Monthly Archives: March 2011

Games I played this week

The 3ds came out this week, so there has been quite a bit of goofing around on it.

Pilotwings is pretty stellar. Much better than one would expect with the resort title.

Lego Star Wars 3 is simple great fun, just like all it’s predecessors.

The AR stuff on the 3DS is nothing short of magical. I hope they full support this and do tons of cards and games.

Of course I am still rocking the Dragon Quest IX. I got to the point where I am digging through grottos as quickly as possible. I can’t wait to hit one that is more my level.

In WoW, I was a part of a guild 10 man that downed Atramedes, a boss in Blackwing Descent that has some odd sound mechanics. It was quite the challenge as I was the gong ringer to interrupt the Searing Flame. We are still hitting the 25 man content pretty heavily. I am a bit depressed at the state of Affliction dps and considering trying some Destruction so I can blame my poor placement on that. My shaman may have finally reached the gear “tipping” point. One hopes. My priest is still rolling right along, and I have started doing Tol Barad dailies on both of them when possible.

My friends at Electrified Games went into Open Beta with their game, Pokemon Trading Card Game Online. It is quite fun for me, as I enjoyed the Pokemon TCG but haven’t had time or people to play with in a long time.

I picked up several games, multiple Dragon Quests, Nintendogs +cats, and some other older DS games.

 

I hold something magical, in the palm of my hand.

I hate gimmicks. 3D is a gimmick 90% of the time it is used. I am also one of those people who insists on wearing glasses. I can wear contacts, but due to the fact I spend 18 hours a day looking at computer screens, I don’t blink nearly enough so contacts make my eyes dryer than the Sahara after about 15 minutes. This explains why I dislike 3D movies so much. I already wear glasses. Adding a second set of plastic, poorly fitted glasses on top is just a fast way to make my ears, temples, and nose hurt. In addition to having to adjust them every few minutes, it just makes watching 3D a pain.

I am used to the belief that if you are adding something to your creative work, it needs to make it better. Adding something to a game? It should make the game better. Adding a brush stroke to your painting? It should make the entire composition better by it’s inclusion. 3D rarely makes something truly better in a movie. The immersion is rarely better than a well done soundtrack or compelling dialog.

That being said… Nintendo has proven they are the masters of making gimmicks exceptional. A caveat – the inclusion of the gimmick will not make a bad game good, but rather that the inclusion of a gimmick can make a good game better.

I am one of those people who desires the newest gadget. I have a netbook, iPad, MacBook, iPhone, and iPod all sitting on my desk at home. I own all three current generation consoles and most of the older generation consoles. I own a DS Lite, a DSi XL, and now, a 3DS.

Despite a rather weak launch lineup, I decided I wanted a 3DS. (As an aside, who ever heard of a new Nintendo console without a Mario game?!?)  Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time is coming out for it in June. There will be a new Mario Kart. There will be a Kid Icarus game. There will be new Professor Laytons. And at the very least there was Nintendogs +cats, a game I was excited about because I wanted cats for the first one. So I put my pre-order in.

The first thing was a test of the 3D in Pilotwings Resort. I am terrible at these kinds of games. Star Fox, Nights, and I am sure if I tried it, the original Pilotwings. I can never get the controls down well enough, I always have trouble telling the distances, etc etc. It took me about 10 minutes to find the “sweet” spot for the slider. Mine is about 2/3rds of the way up, the 3D was good, but not so overpowering that I had trouble focusing. Then I ran a course.

It was great. I felt like I was moving through a space. I felt like I could gauge the time I had to adjust for the next ball or hoop. For the first time ever I got every hoop on the whole course. For the first time ever, I felt like I had all the information needed to play these kinds of games.

I played several of the other games and my only conclusion is, this is the way 3d game were meant to be played. Sure, it’s not going to help Metroidvanias or Super Mario Brothers, but Super Mario Galaxy? Oh yeah.  Now I can’t wait to see how OoT runs on this. Lego Star Wars showed me how the simple depth made gauging distances and double jumps so much easier. Enemies leapt from ledges and I felt like they were moving through the world towards me in a way they never quite have before. I can’t wait to see what new games do with the mechanic. We have been limited by our ability to give depth perception using art, but now we can do it with tech.

The only complaint I have with the console is the size of the screens. After falling deeply in love with my DS XL, playing on the tiny screens is just annoying to me. May I have a 3DS XL please? Thanks.

It does make a difference, that it is glasses free, but I am sure that over time the tech will get better, and lessen the eye strain (I can still only play for 30-45 minutes, after which I need to take a break). Regardless, my mind can’t help but boggling in wonderment. What I am seeing, what I am playing is MAGIC. It is pure MAGIC and there is nothing anyone can say that will convince me otherwise. We have taken code and rendering blended it with display technology, and created wizardry. How far away from the holodeck are we really? When we can create 3D images without the need of glasses and hold them in the palm of our hand! To feel like I should be able to reach in and grab the mini-fig. To feel like I should be able to pet that Pikmin standing on that card and feel his smooth skin.

