The Last Bastion

For the old guard, the happy fools, the dreamers.

Copernicus – The conspicuous silence of 38 Studios

Posted By on March 19, 2012

Based on quotes from Curt Schilling and a few other developers, we know a few vague things about the upcoming MMORPG from 38 Studios. We have some concept art from several years ago. One of the most interesting pieces of information about the game isn’t something they’ve said, however…it’s what they haven’t said, or shown, or released.

The MMORPG genre has been around for more than a decade. Some of us have been following it for nearly that long. We are the “old guard”…the cranky curmudgeons who have seen it all before. MMORPGs are social games designed in part to build a community. These games tend to involve the player to a much greater degree in the process of ongoing development, and it usually starts well before release. It’s pretty much a fixed template…here’s how you “do” an MMORPG community…

A couple years before release, you announce the name of the game, and you put up a website, a FAQ, and likely some forums. You announce things like a fansite program and provide art… you start releasing screenshots and concept art and tidbits about the systems the game will feature. You start teasing or describing the elements that you feel will make your game different. You run contests, maybe plan get-togethers, and you take part in and encourage speculation and discussion on the details of the game. The reasons for doing all these things seem to make complete sense, it’s just understood at this point and we all accept it’s the way things are done. We’re building a community, laying the groundwork for marketing and beginning the process of building excitement for the product. That’s how you’re supposed to do it.

38 Studios is an MMORPG developer, but “Copernicus” is a codename. We may be less than a year from release, and we still don’t even know the name of the game.

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Selling Trophies

Posted By on March 18, 2012

In terms of justification for selling certain items in a microtransaction shop, I’ve been seeing one argument made more than just about any other. “These items are just cosmetic.”

Now, if the items are just cosmetic, I totally agree. Purely cosmetic items (items with no in-game communal value) are exactly the types of things that can be sold in a shop without issue. The problem is that the argument is often being applied to trophies…and I think a lot of people don’t really understand or notice the difference between something that truly is nothing but different colored pixels, and something that can have very significant value even without any statistical advantage.

I also think it’s really important to recognize that game developers have complete control over what’s valuable in their virtual world. They quite literally control the community value of all items, and I think many times developers don’t recognize how powerful this can be in terms of player satisfaction and the longevity of your game.

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Guild Wars 2 Official forums

Posted By on March 16, 2012

I think official forums are a great idea. I also think that nothing is ever quite as simple as community relations and marketing people would like consumers to believe.

With their latest bog post, ArenaNet announced that GW2 will have official forums, and that they will no longer specifically support certain fansites. They’ve spun it in a very positive light of course, and Martin Kerstein has provided quite a few bold statements about how they are going to handle the community, and moderate these new boards. He and Regina Buenaobra also talked a bit about how the community themselves…the members of the forum…play a large role in how the community turns out.

I’m forced to wonder if they have any idea what they are getting into (they clearly say that they do), and I’m also wondering about ulterior motives. The little pessimist on my shoulder has always been much louder than any of the other voices in my head, and that’s probably because the smug little bastard is correct most of the time.

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Ramblings about Microtransaction Shops

Posted By on March 15, 2012

I’m actually having a tremendously uncomfortable time right now with Guild Wars 2…which is why I’m ranting.

There are a ton of things I love about the design and underlying philosophy of Guild Wars 2, and I’m sure by now those who know me probably think I’m a completely mindless fanboi for the game. I don’t get quite as mindlessly hyped as I used to, but I’m certainly excited to get to play, and potentially would play the game for a long time.

EXCEPT…

Guild Wars 2 will not have a subscription fee. You’ll pay the price of the box and be able to play for free forever. They will have a microtransaction shop, and for the last several years, ArenaNet has maintained their stance that the cash shop would only ever contain cosmetic and non-game-changing items. They said they would never sell power or advantage. I was relatively comfortable with that. Until about a month ago…

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Thoughts on class systems (part 2)

Posted By on February 7, 2012

I talked about some of the differences in implementation of the class systems in Rift and GW2 in my last post. I tried to describe how the systems could be very different, despite having some of the same goals and philosophy behind them. Now let’s talk about something that a lot of people probably don’t even consider when discussing an individual system in an MMORPG…integration or cohesion. How does the system fit in with the rest of the game, how do the various systems work together, compliment each other, and become more than the sum of their parts?

Probably one of the biggest issues with the class system in Rift doesn’t really have to do with the class system at all, at least not directly. It has to do with the fact that they didn’t change enough. Despite some of the issues that cropped up in Rift’s class system, it is still much more free-form and allows a great deal more customization and choice than in some other MMORPGs. The problem is, Trion decided to stick with the traditional fixed “holy trinity” roles in terms of designing their group and raid content. Putting their “loose” class system with those rigid combat / group mechanics basically sucked all the freedom out of the system. I’ll explain…

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Some thoughts on class systems

Posted By on February 7, 2012

A discussion of class systems in the MMORPG genre over on 38Watch started the tiny wheels turning in my head. I joke sometimes that in certain ways, the biggest reason I dislike Rift is because of the damage it did to people’s expectations for future games. At least for a year or more, anytime a developer or player mentions “dynamic content”, flexible class systems, or any of several other elements that Trion boasted in their marketing, the inevitable response is, “Rift did that, and it sucked.”

