That Thing…

Tackling “The List,” and Dwarf Fortress

I intend to get a ‘to do’ list widget, but until then, I’ll post here that I’m firmly aiming to do a Nintendo DS game. In fact, I’ve already ordered the R4 card. But until that gets here, I intend to dedicate this weekend completely to Dwarf Fortress.

I love that insane game with all of my ACII-art lovin’ heart, but I’ll be damned if the tiny window it uses doesn’t make my eyes well screaming for relief from deciphering one tiny mark from the next. The creator has said in an interview in which he talks about ‘losing’ his own project, saying: “I’m leery about third party interfaces. If a third party interface becomes popular, I think I might lose control of the project. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to accommodate and work with other people.” That’s a pretty scary notion, and one worth worrying about.

But at the same time, when my eyes hurt trying to play the game, it’s pretty hard to say that everything’s okay. I mean, I’m not saying I want 3d, or even a tileset, I just want it larger, so that I can see the stuff, y’know? Ahhh well.

But DF has something special. That thing; that “special something.” It does exactly what I want to see games do, tackle data complexity over graphical complexity. I want to be able to chop a bed up into its components, and breed war dogs, and when enemies (be they goblins or attacking wildlife,) enter your fortress, close the gates and flood the entrance with water through a system of levers that leaves your foe lying dead on the soggy ground.

Like Crysis goes to graphical extremes, and Grand Theft Auto goes to physics-interactive world exploration extremes, Dwarf Fortress juggles data like no other game out there, and it’s a shame that no one’s decided to back this guy, and hire him an additional coder to work with him (or some type of help that he’d have, anyway.) I mean, I could only imagine if a few other programmers were put under him and he was still given creative control.

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The Clothes (Should) Make The Man

(Or: Nice suit, everyone.)

Stylistically speaking, clothes in WoW are completely unimportant. Now sure, they have to fit in with the rest of the game (though, that’s a pretty low bar) and you’ll always have people talking about how kickass Set A looks on Race 2, or how Set B’s helmet looks better than Set A’s does… But given the choice, nearly all players choose the same gear; that with higher stats. Players make logical choices based on what they’ll need and simple numbers dictate the outcome. If a MMO’s world is ever going to be important, then player involvement in world status matters, and a large part of that is the visual style. I think one way to encourage players to get a sense of style, and self, is to handle gear closer to how Oblivion does it, than WoW.

In Oblivion the amount of damage a weapon does or defense armor provides is given a rating, from one to ~twenty. That’s it. I think encouraging players to go after gear that goes closer to their personal taste makes the players care about their avatars because of their representation of self rather than the amount of time put into creation (though that could certainly still apply.) Oblivion has enchantments and weapons can be made stronger with them, but that’s largely negligible (or should be toned down in a shared world.)

Essentially, I’d like to shift the onus on gear-fixation from statistical to personal preference. Why? Why not? If you’re a player, you get to exhibit personal taste and stay competitive. If you’re a developer, you get to see what your users prefer.

Bonus points: Allow players to create their own gear and submit it for anonymous peer review before passing it on to developers for the final thumbs up.

Next up? Why this isn’t such a bad idea.

FYI, this is part of a series of posts. You’ll be able to read more lame opinions on MMOs here.

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Massacring MMOs

(Or: Born in the M.M.O.)

I think my major problem with any MMO comes from the size of the population, and how that serves to reduce the flexibility of online worlds. With thousands playing on a server, one can’t reasonably expect unique quests or items, available only to one person. The other thousands of players would feel cheated because the odds are horribly against _them_ getting the item or triggering a rare event. Maybe Neverwinter Rights modders have it right, and it’s not reasonable to run small-server MMOs and make a profit. Maybe that will forever remain the realm of hobbyists… But damn it, there’s only one Excalibur, and that should be the rule on every server. And getting that sword should be something special for the player, and the server. A player getting an item like that isn’t a problem if I know him, or one of his friends (I’m jealous, but happy for him.) It becomes a problem when I, the player, begins to believe I’ll never be able to achieve something on a world-scale. In most MMOs there are just too many people for anyone to have an influence, so, we need a massive multiplayer massacre. I’m no psychoanalyst, but I’m going to toss the number “less than three hundred” out there as the number of players I want on a server. I had a few additional paragraphs explaining why (crazy talk, including the Monkey Sphere and Kevin Bacon,) and how it would cost more (hence the Visa joke at the top,) but it’s best summed up as “because this is my blog and I say so.”

