bloody revenge.

It's never a good idea to limit choice in an MMO so what possible positives FC envisioned with this are currently escaping me.

Update: Due to the feedback from players this is now going to be reversed much to the relief of many, question still remains as to what positives they had in mind when originally putting this in ? it also begs the question of what exactly is the process that leads companies to make such unpopular moves and why do they seem so blind to such outcomes as we've witnesed with this?

At last good sense has prevailed but my opinion is their creative decision making process is rather questionable.

Tuesday, February 24

Guilds -Expectations and dissapointments

A short background on my current guild : I got a random invite while standing by the trader in old Tarantia by a warrior , alarms should have rang on 2 counts:
  • Random Invites are never a good sign
  • The inviters IGN was a little less than RP
Being guildless and being on an under populated server I threw caution to the wind and joined
forearmed with the knowledge that it was large, focused on high end PvE and was light RP.

True to form, being the geek I am, having discovered that a guild with 100+ members have no forum (shocking state of affairs for a forum junkie like me) I took the task in hand and found some free forum space along with an easy (ish) to modify template. Fairly quickly the guild had a pleasing on the eye forum ready to go. As expected it took a while for the members to catch on to this new interwebz phenomenon and it was also no surprise that new guild members became the ones to embrace it.

Some days later I login to discover I've been promoted to Ambassador (officer) for my efforts, now lets get a few things straight about my feelings on officership. Officers should hold that position for a reason, one of those reasons maybe a contribution to the guild of some sort but a continuing contribution is required if that title is to be retained, I see no point in having officers who are there in name only, if they dont contribute to the guild in some way that is over and above what is expected of a regular guildy then they shouldn't have the title.

I'm no stranger to holding 'positions of power' within a guild so finding myself unexpectedly attaining the status I ensure that I attend the next officers meeting so that I can continue to contribute in someway, it becomes clear that while the guild has some ambition it's officers and leader take a very relaxed attitude, it also transpires that their idea of the evolution of a guild is to sit back and see what happens.

For a large growing guild that sets it's max level of membership at 200 and attains it I start to get the feeling that this evolutionary approach is limited and will probably ultimately mean the guild shrinking rather dramatically.

It is no surprise that a guild whose leadership takes this approach succumbs to the 'ooh look a shiny penny' syndrome. Those in power who gain a sudden shared excitement about something will then lead the guild in that direction regardless and this is where the problems begin.

Tonight I suddenly find myself in a guild whose direction has suddenly changed and changed by the few 'leaders of the guild' that chat together regularly on Vent, typing, open debate and discussion on the forum is apparently too much of an effort, decisions can be made between the few that share a joke, who take solace and feel protected by the warmth of each others voices. Bugger the rest of us.

It's at this point I realise the futility of thinking on doing positive things for the guild or taking any active role, Lani had a great description for my leadership style which I wish I had noted but it contained the word consensual, which brings us to the point (which will probably be expanded on later as I'm tired and really should be in bed) of democracy within a guild set up.

I like to think of myself as egalitarian in my approach aswell as recognising the importance of strong leadership when needed, some people will see that idea of equality as an excuse for bickering so you need to be strong enough to tell them to STFU :)

You can probably guess the outcome for me in all this, I've handed over admin rights to said forum/raid planner and web hosting and requested a demotion. I've ensured I did this in the most non drama way possible so that I can hopefully quickly and quietly fade into the bakground, enjoy the company of guildies I like and do the occasional raid while I think on my next move.

Monday, February 23

Real Virtual Reality?

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. Twelve years together already. It is crazy how fast time flies, but that is something for another topic.

To celebrate this memorable day we first spent the whole morning taking our old bed frame apart, and assembling our lovely new walnut wooden frame that got delivered the day before. When my sister called to congratulate us I had to explain of course what the new bed looked like. And I couldn't explain it much better than that is square-ish. Which result in me loosing several points on my tech babble skills. And I am supposed to be the tech-savvy one of the family! But we did manage to get everything screwed together and in place without having any random pieces left over. So that felt pretty good. We spend another hour or two cleaning up all the packaging, and taking the pieces of the old frame and all packaging downstairs to the car, and from there to the recycle centre. By three o'clock were back home, and the celebrations could begin! Woohoo! We dropped on the sofa and watched a rerun of something. I think. Oh yes, it was a cheesy Dick van Dyke medical murder case thing.

But that was fortunately not the end of the day. We had booked a table at Sahara Restaurant, a Moroccan specialty place in Notting Hill. I had never been to the place, but it looked very promising. We were supposed to be there by 8pm, so we had recovered plenty enough from our morning chores, and since we had skipped lunch we were pretty hungry too.

The restaurant turned out to be a tiny place in one of the back streets of Notting Hill. But it was perfect! As soon as we crossed the doorstep I felt I was in a different world. Wonderfully decorated in shades of yellow and red, plenty of pillows all over the place, and some great painting from everyday life in Northern Africa. And of course the music. It all made for a fantastic feeling. But strangely enough I didn't feel like I was in Marrakesh (especially not since I have never been there), or Sousse or Tunis. In stead I had the feeling I was walking the streets of Khemi. I know the Age of Conan city was created after the North African cities, but I still felt like I had stepped into a virtual MMO world. It was a really weird, but pleasant experience.

But that was only the beginning of my joys. The food was phenomenal! Everything was prepared in real traditional Moroccan style, and it was heavenly! The bread with spicy chili sauce, the appetizers, and then the main course. Succulent lamb with almonds and dates, and some couscous. I am still savouring the flavours. And all this was accompanied by an excellent Moroccan white wine. I was quite surprised that an Islamic country makes such delicious wine.

