More treadmill discussion

There were a couple comments in this post (When the Treadmill Moves With You) that I wanted to break out into another blog post, instead of it getting buried in the comments.

Werit said “Eve, UO and SWG all have grinds but they are just disguised.” I happen to agree with that. I didn’t play UO, so disqualify that from future comments, but Eve and SWG certainly had grinds. The difference for me, though, is that they weren’t level grinds. I could jump into either game, or have friends join the game after me, and be able to fight together fairly quickly. Sure, the veteran would be stronger in many ways, but it didn’t prevent the newcomer from participating in a significant, although limited, role. Tackling in Eve is a perfect example. A new Eve player can skill up very quickly to join their friends virtually anywhere in the game and perform a very important role in any PvP operation. It doesn’t take much longer to be able to contribute something to mission running with friends, even if they’ve been in the game for a long time. I used to salvage behind friends running level 4 missions, and they’d give me a cut of the salvage. I got to see level 4 missions close up, I got great loot, they saved a lot of time by not having to come back and salvage, and I got to hang out with friends who were many millions of skill points ahead of me.

So, while I agree with Werit that there are certainly grinds in Eve, it doesn’t prevent me from playing with friends who aren’t the same level. I have examples of successfully playing with friends in SWG who were vastly different skill levels (and also being able to skill up as a crafter and make a contribution to the economy fairly quickly), but in the interests of brevity, I’ll just say it was more possible in SWG than level-based MMO’s.

I started thinking about that when Snafzg said (also in the comments in my blog post linked above) “I would care much less about levels if the few MMO friends I do have didn’t level way past me in such short periods of time due to varying play schedules.”

I’m not going to sit here and argue that Eve and SWG, both skill-based systems, are somehow the perfect solution for treadmills, grinding, or levels. Both games did make it easier (or should I say possible?) to play with friends who started playing long before or long after you started playing. That just can’t happen in EQ, or DAoC, or WoW. And I’m not sure how much that can happen in Warhammer.

I think Bildo’s right that Warhammer does have an advantage over EQ/EQ2 and WoW. He mentioned the variety of rewards you get while leveling, and how you’re working for a variety of goals while leveling that will hopefully make the experience a little more enjoyable and less Ding-Focused.

Plus, I think WAR has an additional advantage. With an endgame focused on realm versus realm warfare, players can participate regardless of their gear. You don’t have to be at a certain point in a raid progression, wearing a specific set of gear, with an established DPS or healing baseline. Does it help if you’re uber? Sure! But when the enemy is beating on the doors of your keep, all are welcome in realm defense.

So, the issue of falling behind your friends in level still exists in Warhammer, but if you’re willing to work through that to reach the level cap, you’ll be able to participate in RvR with your friends on a fairly equal footing, at least open-field RvR. Instanced/Scenario PvP might end up with static groups joining, and gear mattering, more than fights around keeps with variable numbers of participants. But open-field RvR, open to anyone who shows up at the keep or anyone who joins the warband, should provide a fairly equal end-game playing field compared to dungeon-focused raiding.

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When the treadmill moves with you…

I just saw a glimpse of a possible MMOG future, and it concerns me a bit.

Preface: My old DAoC guild, the people who helped shape my best MMO experience ever, have fairly mixed feelings about WAR. They’ve been in the beta for far longer than me (good to have friends in high places), and none of them are as excited as me about WAR.

I can’t talk too much about the specific reasons why, but I’ll be talking about it when the NDA goes down. It’s certainly nothing that will stop me from playing; I see a lot of positives in the direction Mythic is taking. That said, the glimpse of the possible MMOG future came from this Richard Bartle comment on Syp’s blog.

Another point: when I said I didn’t play MMOs for fun, I wasn’t saying that MMOs weren’t fun for players, I was saying that they weren’t fun for me. I envy players, in a way, because they get 18 months of fun from an MMO whereas I only get a few hours’ worth. When you’ve looked at play for long enough, you grok the concept. If you think you’re going to play the same kind of way 20 years from now as you do at present, think again: you can’t help but pick up on the patterns, and you can’t help but learn from them, and then you can’t help but lose the desire to run through those patterns time and time again every evening.

