Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tradeskills on holiday

I'm on holiday in England at the moment, doing a bit of touristing and catching up with family and friends.  My significant other has unfortunately caught a cold though so we're spending a quiet afternoon inside in the warm while he tries to sleep it off, leaving me a bit of time to catch up on email and stuff.  I don't have much relevant to tradeskills to say really, but here are a few vaguely tradeskill-related pictures:

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

A_random_sexy_elf_girl_001 hits YOU for 5000 platinum!

It's a well known truism in MMOs that you can roll up a sexy female avatar and people will rush to give you free stuff.

While there may be some degree of truth to this, I've never found it to be quite so cut-and-dried as all that. What I do find though is that in pretty much any MMO I have played, if you are friendly and polite and make conversation, particularly "in character" for whatever character you happen to be playing, others do react generously with help and sometimes gifts.

This certainly isn't limited to female avatars or pretty elfy ones though. While I do normally play female characters, I've experienced the kindness of others regardless of the attractiveness of my avatar.

In EverQuest I noticed no particular difference between the offers of assistance that my dark elf and my gnome received.

In Star Wars Galaxies I played around with a Bothan (that's the race that looks like llamas) and was tipped very generously on numerous occasions because I spent my time in the cantinas actually entertaining others andby telling terrible jokes, instead of just AFK macro dancing.

In World of Warcraft on my very first day in game a nice fellow offered to buy me a set of free bags just because I asked some polite questions in a channel. Not only was I playing a Tauren (horned cow-like people) but he couldn't even have known what gender I was from my name in a channel (it was quite gender ambiguous).

In EverQuest II groups frequently mistakenly call my bald and rather flat-chested erudite "sir", yet she's often been on the receiving end of kindnesses. Likewise, my ratongas (a race of rat people are hardly considered a sexy race, yet cheese and help have often been offered.

In City of Villains among all the spandex-clad superhero suits, I created a bespectacled, understated librarian type in a plain black business suit and almost the first person I grouped with asked for my help transferring money to an alt, then gifted me with tens of thousands of spare credits.

Clearly there's more to this than the simple assumption that avatars with sex appeal get gifts thrown at them.   Really, it's hard to believe that anybody who's played an MMO long enough to amass sufficient wealth to be able to throw gifts at random newbies would still be unaware that many female characters are actually played by males, and that the attractiveness of a female avatar in no way relates to the appearance of the person behind it.

No, it simply hasn't been my experience that just rolling up a_random_sexy_elf_girl_001 will guarantee showers of gifts.  Sure, flirting and deliberate manipulation may be one way of getting assistance (regardless of your gender).  But politeness, intelligent questions, and "in character" conversation, on the other hand, are almost always welcomed with kindness and assistance as well.  This is one stereotype I mistrust, and I suspect that a closer and more quantifiable measurement might go a long way to showing that life in an MMO isn't quite as black-and-white as the stereotypes would have it.

No real deep and meaningful thoughts here, I suppose.  It's crunch time at work and I'm back from over 12 hours in the office, so I'm probably lucky to be coherent at all.  Just some random reflections that have been bouncing around in my mind.  =)

Friday, November 20, 2009

For Posterity

This photo was taken in Jan 2008 ago in a bar for Luke (Feconix)'s birthday:  me attempting to strangle Ben (aka Beghn), one of my predecessors at work.  (Updated with correct info thanks to Cuppycake!)  Although I do occasionally want to strangle Ben, he actually turned out to be a really amiable guy, the kind you'd be happy to have a drink and a chat with in a pub any night.  Anyway, I had a copy of the photo at the time, but somehow managed to lose it.  Happily, Luke still had a copy and sent it to me last night, so I'm posting it here for posterity so I don't lose it again!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Links 'n' things!

There's a new blog in town ... the SOE Artists blog!  And this week there's a great article up by EverQuest II animator Tom Tobey.  Not only does he give a fascinating insight into what kind of work goes into animating characters in the game, but there's also a little sneak peek at the panda men from EverQuest II's upcoming expansion, The Sentinel's Fate.

