Interaction Options

Assassin’s Creed 3 lets you pet dogs. Asheron’s Call lets you tip cows (and even added a quest for it). Guild Wars 2 uses some animal and NPC interactions for its hearts, such as feeding cows or watering crops.

Every now and again, it’s nice to have options other than “kill them,” you know? You may not spend much time tipping cows or petting dogs, but just knowing the option is there makes the game a bit less of a murder simulator.

: Zubon

Every time I see the abbreviation for Assassin’s Creed 3, I think, “They’re making Asheron’s Call 3?!?!!”

Newb Boon

You do not need a comparative advantage to be the best at something [FTFY] to enjoy the benefits of trade, nor does your trading partner. Even if you can do absolutely everything better and more efficiently than I can, it will still benefit you to trade with me because you do not have the option of doing everything at once. I may shovel well, but if I am also a pretty good obstetrician, it will probably be more productive for me to pay someone with fewer high-value options to dig.

If you were to start playing World of Warcraft right now, you could make decent money farming copper. The enemies are not gray to you, so you would not be the most efficient farmer, but people who earn lots of gold per hour are happy to give you a bit of it on the auction house. On a non-trade example, when I went back to Asheron’s Call with a fresh account, I financed several dozen levels by hopping a portal to a high-level hunting zone and scavenging a pack of trash loot that players left in their wake. If I had thought of it, I could have made a service of being the town-visiting pet from Torchlight, if anyone would trust a new character with their stuff/money.

The past weekend was Canthan New Year in Guild Wars. This is an amazing source of money for a new player. Offering to sell Lunar Tokens for 200g and Fortunes for 600g, I was deluged with buyers. There were quests that rewarded 25 Tokens, and the established players had run them in previous years; they were effectively level 5 quests that awarded 5 platinum. I financed my first set of prestige armor off those. If you could get your newb to Lion’s Arch, you could convert Tokens to Fortunes profitably (if slowly) playing Rock-Paper-Scissors.

An economy that is orders of magnitude above where you are can be daunting, but if you can get involved in it at all, the profits to be reaped are huge.

: Zubon

Our Favorite Bugs: The Wi Flag

I occasionally refer to the Wi Flag, and it strikes me that most MMO players will have no idea what I am talking about since they started after it was fixed and never played Asheron’s Call anyway. So let’s remember 2000-2002.

The Wi Flag is the phenomenon of not just bad luck but actually being cursed by the game. Monsters will run across a dungeon to kill you, ignoring your friends. This is, of course, just odd luck and an observer effect, even though we have all seen it happen. And then someone checked the code in Asheron’s Call and found out it was true due to a bug in assigning aggro.

Enjoy the link and your weekend.

: Zubon

The Early Incursions: Asheron’s Call

In 1999, I learned that Ultima Online was an actual game, not a theoretical project. I had heard the name before, but I had somehow gotten the notion that it was a bit of science fiction. Considering how revolutionary Neverwinter Nights on AOL seemed, just a few years earlier, it was far-fetched to think that we were already living the cyberpunk dream of fully realized virtual fantasy gaming.

What I imagined under the name “Ultima Online” and the reality were rather different, but I would not come to learn that for years. I did not look into it immediately because my friend who told me about it went on to describe it as already broken. She told a story that I have never checked in the past decade: the code throttled how many grand masters there were of each skill by making it harder to advance as more people were advancing that skill. This would reward less common paths, but if 10,000 people were making horseshoes, blacksmith advancement would be very slow. So went her story, “sword” was an obviously popular skill, so improvement there went at a glacial pace, and characters were being slaughtered by chickens and deer as they vainly tried to get their first few points, while the first grand masters ran rampant.

Google was young in those days, and we were not in the habit of verifying what some guy said about online games. More importantly at the time, it seemed perfectly plausible. We all know some poorly implemented systems that spoil grand projects. Heck, it still sounds plausible, doesn’t it? The founding MMOs had experiments that did not always work. If I told you that some obscure MMO (and you know I love to cite obscure crap) had such a newbie-unfriendly system, where you ended up slaughtering 500 bunnies to compete for a limited number of sword-advancement points per server per day, you might just shake your head and mutter something about Korean grind-fests.

The effect was that my group of friends did not rush to UO. (It would be a year before I knew what EQ was, even after seeing it in stores. “Oh look, yet another fantasy CRPG I have never heard of.” Why would I bother picking up the box?) No, some of them joined late in the beta for this exciting new game called Asheron’s CallContinue reading The Early Incursions: Asheron’s Call


In TF2, I have developed the practice of muting anyone whose voice has not changed if he complains about anything twice. There are good reasons to mute older demographics, but I have met too many whining 12-year-old boys to want to give the next kid much benefit of the doubt.

One of these recently reminded me of someone from my Asheron’s Call monarchy who was a bit of an annoying kid. He was earnest, enthusiastic about leveling, eager for attention, and very much attached to me after I went out of my way to help him one evening. Nothing wrong with him, I just did not have the energy to care for a puppy. I met another puppy in LotRO, and fending off the attentions of extroverted adolescents is much more important when they have access to built-in voice chat.

