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Archive for October, 2012

Ever since I started this blog I’ve wanted to try to tackle the challenge of endgame raid design, not design an actual raid but rather the concept of raids. Even if I don’t foresee a future where I’d actually do that, as a purely intellectual exercise I still think it’s worth a try because as raids stand right now I believe they still need to be improved upon.

So why raids in particular and not other endgame features? Because raids are the one feature that has the most impact on the endgame of an MMO and because they are, I feel, the most distinguishing feature of MMOs. A lot of the activities proposed in an MMO can be done in other types of games but raids are the one thing you cannot easily find elsewhere and they still are the main reason many people are playing MMOs in the first place.

A note about my method

Some of you will ask where and how I got my information. First of all when I set out to do this I was interested mainly in finding three things, what people expect out of a raid, what features they liked and what features they didn’t like.  I worked hard on getting information from players of multiple games so I could see broad patterns and not only get what WoW or Lotro players love. I’ll say right now that I was really surprised to find out that the reasons and expectations given were pretty much always the same no matter what game is being played.

As to where I got the information I got it a bit from all over the place so I hope you’ll forgive me  for not listing it. A lot of it is forums and I don’t want broken links all over the place and it was hard to keep track of all that I read. I searched games and guild forums, fan websites, blogs, I asked people directly, I asked them on this blog… I just grabbed whatever I could.

The big expectation we have toward a raid

Raids as we know them in MMOs are the online versions of single players rpg endgame dungeons. Those dungeons were often the fortresses of the main villain, full of deadly enemies and traps, it’s where we would learn the details of the game plot, face and defeat the villain after an epic boss battle and save the world at the very last-minute.

And to this day this is what we want out of an MMO raid. We put a lot of time an effort preparing ourselves to storm the castle walls, we study the strats, we shine our armor, we fine tune our abilities, our skills and out teamwork so we can take down the guy that has been messing with us during the whole game if not multiple games and expansions.

So this is our big expectation toward a raid and its most single important feature. A raid needs to be a proper ending to a particular storyline we have been working on for so long. It needs to feel special, it needs to deliver epic battles and when we come out at the end we need to feel like we’ve accomplished something special. When we raid we bring our A game to the raid and we expect in return the raid to be the pinnacle of what a game can deliver.

Ulduar

According to many, this is the best raid ever.

The three elements a raid need

When I asked on my blog which were your favorites raids and why you all have answered pretty much what I was reading everywhere else about why players find a particular raid fun. To my surprise, it turns out to be rather simpler than I thought it would be when I began. Everyone has been citing mostly the same three reasons for why they loved a particular raid and usually all three together.

1. The raid needs to tell a story

Tying into what we expect from a raid, we want our raids to matter and to tie into the greater story. Glorified instances or obvious fillers between the meaningful content have all been thought of as bad.

2. The fights have to be about skill

Memorable boss fights is another of the reason mentioned all the time as to why a raid was great. If we’re a bit more specific, players really remembers fights that had fun mechanics to them. For example, Shade of Aran is remembered fondly by many for its famous “Don’t move phase”. What struck is that every single time the fights and mechanics that were given as example all relied on learning a particular dance or relied on player skill, not gear, not perfect play.

Simply, we want to be able to beat a boss because we mastered its strategy and tactics, not because we can push our buttons really hard.

Good news everyone! We love this fight!

3. Exclusivity

This is the element that turns out to be a complete surprise and it’s not exactly the easiest to express so please forgive me if I have a bit of trouble explaining it.

In our minds, raids are special places and we expect and even want that little extra work that make the place special. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be a simple attunement quest or a special boss you only see if you do the raid under X time but there’s need to be a little something extra. There needs to be a little something extra that says “This is a raid and not just another instance”.

What a raids needs to avoid

This post is already running long so I’ll cut to the chase here and say simply that raids needs to avoid the opposites of the elements above. Storywise, a raid cannot be a big instance or a filler between two patches, it needs to be relevant. Likewise, avoid gear checks or encounters tuned to tight that any little mistake will result in a wipe. We want to be rewarded for learning the fights, not punished because someone missed one keystroke in a 10 minutes fight. As for exclusivity I think it’s simply not forgetting to include it. Like I said it doesn’t need to be complicated or long, it just needs to be there.

So what should we change to the current endgame?

