Cleaning Out

I have been gradually cleaning out my basement, where boxes and files can sit quietly for years. I keep looking at old things and papers and thinking, “This must have been precious once.” I spent a couple hours digging through an old hard drive for anything worth salvaging. Ah, memories. I am right now going through old CDs, boxes, and manuals. Some old friends never to be seen again:

  • Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty
  • Asheron’s Call 2
  • City of Heroes
  • Dark Age of Camelot

I am still debating some old single player games. I have Bioware’s 2002 Neverwinter Nights, complete in the original box with the 200+ page manual and cloth map. Planescape Torment, I somehow have still never played that. My copy of WarCraft III came with guide books, those can go. (There are still game guides for sale in this internet era, my my. I don’t even buy physical disks for my games these days.)

I did keep the fold-out maps/keyboard controls for AC and DAoC. Some memories I need to keep.

: Zubon

[CoX] Bouncing Here and There and Everywhere

Back when City of Heroes was live, my supergroup made an alternate guild on another server. Everyone used the huge model, as small as possible, dressed to look pudgy, with animal ears, and in a bright color. Everyone took super jump. Everyone had a name with some variation on “gummy bear.”

Oh, the joys of silly theme days in-game, remembering that it is a game. High adventure that’s beyond compare.

: Zubon


Can any artists (or art managers) in the audience talk about your process for graphic fixes? Comments and links appreciated.

For example, clipping is a frequent issue in games. I think of City of Heroes/Villains, which had a variety of capes, robes, and flowing garments; a variety of spikes and big shoulderpads; several weapons, which might be held or sheathed; and of course a wide variety of animations that combined them all. A martial artist in spandex had few problems, but a swordswoman sliced through her cape every few seconds, and often just with the running animation.

Players would sometimes find that annoying or amusing. As an artist on the team, you probably would have found it infuriating and spent days fantasizing about fixing it. But maybe it was a limitation of the engine, and definitely there were bigger priorities, and always your manager has something else you need to work on because his manager says the new content must ship on Tuesday.

We spend a lot of time on mechanics here because that is how I think. I would like to hear about how these things happen on the art side, if anyone would like to take the microphone.

: Zubon

Shifting Priorities

I have written previously about storyline paths differing between development and live teams in MMOs. I find myself looking at recent Guild Wars 2 updates and wondering whether there was a change in development teams or the same team deciding to shift directions. One could easily look at the first year of GW2 and say, “Wow, we made that way too zergy. Let’s dial that back.” But recent content has been not just dialed back but punishing of zergs, which means either they wanted a hard break with the past or someone different took over the reins of design.

On the one hand, some content encourages zergs, other content discourages it. Yes, not everything calls for the same strategy; that’s good design. On the other hand, almost everything did, for the better part of a year, call for the same strategy, so current players feel punished for doing what they’ve been taught to do, and it is not as if a huge wave of players loving non-zerg content will sweep into GW2 because a few updates were not pure zerg. You need to upset the apple cart atop your current playerbase for a long time and hope they stick around while you right it and turn it in a new direction. On the gripping hand, as I said of “punishing,” quite a bit of content did not encourage zergs so much as require on the order of 100 people to have a reasonable chance of success. The content being rebelled against still requires dozens of people but now requires you to herd those cats in multiple groups before the tools to manage that have come into existence. To say nothing of the switch from the original “show up and do what you want” approach of GW2, where content requiring synchronized dancing was hidden in a few instances.

Also, the boss blitz is just bad.

You have certainly seen that changeover in design philosophy, usually coupled with a changeover in design teams. The original GW1 was very different from the final game after the expansions. City of Heroes under Statesman was very different from City of Heroes under Positron, and I am not sure who was helming the switch to Incarnate content around the time I stopped playing. “Trammel” and “NGE” are famous design shifts that veteran MMO players will still debate in some forums given half a chance. A Tale in the Desert saw quite a few design shifts under the same management, but Teppy was always an experimenter; I have no idea where the game is headed under its new management.

Ingress has had a shift in emphasis over time from a geocaching-like game that focused on walking to rewarding car-based play. If you can’t see why that transition could be rocky, remember that my job was analyzing traffic deaths when I started blogging.

