Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Mighty Muggs!

Regular readers of this blog (yes, all 3 of you) might remember that I and other SOE staff decorated some little figurines called Muggs to auction off at this year's Fan Faire.  (My blog about the one I made can be found here.)

The SOE Muggs, awaiting auction:

Well!  Little did we suspect it, but we apparently inspired Dellmon and Aliscious, the co-hosts of the EQ2Talk podcast, to make their own Muggs of each others' characters.  Which fabulous works of art they are now auctioning off, with the proceeds to go to the Child's Play charity.


So, if you want to see more details of their Muggs, make a bid to support a good charity, or just obtain a model of Dellmon to burn in effigy, check out their page with the details.  You have till December 31st to bid, so (as Dellmon would say), bid early and bid often!

As for my Mugg, he was purchased by EQ2Traders, who last I heard were taking suggestions on a wide variety of nasty things to do to him.  Poor Qho!

Edit:  an update to note that Dellmon also commissioned a professional artist to create an Ali Mugg for her Christmas present.  Here's the result, which is pretty impressive!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What Do Players Want?

Apologies for the blog silence - between moving house and work getting busy as we approach the holidays and upcoming expansion beta, I haven't had a lot of spare time!  But here for your interest now are some interesting/amusing/just plain odd selections of player feedback submitted over the past week.  (It should be noted I have already implemented at least one of these since seeing it ...)   =)


Text: I think there should be a zone where it is pitch black and you need infravision to get through along with your personal torch, i think that'd be a fun zone to play in.


Text: Void Wood. I raid occasionaly on my Ranger and rarely see enough wood dropped when I do. cost of Void wood on Broker 50plat+. Please add this to T9 wood nodes. its rediculous that you cant use good arrows unless you A) Raid and are lucky B) Raid and are luckyor C) Raid and are lucky. ORRRR add like 5 void woods to each and every raid mob in the game, thx. VOIDWOODVOIDWOODVOIDWOOD OMG HELP <<<<((DOMINO))>>>>


Text: if you do Firiona'vie's outfit ill buy it make it so people can buy it ty.


Text: Thank you for all of the new(er) quests in Kingdom of Sky. They really help fill out the area and AA needed for this lvl.

See? Positive feedback exists. :)


Text: Large New Halas housing:

Would it be much trouble to move the spawn point for entering player characters to appear back by the front door, up the on raised step, instead of down on the main floor, away from the front door as they do now?

Many decorators want to put something there over that floor, such as a "Rose Mystique Rug" for example, which is very large and thick. Because the player character spawns down on the main floor instead of by the door, however, he or she arrives buried up to their ankles/knees/waist (depending on race) in carpet, which looks very odd.

Thanks for reading!


Text: Wouldnt it be more realistic to sit on a flying carpet and not stand? My wizard would love to use the fiery carpet from Lavastorm but wont because of the horrid looking crouch on them. Please oh please make it so we can sit on a flying carpet like it is meant to be!


Text: Hiya guys um i would like to know when frostfell is coming i love it plzzzzz relpy if u can thanks and is it in qenoys harbour caouse i normally camp here so yeah thx bye =) =)


Text: fix or repace paladn heals with something useful


Text: You guys need to add a rare spawn mob in Shard of Love......Cupid or something!


Text: Here's an idea for a new tinkered recipe for fun and maybe Roleplay. Secret Agent Spy scrolls! Would work like a player writeable book, but can be sealed by the author. Once sealed, it can be unsealed once, which consumes the item, and lets the user who unsealed it to read the contents, but it also includes a "this message will self destruct in 20s seconds" part at the bottom, and after 20s it causes the reader to get knocked down as if from a small explosion.


Text: This whole damn game is jimmy rigged ... what a joke...
[note: this was sent from within a guildhall, so I have not the foggiest idea what it was referring to]


Text: find out who the plat scammers are working for. and then send the info to the Better Business Bureau. let them take care of the scammers


Text: WHAT????????????????????? Totem of Escape changed from a reeediculous 30 mins to 1 Hour????????????????????????????? who made that decision????????

I will call and write to Japan and go to the top!!! Guaranteed

and Scathe that person ... tell me who did it ????????

I'll petition usless CA for the name GUaranteed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sick of this Garbage.. you already STOLE our money with S of Fates for your own uses and royally Gyped casual players I have ther Facts!! come meet them !!!


Text: It would be fun to have a house pet that is a giant (like a fire giant, or one of the regular giants from the Steppes). I'm thinking for the guild halls, having a giant stomping around would be a cool change. :) Just an idea.


Text: Heya :)

Would be fun if in new xpack some of the raid bosses would drop must have house items :)


Text: We need to inundate the market with rares in order to bring the prices down some. Prices are getting ridiculous on this server, for rares and the items made with them. Help!!

Text: I've about fucking had it with you and having to explain how to balance your crappy Joke of PvP in this game. Get your shit togeather already.


Text: The Day/Night Time of the game., I really do not like the night time! It gets so dark I can hardly see., is there a command to do away with the Night Time? Thanks for listening...


Text: the guild hall flooring makes me sick.....the flooring that we as players are allowed to place should be one piece....the floor blinks rapidly causing great stress upon me


Text: When are weapon appearence items going to be in the marketplace? Want some!


Text: You guys could take Stonebrunt, Sinking Sands, Tenebrous Tangle, Pillars of Flame, and a couple of the void instances and make one helluva golf course. Just saying.


Text: You should put some chain-looking options for cloth wearers in the appearance section. Specifically pants.


Text: Can you port /gems from EQ1 into EQ2?


Text: Re: Things running slowly

In Greater Faydark, strolling, me
A prowler, running, I did see
His limbs full stretch, as if to reach
Some far-off distant strond, or beach
And yet though round and round he went
His labours clearly were mis-spent
For though he seemed to want to run
His dreams were dashed, by someone
A higher being than this poor dog
Had deemed that he should ever slog
And, while seeming to be going fast
He's doomed to prowl slow till the last.



Text: Void warped wood drops need to be higher, I believe.

Also, can we have armadillo pets.... kthxbye. :)


Text: There should be giraffe and zebras mounts from the Commonlands.


Text: Hello,

Do you think players would like some quests in which you get some attackers or unexpected visitors when you are in your own home and maybe in your own guild? Thanks and regards


Text: This game needs fingerless gloves. In some way, shape, or form. Even if it's Station Marketplace bought. It'd be awesome to have some.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gamer Entitlement Going Too Far

Anyone who works in or even near the game industry is probably familiar with the phenomenon of entitlement - how people who play games feel they are entitled to rather a lot more things from a game than the game's developers, or legal terms of use, might actually reasonably expect.

This happens in other areas of life too of course, but for some reason computer game players seem to get particularly passionately attached to their games of choice, and can sometimes react unexpectedly strongly to the most minor things.  I've read feedback reports from my own game where people have said they're quitting the game over ridiculously tiny things - to give one example, because we changed the little picture that appeared on the coins in our game (graphics only even visible a tiny portion of the time).  I've read submitted feedback that compared the developers on my game to pedophiles, Saddam Hussein-followers, and much worse language too.  A week often doesn't go by without seeing someone in the feedback saying that at least some of us should be fired, are incompetent, could be replaced by a 3 year old, or clearly have no brains/sense/right to life.  And you need only stop by the discussion forums of pretty much any MMO to see similar passion is alive and well in discussions of most games.

