WoW vs. SWTOR: The Early Dungeons

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Mechanics Monday – The History of [WoW] Ret Paladins

Welcome to the first [of hopefully many] Mechanics Mondays!

I’ve been thinking about what could make my blog entries more interesting lately, and I figured giving a ‘game-design’ focused analysis of existing games could be something cool that people might find interesting.

This week, I’m going to be analyzing the Retribution Paladin from Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise. Here goes!

Overview

Retribution is the ‘dps’ (for non-WoWers, think ‘damage-dealers’) tree of the Paladin class. The Paladin class is typically defined by heavy armor and an ability to heal. In World of Warcraft, Paladins are also highly associated with their moves: “Bubble” and “Wings.”

The aesthetics of the Retribution specialization (spec) are further defined by a wielder of a large 2-handed weapon (often a mace), harnessing his weapon and holy magic to personally endow justice to his foes.


1:03 and especially 1:53 are ideal portrayals of the retribution aesthetic

Warcraft 2 (1995)

Okay, so technically, this game only had “Paladins” – “Retribution Paladins” didn’t exist until the mmorpg World of Warcraft came into existence in 2004.Paladins in this game are BARELY recognizable from Paladins of World of Warcraft, but the blueprint (heavy armor, ability to heal) is still there.

Of the Paladin specs available in WoW, the paladin unit of this game most closely resembles (and it’s not very close) is Ret. The unit’s primary function is to do damage.

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How We Play Games… (Part III) [Community]

Playing together = moar fun

Have you ever went to a movie theater by yourself? Gone to a theme park by yourself? Eaten at a fancy restaurant all alone? I actually have been to a movie theater to see a movie by myself once. In some ways, it made me feel very independent, but mostly it made me feel like a creeper.

My point is basically that entertainment is better when done together. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for wanting to sit down with a video game and just spending some quality time with you and your game – I’ve certainly had that desire before.

But when I really enjoy a game, I want to share it with people.

In the past this often took the form of talking with friends from work about that particular game. Judging by the willingness of them to participate in these conversations, I imagine that I’m not the only one who enjoys this. Talking about your character in Oblivion, or your created played in NBA 2k, or playing through Ocarina of Time (I should mention here that every time the subject is broached, I will assert that Majora’s Mask was the better of the two games).

MM > OoT

‘Nuff said.

I often take it a step further: if the game had a multi-player or co-op feature, I would find someone to play it with. I still remember searching out my college and finding people to play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates with (I also tend to assert – against ALL reason – that the original FFCC is one of the best games for the GameCube). I can often feeling the eyes rolling when I decide to jump into another MMO and make the rounds on facebook and my e-mail telling old mmo friends and real life friends alike that I’m now playing ______ on ______ side and _______ server, and it’d be awesome if you’d join me!!

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

Under-rated.

For me, this stems from a strong positive association of game nights with my family. Family games of UNO and Phase10, as well as taking turns while we played games like Sonic the Hedgehog together as a family are some of my favorite memories from my childhood (speaking of which, I’ve been investigate card/board games recently, considering my interest in game-building – DiceTower is a great resource for anyone interested!).

I think this element of community is a huge part of playing games, and I love it when a GOOD co-op or multi-player feature is implemented into games. Following the MMO train, I really think that a strong sense of community is going to be a huge part of gaming going forward, and I really want to explore the bounds of making single-player genres into an appropriately shared experience.

Cheers!
~Pant

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How We Play Games… (Part II) [Time]

Time!!

I can’t be the only one who wishes they had more time in the day.

Between classes, working on programming assignments, spending time with my girlfriend and kids, and those other pesky parts of real life, I rarely am able to sit down and play a game until I am satisfied with it. And I doubt – highly – that I’m the only one with this problem.

Think about that though. Isn’t the reason that we play games to receive some kind of enjoyment, engagement, or satisfaction? If I am unable to be satisfied by my gaming habits (I spend on average about 10 hours a weeks playing video games), it would seem there are 3 options for what’s going on:

  1. I just don’t like games, and yet I continue to play them anyways.
  2. I’m addicted to video games, and no amount of play time would satisfy me.
    -or-
  3. Video games are not designed with people with a ‘busy’ lifestyle in mind.