I spend my days doing cool stuff, and here, I just sit, marveling at the wonder of the virtual taking spacial shape.

Warcraftpets.com

They don’t add stats. They don’t give bonuses or buffs. They don’t *do* anything but sit around, play some animations and sounds, and look cute. So why am I so obsessed with collecting them? Why does my mom collect salt and pepper shakers? Why does my grandmother collect Snow Babies? I have no idea, but at least mine is digital.

Joyia has 153 mini-pets. Mini-pets are small critters in World of Warcraft that can be summoned and then follow the player about. They are called mini-pets, non combat pets, vanity pets, and critters. My collection began soon after my first character, Birgitta, a night elf hunter reached Darnassus. After talking to an npc I noticed he sold three little owls. I bought one, nearly beggaring my first character. I pulled out the little owl and immediately fell in love. This was in the days of Vanilla WoW, before pets were items that once used became learned spells. Each mini-pet took up a bag slot.

I collected a few, but not to many, as bag space was at a premium. I didn’t buy the snakes, cockroaches, or rabbits, because I already had all the owls and cats. Soon after beginning to realize I needed to have my collection spread out across multiple characters, I was browsing the general forums and discovered a post by a player named Breanni, who had started a pet collecting website called WarcraftPets. I went to the site and loved it. I became a member and began tracking my collection, and voting on every single pet. I was thrilled to see my idea of collecting pets across various alts was not only a good idea, but Breanni’s method as well.

Then came the patch for pet collectors. No longer would pets be items taking up valuable bag space, but instead they would be learned spells. Glee does not even begin to describe how I felt. I quickly learned as many pets as I could on Joyia and started my grand pokemon quest, to catch every single mini-pet in WoW. Breanni’s site being my mecca of information and support.

Near the end of Wrath I went on a binge of boredom and decided to work towards filling out my pet roster. I collected the rare drops. I farmed up all the whelplings. As I collected each pet I added them to my collection on Warcraft Pets. Just after Cataclysm hit, I was lucky enough to be able to purchase 3 of the tcg cards that had pets and also quickly gathered the new additions. One day I logged on and suddenly got a whisper from someone I had never met.

“Hi! Did you transfer to this server?” I hesitated before responding but finally answered that yes, I had transferred to this server, but that was more than a year ago. As it turns out, this was the Alliance alt of a Horde player on the server, and he wanted to know when I had transferred over as I had “suddenly” risen in the ranks and passed him as the person with the most mini-pets on the server.

I did what now? It took me a while to figure out there was a way to sort by server, and who had the most mini-pets. Now, this isn’t Blizzard information, or even crawling the armory to find the statistics, but rather, anyone who enters their info on the site, and the moderators checking against the armory if someone is suspiciously high. But of all the people who entered their collection into the site, I was the highest for Echo Isles. Awesome. Meaning it is entirely possible I do in fact have the largest mini-pet collection on EI.

I only have 11 pets left to get that are reasonable for me to get. (I am not paying 2.5k to get an original WoW collectors edition, though it would net me 3 pets.) I keep fishing in the sewers, doing fishing dailies, and killing foxes with the hope of rounding out my collection before they add new ones to capture. That and I just like the little things. They are so cute!

My favorite pets, in no particular order:

The Phoenix Hatchling

The Firefly (still flying)

The Singing Sunflower

The Spectral Kitten (to match her sister!)

Withers

The Gryphon Hatchling

All the whelplings

The Baby Boomkin

The Hippogryph Hatchling

Speedy

Ah, who am I kidding… I love em all!

A Cataclysmic Problem

It has become a sad little game. Logging onto WoW and peeking through my fingers at the Guild roster or my friends list. Who isn’t going to log in? How many weeks has it been since I talked to that person? I wonder if they are playing Rift. I wonder if they are okay. As far as I know, only one absence is logically explained and has assured the guild he will be back when things get straightened out. But then, he lives in Japan, so I am pretty much willing to give him a pass.

People like to point fingers at Rift. But it’s not Rift. Rift was lucky to come out at the right time, in the right place to fill a void for WoW players.  But it could have been anything, any fun fantasy MMO with pretty graphics that does any of the numerous things players have been begging for in WoW, and they would have gotten a whole slew of dissatisfied customers. People aren’t leaving WoW for Rift because Rift is a better game. People are leaving WoW for *anything* because they are simply tired of WoW and what Blizzard is doing with it.

The problems:

1. Cataclysm is too hard.

For those saying “l2play noob”, shut it, and leave. Cataclysm is too hard. It’s that simple. Fewer people have killed Nef than had killed Kel’thuzad or Prince at this point in the expansion. Call people Wrath babies all day, but that doesn’t change the fact that people like raiding, like getting epics, and like DOWNING bosses. What they don’t like is endlessly wiping for hours because ONE person screws up (and it is never the same person). In a 10 man raid, a team should be able to lose 2 people and still manage to pull off the kill. In a 25 man raid, a team should be able to lose 5 people and still pull off the kill. Take a moment to consider the fights and how ONE person can screw even a 25 man raid.

