Monday, August 29, 2011

More Boars? Really?

This evening I was asked to handle a local infestation of boars.  Of course killing boars in mmos is beyond cliche at this point so it seems appropriate that it was yet another quest to kill boars that prompted this post.

Because, you see, when I bravely ventured out to handle the fearsome boars, boars which I had been told were numerous and on the rampage, there was nary a boar to be found.   And I know they weren't hiding behind trees, nor were they employing some new boar-stealth technology, as frequent application of my trusty boar tracking skill told me there were simply no boars left.

Apparently previous adventurers had already handled the boar problem.

So why did the NPC send me out to kill more boars?  Was it all just some cruel joke?  Surely he knew that, as he had been sending adventurers out all day long on the same quest, the boar problem had already been dealt with.

Humor aside, this is of course a long-standing problem with quests of the kill-10-rats variety.   So long standing in fact that I'd guess it has made the rounds many times in the mmo blog-space.  And yet, the problem remains.

Now, I've seen games that have attempted to address the problem.  The most common "solution" seems to be to increase spawn rate as a function of the number of players in the area, but this is a weak solution in my opinion because it merely moves the disconnect from the beginning of the quest (go kill non-existent boars) to the end of the quest (here's a reward for the boar problem even though you didn't really make a dent in all the boars).

Other solutions I've seen include instancing (Oh, there's no more boar problem?  Ok, let me create a special private magical universe filled with boars so you'll still be able to help me with my boar problem.) and on-the-spot generation of mobs for the player to kill (What? there are no boars?  *makes strange gestures* Why don't you look again?  See?  Plenty of boars.)  Again, these are weak solutions because they don't address the main issue -- that there really wasn't a boar problem to begin with.

Now, I know a lot of players don't see this as a problem.   People for the most part don't care.  They just want to kill stuff for experience and loot.   And I can understand that point of view because I love killing stuff for experience and loot.  But if we don't care about the quest-givers, and if we don't care about whether or not they were lying to us about some sort of issue with boars terrorizing the countryside, then I would propose that we eliminate the quest-givers entirely for those sorts of quests.  If boars are a problem, then declare a general boar problem in the local town.  Post it up on a bulletin board that boars are kill-on-sight for the week and remove the need for people to find quest givers willing to falsify boar census numbers.  Perhaps individual boars are worth more experience for the week, and perhaps every 20 boars killed results in an extra bundle of experience as well as a choice of reward (magically transported to the player while out in the field or whatever method suits the lore of the day).

My point mostly boils down to this.  Quests and quest-givers are there for those who care about lore and storyline and immersion in general.  The ability to kill boars for gain is there for those who enjoy killing for gain -- and yes the two groups overlap.   But when quests become nothing more than a transparent artifice to reward players for killing boars, then they no longer serve any real function as story-telling devices and they can end up actually hurting immersion.

So, I'd like to see boar killing quests made even more transparent and automatic by removing the quests entirely.  And with regard to quests and quest-givers, I'd like to see something I've never seen before.  I'd like for mmos to generate actual problems and have NPCs suddenly and dynamically ask adventurers for help with those problems.  The problem can still be a problem with boars -- if only for nostalgia.  But if a quest giver asks me to deal with a specific and sudden infestation of boars, I'd love to finally be able to take up the quest knowing that it was an actual problem.  That there was a genuine invasion of boars in a nearby area.  That I specifically had been asked to go deal with the problem.  That once dealt with, the problem would go away.  And that only I would be rewarded for the effort.

Of course, if someone else kills the boars, I'm not saying I wouldn't take credit.  After all, the quest giver gave the quest to me and if I received help, its no concern of his.

Hardcore Lite

Rogue, Nethack, Angband, and others were ASCII-based dungeon crawlers prevalent in the late 1980's.  And they were difficult.  I played them all, but only ever won Angband, and that only twice.  Among other things, the difficulty arose from the fact that levels were randomly generated and that death was permanent.  Put simply, the only mode in those games was hardcore.

