Archive for the ‘Video Game Design’ Category

Electronic Artists

oh, how far has the ea apple fallen from the tree when they are being called out for “creating an environment where anonymity is not only accepted, but expected as well.”  by mainstream media even.


ah.  i miss the old days of putting developer names on the box.


Dude. WoW is SOOOOO different than WAR!

yeah.  you read that right.  they’re totally different.  world of warcraft is completely different than warhammerduh!

halo?  totally different than brute force.  hell.  different-er than crysis even!

two.  different.  games. 

saint’s row and gta?  hello?  are you blind?!?!  different!  duh!  one has religious undertones!

like, omg!  you morons!

i bet you can’t even tell the difference between sonic and mario….  and god forbid you ever need to extol the various intricacies of the gameplay between dragon quest and final fantasy.  much less something as epic as kingdom hearts or blue dragon.

n00bs.  you just don’t understand.  nevermind.  i’m done with you.


you can stop reading now.  the post is over.  that’s all i had to say.

you just won’t go away, eh? 

wow.  you’re still here?

okay.  fine.

i’ll tell you of the infinite differences between wow and war.  ready?  here we go.  bow to my wisdom:

  1. in wow, you have different character roles when you play in groups — tanks, healer, nuker, etc.
  2. in wow, you have these quests you go on.  and, get this!  so can everyone else!  and, like if someone else killed those ten rats before you did?  all you have to do is stand around and wait for the mobs to respawn.
  3. oh, btw, wow has these things called mobs.  that’s awesum-speak for bad guys.
  4. and, in wow, these mobs drop items and gold and other rad loot.
  5. and, when you’re in a group in wow, you can do what’s called “pulling” to drag single mobs over so your group can team up and bash the shit out of them.
  6. but, sadly sometimes in wow, you can slip up and draw too much agro.  i dunno what that means, really, but those mobs sure do get pissed at me!
  7. in wow, the best way to level up, is to go out on quests and whack mobs so you gain experience.
  8. and don’t forget, in wow, you get totally a ton of respect from the other players when you do that.
  9. ah!  and the gear!  wow has sweet gear that comes in colors.
  10. and, in wow, you can trade or sell that gear with other people in the auction house.
  11. and, in wow, you can like die and then you come back in a designated area to rejoin your group.
  12. hrm.  in wow, running around to get somewhere sucks.  you should totally use a teleporter or a mount or something.
  13. in wow, you have these raid bosses.  you can’t solo them.  no way.  and they drop mad loot.
  14. in wow, camping that epic rules!
  15. in wow, you can chat with your group or even the whole server!
  16. in wow, you can run across the entire continent, meet strangers (who are real, live people!) and talk to them.
  17. dude.  wow?  yeah.  it has pvp servers!  (that means player vs. player.  you can whack each other!)
  18. there are these things called professions where you use non-combat skills to do innovative things like craft new items!
  19. in wow, when a lot of people want to team up and socialize, they join what’s called a guild.
  20. and in wow, if you do something special, you get this thing called…  uh…  what was it?  an achievement?  no!  a badge!  that’s it!

so, you see?  war is very much as different from wow as wow is different than everquest.



*emo eye roll*


[editor’s note:  to those of you who missed the humor, yes, i am making fun of the noise surrounding bartle’s interview with michael zenke of massively and his “I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft.” comment.  thank god there are bloggers-turned-game-developers who know what they are talking about and can understand why this is funny.  unfortunately, there are also people who are bloggers-not-turned-game-developers are stirring the pot full of shit they don’t fully understand.  all the while the rest of us just sit here and point and laugh.]

[editor’s note 2: btw, that list of 20 features is identical from eq to wow to war.  which is obviously why the comment “war is as different from wow as wow is different than everquest” is so ignorant, yet at the same time so goddamn funny.]

[editor’s note 3: oh, and the opinions expressed here are obviously not necessarily the opinions of my employers, past, present or future.  and, with that out of the way, it means i can use a whole lot less tact since this is personal.  hooray for disclaimers!]

