Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Healers Are Always in Demand

In EverQuest II, healers are always in demand. That's great for my healer, but bad for my main, a fighter. Stacking multiple healers can often make encounters easier, because you can heal through high damage faster. Stacking multiple DPSers can make you damage an enemy faster. Stacking multiple tanks just means you are wasting a slot.

This means having more than one fighter in a group isn't ideal, so people avoid it. The solution the game employed when it came out was to allow fighters to have an offensive stance so they do more DPS. The problem with this: it impinges on the class role for mages and scouts. If the fighters do more damage, then no one will want the true DPS classes. If the fighters have the same or less amount of DPS output, then no one will them anyway, because the mages and scouts will be at least as good and have more utility.

This needs to change. It should be possible to have multiple tanks share the task of absorbing damage. EverQuest II has a few abilities like Intercede and avoidance buffs, but they aren't powerful enough to viably allow, say, a Paladin and a Berserker to stand side by side and share damage through an entire battle. It's an important skill, but it's not attractive enough to make a group think of picking up an additional tank instead of a backup healer.

I'd like to see Intercede modified (or a new ability created) such that it would allow two or more tanks standing within a short range of one another to take less damage overall - since they are presumably helping each other deflect blows. Instead of always transferring 100% of the damage from one tank to another, have a chance to transfer reduced amounts of the damage, subject to an additional avoidance check and mitigation on the secondary tank. It should be an ongoing buff (or reset about as often as the average heal spell) and the total amount of damage taken by the group should end up being a lot lower than it would be with one tank.

A second tank would therefore have a similar effect as having a recurring ward up (because the additional tanks are helping deflect, parry, and block attacks) as long as the fighters are close to one another.

Also, additional abilities could be introduced that allow multiple tanks to work together.

For example, add an ability that allows a fighter to drop all aggro and send it to another fighter in the group, and at the same time, create a heal over time effect on that fighter that expires if they end up at the top of the hate list for any mob. Two tanks could then time things so that they ping pong the monster between them and the self-HOT would allow one fighter to recover while the other tank took charge.

Or introduce an ability that allows multiple tanks on a single mob might to reduce the monster's recovery time, because the tanks are presumably working together to keep the mob off balance.

If implemented correctly, a group choosing to tackle a particularly challenging encounter should be able to grab a second tank instead of a second healer and do just as well. In TSO zones, many people always insist on taking two healers, which means healers take up 1/3 of the average group. A few simple changes that allow tanks to "stack" would be a great way to increase fighter desirability while still allowing them to fulfill their class role (taking damage) without impinging on the class role (dealing damage) for the scouts and mages.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

User Generated Other-Writable-Things-Besides-Books?

I'm still loving the idea of the books. The reason I love EverQuest II so much more than any other game, especially children's games like World of Warcraft, is that it has so much to do besides simply leveling up and fighting. It also has more ways to level up and fight, but that's besides the point.

Housing and guild castles are one of the major features that attracts me to EverQuest II. Sure, it's completely cosmetic to collect the heads of monsters to display as trophies in your hall, but it's FUN. It doesn't help you level up to decorate your home as a storefront to sell goods in game, but it's FUN. User writable books give us even more ways to share our combined creativity with one another in game.

But as always, as players, we're never satisfied are we? Here's what I'd like to see next:

- use the system to create user writable signs

Hey, our guild castle is BIG and I get lost all the time. And I always forget where people put all the stuff. The signs don't need to store as much text as the books; it would be ideal if they displayed their contents in a popup (like existing signs in game do) when you hover over them.

And this would be useful for those players who have been using the housing system to create "museums" and "bars" in game. The museums would tell you what is in the display cases. The bars might leave "menus" lying around (Sauteed Froglok Legs with Thyme for only 5g? Heck, yeah!).

Plus since carpenters would probably make the signs, it would allow the system to benefit artisans other than sages.

- allow multiple people to edit a "book" (or similar object, such as a noticeboard)

If multiple people could edit a noticeboard, it would be great for allowing the guild a place to share notes, post messages asynchronously to one another (in game, instead of in a shoutbox on a webpage outside of the game).

