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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

First Time Ever at This Energy!

Baubleshire, Qeynos T.W.I.T.T.E.R messenger pigeons fanned out across Norrath today with news of the successful launch of D.I.R.T.Y.'s Large Bakron Collider.

The stream of messages from the justifiably excited tinkerers of D.I.R.T.Y. included

"Now stabilizing the catapults"

"Experiment has seen collisions!"

"First time in history!!!!!! Norrathian record!!!!!!!!!!

"Patrons do this kind of thing in Deepmug Tavern all the time, and with higher energies. But this is the first time in a laboratory!"

"Experiments have half a million events. More than three hours of colliding pies!"

“It’s a great day to be a particle physicist,” said DIRTY Director General Fissable Wockle. “A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment, but their patience and dedication is starting to pay dividends. And theres some great pie filling available, too!”

“With these record-shattering collision energies, the LBC experiments are propelled into a vast region to explore, and the hunt begins for dark matter, new forces, new dimensions, the pie maysom, and the pie moo-on,” said bakery spokesperson, Roselia Goldencrust.

"We still have a great deal to do," said Wockle. "Work on the Lag Inducer has experienced many delays, and hasn't kept pace with the rest of the project, even though we have had some breakthroughs there, as well. We're proud though, of the progress that project has made. We've been able to induce a great deal of lag in enclosed spaces such as houses and guild halls, but we need to do better with the outdoor spaces that the LBC works in."


Monday, March 29, 2010

Great Moments in Tradeskilling

I've mentioned to a few friends how tradeskill-friendly Sentinel's Fate, EQ2's latest expansion it. Last weekend Lobilya and I completed a major tradeskill quest arc.

Even that phrase makes you realize what a strange new territory we are in. Yes, the expansion has a major tradeskill quest arc. Just click that last link to see the scope of crafting-specific material. The final quest in it shows up as an item that is mailed to you roughly two weeks after finishing a tradeskill quest line in Quel'ule. You go back to Quel'ule and help Researcher Tahar investigate the origins of an odd looking piece of metal he found, and end up with a class-specific item that will do an evac for you, and has a few other interesting benefits.

This quest has you journeying Norrath, entering dedicated instances, and has lots of lore that concerns the Ethernauts, and other major figures of Norrath. There's lots of lore, including some that made me exclaim out loud. "You mean that was him?"

I suspect that this lore exists in other parts of this expansion as well, but it ties together material going back to Kingdom of Sky. Great stuff, highly recommended.

Oh, and it's very likely possible for a pure crafter to do it all, since Lobilya was well below level as an adventurer. Don't wait to (tradeskill or adventure) level to 90 to do it, take advantage of the experience!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

EQ2 Used for Economic Research

I just ran across this piece describing economic research that Dmitri Williams and Edward Castronova are carrying out using datasets from EQ2 provided to them by Sony.

Don't worry, it's all anonymous. Williams refers to virtual worlds as the equivalent of rat mazes and petri dishes. The main advantage of a virtual world is clean data. Everything is there, to the last transaction, and on a fairly large scale. It can be argued that are many artificialities in a virtual economy, such as EVE or EQ2. That's why they make the analogy to a petri dish. There's lots of economic behavior going on, and it can be tracked with complete accuracy.

Williams and Castronova's article opens with a fascinating quote:

In The Treachery of Images (1928–9), René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe above the words: ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (‘This is not a pipe’). In virtual worlds, there are no pipes either, yet users manage to use virtual objects and characters in a vast array of social transactions. When observers see a virtual sword on the computer screen, the paraphrase of Magritte’s admonition – ‘Ceci n’est pas une épée’ (‘This is not a sword’) – surely comes to mind. However, is the sword only an image? Or does it become invested with some kind of socially constructed realness as a result of playing a role in human communication and exchange?

Which really reminds me of the phrase you hear in MMO's a lot: "It's just a game." They go on to describe their plan:

By examining transactions from a large commercial virtual world with hundreds of thousands of players, the current mapping test concerns whether the items and economic behaviors within a virtual world function in the same way that they would in the real world – where, it is noted, currency is also largely representational (a dollar is only a piece of paper, but is assumed to have a value in gold backed by the US treasury). Do the same behaviors that make a US dollar bill economically ‘real’ also make a virtual sword economically ‘real’? Does economic behavior map from the real world into the virtual?