I don't agree this is right, and although I understand how someone who loves a game can be so passionate about it, I think it's a misguided sense of entitlement that leads people to cross the line between politely stating an opinion or objection, and personal insults or even threats.  Happily, the majority of people who play the game I work on are generally polite and sane, despite a few apparent exceptions.  However, I read an article on Kotaku today that made me really fume about the misplaced sense of entitlement that some groups of gamers can develop, and somehow manage to justify:

Minecraft Apparently Under Siege

The gist of the article is that a group of players are disappointed at how slowly developer Notch is putting out updates to the small independent game Minecraft, and have decided to try to "force" him to work faster by launching a DDOS attack on the Minecraft servers.  Their thinking, apparently, is that if they prevent ANYBODY from playing Minecraft then Notch will lose money and have to do what they want.

From the article above, a post purportedly from the people responsible for the attack:
"It's purpose is to send Notch a clear message of how the future of minecraft will turn out unless he gets to work, namely by influencing the amount of sales taking place, due to the attacks.
Start providing your customers with the updates that you promise them.
We have roughly 83,000 bots available, and preserved for this seizure, we could if we wanted to keep this going for weeks, however we have decided to give it a week, and see whether or not your attitude, and commitment will change, we believe it will when money stops rolling in for the time being..."

I just haven't got the words for my disgust at this behaviour.  As a human being and democratic citizen, I resent some other group of people impinging upon my freedom of choice by deciding for me what I can and can't play and what I do and do not want. As a gamer who happens to be enjoying Minecraft, I am perfectly happy with the level of updates in Minecraft and I don't appreciate someone else telling me I should not be, let alone attempting to prevent my playing it.  And as a game developer, I am disgusted by the damage that this group is trying to do to a small, dedicated independent developer.  From what I've read, Notch is a very smart and talented programmer who has managed to create a really captivating game pretty much all on his own, and is trying to continue its development independently.  This is an accomplishment that many game designers can only dream of: the freedom to work for yourself, and do exactly what you want to create what you believe is the best game you can, without having to operate within the confines of a big corporate structure or team.  Notch has that dream within reach, he may become that one in a million game designer who is really able to be independent -- and a small, selfish group of individuals are trying to bring him down, just because as an independent developer he's not able to work as fast as they want him to?  Sickening.

The guys who are launching this attack have spent as much as anyone on Minecraft:  10 Euros (about US$13).  That's the cost of going to see a movie in the theatre ... less than you'd pay for a nice meal at a restaurant.  If they are that passionate about the game, then they've clearly already played it for many, many hours longer than a movie or a nice meal would have lasted.  There is no possible way they can justify their feeling of "entitlement" to more than they've already had.  They paid a very tiny price for days of enjoyment of an excellent game that they are well aware is still in alpha stage -- not even in beta.  This isn't the way to express their disappointment that updates aren't forthcoming as fast as they would want.  This is outright bullying, and it's inexcusable.  It's also illegal, and I hope they get their pathetic selves thrown in jail for it.

Acts like these make me lose faith in computer gamers.  :(

Edit to add: another great post on the topic, from @LivingWorlds.  In which he uses rather stronger language and discussion than I was comfortable using, but quite agree with.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yay, Arixystix!

A co-worker of mine from SOE has just become a former co-worker, abandoning us to work full time at her real-life crafting.  She's an artist and has worked on a number of SOE's games over the years, most recently FreeRealms and Clone Wars, but she's been doing more and more "real life" crafting over the past couple of years and finally decided to try and make a full time business of it.  It's a big step, particularly in this economy, but she's already had some great publicity in the gaming press for her plushies based on the Plants vs. Zombies game, as well as other custom commission work including a Pocket God display for Comic-Con 2010.

Check out her blog here, her Etsy store here, and follow her on twitter @arixystix!  Best of luck Alix - though with all those adorable plushies, I'm sure luck won't even be needed.

Butter Tarts Recipe

Butter tarts are apparently a Canadian classic (though I had no idea till I left Canada and nobody had heard of them). They're delicious and easy to make, and I still have some former co-workers who drool at the memory and demand I make them when they visit.

So here's the recipe, in two parts (pastry, and filling).  Pastry can obviously be used for any kind of tart instead, also!

Short Pastry

This is an unsweetened shortbread-like pastry. You might be able to find pre-made short pastry in a supermarket; if so, you can be lazy, and skip straight to the filling section. It probably won't taste as good though, and this isn't hard to make, so here's how.

4 oz butter (softened, though not totally melted - leave it out of the fridge for a few hours, or microwave VERY briefly, maybe 5-10 seconds.)
8 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt

Put these into a bowl, use a knife to chop the butter up into small blocks about the size of a pea, then use your finger tips to mix the butter in completely.  The mixutre will look a bit like fine breadcrumbs at this point, depending a bit on how hot it is where you are. If it's a very hot day you may find the mixture is soft enough to stick together, in which case you can stop here.  Probably however it'll still be loose crumbs, so in this case add no more than 2 tablespoons of cold water and mix in, using the knife, adding only the minimum amount of water required to get it to stick together. (Note: flour + water = paste.  This is not tasty.  Flour + butter = shortbread.  This is yummy.  Therefore, the less water you add, the more tender and tasty your pastry will be.)

The pastry will still look fairly crumbly but can be carefully rolled out into a sheet, or just shaped by hand. For tarts I don't usually bother rolling out the pastry but just shape it to the baking dish - I used fancy little tart dishes here because these are for a dinner party, but you can use almost anything - muffin/cupcake tins work well for example.  Use your fingers to push the pastry smoothly into the dishes/muffin tin, and stick it in the fridge to wait while you make the filling.

Clockwise from top right:  pastry ready to be pressed into the dish; pastry ready for filling; pastry with walnuts; filled tart ready to bake.

There is no need to grease or spray the dishes before putting the pastry in, since it contains so much butter it should be easy to remove as long as the sugary insides didn't overflow and turn to sugar cement; and if that happens all the greasing in the world won't prevent them from welding themselves to the dish. If you have a little sugar overflow and are using something smooth edged like a muffin tin, try using a sharp knife to gently slide down the sides and ensure the tarts can spin slightly in place while they are still hot, which will make them much easier to remove when cool.

Butter Tart Filling

4 oz butter (softened, as above)
8 oz light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg
chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix together in a bowl (don't need a mixer, just a spoon). Put into the pastry shells, fill them only about 2/3 full as the filling will expand a bit and bubble while cooking. Add some chopped walnuts into each tart if you like, this is optional.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 400 F. When the pastry is just starting to turn colour but not too brown, and the filling should have significantly darkened, they are good to go. (They can be taken out earlier, but this will leave a liquid filling in the center which is still tasty but more dangerous to eat!)  Let them cool to room temperature, or refrigerate them for about an hour, before eating them.

This recipe made exactly enough for 6 tarts this size.  It will make 8-10 using standard muffin tins, or even more using mini muffin tins (and these are very rich, so smaller may be better).
This is what they looked like directly after removing from the oven:

And this is what they look like when cool.

Depending on the size of the dishes or muffin pans you use, you may end up with either extra filling or extra pastry.  Both can be separately frozen in air tight containers and thawed to cook later.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Minecraft, Everybody's Doing It!

Sometimes, for reasons that we don't entirely understand (although Malcolm Gladwell took a look at some factors in his book "The Tipping Point"), an idea, or meme, or a product suddenly gains rapid popularity.  "Going viral" it's often called these days, meaning that it's no longer being spread by the owner advertising it, but it is spreading via other people, spreading infectiously, like a virus outbreak.  Sometimes it's just a silly internet video ("double rainbow!" was a recent one) but when it's a product, suddenly everybody is talking about it/buying it/using it.

This past week a small independent game called Minecraft seems to have hit that tipping point and gone viral.  I started seeing emails and links circulating at work early this week, then comments from non-work friends on Facebook, then tweets about it from people outside the game industry and outside the country.  It even got a mention on Penny Arcade towards the end of the week, which is surely a sign that a tiny independent game has "made it".  And the game isn't even out of alpha yet.

