Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Recent Wizardry MMO announcement  (which I frankly think will turn out to be vaporware)  sparkled my interest in permadeath aspect. I personally never played MMO with it , but after brief google-fu apparently EQ had an experimental ruleset server they used for a contest. It  was called Discord.

      The whole thing was apparently infested with hacks and given overall EQ design it never looked like it would last, but alas some really interesting things happened there. All kind of creative PKing, underhanded play , backstabbing and general mayhem went there.

To get some snippets of experience read :



      If I had a mmo with flexible ruleset I would try maintain hardcore permadeath ruleset server. Just to see the dynamics and serve as honey pot for hackers. Of course it would had big bold red letters and 5 warning dialogue boxes  to get trough on top of requirment of having a veteran character on more mellow ruleset server so newbies don't roll on it and have bad experience :)

         Maybe tweaked for more lenient XP curves and such and certainly a lot of resources invested in anti-hacking. When  stakes are high people go some insane length to meta-game , sometimes with non gaming methods at all.

     Other example of high stakes play are present in EvE -with its hardcore espionage and serious RL money investment (check Goon's spymaster and CEO column  if you are interested in some great insights )

 I frankly expect long term  development would turn out to be the same -a brief period of anarchy replaced by thugs and robber barons  who  later become government.  Same thing happened in all hardcore PvP servers (AC:DT,  Zeks , EvE).And in real life. Humans organize themselves  into orderly sheep governed by wolves. It is pretty fun though with constant feuds and rivalry - a spice which is missing from real life (moderated by governments which are too big now)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Woes of competetive gaming

    The inherent problem with competetive gaming  is that one side inevitably loses. No matter the time spent on training , preparation and planning  one side will win and the other does not.  And losses are depressing, especially if you were preparing

    There was a recent tournament in World of Tanks game , 96 teams applied. Only one won. First there is barrier of finding 20 people who would commit to playing together in tourney. 2nd there was actually those who honored their commitment. 3d there were those who were preparing and 4th there were those who were good. At the end there was only one team which won! 

My clan had 5 teams.  All were organized. All were training. But just 2 made to rewarde  stage  and only one won. In my team in particular we had daily trainings and drills for over a week . We made to semi finals, I could not play the game due to work emergency, my team lost in semis. I was supposed to be one of the key players on the flank which was overrun , so blame could be partially placed on me. It could be we would been overrun anyways , but fact is because I could not play  they had to put replacement player who was  not used  to play on that flank in this role ,which potentially tipped the scales in favor of opposite team

At the end of the day it worked fine for us -after all we still got some prize. It was not so good for many others. One of the top teams lost before getting to semis,  it had some elite players (in game  top 10), the loss before prize  stage was clearly not satisfactory, as a result of this  loss some players broke up from their main clan. I think some might have even quit the game.

Of course this is not really a problem. Tournament teams are self selected. People  know what they are aiming for and know that not everyone will be on top.

       Bigger problem is how you make broader base of non competitive   gamers accept that you don't win all the time. In fact for large numbers player base their loss might be more than 50% of the time .Do you reward them anyways? Do you   isolate  this aspect of gaming from main game  completely? Do you try to make everyone play vs same skill levels so they w:l 50% of time?

Monday, May 16, 2011

On grouping, community, mutual respect and ratings

     A big problem in online games ,especially MMO ones is player grouping. There is massive pool of players all of different skill levels and attitudes  .And all of them anonymous. The. G.I.F.T. syndrome. is one of the biggest problems. But  how do you  group players together effectively?  How you make them care about each other instead of being 100% selfish?

For start lets analyze player communities, there are few stages, from the least cohesive to most:

  1. Random anonymous pugs
  2. Random pugs with some locality (same server for example)
  3. Clans/Guilds for "fun"
  4. Competitive clans/guilds
  5. Tourney/Arena teams
    In first two its basically up to chance. And since people in general are so different from each other - you get junk 90% of time.  Case #1 is the  worst. Cross server WoW LFD is shining example of this.  #2 Is actually a noticeable improvement - and  smaller the community  the better experience is.  I for example never bothered joining communities for FPS or niche RTS because server wide community is small enough and moderated enough (cheaters,spammers etc are banned by local admins on regular basis)

#3 is example which removes anonymity. You join guild/clan and you are accountable  inside it.While you may not know all people inside it  , there is strict moderation and controls to keep  disruptive elements out . It filters a lot of problems with random spammers, ninja looters ,tkers, afkers, botters and so on.

Now by disruptive elements I mean those who are not within a spirit of community. There could be guilds of "elitist jerks" ,asshats, griefers , etc. They keep scrubs out. There are communities of "nice people" who keep the former out , and so on. The point is there is already several layers of filtering present. 

