A Map Makes a World

I’ve forever been mesmerized by maps. You map people out there are already nodding your heads. Its the E gene in my Bartle EASK personality.

I know I spent more time studying the maps in the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion than I ever did reveling in Tolkien’s, ahem, poetry or songs… In my table top days (modules, blech), when I was GM, the world always started with a map– a world of mystery in which to reveal adventure. Dark and wild forests, high frozen wastes, searing deserts, storm tossed seas, windswept isles and perilous journeys in between…

The geography creates half the story. Consider the Caradhras Pass and Moria.

One of the things that grabbed me on day one about EQ’s Norrath was the map. As a wee noob, I could make the death defying run from Ak-Anon to Qeynos and see first hand the wide and dangerous world. Simply, the world was a place and that place was subdivided into wonderfully diverse and mysterious zones, all interconnected (zoning or no zoning, it still had the feel of being one world).

The map created that sense of space on Day One.

One of the things I’m missing a bit from Warhammer is the same feeling of one giant world. I’m told (though I haven’t tried) you can run from the noob zone to a capital city. I’ve no doubt it can be done with a certain amount of dying. Part of that feeling comes less from the way the game is designed (3 factions with four tiers of progression, each with matched pair zones) and more from simply the way the world is presented in the map.

The Warhammer map is kind of a chopped up affair. Somewhat sensibly, the default view is your zone view. But there are three relevant viewpoints for Warhammer maps– zone, “Campaign” or “pairing” and world. Unfortunately, switching between these views is a bit clunky, only marginally useful and frankly very unworld like despite the fact that the zones are contiguous. To go from viewing the Empire starting area, you need to either select a different campaign pairing from a menu selection in the upper right or select world or pairing view from buttons below the zone map.

In a Google maps world, I would hazard a guess that most users have some expectation to be able to zoom in and zoom out by simple left and right clicking. In a post-WoW world, I’d hazard a guess that MMO players would expect to be able to left click to zoom in and right click to zoom out to shift their frame of reference. Its not trivial whats lost in the translation.

The WoW world map is made up of actual clickable zones. Even if all the landmass isn’t accessible within them, each zone butts up against all the others (and is depicted as such) or is separated by some immersion consistent barrier (i.e. the ocean). Zone, right click, continent, right click, world, left click, other continent, etc. Like nested dolls, they all fit together. Ditto for LoTRO. Ditto for EQ2.

WARs zones are depicted as merely boxes on a world map underlay or they’re circles connected by dotted lines on the pairing map. Quite frankly, I feel like I’m living in boxes despite the fact that the world is quite broad and interconnected and the main roads (mostly) “line up” between them. Even though the world is much more WoW or EQ2 like (contigous zones) the map makes it feel like Age of Conan’s world in boxes! The truth is, Norsca connects directly with Troll Lands, so why the dotted line of mystery?

When you flip perspectives, you lose the sense of interconnectedness of the zones. Within a zone map, I’d like to be able to click to go to the immediately adjacent zone without going “back out” and “back in”. This is particularly cumbersome in the RvR lakes where the lake and objectives are spread across zone boundaries (separate discussion about whether having a battleground span a zone boundary is a good idea…).

A perfect example is the Tier 2 Empire/Chaos pairing of Troll Country and Ostland. In the RvR lake there, there is a battlefield objective (Monestary of Morr) and a keep (Stone Troll Keep) in Troll Country and another battle field objective (Crypt of Weapons) and a keep (Mandred’s Hold) in the adjacent Ostland zone. Mandred, the Crypt and the Monastery and the warcamps are a very short distance from each other.

Each faction has a warcamp conveniently located nearby and battles often zerg from one objective or keep to another depending on where the attackers and defenders might be tied up. Its quite a pain to see if a battle is happening just down the road which is technically in another zone by opening your map, selecting the pairing map, selecting the next zone and then clicking into that to see if there are any RvR battles going on, ooops shanked by a Witch Elf, gurgle dead.

Question whether it would have been a better design decision to make RvR lakes an indepdent zone between each of the pairing zones… Discuss.

Then there’s the mysterious criss cross between Tier 2 and Tier 3 in Empire/Chaos. Not being Tier 3 yet, I can’t verify what’s going on, but I’m getting a real EQ/Boat on the Ocean of Tears feeling about those zones…

Another aspect of the disjointed clunkiness of the map is the loss of navigational sense. Here, I’m mostly thinking of Saylah’s post regarding the defense of Altdorf. Altdorf is, ahem, a challenging city to navigate. That’s made more difficult by the fact that the Altdorf map, even if discovered, offers no labels for major landmarks, let alone zone access points.

