The Secret World and New Player Experience

There have been a lot of changes incoming for The secret World that were outlined among the the recent blog, chief among those the Enhanced Player Experience, aka a nerf bat raining down upon the lands. There has been a bit of criticism around this decision as well, TSW is about the difficulty in a way. It’s about learning the skills and creating the right kinds of builds. It is a process most people are meant to go through.

The mmo player in me that’s prone to hardcore bouts of grind and utter devotion from time to time balks at such a thing. Having a certain amount of challenge in these mmo’s is a point of pride. it gives that sense of achievement for me and, it’s one of the primary things within these games that makes me strive for better. Without this element and mmo loses a great amount of appeal, or at least the average mmo does.

For TSW, I’m not so sure. This is the one game I could go casual for, and want to go casual for but there is so much getting in the way. TSW is just not a game I think you can devote yourself too entirely, their just isn’t enough interesting, and engaging content and mechanics to keep your time and with how much they update it never will be. That’s not a bad thing though as what they have their is good enough to make me want to repeatedly come back to try and enjoy but not enough to get through some of the other elements.

The difficulty has never been it’s strong point, in fact, it’s often a point of frustration. I can get by just fine within the game, I enjoy the skill building aspects but all those elements of difficulty and complexity get in the way of the game I want to play. I really don’t care about the combat in the slightest, it is rather average and is rather boring. No, what I enjoy within TSW is the story. It is by far the strongest part of the experience so why they wouldn’t want to create a greater ease around this aspect is beyond me.

In my mind there efforts to balance the game a bit more in regards to skills, time to kill and difficulty of the combat elements is a very good thing. I believe it will bring a lot of people back in who hit that difficulty wall before rather early in the game and then gave up. This way it gives people a chance to get hooked on the narrative first, to get immersed and involved with it. To give enough time and space to learn about the skills, passives and the inherent complexity there without being overtly punished. The difficulty is still there for end game content too but if you have gotten there your probably invested enough to continue at that stage.

TSW has been struggling for some time, Funcom has been struggling, you can see it in their financial reports each time. They are working on a razor thin margin their for running their games and hopefully this will bring people back to the game and keep Funcom going with creating this wonderful title.

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Importance of Polish

With playing Final Fantasy 14 at the moment  I’ve got to wondering whether innovation is something we truly want, or even need in mmo’s. By all accounts it’s a wow clone, and while a polished one with a lot of mechanics from elsewhere it really offers nothing of its own to the equation. By all accounts it shouldn’t be succeeding where many others have fallen; Wildstar and ESO just before it that both added nothing as well and paid the price for that yet Final Fantasy has continued to grow, grow to 4 million accounts lately which means box purchases… that’s reasonably impressive in this age.

Yet in spite of that, and with playing another mmo that is but an iteration on the same formulae I’ve become rather enamoured with it. Usually I get bored with these types of experiences quite quickly but I’ve been grinding out the levels and quests for my kitty zerker for a few days now. Playing for many hours at a time. Completing all the dungeons as I go multiple times and having a good time with it. I’m even excited about what’s to come even before I’ve gotten to the cap. I’ve been actively researching and looking at class and tanking guides too: ways to gear up, raid and dungeon videos.. all that boring stuff I haven’t bothered with since rift.

It’s silly but rather exciting to be wrapped up in that mmo goodness again. And it’s not that thirsty in the desert kind of feeling either, well, it was at first but now that I’ve settled in I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would and I think the main reason for this is just polish.

Yes it’s polished in the usual kind of ways now. Graphical purrty as all heck. Ability lag is a thing of the past and rivals that of blizzard making gameplay and combat feel smooth. And just the content and game run smoothly throughout play. It is a game that has gotten the attention it needs to fill itself out and run well… sadly a lot of games can’t say the same lately.

Anyway, it is more than that as well and by polish I also mean they have actually taken the time to figure out what it is they want to do. It is a game that actually seems to have planned itself out in regards to the pace of combat, the styles available, the types and methods of acquiring shinies. Just the way the whole game, each of its components fits together.

