Last night I was playing Dragon Nest when I screwed up my free respec on my Cleric. I got so fed up that I thought of this article topic. Allow me to point out some really stupid and highly irritating conventions in online games (and possibly some single player games) to me.
– When allocating skills, there’s no room for error
Seriously, I’m tired of this. It’s been around for a very long time and it always ticks me off. A good early example of this is Diablo II. If you weren’t sure about allocating that one skill point per level, you could let it sit, but if you spent it accidentally, there was NO way to get it back. At all. Today, Hellgate Global (well, Hellgate: London in general) and Dragon Nest leap to the top of my thoughts when I consider this shortcoming. If you spend that skill point, you’d better be damn sure that’s the skill you want to improve because there is NO going back (unless you throw money at the game in the case of Dragon Nest). Star Trek Online has a slight issue with this, but it’s got a much more forgiving respec system than most games. Essentially, when you get your skill points, you can allocate them and they’re spent, but when you go to respec (and they give you a free respec per rank – Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain, Rear Admiral, and Vice Admiral I believe) you can add and subtract your skill points willy-nilly to see what you’d like to do and only when you’re ready and have spent all your points can you hit the Apply button. For a possible remedy, I want to see plus and minus buttons so I can fix things just the way I like it before hitting the apply button and making things permanent. Leveling up my character should not be an exercise in frustration.
– Marketplace/Auction Hall/Exchange prices are too high
This is a classic case of people not understanding how to price things I think. I mean, what Lieutenant Commander has 1 million credits and will spend it on ONE Mark IV Phaser? I didn’t and I don’t expect other people to as well. I price things to SELL, not to sit on the Exchange for days as a thing for people to laugh at and then be outsold. In Dragon Nest there’s a 30 item limit per week with a max of five items up at a time (without throwing money at it, I think). The downside is that I’m seeing items that are going for 5 gold when I’m lucky to have any gold after buying one pesky item off the marketplace. The over pricing problem is rampant and is very obvious when the stacks of 20 Crude Onyx used for upgrading Rare Level 16+ equipment is going for 65 gold AT MINIMUM. Yeah, I’ve never seen that much money and I don’t really ever want to because then I’d have spent way too much time playing a game where the max level is currently 24. It gets to the point sometimes where if I can’t find it myself, I don’t worry about it and I just make do. I don’t think this is as big a problem in Lord of the Rings Online, but still, it can rear it’s ugly head if you’re looking to buy your class quest items so you don’t have to go into Carn Dum and Urugarth. For an example of a possible remedy to this, Star Wars Galaxies has always had (I think) a 200k credit limit (maximum bid) in the Bazaar, however you can price things however you’d like on your personal vendor.
– People spamming the chat with inane crap (mostly gold sellers)
This one’s an obvious one, but a goodie. Dragon Nest currently has an infestation of gold sellers and there seems to be at least three in every instance of Carderock Pass. I remember in Star Wars Galaxies making my Commando unsearchable because at least that way I couldn’t get private messages from other people advertising their billions of credits for cash. I don’t care how hard it is to make money in an online game, I’m going to make this statement: I NEVER HAVE AND WILL NEVER BUY IN-GAME MONEY FOR REAL MONEY. There’s a caveat and that’s only if the company who makes and maintains the game decides to make a cash-shop that has a money tree or something in it. I could see it in Lord of the Rings Online, but just barely. However it goes, I really want to club these chat spammers to death every time I walk by them and their chat bubbles. If people are having a stupid conversation, I’m willing to look the other way. At least in that case the chat box is being used as intended. As a possible remedy, I’ve seen used in games a (not sure what it’s called) repeat chat limiter that prevents people from saying the same thing too many times in a row. It won’t stop spammers, but it will definitely make them talk less often.
