Zen Of Design

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

Month: May 2008

When the Math Breaks

A lot of people have pointed out to me this movie, which shows a rogue so pimped out on Dodge that he is capable of tanking Gruul’s, taking it down with a 5-man team.  For the non-WoW players, let’s just say that rogues were never meant to tank anything in a raid space.

Gruul’s complexity is that he grows in size every 30 seconds or so, with his attacks dealing more damage.  With normal tanks, this becomes untenable in about 10 grows, but if you’re being hit very rarely, you’ll survive as long as you don’t get one-shot.  Interestingly, they discovered that Gruul will reset to 0 grows after about 20 minutes – meaning the designers likely thought it was ludicrous to imagine someone lasting that long.  Mudflation makes all things possible: see also this Onyxia solo kill. Continue reading

Wizard 101

The most intriguing MMO on the horizon?  To me, at least, it’s my old boss Todd Coleman’s new venture with King’s Isle, a game called Wizard 101.  Looking over the website, it’s hard to believe that this is the same mind that gave us Shadowbane, the ultimate online PvP experience.

I admit, this game wouldn’t have caught my eye if I hadn’t been prompted by coworkers to check out the movies – go to this website and check out the movie of the combat in action, and you’ll see a game that is a careful blend of Harry Potter and Pokemon.  In a landscape that is currently cluttered with MMOs aimed at the kiddy market, this one offers something that stands out – a real gameplay mechanism, without resorting to straight combat.

A lot of stars have to align for this game to hit it big, but I do predict it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Good luck to all of my former coworkers working on getting this out the door.


Original comments thread is here.

A Musical Digression

A brief history of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”, complete with sound clips and charts showing the rate of coverage.  I’m kinda partial to k.d. lang’s version and I’m not a big fan of her, normally.  And let’s not even speak of the Bon Jovi travesty or the Bono disgrace.  Or whatever the hell it was that Fall Out Boy did.

It may be a sign that I’m playing too many MMOs that my first instinct was to invent all new raid-related lyrics.

My Brief Conan Review…

A very good game marred by some utterly incomprehensible UI decisions.  More to come.

With Friends and Family Like These…

Pretty much the entire contents of the Wrath of the Lich King friends and family beta has been leaked. Looking at the contents of it, it looks like someone got hold of the client and used various viewers to examine it. How psycho are WoW fans?  They’re already building talent tree apps to test builds.  Enjoy before Blizzard legal shuts it all down.

As an aside to my homeys over at Blizzard: if you’re going to fix Lightwell, then actually fix it.  Cast time and cooldowns aren’t the problem – the problem is the heal effect breaks on damage, and at the high level raid, the whole raid is taking damage all the time.  Currently, lightwell’s primary use is as a comedy prop.

Sometimes, the Windmill Wins

Think of it as sweet poetic justice, or proof that Jack Thompson is too crazy for Florida (a state so crazy that Fark has their own tag), but he appears to be well on his way to ‘trouble’, as he was found guilty of 27 counts of misconduct.

In insult to injury news, New Mexico joined the elite club of states who have tossed a frivolous lawsuit championed by him.

And to add the cherry on top of his marvelous month, Jack’s had to watch his great white whale conquer the world, as GTA has racked up ridiculous sales numbers since it launched.


Idea Synthesis

A version of this article first appeared in the May 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine.

Getting your first design gig is often a combination of luck and who-you-know.  But once you’re there, moving up the ranks is typically entirely based on merit.  The junior designers who contribute rock star quality on the small projects they are given will quickly be granted larger responsibilities on bigger systems and more important parts of the game.  Leads love being able to hand off design projects to capable, reliable, low-maintenance designers.  So for those designers who feel they are banging their head against a glass ceiling, there is a clear path to move up – stop making game designs that suck.

The path to do so isn’t immediately intuitive, because it takes an entirely different way of thinking.  Too many junior designers have a habit of hoarding their ideas like precious gems, not collaborating with others, and avoiding showing design documents until they’re absolutely perfect.  They think that their job is all about idea generation, and this perspective lends them all sorts of bad habitsThey’re overprotective of their ideas.  They’re obsessed with getting credit and, at the same time, utterly terrified that their ideas will be rejected, feeling that it reflects poorly on them in the highly competitive field of game design.  The end result of all this self-consciousness all too often is designs that are too big, too safe, or too weird.

The best senior designers I’ve worked with have a different mindset.  They understand, inherently, that most ideas are bad – even their own.  They have less investment in getting their ideas into the game, and more in being sure the game rocks, no matter whose idea gets in.  Consciously or not, they focus on idea synthesis, a term I use to describe the informal game design philosophy that focuses heavily on collaboration, mass idea generation, and focused execution as the pathway to design success.  Continue reading

Also, You Might Be A Redneck

Eric wants to give you some clues as to when your game might be in trouble.

Personally, I prefer the funny version.  And yes, I’ve lived to see many of them.

That being said, to echo a sentiment that Eric mentioned, if you recognize too many of these at your own company, why aren’t you doing anything about it?

It takes how many years to make an MMO.  How much resume space are you willing to let it poison?  Even if you can’t go anywhere, try to fix something.  Even if you’re not successful, you’d be shocked at how people remember the go-getters after the Jenga towers collapse.


The Music Wankery Genre Becomes a Three-Front War

A lot of action on the music gaming front: Neversoft has announced two new guitar hero games: an all-Aerosmith version, as well as Guitar Hero IV, a version designed to compete directly with Rock Band, complete with drum set and microphone.

Not to be outdone, Konami announced Rock Revolution, their own entry into the music band sweepstakes. A movie can be found here. The game has a heavy focus on drums, but no singing – making it a much less cool party game. On one hand, its art looks cheap and the UI looks unpolished and simplistic, but on the other hand, the songlist takes me right back to the bus ride to school: Scorpions, Motley Crue, Whitesnake, and Skid Row. Cock rock for the win! At least, it speaks to me much more than Molly Hatchet and Deep Purple. Continue reading

ION Update

Writing from ION during the lunch keynote.  Overall, it’s a good conference, very small and informal, with a lot more people that I know personally, and a very solid focus on online and MMO issues.  I’ll definitely have to consider coming back next year, if work allows.

I was on a panel with Scott, Erik and Bridget.  Notes can be found here.  Unfortunately, no shouting matches erupted, so it wasn’t as good as a panel can be.  Erik and I will have to work with that, maybe next year one of us will hit the other over the head with a folding chair or something.

I’ll put up my slides later this week.

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