October 21, 2009
My 3 year old son got his mythical yesterday.
Oh, sure, it was just a tinker toy wand. But in the right hands, (his) and with the right flick of the wrist, it became a projectile-launcher of epic proportions. In one fell swoop, from across the room, my son was able to use his wand to send the big round wooden wheel on the end of it right through the glass of a nicely framed picture in the living room.
Regardium Leviosa punks!
Above: My son’s Wizard 101 avatar, the inspiration behind the tinker toy wand.
As I sat there picking tiny shards of glass off the couch cushions, I got thinking about the progress that our guild has made in getting mythical weapons. The big push began around the start of the summer, and we now have over 50 characters with mythicals. Last week, we raided with a fully myth’d raid force, a guild first. For a casual guild like ours, it certainly was not easy, and there were a few times where I really wondered if we really would be able to do it, but the guild stuck with it and pulled it off.
Mythicals aren’t just shiny “look at me” status toys. It goes well beyond the “momentary pause in Norrath” serverwide broadcast. For dps classes, mythicals practically double your dps output. For healers and utility classes, they provide game changing buffs and effects. Raiding with myths vs without is like night vs day. So when players make resentful statements about how mythicals are just shiny carrots on sticks, and how efforts to get them are just another example of nerdy hardcores trying to show off their uberness, they totally miss the mark.
It’s interesting to look back at the evolution of “epic” weapons from the early days of Everquest, to today’s Everquest 2. In the early years of EQ, epics were important because they defined your class. They were supposed to be something that not everyone could get, and in fact, only a very few, rather sleep-deprived players actually did get them for a long while. But there’s an important difference between the EQ epics of old and the mythicals of EQ2 today – in EQ, there was no raid cap. So if there were 4 clerics with their sprinklers, or 2 mages with their skittle epics, and you were without, it was no problem to have you along.
Times have changed, though, and MMOs now have set limits on the number of people you can take to a raid. In EQ2, it’s either 12 or 24, depending on the zone. So if you’re that 7th healer, and the other 6 have mythicals, you’re probably out of luck that night if the raid is overfull. The problem gets even more pronounced going forward, because content will always have to be designed around mythicals. It’s practically a requirement now that you have your mythical in order to to raid current endgame content. So epic weapons have evolved over the past decade, from something that only a few actually can get, to something that everyone is expected to have.
I’ve talked a lot about barriers to grouping, and complained about all of the hurdles that people have to get over in order to do something meaningful together. Levels, class balance, quest synchronization, access flags, and group/raid caps are just a few of the many things that prevent people from playing together. In EQ2, you can now add mythical weapons to the list. Mythicals are so important in the game, that upgrades with the next expansion are supposed to actually incorporate the mythical’s features somehow, so players will still want to get them even though it’s a reward from two expansions ago. How much fun will that be for a newer player, desperately trying to catch up, and needing to find a raid that will want to go back in to 2 year old content for one mythical update. Sign me up!
Above: I know this entry is about EQ2 and I only have Wizard 101 screenshots. But if I put in a picture of my son’s toon, it goes without saying I need to add in my daughter’s. Note the purple dragon!
Getting mythicals in EQ2 is much easier now, after they significantly toned down Venril Sathir and Nexona, and then dropped the barrier to the second wing in Veeshan’s Peak, which allowed guilds to skip the tough first wing mobs of Nexona and Druushk. Funny how they nerfed all that stuff right after we got past it, by the way. /grumble. But mythicals are still something that requires a lot of help from a lot of people, meaning that they are now yet another form of backflagging in an MMO.
I’m not sure what the easy solution is though. Nerfing content helps, as will the increase in the level cap in February, but you can’t nerf the content too much – it is supposed to be mythical after all. Designing content around the easier to acquire fabled epic doesn’t work either, since too many will blow right through too quickly. Completely abandoning mythicals and itemizing replacements for them in the next expansion basically removes the notion that these weapons are epic and mythical. Lifting raid caps is a solution I’d love to see, for more reasons than just the epic weapon conundrum. But with instancing and the way content is tuned, that’s a difficult task.
