Entries in game design (6)

Around the Web: Jane McGonigal, Felicia Day and the Women of WoW

I know a lot of other ladies, besides myself, who play WoW. I'm pretty good friends with many IRL, and I've also met a ton of talented ladies through my guild. But I don't often hear many stories about the women of WoW and how they're making an impact on the world we live in. That's why I perked up recently at hearing two fine examples of women who play WoW, and why they're shattering stereotypes on gamer girls and, more importantly, on the gaming industry as a whole.

The first story I came across on game designer Jane McGonigal doesn't deal directly with Warcraft (although she mentions WoW as one of her favorite games), but more on innovation in gaming and promoting the positive aspects that games can have on culture. Last week, McGonigal spoke on this topic at the TED 2010 conference (TED, a nonprofit organization, stands for "technology, entertainment and design"). The conference featured big-name speakers including Bill Gates, Jamie Oliver and Sarah Silverman. But it was McGonigal who drew my eye. Here's a brief interview CNN did with her:

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Wishful Thinking: Fewer-Than-Five-Player Dungeons

Wishful Thinking is a column dedicated to the theorycrafting behind World of Warcraft.  No, not the number crunching madness perfected by the folks at ElitistJerks, but the features, abilities, and design ideas that the Project Lore writers conjure from their squishy pink stuff. A Perfect Example Of A Soloable Boss A Perfect Example Of A Soloable Boss Please hold your comments until after reading the post.  Fallacies and design flaws will be brought to light later in the post. World of Warcraft's dungeons are absolutely fantastic.  They offer bite-sized content (at least since The Burning Crusade) for players with only an hour or so to spare.  The challenges are appropriate for the levels required, and include a healthy mix of encounters, trash mobs and loot. Sure, it may take as long as the run to create a group, but that should change with the upcoming cross-server LFG system.  I digress.  Five mans are as close as the MMORPG comes to offering a multiplayer experience that's deep and goal oriented without requiring an immense time investment.  But it doesn't have to be. Imagine dungeon designs that didn't require five players.  Heck, it wouldn't even allow a full handful of Azeroth's finest to enter.  These dungeons would be specifically tuned to smaller groups, four, three, two, possibly even a soloable dungeon.  They'd be even more bite-sized content (more pickup and play).  Challenging the group to push through smaller trash groups and requiring players to maximize the skillsets and abilities made available to them.  The inherent need for less people would mean less time forming a group.  The new creation would allow for Blizzard to easily return to a long lost dungeon attribute, non-linear gameplay.  In short, tons of benefits. The possibilities of sub five man dungeons are nearly limitless.  We'd have soloable dungeons that offer a maximum challenge for every class.  Those capable of perfecting their class would be rewarded with maximum loot, those who wipe could be locked out of the instance until the next day.  Groups could be split up – Gothik The Harvester style – and forced to help each other through the split paths.  The smaller nature of these dungeons would allow for Blizzard to implement experimental gameplay attributes for an increasingly diverse and unique grouping experience. Running with a priest, rogue and a mage?  Well then there'd be no reason to tackle that boss who drops plate and mail.  But perhaps you have to kill Big Bad Bossman because he offers the only priest, rogue, mage route to the final encounter.  That's right, done well the long lost design method could allow a group that isn't the holy trinity alternate ways through the dungeon.  Yes, a design that wouldn't require the holy trinity, a DPSers wet dream. Now on to the obvious problems with such designs.  The main problem is one of balancing.  No matter the size of the content balancing is always an arduous task.  That fact doesn't change here, and could easily become worse.  If Blizzard designed the content to accept absolutely any combination of classes, then balancing would get out of hand.  Instead the developers would have to be smart in the creation, designing the experience to only work with a subset of classes.  A subset that the players would have to figure out, the hard way.  Or they could use the multi-pathing idea to give players multiple routes to try. Another issue would be loot.  Should players be given the same ilvl of loot as a normal five man?  What about badges?  All of that should be entirely dependent on how difficult a run is – an idea that Blizzard already subscribes too.  That's the third issue, the perception that a raid would be easy, or easier, when run with classes x, y, and z.  That's pretty much the case right now - run without a Shaman and you feel that lack of Heroism – and won't change until all classes become clones of each other.  Or those special abilities are turned into items... Just do it in five man you say?  That's a reasonable point, but there are many ideas that wouldn't make sense, or even be feasible in a five man environment.  Not to mention that an attractive factor to these fun sized packages is that they'd be easier for Blizzard to create due to their minute nature.  A five man that ended in twenty minutes just wouldn't seem all that challenging, or engrossing. Blizzard's mantra lately has been that the company wants to offer content to all of its subscribers, not just the hardcore, or the casual.  Wouldn't the mix of incredibly difficult solo dungeons and smaller dungeons offer just that?  What do you think?  Would you be up for the challenge of a soloable dungeon?  Interested in experimental design and story telling mechanics?  Let's here your ideas for a sub five man group.  The best may be selected and expanded upon in the upcoming revitalization of the Design A Dungeon column.

