Archive for September, 2009

29
Sep
09

Beta Reaction

This morning I got a nice surprise when my feed reader revealed that signups had begun for Star Wars The Old Republic. I rushed over to the site and started the process. However, I wasn’t on my gaming rig so I couldn’t enter my computer information. Hey, no problem, I thought. I’ll just jet home at lunch and apply for the Beta from there.

 Of course I get home to find that the overwhelming response has crashed the TOR website. Which means it won’t be until later on this evening, after class, that I get to throw my name into the hat for Beta.

 While I’m glad to see the excitement around The Old Republic, I think it would wise for everyone to take a deep breath.

 Think about this, it’s been almost a year since I signed up for an account on the TOR forums. We’ve learned a great deal from the Dev team in that year and I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal more in the months to come. The game will change drastically each build in Beta.

 I’ve been thinking about what my emotions would be if I didn’t make it into the Beta, and after some thought, I think there would be a bit a disappointment, but a healthy dose of relief. Relief? What an odd thing to say.

 See, I realize I won’t make the greatest Beta tester in the world. I’m much more likely to get sucked into the story and forget that I’m supposed to be testing a game. A good Beta tester will check all his stats, maybe even write them down, and then buff his toon and see that the right stat changes by the right amount. That isn’t exactly my idea of fun. He’ll sit there attacking a monster for an hour to check things like Dodge and Crit rates. Bor-ing! She will create Excel spreadsheets and MathLab code simulations and compare them to her results in game. She will reverse engineer the combat system.

 But it’s those dedicated people who will ensure TOR is a great game on launch. My hat is off to them.

 Hey, I just want to live out a great story and my childhood fantasies of being Luke Skywalker. Wouldn’t it be cool if your Jedi Mentor gave you your first Lightsaber and said something along the lines of “Your Father wanted you to have this when you old enough….but your Uncle wouldn’t allow it.”

  A year after Launch, I’m sure it would be cool to be able to start every post on the forums with ‘now I’ve been around since closed beta and …’ somehow thinking that will carry more weight with the Dev Team. Here’s a clue. It won’t.

 I wonder if getting in on Beta will only hasten the burn out cycle for some people. How many people from WoW’s closed Beta are still playing that game? I’d seriously consider playing a class other than what you are planning to play as a ‘main’ at Launch. I’ll go a step further and maybe even play the opposite faction. I want to play TOR for a long time, to savor each mission and battle. I don’t want to burn out before the game is even Live.

 Oh I hope I get a Beta invite. I think it would be a blast to check out the world. But I won’t go nearly as deep, or play as long as most, nor will I be all that disappointed if my name isn’t picked at all.

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29
Sep
09

Home Decor

I think I’ve discovered how I want to redecorate the house.

http://www.home-designing.com/2009/08/ultimate-star-wars-room-decor

24
Sep
09

The Necessity of the End Game

Before we start thinking about issues like the Trinity, PVP, Raiding, Economy, Crafting, Combat or any of the hundreds of sub systems needed for a new MMO, shouldn’t we start with a very high level view of what the players and developers want from a AAA MMO, and from The Old Republic specifically.

 I think most people agree on the end goal. All of us, from the bean counters at EA, to the Developers, the QA Testers, to the players themselves, all of us want a great game. What we are looking for is a great ride, an experience if you will. We want an experience that can be picked up and enjoyed and shared with a wide variety of people. This is necessary to create a reliable and sustainable fan base which in turn brings in enough revenue to keep the servers running and programmers gainfully employed.

 While we can all agree on the goal, how to get there is the topic of vigorous debate. At a high level, we want an immersive world with many fun activities to engage in. We know that different people find different activities fun, so we will need a wide range of activities. We don’t want to force any players to do things they find ‘unfun’ so many of those activities will need to be optional.

 There must be some element of challenge to it. If we log in the first day of the game and had all the powers and the best equipment going, the game would not have a very long shelf life. So we introduce Levels. As we work through the levels we attain new skills, power and equipment. We slowly become more powerful, look cooler, and can defeat challenges that used to seem insurmountable.

 We know that there will be some who play for the Story. Others will want to power through the leveling game as fast as they can. You have your explorers, looking for the nooks and crannies off the beaten path.

 The problem, of course, is you can’t stay in Level up mode forever. Infinite content isn’t a reasonable goal unless you are just randomizing certain bits over and over again. Some games have done just that, but the end result often comes up unsatisfying for both players and developers.

