Category Archives: Blogs

A Tradition of Sorts

I bought my biennial pack of Magic: the Gathering cards yesterday. Somewhere along the line, this became a tradition. Yes, I’m a giant nerd. I haven’t played the game for the better part of a decade, nor do I have plans to ever play it again; but I find it entertaining to buy a pack every couple of years to see how the game has progressed. It’s amusing that they changed some classic game wordings (“removed from play” is now “being exiled”, “put into play” is now “entering the battlefield” haha). And of course they’ve done a bunch of things in effort to simplify the rules and text – “cannot be the target of spells of abilities” has turned into an ability called “Shroud”; however, this loses it’s intended efficiency gain when they are forced to explain said ability on every card: instead of just having “Shroud” printed on the card, it’s displayed as “Shroud (this creature cannot be the target of spells or abilities)” – a rather silly design choice, imo.

Funnily enough, as I am opening the foil, Jes claims “there’s going to be a vampire card in there and I want it”. I laugh and say OK. There has certainly been some vampire-centric stuff in MTG before, but it’s not really a common thing to see in the game. In addition, she has never played the game. Sure enough, there’s a “Bloodhusk Ritualist” in the pack, a “vampire shaman” creature type which counts as both a shaman and a vampire due to the presence of the words in the text and would thereby be affected by abilities that target either type (told you I was a nerd).

I wonder when MTG will finally die out, and what will become of its players after it does? Every time I indulge in said tradition, I become more and more surprised to find the game still going strong; now that the CCG market is completely flooded with hundreds of games, almost all of them requiring a massive financial investment to play, it’s a wonder that the original is still on shelves with that same old “Deckmaster” card backing.

MMO Design Ramble

I’ve got a lot of thoughts written down about the MMO genre waiting to be formed into articles, and with each passing year the collective pile of thoughts gets bigger and messier. What turned into a simple forum reply ended up being a giant ramble containing some of my thoughts and inquiries about some basic problems that seem to plague the western MMO industry currently.

A member of a forum I frequent asked about any MMOs using skill systems recently. Apparently Star Trek Online is using a skill system, which afaik is the highest profile game to do a skill system in a long while. Too long.

Honestly, the “diku era” (or frankly, the WoW era at this point what with the new role of quests and all) has to be coming to an end sooner or later. WoW isn’t the only big online success, and most of the other successful online ventures are wildly different and see fairly equal player retention. And most of these aren’t based on leveling or progressing roadblock statistics at all. It’s just a matter of time before developers begin realizing that copying WoW is folly and learning from their mistakes (however many of them need to happen, heh).

Frankly it’s a shame it hasn’t happened yet (not a global change, mind you – just one game to go out and try something new I mean) and it sort of speaks volumes about how big of a problem design and implementation is in the MMO industry, let alone creativity itself. It’s pretty amazing when we’re so devoid of new and interesting features that we begin salivating over something as bland as public quests. Quests that are specifically designed to be done with other players. In a genre that boasts being “massively multiplayer”. Brilliant! And it only took us until 2008 to think of this.

With designers being tossed around left and right, being called saviors one moment and scapegoats the next, they seem to be the easiest target to blame, but is it always solely their fault? I can’t imagine there hasn’t been any good ideas but rather that they all just get shot down due to being “unproven” or having an unknown development time or some such. I’d love to get a behind the scenes look of any given MMO’s development process, like what happened to an extent with Vanguard before it switched over to SOE (although that wasn’t on the best of terms).

Deadlines are another thing that interest me, as it seems WoW is pretty much the only MMO to come out recently that was allowed to take its time and become as well developed as it needed to be. Of course Blizzard is well known for this development style and continues to apply it in both patches and expansions for the game. It seems these days everything else is just developed as “quick, we have a deadline to be as good as WoW in one year! Hurry!”.

Failure after failure just leaves me with a ton of questions. Why do we end up with such below average games? Is it the design to begin with, or is the design solid and rather production is the root of the problem? Do deadlines stifle creativity? Do the poorly implemented features not get changed post-launch because it’s too expensive to replace them (that, while poor features, are indeed implemented – another major problem in MMOs as one loosely constructed feature can be the downfall of a game as all features are extrapolated exponentially over the course of the game)? Are these facets contributing factors to a poor launch/subscription base, thus creating an ongoing downward spiral towards inevitable failure?

Maybe producers need to just take their time and not immediately jump on the hype train the minute the developers have a single piece of artwork, thus forcibly accelerating the development process. Maybe the foul way betas are handled recently (i.e. as a marketing tool) is a contributing factor to the downfall of recent MMOs. As one gamer looking in from the outside, it just seems like a big tangled indiscernible mess. I’d love to talk with some industry veterans about what it’s like on the inside.

