Monthly Archives: December 2010

You know the single player game is done right?

Once again, an idea from comments on a news post. Some goof ball commented that Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had been completed, they were just drawing it out to extend the life of the console. Even the Picard-Riker double facepalm isn’t enough to cover that idiocy.

But it reminded me of the time David and I were in Borders, looking for an Iron Man collection. I had just been hired by Sega and was very excited to be working on Iron Man 2: the Video Game. I wanted to read the comic, at least a bit, so I would understand the world and the characters. I couldn’t find it, so when one of the ever so helpful employees walked by and asked if I needed help, I asked if he knew anything about Iron Man and if he did, could he recommend a few of the graphic novels for me.

As it turns out, he didn’t know anything about Iron Man. But he *did* know about Superman and Batman, and began recommending those to me. I interrupted him to point out, I was looking for Iron Man for a very specific reason. I pointed out I wanted to find the ones that covered the time period when Tony Stark was in charge of SHIELD. When he admitted he didn’t know, he asked me why.

Now, I have never been one to keep information to myself, and I quite love the look on people’s faces when they find out I design video games. I am an extrovert, we have no secrets unless they aren’t ours. So I explained to the young man why I was specifically looking for Iron Man stuff. He, as do most people, got very excited and struck up a conversation about video games. One thing lead to another and we got to talking about future games we were looking forward to.

I feel the urge to point out, up to now, David, had been standing silently by, as he always does. He doesn’t like telling people he makes games, and has expressed to me that he doesn’t particularly like when I tell people he makes games. Odd, but generally I respect his introvertedness.

Right as David turns to join the conversation, the Borders Employee says that one of the games he is most looking forward to is Bioshock 2. Of course, David, working on Bioshock 2, immediately clams up. I nod and say I am quite looking forward to Bioshock 2 as well. The guy interrupts me to say, and I will quote as accurately as I can recall:

“You know the single player game is done right? It’s been done. They are just working on the stupid multiplayer. Don’t you just hate when they ruin games by taking time away from the single player to tack on a multiplayer that no one really wants?”

To this day I have no idea how I managed not to laugh in this guys face. Oh, to be fair, he had no *clue* who he was talking to. But surely they know 2k is in the area and they are *likely* to have the employees in the store. I can assure you, not only was the single player not complete at this point, but also the multiplayer, not even being developed by 2k Marin, but rather by Digital Extremes in Canada. Holy wars of the necessity of multiplayer aside, this guy could not have been more wrong. We didn’t say anything, but the very moment we got into our car we both started laughing about it.

After 4 years in this industry, I can honestly say, I can’t imagine a publisher being “done” with a game and *not* shipping it immediately. More than half the time I would say they aren’t done with the game and it gets ripped out of the developers hands and shipped anyway. It’s the great joy of producers to come in and slash features to make sure a game ships on time. And generally the aim of every programmer, designer, and artist to cram as much awesome as possible into the game before then. I am always surprised at how much developers are completely willing to crunch just to get a feature or thing into a game because they truly believe it is going to make it better.

I doubt very seriously that any publisher would *sit* on a game, all done, just to “extend” the life of a console. If anything they would push to release a second game quickly, to extend the life of a console. It is far more correct that games are in fact rarely, if ever “completed” but are instead ripped from their loving womb and shoved into the cold hard world to be broken, criticized, and abandoned, long before they are actually ready to. It’s part of why leads and producers love completion – just make it work type developers so much.

Not about WoW, but rather about Games

My inspiration for posts often comes from a news article I read. Today’s comes from a member blog post on Gamasutra. It is a QA Tester who believes every company should have a mandatory play hour every day. To play their game. I laughed a bit, started to navigate away and decided to take a moment to read the comments. Imagine my surprise that people were arguing against his point.

I’m sorry… but WHAT?

Were there seriously *game developers* saying we *shouldn’t* be playing our own game? Excuse me while I boggle at that absurdity. If someone had come in and said, I do play our game, more than an hour each day, because I am testing things I am putting in, there might have been a valid point. But these people seemed to have missed the guy’s point. Let me see if I can nail it down a bit better.