 Players want a carrot on a stick; they need to be able to accomplish their goals. A never ending ‘to-do’ list kills motivation and fatigues the player. Soon she may seek another experience, another company’s journey.

 So we have the level cap. Good logical stopping place and our first carrot. This allows for a set amount of content and a nice end goal. When you finally reach the final ding, it’s a joy and very exciting. This presupposes the Developers made the climb a sufficient enough challenge that you feel like you actually did something.

 Of course, the game can’t end there. If it did, you might hold someone’s attention for a couple of months, but some would be done with the game in a week. You could keep adding more and more content, but one of the truths you discover pretty quickly when you start producing content is that your content consumers can consume your content much faster than you can produce it.

 So we need something at the Level cap that keeps people playing. I give you: The Endgame.

 The whole idea of the endgame is to give the player a way to continue in the game, but in a fundamentally different way than Leveling. We still want our characters to become stronger, more powerful and more cool looking. But we can no longer look to the next level. So we introduce progression through other means.

 One approach to end game is PVE Raids. These are large instances that require a new grouping dynamic. You face the biggest and baddest villains the game has to offer. Instead of looking to the next level for your progression, you look instead to the next Tier of raids. The Raids have to provide enough of a challenge that a majority of your player base will spend copious amounts of time fighting them.

 (As an aside, in some games there is a command to see how long you’ve played that game. It would be interesting if it broke it down into how much in Raids, PVP, etc.)

 Most players would give up if it took months to reach Level 20, but they seem to have no problem spending months clearing Raids. With a large enough and tasty enough looking carrot, you can keep them on the treadmill for some period of time.

 Other games funnel players towards a PVP end game. The advantage here is that the content and challenge are largely determined by the other players. The game play gets a high degree of variability because humans will change tactics and strategies often. These games tend to run into issues of balancing the teams, either from a numbers of participants stand point, or from a power standpoint. No body likes losing, so the option to switch to the winning side is attractive to some people, even it means repeating the Leveling process.

 With any End Game the Developers have to careful to balance challenge, and reward. Hard is fine, as long you can have fun. If you can’t have fun, you’ll lose interest as it will start to feel like work. I don’t know many people to pay to work, they work to get paid.

 Remember that people are nearly defined by variant tastes. You’ve got your explorer camp over here, the guys who love a good story over there, power gamers who play double digit hours per day and the Dad who plays for 45 minutes before dinner.

 What is at the core of any MMO is your character. You shape your character and she grows over time. People are interested in growing their characters in different ways, but what is core to the genre is growth through conflict and combat. We fight to grow. To grow, you must fight. To fight, you need tools. Once you reach the level cap, you need new ways to grow and new ways to get tools to fight increasingly complex challenges.

 The End Game is inevitable. It is your …destiny.

22
Sep
09

Tank, Healer, DPS

One of the hotly debated topics around The Old Republic is the use of the Trinity system.

What is the Trinity? The Trinity is a basic way of understanding roles within a party or group. It’s easier for everyone to understand what they need to do when given specific roles. The basic roles in MMOs are Tank, Healer, and DPS. DPS refers to all damage dealing members of the party and generally comes in two flavors, ranged and melee. Ranged DPS stands at some distance from the enemy and fires away. Melee DPS is right up in the enemies face hacking and slashing.

Healers are charged with keeping the party alive with their heals.

Tanks are typically the only players who can survive the damaging attacks of the enemy. They need to keep the enemy attacking them thereby protecting their Healers and DPS. If the enemy attacks a healer or DPS they usually will die quickly. Basically the way this work is the enemy attacks your Tank, who is kept alive by heals from the Healers, while your DPS takes down the enemy.

Will this Trinity system of Tanks, Healers and DPS be used in The Old Republic?

This is a key question because often players are more attached to their role than even their class. As they approach a new game they are looking for a ‘tank’ class or a ‘ranged dps’ class because they know they enjoy that role from past MMOs. Players can get bitterly disappointed when they roll a class thinking it will fulfill a role, only to find out that it can’t fulfill that role well at end game. The Developers must be very careful how they describe the classes to avoid this kind of disappointment.

We got the first hint of how The Old Republic will use the Trinity in an interview (http://www.mmogamer.com/06/11/2009/a-new-hope-for-mmos) done by MMO Gamer with Daniel Erickson, Lead Writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic and Jame Ohlen, Studio Creative Director, and Lead Designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic. While discussing combat mechanics James Ohlen said: “we want to appeal to MMO fans who like the strategy and tactics involved in MMO combat, where you have the different character types, the guy who’s a tank that jumps into battle and everyone focuses on him while you have your ranged DPS guys. We still want to have that.” (emphasis added)

You can clearly see that the roles of Tank and Ranged DPS are part of the designers thinking. 