But #3 while is plenty for most people is still not enough. See the problem is that while community attracts same minded people there are still considerable discrepancy between skill levels and dedication to game among members. You maybe same guild and you wont ninja loot or team kill each other, but some do not like playing with others . for the reason of "carrying them".   So intra guild cliques form. Its most common phenomenon in large guilds when there are same few players who group with each other and wont accept outsiders aside rare exceptions.

       Now when we move to stage #4 and #5  then we start seeing truly organized players. Working as a unit. Trained to work as a team. The training is just like in military or sports team - be reliable and be on time. Listen to orders. Participate in drills. Strict hierarchy and chain of commands is a given. As is the baseline skill levels. Familiarity with all members of group is very high due to voice chat and lots of time spent playing together. They are not random people anymore. They are part of your team.
       Level of commitment is on entirely different level than that in previous 3 groups. For #4 and #5 its not a casual game  for fun anymore. Its a game you play to win , fun is winning, gameplay is secondary.

     Now if you been a part of #4 and #5 the most starking contrast you see in #1,#2 and #3 and is absence of any sort of respect and organized teamwork between members. Having pondering on this aspect for a while I think much of it relies on 2 things:

1) Possibility of playing with same players again
2) Unknown skill of other players (and our monkey brains automatically assume its inferior to ours)

       If you playing with more skilled player  for a while you start seeing the pattern. You start noticing things he does better than you. You start trying to imitate what he does and listen to his advice. If you play with player of similar skill you are more likely to play as  a team. As you know you can rely on them . Playing under same leader  teaches you to respect authority and follow orders, as you know success is a lot more than sum of individual skill and your tactical insights  are not replacement for whole strategy however brilliant they might be.

Being part of #4 and #5 is a great experience.  Only if only we could replicate same level of cohesion and mutual respect for all players it would be so much better for their experience. Unfortunately it requires a noticeable time investment and level of commitment out of reach of most players.

So what is the solution?  First lets make a fair rating which would fairly approximate players skill on an individual level. Put it into brackets and display it.  If you know your rating and know its fair you would appreciate and have more respect for other players displaying similiar or higher skill levels. You do not need to player hundreds of matches with player before you decide whether he is good to team with or not. Players will be able to initially gauge it right away

Second - lets make our game group players together based on their skill and "like"ness networks.If they like each other they could tag so. and next time there is grouping it would try to group them together first before. 

When players will start being grouped with players who are very much like them they will stop being anonymous assholes. Because they will know the other guy is worthy of respect and cooperation. The culture of playing as team will arise in each community  , of course in each community it would be different- its likely on lowest skill levels tactics would be no different than random pugs, but above that we would start seeing more and more elaborate tactics. More following direction and orders. More cohesion and cooperation and as a result much better gameplay  for all

Thursday, May 5, 2011

World of Tanks (WoT) review

       When I first heard of it  I would never think it would be a good game. First - what a silly name! Second  f2p MMO with tanks? Really? But I kept hearing good things about the game so I got into beta last july  .... And  got hooked. 4000+ matches later I am in release, in clan and preparing for a tourney. That is the game I am playing more hardcore than any MMO in past 4 years  and its not even an MMO. Ohh the irony

    To set things straight - its neither "World" nor an MMO.  Its a 3d person tactical tank  shooter with central lobby. Emphasis on "tactical" .The game does not require fast reflexes and split second reactions.  Positioning ,coordination  and tactics are what wins games , not  jumping headshots.  But its not a simulation - lots of things are tweaked in name of balance and gameplay. (such as faster tank speed and  turret turn rates, reload times, artillery is  satellite guided precision weapon )

     There is lots of history and background you  can dig into (did you know there was a french tanks ace who killed 13 tanks alone? can you name top 3 tank aces? -all german of course :) ),  many tanks are fantasy prototypes and its quite interesting reading about them and then try it out in game.

       It has 2 types of progression - vertical (access to higher tier tanks) and horizontal - different tank types (heavy, medium ,light ,tank destroyers ,artillery) of different nations  . If your first thought is" how varied can you really make tanks play" - answer is surprisingly varied.  4 distinct play styles,  tiers play differently as well and each tanks has its unique feel too (if compared to same type/tier other vehicles)

   The main thing - playing tanks is simply fun.2nd  - if you interested in tanks at all (and you will be if you male geek - even if you dont think so at first)  progression will keep you busy .Game is F2P so its worth to give it a try regardless!

     The end game feature is clan wars  which should keep you playing   . Map is Risk like , with players representing stack of chips , each day clans battle for provinces in scheduled matches, owning provinces gives you gold and epeen. You can  check how it goes  on already released in Russia version : http://challenge.worldoftanks.ru/challenge/clanwars/maps/

F2P features - it mainly serves as progression shortcuts. Premium account gives you 50% more xp and credits per battle -its generally the best option to spend your RL money on. There are gold consumables and ammo ,but no one uses them outside of tournaments (since they too expensive to use on regular basis). Gold tanks are nothing special , unless you absolutely need have every single tank in game (in this case you will  also have to spend gold on buying additional garage slots). The only gameplay feature which is restricted to premium users  is option to create platoons (groups of 3), but non-premium user can join any other platoon, so its not  a big deal.  WoT is F2P done right .

