Author Archives: Wiqd

There and Back Again … A Nomad’s Tale

I really can’t help but wonder why I do some of the things I do. There’s all kinds of examples, but one of the most thought provoking is that of returning to MMOs I said I would never play again. When I left WoW (a few times now) just before WotLK came out, I didn’t WANT to go back. I really didn’t. But then I saw the game and Arthas was the main bad guy and I REALLY like the story behind him, so to see all of the trials and tribulations of WC III and some of vanilla WoW culminate was beyond my ability to resist. Fair enough, right? Well ok, but now that I’m done with WotLK I told myself I’d be done again. But what do they do? Make me fall in love with Cataclysm.

See, Cataclysm has dragons (if you haven’t been living under a non-gaming rock, you’ll know this) and I LOVE dragons. The stories behind Deathwing and the Black Dragonflight are among my favorites in the game. And yes, BWL was and still is my favorite raid zone. Anyway, a few of the old greats are coming back for a spot in the story, including Nefarian and an undead Onyxia. I’m not sure exactly how they’ll pull off Ragnaros living in Hyjal in his new tower that no one saw them building, but I suppose we’ll see. Point to this is … story trumps my own visions of the game’s shortcomings. More on that later.

Now we skip to another game I so absolutely adore, but swore I’d never play again: Everquest 2. Why? Well I’m not a huge fan of companies doing something just to do it or just to emulate someone else. When I got wind that EQ2 was adding battlegrounds, it really pissed me off. Pissed me off to the point where I quit even though I had just gotten my mythical on my SK and was livin’ pretty large. I love my SK. I’ve had and played the concept of my SK since the first Everquest. I don’t roleplay nearly as much with him as I’d like to, but I also haven’t made much of an effort to so that falls on me.

Long story short: I picked up Sentinel’s Fate yesterday, installed and made a new character to check out Halas. WHY WOULD I DO THAT?! AGAIN!? Here’s the thing: I disliked Sony’s choice for the new expansion to be Odus. I REALLY wanted Velious as that was my favorite expansion for Everquest. All the ice stuff and whatnot really pointed to it being Velious too, but sadly, we got Odus. Well, imagine my surprise when I logged in, did a few quests in the new starting area and found … Coldain Dwarves! And not only them, but Ry’gorr orcs as well! Rejoice! For those of you not familiar with either of those two things, the Coldain were the dwarves who lived in Thurgadin, one of the first cities you actually come to once you get off the boat in Velious. They’re blue dwarves and have neat ice related names, but otherwise not entirely special. The Ry’gorr were the main orc clan surrounding the land mass of Velious and you dealt with them a lot.

Does this mean there’s a bit of a foreshadowing to going back and exploring Velious? *shrugs* Dunno, won’t speculate, but I’m hopeful. It made me really happy to see them and at that point I forgot all my past feelings of hatred for SOE for the PVP stuff.

Now, these two experiences have something very important linking them: story. I absolutely love the story behind a lot of what goes on in the World of Warcraft. I also am deeply in love with the lore that comes from Everquest and is evolved in Everquest 2. Story is what makes me come back, that and the fact that I am so deeply in love with the stories that I feel like part of the world. I have an invested interest in seeing what happens because of what I actually WANT to happen. For that, I will gladly hand over money to SOE and Blizzard.

People bitch about mechanics and balance and easiness of MMOs all the time, myself included. People get frustrated at other people, raid encounters, grouping and group finding mechanics and choices developers make all the time, myself included. But when you can go back to a time where playing the game meant you were doing it for yourself and the friends you play with, I really think you can find a new place in that game, one that makes you feel as happy as you were when you first picked it up. Of course, you’ll never have that same exact feeling again as you had when you played your first MMO (Mine was EQ), but you can be reminded of what it was like for you to be so immersed in a world and what it was like to learn all the stories as you went through, not caring whether or not you were in the best gear or at level cap.

