Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Stonehenge, probably not actually related to druids in any way at all. But I still wanted to go see if I could gather a blessed leaf from the middle of it, just in case I'd get to port back. Sadly, tourists are kept back a distance away so no ports for me. Druids or not, though, it's still an amazing feat of construction. Apparently, 1/3 of the length of the stones are underground, so it's even more remarkable a RL crafting achievement than is obvious from looking at it.
Next, for the provisioners: how to make yummy, delicious marmite! (This is a poster in the Marmite Shop on Regent St., London, where you can purchase all sorts of wonderful marmite memorabilia, as well as indulge in a cup of hot tea and a slice of toast with marmite in their upstairs cafe.)
And last, but definitely not least, an actual suit of armour worn by Henry VIII (now on display in the Tower of London). For some reason, modern fantasy MMO suits of armor are missing one of the rather, er, prominent features that this suit displays. I wonder if armorers in EverQuest II would like to make this style?
Happy holidays all!
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
In other news, EQ2Traders has a great preview up highlighting the crafting and live event related features coming in the next game update. You can hop on to Test server and check it out now in person, too.
And last but not least, with this month being the 5th anniversary of EverQuest II, and this year marking the 10th anniversary of EverQuest, it's a great time to go check out Jace Hall's humorous EverQuest documentary, EverCracked! This is being released on IGN as a 4 part series, with one part coming out per week, so be sure to keep checking back. I've seen the whole thing and it's well worth watching - there's even a cameo by the stars of The Guild to look forward to in the last episode. =)
EverCracked! episode 1
Sunday, November 08, 2009
One of my minor peeves with RPG style games is when you complete some huge epic questline that the game tells you is super important, and you return to the questgiver having saved the entire world, and the guy says "hey thanks, here's some gold!" and never mentions it again, and nobody else ever mentions it again or even seems to know about it. That pretty much sucks, yes. And happily, Aion tries to avoid this and do it right. Make the player feel important, and they will in turn feel it is important to keep playing.
So, with all that said,what about the gameplay itself? I'm only level 20 (max is 50), so it's a little early to pass final judgement. It's a bit more grindy than, say, EQ2, but not necessarily in a horrible way. Many modern MMOs are highly quest-focused so that questing becomes the most efficient method of levelling up. Aion takes a step back - while there are still plenty of quests and they are good to do, just plain killing stuff is also apparently quite acceptable as a levelling method, and in this it has almost a retro feel that reminds me a bit of EQ1, but without the ridiculous penalties and with lots more polish. There have been plenty of quests so far, although the sudden jump at times between solo and group quests was a little jarring. The quests are certainly nothing innovative, consisting almost entirely of "kill 10 X" or "talk to Y", although they're generally done with a high degree of polish and a very robust storyline, as mentioned.
I don't think this is a game that will suck me in long term the way EQ2 did: it's just not deep enough for that in the areas that are important to me. (Other people's mileage may vary, obviously not every game appeals to every person equally.) I'm guessing that most likely I will keep playing until either the solo gameplay is exhausted, or I'm forced into PvP content. I'm not sure how far this will take me, but a gorgeous world, an interesting storyline, and a compelling narrative for my character's progression are keeping me coming back so far. I was glad to see the Massively article that suggests the game is doing well, though. While it's certainly not a perfect game by any means, I really like the things it's done right and I hope that it'll be successful enough give it time to address its weaker points, and to encourage future games learn from its strengths.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
A Touch of Hero Worship
What I didn't mention (as it wasn't quite finished when I actually wrote the post) was that I decided to dress as Felicia Day's character Codex from "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" for Halloween this year.
And to do that, required a little bit of Real Life tradeskilling.
Fortunately, out of all the costumes from The Guild, Codex's looked to be the simplest to make.
Unfortunately, I'm really not that good at sewing things and can only plod along at the most basic level! I do have a sewing machine now (it was a Christmas present last year) but all I've made with it so far has been a small quilt, some curtains for the house, and some linings for bags I've crocheted. This was a step beyond that!
Still, I picked up some fabric and a corset pattern, and a white bra to use as the foundation of the dress, and learned a lot. Mostly, I learned why people charge $500 for corsets they sell online. They are a pain to make, even with helpful tips from the lady at the fabric store! (Best tip: use the large size plastic cable ties from Home Depot instead of commercial corset boning. Much cheaper and generally stronger too!)