What may have started out as unreal, through our time and effort becomes real to us. Now the associations and emotions we have around it may well have a different slant: We are likely to be less risk averse, for instance. There's a less scholarly discussion of this on the EVE forums, addressing the question, "Is it just a game?"

One of my favorite quotes from that discussion, which isn't terribly EVE specific, and worth a read:

I used to bring this up to the goons now and then. They'd literally spend hundreds of hours planning and organizing ways to annoy people, and then when some random guy who only plays a couple hours a week complained they'd say "it's just a game".

Props to Sony for providing their data to economic and sociological research.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Half Finished Is Not Half Baked

Letrange has a self-described grognard's grumpy rant up called "The Annoying Half-Finish".

I'm something of a noob in EVE; I started in October, 2009. I love it.

I started to write a comment, saying that I didn't really get it. I read the post again, wrote a much longer comment and then realized, "Wait, this is a post, not a comment". So here we are.

Letrange writes:

They have this vision of EVE being the ultimate science fiction simulator. And as the game has grown they have been slowly but steadily pursuing this long term goal. Their skill system is geared towards this goal. They can make EVE as broad as possible without impacting the depth of existing "end game" game play. They also can go down branch roads towards their goal and determine that something didn't work. Rip up the tracks and lay a new road. Can you see Blizzard getting rid of Raid dungeons and substituting something else entirely? That's effectively what the sov changes were in the Dominion expansion.

The problem with this approach is they have still not reached their objective.

My gut-level response is: "And they never will, and that's what I find so dang-blasted cool about EVE."

You see, they are developing EVE in the same way that I play EVE. As a form of self-actualization. You make up your own goals, and you can define your own morality. You can turn down missions that offend you, or not. You can just sit outside a station chatting. You can suicide gank someone because you don't like the way they look.

The lack of structure is breathtaking, but it has to be expected that the people who made this game are going to have the same approach to their professional work.

Letrange did not call them lazy, or even disorganized. Which they evidently aren't. But they are building a game not for the polish, but for the options. To play EVE you must face the questions: Who are you going to fight? What are you going to fight over? What weapons are you going to fight with?

It's those things that make EVE interesting to me.

And the development path is very organic. They will try something that is in a direction they like, and see how it works. If it doesn't work, they will tweak it, or maybe even leave it alone until they think of a good idea that will make it better.

There are two things that Letrange mentions as feeling "half-finished" to him, faction warfare and Wormhole technology. I know little about faction warfare, but one of the commenters seemed to indicate that the main problem with it, finances, has been addressed somewhat by tweaks to the loyalty point store.

As to the WH tech subsystem that is known to exist but isn't implemented in the game, it does seem strange. It's nothing like what you'd find in any other MMO. I found something similar just the other night. The game knows about blueprints for all the survey probes, but none exist on any market anywhere in the game. If you want one, you have to buy one off the market, you can't make them for yourself. But you can get a description of a blueprint. It seems odd, doesn't it?

For some reason, they felt they couldn't completely free-market these probes. I don't know why that is. But one reason may be deflation. Any game needs a way to take money out of it. And this is a way that is kind of on the fringes. But the blueprint exists. Well, it could be plain sloppiness. But really, if someone took these out of the game, it would be more consistent, but would EVE be more interesting? Would it be more fun to play?

The Wormhole issue seems to be that there is another subsystem technology mentioned in the game, but which can't be researched or created or even bought by players. This is kind of a cool sci-fi scenario, though the details probably don't support this reading. "We know the aliens could do something along these lines, but we have no idea how to go about recreating it." However, it's more likely that it got left off due to time, or due to a redesign that made it unimportant.

EVE shows its ragged edges, but that, in itself tells me a story. It's a story of developers chasing their ideas about how to make the game more interesting and fun, rather than more polished. There's another story too, that's interwoven. CCP shows a breathtaking willingness to completely destroy ecological niches if it suits their purposes.