All of a sudden, those tinker toys are looking better and better!
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (7)
October 15, 2009
Recently, our guild did a backflagging raid to work on some mythical updates and Veeshan’s Peak access. Out of 24 spots, 10 of them were filled by either a bard or an enchanter. I actually made one group that had a dirge, troubador, illusionist, and coercer all together (the scout was in heaven!). In many fantasy MMOs, there is a usual drought of bards, enchanters, and sometimes, healers, leaving guilds to claw, bribe, and even leech from each other in order to fill needed slots. Utility classes in particular are like left handed pitching – impossible to find, but important to have. Now, for the EQ2 raid purist, carrying 10 utility sounds like too much, but for our guild, which used to raid with 8 fighters (Yes, 8. Yes, that’s insane) it’s a nice problem to have.
Above: But really, why do I have to be Mr. Pink?
I’ve led guilds with a more hardcore attitude, and I’m currently leading RnH with a focused-yet-casual approach. Of the two, it’s much harder to run a casual raiding guild, because our progress will always be handcuffed by real life priorities. Babies, spouses, school, family responsibilities, work, etc, all cut into members’ playtimes, and trying to organize raids has become the equivalent of planing Operation Overlord. To fill a 24 person raid, it usually requires 30 people if you’re more hardcore, but in our case, it’s close to 50. Because we have to flag and gear up more players than a hardcore guild, our already casual pace is slowed down even more. It’s led to some frustrating nights, but people overall have been very patient and understanding, so it works ok for the most part.
Multi-group content almost always is designed around the concept of players logging in nightly and regularly – if one or two of your healers need to take the night off, everyone else is S.o.L. as far as raiding goes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had full raids and had to cancel, because we were short one healer, or one utility. 23 people (or in EQ’s case, as many as 72 people) can’t raid because we’re short one person that plays a crucial class. That’s wrong, but it’s not the player’s fault. (/eye game design) What’s even worse is when someone who plays a key class leaves either the guild or the game. Attrition is a part of the game, but losing certain class types can sometimes set a guild back so much that it can trigger a guild implosion. This is a big reason why many veteran gamers not only avoid guilds and the endgame, but actually resent them.
The bottom line is that raiding requires a carefully balanced force, and it always happens at the end of the level ladder. Since it’s impossible to get 30-50 people to all roll up characters that fit well from the start, some will inevitably have to reroll and start over on classes that do fit. What ends up happening is something akin to Reservoir Dogs – everyone starts jockeying for roles, and someone is always stuck being Mr Pink – the class that no one wants to play.
That’s why our backflagging raid was so notable. We’ve been in a utility drought for so long, we grew our own. What really amazed me is how many in the guild voluntarily started over with toons that fill class needs. It’s no small thing to stop playing your character of choice in order to work on a character that helps the guild progress, and we have more than a dozen who have done exactly that. It’s awesome that people here have the patience and the selflessness to do that, but it begs the question – why? Why should someone have to reroll and do the level grind, backflagging, and gearing up all over again just to play a class that helps balance a raid.
Above: If we had just one more healer, we could take down this…giant…owlbear…
We’ve been on the server for a little under two years, and we are finally at the point where we have built a strong, balanced, raid force. The hardest part of being a raiding guild isn’t the raid itself, it’s piecing together the raid force to be able to work the content. Every night, guilds advertise that they’re recruiting select classes to round out their raid force. And pickup raids are full with people sitting for hours, while the leader spams open chat in a fruitless attempt to snag that one missing class.