Diablo (1 and 2) came from the same tradition as the Roguelikes -- in fact there was some early controversy on the roguelike forums that the core code for Diablo 1 had been illegally taken from the free-but-not-to-be-used-for-commercial-purposes Angband code.  But really it would have been more surprising if no-one had suggested that possibility, so who knows?

Now I didn't play Diablo 1 enough to remember much about it, but Diablo 2 did have hardcore mode, and death was permanent for characters created in that mode.   Hardcore mode in Diablo 2 was easier than in the earlier roguelikes because the random factor was lessened.  In other words, as long as you had played enough to know exactly where all the dangerous points were, you could then play hardcore mode successfully by religiously following a fairly small set of rules of caution.  There were similar rules of caution in Angband (e.g. don't descend to level x before you have stats y) but no matter how cautious you were, the random factor could always surprise you and force you to start over.

Nonetheless, I never beat Diablo 2 (defeated Hell Baal) in hardcore mode.  If I recall correctly, the furthest I got was Nightmare Ancients and I think I could have continued, but the extreme patience required finally wore me down.   For those unfamiliar, Diablo 2 had you play through content in 3 modes: Normal, Nightmare, and Hell, with each mode having the same essential content, but with successively more difficult encounters.  The Ancients were one such encounter, and was particularly difficult to get pass if you were not properly geared.  So "Nightmare Ancients" refers to the Ancients encounter in Nightmare mode, and I stopped there because I knew I was not geared up enough to succeed.  What I would have had to do is to grind previous areas until better equipment dropped, and then I could have confidently continued.

And then came the mmos.

World of Warcraft took away any sense of hardcore mode.  Sure, you can play with the intent of never dying, but death has no real consequence (other than as a statistic) so there seems to be little point in trying.   The Lord of the Rings Online does have a mini-hardcore mode in that you receive the Undying title if you survie to level 20 without dying.  But Turbine has stated that they would never offer titles for hardcore play after level 20 because it would encourage people to avoid grouping -- or really to avoid doing anything interesting at all.

While I agree that it would be a terrible idea to extend Lotro's hardcore mode beyond level 20, I still really enjoy going for the Undying title.  Its not a title I actually wear -- its rather common and there are more interesting ones to be had -- but I do thourougly enjoy playing with the knowledge that if I did, something permanent is lost, even if it is only a title.

Don't get me wrong, I only enjoy hardcore mode in games to a very limited extent.  Even back in the day when playing roguelikes I would frequently cheat and make copies of my saved game so that I wouldn't have to start all the way over on death.  Indeed, it's only because of my frequent cheating that I was able to become good enough at the lower levels to eventually win the game without cheating.  For some, cheating such as that would have ruined the excitement completely, but death still meant something because I knew full well if any particular game counted or not.  After a first death, I wasn't really playing any more, I was just practicing.

In Diablo 2, my hardcore experiences were also limited.  I played 90% of the time in easy mode, but I suppose in my head my goal was always to win in hardcore mode, so the easy mode playing was again just practice.

So, I'm not a true hardcore player, but I really miss the excitement that limited hardcore play provides.  In the modern mmo, there are occasional glimpses of this excitement.  There are times when one must fight their way through a vast underground complex, or up through the ruins of some abandoned city where, if one dies, one must start all the way back at the beginning knowing that all the mobs will have respawned and that many hours will have been lost.   This is the sort of thing that players will inevitably complain about and point to as being annoying or even stupid.  But I know in my heart of hearts that those places are really the only surviving bastion of hardcore play, and that they must be preserved at all costs.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I posted the following as a response to this. Enjoy.

`Twas bugdat and the pushdug burz
Did skai and bagronk in the glob:
All mokurz were the krimpatul,
And the kuf golug skrithurz.

