Quote of the Day: A Cavalcade of Nightmares

Eric, as he works on integrating the new character art:

“Where’s his head? Oh, down there.”

15 minutes later: “Now his face is gone.”

30 minutes later: “Oh God, the eyes! Where are his eyes?!”

15 minutes later: “This should help. Now I have an eyeball extractor script.”

30 minutes later: “So they removed his eye bones. We still have blinking, though – there are still eyelid bones.”

Later: “Now women have their own eyes! They used to share men’s eyes and that was fine, until we removed the eye bones and attached the eyes to the jaw. But women have smaller jaws then men so their eyes rolled up in their heads.”

(and on and on into the night…)

Posted in Project Gorgon | 2 Comments

Loot progress

I’m not dead! Just … didn’t really have much to talk about for a bit there. I’m months behind my target date for pre-alpha 3, but I’m now at the point where I could put the game live with a weeks’ notice.

For months the hold ups were due to technical issues, but now the hold up is the new art from the LoE guys — the art I’ve gotten so far has some rigging bugs (which distort the animations in surreal, terrifying ways). To fix those errors, they’ve gone back to the drawing board and are doing a new rig entirely, so I’m not sure what sort of timeline I’m looking at. Not trying to point fingers at them — making an art pipeline is no small task! So I’m not too surprised that there’s setbacks. But… yeah, there’s setbacks.

Unfortunately I ripped out the placeholder human art a while back, so I can’t switch back to that easily. But if things take too much longer, I’ll just deal with the animation glitches and run it with whatever I have… I’d really like to start getting feedback again! Both because the feedback would help me shape the game, and also because it’s such a motivator to see people using your stuff.

So… soon. Gonna set an arbitrary date: I’ll put the pre-alpha back up on, hmm, let’s say the 25th. In whatever state it’s in!

In the meantime I’ve been working on content, mostly focusing on random treasure, making that fun. There are now well over 100 different powers that can show up randomly on treasure, and they let you customize your play-style to a high degree.

For instance, all Combat Psychologists have the same 6 basic abilities (in MMO terminology, they are: a combo instigator, a mez, a fear, a ranged instant attack, a targeted heal, and a detaunt). However, the equipment you wield changes the effects pretty dramatically. If you want to focus on debuffing, you can get equipment that makes your mez cause Depression (reduces the monster’s damage output), Numbness (slows movement), and various other effects, as well as its usual mez behavior. If you’d prefer to focus on a support role, you can improve the effects of your heal, and get the ability to make monsters worth more XP when killed. And of course there’s lots of in-between steps.

Most combat abilities aren’t quite so versatile — for instance the Sword skill is always going to be about killing things first and foremost. But your equipment lets you choose between pure dps or focusing more heavily on the swordsmans’ Rage-reducing powers. And there are other choices to make when you try to combine two skills at once. (Because remember you have two combat skills active at the same time.) If you’re a Swordsman/Psychologist, you might want to use Psychology as a ranged pull, or as a pick-off-fleeing-enemies tool. Or you might focus on the Psychology abilities that let you heal yourself and get out of scrapes. Different equipment would work better in different cases.

Anyway, I’m liking the test loot that comes out of the system so far. The numbers and stats on the loot are mostly placeholders — I’ve tried to get them in the right ballpark, but I’ll have to do a whole lot more rebalancing down the line. First, though, I’m just trying to let you explore different meaningful combinations.

There are a million ways it could break down. For instance, the large number of skills means it’s harder to find loot specifically for the skills you use. So players might fall behind because they can’t find good enough loot. Or they might be bored by the loot because it’s all fiddly effects, not just a couple of numbers. It takes a lot of effort to evaluate and compare items. Or maybe lots of these powers don’t work very well, so everybody finds one or two combos that work and people end up pretty samey.

Fortunately most potential problems have pretty easy solutions — or at least ways to make them less painful. So I’m really dying to see the system in use.

Hm, I wanted to talk about the playable races today but I got distracted talking about loot. Will talk about that more soon.

And I’ll see you here on the 25th if you’d like to play test! Pre-alpha 3 will last at least a month. (And possibly stay up forever, depending on how the testing goes…)

Posted in Project Gorgon | 17 Comments

More Stuff Happening

Fire Magic Spells!

It turns out that almost all the spells in the Fire Magic school were broken in pre-alpha 2. (For instance, the spell that makes monsters take extra fire damage didn’t.) To make matters worse, it was really hard to get started with learning Fire Magic, so almost nobody tried it out. So I’ve revamped the spells and added lots more of them… over a hundred more!

