Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Classes for EQ3

I had a discussion last night with my guildies about what they wanted to see in EQ3. We were not in what one would call a serious mood. I'm not sure I've got everything exact, update me in comments.

Vomitoriums (which, boringly, turn out to be part of structure that allows large numbers of people to leave at the same time), STD's, nuclear weapons. Her favored new class would be Attorneys, who would have an ability "Throw Book". A weaker, (NPC?) class would be "Public Defender".

Milia wants to see Farmer become a class in EQ3. I told her that's old ground, what with the Harvest Moon franchise and all. She then said she wanted to see in-game outbreaks of swine flu, which would be called "The Aporkalypse".

The character class Phritz most wants to see for EQ3 is Gigolo, or Manwhore, as we sometimes call them. Another favorite was Telemarketer. I think I'd like to see NPC's be telemarketers, certainly. I want to be known as Slayer of Telemarketers.

To much acclaim, I declared that the class I most wanted to see added to EQ3 was Game Show Host.

All this was discussed while we went collecting sparklies and named kills in Karnor's Castle in force. Don't jog Karaya's elbow, though. I did this once, and ended up with a fine view of the tile flooring. I think it's basalt, for the record.

Also all agreed that we wanted Nathan ("I'm gonna join the Qeynos Guard when I grow up. Have you ever SEEN a gnoll?") Ironforge to be a permanent fixture in any future sequels. All they need to do is make him aggroable.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keen on Everquest 3

Keen, of Keen and Graev's Gaming Blog has offered his take on what EQ3 should be. He says it should stay pure, true to what makes Everquest Everquest, but still be radically evolutionary. This gives a better sense of what he means.

I’ll oppose the idea of stepping too far out of the boundaries of traditional MMO design. I think tying all the EQ games together, or adding mini-games, or streamlining it for console/multi-platforming, and other alterations are wrong. Going sci-fi, action oriented, or in another new direction aren’t right either. I guess I’m a MMORPG purist when it comes to certain things.

And here's some of the stuff he likes:

Obviously EQ3 should not be a PvP oriented game, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring back the pvp ruleset servers of old. Boats, vast cities, open world (not necessarily sandbox), group oriented, a rethought out death penalty, player cities, biiiiig monsters and raids, lots of gear (but not a treadmill), alternate forms of character progression instead of or on top of a level system, prestige classes and features of this ilk could be looked at.

I don't have a lot to quibble with, though I think regular readers know that I think any major increase in death penalty is doomed. And mini-games have always been a part of Everquest, remember gems?

But here's the thing:

Tipa isn’t alone in thinking that what hurt EQ2 so badly was that it had too much EQ. I believe quite the opposite though. I believe it was a combination of diverging too far from the original EQ, making changes that were not thought out or feasible at the time for the sake of change, as well as making a game that could not compete with its competitors at the time who were striking out to steer the industry in a new direction.

Every single change in EQ2 from EQ had a very solid justification, that they weren't popular and didn't compete well with WoW is hindsight. Let's look at some of the major changes from EQ to EQ2, and why they were made. Bear in mind that I'm guessing a little here, but only a little.

  • Moded combat/non-combat.This got rid of mages and priests having to sit to med, and in consequence groups having to stick to one spot and camp. This change was huge and mostly welcome. It made combats faster paced, and it made for lots less down time, LOTS less. It's had the unintended consequence of making groups adventures less social, since with less downtime, there's less chat. Could you have predicted that. In any case, this change has been successful and imitated widely.

  • No buffs out of group. There was a clear reason for this and it was a reaction to, if not outright hostility to Enchanters and C3 as well as the mass buffs of Aegolism and whatever else a cleric could throw out there on PoK. It got so that my enchanter couldn't get a group because everyone already had their C3. Buffs out of group encouraged soloing, and they wanted EQ2 to encourage more group play. By the way, lots of folks posting are saying they want EQ3 to focus more on group play. I think it's going to take some powerful designer kung fu to accomplish this. This rule still holds in EQ2.

  • No interference in combat, no trains. This cuts way down on the amount of griefing that can be dealt out. Which was seen as a good thing, am I right. But again, it had unforseen consequences, and is now pretty much dead.

  • Progression from archetype to class to subclass. This was an idea that I think people thought would be fun. You had these cool solo instances at levels 10 and 20 to be allowed to advance. I thought this was pretty cool, but it's been ditched as not providing enough replay value. Nobody is copying it either.

  • Highly predictable combats. Fewer adds, easier to tell what would pull. In the early days, encounters would run on rails. I think this was done to expand the customer base, to make things easy for the brand new players. And to break the stranglehold of the "Holy Trinity" Tank,Healer,Enchanter. In the first few years of EQ, there was no good use of mezzing in a group. Folks would AE and break mez constantly, and typically, there was no need for it.

