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

Conflicting Goals

The Team Fortress 2 Halloween event (not quite over) is a new map, Mann Manor. There are three capture points, with healing candy sprinkled about. It is a lovely piece of work with great backgrounds and details. But the new gameplay, items, and achievements are probably what you care about.

The Horseless Headless Horsemann will occasionally spawn on the capture point. He one-shots anything he can reach, and one person is “it” (melee an enemy to tag off). Kill him for an achievement and a hat, melee him for another achievement and a crafting item. Gifts will occasionally spawn randomly around the map. The first person to touch it gets an achievement and a hat. There are nine hats, a paper bag mask for each class. Get the full set and craft them together for an achievement and a hat; this is the only holiday hat you can wear after the holiday. Last year’s achievements and items are also around, and there are a few cash shop items.

Continue reading Conflicting Goals

TF2 Item Shop

Team Fortress 2 has decided to sell the random drops you can find, along with some new cosmetics (dye) and miscellany. They also added 17 new items, composing sets (with set bonuses) for 5 classes, conveniently available as one bulk package. And some new rare items (you may need to buy a key to get them; I have only seen the boxes drop) and item trading. There is some question about whether everything can really be found or crafted, but that will mostly be speculation given the few days the new toys have been around. I have found one of them so far.

So far, I have heard “Korean MMO” only twice, plus one guy shouting about kids who waste money on useless crap. Personally, I sympathize with their accountants in the blog post “who — after watching with tooth-grinding irritation as we shipped over 120 free updates to a three-year-old game — gently suggested that we ‘make some f$*&ing money already.'”

I am torn at times with respect to encouraging potentially negative revenue models with wanting to reward publishers whose content I enjoy at great length and low cost. I know people who have maintained (sometimes multiple) accounts to niche games mostly as developer charity. TF2 has been worth more to me than most purchases that did not include the rest of the Orange Box. So I do not mind the idea of passing them extra money, ostensibly for the new toys but really for several years of ongoing development and nigh-free fun. I just want the store to have a box where I can say, “I am not encouraging you to make this a cash cow, but I thought the game was worth far more than it cost, so I wanted you to get a share of that consumer surplus.”

The game can now have a de facto subscription fee, in that crates (with potentially rare items) drop but keys cost $2.49. Open one a week and you are paying $10/month.

: Zubon

Pro-Social Design

The question arose last week: how do you design around/against people being idiots and jerks? “You can’t fix stupid.” There is no 100% solution, because some people really are that dumb and others will go to great lengths as griefers, but there are better and worse designs in terms of the behavior they reward. If the system rewards pro-social behavior, it promotes harmony. If the player must make sacrifices to help others, you will see destructively selfish if not predatory behavior. Economics in two words: “incentives matter.”

For example, consider Marks of Triumph in The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™. The epic quest chain is a big feature for LotRO, but it was punctuated with instances that demanded full groups. If most of the population had completed them all, how did newer players and alts get through the epics? You asked someone to repeat one. Repeating one was a way to help friends, but you got jack for it. Your friends had to give something up, and you would not meet new people unless someone was a very charitable stranger (or, lucky day, you find a few people who need it, a couple of whom have charitable friends). Game update: repeating one of those instances began to award (once per five days) a Mark of Triumph; accumulate several Marks to barter for various rewards. The rewards were rather nice for when they were released. Pro-social behavior increased.

Because of how Marks were awarded, you did not need someone new to repeat the quest. This has the further benefit of letting you repeat older content without completely sacrificing character advancement, and developers want players to pay for recycled content. The downside is that it is more efficient to get a level-capped group and cycle through all the Mark instances rather than actually helping near-cap players on their first run-through. On balance, however, Marks increased pro-social behavior more than they inhibited it.

Continue reading Pro-Social Design

Account-Level Rewards

I am interested in seeing more factors tied to the account rather than the character and in the form of unlocks rather than items.

Most MMO elements are tied to the character. Your level, skills, reputation, achievements: all of these are character-specific. You may be able to trade money and equipment between characters. Some games are progressive enough to let you share a few items like a friends list, chat channel, guild affiliation, or key bindings across characters.

