Tag Archives: WildStar

Innovating on combat

Had one read an online forum focused on the topic of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games a couple of years back, they would’ve seen a lot of discussion on how the tab targeting combat system was outdated and needed to be replaced by something more modern.

Today the opposition to tab targeting doesn’t seem quite as vocal as it once did. That may partly be thanks to the era of clones-of-a-certain-big-game being about to draw it’s last breaths. But at least equally importantly, new systems have been tried in the past couple of years. Darkfall‘s combat, however clunky, is about as close to true FPS combat as you can get – its almost as if playing Quake in a fantasy setting and in a fully open world. There’s TERA with it’s semi aim-based system and rather console-like feel. There’s GuildWars with it’s modified tab targeting, and there’s WildStar with it’s telegraphs.

Now that’s not a definitive list of everything that’s been attempted recently, but the amount of different combat systems has increased. Granted, some of the attempts have been imperfect at best – Darkfall’s take on FPS-like combat for example falls short due to certain bad design decisions and lack of polish in the UI and control sections. But what’s for sure is there’s plenty of alternatives to tab targeting now – alternatives that have actually been tried in practice.

Is there really anything wrong with tab targeting, though? I think some people who used to think they hated tab targeting are now coming to realize that the system isn’t really that bad.

A couple of years ago, when players were practically being fed clone after clone by the market, it was easy to put tab targeting into that pile of features that made a game a WoW clone, amongst other things. See, players like to think they know what they want. But the truth is, often times they really don’t. They know they are bored with what is currently being offered, so they do know they want something different. But putting a finger on what needs to be different is surprisingly difficult.

That could be what made tab targeting so unpopular for a while. Because it was the de-facto system of combat, players felt it needed to be changed. At this point in time though, it is easier to see the system in a more neutral light – that it is just a system amongst others. It suits some games well, even very modern, action-packed games – FFXIV for example. One could go as far as claiming it is one of the best systems for a RPG even because it is not super reliant on the player but more on the character. And yet, with slight modification it is very flexible and can be transformed into something that feels very different.

But that’s enough about tab targeting. As great a system as it is, it indeed is just one system amongst many. So talking about those other systems, which ones have not been utilized in an MMORPG as of yet?

One source of inspiration could be lobby-based battle games like MOBAs. There are various types of them, and one in particular comes to my mind when thinking of MMORPG combat: Bloodline Champions. It uses the usual fixed camera view from an angle, but instead of targeting, abilities are aimed using the mouse pointer and they have travel times in the fashion of missile spells. That’s one concept to think about.

As for the systems that have already been tried, it would be interesting to see first person combat done properly in a fantasy setting. Darkfall and Mortal Online have both tried, but both games have major problems unrelated to the combat system itself, making them remain extremely niche products.

TERA’s third person, aim-based combat system is an intriguing case as well. Now, if only a Western fantasy themed game tried utilizing it, but with a little less flashiness.

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Endgame: is leveling really necessary?

EverQuest is what first introduced the DikuMUD model to MMORPGs. It was World of Warcraft however that really popularized it.

By definition, Diku is heavily combat and character progression driven. In modern times,  thanks to the influence of EQ and especially WoW, that progress for the most part happens after reaching the level cap, through the acquisition of better and better equipment.

One could say that essentially raiding focused games today are group dungeon crawlers that also feature an open world fit for socializing on the side. A cynic could say the open world has been reduced to nothing but a lobby space from which players enter various minigames – but we will leave that debate for another time. Anyway, if the player isn’t currently raiding in a game of this type, it is very likely they are at least working on something that is related to raiding or increases their raid performance.

At this point I should probably point out that I realize not all Diku-inspired MMOs focus on raiding – LOTRO for example has shifted it’s focus almost completely away from group content. And it should probably be mentioned that in this post I purposefully choose to ignore the most casual population of the games that feature raiding – those players who in WoW for example, despite the existence of features like Looking-for-Raid, do not raid.

Back to raid-centric MMORPGs. For many of them, raiding is quite simply the end-all-be-all of relevant content (some would call these type of games WoW clones). Now, raiding being as important as it is begs the question: why spend resources on other content when you could spend it on improving the raiding experience further? Why have, for example, an open world full of quests a lot of people will find to be an annoyance anyway when you could just spend the  development time on designing interesting dungeon encounters instead?

I have mentioned before that for hardcore raiders a big motivation to do what they do are the bragging rights. Standing in the middle of a great city in your spiked armour known to drop only from one of the hardest boss encounters in the game with newbies drooling and whispering as they walk by feels extremely rewarding.

And while even the hardcore cannot raid 24/7, they will from time to time want to play the game outside of their group’s raid times. Hence, incentives to log in outside of raids times are needed – as fun as raiding might be, people don’t want to be completely tied to the schedule of others to do anything relevant in-game. Farming money or consumable items, or maybe simply working towards cosmetic improvements like mounts in the open world turn out to be valuable timesinks when it comes to keeping players interested.

