Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alterac Valley Redux: Can I get more 'v' in my PvP?

So my previous post about the Resurrection of Alterac Valley seems to have been a bit premature. Sure, there are more AV matches running now than there were before, but the PvP has quickly vanished in the wake of honor farming.

Alterac Valley has returned to how it was a year ago, both sides rushing the enemy base, with little to no contact between the 'warring' players. In fact, the players work so hard to avoid actual PvP, that finishing at the top of the scoreboard with a mere five killing blows is a common occurrence!

If I try to actually do something useful PvP-wise, such as defending Iceblood or slow down those who are riding past to Frostwolf graveyard, I invariably find myself alone and outnumbered.

Reports from the Test Server say that actual PvP has returned to the Valley with the upcoming 2.3 patch changes, but I'll reserve judgment for the moment. I've learned my lesson (at least until the next time) about making snap judgments on PvP features. Players tend to flow to the path of least resistance, so its probably best to let things settle out before claiming a 'resurrection' or some similarly profound statement!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

WoW's 'Matchmaking' System is a Joke!

So a while back, Blizzard introduced a 'matchmaking' system for determining who you would fight against in the battlegrounds. This system was supposed to weigh your gear and whether or not you were joining in a group to determine the matchups.

I played some Arathi Basin today, joining by myself, and six out of six times, I was placed into a battleground with a bunch of random Horde from various servers against a full Alliance guild team!

More weight needs to be given to organized groups. That is much more valuable than gear! Blizzard really needs to pull their heads out of their asses in regards to understanding PvP.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Re-Visiting an Old Friend: Day of Defeat

Back in the days of Counterstrike, when a good friend and I used to cart our computers up to his office at the university so we could play together over their T3 lines, there came along a little mod that didn't receive as much attention as Counterstrike did, but still had a lot of charm, enough so that it was eventually released as its own box set. That mod was called Day of Defeat. I was hooked immediately and it wasn't long before many of my friends followed suit.

DoD took Counterstrike's realism, warped it to fit WWII weapons, created more open and varied maps and really solidified the teamwork aspect of the game. Unfortunately, it has a steep learning curve. It's easy to die. Very easy. And if you aren't familiar with the current map, you can expect to die at pretty much every turn until you learn it. But, the plus side of this barrier to entry is that the players tend to be a lot more mature and team oriented than you find in most FPS games.

But what shines about DoD is the reliance on teamwork. There will never be a single player that can single-handedly win a match for his team. Every map has specific goals, and players will keep respawning until one team or the other accomplishes those goals. The maps are generally complex and have lots of flavor such as mounds of rubble, broken walls and abandoned cars, that not only provide an engaging setting, but that also have an impact on gameplay as well! Bushes, while just simple 2d sprites, do provide a lot of visual cover. DoD is all infantry based, which may annoy those who like the Battlefield type games. But what they do have is done well!

I hadn't played DoD in several years, but my recent foray into Battleground Europe, an online game with a similar WWII theme, made me remember the good old days. So I reinstalled Steam, updated
the client and logged in. The years have not been kind to my twitch reflexes, but it's still as much fun as it used to be. The only real downside is a lack of players. Many of the servers that are around these days seem to like to fill empty player slots with bots. And while they do decrease the empty fort feeling, it's still a very hollow experience. Luckily, there are other servers that don't use bots at all and also have an active population.

DoD has what Battleground Europe lacks... and mainly, thats the fun factor. I think that BE goes a bit over the edge in realism which cuts into the fun of playing a game. If someone could come up with a decent mashup of the systems in DoD, Battlefield and Battleground Europe (and maybe some Planetside), we could have a really awesome WWII MMO! Take the fun and the infantry/town combat from DoD, add in vehicles from Battlefield and Battleground Europe, then layer it all with an interesting, intuitive, dynamic meta-game that is designed well enough to handle widely varying population numbers and maybe throw in a little bit of character development. Stir gently and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rome Falling: Abortion of an MMO

The big news of the day is the 'indefinite hold' that Perpetual has put on Gods and Heroes.

I've been in the beta for 2 months and to be honest, it didn't really capture my attention. I played for at most 10 hours, and only got to level 7 with a Gladiator character, so any information I have to share will be limited.