Case in point. I’m a noob, Destro is making their move on Altdorf, I’m in Altdorf, and even if I’m aware of the attack and that I’m supposed to go to defend the Reikwald or the Reikland, where do I go? The Altdorf map offers no clue. Had I not happened across a swirly when I was looking for the entrance to the Sewers, I wouldn’t have been aware of it. Apparently, I’m not alone.

All of the activity in Altdorf revolves around market square, the flight master, the auction house and bank, etc. Even the noob “Tour of Altdorf” quest doesn’t take you near the War Quarters which are gigantic and largely deserted. A better depiction of Altdorf and its physical placement in the world answers that basic navigational issue. Where the hell is the gate to the city?

Its an irony of an RvR game that a faction’s capital city is entirely unaccessible to the low level player EXCEPT by flying in. Just like when we fly to a city we’ve never been to, we have no real sense of geographical place in our minds. Airports, taxis, buildings, traffic, hotels, but what lies beyond?

Consider EQ2 or WoW where all noob roads eventually lead to the big city and its sense of awe and wonder. No wonder all those peasants stay inside the walls, its a dangerous world out there! Goldshire it ain’t.

So that’s my rambling directionless Friday rant on WAR maps. Anybody else get the same feeling? The maps shape my virtual world view and my worldview feels like a bunch of boxes even though I know its not the case. I’d love to see some tweaks to the map to “bring the world together” a bit and make RvR FEEL like there’s a real R there.

What if you had a WAR and no one showed up?

Folks like Tobold and Bildo (and many others) have been discussing ways to get people out of the scenarios and into open world RvR in Warhammer Online.  Even Mythic seems like its trying to put the scenario genie back in the bottle.

Nerf this, pimp that, blah blah.  Performance issues aside, and that is a big aside at the moment, and assuming that “rewards” were made to be roughly equivalent in open RvR as in scenarios, I got to thinking about the things that made scenario play so much easier.

I came up with a handy list of five “C”s.  Catchy, no?  And yes, there’s a lot of overlap.

Communication
Coordination
Convenience
Cooperation
Competition

Even if there were a way to equalize advancement potential between them, without more, scenarios beat open world RvR on the five Cs.

Communication.  To engage in open RvR, you need to know where its happening, or be able to communicate to other players to try to make it happen.  The by-default-hidden objective tracker does a poor job of letting peeps know where the action is.  Until the latest patch, there was no reliable region wide chat to alert folks as to where any RvR was going on.  Even with, how are people who might be in another location become aware of an offensive in Zone X?

Once you find some action and travel there (more on that in a minute), there is no automatic grouping and RvR chat channel to coordinate activity.  Simply not a problem in scenarios.

Coordination.  More than just fighting as a team, open world RvR takes two factions to tango.  People might have incentive to defend when attacked (if they heard about it), but unless you’re part of a decently large, organized, well coordinated guild its pretty hard to organize a PUG keep raid.  Defense is relatively easy to join once the assault has begun, but whats the incentive to launch an attack?

Scenarios focus the objective and meter the players into it taking all the guess and hope and wait out of it.  Queue up and it will pop and your opponents will be there.  As I mentioned on Tobold’s blog, Mythic could foster this kind of open RvR activity by creating hot zones or meta quests where the king decides to launch an objective and calls all his loyal citizens to take up arms in Zone X, capture certain objectives and hold them for some period of time.

If I log on and see two of my buddies online, the last thing I think of is, “hey, lets see if we can get a warband or two of randoms and go launch a keep raid.”  Given the relative ease of getting into the action in scenarios, that’s a laughable proposition.  Nudging folks in that direction would help quite a bit.

Convenience.  Oh the irony.  The join queue button works world wide.  Click, pop and poof! In you go.  And, by and large, most scenario runners are already standing around in a warcamp requeuing to turn in the kill and scenario quests.  Waiting for a queue, you can go anywhere and do anything.

While getting around is not terribly difficult in WAR, queuing acts like an instant recall to battle.  For open RvR, its just the opposite but even worse.  Players can only instantly recall to their rally point and by and large, rally masters are located in towns while flight paths are located in warcamps.  If you were questing or doing PQs in Troll Country for example, I could instantly recall (once an hour) to Felde Castle and then have to run half way across the zone to the warcamp or all the way through the PvP lake.  When the action happens, its simply no contest, convenience wise.

Not quite sure what the fix would be, but I’ll hazard a suggestion– some mechanism that is the rough equivalent of an RvR summon.  Call it Writ of Mobilization or some such that would allow players to summon to the warcamp nearest an open RvR battle when the king’s battle cry goes up to defend the realm.  How is that any more unbalancing that sucking people out of the world to a scenario, the win or loss of which actually contributes to the overall zone control?

