Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday Weigh in Reported Wednesday

Things took a turn. I am back over 225 again. This is I'm sure a cause of busy time at work. There are long hours and provided junk food, so I'm probably packing a lot more salt than normal, but that's not an excuse. I've also been lax on keeping up with every other day on the elliptical and I have failed to start an upper body regimen for alternating days. I also look at the large collection of soda cans on my desk. This is something I should probably change today. I know I need my caffeine, which is its own problem, but I can switch to something low cal like a micro energy drink and then switch to water. this will probably do me a world of good. We can look at cutting the caffeine in the future.

But let's talk about Wildstar and the game development blog from November 2, 2011

In this blog Jeremy Gaffney explains to us all the great things about being able to talk about the game he's been working on and why player feedback is so important to them and their design process. That's nice and all but then he gets into the important part. He mentions that Wildstar will be a hybrid of Theme Park and Sand Box MMO genres. This was a very interesting concept for me. Interesting enough that I wanted to get my gaming group's input on this blog entry (which is why I am writing it this week instead of last week incidentally.) I asked them the following question: In a game that wants to combine Theme Park and Sand Box design, what key features do you feel are essential to draw in players who are fans of each model of game? As a follow up, what features do you think run the risk of driving away fans of the opposing design model?

The response I received from everyone was, "What's a Theme Park MMO?" Since these are all people who have been playing World of Warcraft since launch (at the very least) I can only assume that the average person doesn't know that term either, so I will stop and explain.

A Theme Park MMO is a metaphor used to describe the type of game where most of what you do is presented by the creator of the game. Such as running dungeons and raids, doing quests, or participating in structured PVP maps. "Riding rides" as the metaphor goes. Just like your local Theme Park, every so often they add a new ride to the park and you get really excited to visit. The games that have this kind of design are World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2...most games, OK!

In a sandbox instead of providing content directly the creator offers a set of systems and tools that allow for players to define their own game. The two best examples of games that are currently active are Minecraft (which I don't feel like I have to explain) and EVE Online. In EVE there is a giant galaxy that the players can freely, without restriction move around in. They have NPC security that limits activities in a small section of the galaxy where there is some developer created content. But huge giant sections of the map are completely uncontrolled and unstructured. Many people speak of Star Wars Galaxies, and their open world player housing, or back to Ultima Online. City of Heroes had a system that allowed players to create their own missions with a set of tools that was pretty good.

OK, definitions out of the way. What did my gaming group have to say on the subject? Well they refused, for the most part, to give me simple feature lists like I was hoping for and instead got into deep discussions on the subject. Great for an evening's conversation, not so great for making a bullet list like I'd planned.

I will attempt to summarize these conversations.

Drash - The Warrior - Tank Extraordinaire: With Drash exploration was key. He feels that the ability to go anywhere you can see and being rewarded for that exploration is essential to a sandbox design. Resources, hidden secrets, quests, These are the things that keep him playing Skyrim. For Theme Park he felt that a strong story was the core to player engagement. Being a part of the events that shape the narrative is what keeps us logging back into World of Warcraft with each patch cycle.

Llag - The Pet Class - Master of divergent game play - Llag is always looking to push the limits on accepted game play. He pushes class specs that are seen as inferior and out performs players using the flavor of the month. He learns the depths of the game UI in order to bend it to his will. (He has a single button in Warcraft that will - Fish, mount an appropriate mount for the zone he's in, cast his filler spell, cast a battle rez, cast a buff, Cast a self buff, or throw his loot-a-rang. It took him a whole evening getting it to fit in the macro character limit. This is the type of player he is. He will find the borders of his environment and he will push them to make room for himself. Our discussion was much more black and white. To him, the two cannot co exist, Theme Park players and Sandbox players will not want to play together, or near each other. To him a crucial element of sandbox game play is never being safe, that your stuff is never safe. That if another player wants what you have, that they can take it through hook or by crook. He doesn't see how a compromise can be made on this and feels that sandbox players won't accept limitations imposed on them and that theme park players will demand them.

Bathior - The Nuke - BIG NUMBERS - was entirely indifferent on this matter. As an avid Minecraft player and a fan of structured games as well he didn't see any downsides to trying to work in elements from both but did raise the possibility that it could be expensive.

Three other members of my crew did not have anything to say on the matter, because they are going through busy periods at work or school and did not have time to chit chat. Miss you guys. :(

So, I'm going to throw out my list and call this a wrap, I still need to get down and exercise tonight.

A solid quest experience is essential. Being able to enter a game zone and perform the presented quests and exiting out the other side having gained the requisite levels and items is what theme park players except from their game. This also includes a structured PVP system that works at all levels and can be used to reach end game.

A free experience at all levels with interaction. Weaved into this experience needs to be non-guided content for sandbox players to participate in, at each level range. They need to be able to progress their character through resource gathering, mob grinding, exploration, or crafting.

The Economy is very important for a sandbox game, keeping resources relevant is key to this. If you are mining copper ore at level 1 and using it to create copper ingots at low level crafting that you use to create a copper sword for level monster hitting, then that same Copper ingot made from that same copper ore should be used to create an element of the super sword of high level monster beating, or a copper brace that you use in building a wall for your house. Or anything. Instead of having 10 metals of increasingly ridiculous names stick to a small core of resources that are used across all levels of crafting and are interconnected, so the high level house builder needs things that are produced by the low level weapon smith.

End game dungeons, raids and daily quests. These have to be present for theme park gamers to stay involved.

Player modifiable areas, houses, towns, defenses, farms, resource production facilities, etc. The ability to create and destroy these sorts of environments will drive sandbox game play.

That's my spitball, I am really looking forward to seeing more on this aspect of the game, and despite the fact that I am combing over a article from 2011, I know that the details of how this will shake out are still very much a mystery to the general public.

Vine Stamp hopefully you can still see the sweat, I lost the record on the walk back to the apartment, I really should get the clubhouse WiFi password again so I can sync the iPod from there.

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