 The next clue we get is the Demo that was shown at PAX and other conferences this summer. The Flashpoint aboard the Imperial starship is the only time we’ve been shown group dynamics. A Sith Warrior and a Bounty Hunter work their way through the starship taking on Rebel soldiers until their climatic ‘Boss’ fight with a full fledged Jedi Knight. As we watch the fight we can see the Bounty Hunter taking the role of Ranged DPS. He stands away from the Boss and fires away with his arsenal.

And what of the Sith Warrior? He is there in melee range, slashing away with his Lightsaber like Melee DPS. But we also see him taking the blows of the Jedi Boss and parrying them with his Lightsaber. He is being a Tank.

But how does he keep the Jedi from leaping over and taking a swing or two at the Bounty Hunter, especially after the Bounty Hunter lights him up with the Flame Thrower? Many games give their tanks some ability that forces the Boss to attack them. We’ve seen nothing like that so far in the Sith Warrior arsenal. Some games employ a Threat point system whereby the tank can produce more Threat points than the DPS and the Boss is scripted to attack whoever has the most Threat points. Other games use collision to keep the Boss attacking their tanks. The Boss can not move through the player, so the player physically blocks the path to the DPS. The Boss can’t get to the DPS so he decides to attack the player he can get to, which is, of course, the Tank. Collision systems tend to be very hard on MMOs because they require more calculations and communication than non collision games.

What do we know thus far, about our healers? So far the only information we have is that each class will have an out of combat heal. To be a healer, you sort of have to have an incombat heal. Could the Developers be designing The Old Republic as a Healerless MMO?

I’ve been playing MMOs for about 4 years now. In my experience most players enjoy the DPS role. Invariably as you are trying to fill groups, it’s always the Tank and the Healer that are toughest to find. Then as you get to end game, Tanks increase in availability but Healers remain tough to find. Perhaps the Development recognized that and there will not be a dedicated ‘main healer’ class in The Old Republic. The first flashpoint we saw had only two player characters in it. By definition, you’d need three to form a Trinity group.

In most MMOs, you need more than two people to successfully complete an instance/flashpoint. Therefore it would be folly to try to draw too many conclusions, but it’s clear that the Developers understand the Trinity roles and want to have them in some form in their game.

As the Development team starts to approach designing their endgame, they will need to tackle the idea of Trinity roles. It will be at that time that we will start hearing more about how the Trinity roles will be implemented in The Old Republic.

More so maybe than any other MMO, players are going to be attached to their class. They want to play the Han Solo fantasy or the Darth Vader fantasy. What will happen if the role that class plays at end game doesn’t mesh with what the player enjoys. If Jedi’s were main healers and Troopers tanks, would have people who really wanted to be a Jedi, roll a Trooper because they wanted to tank? I’m sure some would.

So what role are you looking to play? Do you think your class will have that role at end game?

17
Sep
09

The Old Republic Overview

First of all welcome to everyone who decided to come over to this blog from my announcement at HonorsCode.

So let’s take a quick look at what we know so far about The Old Republic.

It will be a story driven MMO. Every character and NPC will have voice over. You don’t need to read the quest text, you listen to it. The story is driven by key choices that you, the player, make.

The game is set thousands of years before the movies and 300 years after the events of Knights of the Old Republic. There is a galactic war going on between the Jedi and the Sith. This was a time in the Star Wars lore long before the Sith instituted the ‘Rule of Two’. This rule was quoted by Yoda during The Phantom Menace: “Only two there are, a master and an apprentice.” During the time that The Old Republic is set, there are literally armies of Jedi and Sith fighting.

There are two factions, The Sith Empire and the Republic. There will be 8 classes, 4 per faction, not all of which have been revealed. So far, the Republic classes are the Trooper, and the Smuggler. The Empire classes are the Sith Warrior, and the Bounty Hunter. The Sith Warrior is a Dark Jedi.

Lightside Jedi is supposed to be one of the Republic classes. Imperial Agent is a rumored class for the Empire. Neither has been officially revealed.

Each class is has its own quests. There is not one repeated quest in the game. If you play through as a Smuggler, and then you play through again as a Bounty Hunter or Trooper, you will not repeat one single quest.

