Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Blog

OK, I guess I can't give up on blogging completely. :)

I'm going to move to tumblr and give that a whirl. My new blog is See ya there!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time to Move On

I think I've grown tired of the MMO treadmill. I've cancelled EverQuest II. No, don't worry - no whiny, this is why I'm quitting post follows. It's a fun game, but ultimately, it's just a treadmill, and I've reached a point, where both of my characters had their mythicals, and a decent assortment of fabled, that while they certainly weren't uber in any normal sense of the term, it's as close to winning the game as I care to get.

Hopefully one of these days, we'll see MMORPGs shift from being treadmills to having event-driven gameplay (like Guild Wars 2 promises). Where logging on is driven more by a desire to keep up with the everchanging story and everchanging world, and less by a desire to increase arbitrary numbers. There are enough games like that already, and I think I've grown tired of them. And I'm starting to realize that what I want most in a game is to feel like I'm a part of a damn good story. Bioshock gave me that. Mass Effect gives me that. Dragon Age, Final Fantasy XIII, and Guild Wars give me that.

World of Warcraft and EverQuest II are fun games, but they don't have that. Sure, there's some good writing in some of the quest arcs, but ultimately, the stories do very little to disguise the fact they are thinly veiled plots to get you to run to five random places and click on five random things. That's not entirely bad; it's fun on occasion. And I'm not giving up on MMOs completely: I will play Star Trek Online casually for the time being. And I'll probably check out Final Fantasy XIV when that comes out.

But MMO play is going to move to the backburner; my gameplay time will likely be spent playing single player games. And I also intend to complete one of my dreams: actually publishing my own game, probably for the iPhone. I've started writing a few games as prototypes and just have to figure out what I want to follow through to completion with.

I'm not going to continue updating this site, since I have little to add to the MMO discussion, and I think I've said about all there is to say about MMOs as they are now. Maybe I'll start up again if something revolutionary comes out.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have continue to have a great time wherever your online adventures take you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Casually Going Where Every Other Blogger Went

Well, if Raptr is to be believed, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be, I've only been spending between 5 and 10 hours a week in MMOs lately, most of that in Star Trek Online. I popped into EverQuest II for a bit to check out the new quests for some of my lower level alts still in the Kingdom of Sky zones, and to see the battlegrounds. Unfortunately, Battlegrounds was delayed. And since my mains couldn't level without owning the expansion pack, I didn't feel like playing them, since every quest I completed would just feel like XP being thrown away.

I feel like Star Trek Online has been very compatible with my hectic schedule. I can pause the zone quickly on ground missions if I need to stop gaming briefly. And the death penalty isn't severe, so if my baby wakes up crying, I can do the right thing (drop everything to take care of her) without coming back to a mound of XP debt or a long run back to my corpse.

The missions in Star Trek Online are constructed kind of like in City of Heroes. Most of the maps are pretty small though, as you spend time going back and forth between space and ground. This is good: in City of Heroes, I often got bored because the long, winding maps were too large, which was most problematic on missions that required you to kill everything on the map. It wasn't much fun spending half the time on the mission just finding that one last guy hiding in some obscure corner. So Star Trek Online manages to avoid that problem by keeping each portion of the mission nice and compact and bite sized.

The Open Grouping system that Star Trek implements is nice because it allows me to play with other people, but without forcing me to waste valuable game time trying to find them. So far, that's been working well for me.

Not everything about Star Trek is perfect, of course. As many bloggers have noted already, it is very much based on combat. There isn't much to do besides run around and destroy everything. Unless you get one of the horrible missions where some random planet needs some random supply which you never have. I always delete those. There are worse things in MMO game design than killing ten Klingon rats.

Hopefully, over time, they'll add some new gameplay models. Some things I'd like to see in Star Trek Online:

- "Hacking" mini-games like you see in Mass Effect. These mini-games should be used wherever an episode has us hacking computers or bypass or fix various technologies. Instead of simply clicking on them, we should solve a puzzle. The RPG aspect isn't necessarily lost because we could earn skills (which increase the amount of time to solve the puzzle or let us fail more often.)

- Other forms of puzzle solving as a form of clue gathering for stories involving "archaeology" or "investigation." This would also be in the form of a mini-game.

For people who don't want to play mini-games, allow them to recruit NPCs BESIDES Bridge Crew members who provide various perks, such as occasionally auto-solving a mini-game within their career. This way we can collect archaeologists on our ship. They won't be running around on the ground shooting things, but we can have them beam down to solve something real quick if we need to (and maybe on occasion we would have to protect them from any nearby enemies while they worked!).

Or, allow them to recruit help from the player community. Stargate Worlds was going to have a feature where you could call in other PCs to do this type of work as well. Cryptic could borrow that idea as well, giving people who want to focus purely on non-combat scientific research a way to level up AND group up with other players.