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

What's Aion Doing Right?

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd been playing and enjoying Aion lately, somewhat to my surprise.  While I haven't had much free time to play it, aspects of it have impressed me very much and I'm still enjoying it when I can log in.

Aion seems to be one of those games where people either love it or hate it; I rarely hear anybody in between.  I actually had no intention of playing it myself, for a few reasons:  one, I hate playing humans and the only race choice in Aion looks basically human; two, I heard it was fairly centered around PvP and I don't enjoy PvP; and three, I heard it was a bit grindy, and I don't much like that either.  I was vaguely aware it was in beta, but I'd planned to play Champions Online instead since I enjoyed City of Villains a lot.  Unfortunately, Champions Online turned out to be a disappointment to the point I considered it unplayable.  So when some friends decided to play Aion and invited me to join them, I gave it a try.

I certainly won't try to claim that it's a perfect game or is going to make WoW obsolete or any such thing. The former is clearly not true and the latter seems highly unlikely, although Massively posted an article this weekend that shows the game really is apparently doing extremely well in terms of sales. In terms of game play it's pretty standard MMO fare, not a lot of innovation, and it could certainly use a bit of polishing in a few areas (see my previous post on view predicates, for example).  And they have a serious, serious bot and spammer problem - I think they are really remiss to have launched the game without having a better (read: apparently any) framework in place to address it.

In other areas, however, it's very polished indeed and very well designed. The little tutorial videos that new characters can choose to play are excellent, particularly when contrasted to Champions Online's terrible walls of unhelpful NPC text. Some nice little features like hotlinks in the quest journal are small things but extremely nice: you can click into key words in your quest to learn more about areas or NPCs referenced, and click a handy 'locate' button to mark them on your mini map for ease of finding. The "campaign" special questline that runs through the game is really great, helping the player easily identify the major plot of the game and feel as if they're making real contributions to it.  Tradeskills (I'm currently a 100 skill handicrafter) are nothing innovative and there are certainly elements I don't like there, but seem well balanced and well thought out with elements from both WoW and Vanguard, and fit well into the game's role for them.  And the main reason there is such a draw for bots and spammers is that the economy is actually very well balanced indeed, no small task in a big MMO.

In particular the use of little cut-scenes to highlight the campaign quests is an example to us all of how they could be used really effectively. The storyline about your character 'recovering' his or her lost memories draws the player right into the story and make them feel really special - in what other game do you get to fly around, fighting armies, and battling uber monsters... at level 6? The use of cut scenes and "visions" to flash forward and preview how cool and powerful you WILL be if you keep playing is a very effective technique that really pulls you in and makes you feel special.  Look at these screenshots, which are game content I was experiencing at level 6:

Really?  Flying around in fantastic armor in a stunning landscape, fighting powerful and awesome looking evil Balaur?  How can this not win, compared to most standard MMO games where at level 6 you're generally running around in your underwear, or at best grungy brown leather, trying to find a rusty sword to smack rats with?  Aion is absolutely outstanding at making you feel special, from sequences like the above to cut scenes at the completion of important quest lines where you see yourself surrounded by the entire village cheering you.  Heck yes.

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.

The other thing that really gets my attention is just how darn pretty the world is.  I just love looking around a beautiful world and ever since EQ1 I've been amassing an enormous collection of screenshots of beautiful views from various virtual worlds.  Call me an MMO tourist if you like, but I love finding things of beauty in the world and taking those screenshots.  It's one thing I love about EQ2, and Aion is also a beautiful, detailed world just begging me to hit that screenshot button over and over.

