game design

The Daily Grind: Are there any MMOs you think are just too late to start playing?

I’ve been playing a lot of Ultima Online the past few weeks, but so many times I’ll be doing something that is objectively tedious (like taming or shuttling boxes of junk loot to the community trash box to turn in for points) and realize it and think to myself there is no freakin’ way that anyone who started playing MMOs in the last decade would put up with some of the quirks and conventions of the game. That’s no judgment on gamers, just the realization that it’s probably way too late to get into now if you’ve grown up under altogether different game design systems.

It’s not the only MMO I feel that way about; I’ve often felt that EverQuest II was too opaque and convoluted to return to, and oddly enough World of Warcraft has felt that way to me since Draenor.

Are there any MMOs you think are just too late to start playing?

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Global Chat: Saying goodbye to The Secret World

With the move to put The Secret World in maintenance mode and shift focus to the rebooted Secret World Legends, one MMO blogger decided that it was time to say goodbye to his stable of characters by logging each of them out in meaningful locations.

“It is now clear that The Secret World’s days are numbered,” Tyler of Superior Realities writes. “I have decided to say goodbye to the game while I still can, conducting a final tour of some of my favourite parts of the game and finding thematically appropriate ways to retire my many characters. And taking an unhealthy number of screenshots.”

I’ve seen others do this sort of thing, especially when an MMO ends, and it almost never fails to be touching and profound. These games meant something to us, and when we say farewell, it can be an emotion-laden funeral for time well spent.

Join us today as we tour around other essays from the MMO blogosphere, including an examination of class customization, musings on SWTOR’s road map, and a balloon ride in World of Warcraft.

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The Survivalist: ARK Survival Evolved discusses early access, launch, and wipes

Could ARK: Survival Evolved finally be launching? That’s a question many survivors would love to see answered soon. Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with any date as one hasn’t been announced. But it appears there could be a light at the end of that tunnel thanks to a Studio Wildcard interview earlier this week in a podcast dedicated to the survival genre.

If you are a fan of survival games as I am (and chances are high if you are reading this!), you might really want to check out Infection – The Survival Podcast. ARK fans especially will be interested in this week’s episode 122; it features a lengthy discussion with Kayd Hendricks, the senior technical game play designer. Hendricks touches on many subjects, including the team, early access, wipes, launch, narrative, and more. Even without a launch date, it’s really worth a listen/watch; a couple of his remarks really struck a chord with me.

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EVE Evolved: Is EVE Online becoming too safe?

EVE Online is often painted as a harsh universe without rules where you could have your entire net worth destroyed or swiped right from under your nose, a reputation that has been well-earned over the past 14 years. Emerging in an early MMO industry that was rapidly becoming obsessed with keeping players safe and happy, EVE stood out with its harsh death penalty and anything-goes ruleset. Stories of high-profile heists and massive battles are still the main types of news that come out of EVE, a narrative that underpins much of the official marketing of EVE even today. It’s been something of a double-edged sword for the game’s popularity, attracting some players on the promise of emergent PvP-oriented gameplay and dissuading others with the threat of extraordinary loss.

Despite this outward appearance, the past few years have seen an odd shift in EVE‘s development direction with the apparent goal of making the game a lot safer. Small improvements such as the Weapon Safety system and warning popups help prevent players from making fatal mistakes, but it’s the citadel asset safety and reinforcement timer mechanics that have been most striking. Player-built citadels are completely invulnerable for all but a few hours per week, and even attacking them in that short period is a painful experience as you have to defeat it three separate times over the span of a week and none of the station’s contents even drop as loot. Highsec is now littered with hundreds of structures that simply aren’t worth attacking, and I’m forced to ask whether the citadel reinforcement mechanics are overkill.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss gameplay being designed with loss-aversion in mind and lay out some of the problems with the citadel asset safety and reinforcement mechanics.

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Massively Overthinking: Is the MMO genre facing an identity crisis?

MMORPG blogger and MOP commenter Isarii (@ethanmacfie) recently published an excellent video positing that the MMO industry is facing a “massive identity crisis.”

“The MMO genre has sort of walked away from the things that made it unique and has faced an identity crisis since then as MMOs have reinvented themselves as these big giant titles trying to appeal to as many people as possible,” he argues. “As a result, you end up with MMOs that try to do things that smaller scale games tend to do better while not doing any of the things that make MMOs themselves unique.”