Best use of genetic mutation EVER.

While there are times where I’ve considered options one and two for myself, I can’t help but think that option 3 is the real culprit here. Every time I think about having some sort of dedicated ‘gaming’ time, that means sitting in front of the computer or the Xbox for an hour+ (something as low as 30 minutes is almost not worth it to me).

The last time I was really able to be fully and honestly satisfied with a game was, slightly regrettably, Scramble with Friends on my android phone. Why? Because the game fits into my lifestyle. Anytime in my day if I have a minute or two, I can sit down with my phone, pull the game up in two seconds, jump into a round, and be instantly engaged. Granted, Scramble with Friends isn’t exactly my genre of choice, but it gives me something to be competitive at, and there have been several times where I actually got excited after winning – or even losing – a really close game.

I would challenge this word… if this was scrabble.

Another game that I think really embraced this well was the Pokemon series. Every game I’ve played from the main series (I never really did any of the spin-offs like Pokemon Ranger, or Mystery Dungeon… Conquest looked very interesting to me though) has a very simple formula to it: you get into the game quickly, you get out of the game quickly.

When the first games came out (Pokemon Red & Blue) it really embraced the ‘mobile’ gaming in a way nothing else at the time did. I think part of that is just that the turn-based RPG genre lends itself so well to the idea of a mobile gaming lifestyle: it’s never a big deal if you have to avert your attention elsewhere momentarily – or even for an extended period of time. As soon as you’re ready to get back into the game, you can re-access the situation you left yourself in and pick up the game without missing much. Other mobile RPGs like the Golden Sun and Fire Emblem were great for this as well.

Back when games were games…

Pokemon did something REALLY cool for it’s time though. They came out with Pokemon Stadium. Now, while I think they really botched some things with their implementation of this, at it’s core the concept that you could take your mobile game and use the data from that to then sit down in front of your TV and play out an enhanced version of your game there was just brilliant.

This looks like a fair fight.

Now Pokemon wasn’t perfect at this. Playing with your friends was ambitious, but very frustrating and disappointingly time-consuming. Not to mention both pointless (battling each other), and necessary (trading for pokedex entries and trade-exclusive evolutions) at the same time. In fact, Stadium on the whole missed the mark with it’s implementation. It ended up being more of a limited simulator with 3D graphics. And more often than not, the pokemon you had from your game were useless in the game. No one had level 100 pokemon without cheating – the highest level Pokemon in the game was only level 70 (Mewtwo), and you could essentially beat the entire game without much difficulty with a bunch of level 40s. Beyond that, no one knew (or cared) about IVs or EVs, and the movesets available to Pokemon from your cartridge were extremely limited without cheating. Add all this to the fact that a much younger me was thinking the game was going to be a 3D action fighting game a la Power Stone, but with Pokemon, and the game ended up not fully delivering on its expectations.

I miss this one.

Looking back, Stadium would have been much better as an ‘expansion’ to the original games. And I think that’s where the future of gaming lives. And the type of games I would like to create.

Imagine a game that you could take with you on your phone for playing in the cracks of your day, and then sitting down at your computer to catch up on the storyline you might have missed while playing on your phone. Maybe you notice a friend of yours online and join up for a co-op mission with her, or maybe you join up for a random queue to find some new friends (if that’s your thing), or maybe you’re feeling competitive and want to improve your PVP ranking a bit. Then you get a call from your buddy who wants to chill and game out a bit, so you jump to the couch and the two of you use your phones to control your characters while watching the game play out on the TV.


Something like this.

Essentially, designing a high-quality game that does engage you and satisfy you without a NEED to only play it in 2 hour chunks, but a game that you can play for 2 hours at a time when you want to. The balance of this is tricky obviously, as you really need to allow for those 2-hour ‘gamefests’ without making people feel like they’re ever necessary.

