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Pictures on Radio

So, I was sitting there Saturday morning catching up on game blogs and what not while patching Everquest which has now gone free to play.  Part of me felt excited as if it were the next highly anticipated new release and the snarky part of me thought “how exciting, a new ‘release’ of a thirteen year old game”.  I can only imagine how disappointed the uninitiated might be when they finally log in and see how much the old girl lacks by way of modern conveniences and shiny graphics.

That, coupled with reading through Wilhelm’s long but delicious dive through the nostalgia of Air Warrior, got me thinking about why those games held/hold such sway.  In the mindset of the time, it was certainly the excitement of the possible embodied in a new medium.  The fact that you could do anything on through 1200 baud modem was exciting enough.

Immediately the old quote that “the pictures are better on radio” came to mind.  Limitations of the available medium meant that developers of yore were limited in what they could put into the game.  Indeed, in the earliest computer games, barely anything more than the core elements of the game could be represented, let alone a fully rendered three dimensional world.  Sometimes all you got were a few pixels and a line of text.

Of course that left the rest of the game space to be depicted in the mind of the player or at least to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.  Not that this is any shocking discovery or revelation.  Checkers and Chess are just abstracted turn-based military strategy games after all.  D&D begat MUDS which begat 3D RPGS which begat MMORPGs as we know them today (and all the myriad branches of that tree along the way).  With each step of evolution, a bit more of the player’s imagination was no longer required as the world was more fully rendered.

But having revisted some of the early games this last year (TorilMUD, EQ, etc.), I found myself having quite a bit of fun with them and not simply because of the nostalgia factor.  Indeed, living vicariously through Tobold’s and Tipa’s recent pen and paper adventures even has me considering rediscovering D&D.

So I’m left with the question of how much (developer created) environment is needed or desirable to make a game enjoyable?  How much immersion do you gain or lose by rendering more and more of the game environment for the player?  At what point does more become less?  If you make the player do too much work, they’ll disengage, but if you do everything for them, they’ll have no “ownership” of the game environment and they’ll just change channels.

How much is too much?

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Everquest, Free to Play, TorilMUD

 

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Size Matters

With the NDA coming down on the hotly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic, those of us who have been as yet snubbed by EA/Bioware and not allowed into the beta are starting to get a better view into the game.

By all accounts that I’ve read so far, I think the expectation is evolution not revolution and that’s not terribly surprising considering the amount Bioware has invested in the game.  They simply can’t afford the game to be niche, so don’t expect radically new mechanics or game play.

True to form, Bioware appears to have thoughtfully injected story-driven instanced group content– Flashpoints– throughout player progression.  From my point of view, that is a good thing assuming Bioware has lived up to its reputation of providing compelling storylines that lead into and out of the instanced content.

IMHO, the tight integration of open world content and instanced dungeons makes for an entirely satisfying experience.  The poster child for this effort was vanilla WoW’s human starter experience in Elwynn Forest and Westfall that inevitably leads you to Edwin Van Cleef and the Deadmines, and ultimately beyond.

Of course, the DF wounded and then Cataclysm finally killed all this, though open world content became increasingly trivial solo content and thus the progressive story line experience was diluted to the point of nuisance.  Bioware hopes to have recaptured some of this magic, but we’ll see.

Part of what made these earlier experiences wildly fun of course was that we experienced them as a fixed group of five friends commited to staying together and progressing together.
So ideally, SWTOR would be ideally suited from a design perspective for our little group.  Except of course that SWTOR group size is four.

Ouch.

Group size has been a bit of a moving target over the years in MMOs and of course the degree to which group size matters is a fundamental design decision.  In the open world of Everquest, group size didn’t really matter than much depending on the challenge level of the content.

Wilhelm and I seemed to be able to find loads of challenging content as a dual-boxed foursome on Fippy Darkpaw and still had the flexibility to invite others as well when camped in a good area.  Group size seemed “suggested” rather than required.  In effect, you could scale your desired challenge level based on location and group size/composition and vice versa.

As instanced group content became the norm, group size started to matter quite a bit more.  Instanced content in most games tended to be tuned for an optimized group.  WoW chose five, Rift five, LotRO six, Guildwars six, DDO six, City of Heroes/Villains max of eight and now SWTOR with four.

Instanced content like WoW’s and LotRO’s (and I presume Rift though I’m not quite there yet) requires an optimal number and class composition.  EQ, EQ2, GW, DDO and CoX, not so much because of actual or effective scaling mechanisms.

So the question for us is how the heck do we experience SWTOR as our little group of five in a world that seems meant for four?

I’ve read that Companions work like henchmen in other games and can occupy group slots, so that conceivably would permit a group of five live players to occupy up to 10 total slots which would be two full “normal” groups, e.g., one group of three members and 1 companion and the other of two people and two companions.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that and as far as I know, SWTOR’s “Operations” or raid content isn’t available at lower levels.  Does anyone know whether “Flashpoint” instanced content can be experienced as a “raid” or 8 person group like the vanilla WoW end-game instances could (e.g., Scholo, Strat, etc.)?

It really bugs me that after so many years, MMO devs are still coming up with new (or continuing to use old) mechanics that manage to prevent people from playing together and/or experiencing all the wonderful content they’ve built into their game.