When I set out to write this I had envisioned complicated changes, technical stuff that would take multiple posts to explain and finely tuned details but after having done all this research I find myself reaching a very simple solution. A simple solution but one that would probably change the face of endgame if it was to be done.

Let’s remove gear out of the equation.

I can already feel the initial silence, then the low rumble as people forms ideas and finally the outburst at the heresy I’m proposing but let’s take a moment here.

Of all the reasons mentioned as to why people loved a particular raid, whether on Elitist Jerks or on a casual family site, gear has never ever been mentioned as one of the reasons why a raid was great. While some people fondly remember a drop for a number of reason, it’s never what makes a particular raid the best ever.

Likewise, fights that are used solely as gear checks are almost all reviled. They’re seen as boring facerolls at best and frustrating progression walls at worst. People don’t feel rewarded because they had the ability to equip gear, they feel rewarded for playing their characters.

So I’m not saying to remove gear from MMOs, I’m saying it needs to be a lot less relevant in the design of raids. Gear should not be used as a gating mechanism and it should not be the primary component in your ability to beat a boss.

I know that there’s a lot of reasons, mostly about content pacing and rewarding players and they’re probably not entirely wrong but if, like me, you believe that endgame needs to be improved and that we need to get out of the old model that we’ve had for the past ten years then I think this is probably the best way to do so.

There’s going to be a part 2 to this post where I want to go more into details about what would our current MMOs look like without gear being an issue at endgame but I’d like to see your comments first and what you all think about this.

Think about what I wrote above, that we expect raids to be the pinnacle of what a game can offer, that in the end it’s about story, interesting boss fights and that feeling of being somewhere special that’s not easily accessible. Gear doesn’t play into that equation and in fact can be detrimental to it.

So, what about we get rid of gear as an endgame mechanic?

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My thoughts on swtor F2P

Attentive readers will have noticed I’ve been keeping somewhat quiet about my MMO playing for a while now. It’s not because I haven’t been playing MMOs, in fact I’ve been playing quite some WoW but rather it’s been because I’ve been having trouble figuring out exactly my thoughts about Swtor F2P details.

As I said before, I’m not a fan and I think Bioware is shooting itself in the foot long-term but I struggled with expressing the why. Luckily, ControlBlue, a commenter on Darth Hater,  expressed it in simple terms for me.

They are clearly made to convert demo players into subs THROUGH frustration.

Well said my friend. I think this sums up nicely my issue with swtor F2P. Why make the player experience miserable until they pay? Why….

… I give up…

Although it’s tempting to go into speculations as to why exactly Bioware made things this way, either sheer stupidity or greed or plain evil… they are doing it. I do believe short-term it will bring about a revival of sorts and an influx of cash but the core issues will not be solved.

So there’s my thoughts on Swtor F2P. I just don’t understand the strategy anymore…

 

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Resident Evil marathon, RE0

Resident Evil 0
System: Gamecube
Release date: November 12, 2002

The first time I finished REo it took me two tries and the word I remembered for it was: Hard. In my memories RE0 stood out as one of the hardest of the series and I have to say that ten years later it did not disappoint. While it may not have been the grueling ordeal I remembered it for, it’s still definitively on the hard side of the gaming spectrum. Limited ammo, limited continues, brutal and quick deaths… it’s survival horror at it’s best.

Survival horror

Before delving into the game itself I want to take a moment to talk about survival horror games. Survival horror games are simply games where the goal is the survive an horror movie situation using whatever limited resources you have and outwitting the various puzzles and situations ahead of you. Clever use of weapons, knowing when to fight and when to run and the ability to think on your feet are all part of surviving these games. Resident Evil 1 defined survival horror all by itself and spawned an entire genre including series like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame.

As a genre, survival horror has more or less gone underground with very few titles coming out in the past years but its influence are still felt in many games who pick up some of its elements.

It all started with a mad scientist

It’s hard to talk about RE0 without talking a bit about RE1 because the two are linked closely with RE0 setting up the events of the RE1 but if we ignore the Mansion incident there’s still a lot to be found in RE0.

People are disappearing in the Arklay mountains close to Raccoon city and mangled bodies are found so it’s up to Stars(Special tactics and rescue service) Bravo team to head out into the mountains and investigate. Of course, everything goes to hell when their helicopter suffers a mysterious malfunction and they are dropped into the forest full of zombies and other nasty monsters.