The whole video is worth a look-and-listen as he pins down what exactly does make MMOs unique and which MMOs have excelled as actual MMOs (protip: It’s everything from EVE to SWG to WoW, so don’t think this is about subgenre elitism at all). What do you think? Is Isarii right? Is the genre facing an identity crisis? And how do we solve it? That’s what our writers will be debating in this week’s Massively Overthinking.

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EVE Evolved: Low-security space has lost its identity, but it can be fixed!

When I first discovered EVE Online back in 2004, it had been out in the wild for just under a year and was a much simpler and friendlier beast. There were fewer than 50,000 players in total and most of them were flying around in tech 1 frigates and cruisers, either mining, grinding their way up top level 3 mission agents, or PvPing. Most corporations lived in the relative safety of high-security space and warred with each other for all sorts of reasons, and some power-hungry corps tamed the lawless nullsec regions to hunt battleship NPCs and mine ores containing valuable Zydrine and Megacyte.

Low-security space offered a tempting middle-ground for players back then, a place you could go to reap better rewards than highsec but at the cost of a proportional increase in risk. Pirates faced much lower consequences for attacking another ship unprovoked there than in highsec, and the areas around stargates and stations were kept safer by automated sentry turrets. The delicate balance between risk and reward in low-security space began to fall apart as the sizes of player groups in EVE increased and ships got better at tanking the damage from sentries. Nearly a decade later and with very little done to revamp the area, today’s lowsec still suffers from this legacy and has lost much of its identity. But how can this problem be solved? Hints may come from recent rumblings at EVE Fanfest 2017 on the future direction of PvE.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the reasons I believe low-security space has lost its identity and a few of the ways CCP could inject some much-needed personality and speciality into this neglected area of the game.

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EVE Evolved: Video highlights from EVE Fanfest 2017

For a few days each year, hundreds of EVE Online players from across the world flock to a frozen volcanic rock at the top of the world for the annual EVE Fanfest. I was on the ground at EVE Fanfest 2017 last week in sunny Reykjavik to get the latest on what’s ahead for EVE and CCP’s other titles, and it was a thoroughly enlightening experience. We learned all about CCP’s amazing plans to roll out adaptive AI-driven PvE across the game world, talked to players and developers, and heard about the next stage of Project Discovery that will let players search for real exoplanets in space.

We also got hands-on with CCP’s immersive VR sport game Sparc, looked at Valkyrie‘s new Groundrush game mode that has players fighting inside huge structures on a planet’s surface, and confirmed that DUST 514 successor Project Nova is still in development. There were talks at Fanfest that we just didn’t get a chance to go to, and others that really have to be seen first-hand. Thankfully, CCP has recorded most of the event and has begun uploading talks to the EVE Online YouTube channel.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I’ll be running down some of the highlights of the official videos from EVE Fanfest 2017 for those who missed the event.

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Massively Overthinking: MMOs, from hardcore to casual and back again

Massively OP reader Suikoden wrote this great question to the podcast — too good to let just Justin and me answer it. It’s a two-parter!

“Back when I used to be a hardcore MMO gamer circa 2000-2010, I felt that MMOs of that era were designed more toward the hardcore gamer and even catered to us more. Within the last 5 years, I’ve had to develop into more of a casual player. However, I now feel that games once again cater to me and my current playstyle. Did the MMO genre evolve alongside me, from a more hardcore-centric genre to a more casual playerbase? Or is it the same as it always was and I just feel that it caters to me because it’s designed to feel like it caters to all playstyles? And if there was a change, do you feel it is for the better or for the worse for the genre?”

I posted Suikoden’s questions to the team for this week’s Massively Overthinking!

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Leaderboard: How much did your family support gaming as a hobby when you were a kid?

I was chatting with my mom this morning when I was surprised to hear her say that she was impressed with how good my five-year-old son has gotten with video games. I wasn’t surprised because it’s not true; he’s phenomenal, and letting him play games, including MMOs (in moderation and under supervision!), has improved his reading skills, focus, coordination, and puzzle-solving. I’ve watched it happen!

