Thursday, March 29, 2007

Minor MMO Idea #2: Using Mounts in Combat

So I was thinking about mounted combat and a came up with a simple idea. Just add a few special mount abilities that the player would have access to while mounted.

Basically, the mount would function like a pseudo-pet. They wouldnt act autonomously, but instead, while the player was mounted, they would get access to special abilities/attacks. These could even be flavored based on the type of mount. For example, a wolf might get a powerful bite ability to attack melee opponents with and a leap ability that allows for an extra-long jump. A horse might get a rear-oriented kick and a charge ability.

Of course, it would have to be balanced in some way so that it wasn't always advantageous to fight while mounted, but it would be an interesting and simple way to allow mounted combat.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Minor MMO Idea #1: More Intricate Dyeing Options

And by dyeing I'm referring to the skill of adding color to an object. Some games have this option, but many games don't. The most common reason I've seen is that they don't want players to mess with their carefully crafted artwork. But this is obviosuly something that the players desire. Just look at the number of complaints on the WoW forums about the color choices for some of the raid armor!

Here's how to do it right, and better.

First off, as you're designing the textures, they need to be layered in a consistent manner. That way, when you implement the 'dye armor' feature, you can specify which layer gets dyed, and thus have more control over how the players affect your artwork. Secondly, allow multiple layers to be dyed independently. This would allow the players to do things such as give the armor a 'wash' (altering the color of the grooves), 'overbrush' (color the peaks) or 'stain' (alter the basic color of the armor). You could even go so far as to allow color layering (IE, the current color affects the results of your dye job) to give the players even more subtle nuances about how their armor looks.

Not only would this provide simple customization options with little overhead to the company, but I could also see an in-game economy springing up around the Dying profession as some players would have much more interest and skill in creating nice looking outfits.

One disclaimer. Don't give players access to a pure black dye option. It just looks like crap.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ach! Zombies!

The tension was unbearable. It hung over the fire station like a thick London fog, blurring the senses until distinguishing reality from nightmare was near impossible. Of course, reality had become a nightmare, so there was little distinction to be had. Aazh paced nervously back and forth. His crewmates sat playing cards, sweating lightly in the stale, putrid air, pretending that nothing was out of the ordinary. But Aazh couldn't wait any longer for help that may or may not arrive. Claustrophobia was setting in.

His crewmates didn't understand. They held to hope like a drowning man clings to a scrap of driftwood. But there was no power, little food, and no radio contact. The living dead wandered the streets, tearing ravenously on any unfortunates who passed their way, and making occasional half-hearted attempts to break down the barricades. Aazh felt like he was going to explode. The time had come. Grabbing his trusty axe and a pair of wire-cutters, Aazh slipped out through a side door, carefully pushing it fully closed as he left. No reason to bring misery to those poor fools inside. They would find their own form of misery soon enough.

The streets were eerily deserted. A few dead bodies were scattered about, but no sign of life; or un-life for that matter. Sticking to the eaves and shadows, Aazh made his way down the street. Most of the buildings seemed to be heavily fortified, and if there were any survivors inside, they were likely crazy enough to attack him if he tried to make an opening in the barricades. Outside of the nearby rail station he saw one of them. The slack-jawed look. The red eyes. The awkward gait. And the cavernous mouth that seemed big enough to swallow him whole. Letting out a subdued growl, Aazh hefted his axe and swung viciously at this once-human monstrosity. But the overload of adrenaline pumping through his body and his frayed nerves got the better of him. His swings were wild, and off the mark. Trembling with fury, fatigue and suppressed fear, Aazh fled. The creature pursued, but it had trouble navigating the debris-clogged streets, and Aazh soon found himself alone again.

He continued his wanderings, skirting wide around any undead he saw, and finally stumbling into a junkyard. The rows of rusty automobiles were surprisingly comforting, but could easily hold danger as well. Aazh quickly looked through the small shack at the front of the lot, and found a Louisville slugger that had seen better days, but could still be used to good effect. Clutching it to his chest, he headed west. If he could just get to the edge of town...

The tension was simply unbearable.


So the above story was written to sum up my first day of playing Urban Dead, a neat little web-based zombie MMO. That's right, zombies! Basically, take Dawn of the Living Dead (or whichever movie it was where they were stuck in the mall) and make it into an MMO!