Some of my interest comes from being an altoholic. If I have a dozen characters, a bonus that applies to all of them is more interesting than a single-character upgrade. It is secondarily of use to the hardcore with multiple level-capped characters, less so to players who devote themselves to a single character. It makes it a lower-investment decision to try new character options, and it retains the illusion of progress and permanency rather than making each character feel like something entirely new. Continue reading Account-Level Rewards

Engineer Achievements

Team Fortress 2 has been an interesting mess since the Engineer update. You can trade your sentry gun’s ability to upgrade for ridiculous building speed or its self-targeting for a remote control, but the greater change is letting all Engineers pack up their buildings and move them. Fully upgraded sentries are popping up all over the place, fast, while they are also being shot down faster than they can be reassembled. Two weeks ago, you might plead for a second Engineer, and now you’re considering moving to a server that caps them. You can be annoyed at the insanity or embrace it, being your team’s seventh Engineer or picking a class to counter them.

The attached achievements are actually healthy. I am used to seeing achievements for aberrant gameplay or freakish occurrences, like getting mid-air melee kills while rocket-jumping or encouraging medics to attack instead of using an uber-charge. The Engineer achievements are largely for things you should be doing anyway, and most of them encourage teamwork, particularly between Engineers. There are achievements for helping someone else build, for upgrading their buildings, for healing their buildings, for saving them from Spies, and from getting Engi-Engi kill assists. There are achievements demanding dispensers and teleporters. The Wrangler (remote control) gives an Engineer the Sniper’s narrowed focus, but the rest rewards a utility class for being team-focused. Excellent!

: Zubon

Proud Moments

This week, I had one of my proudest moments in Team Fortress 2: I was accused of hacking. As a Pyro. Normally we reserve that for the Snipers, who can one-shot people at extreme range, rather than someone using area-effect attacks up close.

Granted, this was from a Spy, and a relative newcomer to a server where I usually play. He was outraged and found something suspicious in the way that I would run up to a niche or corner, where he was standing invisibly, and set him on fire. We regulars know that Spies are constantly hiding in those spots, and he could not watch me Spy-checking continuously for several minutes once the other team got up to 4 Spies. And we know there is a Spy nearby once he backstabs a Sniper. And not all of them were perfect on the issues of being fully cloaked before moving or changing disguises in plain sight.

Let’s see what this weekend brings. Fear my w+m1 skills!

: Zubon


American Red Cross Donate blood. If you can, you ought. Fewer people die, and the survivors share your blood type, so you will have more people around who are potential donors for you. It’s win-win. You also get a cookie.

As part of their social media, the American Red Cross site has avatars for download. Most of them are variations on “I gave” and “please give,” but note the avatar to the left. I don’t know about your favorite FPS, but in Team Fortress 2, everyone I kill gets an image of the kill along with my name and avatar. Now with every headshot I can show off my civic spirit, encourage others to donate blood, and taunt my enemies. I am also thinking of changing my spray to one of the “give blood” avatars, to decorate the enemy base.

: Zubon

Increased Max Players

What I think of as my “home server” in Team Fortress 2 runs just one map (2fort) with increased teams (16 per side) and a long running time (up to 3 hours). I found this very helpful for learning the game, as I did not need to simultaneously learn a couple dozen maps (including stages), nine classes, alternate weapons, etc. One map, enough people for my beginning incompetence not to doom us, and time enough to settle in and explore without frantic NOW rounds.

I moved to that server after starting to learn on a 2fort server with instant respawn. Instant respawn is nice for a beginner who dies a lot but utterly unsuitable for a real game on many maps, especially 2fort. If it takes longer to reload than to respawn and get back to the fight, the game is an extended stalemate. Maybe one side will eventually get a lucky grab or a really good spawn-camp going.

I am coming to see increased team size as a similar problem. Rounds still end, because many shy from playing defense even as the intel is running out the door, but large teams mean that there is always more defense available. Killing one per second is barely keeping up with the respawn. Furthermore, that defense is always there, even while mounting a big attack. You can have 3 Engineers, 3 Snipers, a Demoman with stickies, and a Pyro spy-checking at all times, and half your team is still available to assault your similarly staffed enemy. If your assault is going well, the (entire) other team respawns behind you, while any replacement attackers are 10-20 seconds away across prime Sniper territory.

Hence the 3-hour running time. Unbalanced teams can sometimes end it early with a string of wins, but it is not uncommon to see time reach 00:00:00 with one win and a cap or two into a second round.

: Zubon

I have been enjoying an Arena server on the side. “No respawn” solves many problems.