I broke 3 sewing machine needles in the process and ran out of time so the staff and accessories (like kneepads and bracers) are less detailed than I would like, but on the whole I'm pretty happy with it as a first attempt! If I wear it again I may try to improve some of those details I didn't have time for this year.
(The Dr. Horrible lab coat was something I made last year. We couldn't find a side-closing lab coat like Dr. Horrible's, so I converted a front-button one to a side-button one, added some details, and embroidered the little caduceus logo on the pocket - that caduceus along took almost 3 hours!)
The funniest observation came from "Dr. Horrible" as Halloween approached and I was madly trying to finish up the sewing.
"Are you going to dye your hair too?" he asked (since Codex/Felicia Day is in fact a redhead).
"Good grief no, that's way too much effort," was my immediate reflexive response. At which he just looked at me for a moment and then pointed out that relative to the weeks of sewing effort I'd already put into the thing, dyeing hair really wasn't much effort at all. And I had to laugh at myself a bit because it was very true.
Nonetheless I did not dye my hair. Probably because making the costume was interesting and a tradeskill challenge; dyeing hair is a nuisance and smelly and not fun at all. You gotta draw a line somewhere, after all!
Anyway, as I said in the GIRL blog post, Felicia Day is a pretty impressive lady and a great role model for girls in gaming (for anybody, in fact). If you haven't yet watched The Guild, visit their site, find season 1, and get started. Episodes are very short, generally 3-7 minutes, and if you've ever played any MMO I guarantee you'll find it hilarious. You can also buy the DVD now and support a great independently produced show. And incidentally, I was not paid to say any of this ... it's just true. So go do it. =)
Friday, November 06, 2009
It started (at least in the public eye) last week, when TechCrunch columnist Michael Arrington attended the Virtual Goods Summit in San Francisco. Social media focused companies like game developer Zynga (YoVille, Texas Hold'Em, FarmVille, and similar games) and advertiser Offerpal Media (an agent for many of the targeted advertisements you see on Facebook) were in attendance. In the Q&A session of the final panel, he took the opportunity to confront representatives of these companies on what he called "the completely unethical way that they are going about achieving that success." Anu Shukla, the CEO of Offerpal, gave an emphatic rebuttal to his accusations. If you're interested in watching their exchange, you can see the video here:
Essentially, Arrington accused these companies of making their money in extremely unethical ways, with detailed examples to back up his claims, and Shukla refuted his arguments. Once the summit ended, both parties in the debate used their respective blogs to re-state and further detail their side of the story.
- Offerpal posted "Virtual Good Summit 09: What An Ending!" on their corporate blog, essentially just reprinting the defense that Shukla had made in response to Arrington.
- Meanwhile, Arrington gave more detail about Facebook based scams and the unethical behaviour of these companies in his 31 October post "Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem of Hell"
Initially, both sides presented strong arguments and it wasn't entirely easy to tell exactly where the truth lay in a very grey area. However, if you follow the Arrington link above you'll see a series of updates to the story that have occurred just in the past week, which speak pretty loudly for themselves. The highlights included:
- An interesting guest post from Dennis Yu entitled "How to Spam Facebook Like a Pro: An Insider's Confession" gave an insider's view of how to spam and scam on Facebook advertising (and what the implications can be to you, the user).
- MySpace, and then Facebook, hastily took steps to tighten up their anti-scam regulations.
- Marc Pinkus, the Zynga CEO (whom Arrington called out as admitting to deliberately scamming users as a fundamental part of their business model) announced that they were working hard to police and remove bad offers. ("Zynga Takes Steps to Remove Scams from Games")
- And just yesterday it was revealed that Anu Shukla has been replaced as the CEO of Offerpal. In "An Open Letter from Offerpal's New CEO" the new CEO George Garrick states that he "quickly concluded that regrettably, Offerpal has been guilty of distributing offers of questionable integrity from some of our many advertisers" and promises to that the community will very quickly see action and results towards improving that situation.
Further updates will no doubt be forthcoming from Michael Arrington's column on TechCrunch, and it certainly seems likely that this isn't the end of the changes that will happen in this area.
So there you go, if you missed this little bit of industry intrigue, now you're enlightened. I have no particular point to make other than to share some interesting information, but hopefully this all will lead to good things for users of MySpace and Facebook apps, as well as a better environment for game development companies themselves that does not actually put ethical behaviour at a disadvantage!
(I also must confess that watching the back-and-forth unfolding of this argument this week has also been the best can't-look-away-from-the-train-wreck type industry entertainment since watching Brad McQuaid self destruct.)
