February 12, 2013

The things that I think are MMO design no-nos

I’ve discussed a lot on what I think would make a good MMO before and there is still a lot of ground to cover on that subject but I think another aspect I think should be covered are things that I feel are definite no-no’s in the field of MMO creation and building. Now, this is not a comprehensive list nor is it ordered in level of importance, but I have noticed a trend in designs that I feel many MMO developers lately have been going towards that have been actually hurting their game designs, instead of helping. So, let’s dive right in to what I feel are some of the things that developers should steer away from as far as MMO development.

Making the world WoW big
This one is probably going to be confusing to some on how I present it, like, the first question is, “What in the world is WoW big?” WoW big is actually a term I use to describe worlds that are just unnaturally big just to be big. This doesn’t mean a world that is designed to offer a lot of explorable terrain, quite the opposite really, but terrain that is made as if for people that were way bigger than the characters actually are. To me, this is a big negative in the feature of the game. Now, in areas the common statement is that it’s designed that way for ease of camera use and movement, but when a lot of structures and areas have this unnatural design and feel to it like it was meant for people fifty times bigger than the characters, it is a huge detraction from the actual enjoyment of the game for me.

Making something big just to make it big is not a proper answer to good game development and actually hampers a lot of immersion for players from the game. When you enter a building, you want to actually feel it was reasonably designed with the height of the largest race in mind, of course, but when it looks like 100 foot giants should inhabit the area, it presents a feeling that the developers actually built the world smaller, then just up scaled it to make it look bigger.

This has the negative impact of removing players feeling of being a part of that world as well as presenting the issue of needlessly increasing travel times from one point to the next. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a nice sized world and encourage world design to be built with a scale in mind, but I want it to feel like a natural scale. This also puts a damper on PvP when the world is so large like that distances from one point to the next are actually tedious instead of feeling natural. If the goal is to make the world feel big it should feel naturally big, just don’t set your scale to over drive and call it a big world because everything is bigger in proportion to the character. It is actually a huge detraction.

Land to just have land
This is kind of the same vein as above, but different enough that it warrants its own point. Putting in land to just have land is pointless and needlessly adding things that don’t need to be added to the game. Don’t just keep adding land and expecting people to like it, and thinking it’s enough to satisfy people who want a big world. It feels unnatural when you do so. You also don’t want so much land that people become lost and confused from one point to the next.

Again I move back to PvP and I will use Guild Wars 2 as an example here. In GW2’s WvW there are 4 continents for PvP for players to play in. And each of these lands are huge in their own right. But, the PvP player base isn’t large enough to accommodate such a grand scale on the maps themselves. This creates a dichotomy and needless bloat for an activity that people would like to participate in but just presents too large of a land area for PvP to be participated in meaningfully.

Hand holding of exploration
This, again, is another sin that GW2 makes; the hand holding and out right requirement of finding all the points of interest, vistas and other such shenanigans in the game in order to build a viable character. Players do like large swaths of land and they naturally are inclined to explore. But players hate having the exploration shoved in their face to the point that it feels like handholding, or worse and more likely, that the devs are trying to shove your face into it. Yea, you might have created some beautiful terrain and such, but players want to naturally explore it, not feel like they have to or even have every part of them shown to them. It doesn’t feel like exploring them when everything is conveniently marked, or when it is actually required that you do that activity in order to enjoy the game.

Quests, quests and more quests
This one will probably shock people, but games that are built around nothing but tons of quests and events bore the ever living hell out of me. It’s yet another nail in that coffin that removes my sense of purpose and self in the game and hinders my enjoyment of exploring a vast world. People will try and claim GW2 lacks these things but moving the exclamation marks to heart locations is just the same shit in a different way. I am still required, for decent advancement, to go to these locations and complete their tasks in order to gain experience to advance my character. I still feel like I am on a rail and have little control over where I want to go.

The concept was to make quests feel natural and such, but it failed on so many fundamental levels. I can handle events, but I want to choose to be a part of them, not required. Quests should feel natural to, such as NPCs mentioning things or you finding things along your way, not having to go visit a particular point to complete them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think quests are good, in their own respective ways because they give people things to do. But MMOs these days have gone overboard. Sometimes a player should just create their own quest such as if they see a dungeon and go explore it. They shouldn’t be required to see NPCs to get the quests for bloated XP gains just to continue. And that’s another factor I hate about quests to, the huge XP bloat making them the main feature and required instead of the actual adventure itself. Developers need to put quests in more naturally and use them more sparingly, not at every opportunity they think they can put in a guy with an exclamation mark.

Always on rails
This is a cardinal sin all modern MMOs have; they put their game on rails, whether or not the players realize it, and lead the players by the nose along that set path with little deviation. There is little choice on where you are going and how you are getting there. The path is always going to be the same with only slight differences from one step to the next. This to me is dumb. A player should be able to choose where they want to go or how they want to get there. The fact developers seem absolutely terrified that players might try something off the beaten path boggles my mind. Let players have some freedom with your game.