These spells come in all sorts of varieties. A ton of  different fireballs: long-range, short-range, damage-over-time, damage-multiplying, sparkly, extra-small, made of frost instead of fire… plus there’s lots of other fire spells, for everything from explosive bursts to creating pet “living flames”. But no matter how many spells you research, you only have six slots for Fire Magic spells, so you have to pick and choose what you use.

The idea is that each person does this Fire Magic Research thing where they randomly discover different spells. At first you’ll just keep Researching until you learn them all, because it costs very little to do the early research. But after level 10, it gets more expensive to research the higher-level spells… and soon, there are so many spells to learn, and it costs so much, that you’ll out-level the spell range before you can easily afford all the spells.

This is intentional — it’s so you have a more personalized Fire Magic experience. The equipment you find is also random, so that will play into your choices a lot.

For instance, the “puttering fireball” spells are kind of crappy fireballs that don’t go very far. You’re unlikely to want to use them… but there are magic items that specifically make Puttering fireballs much more effective in lots of ways.

Or maybe you have some of the “sparkly fireball” spells, which just look different from regular fireballs. Those aren’t bad fireballs, but they’re nothing special… unless you’ve found a staff that specifically boosts sparkly fireballs.

Like I said, I dunno how well it will work in practice, because I don’t have a lot of test data. But it’s kinda fun to me, so I’ll just see how you like it.

(At max level, you’ll eventually be able to get all the spells, of course. At that point there’ll probably be a lot fewer distinctive builds. But there should still be some big choices to make depending on what epic equipment you happen to have found.)

Item Nerf Incoming

I’m not yet sure how well the pre-alpha 2 characters will make it over to pre-alpha 3. They’ll definitely retain their skill levels, and maybe their quests. Other stuff… not sure yet. I’ll have to see how hard it’s going to be to convert people.

One thing that definitely will happen is that lots of characters’ items will get nerfed.

In pre-alpha 2, any treasure-effect could end up on any piece of equipment, and they all stacked. Which meant it was very easy to create insanely broken builds.

As an example, there’s a treasure-effect that adds +20 damage when you use a certain Sword ability against Goblins. That’s a lot of damage, but it’s very specialized, so it’s not insanely broken. However, when you have six pieces of equipment with that on it, you do +120 damage, and you can insta-kill any goblin currently in the game! That effect is only supposed to show up on chest armor, not on any other slots.

So what I’ll be doing is stripping these powers off of items that shouldn’t be able to have them. In the example above, any non-chest-armor with that power will lose it.

Which sucks, and I apologize for it, but the game’s not even in alpha yet. I’m sure there’ll be other painful partial-wipes down the road. Hopefully you can push past the pain and keep play-testing!

Wallpaper

Will’s created a pretty cool wallpaper here:

Gorgon: Destriel's Army

 

This was originally the model for Destriel, one of the bosses of the game. But this ended up being one of his soldiers instead.

Lots of art coming soon! I’m hoping all the art integration comes together in the next two weeks and I can get the servers back up so you can try it out!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 2 Comments

Vendors!

There’s a million ways that vendors could work. After days of playing around with them, I feel like I’ve tried all million permutations. I am well and truly sick of thinking about it. So let me write about it some!

What Do I Display For “Value”?

When you examine an item in the game and you see its “Value”, what do you assume that means? Is it the cash you’ll get if you sell it? Is it the price for a brand new one? Is it something else, maybe a general idea of its value?

I decided that for Gorgon, the displayed value is the exact amount you can expect to sell it for. If you want to buy an item from a shop, it will cost 2x or 3x that value. But buying stuff is relatively rare compared to looting or crafting something. So it makes more sense that the value be relevant for the most common scenario. But I’m open to ideas about why that’s not as smart as it seems.

Variable Vendor Purchase Rates? Meh

If you played in pre-alpha 2 you may have noticed that vendors had random buying rates… some NPCs would buy for 1/2 value, some for full value, some for 2x value, all sorts of things. They were just placeholders (and buggy ones at that.)

But the idea was that different vendors would have different rates… some would buy weapons at great rates, others would give you a great rate on fruits and vegetables, etc. This is a pretty classic element of older MMOs. But after I set it all up, it felt “meh.”

It’s very tedious to sell your loot if vendors have wildly different rates. I found myself having to write down who would buy what for how much, so I could efficiently figure out where to sell stuff. Writing stuff on paper? Unacceptable! A sure sign that the game isn’t helping you enough.

