Monday, March 2, 2009

WTB: Dad Friendly MMORPG

As a Dad who has little time to game anymore, I have been finding myself spending less time in my favorite hobby. Granted, family life is far more important than all the virtual accomplishments in every imaginary world put together, but I'd like the think it's possible to design a game that's Dad (and Mom) friendly that would still be attractive to younger players who still have all the time in the world.

These are a few of the features I'd like to see in a future MMORPG.

1) Henchmen -- It is good for a game to encourage grouping, but it's even better to give us alternatives. I want a game that allows casual players to play without grouping when they desire. These don't need to be mutually exclusive goals. Guild Wars style henchmen are great because they allow solo players to tackle almost all of the missions in game, but they are nowhere near as effective as fellow human players. Therefore, we have an incentive to group when we have time, and a way to play the game when we don't.

Henchmen are a superior alternative to soloable mobs because solo mobs are generally too easy. Since the mob has to be designed so weak that a priest with little damage output can kill it, with damage output that a wizard can handle, and because when fighting a single player, positionals and tanking aren't utilized, solo players don't learn their class roles, and don't take on a challenge. What I would prefer to see is for solo (and small group) players to take on the SAME content that groups do, using NPCs to flesh out the needed class roles. That way, even if we are playing alone, we are still playing our class role, and the encounters can be designed so that you have to use certain skills to defeat them; if that skill (such as a charm, snare, etc.) isn't available to the player, they can hire henchmen who have it.

2) Open Grouping -- This is probably the best feature in Warhammer Online. Allow people to group with other players, and take advantage of the multiplayer nature of the gameplay, WITHOUT forcing us to sit around all day screaming LFM for specific roles and levels and gear checks.

3) Pause Button For Solo Instances -- YES! I want to pause the freaking world. Not the main world where everyone else is, obviously that wouldn't work, but if I'm in an instance all by myself, why NOT have the ability to temporarily pause the action? Of course, chat channels, and all the other multiplayer activity would still go on, but I should be able to stop those pathing mobs from wandering for a moment while I take care of the baby, or take a bio break, or answer the phone.

While you couldn't pause any shared world zone where you play with other players, the ability to do so in solo instances (which is where most time constrained players would be) would add greatly to the game's accessibility without making it any less immersive or ruining the gameplay for other players (other accessibility options like the ability to become temporarily immune or logging off quickly without a countdown timer, could be abused to trivialize the game, or to grief players on PVP servers.)

4) Persistent Instances -- I love how you can log off for the night in many EverQuest II zones and come back the next day to finish the instance. All the dead mobs stay dead, all the triggers stay triggered. Let's make that more commonplace in the genre!

5) Real Time Advancement -- Eve Online does this, and while of course the most hardcore players will still dominate, the real time advancement can help keep the gap somewhat narrower so casual/time-constrained players can still make decent contributions in the game.

6) Turn-Based Mini-Games -- Instead of crafting like in EverQuest II where you actively have to spam buttons to ensure a good result, have turn based mini-games that are more like card games. I want gameplay that is challenging but still possible to complete when I'm summoned away by a crying baby.


Fastlane said...

I love the idea of persistent instances but for game like Warcraft I can't possibly imagine the server load it would cause. Keeping a full report on every instance that wasn't completed is probably too much on their end and too "hackable" on our end.

Maybe as game and memory technology evolves that's exactly what will happen though. Good ideas!

Lars said...

I don't see why it would be any harder for Warcraft than it is in EverQuest II. Instances in WoW aren't substantially different than in the EverQuest games it copied.

Hechicera said...

Welcome to my world. I agree with all but one point. After playing both "rested" EQ2/WoW and "real-time" EVE as a time-constrained type-A parent over some time, I'd have to say the "rested" bonus feels more fair to me in actual play. Having neither system, of course, is far worse.

