Elite status

I was reading a post on the US LOTRO boards about a person who wanted legendary weapons to be much more rare. This poster also called for there to be deeds to do things like kill 10,000 orcs to achieve “signature” or “elite” status. Players who completed this deed would have rare and powerful characters.

Somehow, this person actually thinks that putting in a massive grind and tying it to a massive reward is a good idea.

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Happy 6th, Star Wars: Galaxies

Grab a pint of blue milk and raise your glass to the sky as we celebrate the 6-Year Anniversary of Star Wars Galaxies™!

The Annual Empire Day celebration is back, and this year it is bigger and better than ever. Join Princess Leia and Lord Vader along with your favorite Star Wars® characters for awards, rewards, fireworks, events and elaborate ceremonies!

Join with our community and the Star Wars Galaxies Development Team in sharing your Star Wars Galaxies 6-Year Anniversary wishes by having your character sign the 6-Year Anniversary DataPad!

Gather your friends and join the celebration in-game between June 23rd and July 21st, 2009:

Empire Day Ceremony: Participate in an elaborate Imperial or Rebel ceremony featuring Lord Vader or Princess Leia in which you could be hand picked to receive a special badge.

Special Events: Locate all of the Imperial Recruitment and Anti-Propaganda kiosks and the Rebel Alliance Resistance and Vandalism Kiosks spread throughout Theed and Coronet to earn points and tokens redeemable for prizes.

Profession Quests: Traders, Entertainers and Combat professions will be able to participate in special Empire Day themed quests sure to deliver action and adventure.

Collections Complete special collections tied to the events and quests and earn tokens, GCW points, and in some cases, new titles for your diligence!

Special Items Use your hard earned tokens at special vendors to purchase Empire Day specific items such as a Tantive-IV Landspeeder, house decorations, and other Empire Day items.

Don’t miss out on this special occasion, it’s not everyday that Star Wars Galaxies celebrates 6 years of online adventure, intrigue, and excitement.

– Ethic

Exar Kun vs 16th Hall

I’ve been jumping into every group for the 16th Hall that I could get. I still need the token from there. This is the instance I talked about screwing up earlier. The one where my pet killed a small bug and I wasted hours of people’s lives. Well, since that time I’ve become much better as a player. I’ve spent so many hours trying to clear this damn instance that I know it like the back of my hand.

I felt so overwhelmed the first time. Now I know not just my own role, but what everyone else should be doing as well. Tonight was the second night in the row of attempting the 16th hall. We got to the end, and this time, our guardian was lack-luster. He was anonymous, which I immediately take to mean, “Don’t look at me, my equipment sucks”. Sure enough, his equipment and traits sucked. Every time we went into the boss fight, he was dead within 30 seconds and I ended up tanking the boss every time we went in. In my head a voice was nagging, “I wear light armor, I’m a lore-master, I shouldn’t be tanking this boss every time.”

It reminds me of Exar Kun in Star Wars Galaxies. Yes, the Exar Kun instance. It’s the toughest instance in the game. I knew every strategy in every room in that place. But I needed tanks who could do their job, and commandos who could run the elements successfully. One day, in the last room of Exar Kun, there was this commando guy and I needed him to tank something

When the fight started, the commando was nowhere near his assigned position. So where did the boss he was supposed to be tanking go? To me, the medic. This left me doing several people’s jobs at once. With each of the four bosses, I was involved in some way. I was attacking the Promised with everything I had, while ping-pong tanking both the Lingering and the Embraced. And while all of this was going on, I was hovering my mouse over the Unquenchable every 3 seconds to see which element that boss was vulnerable to and calling it out over voice chat. All of this I was doing while spamming my group-heals.

Again, a voice in my head was saying, “I’m the medic… I shouldn’t be tanking anything. I shouldn’t have to call the elements for the person who’s job it is to run them.”

I can learn an instance well, given enough times in it. But you know what? I’m only going to see an instance that many times if it’s incredibly difficult to get together a team capable of doing it successfully. It’s the same in 16th hall. Our hunter was fantastic. Our minstrel was great. And I like to think that I performed admirably. But that’s only half a team. So we were destined to fail. Three hours down the drain.

