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Archive for December, 2009

B.A.S.H. Talk

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

All action is happening in the chat box this time

PvP’ers tend to be more competitive than PvE’ers. Of course, there are the guilds that vie for ‘World First’ boss kills in World of Warcraft, but in general PvE’ers have less drive to prove their superiority to other human players than PvP’ers. On the other hand, programmed routines are easier to deal with than other humans when you get to know their pattern. While people do follow patterns (conscious or not) they are able to change them and adapt on a level that cannot yet be reached by Artificial Intelligence.

Emotions tend to rise in competition, turning mild-mannered people in real life into screaming maniacs when they lose. Especially in the safe anonymity of the internet. Not so in Champions Online PvP. While the PvP community has shrunk over the past months, it has also grown tighter. My last B.A.S.H. game before the holidays was spent talking to several people about a variety of topics including which red wine should be bought for an X-mas party. This is not the first time it happens. B.A.S.H. is a great place to cross swords (because almost everyone has a sword to apply swallowtail cut), but also for a chat or asking about builds and play styles.

Sure, people will lose their temper in CO like in any other game and most of the regulars will have at least a few broken or overpowered powers (we do like to win), but I have seen very little true abuse. Of course, seeing someone throw a tantrum is just a form of entertainment as well.

Cryptic’s decisions over the past months have caused the community to shrink, but I expect that a friendly group will be better in retaining new people than a bunch of cursing CAPSLOCK addicts. The general laid back and friendly atmosphere in CO gives me good hope for next year.

Getting toyed with

December 20, 2009 1 comment

While the snow in real life is slowly burying everything outside, Millenium City is not covered with snow, but with presents thanks to the Toymaker. Unfortunately, the Black Harlequin replaced several of the presents with dangerous Misfit Toys. The Winter Event has come to Champions Online. It’s a true fluff event: there are no useful upgrades to be found or new permanent zones/mechanics/powers added to the game. Actually, I am glad it is a bit sparse, since I assume the developers are now focused on fixing the existing content.

Presents everywhere

Humans are collectors and easily motivated by quick success. The packages scattered all over the zones speak to both those basic instincts. One can almost always see the next the present while opening one. Most don’t contain anything beyond a piece of coal or a gingerbread cookie, but some contain action figure parts. The Toymaker in the center of Millenium City gives a quest to assemble Winter versions of the Champions. Each is split in head, torso and legs so there’s a trading game to it as well. As said above, some packages contain violent toys, but these are easily killed and can drop present loot as well. There are also temporary disguises that can turn you into a toy army man or teddy bear et cetera.

The Winter Event is not a very exciting event, but I have to admit it has already eaten a few hours of my time. It’s simple lightweight fun. Of course, pet collectors have a lot to do now.

The next present is already in sight

Clarence

A giant teddy bear is summoned once every hour per instance by the Black Harlequin. Join the global clarence channel to find out where he will appear next. It’s a zerg fight for everyone. The bear takes and receives damage scaled to your level so a level 10 could be as effective as a level 40. I think this is a very good mechanic for this kind of event. If you’re not paying close attention Black Harlequin is going to be down before you’re even at his spawn (random location in MC) and the bear itself doesn’t survive much longer.

Black Harlequin summons Clarence

Everyone jumps him and turn the poor bear into a light show

A few minutes later, he's down and the hunt goes on in the next instance

All hail the Tank Mage

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

It's a mage! It's a tank! It's a TANK MAGE!

The concept of the Tank Mage is as old as Ultima Online. For those not familiar with the term, check this article on gamasutra (it’s an interesting article about hybrids in which the Tank Mage is explained on the first page). Basically, the Tank Mage has the survivability of a tank and the power of a mage. What a surprise. If the mage has healing spells as well, the Tank Mage is a holy trinity all by itself. Designers try to avoid Tank Mages for PvE because it makes other players redundant and for PvP because it is by definition more powerful than any other concept.

Tank Mages in an MMO with classes are bad. They can solo more than anyone else and if they have to group they can stick well under the intended group size. It’s even worse in a PvP game. The constantly  shifting of class balance can suddenly allow one class to become a Tank Mage and dominate, while the other classes can do nothing about it. Therefore, Tank Mages should be avoided by the designers to keep their game healthy.