Gotta Revisit Robowars

so.  a year or so ago, i reviewed this passive web game called robowars.  you guys may remember me talking about it.

so, recently, it was discovered by the robowars community.  (you can see all the comments)  in fact, yesterday they made a poll out of it where you can earn “scraps” (in game currency type stuff) for your robot if you take the poll.


well.  of course, i did.

anyhow, apparently the community is saying that a lot of things have changed and i should check out the new version.  sounds like a plan.

that’s what i love about all of these thin-client online games.  fresh updates constantly — no big, clunky downloads.

you know, i should make something like that someday.


Avatars, Microformats and OpenID

so, duncan pointed me to their work on items and another wiki with information on non-human profiles. good stuff, all of it. the non-human profile stuff seems to be following my general schema — inherit things from hcard and add stats/gear/etc.

tho, there seems to be a push to port openid to fictional characters. i’m not so sure i buy into that.

we’re really talking about 2 kinds of avatars: a made up one that represents you (your icon in a forum post, for example) and the character in a game/virtual world you play (your wow character).

you don’t need an openid for the first one, as it’s you. that’s the whole “agent” relationship thing — and we already have openid for people.

and, in the second one — the reason openid exists is because there’s no consistent, authoritative source for information about people. there is, however, a source for games and virtual worlds. (or books or movies or anything else) it’s the game itself. the very nature of a game avatar is that it’s tied to that game.

however, i absolutely do agree that we need a “portable identity” for game avatars, but, we do not need a primary authority. and, as portable identity basically IS what microformats are for, well… there you go.


Google Maps and Microformats

well. i guess ask, and you shall receive. i was railing on about microformats and how cool they were and then google goes ahead and implements hcard for google maps.

hmmm… i wonder if there’s a “player” microformat. my friend duncan working over on the pmog project has created an item microformat. we need an avatar based one too, methinks.

how about this:

<div class="avatar">
	<span class="fn">m3mnoch</span>, 
	<span class="profession">Wiz</span>
	<div class="vcard" rel="user">
	 <a class="url fn" href="">Christopher D. Chapman</a>
	<a href="" class="org">Hypefighter</a>
	<dl class="attributes">
		<dt rel="ability">Strength</dt>
		<dt rel="skill">Melee Combat</dt>
		<dt rel="property">Height</dt>
		<dd>6' 2"</dd>
	<ul class="gear">
		<li class="equipment">Pickaxe</li>

that should start us off, eh?


Dungeon Runners Now Public

woot. anyone can now join in on the dungeon runners fun. so, to catch those of you up who weren’t in the beta, a quick run-down on why i love this game.

first, what it’s not:

  1. a full-fledged mmo with crazy crafting skills, dancing and an economy.
  2. a game where you spend 40 hours grinding so you can get to the “end game” content.
  3. a pvp powerhouse.

now, what it is:

  1. it’s super accessible. jump in, jump out.
  2. it’s fast paced. you wade into various fast and furious combat really quickly. (compared to something like wow or vanguard. think diablo.)
  3. it makes playing with your friends REALLY easy. the right-click go-to feature is AWESOME. the pre-divided loot is AWESOME. sharing portals is AWESOME.
  4. it’s FREE! (tho, i actually am a subscriber — it’s only $5 a month.)

i’m a big fan of the convenience of dungeon pounding instances coupled with the convenience of playing in a (mostly) persistent world with your friends. i look at it more like a highly interactive irc channel.


p.s. OOH! i almost forgot! it’s FUNNY! from a brand new dungeon — still with that new dungeon smell — to an ungodly badass weapon that’s a — wait for it — pizza slicer. it’s light and good for some quick fun.

Double Currencies and Dungeon Runners

so. it occurred to me yesterday after i wrote up my first quick impressions of dungeon runners — they only have one currency.

by that, i mean that gold and xp are tied together. you don’t “earn” new skills, you buy them by paying for training. that’s been a traditional problem i’ve seen with mmo economies. (not that dungeon runners really has an economy) in fact, i’ve written up a rough draft essay-thing on the subject before. even posted it to mud-dev once upon a time.

anyway, here it is. (it was sitting right next to another partial non-game essay titled “Global Price Pressures” — am i a nerd or what? good lord…)


Fixing Game Economies or: How I Learned to Stop Up the Sink and Love the Hero’s Journey

October 29th, 2005
Christopher D. Chapman

The Hero’s Journey and Wage Slaves

In the real world not everyone can be a winner. Not everyone is successful. I know it’s hard to believe, but there actually are people out there who don’t like their job. The way real world economies are built depends on a lower wage class — the wage slave. There has to be someone to work the low paying, thankless jobs from the garbage men to the guy at the counter at McDonald’s. Not everyone can make absurd amounts of money just by essentially ‘showing up and having fun.’ If that happened, our economy would come crashing to its knees. Inflation would rise uncontrollably until the dollar approached near worthlessness.