Cataclysm seeks to do that for me with WoW as its focus is in the old world again, albeit a little messed up thanks to Deathwing 😛 Going back to all those places again and experiencing them in a new way, yet still being strangely familiar will do wonders, I think. That and A: playing the game from a different perspective since I’ll be making a Worgen character and have never leveled an Alliance character and B: resolving to raid 10 mans only with people I consider close friends.

Everquest 2 seeks to do that for me with its little bit of lore pointing at Velious and has already done so with its Kunark expansion, which was my absolute favorite expansion from EQ since it gave us Iksar.

Sometimes you do need to step away from a game for a bit to gain some perspective or just to give another new game a shot. I’m sure some of my MMOs will fall to the wayside when The Old Republic comes out, but I’m pretty sure I’ll return to them over time.

As an aside, and since everyone else is doing it! Here’s some screenshots from my new Froglok Berserker in EQ2 with Shaders 3.0 turned on. EQ2’s graphic capabilities are amazing, but pretty weird in how they work sometimes. For example: I was trying to tweak my fiance’s graphics because she kept hitching in certain places. The more I tweaked, the less progress I was making, so I eventually just turned everything up to the max for her and … she stopped hitching and she stopped lagging. Logic would dictate that with everything turned on, she should lag horrendously (though she doesn’t have a slouch for a vid card, which was what was puzzling me), but no … smooth as butter now. Perhaps some of the graphics options are tuned to work with others at a higher level or even actually turned on … I dunno. Anyway, here’s the screens. I really like the detail in the armor and skin. Yes, some things end up being unrealistically shiny and overall there’s a darker tone to the game, but mostly that comes when it’s actually dark in the game. I.E. being outside during the daytime is actually pretty bright and acceptable for me, but overall I do like them.

FYI … I really thing my Froglok looks like one of the Orcs from the old animated Hobbit movie.

Froglok Berserker Froglok Berserker Froglok Berserker on kitty

When Good Ideas Are Delivered Poorly

I’m going to take you back a bit in time in this post. While the principles of what I’m going to write about can be said for a multitude of examples other than the one I’ve chosen, I’ve chosen it for a very specific reason 😉 The post may sound like I’m trying to be a shill and sell you on something, but I’m really not. I frequent the worlds I will describe to you and love them very much. It is for that reason that I made this post, to express my distaste for ideas that can’t be realized because of something dumb like buggy software 😛 It’s also to inform people out there who may not know close-knit worlds for roleplayers like this exist.

Neverwinter Nights was, in my opinion, a great game. Not only did it give a faithful recreation of the DnD system / world to digital consumers, but the customization level for the game was incredible. You could create living, persistent worlds akin to modern day MMOs, albeit with (sometimes) lower populations. You could change just about everything you wanted in the game, from base mechanics and systems to models for PCs and NPCs and the scripting required in the game was so easy that just about anyone who could read a couple tutorials could figure it out. It was a good game.

Then, Obsidian got a hold of the franchise and delivered Neverwinter Nights 2. P … O … S … at the time anyway. I think it’s improved a bit in stability over the years, but just like any other game, each patch not only fixes things, but breaks others in the process. Hurray for QA teams, right? Anyway, Neverwinter Nights 2 strayed from its easy-to-use roots and introduced a toolset for custom content creation that was so obtuse and un-user-friendly, it’s amazing people were actually able to do anything with it. However, just as the human race has done time and again, despite all odds, there were people who figured out not only how to use it, but use it well and make the original game look like shit compared to what fans could do (Oblivion, anyone?).

What’s my point? Well, it begins by introducing you to a world called Avlis. Avlis is a persistent world based on the Neverwinter Nights engine (still going, actually) that began in 2002 or so, to not only promote the customization level of NWN, but to give a home to people who felt a bit displaced by the onslaught of digitized fantasy worlds: the roleplayers. Avlis is a world where roleplaying is the key. Sure it has combat and crafting and things like that, but when you log in, you ARE your character. Yes, ((s and ))s apply 😛 This world was and is amazing, as the people who’ve run it for going on 8 years now have churned out content and systems and story arcs like no other campaign I’ve ever seen. Hell, one of the guys I met playing EQ (yes, the original one) plays there now and took a lowly lizard-folk he made and made him into a warlord who now leads half the world in a war.