Mostly I get the feeling the engaged in a little introspection regarding mmo’s in general. They didn’t just blindly copy what the current zeitgeist is, the populist mechanics and they also didn’t fall prey to throwing out the perfectly functioning components just to appear “edgy”, and “innovative”. They seem to have actually sat down and thought about the usual mechanics of mmos: what works, what doesn’t and figure out why then mold these towards their own vision. There is a level of understanding there in how they’ve designed the components so that it becomes greater than the whole. Greater than the usual.

MMO’s don’t really need to strive to be different, it’s mostly just a marketing buzzword anyway and rarely keeps people around after they’ve grown tired of the same bull shit reskinned with the same mistakes. Innovation can be good too, dynamic events are something I think enriches the genre and were a huge departure from the standard but so many games use this now without really dissecting it mechanically and then integrating it within their game to be cohesive.

I just feel that mmo’s need more thought put into them first and that it seems doing so is far more important than aiming for some kind of new shiny appeal.

Finding the Fun in Final Fantasy 14

As a mmo player away from mmo’s for a while you get these urges. Urges deep down that feel like some kind of deep dark hole sucking up everything else around it, it needs to  be filled but you have to find the right thing to fill it with. (boy it was hard writing all that without overt innuendos)

Anyway, I say this because that’s where I’ve been lately. I have quite a few awesome games I’ve been playing lately but for some reason they just weren’t enough. Sometimes I would just stare at the desktop looking at these icons, occasionally starting one up before turning them off again. The are great games but not the experience I want at the moment. I want a mmo, I want that familiar feeling to fall into once more. It’s that particular style of gaming comfort I’ve found I can’t be without for too long now.

I needed something and there are a few options to pick from. I tried Guild Wars 2 for a bit but it just didn’t click. Didn’t fulfill the particular whole inside. Firefall a little and yeh, not quite there either. Elder Scrolls will be soon but I still don’t really hold much hope in it keeping my interests. I enjoy it to an extent but it just never felt right for some reason. The secret world is fun, and it certainly fills a certain corner of what’s missing but I only need short fixes of that particular part.

That brings me to Final Fantasy 14 which I’m currently playing and filling up that familiar space once more. I still have the same issues as when I tried it way back at release, but now after being through the big modern releases I’m starting to forgive those elements are was fairly critical of before. The modernised mechanics and elements they have are great, but they were just missing in other areas and fell apart as a whole experience. Final fantasy seems to get it mostly right but what it does is very well-integrated and makes sense as a whole experience.

They have cute cat girls too

They have cute cat girls too

I’ve been incredibly impressed with a few other aspects as well and I think this is what has been drawing me more into the game.

First even though I haven’t been watching the game too closely I have been incredibly impressed with the rate, quality and quality of the content that has been added since release. They have offered a wide range of new activities, new fluff items to procure, mini games to enjoy and keep you in-game. New challenges to overcome. More important than that though is what they have been adding seems to avoid the usual pitfall of obsoleting areas of the game. If anything it all seems to support itself.

Following on from this point is that I was rather amazed that most of those early zones still had a lot of activity in them. There were a range of people traveling around. Occasionally High level characters doing particular leves, or whatever that thing they do is. Crafters gathering their wares. Reasonable amount of people doing dungeons as well, even in my own peak time. Those Fates (dynamic events) seem incredibly popular as well. It is fantastic that they’ve created an activity that always seem to be quite useful to all people play. It’s just experience but due to the, what I originally thought of as restrictive,  lack of quests and methods of leveling alternatives keeps these events and the zones active. With this design it also means you have a great activity to do with friends (like the cutest Murf you ever did see) of any level that is useful to all involved, it’s very well done.

A wild murf appears

A wild murf appears

I was a little skeptical about the community too. Many have been saying how great it has been for them but, I still suspected that certain usual mmo troll attitude to an extent. Boy was I surprised when I tested this theory in a dungeon when I said at the start that I was new and my first dungeon run. I mean coming on, I was the tank as well so that was bound to get a rise. Nope, nothing but helpful and supportive the entire way. In any other mmo that would be an immediate party kick or drop group.

