Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

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Now I am the Master: what MMOs can teach table top RPGs

July 9, 2008

There is a downside to playing two MMOs and trying to write a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, that is having very little time to do anything else fun. Hence the length of time that has passed between this post and the last one, which I believe was some time back in, er, March. There was also the small issue of getting married and going on holiday and all the organisation that entailed.

Anyway, I’d heard a while back that the D&D 4th edition was flirting with some online elements, which, according to the official site, includes the opportunity to actually play online as well as more predictable features like character visualisation, character records and access to the rules. This video below show’s you the kinds of things you can get up to with it.

Although I haven’t tried out the 4th ed rules myself, judging from the reviews it isn’t only the digital features that demonstrate the influence MMOs have had on this version of the game. According to reviews, both positive and negative, it’s borrowed a lot of the core concepts that characterise MMOs, well at least those of the WoW-mold anyway, such as the Tank, Healer, DPs trinity, metagaming and character optimisation. Understandably this has raised the ‘roleplaying’ question, does the MMO influence preclude character personality or can they live together side by side? I can’t really get a sense of just how much room there is for genuine role-playing in the rules, the reviews hint at very little in the way of guidance for this element, but I do think WotC have taken an interesting approach to tabel top role playing all the same. Whether or not it will actually bring in the MMO crowd or not is probably down to the way it’s marketed as much as it is down to the system and that I can’t comment on.

The reason I bring D&D 4th ed up is that I plan on using a few MMO mechanics in the WFRP campaign I’m about to start running. Unlike D&D 4th ed, however I’m going to try and use them to enhance and reward the role-playing experience. One thing about WFRP is that combat plays a relatively minor part of the game (or at least it does in mine), so alot of the time players are interacting with NPCs or with their environment which in many cases can feel a lot less satisfying than ‘killing the bad guys’. All RPGs, as far as I;m aware, reward xp to players for ‘good roleplaying’ but this is usually a general reward given at the end of a session or adventure as opposed to xp given for specific examples of good roleplay. Also, it isn’t usually specified what good roleplay constitutes, which while giving GMs flexibility can leave players confused about what they should be trying to acheive.

I was quite inspired by this discussion about character motivations on the Fantasy Flight WFRP forums. Part of the difficulty players face when roleplaying in RPGs is not being clear about what their motivations are or how they tie into their personal history. I don’t ever think that a character’s motivation should simply be about survival or making money, these should be means to an end, rather than an end in itself. I asked my players to come up with rough background ideas for their character’s which I then elaborated. This has the added benefit of allowing me, as GM, to bring their own histories into play as storylines in themselves. For example the PCs meet because they are looking to solve their own personal tragedies. I know some WFRP GMs like to make their player’s characters to be expendable, but I beleive they should sit at the heart of the story, that way they feel less like chess pieces, which is another problem that tends to arise with gritty realistic RPG settingsd more like they have, and more like they have some influence on the world they’re in .

The players have clear motivations, tied to objectives they want to acheive, meaning that it’s easy to hand out xp for acting in a way that’s relevant to these objectives. I’ve given them a helping hand by writing down four or five behaviours that will be rewarded with a range of xp in the range of 5-10 points. This xp will be handed out during the game and hopefully the players will feel a sense of progression and at the same time be encouraged to do it more frequently. On the other hand other xp rewards will be tuned down so as to prevent the PCS advancing too quickly. My first concern is that this might break the immersion experience, but I’m hoping it will be no more noticeable than dice rolling. My second concern is that my players turn into a bunch of RP power gamers, using every opportunity they can to grab xp through elaborate roleplaying, which ti be fair could be a lot of fun.

The other thing I’m planning on adding to my campaigns are mini-games. The ‘analogue’ nature of RPGs, especially when miniatures aren’t used, can make some GM decisions seem rather arbitrary, whereas mini-games allow for a degree of formal structure without it dominating the entire experience. The example I’m using in the scenario I’m currently writing uses a snake and ladders concept in a chase scene. The PCs can still use their abilities to overcome certain obstacles, but there are general rules that affect all players.

The benefit of these mechanics is that players feel like they’re getting a continuous stream of concrete rewards for playing the game the way I feel it should be played, which I hope will encourage them ti try harder to play it that way and also get them more deeply emotionally engaged in the campaign. Once it gets going I’ll let you know how it goes.

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The untimely death of ‘orcs and elves’

October 4, 2007

Virtual worlds news has an oddly titled article by the name of ‘virtual worlds are overtaking the games industry‘. Oddly titled because it rather falsely distinguishes between, ‘game’ MMOs and ‘social’ virtual worlds, a distinction I’m thoroughly opposed to and I’m glad to say Raph Koster agrees with me on this one. The biggest difference between World of Warcraft and MMOS like Barbiegirls, Habbo or Second Life is that the former requires a lot more space on your hard drive and is therefore a lot prettier. I would add that it requires a better specced computer but Second Life also requires a pretty good rig to run it with even a modicum of smoothness.