My DAoC guild has been together in one form or another since UO. They’ve put countless hours into most of the major MMO’s ever released, and quite a few of the minor ones. That’s halfway to Bartle’s 20 years of playing, and I have to wonder if their lack of enthusiasm has something to do with what he’s talking about. I know I’ve felt it from time to time. I really liked LoTRO, but I couldn’t grind out the levels. I wonder if WAR will be the same. Will I feel connected to the other people in my realm like I did in DAoC? Will it feel less like leveling and more like hanging out with friends every night? Will the server come together to fight against the enemy, and will that realm fighting be more exciting than grinding levels is boring? Will I be able to level up an alt if I don’t like my first class choice? I mean, will I be able to stand leveling up another character?

I come to WAR weary of the grind already. I’m in the midst of my longest MMO break since I started EQ in ’99, and I still don’t feel like I’d want to level a character in any game but WAR. LoTRO definitely suffered from the many hours I put into EQ, DAoC, SWG, WoW, and Eve (although Eve hardly counts, it’s the least grindy MMO I’ve played). When I mount up for the WAR treadmill, I’ve got miles of MMO trail already behind me. Is there going to be enough game there to keep me pre-occupied? Will there be enough old friends saddling up to play alongside? Will I have the energy and enthusiasm to make a new set of friends?

I tend to think that, after playing the WAR beta, I’ll be ok for a while. It seems like it’s going to be immersive enough to help me push through the grind again, but I do think that Bartle’s right, and there’s going to come a day that a game has to be something quite different for me to put leveling time into it. I suspect some of my old friends may have already hit that wall. Same treadmill, different game. Somebody going to come up with a better way of advancing characters in MMO’s one of these days? Eve’s model? UO and SWG skill-based games? I don’t think I can level forever.

Vacation withdrawal

I’m on day two of my vacation, sitting in the hotel at dinnertime after seeing Niagara Falls today. I’m all about being outside, natural beauty, family time, etc., but as I’m enjoying a beer while the kids clean up after swimming, I’m totally jonesing for WAR or TF2.

I’m not pathetic. I wasn’t thinking about dwarven engineer gun turrets while I was on the Maid of the Mist this morning. I wasn’t thinking about strategies for rune priests in RvR while we were exploring the tunnels behind the falls. I interact with my family, I talk about things other than games, I didn’t smuggle single-player games on my laptop to play every spare minute. But when I put my feet up after a long day of fun, I want to be doing it at my desk with games in front of me.

I have to confess that when my wife wanted to take a nap and the kids wanted to go to the pool, I offered to level up my daughter’s Pokemon on her DS while she was swimming 🙂 Really, I’m not pathetic. I can quit any time I want to. It’s just that we picked up the free Deoxys from the Gamestop before we rolled out of town on vacation, ya know? It’d be a shame to let it sit at 50 until vacation is over, wouldn’t it?

Vacation – shutting down for a few days

I’m headed out of town for the next 5 days, Sunday to Thursday, so things will be quiet here. Play nice, everyone 🙂

I’m going to have game withdrawal. I’m not bringing my laptop (going cold turkey!), and I’m going to miss…Team Fortress 2! Bet you thought I was going to say the WAR beta, didn’t ya? Well, yeah, I’ll miss that too, but TF2 hooked me.

I talked my wife and daughter into getting me the Orange Box for Father’s Day. My daughter, who’s 8, is playing Portal, and I’m playing TF2. Holy cow, it’s good. It’s a damn shame that I’m so bad at it. I used to be a good FPS player, but man, that was years ago now. Quake 1 mods (Pain Keep, mostly) and Quake 2 took up tons and tons of hours. I moved from FPS games to MMO’s when EQ released, so I got a little Half Life and Counterstrike under my belt, but MMO’s replaced FPS for years. I’ve lost all my skills! I’m having a blast, though. If you haven’t picked up the Orange Box, and if you like Valve games, it’s a huge bargain.

Who couldn’t like a game with characters like this?

So, you want to be a blogger?

I was listening to VirginWorlds on my way to work this morning, episode #119, I think (I’m behind, my phone broke a couple weeks ago, and I just got my replacement), and Brent read a question from a listener who was asking about how to become a game blogger.

I started this blog about a year ago, so I figured I’d share my experiences. I take what I write seriously, but I don’t feel compelled to write something here every day. I’d rather write when I feel like I have something worthwhile to communicate. With RSS feeds, there’s no reason to feel like people are going to lose you if you don’t write every day, or every couple of days. If people like what you write, and you write at least semi-regularly, seeing a new post from you in their RSS feed is enough reason for people to keep you on this reader. That said, if you update once a month, you might want to think about whether you’d really like to be a blogger 🙂 If you write that infrequently, you might be better off trying to write articles for other sites. I noticed Gamers with Jobs has a link explaining what they’re looking for if you’d like to write for them. If anyone knows of other sites that solicit articles, post ’em in the comments! You’re not going to get paid for your posts, but it’s a great way to get exposure and connect with other gamers.

