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.

1 comment:

  1. Addendum: One idea was to have Pattern & Design need components before you can combine them, which essentially allows you to you craft your own. The Generic ones can be built using stock components (which don't need to be harvested /gathered).
    I.e. when you buy generic patterns and designs, the required components are included, unlike the batteries.