Archive for the Design Thoughts Category

The Importance of Failure

Posted in Design Thoughts, Observations on November 26, 2008 by dahras

failure1I think a concept that a lot of developers don’t seem to understand is that failure is important.

I have been playing WotLK for a few weeks, and its fun. My main is almost 75, and after powerleveling mining my alt is progressing through Borean Tundra at level 70. Its been fun, the lore of the quests is excellent, and the areas are diverse and interesting. In fact, much of Northrend has great theme, just like WAR does.

The instance set and monster design is especially good, with the Nexus and Azjol’Nerub being the best (yeah, when I went down the hole, I pressed levitate too X_X … thats one long fall). Unfortunately, the general design of the instances isn’t as good. The bosses are well designed stratagy wise from what I can tell, but the challenge just isn’t set right. My guild, with moderate coordination and Kara level gear can blow through every enemy, every boss without even looking at stratagies, without even trying.

And from what I can tell, the endgame is similar. A member of my guild who bolted to 80 was picked up for 25 man Naxxramus by one of the hardcore guild on our server, and they did a full clear on what was apperently their second try with only 4 wipes. Yeah, thats pretty easy. Blizzard had said that they wanted to tone raiding down for this expansion because the raids in Burning Crusade had required a level of gear, stratagy, and potion chugging so great that only the absolute pinnicle of hardcore raiders could complete the highest tier of content. In general, I agree with their analysis, and the general direction they were going, but I think they over shot… by a lot.

You see, although Burning Crusade raiding had been gruelling, even at the first steps (kara… ugh), there was a satisfaction that completing it got you. I remember the night my guild finally got Moroes down. We were yelling on vent and guild chat and general chat, and we we went on to get both Maiden of Virtue and Opera down that night because we were so pumped up. I’m afraid that Blizzard has made Wrath so easy, that there won’t be as many moments of pure joy, like the one of getting Moroes down.

You see, in the end, the true satisfaction of raiding, and for that matter anything in MMO’s, isn’t getting the phat epixx. If it was about that, the best way for MMO developers to make people happy would be to but a huge chest in the middle of the world, easily accessable by anyone, containing a full set of the best gear in the game. You see, the reason that getting epixx is satisfying is that you sacrificed to get them and now you are one of the chosen few who can say that you completed this task. You put in the hours, you had to work as a team, you read all the stratagies, you failed, but you eventually triuphed, and now there are only a small percentage of all people who have played your game who can stand above or equal to you. Without sacrificing, without stratagy and teamwork, and yes, without failure,  epixxs are just groups of 1’s and 0’s.

That’s what worries me about Wrath. My guild can finally progress to the pinnicle of the WoW raiding scene. Hell, we can probly down Arthas eventually! Blizzard has finally come to the full realization of what they started realizing when they released BC, requiring large numbers of people to raid excludes many people from raiding. But with the good comes the bad. Though I may be able to kill Arthas, that may not be a great accomplishment because its been made too easy. The pendulum has swong too far in one direction! And what if Blizzard, aware of their mistake, turns the pendulum aroung again and over shoots once more!

Worries…

Well, I guess I’ll keep playing until I stop having fun, that the best I can do. Worrying about undetermined future only stops you from enjoying the present.

The Solo Dungeon

Posted in Adventure Log, Design Thoughts, Observations on October 23, 2008 by dahras

I recently did the quest Bitter Blood (yes T2, i know, I’m REALLY behind), where you scale a vampire tower, in the throes of a battle, so you can destroy the vampire’s phylactery. I love the way the quest develops the story and builds to the climax of climbing the tower, which amounts to a single player dungeon. The only part of the quest that I didn’t like was the single player dungeon. This dislike made me really analyze what makes dungeons fun.

When people are asked what makes dungeons fun, they often respond that interesting boss fights, unique settings, and carefully tuned challenge make dungeons enjoyable, and they do. Unfortunately, though, these answers completely miss the underlying question: what makes dungeons fun, that is not specific to any one dungeon.

It is my opinion that it is the experience of being in a team, and completing a task as a coordinated team that makes dungeons fun. Think about it, when people quit raiding, whats their usual complaint? Its that the drama was too much for them. The people were too vicious to allow a fun time. This is why I think that solo or 2 man dungeons would not be fun at all, the team aspect just isn’t there.

