Friday, November 28, 2008

Wishing Well

Memories usually seem to consist of our best and worse times. The bad memories, no matter how hard we try to forget about them, they just seem to have a way of crawling back up to the surface. The danger with those is allowing them to dictate the choices we make in the future for fear of a repeat, making us sometimes miss out on great opportunities. On the flip side, good memories are the ones we like to revisit. But just like bad memories, they can be dangerous. When we dwell too much on the past, we fail to appreciate the present for what it is and constantly compare anything we get to what once was. So the question you have to ask yourself is was the past really all that great?

There are a number of things that make something great, often a combination of the right elements at the right time. But put that same something in a different setting or at a different time, and it may very well turn out not to be so great after all.

As a child, there was this great big park a block away from my house where I used to play with my brothers. It was huge! And there was this great river running through it surrounded by swings and slides and all sorts of fun things for children to play with. My brothers would tease me all the time, threatening to throw me in the river. The river was so wide and so deep, surely I would have drowned!

I was about 6 yo when we moved from that house. In my early 20s, I was driving by the area and decided to do a little detour by the park I so fondly remembered. When I got there, at first I thought I was at the wrong place. You see, the huge park that I remembered was really a small park on the corner of the street. The great big river was a small pond that ran through it. It was barely a meter wide and maybe 2 feet deep. There were 2 slides, a sand square, 2 sets of swings and a couple benches.

I was sad and disappointed to see it with my grown up eyes. As a child, it had been a great almost mythical place. As an adult, it was just small, bland and dated. I wish I had not gone back. I wish I would have just kept the wonderful memory of it and not today's reality of it.

People often say "I wish we could go back to when..." thinking they would be happier if they did. This is especially true in UO. Like many players, I wasn't happy with AoS and I had mixed feelings about Renaissance. But would I really be happier on a pre-AoS, pre-Pub 16 or pre-Renaissance shard? On some fronts yes, on others hell no! Globally? I don't know.

The old days were great, no question about that. But it wasn't just the game mechanics that made it great. It was mostly the people, the different mentality, the different era. Times change, people change and expectations change. It took me months pre-Power Hour to GM Mining, and that was with me mining every night for hours non-stop. I won't even talk about how long it took for smithing and lockpicking. I loved the difficulty then, but I would hate to go through that today. I was never fond of having to use reagents to cast spells. I cannot bear the thought of going back to no LRC. But I miss the Seers and Counselors, the slew of player run towns and RPers galore of old. More importantly, I miss the people who have now moved on to other things.

Bottomline, you shouldn't live in the past. It's ok to learn from the mistakes of the past and take some of the good from it, but not dwell on it. You HAVE to look to the future and you have to evolve into something else, and hopefully something better. If you wish for the past long and hard enough, you may just get it. But once you do, you will likely realize it really wasn't what you thought it would be and all you will have accomplished is tarnish and maybe even shatter the fond memory you once had.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Ever noticed how every time a new game comes out, a new feature gets added or a new expansion is released, people always go "OMG, they just copied/ripped this off of (insert copied game here)!!" ? I know I've done it a few times myself but recent events made me rethink the matter.

Every time we do a new publish, some players always find a way to look at the Clilocs to get some spoilers as to what is upcoming. Sometimes, what they see is indeed new content, but sometimes they just see work in progress or internal stuff that will never get in the game. In that specific instance, they saw a new reward I was working on for a future publish. Someone made a comment on the board about it being a rip from World of Warcraft. My initial reaction was "huh?!" but after further thought, I could see how that player would think that.

But while WoW indeed has something similar, this reward was simply a beefed up version of a UO item that existed long before anyone ever heard of WoW. The change is essentially increasing its duration and the buff it provides, making it useful again. So why did the player consider it a WoW rip off? Because the current UO version didn't keep up with the evolution of the game and is obsolete at the moment (hence the revamp it's getting). The majority of UO players isn't even aware it exists while the WoW version is a commonly used item. You could almost say WoW made that type of item popular.

So would it be fair to say that WoW copied its version from UO? Maybe, maybe not. I would lean towards probably not. In truth, how do you determine who rips off of who? Who had the original idea of whatever?

Most games could be called a rip off of an older game. What RPG didn't steal something from D&D? What FPS didn't take from Doom or Duke Nukem? What sand box didn't copy from GTA? Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Does it even matter? A perfectly roasted chicken is just as good as a nice omelet. I wouldn't put chicken in my bowl of cereals, but I wouldn't make a cake without eggs.

There are only so many ingredients to go around. And any way you cut it, there will always be flour and eggs in a cake. Regardless of the amount or type of flour, you will put some in. Whether you put icing on the cake or not, is up to the cook. Replacing the cherries by strawberries in a black forest cake doesn't make it a strawberry shortcake. But you have to ask yourself if the strawberries really belong there or are they just going to go by unnoticed, buried by the overwhelming flavors of the other ingredients.

In the end, the ingredient itself doesn't matter as much as what it's being used for and where. As long as it makes sense, tastes good and doesn't transform your cake into something it wasn't meant to be, then go for it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thine Medicine...

When I interviewed to enter the design program at the Ubisoft Campus, one of the interviewers asked me what, in my opinion, makes a good designer. And I remember the first thing I said was that the designer must play his own game. That obviously wasn't the only criteria, but to me, that's always been one of the, if not THE most important factors.

You shouldn't only play your own game because other games significantly broadens your horizons. But not playing your own game not only disconnects you from the game itself, but from the community as well. MMOs have a way of taking a life of their own because so many minds, so many playstyles come together and lead it in a path very often unexpected. But beyond that, what looks good on paper, what seems cool on your stand alone, what's pretty darn easy when you're running around in God mode (and even when you turn it off), is often a whole different story on a live server.

Reading comments from players is nothing like experimenting it yourself. Sometimes, you see players complaining about the way this or that was implemented and your initial reaction is to debate whether to pull out a violin or hand them a box of tissues. You go try it out with a regular account and go "yup, forget the tissues, let's send them some cheese and maybe even crackers" if you're in a generous mood. But other times, you try it and go holy cow!! Too many mobs, not enough mobs, mobs too hard, mobs ridiculously easy, drop rate insanely high, drop rate infuriatingly low, grief potential galore, etc.

There is nothing more revealing than walking into someone else's shoes even if only for a short while. That frustration, you lived it first hand. You understand it. I got pissed off (I mean cussing up a storm pissed off!!) fighting one of my own creations. And I thought to myself: "hey stupid, guess what you will do better next time?" And the thing is, what frustrated me the most isn't even what players have complained about on the forums. But in game, I experimented it first hand and witnessed players being aggravated as well. And if not for that, I never would have known the flaws of that design.

And that is the most invaluable information that no forum, book, article, poll or fancy pants theory can ever give you. You have to be there on the field and take that experience into consideration on your next project. It won't necessarily make you a good designer, but it sure as hell will help you at least be a better one.