It would be just plain bad.

Game worlds don’t work like that though. In a video game, everyone can be a winner. In a video game, players want to have fun and win. They have that right. After all, they bought and paid for the game. Why should anyone be expected to play a game where they are just one of the unwashed masses teeming with mediocrity.

Unlike in the real world they don’t have to battle each other to be the best. They battle the environment and the monstrous inhabitants living there. Each individual player is on their own Hero’s Journey. They all are playing to become more wealthy and powerful and none of that really depends on the other players in the game. It might in some small way, but, by and large, games are built to allow a single player to succeed without the help of anyone else.

Along each step of this journey, as they gain more experience and get more powerful, they are able to accumulate wealth easier. This propagates economic models that show each player’s individual wealth and power grow on an exponential curve. Goods and services provided in the game don’t. And they shouldn’t. If prices went up for these goods and services, lower level players wouldn’t be able to afford them. They wouldn’t have any fun and the game would tank. This causes inflation within the game. More money, fewer products for you to spend it on.

Money Sinks Aren’t Working

To counter this exponential growth in wealth across the board, developers have tried to implement money sinks. They are trying to siphon money out of the system with things like paying for transportation or paying rent on any property the player’s character might own. The issue with this is that the sinks aren’t exponential and thus won’t match the character’s potential income. The growth in wealth will always outpace the cost applied to these sinks. Eventually, they will get to a point where the player is making so much money in the game that these flatly priced money sinks will essentially have no effect on their wallets and we’re back to the same problem.

The developers could scale the cost of these sinks up, but that’s silly. Just because my character is a higher level than yours, I have to pay a higher price for my equipment? Even though it’s the very same equipment you are purchasing? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? With money comes power and influence — price discounts, not increases. Regardless, not only are there metagaming ways around this weird price fixing (low level fences, for example) but, it’s just a terrible idea. How many players do you know that enjoy paying arbitrary ‘taxes’ in any game they play?

Why Do We Have Two Currencies?

The problem at the root of all this is the simple fact that a game has two currencies — experience points and money.

Sure the theory sounds like a good idea, after all, you need more money to purchase better equipment so it should just balance out. But, the player doesn’t need every suit of armor or sword they come upon. Either their character can’t use it or it’s not as good as their current item so they sell them.

For example, you can kill 100 different monsters with a 10gp sword, but the items and equipment and money that come off of those 100 monsters are more than likely worth a lot more than the 20gp upgraded sword. That, and along the way you are getting experience points for killing the monsters. So, that 10gp sword gets more effective without anymore cost to the player.

In our example, it costs the player nothing to make fistfuls of gold and become more powerful. That 10gp sword is netting huge ROI because of the multiplying effect of having these two currencies. All this and it’s actually fun!

Money Equals Power

The simple solution is to tie money to power. If experience points were inextricably linked to gold, it would negate the desire to stockpile the money and reduce us back down to a single currency. If characters had to pay 1 gold (or however your currency breaks down) for each experience point, it would solve the problem. You need to pay for power.

This will make money scarce again. Does the player buy that new armor upgrade or do they put the money (in addition to experience points) into leveling up? What’s the best part about that money spent on leveling up? They aren’t buying anything they can resell and the gold required scales with power. It essentially drops us back down to a single currency.

This levels the playing field. Just because a character is a higher level doesn’t necessarily mean he can afford goods and services any easier than a lower level character. Sure, it’s easier for him to make and hold money, but players should be able to make that decision. Do you think they will want to hold the money and stagnate in their power or do you think they will spend that money on experience points and be broke again?

The idea of paying for training is essentially what we are talking about here. It’s an ages old concept in games — one that was done away with in this age of instant gratification. As it turns out, paying for training is actually a critical part of keeping the economy in check. It gives those players somewhere to spend their money.

Buy better equipment or advance in levels? It’s a fantastic choice to put to the player. Chances are that the entire game is built around choices like that anyway. Do you want the fireball spell or the strength buff spell? More mana or more hit points? This means it shouldn’t affect gameplay in any negative fashion.