For example, when they put in WT0, it really cramped the style of gate campers. Who will tell you, to this day that it has ruined EVE. It demonstrably hasn't, EVE simmers right along with more and more players online as the weeks churn by. As another, more personal example, the last release flooded the market with scan probes, because of the new tutorials, thus completely crushing my business model. And because of the tutorials, it increased the competition for scanned sites very significantly. Also crushing my then-current business model.

Being an EVE player means having to change when the game changes. To me, that's part of the fun.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Evening (Mostly) in Empire

Before I joined Skyforger, I had a little business going in the heart of Gallente space in a system named Eglennaert, just a couple jumps away from the biggest Gallente trade hub of Dodixie. This is a long, long way away from our home space in Deklein. It would probably take me about an hour to fly from one place to another. Assuming I didn't get blown up by the mercenary corps that have currently declared war on our alliance and are hunting us all along the highsec bottleneck between us and Jita, the trade hub that's close to us.

That's what makes jump clones really handy. Once I was able to make one, I flew it back to Egglennaert, but that means I only had to make the trip once. Now, as long as I have clone jumped in the last 24 hours, I can go to empire and do the things there that I can't do all that well in our nullsec space, and isn't convenient to do while there are war targets hanging around the Torrinos-Jita axis.

But before I did that, I logged into Singularity and peeked around. I was in Deklein and flew to Torrinos. It took longer than usual, because the jump bridges that were there were inoperable. So I had to do it system by system, often waiting for the next system I needed to jump to to be created. That's how empty the space was.

Once in Torrinos, I started poking around for stuff related to the new Planetary Interaction feature. I'm hoping that maybe with this new feature, I won't be as hopelessly behind everyone else as I seem to be in the rest of the game. All the stations in Lonetrek there were planetary command centers for sale, but I couldn't seem to be able to scan any planets. I'd read something on a dev blog about them only seeding resources on a few planets as yet, so I took advantage of the moveme channel and got myself moved to the main testing system, FD-MLJ. Once I was there, I was able to get the planetary scan system to work, at least as far as it's currently implemented (Hey, Look, there's a planet! And you clicked on the button that says "Scan"! Good for you!). Curiously, there were no command centers for sale there, though. So that was enough for me, time for dinner, and afterwards, an evening in highsec with my jump clone.

I started by picking up my research jobs. Two fails and two successes with light drone blueprints. I just got Industry V, so I tried to manufacture some Tech 2 drones. The blueprints that I had created had some confusing information on them, they both said "Number of licensed production runs remaining: 1" "Maximum number of runs per blueprint copy: 100". So what does that mean? I thought it meant that I could make up to 100 drones in exactly one run and then the blueprint was used up. But no.

I was able to make ONE lousy Hobgoblin II. One!

Granted that this isn't entirely inconsistent with the prices of Hob II's on the market, but still. One????! And what's the point of the "Max runs per bpc" number being higher? Possibly I will be able to do better at a Player-owned-station(POS)-based manufacturing facility, if I had one? Meh.

Since I was thinking about POSes, I tried visiting moons in Eglennaert, figuring to find out about potential sites for my own POS one day. And I'm interested in learning how moon mining and reactions work, as well. I discover, to my surprise, that none of the moons in the Eglennaert system are occupied by POSes. About 10 moons into the survey I realize that POSes aren't allowed in systems with security ratings higher than 0.7, and Eglennaert is 0.8. Doh!

So I picked up an Imicus, slapped on a probe launcher and set off for a system where I could buy a survey probe or two. There are three kinds of such probes, the Quest, the Discovery and the Gaze probe. It turns out that blueprints for each of these are items that are defined within the game, but don't exist anywhere on the market. I wonder what's up with that? Maybe they are sold via contract? The distribution of sales for the survey probes made me think that they were NPC sold, as well. Strangeness.

I conducted an initial survey in my pod, since POS defenses won't shoot pods, and I'm not yet covops capable. I found a couple of online POSes, and a few lonely offline towers with nothing else around them. It makes me wonder, what happened to the other facilities that had to have been there? There's no point in putting up a tower unless you are going to put something else there, a refining facility, research lab, moon miner, something. Can these items be stolen? Were they blown up once the tower ran out of fuel?

