GenCon: Day One
As might be expected, the general con experience might almost be too much for me.
The cosplay runs the gamut between legitimately intriguing to hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to document much of any of it. Because first of all, I don’t think a normal picture would be all that interesting to look at. But, second, I’m not actually that bad mannered to surreptitiously take the infinitely more interesting photos.
Panel: Game Writing 101
So this panel was actually extremely interesting given the people on it: Thomas Reid (P&P games), Christine Thompson (writer and lore person for Star Trek Online), and Maxwell Drake (writer for EverQuest Next). [edit: Matt Forbeck was also there] There was no particular agenda for the panel; the people up there just took questions from the audience.
Highlight of the panel? Maxwell came out and said EQNext wouldn’t be done for another 2 years. Not sure if that is “official” or just his impression of things, but EQN having a 2016 release kinda pushes the entire thing out beyond even my limited Kickstarter time horizon. Maxwell also mentioned that SOE is pouring more money into EQN than they have for any other game (probably not news), but he also mentioned that the SOE marketing department really doesn’t respect writing in general. Apparently he releases a story a month on the EQN lore and it’s buried deep on the website without any fanfare.
So I suppose if you want to read some more about EQN, then check it out here.
Panel: Running a Successful Kickstarter
Once again, I probably should have been more excited about this panel than I actually was, given the people on it. I didn’t catch their names specifically, but one of the guys did Zombicide and Chaos Ball (edit: David Preti), one did Dwarven Forge (edit: Jeff Martin?), a third was maybe the CEO of Cheap-Ass Games (edit: James Ernest), and I didn’t catch what the fourth guy did.
The number one piece of advice was basically to do US-only shipping, if you have to do any shipping at all. The reason is that shipping costs can be variable, some European countries are taxed pretty heavily, and you might not even know how much you’re shipping if you run “exploding tiers” in your Kickstarter, e.g. the stretch goals that gives all backers above a certain level more goodies once a stretch goal is reached. Since the panel was mostly focused on board games, there would always be some level of shipping product, but you always have to be careful regardless.
There were some additional points, but that’s enough for now.
John Smedley, the president of SOE, did a Reddit AMA a little while ago and dropped some bombs.
If you could relaunch a shutdown title which one would you pick and what would you do differently this time?
SWG. I would do everything differently.
SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now. (source)
Here are some more snippets:
- The PlanetSide 2 pricing model is not a good gauge for EQN/L (and Ps2 prices may be decreased soon)
- There will be a Bard in EQN
- The Ps2 Player Studio will eventually allow players to create vehicles and even weapons eventually.
- EQN is confirmed to be coming to the PS4.
- The whole Storybricks/emergent AI thing is the secret sauce to EQN.
- You can expect EQN:L, expansions to EQ and EQ2, and an unannounced MMO in 2014.
- When asked about the closing of Vanguard, he admitted that they were actually running it at a loss for years.
His response to the closing of Free Realms was rather depressing:
1) Are you planning on adding more family-friendly options? First there was Toontown Online, then there was Free Realms, and CWA. Is there another youth-oriented game planned?
1) No. No more kids games. Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game. Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot. (source)
There was another question/answer that I felt was rather interesting, concerning card games:
Will Legends of Norrath also be sunsetted in the near future?
no. Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level. (source)
The whole WoW-clone phenomenon is well established, but I still find it interesting seeing it take place in real-time.
The Limits of Procedure
In a recent post, Tobold says:
After Everquest Next announced dynamic spawns with an ecosystem, destructible environment, and open world player housing, several people dismissed these claims as unrealistic with the argument that Ultima Online tried that and failed: Players kill mobs faster than they can reproduce, gather resources so fast that whole forests are turned into deserts, and build houses everywhere until no more flat surface is left. While that history is correct, the conclusion isn’t. As a counter-example look at Star Wars Galaxies, where open world housing clearly worked a lot better than in Ultima Online. So what is the difference, and how can a virtual world with a stable ecosystem be created without players destroying everything? The answer is simply in the size of the world, and the scale of the ecosystem.
Two paragraphs later though, he sort of undermines his own argument a bit (emphasis mine):
The Ultima Online ecosystem failed due to its small size and technical limitations of the time. But a procedurally generated world can be much bigger, even infinite. People don’t run out of world to modify in Minecraft. And if the world is big enough, you can put in enough mobs so that players can’t possibly make them extinct.
Er… if players cannot possibly make the mobs extinct, what’s the point in having an “ecosystem” in the first place?
But, never mind that. What I really wanted to talk about is the Minecraft bit. Because sometimes I get the feeling that “procedurally-generated” as a concept is being elevated as some paragon virtue of game design – a silver-bullet to boredom – when it is really nothing of the sort.
A procedurally-generated game solves exactly one problem: metagaming. That is not quite the correct word I want to use though, as you can still technically metagame a procedurally-generated world in several ways. Namely, by knowing its procedures. For example, no matter what Minecraft world is created (mods aside), diamond only spawns in layer 19 and below. Indeed, there is a whole bunch of Minecraft constants to consider (accurate circa 2010 anyway). All the Minecraft map being procedurally-generated does is prevent you from following a guide telling you to move North a hundred steps and then walk East to find a nice batch of Iron Ore near the surface. Avoiding those scenarios is certainly useful, and it’s always fun running into the truly bizarre and whimsical creations of the RNG gods.