– A lack of a Buy Back option in NPC stores
Lord of the Rings Online did something smart here. They allow for the last few items you’ve sold to be bought back in the same session you’re playing in (I think it’s the last 20 items sold). Sell too much at once or log off and log back in and you’ve lost your chance to get back some of your stuff. Dragon Nest? You sold it, you lost it. I think it was the same with Ragnarok Online too. Star Wars Galaxies had a similar issue where if you accidentally sold something you’d have to file a help ticket to get it back and even then you might not get it back. Eventually the developers for Galaxies popped out this device that sits in everyone’s datapad and allows for personal rescuing of items accidentally sold. Star Trek Online has a buy back mechanism as well and even allows you to reconstitute things in the replicator that you accidentally threw into the recycler. Some developers seem to be catching on here, but really, I need to pay more attention when selling stuff in my inventory. Wish the item locking mechanism from LOTRO could be used in other games. I like it. For a possible remedy… well, just add the buy back function!
– Players crowding around particular NPCs
This is a problem in every game where there’s really only one NPC for a particular thing. LOTRO attempts to remedy this by providing multiple Auctioneers and Vault-keepers where they can, but from time to time it’s really irritating to go to click on an NPC and wind up trying to figure out how to get rid of a pop-up menu for interacting with this other player that you don’t know. In Dragon Nest I’ve noticed something here: if you’re in a group around, say, the blacksmith and you need to click on him, move the mouse over the NPC and it turns into the NPC interaction cursor. Basically the game ignore people in the way. I like that. Not quite sure how they did it, but it definitely makes the crowds seem more manageable. Star Trek Online seems to manage this issue by increasing the range of talking to some NPCs I think (it might just be my imagination). I think to handle this issue, possible solutions may be to increase the interaction range on certain NPCs or whatever. Expanding the zone of interaction would allow for more people to get in there and such. Another possible solution here is letting the player hold a key or something that fades player characters a bit or completely and keeps the NPCs or environmental interactions in full color and brings them to the foreground (so to speak).
I think that’s enough for today. I don’t expect these issues to go away overnight, but sometimes just airing them out makes them feel more manageable from a player’s perspective. I’m not a developer, but I’ve tried to offer solutions where I could.
Until next time, keep your eyes open.
P.S. “Only through observation will you perceive weakness” – Charles Darwin
So, last week I was discussing Hellgate London with a friend and we were lamenting the lack of multiplayer on such a neat game (you know, since the servers were now non-existent). On a whim, I did a quick Google search for “hellgate multiplayer” and I found a site that made reference to this game called Hellgate Global. It turns out that the company that bought the IP for Hellgate decided it would be a wonderful idea to release the multiplayer part of the game as a free to play MMO. Without hesitation, I signed up and downloaded the game.
First thing’s first: when you download this game, you wind up torrenting the files. This means you’re going to have around 6 GB of RAR files on your hard drive which then decompress to about 6 GB of an install directory which then install into about a 6 GB game folder. You can delete the first 12 GB of all that crap once you’ve finished installing. Sloppy installation. The last time I dealt with something similar was when Lord of the Rings Online was doing its beta for the Free to Play mode last summer and it left a folder with gigabytes of stuff on my desktop after the installation. Yuck.
Anyways, after dealing with the tutorial and suffering through a graphical glitch (that is apparently linked to having an ATI card on my trusty laptop… there’s a dll you can download if you search the tech support forum for the game) I managed to make some headway and start playing with my friend.
A note on this game: you WILL run out of inventory space and you WILL run out OFTEN. When you kill a normal bad guy (zombie, flesh golem, whatever) you have a chance of getting an item or some cash. When you kill enough normal bad guys in a zone, a Messenger of Hell shows up for you to kill. Upon killing this mini-boss, you get a pile of loot. If you kill more normal guys, another Messenger of Hell shows up with even more loot (ad infinitum or until you leave that zone). Oh, also, there’s this mini-game that you play as you go. If you accomplish certain kills (like kill three beasts, necros, whatever) and if you use certain energy types (like spectral, electrical, whatever) and if you pick up some items (like swords, guns, whatever), then this mini-game drops some loot for you and resets giving you three new goals to meet. Oh, and then there’s the normal bosses that you encounter as you play in conjunction with the occasional named bad guy and the occasional rare normal bad guy (like a Rare Imp or whatever). These specials usually drop a pile of loot. Fortunately for us, they’ve included a mechanism for scrapping in the field which nets some cash (occasionally) and some crafting materials (which takes up way less inventory space per stack of crafting material, but I’ve seen half my inventory eaten up by such materials).