Game is a huge success in Russia  ,while having reasonable population in EU,  China and US

  • Fun minute to minute ,session to session gameplay
  • Huge amount ( 100+) of  meticulously detailed  vehicles
  • F2P not pay2win
  • Progressing in higher tiers does not make lower tiers obsolete (they still fun to play in their own tier)
  • Game mechanics and certain maps benefit campers to much. Matches sometimes degenerate into 15 minutes boring draws
  • Developers are slow to implement new changes
  • Playing with randoms  sometimes makes you rage 
  • Tier matchmaking could use some work for lower populated server (e.g. US )

 Its a great game. And great example how a lobby based  progression project with solid core gameplay could generate solid revenue stream using f2p model.  We need more games like that. If black prophecy follows that model it would be good game too. But its not an MMO  -which is fine, most fun and worth playing games are not MMOs  nowdays ,   if you want game - check it out , if you want world or MMO - you may have to wait much longer .

p.s. Game is using Big World engine for its lobby and session organizer. engine is heavily customized for  physics of tank gameplay.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fascinating read

Just read this post , it is about the obscure MMO (Uncharted Waters Online) . It has some deep insights onto game dynamics, rarely exposed , particularly for an obscure  asian f2p game.  What lead me to read is was the mention of UWO as "EvE on the sea" and  some think it was superior  to potbs .But what matters  is not the game , but excellent insights in some consequences  extreme optimization and min maxing can lead to if the game is not consciously designed  in order to avoid.

       The solution to those kind of things are imho simple - let the economy be real. No buying npcs, no npc driven gains or loot drops out of thin air. Don't put artificial systems where the real one would do  better. Stable systems are self balancing,  they reach equilibrium, unless there is some out of whack mechanics "designed" in. Like all those oodles of money made from NPCs and sunk into equally odious moneysinks  !

Among other issues exposed are  severe population imbalance, vulnerability to botting and gold sellers in f2p, . Imho everyone thinking about design should ask himself what mechanism I have in place to prevent such things?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What MMOs are made of part 2

       In previous post I covered general architecture  for those completely unfamiliar with the subject, in this post I want to cover  some alternatives to using licensed engines  .

        Then there exist many various emulators, which I think deserve special  mention as today your best bet to running high population private server is to run an emulator of one of the popular games.  UO, Lineage2 and WoW are 3 most popular choices. You get all your assets for free, high quality polished client and name (which can be a curse since original property owners might chase you down and close your server, securing addition financing from investors also looks untenable if emulating   is your approach ) .

       I am largely unfamiliar with UO and Lineage emulations ,but for UO there are large amount of successful shards. 2d nature of a game and open source clients  would allow you considerable extensibility at low  costs.
Lineage2 did not look personally attractive to me

     Those 2 are behind most private servers.C++, decent quality  but  use mostly hardcoded logic tailored specifically for WoW. They do replicate wow to various degree of success and are very stable and well performing if sufficient care taken. There exist private servers with stable population of 500+ concurrent players and  some of those  do make money  (watch out for blizzard!) .
  • WCell- obscure academical emu, but my favourite. Very clean C# architecture. Was not tested on scale but coding with it is a pleasure
Upsides of using wow emu
  • best in the market client, complete with all art assets ,sounds etc
  • Best combat mechanics FOR FREE
  • Large, active and experienced emu community . tons of already built ready to use turnkey stuff
  • Considerable customization options because of very rich feature set of WoW - there is  a lot of things WoW already supports which you dont need to code a new,  and you can build amazing new gameplay with features already there
  • Name recognition
  • Coding completely new features could be hard ,Since ultimately you constrained by WoW architecture (which again is  pure awesome)
  • Name recognition can be a bane as people would expect/perceive you to be first and foremost a "WoW" . If you build innovative game it can be hard to attract right audience
  • Blizzard can shut you down

Overall my approach would be to pick most stable client target (woltk ) .Freeze it as  a target (wow changes network stack, game mechanics, new content from time to time, so writing for current wow emu is always a moving target). Completely rebrand everything wow related, develop and use as many custom assets as you can (models, menus etc).  You would possibly neeed hack the client to provide  client UIs hooks for completely new mechanics (and use moddable wow ui to extend it), but again wow is awesome you could do most everything with what is already there.