BWD: Magmaw – one person with a parasite runs into the group, probable wipe. One person jumps on the head and doesn’t know how to work the chain, probable wipe. Omni – A person gets fixated and doesn’t move quickly enough, tanks and or heals get a slime blown up on them, definite wipe. A person doesn’t control their pet, Magmatron’s shield blows, definite wipe. Maloriak – Miss an interrupt? Wipe it up, the tank just died. Chimaeron – Tank’s taunt missed, through RNG I feel the urge to add, wipe it up. Or god forbid, the raid makes it to the final push and there aren’t enough mages, warlocks, and shaman, to spawn things to distract him. Artemedes – One person targeted and doesn’t move fast enough, entire raid wipe.

ToW: Conclave – ONE person knocked off Rohash platform, raid wide debuff, wipe. One tank misaligned his jump, falls to his death, raid wipe. One missed taunt to pull Anshel off his healing thing, raid wipe because he isn’t going to die fast enough. Al’Akir – the master of RNG wipes with tornadoes spawning on healers or tanks and spawning right when wind blasts start up.

BoT: Trash – wipes if one of the cc-ers goes down. Halfus – miss an interrupt, taunt, or big heal on the tank that is holding 2 dragons? Hope the trash doesn’t respawn before running back. V&T – One ranged not moving fast enough, one tank getting sucked into the basement, one purge happy healer, one person not running the right way for fire breath… wipeity wipe wipe. Elemental Monstrosity… what in this fight doesn’t cause a wipe if it happens to a tank or healer? Cho’gall – Slimes resist the earthbind totem? Kiss the healers goodbye.

RNG is not fun, especially when it controls the success or failure of a boss fight. My issue with all of these abilities is not that they exist, because many of them show nice challenging boss fights. My problem is that the price of even minor failure is DEATH. Didn’t move fast enough? Dead. Didn’t run the right way? Dead.

So what is Blizzard’s response to this? It will get easier as the expansion ages. This is possibly even more short sighted than the “resilience will fix it” comment. Yes, out-gearing the content will make it easier, but that doesn’t help guilds who are losing raiders left and right NOW.

2. 5 levels simply wasn’t enough.

There aren’t enough new zones for 80-85. There wasn’t enough time to feel like we were going from easy to hard. Replacing ICC epics was going to be hard enough, but replacing them with greens at 81 is just painful. At least with Wrath we held on to them for 6-7 more levels. (Some even making it all the way to Naxx.) When I hit 80, I hadn’t even touched Stormpeaks or Icecrown. Only a few quests had been completed in Zul’drak, and about half of Shalozar. Sure, I was one of those weirdos who did both Borean and Howling Fjord, but still, I had a ton of content. And I didn’t do dungeons as I was leveling, so those were totally new at 80, plus heroics!

It also took me 3 weeks to go from 70 to 80. It took me 3 days to do that for 80-85. Even when leveling my alts, it takes a short amount of time. And I always ding in Twilight Highlands regardless of how many instances I do while leveling. At that point, I only have that zone left to do.

3. Old content being revamped is great, but you have to please the bleeding edge too.

There simply needs to be more to do. I am thrilled at the updating of the old world. But where is the stuff in the old world for level 80-85? Where are the quests in Stranglethorn for the bored level 85 to escort newbies down to Booty Bay? Where are the level 85 Argent Dawn quests in Eastern Plaguelands? Where are the quests at the Ironforge Airport?

4. Dye, Appearance, and Housing.

How many years have players been asking for Armor Dyes, Appearance tabs, Soulbound armor bags, and player/guild housing? As long as I have been playing the game.

Did anyone else notice that it is one of the BULLET points on Rift that a player can dye their armor? Champions touts their character customization and creator for good reason. Players like to stand out from the crowd. They like to ROLEPLAY of all things. It’s why I always hate when affliction gets nerfed. I don’t WANT to be destruction. I want to be affliction and I want to be good for my team as affliction. I also don’t want to look like a unicorn vomited on me. Many players site LotR Online as a great example of player customization because of the appearance tab. Tons of WoW players, including myself, love to collect old armor and holiday clothing. Now we have overloaded banks and every new acquisition is an exercise in torment of what to delete.

Blizzard argues that they want players to recognize instantly when someone is wearing a set of armor. They want players to see the pretty art their artists created. This is a fallacy. I play three classes at level cap right now. I played 5 classes at level cap in Wrath. I could maybe tell you distinguishing characteristics of TWO of the armor sets I wore. I could maybe spot 3 or 4, if I was looking at them in game and correctly identify them as tier 10 armor. I know for a fact I can only do it for two sets of tier 11. I am not looking at players to tell how awesome they are, I am right clicking and inspecting to tell how awesome they are.