So what's the game?  Well, true to the name, it's strongly based on (a) mining and (b) crafting.  It's a fairly freeform sandbox type game, log in and you get a randomly generated world in extremely low-rez graphics.  You are (unless you try multiplayer mode) alone in the world, and must build yourself a safe haven and fend off enemies.  Enemies appear mostly in the form of undead critters:  skeletons and zombies who come out when the sun goes down and (mostly) vanish again at dawn.  A few spiders and leftover sun-resistant zombies keep the daytime interesting but are fairly rare.  You start naked with nothing, and have to make everything from scratch with your hands, slowly building up your secure fortress and your tools.  The graphics are extremely basic and the in-game help nonexistent so start off by watching some tutorial videos and then refer to the crafting wiki once you start playing.

From the minecraft wikipedia site:
Minecraft is a sandbox construction game created by Markus Persson and is currently in pre release alpha. Minecraft development started around the 10th of May 2009, pre-orders for the full game started being accepted on the 13th of June.
The game involves players creating and destroying various types of blocks in a three dimensional environment. The player takes an avatar that can destroy or create blocks, forming fantastic structures, creations and artwork across the various multiplayer servers in multiplegame modes.
As mentioned, the game is still in alpha, and payment received at present will go towards getting the game into beta and then launch.  But it's already a lot of fun; definitely one of those "just ONE more turn" games that turns into 6 hours passing without you even noticing. My boyfriend picked up the game on Thursday, and I stumbled out of bed at 1:30am that night to find his side of the bed still cold and empty, and him in the computer room hunched over his laptop saying "there's a spider out there, I'm scared to leave my fortress."  He then insisted on giving me (half asleep and without glasses on to even see) a tour of his fortress before I crawled back to bed.  When I went in to work on Friday, I found two co-workers obsessively playing it on their lunch break and discussing elaborate plans to build a sheltered valley under a glass dome for more secure livestock farming.

Whether you enjoy building massive fortresses to battle zombies, or whether you just enjoy building and decorating your home, or whether you find the somewhat unique style of crafting system more fascinating, as long as you're not a graphics junkie you'll probably find something to enjoy.  As one friend said to me, "it's sort of like playing with legos, but with zombies."  How can you go wrong there?  I found the crafting system particularly interesting.  Although it's fairly basic, many items you craft are created by actually "drawing" the item by the way you lay out the subcomponents.  For example, to make a pickaxe, "draw" the handle by laying two wooden staves end to end, then "draw" the blade by laying three blocks of ore across the top.  Simple, and fairly limited, but something I haven't seen done before and makes for some very easy mnemonics instead of just having to memorize a list of recipes "pickaxe = 2 staves and 3 ores."

Since the Penny Arcade link, the poor developer's site traffic has gone so crazy that the authentication server and purchasing page aren't even working, so the developer has announced that until he gets the servers back on track, Minecraft will be free to play for all who wish to try it.  No word exactly when this will be, so here's your chance to check it out now (and if you think it's good, do consider paying to support this independent developer once the payment servers are back on line!)

Remember, it is stilll very much alpha, so save often (by hitting escape to bring up the menu, this forces a save) and do check external sites for tutorials because there is really not a lot of help in game yet.  There's definitely still a lot more polish and content that needs to be added, but there's already lots of fun gameplay potential there and I'm really interested to see what will become of it in the long run.

My best tip: if you start on a snowy world, probably a good plan to just restart until you get one with a nicer climate.  The snow really cuts down visibility, which makes it far too easy to get lost while you're still trying to figure out the game.

UPDATE to add awesome fan-made video: YouTube Link!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recent G.I.R.L. blogs

Some recent posts I've written for SOE's G.I.R.L. blog:

G.I.R.L. Talk with Lesly Irwin

Fan Faire: It's All About the People

Joe "Rystall" Shoopack also followed up with some of the previous G.I.R.L. scholarship winners in this Summer Art Internships post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What do players want?

Some bits of nightly in-game feedback that caught my eye recently for being amusing, or unusual, or interesting, or just plain incomprehensible.


Text:        I would like to see a house item called Doors. This way we can have doors in our houses. Floor item, position and grow to the desired size. These would save state so that they would not auto close. Also, I would like to see them have keys so only certain people can open certain doors - although that could be tricky to code.


Text:        Can we get wigs.. as appearance slot headgear... that way erudites can have hair


Text:        um, there are christmas lights on the mane of the arcande steed of the faithful.  Guess that goes together....


Text:        I'm an armorer and a dark elf sk, not a pastry chef.


Text:        Can we please start having game elevators automatically return to the "down" position after a couple of minutes? This expansion is full of elevators, and everybody always leaves them at the top, which forces me to call the elevator down, then sit and wait for it. There's no need for this. They should automatically return to the "down" position. Or, you can avoid this problem altogether and leave elevators out of zone design. I very much hate the way you have implemented elevators in this game.


Text:        I think it would be really cool if you added a playable mermaid race, and an underwater city. But actual mermaids with full fins, and the place would actually look underwater. And all of the merpeople would get a spell that allows them to breathe on land for 2 hours at a time. Since they are aquatic they wouldnt be able to breathe on land without that spell. Or maybe you could just add actual mermaids instead of just sirens. Please consider the idea. =)


Text:        Re: Game Experience May Change During Online Play

I always knew that these warning words had to be there for a good reason. Once upon a time I viewed them as a simple disclaimer; little did I realise that the game would change so very much that I would wake up one day and realise that I really didn't belong here any more.

The thing is: after many years of living hand-to-mouth in Norrath, I've somehow managed recently to acquire a long-term lease. I suspect it had something to do with a fast-talking erudite. So, here I am, with the whole of Norrath open to me, and yet... and yet, I feel very odd.

I think I need to expand and expound...

Once upon a time (as I think I mentioned), it made sense to maximise my intelligence. Wisdom meant nothing to me back then. And so, my character developed: I became a very smart (or so I believed) but really rather, well, foolish bard. And, yet, strangely, it seemed to fit. That was me: I felt right.

But now, I find that for some really bizarre reason, my intelligence is leaking away, and I feel a nurge to gain more of a trait I've never had before: something called... wisdom?. This trend worries me mightily: instead of a clueless bard who sometimes does do the right thing in spite of himself, this half-mended crystal ball here is suggesting a wise old bird who's thick as two short planks.

That's just not me.


Ah, well.

Thanks for listening, anyway.


Text:        FYI New Halas rocks! Hats off to the designers!


Text:        Hi! There are a couple of things I'd like to suggest. One is quite big, I really don't like waking up on my doorstep if I haven't paid my rent. How about having it so that when you log-in, and you are in your home, and your rent is due, you get a dialogue box asking you to pay your rent, and if you don't THEN it chucks you out? That would be much nicer.

The second thing is quite small. I still live at the inn in Kelethin, and every time I leave, this idiot treant is telling me it needs a pruning. I wish I could give it a terminal pruning. Could you PLEASE shut the damned thing up?

Thank you!


Text:        btw would like to say to soe did a great job on 90 is the most enjoyed level i've ever done since lvl 60 good work . and think about letting alts get cella update without running the zone im very busy thats ruff when got 5 myth alt's . 


Text:        getting knocked unconsious but not killed is a reeeeally cool event, instead of making it like the last 1% perhaps it could be the last 3% so it happens 3 times as much ?


Text:        Houseing in Paineel! Make it happen


Text:        OK qeynos is good, freeport is evil.  dark elf shadow knights, crafters or not, do not "offer to share the baked fish with their new hua mein friends."  Unless, of course, they have the option of poisoning it first.


