raph koster

Crowfall demos more action harvesting, starts taking guild name reservations

Crowfall isn’t content to make gathering as dull and repetitive as in other MMOs, which is why the team is putting great stock in its so-called “action harvesting.” This system has come under further refinement following its introduction a few weeks back, and the devs were on hand this week to demonstrate why you’ll need to be on your toes when you’re cutting down that tree or scrounging through that bush.

One of these refinements is the addition of “energetic harvesting,” a skill that uses the new action pips to trigger buffs during the process. Players were also shown several of the optional disciplines that a character can equip, such as Logger, Quarryman, Lookout, Hoarder, and Survivalist.

ArtCraft informed the community yesterday that it has started to send out instructions for guilds to reserve their names. “Hey, Crowfall Kickstarter backers: Watch your inbox for guild name reservation info. Newer backers can reserve guild names in November,” the studio posted.

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Global Chat: The MMO community’s Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire impressions

It is kind of impossible to stroll around the MMO blogging community as of late and not trip and fall into a pool of Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire impressions and opinions. So why not dive in and see what lies under the surface of these experiences?

GamingSF suffered from technical issues that kept him from getting into the expansion initially, but when he did, he recognized that it had some “really nice features.” Why I Game concurs with this sentiment, noting that there are “a lot more nods to exploration this time around.”

“Story is okay, nothing amazing, some funny bits help, and I find it gets better as it progresses onward,” ECTmmo.com wrote. “The actual places you get to travel to and explore in this expansion are what makes it shine, well, that and the mounts.”

We’ve got even more Path of Fire impressions after the break, as well as a look at Star Trek Online, Elite Dangerous, and Ultima Online!

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Crowfall’s Raph Koster explains why MMO systems stagnate and die

The man who pretty much wrote the book on many MMORPG systems shared another piece of keen insight about a pitfall in many competitive systems. In a short blog post, veteran MMO designer Raph Koster explains why competitive structures end up stagnating and faltering as “winners” gain rewards, become untouchable, and gradually choke out any competition and growth.

“Systems that don’t destroy their kings on a regular basis end up destroying the kings and the citizenry. And life under a king is never advantageous to the citizens, either,” he writes. “This is game design: set up your system to cause ferment, not stability and inevitability.”

Perhaps this is why Koster was attracted to the Crowfall project, as this PvP-centric MMO is devoted to knocking over the board and resetting its pieces on a regular basis.

Source: Raph Koster

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Raph Koster on how Ultima Online pushed the MMO industry forward

Game Designer Raph Koster continues to ponder the significance of Ultima Online on this, the 20th anniversary of the MMORPG’s historic release. In a recent blog post, he answers a question from a fan who asked how UO pushed the industry forward.

To address this, Koster takes readers back to 1995, when the internet was mostly accessed over slow dial-up modems and the gaming landscape was much more different than it is today. After outlining a brief history of MMOs to that point, he lists several groundbreaking features that Ultima Online attempted, including:

  • “Pure scale” with up to 2,500 players in the world at once
  • Dyeable gear
  • A world simulation that was varied in behavior
  • A massively interactive world
  • Widespread player killing, housing, and shopkeeping
  • An actively managed community
  • A flat monthly fee to subscribe
  • A world where you could live and not just fight

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Happy 20th birthday, Ultima Online! Here’s how to get caught up on the OG MMORPG

Just about 20 years ago, my boyfriend and I were wandering through Media Play (heh) when he picked up this box for some new online subscription video game with a cheesy Hildebrandt cover. I was skeptical. He bought it anyway. The next morning, after I’d played all night and totally bogarted his new game, we figured we should probably get a second account. And so we did, in spite of being clueless teenagers who could barely afford one sub, let alone two.

That game was Ultima Online, and it’s the game that birthed the term MMORPG and quite literally dragged me into the realm of virtual worlds. Without it, I wouldn’t be right here where I am talking to you today, having married that dude in the interim. And as of yesterday, that game is 20 years old.

