Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dear MMO Creators,

It's been a while, lets chat.

Looking around there's a lot of turmoil in the MMO World. Subscribers down or flat at best, PC free to play models being trampled upon by mobile free to play models, big guilds folding up shop and moving into the annuls of history, huge new projects announced and then knifed in the dark of night never to be heard from again, and so on. Which raises the question: how did the MMO market go from the king of the heap to meandering along on station at best?

Imitation is the Worst Form of Flattery

Well, let's throw the big reason out there: no one really did anything new. Seriously, we're about 20 years into this genre and it's stagnated for the last 12 of them as everyone and their uncle has tried to reverse engineer WoW and failed. Repeatedly. It reached a point where the biggest joke in gaming was a new "WoW Killer" launching to stories exclaiming: "1 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS!!!!!! It's gonna DOMINATE!!!!" and then being on life support 6 months later.

These games all exist in different universes, but they all play in the same manner and even their classes are all just variations of each other in the end. Oh, sure, the buttons you press differ but ultimately what you do comes down to this: move from quest hub to quest hub collecting bear butts and earning experience until you reach Max level, run max level dungeons/raids or PvP until you've got the best gear possible, sit on your hands until you get new content. Why? Because no thought goes into making the rest of the game world involving at all. Ultimately, anyone is going to get bored when the only game differentiation on offer is whether they want to collect bear butts, womp rats, or radioactive waste.

In the middle someone came up with World Events - "Hey, look, something's happening over there!" - and everyone adopted them but players quickly realized they were repetitive smoke and mirrors and tired of them.

What's missing in the marketplace is something that breaks the mold and drives "What an MMO is" forward again - what WoW initially delivered and Everquest Next promised before tugging out the rug. But, with every next generation MMO known finding its way behind the barn in the last year that's not coming soon...

Where's the Mystery?
Early MMO Players had a whole world to explore and figure out, now everything is cataloged and filed online within 15 minutes of a beta patch hitting the test servers. Top end raid guilds spend the two months before a patch fighting the next Tier's raid bosses for "testing purposes" and then folks are amazed that they clear the instance on the first week. The mystery and exploration aspect is gone.

A big bone of contention in WoW during the last expansion was the idea that Flight must be verboten. The developers argued that flight damaged the world by making it feel small and too easy to complete quests. They're not necessarily wrong; they just misdiagnosed the root cause because the problem is that the world is small.

This gets back to a budgetary concept of Video Game world design that argues any space not directly related to gameplay is a waste. So, things are done as follows:
  1. Design a Quest Hub and determine the quests
  2. Create and populate the surrounding areas needed to serve the quests
  3. Repeat until sufficient content for max level
  4. Add some roads, fill in the holes on the map, and compress it down because players need to walk from point to point
Thing is, players don't need to walk anymore so maybe it's time to throw that concept out. Supersize the world and create non-quest related content in the open spaces; things to find, rare monsters to kill, hell even glorious vistas you have to trek out to the middle of nowhere to find and will never see without leaving the beaten path. Use fast transit to link the hubs. Create a separate world of gameplay around exploring and finding something new instead of just throwing more daily quests at people. To a certain degree this is what Guild Wars 2 did and was quickly imitated by WoW because it was the most fun part of that game; the problem is that the world was still small because it was designed as the above.

Mind you, WoW is now 12 years old and there are still only maybe what, 10 unique caves in the game? So, maybe creating extra open space content is harder than I think. Or they're lazy. Your call

Also, lets be honest here for a moment: they really should've added flying Fel Reavers to Tanaan when they brought flight back.

Everyone's Asleep at the Wheel
We're 12 years into WoW and the developers still pretend not to realize anyone min-maxes. Prime example: the Garrison. Sure, it's integration of monotonous Facebook gameplay into an MMO but one has to question why it does what it does.

Game breaking things the garrison allows you to do:
  • Gather resources for any profession without having to train a gathering profession
  • Chat in Trade without being in a city and access the Auction House (with the right building)
  • Earn 20K to 40K a month/toon just sending ships and people into the field
How did such an immense pile of avoidable damage that lets me earn $250K Gold a month on 20 minutes a day of login time make its way into an MMO? Ultimately it's because WoW design seems to have been taken over by: "Wouldn't it be neat if..." and every time they cook up something completely half-brained it somehow manages to now find its way into the game regardless of the potential consequences.

As much as I want to see change happen they need to start making smart change that understands the consequences.

Where do we go from here?
Honestly, other than the suggestion to expand the world above I don't know. The procedurally generated content promised by EverQuest Next (even if pseudo) had my ears perked and interest set but that's out the window now as "too hard" so who knows where things go. All I know is that what exists now only exists to be stomped upon by something that radically changes the landscape.