           This for long time looked like a  best option to me , but ultimately the biggest problems are the legal threats . There is a way out in  case if you can make server popular enough to be able to gather money to get a custom client written. But art assets are still hard and  before that  you can be shut down at any point ,

       You have to stay below radar cause of legal threat but you wont gain popularity (and without popularity there wont be money). .Vicious circle

Complete open source stacks (end to end -including the client and toolset):
 Technically of  a decent quality (e.g. running stable and not crashing) and probably most mature project out there by virtue of not being open source originally. Double bonus is that all art assets and tools are included (which is huge). Downsides -well its a huge C++ project , written for one specific game. Its not made to be extensible or overly maintenable.Source code is hard to read.
Ancient project, still alive. C++, assets in custom format(with converter).  I played it in. early 2 thousand and gameplay was non existent.Graphics is antiquate by todays standards. New assets and world development I heard is hard.  I didnt check the source code

Personally I am not comfortable with C++ to a degree of pursuing that pathway. Plus I think there is a lot of legacy approaches  and large amount of legacy code. Ryzom is only one truly tested on large scale so I would probably choose it if I had to.

Running out of space , energy and time for this post , but To be Continued in Part 3...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rift review

      I meant to post this for a long time - was sitting in my draft box for a while .   I guess I wanted make a deep insightful post but it never turned into it , so just take it as a regular  review :)

I played rift starting in beta 4 all way  to 42 . Started release at headstart. I have level 50 rogue(defiant)  who ran tier1 experts and level 50 warrior(guardian) plus  3 or so  level ~ 10 character I cretead on random servers during long queues on my main one. Time played on all characters ~ 10 days so its definitely not EG style  as I seen everything  but  end game raid:)


Rift is a diku style thempark most closely related to WoW.  It clones wow in all aspects of design including tiny details like inventory, UI  etc. Not that its bad thing per se ,especially taking into account that it also copies Blizzard's production qualities - very polished game trough and trough.

The good parts:

  • Soul system -yes in those big bold letters. because frankly that is main thing which is any way innovative, which is interesting and which was my main reason to play rift at all. On a surface its not really innovative - you get 4 archetypes (mage,rogue, warrior,cleric) each type gets 3 talent trees  just like wow.  The difference is that there is 8 of them to chose from and you can mix and match them into 4  roles. You can switch between any of those roles any time out of combat.

       From one point of view there is not much difference. - In wow you had pve, pvp and (for some classes) tanking specs . What is different here that system  is a lot more flexible  - more than one way to skin a cat, generally within one calling  there are multiple viable ways to to fulfill roles. You can be paladin ,reaver  ,void knight , warlord  and any mix of them in between to make a tank spec.  Many ways to build dps roles (ranged, melee ,aoe etc)

What is more is that archetypes can fulfill more than one role - rogues can tank and offheal, mages can main heal, clerics can tank ,heal and dps
  • Zone design   and art  - pretty good looking ,enjoyed them .Iron peaks was my favorite
  • Polish - good enough that there are no rough edges or bug sticking out .

The OK Parts:

  • Quests -generic vanilla wow quality quests
  • dungeons - passable
  • graphics - good, but nothing spectacular or breathtaking
  • Rifts - they happen ,you do them. After 10th or so its jsut another game mechanics which does not have significant impact on experience
The bad parts
  • Class balance- I never expected that every soul combination would be balanced , what I expected was reasonable viability of each calling vs another one. As it stands now warrior calling completely shadows every other calling to a ridiculous degree .EDIT after patch 1.1. its the pyro. 
Honestly very bad job on balancing the callings. They should not balance this at release , it causes player to be disenfranchised after nerfs and play styles the got used too

The awful parts:
  • Realm balance. Probably number one factor in decision not to renew my sub. - They split battlegrounds in 4 server cluster, but never bothered balancing them. So it turns out one side completely dominates another (usually its guardians) .Every  pvp designer  knows losing is not fun , losing makes people quit, maintain 50% W:L ratio or else players will leave in droves.
My defiant char 1:10 W:L ratio. My guardian has 8:2  (two separate clusters) . I am good player on my own but I cant turn whole WF around .Its not FPS (where I can  sometimes turn a  pub around all on my own -stroking my ego here :)  ). I would not play game  with 50% W:L because I am forced on losing side.  My guardian toon dominates (by virtue of picking right side), but a) I dont like guardians  b) it does not make overall situation any better for long term

  • World PvP.
Does not happen. City raids does not happen, Nothing happens. Its not wow 2004, its a game where on pvp server players kill rift mob first and then ("maybe") will kill each other. Its so anemic even I stopped bothering killing reds - seriously after enemy mage /wave me and I didnt even bother to kill her, I knew right there - world pvp is dead in the game . I had a faint hope the WoW 2004 expereience would be there at least for a few months, but it was not - players either grind heroics , either do BGs.  Like I was afraid instances kill world action.


 Another wow clone. Nice art , polish, content etc. But nothing new.  WoW TBC style without  arenas. So stick to WoW if you like themeparks.