And while I was dreaming away over the food, the music, I noticed the other guests and the two people running the place. There were perhaps 20 people in total, and I am quite sure none of them were English. There was a lot of French being spoken, but also interesting English accents that clearly came from far away. Maybe I had really stepped into Khemi and was playing a diner game with people from all over the world. I don't really want to know if I am pushing it too far now.

Although I suggested we should just sleep right there, eventually we left. After all our brand new bed was waiting. And so ended a wonderful day. Today I am still happy. Happy to be married to a wonderful person, and happy to live in multi-culteral London, and happy to have visit virtual places like Khemi.

Saturday, February 21

My Perfect MMO part 3: Thoughts on gear

One thing that has always annoyed me about most MMO's is the inevitable choice between gear that looks great and gear that has great stats. In some games, EQ in particular, it's almost a badge of honor to wear a pineapple colored Paladin's getup as that set of ugly shite had the best stats for a Paladin for a while.

Most MMO's have similar problems, becoming more poignant as the graphics engine improves. I.e. in games like Vanguard and more so Age of Conan, wearing a generic 'sackcloth' armor can become really annoying. Especially if every NPC from street-beggars on up appears to wear nicer, cooler, sexier stuff than you. In Age of Conan's defense, persistent raiding for a month or two or persistent ganking, I mean PvPing for a month or two will get you some nice looking gear, which won't have the stats you need for continuing your grinding.

Some games, like EverQuest II and more surprisingly Anarchy Online instituted something called social armor/clothing. Essentially a second set of gear, but for looks only. So if you find a nice piece of chest armor in the Commonlands of Norrath, you can eventually put it in your social armor chest slot and the game will portray that skin rather than that of the ultra-rare,ultra-ugly chest-piece you picked up in Nektulos Forrest later on. Anarchy Online has actual clothing shops selling tops, halters, shoes, strings and gloves. The ability to toggle between portraying your armor or clothes (on a per slot basis btw) came in sometime later. Anarchy Online also allows your character to look like leets, small critters, or monsters. Eq-II of course has the shape-shift spells allowing you to look like nearly any roughly human or giant wolf-sized creature. This is the height of fluff for many a "RPG means increasing stats" player, but for the section larger than 5% I assure you, for whom Roleplaying means a bit more, MMO's have by and large been paying lip-service to the idea of customization.

Being able to dye your preset armor sets as in Guild Wars and later Warhammer Online is considered a big improvement. To be sure, there's technical and practical restraints that make dye-able armor preferable over a lot of unique textures and colors. Each texture takes up memory in your client, each armor set needs to be manually checked for its clipping effects e.t.c.
And Guild Wars did break the Stat - Looks mold at some point, within a profession's options, but this was after the big climatic End Boss fight at the end of the second campaign which lasted all of 45 seconds. In other words, well after I lost interest with the game.

Luckily for me and others for whom the dressup game is an important gameplay element, there's City of Heroes/Villains which allows for huge customization of your outward appearance. The Chronicles of Spellborn, a more recently launched game, features similar though less expansive customization. In both games armor doesn't have any real effect on your stats. In stead one needs to put enhancements, or Sigils as I believe they're called in TCoS' case, into a number of slots, which are determined by level rather than gear. This makes these games different from most other MMO's in that appearance is pretty much independent of class / level / statistics and in that you can effectively pick and choose what stats to buff. CoX soon found out that people would completely stack their slots with damage buffs alone so some limitations were introduced. I'm not sure if TCoS has enough players for decent data mining after such exploits.

The build your own buffs approach looks very nice at first glance but has a lot of potential for exploitation that isn't really exploitation. Meaning, if you can stack all your slots with damage buffs and that unbalances the game, is that actually an exploit or a design flaw? Well, exploiting design flaws is against most EULA's. I should know, I researched several back in 2006. In fact it may be that I had a more than insignificant part in the EULA for TCoS as I made an initial draft for it. But that's neither here nor there. What I'd like to do for my perfect MMO is something in between conventional MMO's and the way these two games go about it.

While I would like to hold onto fixed stats for gear, like armor, I do want to separate it to a certain extent from appearance and even make it fit in with my chosen background of Shadowrun. Meaning, in Shadowrun you'll be playing a SINless Shadowrunner who quite natrually doesn't want to attract the police or worse, corporate security forces. Additionally, you'll be traveling throughout different zones in the Seattle Sprawl (the basic Shadowrun campaign setting is within Seattle) with different security settings. While in some, an Orc with an assault rifle having a smoke with a Troll bearing a Big and mean two-handed sword he calls a knife will not raise an eyebrow, there's other zones where any visible sidearm will get you tazed, arrested, locked up and maybe questioned. So, trench-coats and other less than revealing clothes are in vogue.

The system I would like to use has gear, armor mostly but it also applies to weapons though I'm leaving out the actual cybernetics for now, into two parts. The first, which I'm calling a 'template' for now but may have renamed by the end of this piece, and the 'design'. Both will be on the loot tables, as separate entities. Stores will sell both, and the basic gear (the stuff you don't want to get caught dead in) will have both 'template' and a fixed 'design',but outside those you'll have to buy a design to go with your template before you can wear it.
So you'd have a template for an Armored Tank-Top which gives a +2 Damage Resistance and a +1 Charm but you need to select, purchase and attach a 'design' for it too before you can wear it.
I do intend to work wth tiers, so you'd end up with three generic armor template sets for each class addressing the three main alternate advancement paths within each class and each template coming with 5 designs, that means a given player has 15 choices per armor slot. Since I don't see a point to break with the regular feet - legs- body - arms - head - belt concept, that's 90 different configurations per class out of the box, for the default 'white' gear.