What about selling these items I’m gathering in the field to a vendor for cash and profit? Well, the game actually gives you plenty of cash as you play through quest completion, kills that drop cash, or even when you deconstruct items in your inventory they occasionally give cash.
ANYway, the game play is pretty much the same as the single player Hellgate London. They retooled the first few areas, but as far as I can tell, the story and gameplay are essentially the same. I’m having fun playing a marksman again (spraying bullets for the win).
I highly recommend you give it a spin. Hellgate Global is a ton of fun and it’s even more fun in multiplayer. It’s like a post-apocalyptic Diablo II (developed by a lot of the same people even). It’s just kind of tragic about the original developers.
Until next time, remember the dead and fight for the living!
P.S. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” – Old Man from Legend of Zelda
I’ve had this craving recently to dive back into a game that I’ve already beaten. I’m not entirely sure why though. Let me try to convey my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, I have plenty of games I haven’t beaten yet:
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Lord of the Rings Online
Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Police Quest Collection
Space Quest Collection
Roller Coaster Tycoon
X-COM Terror From the Deep
These are just some of the games I have access to right now. I haven’t even touched the stacks of handheld games I haven’t beaten yet or even the console games I haven’t beaten. Seriously, I could focus on one or more of these and actually FINISH a few more games, but I have this craving to keep playing/replay certain games even after I’ve finished them. Here are the siren songs that keep calling me.
Final Fantasy XII
Star Trek Online (I consider it beaten, but since they keep adding new stuff, I dunno)
Mass Effect 2
I’ve successfully resisted replaying a few of those games lately by focusing on LOTRO, but Final Fantasy XII has been calling me exceptionally often lately. Whenever I look at my dormant PS2, I have this craving to play FFXII and I don’t really know why. I beat it rather soundly last time, but for some reason I just want to start a new game and pound the crap out of it again. It’s a massive investment of time though, so I’ve been able to resist it successfully. Resisting Chrono Cross is kind of easy though, however sad because well, I can resist it because it doesn’t have voice acting and I’m afraid the game might put me to sleep without enough stimulation. Strange, right? I know, but I once nodded off while playing Final Fantasy VI on the PSX and that’s my most favorite FF game of all time. I managed to whet my Chrono Trigger appetite recently when it came available on the Wii and I also own a handheld copy of the game (but it’s so much more fun to play on the TV).
Lately I’ve been having this strong desire to play a game where I can shoot things. Obviously, this rules out games like LOTRO and Chrono Trigger, so I’ve been giving sidelong glances at Splinter Cell: Conviction and Hellgate: London and a few other games with colons in their names.
I’m not sure about the details behind my desire to replay a game over finishing a game, but hey, that’s why this little site is here! To let me expand upon my random thoughts and help me discover what’s going on! I seriously think that I have a problem with finishing games because deep down I don’t want the experience to end. Further, I like replaying certain games that are quick and exciting or allow me to carry over information from a prior game. It’s possible (since FFXII doesn’t fit this mold) that I might have a strong desire to replay a game if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the original playthrough. I did kind of give up on the extras in FFXII when I realized I just wanted to beat the game at level 70 or something as a result of losing to a stupid extra boss that was an hour or so away from a save point. I’ll never understand why they don’t put save points in front of every boss fight, however optional. FFXIII has save points galore, but I guess when you really need one it’s never there.