Because of the above reasons, the open space, the persistent world outside of raid dungeons that defines these games as a part of the MMORPG genre, can be considered to be an almost necessary part of raid-centric games, even if nowadays less and less time is being spent outside of instances. I don’t believe a lobby-based game consisting of 100 % raiding could be made to work very easily. But one cannot help thinking: would a game focusing a greater proportion of it’s resources on raiding work?

Take WildStar for example, a game prior to release advertised to be a raider’s paradise. Personally, in the case of this game I believe most of the development time spent on the questing experience may have been, to be blunt, wasted. Of course development of the game engine probably took the most money, but I have been pondering whether the game would be doing better than it is now, financially speaking, had it only focused on the endgame without the fluff of the linear and (to many) boring quests and other scripted events that fill the outside world. The leveling simply feels like it was slapped on top, for no other reason but that’s how it has always been. But was it really needed? What if the game had simply been designed so that you started at the maximum level, or rather that there were no levels at all, and the only progression there was to be made was through gaining better equipment or some other form of character power and status?

For just about all the Diku-derivative MMORPGs today leveling isn’t what it once was. Level caps are expected to be reached in a very short time. Levels still increase character power, but because of the comparably small time investment, the real game may as well be treated to start at the maximum level. I know I am not the first one to say this,  but leveling in games that focus on raiding has been reduced to a sort of a tutorial to the game or the player’s chosen class.

To get to the point, I feel the concept of character levels may be needless if you are to make a game focused on keeping the hardcore raiding niche entertained. It would be very interesting to see whether or not a raid-centric game without levels would work. Personally I think it well could.

Questing – why is it so dull in recent MMORPGs

As the years have gone by, we’ve seen a multitude of MMORPG titles come and go, titles that could without the slightest bit of dishonesty be called WoW clones. While these titles tend to have a lot in common, there is one particular thing nearly all of them appear to have: an incredibly boring questing experience.

This week I want to try and answer the question of the title: why exactly is it that what was supposed to reduce boredom by eliminating the traditional way of leveling, monster grinding, now seems to induce boredom at a whole new level?

Birth of the quest-centric leveling system

While World of Warcraft was more of a mix of features borrowed from older titles back in 2005 when it was released, it also introduced at least one innovation of it’s own: the quest-centric leveling system.

While the system faced some level of criticism, in the end there’s no question it was generally extremely well received. After all it heavily influenced the genre for the whole of the next decade, if not for longer. And really, rather than about blaming the system for being duller than mob grinding, the criticism received was mainly about how the system encouraged solo instead of group play.

Now, it is the initial success of the quest-centric leveling system that makes one beg the question: why was leveling so enjoyable in WoW, yet so mindnumbingly boring in more recent games such as Rift and WildStar? After all,  these games are modeled after the MMORPG behemoth, aren’t they?

On novelty

One answer one quickly comes to think of is that it’s all down to the feeling of novelty. In 2005 when World of Warcraft was released, the experience was new – not only was leveling solely through questing a new and refreshing choice of design, but most of the game’s players were also new to the MMORPG genre as a whole. So one could argue that it was the newness of it all back in the day the that made the road from 1 to 60 feel like a magical journey, even to people with previous genre experience.

Indeed one could make the argument for novelty, but before claiming it all on that one feeling, I would consider this: was the original questing experience of World of Warcraft really that similar to that of more recent games like Rift and WildStar?

Gradual changes

World of Warcraft’s questing experience today is not what it used to be. Expansion by expansion and update by update, monsters have become easier to kill, experience requirements have been vastly reduced, money has been made more and more irrelevant, milestones like mounts have been made more trivial, and dreaded new features like the Dungeon Finder and QuestHelper have been introduced. Finally, the third expansion, Cataclysm, has revamped the whole leveling experience by replacing just about all of the old world’s quests with new ones as well as by shaping it’s landscape to suit the new story better.

While the changes have been rather gradual apart from the great leap forward of the Cataclysm expansion, its quite clear that the current leveling experience of WoW is completely different from that of the original game.

Breadcrumbs and overdone questhubs

Looking at how questing works now and then thinking back to 2005 to compare the two eras, the original experience was not quite so linear in the end. In the first one or two zones you encountered as a fresh character you might have found a breadcrumb quest that would lead you to your next zone, but after that such quests were a rare sight.

Finding quests, let a lone efficient quests in a new zone was not as self-evident an act as walking to the nearest town and gathering the five to ten quests from there, all of which are simple gathering or killing quests that take mere minutes to complete. No, new characters had a lot of exploring (or Googling) to do to simply find suitable quests.

With quests being spread so sparse and many quests spanning over multiple zones or even continents,  as well as with the absence of breadcrumb quests, some exploration can be with good reason said to have been encouraged by the basic design behind the system.

On the contrary, the post-Cataclysm system does not have hidden or off-the-beaten-path quests, or if such things exist, they do not make much of a difference in leveling speed or how efficient leveling feels to the player.

