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?