  • Gear that leveled with you. This seemed like it would be fun, and avoid twinkage, but it ended up just confusing people, so it was dropped. This kind of gear was tried first in EQ, though.

  • Highly interdependent crafting. It's supposed to be an MMO, right? So you should be interacting with other players. Why not with crafting too? This was extremely unpopular with the players, and for some reason, the markets never worked right. I think perhaps if the batch size had been made bigger, it might have worked better.

  • Many (difficult) subcombines per product. This sort of drama is about making you feel you've really accomplished something when you complete the final product at the best level of quality. Which it did. Making just one spell for someone could take maybe half an hour. And you might blow the last combine. I remember the first time I made a rare combine for someone, I was pretty scared that I'd blow it. I didn't, and I felt great. But the risk and time meant the price was high. And you wouldn't just "oh sure, I'll make all your spells for you", it might take a week. So this has been dropped, too.

  • Guild leveling. We had several guild leveling rules that have been ditched. Guild XP decayed over time, but the decay rate was way too big, leveling felt like a huge millstone around certain peoples neck. Only designated guild members could level the guild, though everyone could do writs for personal status. And the amount contributed depended on the number of mentors, or guild size. None of that stuff worked, though there was a solid theory behind it, a theory around making things more fair. Give the newer guilds a leg up, or give the smaller guilds a boost, etc. But like the anti-griefing, it didn't really work. And what's "fair" is actually pretty subjective.

  • Online selling I don't know if this was a design or a technical constraint, but you would have to stay logged in if you wanted to sell things. It's pretty much exactly the same as Everquest, except you could be in your own room while selling, which avoided all that horrible Bazaar lag. But the community wanted to move on. So it's a case of something that wasn't changed that should have been. I prefer EQ2's marketplace to the timed auctions in WoW and LOTRO. By a lot.

That's all I can think of for now. This business of "keep the stuff I love but bring it up to date" is a lot trickier than you might think. There's a lot of folks out there who were mad that they couldn't do X (driveby buff, port people, play a beastmaster, mez meaningfully) from Everquest. That's why I think it's important that it not be called EQ3...too many expectations to meet. But we can keep a lot of what we liked about EQ: Lore, focus on group play, sparklies, housing, and of course, Fippy Darkpaw.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Musings on Everquest 3

Since Tipa presented her wish list for Everquest 3, I did some slumming on discussion boards, looking for what folks are saying about a possible EQ3.

Here is a completely unfair summary of the sorts of things folks are saying, presented in a completely one-side manner, with no attempt to be fair or anything. [My response to each of this is in brackets and italicized]

  • ...Make it darker then anything people have seen. Im talking full out carnage. Time of War or somthing.

    [Somehow going to Lavastorm and slaughtering void beasts isn't carnage enough for some people, I guess. Or maybe they mean there should be no civilization left, no Qeynos, no Nathan Ironforge saying "have you ever seen a gnoll?" Wait, was I making fun?]

  • ALSO sex and violence sells. All the die hard mmoers are adults now and we arn't kiddies anymore we want to see the violence and blood. Well at least us americans do.
    [ This die-hard mmoer has always been an adult (remember I'm 3000 years old). To me the hallmark of a child is one who wants his sex in a videogame, as opposed to the real thing. And if you want more gore in your life, either enlist, or work in a hospital. A slaughterhouse will do in a pinch. Oh, and keep working on growing up.]

  • Consoles are the way to go. PC gaming has been a dying breed for some time now. Its too expensive to maintain a high end gaming PC to play the latest and greatest. I mean I have seen several threads of people complaining about not wanting to upgrade their PCs anymore to play a certain game. This will be eliminated by moving to consoles.
    [There's some credibility to this. The ante keeps getting upped, developers are locked in an arms race. Of course, THE most successful MMO ever runs on a PC and has a very minimal system requirement. Why is it that nobody seems to want to copy that? Maybe because they want more realistic flesh and carnage?]

  • SOE has openly said that consoles are the way forward.
    [Well, probably somebody at SOE said that once. I would be deeply disappointed if it were true. I have four game-playing computers in my house, and only one TV with console attached. That said, a console is not a moving target. A console means not having to eat whatever flavor of DX microsoft is serving. Sometimes its good, sometimes not so much.]

  • Vanguard was EQ3.
    [This one got shot down by other posters. No lore in common, makes it hard to to think of it as EQ3.]

  • you want a new game from sony first they need a crew or at the very least a young person with lot of imagination cause great game come from great idea.
    [ Because obviously old people don't have much imagination. There's a germ of an idea here, they need fresh ideas. Duh. A sequel without a new idea is a trip to skip.]