Chanter on an airship in the sky canals of Sanctum:

Newbie spiritmaster standing in the woods:

A specific area that annoys me very much about the art in many computer games (MMOs or not) is how they claim to be set in other worlds, and often populated with nonhuman races, but then the animals all over the world are just the same old animals we see on earth (and almost always North America).  Really, how many times do I need to see spiders, wolves, and rats?  If a world's ecosystem did not evolve humans, why does it make sense that it evolved every other animal that exists on earth?  And most of all, why does the game team expect me to take it seriously that this is another world, when all the flora and fauna are straight out of my back yard?  It's not just irritating, it's immersion breaking, and very sloppy design in my opinion.  And I hate it.  So I have been delighted to see Aion broke away from this.  What their art team seems to generally have done is take 2 or 3 familiar earth animals and then hybridize them into some new creature.  Similar enough looking to not seem completely weird to players, and for it to be believable that this creature could fill the same ecological niche as its earth equivalents, but original and not the same old rats, spiders, and wolves that have been boring players in every computer game since The Bard's Tale.

Darus - some kind of adorable sheep/kangaroo hybrid, with perhaps a touch of mountain goat?

A snuffler, an armadillo/mole/anteater cross?

A kirca - a kangaroo rat meets an armadillo?  These little hopping guys are so adorable, I fell of a cliff trying to screenshot them the first time I saw them.

A tog: a cross between a wild boar and a bulldog, having a really bad day:

Instead of wolves we have the worg: a lean, mean mix of fox, hyena, wolf, and perhaps a touch of rabid badger:

The ever so charming potcrab, some sort of lobster/crab hybrid, which always looks like it's smiling:

A sparkle, which appears to be a cross between a firefly and a stag beetle:

A porgus, which appears to be a tiger/pig mix with an almost monkey-like face:

Larail, a greenish hare/kangaroo sort of thing with almost ostrich-like feet:

I love the level of detail that's gone into creating all these original critters.  The same level of detail also impressed me hugely when I noticed that the player characters have idle animations that are weather and terrain specific.

When it rains, if you've gone idle for a moment, characters start to look up at the sky, hold up their hands to feel the rain, and then pull out a leaf umbrella to shelter under.

In hot terrain, characters fan themselves to keep cool.

If you go idle in water, characters will bend down and splash the water, or try to catch fish.

Small touches, but completely unexpected: when I first noticed it, I was absolutely delighted.  I really love finding little details in game worlds and the level of attention that the Aion artists have paid to small details has so far continued to surprise and impress me over and over.

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

G.I.R.L. blog: A Touch of Hero Worship

This week on SOE's GIRL blog I talked a little bit about Felicia Day, creator of the web series "The Guild":

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!)

From this:

To this:

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

The darker side of Facebook applications

No original thoughts from me in this post, but I know quite a few people read this blog who don't necessarily read other gaming news sites, so I thought I'd share a few articles about the shadier side of Facebook/MySpace games and applications that have been receiving a lot of attention within the gaming industry lately. (Those who actually work in the industry have probably already read them, please do feel free to skip the rest of this post if so!)

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.

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:

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

What do players want?

Selections from recent player-submitted in-game feedback ...


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: 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

The Good, The Bad, and the Moral

Evizaer over at That's A Terrible Idea posted a nice discussion of the overuse of good vs evil in games. It's certainly not just talking about MMOs, but the comments apply very much to MMOs as well as other types of game. And since I work in MMOs, I had a few thoughts relating to them.

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


Fall is here, and so is a wealth of new computer games! My significant other has just finished Uncharted II and is currently engrossed in Borderlands, and I've been playing with the superhero themed Champions Online, and the beautiful Asian influenced Aion.

Both games have surprised me in different ways, both good and bad. I'll leave comments about Aion to a different post, just noting that I'm actually enjoying it very much, and finding it surprisingly more captivating than I had expected. And I'll restrain myself from talking too much about Champions Online too, various existing reviews and blogs pretty much sum up my experiences. But I did want to comment on one thing about Champions Online that I haven't seen anybody else mention, and that's the population ratio.

What do I mean by the population ratio? In this case, I'm specifically referring to the ratio of males to females in the NPC population of the world. (Obviously, the ratio of male to female player characters is much harder for the dev team to influence.) Yes, it took me about 2 weeks to notice it, but there are almost no women NPCs in Champions Online's earlier zones at all. (Possibly there aren't any in the higher level zones either, but as the game was so broken that I gave up before getting there, I won't comment on those.)