Brent’s response in the podcast was right on. The best way to be a blogger is to just do it. Check out WordPress or Blogger and see which seems easier to use, or which templates you like better, and set up a site for yourself. My blog is damn simple, and I like it that way. I’m not one to mess around with CSS or Photoshop, tinkering and puttering with the look and feel of the blog. I chose a theme, grabbed a screenshot, messed around with the links and the blogroll and the basic shell, and I was ready to write.

I’d get some posts on your blog first, before I started asking people to be added to their blog rolls. I’d guess that before someone is going to add your blog to their blogroll, they’re going to want to know that you update frequently enough to warrant a spot on their list. No one wants to link to a dead site.

Just writing this makes me a little sad, because it seems that Foton over at AFKgamer has taken a break. I should probably take him off my blogroll, but his site is so damn funny that I’m hoping he comes back soon. Anyway.

I know I usually only add people that I read regularly. I don’t think I’ve ever added someone because they asked (actually, I think only one person has ever asked to be on my blog roll, hehe). I add people because they’re the sites I read first when I see something new from them in my Google Reader list.

I’ve also never asked someone to be on their blog roll. While I don’t think it’s bad manners if you do ask, I’d prefer to let the blog owner make that choice. However, that’s totally a personal decision. If you’ve got a good site that’s updated frequently and gets decent traffic, I don’t see anything wrong with politely requesting to be added to someone else’s blog roll. Everyone’s got their own preferences for their site, though, they may want to keep their blogroll short and manageable. Don’t be offended if someone turns you down. If I had all the sites on my Google Reader list on my blogroll, it’d totally hose the page layout balance.

I don’t get a ton of traffic here. I’m sure my numbers pale in comparison with Tobold or Keen and Graev, but I’m fine with that. I write because I enjoy it, and I’m kind of digging the fact that things are growing very organically here. The only “advertising” I do for this blog is posting comments on other blogs. I get to add the URL in when I post a comment, and that seems like the best way to build an audience. First of all, you’re supporting other blogs when you take the time to post a comment on their site. Second, you get a chance to show people what kind of writing they might find if they click on your name in the comments and check out your site. Third, you’re going to be making some friends and acquaintances who enjoy the same things you enjoy. Well, maybe not the part about the ponies, but definitely the part about the games.

Some of my posts started as comments on other blogs, but when they get to a certain length, I prefer to break it out into a blog post and link to the other site. I don’t think people read super-long comments in a blog post, and I don’t want to hog up space on someone else’s blog. Plus, you’re giving the original blog post a bit more visibility by linking to them from the front page of your blog. I’ve found a lot of good sites that way; it’s how I found Keen and Graev, for sure.

My last bit of advice for building an audience, which is worth as much as you’re paying for it, is to find a gaming community of some sort. I’ll admit it right up front, I’m terrible at taking my own advice here. I belong to Gax Online, I just joined the Gamers With Jobs community to play TF2 with them and an old WoW/Eve acquaintance from The Well, and Steam seems to have a great community. There’s a ton of places where gamers congregate, and you probably already frequent a few regularly. If you drop your blog URL in your forum signature or your profile, you’ll probably get some visitors that way as well.

I’m not nearly aggressive enough in keeping up with the social networking sites to promote my blog, but I don’t really mind. I write because I enjoy it, and I enjoy meeting thoughtful and interesting people who have left comments here. For me, promoting the hell out of this site would make it too much like a job, and I already have one of those 🙂 I want this to be a place that I enjoy coming to, where I can write about whatever random thing pops into my head, and hope that people enjoy reading it. You’ll find your own reasons for blogging, but the biggest reason should be that you love to think about games (or whatever you choose to blog about), and you love to write. If those two things are true, you’ll likely be a good blogger, and enjoy doing it.

One last plug: If you do enjoy writing, but you find yourself not setting aside the time to write regularly, I’m reading a great book about being a writer. It’s called “Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day”, and you can get an inexpensive used copy on Amazon. The author, Joan Bolker, has years of experience writing and assisting writers, including time spent at the Harvard Writing Center. It’s not just about writing dissertations, although it scales up to that type of task very well. It’s more about allowing yourself to write, instead of putting roadblocks in front of you. Her approach to writing, and the process a writer goes through, makes so much sense to me. When I write larger pieces, I want to jump right in to writing the finished product, which is quite impossible, although I didn’t really understand why until I read her book. Her approach to the whole process of writing details how my brain usually works, and how what I thought was unproductive or wasting time is actually a valuable step toward the finished product I think I should be writing in my first draft.