The solutions: Never present problems without a possible solution.

1. Nerf bat or buff bat. I vote buff.

So how do they fix the difficulty? Well really there are only two easy options. Nerf the bosses or buff the players. Nerfing the bosses is bad business. Then all the “hard cores” start whining about dumbing down WoW. They can’t just toss a buff on the whole raid like ICC, because then imagined elitism springs up.

But buffing players… Now that’s fun. Big numbers is big fun. An amplified, worgen tomed, fully buffed, spell power potted Curse of Doom on Netherspite for 52,000 damage? Yes please. (My point is made by the fact I remember that SO CLEARLY.) But they can’t just go in and buff everyone 15% across the board. They have to be sneaky about it. Buff this ability on this class, buff that ability on that class, buff armor gains on tanks, buff slow heals on healers, etc etc. Stealth buffs? Even better.

2. Patch soon, patch often.

If all the content is going to be reworked old content, it’s got to be fast. Patch every other month if possible. Especially if they are going to continue updating old content. In addition, every patch needs to carry with it minor buffs, minor additions (like to archeology, stats, and achievements), and possibly a pet or mount. Any updates to Holidays and Holiday bosses are stellar too.

Also, note for the next expansion, having the amount of exp to get to 81 be less than the amount of exp to get from 79-80, is not a good thing. The time invested needs to be equivalent to the previous levels. Consistency is key.

3. &4. Fidelity vs Agency. Omg, Kent was right. And suck it up princess. As designed just doesn’t fly anymore.

First off, players are willing to accept things that are expanded over time. Look at archeology. Players are willing to accept shorter dungeons if it means more of them. Players are willing to accept getting poor loot drops if there are more ways to get the odd piece they are missing. Players are willing to accept something not being perfect if it means they get something neat. Fidelity and agency are a trade off, but far too often Blizzard seems to make the wrong choice on which one to go for.

One example of this is the linearity of a quest zone and the inclusion of cutscenes. This is exceptionally noticeable when playing with another player. Ever tried to do Uldum with 2 people? It *sucks*. When one player completes a quest and it auto ports them somewhere while playing a cutscene, the other player is left in an old phase, alone, and has to fend for themselves. I like linear stories as much as the next RPGer, but in WoW, there needs to be a feeling of open world. I can remember doing quests and deciding to not do a “thread” of quests. Just skip it, that one is too annoying, or just isn’t fun, so I will just skip over it to this other quest. Blizzard killed that in Cata though. Each quest is a part of a big long chain. If the player tried to skip over this step, they can’t progress the zone.

This goes for dye on armor and appearance tabs too. Saying this was “as designed” just doesn’t work anymore. Sure when WoW was the *only* good MMO out there, we accepted this. But other MMOs are ripping off WoW and allowing for more freedom. The Blizzard artists need to let go and accept that players want to play THEIR way, not the way an artist wants them to. Yes, someone is going to take Paladin tier 2 and turn it into Hello Kitty pink, red, and white. But just as often someone is going to leave it red, gold, and black and look just as awesome. Also dye can prop up a flailing profession or become a major gold sink.

Even quests that are fairly simple go into this dungeon and kill this dude, or go and gather these rare items for me, in out of the way, hard to reach places, will fill a need in the old world for level capped players. Anyone else remember farming to get a flying mount to get access to the Highland Pools and the Shat’ari Skyguard dailies? I do.

One final point is about Guild leveling and reputation. As I said before, Guild Rewards are a powerful thing. Being in a level 20+ guild on my main and having all my alts in a level 2 guild, I can honestly say the difference is noticeable and painful. It will be slightly eased by the inclusion of a tabard in 4.1 that will help players earn rep with a new guild, but this doesn’t help new guilds. Players aren’t willing to move on to a guild that is a better fit at the risk of losing their perks. I have heard, from multiple people, about recruiting coming to a standstill because players simply aren’t willing to start over on rep or join a guild that is lower level than the one they are in. Guilds advertising in trade that are under 15 or so are practically laughed out of the channel. I have always maintained the best thing about WoW is playing with friends. When the player feels punished for playing the way they want to play or for changing their mind, something is wrong.

It may not be dying per se, but WoW is definitely feeling some pain. I worry about what might happen if this trend continues. People can argue all they want, but the dwindling raiders in my guild and the dwindling people on my friends list speaks for itself. The really worrying thing is that for each player that leaves WoW because of any one of these problems (or RNG), another player is likely to follow, especially if they find a new multiplayer game to play. And so the negative feedback loop starts until there is no one left but the gold farmers to play with.

Dragon Quest IX – or If I see one more slime, I am gonna LOSE IT

JRPGs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Suikoden, Legend of Dragoon, Xenosaga, Persona 4… I could go on, but what’s the point?

