Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making an MMO Better

So I've been thinking on this topic for a while.  Specifically I'd like to apply these changes to Star Wars: The Old Republic; I feel that if the following changes were adapted to the game in its current state, it would make SWTOR the best MMO out on the market.  Granted that's purely my opinion, but I've brought up these ideas with other gamers both in and out of game.

First change: Allow for more character customization.  Bioware/EA already have several different varieties of non-human "skins" both male and female for bots/sprites.  It seems to me that it wouldn't require much more work to code those skins over existing PC models so that players could play most any race.

Allowing players the chance to customize their characters even more is only a good thing from my point of view.  It keeps people interested in the game, and it would make players want to stick around and roll up a new 'toon to play as some other race they encounter that "looks cool".

Second: Allow characters to use any weapon.  Sure it makes sense that Jedi have lightsabers.  Sure it makes sense that Bounty Hunters have blasters.  However, there are some weapons that just don't see a lot of daylight in the game world because they are too specialized.  Like the Techblade, or the Techstaff, or the Scattergun.  If I had the ability to have a Force user with a techstaff, I think I'd enjoy the hell out of that.  Same for a Bounty Hunter/Trooper/Smuggler/Imperial Agent and any ranged weapon.  You can keep things somewhat specialized in that regard for PCs - Force users have to use melee weapons, and everyone else has to use ranged weapons.  Keep the companions the way they are; nothing there needs to change.

Third, and this one is a biggie: Redo the advanced classes/skill trees.  Anyone can look at the SWTOR skill trees and see that it's pretty much a direct clone of Blizzard's World of Warcraft.  I understand the reasoning behind that.  1) It's a format that players are familiar with, so it won't knock players out of a comfort zone, and 2) the model is already there, so why not use it?  The problem with this is twofold.  Initially, the problem is that it is a WoW clone.  The other issue is that there are abilities offered on both sides of the "Healer/Non-Healer" spectrum that would work for either side.  Let me explain my idea here; if Bioware scrapped the current skill system and looked at either The Secret World or Path of Exile for inspiration, the skill system would be much better.  You could then allow your players to choose what areas they want to spend skill points allowing for some overlap.  For Force users you could have three tiers: Melee, Force, and Healing.  For non-Force users you could have three tiers: Assault, Covert, and Healing.  Here is a link to the Path of Exile skill tree builder.   The builder is currently set up for the "Witch" class.  As you can see the player initially has two paths open for assigning skill points, however the skill tree quickly branches off into multiple directions.  Additionally, the player unlocks both passive and active abilities along the skill tree.  This allows for much more player customization of their character and helps to prevent the "use this build for tanking/DPS/healz" mentality that can be found in just about any MMORPG.

And lastly: make PvP worthwhile.  The best PvP systems I've ever seen in an MMO comes from Pirates of the Burning Sea.  PvP is initiated among the factions by killing NPCs of an opposing faction (not just a "neutral" NPC faction) inside the territorial waters of that enemy faction.  This begins to build unrest.  When a certain level of unrest is achieved, PCs level 10 and up are automatically flagged for PvP in their territories where unrest is very great.  Now, before you put the cart before the horse and whine about high level PCs ganging up on "lowbies" let me explain something; if a PC attacks and kills another PC and there is more than a 5 level difference between the characters, the faction with the greatest amount of unrest loses unrest. To try and make that clearer: lets assume Britain has gone on the offensive against Spain.  A British PC of level 30 attacks a Spanish PC of level 10 inside an unrest area.  The Brit loses unrest for his faction and now has to work harder to increase the level of unrest against Spain back to where it was.  The same works for NPCs as well.  If a PC of level 30 sinks an NPC of level 10, the aggressor faction loses unrest because of the level difference.  This was done to prevent high level PCs from just going around to the "lowbie" areas and corpse camping.  To continue: after yet more unrest is attained, the aggressor faction can start attacking cities of the enemy faction du jour and have the ability to go ashore and run missions/quests when normally you can't go to any towns other than your own faction.  After all of this is done, and one faction emerges victorious from PvP, the unrest table resets and the factions can go at it again.  During all this hullabaloo, the defending faction can work to ease unrest through crafting, through mercantile missions, and through kicking the crap out of the aggressor faction.  Other factions can join in on either side, but they don't gain anything by aiding one side or the other.