Anyways, I’m off to work some more on my Captain in LOTRO. I got him to level 50 last night and he’s currently working on upgrading his first legendary item to level 10 so I can go back and put a hurting on the Watcher in the Water. It’s a decent halberd I’m using, but I’d prefer different legacies. We’ll see what happens.
Until next time!
P.S. “Congrats on finishing the game. Now get a life!!” – Eiji Nakamura in the “Programmers'” Ending of Chrono Trigger
Okay class, today’s discussion is covering the penalty associated with getting whacked, slain, or otherwise killed in games. Dying or death is an issue in a majority of games and a great deal of mechanics center on preventing it from happening. There are a lot of games where there’s no character that dies, so there’s a moment of defeat that the player has to struggle to stay away from like in Tetris or Bejeweled or any number of today’s “casual” games. I’m mostly going to talk about games that have a character that can be killed or subjected to some kind of incapacitation in this discussion.
This is sort of the flip side of the coin from making progress in a game. I mean, what would stop you from making progress at all? Yeah, being dead can kind of cause a bit of a problem there. Just a bit. Anyways, games tend to throw a roadblock in front of the player and if the player fails to pass that obstacle, there are penalties like death to deal with. Let’s pick out a few examples of this.
Many platformer games (Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., etc.) have the controlled character with a few hit points and when these two or three run out, you’ve got to restart at your last checkpoint or at the beginning of the stage. Some games had save points (Super Metroid), but those are essentially the same as checkpoints and some games let you have a lot more than two or three hit points (again, Super Metroid is a great example of this), but it’s essentially the same. If you run out of hit points, you are killed or defeated and you either reload or respawn or retreat (depending on the terminology the game is using) to the last safe point you found. The object is to go for as long as you can without being forced back to that checkpoint by death and the game sometimes gives you little items to help stave off this penalty for as long as you can. In Super Metroid (I suppose I’m going to keep using this as an example) you get more energy canisters that increase the overall amount of health you have, you get special suits of armor to help in resisting particular types of damage, you’re given new weapons to help with defeating enemies faster and more efficiently and you’re given new ways to prevent falling down pits or to keep you from getting stuck in certain areas. In a simpler example, in Super Mario Bros., Mario (or Luigi) is given mushrooms to make him large, enabling him to jump higher, break blocks, and take one more hit before falling. If you grab something like a fireflower, you are given the ability to shoot fireballs and you can take another hit before dying.
The above mechanism is constant through a lot of game genres. Essentially, it’s the same for platformers, role playing games, first person shooters, even racing games. Let’s take a look at a Final Fantasy game. Here you have three or four party members, each with their own abilities and so forth. If your party dies, you’re kicked back to the load screen so you can pick which save you’d like to start from. If you die in a Final Fantasy game, you lose time spent towards progressing the storyline and the development of your characters. Overall, the penalty for death in a lot of these games is lost time, lost investment. I recall playing Final Fantasy XII through the Necrohol of Nabudis and I was trying to get to the monster called Chaos (he becomes a summon, but he’s completely optional). So, here I am, entertaining the completionist part of myself, and I spend a long time trying to get to this one point. Mind, the last save point is literally a 20 minute walk away at this point and the bad guys will respawn in the dungeon, so I’d have to fight through them again on my way back after saving. I got killed in the fight with Chaos when I ALMOST had him. I dropped the controller, shut off the game, and didn’t touch it again for a year and a half. Mind, I didn’t play because I got killed in an optional area. Yeah, I’m a sore loser sometimes. I eventually went back and just beat the game, but every now and again I get tempted to play it some more.
With the introduction of online role playing games, death penalties are something of a point of contention amongst players. Here’s a few examples of the differences between games.
In D&D Online, the death penalty consists of 1) damage to all of your equipment that you need to repair for a small cost per item and 2) reduced experience payout for the quest you’re doing. That and you kind of need to catch back up to your party if you accidentally resurrect back at a tavern or something.