I love JRPGs. I love the crazy outfits, the crazy item names, the progression curves, the exploration, the bad translations, the overly complex attack animations, the wildly stereotyped characters… I even love “not as much JRPGs” like Pokemon and other standard RPG grind type games.

Dragon Quest IX does some wicked awesome things and some absolutely terrible things.

Awesome:

Trades System

I am an altoholic. I love playing different classes, different characters, with different abilities. One of the sad things with JRPGs is that there is generally a wide range of characters to pick from. (108 in Suikoden!!!) And the player is often limited to certain characters at certain points for story reason. This has always bothered me. I build a team and level them, gear them, and balance them around each other. So when the game suddenly shoves a 4th string unleveled, ungeared, noob into my group, I get annoyed.

DQ9 fixed this in a rather spectacular way. Your main character, and the 3 party characters you can recruit, can change your trade simply by going to a specific city and asking it to be changed. It retains the old trade’s skills, stats, and level, so you can switch back without losing any progress. How much do I love this? I cannot even begin to express it. Imagine, in WoW, going to a guy and paying 10k to switch classes. You have to start at level 1, but you retain all your gear, mounts, pets, achievements, reps, tabards, attunements, etc. You can re-do quests and zones. To be fair, there would need to be major changes, like a soul bound item bag for armor you can no longer equip, your mounts would grey out until you reached the level you could use them again, high level professions would grey out, etc etc. But what if you could have a character that was a single unit, but had every class leveled to 85 in it’s “class tree.” One character, every class. *mind.blown.*

Gathering

When wandering around the world chasing down enemies I noticed these little sparkle spots. I ran up and activated one only to be rewarded with a crafting material. I didn’t think much about it, until I ran across another one, that was a different trade material. A very EXPENSIVE trade material. And there were SIX of them just laying on the ground. A quick trip to Gamefaqs confirmed my suspision. These things were everywhere and they respawn over time, making it easy to gather materials to craft items.

In WoW one of my favorite things to do after a stressful day of work is come home, pop open a beer, turn on something mindless on tv and gather herbs. Sometimes ore, but usually herbs as I have more herbing characters. And here I can do it on a ds? Solid gold win. Now if only I could herb for WoW on my ds…

Crafting

It’s still recipe based, but DQIX crafting is a shining example of what crafting could be. New materials are added to old items to improve them. If a sleeping potion is combined with a weapon, the weapon now has a chance to put enemies to sleep. The recipes are found in bookshelves around the world. They are often items that are a few “steps” ahead of what the character can purchase at that point in the game.

The absolute best part is that crafting leads to gold. To make an ear cozy the materials cost 970g. The ear cozy sells for 1200g. Given sufficient time, the player has access to as much gold as they are willing to stand making ear cozys for. This, a million times this, is what games have always needed. It doesn’t need to be a huge amount of money. It doesn’t need to be easy. It does need to be obfuscated in the system. But buying materials, making an item, and having that item vendor for less than the vendor prices of the materials is just so backwards it’s absurd.

Online Store

It took me a while to “get” what was going on with this. If the player connects their DS to Wi-Fi in the game, it connects them to a store. A store that has rare items from the game for purchase that changes every day. Genius idea. It brings people back every day (esp if there are holiday only items), keeps them connected, and gives them something awesome to spend their hard earned gold on.

Multiplayer

Wi-Fi multiplayer. Crawling a dungeon with 3 of your friends and their main characters, and getting loot, experience, and enjoyment out of it. It was what convinced me to get the game in the first place. And what convinced me to get my husband to start playing it again.

Terrible:

Learning Curve

Head bashingly hard with no clue as to where you are supposed to go next? Yep. An annoying sidekick that keeps track of everything EXCEPT what step of the main quest you are on? Yeah, that too.  Any explanation as to any of the trades, skills, and weapons? Not in this game. Much of what I learned, I learned by accident.

Leveling Curve

In most JRPGs it is possible to game the system early to prevent “grinding”. When the game first starts up, I will run around and explore the first area as much as possible. Learn all the moves, test everything, and try anything. First this gives a good feel for the game and the characters you have. Second, this generally leads to a few excess levels. Early levels go faster, so by stacking a few extra levels up early, the next few sections are a bit easier, and I generally stay a level or two ahead of where I am supposed to be for the whole game.

DQIX appears to have anticipated this and nipped it in the bud. Not only is it possible to “dodge” random fights, but also the leveling curve spikes so early that when I tried to just power through the main story, I quickly hit a wall around level 26, where I was supposed to be around 34 to progress.

