Tag: group play

Worth a trip: Permafrost

If there’s one thing that impressed me in our guild tour of Everquest 2, it’s the dungeon design. Sure, Everquest 2 offers a wide range of activities, but as a group, we haven’t explored them much. We went for Dungeons, though. We’ve been to Stormhold, Crushbone Keep and Kaladim before we made a detour to the Riverlands to get some heroic progression quests going. Friday, we went for Icespire Summit and Permafrost in Everfrost.

Icespire Summit

The Icespire Summit is short enough- we cleared it in about 10 to 15 minutes. But it contains at least one enemy worth fighting- a X2 heroic mob (X2 would mean it has originally been designed for 2 groups, but i think this isn’t really accurate anymore), and a trap!

Pretty obvious trap- i went in, nonetheless
Pretty obvious trap- i went in, nonetheless

It’s nice, short and somewhat beautiful if you don’t mind the age of the game. There’s not much to explore and, besides the ice-cold beauty of it, there’s not really a reason to visit. We went there because i estimated we wouldn’t be ready for Permafrost with two of us in their very early 40s and me being level 44.

Permafrost

It turned out i was somewhat correct in this, but also incorrect- Permafrost turned out to be tough, but not impossible on the whole. And here, in Permafrost, you can see many reasons for why EQ2 dungeon design is great.

It’s open

Not all dungeons are instanced in EQ2 and Permafrost isn’t, either. While there is a door and a loading screen, there is the possibility of other groups joining in- and that might be a good thing from time to time, i’ll get to that in a minute.

Permafrost is easier to find than the Icespire Summit
Permafrost is easier to find than the Icespire Summit

It’s huge

The estimated time to “complete” Permafrost is one hour. This might be true if you go in with level 50 or something, but if you’re entering it being level 45, you won’t be so quick. And there’ll be obstacles.

This guy's level 55 heroic (X4)
This guy’s level 55 heroic (X4)

In the mid-40s, you won’t be able to fight the dragon. It might be possible to circumvent it- there was a way through the dungeon that put us on his right side, after all, but when we accidentally pulled it, it basically one-shotted us.

And that’s another reason why other groups could be good- not that you’ll ever meet other groups in this level range on the german server- maybe you’re in the mid-40s, but another group is in their mid-50s; maybe you’ll join forces and kill this dragon. Or the other group does and you can get past this room while it hasn’t respawned yet.

Permafrost has 4 levels- they aren’t of the same size and the basement, for instance, doesn’t take long.

It spans a whole level range

While you can repeat dungeons in other MMORPGs just fine, there’s not much of a reason to do so (except if you’re looking for that boss to drop just this weapon). In EQ2, dungeons cover a level range, in the case of Permafrost, there’ll be mobs from level 45 to level 55, so you can go there to level your level 45 character, slowly exploring the dungeon and advancing the character. You’ll see mobs you can’t attack then, but you can of course come back later.

There be giants
There be giants

And i have to say- i really want to tackle this dragon. Unfortunately, our trip to EQ2 is almost at an end, so we won’t be able to kill it this time, but maybe we’ll do it later.

We haven’t looked for or accepted any quests not directly related to the dungeons we went to since level 20 or something- with the exception of mount quests and some quests over in the Riverlands, “grinding” mobs in Everquest 2 is a viable route to go in a group- but more than that, i’ve found exploring the dungeons very worthwhile and satisfying- they aren’t linear, in some of them you can get lost, especially since often, there are no maps (in game), you can revisit them and spend a lot of time in them.

Encouraging social play: venues

From time to time, i think possible ways to make MMORPGs more social (again). I believe that this topic is an important one, that the highs and lows of the genre are connected to this topic, but i also think that this is not something we can only blame the developers for. When WoW launched, the internet was fairly new (at least in these parts; i had access to it since about ~1999) and there was still the wonder of a place where humans from all over the world can gather, chat, work and play games together. Even if your area had access to the internet longer than i did, i personally think that the behaviour of players in Everquest 1 was different to today’s just because the whole experience was new.