The other thing I am thankful for at this early state of play is having a decent trial period. The one failing, I think, of a lot of these sub mmo’s lately  as here it gave me enough room to experience enough of the game to get a decent impression. And here I am now, a day in and already a level 20 Marauder

The Procedural Phenomenom

Over at Bio Break there is a post looking at procedural generation and the reasons why the technology, and implementation doesn’t appeal to him. My comment looked like it was going to get a bit to big so…. posting here for prosperity.

Honestly I do see where he’s coming from. What I enjoy about many of these theme parks I have played lately is that they are all rather well constructed. You have defined zones and characters, stories are well placed and it leads you through the game at a reasonable pace. There is always the next goal nearby to complete, the next quest hub near the last quest. World design that leads you on but also showcases certain special areas and activities. These are a game type that is run by a defined vision, guided by metrics and it is the hand-crafted aspect to this that makes it all work.

Procedural generation just wouldn’t work within this design. The secret world, one of my favourite narrative experiences works only because of this detailed and polished developer crafted world. Many others are like this too. Adding the randomness of procedural generation to these mmo’s would most likely break the experience, goals and the design are what keep us progressing.

I do think there is a place for procedural generation though. In the place of Crowfall I think this design works perfectly. You have many maps of varying rule-sets that each have their own individual world make-up which would make it that much more exciting to explore alternative worlds. I love exploration, just wandering around the world and seeing what I can find – thumping was my favourite activity in Firefall after all and the promise of having many worlds to explore for varying resources. To learn the terrain and objective placement is rather enticing to me. The fact that these constantly reset as well means an endless reason for me to do this activity I enjoy as resources will need to be found again, enemy encampments scouted and then, just random exploration to see the beauty of the world.

Having the same prepackaged set-up would make these multiple month-long campaigns rather boring after a time. Case in point, GW2. Having the same map/s will only last you so long. Eventually everyone knows the complete layout in their sleep, the strategies to engage in at every turn. The meta gets stale, and you don’t want that. Having it change after a time means having an evolving strategy over time, a campaign won’t just involve exploration of terrain but forming new ideas, new plans, new strategies for conflict. It creates a far more dynamic experience.

What it will also allow is creating worlds that are far bigger, and this I think is a perfect fit for the next generation of sandbox mmo’s. Land mass is an extremely limiting factor on a game, for the regular themepark it doesn’t matter too much but for sandbox design, and player driven worlds having the amount of land creates far more options to players and strengthens certain mechanics. Terrain and travel time begin to matter, allowing players to specialise in it.You can make the impact of players that much greater as well, impact on resources since there will be more around, the ability to make their mark with housing and such, and just controlling land becoming a cost benefit analysis… you can only survey and control so much a ta a time. There are a lot of benefits to having space.

The technology has come a long way now too. It isn’t just the boring terrain and basic placement you might expect. Their can be incredibly complex algorithms at work on all aspects of the game. The elevation of terrain and grading, the styles and texture of the land. how it is populated with assets like trees, rocks and such. Sometimes I think these programs do a better job of creating interesting but far more realistic spaces as well. Just looking at games like minecraft and terraria you have huge differentiation in the lay of the land but a realistic scope to the areas generated. There are some complex systems too like the interconnected tunnel networks that get constructed. It isn’t just terrain either as this can extend to the way it places pre built assets like walls, buildings, towns,  as well as creatures. I believe this system is the main reason behind these titles success, it adds inherent replayability.

We aren’t quite there for the voxel tech just yet but I am incredibly interested to see how far it develops and the ways it becomes integrated into our mmo’s

Ending My Early Entry to MMO’s

I’ve been writing a post about Crowfall lately and outlining the parts I liked in the initial pitch, and it does have a lot of really interesting elements that appeal to me. It was while writing this though that I realised I was trying to justify my own purchase in advance, like i need the idea to be this awesome to cross that certain threshold. I’m guessing that was exactly the plan too. Unfortunately it was here too that made me swear to the great gaming gods, and of course RNGesus that I’m no longer supporting any more of these early access mmo’s, whether they be just an idea or something that will be soon releasing. Not going to happen anymore.