I remember back in the day, this is how WoW (and I imagine other MMOs as well)advertised themselves. Something along the lines of “hop in for 10 minutes and take out a quest by yourself quickly or gather up a group of friends and embark on an epic quest to conquer one of our many dungeons!” They’ve really stepped away from that idea recently though (in my opinion). When they redid the world in Cataclysm, especially the opening areas, all the quests are streamlined. You get all your quests in a centralized location and it’s set up in such a way that you only have to visit an area once and then you’ll probably never have to revisit that area again. This is great for people who are sitting down for a gamefest, but bad for the person wanting to log in for just 10 minutes to knock out a quest – there’s never an ‘end,’ and especially not in just 10 minutes.

Quests – COMPLETED.

I realized this when playing with SWTOR with our oldest, when she was getting frustrated by the amount of unfinished missions in our mission log. She wanted to not pick up anymore quests until we had finished the ones we had already accepted. I started telling her that’s not how the game works – that you just accept every quest you see and you complete them based on whatever quest is closest to you. But that’s when I realized – to a non-MMO player, what she said sounds completely reasonable. We could finish the quests in our log and then be done! Then next time we played, we could find new ones and work on finishing those until we were done.

To her credit, I think that’s a much better way of approaching the game. And when I get to a point where I can create my own games as well, I want to design around that ideal.

The ability to play with friends is another big element of all this for me obviously, but in many ways, that’s it’s own beast. And that’s what I’d like to talk about tomorrow.

Cheers!

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How We Play Games… (Part 1) [Performance]

Music.

My dad is a bit of a music enthusiast. I’ve often heard him tell an anecdote of how unfortunate the human experience of a high-quality sound system is. The line goes a bit like this: Essentially, a person could listen to a beat up old alarm clock radio for their entire lives, and never know that the system is ‘bad.’ On the contrary, they would more than likely assume that it is ‘good.’ However, if that same person were to be exposed to higher-quality system for any extended length of time, they would not necessary be ‘impressed’ by that high-quality system while hearing it. On the contrary the affect is that the person can no longer listen to their alarm clock radio without the impression that it is ‘bad’ or in some way ‘inferior’ to what they are used to.

Better music.

I tend to agree with my dad on that front. Granted, I’m not much of a music-fanatic – but I have a tendency to be off-put by laptop speakers and poor car systems, after being brought up in a house that had a higher (though I imagine not ‘highest’) quality sound system in it.

My dad’s anecdote came to mind recently because I was able to finally get my gaming rig set up this weekend. Recently, the gaming that I’ve been doing has been done on the laptop I got for school. It’s a good machine [my laptop] but it can’t compare to the desktop I built myself for the purpose of playing competitive-level WoW.

Fortunately, my experience of my gaming rigs is actually quite the opposite from my father’s music experience.

I hardly noticed the inferiority of my laptop while gaming. There were times where I got slightly frustrated with the frame rate (in particular the time I foolishly opted to play SWOTR while my computer was running a virus scan), and I also became slightly frustrated with my laptop’s unfathomable design that on occasion will register the bottom of my palms resting below the keyboard as a 3rd mouse-click.

Aside from those minor set-backs though, I was pleased. Then I hooked up my gaming rig.

The difference was not only immediately noticeable, but also made my gaming experience that much more enjoyable. Playing some of the games I had tried on my laptop, where parts of the game seemed a bit choppy on my laptop, they instantly seemed that much smoother.

It looks prettier too

I can’t help but feel that this way that we experience games has given rise (at least in part) to mobile gaming. Our phones are getting better all the time – BUT – a phone cannot compete with a desktop in the area of performance. But here’s the thing – we don’t really mind. If you can get a game to chug along well enough that the experience of the user doesn’t noticeably suffer, the ‘fun’ or ‘engagement’ of the user is the only thing on their mind. The result is that we can play a game on our phones or our DS’s – or even our old consoles and still enjoy them without thinking immediately “I can’t believe how bad this is.”