Tank Mages in an MMO without classes are unavoidable. If players have completely free choice then they will gravitate to playing the sturdiest character with the best damage output. The question is if this is a bad thing. In terms of PvP balance it seems no problem: if everyone is overpowered, then no one is. However, this is only true if damage output and survivability are balanced. Let’s use Champions Online as the example. While Mindful Reinforcement (ranks 2,3) was bugged, people had incredible survivability, but not enough damage output to defeat each other, which led to very long or infinite battles. On the other hand the current situation sees very high damage as done by STC (for rants about that, check the forums, in short: it removes 55% of someone’s health in 10 seconds while ignoring all mitigation) and (de)buff stacking with force cascade and power armor which leads to oneshots. In the first situation the Tank Mages can kill anyone but other Tank Mages, while in the second everyone can be killed, it just depends on who gets the first shot off. Neither situation is desirable.

PvE balance is just as difficult. Can the designers assume everyone is a Tank Mage? Probably not, which means some teams will struggle while others will breeze through the content purely based on power selection without any regard to individual skill in playing. Also, if everyone can do everything then the roles (tank, healer, damage) players can take up are gone as well. Nothing makes a WoW dungeon fresher than going through it in another role. The lack of roles will actually cause burnout sooner.

The worst situation that can occur is if it is very difficult to make a Tank Mage; only one or two builds qualify as one. Because all information about builds is open, many people will jump on the flavor-of-the-month turning the beautiful open choice system in practice in a one class game. This has already happened in CO to some extent: powerful PvP builds have scared many people away in tier4, while forcing everyone to pick up STC in lower tiers or die.

Since an open skill system cannot avoid the Tank Mage, it should be relatively easy to build one and there should be many viable paths. This will lead to a spread in skills and choices that will make the overall game easier to balance, while individual players keep a sense of power and versatility (especially while soloing). Also, because of the many paths to the Tank Mage, there will be some role diversification anyone, e.g. some will have more tank than mage and vice versa.

So, while the Tank Mage is something that should be avoided in class-based MMO’s, it is a concept that classless MMO’s will have to build around to provide a fun and equally challenging game to everyone.

Lifetime style

December 6, 2009 1 comment

A few days ago Lord of the Rings Online launched its second expansion: Siege of Mirkwood. I have played LOTRO since launch, but always very casually. My Lifetime subscription is probably the cause of this: because I am not paying per month, I do not feel that I have to get each month’s worth out of it. A monthly subscription would have been too expensive for the entertainment I have gotten out of it so far, but the lifetime has payed for itself by now. I was expecting to get a similar return with Champions, but the jury is still out on if that was a good decision. I do not regret it so far.

The lack of pressure in LOTRO has resulted in a lack of pressure to really level and see everything. I have not even reached level 35 on a single character yet (level 65 is the current level cap). However, my characters have many deeds completed as well as serious crafting experience. Playing at my leisure has changed my entire approach to the game. In WoW I have always felt the need to accomplish things either raiding or PvPing, so while I did spent time on alting, I always had one character at the level cap and working on endgame.

My alting in LOTRO has gone in waves. A certain ability or play style would get my interest and I would focus on that. My first decision to focus just on my Guardian was quickly gone after level 20. Burglar, Loremaster and later Champion all quickly went up to 20. Other classes got at least a try. Even with the new Skirmish system I decided to give the Runekeeper a serious test drive.

Joining yet another empty BASH has not been good for my mood, I have to admit

I had fully expected to play Champions in a similar way, but I found my drive to alt really low. The open choice for powers made it possible to create the best play style for me. While I made alt as concepts of other heroes and to check out certain play styles, the enjoyment in my main style made me focus on a single character. I flew to 40 enjoying myself more thoroughly than in a long time with an MMO. Even when I ran out of interesting PvE content, PvP kept me playing. As the PvP community started shrinking at first, I decided to play more, hoping others might do so as well to keep things going. However, the lack of power balancing (e.g. Shallowtail Cut remains overpowered) as well as the stellar Dragon Age: Origins have reduced my interest in the game.

So I am wondering now if CO is going to become a few months per year game for me like LOTRO or will there come a turnaround and is it going to suck me in like it did at first? Will I regret buying the lifetime subscription? It’s up to the devs now.