Tangentially, if you're curious about what kind of information the Facebook applications you click on can learn about you, check out this interesting talk given in September by my friend Paul Fenwick. Heck, listen to it just for the charming Aussie accent.
Now carry on back to your regularly scheduled tradeskilling!
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Text: i think it would be pretty neat if sk/pally's squire helped out their masters, even if they just miss all the time or do like 2 damage, they just stand around and watch their masters get beat on.. also same thing would be cool for rangers companions, they just eat grass while im being killed, doesnt seem like they love me very much, so much for being my companion =(
please re-work the conj water pet hydromancer she is in dire need of a upgrade, fasters spell casting ? better healing,, more function, AT LEAST A DRESS LOL
Text: I think it would be a fabulous idea if you guys would make us a closet door! Kinda like the guild hall door we can put in our house...but the closet door wld zone us into a room where we can store all of our appearance gear (since we have such a abundance of it now hehe). That way we can zone in and try on our outfits
Text: IMHO Lore and Legends Quests are NOTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Given!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Priority!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thgey should have!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! in this new Dumb A/A whatever Stuff .. you all designed ~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PERIOD CASE CLOSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish better Designers and Programmers with Brains could be found but I know they cannot/.... this game suffers badly from wrongheaddedness, and marketeers Morons etc... I could go on but it is losing it's Shine
Text: SoL apperance Dagger and the Whips should be usable by Mages. Sad that the only mage usable whips are both events. Void storm and now the Spire event apperance one.
Text: I really wish you'd let us customise the appearance of Hirelings and general Amenity NPCs in the Guild Hall; way too often I find that our banker has suddenly and tragically gone bald, only to re-grow the hair in a few weeks.
Text: Turbo Button for the Kiddy Balloon Rides in the moors
Text: I waould LOVE a slayer status for UNICORNS!!
Text: Make a global politics channel and force all political conversations to be had there sick of the daily arguments in open level chat thats spams my chat windows and too many people to constantly ignore
Text: PLEASE REMOVE THE NUMBERS FORM THE BAGS, WE CAN LABEL THEM AND MAKES THAT KIND OF POINTLESS, IT ALSO TAKES UP ROOM IN THE LABEL,
Text: I want to thank you for the great Halloween event this year! This zone is incredibly well done - probably the best in EQ2. It's full of immersion and flavor - I wish more zones were like this! I laughed so hard at the old man telling me to get off his lawn, and the halfling who says she's a friend, not food. Great job guys! I love it!
Text: Ooh, the trees in New tunaria. They are awesome, and need to be seen elsewhere! So beautiful :)
Text: Please change the "opulent female gold blouse" to not show gloves.
Lovely gown + gauntlets = fashion no-no
Text: Grandma Blumble on Nektulos Beach responds with a male voice. I'm pretty sure that's wrong.
Text: The Nights Of The Dead Baleful Scarecrow Costume is trueley amazing you should really consider making them a race :)
Text: I only recently turned up the foliage enough to see much of it... and I think the way it mashes down when you pass, then springs back up, is fabulous! Bravo to whoever put in that detail, it's seriously cool. :)
Text: You guys should add a "mutiny" button to the raid window. Require like 3/4's of the raid to vote on it, but the end goal is to replace who is raid leader.
(I'd just love to know what circumstances led to that last feedback being submitted... =) All I know was it was from Lucan De Lere server, and the player appeared to be in the Palace of the Ancient One.)
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Looking back at the original EverQuest, which set a lot of the base assumptions that subsequent MMOs have adopted, the races were extremely closely tied to moral choices. If you were a particular race you could not be certain classes and you could not worship certain gods. For example, if you were a dark elf, you could never become a paladin and you could never worship Tunare, the goddess of nature/growth. Your moral "worth" was unalterably tied to your race, an assumption that is actually extremely offensive and bigoted if you were to think about it in real world terms, and (as Evizaer points out) it seems remarkable that we accept this so easily in games.
In EverQuest II, although we didn't want to change the flavour of the world with its races and gods, we moved away from many of the original restrictions, and allowed all races to become any class and worship any god, although some races still start off naturally biased to evil or good. In EverQuest II a dark elf who wishes to reject his evil upbringing must betray his or her starting city and move to a good aligned city, at which point he or she forsakes the option of becoming an "evil" class profession (like necromancer) but can now choose from the "good" class options such as paladins.