Each class revealed thus far looks very cool. While I have my heart set on playing a Lightside Jedi, I think each class holds enough appeal that you will see a variety of characters. I don’t think you’ll see servers full of nothing but Jedi/Sith.

The Smuggler and the Trooper use a special combat system called Cover. It’s a little bit like Stealth in WoW. You have certain abilities that you can only use in Cover and you get a defensive bonus against people attacking you. The rumored Sith Agent may also use the Cover system.

The game also features a morality system, which I think of like alignment from my pen and paper role playing days. Each decision you make will give you Light side points or Dark side points. As you accumulate more Light side or Dark side points, you will get access to bonus powers. There are even powers you can access only if you walk the Grey path and try to balance the Light and the Dark in your decisions. Sith players can earn Light side points, and Republic players can earn Dark side points if they choose.

What WoW players might think of as instances are called Flashpoints. In the Flashpoint shown by the Development team, 2 characters, a Sith Warrior and a Bounty Hunter took on a bunch of Republic soliders and some Padawans before a ‘boss fight’ with a Jedi. In the Flashpoint, your party can choose to kill a captain who has disobeyed an order from a Grand Moff. If you kill him, you get Dark side points. If you let him live you get Light side points.

The planets revealed so far are Koriban, Nal Hutta, Ord Mantell, and Coruscant.

Combat is very similar to World of Warcraft. You have a hot bar with different abilities your character can use. It’s fast paced, and you are taking on groups of 2 to 4 enemies at once. It looks like a ton of fun.

Every class revealed so far seems to have multiple forms of crowd control spells. Every class is supposed to have an out of combat heal. The Sith Warrior’s is a channeled spell that regens his health very quickly.

Very little has been said about the endgame or PVP, other than ‘it will be there.’ They have confimed Battlegrounds, but didn’t go into any details.

Major systems like loot tables, are not in yet. Major decisions, like dual wield penalties are not in yet. Most of the demos show characters below Level 10. The rumored level cap is Level 40.

 Nobody knows when the game will be available, but many guess it will be Christmas of 2010.

 If you want to learn more about the game, you can check www.swtor.com, which are the official forums. The have some striking and unwanted similarities to the WoW general forums. 

I get most of my information from a blog called DarthHater. It’s a good read and you should check it our if you want to know more about the game.

14
Sep
09

MMOs

I had heard about MMOs mainly from people who played Everquest, and I was really excited about Lucas Arts teaming up with Sony Online Entertainment to make Star Wars : Galaxies, an MMO set in the Star Wars universe. My twin passions of Gaming and Star Wars could find their perfect match.

I followed the development of Galaxies, and it soon became apparent that they were trapped by the Lore. By setting their game during the Galactic Civil War, they had to make Jedi very scarce. It would mean there would be no Jedi class.

It was an immediate turn off. I had always had a tough time justifying the cost of an MMO in my head. A ‘normal’ game was about $50, and I could play it for months. An MMO was $50, and then another $10 to $15 per month on top of that.

It was going to take an extraordinary game to get me to do that. I might have done it for Galaxies, but I knew my luck. If even 1 in 1000 boxes gave you the secret code to start on the Jedi path, I knew my box wouldn’t have it. It turned out that wasn’t how they did it, but I didn’t know that at the time.

There was a legion of Star Wars fans, but hardly a legion of Galaxies players.

I never did play Galaxies, but from what I understand the Developers did an abrupt 180 and opened Jedi to everyone, and the game just didn’t make sense anymore. The entire game had been built around non Jedi and they didn’t balance the Jedi well when they did bring them out. 

Then early in 2006, my friend Adam got hired on at Blizzard as a GM for World of Warcraft. One of the perks of the job was that he got two free World of Warcraft accounts. You got the game and your monthly was free. I lobbied for him to give one of his ‘freebies’ to me, and he was kind of enough to do that.

 With the barrier to entry removed, I dove into WoW and became throughly engrossed. We rolled a couple of humans on the server Rexxar. I was a Paladin; he was a Warrior, if I remember correctly.

My ‘main’ is now a Level 80 Blood Elf Paladin on the Altar of Storm server.

11
Sep
09

Gamer

I have been a life long Star Wars fan, but I’ve also been a life long gamer.

In 1980, my family moved from our home in South Carolina to the piedmont of North Carolina where my Dad (and yes, he IS my Father) was going to attend Seminary. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but soon discovered it would be really good move. We moved into “Married Student Housing.” Now the great thing about Married Student Housing was there were a ton of kids. We played all kinds of games and sports.