I’d also thought it would be fun if some vendors just gave you great rates across the board. Like deep in a dungeon there was a vendor that buys stuff for 2x times its inherent value. This turned out to be a terrible idea: I immediately felt the need to go visit this guy to sell anything of major value. So I’d just obsoleted all other vendors, and made the best vendor really hard to reach.

But my goals were reasonable. Let’s look at those for a second.

Why Do Vendors Need To Be Different At All?

In many modern MMOs, all vendors buy all items for full value. It’s convenient and painless. Why am I screwing this up and adding annoyance? Lots of reasons:

  • Vendors are NPCs. And NPCs each have different personalities… or at least, different likes and dislikes. It makes sense that a vendor who loves swords would be the best one to sell your sword to.
  • A big part of the game is befriending the NPCs. You have a “favor level” with each one, which starts out at Neutral (or Tolerated, or maybe even Hated, depending on racial relations)… then when you do favors for them, give them presents, and so on, their Favor Level goes up and up until you’re Friends, Close Friends, or even Best Friends. This needs to make sense for vendors — if you’re best friends with a shopkeeper, shouldn’t they give you a better deal on their specialty items?
  • Vendors are also going to run consignment shops. You can give them stuff to sell on your behalf. For this idea to work, there needs to be differentiation — reasons to go one place instead of another. If a player is looking for a sword, they should intuitively know to search weapon shops. They shouldn’t have to worry that maybe the sandwich vendor might have an even better sword for sale. So the game should help guide players to different vendors for different stuff.

Value Caps

What I’ve settled is “caps” on purchasing rate. Say you try to sell your magic potions at Joe’s Sword Shop. He’ll give you full price for them… but he won’t go above 500 credits. If you have a 1000-credit potion, you can sell it to him for 500, or go over to Betty’s Potion Hut. Betty has a much higher cap for potions. However, she won’t give you more than 500 for a sword.

This seems very similar to a multiplier (where Joe gives you 10% extra for swords, while Betty gives you 20%  extra for potions, etc.) But it’s actually a lot less annoying because you never have to wonder if you’ve found the “best” vendor. Either they’ll give you full price, or they won’t.

This makes a relatively painless workflow: I just go down main street and hit the five major vendor shops. When I’m in the weapon shop, the GUI puts little warning icons overtop the stuff I won’t get full value for. So I can kinda brainlessly click down the list.

It’s not completely brainless, but I don’t want it to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t have any reason to befriend vendors.

Better Caps For Better Friends

As you become better and better friends with the weapon shop keeper, his cap for weapons will keep going up. So you have very obvious incentives to befriend shopkeepers and do favors for them!

There’s some annoyance here, of course. If a newbie finds a super rare sword, they might not be good enough friends with any NPC to get full price for it. They’ll have to store it for later, or sell it at a loss. But that’s okay.

It’s okay because it’s directed: the goal is clear (become better friends to get higher sale caps), you know how to achieve the steps (do favors for him), and you know when you meet your goal (he buys your item for full value). That’s good gameplay.

Keep in mind that favor levels aren’t a tacked-on part of the game. Almost all the quests in the game are presented as “favors” that you do to make NPCs like you more. So you’re already going to be raising those Favor Levels for other reasons — getting new recipes, learning new skills, and so on. This just extends Favor Levels to vendors in an intuitive way.

Occasional Inconvenience

So I’ve been playing with this system and it works okay. It’s not as annoying as it might sound. Selling your junk is pretty efficient.

But sometimes you will need to trek far away to sell stuff: luxury goods. Most vendors won’t give you more than $500 for a painting, but the art collector will give you $8000 for it, so you’ll end up storing your unusual items and periodically visiting these distant vendors.

Why do this? It comes back to what I talked about a while ago: by allowing a small amount of pain, I get big dividends in emergent behavior:

  • This directly rewards player knowledge, without making it feel like memorization. You’ll naturally come across the art historian, and when you find an expensive painting, you’ll remember him. MMOs have removed a ton of this sort of player knowledge in order to streamline their game. But it actually feels good to use your game knowledge. Taking it all away actually robs players of enjoyment.
  • These vendors are in new places that you wouldn’t often travel to otherwise. This encourages you to move around more. Remember that I don’t have tons of level ranges, so the game doesn’t constantly shove you from zone to zone as you level up. Instead, you find your own path through the game. These vendors are one reason why you might go someplace new.
  • In small doses, distance and delay also breeds opportunity. If the painting vendor is far away, or you aren’t good friends with him yet, maybe it makes sense to sell your painting to another player instead for 80% of the value. With a few other mechanics like this, there might be enough gameplay for player “traders” to have fun… without dramatically penalizing everybody else.