The funny thing is… the more I compare this to Exar Kun, the better I feel about it. I have fond memories of the journey from being one of the people who sucked at instances to one of the most popular group leaders on our server. When I think of it like that, the idea of dying in this instance over and over doesn’t feel so bad. Eventually, we found the people we needed to do a competent job, befriended them, and got them into the instances.

When our failed run had ended and the group broke up, our minstrel sent me a tell. He wanted to know if he could add me and my alts to his friend’s list so that he could call on me for future runs….

Ahh…. good times.

Group Size

Star Wars Galaxies started out with a 20 person group as the default. Early on, this could mean a group of 20 people running around on a planet ganking alien beasts that would take several minutes to solo. Sometimes, this meant gathering outside a place with tough-mobs like Fort-Tusken and killing everything that came out of there. There were even multiple 20-person groups there sometimes. This made you feel like a small part of an army. But you know what? You felt powerful because the group is powerful. You were a very small part of a very powerful force.

Five years later, Jedi’s had a boss unique to them and them alone. In order to obtain the best cloak in the game, each Jedi was forced to face two bosses solo. Anyone could stand and watch the Jedi fight these bosses, but no one could help. Unless a player read strategies ahead of time, they would fail both fights. Even when someone knew of strategies that worked for fighting these bosses, it was still a difficult set of fights. Complaints from players on the forums about the absurd difficulty of the fights only served to make the eventual victory more sweet. You felt powerful because you knew you had become skilled as a player.

Feeling skilled and feeling powerful. Can these two feelings exist in the same combat scenario? To me it seems they are at odds. The larger the group becomes, the greater the diffusion of responsibility a player feels. Too big a group, with a role shared by too many others in the group (like DPS in a raid) and I feel as though I don’t matter at all.

Light Themes

You know, MMO’s aren’t particulary good at theming.

Take the medic class in Star Wars Galaxies.  Sure, when the game launched you could be a doctor and sit at the hospital doing doctor things, but today’s medic is more combat oriented.  The purpose of having a medic to take into groups is clearly driven by the tried-and-tested gameplay mechanic of having a healer in a group along with a tank and someone to deal out the damage.  The medic as it stands today, doesn’t really resemble any kind of medical professional, either in reality or in Star Wars.

This medic class can instantly heal a person who’s running and shooting with a “bacta bomb” or heal an entire group of people in mid-combat with a “bacta spray”.  Playing a medic doesn’t feel like playing a medic.  It feels like playing an MMO healer with skills like “group heal” and “single-target heal”.

To be fair, playing a healer in fantasy MMOs doesn’t fair much better.  You know if you pick a priest in a game that you won’t be doing much praying.  You won’t have to attend church or give any sermons.  You’re going to run around clicking buttons that make your friend’s health-meter go up.

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Swish Effect

You know what makes combat in an MMO really satsifying?  Yes, a deep combat system is important.  But right now, I want to talk about the sounds.

A lot of the classes that swing their weapons in Lotro make a “swish” sound no matter if they hit a target or not.  It’s not something you notice the first time you fight, or even the millionth, but at some point you play a character in Lotro or another mmo and you whack something and go, “Ouch, I think I heard some bone breaking!!”

As an example of the swish effect, I’d like to direct your attention to some bloody penguins.

First, the swishy one:

http://www.logan.ws/games/penguin.asp

Then the more satisfying smashy one:

http://www.logan.ws/games/bloody-penguin.asp

Notice how when you smash the penguins in the second link, it just feels more gratifying.  You get to hear a “splat” sound when you actually hit the penguin to begin with, plus the penguin makes “ouch” sounds whenever it bounces, and finally there are sweet “boom” sounds whenever the penguin hits a mine.

FFXI is great at having very satisfying sound effects.  Other games like SWG really drop the ball in this department.  With Lotro, it depends on which class you play and which skills you use.  One of the reasons I like playing my new Warden alt in Lotro is how satisfying the stabbing sounds are.  I really feel like I’m inflicting some virtual pain.

Hang out spots

When I first started playing Star Wars Galaxies, I noticed there were certain “hang-out” spots in each city.  Even if you went to a different server, the hang-out spots were exactly the same.  I thought it was weird because back then, you could choose to start in any city on any planet.   There were no quest-hubs to draw anyone to any place in particular.