The best part is … the players make the world and you can SEE it unfold before you. The DMs have the power to change the world according to what happens and that’s exactly what happens! So, fast forward a few years to the release of NWN2 and enter Avlis 2. With improved graphics and all, the Avlis team was super stoked to make a world with the new engine. They have since succeeded, redoing character models, meshes, textures and building a second world set some time in the future as compared to Avlis 1. The world is amazing and the custom content is, once again, second to none. They’ve implemented reputation / faction systems, crafting system, scripts that will actually rewards you with XP if you’re ROLEPLAYING, which means a DM isn’t required to be there to give you XP for playing your character … and the way the world works is just amazing.

The overall feel to one of these worlds is such that … you actually want to believe you live there. You WANT to be your character and metagaming needs like powerleveling or min/maxing become unimportant to the story that’s unfolding all around you. Since the story arcs are custom and can be done at any time, for any level, a new character could be pulled into a story just as easy as a legendary player who’s been around a long time. So, sounds great, right? I mean … a great place for roleplayers to actually roleplay and be rewarded for it … what could possibly be wrong?

Well, Avlis 1 is currently way more popular and successful than Avlis 2, despite Avlis 2 being newer and prettier. True some people like to remain and are less likely to pick up roots and move (considering you have to buy NWN2 and its 2 expansions to log into the world … and no, the team running Avlis doesn’t make anything off that :P), but I don’t believe it’s simply an aversion to change. It’s the NWN2 system and base coding Obsidian messed up that’s keeping people away. There were lots of people to begin with, but with the toolset being unwieldly and unfun to work with, the constant crashes and bugs people had to put up with that the PW (persistent world) coders couldn’t do anything about … all their hard work was in vain because people didn’t want to game on the NWN2 platform.

The server is still up and running (I have recently returned there myself to resume playing after every single MMO out right now has failed to satisfy me) and I find DMs and players there, but it is nowhere near as sprawling a population as its more successful older brother, who is run on a better, less buggy platform.

I hope there’s a NWN3 so Avlis 3 can be made and the legacy can continue because the people there do such an amazing job with their world (the world is based on a PnP adventure the co-creators of the world ran back in the day. They’ve digitized it for others to play in, basically) and being able to have complete control over things like the death system, crafting systems, conversation systems, etc … make for an amazing experience. Hell people with knowledge can even apply to be part of the building or coding or DM team to support the worlds.

Now, there are lots of these persistent worlds out there. I’ve only ever played on Avlis so that’s all I know. I’m curious to know if the platform of NWN2 has kept people from playing on other persistent worlds based on the NWN2 platform as well.

Anyway … if you’re a roleplayer and have been looking for a method to actually roleplay in a computer game and have it be … “real” for all roleplaying intents and purposes, I highly suggest looking at either Avlis or Avlis 2. As I mentioned there are more out there that you can find on the NWN Vault site, but these worlds are ones I’ve had experience with.

And don’t think Avlis 2 isn’t playable or that there’s no one around. Just like Dalaran in the wee hours of the morning, there is a scarcity of players sometimes … but unlike any other game I’ve played online, when you actually get into a group and there’s a live person leading an adventure … it’s awesome. I consider Avlis and Avlis 2 works of art and any artist will tell you their works of art are never done. Even when they’re considered a masterpiece many years after their deaths, if they could come back, I’m sure there’d be something to change.

It’s a shame that creative, innovative and all around fun ideas, concepts and worlds like the two I’ve mentioned can be overlooked or abandoned simply because the platform they were based on is so shoddy. Oblivion would have been great as a MP experience, but the attempts at making it such have since ceased, I think. To see how good a game can be though, take a look at the things true fans make for it. The developers do a helluva job, but the real meat for games like NWN, NWN2 and Oblivion have come from player mods.

