Jedi Master, PMP

Raph Koster discusses the design history of SWG Jedi, which is a bit of an extended apology as well as a good story. Most people reading this like MMOs and Jedi, so you probably already clicked the link. Welcome back.

For me, given my work, the most interesting section of the post is “We’re out of time.”

We had to go through and make tough choices on cuts. As early as that Christmas I was already triaging the entire game design. My criteria was “can the game function without this.” Not “will it be good.” Will it work at all.

Being able to think this way is an amazingly important skill if you want to complete projects. I have had co-workers who experienced the need to prioritize as a personal insult that you were not giving them everything they wanted. Projects managed from that point of view do not spontaneously generate larger budgets or more programming staff, but they do lose features at random instead of according to a logical scheme of “required” versus “nice to have.” As the idiom would have it, when filling your bucket, put the big rocks in first; if you are tossing in handfuls of gravel, there won’t be room for all the big rocks by the end. You can probably fit some gravel in the bucket around the big rocks.

Jedi never really seemed a good fit for that bucket.

: 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.

Work in Progress

More than other games, MMO experiences have a time stamp because the game itself changes and our experiences with the “same” piece of content might be radically different.

This is especially true in the early days. Yesterday’s dungeon discussion had some sharply divided experiences, and those could be caused by class, gear, strategy, or the dungeon’s having been updated a half-dozen times in a month. I finally tried WoW so I could see how the zones looked before the Cataclysm revamp only to find that the veterans’ experiences were radically different due to other changes that had accumulated over the years. My trip through Guild Wars: Prophecies included heroes, lots of elite skills, and PvE skills, which changed everything even if none of the Prophecies content had changed.

As a LotRO player, I recall approaches to Moria boss fights that went from “standard practice” to “exploits we patched away.” Sometimes you need the good bugs to get past the bad bugs. Some grognards talk about how hard X was during their day, and some of them did Y while it was easier, broken, bugged, etc.

The population shift is also a big change over time. The original wave of Warhammer Online players experienced public events 1.0 as intended, but as early as a month later many zones were ghost towns and you never saw the last event phases. In September 2012, players bemoaned that the Guild Wars 2 economy was broken because scraps of jute were very expensive. Come September 2014, players may bemoan that the Guild Wars 2 economy is broken because craps of jute were almost worthless. It seems to be a rare event for a game to maintain a steady population spread rather than having huge clumps at the top and bottom levels.

“Trammel” and “NGE” are extreme cases you need not mention. Everyone knows to distinguish between before and after those chasms.

: Zubon

A long time ago…

…in a galaxy far, far away, the NGE hit Star Wars: Galaxies. The date: November 15th 2005¹.

Five years later, despite server closures and merges and a minimal population, the game is still going and content has still been added to the game including, amongst other additions, the planet of Hoth which went live on November 20th 2008. The latest patch, Game Update 18, was released last month.
Continue reading A long time ago…

Removal of No-Trade in SWG

Different games call it different things. But whether you call it “Soulbound” “bio-linked” or “no-trade”, it all means the same thing: you can’t give away or sell an item once you have it. Developers put in no-trade items so that you’re forced to beat a boss to get a great piece of loot or forced to actually earn your own armor for your character. You can’t just have a friend give you a set of all the top-tier items and tell you that you beat the game.

This is the case with the epic jewelry rewards for the “Heroic” instances in Star Wars Galaxies. But tomorrow’s patch for Star Wars Galaxies will remove the no-trade tag from all new heroic jewelry.
Continue reading Removal of No-Trade in SWG

Mission Maker

I resubscribed to Star Wars Galaxies to try the new content that has been added since I last played. I remember reading the press release about one of the features which had been added called “Chronicle Master”. Apparently, it was like the mission creator system they used to talk about having in 2003. The press release claimed that over three million quests were made the first month. Considering SWG’s last reported subscriber numbers, that’s a lot of quests! One individual even created over 6,000 quests that month.

So now that I’ve had a chance actually try this system, I can say that SOE didn’t make anything worth bragging about. The reason an individual would create thousands of quests in a month is because everyone who wants to make cool quests has to grind for hours before they’re allowed to make anything worth doing. Almost all of the quests I’ve made have been made using a mouse recording program while I was asleep. Anyone that made six thousand quests in four weeks probably did the same thing. Every single one of those quests is as engaging as you imagine.

Why is that developers put in massive grinds into these things? I know they want me to play longer, but the ability to find well written player content would keep me playing a lot longer than a massive grind.

STO: The real SWG2

In June of 2003, a much hyped science-fiction MMO launched. It was the first MMORPG to take advantage of such a lucrative license. Unlike previous MMOs, it had a “skill based system” of advancement. Due to either a lack of time or a design decision, very large open areas were populated with randomly generated content. The system used to generate the random content was called the “dynamic spawn” system and championed as an innovation. Despite a long development time, the game felt incomplete when it launched.

Anyone who’s been intently following Star Trek Online already knows how Cryptic’s game compares to pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies.

Continue reading STO: The real SWG2

Custom Design

The following is a guest post by Moormur.

Greetings, readers! My name is Moormur. Some of you may know me from LOTROCast or the Galactic Holofeed, podcasts I co-host both with a very able crew. I am also an avid reader of all the stuff here at Kill Ten Rats. I refrain from posting commentary on my podcast websites for whatever reason, so I have asked Ethic here at Kill Ten Rats if he didn’t mind a guest column.

I’ve been thinking lately of a trend of sorts in the MMO developing community…player designed content. I’m not talking about sandbox MMOs…those are really a topic for another time and place. I’m talking about when developers release a set of tools in a theme park style MMO that allows players to create missions. City of Heroes, as far as I know, was really the first to do this. Now, my former MMO Star Wars: Galaxies has put out their own set of tools with the Chronicle Master.

Continue reading Custom Design

SWG’s Overwhelming Success

I received an email from SOE. It seems they are doing very well! In fact, they say, “Due to the overwhelming success of the recent Free Character Transfer Service, …we will close the following 12 Star Wars Galaxies servers:”

I can’t say people didn’t see it coming. Yivvits and Mr Bubble pondered what else could come of a free-character-transfer service which only allowed people to transfer from empty servers to high population servers.

As empty as the low-population servers are, there are those that will be sad to see them go. A lot of the player-created content in SWG is in the player cities. The characters can always still transfer off, but the real estate goes down with the server.

Still Killing Dragons

About 10 years ago, the only raids that existed involved killing dragons in EQ. Today, you can go into the IG-88 instance in SWG and face giant droids with flame throwers. It might seem dumb to have an entire group chipping away at the health of a fire-blowing giant assassin droid, and it should. It is dumb. After all these years, we’re still killing dragons.

Really cool characters like IG-88 shouldn’t be crammed into a raid-mold that was invented for dragons.

It’s not just the dragons either. We’re still doing everything we’ve been doing. Stimpacks are just a health potions. Your armor and heroic jewelry has magic enchantments that makes you stronger and faster. Your medic is effectively just tossing out healing spells. After all these years, we’re still playing the same game with slight changes to avoid copy-right infringement.