Yes, that takes some of the old “element of surprise” out of it, but I’ll take epic battles over stealth capping any day.  If you want to stealth cap, do it at 3am eastern, nobody will be on anyway.

Cooperation.  IMHO, each open RvR objective, whether BO or Keep, needs to be treated like a PQ or a scenario.  Once you enter a contested objective’s zone, you are placed in a default warband and like scenarios and PQs, XP and renown get shared and peeps get access to an objective specific chat channel to foster communication and coordination.  Just like scenario chat (not that many use it).

Competition.  Something for the Achiever in all of us, peeps love a leader board.  Add a PQ or scenario like leader board for each objective battle.  When hostilities cease for X minutes within its zone, it resets.  I suspect a big reason people like the scenarios is the fact that progress and contribution is literally measured and can be examined objectively.  Hard to measure your contribution to a battle (or appreciate others as well) without a stat line.

Like I’ve posted other places, easily the most fun I’ve had is in open RvR engaging in keep warfare, but as engaging as that might be, there are simply too few reliable opportunities to engage in it, and when it does happen, its not as rewarding as other activities.

I’m hoping that Mythic is listening and has a few tricks up their sleeves.  The open RvR stuff is just too good to let die.

One Man’s WAR

So the bloom is coming off the rose a bit in WAR as folks are starting to discover and “little e” exploit errors, inconsistencies and perhaps unintended consequences of game mechanics. Roll file footage of folks hiding in the chimney near the barracks or floating high overhead in the air at the lighthouse in Nordenwatch.

Overall, I think WAR has done a great job of taking an otherwise generally self-interested MMO population and largely convinced them that WAR is a team sport. Scenarios, PQs, open grouping, open world RvR, bolstering all act to reduce the barriers for collaborative action. That said, I’m starting to see the selfish gene rear its ugly head more and more which is probably to be expected. I’m a cynic, but I can dream that for just one hour of just one day all the world is a shiny fun happy place.

Mythic seems to either be conflicted or to have dropped the ball on a number of things though. I already mentioned the need/greed scenario loot roll problems– not the least of which is popping up dialogs in the middle of a pitched battle [Update: I see in the 1.0.2 patch notes this has been tweaked a bit]. It also seems that warbands aren’t really working right in PvE (not sharing loot and xp between groups in the warband).

And, more problematically, it seems that the Scenario Soloist is becoming a very bad phenomenon. I don’t do this because I’m generally not a selfish asshole when I play as a member of a team (even a PUG team, even a really BAD PUG team), but apparently, if you’re a DPSer or a healer and a min maxing selfish asshole, you should join a scenario then leave the default group into which the game places you and “go it alone” in your own group so you don’t have to “share” XP and renown among any other groupmates. The Soloist gets all that wicked mad XP and renown for kills and healing all to themselves. Because they “earned it” on their own.

(Spare me the “they designed it that way” comments…This is critical commentary. Its anathema to Mythic’s group-centric design philosophy whether its intended or not.)

I’m sincerely hoping that this is an unintended consequence and is quickly addressed by Mythic. Peeps have already been complaining from Day One as to why scenario groups aren’t automatically dropped into a scenario warband so you can share buffs, see health bars, etc.

Gosh, it only took WoW a few years to figure that one out with the BGs. Why not a default warband? If there are only 12 slots in a scenario, then why are there even any extra slots?

Ski lifts seem to have figured out a way to put everybody on the same damned ski lift by combining solos and groups… It just can’t be that hard.

But seriously, one reason WAR’s collaboration has been generally successful to date is the fact that player’s interests are generally aligned and more importantly not opposed to that of other players. The winning side in a scenario gets much more xp and renown that the losing side. Even in a close battle, winning is significantly better for all than losing. The contribution system is supposed to try to take in to account differing contributions to the overall effort.

This creates all of the wrong incentives and pisses in the pool of happy fun killing collaboration. Some folks say, “hey, you in the solo group, no heals for you” or “let him die, he’s solo” and much less nice things too. Not that I disagree with that sentiment on some level, but when the game mechanic leaves us fighting among ourselves, we are lost. There is no way to wage a one man war.

Mythic needs to fix this ASAP.

And Now an Empire Public Service Announcement…

Ok, I’m anything but 1337 when it comes to these things, and scenarios in WAR so far have been overall pretty fun–even the horrible losses which have been fortunately few.