Last autumn, when the game was turning 19, I did a fairly in-depth video on the coolest parts of UO, the parts you can still play today, as I do frequently dive back in and am playing this month too! It’s Massively OP’s best-performing video to date, proving that the game is very much not dead and done. Pretty much everything in the video is still accurate, except for the part on the business model (spoiler: UO is kinda going free-to-play), so I’m going to include it below, but then I’ll recap some of the important bits from the last year and answer a few questions anybody reading is sure to have.

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The Daily Grind: Should MMOs get rid of levels?

I would like to say that when I was a kid playing my first MMORPGs, I was impervious to the grind, that I embraced taking many months to level a skill or hit a level cap. But that would be a lie. I stuck a rock on my keyboard to AFK macro overnight in Ultima Online, and a friend of mine would log into my EverQuest account sometimes while I slept to catch me up in levels. I hated it. I have always hated it. Oh, I’d spend hours per day in those early games, but I wanted to chill with friends, make stuff, run dungeons with people without worrying about level discrepancies and gear and all the obnoxious mechanics designed so transparently to slow me down and make me pay to grind. And I’ve felt this way for 20 years.

This is why a recent tweet of Raph Koster’s, quoting Elder Scrolls Online’s Matt Firor, resonated with me:

“Removing levels as a gameplay factor was the best decision for retention ever made in Elder Scrolls Online.” -Matt Firor

It’s affirmation that I’m not alone: A huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase will pay for content that pushes us together by invalidating level grinds rather than keeps us apart. Is it not time? Can we just be done with the old canard that people “need” leveling make-work to feel achievement or investment in a game, when metrics prove otherwise? Should MMOs get rid of levels?

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The Daily Grind: What one lesson do you wish MMO developers would learn?

MMORPG veteran Raph Koster went on a glorious Twitter tear last week, and I’m sure some of you can relate. In response to a thinkpiece on augmented reality, Koster argues that AR developers are worried about the wrong things – they’re worried about the tech and not putting sufficient effort or research into social systems.

“The essay skates over this in one paragraph saying, ‘It’s sort of like an MMO,’ but that’s wrong. It is an MMO, in every single way. Make no mistake, a mirror world is just an MMO server with phones as avatars. That means every social pattern you ever saw in an MMO will be present, from the WoW plagues to the client hacks to the parties killing monsters to debates over who owns what slice of virtual land to yes, harassment reporting and godlike gamemasters who effectively police the space with panopticon level awareness of history. Those servers will swallow activity, not just point clouds, to a degree beyond what people fear now with stuff like maps apps tracking your location.”

“Frankly, just about no AR people I have met grasp that this is what they are building,” he concludes, suggesting it’s a “terrifying” notion that developers aren’t learning from the lessons taught by games like “Habitat, LambdaMOO, Ultima Online, EVE Online, Second Life, [and] Habbo Hotel,” which already laid the groundwork for how virtual worlds work (and don’t) when players run amok.

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Raph Koster on roleplaying consent and emotes in Star Wars Galaxies and WoW

MMORPG designer Raph Koster has a fun piece out today, ostensibly about what he’s dubbing “consent systems” in multiplayer games that include roleplaying — the rules that govern free-form roleplaying, like who gets to do what to other characters and whether consent is necessary. As most roleplayers surely know, it’s generally considered inappropriate to act something out on another character without consent. You can shoot a gun at someone, but it’s up to that someone to decide whether she’s been shot or dodges out of the way. You open your arms to try to hug someone, but you never treat the response to your action as a foregone conclusion — you wait for the recipient to acknowledge and respond. You attempt, but you never assume success.

The part that’s of interest to MMORPG players specifically is where Koster talks about formal emote systems in MMOs and how they can break that roleplayer’s consent code. For example, he criticizes World of Warcraft’s MUD-inspired emote list, which include things like massaging someone’s shoulders and slapping another player — none of which leaves open a response from the recipient.

Why does World of Warcraft go that route, eschewing the lessons learned from MUDs and MUSHes? Part of it’s down to improved graphics, specifically the desire to animate emotes.

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The Game Archaeologist: Furcadia

Let’s face it: There isn’t really a huge pool of MMORPGs from the 1990s to explore in this column. By now I have done most of them, including some of the more obscure titles. Yet there has always been this one game that I have shied away from covering, even though it (a) was an actual MMO from the ’90s and (b) is still operating even today. And that game is, of course, Furcadia.

