Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: April 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Designing for Hand-Me-Down Machiness

As my office-mate Will said, there are two kinds of people with two different viewpoints on how low system reqs should be for MMOs.

  • The people who think that the reqs should be as low as possible. As in, they want the client to run on that watch calculator you wore to the prom in 1986.
  • Everyone else. As in, all of those people who are wrong.

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Gay Marriage A No-No in LotRO

Game Politics has an interesting article about gay marriage in Lord of the Rings, and specifically their decision to disallow it. Continue reading

Meridian 59 Flashbacks

Someone has written their fond memories of Meridian 59, my entry into the game design field.

No only was the game online, it was in 3D! Well, kinda. It took the Wolfenstein 3D and Doom approach to graphics, which was essentially to place 2 dimensional graphics on a 3 dimensional plane. Animations were only a couple of frames long and the basic attack looked like someone losing their balance while taking a crap. Needless to say, I was impressed.

The game proceeded like most MMOs do today. Kill things, get loot, level up. In this case, leveling up amounted to getting additional 1 hp. That was it, that was all you got. You started off with 20 hps and could theoretically go up to 100 or more. I use the word theoretically, because there was one thing about this game that really does make it an old school MMO. Every time you died, you lost a hitpoint. Yep, you read that correctly. A death, any death, even to a monster, was the equivalent of losing an entire level. To make matters worse, every last item you were wearing dropped on the ground when you died. So, not only did you lose a level, you also lost all of your best equipment.

I promise that, as a designer, I no longer harbor the lingering hatred towards my player base that I apparently once did.

What TV Can Teach About Realism

How realistic do you really need your games to be? There is a lesson here from this blog post from famous sitcom writer Ken Levine, who posted about some of the less realistic parts of Cheers. An excerpt: Continue reading

When All the Ghouls Come Out to Play

Virginia Tech was one of my backup schools. I spent my formulative years in Northern Virginia, and I had many friends who went to college at Tech, and I’ve been watching news reports in the off-chance that one of them might have still been there as a teaching assistant or something. Watching the news reports has been eerie – even though I’ve never been to that campus, the climate and trees in the background reminds me so much of where I went to high school, that I’ve been depressed and distracted all week. I can only imagine how it must affect those who actually were closer to the incident, and my deepest condolences go out to those who were touched by this horrible tragedy.

In the dark days of the Katrina disaster, the only saving grace of the whole episode was that it was the media’s shining moment. The 4th estate came in, managed to capture all the right stories, conveyed the desperation to the people, and captured the outrage over how the entire thing was handled from top to bottom. Continue reading

More on Casual vs. Hardcore

I’m a bit late on this, but… Friend of Zen Richard Aihoshi pointed out a soapbox on his own site, RPGVault, which touched on the hardcore vs casual concepts we’ve been talking about here.

Now, we’re all seeing the lines blur between the two different audiences, the two different types of play patterns and lifestyles. Someone who plays Halo on the Xbox is the same person downloading Oasis from PlayFirst.com. To say that a hardcore gamer isn’t interested in different types of play experiences is as crazy as saying I shouldn’t like bands as different as Rush and Eminem -I won’t date myself by saying which Rush albums are my favorites… but I digress.

Interestingly, where casual gamers have been traditionally viewed as people who occasionally play solitaire on the computer, and core gamers are the select few who are really devoted to their games, we are now seeing these roles merge. Casual audiences are behaving like core gamers – playing longer, later, faster and demanding smarter games – and core gamers are enjoying less hardcore experiences, as demonstrated by the popularity of titles like Wii Sports and Guitar Hero. Our research suggests that casual gamers are starting to do what core gamers have done for years, adopt and grow communities around their favorite content experiences.

Designing Cozy Spaces

Yeah, we ask a lot around here – how big should your virtual world be? It’s a question that two new releases have come to – and they’ve come to very different answers. Here’s Tobold on LotRO’s land mass.

The real size [of Middle Earth] is 50 million square meters, which is less than 20 square miles, and thus just a quarter of the size of pre-BC Azeroth. I can believe that number, I once ran from Ered Lindon to the Misty Mountains, and it wasn’t all that far.

Now if you take the size of Eriador and assume that the rest of Middle-Earth will have the same scale, the whole world of the Lord of the Rings Online, after all expansions are out, will be as big as World of Warcraft before the first expansion. Fortunately we can expect Turbine to bring out expansions faster than Blizzard. But criticism that Lord of the Rings Online will be relatively small on release is certainly justified.

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A Rare Flurry of Linkworthy Blogtivity

Lots of good reading on the web today. Be sure you check some of these out.

First off, Scott talks about the Armory, and his surprise that the villagers haven’t gone to Irvine with pitchforks.

Blizzard should enforce 100% opt-in for the Armory because:

– Tactical transparency in PvP is important
– The ability to research other players in game is important
– The ability to research message board posters is important
– It’s just a game, who cares, Blizzard is cool and we like them
– stfu noob lrn2ply

Blizzard should offer an opt-out for the Armory because:

– Some people don’t want to have their player’s data open to ridicule or data mining

At first glance, it seems fairly conclusive. And given Blizzard’s stated stance on in-game privacy (they’ve been quoted as saying that an /anon command goes against what they see as the social nature of MMOs) it’s doubtful that this decision would be reversed.

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Casual Players and Community

Grimwell thinks that he’s found the holy grail of MMO design.

Community. You design for community first.

It’s about giving your players the ability to organize into groups, guilds, or whatever social organizations they are going to need to get things in order for their activities in your game. It’s also the social spaces, guild halls, taverns, or whatever is appropriate to your game. It’s also the means in which you give them to exchange the fruits of their gaming experience. Direct trading, brokers, auction houses, whatever… allowing players to share the fruits of their labor is community.

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Random Musings on Death Penalties

Back in the DikuMUD days, when you died, you lost a level. Period. Kinder MUDs might only, say, drop you to the start of your current level (which was done to prevent the code nastiness of making you unlearn spells, rather than any inherent benevolence on the part of the Admins). This seemed so much kinder than the option of permadeath (and yes, that ludicrous debate existed even back then).

When EverQuest came out some years later, there was actually some scoffawing about how light and fluffy the death penalty was – lose something like 10% experience and do a corpse run. What, are we in care bear land? Of course, since then, the death penalties have gotten progressively lighter and lighter, to the point where in WoW, death is considered by many to be a slap in the wrist, an insubstantial cost on the risk vs. reward meter. Continue reading

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