That’s not to say that old games don’t always feel ‘old.’ They often do, but I would suggest this is due more to dated User Interfaces than to decreased performance. As an example, take Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis (one of my personal favorites). There is minimal ‘user interface’ that exists in this game. You never (that I can recall) have to choose options from a menu, and the only commands you can give Sonic are: “run this way”, “run that way”, “jump”, “duck”, “look up”, and “spin”. I can still play this game and be entirely engaged. The game runs smoothly and I never feel like I’m “wrestling the UI” to play the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Awesomeness.

On the other hand, take the original Fallout. I bought this game about a year ago on a sale from Steam. I couldn’t wait to play this game. I WANTED very badly to like it. Unfortunately, the game (originally released in 1997) had aged very poorly. After the first hour, I felt myself wrestling so hard with the dated user interface that not only was I not having fun, I just didn’t want to play the game after it’s first hour.

Fallout

This UI just doesn’t work for me…

That’s my take on general performance in games: better performance is a plus, but poor performance (provided it isn’t so poor that it affects the gameplay) doesn’t hurt. The real thing that matters to the gamer is the content of your game as well as how they experience (the user interface) that gameplay.

Continuing on the theme of human experience of games, tomorrow I want to investigate the time spent on games, as well as the gaming habits we as humans develop.

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SWTOR 2.0: The Rise of Disappointing Monetization

SWTOR Patch 2.0

SWTOR Patch 2.0

One thing I neglected to mention in my last post (mainly because until about 5 o’clock the night of my post, I was completely unaware of it) is that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s patch 2.0 hit yesterday at midnight.

I expect that’s big news for the community, but unfortunately today’s post is going to focus on some of the disappointing monetization choices that the game makes.

Yesterday’s post included a link to a related article: GDC 2013: James Ohlen on how F2P saved SWTOR. The article’s title is a bit misleading, as the article really addresses how SWTOR took a disappointing launch and salvaged itself to become the western world’s “second biggest subscription MMO”. It does talk about the decision to head to a free-to-play (F2P) model; but only at the end of the article.

Now, I’m getting ready to rip SWTOR a proverbial “new one,” which has taken me some warming up to for a couple reasons. The first is that, for all I’m going to say about this game, I do genuinely enjoy playing it. Heck, there is a good – a VERY good – chance that I’ll end up dumping some money on this game. The second is that I’m generally an optimist (especially when coming to games). I don’t play games in my leisure time that I don’t like, and for the games that I don’t enjoy, it’s rare that I’d go out of my way to blast it.

All that said, I’m supremely disappointed by SWTOR’s “Free-to-Play” model. If you’re like me SWTOR dropped off your radar a couple months after it launched, and then re-emerged in your interest when it announced it was going free-to-play, and you cared about that for a little while, and then gave up on it again. I didn’t know exactly what “free-to-play” meant.

So the way SWTOR made their game free-to-play is by implementing a new currency called “Cartel Coins.” Except for a few minor non-repeatable exceptions, the only way of generating this currency in game is to pay real life money. Subscribers get a monthly ‘allowance’ of the coins based on their subscription preferences, and subscribers and non-subscribers alike can go to SWTOR’s online store and straight up buy Cartel Coins for money. Players cannot trade or sell their Cartel Coins with each other directly in-game, however, they can sell, trade and gift items purchased by these coins in-game.

Now for what you can use these coins for (and this is what really gets me).

SWTOR's Cartel Market ad

SWTOR’s Cartel Market ad

As you can see they don’t mince words.

Cartel Coins give the player a distinct advantage. This goes far and beyond the Blizzard store selling cosmetics rewards such as vanity pets and mounts (though these are Cartel Coin purchases as well). The Cartel Coins gives players direct access to both sped up leveling and gear.

They even require Cartel Coins for access to more than 1 ‘quickbar’ (or bar to put abilities on) at a time…

This old Penny Arcade comic seems fitting right about now.

This old Penny Arcade comic seems fitting right about now.

What’s worse is that every step of the line, the game reminds you of how as a ‘free-to-player’, you’re missing out on experience from quests, mounts, and more. Every quest that you complete past level 10, the game reminds you that experience is being withheld (you still do get some experience from quests though), and nudges you to buy a subscription (removing the XP hamper) or pay some money to take off your experience parking boot.

