Blizzard Titan’s “Iterative Process”

The game industry doesn’t really follow software development process like other markets. I’m not sure that Blizzard can really claim an “iterative” or “agile” methodology in the business sense, when that usually implies rapid prototyping and feedback from customers.

“We’ve always had a highly iterative development process, and the unannounced MMO is no exception. We’ve come to a point where we need to make some large design and technology changes to the game. We’re using this opportunity to shift some of our resources to assist with other projects while the core team adapts our technology and tools to accommodate these new changes. Note that we haven’t announced any dates for the MMO.”

Love, Blizzard.

Perhaps it’s just my knee-jerk reaction to having the tiny scraps of hints I have gathered about Titan invalidated, but I don’t think you can count 6 years as an iteration. Iterative development by its nature is meant to avoid perpetuated error and massive “back-to-the-drawing-board” scenarios.

Not bitter at all 🙂

 

Maddeningly,

-Machination

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Least Wanted MMO Features in 2013

As part of my little “sentiment gathering” experiment, I’ve made a list of the Least Wanted MMO features to go with last post’s Most Wanted. It’s a summary of the most complained about aspects, taken from various forum threads and blog comments.

So far, here’s what I’ve heard, in order of loudness:

  1. Boring
  2. Infinite gear grind (better gear to kill better mosters to get better gear to kill…)
  3. Infinite quest/level grind (kill things, get reward, kill more things, get reward, kill…)
  4. 50 thousand skill buttons (primarily targeted at WoW-alikes)
  5. Flying, teleportation, and quicktravel (loudly proclaimed as ‘ruining the experience’)
  6. Tank’n’Spank style combat (tank, healer, damage-dealer)
  7. Skill rotation combat
  8. Useless junk (vendor trash such as “ruined pelt”, or “broken bone fragment”)
  9. Zerg guilds, Zerging in PvP, Zerging in general
  10. Spam. Commercial spam (advertisements) + Game spam (mass invites).

While this little bit of research is nowhere near professional or complete, I’m still surprised at what types of rage floated to the top. First and foremost, I’m surprised that not one complaint surfaced about cash-shops, or more notably the blatant ubiquitous advertisements for in-game cash items. That’s on my personal top ten.

What’s sad is that the worst offenders (for this sample) happen to make up about 85% of all game-time (gear grind, and quest/level grinding). Unfortunately, it’s easy to make extremely vague complaints, and  it was no different in the threads I observed. Among the vocal crowd, there’s clearly huge dissatisfaction with the leveling process, as well as combat. Pretty much the loudest players would like a significant move away from WoW’s mechanics in whatever new game they play. As of 2013, I believe that those dreams will continue to be realized. Ever since breakthroughs like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, we’ve moved on a little farther.

Also the rallying cry for “No Quicktravel” was surprising. I wonder if people would still be in favor if they actually had quicktravel removed, or if this is more of a knee-jerk injustice.

Mechanically,

-Machination

Top 20 Ideal MMO Features of 2013

After much arduous digging through the interweb, I’ve read through ten threads and over 1000 comments of MMO wishlists from players. I’ve also interviewed a few friends. This list represents the deepest desires of the most vocal MMO players as of 2013. Mind you, I discovered about 100 different features voiced, but these are the top 20 most frequent, and most passionately argued (ordered by loudness). Some of them are pie in the sky, but most are well within reach, if only someone would listen. Enjoy! Also, check out the 10 Least Wanted Features that I found.

Priority 1: Deafening

  • Vast, open world to explore with no instancing, no loading screens.

Leaps and bounds ahead of the pack, “open world” easily took top priority over any other feature. Isn’t this a reason why each of us enjoyed our very first MMO to some extent? The sense of boundless freedom, or even just the illusionary perception of it is gripping. Studios considering a heavily-instanced MMO, beware; it defies the heart’s desire of your average player.

Priority 2: Cacophonous

  • Character customization
    • “to make my character unique … from the crowds of other players”
  • Player impact
    • “… If I burn down a building I want other players to see it burned down and then if some farmer rebuilds it later, I want the NPCs to remember that it was burned down. I don’t want everything to reset…” [by jreyst].
  • Non-combat classes: Alternate progression
    • “let me increase my level entirely as a baker”, “I want to exclusively play an explorer, a politician, an assassin, a merchant…”

The next most common requests were driven by character and progression. If you’re going to invest 1000 hours in an online world, who wouldn’t want it to add up to something? You’d better be able to define your character how you like… to be more than yet another avatar. Your actions ought to matter in the world, and be able to alter it for better or for worse.

Priority 3: Clamorous

  • Player-made shops
  • Player-made quests
  • Reasonable crafting (not insanely complex, but not “wait for a bar” simple)
  • Casual friendly
  • Travel has meaning (no teleporting, quick-travel, or flying mounts)
  • Simple yet strategic, action-oriented combat
  • Subclassing/changing classes
  • Classless

It’s curios to see that there were, in fact, outcries for more convenient travel options. However the requests for less travel quickly overtook them in numbers.

Priority 4: Insistent

  • Skill-based crafting
    • “I want to be able to make sword X better than anyone else, and become known for it…”
  • Player-made buildings, towns, cities… (interesting note: not “player housing”)
  • Encourages multiplayer and grouping
  • Weather System

Priority 5: Emphatic

  • Permadeath (or meaningful consequences)
  • Focus on exploration
  • Easy to group (if you want)
  • Easy to solo (if you want)

And there you have it. If I were designing an MMO from scratch, I’d want to sit down and listen to the deafening peals of players wants and needs first. It might just help create something that would hook people for longer than 6 months.