I’m not advocating a bland, classless game. But it would be nice to have some flexibility with raid balance in multiplayer content. It should start with character creation – no class should be the 5th wheel in a raid, and no class should lose importance because another class is better suited. There is something to be said for slimmed down class choice. And in an age where guilds are having a hard time finding a sense of purpose, why not provide guilds the ability to temporarily change a member’s class. Either that, or give guilds the ability to earn raid buffs that can be used to help get a raid off the ground on a night when certain classes are missing. I’ve written before about allowing mentoring up, or sidekicking. I also think players should have the ability to switch classes – an extension of the betrayal system in EQ2. Tailoring multiplayer content to fit the raid makeup would also be nice, of course, but probably too labor intensive and too difficult to properly balance fairly. Given that fact, if someone has to be Mr. Pink, at least let them skip over the level grind hurdle.
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (4)
October 7, 2009
Last winter at my gym, they ordered up a bunch of new workout bikes, and I dutifully hopped aboard to give them a try. Call it a beta test, if you will. They bought them from Expresso, a company that makes workout cycles with a twist – you select a route to travel, and then watch as your little avatar mimics your frantic pedaling along the routes, which range from nice, flat speedways, to windy, steep mountain peaks. Interestingly enough, there are also games that you can select, which ask you to cycle around a field trying to collect shapes, or coins, or yes, even dragons.
But before I could actually workout, I had to select a user ID and a password. (Starting to sound familiar?) After a few tries I came up with one that wasn’t taken and off I went. I won’t go into detail about my actual session, but let’s just say that the town of Fruitdale could really use a few traffic lights.
Course completed, I hopped off and looked for a way to sign out. On my screen, however, was a big breakdown of my performance – times, rpms, heartbeat, etc. And next to that was a breakdown of how I did against everyone else who selected that route. So while I thought I was just pedaling against the fake bikers on my screen, I was actually biking against the people on my left, and right, and down the street, and around the world. And the next time I do that route, I’ll also be biking against myself, and my previous performance. I won’t go into detail on my stats, but let’s just say that I didn’t ever want to go back to the town of Fruitdale.
Now, I know that my workout bike isn’t really an MMO, but lately, it sure does resemble them! As games strive to become more solo friendly, they end up altering social gameplay. Instead of directly interacting with each other, players are now engaging in parallel play. We’re like babies in a playgroup – all sitting together on the play mat, but each doing his own thing.
Free Realms, for example, is a lot like my workout bike. When I log in to the game, there are many other players around me (5 million so far!), but I have practically no direct interaction with any of them, apart from the occasional flash mob dance party. The vast majority of the player population seems to be there to engage solely with the content. Just a quick glance at the various mini game lobbies is proof. Kart racing, demolition derby, and more recently, soccer, are lots of fun and very popular, but people overwhelmingly choose to compete against the AI competition rather than face each other directly in the lobbies.
Above: The Dares playing in Free Realms. Is this multiplayer?
I really enjoy playing Free Realms, so I’m certainly not condemning this style of gameplay. It’s a refreshing change to be able to log in, play a few mini games, buy a cute little hot dog costume, and call it a night. But does the game end up nudging the pendulum too far towards solo play, and away from the one thing, multiplayer gameplay, that makes MMOs unique? You could essentially take Free Realms and stick it on a console, without having to many any real changes.
Many other games have strayed into this territory as well. Give me the name of a level-based, diku style MMO, with WoW solo quest gameplay, and you’ve just experienced my bike (minus the pedaling and sweat). You are #10 on the questing leaderboards? I’m # 23,750,238 on the Speedway route. You unlocked the achievement “Leeeeeroy?” I unlocked “Marathoner.” You earned 875 reputation? I burned 197 calories. Yes, these games are fun, but are they really MMOs?
These days, I don’t harbor as much resentment towards Fruitdale, although I refuse to believe that someone can do that route in less than 8 minutes – I smell a hack. I’m secretly pining for the day that my little bike avatar can wield my EQ2 swashbuckler epic, but I’m not holding my breath. Sadly, Expresso is trying to fend off rumors of its untimely demise.
…maybe my workout bike really is an MMO…
Posted by jayernh under Uncategorized | Comments (2)