Heroes of Newerth

Time for another non-article post. I’ve got a few big posts that are all kind of waiting to be finished but keep growing larger and larger (hey, I heard that audible groan). In fact, they actually started out as one and split due to length and topic spread. MMO-related, in any case. I was on a slight MMO binge and, as always, it makes me think of how flawed the genre has become over the years; how a games “success” is rated, how unwilling any developer is to take a chance – yet when they attempt to create a carbon copy of a successful product they miss out on the subtle but integral things that made the initial target so appealing… many thoughts, many words to write.

One game that I have absolutely fallen in love with lately, and find myself hard pressed not to ponder about at work, is Heroes of Newerth (“HoN”). Being created by S2 Games, the developers behind the Savage series (of which I have some experience), HoN aims to replicate the experience of DotA, a Warcraft 3 map which has evolved into a phenomenon and a tournament game. Frankly, given the long time success of DotA I am surprised someone hasn’t done this already, although we did see Demigod attempt to earlier this year being the same style of game – it just failed immensely on, again, realizing what made the original game popular (one thing everyone enjoys about DotA is the wide character selection, currently the game has over 90 heroes to choose from – Demigod has 8). Also seeking to claim some of the DotA landscape is League of Legends, which is in beta as well. So, the competition will certainly be there, and it will be interesting to see what DotA players think of the games, and if the majority of them will even be willing to change. HoN seems to claim the most interest because it is a very faithful reproduction of the original game. The developers have essentially cloned DotA up until a point, and are now brewing up new heroes of their own device and tweaking existing ones. It’s also interesting to note that since HoN is a full game  and not a Warcraft 3 map as DotA remains to be to this day, it has some pretty significant advantages – namely it’s extensive statistic tracking. It should be very easy for the developers to see which heroes are being played the most, which might seem out of the ordinary, common item builds or possible exploits and so on. As well, HoN contains some features that DotA players would absolutely die for – such as the ability to rejoin a game if disconnected. Being that HoN games commonly go for 45 minutes to an hour or more, disconnects are not an uncommon thing, and the ability to rejoin a game is immense as people dropping is a huge problem in the oiginal game. As well, HoN implements a “leaver” system where it will track your percentage of games left unexpectedly and go so far as to let players disallow certain leave percentages from joining their games. This was another huge issue in DotA as, since everyone was essentially anonymous and there was no way to have statistic tracking for a custom map, if people were doing

poorly in a game they would just leave, thus in many cases ruining a possibly good game for the other 9 players.

Every aspect of HoN oozes with strategy, even from the very first game screen there are significant metagame elements involved as each team chooses their heroes; counter-picking one another or choosing random (which lets you start with extra gold), letting the timer run out to hide a pick, one player picking a hero in a draft early and swapping it with a teammate later – these are just some examples, and the game hasn’t even loaded at this point.

When the game does load, you’re bombarded with a slew of more choices to make. What skill build are you going to go on your chosen hero? Possibly more importantly, what item build? There are many items which you can buy and eventually combine with one another to turn into powerful weapons. After choosing some starting equipment, you need to figure out which “lane” you are going to go to. Lanes are the main pathways from each team’s base, and there are 3 lanes, with 5 heroes per side. This means one hero has to “solo” a lane, which has many interesting side effects as they may have a harder time going solo, but they will also advance more quickly since they gain more experience from being alone.

As the game progresses, each side fights to push the lanes toward the enemy base. Waves of allied NPC units (“creeps”) that spawn at your base and traverse down the lanes, fighting whatever comes in their path, assist in this goal. When you finally enter the enemy base, destroying key buildings can make your creeps stronger and creates a lot of pressure on the enemy base. The ultimate goal is to destroy the opposing team’s main building at the back of their base.

While the environment and items make up a huge part of the game, the heroes really steal the show with their unique array of abilities. From summoning a voodoo doll that transfers damage it receives to its target, to making an impassable boundary by tearing a fissure through the ground, to literally picking up and throwing one enemy at another one; there are a lot of possibilities for very interesting combinations of heroes and abilities. Again, this really enhances the metagame aspect of picking the right heroes and making sure your team has good synergy. Your team might have an incredible ability to deal damage, but no stuns or disables and thusly can never finish an enemy hero off. Or your team may have too much of an emphasis on disables and not really have anyone to do the big damage necessary to capitalize on them. Of course, there are always items to fill in the blanks with activated abilities like being able to go invisible, or apply a reflect damage buff, or disable an enemy hero by transforming him into a critter for a few seconds. There are endless possibilities and somehow, through it all, the game manages to be incredibly well balanced.

Heroes of Newerth is currently in beta, but invites can be found pretty easily. I’ve got a couple left myself so if you’re looking for one feel free to drop me a line with your e-mail.