And then I went back and got my Imicus, named "Cabeza de Vaca" for a little known explorer of the American Southeast and Southwest. (Go ahead and read about him now, it's a great story. I don't know why we never learned about this guy in school.)

Anyway, I launched my survey probe and then went to brush my teeth, since it takes the Discovery Probe I was using about 10 minutes to complete its survey. I came back and there it was, the scan was completed, and the moon in question had "Atmospheric gases" available.

So, we call that a successful trial of all capabilities. I have no idea what other kinds of things are available on moons, but I think I get how to do all this stuff. I have almost enough cash to buy and deploy a small POS on my own, though I'm not sure a once-a-week trip to highsec is enough to really make it profitable.

With that done, I spent the last time of the evening running a couple of missions for Duvolle industries, more for the faction gain than for the money, since I want access to better researchers. Honestly, I'm not sure it's all that worthwhile, it might be better to just buy the datacores on the market, they aren't that expensive. But it's something to do. Some of the datacores sell very nicely, though, and I have to climb the faction ladder to get access to them.

I reached one other milestone last night. I bought the books and trained both Medium Hybrid Blaster Specialization and Medium Hybrid Railgun Specialization. So I'm qualified to fit Tech 2 guns on every ship I can fly now. The current plan is to now push for battleships and T2 guns on them. Then maybe turn to more industrial skills, or branch out to covops or something. And maybe train my Navigation and Engineering skills a bit more.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Innovation in EQ2: Revisited

Someone recently put a spam comment on a post I made in 2005 called The Two-Hour Fix. How that choice gets made is mysterious to me. However, in deleting the spam, I realized it was relevant to my recent discussion of innovation in EQ2.

There's some overlap, I mention combat mode, no meditation, reduced camping, and the quest system. But there were some things I had forgotten about.

  • Travel Time Reduction One of the things I wrote then is that the travel time changes, in particular the call to home city makes the customized player housing work better. It doesn't seem like home if you are never there, after all.

  • Everyone gets spells, at every level I had forgotten about this. It's such a standard now in MMORPGs. But fighters didn't really get any buttons to mash in Everquest. Other than taunt. Furthermore, you get a new spell, or an upgrade every single level. This also seems pretty standard now.

  • Storyline/Lore/Drama Everquest had lore and storyline. But they weren't dramatized very effectively. One had to dig for it. Now we have dungeons like Shard of Love, with it's touching, if a shade creepy, story. We have quest lines like the gnome brothers attempt to build a catapult in Zek. The devs will create an instance like the one where you ran into Fippy Darkpaw. Just to portray a story well. Book quests have fallen out of favor, but they also were a way to inject more lore into the game. This kind of thing is pretty standard now in a lot of games, but it didn't used to be. I think LOTRO has taken this a step further, their instances have more movement, more story, more interest, and they use them more.

  • Class and Subclass Quests This is kind of a sad one. I wrote:

    One of the things I like the most about EQ2 is the class and subclass quests. They really do a good job of dramatizing what the class/subclass is all about, and make the player feel like he is really filling the role of that class. Rogues have to sneak around and discover information. Enchanters need to solve puzzles and discover influences. Guardians need to, well, guard someone. Brawlers, at least in Freeport, get to take on a thinly disguised WWF. This is really fun, and dramatizes what's special/unique about a class.

    Of course, these quests and instances are all gone now, in order to enhance the replay value of the game, the archetype/class/subclass branching at launch was eliminated. But I miss those class quests/instances. My ambition was to eventually do them all, I think I managed them for 4 subclasses (each in different archetypes).

  • Crafting This one is out of date, too. I wrote:

    The crafting system is the most elaborate I've seen. Multiple levels of quality are possible on the same combine, so your skill actually seems to matter. And there is opportunity for interaction with other players here, too, since rare components can drop in chests as well as be harvested, so even a strict fighting-only character might get one and have something made.