When I was climbing the vampire tower, I realized this. Even though I was getting a normal dungeon experience (tricky trash mobs, slightly more tough mini-bosses, and a multi-stage end boss), the fact that it was all me stopped me from having as much fun as i could have. The quest was well designed, and written, but the solo aspect let me down.

Music in Games

Posted in Design Thoughts, Observations on October 21, 2008 by dahras

Its kind of funny, but I always turn off the music off in MMO’s. In fact, Its usually the first thing I do when I enter the game. Its not funny because most people keep their music on (because they don’t), but because I turn my music off. You see I’m a huge music listener, I listen to most genres, and even play an instrument (bass). I also understand that some of the background music of MMO’s is pretty good. Why don’t I listen to it? Well, I think its because I get distracted. Some of the reason I love music is because when I listen to it, I get absorbed by it, so having music (especially good music) in the background stops me from concentrating in MMO’s. Its actually kind of sad because I am probably missing out on some decent music, and some of the information communicated about locations by the it. Oh well, it could be worse! Oh yeah, and because I just talked about music, I have to put album covers from some of my favorite albums.

Landmines and the Power of Image

Posted in Adventure Log, Design Thoughts on October 19, 2008 by dahras

I just got my landmine and I love it. I know a lot of people have said this but landmine is awesome. I just love how cool the ability looks, how intuitive the effect is, and the fear that it inspires in the enemy. The interesting thing that I have noticed noticed about the landmine, though, is that it is much more feared and thus effective than demonic infestation it is. I bet you are wondering what demonic infestation is now, so I’ll tell you. Its the Magus landmine. Yep, I know its a shock, it shocked me too, I didn’t know what those stupid nurglings were for 15 levels, and I’m an engineer!

You see, this is why art matters. Landmine works because people see the bomb and think, “Oh no! Its a bomb! When I get near it will stun me!”. They proceed to try to work around the mine while getting shot by the engineer. You see, fear is half the effect of landmine; people just don’t walk into landmines. On the other hand, most people run into demonic infestation with no idea of its effect.

I’m not sure people would respect the infestation as much as they respect landmine, even if they knew its effect. There just isn’t the same visceral reaction to a cute, chubby nurgling as there is too a bomb. If they made the demonic infestation as intimidating as the landmine is, I bet it would be much more effective than it is. Maybe it could be a mini monolith! I know that would scare me, especially if it had glowing demonic faces on its sides.

Theme and WAR

Posted in Design Thoughts, Uncategorized on October 16, 2008 by dahras

The first real blog post I am going to write is about an oft overlooked part of MMO’s: theme, some times referred to “feel”. For example, WAR aims to get you the “feel” like you are in a WAR, or to “feel” angry at Destruction for burning your town. Note, this is less immersion, but more the emotion that is conveyed by the game. Now I don’t want to get too artsy, but this element is something that just makes games for me, because it gets me into the game more than realism of mechanics or interactions.

There are three main elements that give theme to MMO’s. The first element is set design. This is how the area looks, and thus how it feels. The second is monster design, which is how the monsters look and act. The final element is the writing, which is probably the most important of all.

These three elements come across in all of the T1 areas very strongly. They all convey different types of war: siege warfare in the mountains, sea invasions, and a huge horde attacking from the land. This direct theme really didn’t hit home for me though, because I was already expecting that theme. Where the theme of WAR really hit me was the Marshes of Madness for dwarfs and Ostland/Troll Country for Chaos. Both have very striking themes. The Marshes of Madness, which have thick, sight-blocking scenery and heavy concentrations of mobs, screamed guerrilla warfare from the first chapter, and the writing kept the theme going.

The story of the dwarfs, who hate the jungle, having to fight against an opponent who seems to be unstoppable by nature of their knowledge of the area and their vast numbers brought mental images of Vietnam to my mind. At first, I was frustrated by the Marshes, but eventually I realized the zones genius; I felt just like the dwarfs! I was tired of the Marshes and the endless ambushes by the mobs spawning around every corner, just like the dwarfs must have been.

This element of theme has really let me enjoy the game much more, and really appreciate some of the zones that I have loathed before. I’m not sure a lot of people will get the emotion that WAR conveys, because so many people don’t read their quest log, but I love that they put this much effort in for us that do!