Monday, December 21, 2009

In Excess

Usually, when you eat something really good, you almost feel sorry you're eating the last bite because it was so good you could indulge some more. But sometimes, you'll get something awesome yet as you get closer to the end, and while it's still good as it was when you first started, you just don't enjoy it as much. In fact, you actually start thinking it's good but it needs to end. That's when you know you had too much and as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can definitely be a bad thing.

What got me writing this? The latest game I've been playing: Dragon Age. For any RPG fan, that game is seriously bad ass. I cannot remember the last time I've so thoroughly enjoyed a game. And I mean the "counting the work hours left before I can go back home to resume my game" enjoyable. The story was awesome, the characters were fantastic, the world looked gorgeous, the gameplay, UI, enemy AI, you name it, got a big fat thumbs up from me. Obviously, the game had some flaws, but compared to its successes, they barely qualify as footnotes.

The problem? The game is extremely long. So long in fact that at some point, after completing a main quest segment when another quest chapter opened, I thought "are you serious?" I didn't know whether to be thrilled or annoyed because I was ready for dessert. There were just a few too many courses to that meal and my tummy was rather full at that point. Not only were there many chapters, but most of them were very long as well and had extensive literature.

It's somewhat strange to be complaining that I got too much for my money. But that game clearly displayed to me one of the things I struggle with the most as a designer (and even as a blogger!): moderation. How long should an event be? How many rewards should you give? How much text/journal/dialogs is needed for the players to they really understand what's going on? This is especially challenging with chain quests. I know players don't want to stop every 5 minutes to read a novel. So putting out journals and scrolls that give clues and some of the background story is difficult. It has to give enough but not be so long that players go "argh!" every time they stumble on a new journal.

The same is true with monsters. How many monsters should a player grind through before they reach their destination? If your goal is to simply fight a boss, do you really need to systematically walk through miles and miles of dungeon slaying various levels of mobs to reach him? Reaching a boss should be difficult but there are other ways which do not need to be a grind.

In the end, I much rather get too much than feel ripped off, but just enough is always best! The fact is there is A LOT of journals and books and what not to read in that game. It breaks the rythm, so in that sense I found it annoying and often just skipped right through a lot of it. But after I finished the game, I went back and started reading them and they are honestly worth it.

That said, I've had players complain some of my events were too long (the Death of the Council was one prime example). Yet I thought the length was just perfect and quite a few players felt the same as well. I guess it just goes to show that we don't all have the same appetite!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exponential Growth

A player messaged me to on the forums to thank me for the recent Thanksgiving event, saying how his wife, guildmates and himself have had the most fun they can remember in a long time with it. He was hoping there would be more of this type of simple, quickly put together event in the future. It made me giggle because this event broke every rule of proper design procedure.

So this started off with Mesanna asking if we were turning the champ spawns into turkeys again for Thanksgiving. To which I replied the turkeys are kinda lame. They're just way too small and are more griefy to see during champ spawns than anything else. So we decided to go bat our eyelashes at the artists and see if we could get them to enlarge the turkeys. When they accepted, being my usual shameless self, I asked if we could also get a cornucopia for the players who don't do champ spawns. And they agreed to squeeze it in their schedule! Since we didn't have much time, the plan was simply to spawn the cornucopias in the players' backpack on log in and do the champ spawn thing.

Then I saw the finished version and I was like "dang Grimmy (GrimmOmen), those be some fine looking turkeys!!" They were just too nice not to allow everyone else to enjoy them. So from there I told Mesanna I would make them just randomly spawn overland in Britannia and strut their stuff.

Famous last words...

So I'm thinking hmmmm they can't just walk around and do nothing else! Let's make them mini-bosses! Now to figure out what their AI will be. When that was nearly done, it was hmmm but what are they going to drop as loot? Lets make them drop the cornucopias!! Then hmmm the cornucopias are kinda lame just as is. They should drop food! Hmmm maybe they should have something special, I mean seriously who cares about a slab of bacon?

So Mesanna asks me if I'm done with the Turkeys and I'm like eerrrr yeah? But she knows from the look on my face that my evil wheels are still turning. She gives me the look of death and says "cut off date is..." to which I interject "yes, yes, I know! It will be done!" (with some more shameless eyelashes batting to which she's completely immune! Wise woman she is!).

But that event is just too short. There should be a little something more to it and not just a random grinding on turkeys. So I get a bug from QA regarding some issue with the Halloween costumes and my mind wanders back to it and to the Hag and "ting!" the light comes on!! My buddy Zeef!! I always thought those little maps were cool so after a bit of tinkering (and lots of running around to choose locations) I put in the nests and maps, but it didn't really make sense for turkeys to give maps. Hell, it didn't really make sense to have giant turkeys to begin with! How do you justify that? (You know some players will go wtf is that?) Well while trying to come up with the turkey's attacks, I had been reading a bit on the Internet about turkeys and stumbled on an article about the father of American ornithology, Alexander Wilson and I suddenly had my quest back story and the moon grass as the fall guy!

But could I leave it alone? No, because I'm hopeless like that. Then came the: a) I need to come up with a "useful" reward for the deco haters (enters harvester's blade), b) bards are going to complain again that they've been neglected (more tweaks to turkey's AI), c) crafters, crafters, crafter, why the heck do they think they should be able to do everything hunters do? gah!!! (fine, lets have map fragments and give stuff to top 20 attackers), d) PETA alert!! (chill people! I got it covered! *adds non-mutant eggs and prevent players from abusing them*).

Now the real fun begins. QA >.<

The problem wasn't so much functionality issues (though there were a few of those). It was mostly things like: if you do 4 back flips with a red ribbon on your right pinky toe while holding your right ear with your left hand you will be able to nuke 10 turkeys in 3 seconds while also looting other people's nests in Trammel.


In the end, a few bugs still managed to slip through the cracks, but overall it was well received. Frankly, I was happily surprised people didn't complain about doing maps. I think they're wonderfully challenging and a good way to get people to explore lands they have neglected for far too long. But this is a bad way of designing. It's too easy to let yourself get carried away and things grow so far out of proportion that it bursts at the seams. In this case, it worked out, but careful planning before implementation saves a lot of headaches and bad surprises.

PS. We made cut off date :)