Templates and designs are sold separately so you can apply any of the generic designs to a dropped template that's better than the generic templates sold at the stores. Better templates will naturally drop of foes, you shot the design all to pieces but the template is still usable. I think I'll call them patterns btw. The best patterns will come as rewards from Mr Johnson's or from the vaults of a corporation's research and development department which you happen to be robbing. The same will go for designs. Now, once a design is attached to a pattern, that's final. So an Ultra Rare Design you'd probably keep safe until your character is sufficiently advanced not to need a new set of armor every week (or day as so often is the case at lowbie levels). A Patterned Design will still be tradable on the player market though. Most players will want the freedom of buying them separately, but this will effectively raise the price for the whole, which means the auction house commission will be higher, meaning more money going out of player-circulation hopefully working against mudflation.

In addition, my Shadowrun MMO will have three different clothing sets. Yes, three...
That's one more than even Anarchy Online, Vanguard and EverQuest II have. I'm mentioning Vanguard here, because that game too has a second set of clothing, though you have to actually swap it out with your normal kit rather than it having a seperate set of slots. It's for Diplomacy, a non-violent, witty sub game. I'd like to sue something similar in my Perfect MMORPG, but as you need to talk and be diplomatic with rather two distinct groups you'll need different clothes for each occasion. I'm also working towards a high churn rate for mostly your clothes so you'll end up looking different a lot. You'll have a Urban set, a Street set and Combat set. Each of these will have treshhold markers on a legal acceptability scale (another concept in need of a better name) that applies to the patterns. Bulkier, more obvious armor-like patterns will increase your character's rating while some designs (trench-coats, except that those scream HIDDEN SHOTGUN!!!) will lower this rating.
I probably should mention at this point that visible cybernetic enhancements will get you Official Attention as well, so these affect your rating on that legal acceptability scale too. Covering them with cloth does help.

See this as a kind of light-medium-heavy armor, with certain zones not accepting you wear anything other than light, some accepting both light & medium, some just medium and the heavy armor is really only worn when you're "aiming to misbehave". Oh, by accepting I mean that in an uptown high society zone, you'll have the local patrols on you wearing street gear, whereas wearing Urban clothes in the downtwon sprawl zones will not get you police attention, rather you're liable to get mugged, molested, propositioned e.t.c. You're starting to get an image now I'm sure. The combat kit is unmistakable and will get any cop within half a mile running, towards the nearest comm terminal to call in the gunships. in short you don't wear that except when on a mission or in an actual street war (a feature I'll get around to in another post).

So why does this matter?
Well, you'll have overland missions where you will need to go to upper class area's for information gathering, smuggling, and possibly even shopping. You'll need to be able to do that without having security forces jump you every two steps. While on the streets amongst your fellow SINless people and while meeting with Johnson's you'll want something to wear that provides you Street Cred, identifies your Gang if you're in one and protects you from those little distractions like muggings, bar-fights gang wars e.t.c. And you do want to look your best when going Full Auto during your missions. Oh, Combat Kit is probably limited to the true combat classes like the Street Samurai only.

Generic designs will do for those who really don't care about looks, though of course some of the rarer designs will be more ehm distracting and hence hide your illegal kit better. And as I'm not an asshole, switching between kits will be easy. As in key-mapped, though you won't be able to flash-toggle and not change while under fire. In the end though, the most important elements to worn gear will not be statistics enhancing, but this camouflage effect. You'll be able to boost your damage resistance a bit through armored fibers et. al. but hiding the more obvious effects of any cybernetic implants and allowing you to shove that rocket-launcher... somewhere are the main function of worn gear. Cybernetics and Baubles (for the mage-like classes) will be providing the most statisitics upgrades.

So, what next?
I've got semi worked out ideas on:
- An alternatve more Cyber-Punky harvesting/gathering and overland activity/gameplay.
- Cybernetics, Baubles and How Loot Drops.
- Social concepts, Roleplaying and other mini-games.
- Steal what from Which Game.

Saturday, February 14

My Perfect MMO 2 - Using an existing IP?

MMOCrunch has an article (well a question to the readers really) of what IP should get the MMO treatment.
Interestingly all of the mentioned IP's give me a big 'meh' feeling.

While I appreciate that this is a very awesome Real Time Strategy game with a superficial background setting (superficial, mainly because going any deeper would make it obvious to the blind,deaf and dumb that Blizzard once again blatantly ripped of an excisting IP from a certain UK based Tabletop franchise) I'd much rather see the (more) original IP by Games Workshop be turned into an MMO. As a primarily Explorer-type player I'd get very little out of this I'm afraid. No matter what Blizzard does, their version of Space is never going to be so horribly dark or as bad ass as Warhammer 40K. This probably won't stop the Blizz though, as they got away with it with the Warcraft IP.

The Terminator:
So how would this make a good MMO? Or an MMOFPS as the writer suggests.
Replace the whatchamacallem's from TR with stop-motion metal skeletons and revamp the textures to look like postapocalyptic LA would not make TR a decent game. I'm not much of an FPS games so I'm biased against this, but overall the postapocalyptic world of the War of the Machines seems to shallow for me from an explorer's point of view.

This might work, though I suspect since Microsoft canned the project it won't.

Ehm, no.
Just no. This IP, besides being another shallow rip-off of another richer IP, is to dependent on the admittedly very nice behinds of Kate Beckinsale, Rhona Mitra, and lots of hectic camera work. The stark lighting can easily be replicated on a computer screen, though it'll probably end up having a brownish tint in stead.