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Downsizing Dungeons

Blizzard's raiding model has seen its share of changes over the years. First, it was raids that catered to 10-man, 20-man, and even 40-man groups. Then, with Burning Crusade, a curious mix of 10s and the new 25-man raids. And now, with Wrath of the Lich King, dungeons that can accommodate runs 10 and 25 strong in tandem. Like so many other things in the game, the idea has been to make end-game content accessible to as many people as possible. But I think they're onto something else, something beyond the mere ability to PuG the toughest dungeons in the game. You see, I think I've become addicted to 10-man raids. Forced into them due to low turnout from the membership, it's basically all our guild has been able to run lately. And you know what? I'm OK with that. I'm perfectly peachy. I've learned that the tighter, more intimate setup has led to a relatively stress-free experience. I don't think I'm the only one, either. As my server's population plummets over the Summer (and I'm sure it must have on many of yours, as well), I've found that several notable raiding guilds have fully converted to lean, mean 10-man raiding machines. It makes me think: would the whole game be better off this way? The immediate results would be obvious. Less people to deal with means less fighting over gear, less drama, and less people to round up for the nightly raid. On the flip side, if the "drama dragon" rears its ugly head, the impact on a smaller guild could potentially be devastating. But I find that, out of all the people I've actually played this game with, I feel like I could trust oh, about, ten or fifteen of them, and that means that I can deal with the occasional outburst and tense situations between members can be more easily defused. After all, the number one killer of WoW guilds isn't a raid boss, it's the "d-word." Urging guilds to operate on a more compact skill would be a long-term benefit for the health of the game, in my opinion, though that wouldn't help with cleaning up the messy business that would need to be carried out beforehand (I'm talking about trimming rosters and restructuring, which would no doubt leave many players homeless for awhile). The more people there are in a guild, the more they're going to feel devalued. When people feel devalued, they stir the pot to get noticed, and that's not good for anybody. It would be infinitely easier to understand what every person can bring to a raid when there are fewer bodies to consider. Another thing to take into account would be difficulty. With the exception of several fights (like Grobbulus, where an exponential number of targets decreases the chance of any one person being afflicted by a poison cloud), most encounters are, indeed, harder in their 25-man versions. Currently, 10-mans seem to be tuned chiefly through tweaking of "soft" numbers (reducing the min-max damage of a boss' spell) or "hard" numbers (4 adds become 2, 2 adds become 1, etc.).

Karazhan, one of the most iconic raids in the game, also happens tuned for 10-player groups.
If 10-man raids were to suddenly become the standard, Blizzard would have to take a more careful approach tobuilding encounters. I feel as though they could create bosses with more interesting mechanics, or ones that at least require a lot more strategic planning. With ten people, you're forced to "do more with less," but when that number goes up, raiding becomes more about "how many people can you throw at the boss." If you ever went through one of the classic 40-man raids with a full group, you'd know how often players simply got lost in the shuffle. Not to mention the problems with gear distribution. It could take ages to win a single upgrade! Besides, some of my best memories come from 10-mans. Countless runs through the atmospheric ruins of Karazhan or intense bear mount attempts (came as close as one minute) in Zul'Aman are among my favorite experiences in the game. All of this may sound strange coming from me, someone who just recommended not too long ago that Blizzard super-size their battlegrounds. While that may work for a grand melee, I feel that smaller raids empower individual players and make the experience a whole lot more fun for everybody involved. After all, it just seems kind of weird to march into a "dungeon" with an entire army. Haven't you always wanted to be "that guy," the one who just saved the world from utter annihilation? Making this sort of change, permanently scaling down the size of dungeons, would no doubt cause a temporary uproar in the community as guilds deal with shifting membership, but I honestly think it would help maintain the health of the game in the long-term. What do you think, perusers of Project Lore? My opinions on game design have historically been controversial, focusing on streamlined, semi-linear experiences. Do you agree that 10-man raiding is a viable prospect for the future of the game, or is it always better to have more options, even if that means diluting certain parts of the game (i.e. forcing the designers to effectively double their workload when producing both 10 and 25-man versions)? The comment section is, as always, open. I leave the floor to you!