  • EQ3 won't happen, it was said by somebody from $OE that they knew calling EQ2 EQ2 was a mistake, there may be an EQ3 but it won't be called EQ3.
    [I think this is spot on. The game devs had some problems with expectations at the launch of EQ2, precisely because it was called Everquest 2, not Norrath Rebooted or something. People expected all the things that they knew and loved to be there. Putting Vox and Naggy back in the game weren't a problem, but busting up the Holy Trinity, and killing driveby buffs were a BIG problem with player expectations.]

  • [Paraphrasing]Make the game harder, more like Everquest. Trains, stiff death penalty. No in-game tutorial. Slower paced, less button mashing. Drive away all of the people who don't like to play the way I like to play.
    [Yes, let's totally spend 10 million dollars to develop a game that 100 people want to play. And I thought I was an old fart.]

  • I want to adventure in Middle Earth, not be forced through the chapters of the Lord of the Rings. [Uhh, weren't we talking about Everquest, not LOTRO?]

  • The EQ series is perhaps, the only lasting game which has encouraged cooperation among players, it's a market that is virtually untouched (as many other games focus on competition through pvp or gear progression). If they can create an environment that encourages player interaction in small groups, allow people to progress in both small groups and small raids they will create a game which is fun and entertaining to a great many people. One thing they could improve on over EQ2 - is the ridiculous number of skills each class gets. They could get rid of half the skills and still have too many. Make a few important skills, and let people enjoy one another's company over focusing on spamming skills like an idiot.
    [Wow, this is the reason I still read message boards. I want to play that game. Wait, I AM playing that game, as Everquest 2. I've made other posts though about how game designers can enable leadership among the players. Of course, I'm an illusionist, and nobody but nobody casts more spells faster than we do, except maybe coercers with Jester's Cap.]

  • Make better graphics, EQ2 had graphics that were soulless and ugly.
    [I'm a high elf, and I'm impressed with the level of snobbiness embedded in that statement. That's the kind of thing you hear at the opera in Neriak.]

I think the worst design decision (that's still in the game, anyway) in Everquest 2 was to make 24 classes. It's just too freaking many, each class is constantly stepping on the other's toes, or seeming to. And there's only 24 slots in a raid. In the abstract, 24 slots in a raid isn't bad, but with 24 classes in game there's no room to add a new one.

The second worst decision was to call it Everquest 2. So it had a huge burden of expectations.

At launched much was made of the fact that EQ2 was designed to go to level 200. I don't think that lasted. I'm still having fun, and that fun is mostly predicated on having interesting things to do with my friends or new people I meet.

But the most important thing that must be done for Everquest 3 is not to have better graphics, or more sex, or slower gameplay, or faster gameplay. No, the most important thing is for it to be fun.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Loping in Lavastorm

I've been playing around with all the new stuff in Lavastorm lately. Shown is the new transport in Lavastorm. It works like the nightmares in Loping Plains, but these are fire-imbued flying horses. And you can take one up to the Temple of Solusek Ro.

Doing so, you can get a look at some of the changes. For example, in this shot, we see the lava field that is right before the Temple. Instead of the magma fragments, there ar lots of what look to be lava constructs. The rumblers are still there, though. At least some of them.

The new plotline in Lavastorm is that there is a void anchor, pretty much right by the docks, and the void invasion is also threatening the Temple of Sol Ro. When you visit it, you will find it is almost entirely taken over by the voidtouched. One of the new lines of repeatable quests in Lavastorm has you work on cleansing the temple.

I like the reuse of old zones, especially as a live update. In addition, these quest allow players to do solo missions for void shards. This is a welcome alternative. I like grouping and taking on the shard instances. It's fun. However, it was possible for one player to use 2 boxing and mentoring to solo farm some of the instances for void shards, depending on what the daily mission was.

This provides a more, ahem, conventional way to solo grind for void shards.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

George Will Takes Cranky Pills

Normally, I stay away from commenting on current events in this forum. I will make an exception in the case of George Will's latest column titled "Demon Denim".

If you don't read editorial pages or columnists, well, good for you. You're probably happier that way. Still, I inflict this on myself occasionally. I won't pretend that I until now, I thought of George Will as an oracle, and hung on his every word. Still, I thought he usually had something smart and interesting to say, and sometimes I agreed on it. And we shared one love: baseball.

But in this column, he chooses to vent his spleen at those who wear denim. He quotes Daniel Akst as saying that wearing denim is "symptomatic of deep disorders in the American psyche".

As regular readers know, I'm all about the style. And you'd never catch this high elf wearing denim, it just doesn't fit the high-elf mystique, you know what I mean? But I think of that as a style choice, you know, something to enhance my innate attractiveness, not an indicator of mental health.

He goes on to say:

Long ago, when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore it, denim was, Akst says, "a symbol of youthful defiance." Today, Silicon Valley billionaires are rebels without causes beyond poses, wearing jeans when introducing new products.

