Wednesday, March 13, 2013

3 Uplinks and 4 PAX Badges.

My Friday and Sunday passes have arrived for PAX East, which came as a bit of a surprise since I ordered them inside the "you'll have to go to will-call" window. I am happy to have them in hand though, one less printed piece of paper to worry about loosing on the plane or getting confused with a page that looks very similar that I've already used.

Doing some boring strength exercises today. I have fallen lax on the cardio, since I keep coming home from work and taking a nap until the gym is closed for the night. I'm working on fixing that, and I have some adjustments to make when I get back from PAX, for now I'm going to do my best to stick to the plan I had been following and maybe I'll get back below 220 by the time I board the plane.

Today for Wildstar I am looking at three Uplinks from November, December and January. These are not super serious topics and I don't think I'll have many words to say about them, but I have surprised myself before. If you'd like some mood music the following combat music was added to the Jeff Kurtenacker's Sound Cloud today. To my delight I actually see there is a significant amount of Wildstar Music available on his Sound Cloud, user name JKurtenacker. (or inhisgroove which is a good handle too.) On to the Uplinks!

First we have a question asked on November 29th, 2012: What are your biggest frustrations with game balance in an MMO?

Well that's open ended, but I think I have a good answer. For a game that I can expect to play daily, in fact expect to play most days, sometimes in the exclusion of all over games, the biggest frustration is probably an inability to adjust difficulty on the fly in a straight forward way. There are ways to handicap yourself when playing, obviously; look into the Iron Man World of Warcraft trend that surfaced last year if you need an example. To my point, some days I want something serious and cerebral and some days I just want to mash buttons and make things fear my awesome might. I would like if that type of gradient were available in my MMO without there being a massive social structure attached (guilds). The only game that I have played that came close to this ability was City of Heroes with its mission difficulty slider, it was a little ham handed of a tool, but it did provide an option to the player. Unfortunately this requires a closed instanced environment to manipulate at the players request, and I don't feel that Wildstar is going to be that kind of game. Perhaps we could see some harder areas at max level where creatures are challenging for a solo player, but then how to stop griefing, and how to prevent it from trivialized in groups.

Looking at what others had to say on the subject, most were concerned with PVP and PVE balance affecting each other in negative ways. Another common concern is the idea that MMO's tend to become over balanced and it removes the uniqueness of the different classes in favor of an even playing field. Also of an oversimplification of player customization, which given the timing of this post probably was aimed directly at the recent release of Mists of Pandaria and the change to Warcraft's Talent system. I am personally on the pro-side of this argument. Simple meaningful choices are better than giant skill grids where there is only one right answer. Folks had some other individually specific concerns, you can read everyone's response as well as a response from the development team (where they introduce us to Bob) over at the uplink analysis.

The next question asked was What are your favorite places on the Internet to hang out and chat about games? What attracts you to those communities?

There are some good answers to this question on the Wildstar site. I link that first because for me most of my "interaction" is done through Ventrilo with my close friends and guild mates. (I also seem to near daily shout into the void on a blog page.)  I consume news from outside sources but I very rarely interact with the communities. I follow development staff and high profile community members on Twitter and occasionally pose questions or throw in a one liner, but almost never do I get involved deeply. It is a shame, because I'm sure I miss out on meeting great people with real passion for gaming, like the individual who's post I linked yesterday. Troy Hewitt has a good response at the end also, addressing server communities briefly which leads to the next question.

How important are server communities to you? What game features could be used to improve relationships on a server?

This is a great question, and some examples of how this can be mismanaged has been demonstrated over the last year in gaming. Over splitting the community is, I think, the biggest mistake a game can make at launch. It is very important to ensure that there is a vibrant and active community on each server once the initial bull rush to level cap is over. It is important to the games health to not only have a large population at max level to keep end game activities fun and engaging, but also to have activity in all of the vast space that leveling occurs. There are a few tools that I have seen in the last year that go a long way to enhance this feeling of playing in a living multi-player environment. Dynamic level scaling. Having players capped at a certain power level allows for high level players to engage in content in lower level zones without disrupting them, Griefing becomes a much more interesting sport when you come zipping in on your flying mount and jump off guns blazing at the level 10 dude who's trying to kill a savage boar and you hit for fair amounts of damage. You still have a significant advantage over them, but they have an opportunity to defend themselves. This also makes it easy to head back and help out a friend who just started playing with challenging content without just being the big bully picking on the level 12 elite monster. The next feature would be dynamic server shifting. Guild Wars 2 splits off over populated zones into overflow servers. WoW does the opposite, combining underpopulated zones into one Cross Realm Zone. If these two technologies could be combined so that when a zone is over loaded due to events or new content that they remain playable and when times are lean you'll still see other players, even if they have tags that identify them as members of a different server. (Some areas should be exempt from this depending on design. Such as an open world housing/pvp area should be strictly a server community area.)

I also think having strong group finding tools for both PVE and PVP content is very important. These tools should be cross server, but they should prioritize same server whenever possible. A related tool is a global ignore function. If someone wants to be a troll they should expect to eventually close doors not just on their lvl 1 alt they are trolling with, but all their characters they will ever play on that account.

There were some great responses on this one and few tidbits of information out of the community team at the end. A Hardcore server? Perma death? it would be interesting, I wouldn't ever play on it, but I'd probably watch a streamer who'd logged weeks of play to engage with that tension.

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