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Why I Will Never Seriously Get Into F2P MMORPGs

Nickel & Dimed Nickel & Dimed Considering that I talk about other games, even other MMOGs, on a regular basis, many of you probably realize that I play more than just World of Warcraft.  Sure, I love WoW, but I can't possibly pass up things like Punch-Out!! or the new updates to Team Fortress 2.  So yea, I play other games and even dabble in other MMORPGs.  Lately, I have been experimenting with Champions Online beta and Runes of Magic.  It's a pair of recent changes to RoM that have me in a rage against its genre, the free-to-play class. Although Runes of Magic just broke the million mile marker, there's a good chance that its real-money transaction (RMT) system is foreign to many.  Basically the game has two currencies, your standard gold that is awarded as a loot drops and quest rewards and Diamonds, currency that is purchased using real money, ~$5.00 = 100 Diamonds, and is spent on potions, other buffing item, enhancements, temporary and permanent mounts and various other consumables.  Before we get into the discussion, let me point out that I know I don't need to buy diamonds.  Although diamonds can't get me an epic weapon, they can enable me to seriously boost my characters abilities, keeping me competitive. Thankfully, I haven't had to buy any diamonds yet.  Players with extra time on their hands can exchange the farmable gold for diamonds if they prefer to keep their real world cash.  Starting May 27, we will no longer be able to put items on the auction house against diamonds.  The change effectively removes a system of diamond generation from the game.  Currently farming offers us gold and the chance at rare items to trade for the shiny carbon chains.  Starting Wednesday, the scales will be tipped in favor of purchasing over farming. Although I don't welcome the change, I can deal with it.  I assume it has been made for the exact reason that you are all thinking, the company needs more money.  Frogster and Runewaker have offered us plenty of content for free so far, but perhaps the western market isn't buying as many diamonds as projected.  The change to the auction house may just give Frogster the bump in sales it needs to keep the players rolling in additional content.  Unfortunately the auction house change was followed with another RMT announcement, the Ruby Shop, that put me over the edge. Essentially the Ruby Shop is the highest level Item Shop, the RMT shop, full of uniquely "special items."  To purchase these special items all one has to do is spend diamonds.  Yeap, that's right, when you spend your harder-to-earn crystals you'll be given a "Ruby bonus" for you purchase.  Collect enough and you can buy some items from the swanky Ruby Shop.  The optimists and people who spend diamonds freely are loving the idea, they see it as a reward.  I'm not that optimistic though, I only see it as an elaborate way to get nickel and dimed. It's not that I hate a company for trying to earn money, it's the design in which Frogster has chosen that irks me.  Instead of broadening the market by offering cheaper items and coaxing a larger demographic to begin purchasing diamonds (I'd be a sucker for a collection of cute vanity pets), they have targeted the hardcore base, the minority who is already heavily supporting them, by dangling a whole shop in front of them as the next carrot.  On the up side, the Ruby Shop is only a temporary addition - perhaps it'll only be added when they need to make the month's numbers - but the auction house change will remain in place for an "undetermined period of time.”  And before you say, "If you don't like it then quit," the changes (and my enjoyment of Champions Online) has pushed me to that point.  Since it is free, I doubt I will stay away forever though. This is the kind of design decision that has me glad to pay Blizzard Entertainment, NCSoft, Cryptic Studios and BioWare a static fee rather than being hit left and right for $5.  I'll deal with that kind of drain on my disposable income when I make a broad of little iTZKooPA's. Has anyone else tried out Runes of Magic?  How has the RMT model been treating you?  I don't think I will ever be able to fully accept it.

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The Faulty Design Of The Argent Tournament