When designing, arting, programming a game, the designer, artist, programmer is the FIRST person to see it. I build a level, I put it in. I should immediately be applying values to the level. Is it fun? Does it hold to the spirit of the design? Is it fun? Does it fit in the framework of levels? Is it fun? Does it fit in the game? Is it fun? Is this a treasure area or a combat area? Is it fun? An artist or programmer will likely ask their own barrage of questions (Is it pretty? Does it fit with the theme? Is it optimal? Does it work as intended? Does it work as a system?) but they are the first people to experience the game.

It doesn’t exist unless it is on screen. I first heard this at GDC, and I cannot express how much I love that sentiment. It doesn’t exist unless it is IN THE GAME. Once you can play your game, your daily focus, beyond tasks, is finding the worst thing in your game and fixing it. How do you find the things that are bad and need to be fixed? By playing your game. How will you know what systems are currently in place to use for the best effect? By playing your game. How will you know when the exact piece of art you need already exists, it just isn’t in your level? By playing your game. How do you know it is fun and you are on the right track? By playing your game.

Play it early, play it often, and play it as oddly as you can. Once you feel you have exhausted *every* possible bit of creativity you have, get someone else to play it and watch them. Don’t help them, but watch them. Play it when you are tired. Play it when you are inebriated. Play it when you are caffeinated. Try to play an entire level without killing anything. Try to run past enemies. Try to only use alt fire attacks. So on and so forth.

I love the idea of sitting down and playing something from the game every day. Gather up the design team, sit them down in the conference room and play the level we haven’t seen in the longest. Or the level with the most changes. Talk about it. Just talk out loud. Make different people play it. Attempt to identify where it went right and where it is going wrong. (Here’s the trick, don’t come up with solutions, let the designer think about that later and talk about it later. You’ll get bogged down in problem solving then.) Now, to be fair, no, I don’t think you should base all your opinions on your game off your own design team, but they are the first line of defense against a bad game.

Not playing your own game is almost as absurd as being a game developer and not playing games. As a designer, I try to play new games or significant games every so often. (Or at the very least watch other people play games I am terrible at.) I was once told about a lead, who was interviewing a design candidate. They asked him what he was playing. He responded that he hadn’t been playing games recently but rather had been focused on getting a job. (He, not too shockingly, didn’t get that job either.) When designing games is your career, playing games is the equivalent of taking a refresher class. Taking a certification course. Attending a seminar. More importantly, you have to do it with games you would never play in the first place.

This is why I am so thankful to have family members who play games. I can watch them play, and excel, at games I am abysmal at. I can watch them and determine why they are fun (despite not being fun to me) and then apply that later.

As I boggled over the seemingly absurd responses, I did note one thing. Several people assumed because he was QA that a. he was talking about focus testing or b. his point was invalidated because he was QA. If there ever was a time i wanted to reach through the internet and slap someone, it would be now. Never discredit an idea because it comes from an unexpected source. A shocking number of design ideas I have had come when doing something completely absurd, or talking about something not even remotely close to the issue I solve. If an artist comes up with a great gameplay idea, I am not going to discount it because it’s his job to make the level pretty. If it makes the game better, use it.

That’s why they are called “heroic”

The great race began at midnight, then barreled on into Tuesday morning. Camping spawns, blitzing from zone to zone, barely reading quest text. All in the hope to be 85 as soon as possible. Of course, it isn’t just getting to 85, it’s all about the epics. Those lovely purple items that make a character so powerful and makes them truly feel like a Hero. This means getting what gear is available and running dungeons until the player’s eyes bleed. In true Blizzard fashion, dungeons come in two flavors, Regular and Heroic. Heroics drop better gear and points which can be exchanged for gear.

In Wrath, many players complained that Blizzard went too far into the “welfare” epics. Implying that by having an epic item drop off the last boss of a heroic instance, allowing players to buy epics with badges dropped from heroics, and having “major patch” dungeons drop the mid level of epic, they had made epics less awesome and amazing.

First off, the belief that something in the game is “rare” or “special” is a fallacy. Nothing is difficult to get, provided sufficient time and persistence. Want all ICC 25 gear? Join a guild that has ICC 25 on farm and show up every run. Want Kingslayer? It was sold on many servers for less than 10k gold. Also rarity in this game is completely relative. Take the Celestial Steed and Rivendare’s Deathcharger for instance. The Celestial Steed is obtained from the Blizzard Pet store for $25. Rivendare’s Deathcharger is a notoriously low drop rate mount from Stratholm. The average number of Stratholm runs to get the mount is 100. Most players give up after about 20, especially since it is not a guaranteed drop after 100 runs. Pinecone of Echo Isles will point to his 242 runs to acquire this mount as proof of the vileness of the RNG. (Random Number Generator.) Logic dictates that the Celestial Steed then would be more common, thus less rare than the Deathcharger’s Reins. Over the entirety of the game, this is likely true.

