Armchair Game Designer

nbilarge

This is my contribution to the Newbie Blogger Initiative Talkback Challenge. I was randomly chosen to talk about which parts I would take from current games to make my dream game.

So without further ado, let’s get cracking! Being an avid MMO player, of course my mash-up will be one of those as well.

Character Class / Skill Design from  Final Fantasy XIV

One of the more crucial decisions to be made. I want something flexible, yet not too complex. There’s very little I dislike more when it comes to games, than to be bombarded with hundreds of skills, having to figure out which combination to use in my build. That immediately makes me search forums or guides for advice. At the same time, being constrained to one single purpose is a put-off to me as well.

Final Fantasy XIV does this well. I can switch between Knight in shining armour, to spell-slinging mage with the press of a button. The different classes are fairly rigid, yet allow for some customization with the use of cross-class skills.

Honourable mention: Rift. The Soul System is very flexible and allows a single character to fill several different roles in a group, depending on setup.

Gathering & Crafting from Everquest 2

Similar to my preferences when it comes to character classes, I want something more complex than “get resources, click button, receive item”. This one’s kind of a toss-up between Everquest 2 and Final Fantasy 14. While the crafting in EQ2 is more active, FF14 feels more strategic. In the end Everquest 2 wins by a small margin to me.

Social Activities from Lord Of The Rings Online

Sadly today’s crop of MMOs offer very little in terms of social (non-combat) activities. Gone are the days where we had a game with a whole profession dedicated to socializing (Entertainers from Star Wars Galaxies). One of the few games that still have something like that is Lord of the Rings Online with its music system.

Honourable mention goes to any game that includes non-combat activities in the form of (seasonal) festivals which don’t require me to just kill stuff.

Player Generated Content from Star Trek Online (and Neverwinter)

As I mentioned before, I am a big proponent of Player Generated Content. And no developer does this better than Cryptic in Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, at least as far as I am concerned. The wealth of missions is incredible and increases my personal enjoyment immensely. I would also keep the Spotlight feature, where every week or so the dev team chooses one mission to promote and make it give increased rewards for players.

Dynamic Events from Rift

Dynamic Content seems to be one of the current things to have in MMOs. From all that I have personally played, the system in Rift feels the most fun for me. The sheer number of different rifts and zone events that can happen make it very varied. Of course, after grinding events for a while it can become stale and boring, but

The little things

Self-mentoring from Rift: It’s just great to easily set my own level whenever I feel like doing lower level content without it being trivial.
Cosmetic Armor System from Everquest 2, Rift, or any other game that does not force me to permanently change the look of a piece of equipment, but rather has extra slots that then override the look of my normal (stat-giving) equipment. Bonus points if I can also change my weapon’s type.

Phew, so there you have it. These parts combined would make my current dream MMO.

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Nothing to see, move along!

TSW_NPC_1

Too much work, too little time to play games the last couple days, so not much to report right now.

Just one thing: What really grabs me in The Secret World are the characters. The quest givers and associated NPCs are really memorable. It has been quite some time since I last played, but I still remember a lot of the people in that game world. The old lady with her shotgun, the mummy in a business suit, the french girl with a chainsaw, and so on. Part of that is obviously because they stand out, are unusual. But even the “normal” ones (I am using that term loosely here) are more interesting than some major plot characters in some other games I played.

That also extends to the story of the quests. In essence most of the missions boil down to “kill this” and “pickup that”, but the way the story is delivered makes them engaging. I find myself actually caring about the people I am helping.

And that’s all for now, folks!

Player Generated Content

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It always puts me in awe when I see what some people can come up with when given creative tools. Case in point: The Foundry in Star Trek Online.

I just finished the User generated mission: “Purity 1” created by the folks at Starbase UGC. And man it was amazing. Very light on combat, but incredibly well written. And I even got to take part in a space battle while on the bridge. I’m not going to write a review, others have done that better than I could ever hope to (like this one).

But playing through it got me thinking about Player Created Content in general. There don’t seem to be very many games that use that kind of system. Apart from the wide-open sandboxes like Eve, where everything is based on the players and their interactions, there’s pretty much only Cryptic that allows its players to create fully fledged missions. Sure, some companies dabble in that regard, like EQ2’s Dungeon Maker, but as far I as I have experienced that one doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Cryptic’s tools can do. Of course I am happy to be corrected, but in my journeys through current MMOs I don’t think I encountered are any rivals.

Why is that? For one thing there’s the obvious juggling of finite development resources. Are they going to be spent on new missions, or on tools for players to create them. Then there’s the hassle of updating those tools, fixing bugs and plugging loopholes and exploits. Also, how are the player made additions going to fit in with the rest of the game, both storywise and in regards to incentives to play them. Like the rewards for Foundry missions in STO have undergone several overhauls, mostly due to excessive farming. You want them to be rewarding, but not too rewarding for players.

Maybe that’s all too much hassle to be widely spread.

Still, I believe the resources spent on Player-made-content tools are well spent. It creates things to do for players wanting to tell their own story, as well as those who like to enjoy more stories. Especially in an expansive IP such as Star Trek, there are many who want to tell their own stories, and the Foundry gives them the option to do that in a video game. Also it helps the other half of the playerbase, simply because there’s more stuff to do.