The sooner that happens the better.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rant: Excuse Me While a Remin-Vent

So, back in college we were given an assignment to create a day planner program for a company, a list of things it needed to be able to do, and then required to pitch it to the class as if they were the "customer". It was a rather boringly repetitive class as groups got up and went through the motions until one of the final groups got up and went balls to the wall presenting quite literally the swiss army knife of day planners; it had features on top of features on top of features. They'd clearly put a lot of work into it in an effort to shock and awe their way to an A. This strategy was going quite well until the question and answer section where the teacher had them take a question from each person in the class as if they were the client inquiring about their device and they got to me.

The reason for that is that I tend to be just a tad bit of an observant analytical asshole when left to my own devices and thus my question was quite simply this: "You seem to have spent a lot of development time on this product, and these features you've demonstrated seem useful, but… does it actually do any of the things we asked you to make it do?"

Yup, in their effort to come up with a whole bunch of useless perks they'd delivered a product that did everything but what it actually needed to do by design.

I'm bringing this wonderful memory up because I'm currently on loan to a project at work that involves dealing with a programmer who repeatedly takes the position that his program is better because it does something we don't need it to do and our demands that it work the way we actually need it to work are clearly wrongheaded… every… single… fucking… time…

There are a lot of things I could blame for that but ultimately it comes down to this: the programmer is running solo, treats this thing like it is his baby and can't take any criticism of his work at all. Every technical issue is someone else's fault; which it sometimes is but mostly isn't. Every request for change has some vital reason it can't be done until management intervenes and then it somehow happens. Every glitch or incorrect behaviour is working correctly within his view of how the tool should work until you write a twelve page novella on why it's actually extremely important that it doesn't do it that way. Oh, except for the times where you actually sit down, explain how to do something correctly multiple times, point out where the solution is, and then he still can't be arsed to do it until you finally intervene in the middle of a conference call and explicitly walk his ass through how to properly code the program so it works for the 4th god damned time.

That's right; here I thought I'd left the programming world behind forever yet now I'm stuck doing QA, psuedo-coding, and, ultimately, handing over the solution code to be inserted in real time in front of 10 other people all to spackle over the reality that someone who likely gets paid 3-4 times what I do is functionally incompetent at actually delivering solutions while working for an external IT contracting company that waives around the word "Solutions" in their branding all the fucking time.

Fuck my life.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Japan Trip 2: Video Roundup

In which I toss everything I shot video of in one post and state the obvious.

From Day 2, we have a panoramic shot of Osaka shot from the top of the Floating/Sky Garden Observatory:

Here comes Day 3 where we wander through the Inner Courtyard, Todaiji Temple in Nara and the Outer Courtyard of Horyuji Temple in Horyuji:

Day 4 found some armour in Himeji Castle:

On Day 5, I go street wandering, and find a small garden pond:

The 6th Day sees all sorts of stuff: The Silver Pavilion Grounds, the Heian Shrine and a couple of it's garden ponds, and a shot from the patio of Kiyomizudera Temple. Oh, and someone else playing Border Break on a live video feed:

Jumping ahead to Day 9, we have some maintenance being done on the outer walls of the Imperial Palace, the inner bailey entrance to the Eastern Garden of the Imperial Palace, and the pond within the garden itself:

aaaaaannnnnnddd we finish up on Day 11 with some kind folks making really good candy:

That's that folks. Back to my random posting habits. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day 11: Annnnnnnd, We're Homeward Bound.

Have to check out by 10 AM, but don't fly out until 5PM so I leave my gear in an automated baggage locker and kick around Tokyo Station where I grab a quick McBreakfast at a McDonalds where they seem to have taken the whole McCafe thing to an extreme by painting the place up like a beatnik cafe and outfitting the staff in french berets and skirts:
One thing about Japan is that grocery stores are largely built into department stores on their basement floors:
and are less series of aisles and more like an old school farmers market with distinct booths and variations in terms of what's available. At one booth they were making some excellent candy by hand. It was pretty interesting to watch them create an orange flavoured candy by combining 6 triangular "orange slices" into a roll about the thickness of my thigh, and then work that roll down into individual pieces the thickness of my pinky finger:
I have video of the process I'll likely post later.

I'm now off the Narita where I grab some Ramen for lunch:

For our finale, let's note a few things that make Narita a superior experience to Pearson again. Firstly, when you get there before you even get in there's an exterior mall where you can buy everything from clothes, to books, to electronics if you're inclined to stuff a TV in as your baggage allowance:
then, once you clear customs... well, remember the vacant hallway I showed at Pearson? Well, compare your left and right views walking out here:

At this point you're probably going: why would I want to shop at an airport? Well, you may have forgotten something but, more importantly, even window shopping is something to do that's not just: "sit in your chair and wait pleb". It makes for a much more interesting way to blow two hours. Not only that, but there's actual food here that's priced about the same as everywhere else which is a vast improvement over Pearson's: "ha, ha, we've got you trapped!" bs.