It's all text-based, and pretty simple to play, but since there are no NPCs (players take the role of both humans and zombies, and their characters can potentially change sides several times as they get infected and cured), the interactions with the other players are what really makes the game. The game is turn-based, with each character getting a certain number of action points that they can use per day. The survivors try to scrounge up weapons, medkits and other goods while barricading themselves against the zombie hordes, while the zombies... well... act like zombies; tearing down the barricades, eating brains and generally causing havoc!

A very interesting though simple concept. It's not an overly in-depth game (I don't see myself still playing it two years from now), but its setting and setup allow for the players' imaginations to take hold and run from there (and it really does feel like you're in a zombie movie at times). There have been sieges at malls involving hundreds of players on both sides, groups formed to achieve certain goals, radios tuned to broadcast important information about zombie activity and all sorts of other interesting interactions that seem to only arise from these sort of open-ended, sandbox-type games.

So I recommend checking it out. It's free and an amusing diversion that won't ever take up hours of your day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Learn to Improvise (We Don't Need No Stinkin' Mages)

So this rant stems from the outcry that has come up over Blizzard's new Armory feature (which I think it just plain awesome by the way). Lots of people across the WoW community are bitching about 'lack of privacy', but once you look at the reasoning presented by these complainers, the main issue seems to be a sense of worry about how their character might be perceived by their guildmates. Especially concerning talent builds. What an extremely silly thing to get upset about. If your guild is so anal and unimaginative that they demand that you spend your talent points in a certain way, then you need to find a new guild (unless that sort of thing doesn't bother you).

Are these guildmates really so set in their rut that they cant figure out how to use an arms warrior or shadow priest effectively?! This brings back memories of the early days of Shadowclan in WoW. For those unfamiliar with Shadowclan, we are an orc-only guild (recently, we began to allow trolls with restrictive guidelines). In the early days of the game, as the guild began to hit the upper dungeons, there was much debate about allowing other races into our orc-only guild, with some claiming that we could never do many of the dungeons with an orc-only group. If I recall correctly, this first came up in regards to the Lycaeum in Blackrock Depths (the place with the massive dwarf armies that respawn every 30 seconds).

"You must have a mage," they cried, "Otherwise its impossible!"

Nope. We did it. Many times. Sometimes with warlock help, sometimes sneaky rogue attacks, and other times with just quick-moving, coordinated firepower! Then it was said that LBRS would be too hard. Done. Then UBRS. Done... one time with only 8 orcs. Five orc Dire Maul tribute run? Done. Stratholme? Done. Scholomance. Done? Epic Dreadsteed quest? Done. Epic Shaman hat quest? Done. We never had the numbers to try Molten Core, and the smaller raids weren't released until a large portion of our guild had already left WoW for other pursuits. I'm sure there are plenty of naysayers that will claim the raids would have been impossible with an orc-only group, but, we'll never really know for sure at this point.

This is one problem with class-based games. Players get stuck in this single-path mentality and refuse to escape it (or can't due to overly restrictive game mechanics that make their class choice a cookie cutter mold). This has also limited the skill-based games, because players aren't able to think outside the box and dont know what to do with themselves when presented with an open skill tree. The entry barrier that Eve suffers is a great example. It's obvious that many MMO players need some sort of guidance, especially those who are new to the genre, but locking players into a cookie-cutter mold (even if there are two dozen varieties of cookie shapes), just doesnt cut it for me in the MMO theater.

This rant may seem a little hypocritical, as Shadowclan requires that all players in the guild play an orc, but, in comparison to many WoW guilds, thats a very small requirement. We have no class requirements, no talent specifications that must be adhered to, no equipment expectations, etc, etc. So we're sort of the anti-anal-rentitive-raiding guild. We'll take four warriors and an enhancement-spec shaman into a dungeon and find a way to emerge victorious.

So what am I bitching about? I'm not complaining about the class system itself (thats a rant for another day). WoW actually does a decent job of using the talent trees to allow players to customize their characters so that they are all a little bit different. I'm bitching about the types of players who can't think for themselves or use some creativity to come up with a solution that doesnt require a friend to remold their character. Learning to work together and to play off each others strengths as well as shore up weaknesses is relatively easy to do and much more fun for everyone involved.