“Beware Adventurers, my son!
The arrows that pierce, the cries that stun!
Beware the Hobbit Burg, and shun
The Dwarven Guardian!”

He took his broken sword in hand:
Long time some restful peace he sought –
So rested he at Haven’s peak,
And ate the lunch he’d brought.

And, as in Orcish thought he stood,
The Adventurer, with eyes of blue,
Came barging up the stairs of wood,
Not pausing as it slew!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The broken blade in twain was cleft!
Our orc played dead, and watched with dread
Until the adventurer left.

“And, hast thou ‘scaped the wrath of Man?
Come hither and learn, my fearsome boy!
They claim to explore, but lie evermore
Tis pillage and plunder their ultimate plan.”

`Twas bugdat and the pushdug burz
Did skai and bagronk in the glob:
All mokurz were the krimpatul,
And the kuf golug skrithurz.

My apologies to Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do we really need yet another mmo blog?

Well, not really.  But I've been posting responses to other mmo blogs for years and it seemed time to create a place where I could be more proactive about jotting down my thoughts rather than constantly looking for other forums where I might insert my ideas.  

My primary interests from an entertainment point of view seem to be mmos, though my education was entirely in mathematics, and I do spend a lot of time reading fantasy and science fiction when I'm not playing some game or other online.  Other than that, I'd like to play more piano and do more writing, but perhaps someday when I'm retired I'll find the time and motivation.

Regarding my mmo experience and what type of player I am, perhaps a question-and-answer format is most suitable.   So I'll pretend someone has actually asked me the following and provide my response to each.

Q: Top 4 MMOs?
A: (In no particular order) Diablo 2 (yes, not really an mmo), Atlantica Online, LOTRO, and WoW.

Q: Sandbox or Themepark?
A: I lean more towards the themepark camp (which should be obvious from my top 4), but there are way too many things about the current state of themeparks that I dislike for me to feel firmly grounded there.  Storyline rarely does anything for me, nor do cutscenes or phased areas.   And I hate excessive linear gameplay as represented by the Cataclysm questing areas in WoW.   So you'd think I'd be all about the sandbox.  But completely open worlds with no suggestions from the developer as to what I should be doing are no fun for me either.  As a boy, I had more than my fill of standing around in the countryside with my friends all summer trying to make up fun activities to stave off the boredom.   So the Sandbox vs. Themepark question is a difficult one for me and is something I plan to elaborate on in the future.

Q: PvP or PvE
A: PvE period.  Though I've gone through periods where I've learned to PvP and not done too badly -- above average but not much above average.  So I wouldn't say that I'm one of those who hates PvP because they suck at it, but ultimately I enjoy soloing or co-operative play far more than pwning noobs, being pwned, or even engaging in a fair fight between well-balanced classes.  Does this make me a carebear?  Yes, yes it does.

Q: Raiding or Casual
A: Casual, though I'm not fond of the term.  I play a lot, and I take my questing, leveling, crafting, achievements, cosmetics, pets, mounts, titles, etc. quite seriously.   I've been part of a raiding guild exactly once and I enjoyed it for a time, but I was never able to get over the stress at the thought that my screwups could ruin the fun for 20+ other people.

Q: F2P, Subscription, Cash Shop?
A: It doesn't necessarily matter, but there is an underlying thing I dislike which tends to be correlated with a company's choice of revenue generation, and that's the pay-to-win scenario.   I know I said that I'm all about co-operative play, and that I'm not that interested in raiding or PvP, so one might wonder why I care if one player can pay more money to achieve something in shorter time than those who pay less money.   But I do care.  I'm fully aware that all my in-game achievements are rather illusory.  But I enjoy that illusion.  If I spend a year working towards some achievement only to have it later be made trivial by the ability for it to be accomplished in a matter of days, or for it to be purchased outright with real-world currency, then my feeling of accomplishment is lessened.  Perhaps its silly, but its still a fact.

And that's more than enough for now.