I say this not because I am shaking my cane at the kids on my lawn. I say this because I just realized that the “annoying kid” has probably graduated from college by now. He might have a kid or two of his own. The current batch of adolescents had not yet started school when I met him. I am old old old.

: Zubon

Pure Exploration

Hopefully the personal story acts as a guide through the zones because that will be necessary. Players need more purpose than pure exploration… — Ravious

He is probably right, but I wonder.

The first generation of graphic MUDs had far less guidance. I started with Asheron’s Call, which had almost none. There was no quest book. Some NPCs would trade for something in a dungeon or from a monster, and that was how most quests were structured. Some locations had stories that you could follow. For the most part, though: here, have a world, go nuts. (I could not tell you the current state of Dereth.)

We moved away from that pretty immediately. Asheron’s Call 2 was organized by vaults the way The Lord of the Rings Online™ has its epic story, although it was a ways from the now-familiar on-rails quest hub structure. A Tale in the Desert added levels and EVE added certificates to help guide people. Can I hope that Darkfall is a last sandbox without a trail of breadcrumbs?

I understand the desire for guidance. I know the feeling of “so now what?” But I also liked the Asheron’s Call feeling of deciding what I want to do tonight. It was more of scattered attractions than theme park rides. And that left us wondering what else me might find if we ran fifteen minutes in a random direction.

: Zubon


For those of us inclined to do so, the healer is a great role. Yes, it has problems in PUGs when three different people pull then blame the healer, but it is rewarding to see your friends made into boundless engines of destruction and victory.

Healing is great for marginal teams that are barely scraping by, but moving a team from “non-functional” to “winning” or from “winning” to “dominating” is a job for non-healer support. The best times I have had on any support character have been when healing is a secondary role. It is nice to have that in your pocket, in case things go pear-shaped, but support is at its best when healing is unnecessary. Debuffing is great, buffing is usually better, and control is invisibly wonderful if often fragile.

As with many things, City of Heroes does this the best of any game I have played. It is not readily apparent in the early levels, when defenses and abilities are weak and healing is necessary. It starts in the mid-levels and comes into its own in the late game. Everyone who got tired of things in the 30s? You missed the best part of the game (although I concede a love for the frantic newness of the low levels). Kinetics is the big star, with Fulcrum Shift as its last ability, putting your entire team at the damage cap. Life at the damage cap is a beautiful thing. Along the way, Defenders might put you at the speed cap; put all enemies at the speed, damage, or accuracy floor, or all at once; give everyone endless endurance (mana) and regeneration good enough to make healing redundant; and be the best pulling class around. Controllers do all of that with slightly lower numbers and the bonus ability of turning the enemies into statues. If you were not loving the game in the late levels, you were playing with/as a healer and not a Defender.

This is not CoH-specific. Playing a support mage in Asheron’s Call was a beautiful thing, letting my friends specialize all their attacks while multiplying their damage. There was a special joy in debuffing an enemy’s magic skills and watching it fizzle its attack spells repeatedly. My Theurgist in Dark Age of Camelot was a primary damage class that was more valued for its run buff, stuns and slows, and especially the bladeturn chant (self-refreshing group buff: the next enemy attack misses). A Minstrel will improve his legendary items’ healing cost and power buffs in The Lord of the Rings Online, but one “required” legacy is increasing the group melee damage buff, and the damage reduction from traiting for buffs is greater than the healing increase from traiting for heals. World of Warcraft is kind enough to make many buffs last ten to thirty minutes, for your ease as a buffer.

The life of a healer is usually boredom or panic. In a good group, there is not much to do. In a bad group, there are too many people demanding your attention at once, and in a badly designed encounter, you have people going suddenly from full health to nearly dead. Buffers are not half-AFK waiting for a green bar to go down, and there is always something interesting to do as a debuffer.

: Zubon

Comment Spotlight

Our very own Ethic comments on LotRO going free-to-play:

Since we are going this way now, let’s get Asheron’s Call and heck even Asheron’s Call 2 running on the same model.

The return of AC2 is an appealing notion. If that happens, I need a way to reclaim an old account with just the associated e-mail address (not the log-in name). I never made that Lugian Tactician. I also have an old AC1 account in storage; I might remember the account name on that one.

: Zubon

Early, Middle, Late

For a game that depends on a stream of income from subscribers or RMT shoppers, the first hour of play must be the top development priority. This is where you hook players. After that, the endgame is important because that is where your players will be spending time indefinitely and where your game’s chatter will come from in the long run. Next is the early game, when you build momentum. The mid-game has already fallen this far down the list, as you have certainly seen in a lot of MMOs, and frankly few care much how good the late-game is because they are already fully committed and racing for the end-game.

I stand by my repeated claim that optimizing the new player experience is of paramount importance. You must grab my attention within five minutes, and you must deliver a satisfying hour or two for my first play session. Without that, any free trial is worthless, and you may even lose some people who have thrown down $50 for a box. This is the part of the game that every single player will see on every single character, and if you cannot do a good job here, I have no hope for the rest of the game. Yes, it is hard to make things interesting while giving the player only a few buttons to play with. Suck it up, we all have hard parts in our jobs. That’s why they pay us. Continue reading Early, Middle, Late