One you don't mention is gear dependency. Diminishing returns as you get closer to maxing skills or stats from gear is also good for time constrained achievers. That way with "good" but not "zomg uber" gear combined with skill we can compete. One of the isssues with "soloable" content that GW (with henchman) and CoX (with mission scaling) fix is that those games are not gear dependent. In games that are gear dependent, solo content becomes trivialized by anyone with top end gear that is traditionally not obtainable by time constrained players. This makes it hard to balance. It's too hard for a time-constrained support class, but too easy for a well-geared member of the same class. That has been true since EQ1, and is true for all its "EQ-likes". Henchmen, encounter scaling, and diminishing returns all help with this.

May this and all future children grow up happy and healthy.

Lars said...

Well, there's no reason a game couldn't have both a EQ2/WoW style Rest system that makes advancement you make while actively playing faster when you haven't been on in a while, AND a means of allowing people to advance in some other fashion offline [removing the grind and providing built in mechanisms for rewarding player loyalty]. Except to the extent that it irritates the hardcore player, but I think WoW proves that they aren't the playerbase one should be marketing towards.

As for gear dependency, I agree. I had originally had another point where I called for flatter gear disparity. I also mentioned Final Fantasy XI as a model since, as I recall, many of the "uber" items in the game [below level 50 anyway] were identical to the standard items, with a measly +1. Hardcore players still fought tooth and nail for them anyway.

However, I removed it since I wanted the post to focus more on features that I thought would make my life as a player easier given that I might have to suddenly drop everything and log off. But given that itemization affects solo play balancing, perhaps I should have left it in! Thanks for bringing it up!

Hechicera said...

Oh you're right on the gear dependency only effecting the time-constrained parent as it relates to balancing. However, since you are moving from character's that are currently adequately equipped to the time-constrained level, you haven't seen how hard this can bite you when you start every game in this boat yet. Picking the least equipment dependent classes can become a survival mechanism.

I'll go into it in detail with you later if you want, but real-time advancement leads to a different set of problems. And, as I've said before, grind is not removed just shifted to some other area, at least in EVE. Of course, that goes into the nature of these games as being time-sinks. The least "time-sinky" like CoX also tend to become boring the fastest. So, I'm undecided on how, or even if, that can be addressed. But the points you make on allowing the time you do spend to be more parent-friendly are valid.

mbp said...

Terrific post Lars. I think we gaming parents need to start a movement.

1. I too am a big fan of henchmen and of Guild Wars in general.

2. Never played WAR but I like the sound of open grouping. I am sure it has the usual Pick Up Group frustrations but as it is an open group there is no real guilt about leaving if things prove too disastrous.

3. Pause Button. Please yes!. I wouldn't even restrict it to solo instances. I would allow a character to freeze themselves anywhere in the game world providing they were not in combat. How many times have I tried to hide my character behind a rock while I run off for five minutes only to return to a corpse?

4. Persistent instances. Yup them'd be nice. In fact I would argue for much greater flexibility on the whole raid lockout / instance re-setting issue. Some groups can clear a raid instance in a night, some groups would take a month to do the same. Why is everybody stuck on the same raid schedule. Instead of resetting every raid once a week let boss kill flags be persistent until a player them self chooses to reset it. Sure it means hardcore players could clean out a dungeon ten times a week but so what?

5. Real Time advancement: Yes and No. While real time advancement reduces the need to log on and grind it also creates an impenetrable barrier between experienced players and new players. EVE is a skill based game and sort of gets away with it because new players can learn some useful skills relatively quickly. In a level based game like WOW though a new player would never ever be able to catch up. If your friend joins the game six months after you you will never really be able to play together.

6. Turn based mini-games. I'm afraid I never managed to get into the whole card based gaming thing. I am afraid they might just break the immersion if they were tacked on to an mmo. I would go for a more skilful crafting system though. I believe A Tale in the Desert has some interesting ones like having to aim hammer blows to beat a piece into the correct shape.