I took a few days off for RL constraints (and to generate more rested XP!) so imagine how appalled I was tonight when our former crack Order lowbies which just this last weekend seems like they couldn’t LOSE a T1 match (or few at least out of dozens and dozens) couldn’t tell a battlefield objective from a hole in the ground…

How quickly things change.

Now I’m not Bill Murray in Stripes (nor Sargent Hulka for that matter), but MY GOD, where’s Empire’s DIGNITY?  Okay, maybe I just drew short straws all night as I was playing my rune priest mostly in Nordenwatch, but friends it was ugly.  The scenarios were popping almost as fast as you could queue them, but it was fugly.  Short bus fugly.  Vanguard dwarf fugly.  That dude in the Hills Have Eyes fugly.  Lyle Lovett-Michelle Shocked love child fugly.  Supreme Court repeals the 22nd Amendment and Bush wins a third term FUGLY.  You get my point.

So, in the interest of being a candle in the night rather than cursing the darkness, I offer these observations about the Nordenwatch Tier 1 scenario which apparently may not be in the broader public consciousness.

The Basics:

First team to 500 points wins.  Supposedly the team with the most points when 15 minutes expires also wins, but for some reason I’ve seen them continue beyond 15 minutes….

A player or players must be near a flag to capture that objective.  Unlike WoW, you cannot simply tag and move on.  Enemy players near the flag slow that progress down.

You can tell if you’re near enough to a flag if a progress bar appears on either side of the objective’s icon in the upper right of your UI (near your minimap).

To capture a flag controlled by the other side, the progress bar must recede from their color (Chaos=Red; Order=Blue); change to neutral, then proceed through your faction’s color.  This takes some time.  If you’re close enough, you can watch the progress bar move.

Each control point held by a faction generates points for that faction.  All control points don’t generate victory points at the same rate.  The Fortress (in the middle) generates more points faster that either the Barrack (Chaos side) or the Lighthouse (Order).

The winning team gets a substantial XP and renown bonus.  It varies, but a high contributing winning team member may take away 6000-8000 xp while a high contributing losing team member may only take away 2000-4000 xp.  Your mileage may vary and the more lopsided the score the worse the disparity gets.

If you don’t DO SHIT and your TEAM doesn’t DO SHIT, you get SHIT for xp and renown.  Coffee is for closers.  Role file footage of Alec Baldwin (NSFW).  Not that you need to win, but a close match is good for everyone while a lopsided one is very bad for one side.

A few things to consider:

If NO ONE stays at a flag, it will not progress, nor will it change to your side.

If you are TOO FUCKING FAR FROM THE FLAG, it will not progress, nor will it change to your side.

Basic logic says, if you hold “your” flag and they hold “their” flag, then the team that controls the Fortress longest will win the scenario.

A few observations and suggestions:

God and Mark Jacobs and that other annoying British guy gave us collision detection.  For those in the back of the room, that means that a player can block another player and (gasp) either impede their movement or shield their brethren with their bodies.  Tanks can, uh, tank.  Fo rizzle.  Stepping in front of someone may be the most significant contribution you could make for your team.

Fight at the GODDAMNED flag.  Not everyone needs to, but everyone needs to support the people there!  The basic opening for this scenario is a) secure your flag then b) race to the fort (there are minor modifications, but this is always “Plan A”).  The more people there, the faster it caps (or resists capping by the enemy).

Don’t forget to cap YOUR OWN GODDAMNED FLAG.  Its frankly embarraskin when the Fort caps an you and the enemy notice  your own flag is uncapped and unguarded.

When Order stops at the bridge and NOBODY actually goes to the flag because OOH THERE ARE ORCS AND RASPUTIN AND YODAS AND SARAH PALIN THERE, the scenario is lost.

In the interest of equal time, when Chaos stops on the ramp to the Fortress because OOH DANNY DEVITO AND ORLANDO BLOOM AND DOZENS OF CARROT TOP IMPERSONATORS are there, the scenario is lost.

Every scenario we won, we fought within range of the flag and in the midst of the pitched battle, LO AND BE FUCKING HOLD, the fortress capped.  After a brief “huzzah” we would then go on to push the Barracks, defend the inevitable Lighthouse counter assault, and guard the Fortress like it was Omaha, Juno and Sword beach which it was and is.

Every scenario we lost, we fought on the bridge, on the rocks or FOR THE LOVE OF SIGMAR on the ramp down from the flag and well out of its range.  The hearbreak of psoriasis is nothing like the heartbreak of seeing your team actually defeat the initial wave of attackers only to see the fortress remain uncapped as they respawn and return for a second assault.