Yes, I Know My Achievement Score Sucks & No, I Do Not Care Yes, I Know My Achievement Score Sucks & No, I Do Not Care It's been just over a month since the Secrets of Ulduar stopped being secretive and brought us the Argent Tournament.  The new Icecrown area was designed to raise the level of solo content for those players who wouldn't be entering Ulduar any time soon, or ever.  And we enjoyed it for awhile. I've only missed 3 days worth of dailies since the tournament went live and would consider myself a bit of an expert on the subject.  Don't believe me?  Well then how about this dose of arrogance; I can down all four Champions for Among the Champions without healing my stead.  That really should be an Achievement in my humble opinion.  Doing anything that many days in a row leads to a bit of burnout and I am no exception.  I can't wait until either new Argent Tournament content is added - how long does a coliseum take to build anyways? - or I can stop grinding those Champion's Seals.  Only 70 more to go till I grab the five-some of pets, then it's back to grinding for the Hippogryph. Enough background and qualifying information.  The major fault of the tournament isn't that the content gets stale quickly, or even that it's more financially rewarding to not Champion every faction, it is the design of the Citadel quests.  Actually, not the quests themselves, but the area of Corp'rethar itself.  I'm lucky enough to have time in the morning to tackle my dailies when most people aren't online.  Over the course of the month+ I have had to delay those tasks till peak hours, a time when the Court of Bones turns into a mini Wintergrasp.  If I had to deal with the lag and lack of mobs on a daily basis I think I would have quit the Argent Tournament a long time ago. At first I wrote off the problem as being due to the allure of new content, and wholeheartedly expected the area to become a wasteland in the near future.  Last week's afternoon Citadel run told me otherwise.  How did Blizzard not see this coming?  They basically took the crowds of Dalaran, tossed them into a single confined area and have them fight over a limited resource (although quickly respawning).  Who approved that design document? With the reduction of the Hippogrpyh's price, the bird has been re-added to list of things to purchase.  This means I only have...44 days left.  Those added quests and chance to score a Seal from the purses can't come soon enough.  Solidsamm deserves a break after the pets. Do you experience this kind of lag, or is it limited to my aging and crowded server?  Still plugging away at those Seals?

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Malygos and His Big Blue...

Malygos Encounter FTW...Till Phase 3

Wings.  What did you think I was getting at?

Malygos, being a Dragon Aspect, is a fight that I would expect to be quite epic.  Not only in its general gameplay design, but its overall presentation.  After running it for the first time last night, I can say that it largely lived up to my expectations.  As soon as you zone into the Eye of Eternity the Lord of Magic begins taunting, teasing and harassing you for being one of the lesser beings.  He also alludes to interference from the other flights, namely Alexstraza and her red brood , which comes into play later.  My big knock against the presentation is his voice.  The dialogue and taunts he tosses at us are well-written, but the vocals just aren't epic enough for me.  They do not command my respect or grab my attention as other dragons have.  In short, Malygos' voice makes me picture a nerd puffing out his chest in a vain attempt to look larger and more confident than he really is. Visually, we are placed on what may be the least laggy battlefield in all of Azeroth, a platform with four pillars that looks out at the vastness of space and a collection of celestial bodies.  Why Malygos would chose to live surrounded by heavenly objects I do not know - seems more like a Nozdormu thing to me - but it looks freaking awesome.  Though, I do love space, so I could be slightly biased in this department.  Blizzard selected the final frontier to enable their designers to go nuts with spell effects and abilities during Malygos' three phases.  And go nuts they did. The humble casual guild I am a part of did not manage to get the Steward of Magic to drop any riches, but we did experience all three of his phases.  The first phase is a glorified tank-n-spank battle with a small twist.  Should one of the summoned sparks get to Malygos, they will grant him a debuff that is almost guaranteed to wipe the raid due to 50% more damage on the tank.  The object is to pop the sparks where the DPS can sit in its debuff pool to receive their own damage increasing debuff.  Like Onyxia, Malygos doesn't just let you smash his face ass during this phase.  Every so often he will rise up and flap his wings, causing a huge tornado which turns all players into a flying cow, albeit one that takes a hefty amount of DoT damage.  The effect is awesome, pushing your camera way out so you can grasp the full size of the twister created by Malygos' wrath. Once the raid burns the blue down to 50% he will lift off, sending a collection of adds on floating discs to destroy you.  During this phase Malygos is untargetable, although he continues to rain destruction upon you.  The floating guys, and the vehicular combat they bring to the table are nice, but the combination of the anti-magic shells and the leviathan's (take that Knaak) Deep Breath collide for some awesome spell effects.  Phase 2 is the coolest phase, but it ends quickly, thanks to the squishiness of the adds.  Upon killing the final add, the floor gives way and the raid falls into the abyss.  As alluded, each player is rescued by a minion of Alexstraza for a last bout of rather boring vehicular combat. As far as raid encounters go, I very much enjoy the overall design and presentation of the Eye of Eternity.  Although his character isn't given the epic treatment that I think he deserves, the encounter is well crafted and fine tuned overall.  At the same time, the fight doesn't feel gimmicky or leave a class or role out of the equation.  To me, the sign of good encounter design is when the success of the encounter hinges on the collective skill of the raid, not an overpowered member or two. Initially, we are hit with something akin to all the previous dragon battles, then we see Malygos' full magical wrath before being tossed into more mundane vehicular combat.  Our night of attempts failed because of poor spark pool placement, 26% was our best attempt thanks to the enrage timer.  I'll be happy to participate in this fun encounter again, even though there is no loot in it for Solidsamm. With Malygos attempted, I only have a single Wrath boss left, Sapphiron.  How'd you like Malygos?

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