What surprised me is that I wouldn’t have imagined adults saying that when I was a teenager, never mind when I was a kindergartner. Oh sure, we had a few consoles growing up, but PC gaming, especially the online sort, got side-eyes. Now I have a nephew whose tech-savvy parents send him to video game design camp. It’s a different world now!

Or is it? For today’s Leaderboard, I want to hear from you: How much did your family support or enable gaming as a hobby when you were growing up?

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EVE Fanfest 2017: Hands-on with competitive VR sports game Sparc

At the end of February, CCP Games announced a new game that has nothing to do with EVE Online or even the EVE IP. Named Sparc, the new VR game is being pitched as a virtual sport environment with competitive online gameplay and an online social space. It has the aesthetic of the Tron-style cyberspace world that movies promised us throughout the 80s, and uses motion controls to deliver full-body VR gameplay. Even the social space will have a bit of an 80s arcade vibe, with players able to gather around and watch others compete and challenge the reigning champion to a match.

Anyone who’s been to EVE Fanfest in recent years will recognise Sparc immediately. The game made its public debut as Disc Arena in Fanfest 2015’s VR Labs demo section alongside three other VR experiments, and made a re-appearance the following year with motion controls as Project Arena. Just as Project Nemesis became the release title Gunjack, this game has now graduated into a full production title with its own development team and budget. Sparc is due for release at some point in 2017 on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, and we managed to get some hands-on time with an early version at this year’s Fanfest.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s moon mining overhaul and the future of conflict

Just under four years ago at EVE Fanfest 2013EVE Online‘s Executive Producer Andie Nordgren took the stage and delivered an epic long-term vision for the game’s future in which players will one day explore deep space and colonise previously undiscovered star systems. Developers have been tackling this enormous vision one step at a time ever since, and today we have a versatile set of player-built Citadels and Engineering Complexes for corporations and alliances of all sizes. As we approach the four year mark, we’re now about to hit another major milestone in Nordgren’s plan with the release of Upwell Refinery structures and a total overhaul of EVE‘s resource-gathering gameplay.

CCP released a devblog last week revealing details of the new Upwell Refinery structures and a whole new gameplay system for moon mining that sounds pretty damn impressive. Rather than simply deploying a static structure that provides a permanent stream of moon minerals, new moon mining structures will physically rip a huge chunk of the moon’s surface away and drag it through space to a refinery for players to mine. The new mechanic will transform moon mining from a relatively secure source of passive income into entirely active gameplay, with far-reaching consequences for alliance warfare. This forms one part of the promised resource-gathering revolution, which we’re sure to hear more about at EVE Fanfest 2017 this week.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I drill down into the details of the new Upwell Refineries and moon mining mechanics, and ask what effect this will have on the rest of the game.

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Massively Overthinking: Competition vs. community in MMOs

Quantic Foundry, the games research group we’ve been tracking ever since it posted its original Gamer Motivation Model, has a new piece out this month on competition and community.

Dr Nick Yee (yes that Nick Yee) explains that one of the things his team’s survey and resulting model have demonstrated is that commonly held assumptions about the “spectrum” of MMO players — that is, “warm, fuzzy, social care bears on one end” and “cold, anti-social, competitive griefers” on the other — are wrong. In fact, he argues, the model shows that competition is not the opposite of community; on the contrary, “there is a strong positive correlation between competition and community,” disassociated from the gender and age of the respondents. This is the kind of stuff a lot of our readers are going to love, especially since the researchers are smashing related assumptions (like that ganking is PvP or that competition necessitates conflict).

So for this week’s Overthinking, I sent the summary of the research to our writers and asked them to discuss whether Yee’s results match their experiences when it comes to community and competition.

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MyWorld empowers players create and link their own ARPG levels

If you are the sort that has ever looked at online game design and thought to yourself, “I could do so much better,” then it’s time to put your boasts to the test by checking out MyWorld. This software allows players to whip up their own action-RPG levels and then connect them with others to make a near-infinite sprawling patchwork quilt of worlds.

“At the heart of MyWorld is the ability to link worlds together, construct multiple level games and adventure through them with friends,” a press statement said. “Via portals, game makers and game players can cross over into worlds created by other users and play the action RPG they’ve made to be discovered. Any game level can be linked to any other level and can be easily chained together to create a unique experience.”

The software is currently 25% off at Steam. Get your first look at MyWorld after the break!

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