Text:        Hello! [name removed] the gnome from the 'shire here! I was just in Gorowyn. You've changed it! I'd have to say, it was much more fun with all the elevators, but I suppose you made it simpler for people in a way? at least it shows you are listening to people!


Any chance you might listen to me? It would be really nice to see the Baubbleshire get a little improvement! Even a travel through Norrath ability on the dock would be nice. Gnomes seem to be increasingly common in Norrath, it would be nice for them to have a home.


Text:        For intentional raid wipes,  There should be an item added to the game that lets you commit suicide.  Like a poision potion or something.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fan Faire

SOE's Fan Faire this year was August 5-7 this year, at Bally's Las Vegas, same place as last year.

Some of the (many) highlights for me this year included meeting some folks I played the original EverQuest with, almost 10 years ago.

We three all played halflings, back in the day (some of us still do!)

I also knew the lady in the panda suit from EverQuest (she's been a regular at Fan Faire every year I've been a developer):

There was someone else from my old EverQuest guild also that I was amazed to meet too, but alas the only photo we got was on his camera, so I don't have a copy yet.  It was great to meet all these people, all but one of whom I'd never met before in person, but had known for almost a decade.

Also this year, still in the "old school" theme, I was amazed to meet Ilia and Allakhazam, the founders of websites Ilia's Beastiary and Allakhazam (now Zam.com), though both sites are now owned by others.  Back when I played EverQuest, these sites were everyday necessities for me - I still have a big essay on Shadowed Men (they used to be my dark elf's nemesis) posted on Ilia's Beastiary.  Ilia was kind enough to say he remembered it, though he was probably just being polite.  Meeting these two was like being in the presence of royalty.  Allakhazam headed off to bed fairly early but I spent a while chatting with Ilia and felt slightly starstruck the whole time!

The costumes are another highlight of Fan Faire for me.  This year they were as great as always.  This dryad was one of the costume contest winners, and Brasse on the right was the event co-host (along with Jace Hall).  Brasse was a regular also at Fan Faires until we hired her, and has a fantastic new dwarf costume almost every year.

This guy's costume was hilarious - he entered the costume contest with the shirt hidden under a big hoodie, and none of us could figure out why he was entering, until it was time for him to step forward and remove the hoodie.  And then we saw the shirt.  He explained that he had lost a bet with a guildmate, who had made the shirt for him and coerced him into entering the contest as "Antony Bayle".  He has the pose down perfectly, and won one of the costume prizes (hence the red ribbon in this picture).  The shirt was beautifully done, his guildmate is definitely a talented tradeskiller!  Below him is the "real" Queen Antonia Bayle.

One of the costume contest entrants proposed to his girlfriend live on stage and in costume on Saturday night, which was very sweet and touching.  (In 2007, we had a live wedding on stage at Fan Faire - I got to decorate the in-game wedding chapel for it.  The video is available on YouTube, and I must say, since then I've thought the idea of having Darth Vader at your wedding is pretty awesome.)

There are lots more photos from Fan Faire on the official website, as well as the Facebook Page and Flickr account (both are linked from the official website).

One of my favorite things about Fan Faire is seeing familiar faces return each year, people who clearly have such a great time at Fan Faire and who enjoy our games so much that they make a point to keep coming back.  I'm terrible with faces, but each year it seems there are more people I recognize.

Fan Faire is such a fun time for both developers and players, but it's a lot of hard work for those of us who are here on the work side.  My schedule this year, as far as I can remember, was approximately this:

2pm - arrive in Las Vegas and check in
3-6pm - greet early check in players and make self available in the main lounge area for chatting
7-10pm - get ready for, and attend, opening ceremonies.
10pm - late - karaoke (I skipped out early on this to get some sleep)

8am - breakfast (I always try to eat a good breakfast at Fan Faire, as I'll be going nonstop all day).
8:30am - checked the EQ2 panel PC to ensure it had everything needed installed on it, and updated a few patches that I discovered needed doing.
9am-6pm - chat with players in the main lounge area when not scheduled to be on a panel (I spoke on the Lore panel, attended the general Q&A session also, and also sat in on a Guide program panel).  I slipped away for a brief lunch with some players but was basically on the go all day.  
6-8pm - grabbed some dinner, and typed up notes I'd taken from today (questions to follow up on, etc.)
8pm-midnight - Pool party, spent the entire time talking to people.

8am - breakfast
9-6pm - again, any time I was not scheduled to give a panel (today the Tradeskills panel, and another Q&A session), I was hanging around in the lounge and main areas to chat with folks.  I escaped for tea and a muffin in mid afternoon with some other players but didn't really have lunch otherwise.
7pm-8pm - assisted with random things that needed doing (like writing up queue cards for the evening's presenters).
8pm-8:30pm - pre-judging of the costume contest contestants (I was one of several judges)
8:30pm-11pm - grand banquet, sat with a table of EQ2 players and talked to them and anyone who came by.

I try to get to bed reasonably early at Fan Faire but still end up exhausted by the time it's over as they're 14-16 hour days with almost no break, plus I never sleep as deeply in a strange bed in a strange room with a strange roommate. (We're assigned roommates, often people we may never have met before - mine this year was a very nice woman from the FreeRealms team.)  Sometimes I see players in the server chat channels speculating that the devs have a wild old time relaxing in Vegas for Fan Faires, but I have to admit this makes me roll my eyes a little, remembering what my schedule is generally like!

Sunday at 6am I got up and headed to the airport for my flight home.  After grabbing breakfast I wrote up the remainder of my Fan Faire notes and then attempted to stay awake and be productive for the rest of the day, but in mid afternoon a patch of sunshine and a purring cat proved too much for me and apparently I passed out cold for at least an hour.  So this is how my Fan Faire ended:

In about 12 months I'll be ready for next year's again!

Update: if you are curious, one of our players (hi Nick!) recorded the tradeskills panel and has put the videos up on YouTube.  http://bit.ly/ciYBLe - http://bit.ly/bXVNUt - http://bit.ly/b7VvSH

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mighty Mugg

Meet Qho Augren!  Qho is a young boy from the Village of Shin in EverQuest II.  He gives a small questline called "A Gathering Obsession", in which he explains his fascination with harvesting and his intention to be a harvester when he grows up.  However, since his parents say he's too young to go out harvesting yet, he asks your help to bring him back samples from all over Norrath so he can study them.

Lots of samples.  

From ALL over Norrath.

Did I mention lots of samples?

The quest is actually quite painless if you start it at a very low level and just slowly update it as you level up your harvesting skill.  Going back on a high level character and trying to do it all at once though is rather painful.  So poor Qho is one of Norrath's most-often-wished-dead questgivers.

What Qho has to do with a Mighty Mugg (and if you don't know what a Mighty Mugg is, wikipedia explanation here) is related to the SOE Fan Faire coming up this weekend.  Apparently the Community team got a bunch of the blank Muggs, and they asked SOE staff members if we were interested in painting one for a "silent auction" to be held at Fan Faire.  So, I offered to try one if there were any left over, and there were, so I got one.

I debated what character to paint and toyed with the idea of a Billy doll, but then I thought of everyone's favorite target of death threats Qho.  Since Qho's quest is actually my fault it seemed more appropriate than Billy (who was Ilucide's fault).

First I had to get a good screenshot of Qho.  This is a bit tricky since he spends all his time swimming around underwater in a small pond, which doesn't help get the detail.  So I also took a picture of Spark Augren, who looks very similar to Qho but with different hair.  (Yes, I could have logged in as a GM and forced Qho out of the water, but I was at home and lazy so I just grabbed what my regular play account characters could get.)