- Borrow (but improve on) the Diplomacy card game concept used in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Allow us to collect new cards over time as we develop our abilities at negotiation. A mission should involve building a deck (some clues in the text would hint as to what strategy would likely work.)

- Have failure sometimes result in something other than simple respawning. In the real Star Trek, Captain Kirk didn't always get away. Sometimes, he got captured. This was usually an excuse to have him strapped to a torture device bare chested, but perhaps on some missions, if the group wipes, they should reappear in a prison cell.

- Have multiple routes to success. While running and gunning our way through a base, we might come across a large, locked door preventing entrance into an armed compound you need to investigate. Today, we would have to run around to 2 or 3 locations to flip certain switches to unlock it. Keep that, but add alternatives: maybe we could hack the door where it is, if we have someone with that skill set with us. Or maybe there is a way to have a crew member be captured (assuming we are playing with PCs) and THEY are taken inside the compound and are temporarily disarmed of all weapons/shields. Perhaps that character can use Diplomacy (or hand to hand combat) to escape (naturally, their items should be available somewhere and automatically re-equip when discovered) - and they can open the door from the inside easily.

- Steal City of Heroes' Architect system and apply it to the Holodeck.

- Don't forget that half the galaxy seems to be littered with godlike beings who toy with humanity and can disable our weapons with a thought. Do so IN A PVP setting, so Feds and Klingons have to compete against each other using the non-combat gameplay systems to achieve their objectives.

- Have missions where the enemies are too tough to defeat and we have to sneak by them, avoiding aggro, or simply running from them, while completing our objectives. Devices that reduce awareness or distract enemies (having alarms that can be triggered which affects how the guards' AI pathing is implemented) would aid in this form of gameplay.

Features like these would be nice to haves in any MMO, but they are especially needed in Star Trek Online, because it is severely lacking in non-combat options. And Star Trek was a show where characters were usually very diplomatic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stat Changes in EQ2

With the coming expansion pack in EverQuest II, there will be changes to how statistics work. Sony is "streamlining" stats such that there will be ONE statistic that is the primary statistic you need for each archetype. Tanks will focus on STR, mages on INT, scouts on AGI, and priests on WIS.

While I am not in beta and won't know how well the changes work until the expansion pack comes out, I am a little wary. Part of the fun in an RPG is balancing trade-offs. Having to pick between items with a lot of STR to increase damage, or INT to increase the likelihood of critical hits, or WIS for better resists, well that's basically what makes itemization FUN.

What fun is there if everything has a very clear and obvious upgrade?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Going Where No Grind Has Gone Before

I've been playing the Star Trek Online open beta. Well, trying to mostly. The lag is intense, and I frequently crash out or suffer hitching or "server not responding" errors. But that's the point of beta. Hopefully they're gathering some good information from my playtime. I suffered a few issues, such as zoning into an instance without my party (I was supposed to zone into an open instance with another group, but I ended up alone, facing 15 Orions on my own. The battle did not go well.)

And sometimes I end up beaming back to my shop, only to somehow end up BECOMING my ship. Because of some strange quantum entanglement due to diapose leakage in the arlithiation chambers of course. Here's me, zooming around outer space:

But I have been able to play it enough to say: I'm liking the game. It's exactly what I thought it would be. There are a lot of people who seem to hate it. It seems to me a lot of people don't like the instanced nature of the game. You know what, guys: get over it. Not every game can suck like Vanguard. I don't think an open world sandbox would really work with the Star Trek IP anyway.

The game really resembles Pirates of the Burning Sea in many ways. It is incredibly instanced, which some people criticized POTBS for as well. When you are flying around in sector space, you are in a different scale than in the battle zones, similar to how your boat was scaled differently when travelling between ports in Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Just like Pirates of the Burning Sea, ships fly around in two scales: sector space and system space. In sector space you fly much faster given the distances because you are technically going around at warp speed. You are also as bad as the planets on the map. In system space, you appear more closely to scale. It's fine, it's just an abstraction, and works better in this context than it did in Pirates of the Burning Sea where everyone turned into a speedboat half the size of a city upon leaving port until they got too close to a pirate.

Ship combat in Star Trek Online rocks. It's a lot of fun, especially with groups. Star Trek Online features an open grouping feature; while working on some of my episodes, when zoning into an instance, I would join an existing group to tackle the content. Not having to mess around with LFG is awesome.

Most missions (at least the ones I've tried so far) start out with some in space action and then transition for some ground based action. That's where this game is weakest.