- have other forms of alternate appearances, such as posters, a stack of papers, etc.

It would allow people some flexibility to build some pretty neat things, like leaving creating in-game mysteries with books, signs, posters, and other objects left around to provide clues for the puzzle.

- restrict the reader based on language

Because my Dark Elf doesn't want any of the lesser races to read her journal.

- restrict the reader based on a password

Not necessarily for privacy reasons, either. I'm envisioning user created games where you need to figure out the mystery word to unlock the next clue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

User Generated Books

Well, it's no Mission Architect, but EverQuest II just announced players can now write their own lore and distribute them using in-game books. I believe Ultima Online had this feature first, but it's nice to see it resurrected in a more modern MMORPG. It may just be fluff, but it's features like this that make a game world feel alive.

Now, how should I start the Great Norrathian Novel...

"It was a dark and story night in Freeport." Nah, too cliche. I'll get back to you guys.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Limited Release Schedule

One of the games I've been keeping my eye on (when I haven't been busy with EverQuest II or City of Heroes) is a relatively obscure one called Alganon. One interesting thing they recently announced is that they will be selling keys in a limited fashion at launch. I believe Darkfall did this as well, to such an extent that there is a huge backlog of willing buyers who can't get in.

Although I know I would be irritated if I was trying to buy the game and couldn't get in, I still think that is a very smart move. I'm wondering if this should become a more standard practice in the industry.

In many games, there is a huge spike of interest at launch, but most of those players are just there as tourists. Many of them won't end up liking the game. Some people just want to try something new but won't want to dedicated themselves to it. To handle the initial rush and ensure a smooth launch, companies have to set up a lot of servers. This is rarely done perfectly, and you inevitable end up with lag, server instability, and/or queues. Then the tourists leave, and the servers end up deserted. Which means you end up either having the annoyance of server merges soon after launch, or you end up with deserted playgrounds.

Since our enjoyment of the game depends so much on other people, adding a little more management to the process sort of makes sense. It seems more likely to me that someone would buy an account, try the game at launch, quit because its unplayable and not come back than the alternative: that someone would simply decide not to try the game because they couldn't buy the game right when it launched. Therefore, limiting access to the game at launch and adding servers as necessary would be the best approach. What do you think?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Have Seen The Future, Part II

My main character in City of Heroes is called Futureman. Why? Well, because he is from the future. His catch phrase is "I'm from the future, and you're history!" It's a silly story, but the way it goes is: Futureman travelled back in time to stop the evil Dr. Radon who developed a form of Clean Nuclear Power. It provided a limitless form of cheap energy with no radiation or side effects. People loved it, it revolutionized the world. The problem is, the radiation was actually funneled through a wormhole into the year 999,999,999, which is where Futureman was from.

His world was devastated. So he travels back in time to stop Dr. Radon. However, when he gets there, he discovers that Dr. Radon is his great-great-great-great-great-great-...-well, you get the point-great-grandfather, and just as he is about to defeat the evil Dr. Radon, a blast comes out of nowhere, disarming our hero. He turns to see who would thwart his plans, and it is none other than himself: a future Futureman, who came back in time to stop himself.

The temporal paradox was overwhelming; just thinking about it confused him so much he passed out and damaged his time transport thingy whatsit. That's why he is stuck in the past.

Well, I've never really had a chance to embellish the story. After all, most of the time I'm fighting Vahzilok, the Lost, the Council, Rikti, and other assorted ne'er-do-wells that have nothing to do with me.

But now, as of Issue 14, I finally can. One of the lovely aspects of the new Mission Architect system is that I can finally flesh out storylines for my own characters and share them with the world.