That said, there’s some issues with this style of listening. This list came from forum posts, blogs, and comments, which means that only the most vocal players are represented. I have no idea what the true average player desires. But I’d guess that  the online groups are at least somewhat representative. There’s also the old saying that “People don’t know what they want until they see it.”

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

Attributed to Henry Ford.

Perhaps we’ll not know what magic sauce we want until someone invents it. At any rate, there’s few markets as turbulent, and unexpectedly backstabbing as the MMO market. Time will tell.

Meditatively,

-Machination

Unlevel RPG

Continuing the discussion, are levels really necessary? Just how much value do they add to an RPG, or particularly an MMORPG?

In a classic MMO the ideal monsters have a certain, predictable difficulty, while ‘special’ mobs and bosses should be significantly harder. This is usually identified by combat levels. But because the player usually only fights monsters around the same level range as themselves, no matter how strong the player gets the monsters are similarly matched. It’s almost as if you’re only truly fighting 3 kinds of monsters: easy, normal, and boss.

This topic’s been ranted about plenty of times before, but in terms of combat, I’d like to suggest an alternative.

What if an enemy’s combat level was instead determined by their intelligence?

 

Level 0: Zombie (blindly heads towards you and will attack if in range)

Level 1: Animal (wanders around the world, will attack you if you enter it’s range). This is actually the AI for 90% of all MMO monsters.

Level 2: Scout (follows some pre-set path that it walks, attacks if you enter it’s range). The other 5%.

Level 3: Actual Fighter (basic combat skills, like knowing when to run away or stay out of the fight, when to run and get help).

Level 4: Adept Fighter (can try and hide from you, stalk you, hunt you)

Level 5: Commander (can orchestrate battle on a 5-10 NPC scale, setting up ambushes, planning ahead)

 

It seems that ‘difficulty’ in the modern MMO means how many hit points your current ‘sack of potatoes’ (NPC target) has, plus perhaps a frustrating ability or stun. So what do you think? Would the combat level system for NPCs be better off being intelligence?

 

Moderately,

-Machination

Grinding to a Halt

In my woefully small sample of pen-and-paper games, I’ve only managed to play a single style. It was a customized set of rules based far more on story than mechanics. In fact, we rarely rolled any dice, and the focus was on dialogue.

I started to see a disconnect between pen-and-paper games and MMORPGs. MMOs are typically approached in a quest-based manner, where you play errand-runner rather than hero. You kill things, deliver letters, investigate strange happenings, and kill more things. But in campaigns (at least the ones I’ve seen firsthand), you’re actually participating in a story and making choices that matter.

So why are we using quest-driven story, when it’s a poor medium for storytelling? The best stories we can get in MMOs are basically action-based dungeons or particularly interesting quest chains, but those are few and far between. If we’re going to suspend our disbelief anyways by having long quest chains that don’t actually influence or have impact on the world, why can’t we just have full-on high-quality campaigns instead of quests?

I suppose this would dispel the illusion that MMOs are multiplayer, and further enforce the fact that our stories are entirely single-player. We can only truly participate in these MMO stories as “sideline heroes,” who have the “honor” of watching a famous NPC accomplish everything of significance. Not to say that everyone can be, or even should be the chosen one who saves the world. Just that everyone needs to be an important character in their own story. Kind of like real life, don’t you think?

Only One Reward

Can story be the one and only reward? I was reading Syp’s post today, and it inspired a theory.

I show up for either a great story… or great goodies.  I don’t just do things because they’re there.

-Syp

My thought is that perhaps there’s a hard line somewhere of just how much of both you can get. Jack of all trades and master of none. If you try to make the perfect extrinsic system of advancement/rewards, and also inject the perfect story, the result will be good but never spectacular.

Perhaps there is an inherent attitude. If the game is supposed to be about the story (TSW), then they play with that attitude. If the game is supposed to be about the system of advancement (WoW, and just about everything else), then you end up with players that don’t care as much about lore or story, even when you give it to them. You go to a sushi restaurant and they serve burgers — no matter how good the burgers are, you were expecting sushi, and so you aren’t impressed.

Thoughts?

-Musingly,

Machination

The Curse of Amnesia

The Curse of Amnesia is a serious problem in interactive narratives such as pen-and-paper campaigns. If you’re playing an old character who has lived her whole life in a particular city, it doesn’t make sense that you as a player don’t know your way around the city. We want to be able to create any type of character we wish, with any background.

  • Amnesia: How do we ensure that the player knows what the character is supposed to know?
  • Fourth Wall: How do we prevent the player from knowing what the character isn’t supposed to know, for the purpose of dramatic tension or surprise?
    • The character-player relationship in a game is different from the character-reader relationship in a book. In a book we can reveal who the bad guy is to the reader, because the character will still be in the dark, and the reader can only watch helplessly as the character stumbles into a trap. In Interactive Stories, we don’t have that luxury as storytellers.
  • Identity Crisis: How do we reconcile the personality differences between how the character would act, and how the player would (or perhaps can) act? Sometimes our acting ability does not do our characters justice, even if we have good intentions. 

If you have any thoughts, or even solutions, post them here. The ODIN Project will also be having a discussion about this tonight (Wednesday, May 8) at 8:00 US MST, if anyone is interested in chiming in.

Markedly,

-Machination