However, the player base is split across four regions, hundreds of servers, and two factions. So in reality, the rarity of something in relation to a player is really only drawing from a few thousand players at most. In Booze Hounds, of Echo Isles, the Celestial Steed was dubbed “too expensive” for many of the adult players with children. To that end, only 4 of the guild members had the purchasable mount. In contrast, many of these same players were completely willing to spend downtime in the game farming Stratholm, and as a result there were no less than 8 of Rivendare’s coveted mount. In this small sample the Celestial Steed was more rare than the Deathcharger, despite the ease of acquiring it. In the end, when playing WoW, it doesn’t matter what the entirety of the game has, it matters what you, as a player has and the people you play with (generally your guild). The rarity is relative. Was Kingslayer rare? Not in BH, where nearly everyone, including a few alts had the title.

Now, having explained this odd view of rarity, back to the epics.

In Cataclysm, Blizzard returned to the “older” way of thinking. Epics no longer drop in Dungeons, Heroic or otherwise. Epics can no longer be purchased with badges (though likely this will change when the second raid tier is implemented). And Heroics are… frustratingly difficult. The key word is frustrating. Something can be difficult or challenging, but not be frustrating. In the Lich King fight, Defiles made the battle difficult, as the players have to spread out at just the right time, in the proper fashion to prevent chaining the effect. A challenge, with 10 people, but if the effect did chain, everyone knew why. It was obvious.

Heroic Deadmines presents a boss, Admiral Ripsnarl, who spawns adds after he reaches 75% health. These adds have 60k health and must be killed within a few seconds or they double in size and health. If they double 3 times, they explode, wiping the group. Logically, the dps roles all turn and burn these adds down as quickly as possible. When attempting this with my dungeon group we repeatedly failed miserably. In an attempt to understand what was happening, I looked at the various people in our group. Every single member was over the 329 item level required to queue for heroics. Most members were even up in the 340 item level range, in addition to 3 people having the achievement for Cataclysmic Superiority, meaning all of their gear is the blue level to start this expansion. We were a full guild group, with vent, and understood the mechanics of the fight, but it was very clearly beyond our ability. It’s possible we needed more burst dps (with 2 warlocks, we were in the killing things slowly but surely) but hasn’t Blizzard’s motto been “Bring the Player not the Class”? Our tank was well geared, even gemmed and enchanted. Our healer was well geared and healing efficiently. All our dps was doing 10k+. It felt absurd that we couldn’t take this boss down.

The frustration of this fight ruined the night. There was no explanation for why we failed. Everyone was geared at the level the game said we should be. Everyone was playing efficiently, avoiding damage, and fulling their role. This lead me to one conclusion. Either the gear requirements were “off” or the boss was. The boss needed a nerf, or the item level required to queue for the dungeon needed to be higher. With a well coordinated group, on vent, well balanced, we should have been able to succeed with minimal wipes. According to Wowhead, Ripsnarl is a gear check. Does your group have the gear needed to succeed. Blizzard said yes, the boss said no. The inconsistency needs to be addressed.

I don’t think heroics should be easy, I do think they need to be doable, with an understanding of why you fail. I do think that the gear required needs to be clear. In Wrath, a stair stepped gear requirement for harder instances was implemented and understood. Perhaps they need to revisit it for Cataclysm. The worst part was, when someone pointed out that we were wiping more than we had in Heroic Raids in Wrath. And even so, we weren’t fighting for Epics, we were fighting for blues… The group almost immediately fell apart due to the morale dive bomb. Say what you will about Wrath welfare epics… At least the game was fun and I didn’t go to bed more bummed than when I started playing that night.

WTS Level 25 Guild, 250k, PST.

Guilds have always been a huge deal in World of Warcraft. As a long time player, both in and out of guilds, I can vouch for the fact that a good guild makes *all* the difference when playing. WoW is an interesting game, but is a great game when playing with other people. Of course the reverse is also true, other people can make this game terrible, but I want to focus on guilds.