So the point of this article seems to be that ‘social’ virtual worlds will bring about the death of ‘game’ MMOs. Hmm. Yes, Habbo has 7.5 million users, but World of Warcraft has 9 million, Barbiegirls.com had 4 million sign-ups, how many of those that will stick with it is unknown especially with soon-to-be launched rival Be-bratz. The article also fails to mention Runescape which is a hugely popular browser MMO with something in the realm of 5 million users and is squarely set in the traditional ‘orcs and elves’ fantasy environs.

Quoted in the piece was Christopher Sherman, Executive director of the upcoming Virtual Worlds Fall Conference and Expo, who states that “The game industry may have created the idea of online entertainment, but the days of orcs and elves ruling the online space is drawing to a close. There will always be a place for platforms that just want to allow users to play a game together, but now interaction is key. Community is key. The content revolves around and facilitates the community. Treating the online environment like less of a game and more of community or virtual world is key. Major media companies are now looking at anything they do as online entertainment – with a virtual world tied to it.”

To be fair to the context of this quote, it all sounds like a PR blurb designed to make virtual worlds sound more mainstrea- friendly, but I think the marketing distinction between virtual worlds and MMOs is probably more damaging than helpful. Interestingly the first presentation at this months Virtual Worlds Forum conference in Europe asks ‘Virtual worlds, MMOs, ARGs – what’s the difference? ‘ so we’ll see if the speakers decide to tow the official line on this one.

My main problem with this distinction is that the virtual worlds Christopher namechecks aren’t simply socialising spaces. The main public spaces in Barbiegirls, Habbo and others like Gaia and Club Penguin are socially oriented and often consumer oriented, but games make up a significant proportion of the activities users can engage in, and it is these games that give users points/virtual currency with which they can buy virtual items. These games may be tailored to younger or female audiences but they are nonetheless games and are crucial to the virtual world economies and the status of players therewithin. One of the failings of Second Life, often quoted as the exemplary social virtual world, to increase its user base is that newcomers often quicjly tire of the world because there is nothing there to engage them. Anyone who’s spent any time in the orientation areas will be used to hearing/seeing new users asking ‘what can I do? where are the games?’.

Secondly, as Alice Taylor points out on her blog, players of World of Warcraft spend a great deal of their time shopping and socialising and some of the most prized objects are pets that are obtained through TCG cards not through completing quests or ‘fighting monsters’. The whole point of MMOs is to bring together social and gaming features as the two combined encourage greater engagement and longer playing hours, particularly when there are goals to be acheived, items to be won or purchased and social spaces in which to show them off. Of course ‘Community is key’ but I see little in the way of the organised guild structures you see in World of Warcraft emerging in Habbo or Club Penguin because these facilities currently don’t exist. MMOs There has more of these options available as users can organise their own events. Which isn’t to say that the social and community functions in MMOs like World of Warcraft are perfect, Tobold points out just some of the improvements that could be made, and new and upcoming features such as voice chat and guild banks seem to suggest that Blizzard are taking note.

If anything the community aspect of all MMOs needs to be considered in more depth. Kaneva CEO Christopher Klaus laments the lack of successful official MMO/game sites and suggests that the “overall community (should be built) into the game site itself” an idea that seems to run contrary to the web 2.0 UCG ethic that Christopher Sherman proposes. Maybe Klaus envisons something along the lines of the Halo 3 community features that allow players to send recorded game clips to one another for example. The point is that both gaming companies and virtual world companies need to look at the social engineering and community features they provide if they want users to stick with them, although it is improbable that this would stop users making their own websites and certainly shouldn’t be perceived as a ‘problem’.

By emphasising the social and the community aspects of virtual worlds/MMOs I get the feeling industry figures like Sherman and Klaus are trying to present them as graphic versions of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, a sound stategy given their overwhelming success and value, but if they’re not careful the less well informed marketers will assume that games = bad, when the contrary is in fact true.

I have no doubt that open virtual world platforms like Metaplace and Whirled will successfully bring MMOs to the massess, but I also think games and gaming and the elements that make them so compelling such as competition, collaboration and status will be a crucial part of their success. Socialising is a compelling pull for todays’ huge web audience and has a proven track record, but I doubt that the engagement factor of socialising is as intense as it is when gaming. The much quoted avergae of 20 hours a week play time in World of Warcraft surely outnumber the time spent on Facebook by the most avid user. As Amy Jo Kim puts it: internet applications should follow game mechanics in order to be successful. Does anyone doubt that the success of Facebook is at least in part the numerous game-like apps that allow users to interact with each other in multiple ways?

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Great ‘ad’: Halo 3

September 19, 2007

halo 3 ad

 

While I think the Halo series is slightly overhyped, this ad/piece of marketing, call it what you, like is genuinely amazing. Maybe it’s my inner Games Workshop geek coming through, but it’s hard to beat a good diorama, especially one that’s interactive. Being made of polystyrene, miliput and so on it also has a grittier edge to it than polished computer graphics, something that helps capture the nastiness of warfare, undoubtedly this feeling is aided by the haunting piano music that accompanies the ‘video’.