With that said: I shall do an epilogue eventually.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 10: Around Tokyo Part 2

Gonna start out my last full day here by touring the Edo Tokyo Museum which, as you might guess, is dedicated to the history of Edo/Tokyo.
Worth the visit, it's full of full scale reproductions, objects, and diorama's of historical Kyoto as it works it's way though the towns origins to the almost present day. Finish up there about noon and stop off for lunch.
After finishing up there, I remember a prediction from my last visit and pop by Harajuku to see how the gentrification is going and find sections of the street either under reconstruction or in the final stages of being rebuilt as fresh storefront buildings. It will be interesting to see what stores move in in a few years.
Moving on, I head north to Asakusa and visit the Tokyo SkyTree: a new broadcast tower to replace Tokyo Tower for the digital age. It's your typical CN Tower-like attraction if the CN Tower had a huge mall underneath it. One thing about Japan: they don't waste space and pretty much every attraction like this also serves as part of a larger complex so there are other things to do there even after boredom sets in with the SkyTree itself.
It's my last day here, so I divert back south to Tokyo Station and grab some Tonkatsu again because it's damned good, unlike those M&M wafers restaurants serve up here:
and then I spend the rest of the night kicking around Akihibara where the AKB48 are plastered on posters all over the place and Maid Cafe's have expanded to include Business Woman, Cat Girl, and School Girl variants.

Tomorrow's Forecast: Sunny, chance of planes.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 9: Around Tokyo

Gonna spend my last couple days kicking around Tokyo starting off with a trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is where a majority of the fish that is consumed in Tokyo and area is sold each day and where the daily auction of fresh Tuna catch occurs. Didn't get up at 5 AM to witness that, a bit early for me, but even at 8 AM the market is still pretty lively as stores and restaurants move to make their last purchases. Something to remember if you're touring: you're in the way. This is an active wholesale market, so there will be people rushing from booth to booth and produce carts making their way through the aisles so you need to stay aware of where you're positioning yourself so as to not get in the way of regular traffic.

Be kinda silly to goto a fish market in Japan and not do sushi, so it's time for brunch:

Next up: the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is not open to tours, but the East Garden is a free park open to the public the vast majority of the time:
and it makes for a pleasant walk.

I'm looking for a book, so I jump over to Shibuya for a bit, touring the shopping district and visiting Shibuya Crossing:
before making my way back downtown where I'm able to see the restored exterior of Tokyo Station which was being worked on the last time I visited:

At this point, it's getting late in the day so I grab dinner:
up in Shinjuku (where I learn about table charges: eat elsewhere if you don't want to pay 300-500 yen just for a seat), and then tour the nightlife district there in Kabukichō:
A solid mass of neon, bars, and exotic establishments - at one point a finely dressed man offers to help me find certain services - it's worth touring for the ambiance alone.

Tomorrow's forecast: Overcast, chance of history and electronics.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 8: Matsumoto or Third Try's the Charm

Today I'm off to Matsumoto; another former castle town this time placed inland on an open plain nestled between the Japanese Northern Alps and Northern Mountain Ranges so pretty much anyway you look you're surrounded by mountains. We're here primarily to take another shot at seeing a castle keep proper but, being 3 hours out from Tokyo by train I'm going to kick off with lunch:
before moving onwards towards the castle.

En-route I stop by the Timepiece Museum where there are some absolutely beautiful grandfather clocks on display amongst other things:
After wandering through the collection, I proceed on to Matsumoto Castle: which was built towards the end of the wars of unification and just as the Matchlock Rifle began to make it's presence known. Constructed with a 50 meter wide moat to place attackers on land just outside the effective range at the time and with rifle slits and sliding slot windows for shooting from, it was amongst the first castles to take the Rifle into consideration just in time for the wars to end. As such, it would never see battle and is one of the last original (although repaired and maintained), undamaged examples of wood and clay wall construction left in the country.

Also, the first castle where I'm able to see the inner keep largely as it was and it's a wonderful piece of interior woodcraft.

I spend a couple hours there chatting with a friendly tour guide before proceeding to the Kaichi School Museum:
The first attempt at creating a "western style" school after the end of Shogunate rule and the removal of the class system that went with it, it's an odd mix of Western and Japanese design yet entirely functional. It's also cool inside despite a total lack of air conditioning and this is likely because of the reflective quality of the plaster white walls. Well worth the visit.

It's another 3 hour trip to get home, so dinner tonight is pork ramen and, because it must be tried, what passes for poutine.
Ramen: good. Poutine: bad.

Tomorrow's forecast: sunny, chance of fish and wandering.

PS: best distracted driving poster ever.