The trick is not to go overboard, and that just takes experimentation. For instance, right now I have a painting collector in one town and a poetry collector somewhere else. That might be too annoying, and they might need to combine into one Art Collector. I’ll have to see how it goes.

The Pain of Compromised Design

This sort of post is hard for me to write because I know it won’t make anyone super happy. It’s a compromise. People who want to focus on group-monster-stabbing are going to gripe about any extra annoyance while selling.

And players who want to immerse themselves in the world will want more systems. Always more! In order to get real trading gameplay, I’d need price fluctuation — why don’t I make vendor caps fluctuate based on how much stuff the vendor has bought that day? (Because that’s annoying as fuck for everybody except hardcore traders.)

It’s all a compromise. Most modern MMO designers swing the pendulum very far toward the “convenience” column, even though that removes some of the crunchy fun for lots of players. They’re afraid you’ll leave if you experience even a tiny bit of annoyance. I trust you a bit more — I think my target audience is willing to put up with a little annoyance in exchange for more depth.

And I feel like this is something I’m well equipped for. I love the crunchy game systems, but I also have severe ADHD. So I have a tendency to implement crazy schemes and then pare them back until they aren’t too annoying. I can be my own target audience for this stuff, which is really convenient.

But I’m also expecting to make a ton of changes when you guys get into the game. I hope I end up attracting enough players who like these game mechanics and can help me guide them to the sweet spot. Because when other players iterate on your ideas, you often realize it’s not a pendulum at all — instead of being a trade-off between annoyance and emergence, there’s often some little tweaks that let you have your cake and eat it too.

I’m still working hard toward getting the game open for you to play in. Sorry for the delays! But it’s still coming, and I’m looking forward to it!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 14 Comments

Quote of the Day: WTF

Eric: The server is e-mailing me the message “WTF”.

Sandra: Ahh … I presume you programmed it to do that?

Eric: I presume so too.

Posted in Project Gorgon | 8 Comments

Milk, Vaults & Ulfoi

Player-to-Player Interactions

I’ve been cruising along with infrastructure features, hoping to get a fair number of them in place so that the LoE team can reuse my server tech for more stuff.

It’s funny what ends up getting coded first, though. I started working on the player-to-player interaction system, which will let players trade, duel, play board games against each other, etc. The first step was to have a confirmation box: “Player X would like to do Y with you, accept/refuse/ignore?” So I added that tech, but in order to test it, I needed it to do something once you pressed Accept. So I looked for the simplest player-to-player interaction possible. And way, way down the list I found it: milking.

So PC cows can now be milked by other players. “Bob would like to milk you. Accept?” If you accept, Bob gets milk, and the interaction ends. It’s literally the simplest possible interaction, so it got coded first. I just never would have guessed that while making the task list.

The most important interaction I want to support is player-to-player trading. But that’s the hardest interaction (yes, harder than a simple board game!). There’s a lot of different steps to get there. But I’m adding tech that leads up to it. One such piece of tech got added this week, and is useful for another feature: storage vaults.

Storage Vaults (And Related Places to Dump Crap)

In some MMOs, the “bank vault” is really just a special backpack. It travels around with your character, but you just can’t access that “backpack” unless you’re at the bank. That makes it incredibly easy to implement, and avoids tons of special cases. But the down side is that you can’t have too much stuff in the vault, because all your backpacks are always in server memory, and server memory is scarce.

I wanted to avoid that, so Gorgon’s storage vaults are stored in the database separately from players. This means I can have a lot of storage available to players… but not all in one box. There’s a sweet spot of about 100 complex items per storage container; when there’s more than that, things get a little bogged down. (Retrieving all the info from the database takes a tiny bit longer, and sending all the info to the client takes a bit longer, too. Nothing earth-shattering, but better to avoid it.)

So my plan is to have a the traditional “inter dimensional” storage, a la WoW: no matter which Bank you go into, your stuff is the same. That’s the main storage vault, and it costs a lot to buy slots in there.

But I’ll also have lots of other small storage areas. For instance, if you become good friends with an NPC, they might let you store a few dozen items in their home chest. (Those items only exist in that chest, so you have to trek back to it to get your stuff… but that’s gameplay, not a flaw!)

This also means I can have some location-based decisions. In a busy city, extra storage slots are hard to come by. Out in the boonies, you can store a ton of stuff for cheap, but then it’s a pain to transfer.