Movies don't really make good IP source material I feel.
Unless they themselves are based on existing richer IP, as in the case with the Lord of the Rings. Movies by and large aren't about depth of the world, they're supposed to visually entertain for a short period of time. Note the overall quality of Single Player games that are based upon Movie IP's. I challenge you to find one, just one that was actually good. Don't pick Bladerunner though because that game was actually good with an awesome soundtrack and that'd put a crimp in my argument. Except of course that Bladerunner the movie itself is based upon a book.
Ok, so the Aliens vs Predator game (which predated the movie by the way) was great too and if I think about it there was this little Westwood based studio that did well with another Book turned Movie turned video Game IP and then there is that most milked out IP in the world, so it's actually possible to make good games based on a movie IP (or two as in the AvP) case, but you have to do it a while after the movie and have a gameplay concept as well as shiny images and even then those games entertain for a few weeks. Not even Knights of the Old Republic could keep me entertained for more than 4 weeks, even though it's lovely to revisit every now and then for a rainy weekend.

I'd have to point out that something the likes of Babylon-5 or Firefly could better serve as an IP to get the MMO treatment. Soin the face of overwhelming evidence against my point of view that Movies don't make good IP for Games/MMO's I'm not totally against anything from the non-interactive screen moving to the interactive screen. I do feel that your average action movie misses something in both the depth and width dimensions and bootilicious action doesn't quite make up for it. For a placing-you-in-the-antagonist like Single Player game maybe, sure.

In a nutshell, just about any other source would do better for an MMO than mvoies as just about every other format has more content, more depth, more scope, with notable exceptions which have already been exploited and given the MMO treatment.

TV Series:
If we can move beyond the bad ass Fantasy or Sci-Fi action movie we saw last night on DVD though, what does make good IP for an MMO? As I hinted, something along the lines of a TV series (with an ensemble cast of more than 5 and at the least some worked out world background) would do better than your average action movie, but it's probably better to look elsewhere. As we know there's a StarTrek Online in the works. A tried and true IP this is on the tube, the silver screen, novel adaptations and as several reasonably well doing computer game titles. Babylon 5 certainly has a rich enough universe to muck around in, and with Firefly you don't even have to consider what to do for the first 7 or so classes. But I believe this was considered and dropped already. Some similar forays into further exploiting the Buffy universe have also been made and cancelled I believe. As it is, I for one would love to run or more probably fly around in a Babylonian universe in a Firefly class vessel, but it's not very likely it seems. Besides, a ship's crew kinda shouts "Static Group" which is nearly as impossible (for me) as would be a weekly Pen & Paper RPG group...

Excisting Pen & Paper RPG's:
There's still a sleuth of untapped IP's in that format. Granted, a lot of those are more or less obvious Dungeons & Dragons ripoffs and a (largely unsuccesful) attempt to turn that into an MMORPG has already been undertaken.
Another possible IP previously mentioned, is Warhammer 40K. Though I think some people are already considering that. It'd be cool, very cool. Except, life in 40K is cheap. The IP is probably more suited to the RTS-style of the Dawn of WAR series than that of a classic MMORPG or Single Player RPG for that matter. Both of the *RPG genre's are a bit too focused on the idvidiual for 40K I think. I've always felt the same about the Dune IP for instance. It'd be very cool to be a head of a Great House in the universe of Arrakis, not so much one of a milion's milion faceless serfs and grunts in that same universe. There's one IP in this genre I'm not mentioning yet. It'll come though.

Comic Books:
With the sheer number of Superheroes and villains, it stands to reason at least some of these get the MMO treatment. Cryptic first did their generic Super City of Heroes and went for a P&P RPG variant after their hopes for a Marvel Universe Online were dashed. A DC Universe is also in the make. Since I'm generally not that big on Super Heroes, they always strike me as too obvious an Escapism/Empowerement fantasy for comfort, it's surprising that I like the CoX games and actually think of them as one of the better MMO's out there.
There's more than the Superheroes to be found in Comic book land. There's Elfquest for one, and ehm, Storm, Thorgall, e.t.c. though the latter two are probably to protagonist-centric and the former for some reason doesn't appeal to me for an MMO. More a guilty pleasure kind of thing.
I'm not much of a comic book reader to be honest, so I'm probably missing lots of good IP's, as well as several pretty decent attempts at fleshing out the visual worlds of several action motion pictures.

The great love of my life of course.
Books, and especially series of books, have the bredth and width needed for an immersive experience lasting more than a few weeks.
Even though I've long since outgrown his books Raymond E Feist, I've always longed to see something along the lines of Krondor Online. I loved the Single Player RPG's made around the City of Krondor. The idea of a vast sprawling mideval / Fantasy metropolis has a certain appeal to me. But ultimately I'd like to see another fictional city immortalised as an MMO.
Another series of books that just screams MMORPG! at me is of course the great series Malazan book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. His world is so rich and varied, you could set up an online world to rival and surpass Norrath of EverQuest I&II fame. My Explorer's heart starts beating faster just thinking about it. I also see vast potential to utterly mess this up, not to mention that I don't consider your average MMO player, which essentially defaults to your average WOW player due to weight of numbers and what averaging means, to be up to appreciating the subtle nuances and lack of easy answers that in part make Steven's work so wonderful.
One of the things I really, really love about this series is how the author intentionally or not challenges you the reader to fill in a lot of blanks and come up with your own idea's and concepts. With an MMO those'd be set in stone. Not unlike how the Lord of the Rings movies imprinted several archetypical images into our collective unconscious and essentailly turned the tragic figure Gimli into comic relief.

There's tons of other written worlds to pick and choose from, some more and some less easily adoptable and some more worthy and original (i.e. not too clearly written with a Middle Earth Encyclopedia in hand) than others.