Champions Online has a little newbie tutorial that takes you through the very basics, and then spits you out in one of two huge overland destinations: an arid American desert, or a snowy wasteland in Canada. In the desert, old nuclear tests have created a population of ferocious mutants who recently seem to be organizing for a concerted attack on the defending US soldiers' base. And in Canada, the Canadian soldiers are defending the area against an uprising of hunter-patriot revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the current power structures (or, in fact, killing anything in sight). Both zones are enormous and have enough content to carry you through a dozen or more levels.

What I eventually came to notice, however, was that none of the forces on either side of these fights were female. Despite the fact that there are no restrictions on what roles women can fill in the Canadian military, not a single soldier NPC in the Canada zone is female -- and the one single supervillain who seemed to be assisting the hunter-patriot rebels was written as a ditzy valley-girl with voiceover lines including "I never wanted to be a supervillain. But surgeries to turn someone into a cat-girl don't come cheap!" and "I'm not really a supervillain, I'm just a 'furry'who fell in with the wrong crowd." Likewise, not a single member of the US forces in the desert zone is a female, and nor is a single one of the mutants they are fighting, nor are any of the ghosts in the nearby ghost town.

Delving further into this mystery, I discovered that not only are none of the military NPCs female, but female players are actually not even given the military chest costume options in the character creator. Males get a couple of options called "military"; they're totally missing from the available female options.

Although there are a few token female NPCs such as questgivers and trainers, and a grand total of two female supervillains that I saw, overall the attackable NPC population in the first 20+ levels of the game has got to be over 95% male. Females are mainly 'flavour' type NPCs, background characters or victims asking for help or questgivers/trainers. It struck me as extremely strange when I noticed this, and it makes me speculate on how this could have happened. I could think of two possibilities:
  • 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.
Either way, it seems to be a rather unfortunate outcome. As a female player, I feel that the lack of 'military' costume options (and yes, I did want to create a character using one, which is how I noticed the lack) is very disappointing. And more importantly, unintentional or not, I feel that the game's population is sending a rather negative message about how the dev team perceives the role of women in their world. Sure, the majority of their players are probably male, and sure, the majority of soldiers, rebels, and (theoretically) mutants in the real world may be male, but there are still female players (like me) and there are many female soldiers (and rebels) who have made unimaginable sacrifices throughout history for the causes they believe in, and in my view it seems the game is simply ignoring this entirely, which seems somewhat belittling, at best. And specific to the uniforms, correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems the simplest design decision would be to just make a standard set of chest uniform options and then apply them to both genders unless there was a specific reason not to. And with most of the costume options it seems this is indeed the case. The military chest option is definitely not a graphically complex choice. It would therefore seem to have required a conscious decision to remove the military options from the female gender, and this makes me curious. Specifically, it makes me want to ask, "why are you intentionally limiting me?"

Since noticing this about Champions Online I've been extra aware of what I'm doing with my own population in EverQuest II; I'm currently creating some tradeskill quest lines, and I find myself checking that I haven't made too many females compared to males, or the reverse. On the whole I can't think of any great imbalance in EverQuest II, but it's easy to be influenced by your own prejudices without even realizing it.

I wonder how many other games suffer a similar bias, and nobody's even noticed?

Friday, October 16, 2009

G.I.R.L. blog: Adventures in D&D

Another G.I.R.L. blog is up, this time it's my aged maundering about the trials of being a girl with a D&D Players Handbook.

Adventures in Dungeons and Dragons

Yeah, this is the cover I remember! =)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Community Management

"Wait a minute," I hear you say, "why did are you talking about community management when that's not your job?"

Actually, the blog title may be deceiving. Since I don't work in community management, I certainly don't actually presume to blog about how or why to do it. However, it's on my mind because Cuppycake does do it, and very well, and she recently linked the following article which I found was a very interesting read:

Although I don't work in community management (unless you count a brief stint as a volunteer moderator on the SOE EQII forums, before I was hired as a designer), as a game designer I do work with our community team and at times I can be affected by the effects of their work on a near daily basis. I therefore know very well that a good community team is hugely helpful to a game's design team, and I have definitely learned to appreciate the rare value of a good community manager.