I’ll also use a related system for consignment vendors: when you’ve befriended a shopkeeper, you can give them a few items to sell in their store for you. But that part comes later. Everything happens in little steps!

Special Request: Ulfoi

One of the cities in Project Gorgon is under constant attack by a horde of demons from another plane of existence. They can’t be bargained with or reasoned with and they won’t stop coming. In other words, they’re perfect classic video game monsters that you can feel no remorse in killing.

I was basically thinking of aliens from Aliens, or Zerg from Starcraft, or maybe even a fantasy version of Borg. Later it occured to me that this monster also fits the same ecological niche as Olthoi from Asheron’s Call (a game I worked on long ago). So to amuse myself I named them Ulfoi as a kind of homage.

They have a few similarities: they’re both a little reminiscent of Aliens, and they both have a scary queen who’s a boss monster. Here’s Will’s initial sketch of the queen, an egg-laying tentacle beast:

ulfoi queen

But when you get down to it, they’re not very similar at all. Olthoi are insects while Ulfoi are demons. The only reason you’d likely even compare them is because I gave them a similar name.

So that name is a problem. I’m afraid people will say “you stole that from Turbine” or other such nonsense. And really, the name “Ulfoi” just feels like… it’s trying too hard to be clever.

So… does anybody have a better name?

Posted in Project Gorgon | 18 Comments

Progress Toward Pre-Alpha 3

Artwork Inbound

Just a quick update about where things are at. The Legends of Etherell guys are cranking out awesome character artwork for Project: Gorgon. As I mentioned a while back, we’re going to do something like an art-for-server-tech swap.

If you’re interested in their progress, you might want to check Will Barry’s scrapbook web page every day or two. (Unfortunately it doesn’t have an RSS, and the pictures come and go, so checking it periodically is the only way to see everything. Artists! Whimsical.)

Here’s the current version of the third race, the cat-like Rakshasa, in one of their armors: (click to embiggen)

1803354_orig

9821973_orig

The Rakshasa have a leather motif in their armor, whereas Humans are more about plate armor, and Elves are more about nature motifs, magical clothing, and exposed flesh. But  any race can wear any other races’ armor, so if you want to be a plate-armored elf, that will work fine.

Each armor style will have slightly different game mechanics (for instance, elven armor tends to be less effective against being stabbed, but better against psionics and lightning). But thanks to the random-treasure system, every piece will be different, so it’s likely you’ll end up mixing and matching styles based on what you find. At least while you’re leveling up.

Here’s an early elf male, showing off one of their clothing styles. (The armor’s finalized here, but the face and hair are placeholders.)

8497733_orig

(You can also see lots of other stuff, in various stages of completion, on Will’s site. I especially like the Wood Spirit.)

I’m jazzed to see the Rakshasa in the game. They’ve always been a part of the backstory, but I didn’t expect to have them playable at launch. Actually I’m pretty excited to see all this stuff coming together — three custom races, plus faces and skin tones for each, plus several interchangeable armor suits for each, plus new monsters… it’s a lot of art! And it looks great!

So I’ve changed plans for pre-alpha 3, and I’m focusing on getting this art into the game as soon as possible. It’s important to locate any kinks in the art pipeline ASAP, so this has to take priority over other stuff, like new content and game systems.

And in fact I’ve already hit a major flaw in my tech. It can’t accomodate multiple downloaded materials in a single piece of equipment, and that’s necessary if we want to let flesh poke through the armor (e.g. in the elven armor where you see the torso exposed under the armor). In the stock artwork I’d been using, that just never happened, they were all full-body armor suits. So I didn’t think about it. But there are actually a bunch of weaknesses in how I stream character assets. It needs to be a lot more flexible.

So I’m neck-deep in a rewrite of the asset-management system. Not a fun task at all, because the game is unplayable while I do this rewrite, and it involves a lot of cursing and late nights of coding. But in the end it will mean I can handle almost any sort of avatar artwork.

I doubt I’ll hit the January deadline for pre-alpha 3 now, but the delay should be worth it: there will be lots of new avatar options and, I’m sure, tons of hilarious bugs to find!

Death Penalty Coding: Done!

Before I forget: I finished up the “Hardcore” death penalty system. There’s a bulletin board in the newbie town called the “Hardcore Declaration Board” where you can announce that you’re “hardcore,” effectively switching your death penalty to the harsher one. (If people examine you, they’ll see “Hardcore” in your list of active challenge bages. Along with any other voluntary challenges, like Vegetarian or Lycanthrope.)