In fact, it should actually enhance the gameplay by adding an additional strategic element to it.

The Dungeon Runners Beta

some friends of mine and i are in the dungeon runners beta — and, it’s pretty cool.  the game is entirely worth playing for two reasons:

  1. it’s crazy cheap (free or $5 a month)
  2. the “go to” feature.

the game is basically like a cross between dungeon siege (the controls) and diablo (the mechanics) with a few of the very most basic wow mmo features.  it’s pretty much just bash the shit out of stuff and head back to town to sell your phat lewt.

tho, as we’re all only around level 8, we really don’t have much else to go on.

did i mention the “go to” feature already?  yeah.  it rocks.

all you do is right-click any of your group’s portraits (also, the groups are persistent — logged in or logged out.  like a mini-guild.) and click “go to” to be instantly teleported to where they are.  it’s all kinds of crazy-convenient.  for me, i’m always lost (remind me to tell you about the time i got lost in an olive garden — yes, the restaurant.) so i just warp to my buddies wherever they happen to be.  for our friend kameron, it’s all about warping into a fight to “help out.”

probably another feature i should mention — drops are all pre-owned.  as in, you whack some badass mob, he drops 10 things, 5 are yours, 5 are your buddy’s.  you can’t pick his stuff up.  he can’t pick up yours.  you can, however, pick it up and then drop it again and he has access to it.  totally takes the stress out of worrying over group loot hogs.

pretty much, it’s a grinder’s game.  it’s accessible.  they took some of the most painful parts about group grinding and added some fun features to help.

that being said, the game is still skewed and off-balance.  for example, the skill prices (you buy, not earn new skills — it’s a grinder’s game, remember?) don’t scale right.  i’m a few xp short of a level 8 mage and i just now have enough gold to buy a level 2 spell.

it’s fun.  it’s easy.  it’s pretty pick-up, put-down.  it won’t break the bank.  it’s easy to draft along with your friends.

oh, and i should mention that it’s hella funny.  as you walk away from a merchant after selling some stuff, he says “if you see a bitter woman, send ‘er over here!”  from crazy weapon speed descriptions to “of the liger” suffixes for items, there’s some really pretty funny stuff in there.

i like it so far.  it’s a keeper.


Games Are Keeping Me Occupied

this may come as a shock to you guys, but i love all manner of games.

shocking! see? i told you!

anyway. with all my gaming geekery i’ve surrounded myself with, do you know what has captivated me for the week before last? linley’s dungeon crawl. or, just “sudo apt-get install crawl” for short.

i’m sure all of you guys have played moria or nethack or slash’em or whatever. i know i have. good stuff, but i could never really get into it too deeply. i’d make it a couple levels and have my hack-and-slash satiated. crawl, however, is rivoting.

in fact, my friend maeldron, fresh off the purchase of 2 copies of burning crusade (he’s a dual-boxer sometimes…) and with a week off from work to kill, played… yep, you guessed it. crawl. yeah. he hates me for that.

linley’s dungeon crawl is the very, very best roguelike out there. period.

tho, as much as we (all of us at sas) played it over the last two weeks (not me for this last week. i’ll get to that.), we find ourselves wishing that it was multiplayer. how sweet would that be? a roguelike that was multiplayer! not text-based, zork-like multiplayer like traditional muds, but tactical, graphical multiplayer! (not to bash traditional muds — they are the reason my first semester at college was a 1.7 gpa — whoops!)

that’s what i’ve been doing over the last week. not hacking in a multi-user server for crawl. that’d be a crazy amount of work, but digging up and installing our own private server of the multiplayer roguelike tomenet. (the networked version of “troubles of middle-earth“)

yeah, it’s based on tolkien — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — but, it’s hella fun.

it’s a real-time game with shops and dungeons and mobs and whatnot. it’s the only one actively developed on that i could find. it has a windows client (for some of you less nerdy folk) as well as the standard linux fair. it’s open source. (which let me change the terrible, terrible idle timeout value) on the surface, it basically seems like a modern mmorpg only playable at the command-prompt. we haven’t played with it enough to really say “yea or nay” to the game design yet, but, it sure is cool thus far.

that means you can play it on any computer or device with an ssh client. not only computers, but mobile devices too. hmmm… has anyone seen an ssh client for the psp?

well. it’s up and running on our linux server, so let me know if you want an account and i’ll send you some connect information.

if you’ve never played a roguelike, tho, you need to download and play crawl. it runs on just about every platform known to man.