Not all game companies even allow their developers to post on public forums; in some companies nobody is allowed to post except the community team. SOE is a company that does allow it, and I do appreciate that as I find it really useful to interact directly with the game community. (Scott Hartsman, my former boss and he who hired me into this industry, has talked elsewhere about some common sense guidelines that he gives to dev teams who interact directly with players and potential future customers; there are other suggestions elsewhere too.) However, precisely because I'm allowed to interact directly with our customers, I do have to be careful about what I say and how, even though my posting may be infrequent and very topic focused. As a result, I'm extra interested in reading about how the real community management professionals go about it and what kind of issues they face doing this all day, every day.

While the whole article is interesting (assuming you have the least bit of interest about community management), this bit in particular really rang a bell for me and is something that I am going to take very much to heart:

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.

This is such an easy trap to fall into; in fact, I know I've fallen into it myself in the past when I didn't know better. Like most of my co-workers, I have an enormous list of things that I want to do, things I plan to do, things that are even already in progress, that will improve this game I love and work on.

Yet, when I know something is a good idea and really needs doing, and particularly when I'm already in the process of fixing it, there's nothing more annoying than someone coming up and telling you how stupid you are for not fixing it. The kneejerk reaction is of course "yes I know it needs fixing, in fact, I already fixed it this week, just calm down and it'll reach live servers with the next update" or something similar. Or even a new feature suggestion: "OMG, the one thing this game absolutely needs is flying fish mounts, I can't believe you haven't done this, it's so obvious!" when you know that you have, in fact, already thought of flying fish mounts long ago and are just waiting on art assets to implement them. It's so tempting to say "Duh, I know, already in the plan and half done."

But no. What do I win by proving how smart I am, or the team is? Nothing. Besides, just because I've thought of something already, doesn't mean the customer isn't still equally right when they think of the same thing. Whether we had already planned to implement the customer's suggestion months ago or whether it really was something we hadn't thought of isn't really important; the most important thing is that it's a good suggestion, and the game will be better for adding it. This is a great piece of advice (and a great article in general) and I suspect I will be rereading it again in the future.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A week of customer service

Ah, customer service and the consumer experience in general, how powerful you are. A good experience can win a customer for life, and a bad one lose one just as fast. And I'm not just referring to customer service within computer games, although that's just one example of how important the experience is in general. No, I've had a week of the most mixed experiences in very diverse areas.

The first experience was by far the best - in fact, possibly among the best customer service I've ever experienced anywhere. My sandals were wearing out; great sandals, but I'd been wearing them all summer and the leather was starting to crack and rub my toe raw, so I decided it was time to replace them. Alas, at the end of September, all the shops around San Diego have moved their stock to winter inventory and the selection of sandals is very limited. So, I tried searching online for the brand name of my current sandals (Umberto Raffini) in hopes I could just buy a new pair exactly the same. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them. However, Google did bring up a site called Zappos, which I'd heard of before; in fact, Tracy "Owlchick" Seamster had mentioned it on the G.I.R.L. Blog. What can I say? I was impressed. Nice clean, clear site design, and their search options help you narrow your search down lots. Each item has no less than 6 photos showing it from every angle and close up. Customer reviews give more information and opinions. I went through all the sandals of the colour and style I wanted and added about 5 to my shopping basket, then went through the reviews of those and narrowed it down to just one, Softsoles brand "Cammy" style in black. Not too scruffy to wear to work, yet very comfortable, and had excellent customer reviews. And look, free 3-4 day shipping, and Zappos has a free return policy if they don't fit, so why not?

