Friday, December 15, 2006

Back in the saddle of non-linearity

Well, looks like most of my cold is on its way out. I hate staying home from work sick...all I want to do is sleep and I end up getting bored out of my skull. No, contrary to popular belief, I really don't game much when I'm sick because, well, I'm sick.

OK...on to business. If you're even remotely interested in Warhammer Online, this is a must read article. It's a report of a teleconference with the guys over at EA-Mythic. If you don't believe that this has the potential to hit WoW where it hurts, well, you really need to think a bit harder. If these guys execute on their vision, they've got a hit. What really impressed me was this:

“How deep is the character system?” 6 races. Most of the races have two sexes. (Greenskins are orcs and gobbos.) As characters get more powerful, they start to look distinctly different (dwarven beards get longer). Even if a player has no equipment on, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a 1st and a max-level character. You can further customize your character during gameplay, by acquiring trophies. They’ll be discrete items you can actually place on your character somewhere. Trophies will be acquired from quests, from events, etc. There’s a screenshot on the website that seems to show a dead cat hanging from a player’s belt. This is one area I simply can’t find anything to complain about. Extra character customization is something you can never put ‘too much’ into, I think. Paul broke in and said “The goal is to be able to line up 10 different orcs, all of the same level and of the same class, and to have each and every one of them look different.”

Who wouldn't want a dead cat hanging on their belt...jeepers. Ryan, Gary, if you guys are reading...this is the game you are looking for. If I'm wrong...well..I don't think I'm wrong.

Two things about Wow. First is a nice analysis of the current PvP system in WoW as it pertains to AV (Alterac Valley). OK..so how do I put this nicely....AV is a piece of PvP shit. I'm not going to go into the whole imbalance thing of Horde vs Alliance, but the whole point of AV has been lost on players and Blizzard. It's no longer strategic. Like the author of the article says, it's turned into a zerg to the other player's base. We're in a PvP area, we run buy each other to engage in a PvE boss take down. No body really engages in an all out war anymore. I remember when we first started AV (before everyone got stupid) and it was strategic. The Horde would summon that big ice giant dude...see, I forget his name because he hasn't been summoned in months...damnit!! Anyway, the Alliance and Horde would free the Wing Commanders to get air support, and wolf riders as well. Not anymore. The only fighting with Alliance is at one graveyard...Stonehearth...and after that, it's only stalling actions to their base until they kill the Horde General. The author gives some good suggestions on how to fix this. Here is mine. Make the Generals indestructible until certain objectives are taken and held buy the opposing team. This would essentially kill the zerg. I like what the author says about making it more like Company of Heroes. I would also add that maybe stat bonuses are given to the team who links up these territory zones to simulate continuous supply lines...bebuffs to teams who don't have a supply line chain established. They've got to fix BG...its not working.

Lauren over at Mystic Worlds has put up a very funny rant-like article. The more I read of her, the more I like her. It had my wife and I laughing quite hard last night. What more can I say....I feel her pain

And this is not good news for Gods and Heroes. Official statement of the layoffs goes on to say:

"As some of you may have heard we have made some staffing changes at Perpetual. We are proud to announce that we are within a month of being content complete on Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising, our upcoming AAA MMO title. As we achieve this major development milestone, a number of content production roles come to an end. The Gods & Heroes team remains over 80 talented people strong as we enter the final phase prior to launch -- play-testing and tuning to deliver the highest quality game possible.

In addition, because we value the feedback our beta testers have been giving us, and because we want to ship the highest quality game possible, we have moved our target ship date from the spring to the summer of 2007. This extension of the testing and tuning phase of the project will allow us to focus entirely on making a great game – which is our #1 goal.

Perpetual remains 100% committed to shipping a fantastic Gods & Heroes game and to continuing development of the much-anticipated Star Trek Online."
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I've seen that kind of talk before in other industries and from my perspective, layoffs are never a good sign for a company. No matter how an executive tries to spin it, this will impact the product in some way...and usually not in a good way either. I don't know, I could be wrong and I hope I am because I want to see Gods and Heroes as well as ST Online succeed. Good luck to all those who where let go, you will get back on your feet again...trust me.

There is a very nice debate going over at Virgin Worlds (as usual) regarding sandbox MMOs and whether all MMOs fall within that category. Brent (not Brad...inside joke) has put up a solid theory that by their very nature and by definition, all MMOs are sandboxes. I, being the pain-in-the-ass that I am, think that most MMOs are decidedly not sandboxes.

As I was developing my argument, I found that the definition of sandbox was its weakest on the the following:
Non-linear or nonexistent plot. If there is a plot at all, the player can simply ignore it, or there is a branching plot that evolves based on user choices (resulting in a game that is never the same twice).

None of the current MMOs are non-linear...they are, by their very nature, linear in their design. The definition of non-linear, from a mathematical sense:

Linearity of a system allows investigators to make certain mathematical assumptions and approximations, allowing for easier computation of results. In nonlinear systems these assumptions cannot be made. Since nonlinear systems are not equal to the sum of their parts, they are often difficult (or impossible) to model, and their behavior with respect to a given variable (for example, time) is extremely difficult to predict. When modeling non-linear systems, therefore, it is common to approximate them as linear, where possible.

In games like WoW or EQ2, it is extremely easy to predict and model the progression of a character. In WoW, I can predict that a character after level 10, if he's a orc, can be found in the Crossroads..9 times out of 10 I will be right on that. At any given time, I can predict the progression of any character in WoW because that progression is easily modeled. This is not a bad thing because that was the way WoW was designed. Eve models more closely to a truly non-linear game system. Take a typical new Eve pilot. Can you tell me, with the same degree of certainty, where he will be in 5 months? No...you can't. Of course, you can never program a truly non-linear game...that's impossible, but saying that a game like WoW is non-linear and therefore a sandbox is reaching a bit.

D out...

2 comments:

Lauren said...

Another great thing about MMOs is that even when you're not playing, there's still so much to read and talk about that it's still good entertainment.

I hope you're close to feeling all well again. It sucks being sick around the holidays. You don't have the energy to run around and get things done.

darrenl said...

Thanks Lauren...I am feeling better but not 100%. You're right though, its great to finally have a community in which I can "geek out" with.