: Zubon

Wow, we don’t even have a post category/tag for Ultima Online. Then again, we don’t bring it up enough for me to want to create it.

Short Term, Long Term, Transitions

City of Heroes needed to implement “enhancement diversification,” a massive nerf in which marginal diversity was achieved by taking away the strongest options, for the long term health of the game. It was a good balance decision, but when the transition happened, it really hurt to log in and see your damage halved.

Guild Wars 2 is making good changes in the big April 15 update. The wardrobe is more or less exactly what I have asked for, the new traits are a good thing, the new sPvP build interface is more streamlined, unified WvW ranks make WvW much more alt-friendly, and let’s give ArenaNet the benefit of the doubt that all the other changes like runes and sigils are similarly good.

In the short term, you need to rebuild every character several times. Your PvE traits were reset, your sigils and runes may have changed, your sPvP build and traits were reset, your WvW ranks were reset, your… I was excited about learning the new options for a character then found it extremely discouraging to need to address three sets of options for each of eight classes, both new options and changes to old options, and then changes to old content.

In a way, this is a breaking point for players. If the newness excites you, this is probably the game for you, have a great time. If you look at re-learning the game as a huge slog, this might be a good time to explore 2014’s new MMO offerings. Or go outside.

: Zubon

Also, at the moment I’m kind of bitter that there are now 10 options for dailies including sPvP, rather than about a dozen plus sPvP.

[GW2] Transitory Content

Saylah inspires me:

I’m baffled by what they’ve done and not done with GW2. Am I really in the minority in wanting them to add more persistent content and new zones similar to the campaigns in GW1??? Can’t they do both?

As much as we love having frequent updates, building churn into the content has not been healthy for quality, community, or game-building.
Continue reading [GW2] Transitory Content


Please, ponder with me the borders of hidden and emergent complexity.

By “emergent,” I mean “arising from interaction.” You can create incredibly complex designs with Legos, but the Legos themselves are simple. The complexity arises from the many ways you can arrange the simple pieces. There are, however, Legos that are cut into specific shapes for particular uses or that integrate unusual components like motors. Those have some inherent complexity.

In gaming, emergent complexity is generally a good thing. It is the source of the meta-game, and it is often what we mean by “easy to learn, hard to master.” The parts are simple, the whole is complex.

By “hidden,” I mean that the parts look simple but are themselves complex units. Continue reading Complexity

Unrealized CoH Dreams: Origins

City of Heroes did great things with scaling that other games are still struggling to adapt, but its character origins were a vestigial feature that never panned out. The early designs made origins important, but that did not translate to the final game.

City of Heroes used “origin” where another game might use “race,” just as it had “archetypes” instead of “classes.” Continue reading Unrealized CoH Dreams: Origins

Pareto Superior Testing

Our testers can veto releases at work, but we have an allied tradition that half a loaf is better than none. We may not get everything we want from an update, but if it makes some things better and no things worse, we go live. We can add the rest in a future update.

A gaming example comes from GW2 crafting. At launch, crafting could use items only from your character’s inventory. Soon after, you could craft from the vault but discovery was still inventory only. Now both check character inventory and the entire vault.

This is easier in my work than in gaming because our users are not competing with each other. If we can implement new functionality for one interface but need another month to accommodate the rest of our users, bonus for the users with the easy update. If your FPS added rocket launchers for PC players but needed another month to add it to the Mac client, forums would explode, especially if PC and Mac players were on the same servers. You can see this in games that are gradually rebalancing one class at a time rather than all at once. The relative values of classes are having large swings each month. LotRO had “the month of the [class],” TF2 had class-specific updates, and other games have similarly revamped single classes. See also City of Heroes gradually adding heroes’ passive archetype abilities over time, so there were months in which only half the classes had them.

Sometimes half a loaf is worse than none. Beyond the cases where it distorts your competitive balance, a function that only half-works can make some things worse and no things better. Adding something that only works for a known half of the users is inconsistent but reliable, which can be okay; adding something that works for everyone a seemingly random half of the time is inconsistent and unreliable, which is bad. The new functionality must work as expected, even if only under additional assumptions, and those assumptions must not cause other problems. Half a loaf is better than a whole loaf with gravel scattered through it.

: Zubon