Here's the blank Mugg, lightly sprayed with primer, holding my paintbrush and awaiting its fate!

First step, skin tone:

Next, Qho's clothing, which appears to be dark blue trousers and a pink tunic.  Here he is standing on my laptop beside his own picture, for comparison.

And then the hard part, which is the face.  I had a lot of trouble with this, not being an artist in even the most remote sense!  But here is the finished Mugg, ready for shipping to Fan Faire:

I am sure it will look like the work of a 10 year old beside the marvels that our artists are creating, but it was fun to make, and perhaps someone will want it, if only to use for target practice!  =)

Edit to add: check out Greg (Rothgar's) Mighty Mugg on his blog!  Wow - puts mine to shame!

Another update to add:  Qho was won at the auction by Niami Denmother of EQ/EQ2 Traders. She has a suggestion thread up on her forums to get opinions on what his fate should be!

I also hear that Greg's Mugg, and I believe Aaron (Gnobrin's) Mugg (an awesome looking clockwork), which were definitely the two most popular Muggs, were won by the producer of the Jace Hall show (Jace was a co-host of Fan Faire for us).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Player-eating spiders, and why collecting real data is important.

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of co-workers at lunch today. We were reminiscing about fond memories from older MMOs, and a number of examples were brought up. A newbie zone in WoW which was directly adjacent to a very high level zone, leading one co-worker to be very swiftly eaten by a very horrible spider. Another co-worker in WoW who tried jumping into the Ironforge, thinking that surely the game wouldn't let you do that, and then discovered that (a) yes, in fact, the game would let you do that and (b) the corpse was now unrecoverable. Zone sweeper mobs in EverQuest that would come out of nowhere and stomp you flat. Terrifying zones like Kithicor Forest that would guarantee your horrible death if you entered at night, but which were directly adjacent to starting zones full of clueless newbies. And so on.

One co-worker was quite certain that it was these hair-raising experiences and the abrupt deaths that actually made the games so memorable. Of all her early memories in these games, those moments now stood out the most strongly. And certainly all of us had similar strong memories we could refer to, and now thought fondly of, even though at the time they were most certainly frustrating or terrifying or both.

Coincidentally, I noticed that Laralyn posted a few similar thoughts on Twitter today:
The question we raised at lunch though was, for those "eaten by a spider" "lost my corpse" "dead in Kithicor" moments in MMOs, for every person who gets past that point and turns it into a fond memory, how many other people never get past that point and quit the game because of it?  For every person fondly remembering "ha ha, I lost my corpse in Ironforge", how many just left the game in disgust because they lost their corpse in Deep Forge?  How does a game designer create an "almost failed" moment when one person's fail point is another person's easy mode?

We who are in the first group are the ones who love games and who are resilient enough to get past these setbacks, and even turn them (eventually) into fond memories.  We are the ones who, because we love games, end up being the ones who go into game development and make more games.  But have we ever stopped to try and measure the hard numbers?  Is there any way we can get actual data that would give us an idea of how many people just quit the game at that point, compared to how many stick it out and end up with a fond memory?  I've never seen any information of this type, although to be fair I haven't gone looking extensively.  

We tend to assume that everyone is like us and will be able to handle, and even enjoy, the same types of challenges.  But what if that assumption isn't true?  (It probably isn't.)

If we don't have a way to measure this kind of data, will we ever know?

And if we keep assuming everyone is like us, will we ever bother finding ways to measure this kind of data?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

G.I.R.L. blog Q&As

Over the past month or two I've been doing some little Q&A sessions with women who work in the computer game industry.  I've been lucky to talk to some very interesting and smart ladies, who took the time to answer questions about themselves, their jobs, and their opinions about women in gaming!  The goal of these little Q&A blogs is to demonstrate that there ARE plenty of women working in gaming, and highlight the many different roles that they can play within the industry.

Brenda Brathwaite - it's also well worth checking out her talk from GDC 2010

Sylvia Liu (our latest G.I.R.L. scholarship winner!)

Laralyn McWilliams

Terry Redfield

Also, the G.I.R.L. blog is now posting as a subcategory of the general SOE blog, instead of having a separate address of its own (all the SOE blogs have been consolidated at the one address for ease of finding them).  So, to find G.I.R.L. category posts at the new address, you can check here: http://stationblog.wordpress.com/category/girl/

Sunday, July 04, 2010

What do players want?

A selection of some /feedback from players:


Text: Astonishing graphics. Unique MMO, perhaps the greatest MMO ever to exist.


Text: there sould be something that makes you jump really high like i was sittin here thinking this is a game of endless possiblitys why not be able to become lycan or vamperic not fully but u should understand where i am coming from


Text: A goblin race, like a short troll :)


Text: Getting a quest out of Kallon Ebbtide on the docks of Sinking Sands is like playing a pornographic flash game written in Japanese with blocks where the words should be. I've been through his text for five minutes, and not a quest yet.


Text: I think on the creature conjuror that you can place in your guild hall. It would be cool if people could summon epic monsters


Text: Surface water walking boots would be a cool LON item


Text: Nice face on the highland stalker kitten. haha


Text: Please add a way to diable all bonus xp for accounts.
Levelling up is the part of the game I enjoy most.
I do not appreciate having that fun reduced by bonus xp weekends
The normal rate of levelling is too fast for my tastes anyway


Text: Wheres the cows? Can get mounts/plushes of all types, but no cows.


Text: battlegrounds unfair fix fix fix
going to keep sending feedbacks every time till you do something


Text: How come you have never added Camels as a mount to the game?


Text: I'd love nothing more then to see a marketplace item that is a Nurse's hat. The traditional white hat with red cross on the front.


Text: there should be station cash house item-dice. When you roll them, you get a random fabled item, once a week.


Saturday, June 19, 2010


Some days I'm just in an odd mood.  As poor Vanesta found out.  A few months ago when we were planning out the in-game loot items for the upcoming Legends of Norrath set (the online trading card game that ties in with EQ and EQII) I had another of those moments.  I'd been working on Tinkerfest quests at the time (a gnomish festival of all things clockwork that comes around once a year) and so I suggested something along those lines.

I think my exact suggestion may have been something close to: "how about a box with a big red button on it that you can put in your house.  And if you push the button, it kills you." {followed by evil snickering}  And I asked some random people on the team, "would you find this funny?" and the general consensus was yes, so we decided to make it.

And so, one of our wonderful EQII artists, Jeff Jonas, made a very pretty little clockwork box with a big red button on top.  Little cogs spin and turn, and you see the button depress when you click it.  It looks great.  We called it an "Overclocked Tinkered Control Button", and put a big warning label on mouse-over that pops up text saying "WARNING: DO NOT PUSH BUTTON", and added a huge and lethal fireball effect if you do press it.