All of this gathering of unrest and PvP action typically takes about a week (or more depending) to culminate in a victory for one faction or another.  It is, in my humble opinion, the best PvP I've ever participated in, in any MMO I've ever played.

So how do I see this applied to SWTOR?  Well, I see adding new space combat missions.  Allow PCs to start gaining unrest against the enemy via space combat against NPCs.  From what I've seen/heard, most SWTOR players don't engage in much space combat.  This would change that significantly.  Also I would open up new planets/planet areas that are PvP only - that being said there would have to be balance.  Add a level penalty like I mentioned above to keep high level players from destroying "lowbies".  Or just put a level cap on the accessible area.  If you are above/below that level cap you don't get flagged for PvP.  Allow for special missions to aid in PvP, both group missions and solo missions.  Add gathering missions to gain unrest supplies that can be turned in to your faction to help disperse unrest.  Allow an NPC faction to randomly attack the Empire and the Republic and send either faction (or both) into unrest against the NPC faction.

These changes would make PvP more accessible to players without the need to form groups; without the need to be max level; without the need to have special gear; and would allow all levels of PCs to participate in gaining/dispersing unrest.

"So what rewards", I hear you cry, "do the winning faction get access to?"  Obviously there are the "planetary commendation" type rewards that you can currently earn through warzones.  I would additionally allow for mission unlocks depending on the level of unrest (for both factions) to increase/decrease unrest.  Have the loot tables increased for PvP missions - make the players feel that engaging in PvP is worthwhile.  If I can run a space mission and get credits that's great.  If instead I can run a space mission, get some credits, increase unrest for my faction and get a rare reward?  Incentive man, incentive.  Maybe it's a schematic, maybe it's a gear mod, whatever.  Maybe it's crafting materials in large quantities or crafting materials of better quality.  The point is incentive to run the missions.  Then there is the option to allow for a faction-wide buff/debuff depending on how your faction is doing in PvP.  And since SWTOR is Free/Pay to Play, you could limit PvP actions for free players and allow unlimited PvP to subscribers.  Cartel coins could be used to purchase PvP tags.

Just some musing that I've been doing and I needed to get it all down before I forgot it all.  If any of this actually happened for SWTOR I'd be ecstatic.  And again, it would make SWTOR the leading MMORPG in my opinion.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Playing More Star Wars: The Old Republic

So I've been slowly working through all the classes and storylines in SWTOR, and so far (unsurprisingly) the Sith Empire storylines are the most well written, and the best acted.  I enjoy the choices you have to make playing Empire side, more so than the Republic side.  This is mostly due to two things.

1) Playing Republic side, it feels as though the story writers went out of their way to make things as "black and white" morally as possible.  And while that might work in other settings, I think it fails here.  Playing both the Smuggler and the Trooper, you get to see more of what the Empire storylines offer in morally ambiguous choices.  You can kill/maim someone and earn Dark Side Points, but with that action you actually do more good than harm on a broad scale.  Or you could let that same person go free and earn Light Side Points and end up dooming a civilization.

2) The directing for the actors on the Republic side was just too overblown.  Especially with a Jedi character, the voice actors are just trying too hard to convey that they have such great inner nobility and purpose...even if you've gone completely Dark Side in all of your social interactions.  I actually had to stop playing my Jedi Consular and I deleted the character because I could not listen to the actor's voice any longer.  I don't blame the actors for this; I blame the voice director.  S/He is the person(s) responsible for such horrendous acting.  Shudder.