In Star Trek Online, there’s not really much of a death penalty at all. If you’re in space, your ship blows up and you’re forced to respawn back at the nearest respawn point that you flew by (these respawn points are not obvious and are often the beginning of the zone where you entered). If you’re on the ground, you’re knocked out and you can be brought back by a teammate or an NPC crew member if they’re still alive. No tangible penalties unless you increase the difficulty setting for the missions you’re running. Then you need to deal with injuries on your captain and injuries on your ship which can be removed if you have minor/major/critical regenerators or components in your inventory.
In Star Wars Galaxies, they changed the death penalties a bit either when the Combat Upgrade hit or the New Game Enhancement, I forget which. The original death penalty was that your equipment would take damage (you could insure your equipment so instead of taking 5% damage, I think, they took 1% damage) and you had to “clone” (basically respawn) where you had stored your cloning information (saved your character). Also, you had wound points to deal with in each of your three damage taking statistics: health, action, and mind (referred to as HAM). You had to go to a medic or a doctor in a medical facility to heal the health and action wound points and to an entertainer in a cantina to heal the mind wound points. Wound points essentially reduced the maximum amount of health, action, or mind your character could have until they were removed. The more deaths you experienced (and in some cases, the more fighting you did), the more wound points you would have in each category until one hit could probably kill you. They later removed the wound point system, the mind bar, and the deterioration of your equipment. These days if you die you get a 5 minute death penalty status that makes it so you have only a percentage of your maximum health and action (making it really easy to die again). Getting rid of this status is possible in three ways: have an entertainer remove it, pay the medical droid in the cloning facility to remove it, or wait the 5 minutes for the penalty to go away on its own. The cost of paying the medical droid scales with your level, but does not exceed 5000 credits at level 90. It’s mostly a minor inconvenience and many players just ignore it and do what’s called traveling by cloning. Essentially, you can now clone anywhere on a planet regardless of where you saved your cloning information. You can still only go from planet to planet if you’ve saved yourself at a cloning facility on another planet from the one you’re on, but now if you’re at the top of a planet and you want to get to the bottom and there’s a cloning facility there, instead of driving or walking the 12 kilometers, you just die and BAM, you’re there. It works pretty well if you can’t find a place flat enough to call your Instant Travel Vehicle.
Like I said up above in the intro, preventing death is what a lot of games focus on. In Star Trek Online, my captain can focus in shield skills that keep his shields regenerating in combat or that allow me to quickly heal my hull as it takes damage. In D&D Online, I can wear armor to help prevent getting hit to begin with or I can carry around healing items that fix the damage that I take from getting hit. In Star Wars Galaxies, every character comes with his own personal healing skill that gets better as they gain levels (Commandos still need Medics to back them up though… 4500 from a heal every once in a while is NOT enough).
I mentioned that this topic is a point of contention amongst players and it really is. I’ve read long forum threads decrying or supporting the use of a death penalty in games and I recall a great deal of complaining being made by crafters in Star Wars Galaxies that the removal of the damage to items from the game has made it harder to sell stuff to players (why buy a new pair of shoes when the old pair never wears out?). It’s definitely changed the economical standpoint in the game, but players are still buying stuff like crazy and even more now because you can have an appearance (essentially an overlay costume) that covers your actual equipment. I can almost guarantee that if you look for it, you might find a forum thread somewhere discussing the merits of harsher or softer death penalties in just about any online game. The fact remains that the players have a skewed perspective: some are there to have a good time and others are there for a challenge. For some, those are both the same thing. It’s up to the developer to determine at what point is the game killing players so frequently that it’s just not fun any more. Case in point, I find the Crystalline Entity in Star Trek Online to be way too hard a fight to be worth fighting. I tried it once and died in a single hit three times in a row and I vowed to never do it again. Some of my friends have come to the same conclusion. It’s not worth the effort and time to attempt to do that fight correctly for us.