That summer one of the kids in my neighborhood got an Atari 2600. Much like my first encounter with Star Wars, another lifelong passion was about to born. I spent many an hour at my friends house playing Pitfall, Battlefield, Yars Revenge and Pong.

5200Then Christmas of ’83, we got an Atari 5200.  My sister would play Pac-Man with me. In that game, you alternated turns so when she died, it was my turn, and when I died, and it was her turn. When it came my turn, she would make a big deal of getting some pillows and getting really comfortable, because she was going to be there a while. We loved to play Moon Patrol, Centipede and Dig Dug. My Dad and I played loved to play Atari Baseball.

c64After Seminary, my parents divorced, and after a while my Dad remarried. I didn’t get along with my step Mom, or my new step Sisters. Then I got a Commodore 64. I played games like Summer Games and my first RPG game whose name I sadly can’t remember.  It wasn’t much on graphics, but I still remember busting out of my room and telling everyone I had finally killed the Fire Elemental boss. Good times.

So I pretty much holed up in my room with my C64. I’d play and play and kind of forget the chaos that existed on the other side of my bedroom door.

I moved on to consoles as I got to college. My best friend in college was named Daniel, and he would come over to my dorm room about 7 or so. Our girlfriends would show up about 8. They sat and talked (sometimes about us) while he and I would play Techmo Super Bowl. Then about 10 when the clubs opened, we’d head out for the evening.

Then Daniel got a new computer, a 486DX WITH the math coprocessor, thank you very much! It was hot stuff.

Suddenly I was introduced to games like Civilization, X-Wing, and Dune (which was the precursor to all modern RTS games). He also introduced me to Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds. I got seriously hooked into Red Baron, and Aces of the Pacific. That game was a blast.

After college, I got myself established and bought a computer of my own. It was first generation Pentium. It had the first genertionof Video Cards and screaming 28.8k modem. I was rocking. The first games I bought for that computer were X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter, Civilization II, and Sierra’s Football Pro 98.

I was living out my childhood of flying an X-Wing fighter and putting my “deflectors on, double front”.

The Christmas after I got my computer a game came out called Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. This was the first video game where I could play out a childhood fantasy and be a Jedi. It included Full Motion Video cut scenes (with actors). I played that game through at least 3 or 4 times.

It also had an online death match mode. I got involved in a clan and found the wonders of IRC and message boards. I was married by that point and my wife enjoyed watching me play, and even helped me solve some of the games puzzles. It was cool.

I played the expansion pack Mysteries of the Sith and the sequels Jedi Knight II and Jedi Knight Academy. I played just about every game that Lucas Arts made with the Star Wars IP including the bad ones like Rebellion. I continued to play the Civilization games, and got into the Madden NFL series.

I had always had fond memories of Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, and really wanted someone to make a modern game based on that. You can imagine how excited I was to hear about Baldur’s Gate, which was exactly what I was hoping for. I became immersed in the world and played the follow ups Tales of the Sword Coast, The Shadows of Amn and the Throne of Bhaal.

My buddy Adam and I got into the Rainbow Six series of games. He would be a sniper and I would cover for him.

Then he recommended to me that we try a game called Starcraft. I had never been in RTS games much, but Starcraft really hooked me in. My friend and I played many a game both with and against each other. I loved the Terrans, but he had a Protoss Zealot rush that was really tough to beat. There is something very satisfying in hearing a dozen Siege Tanks go into Siege Mode and just leveling a Protoss base. When my friend moved to California, we still played Starcraft.

Blizzard had a new RTS coming out, Warcraft III. Adam and I dove into it. The single player campaign was compelling and the online game play was a ton of fun. I preferred Humans and loved Tanks, Riflemen, and Mortor Teams. I still have found memories of sending my mortar teams into battle with their yell of “MORTAR COMBAT!!” Still brings a smile to my face. We played Warcraft III and the expansion pack The Frozen Throne. My favorite Hero was the Mountain King.

BioWare teamed up with Lucas Arts to produce Knights of the Old Republic. It was the gameplay I had loved in Baldur’s Gate, but now set in my favorite IP of Star Wars.

KOTOR, as it’s called by it’s fans quickly became my favorite game. KotOR joined Civ as what I call a 4am game.

A 4am game is one that I found myself staying up to 4am playing. In Civ it was called the “One more turn” syndrome. You just wanted to play one more turn, and the next thing you know its 4am. It wasn’t any surprise that I enjoyed the follow-up Knights of the Old Republic II.

Adam had another game for us to try out, but that’s a story all in itself.