The IP I'd pick:
I'll leave the why and how and all that to a next post as this one's already getting way too long again.
The source IP I'd picked is one of the big Pen & Paper RPG titles, from FASA.
No, it's not Battletech (Mechwarrior), but Shadowrun which I'd love to see made into an MMO.

Tuesday, February 10

My perfect MMO Part 1: Instancing

I'll be working out some idea's I have about how to go about setting up the perfect MMO.
This will of course be purely subjective, though I will try to design an MMO that more people besides me may enjoy. Consider this one long brainstorm.

The first aspect I'd like to tackle is Instancing.
There's always this divide between people who like instances and those who want a seamless world, pretty much the same way there's this line between hardocre and casual players. In both cases the definition of each side of the divide depends on whom you are talking to and how they see themselves. One argument often encountered is that a seamless world is more immersive, it doesn't burst the magic circle as much as the inevitable loading-screens of instances.
The counter to that is that a lot of people find it breaks their immersion to 'hitch' every so often when they cross one of those seams in the world that aren't there in seamless worlds. Especially when fleeing from a Big Baddy who takes the 10-20 second hitch to leisurely nibble upon the player. For them the world usually is seamless.

What I'd like to do is try to use instancing to create the illusion of a seamless overland world but in the form of public instances and /or sub-instancing and use private instances (for solo / group adventures and raids) in such a way that the laoding screens do not occur in the heat of the moment/battle but at moments where they make sense. At the same time I'd like to tackle an often encountered problem on MMORPG servers, that of the overcrowded starter area at game launch and the ghost-town starter area 6 months later. By instancing everything, you can scale to population, regardless of where that population is at the moment and in days of low population for certain zones (like lowbie zones) they won't feel so desolate as all players present in them will be clustered together in a single or possibly two instances.

Essentially what I'm thinking about is an improved version of the Guild Wars instancing scheme.
For those of us not familiar with Guild Wars, everything is instanced here. There's towns, which are shared instances. I.e. you bump into othe rplayers all the time who are busy doing their own thing. Depending on crowdiness additional instances of the town appear and it's quite easy to pop between them. Load times are way below a minute when switching instances. Loading a town takes about a minute. Everything else, from missions, PvP maps to the overland world is group instanced. Guild Wars' use of henchmen makes those private instances when only one player is involved. Now what if you'd turn the overland world into zones which are publicly shared instances? You'd end up with something remarkably like EverQuest II which in some ways is clsoer to what I envision, but hopefully without Lag-City and Lag-Port as your main starting area's.

The main thing I'd like to steal from Guild Wars is the single Server/Universe/Shard whatever concept. With Guild Wars you only pick your Region (Europe - Asia - America's - maybe more) which establishes your default NOC (server-farm) location, but you essentially sign up to the single world server shared by everyone. There are some inherent problems with this, and you immediately need global instancing to even make this work, but I think that's good and serves to prevent the problem I mentioned before. Overcrowded starter area's at launch and ghost towns a half year in.
If you were to start a character in any of the MMO's that came out before say 2007, you'll find every starting zone a near desolate area. This is why many games implemented a newbie island sometime after launch. Most notably each and every MMO made by SOE. This is to cover the empty starter area as much as to keep trial accounts from spamming the heck out of the established playerbase with RMT messages. With Global Instancing you don't need this.

The Background I have in mind is more a City of Heroes-like city sprawl than a classic High Fantasy world in which case. Imagine a City of Heroes without the security walls that are really the edges of shared instances. It's not posisble for that game due to the way the infrastructure is set up and the game designed. But imagine a similar city, with slightly less rapid transportation maybe and with a denser Stuff to Do ratio, where you do travel from instance to instance via seams. I.e. not the hitch-kaboom-crash crap of Vanguard Saga of Hitches but more something along the lines of an unobtrusive instance selector whenever you near the boundaries of a zone/instance. A smart Instance Selector Algoritm (more on that later) will get you to the next zone but not immediately. The idea is you need to confirm you wish to go to the next zone, at which time a connection is being established and the next zone is slowly loaded in the background of your client. When you hit the seam, you pass through. Now if you didn't confirm the transfer, this'll be the invisible wall that seamless world enthusiasts hate so much.

I envision this as an indicator that lights up hitting a key, assignable but let's use "I" for Isntance for the time being even though that's usually mapped to Open Inventory, will start a background progress that'll incur a minor performance hit, but prevents the use of extenisve loading screens.
Clicking the Indicator with your mouse will allow you to select your instance and bypass the Instance Selector Algorithm. The one downside to this is that people may seem to disappear into thin air, but this can be circumvented by a 'model continues on last vector and starts to fade after 10 seconds to disappear 45 seconds after transition' system. We'll even include an option where you autoconfirm every transition and only need to hit the key if you don't want to.

In terms of level design, it should be possible to set things up in such a way that generally speaking there isn't much to do the last 100 feet from the boundaries of any zone, further alleviating any immersion breaking effects. Similarily you can have such an Indicator appear when nearing a sub-instance. Places like Auction Houses will in this way not destroy your game client's performance just because you pass by in front of the door, unless you confirm that you want to enter it, and in that case you won't be standing there with 50 odd people killing your bandwidth and memory, but a maximum of 10. Actual numbers subject to extensive stress testing during Beta of course.