I was actually very excited when I got a beta acceptance email for Gods and Heroes. It was the first beta I had been in since starting this blog, and though I couldn't make posts about the game due to the NDA, I had plans to keep detailed notes about my perceptions of the game as I played, so I could post a nice writeup once the NDA was lifted. But alas, the game couldn't hold my attention for long enough! I played maybe 10 hours total over the past two months, and never more than two hours at a stretch.

There just wasn't anything especially engaging or different. Class-based? Check! Talent-tree like system to semi-customize your character abilities? Check! Quest-oriented with floating symbols over quest NPCs? Check! Static combat that mainly involves pushing buttons as they light up? Check! Crafting? Er... no... Guild Support? Er... no idea... PvP? Again.. no idea...

What did G&H have to offer that was new or different? Well, I guess their defining characteristic was the minion system. But really, they were little more than some fancy pets. The minion system was an interesting idea that should definitely be explored in future games (anyone remember being able to hire fighter NPCs in Ultima Online?). The game does do a good job of introducing you to the minions early on. I had a front-line fighter and a healer available. I never tried using the healer. I just took along the fighter, spent points on talents that gave us attack boosts and waded into the melee! I never really did figure out how to more precisely control your minions. She just kind of tagged along, always staying in strict formation out of combat, even if it meant that she ran over the edge of a cliff. Luckily, it seemed that such an event had little effect on her health or personality, and she quickly returned to my side once I moved away. Perhaps there was more to it at later levels...

The UI was just kind of strange in many ways as well. For example, all of the icons to open your spellbook, character screen, etc etc, were hidden to start. You had to click on a tiny sliver of color over your character portrait to show them. Very non-intuitive and it took me a while to figure it out. The option to hide them is great... choosing to hide them from a new user is not.

It also had that sort of drab graphics theme that Vanguard had. Can't we get some color here?! Is this because some people thought WoW graphics were too cartoony? At least they were interesting to look at. In addition, I experienced graphics stutter every few steps while running through a town. And there were no more than a handful of players around.

Here are a couple of other short reviews. Interestingly enough, they don't really have any more info than I do. I have to wonder if any external beta testers got very far in this game.

Link #1

Link #2

Friday, October 05, 2007

Primary Layers of an Online Virtual World

Raph, as usual, has been talking a lot about virtual worlds and what defines a virtual world. So that got me to thinking. I decided to attempt to break down and define what I consider to be the Primary Layers of Online Virtual Worlds. Every Online Virtual World will have at least one foot in each of the Primary Layers listed below.

The Three Primary Layers of an Online Virtual World are: Social, Environment, and Economy.

It can be argued that the Social layer is the most important. After all, that's why its online. But in addition to player-player interactions, this layer also includes such functionality as the chat system, available emotes, guild/player organization management and NPC-NPC interactions! What sort of tools do players have for in-game interactions? How does the game facilitate or hinder this? How does this affect out-of-game interactions? Is your website a social gathering spot for participants?

Environment covers the basic things you would think of. What is the world made of? What does it look like? Does the environment have a direct impact on the player? Can the player impact the environment? What are the visual elements of the environment? Also fitting into this category is the interface. How does the interface affect the players interactions with the Virtual World? Without a defining environment, you don't have much of a world. Environment is not just graphics. It includes ambiance, sound, NPC personalities, text descriptions, interactivity and more!

The Economic layer includes both in-world economics and out-of-world economics. Everything from RMT, to subscription model to in-game loot and trading options. How and what can players exchange in-world? Do these exchanges extend to real world money transactions? How are objects with economic value generated? Are they permanent? Are there ways for the world to keep inflation in check? How are players paying for access to the world? How does this business model effect the types of users you get? How do the types of users affect any in-game economy?

All three of the layers cover both in-game and out-of-game areas, and overlap with each other as well. I'll expand more on this in a future post as well as try to better flesh out the concept.

Note: Looking back on this post, I notice that I use the term 'game' quite a bit. This layer division is meant to cover non-game Virtual Worlds as well, but since a majority of my experience has been with the gaming aspect, it just ends up being an unconscious extension of my though patterns.