Order placed, I randomly tweeted on my personal twitter account that I had just bought some sandals from Zappos and was impressed by the site so far. Within minutes, someone from @zappos_service had replied saying the sandals look great and suggesting that I direct message my order number to them so they could expedite the shipping. Which I did; and within an hour I got an email update saying that my sandals would now arrive the next day, instead of the normal 3-4 day wait. Not only that, but in order to send them the next day, they actually had to cancel the original order (which had shipped already) and send out a new order via overnight UPS so it would arrive the next day, and all of this at their expense. And not only that, but they also upgraded me to their "VIP" service so that if I order anything in the future, I'll automatically get free overnight delivery. Hmm. Am I likely to use Zappos.com again after this? Heck yes. In fact, I'll soon need some sandals for my hallowe'en costume and I know where I'll be going. The sandals did arrive the next day as promised and are indeed super comfortable, and I've been wearing them since. Now that's a great customer service experience. (Their order map that Tracy's blog post mentions is also so cool that I caught my boyfriend playing with it for at least 10 minutes, watching shoe orders and voting them "good" or "bad".)

If only I could say the same about the next few...

My grandmother, wonderful woman that she is, lives in England and for the last 10 years or so I've occasionally sent her chocolates and fudge for special occasions. I used Thornton's with no problems for all the years I was living in Australia; they're a great chocolatier with little shops all over England and I never come back from visiting without a bag or two of their champagne truffles. Unfortunately, when I moved to the US I discovered a serious problem with their web site: it doesn't accept American credit cards. I have no explanation of why this might be the case; both my Australian and my US credit cards are visa cards, and I've never encountered any other site that has trouble with US credit cards. However, for the past 2 years every time I've wanted to send something via Thornton's to a family member in the UK, I've had to phone up to place the order. And since their telephone support is only available during UK working hours, this requires me to remember to place the order before 9am in my time zone (5pm in the UK), which is not exactly convenient even aside from the international call charge.

Every time I go through this ridiculous process I ask why their web site can't accept US credit cards, and every time the person I'm talking to tells me that it's not their fault, it's an issue with the credit card companies and they can't do anything about it. Which is clearly a ridiculous answer. The issue apparently affects Thornton's and no other web site I've encountered, and that means it's clearly something specific to Thornton's. And while it may ultimately be something that the credit card companies need to fix, there's no chance in hell that it's ever going to be fixed unless Thornton's takes the initiative and chases those companies down. Is Visa ever going to phone up Thornton's and say "hey, we notice that your US based customers can't use their visa cards on your site, but don't worry, we fixed it for you?" Yeah, just about the time pigs fly. Thornton's has the responsibility to fix the issue and Thornton's has failed to do so for over 2 years now (probably more). Last Christmas I sent my grandmother chocolate, and I ended up speaking to a completely new phone operator on her very first day. It took a 45 minute long distance call, she got the order wrong, got the address wrong, and got the delivery date wrong, and my grandmother ended up with her Christmas present delivered around the 5th of December instead of at Christmas. When I complained to Thornton's they sent an additional small box of chocolates to her at the correct time, but basically said they were sorry but couldn't do anything about it.

So I had already pretty much resolved never to use Thornton's again, but my grandmother is very ill and I wanted to send something quickly. I decided to give their web site one last try to send her some fudge, and lo and behold, the same problem appeared and my credit card wasn't accepted. I tried 2 credit cards and my debit card and got the same error. With no way to reach their customer service team without waiting till the following morning, and keeping in mind my last absolutely awful experience with phoning them, I decided to just try another site. Sorry Thornton's, you've lost my business after 10 years of regular orders.

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.

Next attempt, Rococo Chocolates, also recommended by the same friend. Ok, I want to buy fudge. I might settle for some liqueur truffles. But look, there's no search box and no site map. My only choices are by category. Where would fudge be? Gift boxes, chocolate bars, gift bags, chocolate art, hampers, confectionary, sugar-free, kids, and accessories are the only category options. Under confectionery perhaps? No, that appears to contain only "gift cubes and boxes", "nougat", and "sugar crafts". 5 minutes of poking around the site's incredibly unhelpful categories and failing to find any way to search for either fudge or alcohol chocolates, and I gave up on that site before even getting to the check out.