The city
The city

When you think about World of Warcraft, again, there is something in its success that gets mentioned often: the social ties. Everybody and his/her grandma play WoW, sometimes literally. Even if they unsubscribed, they’ll return for an expansion. I’ve read countless reports of mmo playing friends that they tried to find a new place with a guild and couldn’t agree on the game to play. So WoW’s expansion cycle is like a bi-yearly “class of 2004” event.

Social ties are important- they make the games so much more than just games. I am not really involved in many things, don’t have so many ingame friends, but my wife still teases me from time to time that i’m in an “expensive 3D chat room” while playing.

Now we have social ties on different levels: the bigger MMORPG community, the communities on sites like Massively Overpowered, the ingame community, the Twitter community (i’m slowly getting the hang of it), the blogging community, guilds, friends and real-life friends. These levels are one reason why i like the genre so much.

So why is it that the games we love, themselves, seem unable to tie these bonds? Generally speaking, the communities in Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2 seem to be quite good and friendly. This has been connected to the fact that there isn’t any competition in these games between players. I think that there’s something else at work, as well.

Venues

We need places to meet, and this in such a way that we really feel like we’re meeting other players and not NPCs. If you look at the list of communities above, they all have their venues: Massively Overpowered is one by definition, as is Twitter, the blogging community has their own ways of connecting, guilds have forums and so on. Ingame communities need places to meet up, as well.

Localities

One possibility would be to add “real” places into the worlds we visit where we can meet other people. But this will not suffice- if you look at some of the newer games, they mostly deal with one “central hub”- in SWTOR you have the fleet, in Rift there are capital cities for each faction/expansion, in GW2 as well, so an effort has been made to centralize the players in cities on the map. But all we really do is just stand there.

One-off grouping isn't enough
One-off grouping isn’t enough

I think these places should be smaller and directed to a smaller audience. It isn’t enough to create one “social hub” place where everybody…just is. I don’t think someone would argue that it’s more social to live in, say, New York than it is to live in some village in Maine.

There are examples, even within the bigger social hubs. Think about the Prancing Pony in Bree- i guess it also has the lore going for it, but it is a nice inn in a larger, nice city. Roleplayers and other types of players go there to meet up- i even went there in the early days to get a group going for the group content that existed back then.

For instance, the world could be designed in such a way that, say, housing afficionados gather in one place, metalsmiths in another and so on. There could still be big cities where everything is possible, but then you’d have to get rid of fast-travel, to avoid all players being there all the time.

I think there need to be more places in the world(s) where small groups meet each other.

Reasons

We also need reasons for visiting different places. Maybe there are certain resources that can only be gathered at special places, or rare loot drops in some open world area. I mentioned this in another post, but an open world area filled with stronger mobs that drop something worthwhile would help, as well. There’s a reason people flock all over GW2’s maps to get the named mobs and group up to do this. Things like this also happen in FF14.

We’ll also have to have reasons for higher level characters to be in lower level areas- again, i think crafting is the key here: if you don’t make early resources obsolete in later crafting levels, there’s a reason to visit. Or maybe there’s an NPC vendor that sells special housing items, or a special workbench as the only place to craft certain items- and so on.

Opportunity

I mentioned the stages, the theater of TSW would be another thing and Lord of the Rings Online does a great job at hosting seasonal events outside of the bigger hubs. Lotro also caters strongly to roleplayers- there’s really only this game where something like Weatherstock happens.

The open world

Whenever i think about this topic, the open world gets mentioned a lot. I think instanced dungeons and dungeon finders are not the way to go for MMORPGs- not that they shouldn’t be done, but maybe, instead of offering bonuses, why not do it the other way around and give the bonus to people who didn’t use it to enter the dungeon? I know, queue times, but still.

In my opinion, the open world(s) need places where smaller groups of people gather- not people who coincidentally do the same quests or small areas with a few quests that require small groups- it should be bigger areas, maybe even whole zones (like Craglorn, maybe?) and there need to be reasons to visit as well as a bonus for venturing forth in a group- there are many ways to do this, mechanically.