Our hero, rookie Rebecca Chambers meet up with death row escapee Billy Coen (wrongly accused of course) and together they’ll end up investigating Umbrella corporation secret training facility where they’ll meet an interesting cast of character led by none other than James Marcus, the resident mad scientist obsessed with messing around with leeches and zombie creating viruses.

After running all over the place and fighting various monsters our heroes finally defeat doctor Marcus and each go their own way, Billy never to be seen again in the Resident evil universe and Rebecca to right into another nightmare (RE1). Seriously, as bad first days  on the job goes, Rebecca gets the gold medal.

What Resident Evil 0 brought to the series

RE0 is a bit of and odd duck in the entire series. It was released solely for the Gamecube at around the same time as re-releases and remakes of the other Resident Evil titles on the Gamecube and I think the whole history surrounding Resident Evil on the Gamecube worth taking a moment to talk about.

Back in the early 2000 the future of the Resident Evil series was uncertain. The latest installments (Re3 and Veronica) were doing well enough but critics felt the series was becoming stale and antiquated. The item management, the forced perspective backgrounds and the slower gameplay were pointed as relics of ages past. While Capcom was aware that it needed to revitalize and reinvent the series to attract new audiences, it was also aware of a very die-hard community who loved the games just the way they were. This lead to a series of decisions.

First, Capcom decided to move the series to the Gamecube exclusively as they felt it was the better console for their games. Then, they decided that Resident Evil 4 would be a reboot of sorts with new gameplay elements and new enemies. But first, they had to tie up all the lose ends that the previous games failed to answer, namely, how did the various viruses came to be and how exactly did it all start out? The previous games did drop hints about a lot of things but it was never all tied together.

This is what Resident Evil 0 really brought to the series, a way to close the books on the first series of game in preparation for Re4, an explanation as to how exactly the Raccoon city mess happened, a link between the various viruses and how they tied together and finally, an explanation for some of Umbrella odder actions that couldn’t be explained before. As a bonus Capcom even gave to the fans a true survival horror game.

It turns out that it was all mad scientist James Marcus fault. Not only being content with being a mad scientist working for an evil corporation bent on world domination, Marcus wanted to take things one step further and unleash his beasties on the world. Umbrella caught wind of this and decided to deal with the good doctor before he made things difficult. Being a true mad scientist, Marcus didn’t let dying stop him and came back with a vengeance against the company that betrayed him and decided to throw a wrench into Umbrella plans at exactly the wrong time.  This in turn led to what was supposed to be a controlled situation go out of control and ultimately set into motion the events of the entire Resident Evil series.

Onward to Re1

I’ll leave the story telling at that for now since I want to keep some for the other games. Right now I’ve begun the next step of my marathon with RE1 which I’ll be playing twice since there’s two characters. Overall RE0 was a fun game even if it did made me rage a few times.

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Afk while I fight germs

Sorry for the delays in posting but I’ve had a tough week and it’s now clear it was because I was fighting the early stages of a nasty cold/flu/thing.. I’ll spare you the details but it’s not pleasant. In any case, I wanted to let you all know I’ve been working on my raid post and I’m hoping to publish it early next week. On the Resident evil marathon front I finished Resident Evil 0 and will be moving to RE1. I’ll do a more detailed post but let me just say it was a harsh reminder of what survival horror used to be.\

Thanks for your patience and I’ll get back to blogging soon!

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I’ve been working on an ambitious project these past few days and I need your help. I want to figure out what makes a great raid and what to avoid doing and I’ve been doing quite a bit of research trying to find elements common to the raids people find are the best. So far I’ve found quite a bit of info on what to avoid but figuring out exactly the best raids have been a surprisingly harder task than I thought it would be. To put it simply, people are keen to say that they loved some raids but not why.

Today I’m asking for the help of anyone reading this. Please write down in the comments which raids you think are the best and why. It can be any game and for any reason you want to but I’ll just ask that for a bit of objectivity if possible. I know there’s quite a few people reading this and I’d like a ton of comments so I can get a good overall view.

So, which raids do you think were/are the best ever and why?

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Resident Evil marathon

I know I said I’d provide you all with a strategy guide for Xcom classic ironman but I’ve been all kinds of busy since Tuesday and I’ve been having trouble keeping up. And to be perfectly honest, I feel my last post did cover the essentials which is really getting through the early game. I still want to write it, just not right now.