The butchering of social interaction
The social experience has been getting butchered more and more in MMOs as time progresses. The constant focus on solo experience has been removing the need for people to even bother socializing with others and this is just bad design. While some people will say it’s dumb to be forced to team, my answer is you shouldn’t be playing an MMO anyways if you hate to team. No, I am saying that there should be things and activities that are designed around socializing and joining others to be a team. These are things that help out an MMO, and the scary part is how many people keep believing that roles and such are evil and should never even be considered for MMOs these days, as if the very idea of working with others is somehow evil. I don’t get it personally.


Anyways, those are my views on the subject. Leave a comment below If you have some points to bring up of your own, and if you are looking for an RP guild for TESO, maybe check out The Black Wolves and see if we might be what you are looking for.

February 10, 2013

Differences between single player an MMO experience

Well, more information is slowly coming out about TESO, so I am wondering if I should start writing this more as a blog towards TESO. Probably not, for now, since just posting random speculation is pointless as it serves no real purpose other than making conjecture and non-sense about something we know exceptionally little about other than personal accounts of a private screening several months ago. However, there is probably one thing I think that should be touched on with this blog concerning the expectations and the divisionary line between a normal, single player gamer and an MMO player, and the obvious lines of difference between the games.

Why I am writing this is more or less aimed at the crowd of people that undoubtedly have a certain expectation of what they think TESO will be like, and quite frankly, some of those expectations are a tad ludicrous. This is not to say that I don’t have certain expectations of my own as well, I most certainly do, but there are certain things that just won’t translate well into a field where many people will be playing in the same area. Certain things, for instance, just won’t be acceptable, no matter how it is attempted to be justified in the grand scheme of an MMO.

One of the biggest hot topic debates is, of course, the first person view debate. Now, first person view is a great little thing… for single player title games where it works at. Why? Because a game built around single player is designed and constructed where the player only has to deal with those elements immediately near them and most often within their field of view and control. Some may argue to the contrary but even things at range are carefully designed so that players can still see them. In an MMO this is not the case, especially with big complex boss battles. Things are happening that the player needs to be aware of to keep ahead of the curve on because things that happen don’t always just happen with the boss themselves. Sometimes it might actually be the environment that you need to be aware of, and first person perspective just doesn’t offer this. Furthermore, first person is just plain inferior for basic surveillance. Yea, the argument is for immersion but really, first person has its place, and it can help with immersion, but it certainly doesn’t make feeling a part of the game any stronger since the hands you see are still not your own.

Another thing that’s come up is pick pocketing. This was a debate in MMOs since the days of UO when pick pocketing was allowed, but suffice it to say, regardless of player intent, eventually everyone is pretty much a thief by the end of their game play session in a TES game. You could have started out with the idea of being a noble knight, but by the end of the game you’re probably a skilled larcenist with at least several high profile assassinations under your belt as well. Needless to say, there is just no way to balance this in a multiplayer stage setting. Most people that think taking from other players think it would be cool and fun, but fail to realize that they can have their stuff taken in turn. And most of the times, when people think of pick pocketing, they do not think of it happening to them, only them doing it to others.  And pick pocketing from monsters would either end up being useless and underwhelming or so lucrative that it’s all people will do so there is no real way to balance it reliably within the scope of an MMO.

That brings up another thought in general, something single player gamers never really think about anyways; balance. Single player gamers have options, a lot of them. In fact, you would probably be hard pressed to find a single player gamer who hasn’t used a mod, console command or altered save files to better suit their play style. Hell, even quick save and quick load are things that single player gamers take for granted to remove unfavorable things that happen to restore lost items. In an MMO these options won’t exist. When you die, any items you used will be lost and any progress you made will have to be redone to a point. You won’t be able to call up a console command, alter save states, or install a mod that changes things to suit your play style. And there is no quick save or quick load. What happened, happened, and the consequences of your action are more readily apparent.

Finally, another thing that single player gamers, a major thing, that they might have to contend with is the fact that when things happen in an MMO, it’s usually with other players. This means that bad blood you form won’t be forgotten because you left town like is so often the case in Skyrim. If a player hates you, they will remember you and probably hate you for a while. Furthermore, you have a chance to lose in an MMO. Single player games just make things rather simplistic, defeat is just a quick load away from correction while defeat in an MMO has more tangible effects. This can range from death penalties, repair costs, to just respawn points at a distance away from where you were.

There are way more things of course but I think those are the major things to look at. I know this was sort of a random, jumbled mess, and somewhat incoherent, but I figured I would try to put two cents in on each of those topics. Next blog I think I will make a part two to my last blog post because after I wrote that I realized there was a hell of a lot more objects that would actually make me completely interested in TESO and a staunch player of it if it happened.

Leave a comment below, have fun, and until next time.