For instance, Vanguard had a system that applied bonuses when you were gathering resources in a group. Combine that with an area with rare materials and tough mobs (that give out good loot), and you may just have given a small group made of a few crafters and adventurers something to do together- and tell something more than “Hello” and maybe, even create social ties.

 

 

Encouraging group play / Friendlist minions

I’ll try and visit some possibilities to encourage group play in modern MMORPGs. I’ve given reasons for ultimately playing solo most of the times and still like playing in the genre. The thing is, i’d also like MMORPGs to be a social experience where one can chat with people you know and get to know new “players”.

I think, one reason for social networks being so successful in these days- or even messenger apps like WhatsApp- is their asynchronous nature. If i want to contact one of my friends, i can do so- it doesn’t matter if they’re working at that time, taking care of their child or whatever. When they are free to do so, they’ll read my message and reply.

So, one possibility to encourage social play in MMORPGs could be to give asynchronous options- i’m not the first one to mention this, of course, and i could point you to Mark Kerns column over at MMORPG.com, where he mentions this idea. The whole column is worth a read- even if you’re thinking “why didn’t he apply this to Firefall?” half of the time. He mentions an asynchronous communication method that could be implemented in the games. But as i sat here and tried to come up with my own ideas, one thing came to mind and wouldn’t let go, even if it probably has some problems and will be a rough idea- i’m no game designer, after all.

Let us be our minions!

The minion/follower system of Rift and World of Warcraft is liked by many. What if a game would allow you to give these tasks to friends and guildmates instead of NPCs/trading cards? The idea started small, but the more i think about it, the more possibilities come to mind. The easy way, of course, is to have 1-person tasks that could be handed out to friends and guildmates. But you’d also have to think about a reward. So how could it work?

Simple Tasks, rewards for both parties

The easiest way to do this, as mentioned, would be to give players the ability to assign tasks to friends or guildmates. These tasks could range from gathering resources, crafting of items to just killing mobs. If we’d take the easiest road, kill-quests would probably be it. You’d also have to have ingame rewards for people to use this system, and i think there are games that already have nice ideas.

Such as FFXIV and Wildstar. In FFXIV, after a dungeon run using their dungeon finder tool, you can give a recommendation to one player. They can later use these recommendations to get some rewards. In Wildstar there’s a similar currency, though i think it’s used more often there and it is gained by simply grouping up. Now that i think of it, SWTOR does have this system, as well, though i’m not so sure what players get out of it.

So, the player who’s assigned to a task gets this currency and also XP and loot from stuff he or she is killing. Since the currencies in Wildstar and SWTOR didn’t really encourage more group play, the rewards for doing these “Minion-Tasks” would have to be huge- maybe even as good as, say, raid loot.

The player who’s assigning these tasks could get XP, of course, and maybe ingame currency as well as the “social currency”…and maybe even get some kind of “Task Master XP” that allows him or her to assign bigger/harder/more rewarding tasks in the future.

I know this is themepark talk- i’d do it differently in sandboxes (more economical, less xp and special currency. Also, i wouldn’t provide a user interface tab but something like player vendors who stand in the open world).

Basically, this would be a player-to-player quest system.

Expanding

Now throw in gathering, crafting, maybe searching something as well as the potential to use special tasks for certain character classes/professions and maybe even group tasks, and there should be a lot of possibilities.

The group tasks could be sequential, consosting of mutiple steps, with each step tailored to one class/profession or both. Or they could consist of only one step designed for more than one player. And here we are again, you’d need group areas in the open world for this. Suddenly, there’s the possibility to meet other people doing the same task, maybe socialize, expand the friendlist and so on.

What game could do something like that?

I really don’t know. Maybe those who already have the Minion/Follower system in place; World of Warcraft, Rift, maybe Star Trek Online and SWTOR. And i think it would be becoming in most sandboxes.