Avatar combat is flaky. The animations are stiff, and when the enemies run up really close to you, the fights look funky. But, still, it's typical MMO combat: you tab over to your enemy, hit some hotbar buttons, and watch their shield and health bars go down.

One killer feature of the game is that everyone is a pet class: if you don't have a full group, the rest of your away party is made up of bridge personnel you can collect over time, or generic security officers (red shirts). This makes it really easy and accessible to solo, since you always have a full party.

But an MMO that you solo through entirely just isn't a true MMO is it? That's why it's great that Cryptic borrowed the Open Grouping concept that Mythic pioneered in Warhammer Online. When you start an episode you will automatically be grouped with other players who are working on the same quest. If there aren't anyone around, well you still have your pets or can LFG the old fashioned way. But Open Groups makes the game feel more organic. I'm playing on MY terms. I go to the system *I* want to go to. But I get to play with other people, if someone else is working on the same thing I am. All without having to sit around, twiddling my thumbs, spamming in a chat channel.

Is Star Trek Online innovative? No, not really. It's standard MMO gameplay, but it builds on the most recent innovations in MMO gameplay (open groups, public quests via Fleet Actions, etc.). Is it true to the IP? I think so. Granted, I haven't had the opportunity to use diplomacy yet (though I hear they have those missions), and the game is much more trigger happy than the series. That's probably to be expected, really, since all MMOs tend to be about groups of heroes valiantly banding together to commit genocide on the local wildlife. That's Lord of the Rings Online in a nutshell. At least in Star Trek Online, it's mostly humanoids we're slaughtering.

It would be nice if they had stolen Vanguard: Saga of Heroes diplomacy card game mechanics to provide additional non-combat avenues for playing. But the game is complete enough that I'm quite content with what it offers.

The zone chat is filled with people who aren't though. Mostly, I think, it boils down to these issues: too many instances and too much combat. Too many instances - yes, it's annoying to click on every door and watch a loading screen, but Star Trek wouldn't really work well as a open world sandbox. It's more about the episodes (e.g., the quest system) and quests just work better with instances and scripting.

As for too much combat, well, yes, Vangaurd's diplomacy system, Oblivions speechcraft system, or even Spore's dance-off contests would have been a nice addition, but you know what? As much as I'd love to dance that Klingon ambassador into accepting my terms, most video game players, especially with a group, simply enjoy combat more. So it's naturaly they would focus on that. I'm sure if we hound Cryptic long enough, they'll add some more gameplay systems as well.

But the game is quite complete already and a good foundation for much more to come. The open group instances system makes playing on my terms fun by taking out the more tedious aspects of MMO grouping while still encouraging socialization. Every MMO from now on should build in matchmaker or auto-grouping systems. Sure, it would be nice if I could explore strange new lands without having to blow everyone up, but it's REALLY FUN when we do. Ship combat, in particular, is a blast.

So, I say: Beam Me UP, Cryptic.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Year, New MMOs

Well, it's a new year, and time for new MMOs. Unfortunately, I haven't had too much time to play the ones I subscribe too already. :) And that will likely drive my decision making processes as I look for a new MMO lands to venture into. I'm not likely to quit EverQuest II any time soon -- it's been my home for over five years now -- but I do find myself in need of something that I can jump in and play solo when necessary, but still has a satisfying group-based game for when I do have more time to commit. And the solo game in EverQuest-like games (especially WoW) just is not that appealing. So I've been looking for a more accessible casual friendly (but still social) MMO to play on the side.

One game I'm looking forward to is Star Trek Online. The missions (story-driven quest arcs?) sound appealing, and I hear rumors of instant action like scenarios. Give me something like Warhammer's Public Quests and instant access PvP Scenarios and I will be a very happy man. Those features allowed my to play WITH OTHER PEOPLE but on my own terms and with very short time commitments required. It was beautiful. Too bad the rest of Warhammer wasn't. If Star Trek Online could just steal that feature, plus the awesome ship combat a la Pirates of the Burning Sea, I think I'll be happy with it.

I'm also looking forward to Final Fantasy XIV. Final Fantasy XI was one of my favorite games in terms of mechanics and itemization. The monsters were beautifully detailed and the game was a lot of fun - when I got to play it. Unfortunately, the time commitment it required was prohibitive, and I eventually had to quit as the responsibilities in my life ramped up. But if Final Fantasy XIV can create a game system that is as good PLUS be casual friendly, well, SOE watch out, I may have a new home.

The main feature in Final Fantasy XIV that attracts my attention is that the guildleves system they describe seems like it would scale up depending on my ability to socialize. If I have to quickly get in game and out on my own, I can solo - otherwise, I can group, and the game's equivalents of quests will accomodate. Unless I'm misinterpreting that.

So it looks like the next year might be a good year for casual MMO gaming. But we'll see. :)