Of course, there are limits to the Mission Architect system. The amount of triggers you can use are limited. I can't script things so a portal appears nearby and enemies pour out, for example. You can script ambushes that trigger during a fight, but they just appear at some random part of the map and run up, sometimes, unless they get lost, as they sometimes do. You can't cause a bad guy to become invincible and transform, JRPG style, into a bigger, bad guy (with wings, and on freaking fire.) Which is too bad, because that's the sole reason why JRPGs are cool. And of course, the Mission Architect system limits a lot of text to 300 characters or less. Which may be for the best, since I don't think anyone wants to read the Great American Novel in City of Heroes form. But sometimes it would be nice to squeeze in an extra word or two in. And all the maps, just like the regular City of Heroes maps, feel like mazes.

But it's still a wonderful system I'm having a blast exploring.

Today, I published arc #74776, "It's About Time," which finally allows me to play through the Futureman story, as silly as it is, and I can even do it with online friends.

Now if only Sony would copy this feature for EverQuest II (my main MMO at the moment). I would be in heaven!

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Have Seen the Future

... and it looks good. City of Heroes recently released Issue 14 which features the new Mission Architect system. This lets people create their own missions that other players can play through. What a great idea to allow an infinite amount of content to be created. I've already played through a few missions that are quite clever (and, yes, of course, a few that aren't.)

I had fun creating my own mission (arc id: 28566) called "You Wouldn't Steal a Car." You, as the hero, must travel into a warehouse and stop the villainous Copywrong and his minions from distributing pirated DVDs! He's stealing movies! I know, it's terrible (gasp). Oh, and he might be putting subliminal messages on them that brainwash the viewers and thereby amassing an army of mindless drones. But, seriously, people should pay for those movies. PLEASE STOP HIM!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Public Quests And Moving Forward

Massively reports that Public Quests will be a big part of Champions Online. I'm glad to see that one of the few innovations of Warhammer Online (and the only real feature of it that grabbed me) will continue. I hope they manage to address some of the main failings of Public Quests in their version.

One of the major failings of the Public Quest system as it was implemented in Warhammer Online was the fact that it was basically a new form of static grind. Sure, it was fun to participate in what were essentially ad hoc raids throughout all level ranges, but all people did was sit in one spot and repeat the activity over and over again until they got what they needed and moved on. This kills immersion (why does the bad guy keep respawning) and while all gameplay systems are repetitive, the fact that it is exactly the same time and time again gets old real quick.

What would I like to see?

I would prefer for Public Quests in Champions Online to have multiple spawn points so that they can be randomized. There are several banks throughout the city; instead of implementing PQs the Warhammer Online way (where the very same bank is under assault by the very same villains in perpetuity), have a random bank get attacked by a random villain. The basic gameplay might be the same, and sure the players will learn quickly that when Marlboro attacks the bank he has a noxious poison attack while Jokey Smurf leaves more traditional explosives around the bank. But it's not the exact same thing each time. The game moves to slightly different maps with slightly different spawn points and slightly different enemies with slightly different abilities. Maybe a villain has multiple tactics that change from one particular robbery attempt to another.

When you defeat the villain, the PQ should NOT respawn. Instead, something else happens in another part of the city. Maybe a building catches on fire and you have to go save the people inside. Maybe various criminals start causing trouble in one of the several parks. Maybe someone is trying to break into some laboratory to get one of many random inventions that MUST NOT FALL INTO THE WRONG HANDS.

There could be rewards for the players who locate, or trigger (some of the PQs might not start until a hero comes nearby) the event. That would cause the game to reward players for a very super-heroic activity: going on patrol. It would enhance the community building aspects of Public Quests. The heroes who go on patrol would need to call for backup, because they would need to tell everyone else where the action is going on.

It would make the game world feel alive, because we won't all end up running to the two or three PQs in the zone, ignoring the rest of content. The entire map becomes important because the PQs can spawn anywhere and people would need to move around the world.

And while MMOs already reward Achievers extremely well, there aren't very many game systems that actually reward Explorers. Make some Public Quests spawn in relatively remote areas, and reward people for going on patrol and finding them. Now, you have a new form of gameplay -- even if the hero who discovers and triggers the PQ doesn't even want to participate in it, they might achieve some reward for REPORTING the crime.

Will we see anything like that? Beats me. Probably not. But I'm hoping. :)