Star Wars: Be The Droid

IG88We haven’t heard word one about other races than humans in Star Wars: The Old Republic, although I think that Mandalorians might be a lock for the Sith side there.  What I really would love to see — and what I despair will not happen — is the creation of a droid playable race.  We know that droids are confirmed as companions and NPCs, but there’s a few glaring problems with them being a playable race.

The first problem is based on an assumption — that all races will have access to any class, at least on your side (Empire/Republic).  And although I’m not up to spec on my Star Wars lore, I don’t think there’s a lot of support out there for Jedi/Sith droids.

The second is more of an equipment issue.  In KOTOR, droids have a different set of gear than the rest of the races — droid armor, shielding, flamethrowers, etc.  They don’t just loot a jacket off a bad guy and throw it around their metallic shoulders.  From a MMO designer’s standpoint, to have one race that doesn’t wear the gear that the other races can — both visually and functionally — is a big red flag.

But I’ll hold onto hope for a few reasons.  HK-47 in both KOTOR games is one of the most popular characters among the fans, and his blaster-shooting assassin antics can match wits with even the most ardent Sith out there.  There’s other droids that are playable as well, but HK-47 is more human-like in form and speech.

The second is for the “cool factor” — simply put, this is something that would get the fans (like me) salivating.  How many games let you play a robot as a race?  DDO’s Warforged, perhaps, and maybe one or two other lesser examples, but it really would be something different and something to attract players who are looking for a different, Johnny-5 experience.

The third is that C3P0 and R2D2 aside, droids have had a prominent role in kicking butt across the Star Wars movie landscape.   Revenge of the Sith’s cyborg General Grevious is a great example, even if he isn’t pure “droid”, he sure looks like it.  And what about Empire Strikes Back’s IG-88, a droid who was recruited by Darth Vader for bounty hunter work?  He doesn’t do much in the films, but he looks deadly as anything, and he proves that droids have purpose beyond just comedic antics.  Droids are just about everywhere in the Star Wars series, and TOR would do well to honor that by pushing themselves to include them as a race (or class), even if they can’t be Force users.

Advertisements

Champions Online: Yeah, We’re Still Pretty Into That

actionfigureIt’s been a while since I’ve sat down in front of this imaginary fireplace and shot the breeze with you, my imaginary audience, over Champions Online.  That’s kind of odd, dontcha think, considering that the game comes out in little over a month?  Shouldn’t we be in hyper-drive right now, drinking in endless quantities of Champions articles and spending every single moment daydreaming about the experience?

Perhaps, but that’s just not how it is.  Don’t get me wrong — still very excited about Champions here.  I’m pre-ordering from Amazon in a couple days when I get my next paycheck, and when I do spend time thinking about it, there’s nothing but latent enthusiasm about it all.  I think that I’ve long since come to the conclusion that I know I’m going to like and play this game, a lot, and once I reached that point, I pretty much stopped following the hype train until it is time to get on board the real thing.  Plus, DDO has certainly done an admirable job occupying my time, and I find TOR far more fun to speculate about.  I want Champions to pleasantly surprise me, so I’ve artifically kept my expectations from raising above the “pleased as punch” level that I obtained from the beta.

I also don’t think that Cryptic really is over-hyping this at all.  They’re certainly pumping out the interviews and clips and whatnot, but it’s nothing on par with what I experienced in WAR.  Some folks have decided that CO is not for them, but the general feeling I get from the community is largely the same as me — they’re happy about it coming, pretty sure they’re going to subscribe, and willing to have their expectations exceeded.  But Champions certainly does have a lot to prove, especially as the spiritual successor to Cryptic’s own City of Heroes.  It can’t be “more of the same”, even if it’s solid, polished more of the same.  It has to be better, different and at least nudging the genre forward a bit.