Which brings me to my first really big gripe with the game. Cheap Bosses. When I attempted to battle the boss that I should have been level 33+ to fight at level 25, every 4th turn he would attack one of my party members for a critical strike. I was doing pretty well, rezzing people, until he got my priest. Then it was within 12 turns of death. I failed. So I noted the amount of damage he did for each critical hit. About 150+ on my plate/mail wearers and 225+ on my clothies. I realized I was going to need to do some serious leveling.  So I went out and leveled to 33, like the handy guide on Gamefaqs suggested and went in to fight the boss. I assumed I would fail because none of my characters had enough health to survive his criticals, despite being the level suggested.  Only, as it turns out, he didn’t attack me with a single critical strike the entire fight.

Later I managed to be in the perfect position to test my new theory, which was that the game had a “minimum level” needed to fight the boss, and if the player had not reached that level, the boss would have a significantly higher critical chance. As far as I could tell, this was true.

Add to this, that when running with several high level characters and one or two low level characters, the high level characters get the brunt of the share, instead of everyone getting a percentage. I understand their logic, but if I am almost at the end and just wanted to switch because I just unlocked a new trade, I wouldn’t be punished for it.

My final big gripe with the leveling system is the fact that it is far more rewarding on the exp gain to just farm metal slimes, instead of going to the difficult content and killing standard mobs there. At the very least, make it semi worth it to fight something challenging as opposed to goofing off 20 levels below where I should be playing.

Story

Spoilers abound.

Don’t even get me started on the idiocy of a chain of command that doesn’t allow a subordinate to refuse a superior. But they give the player choices… and NONE of them are actually choices. Why even put it in the game? Why even take the time to code it? Just force the player to do it.

Very early in the game the main character that the player is assuming the role of loses their wings and halo. They are “mortal” and no longer Celestian. Only as it turns out, they are still Celestian, just stripped of all their powers. I assumed that the point was I was slowly earning my wings and halo back. I was working towards being a Celestian again. When the game offers me the chance to save the world if I become mortal, my response was, “well, sure, why not?” It’s not actually changing anything if I am mortal over being Celestian. Not to mention, it really isn’t a choice, it’s a “you have to do this, until you pick yes, and we aren’t letting you out of this screen” thing.

A a few select points the developers apparently decided they needed something a bit more powerful than a cutscene and so put in these long anime sequences. I get that it is a JRPG, but these just stick out like a sore thumb. They forced me to equip my character with a full set of gear (thus making them “match” the visual of the anime) and even then, the anime had a male not a female. What was the point? It didn’t feel heroic, it didn’t advance the story, it didn’t give a pay off.

On top of this were some very clear decisions made to force the game fit with the story that are just wildly frustrating. I spent half the game collecting those Fyggs. NO I am not going to hand them to you so you can claim all the credit for my hard work. No I don’t want to unchain the crazy guy mumbling about trying to kill the Celestians.

Forced Failure

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is terrible. But designers keep doing it. DQIX likes to put the player in a combat battle, then when they make their choice the bad guy makes some snide remark, the game says something like “Ember freezes in fright!” and the bad guy one shots the player. Yes that was fun, wasting all that time to just have an outcome I couldn’t change. Could we have that in a cutscene next time? At least in Suikoden it WAS possible to change the outcome, if difficult.

The Battlefield

DQIX allows the characters to roam around the battlefield, lining themselves up for shots, moving next to the person they are going to heal, etc. It looks neat, the first few times. After level 40, it’s just an annoying waste of time. Not to mention that the game has a formation system, that is completely nullified by this other roaming system.

Tank/DPS/Heal Roles

Each trade has a skill set. These skill sets mesh fairly well with the tank/dps/heals idea from other RPGs. The problem is, DQIX doesn’t give the trades the skills needed to do their job well. All of the skills that would do things like, allow the tank to hold aggro, are underpowered and fail so often, it’s pointless to even use them. As are the buffs, debuffs, and status clears. It was easier to simply heal through the poison than waste the time to clear off the poison. The one fight I used buffs, the boss cleared them off instantly.

I don’t mind breaking from the standard roles, but this means that all of the trades need to have comparable health and armor. I despise the fact that more often than not my mage is tanking and the only character who needs heals.

I like Dragon Quest IX and I am still playing it. However it really just makes me long for RPGs that actually make sense. Oh and ones where I don’t just farm poor little metal slimes.

The Best Job you will ever Hate.

“Don’t come here if you think making games might be fun or cool. Don’t waste your time and money. Only apply if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.”

I learned Level Design at the Guildhall at SMU, a Master’s level program that focused on training and practical experience. The same professor who said the above, at the risk of having admissions kill him, also said that working on games was the “best job you’ll ever hate.” It is such an odd thing to say, but it was true. It’s the best job, and sometimes I hate it.

Spending 80 hour work weeks for 2 months only to have it universally panned by critics in addition to getting laid off?

Having to work on games like Imagine <Insert Random Profession Here>?

Knowing something is a terrible idea and having to do it anyway because the Publisher said so?

There is a reason the average burn out for developers is around 8 years. Spending more than 2 years at a single studio is uncommon. The average lifespan of a video game studio is 11 years.