Want to run a dungeon? Sure, it can be pugged through the Dungeon Finder, but having a guild run serves multiple purposes. First, you are playing with people you know. No drama over who pulled. No drama over who’s fault a wipe is. Also, you tend to work better as a team. Second, loot is so much easier to deal with. Players who will fight tooth and nail over the smallest upgrade in a pug will gladly hand over that same piece to a guildy. Not to mention that if all the people in the run are guildies, then every drop that is used is one more drop making your guild stronger. Add to this three – ventrilo is usually usable, four – breaks are generally accepted easier, and five – it’s just more fun to play with people you know, and there is really no reason to run in a non-guild group if you can get into a guild group.

In Cataclysm, they added a whole new level to guilds. Guild levels. Each guild can earn 25 levels. Each level comes with some special reward or perk. Everything from faster leveling to mounts and pets to increased skill ups and gathers! It is enough to make even the most anti-social want to join in and contribute. Also, contributing is simple. Every thing you do, very nearly, increases the xp of a guild. Leveling? 25% of your xp counts as guild xp! Battlegrounds? Kill those Horde for the good of your guild!

Now, many of the initial nay-sayers piped up with, “But that means mega-guilds will level faster!!! NO FAIR!” Well, yes, a guild with 70 active members is going to level faster than a guild with 7 active members. Logically that makes complete sense. So, Blizzard instituted a cap on the amount of guild xp earned each day. The daily cap on guild XP is 6,246,000 xp. That’s about the amount of personal exp it takes to level from level 83 to 84. No small feat.

I am currently in two guilds. One, a rather large progression raiding guild with about 40-50 active members. For the first week of guild leveling it takes about an hour, on average, to reach our daily xp cap. Even with the nerf (previously 100% of earned player xp went to the guild cap, now it is only 25%, when the 100% was active it took about guild about 30 minutes to hit cap, sometimes less). My other guild is a friends and family guild, that is literally me, and two other players. Now to be fair, I haven’t been playing those toons, and they didn’t have Cataclysm until Friday night, BUT regardless, on our best day, when all 3 of us were on, playing for a few hours, and leveling like mad we earned…. about 19% of our daily cap. This was post nerf, which means pre-nerf, just the three of us would have reached almost 76% of our daily cap. I am willing to admit that I still think these numbers are fair. We are 3 people. By no means a “real” guild. And my larger guild is the very definition of a guild, and an active one at that.

It never occurred to me that this would become a limiting factor. I mean, yes, I was aware of the desire to join a larger guild that had multiple perks (after all who can pass up 20% exp from mobs?) but I never really considered how long it would take to bring a guild up to max. I assumed that a large guild could do it quickly and a small guild it would just take time.

The total XP required for a guild to level from 1 to 25 is 845,670,000 – which translates to 136 days assuming the cap is reached on a daily basis.

136 DAYS. Meaning my little guild, playing our hardest, would be 680 days. THAT’S ALMOST 2 YEARS of solid play from 3 people. 2 YEARS?!? ARE THEY KIDDING ME?!? Now previously, we could “pad” our numbers by running old world stuff with a “guild” group and earning the achievements. But they removed that, so now, we can’t even do that. 2 years.

I was annoyed at this, until I was in Stormwind and saw someone selling a guild. Level 2 guild for sale, 6 tabs, 50k gold. Suddenly I had this image of end game guilds, creating a secondary guild, moving enough players into it to keep it capped every day, then SELLING it for huge sums.

The sadness is, this will limit the number of new guilds formed. People won’t want to be in a newbie level 1 guild. People will flock to the high level guilds to get their bonuses. People will put up with bad situations to stay with the perks a large guild has. Something like when a few friends of mine and I splintered from a dying guild to form our own won’t happen as often. I could see us staying in a negative guild just for the perks. Of course, this negative environment would make it likely for us to have bad experiences and end up leaving the game all together.

There needs to be a change, an adjustment, and some kind of account given to small guilds. You should chose a guild for the people, not for the perks. And yet, Blizzard is rewarding perk seeking behavior, for all their “bring the player not the class” they are now saying “seek out the bonuses instead of having fun”.