I’ve played squishies (Archmage, Rune Priest, Bright Wizard), I’ve played tanks (Iron Breaker), I’ve played the in betweens (e.g., Witch Hunter, Warrior Priest, White Lion and Engineer) and group career make up doesn’t really change the equation too much.  Yes, you need some healing, yes, you need some tanking, but you don’t need dedicated ones if you just stick to the basics.

Remember, for every scenario we lose, Mythic creates another Elf career.

Free-Style Groups

Saylah’s got a good read over at Mystic Worlds.  I started a response there and big surprise, it grew, so I decided to just flesh it out here.

In re static groupers in WAR… as a devotee, I’m not sure  that they would be less likely to be a fan of WAR.  I’m thinking just the opposite actually.  So far, our little static WoW group has found it quite the contrary.  We’ve migrated over and we’re seriously considering a “no set agenda” approach because unlike many other games its highly feasible in WAR when you consider the goals of a static group (at least ours anyway):  a means of creating a long term shared social experience through collaborative play.  We will still have to manage our level creep (*shakesfist*), but we can choose to follow our noses whereever they lead us (and opportunity presents itself).

So much in other games gets in the way of that, that about the only course left for many static groups is to lock into PvE content along a known progression model because players are penalized for deviating from that path.  Its all in group objective IMHO.  I don’t think our WoW paradigm of running all the instances at level translates well to a game like WAR, no should it because there is so much more to do.

The great thing that WAR seems to have done somewhat agnostically (and as you mentioned WoW 1.0 did but is almost entirely extinct there now) is to permit many paths without creating a drastic preference or a penalty for most players.  Couple that with softening the level disparity in RvR via bolstering as well as not requiring an optimal group composition and you have a game that I think creates more opportunity for static group play than others.

In this regard, WoW BGs and public PvP areas are a spectacular failure.  All the incentives go the wrong way and at the expense of other types of play.

The chord that resonated with me most from Saylah’s post was the notion of preference and penalty applied to play styles.  This is it exactly.  In its zeal to cater to the solo player, WoW threw the group out with the bath water for the leveling game.  (Excuse me, but I thought that WAS the game…)  Its no secret the grouping for ordinary PvE content yields significantly less XP and divides loot more than experiencing the same content solo.  WoW now has a default group penalty.  XP/5 per hour is significantly less that XP/1 per hour.  Collect 10 foozle gizzards becomes collect 50 foozle gizzards in a group, etc.

More’s the irony then that homogenization of character development and “forced grouping” is required to experience the so called “end game” raid grind.  Alternative specs need not apply.

So far our little group can hop in and choose between doing some PQs, regular quests, RvR scenarios or open world RvR (with our without dozens of other players)– all together and all on a roughly equal footing.  As a matter of fact, some of the most fun we had was defending a T2 battlefield objective with others that was under attack that we just happened to be near.  Random, spontaneous, situational and fun.  You don’t know when or where the enemy will attack.  Good xp and renown too.

/craft rant on

Its not just XP as the be all end all either.  Many crafters know all to well that much grinding of gathering materials (ostensibly with no “reward” other than the mats which will get consumed) will be required to develop your skill and through the course of that development, countless hundreds of all but useless items will be required to be manufactured generally at a loss of gold and a penalty of time away from other activities that the developers have sought to reward (i.e., the preferred combat-based progression model).  If you don’t level the traditional way as well, you can’t gain access to the higher level materials required to progress in the craft and as the low level stuff is generally crap, you’re not going to produce your way into the high level mats through the economic game nor can you train/learn recipes without attaining the required level…

Your “peers” that quest solo, or forestall taking up a craft until its progression to utility is all but trivialized (i.e., starting at 70 and powerleveling it) will level more quickly and acquire and retain more wealth and material items (hence “unlocking” additional content) more quickly than someone engaging in a non-traditional path.  Not that I’m such a complete carebear, but in just one fantasy MMO, I’d like to have the opportunity to have a purely economically driven archetype that truly “progressed” in a manner roughly equivalent to its combat-oriented counter parts.  Not an uber Warrior who, oh by the way, can also make his own health potions, but an Alchemist that spends his or her career becoming increasingly powerful as an Alchemist doing alchemical things like, um, alchemy to progress.  Specific content, specific gameplay, unique progression.

The closest I can think of would be Eve and (maybe pre-NGE SWG). WAR is still lacking this part.

/craft rant off

WAR is far from perfect is this regard, but it has come a good deal in the right direction IMHO in providing a number of roughly equivalent alternative advancement paths, individually or group wise.  Because of these alternatives, I think it will be a good vehicle for static group play.