It is common for developers to work 60-80 hours a week near the end of the project, to get it wrapped up and shipped.  The sad thing is, for most independent game studios the sales of the previous game go directly to fund the next one. If the game bombs, the studio could, and likely will, have problems getting deals with publishers to make their next game. For an owned studio, if the game bombs, they will likely be working on a less important title next, which won’t do as well, which starts the vicious cycle towards closure.

The business is about making money, so when a game doesn’t make money, it doesn’t get sequels. Why do some games get endlessly remade with only the smallest of changes? They make money. And as a game developer, you rarely get to just work on games you would love, but rather, because you need a job, so you work on Barbie’s Dream House Interior Decorating to pay the bills.

This video is true. People watch it, laugh and say, it can’t be that hard. It can’t be that bad. Oh but it is.

Breaking into the industry is extremely difficult. Staying in the industry is a feat worthy of Sisyphus. Becoming one of the big names is virtually impossible. You don’t get paid as well as you would in another field. You work twice as hard for half the credit. And the greater internet dickwads blast your game and call it crap without ever having played it. So either everyone in the video game is insane or extremely passionate about what they do, despite the many hardships they have to deal with to make games.

I said ‘As Designed!'”

Anyone who has ever worked in Software development knows the unique pain and torment that is bug testing. After months of making a program a group of people are hired, given basic instructions, and then tasked with BREAKING the software. Not checking to see if it works, but rather checking to see if they can break it.

There are a million reasons to hate bug reports. Badly written, found using cheats, mis-labeled, and mis-attributed to the wrong thing. I could write dozens of posts on the worst practices of QA testers, but really, the one that gets me annoyed most often is that bug that is repeatedly entered and finds it’s way to me, despite having been closed several times. Occasionally they re-open the original bug, but more often it is a duplicate, showing that they do not search the database for the bug before creating a duplicate. The most common cause of this is bugs that are closed “As Designed.” Meaning that what the tester marked as a bug, really isn’t. It was intentionally created that way. An active choice was made and scripted to do exactly that.

Best case scenario this is something like “Player 1 gets a bit more gold than Player 2.” Respond with “As Designed, we needed a solution for rounding odd numbers and Player 1 just gets the lions share rather than deleting the extra coin.” Relatively simple. And usually, the bug is closed, no one ever notices it again, and the matter fades into obscurity.

But what happens when it isn’t that easy? I recently designed a timing puzzle. I intended for it to be a simple move – wait – move puzzle. A senior designer saw it, loved it, and worked with me to make it more complex and puzzling. Now, fast forward 3 months and I have received no less than 5 bugs on the puzzle. After having marked 4 of the bugs “As Designed” with increasing annoyance, I got the last one and began drafting a rather annoyed email to QA to tell them to 1. quit bugging this issue and 2. do a search of closed bugs to make sure it hadn’t already been bugged in the past and closed “As Designed.” I was halfway through the email when suddenly I had the thought – well, clearly as designed in this case is wrong, or else I wouldn’t keep getting the bug. Five people saw this and immediately thought, this is not what is supposed to happen.

One of the hardest things to get used to as a Game Designer is the universal truth that while you know something is a good idea, it may not be a good thing for your game.

To build on the earlier example: Two players split any money earned in the level. There is a drop of 11 coins. What do you do with the extra coin? My immediate response was, Round it up to 12, and both players get 6. Stick a fork in it. (It’s done.) Another designer replied with “Lose the extra, no one will know you were supposed to get 11, so they will just think they were supposed to get 10.” It is a common saying among developers that players never miss something that is cut, but they will complain about the things that they see that are broken. The thing is, each of the money amounts are tied to art. The art always gives the same amount, thus quick counting players will be able to see that there were 2 4 coins and 1 3 coin. So either solution could lead to a “bug” in the player’s view. My idea, to err on the side of plenty meant that at least if they saw it, then they wouldn’t care. They got more than they thought they would so that’s just gravy.

In the end the decision was made to just give the excess to the first player. The players have the ability to trade coins, so it isn’t a huge issue. But what about when it is? The puzzle example – it is very confusing. As soon as it is explained to the player they say “Oh.” And complete it in one try. But the solution isn’t obvious. This lead to the complex design discussion of how do we fix this?

Solutions included everything from highlighting the correct path with coins to cutting the puzzle all together. I suggested that we simply return the puzzle to it’s earlier, simplistic, state. It was clear what you needed to do and honestly, it would be a much cheaper solution than adding a ghost to lead you through the puzzle or coins appearing along the path. One designer immediately argued, but that puzzle is so fun and it really is one of the better puzzles. We shouldn’t cut it or dumb it down. I understand what he is saying, but at this point in the project, it isn’t logical to ask people to work on adding something new when we can just as easily simplify it and polish something else. The player will see a broken addition to help them through the puzzle. They won’t see the puzzle that was overly complex if we replace it with the simpler version.