This would seem to be a much better way to separate moral choices from racial origins and you'd think it would be very popular. And it was indeed welcomed by many. Nonetheless, "all races, all classes" (sometimes referred to as ARAC) was actually quite a controversial decision back in the day and there are still many players whose gaming origins are far back in the first EverQuest who deeply dislike this aspect of EverQuest II.
Although I agree that the base assumption that moral worth is inseparably tied to race is repulsive in the real world, I don't necessarily think that these players who prefer their games this way are racist or generally horrible people. Rather, I think that many people see games as more symbolic than actual representations of the real world. Like a simple child's fairy tale, games can tell us stories about the world by representing concepts very simply. The real world is very complex and confusing. In fairy tales, and in games, we can retreat from reality for a time and relax in a world where things can be black and white, good and evil, us and them. It's hard to fight evil in the real world with its shades of grey; in a game, you can ride forth in your shining armour and smite evil without any doubts about the moral ambivalence of your actions.
Some players definitely do embrace a more realistic portrayal of good and evil, but there are clearly many who do still prefer a more black and white game world. I really like the list of alternate choice suggestions in Evizaer's post, and I think that some of those could make very interesting games. Nonetheless I suspect that despite the unarguable logic of that post, we are never going to see the end of games with a good/evil divide. It's one of the most fundamental concepts in the human mind and one around which is based a vast amount of our literature, culture, and particularly religion. Certainly games could do a better job of making the division more subtle and less of a Jesus/Hitler divide. But I suspect the basic concept of the world being good/evil is always going to be appealing to people, and therefore games that allow us to explore that dichotomy are going to continue to be widely appealing, regardless of how tired the game designers may get of the concept.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
- It's possible that this was a deliberate design decision, mandated during the planning. "Let's make the world population heavily male." Why they would do this, I have no idea, but it could have been a case of "we're not happy with allowing our players to slaughter women, even if they are NPCs". It could even have been a case of "there's something horribly wrong with the art for our female models, so let's just populate all our zones with the males for now so we can test it, and we can switch in some females later" (which nobody then remembered to do later). Whatever the reason though, it could have been a decision mandated from On High.
- It could be a coincidence. Perhaps two different designers (or teams of designers) were told to create the two big overland zones, and they independently failed to include any women. It wasn't a grand design decision from on high, but maybe both designers, being male, just thoughtlessly assumed that all soldiers are male and populated their zones accordingly, and nobody even noticed.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Adventures in Dungeons and Dragons
Yeah, this is the cover I remember! =)
Friday, October 09, 2009
In fact, I used to have the urge to argue with customers who gave feedback like “hey, idiot, you’re missing feature X.” I used to respond with something like, “I know, but it’s on our road map and we’re already working on it and we don’t really want feedback about that right now and so please get off my back.” You can imagine the field day the trolls had with that.
Eventually, we learned a better way. Feedback that tells you something you already know is still quite valuable. It gives you a hint that you are on the right track, but it also tells you quite a lot about the person giving you the feedback – that they believe in the path that you are on. For an early adopter, having this insight acknowledged and validated is a powerful experience. So we learned to take the time to say “thank you for your suggestion. Thanks to you, we’re going to prioritize feature X.” Then, when feature X finally did come out, every early adopter who suggested it feels an earned sense of ownership over it.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Sunday, October 04, 2009
A friend in the UK recommended Montezumas and they looked good, but when I tried to actually place the order, web site fail! It was impossible to enter a billing address that was not based in the UK, even though the delivery address was in the UK, which should be all they need to be concerned about. The billing address only offered a drop-down box for the country, and the options only included countries within the UK, which would mean that my credit card could not be properly billed as the addresses would not match. Too bad, Montezumas, you could have had all my business that Thornton's just lost, but your web site failed.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's a fairly simple idea and one that we mostly take for granted, but older games didn't have this functionality and it meant that quests either had to be designed to not need this kind of functionality, or the players would have to suspend disbelief when what they saw didn't always sync with the stage of the quest they were on. As an example, I'm trying out Aion this week and have come across a number of instances where it seems they either don't have view predicates, or didn't bother to use them. I just finished a quest this afternoon, called "Where's Rae This Time?" which has exactly this problem.