As it is right now, I'm enjoying the storylines (for the most part) and will continue to play SWTOR for a while until...Neverwinter Online comes out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Legend of the Five Rings

So I'm apparently waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind the curve on playing this game/setting, but holy shit I'm having fun playing L5R.

Let me begin by giving a bit of info here.  Legend of the Five Rings is a feudal Japan setting tabletop RPG.  Your characters live in a land called Rokugon, and there are several main clans that comprise the Empire: Crab, Crane, Lion, Dragon, Mantis, Scorpion, Unicorn, Phoenix, and the Imperial Clan.  Each clan has a different specialty for its warriors, magic users, and monks.  One of the most delightful (IMO) aspects of the game is in character creation.  Your Advantages and Disadvantages seem to be the most important part of creating your character.  You only have 40 xp to use to buy/upgrade skills, katas, spells, advantages/disadvantages, and attributes.  So the points refunded to you from taking disadvantages are very important.  Not only that but the types of dis/advantages allow for some very interesting characters.  My initial character was designed to be nothing more than a brawler.  He is rude, contrary, obtuse.  He has no social graces to balance that out and his Willpower is not great enough to stop his tongue from getting him in to trouble most times.  Needless to say, what was initially a "cookie cutter" throw away character has turned instead in to a roleplaying savant.  His outlook and attitude are so very different from my own (most of the time) that playing him is ridiculously fun.

It took me a little while to mentally adjust to playing L5R.  For one, characters die with apparent ease (despite the fact that my Crab Clan Bushi has yet to die, and he's had several opportunities).  Our first session, one of our party was playing a Phoenix Clan Shugenja who got killed by a water spirit.  Additionally, I am not that well versed with Japanese culture; so that occasionally creates problems.  However, I can't seem to stop thinking about where our adventure will take us as we explore Rokugon.

As an aside, there are several character generators out there for L5R.  I know I've posted previously about character generators for other systems, but since L5R is currently in the process of updating to a new edition I don't think we'll encounter the problem we had with the 4e character generator I mentioned several posts/years ago.  This is the website that links to the character generator I use.  It's very easy to use, and fairly user friendly.  And because I am "that guy" I have created perhaps 10 characters with it, for when my dude finally dies gloriously.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Yet More on: Path of Exile

OK, so I'm planning on pretty much ctrl-c/ctrl-v parts of this post onto the forums for Grinding Gear Games for my likes/dislikes/suggestions for Path of Exile.

Things I Like:

  • Skill Gems: they enable your character to use spells/abilities.  There is no class restriction (that I have yest seen) on Skill Gems, so your Marauder can use spells like Frost Nova, or Fireball as long as he meets the usage requirements.  These are normally an attribute, or an item requirement.  It would be very difficult to cast Hail of Arrows without a bow equipped.  Also, the Skills/Spells in the Skill Gems will level with you as you run around killing things and gaining XP.  The skills/spells themselves may have leveling restrictions though, so be mindful of how you use the Skill Tree when you level up.
  • Support Gems: can be linked to Skill Gems on items that have linked sockets.  You can tell because said sockets are tethered when you open your inventory and look at the sockets on the items.  Also, Support Gems do not have to match the color of the Skill Gem they are enhancing, you only have to match socket colors.
  • Socket Slots:  All items in Path of Exile are socketed.  Some may only have one socket, but it's there to be used by damn.
  • Classes are balanced.  Every class has its pros and cons, but they are all fairly equal in the damage dealt/damage taken category.  That being said, the Skill Gems you elect to use can make a huge difference on your mob fighting survivability, let alone rare/elite/boss mobs.
  • The Skill Tree: Holy crap!  The skill tree very much reminds me of the skill tree from Final Fantasy X, if you are at all familiar with that game.  Your main stat (or two main stats depending on what class you play) branch off into this amazingly detailed map of passive/active stat/skill buffs, special skills you get to unlock, and some fairly amazing "ultimate powers" (as I call them).  Do not make the mistake of looking at the skill tree out in the wilderness...your character can get swarmed and die while you're busy plotting out what skills you want to increase.
  • No Gold.  None.  Your basic currency in the game is "Scrolls of Wisdom".  These are used to buy other things like Town Portal scrolls, or health/mana flasks, or basic weapons and armor.  Other collectibles that you come across like Blacksmith's Whetstone, or Orb of Chaos can be used to purchase higher level items as your character increases in level.
  • All the items used for currency can be collected whole, or as shards that will automatically combine into the full item when the collection threshold is reached.  Super nice.
  • The music/ambiance: they are phenomenal!  Running around as my Witch over the weekend with my summoned zombies (that would occasionally rubber band from around a corner and then proceed to scare the hell out of me) in the various dungeons was fantastic!