And I tested it, and laughed my head off.  And we sent it to QA, who tested it and laughed their heads off.  But sometimes, things that designers (and QA) think are funny don't always seem as funny when they make it into the live game, so I was curious whether people would like it or not.  This past week it went live, and the first people playing LoN started to get the loot cards and get their own tinkered control buttons.  While I was logged into Test server checking out the Tinkerfest event there, the item was mentioned in the test server chat channel.  As follows from my logs:

Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "oK [Overclocked Tinkered Control Button] who thought this up?????????????"
You tell test (3), "erm, that may be my fault, Aeryal."
Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "it blew me up and killed me it said i would revive outside"
Daithe tells test (3), "Aye, it is fun!"
Dwargo tells test (3), "Good God, Daithe!  Are you out of your Half Elf mind?"
Everfrost.Aeryal:Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "seriously  you made a house items that acctually kills people?  "
You tell test (3), "yes"
Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "does it kill you everytime?"
You tell test (3), "and yes"
The_Bazaar.Faeurelis tells test (3), "*giggle*"
Elana:Elana tells test (3), "ohdear"
Tock:Tock tells test (3), "that's fantastic!"
The_Bazaar.Seecret tells test (3), "which item kills????"
Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "[Overclocked Tinkered Control Button]"
You tell test (3), "yes, that one.  It says very clearly DO NOT PUSH BUTTON!"
Tock:Tock tells test (3), "lol"
Elana:Elana tells test (3), "{falls over laughing}"
Splitpaw.Chlorr tells test (3), "does it only do that if you press the button or is it random?"
Dwargo tells test (3), "oh, i LOVE the Babbage Engine wheels"
Everfrost.Aeryal tells test (3), "well be a good item for a party drunki can get easily sobered"
You tell test (3), "it only kills you if you press the button marked DO NOT PRESS BUTTON."
Daithe tells test (3), "*snickerfits*"
Splitpaw.Chlorr tells test (3), "oh good, thank you"
Butcherblock.Lohkee tells test (3), "The effects of prolonged exposure to the 1500 megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Super-colliding [Overclocked Tinkered Control Button] are not part of this test."
The_Bazaar.Seecret tells test (3), "wait, the button is from LoN, not tinkerfest?"
You tell test (3), "yes, the button is from the LoN set that went live today."
Slybones tells test (3), "WTS  recipe for BBQ gnome buffet"
The_Bazaar.Seecret tells test (3), "*gets to work thinking of trades to make for it*"

It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks sudden, explosive death can be funny.  =)  It's also a good example of how an in-game loot item with absolutely no gameplay functionality or stats whatsoever can still be desirable!

Now I just gotta get one for myself...  boom!

(If you play EQII and want to check out the button for yourself, or any of the other in-game loot from the current LoN set, it should be on display in the LoN Showroom in game, which can be accessed via a portal in the Lion's Mane Inn in South Qeynos, or the Blood Haze Inn in West Freeport.  The showroom should be displaying the current LoN set "Doom of the Ancient Ones" from next week until the following set is released - date not yet finalized, but that won't be for several more months.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Visiting home

Today I logged in to the original EverQuest to take some screenshots of things for ideas for work. I loved the game and played it devotedly from 2000 to 2005, but before this week, I haven't really been back to EverQuest since EverQuest II launched. I had fully intended to continue logging into EQ and play both games, but EQII completely captured my interest, and then became my work also, and the years went by while my old EQ characters sat idle.

So I logged in my old gnome, Cata, today and it was a wonderful surprise to have someone I remembered from waaayyy back when I was playing spot me in the general chat channel, then send me friendly welcoming messages.

(That's my gnomette in the screenshot too, originally a wizard but rerolled to an enchanter not too long before switching to EQII.)

It's a strange, nostalgic feeling returning to EQ after so long away. Kind of like returning to your first grade school and finding everything is familiar, but mysteriously shrunk. I can't imagine I will ever return to play there full time as my primary MMO. But yes, it'll always feel like home ... especially so long as there are still the same wonderful people and such a warm welcome for me when I do stick my nose in. =)

Totally made my day!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Om nom nom ... Guinness pudding!

This isn't my recipe at all, I found it (via a friend) on the Sprinklebakes blog, and she herself got it from Epicurious.

However, I've made it a few times now and everyone loves it, so reposting here with my notes and modifications to share the joy (and also so I can easily find it again).


4 egg yolks
0.5 cups sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
1.5 cups of Guinness stout beer
2.25 cups of heavy whipping cream
4 ounces of dark chocolate (I used 72%).  Chop or break it up into smaller pieces so it melts faster.


Pour 1 cup of Guinness into a small saucepan and set it on the stove to simmer over medium heat.

In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks and 0.5 cups of sugar.

Pour the remaining 0.5 cups of Guinness into another saucepan (pour slowly down side to minimize foaming) and add 1.25 cups of the heavy cream.  Mix, and set on stove over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until bubbles start to form at edges.  At this point, remove saucepan from heat.  And add the 4 oz. chocolate, and stir until chocolate is all melted and mixture is smooth.  (NOTE: this step is important. If the cream gets too hot, the chocolate will go grainy and the pudding not have a smooth texture. If you do overheat the saucepan to boiling point, let it cool down for a bit before adding the chocolate.)

Add the sugar and egg yolk mixture to the chocolate mixture in the saucepan, stirring constantly while adding. Return the saucepan to the heat.  Stir constantly for about 5-10 minutes - the original recipe says "till it thickens" but it's very hard to tell the difference.  When thickened the mixture should coat the back of a spoon dipped into it, and not be runny.

At this point, remove from heat again and divide among small glasses.  Leave at least an inch of space in each to add the topping.  This is a VERY rich pudding, so keep the glasses quite small - this amount should make about 6 glasses.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, until set (cover with plastic wrap if leaving overnight).

Meanwhile ... the first saucepan should have simmered down to just a tablespoon or two of liquid.  (If not, keep simmering till it does.)  This is making a Guinness flavoured reduction, so you really only want a small amount of concentrated liquid left.  Pour the reduction into a bowl and put in the fridge to cool.

(Wait at least an hour to do the next step, or overnight, so that the Guinness reduction and the pudding have time to cool.)

In a clean bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream with the remaining 3 tbs of sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form, then add the cooled Guinness reduction and beat again until all combined.  Carefully spoon the whipped cream topping onto the top of the pudding glasses and return to fridge to cool until ready to serve.

(Ideally, I guess you'd find some teeny glasses that look like miniature beer steins ... but this was what I had at the time.)

Mmmm, tasty.  I'm not at all a pudding fan, and not a huge Guinness fan either, but this is definitely delicious!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Advanced Journeyman Tasks

Since joining the EQII design team I've been steadily adding more and more tradeskill quest content into the game (prior to my hiring there were next to no tradeskill quests at all).  After revamping the tradeskill tutorial series I started adding a one-every-ten-levels series given out by a Grandmaster crafter in each home city.

The quests were a learning process for me as much as anything; quest writing was not the primary focus of my time, and so I had to pick things up here and there as opportunity permitted.  Accordingly, both the quests and the writing solidified as the quest line progressed and I learned more.  By the time I created the fourth quest in the grandmaster quest series I had worked on various other quests also and was getting more confident in the process.  I was also in a slightly odd mood.  And accordingly, "Advanced Journeyman Tasks" was created with a rather peculiar sense of humour.

The general outline of the quest:

  • The grandmaster in your home city asks if you could check up on one of their trading liaisons.  The liaison was sent to the Sinking Sands and was supposed to have checked in by now, but has not been heard from, and the crafting society is worried.  
  • Off you go to locate her and, if needed, offer your help. You travel to the Sinking Sands and soon find Vanesta, the trade liaison, a little way up the beach, looking very ill.  She is retching into a bush, in fact.  You ask if you can help at all.  She complains of the terrible heat.
  • You borrow a recipe from Vanesta and assemble a functional tent to keep her out of the sun.  She's grateful, though still very ill, so you ask if you can do anything else to help.  
  • The trade liaison is too ill to suggest much, however, so off you go to look around the local merchants and see if any of them have anything that might help poor Vanesta recover.  What luck!  A shady merchant down near the crocodile hunter camp does seem to have a recipe book called "Bert's Big Book of Health".
  • You're not sure what's wrong with Vanesta but she did mention she'd recently been exposed to a mushroom infestation in Darklight Woods, so you figure you'll try making the "fungus potion" in the recipe book you just bought.
  • The trade liaison gratefully tries the potion, but unfortunately feels worse than before... in fact, she passes flat out in front of you.  Hastily, you craft up the energy drink listed in the same recipe book, and pour it into the liaison's mouth.
  • Well!  She certainly wakes up - it looks as if lightning strikes her.  Furthermore, she seems to inexplicably now be surrounded by teeny little mushrooms.  As poor Vanesta crackles with electricity and asks if you're trying to kill her, you rush off to try the next recipe in the book instead: a plague remedy.
  • Despite Vanesta's misgivings, you manage to persuade her to try the potion.  Unfortunately, it seems to GIVE her the plague, rather than cure it.  Now she is not only surrounded by fungi and crackling with electricity, but she's also covered with rather unattractive green plague pustules.
  • In desperation you try the only recipe left in the book, described as an "acupuncture kit", which you bring back to Vanesta and put down on the ground beside her, only to discover it looks like an iron maiden.
  • "Are you trying to kill me?" she demands, and snatches the book from your grasp.  Reading the book more closely than you had, she points out that the "Bert" of the title is most likely "Bertoxxulous," god of disease and decay.  One stern lecture about the importance of understanding what it is you're crafting, and she sends you packing with the desire to never see your face ever again.
  • Returning to the Grandmaster who sent you out, you omit a few of the details when you report that the trade liaison is indeed still alive and you had tried your best to help her.
I had quite a bit of fun both playing with the various alarming effects that get applied to poor Vanesta, and also writing her dialog which goes from sick and cranky to insulting to downright rude.  Of all the crafting quests I've done so far (and there have been quite a lot now), with the possible exception of the tradeskill epic quest this quest is the one that gets mentioned the most as everybody's favorite.  Either a little humour goes a long way, or our tradeskilling players are harboring a bigger streak of sadism than we had hitherto expected ... or possibly both.

The happiest moment for me though was when I happened to look up the quest on wikia, one of our fan-run information sites which is a wiki-style format that can be updated by anybody.  And I discovered the very first line of the "Steps" section says:  "This is actually a very funny quest so read everything that she says to you."

That's got to be about the best thing that a quest designer could ever read in a fan write-up.  =)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just can't live without it ...

I had dinner on Friday with a friend who plays World of Warcraft, and at one point she mentioned that she keeps hoping that I might realize how much fun the game is and come join.  I did give WoW a try a year or so ago; they had a recruit-a-friend promotion on, so my boyfriend (who does play on and off) gave me a trial key and I got to somewhere around level 20 before cancelling.  Alas, I had to conclude that for a number of reasons it does not seem to be the game for me.

I've been playing MMOs since I picked up EverQuest in 2000, and while the EverQuest franchise has remained my favorite, I've tried quite a few others along the way.  Both EQ2 and WoW are heavily based on the original EverQuest, and in fact the reason I decided to play EQ2 instead of WoW back in 2004 when they both launched is that I looked at them both and found EQ2 was more different from EverQuest than WoW was.  I felt the EQ2 team was trying more new mechanics, more new ideas, more new things, which I found interesting and exciting; and I found WoW was far more similar to the original EverQuest (albeit with tons of polish), and far less innovative.  Of course, not all the new things EQ2 tried worked out well, but as a long-term EverQuest player I was interested in seeing fresh ideas.  However, I guess this came back to spoil my fun when I picked up the trial last year, because I suddenly felt like I was back in the "bad old days" of EverQuest.  No group quest updates in the newbie zones!  Farming spiders endlessly to get tradeskill components!  Running around the world looking for your trainers to buy your spells when you level up, instead of getting them automatically!  And, worst of all, no pass-through targeting?  It felt like 1999, not 2009.  It was really the lack of pass-through targeting that did me in, as I was playing a healer.  Click the monster, click to attack, click the tank, click to heal, click the monster, click to attack ... gah!  Never again.

But this isn't a post about why WoW sucks -- clearly it doesn't, or there wouldn't be so many people playing it.  Nonetheless, I feel my horror at the UI is justified since Rob Pardo himself said he considers WoW's UI a failure.  From a summary of Pardo's talk at GDC this year:

"Pardo talked a little bit about the UI system, and how they intended for it to be simple to use and intuitive. He said the UI system was something that he considered a failure -- not because it was bad necessarily. But from a development standpoint, if the majority of your player base is using addons to modify the existing UI, that's a clue that something wasn't quite right with the way the UI was originally designed. "

And that led me to think about what else I "can't live without" these days.  Back in the days of EverQuest there were no alternatives, and the whole concept and world were so new and marvelous that we just learned to use what we had and didn't think about it.  Nowdays though, nowdays we are spoiled.  Dozens of MMOs out there have tried all sorts of innovations, some good and some less good, and we get used to our favorites.  Pass-through targeting is definitely number one on my list that I never, ever want to play without.  But what else?

Or to put it another way, if I were in charge of planning and designing a brand new MMO, what features would I absolutely want to include as standard baseline?

  • Pass-through targeting.  And if you're still wondering what this is, it means that everyone in a group can just keep their main tank targeted all the time.  If they cast a beneficial spell, the game's smart enough to know it will land on the tank.  If they cast a detrimental spell, it will "pass through" and land on the tank's target.  No switching targets back and forth, no clicking and mis-clicking, no having to set up hotkeys for every group just to target or assist the tank, it just ... works.  Yep, can't live without it any more, or more accurately, won't live without it, so new MMOs beware if you want my money.
  • Maps for all zones.  Remember EverQuest?  Remember how everybody had big binders on their computer desks containing print-outs of player-made maps of every zone? Yeah, never again.  I don't mind having to explore the map before I can see it all, but I can't live without my in-game maps.
  • Friends lists, preferably account-based.  Fortunately, pretty much all games have friends lists these days.  Champions Online was the first I played where the friends list was based on the player's account nickname, rather than just the character name, however, and whatever CO's other failings may be this was a great step forward.  Now I can choose an account nickname, such as "Domino", and then friends I allow to add me to their lists can see whenever I'm online in any form, whether it's as Domino.Tankytank, Domino.Ihealsyou, Domino.Themadnuker, or any other alt I feel like playing today.  Of course, this also lets me avoid idiots by account name too, even better.  Chances are that if I didn't enjoy grouping with Dumbo.Besttankever, I'm also not going to want to group with his other character Besthealerever.  Why didn't more games do this earlier?  Let's never make another one that doesn't, please.  Oh, and do let me add little notes to anyone on my friends (or ignore) list.
  • Coordinates system.  Most games have this, but the ones that don't make it just impossible to talk about locations in a meaningful way.  "Where's the widget for the quest?" "It's at /loc 123, 45, 678" or however you want to translate your in-game coordinates into something the players can access.  There are many ways to do it, but even basic coordinates work.  "Where's the widget for the quest?" "It's, uh, over by the tree to the east, not the tallest one but the third tallest, near the bigger beaver pond, just after you see the second big rock north of a flag pole" ... no.  Fail.
  • Quest helpers on the map.  Not something that every game currently does, but more and more are incorporating it, and I think it's going to be standard very soon, if it isn't already.  These are just little pointers on your in-game map that hint where you need to go to get the updates for whatever quest you have active.  So handy.  No doubt many will says it's "dumbing down," but I disagree; if the quest is properly written, the quest itself or the questgiver will already have given you a general idea where to go, and the quest helper is just a visualization of this information that you already have.  Friendly UIs are a GOOD thing.
  • Parses.  You know the first thing your game's players are going to do is create programs to parse out the log files and track damage, healing, and anything else they can do.  It's been standard since the days of EverQuest.  So why aren't more games supporting this as part of the UI? It doesn't have to be enabled for newbies if it would be confusing, but having these tools there will help the designers as well as the players.  And what a great way of providing ongoing positive feedback to people learning to play!  "you did 5% more damage this time than you did last time," positive feedback enhancing learning and encouraging gameplay is win.
  • Groupfinder.  I gather the dungeon finder is a fairly new implementation in WoW but I hear nothing but praise for it, and it's something I've long wanted in other games.  Smart player-matching to form groups as easily and painlessly as possible?  Yes please.  OK, I could live without this feature now since few games have it yet, but I suspect in another 5 years we won't dream of doing without.
Well, I could go on and on into more and more finnicky detail, but I'll leave it at that for now.  What are YOUR absolute must-haves that you can't play a game without?  Post in the comments if you have others!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

What do players want?