In the event the links in the post are hard to see or something, here are separated links for the governing sites:

Avlis

Avlis 2

They actually require an application to see that you are indeed interested in playing IN the world as a character, which I think is a pretty good screening method. All the apps are looked over by a real person so as to gauge whether they think an applicant will fit. It has nothing to do with exclusivity or being snobby … they just want to make sure you’re a good fit for them, and they are a good fit for you. Makes sense, right?

When Nothing Else Will Do

I play a lot of games. Like, a lot; both video and otherwise. I’m excited about some of the changes being made to current MMOs and some of the new MMOs making debuts, but time and time again I return to things like Pen and Paper gaming, as well as board gaming just to have a break from the ol’ comp. I’ve actually been doing it quite a bit lately, probably splitting my time 50/50 with video gaming, which is new for me, but I like it. In fact, I love it. I love it so much so that it’s prompted me to start down the path I laid before myself many months ago: designing my own PnP system / world.

See, I have this idea that … if I create my own world with its own history and lore, rules, mechanics and systems, that this world can transcend any one type of media and propel my ideas into new mediums like video games … if it ever gathers enough interest that is. Anyway, it’s a dream, but it’s one I’ve finally begun working on. And what’s it like designing a whole new world with new systems? I shall tell you

First off, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with systems like Dungeons and Dragons, GURPs, anything by Palladium, etc. These are all fine systems and still provide me with entertainment even to this day. But all things change over time and sometimes you grow out of things. Hell D&D is in its 4th inception now, which is actually like what, its 8th release or something like that? There are always changes to be made (sometimes even for the better!). But when nothing available fits exactly what you want to be able to do or matches the ideas you have in your head, what do you do? Well you can modify the current systems to work, which is usually simple enough … or you can make your own, which is decidedly harder as I’ve come to find out.

This new game is actually being co-developed by myself and my buddy Jon. We have so many ideas thrown around all the time that we decided it was just time to sit down and write it all out, ditching what didn’t work and making use of what did. Luckily we have a large group of friends, all of whom love to PnP game, so getting play testers wasn’t ever an issue. I just didn’t realize what it would take to get to the point where you could run a single days’ worth of gaming, let alone a single full campaign. Our overall vision is that the game should flow smoothly, both in and out of combat, but present enough of a challenge that people wouldn’t just fly through it, accruing massive weapons and fame easily. To that end, we made a few decisions:

1. Combat would be easy, but deep. There would be a way to judge consequences of a singular action without having to roll a bunch of different dice. This keeps the turns going.

2 Combat would be fun and interactive. Just rolling dice to swing a sword gets boring, so we redid the way melee, ranged and spell combat works. It still requires dice rolls, but things like gestures, tactics, counters and interrupts trump the normal initiative stranglehold on combat order.

3. Activities outside of combat would be engaging such that people weren’t completely bored actually following the story. Truth be told, there’s a lot more to that statement that weighs heavily on good storytelling, but the addition of many tradeskills along with a different means of progression other than experience boost that.

4. Character creation and progression should be completely based on what the player sees their character as, not trying to fit them into a particular class’ stats. So we did away with experience and levels. I know, I know, you can translate almost any progression into levels / experience if you want to, but to the players, there’s so many more options without things like classes and levels that they see it as being more open and the player enjoyment is what we’re after.

5. Difficulty should always be a factor. In our world, we want people to team up, talk tactics, keep each other safe. Our world is dangerous to the point where wandering off by yourself is almost certain death. However, being allied with others doesn’t necessarily mean you’re faithful to your immediate party which is where factions come in.

6. Have character actions weigh in with status and faction. This is easy to do in a PnP game, but we wanted a system that would translate well to other mediums as well, so a heavy focus was put on factions and their meaning in game. There are places you simply can’t get into without some renown and others that will let anyone in.