Well, yes. Rift did that. In the case of their specific implementation, and the way they integrated it into their game, it did indeed suck. No argument from me on that. The thing that people seem to miss is the fact that there are always an infinite number of ways to design a game. Within that overall design, there are an infinite number of ways to design each system, and an infinite number of combinations of systems which add up to the overall game. In other words, just because a developer mentions a similar design philosophy, or a similar marketing buzzword, DOES NOT mean it’s going to be the same design.

In this context, I wanted to throw out a few comments on class systems. I think from a certain perspective, the goals or philosophy behind the class systems in Rift and Guild Wars 2 are quite similar. The implementations, and the way the systems are integrated into the overall games, are very different however. The devil’s in the details, of course…and I’d like to share a few details I think might be the difference between a system that sucks, and a system that works.

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What I want.

Posted By on December 12, 2011

There was a quote from Curt Schilling over on the 38 Watch boards. He mentioned a sentiment that is very common in the genre… players don’t know what they want. I agree in part…the MMORPG as a game is extremely complex and it’s really impossible to fully understand what it takes to build one without actually doing it. Players know when they like a game or don’t like it…but it’s often much too complex or too many variables to really articulate WHY. It’s like falling in love…when a game is right, we just know it.

In another way, I disagree with the idea that players don’t know what they want. There are plenty of people who take part in the MMORPG community at large who have played and been a part of enough of these games to at least recognize the elements, or design philosophy, that make up the games they enjoy. Players really shouldn’t have to specifically lay out each individual system in an MMORPG and how they fit together in order to give developers a sense of what they want… the details, the innovation and fresh thinking and creativity, is what we pay developers to do. They are the professionals. I can’t tell you exactly how a computer-assisted suspension works…but I CAN tell you that I want a car that really grips the road because it’s more fun to drive.

So, in that vein, I thought I would jot down some of the things that I want. This is by no means a complete list of every detail of my perfect game…it’s just a bit of brainstorming I did this morning to try and make a point…I DO know what I want. Maybe I don’t know exactly how a developer can get there…there are pretty much an infinite number of paths to the goals that I’m laying out…but this is what I’m looking for in a new MMORPG.

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My Star Wars: The Old Republic Review

Posted By on November 28, 2011

I’ve tested the game, so I should come and admit I was wrong. Sort of.

I played for about 24 hours or so over the three-day weekend. I went from confirming the game was actually worse than what I expected (i.e. utter crap) in the first few hours, to deciding by the end of the weekend that I will probably buy it and play it for a month or two.

How did my experience manage to change my mind? It didn’t start well…

First thing…I was extremely surprised at the lack of polish and low production quality. This is one area where I was expecting to find absolutely nothing to complain about. BioWare is taking a single-player RPG (which by all accounts they do extremely well) and mashing it together with the WoW formula for modern MMORPGs (a formula which has been done dozens or even hundreds of times and clearly has had time to get the kinks worked out). With their massive budget, the long development time, and the above givens…I was expecting this game to be rock solid in terms of quality and finish.
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The Coin

Posted By on September 5, 2011

Several years ago, during the development of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, I was a fairly dedicated member of Sigil Games’ burgeoning community. When they announced a writing contest, with the winner getting an early beta spot and getting their story added into the game, I jumped at the chance. It had to be 1500 words maximum, and a general fantasy story that didn’t use any specific lore or names from the game. I was quite honored and surprised when I ended up winning…my story was chosen by my peers, and then selected from a group of finalists by the developers. It was an awesome day. I very rarely win anything, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I did get to join the beta test early – I was one of the first outside people let in during the friends and family portion of the beta. It actually turned out to be an early alpha when compared to other games, but that’s neither here nor there. What happened with Vanguard is a fairly well-known cautionary tale in the industry these days. Everyone has their own ideas and understanding about what happened, so I won’t go into that here. I honestly don’t know whether my story ever made it into the game…things fell apart and I never got to see. Part of winning the contest was the stipulation that rights to my story would be turned over to Sigil Games…but again, I don’t really know what became of that because the company fell apart.

At any rate, I was digging around in old backup files for a totally different reason, and found the story tucked away. I thought I’d share it here, in case anyone wants to read a little super-short fiction written by little old me. I was incredibly proud of what I wrote, and I don’t want it to disappear just because the game didn’t end up working out the way we all hoped it would. Read on…

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Guild Wars 2 PvP

Posted By on August 25, 2011

I figured I’d lay down some thoughts on everything we’ve learned about Guild Wars 2 PvP in the last couple weeks. My perspective is unique, or at least uncommon, since I’m very unlikely to ever take part in PvP in any form. I’ve just never been a PvP guy, for many reasons, but I can still appreciate good game design wherever it shows up. Also, as a full-on PvE enthusiast, I can very much appreciate the genius in some of the decisions ArenaNet made about their PvP.

For starters, the most simple change that ArenaNet made is also one of the most significant. They completely separated the PvP and PvE. This might not sound like it’s all that different, but a quick scan of the MMORPG landscape over the last 10 years will show that it’s actually much more common to get the PvE and PvP all mixed together, or at least stepping on each other’s toes.

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