and posted a trackback to Raph Koster’s website, with very little content on the website (essentially nil), I am posting some titles for work in progress posts. Hopefully these will be up within the week unless I go crazy and make a bunch of posts on the same subject, since each of these could easily become the beginning of a series of articles.

Redoing the Pacman Redux – Game Design Idea 1.1

Areae – A Menagerie of Mentalists?

Faction Design Accounting for Player Control

RP, PvP and PGC (similar theme as the above)

“My game’s going to WTFpwn WoW” (The answer is no it won’t. The good news is that it doesn’t have to.)

The Goal of an MMO = $

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A Challenge to Raph Koster

January 21, 2007

In one post you summarize the base precept that we should build MMOs of the future on. I’ll summarize it in three words. Player generated content (pgc).

You make a good start thinking about it and I almost hoped you really meant the following:

  • Areae will encourage cooperation, twinking, mentoring, and trading.
  • Areae will want players to actually grow much more powerful than the initial game state assumed
  • Areae will allow the gains of the past to be preserved
  • Areae will let you pursue a given path infinitely, rather than making you “switch careers,” because it keeps adding fractal detail
  • Areae will never make the barrier to entry higher because of all this stuff — in fact, ideally, it makes it lower
  • We will not spend all our time adding content Areae’s high end
  • Areae will not assume that the experience has a finite lifespan

Sounds pretty good to me, and it sounds like something you’d be interested in doing. It eliminates the drastic shift from the leveling game to the elder game, reducing grinding (mostly for newcomers who want to catch up) and can be worldy enough for you (the first bullet benefits both community and a player run economy). Then you finish with your opinion, “it’s rather hard to conceive of a game that can offer this.”

By using the words “it’s rather hard” you suggest that you haven’t conceived of a game that can do this. The big questions are first, do you mean that you haven’t conceived of a game can offer this yet? If the answer is yes, or you already have, will Areae be this game? Thankfully you suggest a basis for a game that can offer “this.” The basis is to make the act of creation into a game, so that the players feel like they are being entertained.

I started this blog to discuss that very thing, making the game such that by playing it you create more content for other players than you use up yourself and and that it can happen without the player intentionally trying or even noticing. My challenge is for you to try and think of ways to make creation a game, and I’ll try and explain why I think you should and how you might do it.

Pretty crazy? I know. Worth trying? Absolutely.

Everyone says to start making games by starting small. Try cloning Tetris, Breakout, Pacman and Super Mario Bros they say. That’s where this game design idea began, but perhaps I should go back closer to the beginning.

I have some programming experience, Basic for my Ti-86, the basics of PHP and MySQL and some C, but little experience building games even though I spend so much time thinking about how to design better ones. After reading an article by Jeff Tunnell, I decided to change and start creating stuff. I downloaded Game Maker and decided to try to create something, something simple like suggested. A rehash of a classic. Why not Pac-man I thought, but just redoing (i.e. copying) Pacman did not really interest me. That’s where this game idea comes from.

Sidenote: I might still create tetris and breakout clones before I try and build this idea, but Tetris has been done so many times and neither of them really generated a cool innovation or idea in my head. There are some possibilities with breakout now that I think about it and if an idea comes, I’ll post it later.

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The Idea: Pacman Redux

The levels: Start with one level and perfect it. If that’s too boring add more levels like Ms. Pacman. Levels should be reminiscent of Pacman, and both slightly bigger and slightly more complex.

The player avatar: A small metallic ball. As it runs over the dots it will gradually grow and gain sizes. The sizes start with tiny, what you begin as, on to small, medium and large. In order to distinguish between sizes a mellow glow effect will surround the ball. Tiny – no glow, small – yellow glow, medium – orange glow, large – red glow.

The dots: the player collects these. These also come in sizes, the same as the player’s avatar, tiny, small, medium and large, and the player can only pick up dots the same size as their avatar or smaller. If the dot is larger than the player’s size they will roll over it but the dot will remain. Dots will probably be represented as gray puddles that vary in size. A possible dynamic could be to have the dots go down in size after a certain amount of time has passed, but tiny dots will not go down in size or disappear. If allowed to, all of the dots would become tiny dots.

Enemies: Instead of ghosts, there will be various containers that will capture the player’s avatar, ending that life. Current ideas for monsters are themed as kitchen items and are listed in increasing levels of difficulty: plastic grocery bag, brown paper sack, zip lock baggie, plastic cup, and soup can. If the player is of a sufficient size they can punch a hole through the container, killing it and netting the player points. If the ball’s size is at least small (yellow) he can defeat the plastic grocery bag. If the player’s avatar is medium (orange) or larger he can defeat the brown paper sack and if the avatar is large (red) the player can defeat the zip lock baggy. The player cannot punch through the plastic cup and the soup can. When killed the containers would go to the center area, their “holding tank,” to be released shortly. The containers could just respawn or be upgraded to the next level and then be released.