    This was written before the great tradeskill consolidation, which got rid of subcombines almost completely. And the subsequent consolidation which got rid of levels of quality. I think that ended up being necessary, since the amount of time and skill it took to make a spell upgrade was becoming prohibitive. What we've got instead is a system where certain crafted goods have a solid ecological niche. There are spells and gear. The void-shard gear can be made for fewer shards (now marks at level 90) by tradeskillers, but can be bought from NPCs. So there's no monopoly, but still a value proposition. EQ2 has tradeskill quests (so does LOTRO) and tradeskill instances and the ability to build faction with tradeskills. It's at a pretty good place now, but I'm not sure the recent changes, other than the tradeskill instances, are innovations.

That's the view from 2005. It's changed a bit, but what can you do? Time marches on, even in Norrath.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hard Mode Revisited

Wilhelm2451 recalls playing evil races in TorilMUD:

Your home town was considerably less friendly. Aggro NPCs wandered the streets and more often than not the town guards would side with them if they attacked you. Bam! Dead.

There's a lot more, and worth reading. He expresses his desire for a harder version of WoW.

Would you play WoW (or substitute in your own favorite PvE biased fantasy MMO if you want) if they offered a server where, say, all open world mobs over level 10 were elite and every quest was a group quest?

Just for instance, the proposal to make all mobs into their elite versions over level 10. The first question is: can that be done automatically? Does making a mob "elite" automatically give it more HPs and harder hits? What stuff breaks?

You're going to have separate deployment issues. With this plan, you maybe can avoid having level designers worry about stuff. But the servers are going to be separated, you have to turn on this stuff.

And there's another issue. A game like Will describes would give you the following issue: I just logged in, and there's nobody in my area, so I can't accomplish anything without a long journey to somewhere else. When I get there the group decides to break up, and so on. So I spend most of my evening travelling, and not making much progress. Would you enjoy that game? You're not figuring out how to beat challenges, you're traveling.

So the question is, how many people will you get to pay you subs that you wouldn't get otherwise? Some, I think. For a while. But would you do better devoting those resources to the next expansion? Almost certainly. Extra content appeals to a far larger number of people than this sort of "elite" content.

Games that are ongoing propositions, sports, if you will, have to always be evangelizing, pulling new people in. Which means they can't afford to focus on "hard-core" players much at all. That's a recipe for a slowly shrinking player base.

For myself, the urge for a "harder" game comes from two places.

First, a harder game tends to chase away a good number of people that are annoying. They are annoying in that they don't know what they are doing. The thing is, mostly the annoying people in WoW do know what they are doing, after a fashion. They have a plan, which they don't communicate, and get pissed off if you aren't following the plan in a sort of "everyone knows that" fashion. I don't think harder content will make this better.

A harder game like Will describes will also reward grouping more. That game has been tried and failed. It was Everquest 2 at launch. Soloing was very difficult. I had a lot of fun trying to solo overland and in dungeons. It was hard. I fell behind the pack in leveling, but I didn't care all that much. However, the game was a commercial failure, and they eventually made overland zones much more solo friendly.

The recipe for success of WoW is clear. It will run on anything, it's easy to understand and play, and there's lots to do. Everquest 2, by contrast, missed the mark, at launch on some of these ideas, but it had one core priciple that I think is a really good one. You were always able to do something positive in a two-hour session. Your time will not be taken up by traveling (no waiting for boats) or endless camps waiting for rare quest spawns.

I remember interviewing with a couple of guys who were looking to develop an "in-browser" MMO. They said it was going to be like Everquest "with all the annoying stuff taken out". Like long waits for the boats. I nodded and said that the long travel time was annoying but it also dramatized the fact that the world was big. There were furrowed brows there, at which point I knew I was not going to work with these guys. If they hadn't thought of that, they weren't going to make a successful game.

There are many features of early games that I love and am very nostalgic about, even though I now realize they are kind of dumb. I think waiting for the boat is like that. I loved playing Everquest, it was this completely new, and fun experience. So every aspect, every game feature of EQ is seen through those eyes of love. Waiting for the boat, wow, that's cool. A long boat ride to get to another continent, cool! Wow, there are islands in this ocean slipping by, cool! At last, I'm across the vast ocean, wow! Of course, when other options for intercontinental travel became available, I used them. I'm still nostalgic for the days when we had to ride the boat uphill both ways in the snow.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Innovation in EQ2

A while back, a commenter asked me what I thought EQ2s innovations were. A lazy Friday afternoon seems a good time to answer such questions.