Those are a few of the overall areas we wanted to tackle and set out doing so, initially writing up many pages of documentation on how we thought it would all work. Jon and I work in an odd (to me) way though. We do our documentation separately, so as not to be influenced by the other’s thoughts while dumping ideas. Then we get together and spill everything, comparing what we’ve written. If we have opposing viewpoints on something, we weigh each of them and in most cases try to include points from both sides, if possible. If not, obviously the better idea wins out, but neither of us is discouraged about it if it’s not our idea. We know, for the good of the game, some things have to be left on the cutting room floor.

So what’s our path through this mess? Our first mission was to flesh out combat. Combat takes into account magic, melee and ranged combat, so it was pretty hefty. Considering our game doesn’t use spells, magic had to be worked on quite a good bit. Magic is also a major focus of the world for reasons described in the actual campaign 😛 Melee and ranged were focused on a little more, I think, because we didn’t want magic to dwarf either of them. Magic is so powerful in our world that fighting with a sword and shield could seem daunting, but we didn’t want that. So iteration after iteration was done and we finally came up with a system that grows with the player.

The game will start as many other PnP games do with their systems, but over time as the player advances in skill, things like initiative will take a back seat to skills, tactics and combinations. We really want parties to be sitting around the campfire analyzing the combat they’ve gone through during the day and figuring out what to do better, what failed and what could potentially kill them if they don’t change it. It’s downtime like this that holds a lot of progression potential for our system, as things like skills, while being available in a tree-like fashion, can be earned by simply doing something new. Since our progression system is open, the skill trees exist as simply a guideline, with the ability for players to come up with their own skills and abilities by experimenting. When a new skill is discovered that may not be in the player’s tree, it is written in where it best fits, is slotted for the proper amount and the player can begin practicing that skill as they wish.

I want to mention a short bit on some combat related items like tactics and combinations and … the ever important, consequence dice. To me, a rigid pecking order that’s given via an initiative roll is archaic and, well boring. Sure there’s abilities in today’s PnP games to alter that, but really it’s just about the number of attacks and rolling a dice to hit with your weapon. You can’t really expand beyond those basics of combat at that level, but what we’ve done is introduced abilities and skills that will let you chain attacks based on successful attacks, parries, dodges, etc. We’ve also implemented a system that will let the players design tactics for certain situations so when they recognize an opportunity, then can execute that tactic, trumping initiative position. It also works for ambushes, protecting party members and even saving someone from a deathblow. The consequence dice is a system built off your standard “critical hit” system wherein you normally just do double damage or are alloted another attack based on the fact that you crit. What the consequence dice does is give you a table, based on weapon type and skill that gives you the option to roll again if you get a crit, to inflict some major damage. It ranges from using say, a 1d4 all the way up to a 1d20 so you go from having 4 potentially deadly consequences to 20. It’s random, obviously, based on your roll, but what we’ve allowed is for people to slot their dice tables with abilities and skills they learn, so the table is customized to them.

After we dealt with combat basics, I really wanted to focus on magic as a whole system. I’m tired of spells and mana so … I did away with them and built on a type of people devised by Jon many years ago. Basically these people filter magic through a device they wear on their hand and are attuned at a young age to a particular element. They can have a sub element, but it requires more training and a pilgrimage to another monastery. I’m sure that doesn’t make sense to you now, but it’s ok. We actually have 3 magic systems in our game: Natural, Elemental (filtered) and Divine. Natural magic is reserved for beings attuned to nature (dur, right?), but is mostly defensive or utility-based. Elemental magic is only usable by one type of person and these people gather together to protect that blessing. Divine magic is used by followers of a chosen god. All three forms of magic function quite differently from one another and, I think, impart a sense of fun and differentiation between seemingly similar party members.

Elemental practitioners make use of gestures and their filtering devices, seeing the magic happen in their mind and associating that vision with a physical hand gesture. The effect can be modified in speed, size and physical composition to make it faster, hit harder or have different effects depending on the make up of it.