Powerups: There is one powerup, the “torch”, represented by a puddle that is on fire. If the player passes through the torch they will be lit on fire. While on fire they can defeat all enemies except for the soup can, no matter the player’s size. While the player’s avatar is on fire it will shrink, but the player can turn off the fire with a keypress whenever they want to. If it reaches the minimum size while on fire there are two possible design decisions. You can allow the ball to melt into nothing ending that life if the player does not extinguish the flames. Otherwise the flame would just be extinguished and the player continues playing, with the ball at the minimum size. Other possible effects for this or an additional powerup are increased player speed, weapons to shoot, etc. I will likely include an increased speed effect in some manner. There will also be four torches on each level.

Lives: Players will begin with three extra lives and the ball in play. When the ball is captured an interesting, but short animation will show the ball being picked up and placed off to the side, keeping track of deaths and making death more interesting. It may be possible to earn extra lives, perhaps by reaching a certain amount of points, collecting a set of bonus objects, defeating all of the monster in play and putting them in the holding cell, or other ways. Extra lives may not be earned in excess of 3 extra lives.

Points: Points will be distributed for collecting dots, and defeating containers. Each container is only worth points for the first time it is defeated and any time it is defeated while the player is on fire. If the containers are upgraded when defeated they become worth points if defeated again.

Bonus objects: Bonus objects (like Pacman’s cherries and pretzels) will randomly spawn and are worth points. If a whole set of similar items is collected the player may earn a bonus.

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Problems with the idea

I like the way the game mechanics work right now with the interaction of size and power, with a powerup that increases your short term power but hurts your long term power the more you use it. What this design lacks is a coherent theme. I like the idea of a metallic ball for its aesthetic looks but the idea of kitchen containers is quirky and interesting. The ball could be a meatball or something and the dots, bits of meat or sauce, or cheese, but then the powerup would have to be something different.

Penny for your thoughts?

70? Already?

January 18, 2007

As already pointed out by Damion at Zen of Design, a french player has already reached level 70, only 28 hours after the launch of Blizzard’s long awaited expansion, The Burning Crusade. The original article surfaced at PRO-G.

I find myself only slightly surprised. I knew it wouldn’t take long for hardcore guilds to powerlevel each other’s characters. In this case the reward is the fame and renown of being first, both for the guild and the player, however fleeting. In addition, powerleveling to get a headstart on the five mans is a step preapring hardcore guilds for their return to towards the high level raid content.

The article cites this as a source of concern for Blizzard, because they have stated hope of The Burning Crusade lasting for a year. This is misguided. First of all, patches will also help to retain customers until the next expansion is released, tentatively set for the same time next year, if they manage to make the deadline. Secondly, most of those rushing through to level 70 are planning on sticking around for the raid content the same as they have been doing for the past two years and two months. Others will become bored with the new raid content and either find entertainment in the new PvP, professions, races and starting areas, or cancel their subscriptions.

Sidenote: The recent surge in subscribers is interesting in June of 2006 WoW had 6.6 million subscribers. recently they touted breaking 8 million subscribers (official press release). I think Blizzard will be wringing its hands hoping that subscriptions don’t undergo a serious drop back to the levels they were at six months ago, after returning players burn through the new content. Unfortunately there won’t be any good way for us to tell how The Burning Crusade will affect Blizzard’s subscription numbers until we get another press release. If they do drop, will Blizzard continue to tell us their subscription numbers or pretend that no change has occured, a la SOE?

The question is how does TBC affect the casual players? Those 10 levels will take a casual much longer than one guy assisted by nearly 40 other players. Even hardcore raiders are unlikely to employ the same tactics in powerlevelling ( 35 players foregoing xp to level one person up to 70). The level cap will last much longer than 28 hours for casuals and most players, especially those new players, or returning players who have not reached the level cap.Of the points brought up when discussing the effects of an expansion on the economy, Raph mentions two effects on these players that come with TBC, or any other expansion because mudflation seems omnipresent in MMO economies.

1. Formerly high-end items will decrease in worth, particularly within “bands” of content where hand-me-downs are practical. Me: this increases the power of players of the same level playing post expansion as compared to pre expansion characters. This is partially mitigated by the large percentage of powerful items that are soulbound. Powerful tradeable items, however, will become cheaper.

2. The world feels more hollow, the “hollow world” syndrome, where formerly populated zones become less so, as the bulk of the users shift locales to fit the new mean level.
Me: This is temporarily mitigated in TBC by the amount of players starting new draeni or blood elf characters.

My remaining thoughts on his post are that many if not all of the effects of an expansion, mudflation, etc., can be eliminated with a different system. What kind of system that would be is a post for another time.