I'm hardly an MMO or MUD historian, but here are a few things that I saw first in EQ2, and seemed to me to be big improvements or insights.

In-combat versus out-of-combat modes

In Everquest, you had a rate of travel, a rate at which you regenerated mana, and a rate at which you regenerated hit points. These held no matter what you were doing. Or rather, in or out of combat didn't matter. Mana regen only took place sitting down (or later, sitting on your mount, so you could cast spells and regen mana.)

This all changed with launch. You had an in-combat regen rate, and a separate out-of-combat rate. What this meant is that even in a fight that exhausted you, you could be full and ready to go in a few minutes. Food and drink then buffed your out-of-combat rates, but didn't work in-combat. This speeded things up tremendously. We all had to learn to stop sitting down between combats too. So we could take the next fight faster, crack, aka Clarity (a spell that boosted mana regen) was no longer a dominant force in the game. And players could wander around a lot more. Even your run speed was (still is!) different in and out of combat. Creating a "combat mode" separate from "wander around mode" was a critical innovation.

Everyone does this now. It's possible that EQ2 didn't invent it, but they launched before WoW, certainly.


Many mechanics were introduced at EQ2's launch to address griefing, and minimize it. One of the important ones was that if you ran far enough from where the mobs that were chasing you had spawned, they would stop, hitting the end of their leash. This wasn't necessarily true of Everquest, you had to get away by zoning. However, to prevent training, once the mobs have leashed, they went inactive, non-aggro, and trotted back to their position. Other agression mechanics were tweaked so that it was very difficult for someone to train a bunch of mobs over you and get some to peel off and attack you. This is pretty standard fare now for most MMORPG's.

Houses and house decoration

LOTRO does houses, but they aren't nearly as interesting or flexible as EQ2's houses. The housing game and house items that look cool continues to drive a fair bit of gameplay in EQ2. In a sense, this is EQ2's version of the sandbox. People can put together house items in their houses in open-ended creative ways. The flexibility has increased over the years, with resizing and floating being added as features. But even the first release edition of the houses, including the Lore and Legend awards that could be put on your wall, was way more flexible and interesting than anything I've seen elsewhere.


EQ2 players seem to love these. It's one of the most unique ideas in MMO gaming, and it's dead simple. It's an Easter Egg hunt on gnomish steriods. With marketplace trading, etc. Again, this is a major gameplay component. How long have YOU spent searching the broker for items to complete your collection?

Tradeskill questing

This wasn't really there at launch, though we had gathering quests and simple, repetetive tradeskill quests for a little coin and faction. The tradeskill quest lines in the latest expansion Sentinel's Fate are engaging, tell a story, and even open up some areas of the game that are difficult, if not impossible, to get to otherwise. Tradeskilling has been used in a number of live events, as well. Most games have tradeskilling, but these quests stand out, as well as the overall level of integration of tradeskilling.


City of Heroes had sidekicking, where a higher level hero takes a lower level one along and brings the sidekick "up" to his level. But EQ2 developed mentoring, which lets the higher level toons go back to a lower level will boosting the experience gain of the lower level toon. This feature couldn't develop until we had let go of our hate of "powerleveling" (Was it hate or just envy?). The mentoring mechanic has been so valuable and powerful that there is now a way to self-mentor in the game, and people pay plat to NPC's just to spend the afternoon running around at a lower level.

I think you'd have to call that a successful mechanic. It puzzles me why it hasn't been imitated more. Only EVE, in my opinion, does a better job of letting high and low levels run around together, each side doing something constructive.


Every single one of these features has undergone some major evolution over time. And it's possible that they are predated by some MMO, quite possibly City of Heroes. But I haven't played that game. There were many many warts on EQ2 at launch, ideas that had to be abandoned within the first year or two. Erosion of guild level, special level-earning guild members, WORT (remember WORT: Washes, Oils, Resins and Tempers, and the massively interdependent tradeskill system?). Character classes went through a complete revamp. Branching character development was abandoned.

A lot of this has a lot to do with why EQ2 lost so badly to WoW. But it's also brought us several unique and/or innovative gameplay features. Which is why we continue to play it, 5 plus years later.