Web-based MMOG Imagineering

i’ve been doing a lot of imagineering (man, i love that word) lately when it comes to web-based mmogs. lots of stuff running the gamut from super-secret ideas i can’t tell anyone about right now to general wonderings and observations.

well. i think i’ll just dump some of them out right here so i have them collected somewhere.

subscription fees are choice inhibiting.
paying those subscription fees certainly add up. i know you can say “well, just pay them for the 3 months you play and then get rid of them.”

no. it doesn’t work like that.

the thing with a subscription fee is that it represents commitment. there’s a high switching cost involved. and, since not very many people can afford to pay subscriptions for, oh, 15 games over the course of two years, you tend not to move on to those newer games. we basically have the wow effect where everyone is really only in a few games.

it really moves buying games into parallel with buying cars. you really like different models and styles, but, you have to make an informed decision about one — and only one — you’ll enjoy and use enough to make its acquisition worth it.

with non-subscription games, they are more like traditional media. more like movies or music. you just pop it in and play it whenever you want. you know that from purchase so there is no “will i use this in the future?” or “will i like this better than everquest?” or “will something better come along?”  the only factor is the “now” factor. how does buying it impact you right now?

non-subscription games are very much more pickup-putdown with no real switching cost. that lets you consume more game media.

web servers are more conducive to a persistent online world.
this one is tricky and i’m not going to try not to get too awful web-geeky on it.

the gist is that, for example, has millions of concurrent users — all of whom can be on the exact same page at the exact same time. that is absolutely no different performance-wise than all of those million people being on a million separate pages.

not only performance, but the web is better at information dissemination than a graphical, high-visual client.

for example, if these million players were all in one place on a wow server (assuming of course the server wouldn’t go chernobyl on the situation) you wouldn’t really be able to pick out any one particular player to attack or inspect or what-have-you. with something like the singular, you can just ask them how many users per page you want to see?

i mean, has anyone ever seen how many google results come up for the word “page?”

oh sure, you say, but there’s an immersive, graphical richness that can’t be achieved with this silly text and lightweight graphical environment called the web. to that, i say, use the best-of-breed parts of both. use the data layout of a web page and the graphically rich aspects of flash for your deeper spatial relation needs.

the future of mmogs is going to be about ajax-enabled rest applications.

event-based feedback consumable in sub-5 minute increments.
as you may know, signing on and logging into wow may take you a while. hell, it takes 5 minutes on a good day to get logged into something you can actually “play.”

contrast that with 3 or 4 seconds to get to a play screen with travian. your login credentials are cached so all you really need is a bookmark to your village overview.

now, with that same 5 minutes you’re logging into wow, i can check guild messages, send appropriate reinforcements, build a new building, train some additional troops and send out a spy mission — and still have time left over.

that’s a lot of gameplay compacted into a short amount of time.

and, that’s the kind of stuff you just can’t do in a 3d world.

by the time you wander over to the auction house, i’ve already hit the marketplace, scanned the available trades, accepted a trade, sent merchants and moved on to planning my next action. and that’s only if you happen to be close to the auction house when we start.

now that we’ve decided that gameplay interaction is faster with a web-based mmog, what can we do with it?

well. what makes gameplay addictive? incremental goals and achieving them, right? well. now, we can have more. more incremental goals and they can be closer together. it’s called instant gratification and it’s a goddamn drug.

and, what quality makes a game permeate throughout your life? being able to get in and get out of the world instantly. how easy is it to check your inbox for new messages? how easy is it to check the box score of the game last night? how easy is it to check what google’s stock closed at today? how easy is it to see if your reinforcements got attacked in your alliance?

answer: super-easy. mere seconds even.

that turns playing a game into a “walk-by” experience. busy working around the house? on an excel document? writing an email? tv commercialing?

multi-task gaming. pop-in. pop-out. top of mind.

and, we haven’t even touched the portability aspect.  connected to the same game on your treo 650?  yep, you sure are.

the web is the single most efficient content distribution channel in history.  mmogs, at their core, are just specialized, interactive content distribution in need of a super-efficient channel.