There's several benefits to this kind of system.
When you set up your architecture right, you can more efficiently use your available server capacity. You'll have to start thinking along the terms of cloud computing for this. You don't really need servers dedicated to one single zone. I'm talking actual physical servers now, not the Universe/Shard/Server/World selections. If you set it up right you can have each server be able to serve each instance, though Beta Testing will undoubtedly show that some guestimates can be made as to which zones need more instances at any given time and have your servers pre-load those instances so you don't run into the problem of an instance actually needing to be initialized because you're the only person to visit it in months. Each zone should naturally have one instance running. A central Zone manager should keep track of load/capacity and have a second instance fired up as capacity fills up.
For example, a new instance is initiated if capacity reaches 60% (either based on nr of players or resources used depending on which makes more sense during development and after stress testing). When capacity of instance #1 reaches 70% new entree's are automatically assigned to the new instance, unless the entree uses the cklick-the-indicator manual override to enter the more busy instance. From 90% capacity, no new entries to that instance are allowed. The instance becomes locked and you are directed to the new one regarldess of personal choice.

The Instance Selector Algorithm, of which I'm not sure if this will be client-side or part of the Zone manager deamon, also has the chore of keeping groups together. I.e. in passive mode (you do not actively select which instance you go to) you're always directed to the instance the group-leader is in. I'm not tech savvy enough to determine what'd be more resource hogging, a client side algortim polling instance load then deciding on its own or a client that just says "Hi, coming up on zone #34562, please provide instance nr for me" and have the daemon figure it all out. I suspect the latter can do with fewer network transactions, which is generally a Good Thing™.

Content will mainly be instanced and or sub-instanced (more on sub-instancing later) in the manner of City of Heroes and Age of Conan both. The door-to-mission from the former, and something similar to the Night time Destiny Quests in Tortage of the latter. Essentially the Cityscape (my new term for the overland map) will be publicly shared, and I got some idea's for fun generic content in the form of encounters and farming gameplay, and be as seamless as possible, with quest / story arcs in a more private setting. But all that will have to wait for the post about content and or gameplay.

Friday, February 6

My top 10 movies

Guess I'll have to retaliate.
Caveat: This list is of course subject to mood swings, day of the month and other obscure factors.
I.e. it changes, to reflect that I'll order them Alphabetically rather than from #1 to #10.

As Good as it Gets:
Melvin Udall: How can you diagnose someone with an obsessive compulsive disorder, then act like I have some choice about barging in here?

I always like Jack Nicholson, even though he can't act. He's just himself in every movie. The man can't help it there's so many facets to his personality, can he?
Seriously, must see movie. It's fun, it's tragic, it's endearing and it has Helen Hunt in a soaked t-shirt.

Batty: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.

The perfect movie companion to Alien(s).
Even though the themes are completely different, I've always felt that the two worlds portrayed in these movies have compatible backgrounds. It's believable that the Synthetics from Alien act like the Replicants in Bladerunner. Since the movies and their tech are close together in time, it's perfectly feasible to see Bladerunner and the first two Alien(s) movies in a single weekend. That'll be a good weekend.

Boondock Saints:
Television. Television is the explanation for this - you see this in bad television. Little assault guys creeping through the vents, coming in through the ceiling - that James Bond shit never happens in real life! Professionals don't do that!

I just love the characters and the Irish accents in this movie. Especially William Defoe's flaming gay FBI man is brilliant. The way they hackle violence in movies is fun to.

The Far Pavilions:

Got to have a costume drama (or two) in here. As well as a 'view of the Orient', so let's combine them. I could have picked Lawrence of Arabia, but this movie has romance and sex in it and while Lawrence has Peter O'Toole in it I'm of the wrong gender to fully appreciate that. Besides, both movies have Omar Sharif in it. (placement is by 'F' of Far)

Meet Joe Black:
Susan Parrish: Do you love making love to me?
Joe Black: Yes
Susan Parrish: More than peanut butter?
Joe Black: Yes. Much more.

Funny thing, though I honestly think this is one of my top 10 movies, it's one I haven't watched all that many times. it is a bit slow and takes a long time. Regardless, everyone should have seen it in its entirety at least once. And so I have.

Sarah: That's not fair!
Jareth: You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?

Jim Henson died too soon and he didn't get the recognition he deserved. Labyrinth is the best movie in its genre. Jennifer and David are sublime! How many movies are there that you can see once every six months and discover something new in, for 20 years?

Dr. Simon Tam: [to River] If there's any fighting, drop to the floor or run away.
[pause; regarding the rest of the crew]
Dr. Simon Tam: It's okay to leave them to die.

The movie that puts closure to the series Firefly, which is probably the best of many great shows cancelled prematurely by FOX network. I love this series and the movie primarily because of all the anti-hero, dirty fighting, cute engineer tropes it has. It also has the witty conversations so long absent from SciFi since Han Solo offered to arrange a Wookiee kissing for Prinses Leia. I know of no other show/movie that goes so fast from dramatic to action to comedy without missing a single beat, ever. Ok, maybe the mule chase has a few 'problems', the good bits like the swerve, break, accelerate make up for the corny bits.

Spirited Away...:

... or Chihiro's Journey as I know it.
Loved the dreamy quality of the story, loved the visuals, hate that I can't find the children's book about the miller from which I recognize the 'recognize your beloved in the guise of an animal; scene, pigs in this case comes from. I read it a a child and I can't for the life of me, find it now.

Star Wars, the original Trilogy:
Not sure why I'm saying original trilogy here. It's not like there were any incredibly bad, unnessecarily time-line breaking prequels made by a middle aged, midlife-crisis, sloppy director with a talent for finding talented people to do his work for him but being upstaged by Joss Whedon in every actually creative field that has him crying himself to sleep every night. No sirreee no such abominations exist in my version of reality. As a result I can't link the title anywhere, lest you be befuddled and confounded by false references to such abominations that are really only a figment of your imagination.

Yes, there are only nine movies mentioned.
Number ten is the floating movie, the one that keeps switching from moment to moment.
At one moment it's Blues Brothers, the next it's the Sound of Music, only to be replaced the next moment by Chocolate, squeezing in just ahead of Tank Girl e.t.c.