Divine magic functions as prayers and uses a favor system governed by faith. The more a player does in the name of his / her god, the more favor they will gain and the larger the blessings will be.

Natural magic functions on a concentration system, calling forth the forces of nature to a certain extremity (it’s actually a lot like EQ2’s concentration system they use with maintained spells). Natural magic practitioners can also interface with nature via any living connection (it sounds like Avatar, but trust me I’ve had this idea for years and years so no, I’m not copying :P) and can control natural entities within a certain area by doing so. They can also commune with nature to take on the essences of plants and animals.

Tradeskills – We really wanted people to develop their characters outside of the traditional combat visage, so the introduction of actually having tradeskills in the PnP game came about. While characters can basically do anything they like and call it a tradeskill, there are set trades in the game, like smithing and alchemy, that will serve the party, not only in gear acquired, but when tactics become prominent, will help there as well.

I used to picture myself sitting in some kind of meeting room with a large whiteboard furiously writing ideas down for things like this, but in all honesty, most of this has been done on our own, in our own time, over Skype when we have a free minute, or over lunch either at a restaurant or the classic gaming situation of ordering pizza. It’s been a LOT of fun figuring stuff out, even if every day we find something new that postpones our actual campaign starting. I was hoping to start this weekemd, but we still have basic skill trees to do and finish work on a very interesting group of people who are in the business of mage hunting. I really wanted to start, but then I realized … wow, we haven’t even mapped out the world, or the area they’ll be starting in … haven’t placed any dungeons or ruins, etc. However, here’s how I envision things like that:

By having players play the game, they make themselves part of the canon and lore. We only have to make a small area at a time and let them adventure there. Sure it may have repercussions thousands of miles away, but we can work with that between sessions. What we’re doing is letting our friends build the world around them, possibly even writing themselves into the world’s history books as heroes or villains. Sure we have an idea of how we want the world to actually look on a broad scale, but making it up as you go along is a LOT more fun that pre-planning, sometimes 😉 We’ve also made time at the end of each session where each player will make entries into their journals, so we have a written account from multiple perspective’s on the day’s events. This time is also counted as reflection or meditation time, where the player will think about the happenings of the day and their achievements will make themselves tangible (read: skill ups, etc). It’s a nice wind-down activity, I think … and helps tremendously in keeping a record of every little thing that happens from everyone’s perspective, including the GM.

For the first campaign I think Jon and I are going to co-GM it, then we’ll alternate weeks or entire campaigns. I’m excited to play the game, but I’m more excited to see other people play it and this time, I’d much rather run the game than be in it. Not sure why as I’ve never GMed a PnP game before, but this being my baby … I really want to see what the players come up with, since our group of friends has a nasty history of really messing up worlds.

Anywho, I’ll end this extremely long post here, but I wanted to expand just a tiny bit on the “building while playing” idea. Personally I think it’s great fun to watch the world be built and the lore written in front of your eyes with your friends. It’s how Dragonlance came about, if I’m not mistaken and it really adds a random element to something that could be made completely bored and plain with too much planning / thinking. To that end, my buddy and I had an idea where we’d have people who actually lived elsewhere test the game, run a campaign or two with their friends, in different predetermined areas of the world and report back to us after each gaming session. This would provide the element of a world that is changing and expanding even beyond what our players know so that the world we’ve created would be changed by the time they got there, if they ever went there. It also leads into having an online gaming session with people around the world if they two groups ever met up in the same place, which I think would be fun.

It’s been a long post, but hopefully those who chose to make it through to the end were entertained. Please, leave comments as you see fit, constructive criticism is always welcome. I’ll be fully chronicling the development of the game at my new site: Digital Lemonade Studios so if you’re really intrigued, the specifics of the systems and whatnot will be placed there as they unfold (and as I have time, since there’s nothing there really right now :P). Thanks for reading 😀

Oh and by the way, the name of our game / world is Godsworn 😉