Rare is the game with a “hardcore” setting where if you die, you can’t play that character any more. I only know of two games that have that… Diablo II and Hellgate: London. That’s a box I never check. I get kind of attached to my characters.
Ah, speaking of perma-death (that’s the “technical” term for it), the tabletop game of Dungeons & Dragons is really where you grasp the concept that your character, that extension of you and a major investment of your time, could die quite easily. It’s a precarious balance between making sure you can do damage to enemies and keep them from hitting you long enough for your party healer to get to you to fix whatever ails you. We had a game the other day where one of our party was hit all the way down to one hit point and she just shrugged and we were all confused. Apparently, she had armor that could heal her all the way back up to full if she ever dropped below one hit point. She was laughingly upset when the fight ended and she still had one hit point, so we all offered to crack her character upside the head to trigger the heal.
Games tend to trivialize it, but no one wants to have to start all over every time they die. It’s the human condition to wonder about death and those who play games happen to deal with it rather frequently without much thought. It’s a rather morbid topic, but addressed in a wide variety of manners by our games and our religions. I think it would be nice if we had a save and load function in our lives or maybe a few extra coins for continues.
Until next time, don’t forget to save often (if you can) and pay attention to your hit points!
P.S. “I have no terror of Death. It is the coming of Death that terrifies me.” – Oscar Wilde
P.P.S. I really like this: While on a journey, Chuang Tzu found a skull, dry and parched. With sorrow he questioned and lamented the end to all things. When he finished speaking, he dragged the skull over, and using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the night, the skull came to his dreams and said, “You are a fool to rejoice in the entanglements of life.” Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and asked “If I could return you to your life, you would want that, wouldn’t you?” Stunned by Chuang Tzu’s foolishness the skull replied, “How do you know that it is bad to be dead?” – Zhuangzi
Wow, I haven’t written anything here in almost a month! That’s mostly because I’ve been very busy, but also because I’ve been playing a few games.
Articles you can expect in the near future: Hellgate: London, Lord of the Rings Online Free to Play Beta (yup, I’ve been in the beta and they lifted the NDA a little while ago), Star Trek Online (I’ve played the Demo they have), and a few more “great game” pieces that I’ve had bouncing around in my head.
The real issue is the muse. I’m waiting to hear back. *laughs* In the meantime, I’ll give you a brief overview of the topics mentioned above.
Hellgate: London – there’s a sad story behind the development of this game, but it’s a pretty darn good game. It scares the crap out of me every time I play it. I was involved in the beta back in 2007 and I still enjoy playing it. I finally knuckled down and started playing some more of it.
Lord of the Rings Online – I’m in the Free to Play Beta right now as Turbine attempts to take the same model they’re using for D&D Online and apply it to the Tolkien game. I’ve tried most of the classes and I’m loving the experience. They spent a lot of time on the environment and implementing the descriptions and such from the books. Altogether a very enjoyable game and I’m looking forward to when F2P goes live so I can play with my friends.
Star Trek Online – I’ve only played their Demo which gives access to the Federation Tutorial and the first quest, but I’m hooked (which I suppose was the idea of the demo). Further, the character and ship customization is fantastic. I’m loving space combat and ground combat is interesting as well… it’s also, tactical! *grins* I love this game for some reasons that I’ll go into later, but for now, just understand that it’s so much fun for me to play.
Further, the next part or two of my “What makes a great game?” series will be discussing player familiarity with the game world (essentially derived from my time playing Lord of the Rings Online) and the sense of belonging associated with that and I will also write about what drives me to buy a game (outside of the concepts behind them, advertising campaigns, artwork, developer discussions, etc.).
In the meantime, I’m trying to work up the mental steam to actually put words down for these articles. I have a D&D game to get to today and I’m going on a trip in the near future and don’t expect to be back for almost a week. I will, however, probably take a few games with me to keep me entertained along the way.
Okay, I’m off to get ready for the game! Until next time, keep playing!