It has been a rather disappointing couple years of mmo’s overall, there have been some great experiences and quite a few games with the potential but nothing that really satisfied my burgeoning mmo interests. It’s no secret to those interested in the pvp that it has been rather slim pickings as well; we can have whatever shit the most recent mmo is dishing out and that lasts a good month or so or, we can go over to the unfinished, unpolished indie games like Darkfall. Yeh, not great options really.

This is precisely why I probably should be excited about Crowfall, and honestly I am. Great concept for constant, but semi persistent battlefields. It’s not the rich, complex virtual world I’m looking for but it will be a game i come back to consistently for some play, much like lobby shooter really. I could pay into that early, and I probably have the money for it but then it’s gotten to the stage where I just can’t be assed even playing these alpha mmo’s. I haven’t touched Repopulation in a long time now. Camelot Unchained is going into it’s alpha soon, which I have access to but I don’t see myself jumping in. I almost got the cheap pack for Skyforge too but it’s all just utterly pointless.

At least for those small indie titles they give you a working game and the development cycle for those that aren’t seems a lot less. Coming back now and then to play around with the new updates and such doesn’t really hurt the experience either, in fact, that’s the optimal style of play there. MMO’s just don’t work like that, they require a bit more focus and dedication, even in these alpha states and to put that much time into something that is terrible unfinished and incomplete kills all the enjoyment for me from then and into the future. I’m done ruining my excitement for games that way. I’m wasting all that time to have it all wiped away. I’m done paying for these mmo’s I’m unlikely to play in a reasonable state for the next few years. And I’m definitely done spending my money on it.

So no Crowfall for me, at least not until it hypothetically releases in the next 2 or more years.

 

MMO’s and What I Want

One thing that I’ve been thinking with all these recent kickstarter,and the orgy of ideals being thrown around with them is, what do I want from an mmo? That sounds like a pretty simple question on the surface. There is a lot of little things that make up an mmo but in the end, a question like that comes down to fundamentals.

Fundamentals though are a lot harder to pin down. They are the guiding principle to an mmo, the thing that all other mechanics and principles fall back to; that reference and interact together. That mold it all into something workable. Something engaging but it is always those fundamentals that guide development and the game’s systems.

For me I nailed down 3 points.

Economy

Now that is just some token system like the usual mmo has. something to grind  for no reason whatsoever, that has no place within end game systems bar a few trinkets they deem to give you out of raiding. No, what I want is a real economy, one that doesn’t suffer from the same exacerbated inflation, soften of course by more shiny baubles and artificial gold sinks. I don’t want an economy that only encompasses certain parts of the experience. I want an economy that encompasses the entire game, that has it’s tendrils in every aspect of it. That shows growth and meaning as a whole.

Basically Eve in a sense. Something you can look towards and marvel at the complex and integrated nature of it. Where you can find your own little niche within the system and still be considered value. A system that is fulfilling a constant need or collection, creation and destruction.

For Territory and Space to Matter

I am kind of over how the modern mmo seems to delight in obsoleting large tracks of land. For most of it, it’s components, quests, resources and whatever else to be practically meaningful once you’ve levelled beyond it. I want a large world wherein every single inch of it can be considered either valuable or necessary. A place people want and need to go or space that is a necessity for the systems to work (travel time).

But it’s more than that as well. I want space to be meaningful to the individual. A place somewhere they they call call their own. To plant their claim and build up their home over time. Somewhere they can grow from and come back to.

I want space to matter for groups and guilds. Somewhere they endeavor to control and struggle for. That creates meaning to being with a group but rewards those endeavors. That creates continuous short and long term goals to work towards.

That creates global action that is constantly shifting back and forth.

Make Your Own Stories

Now this one is a little more vague but just as meaningful as the others. I’ve had guided experiences for too long now. I know, without a second glance the story and themes that are going to be told to me over a long, boring grind through this restrictive narrative. There is no real place for our own stories to be during that and not enough interaction to make them matter.

I want a world where  I can make my own world around it. Where I can engage where and how I want, in the ways I want and then create my own narrative around that. I want the chance to be able to create my own characterizations and then, live them out in a meaningful way. Mostly, I want freedom of self, freedom to be and freedom to create.