Dystopia released on Steam

Well, I was going to post this a couple of nights ago but it kind of got swept up in the excitement. What excitement you ask? Well…

Click the image to go to the Dystopia Steam page.

The new version of Dystopia is out! Although 1.2 might seem like a meager decimal increase from 1.1, it actually marks a huge improvement to the game and even more importantly, the first release that I can really say I had a huge part of. My latest work on the game was creating the trailer along with the help of the team’s musician, bioxeed. Bioxeed has also recently put up a mix of all of his Dystopia music, so if you like this music style be sure to check it out.

High quality x264 download link for the trailer available here.

It’s really been a great ride. I never thought I would become a game developer but it is something I really enjoy. Even moreso, I never thought that the old Doom maps that I’d toy around with in DoomED would be the precursor to year-long projects that push every limit of a next-gen engine. Having finished two maps from scratch, picking up and finishing a partially-completed third one, and collaboratively working on a fourth with other members of the team (termi, Venciera, charlestheoaf, Spire), and creating a few dozen model props and textures, I’ve been working on the mod for over two years now. And even though Dystopia is getting to a point where I can see myself being done working on it, there is plenty more exciting things in the future in the world of game development. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to pursue an actual job in the industry (I don’t know if I could be as passionate about something that isn’t my brainchild), but I’ll certainly be continuing it as a hobby.

I’ll try and get a Game Development page up soon highlighting the work I’ve done so far with Dystopia, now that it’s all public. If you’ve got a Steam account and any source game that includes the Source SDK Base, be sure to check out Dystopia and let us know what you think on the forums.

Status Update

I usually like to stay away from blog-like posts, but I figured I should post an update given that this website has deviated a bit from its prior intended use. I was originally going to mainly post about Warhammer Online, specifically the class I played. Fortunately, I realized fairly early on (having only leveled two characters to the cap) that the game was horrible; Mythic revealed their incompetence and all in all it wasn’t that long of an affair. It’s strange that MMORPGs invoke a feeling of longevity, where you want to play for the longest – through thick and thin – to be the best (in a genre bereft of skill) and become a spokesperson for your player class, or other extravagant goals. In games that promote customizable avatars and social aspects, it is where we try hardest to stand out in a crowd. I find this a fitting contrast to FPS games where customization is usually nil, and it hardly even matters if the game records your stats (leaving a permanent footmark, which is all MMOs have going for them) – while it’s a nice touch, we are satisfied merely by on-demand skill and recognition. And of course it’s much easier to get recognition in an FPS – you just need to play well, in stark contrast to an MMO where they are usually entirely based on how much time you put into them.

That said, I’ve given up on Warhammer, and am in one of those “I’ll never play MMOs again” slumps. I kind of hope it sticks, because they really are such terrible wastes of time. That said, I am the guy who quit Everquest permanently… around a half dozen times (I even gave all of my items away each time, as if to solidify the fact – it’s interesting that I would be so sure of my decision each and every time). Still, whenever I cease playing an MMO, I tend to “wake up” as if from a bad dream, trying to understand why I would ever find myself in such a position due to the “play until you are so fed up you violently quit” aspect of the games. The same is not true of other genres, even if interest comes and goes; there are never any “hard feelings”.  MMOs almost feel manipulative, where the primary goal is to simply keep you playing for the sake of your subscription, certainly not for your satisfaction – how many times have we all continued to play an MMO even when the only discussion on Ventrilo would be is how horrible it is and how we all hope the next patch is good? It’s an amazing thing, that such games not only manage to keep players, but thrive so heavily that they have penetrated the casual market – where aspects like the above are least likely to be accepted (not to mention that MMOs actually have a fairly steep learning curve, another facet that means they should not be appealing to casual players).

In any case, as is obvious I’ve been using this website to post any rambling thoughts I may have about games, old or new, or game design in general. I’ve been playing Lock’s Quest on the DS lately quite a bit and am thinking about posting something about that as I’ve had quite a bit of inner dialogue about the game the more I play it.

World of Goo

Looks like World of Goo from 2D Boy is finally set to come out. It launches officially in a few days but they have sent out early copies to online pre-orders. It is also due out on the Wii via WiiWare. It’s a fun little physics manipulation game, I definitely recommend checking it out if they put out a demo.

And then there was a weblog

After tooling around with a few crummy web designs and trying to think of what I’d even like to do with this website (and the sullen realization that I’m pretty out of touch when it comes to the technical side of web design), I have installed WordPress. I’m not sure how often I’ll update it, but I at least plan on putting stuff about my current gaming interests here. Expect tidbits about Dystopia, the 3D Source engine project I work on, game development in general (with a focus on indie games most likely), and probably some Warhammer Online stuff. I was thinking about doing some strategy posts about the class I play, the Disciple of Khaine, so I’ll probably just toss those here if I go through with that.