After thinking about what all the hang-spots had in common, I came to realize that gamers are very lazy creatures.  If the game mechanics didn’t force a player to go somewhere to hang out, they would hang out wherever they loaded in.  This meant the main hang-out in every city was the starport.  The developers tried to force people into the cantina’s by giving them a nasty debuff called “battle fatigue” that could only be slowly removed in certain locations.  They also tried to force people into hospitals to have their other crippling debuffs removed.  But even if these locations were 30 seconds away from the load-in spot, people wouldn’t make the journey.

You can’t artificially create game-mechanics to force players to hang out somewhere.  Oh, you can try, but leaving the load-in spot to go have a medic remove my wounds in the hospital was about as much fun as waiting in line at the DMV.  If they really wanted players to hang out in the hospital, then they should have made the hospital the place you load into after you die.  But they didn’t.  You woke up as a clone,  if I remember.  A wounded clone…. or something.

By contrast, everyone hangs out inside the Prancing Pony in Lotro.  Could the developers behind SWG believe that players use instruments to play music there on a daily basis without being forced to grind “entertainer xp”?  The Prancing Pony has several reasons it’s a hang out spot.  First of all, there’s a mile-stone right outside to make it a possible load-in location.  Second, the beginning of the Epic quest line forces you to go there several times.  Third, there are many amenities inside such as a barber, vendors, and a bard, so people can stop off there for multiple reasons.  And of course, it’s a memorable location from the books/movies.

Star wars Galaxies, if you want people to hang out in a cantina, let me land on the roof!  Put in bazaar terminals, mission terminals, bank terminals, and bounty-hunter terminals inside it, and then make the cantina the default place to land when coming from another planet.  Basically, if you let me load in and get my stuff done without having to move my little virtual legs, then I might consider hanging out there.

Gamers don’t want Hardcore

Oh… gamers think they want hardcore.  They even say they want hardcore. But no, they do not want hardcore, or at least not the kind of hardcore that mmo developers usually dole out to appease their requests.

When a gamer says they want something to be hardcore, they mean to say they would like to achieve something and then stand triumphant while those who have not achieved that thing are impressed beyond measure.  It has to be something that they can achieve where others fail. This is where the vision stops.  Players don’t stop to think WHY those who are impressed have failed to achieve.

In SWG, getting a gunship is considered a somewhat “hardcore” space goal.  In order to get one, you have to kill hundreds of fighters of every kind, of every level.  The barrier that keeps most people from getting a gunship isn’t some boss, but rather a huge boring grind. Many of the ships you have to destroy to get a gunship die after a couple hits, but are so weak you could bring your engines to a full stop and safely go to the bathroom during a dogfight.

It should be the other way around.  Hardcore should mean that you have to face very difficult fights where you could easily die against a dangerous opponent.  Instead, your chief enemy in most “hardcore” games is boredom.  * Cough *  Darkfall  * Cough *

When players ask for hardcore, they may expect some twitch-based challenge or near-impossible boss, but they’re really asking for a huge grind.  Hardcore doesn’t = Challenging.

Prices as Signals

I was listening to Michael Munger’s podcast on price-gouging last week, and it reminded me of the price of silver in Middle Earth. “The only way you get low prices is by letting people charge high prices.”

Silver is a bottleneck for jewelers. There are two types of metal nodes at each crafting tier, and silver is the less common one in tier 2. If you want to advance a jeweler, you make a lot of silver jewelry or polish a double-lot of gems. As a tier 2 resource, it is where the level 15-20 folks hang out, not the level-capped masses. Because it is a less common resource with relatively few people collecting it, price is high. It was selling for higher prices than ancient silver, the tier 5 (top-level) jeweler metal (which was just made more common).

Continue reading Prices as Signals

Happy 5th, Star Wars: Galaxies

Star Wars: Galaxies turns 5 years old today. Happy Birthday!

June 17, 2003 – LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment Inc. today announced Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, the highly anticipated initial installment of the first Star Wars massively multiplayer online (MMO) game series, will release June 26, 2003. The Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided online fan community now exceeds more than 500,000 registered members.

“After three years of intense development, we’re thrilled by the imminent release of Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided,” says John Smedley, president, Sony Online Entertainment. “We’re honored that LucasArts felt only Sony Online had the right combination of technical know-how and game design skills to produce a game of this scope. The Star Wars Galaxies team has been working non-stop to deliver a product that lives up both to the stature of the Star Wars license and the expectations that LucasArts had set for us.”

– Ethic