Development and the Dreamers

I’ve still been thinking about the news over at Day C (Daybreak) and what it will mean for the development of their future games. I still believe that their primary developments and future projects like Hizzy and Everquest Next will continue but then, my concern now is whether or not they will be the same as the would otherwise. Or as good.

It’s funny, but even though a lot of people weren’t really concerned about the dismissal of Dave Georgeson that was the main element that put up the red flag for me. Yes, he didn’t actually create anything I guess. He is not a developer per se and mostly just a PR persona. He has some incredible gaffs too that everyone had to fix for him over and over and over again.

What he was though was a dreamer, and game development needs those people.

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Fun and Failing in Gw2 PvP

It seems the more I play guild Wars 2 the more I get rather frustrated with it. I kind of know how new players would feel about it all now as I just get that overwhelming feeling of direction less. When playing originally I always had the goal, and fall back play of pvp. That was mostly WvW but also the SPCA mode. Now just consuming the PvE side of the game I’m having to try really hard to discover some sense of direction.

The new zone, silverwaste seemed like the best idea and it probably was but after several vinewrath events and getting very little out of it, plus remaining a little frustrated with the myriad of mechanics your constantly meant to be aware of like keys, and shovels, and sand, and body parts, and those weird collection items your meant to infuse, and other crafting ingredients, and the myriad of new bag types that spam your inventory with useless items and gear. It just wasn’t something that kept my attention.

When there wasn’t any activity in the zone was weird too. I went to drytop and looked around for a bit but no one was there, events going to waste. I joined in on the event train for a bit. Watching the timer on a website and jumping where needed for a fair number of events and well, spamming skills for the few seconds it takes for whatever to fall over didn’t interest me back then and it certainly doesn’t now. Why people even follow this along for a handful of gold and a few items to immediately salvage is beyond me.

As predicted with the Tequatl event changes it was remarkably empty without the TTS group event going on, which I’m sad I missed.

So after getting all mopey in game I thought Screw it, and jumped into the SPvP again and am glad I did. I don’t know why I’d been holding back on it for so long but it was a lot of fun. I was terrible at it, appalling but it’s more that I’d forgotten how fast paced and tactile it all felt. How the skills feel and how strategic and reactionary much of them are. I really had forgotten what an enjoyable able combat system this was for PvP.

It’s a shame then that it really didn’t take off more than it should of. I mean I get why it didn’t, the map design and mechanics of the game modes aren’t that great and it was, and still is missing a lot of the functionality it needs. It’s gotten better, the new method for setting up you build and gear in the mists is great but then they have to add a bunch of new restrictions and have you buy certain traits, runes and gear types for PvP as well… Because be damned with the rest of that initial manifesto right?

Gw2 spvp restrictions

It is still just the fundamental issues they haven’t solved yet like the whole ranking fiasco, that algorithm has always been shite. Issues with premises and not. Then their is still the weir place custom matches are now not to mention the rather minimal population which makes it a little harder to find decent, balanced matches.

I like what they’ve done and it could, and can be so much more if they just break from the pattern they’ve fallen into. SPvP would make a decent standalone experience and then they wouldn’t be stuck in the weird place they are now with making it make sense within the whole.

Firefall’s Daily Drag

Dear mmo developer, for today’s lesson we will be looking at how not to do end game dailies with the wonderful hosts Red 5 and their game Firefall. First we have a large zone focusing on completing events as a group being the strength of the game but instead of using that effectively lets create some constricted types of events that focus on singular actions.

The first type of daily I’d like to highlight are the collect kind. These are boring at the best of times but the worst kind is here. The kind where you have a set area to collect in where certain items spawn periodically over the entire area. Let’s make it dangerous too and also have everyone competing over the same resource nodes. The Coupe de gras though is having it being quite a large collection quest with 100 items needed so you are there waaaaayyy to long.

Firefall

But no, lets kick that up a notch more and have you kill a huge number of Elite mobs that don’t spawn very often at all, and mainly in the same space and once again make it a giant competition for completion by only having the killing blow on these elite mobs count. And screw those support classes in this case who will never be able to actually get that killing blow.