Mimicking the wrong era of the game

In it’s post-Cataclysm state, World of Warcraft’s questing system can not by any measure be said to encourage exploration. Now more than ever it can with good reason be said to be overly convenient.

But here’s the deal: we are talking about a 10 year old game. In the case of such an old game, it actually makes sense to sacrifice some credibility of the game world in order to make things feel more convenient. Your playerbase mainly consists of people who have seen everything there is to see, explored every corner there is to explore. When they level up new characters, it’s OK for them the experience is over very fast. They’ve done the content so many times they like the fact they no longer need to focus on memorizing which zones to go to at which level or which quests to pick. To them, it’s not a problem equal level monsters no longer take up to a minute to kill, because they’ve been there, done that, and they just want to get done with their business.

Exploring a new game world is fun, even if it is just a themepark world built solely for the leveling experience, but as a game ages and it’s subscribers along with it, the call for convenience starts raising it’s head. This all brings me back to the leveling design of Rift, WildStar, etc. Their questing  experiences were super linear from the get-go with little variance and a very handholdy feeling.

When it comes to the leveling experience of the major WoW clones,  I tend to think they tried to mimic the wrong era of their role model. When a game has just been released, it is good for it to encourage exploration through a less linear questing experience. Autopiloting through a preset path filled with huge amounts of simple, overcrowded quest hubs is simply dull to a new player.

Once your  game matures and the players start becoming routined, you can start making things more convenient, albeit at the expense of the magic any newcomers are going to feel on their first playthroughs of the content. But before that, I would take the approach that questing in itself should encourage players to explore that beautiful world your dev team has put a lot of effort into creating.

Why the hardcore need the casual – even in PVE

An Introduction in Place

Hello there, dear reader!

In all likelihood you are a new reader, considering the fact this is the  first post in this blog. So allow me to welcome you in the most heartfelt of manners and introduce myself.

Take a man who’s proletarian by day and a wizard (or another fantasy archetype) by night. Then add into the mix a slight amount of weekend philosopher and basically what you have is me, Waxwind.

Here in the Weekly Wizard I will attempt to pick a subject related to Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (or MMORPGs for short) each week and write down my thoughts on it. I cannot say how I will succeed in keeping up the pace yet, nor can I promise the best of quality in the whole of the video game blogging world, but do trust me when I say that I will be trying my best.

In this first post I want to give my take on a topic related to a very recently released game: WildStar, and the niche it appears to be aiming for: the hardcore raiders. So let us jump into it.

Why the hardcore need the casual – even in a PVE focused game

For this first entry I want to discuss the apparent post-release subscriber loss of the recently released WildStar. The specific issue in question is: is catering only to the hardcore the mistake WildStar made?

I would consider myself a pretty hardcore gamer. I am not strictly a raider, but if I play a game and that game includes raiding as it’s endgame, I am going to delve into it. That being said, hardcore content is not the only content I partake in, and to be honest, I can see WildStar has little to offer for anyone to whom raiding either isn’t enough to keep them interested, or who want to do raiding but cannot invest the time into it.

At maximum level WildStar has very little to do outside of raiding for the PVE-minded. And herein lies a problem – the casual gets there and gets bored. The game also bores me, a person to whom raiding is not enough to make a whole game worthwhile (because I except a virtual world and not a lobby game filled with minigames from a title calling itself an MMORPG, but that is a topic for another time.)

If the developers wanted to cater only to the hardcore, why would they care about the loss of casuals then? They have their niche nailed down, right?

Unfortunately I don’t think it is that simple, and this is my point: raiders are a very special type of a niche. While not all of them recognize or would admit this (and while a minority them are unaffected by this), a large part of raiding is showing off. That’s right, it isn’t all about how awesome the boss fights are. Partly, sure, but for a great if not for the most part it’s about you being able to show off you’ve completed those boss fights.

And to whom does the raider show off to? The casual. If there are no casuals, there is nobody to show off to, except if you are in a world first  guild, in which case you at least get to show off to the rest of the hardcore raiding population, which in WildStar is already dwindling – dwindling in my opinion partly because there are no casuals to admire them.

The original World of Warcraft had plenty of content for the casual to consume outside of raiding, which isn’t the case for WildStar. Granted, at the time alterantives were few, but playing WoW for the first time actually felt like living in a virtual world no matter how little time you invested in it (and why this was the case is a topic I want to cover in another post). But the same isn’t the case for WildStar, where the casuals do not become as attached to the game and so they leave quickly. And when there are no casuals, the people to show off to, the hardcore raiders get bored.

While seeing new boss mechanics can be fun, few are prepared bash their heads against a fight that takes multiple hours of practice per night for a week or two just for the sake of it. Nay, most people are only prepared to do it if they can brag about it, most likely to a semi big audience – and not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just how humans work. And lastly, few people care even about world first kills in a game with a population as small as WildStar’s.