I’ve been contemplating what types of superheroes I’m going to build.  Power Armor looks shiny and fun, although it certainly seems like the favored kid right now and will probably be overused.  I’d love to make an oddball of a sorcery/supernatural magician-type-guy, like a Van Helsing mixed with Dr. Strange.  A straight-up gun-happy avenger would be fun, so munitions is probably a lock.

A few articles have caught my eye lately.  The first is the recent announcement that everyone who’s signed up with the forums will receive an in-game action figure pet that is “prone to dance”, and as far as the picture insinuates, looks a lot like your own character.  I think Champions is going to fill my “fluff” need quite admirably.

TTH has a revealing interview with the Champions devs concerning two major pieces of their mid- and end-game: the Nemesis system and the Omega system.  These are solid, if somewhat underwhelming in the case of the Omega system, answers to the end-game issue.  In the Nemesis system, players will be able to use their own creativity to whip up an endless stream of supervillains to fight; as for Omega, it replaces static end game dungeons with a daily rotation of super-duper missions.  I don’t think the Omega system is anything revolutionary — if anything, it’s a blending of daily quests and alternate currency that has proven successful in World of Warcraft.

Finally, no pre-launch sequence would be complete without whetting fan appetite for the future, and in a brief piece on Champions Online Daily News, Randy Mosiondz states that they have a full year of content planned post-launch, including a level cap raise, new zones, new powers, new PvP challenges — all at the rate of a major content pack every four months.  Good stuff, but expected, so that’s that.

As August progresses, I’m going to be talking with my friends and sussing out the guild situation, so here’s hoping Champions doesn’t have in store any major WAR/AoC-level disappointments, but will be… ahem… up, up and away!

Oh, and congrats Cryptic:

Champions Online is the #1 selling PC game over at Gamestop! Thanks a ton guys!”

~ Randy Mosiondz

DDO Gets A Biscuit

wcradiologo-fullA Total Biscuit, that is.  On a recent episode of WoW Radio, the host of Blue Plz! professed a newfound appreciations for DDO’s dungeon/questing system, in which he gushes,

“Dungeons upon dungeons!  I love dungeons!  I love loot!  I love bosses!  And every single instance in DDO has that!  And they’re all over the place!”

And,

“It takes what WoW did with questing and it takes it to the natural, next level.”

And,

“It has a more involved combat system that WoW does not have… it has collision detection, which is great.”

And finally,

“But to me, that DDO has grabbed me on a leveling scale does speak volumes… those quests are just so much more involved.”

The part of the show where he talks about it is around minute 52/53.

Back when I played World of Warcraft, I listened to WoW Radio and Total Biscuit quite often — he’s an enthusiastic and knowledgable host, and it’s great to hear him endorsing a nice little underdog of a game that I’ve come to appreciate as well.

Be The Dungeon Master (part 2)

dungeon1-781300Yesterday I responded to a quote from DDO’s dev team in which they admitted to the future possibility of player-created dungeons, and followed that up by examining a quick list of pros and cons of enabling players to do such a thing, most recently demonstrated by City of Heroes’ Mission Architect program.

Today I wanted to share with you my own ideas on how MMOs — whether they be DDO or WoW or what have you — might refine and develop this feature for their games.

An End Game Alternative

The first thing I’d do is to offer dungeon creating (we’re going to abbreviate this as “DC” to save me a few keystrokes in this article) as an end game activity that only opens up once you’ve hit the level cap (or a certain high level cap).  Why?  Because players really do need something new and awesome for the end game that isn’t just a mere continuation of raids and PvP, and I think that, done right, DC would help players to enjoy the game in a whole new light.

Once they hit the cap, players would either do a quest or receive the ability to create a small dungeon for others to run.  This dungeon will be accessible from a common hub that will offer players a chance to go through any of the player-made dungeons, such as a town or whatnot.

Dungeon, Assemble!

Instead of just opening up the store and letting players run wild with the full range of DC tools, I would have them earn the “pieces” of the dungeons as loot.  How come?  Think of it like Legos — you start off with a small kit, but then start to accrue more and more pieces to be able to make grander and grander structures.