This brings me to my next project, a Resident Evil Marathon. Since I bought Resident evil 6 chronicles on the PS3 I received the entire collection of the main resident evil games, which means RE1 up to RE6. So now I have double of certain games but also I get my hands on some I didn’t get to play like RE3. All of this to say this gave me the idea of doing a marathon by replaying through each game in the numbered sequence, adding in two games, RE0 and RE3: Code veronica.

So here’s my challenge to myself. Play through the 8 main resident evil games in numbered order, starting with RE0. After I finish each game, I’ll be doing a quick review of the title with a particular emphasis on how it ties in the overall game mythology or just whatever comes to my mind.

I’ll be starting this weekend with RE0 and hopefully, I’ll stay motivated enough to see me through the end.

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It is done, humanity has been saved and the alien threat has been thwarted and my veterans can now get some much deserved rest. As of yesterday I can now say that I have beaten Xcom enemy unknown classic ironman challenge.

Some stats

Attempt # and time: game 19 and ~17 hours playtime
Total playtime (all attempts): 37 hours
In-game time: 267 days
Total soldiers lost: 17
Countries lost: USA, Mexico, England, France, China, Argentina
Starting country: USA

The last mission was done with a crack team consisting of 5 colonels (max rank) and one major of which there was 2 snipers, 2 support, 1 heavy (major) and 1 assault. I had three psykers, all characters had plasma weaponry and titan/psi armor. Foundry upgrades I found were useful for the last mission were the improved pistols and improved medpacks. I would have loved to have mindshields but didn’t wait to get the etherals bodies needed.

If you read the previous parts you may have noticed that the US was added to the list of countries I lost. This time it was a counscious choice. Moments before I launched the final mission I had a terror alert in Dallas and I chose to ignore it so I would not risk injuring anyone in my Team A. Sadly, this cost me the support of the US and probably meant that most everyone died in Dallas. I probably should feel more conflicted about this.

The overall strategy

Because I know this is what you’re all here for I’ll try to outline the broad goals. First of all there’s a definitive make or break point at the three months marker and then right at the fourth month marker. The first is whether you’re ready for mutons and the increased difficulty of the tactical game and the second is if you can manage well enough the terror levels. Both are tied of course but if you can make it past the fourth month in relative control then the worst is behind you.

Beating the Muton test: I’m using Mutons as the example but really it’s more about the increased difficulty in missions at the beginning of the third month.  It comes down to really three elements, having laser weaponry, having carapace armor and having ranked enough soldiers. There’s no big trick to this either. Rush to laser weapons (rifles are enough), then to armor and keep using the same soldiers over and over. If you can get the rest of the laser weapons all the better but you need to be able to take down mutons in two shots and be able to survive a hit from their weapons.

Managing the terror level: First, you cannot afford to fail anything. It’s that simple or it will all snowball rapidly out of control. Then comes the abduction mission choices.  The important thing here is that succeeding at an abduction mission will lower terror for that country only and raise the terror level in all of the countries of the continents you didn’t go to. So, not going to europe means you raise the terror level in 4 countries.  The overall strategy is simple, just look at what countries can take a terror hit and which cannot and plan accordingly. Satellites will likewise be used to lower terror levels in strategic spots.

Of course while your busy fighting the aliens and managing terror you’ll be making as many satellites as you possibly can so you can get full coverage (I achieved in in month 4). Once that is done and you start shooting down Ufos with some regularity you’ll see the terror levels slowly recede and at some point the abductions missions will stop altogether.

The middle and late game

I won’t spend too much time here because I want to do a guide later this week that will cover this but for now suffice to say that once you’re past the early game you will want to get plasma weaponry next and then the big titan armor quickly and finally work on building that A team that will see through the endgame.

Conclusion

In the end classic ironman was a fun and very intense experience. There was a scary moment in the oversee ufo mission where came within inches of total disaster but I managed a win thanks to my two snipers and some help from the random number generator. I’ll definitively give this game a few more playthroughs the first of which will probably be a game on normal so I can mess around with the tech I didn’t have time for (ghost armor, Shiv for example). I may do an impossible ironman playthrough later but I think I’ll give myself some time first to enjoy this victory.

Read part 1 and part 2

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