So why my reluctance? To be honest, I suppose it was my reluctance to tackle anything in the “furry” fandom without knowing how to handle it. I don’t quite get the fascination with wanting to pretend to be an animal, and some of the expressions that I’ve seen in the news and online from this community have made me uncomfortable. Thus I kept away because I was worried that a piece that I wrote on Furcadia would devolve into a nonstop stream of jokes to cover that personal disquiet.

But I’ve tiptoed around this MMO long enough, and I have come to realize that there is virtue in earnestly trying to understand a subculture that is outside of my bubble, even if I don’t end up appreciating or liking it. Casting off preconceptions and simple snark, let us take a look at this unique title and see what it has to offer for the larger genre.

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Raph Koster would put action combat in Star Wars Galaxies if made today

Recently, one of game designer Raph Koster’s fans wrote in to pose him an interesting hypothetical question. If he were to remake Star Wars Galaxies today, the fan asked, which combat format would Koster choose?

His answer? Action combat all the way, baby.

Koster said that the environment right now is more conducive to action combat, even within RPGs. He cites a larger audience for such gameplay, far better technology than back in 2003, and different player expectations. “It would feel pretty alien to the average player to be in first person and not have FPS combat,” he writes. “This was one of the things that drove having overhead views in SWG.”

He does note that RPG elements can be used to make action combat more stat- than twitch-based, which has been used in many MMOs and other video games.

Source: Raph Koster

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This player is rebuilding Ultima Online in Wurm Online

One of the best parts of Wurm Online’s Unlimited version is that players can run wild with their own custom servers, tailoring them to their every whim. That’s exactly what MMO gamer and Ubisoft artist Andrea “Malena” Fryer has done: She’s combined two of the best MMORPG sandboxes of all time into one by recreating the Ultima Online map in Wurm.

“The most nostalgic MMO players I know (myself included) are old Ultima Online players,” Malena began on the Wurm forums earlier in April. “So I’ve named the server accordingly and will do my very best to set it up, build and decorate just like good old UO. When the day comes that it’s ready to be made public, I hope you’ll share a little moistness in your eye, remembering back to the good old days in the lands of Sosaria!”

The project’s even won the admiration of former Ultima Online lead designer Raph “Designer Dragon” Koster.

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Massively Overthinking: It’s the end of The Secret World as we know it

I think I can speak for most of our staff in saying that in November when Funcom first promised a “major upgrade to both retention and acquisition mechanics and content of the game to counter the declining revenues” in The Secret World, no one expected this.

Ditto in February, when Funcom said it was going “relaunch to broaden the appeal of the game through [a] redesigned new player experience, major improvements to gameplay including combat, [the] introduction of new retention systems such as daily rewards, [and] adjustments to the business model, including allowing access to the story content for free” — people murmured “NGE,” but no one even considered that the studio would dump MMO players overboard in pursuit of ARPG fans.

But in retrospect, the cagey language and lack of actual updates in the game were right there all along, as was the casual maintenance-moding of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

For this week’s Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to consider Funcom’s plans here — not the rumors and leaks but the set-in-stone plans — and reflect on what they say about the studio, the game, and the genre on the whole. What do you think about Secret World Legends?

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The Soapbox: Why is Pokemon GO still a tech demo?

I’ve been a bit frustrated with Niantic lately. I love some of its ideas, but I watched someone else play Ingress prior to Pokemon GO’s release, and I noticed very similar problems between the two games after release — problems that the company should have noticed and corrected in its followup.

Recently I decided to try out the former. Both are totally unintuitive. You have to search the UI for the tutorials, though Ingress’ can be accessed only near objectives. You’re asked to join a faction sooner there than in PoGO and with no context beyond 2-3 sentences. The game throws jargon with little to no context at you throughout the tutorial, making it difficult to follow. I walked around, clicking things and used items that I don’t fully understand, not because I’m too lazy to read but because I wanted to understand a game without consulting google. I saw portals get taken without anyone around me as I stood by an objective near a government-restricted area where standing still longer than it takes to read “No Trespassing” could trigger security. I couldn’t get into it, not just because it was simple but because it was poorly designed.

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