In this case, the Legos are parts of the dungeon itself — rooms, hallways, traps, mobs, decorations, and so on.  These bits of DC tools would be spread out through the whole MMO game, encouraging players to re-run older content for fun and to snag a piece or two for their dungeon.  If they like the look of a particular dungeon in game, perhaps they can run that dungeon repeatedly and receive loot with elements from that dungeon to use in their own.  These dungeon pieces could be traded over the auction house, with players gathering up the parts they want.  This appeals to the collector mentality, and also has players “earning” the dungeon they’re creating, instead of being handed it on a platter for no effort whatsoever.

For example, we all know dear Mr. Smite from WoW’s Deadmines.  What if you wanted to use that particular mob in your own dungeon?  You could run and re-run Deadmines to fight him, aiming for a 25% chance that he’d drop a dungeon token to use his likeness.

Construction Junction, What’s Your Function?

Putting together dungeons in this example would be a lot like snapping together parts of a puzzle.  Small dungeons would have a “point” value attached to them, with each piece of the dungeon worth certain points, as to give you a natural limit you can’t shoot past.  Perhaps a small dungeon would equal five rooms and 200 points of customization, while a large dungeon would have up to 20 rooms and 1000 points of customization.

DC would have to be designed in a way so that players could not — at least, very easily — create a lopsided dungeon that is either too easy, too difficult or too far out of whack.  I’d suggest a “radius” feature on elements that would prevent you from putting another one of that kind within a certain distance of another.  For example, you couldn’t put 10 traps next to each other, or 50 mobs in one room.

End Bosses and Loot

Doing all this, we need to keep in mind that players will be avidly looking for ways to exploit the system to gain XP and loot, and in this the DC needs to be proactive in countering this.  Dungeons would be constructed for a certain level range, with the game automatically scaling the mobs, traps and loot to match.  Each dungeon would require at least one end boss or end confrontation, after which an automatic loot table would distribute the goods.

The Story

Here’s a sticky point in doing DC — if you don’t give players the ability to create and tell a unique story for that dungeon, then after a while there’s going to be very little to differentiate their creation from all the hundreds and thousands of others.  But if you give too MUCH freedom, some players will take advantage of that to be offensive and crude.  Filters are an obvious tool that should be in place, but also using the players themselves as watchdogs, as there is no way for any dev team to personally approve of that much content.

Ratings and Reviews

Once the dungeon is created, there needs to be a robust system in place for players to rate and review dungeons they run.  If the dungeon is clearly exploitive or has highly offensive elements in its story, there should be a way for players to flag the instance, much like they would in forums.

The more a dungeon is run and rated, hopefully the cream will rise to the top and gain more success.  However, newer dungeons need a higher profile just to gain a fair chance, so there should be a “random dungeon” option that rotates through all of the dungeons with an emphasis on the newer ones.  The game community and the dev team could certainly highlight some of the better creations publically, as well.

Problems

This is a very simplistic outline of what I’ve been contemplating, but it is problematic at each step.  One of the reasons that I think about this often is that it presents a number of issues that I can’t quite work around.  Exploits and an overwhelming majority of crappy-to-mediocre dungeons are the two biggest problems, and ones that are difficult to bypass with an elegant solution.  As City of Heroes has shown us, no matter how much the dev team thinks they’ve thought out everything, player ingenuitity and sheer stubborness will soon prove them wrong, and major flaws will surface.

It’s an issue of control vs. permission between the devs and the players, which is why I’m not surprised that a lot of games strive to keep as much control in the hands of the dev team while only giving the illusion of creativity and freedom to the players.  Something like DC is scary to contemplate, because it really does represent sandbox mechanics that need to be reigned in by structure or else it will spin out of control.  And I don’t quite have the answers to it all.

Ten Features Of The Recently Announced Twilight MMORPG

HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT THIS ABOMINATION?
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT THIS ABOMINATION?