Even if a player mission is not perfect, the chances that it’s enjoyable is pretty much the same as for developer created content in my experience. During my STO play sessions I think I played through more user-generated missions than the ones delivered by Cryptic. The pace at which a system like the Foundry can churn out new content is way above what any developer can hope to achieve. Yes, there are a lot of bad apples around, but since I usually stick to the higher rated or reviewed ones, the level of quality is very high.

For the future I wish for more games to embrace the players as a source of content. The reason is pretty selfish. I simply want to enjoy and take part in more awesome stories.

 

Eating My Words (and a bee)

TSW_Char_1

Typically, just as I had posted about my dissatisfaction with the Funcom Patcher, the speed picked up and I was done a couple of minutes later. It still took a lot longer than it should have, but not as long as I had feared.

So I eagerly logged in and decided to create a new character. This time around I chose to join the Illuminati, as I had joined the Templars on my last stint in The Secret World. Not really pumped about their faction outfits (gas masks? seriously?), but I have heard good things about the humor of the faction specific stuff there.

After swallowing the glowing bee in my sleep, wrecking my appartment and being “invited” to join a secret organization, I made my way to Manhattan and encountered a weird conspracy theorist.

TSW_Intro_2

My character pretty much had the same facial expression as myself, a mild confusion wondering what he might be talking about. Well, not to be discouraged, I followed some leads and finally found the (not so) secret Illuminati base in the sewers. Confidently striding in, I tripped an alarm and was shortly drugged and dragged off to a lab where this stereotypical crazy scientist guy pumps more drugs into me.

TSW_Intro_3
Anyway, a short combat and gameplay tutorial later, I am let go and free to explore the Secret World on my own. Well, with some “guidance” from the Illuminati of course.

Highly Recommended?

On Sunday Massively asked “What MMO would you recommend to others?“, and Syp over at BioBreak has helpfully compiled a list of votes for different games. The Secret World won this totally non-representative poll handily.

That got me in the mood to play that game again. The last time I played was before their buy-to-play conversion. So with no strings attached I went to reinstall it.

One thing: Funcom, your patcher sucks!

The download speed was fluctuating wildly between my maximum bandwidth and a slow trickle. The estimated time of roundabout 1 hour seems to turn into more like 3 hours. It looks like the patching/downloading process is not well optimized for small files, as whenever the download rate went down, my hard drive went into a frenzy.

Or could it be my system? Nah, blaming someone else is way more fun!

My little Chocobo

FF14_Portrait_1

After two days of absence, I decided it was time to visit Eorzea once again. This time, my goal was simple: My very own Chocobo.

My first task was to choose which Grand Company to join. The choice was simple. Tree-Huggers? Nope! Squabbling Pirates? Nope! Mighty Warriors led by the fearsome Raubhan? Yes please!FF14_GC_3

Arriving at the Immortal Flames headquarters, what could have been a long-winded induction ceremony, was fortunately interrupted by yet another emergency. Phew. A prototype airship was shot down and the crew needed rescuing. I do wonder how the people of Eorzea survive when I am not around.FF14_GC_2

Anyway, after disposing of some pesky Garleans, The Immortal Flames had one more soldier in their ranks, and I could almost feel the reins of my new mode of transportation in my hands. But no, first I had to prove myself to the Company. As if I hadn’t saved Ul’dah several times already. But alas, those past deeds don’t seem to count for anything. So I went off grumbling to myself and headed to Drybone. A couple of tasks later I was able to acquire a Cocobo Issuance and gleefully made my way to the local Chocobokeep.FF14_Chocobo_1

I was told Chocobos don’t like cities. But i suspect, it’s the other way round. Can you imagine the amount of Chocobo droppings that would pile up?

So i ran outside and summoned my new mode of transportation. Forgotten were the misgivings towards the Immortal Flames and the menial tasks. The world does look better from the back of a big bird!FF14_Chocobo_3

 

Boldly going … and so on

STO_Ship_1

Yesterday I mentioned about logging into Star Trek Online because my, at the time, first choice had a server hiccup.

Well, tonight I found myself longing to complete another tour of duty in my trusty ship. So again my plans of visiting Eorzea were ditched.

After last night’s success with the low-threat version of the Crystalline Entity (or rather Crystalline Catastrophe as it is called in game) I went in and took part in the Elite version.Things started badly as I was incapacitated early on by those pesky Tholians. Oh well. Back in I went a bit more careful. And pretty soon, it was reduced to rubble as well.

The Elite version does pack more of a punch and does have a few extra tricks, like little nebulae forming around the entity that impair vision and weapons lock. Still, not too difficult and quite fun so far.

About the special event: Each day players can earn one crystal shard for the first time they complete the Crytsalline Catastrophe Fleet Action. 14 of those shards can then be exchanged for various game currency and a unique Duty officer. I’m curious at what point completing the fleet action every day turns from being fun to being a grind. Fingers crossed that it happens after I have all 14 shards!

On a related note: That oversized Snowflake (in space!) seems to come back from the dead more often than Jack Harkness…