Hollow Earth

The Only Game: Perceptions and DotA2

I like to think that I have a diverse taste in games. True, when I started, I focused primarily on the Myst franchise. However, after getting introduced to the Orange Box I opened my gaming life into things like FPS games and the like. Now I have a large backlog of games and several games that I play consistently and routinely. They span everything from Kerbal Space Program to Skyrim to Toki Tori and onwards.

But one game that hasn’t featured in my games up until lately was a little game named “DotA2”. I played the game some years back. I played a few games and hated my whole experience. Every game I’d get stomped and my team would votekick me out. That event was particularly clear, in all the games my team would be crushed or, more often, I would be kicked at the start of the match The game was horrible, and I couldn’t handle that toxic of a community. So I left it sit, and even uninstalled it recently to free up space.

Except none of that was true.

I recently got interested in DotA2 again, thanks in part to the video Free to Play, which follows the teams of the 2011 International DotA2 tournament, and of course the International, a professional DotA2 competition, that was held this year. So I reinstalled it. Upon launching it again, I was greeted with my total games played: 1. My total playtime was 54 minutes, enough for one, maybe two quick games. My memories of those dozens of horrible experiences were the result of my perception of a single, horrible experience. Playing more, the game has been very fun. I think about this in regards to expectations and perceptions. While a company or group can manage perceptions to a point, isolated events can ruin a game for the player. No real point to this post, just something that struck me.

Filed under: Learning from Others, , ,

Learning from Others: Left 4 Dead Cold Stream

With the source for Uru newly released, it made me think about other fan content I’ve seen and the potential pitfalls involved. In short: Fans should have the rights to download the fan ages they choose to include in their experience.

For those who don’t know, Cold Stream is a custom fan-created map for the Left 4 Dead 2 game. There are lots of fan-created campaings and maps for the game, but what stands out to me is the fact that Valve included the Cold Stream beta map as a small downloadable update. What I dislike about this, and where I see this as a problem for Cyan, is that Cold Stream is not as good (in my opinion) as other maps available. However, Valve has nonetheless included it in an update.

The issue for Cyan is this: Fans are not going to be happy when the ages they want to play are not included in the game. Left 4 Dead solves this by letting anyone add campaigns at will, but Cyan has said that “As new writers arise with new books, the books are tested and documented – and books that are approved by some new kind of maintainers guild will (hopefully) find their way to the MOULa server where the public can enjoy new worlds once again.” This implies strongly that fan content will be vetted and added to the MOULa server (which is great). The problem that I see is that there’s no alternate way (at least for now) for fans to still explore the Ages not yet released on the MOULa server.

Filed under: Learning from Others, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

The Butterfly Effect

This post would be better titled “What Cyan’s Uru could learn from CCP’s EVE” but the advice isn’t of much use to them currently. It might, however, be of use to the fans who will be the future developers of Uru.

Before I go on about the game, I should point out the source of the title of the post one of the key points I would like to make. Probably best illustrated in CCP’s video of the same name.

Now, I did review EVE Online before, but I don’t think I did it justice– nor hit upon all the right points. Those points being:

1. Actions in Uru need to start having an effect on all players.

If you have seen the video I posted above, you probably have a good idea of where I’m headed with this. One of EVE’s concepts is that player actions have an effect on other players, no matter who the player is, where they are, or how much money/power/guns the player has. Now, does this truly happen the extent CCP advertises in its trailer? Doubtful. Pirate players have a large amount of influence and the most powerful ships have the most powerful effect. However, it’s the concept hat I’m getting at. I can use my small ship to mine an asteroid for ore, which I refine into a mineral used in the game’s manufacturing system. The trailer above romanticizes the idea quite a lot, but the concept holds true here. My small amount of resources go towards huge manufacturing orders which build and stock warships with ammunition. My action has an effect either alone or in combination with actions of others.

Uru never had that. The GZ calibration and the pellets were the closest Cyan was able to accomplish. However, it was discovered that neither had the automation a system like this requires. This hints to me that Cyan does/did not have an easy way to code this type of activity in. Thus this suggests that one of the big tasks the fans need to take on is making it easier to make communal effort easy and automated. In short, Uru needs to have a butterfly effect.

One major problem with this is that Uru is not that traditional MMO EVE is. EVE has all the basic bits an MMO has (a system of money, combat, skills) and those things just aren’t going to suddenly spring into Uru. Uru is attempting to be new in an industry that favors the same junk it’s always sold before. But that doesn’t mean Uru can’t incorporate the idea.