And finally, out of all the events that go on lets also make one of the rarer ones that doesn’t happen very often on the server. Like the 3 hours i was playing one of the events that’s needed for one of the dailies too.

Fun Event, but not the right even

Fun Event, but not the right even

Of course these dailies are on of the ways to get some end game components for your frame, and you need rather a large amount to complete in order to get enough reputation but, at the rate of actually being able to complete them it seems rather restrictive. Now there are other dailies to do that you can complete rather easily with some time that are in line with general gameplay but they are far in the minority here.

I’ve come to terms with dailies even if I don’t really like them but when you make them so restrictive, time consuming and so frustrating then they fail to serve their purpose. When you make them so certain classes have an advantage (killing blow, dps classes) or requiring a style of play that is vastly different than usual. If you make some of them so that during the course of play they won’t be completed than it is an issue. Dailies are something that should be manageable in a small daily allotted time people have, not all time consuming. They are the quick reward to gain from daily play before you go on to other activity, and not the entirety of play because when you do that you start changing play behaviours away from what people want to do, what is actually fun and enjoyable.

Amazonian Antics in Firefall

BIg changes ahead for Firefall.. AGAIN you say! They are still working on a new crafting system to once again make that aspect more import as well as bring back the usefulness of crafting but they’ve also been working on a lot more it seems. And that is Update 1.3, War in the Amazon.

The biggest part of this update is a vast new land to explore that you can get to using the usual arcporters. It seems just as big as the other maps and also focuses on the Chosen warfront once more with a map aim approaching that of the earlier (like beta) battles for land in New Eden. There is a lot happening on this map at all times with a level of constant conflict that makes the map feel incredible active and gives a constant activities to try for.

Firefall amazon map

So far I’ve actually been enjoying it quite a bit. I forgotten how much I missed this more aimlessly style of play but a lot of defined actions and activities to choose from. For those actions to even feel a little more important and community driven as you are constantly defending and capturing many of the map points as a group. You are building up the strength of the watchtowers through other events and just constantly fighting around the map. There is also a bit to do for the solo or small group player as well which makes for a lot of options.

This area is tough at times. Enemies take more of a beating and I think have had a few upgrades to their ai and movement abilities. A huge amount of them will also spawn for the outpost captures and defence phases as well which is just another way to get players involved as a group. The muti-stage nature of these also seems to make them more enjoyable as well; more to fight, more team work required and it’s just fun slaughtering hordes of chosen.

Social Shooting

Social Shooting

The area is rather nicely designed too, far better than devils tusk. It feels more open with easy paths for traversing the zone, or at least the main parts of it. There is a lot of difference in the height and verticality of the zone but as usual they’ve played around with the style and design of the rocks, walls and ledges to make the best use of the jetpacks and gliders. I kind of like the aesthetic this time as well, not as nice as the Sargosa Sea style murky forests but the large trees, swamps and general greenery is just nice after the desolate wasteland that was Devil’s Tusk.

Firefall amazon

Overall It seems to be once again getting back to the strengths of what made Firefall fun was and the style of gameplay I’ve been waiting for. Large, open and well designed map with a focus on events and group goals.

The other big change with this update was removing a lot of the separate tower currencies and making it a flat reputation style mechanic. This is a good thing. Before it was just grinding out a lot of the job board quests, for a single item. This way you get reputation from an area by also doing nearby events, and once you have the reputation gear is bought with crystite. This might help with alternate frames too as you’ll have the reputation already built up.

There are a few other things to check out with the patch. New rare mob style bounty hunts to complete in each area that look fun. New battleframe items that have specific abilities and can change how things work.

Being Firefall there is a few bugs though. One major one seems to be the endless spawning of a lot of chosen from a certain part of the melding which has basically turned into a large scale area for target practice.

and that was just a fraction

and that was just a fraction

There were a lot of people there and you were killing 100’s of chosen but it seems there is no reward but experience. It still runs like donkey balls for me too, pretty sure it’s the way the client sends and receives data as it’s using a lot of my bandwidth at a time, which isn’t much but adequate for ever other online game.

Pretty Impressed though so it seems I’m going back to shooting stuff again.