It seems Rae's father has a problem with his daughter, who's always running off and getting into trouble. I'd already found her once before in an earlier quest, and now she's gone missing again. The problem with this quest is that another quest that someone else gave me earlier on happened to send me into the same caves where Rae is hiding for this quest, and of course, since I've already had to rescue the girl once before, I recognized her. When I saw her in the cave while on the other quest, I hailed her expecting to be offered a quest to get her home again, but I wasn't. She wouldn't say anything to me, and I didn't have the option of telling her to go home again.
Instead, I had to make my way back to her father and get the quest from him to go and find her, and unfortunately her father was about a 5 minute run away from her location. And then my own knowledge got in the way of me. Once I accepted the quest called "Where's Rae This Time?" I immediately ran back to the cave, since I already knew where she was. And when I got back to the cave, Rae still wouldn't talk to me and I still couldn't tell her to go home. When I actually read the details of my quest journal, I realized the quest wanted me to go and talk to Nobekk first, a fellow in the same village as Rae's father. So I had to go all the way back again and ask Nobekk if he knew where Rae was, and the Nobekk sent me to ask Derot if he knew where Rae was, and Derot showed me a little cut-scene vision of the caves and finally told me Rae had headed that way. So back I ran to Rae yet again thinking I could finally get her out, but she still wouldn't talk to me, because apparently I had failed to also stop and talk to Naito just before the entrance of the caves. Back yet again to talk to Naito, and then, FINALLY, I could go back to talk to Rae and she finally let me progress with the quest.
Needless to say this was a somewhat frustrating quest experience, and very immersion-breaking. And while, admittedly, a lot of the back-tracking was due to me being lazy about reading the exact details of my quest journal, it was the fact that I already recognized Rae and already knew where she was that caused me to be so hasty, and that is a design flaw. It's just frustrating to a player who already knows where Rae is to force them to jump through hoops that assume they do not know where she is and can't be bypassed. Two better quest designs spring immediately to mind, though there are undoubtedly others.
First, obviously, and probably easiest, the quest designer could have used view predicates. A view predicate on Rae saying that I have to be on the "talk to Rae" step of the quest would have prevented me from ever seeing her before I needed to find her. I'd never have known she was there, and therefore wouldn't have gone running off to talk to her too early -- I would really have needed to talk to all the people the quest required in order to gather the clues as to her whereabouts. This would have made their steps of the quest relevant and useful, instead of irritating and immersion-breaking.
Second, if for some reason technical limitations of the game make view predicates impossible or impractical, then change the quest so that you can get it from either the father or the daughter. If you find Rae first and hail her, she explains what she's up to and you can accept a quest to help her and get her home. If you go to the father first, you can follow the quest steps as they are currently laid out. This could either be done as two different quests, either of which permit you to proceed to the next quest in the line, or the quest could be rewritten so only the finding of Rae actually updates the quest, and the clues from the other people are available if needed but not required as quest updates. Of course, planning the other quests so that you're less likely to bump into Rae earlier would also be helpful.
View predicates are a great tool for a quest designer telling a story and I'm actually really surprised that Aion seems to be lacking them. I use them frequently when designing quests for EQII, as they allow different players to see the world slightly differently depending on what they've done in the past. For example, one quest that I created in Lavastorm asks players to help repair a forge chimney for a goblin there. The forge is visible at all times. The broken chimney is visible if you have not completed the repair quest, and invisible once you have. The fixed chimney is invisible until you finish the repair quest, and remains visible to everybody who has completed that quest. Therefore, anybody who has not done the repair quest sees a forge with a broken chimney, and anybody who has helped the goblin repair the forge sees a fixed chimney, which is completely consistent with their in-game experience.
Of course, you don't want to go too far overboard using view predicates, as it would lead to confusion if they were used so extensively that different players see completely different worlds. (Player 1: I'll meet you over by the red house under the tree. Player 2: where? I only see a blue wagon under a mushroom?) For small details like a chimney appearance however, it's definitely an easy and effective way to give players the feeling they're making a permanent impression on the world, and help give them a more immersive experience within your game.
Apart from a bit of view predicate irritation though, I'm enjoying Aion so far. It doesn't seem to be doing anything very original -- lots of parts are highly reminiscent of the original EverQuest (my fire pet even looks similar to my EQ1 magician's), the crafting looks suspiciously like EverQuest II's, and many UI elements like the map and quest screens are extremely similar to World of Warcraft. However, it is an extremely pretty game, which always wins points in my books; it's relatively well polished; and it does an outstanding job of making the player feel important early on, particularly through the use of little cut scene storytelling segments. I don't know if I'll end up playing it long-term, but I'm having lots of fun looking around for now.