How I Feel Every Time I Turn in a Quest in SWTOR

How I Feel Every Time I Turn in a Quest in SWTOR

Here’s a quote from James Ohlen at GDC 2013 (from the article I mentioned earlier):

“We had to come up with a system that made subscribers the core of the business,” Ohlen explained. “But we also had to have an option that brought in new players.”

Now, it’s not hard to see what they’re doing here. SWTOR is catering to their subscribers. Part of making sure their subscribers are happy is getting more people into the world. More people make for a better experience. Faster LFG queues, removing the ‘ghost town’ feeling, better server economies, etc. Basically, an MMO needs to be MM. Then, they do whatever they can to push their new F2P’ers into subscriber status. It’s not a bad business model – in fact I imagine it’s a fairly basic good business model.

But it’s not going to win SWTOR the gaming good-will it needs.

Which is a shame. My friends who have been playing this game in end-game content like the game – enough to subscribe. As someone new to the game though, with my highest character in the low teens, I can’t say that I’m sold. Like I said, I can see myself dropping some money on this game. It’s fun, and me and my kids really liked playing it together (they were sitting in my lap, glued to the screen the last couple times I played).

But, if I ever do give in and pay, it will be accompanied by a dirty shameful feeling of regret that I paid money for a virtual reward. I would much prefer to be enjoying the game so much that I decided – hey, I really like this game. I’ll help these guys out by paying for a cool lightsaber design or mount. (For a cool read on F2P done RIGHT, check out this PAR article).

That’s my unfortunate take on it all.

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Rediscovering an MMO: SWTOR

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) again.

I didn’t get terribly far the first time that I played through the game. I was taking a break from World of Warcraft during the Firelands expansion in Cataclysm, since most of the people I had played with in had left WoW a month or two after the Cataclysm launch. Unfortunately for SWTOR, while I generally enjoyed the game, my short tenure with them mainly served the purpose of making me want to play WoW again. At the time, the game seemed to me to be an un-mod-able, older version of WoW, with fewer classes.

There is not much denying that I am a severe case of a WoW fan-boy.

Between the game being free-to-play now and having a good gaming buddy of mine vouch for it, I opted to give it a go once more. Besides, I had been jonesing for some mmo-style gaming for awhile now – looking for a reason to dust off the good ol’ G13 and Naga.

g13 and naga

It’s dangerous to go alone!
Take these.

I’ll admit – I am a bit excited for this game, particularly after reading these rules of engagement from the good people over at Force Junkies. Coming from a WoW environment where the trinity is so strictly enforced that most small group fights evaluate to:

  • tank: don’t let anyone else take threat
  • healer: don’t let anyone die
  • damagers: run up the numbers as high as you can!

It is kind of refreshing to see a game encouraging some substance to pulls. That said, I’m definitely going to miss my Recount.

This all brings up an interesting internal discussion for me, what is it that I really prefer: basic fight mechanics; allowing for a focus on improving my numbers while competing with the numbers of others (a la WoW) – or – more complex fight mechanics and group tactics while having no available way of accessing my total damage done or damage per second (SWTOR).

I expect for most people, the second option sounds more appealing. And there is appeal for me there as well. After being a bit burnt-out on the DPS-obsession that is progression-raiding in WoW, an environment where you’re forced to be casual in that area is welcome.

Playing with friends is another huge draw of this game for me – and with the game being F2P, I’ve been actively recruiting friends to jump in with me, without feeling bad about pressuring my friends into a monthly commitment in order to play with me. I’ve already made arrangements with one group of friends to have 3 people in the same room playing together, something I haven’t done in a long while.

The good ol' days

The good ol’ days

These are all things I’m trying to keep in mind when considering the types of games I want to design. Alot of my desire to create is actually built around my passion to create a game that takes all the great things I enjoy about MMOs and uses them to enhance various other genres. My first project I’ve been working on is an SRPG turn-based game.

I’ll continue to post on my playing experience, my SRPG, and how the two are informing each other as the week continues. Until then – happy questing!

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