Even with only 9 movies, I notice a couple of trends here myself.
Either it's the fantastical, Sci-Fi and exotic places on earth which are all visually captivating or (witty) dialogue that makes me like a movie. That makes sense to me. I'd not watch a movie for the story, maybe a series with an overarching storyline, but not a movie. Good dialogue can also be found in books, but there's a difference in rythm. Witty repartee needs a live audience. No. Live action? Well, it needs to be said out loud.

Transporter 3 and other great movies

Woohoo! It is time for a completely useless list of my 10 greatest movies of all time. Something that might have looked different if I had made it last month, and different again next month. I have probably also missed some very brilliant ones that really have to be there. Maybe I'll have to make my other 10 grestest movies of all time next week/month or even tomorrow. So why am I wasting internetz space with my list? Because it is there to be wasted!

A passage to India
Adela Quested: I do so hate mysteries.
Richard Fielding: We English do.
Mrs. Moore: I rather like mysteries - but I rather dislike muddles.
Richard Fielding: A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. Me and the Professor know that India is a muddle.
Professor Godbhole: Agreed, I am sorry to say.

A brilliant view into India, its people, and pompous British occupiers. After seeing this movie I just have to see mystery for myself. I have changed my views a bit over the years that follows, but India is still top of my list on places to see.

Blue Velvet

Frank Booth: Hey you wanna go for a ride?
Jeffrey Beaumont: No thanks.
Frank Booth: No thanks? What does that mean?
Jeffrey Beaumont: I don't wanna go.
Frank Booth: Go where?
Jeffrey Beaumont: For a ride.
Frank Booth: A ride! Now that's a good idea!
I am a huge David Lynch fan. All his movies could be in this list, but I should just pick one. And this one has Dennis Hopper in it.


I couldn't find any rememberable quotes. But this movie is as much a joy for the visuals as it is for what is said. And the fact it is mostly in French might make it harder to find once quotes too. It is the ultimate in cult. Citroen DS, homes in old factory buildings, bathtubs in the kitchen, and a 10000 jigsaw puzzle are just some of the joys. But the story of stolen drugs and illegal recordings is great as well. Go see this!

Lost boys of Sudan
One of the boys: America is no paradise.
A gripping documentary about three young Sudanese refugees from a camp in Kenya that are allowed to go to the US. It is about their story how they try to adopt and make a life in the promised land. And how people back home think they are now living the lifes of millionaires. This movie is hitting home way too close. Everybody in Kenya I met is dreaming of a life in the US. And many of the problem these boys faced I/we faced during our time in Chicago as well to some extend.

Once upon a time in the west
Harmonica: When you hear a strange sound, drop to the ground.
All time classic. Phenomanal music, great cast, and classic themes of greed and revenge. And according to my mother all westerns are around the railway. I think she is right because this movie covers it all.

Once were warriors
Jake Heke: Tell Jakey you love him.
Beth Heke: That's the trouble Jake, I do.
You can't get more gritty and in your face real life drama than this movie about the Maori community trying to live in modern day New Zealand. The first time I saw this movie was during the filmweek at the Heemskerk cultural centre. Which means 30 plastic seats and a the projector. But I complete forgot my surrounding as this movie is really sucking you in.

Raise the red lantern

The Third Concubine: Good or bad, it's all playacting. If you act well, you can fool other people; if you do it badly, you can only fool yourself, and when you can't even fool yourself, you just can fool the ghosts.
Gong Li and Zhang Yimou at their best. This movie captures so perfectly a completely different world. Growing up in the Western world makes China a complete mystery. Their way of living and thinking is so different. The setting of this movie is just as different, but the emotions and characters portait makes this movie unforgettable.

Sprited Away
Lin: Sen! Sen, where are you?
Chihiro: [from beside the Stink Spirit] Over here!
Lin: Don't worry... stay right where you are, I'm coming to get you! You're gonna be fine, I won't let him hurt you.
Chihiro: I think he needs help! It feels like there's a thorn in his side!
One of the most elegant fairytales I have seen. Wonderful characters set in an even more wonderful world. Only Japanese artists can make some this special.

The Kingdom
Dishwasher 2: The good will cry and the evil will laugh. That's what they say!
I believe this was actually a TV series when it was first released in Denmark. But I saw it in two sittings in a movie theatre in Amsterdam. Lars van Trier is going a bit Daid Lynch, but in his own style of course. But it is all going from weird to weirder. The scene it which Bulder changes into a pinguin to fight the tiger in the basement in still being used by me to emote utter cluenessness.

I believe there is an US remake too. I haven't seen it, but from what I have heard it is utter crap. Please don't compare the two.

Maria: Not because you love me or anything like that?
Matthew: I respect and admire you.
Maria: Is that love?
Matthew: No, that's respect and admiration.
Hal Hartley is the ultimate genius in witty dialogues. And of course Adrienne Shelly and Martin
Donovan play them out perfectly. All Hal Hartley's movies are worth watching, but this one is pure genius. Don't miss this.

Hmm, that is ten. But I was claiming I saw a top 10 movie yesterday when I saw Slumdog Millionaire. I guess making this list is really futile.

Thursday, February 5

Unskippable Grandia III

I wish this game'd come to the Xbox 360...

Gameamp Post Mortem

Reflects a moment in time,
A special moment in time,
Yeah we wasted our time,
We didn't really have time,
But we remember when we were young.

Gameamp has come and gone.
Sure, for now visiting still shows the semi-hopeful message "Hang in there everyone, we'll be back with a few more words! " but I/we know better.