A desperate google search for fudge delivery in the UK finally pointed me to Not Just Balloons, where I managed to locate fudge and even place an order. This seemed like an OK experience, until I got an email the next day saying my order had been placed too late for overnight delivery and please contact them before 3pm to confirm if Monday delivery was acceptable. Since they are based in England, of course, the email was sent at 12:50am when I was fast asleep, and 3pm their time was 7am my time, when I was also asleep. A good customer service representative might have considered the billing address of the credit card a clue here, but apparently not. I replied at 9am when I got the email, which should still have been during work hours, but I still haven't received a response so I have no idea if my grandmother got the fudge on Friday, will get it on Monday, or if the entire thing is on hold. The most annoying thing about this is that their order page helpfully shows a clock and says "you have 1 hour 15 minutes to place your order for next day delivery". The time it displays ticks down, but when I placed my order, it said I still had 1 hour and 15 minutes for next day delivery so the fact that I even got the email was a failure on their part.

So, my final customer service frustration this week ... Dell. On Tuesday the graphics card in my Dell XPS desktop inexplicably died. I was trying to log in to Test server on Tuesday night to do some work, as I normally try to spend a couple hours hanging out there hearing what out players are experiencing and thinking, as I've mentioned previously. I barely had time to say hello though when my computer suddenly said "entering power saver mode" and shut down. I rebooted, logged in again, and suddenly the screen was giving me odd colours, then froze up entirely and gave me a blue screen listing display drivers as a cause. So, reinstalled my graphics drivers, tried again, and ... crash. Tried Aion to make sure it wasn't EQII related, and couldn't even get to the character select screen before it locked up. Gah! Fortunately, my boyfriend had a similar graphics card in his desktop that we could use to test, and after swapping that card in, everything worked just fine. Now, I worked for 9 years in IT support and while I'm not a total hardware expert, I'm confident to say that this is pretty definitively a graphics card issue. And look, my desktop's still under full warranty with Dell. No problem, right? Oh so wrong ...

The first time I phoned customer support, I was put through to a very unhelpful lady who insisted that before she could do anything for me, I had to update the bios of my desktop and run a diagnostic on the graphics card using the Dell diagnostics CD. Both of which were clearly unnecessary in my opinion, but as she refused to do anything else until I did this, I hung up, swapped the old card back in, and tried it. Obviously, nothing changed. I called back and went through to a switchboard, since I couldn't find my express service code. The operator put me through to someone else, and after lengthy holding that person put me through to a great guy called Jonathan who completely agreed it was a graphics card issue, but unfortunately he was part of the premium service team and apparently I shouldn't have been transferred there at all. He updated my records to show he agreed I needed a new card, and transferred me to what he said was the XPS department. They read his notes, agreed I needed a new graphics card, and helpfully explained that they weren't the people I needed to talk to, and transferred me again. By this time, I'd been on the phone for an entire hour and still wasn't any closer to getting a new graphics card than before.

By the time I finally I got through to someone who could arrange to send out a new card, I had been on the phone for 1 hour and 7 minutes, not counting the original 15 minutes with the "update your bios" lady in the original call. An hour and a half of my time just to get a replacement graphics card under warranty when I had already fully diagnosed the problem myself? Not good customer service. In fact, a waste of everybody's time. When you consider the hourly cost of my time, the cost of the time of all 5 people that I completely unnecessarily spoke to, and the phone call cost, I could probably have just bought a new graphics card for not much more, and I'd be up and running now instead of waiting for the new part to arrive. Although I eventually got what I needed, Dell was the worst customer experience of all since it was such an unnecessary waste of both my time and everyone else's.

All of which is probably a much longer rant than anybody has bothered to read, but goes to show what a huge difference there can be between a fabulous customer experience (Zappos) and a horrible one (Thornton's and Dell). Will I use and recommend Zappos again? Definitely. Will I use or recommend Thornton's again? Highly unlikely. Will I use Dell again? Unfortunately, since I still have a system under warranty with them, I may be forced to. I certainly won't recommend them though. Next time I want to upgrade my desktop I'll certainly be taking a good hard look around at other options, and my old Dell Inspiron laptop is being replaced with a Toshiba netbook, not a Dell.