Oh yes… there is going to be a Twilight MMO.  And we here at Bio Break have received exclusive details of some of its features:

  1. Every player will assume the role of a vapid, empty soul of a person who is nonetheless highly desired by all he/she meets.  NPCs will be throwing themselves at your feet and fawning over you, so that you can ignore them in search for your one true love.
  2. Who will be either: a werewolf or a vampire.  Coming in the first expansion pack: mummy love!
  3. Totally awesome AI will have your love interest periodically check in with you to do one of the following: tell you how hard it is not to kill you, admit to stalking you, being completely rude because of your intoxicating smell (once you have leveled up your Odor Factor to 10 or higher), or place you in harm’s way and abandon you.
  4. Cutting-edge particle and bloom effects for vampire sparkles.
  5. Two incredible classes: simpering victim and Mary Sue placeholder.
  6. Your computer’s webcam will watch you while you’re offline and sleeping, and let other players peek in on the fun!
  7. Earn enough favor with the Cullen faction to receive your very own “piggy back” flight through the trees!
  8. PvP: Vampire Baseball!
  9. State-of-the-art rolling in the meadows technology, including a Gazing Deeply Index(tm).
  10. Hero classes: if you go on enough quests and endure enough trivial, poorly-written walls of text, you may convince a vampire to make you one of their own!

MMOs I Never Played… And Why

1236802798561In these dog days of summer, on the cusp — but not quite over the cuspiness — of new, major MMO releases, the message of the week in the blogosphere seems to be “let’s flee back to the joys of older, established MMORPGs!”  This is actually a recurring theme in the community, which I find endlessly entertaining — how flocks of bloggers suddenly, and almost without a solid reason, dive into a particular MMO and start talking it up for a couple weeks or so.

Earlier this year it was City of Heroes and LOTRO, now it’s EverQuest 2 (and to a lesser, and perhaps more personal extent, DDO).  As I’m not going to be tasting EQ2’s fruits right now — or at any point — I thought I’d go back and explain why I never played certain MMOs that seemed to be en vogue at the time.

  • Ultima Online – Why not UO, which holds an established place of honor as the breakout graphical MMO?  Mostly due to my ignorance of it in the late 90’s, plus a crappy computer and no depedable internet connection.
  • EverQuest – After graduating college, I had some college buddies get really, really into this, to the point where two of them were all but neglecting their newborn child because of it.  That story kind of scared me away.  Plus, by 2002 or so, I had heard about this upcoming World of Warcraft and was pretty sure that I wanted WoW to be my “first” fantasy MMO.
  • Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot – Also for the reasons above, coupled with dial-up internet that persisted until sometime in 2003 when I got cable.
  • EverQuest 2 – First of all, I simply cannot get past the ugly, offputting, uncanny valley avatars.  It’s a fistful of ugly.  Plus, it released around the time of WoW, and I was in the beta for that and knew that was the path I wanted to pursue.  Since then?  We’ve all heard the stories about how EQ2 has improved, but I’ve seen or heard nothing that’s grabbed me and hauled me bodily to SOE’s website for a trial.
  • Planetside – FPS… pass.  My reflexes are never good enough to compete on a competative level.
  • Star Wars Galaxies – I was close… SO close to getting this and playing it.  This was back in my dial-up days, and I remember buying the strategy guide for it just to read through and see if this would be my kind of game.  To this day I don’t know what kept me from going whole hog into it, but I think I sensed enough “red flags” — the overly complicated HAM bar, the lack of dedicated classes, what have you — to give me pause.  And considering NGE and all that, I’m glad I did.
  • Age of Conan – A lot of potential Warhammer gamers back in spring 2008 were lulled into trying AoC, mostly because of the delay and a need to have something “new” that summer.  Originally I was so on board with Conan it wasn’t funny, but the more I read about it, the less I cared.  The open beta/pre-launch fiasco they suffered sealed my decision.
  • Darkfall – Because I have good taste in games.