2. Player decisions need to be permanent and effect which line of content they receive.

How can Uru incorporate the butterfly effect? One idea might be to have Ages where a player’s actions open up paths in the world that vary depending on the player’s personality. An injured animal could be helped and take the player to an inaccessible portion of the Age with a hidden book. Alternatively, the player could ignore it and follow another path to a different Age. The key here is this: The player action must irreversibly effect the world. This is something a lot of fans haven’t done. There is a maze or a puzzle with a single solution or one good and one bad ending (the bad ending usually being limited to a panic link and not a blocked off portion of the Age). Obviously this is unpopular with a developer like Cyan since they would have to make two reward ages instead of one. However, this sort of content-by-decision is certain to be interesting to new players as well as being challenging to old players.

The problem with how Uru has been run previously is that it’s too easy to just get everything. You may make a choice (like keeping your Bahro poles) but it’s just delaying the inevitable. It doesn’t close off access to an Age, it doesn’t effect what journeys you receive in the future, hey it doesn’t even lose you points with Yeesha. The only effect is that a Bahro screams randomly in your Relto. Similar to that was the whole “alone or together” idea. It was a great way to make sure skittish single-players weren’t frightened off by social interaction, but it led to no gain or loss.

In some respects, the current effects are purely in the realm of role-play. For example, if I play someone aligned with the old DRC mantra of “Safety First,” I could not visit the unreleased Ages with that avatar and I would appear to have “lost” something through that. But there’s no real effect, and certainly nothing irreversible. Pretty much the only thing permanent with Uru now is that you keep all the Ages you get. Even if you delete your nexus links or your journey Age progress, that can all be re-done. There is no spot in the game where you are told about a choice that will impact your life in Uru, you make a decision, and your content changes for the life of that avatar. Does that mean you never see an Age because you chose a path against it? No. There’s no reason you couldn’t do the other path on another avatar OR travel with others to see the Ages their path gave them. Paths could diverge and converge so you could change your path after a while as competing philosophical outlooks (and, ideally, character personalities) grew stronger or weaker. If the player is forced to choose one piece of content over another, you make  the player unique, teach him/her about the impact of their choices, and encourage them to contact others to see other possibilities. If the player can undo his decision and get both prizes, all you did was add steps to the goal of owning all.

3. Uru needs to keep people busy.

If you want to survive, you make something someone can’t live without. While not literally true for games, a game can be more or less needed by a person. Make it Uru! Many already have a personal bond with the game, a bond which has fueled interest during Until Uru. There is no reason why a person can’t or shouldn’t be able to feel connected to Uru. Reality shows and football games instill stronger feelings with less.

How do you get that connection to the game? Four ways:

1. Ages with re-play value.

This Uru had, but it got to a point in MOUL where people had gotten so unhappy with the story or other small things that this never mattered. For less money than any purchasing plans EVE currently has, the fanbase expected new worlds every time it logged on. As such, many missed the value in re-play.

Cyan, however, also missed the target. The Ages had re-play value, but a lot of story and back story was not in the game. This is a recipe for failure because people would log out of the game to read chatlogs or find out information they should have found in-game. There was no one place people could go to for D’ni history. The Hall of Kings had some, but many king books were missing and many of the other cultural texts were up on the rooftop.

2. Ages with commitment value.

This is what the Great Zero calibration and the lake lighting could have been, but weren’t. The problem was that there was no real feedback for the player. Even when the problem was noticed, Cyan still could have come to the fans and said “We don’t have the resources to make this as good as it should be. We need someone with the time and resources to get it going.” Participants would get NDAs, contracts, or whatever other agreements Cyan needed. Those agreements aren’t trivial, but when there’s an order from the top that this is needed, it gets done. Would it have worked? Maybe. But if it didn’t, it would have shown that Cyan was willing to do something out of the ordinary to preserve its quality.

3. Ages with personal value.

Ages that are yours, that you can customize how you want them. This was implemented best obviously in Relto where collectible pages could add things to the Age. However, other ages had limited amounts of customization. Mostly just positioning kickable objects, but also shutting off puzzles to restrict access to other portions of the Age. However, the problem is that none of these were permanent or even immune to the tampering of others. Some changes to the Age need to be locked down so the Age owner gets the final say on who gets to change what. Not realistic, but functional and responsible. Keeping people interested involves making sure there are parts of the game they feel connected to and are “theirs”.

4. Activities that can build the game.

This doesn’t mean just Age building. Ages are one piece of the complex machine that is a competent game. Fans need to be involved in every facet of the game. One thing EVE does nicely is the EVE Chronicles. While, so far as I can tell, these are not written by fans, they do serve as a part of the development of the “characters.” I put characters in quotes because, while the stories have their own characters, the characters which truly develop are the game’s different races. The stories are simple ways to flesh out certain portions of the galactic populace. In short, Uru needs this. This and other openings. Age creation is important, but without other parts they’re just pretty places.

Filed under: Learning from Others, , , ,

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All posts are my opinion only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others.