What's really odd when you think about it is that all of us experience customer service and know how important it is. Everybody at Dell who could influence the customer service experience there has had their own share of customer service wins and fails. Yet when it comes to their own company, they expect their customers to forgive far more than I'm sure they would ever put up with as a customer of another company. How is it that so many companies have such enormous blind spots? How can it be that Thornton's has been well aware that their website is failing to allow an entire continent to give them money, and haven't bothered to fix it for over 2 years? In theory the capitalist system should weed out failures like these companies, but it just doesn't seem to be happening, or at least, not happening fast. Thornton's undoubtedly still turns the bulk of their profit from in-store sales and can apparently afford to ignore their internet market. Dell has a huge market from corporate sales (to whom they provide much better support) and can apparently therefore afford to be inefficient with the small individual customers. I'd like to believe that eventually these companies will shape up or fold, but perhaps I'm being too optimistic about the power of market forces. At any rate, as a consumer I can still control my own actions, and today they will be taking me to Zappos, not Thornton's.

Anybody know a good chocolatier in England that would like to accept international orders? :p

Monday, September 28, 2009

G.I.R.L. blog: My First Multiplayer Game

A little bit of "good old days" remininscence for my birthday on the G.I.R.L. blog:

Also for my birthday BBQ, I made a (rather lazy) version of the cake from Portal:

Not quite as good as the version I made a year or two ago for a friend at work (below), but I didn't have a lot of time this weekend.

This weekend's cake was just a regular white cake, with orange chocolate buttercream icing and covered in mini chocolate chips. The cake tasted ok but was a little dry, it was just a random recipe I pulled up which I hadn't tried before. Might need to look around for a better vanilla cake recipe if I make one again. Oh well, still tasted ok and the BBQ part was delicious too!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Home-made Macaroni & Cheese


8 oz macaroni (usually elbow macaroni, but you can use anything really)
1 cup breadcrumbs (can use up stale bread this way)
3 oz salted butter
2 oz flour
4 oz cheese (cheddar or whatever you prefer)
2 cups milk
(optional) 2 sausages/hot dogs
1 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper


Boil 8 oz. macaroni (about 10 minutes) till almost cooked, but still on the firm side. Drain these well, and place in a medium size oven-safe serving dish.

While the macaroni is boiling, prepare breadcrumbs by grating or tearing apart bread. Melt about 1 oz salted butter to 1 cup of breadcrumbs and mix together. Set aside in a bowl. (You can make extra breadcrumbs and freeze them for future use.)

Grate 4oz of cheese and set aside.
Measure 2 cups milk and set aside.

Optional: fry or grill sausages and cut into slices when cooked. Sprinkle these over the pasta in the serving dish.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 2oz butter and stir in 2 oz. flour. Mix well until the mixture looks mealy, but is not yet turning brown. This is called a "roux".

Add the milk you set aside previously, and stir vigorously with a whisk until the sauce thickens - it will suddenly turn from liquid, to thick sauce. Allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 5 minutes to thicken. If you notice any lumps, whisk the sauce again vigorously until they are gone.

Add a teaspoon of mustard powder and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. You can also add any other flavorings at this point if you wish, such as spices or beer (if you add liquid, you may need to simmer for a bit longer to thicken again). Add the cheese that you set aside previously, and stir only long enough to melt it.

When the sauce tastes good, pour it over the pasta in the serving dish. Smooth the top with a spatula or spoon, and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top. Put the dish in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are starting to brown slightly.

Serve hot!

The cheese sauce is also delicious over vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) instead of pasta.

View predicates

If you're not actually working in game design the term "view predicates" might not necessarily mean anything to you without explanation, but the concept is pretty simple. The word "predicate" is from the Latin praedicatum, from praedicare ‘make known beforehand, declare’. In game design it refers to something that's required (a condition that has to be met) before you can do something else. For example, I must have my car key in my possession before I can drive the car. A "view predicate" specifically would be something that's required before you can see something else.

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.