More selections from in-game /feedback:


Text: For the love of god (seriously it's that bad! =), please allow us to hide the white names displayed above the plushies from the daily chronomage plushy quest!


Text: when do defilers get their turn at being OP?


Text: I wish there was an appearance slot for colored light sources.


Text: Attunable should be unattunable after a month.




Text: Had an idea for a cool guild ammenity... a "speaking horn" that would allow a trustee to basically do an /emotezone inside their guild hall. It would only do the emote inside the hall, and could have limits on the usage (Say max once every 5-15 minutes), but would make for a pretty cool tool that could be used both for crowd control (emotezones REALLY stand out) and for atmoshpere if the guild hall is used for a themed event (ie a player-run 'haunted house' kind of experience).


Text: Kneeling on a chair is silly.


Text: How about increasing the amount of money it takes to repair your armor when you die? Thats a death penalty, would make people think twice about dying to save time if they had to spend 10 platinum to repair their broken armor


Text: I would like to have the appearance looked at on ogre males pertaining to robes, gi's, and such looked at. They look very non-male and a lot of gear make you look female'ish.


Text: please make a better gablin game more like a casino where you can actually set it to auto play so we can actually sleep while it plays by its self.


Text: I would love the red swinging chandolier for my house =D that's in Vaults in kunark in the book room.


Text: please make fairys wings flutter on mounts its way cuter, and doesn't look as lame.


Text: The glass displays found in Obelisk of lost souls would be a nifty house item :)


Text: How about a nice rare for fishing like a talking fish that you can put on a wall in housing :)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's a guide's life

EverQuest and EverQuest II have a volunteer guide program, where players who enjoy interacting and roleplaying with others can volunteer a few hours per week and are given the tools to run little unique quests and events.  (Guide FAQ for more info).  I like to think of guides as the fairytale characters of EverQuest - the scruffy beggars or scary crones or ugly toads that the hero/heroine meets and offers to help out of the goodness of his or her heart, who then turns out to be a fairy in disguise who gives them a reward.

I was a guide towards the end of my time playing the original EverQuest, and then when I changed over to EverQuest II, I was a guide there also.  I am not a guide any longer of course, but I remember well some of the rewards as well as frustrations of being a volunteer in the program.

The most surreal moment in my guide experience was in EQLive, when I was still a wee apprentice guide brand new to the program and with no powers to do anything except chat with people and hand out cookies and milk.  I logged in and zoned to the Plane of Knowledge, a central gathering hub for players at leisure.  I approached a couple of players and greeted them, planning to offer cookies and milk; immediately one of them responded with an enthusiastic "hello!  I want to be an otter!"

Puzzled, I asked him if he'd felt this way for long?  He remained insistent that he wanted to be an otter.  I tried to make conversation back, but he wasn't making a lot of sense and wouldn't talk about anything except otters.  Eventually I gave him some cookies and milk and backed away slowly.  It was only afterwards that I learned that not long before I'd logged in, one of the SOE GMs had been sitting in the Plane of Knowledge having a bit of fun by turning people into Othmirs (an otter-like race from the continent of Velious) - certainly nothing that an apprentice guide would ever have the power to do.

When I joined the EQII team, because I'd been in the guide program previously I seemed a natural to help out the guide team in EQII.  It's a secondary responsibility, but as time permits I try to add in new quest tools and goodies for them here and there.  I recently added a new quest that guides are able to give out as a little prelude quest to the upcoming addition of New Halas and today at lunch time I decided to log in and try offering it to a few players myself to ensure all is well.

What always amazes me, both as a developer and as a player of MMOs, is how many players just seem totally uninterested in custom content.  When I play, if I notice an NPC out of place or a strange person standing around apparently offering a quest, I am always ready and eager to go and investigate.  Heck, I strike up conversations with random people I bump into in game, even if they're clearly just other players.  But many people don't seem to do this.  I wonder what goes through their thoughts?

Today I logged into a random server which turned out to be Lucan de Lere (one of our roleplay-preferred servers) and wandered around various lower level zones looking for people.  I found about half a dozen in The Caves, a small adventure zone off the city of Qeynos, so I put a quest feather over my head and stood around saying things aloud such as "Lately I've been having such strange dreams and visions!  What can they mean?", "I dreamed Mithaniel Marr was walking the lands of Norrath once again," and "I keep having visions of Halas reborn!  What can it mean?  Can't anybody help me?"

The first two players who saw me came up, and I hailed them, and directly told them I had been having strange visions, and would they help me to learn more?  Both of them stopped, hailed me back, and then said "sorry, I cannot" or "no, I'm not interested", and ran off again.  At least one other just ignored me completely and ran right past.  And keep in mind, I was a large barbarian woman with a big sparkling quest feather spell effect hovering over my head, it should have been pretty obvious I was something not usually found in The Caves.  (I even did a zonewide /shout asking if anybody would help me.)

I got one person in The Caves to accept the quest, and a nice couple in Gorowyn, and then I did a search online ("/who halas all") to see if anyone happened to be online with a name or guild related to Halas.  And there was!  There was one person online from a guild with Halas in the name so I thought of course, they should be very interested in topics relating to Halas.  I went to the zone the player was in (Rivervale) and stood just down the path from her, where she was bound to pass by, again with a big sparkling quest feather over my head.

And she just ran straight past.

So I followed her, and wandered obviously around her (she was harvesting) saying things about what strange dreams I'd had of Halas, and asking had she been having visions too?

Nada.  Not even a hail back, I might have been invisible.  Eventually another person entered the zone from another guild, and had a little chat with me and accepted the quest, and I decided lunch time was over and camped out.

Checking the server logs now, it looks as if the nice couple from Gorowyn will be the first to complete the quest and get the server (possibly worldwide) discoveries on the quest rewards.  And good for them, they were very sweet and helpful.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with not being interested in special quests and guide events; everybody plays games differently and is interested in different things.  It's just baffling to me as it's so different from my own interests, and also because so many people complain so vocally on the forums that they never see guide quests in game, yet when you're a guide, so many people totally ignore you (or even say outright that they have no interest in helping you).

I'd love to know why the people who weren't interested were not interested.  Did they (despite the big quest feather) think I was just another fellow player, and they weren't interested in helping out a fellow player at all?  Did they simply not even see me, they were so focused on whatever their current goals were?  Did they have their UI hidden to take screenshots, and didn't even see any of my dialog?  Were they simply so concerned with powerlevelling up that quests of any type were of no interest to them?  And, if they had decided to accept my quest, would they have been glad they did, or thought it was a pointless waste of time?  (The XP is decent, the rewards are a book of lore and a house item, nothing particularly uber.)

As a designer, and particularly as a designer of quests that guides can give out, I always want to understand the answers to these questions so I can improve things.  If these players simply aren't interested no matter what, then all is well and good; but if they don't understand what's going on or actually don't see me at all, perhaps there's something I can do that would add to help make it clear to players what's going on.

Sometimes I do wish I'd done a degree in psychology rather than molecular biology; it might be more directly applicable these days to trying to get inside the mind of MMO players!  =)