Things I Am OK With:

  • There are only five classes.  I have no idea if this will change in the future, but for now I'm fine with it.  Your current class selections are: Marauder - an Uruk Hai stand in from his body type; Shadow - a spy/saboteur/assassin; Templar - a militant priest; Duelist - does this really need and explanation?; and Witch.
  • Pretty much anything else that doesn't get mentioned in the following section.

Things I Would Like To Change:

  • When switching between purchasing and selling items at a vendor, you currently need to exit out of whichever market you are in with that vendor, and then enter the other.  Granted this means you are only having to close the "Sell Items" window, and open the "Purchase Items" window without having to stop speaking with that NPC, but I would like it if there was a tab in whichever market you're in that would immediately flip you to the other without having to take those few extra steps.  I know, I'm just being lazy.
  • I would like it if each class had a male/female version.  That is one of the few things that I feel Blizzard did right in Diablo 3.
  • There are times (and I'm not sure if this is a sever lag issue) when I am attempting to kill an enemy, and either my dude won't hit him no matter where I am in relation to the target; or I will kill the target and loot drops half a screen away from where the corpse is.
  • There is an issue I'm experiencing with barrels and chests, where the "interface zone" where my mouse highlights and enables me to open said barrel/chest is super small...especially in relation to the size of my cursor on the screen.  Again, I'm not sure if this is due to server lag.

So there are a few things.  Have you gotten around to downloading and playing yet?  Get on it!  If you're ever looking for a partner to run around with in game, please feel free to post a character name here in the comments section, and I'll find you in game.

-Bonzo out.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


So, I'm still here.

It was a very, very rough 2012 for me and I hope that 2013 will have a much better outlook as we move forward.

Some quick things of note from this past year.  We tried out a few different table-top systems, and we've enjoyed most of them.  I've found some old online MMOs that are perhaps better now than they were previously.  I just today discovered a Diablo 2 clone that is being produced by some fine folks down in New Zealand - and that is what I want to spend a little bit of time on right now.

Path of Exile is the Diablo 2 clone in question.  It's currently in open beta testing, so if you enjoyed D2 and you want to have that same kind of fun without all of the Blizzard BS, go download the client and get going.  I think the total amount of time it took to download, install, and update was about 20 minutes.  It's not like you'd be downloading/installing/updating World of Tanks for Pete's sake.    I've only been playing Path of Exile for a few hours and just completed Act 1, so I felt I could actually take a break and log out.  I'm very impressed with this game.  The UI is designed very well, with optimal user friendliness for the gamer in mind.  Hotkey bindings are sensible, and easy to find/understand.  The in game currency system COMPLETELY eliminates the problems that came about from Blizzard's complete lack of anything resembling intelligence concerning currency/auctioning items.  This game does feel more like D2.5 or 2.8 rather than Diablo 2 or Diablo 3, however I really like the subtle changes the lads at Grinding Gear Games made to the Diablo style format.  The classes are balanced, the game play is fun and intuitive, the music and ambiance are incredible.  The skill tree is very much like what I've seen from Square Enix with Final Fantasy X, allowing you to customize your particular character build to your preferred play style.  Again very, very impressive.

If you haven't yet gone to their website to look at the game, please do so.  And watch the introductory video!

-Bonzo out.