Massive AoC battle lag: I had a bad feeling about this

I just read Massively’s story about big battles in AoC having performance issues.

The main issues are identified as those of client performance, and those of content and collision. Client performance is apparently the biggest problem being reported…

Some of the ways in which Funcom hopes to improve the performance in these battles is to tone down some particles, stylize the view distance to a shorter setting, and change how some spells and abilities propagate.

I’d love to go back through my posts here and identify which ones talk about AoC’s graphics versus WAR’s graphics, like a real blogger does, but I’m at work (and lazy!), so I’ll sum it up quickly.

When I saw how good AoC looked in the beta, I had concerns about the client performance in big battles. I had been through that before in DAoC, where a fairly reliable way of predicting the arrival of a group of players into your area was the hesitation your client experience as it drew in the new mobiles. There were a variety of client-side tricks to help performance, like turning off spell effects, and disabling cloak animations (I think, it’s been years now, and I’m older and forgetful and…hmm, what was I saying?)

I think, from a screenshot point of view, AoC is prettier than WAR. All along, though, I thought that might be on purpose, from Mythic’s perspective. They’ve already been through the changes, fixes, and adjustments that Funcom is talking about now. I haven’t heard it confirmed by anyone at Mythic, but I’m guessing they were very careful with their pixel counts in their models, and that affected just how fancy they could make the characters look.

I’m looking for a certain type of game experience for my next MMO, which definitely includes big battles. I’m totally willing to put up with a client that might be a little less fancy if it performs better when two armies come crashing together. If WAR launches with big battles running smoothly, keep that in mind when you want to complain about the graphics and how they don’t look as good as LoTRO or Vanguard or AoC. That was probably a deliberate decsion by Mythic.

Of course, if keep raids in open-world PvP crash zones in Mythic, then they’ve screwed up in other ways that need fixing 🙂 Hopefully they’ve at least learned from DAoC the lessons Funcom is about to learn with AoC.

Building a Warhammer server community

While I was writing my last post about the possibilities of unbalanced Warhammer servers (whether the imbalance is population numbers or skill levels), I started thinking about the year that Hibernia was getting a whooping on the Percival server back in DAoC. The three-realm system gave us the opportunity to nip at the heels of Midgard and Albion despite our inability to dominate keep and relic totals, and we were able to learn a lot about working together.

One of our biggest assets in learning to work together was the creation of a Hibernia-only discussion forum. Players would apply to an email address out-of-game with their character names, and the moderators of the forum would respond to you in-game to confirm your identity. It wasn’t a perfect system, and I’m sure there were some spies among the community, but that couldn’t negate the positive effects of feeling like you were working together with your realm mates both in and out of game.

We got to know each other in a different setting, where we had time to discuss tactics. I started waving at people I knew from discussions on the forums, and it lowered the barriers for working together in RvR. Nightshades came up with strategies for stealth keep takes. Rangers worked together to assist each other in milewall standoffs and keep sieges, taking down targets in  coordinate fire. Static groups that ran in packs of eight every night figured out how to coordinate their efforts with the rest of the realm. The zerg could man a milewall or a keep while the static group scouted for other 8-man enemy groups, or they could hit a force attacking the zerg from behind. Communication improved, morale improved, and our results improved to the point where we actually held all six relics for a while.

I don’t know that there are any in-game tools to promote this kind of community-building for your faction. I suspect that realms that want greater communication, cooperation, and coordination will have to use out-of-game tools. Voice chat was still fairly new at that point in DAoC, and I only knew of a few groups who used it. Ventrilo and TeamSpeak have become much more common, and I wonder if factions will try to set up faction-only vent channels. It’s tough to police, but it would be a great way to listen in to intel reports about the movements of both your enemy and your own faction. Faction-only forums make a lot of sense too, but you need a good cop moderating access. It’ll take a while to figure out who you should trust on your server, and I’m sure there will still be instances of spying.

There’s no perfect answer, but finding other people who were interested in talking about bettering your realm out-of-game was a fun part of DAoC. I’ll be interested to see what sort of tipes, tricks, and tools emerge out of Warhammer.