The problem arises in treating the procedurally-generated whatever as “endless content,” when it is really not anything of the sort. As I talked about before, your knowledge of a game’s systems really only ever increases as you play; novelty has diminishing returns within the same game. Each Minecraft world generated may be completely different, but you are going to be doing the same sort of things each time: punch wood, make tools, make structure, dig for ore, etc. Different starting locations and details can spice up the gameplay for a time, but your “build order” is unlikely to change much no matter where you are.
Procedurally-generated content definitely has a place in gaming, usually in the context of roguelikes, but it will not solve any of EQN or any other MMO’s problems. Not that its application in MMOs made much sense in the first place – one of the defining characteristics of an MMO is a persistent world, which is incongruent with procedural generation. Even if it was just one world of infinite size (expanding at the edges), the amount of space surrounding objects of player interest would remain finite. And that’s assuming players would be willing to trudge out very far from their starting location in the first place.
No, just adding more space isn’t going to solve the issue. If anyone claims that an MMO’s world cannot be too big, simply point them at any given low-pop server of any game anywhere.
Server Merges Are Coming
Blizzard is calling them “Connected Realms,” but it occurs to me that in the future, any MMO dev can simply call their server merges “connected realms” to bypass the negative stigma surrounding the term. “We’re not merging, we’re connecting! Which is like merging, except with a hashtag!”
On a different note, this quote from the Connected Realms FAQ is a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post (emphasis mine):
Connected Realms also allow us to link populations in a way that’s not disruptive to players, and that doesn’t negatively impact players’ sense of identity and character. Other alternatives such as merging realms would require us to force character name changes if there were conflicts, and could lead to confusion for returning players who’d log in to find their realm missing from the realm list. Some players also feel strong ties to their realm’s name or history, and we don’t want to erase that.
Let me ask you something, and get ready to have your mind blown. What is a realm’s name or history if not the collection of people in it? What is the difference between Auchindoun-US, the shit-hole I played on for 4+ years, and something like Stormrage-US, one of the highest-populated servers in WoW?
The people. That’s it. Auchindoun’s Lower City looks exactly the same as Stormrage’s Lower City. Arthas looks the same, the mobs look the same, the resource spawns are the same, the quests are the same, every single thing is the same.
While the speed of opening the AQ Gates or whether there was a server first heroic Lich King kill before the expansion comes out differs depending on the server, that is simply due to – again – the people. The AQ gates are open everywhere. Deathwing is dead everywhere. Garrosh will be a raid boss everywhere soon. Remove the people, and every single MMO server is the same.
This is why I cock an eyebrow at “dynamic” and “emergent” anything. EQN is going to have StoryBrick AI in there somewhere. Cool… but is that going to mean Server A has a completely different ecology than Server B? If not, we must have radically different definitions of what those words mean. Player ecologies differ between servers of course, sometimes radically, and make the server distinctions worthwhile. But servers differing on the development side? As far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet.
Anyway: server merges in WoW. Given how my friends bailed out of Auchindoun and to a PvE server during the half-price sale a while back, there is literally nothing to go back to. Should I ever desire to. For Press™ reasons. That $25 a pop price though… jesus. The suits over there sure like making the decision easy.
Daybreak Outlook Dim
Posted by Azuriel
In the long-term, it’s possible the “restructuring” going on at
SOEDaybreak could result in a better game company. In the short-term though? Jesus Christ:
Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson (Director of Development for the EverQuest brand, @DaveGeorgeson)
Jeff Butler (Creative Director for the EverQuest brand, @JButlerDaybreak)
Linda “Brasse” Carlson (Community Manager, @Brasse)
Akil “Lyndro” Hooper (Everquest II developer, @akilh)
Aaron “Gnobrin” Bisnett (Weapon and Armor designer for 12 years, @Gnobrin)
Douglas “Endymion” VanDerveer (Everquest II game designer, @douglastweets)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Eric “Felgon” Smith (Associate Producer for EverQuest Next and Landmark, @F4Felgon)
Steve “Moorgard” Danuser (Lead Content Designer and Head of Story, @Moorgard)
Tiffany “Amnerys” Spence (Social Media, @JustTiffy)
Kyle “Hats” Manchester (Community Manager, @Hats)
Racheal “Afista” McKenny ( Everquest II community Manager, @Afista)
Noah Watkins (Graphic designer, @noahwatkins)
Kelduum Revaan (Programmer for H1Z1, @Kelduum)
Katharine Anderson (Build master for PlanetSide 2, @katharinelilly)
Xander Clauss (Base designer for PlanetSide 2, @XanderClauss)
Taylor Dowell (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @Tayradactyl)
David Carey (Systems designer for PlanetSide 2, @dcarey7761)
Aimee “Ashlanne” Rekoske (Community Relations Project Manager, @Ashlanne)
Michael “Xelgad” Ganz (Systems designer for EQII, @Xelgad)
Jeffrey Bard (Everquest II development)
Possibly all contracted employees – Not confirmed
(source1, source2, source3)
A more structured data post can be found here.
As you might imagine, morale in the /r/EQNext, /r/H1Z1, and /r/Planetside subreddits are at an all-time low. There is a thread up by David Carey (former PS2 dev) asking people to not hate on Columbus Nova, and the arguments presented make sense in a lot of ways. On the other hand, for PlanetSide 2 specifically, it’s not entirely clear that there is another “base designer” on staff to, you know, build more bases. So what we see currently might be all we ever get. Which is… not exactly encouraging. To say nothing about the future of H1Z1 or EQN especially, assurances be damned.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Daybreak, EQN, H1Z1, Layoffs, PlanetSide 2, SoE