This lead to the standard Holy War of “Smart Player vs. Stupid Player” and how we shouldn’t punish our good players by dumbing everything down for the stupid player. I won’t recount the tale here, but eventually I won, not because the decision was good, or logical, or whatever, but because there was simply not enough time to do otherwise. Do I think it was the best solution? No. The best solution would have been to go in, rework the puzzle and art to make it very clear what was supposed to be done and set the complex puzzle up better with a series of smaller puzzles leading up to it. Was it the right decision? I think so. It solved the problem in an elegant way, without introducing new bugs, content, or functionality.

This experience has made me realize that “As Designed” is a terrible thing. Too often we just say, that’s the way it should be, and don’t stop to consider that maybe it isn’t. We control the worlds we create when perhaps we should sometimes realize that the correct solution is the one that allows the world control.

Respond, if you please

Video games tend to draw controversy. It’s okay, we ask for it. We know we are asking for it and deal with it when it happens. This is how the ESRB was born after all.

The thing that bothers me though, is when a video game gets a ton of bad press, then makes attempts to correct the “problem” and receives no response from the media or sites that complained so loudly to begin with. I get why national media doesn’t do this (though really with everything on the internet they could at least make a small post). But what stops small blogs from responding?

The example that spawned the thought for me is the “Torture Quest” brouhaha in WoW. When Wrath of the Lich King launched, players tore into the content, much as they always do. A few weeks after launch, someone wrote a blog post about a quest: The Art of Persuasion and about how horrible it was and how they were going to stop playing WoW over it. The quest requires you to “torture” a captured enemy for information. For whatever reason, many players (ironically most had done the quest, but never really paid attention to *what* they were doing) latched on to this and got *bent*. How dare the developers force them to TORTURE INNOCENT PEOPLE. Rawr! Pitchforks! Torches! Bad Blizzard Devs!

To which I replied with “Really? THIS is where you draw the line?” Seriously. We are discussing a game where my main character, Joyia has 181,866 TOTAL KILLS. She has KILLED almost 200,000 THINGS in the game. (I also want to point out her kills that yield experience or honor, ie meaningful kills, are at 67,405, meaning that she has killed 114,461 creatures/humaniods/players that were only for loot and sometimes not even that.) In that same zone there is a quest to collect HUMAN EARS. In Hillsbrad they have you poisoning some farmer’s dog. In Hillsbrad again they have you COLLECTING SKULLS. These are just the thoughts off the top of my head. My first reaction was “What’s a little torture on top of the wholesale slaughter of thousands of creatures, many of whom were unarmed or non-aggressive.”

My second thought was “Well, okay, but this guy, NOT INNOCENT.” And he isn’t. He is an evil wizard attempting to destroy the WORLD. Imagine a crazy, powerful being, attempting to launch every nuclear weapon in the world at once. It’s your job to stop him. Would you step down the dark side to prevent it? Even if it meant my own death at the hands of Justice, I am pretty sure I would. This isn’t puppy killing we are discussing. This guy is a mass murder (as much as any player character) and is actively killing puppies himself.

Regardless, after a few months, the furor died down and no one really talked about it again. Fast forward to Cataclysm. Early in Hyjal, one of the introductory leveling zones for level 80 players, there is a quest to capture a harpy (a known and common enemy mob throughout the game)  and interrogate her about her master’s plans to reincarnate an ancient for the bad guys. Ancients are super powerful beings. Having even one on your side is the equivalent of bringing a tank to a knife fight. The player, once damaging her to about 25% is given two “speech” options. One to “Soften her up” the second to “Ask her about their plans.” The first results in a bit of “smacking around” and some comments from the npc holding the harpy in place for you.

This is very obviously Blizzard’s response to the fuss over the Persuasion quest. First, the player doesn’t need to “rough” the npc up to get her to talk. Just asking her she volunteers the information the player is looking for. Second, if the player does “rough” her up, the npc has 8 canned responses, 5 of which could be construed as negative towards the player for using violence. Finally, at the end of the conversation with the harpy the player is given the choice, to kill her or spare her. Both options return a “positive” response from the npc. “It’s your call, <name>. Marion brought this on herself when she attacked our matron’s sacred shrine.” and “You’re a better person than I, <name>. But I suppose the harpies are just pawns here.” if you choose to kill or spare respectively.

It allows the player to play as they chose, as opposed to following the designed path. I love it. This is a prime example of  “Player Driven Stories” as discussed at GDC this year. The player drives the story. Both of my healers let her off, sparing her life. My DK and Warlock both killed her. My DK chose to soften her up until the npc said something to the effect of  “Okay, we still need her to answer questions.”

Regardless, it was a superb response to player’s comments on the “interrogation” from Wrath so why couldn’t the detractors at the very least acknowledge that Blizzard took their concerns under consideration and made an effort to appease them. Although I still feel it is a bit hypocritical to run around ripping out skulls then get squeamish at a bit of shock therapy.