Gameamp always stood out for a few great things, an emphasize on being nice, polte and non inflammatory in the policies, the ability to rank up Credibility by getting people to rate your posts and by contributing useful information to the site's information, like some of the best maps at the time for Guild Wars, CoX and WOW. Or by writing up Guides or Articles, showing of your Screenshots of lush backgrounds, impressive in-game feats or just funny moments therein. It was also one of the first sites with a profile allowing you to store and showcase the characters and games you'd played over the years.
The network, for that's what it was a network of fansites, was never the best or foremost at anything except maybe for a while Guild Wars maps which luckily were ripped by many other sites so they're still around this day, in many things especially the site's tech it was mediocre at best. It did have several of the nicest, most respectful of one another and downright friendliest communities ever and for years it was home too. Or maybe Cheers, if there's a difference.

I met many great, funny, hilarious, weird and loveable people and charicatures during my time there. Gameamp even landed me a job one time, though that didn't work out well in the end.
An age has passed, not for the world 99.999% of which never knew it existed, but for me and about 10.000 other people who'd been regulars at one time or another.

The network had its peak in 2005/2006 when in the wake of Guild Wars' lack of Official Forums and WOW's multi-million community spilling over from that games OF's resulted in an influx of people looking for a place to post about their favorite waste of time. Of those inclined not to waste their time reading page upon page of insults and attempts at wit after a newby question was asked, a lot ended up at Gameamp. Mind you, there also used to be an active and very friendly City of Heroes community at Gameamp as well. After the peak at the end of 2005 the decline of the network set in as despite an influx of money from investors, no noticeable effort was done to consolidate the things that were going good by improving upon the existing tech.
An investment was mdae into China to make an in-game browser overlay with access to AMP's databases, but no effort was spent at making data entry other than a bloody inconvenience.

By 2007 investers had withdrawn, things had gone wrong in the personal lives of the devs (read: those who got the money) and the Community Manager Jeni, who'd poored her heart and soul into into her work was laid off. Gameamp had not succeeded in getting any of the additionally created fan-sites on the network to work and draw in new members while the tools available to keep existing sites running continued to age. The network ambled on with declining WOW & CoX communities, upstaged left and right by better information focused sites utilizing Wiki(alike) technology and data-mining game-clients, until the end of 2008 when it was clear to all but the factually blind that the network was dying.

During Gameamp's time in the Sun countless (ok, actually they're countable but that doesn't sound well) volunteers poored time and energy into their community's site on the network, only to run into walls of inefficiently and inflexibly set up infrastructure. I'd like to take this moment to thank any and all of them for their efforts, whether effective or not. Our Special moment in time has come and gone.

The same 31 suggested games, but now with my comments

This is just a repeat of the previous post by Lani, so look up the link there if you are interested :)
It is an interesting list, so I'll add my view on it too.

A friend of mine is a huge casual browser game fan/developer.
So I played a lot of them.
Bejeweled is one of the best. Nasty addictive for a while.
Beyond Good and Evil:
I know of the game, but never tried of even felt tempted to buy it.
Played it, of course. I am not too bad at it, but half way a game I always went to do some risky manouvre which usually didn't work out too well. At least my games didn't last long.
Chrono Trigger:
Never heard of it.
Coign of Vantage
Another casual browser game.
I had never heard of it, but tried it out just now and I am not impressed at all.
Never heard of it.
Dungeons & Dragons:
I played HeroQuest a lot, and eventually found D&D in some shop somewhere too.
But the magic (or friends) was not there. So I actually never played it.
Final Fantasy VII:
I played FF X for half an hour. That is my only real exposure to FF.
Many hours spent on this game.
But mostly watching my friends play since I was not so good at it.
There was an Atari2600 version too with a slightly different name.
It is probably the first real video game I wasted days on.
I played it for a short while, and I really loved it.
But I only convinced one friend to play as well.
And somehow we always ended up doing other things.
I would really love to play it again.
Herzog Zwei:
Never heard of.
Incan Gold:
Google tells me it is a boardgame. I had never heard of it.
Magic: The Gathering:
Looked over the shoulder of some fanatic players at work. Not my thing.
Mirror’s Edge:
Played it for two minutes at the xbox at work.
Missile Command:
I think we spent three days typing in the entire machine code for this game into an Atari 2600. In the end it worked. mostly. My first lesson in coding :-)
multi-user dungeon (MUD) (any):
For a very short while. But then I moved to Africa.
I was my "game of the show" when I saw and played it at E3.
But I actually never bought or tried it afterwards.
Quite original ideas and graphics.
And Ms. Pac-man. And especially Pac-man Jr. in the arcade.
I am still waiting for a Pac-man Jr. on PC or any console.
So many fond memories ...
Pocketful of Stars:
Never heard of.
Heard of it. But it got released in the wrong period for me so I never touched it.
I know of it, but never actually tried it.
Never heard of it.
Settlers of Catan:
I bought it for my nephew for Sinterklaas once.
I would probably love to play it, but nobody around that likes boardgames anymore :(
Yes. Quite nifty.
Super Mario 64:
Never played NES or SNES actually.
Super Mario Bros:
I think I played this one on my Gameboy Advanced till it got lost mysteriously.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Never played NES or SNES actually. I played the Gina Sisters on the Amiga though.
Of course I played it, but don't really like it.
Texas Hold ’em
Few times a year we play this at work. Poker is good fun.
But just like chess I get impatient after a while and start making stupid moves.
Sometimes it works out, but usually not.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
I have the windtalker on GameCube. But actually never played it.
And never played any of the other Zelda's although I am sure I would like them.
Wolfenstien/Doom 1:
Yep. And that's when I learned I don't like FPS.