I’m not convinced that scalable content=meh if done in a thoughtful way.  I think instancing solves more problems than it creates, but instancing’s bastard child “phasing”– which is just hyperprogressive questing on acid– increasingly puts players in isolated boxes.

So how are others planning on experiencing SWTOR?  Solo and the LFD or random guildies?

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Star Wars: The Old Republic

 

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What’s that in the road? A head?

Since the latest patch to the EQ Fippy Darkpaw progression server went live this week, I’ve been spending a bit of time attempting to finish up my Pine Druid newbie armor quests in Surefall Glade.

I had collected most of the materials when we first got going on the server, but once it was acknowledged the combines were broken, I banked them waiting for a patch or not.  Apparently, I must have lost some interested in collecting some of the more difficult to obtain materials because when I went back to my bank, I was short a few items.

Not surprisingly they were the No Trade items– Giant Field Rat Whiskers.  Of course these whiskers only drop off of Giant Field Rats which only spawn after Large Field Rats and Giant Rats have been exterminated.  Even then, its not a guaranteed drop.The only zone in the game where they can be found is in Qeynos Hills which is convenient enough since my druid can port home to Surefall Glade.

After having little luck trying to force the appropriate rat spawn, I decided I needed to take a break.  The final piece of the newbie armor quests is a separate quest which will yield a nice weapon.

At this point, I had all but the boots and one bracer which would require three Giant Field Rat Whiskers.  I made the conscious decision to chuck that.  I always hate it when a higher level character is patrolling a lowbie zone bopping field mice trying for that rare spawn and potentially disrupting the lowbie players advancement.  Call me old fashioned, but I always thought that was bad form.

So with most of the armor items in hand, I thought it was time to move on.  The weapon quest, however, would be fairly straight forward– collect a mob’s head, sharpen an item, add two more easily obtainable drops and voila.  How long could it possibly take?

Fortunately, the mob, a Bloodsaber Defiler, is conveniently located in Surefall Glade.  So convenient in fact, that its located mere steps away from the quest giver through a false wall in the Glade (no doubt a disturbing surprise to newbies exploring the boundaries of the zone)…

Quest obtained, Defiler located and defeated and… no head.  Ok, well sources indicated that it was probably about a 50% drop, so just my bad luck.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t quickly respawn, so off I went looking for more Giant Field Rats.

I returned a few more times with the same result.  At least now I was certain that her respawn timer was 60 minutes like clockwork.  I could log on, kill her and if no drop log off and go do something for an hour…

We've got to stop meeting like this...

During one of those hours, I did some surfing of the forum thread that was originally tracking the newbie armor quest issues.   Sure enough, one of the old posts (pre-patch) mentioned that the Bloodsaber Defiler appears to have no head to drop…

Sadly, I’ve come to the same conclusion.  After six or seven successive kills, I’ve got to conclude that its probably still broken. Yes, I took statistics, but I can still smell a broken quest when I see (or smell) one.

So for now, its back to Runneye with our little group, much greener for the effort.  The completionist in me bleeds a little, but I grow weary.  Just goes to show you how hard it is to get a head in this world…

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2011 in Everquest

 

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Surefall Glade Druid Love

Indeed, the Surefall Glade newbie druid armor quests got some love in this week’s patch.

I had, or thought I had, most of the materials needed for the newbie druid armor quests sitting in my bank.  Throughout our adventures, I’d been porting back from time to time and checking to see if somehow the quests had been mystically fixed, but to no avail I was met with the “you do not meet the requirements to complete this combine” or some such.

With this week’s latest patch, I logged on eagerly to try yet again.  Indeed the quests were working.  Curiously, though my “inventory management skills” must have been awry or perhaps Norrathian bankers are far too similar to earthly bankers and I found my quest material cache wanting for Giant Field Rat Whiskers and Giant Field Rat Pelts.

After running about in Qeynos hills for the night, I was able to acquire a few of the missing materials, though the spawn and drop rate are abysmal and managed to complete the tunic, helm, gloves and pants portion of the quest.  Visually they are more green than the leather items I was wearing.

Greener than Thou

I still need a few more materials for the boots and sleeves (and ultimately for the scimitar) but for now, its a great relief to have most of the pieces.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Everquest

 

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PotD: Misty Thicket

Approaching the Misty Thicket Wall from Runnyeye Citadel

The revamped Misty Thicket as viewed from the Runnyeye Citadel approach.   Overall, I must say the screen shots just don’t do the revamped EQ zones justice.  They are quite nice.  Of course, Wilhelm and I keep wondering what sin Qeynos must have committed to invoke the wrath of SoE to be ignored…. For god’s sake, they even revamped Toxxulia Forest

And while we’re at it, why did Misty Thicket get to keep the fog that went away in the Karana’s and Surefall Glade?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2011 in Everquest

 

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PotD: Estate of Unrest

Someone call for an exterminator?

EQ’s Estate of Unrest on the continent of Faydwer.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2011 in Everquest, Picture of the Day

 

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#winning

Its not your father's Everquest. #winning

I have nothing else to say, except I gave the Warlock SoW and Skin Like Rock.  #winning.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Everquest, Picture of the Day

 

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