But I want fewer players, because I want a more flexible world. A world can’t be all things to all people, so I want it to be ‘more’ to ‘fewer’. When playing WoW I can’t get the feeling that I’m special because I’m always just one of dozens of heroes running around trying to kill the same dungeon boss. And I have no interest in the rat race of getting the latest and greatest gear; but I want gear that “I” have, and not everyone else. I need to be able to do something that only “I” did. If I kill an ogre, then he should be dead. But if you have thousands of players, then the ogre dies and most people never even _hear_ about it. So what’s needed is a larger variety of weapon appearances, that have the same effect, and fewer players to have repeat weapons/armor.

Obviously even with smaller populations you’ll have some players that become ‘dungeon runners’/’treasure hunters’ that grab all the same stuff and try to bleed the resources dry, so you’ll need a way to account for those guys. That’s fine, we can fit in some mechanic to cripple grinding like other MMOs have. Make higher players have a smaller chance of getting amazing gear if they plunder every day. If they wait a few days, then their chances rise. Besides, most caves have nothing but nests of bad guys that slowly repopulate in reasonable numbers only if left undisturbed… None of that instant repop stuff. The point is to encourage the player to focus on other things. In fact, here’s a good time to point out MMOs need other things. Not to diminish the importance of raiding, but to refocus the onus so that it’s not squarely on all raiding all the time. Build other games systems with worthy rewards. Aside from encouraging PVP and revenge (a later post,) there’s player pit fighting, player races, gambling, gambling on fighting/races/other-games, resource gathering, running businesses, fishing, smithing, farming/planting, building, and even the arts, that can all be built into pivotal roles of a fantasy MMO easily (contextually speaking.) Hell, smithing, fishing, farming and the likes can all be done into simple mini-games that can determine the outcome. Players don’t need skill levels when the game requires an actual skill. (I tried to find a post Jeff Freeman made about sex in MMOs, but couldn’t find it. You out there, Not-Me Freeman?)

What’s needed is a world that can fuction interestingly without players at all. (When playing Oblivion, despite the conversation trees not being deep, I easily saw NPCs as ‘the world’ and myself as ‘something outside of it, affecting it’.) In WoW, there is no affecting the world. No matter how big you are, players are the only worthwhile fish (no matter how big/little) in an ocean. Sure, a lot of that was poor writing, but there’s also the fact that even NPCs don’t function in the gameworld. They only exist to cater to players. I need a world where, after killing an NPC (enemy or comrade,) they die (players too, but that’s also another post.) Point being that dead people should stay dead (unless a player is able to revive them.)

Through player action (the killing (or not,) of major NPCs/players, item capture/retrieval/use, and other such single-player RPG mainstays,) the MMO-world’s character-driven narrative should progress to an eventual end of the given story arc within a matter of months, no longer than a year. The idea of regularly running through instances to kill an enemy every week bores me to no end. Playing WoW, if you charge the enemy and kill their king, he should die. The next in line should ascend. Players who are bad guys wipe out a town of NPCs? Tough. There should be no instant-repopulation an hour later. Maybe have a boat of immigrants arriving on the continent once a week and have those people replace the dead NPCs (or every time a new player signs up, they get off the boat and bring NPCs with them.) If a player kills a giant and drags its helmet into the town square and tosses it on a statue, it should stay there until someone destroys it or knocks it down. I want enterprising players to be able to buy printing presses, and make in-game newspapers, using them to slander other guilds and competing businesses. I want them to buy stores, existing homes, and on rare occassion, build where they want. Hell, have public offices where the player-elected mayor decides if players can legally draw weapons in city-limits. If a player wants to open a bakery, and occasionally toss a poison pie in amongst the rest, detectable to only the well-trained nose, because they think everyone should have such skills? Rock on, you kooky CSI addict. And if a group of players wants to help bring an end to the world, doing the bidding of the bad guy in the game… It’s up to everyone else to stop them.

That’s all I want. A smaller world, a smaller population, with narrative events that are affected by players. Is that too much to ask? Eh, probably.

FYI, this is part of a series of posts. You’ll be able to read more lame opinions on MMOs here.

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