Apparently, he's mad at Steve Jobs. And in George Will's mind, every Silicon Valley executive is Steve Jobs. Trust me, there are plenty of Silicon Valley executives who wear really boring slacks and polo shirts, although I have to say that in my time here, I've seen white shirts that make me (in my uber-slob alter-ego) think, "How did they get that so white, it's brilliant!"

And I've seen a few in blue jeans. Sometimes. And yes, wearing blue jeans absolutely makes them much MUCH shallower than someone who decides what's going on in someone's mind by what they happen to wear on one day. I'm not a Silicon Valley billionaire, but I've met a few, and if George Will thinks they don't have causes, all I can say is he must not have met any.

Will (and Akst) thinks that denim shows an obsession with not standing out from the crowd:

Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly.

Yes, George, have you ever heard the saying, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." It's Chinese. You're pretty much channelling Alexis de Toqueville, too. That is America, it always has been.

But the thing that makes me think that he's taken his cranky pills is that he goes on to trash computer gaming and action-adventure movies:

Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you).

Ok, now he thinks that anyone who plays video games shouldn't be allowed to vote? Or if you watched Batman or Indiana Jones. Here's the thing, I know a gamer who is in Iraq now, driving a Humvee in convoy. My guildie, we call him Granpapy (that's how he spells it), is there now. It's his second trip, even though he's in the Air Force. He has a wife and a baby who were moved to Germany in preparation for it. It's not his first trip. He told me that he didn't like to talk about his previous trip because some of the Army guys that were with them didn't make it home.

And Granpapy isn't the only guy in my guild who's been to Iraq, either.

And if that's too downscale for George Will, I happen to know senior management of several companies (non-gaming companies) I've worked for who play video games. I know one engineering director who's standard email signature included the fact that he had finished Mario64 and got all 100 stars. I know another senior VP who has led international projects who was a raid leader for his WoW guild, and is a long time D&D (well, actually it's Fantasy Hero, but do you think George Will knows the difference?) game master. These are people that could likely buy and sell George Will.

Maybe he's jealous. Gaming, and by extension gamers, not only are mainstream now, soon, they will define mainstream. And that's scary to a guy who's spent a good portion of his life trashing nerds and geeks.

I say George Will needs to take a hard look at himself. When people talk about "a boy's game played by men" what game are they talking about? Baseball, which George Will loves. His picture in Wikipedia shows him watching a ball game (in a visor and tasteful green polo, of course.) A wise man said to me, "We hate adults who are childISH, but we love adults who are childLIKE."

Watching movies about larger-than-life heroes evidently disqualifies you, too. Too bad, Brian Bird's "The Incredibles" made the same point that George tries to make in this column about the urge to not let anyone stand out. Only much better. And it's funny, too.


Sunday, April 05, 2009


Via the incomparable Alice, I ran across this post on Boing-Boing, which highlights a game industry executive who talks about how his company has a corporate culture of 60+ hours of work. The comment thread is the best part. Very serious and well informed comments all around, I think.

However, I have to say that 60+ hours a week is for pikers. I have personally been in the room when Eric Schmidt, President of Google, bragged to investors that their employees worked 100+ hours a week.

In case my tone of voice isn't obvious, I don't particularly approve. First of all, this all works because salaried employees are classified as "exempt" under the law. This means that the company does not set their hours, only their tasks. The strictest reading is that an employer can't tell you to show up at 9am, or 7am, or to stay until 7pm. But they are creative, aren't they? They find lots of ways to send the message that you aren't keeping up.

This focus leads to other management decisions. The executive quoted said that they made a conscious decision to hire only people who will work those kind of hours. This means, to me, that they will hire only young people, predominantly male, who are single. They have no life, and nowhere to go except to work. In short, age and gender discrimination are the tools of this trade, not to mention discrimination against those who are married and have children.

It's also true that young workers don't tend to be terribly efficient workers. And the managers that have the talent to both be technically credible, and have the people skills to train those young people and turn them into efficient, happy workers are rare, and thus expensive. So the easy thing to do is just hire them, and make them work long hours on "death marches". After 5 years or so, most of them will burn out, but that's ok, there's always a fresh crop of rubes, er, young new developers.

And this cultures promotes a certain kind of incompetence among management. Management doesn't need to figure out how to use its labor force effectively since there's no dollar cost associated with it. Whether they are slack or on a death march, the budget shows the same amount. If you can't measure something, you're not going to improve it.

I have personally spent the occasional 100-hour week. I don't object to it, when it makes sense. But a culture of having no life but work is unsustainable for most of us. There are clearly executives who can do it, I can't. I had a heart attack a few years back. (Yes, even high elves with fabulous red hair can have coronary artery disease) At which point I realized that if I want to live to be 4000 years old, that stuff just had to stop.