You can switch between normal and hardcore at will, and I think that’s probably fine, I don’t mind people backing out of it if they get too frustrated. However, I do need to avoid one scenario: people leveling up in Normal, and then switching to Hardcore when they’re high-level and pretending they were always Hardcore. That seems like it would take away from the prestige too much.

So maybe I’ll record the number of levels you’ve been Hardcore for, and display that… damn, I don’t have character levels! So maybe I’ll record the amount of XP you’ve earned, or something, as a Hardcore player, and show that to people. (You should still be able to level up on Normal and then switch to Hardcore… I don’t want to prohibit that, I just don’t want you to look identical to someone who leveled up on Hardcore from day 1.)

Item “Lost”? Out. Item “Broken”? In.

I’ve also implemented another of Matt’s ideas for Hardcore mode. Instead of the items dropping on your corpse when you die, the items “break”, and “a piece of the item” remains on your corpse, rendering the item useless. The item is shown with an X in your inventory, and it can’t be used.

If you go back to your tombstone and click it, all your broken items are fixed and you’re back to normal. If you don’t get back within a few hours, your tombstone fades away, but there’s an alternate way to repair your items: you can right-click any broken item and it will guide you toward where its missing part is. When you’re standing in the right spot, right-clicking the item repairs it.

This “broken” conceit seems pretty weird when something like a bottle of water “breaks”… you’d expect a bottle of water couldn’t be repaired, at least not without the water leaking out. But hopefully players can roll with it and won’t be too bugged by the incongruities. “It’s broken, you have to go to a certain place to make it work again, the end.”

One down side is that there’s now no chance of permanent item loss: you can always trek back and make your broken item work again, even if you have to wait a long time to do so. I like that for the convenience factor: lots of us have lives that don’t allow us to stay up all night searching for their corpse before their items melt. However, I’m a little afraid that this takes too much oomph out of the death penalty, because there’s never any real danger of losing your item forever. (What do you think?)

There are lots of benefits to this approach, though, which is why I picked it. First, you can give those broken items to friends, and they can go repair them for you. Or hell, you can sell your broken junk to people and they can go repair the items and keep them! The broken items are fully tradable.

This also simplifies inventory management, because the items never disappear from your inventory, they just change state, so you never have that awkward situation where you’re carrying too much junk to loot your corpse.

This approach is also a lot easier to code, and has fewer special cases… which weighed heavily in its favor when I was trying to decide what to implement.

This blog post is likely the last one that will talk about Hardcore mode for this pre-alpha, because I’ve moved on to other stuff. But we’ll re-evaluate after pre-alpha 3, and of course I’m always interested in hearing your ideas now! (Even if I don’t act on them.) And again, thanks Matt! And thank-you to several others whose names I’ve forgotten! You guys have been incredibly helpful on this.

Posted in Project Gorgon | 15 Comments

Addendum: Matt’s Idea

On the last blog post, commenter Matt proposed a fairly clever hybrid solution to the death-loot problem that should work well. It uses the “invisible bag” plan, with a clever proxy add-on.

I’m going to go ahead and pencil in this plan. Because my tech for items is pretty fancy, this should be a straightforward implementation, and it combines lots of the benefits of both approaches. It’s also rather elegant in how it lets people be sociable and helpful without a lot of extraneous inter-communication.

(There’s a stray thought in my head that there might be a way to abuse this system to get extra inventory space. But I’m not seeing an exploit that’s substantially better than mail-muling, which I have no problem with. If anybody sees a vulnerability I don’t, let me know.)

Here’s Matt’s post. Thanks, Matt!

Allow your friends to interact with your corpse; when they do they won’t be able to loot your actual stuff, but will instead get an item that will sort-of proxy your stuff. This bag of “Matt’s Stuff” (for example) wouldn’t be an actual bag or container of any sort; your friends wouldn’t be able to open it or use any of the stuff that’s ostensibly “inside” it, but they would be able to give the “bag of stuff” back to you, put it in guild storage, or whatever.

You could then get your stuff back by either looting it directly from you corpse or by acquiring the bag that someone else “looted” and brought back for you. This second option would allow a few additional benefits:

1. It means you don’t need to completely trust other people with your stuff. Anyone who “loots” your corpse can only help you, not hurt you. While it’s interesting to require trust as a prerequisite, I think it’s more useful to use death and “corpse runs” as a way of building trust.

2. It would allow multiple friends to loot your corpse. While rationally silly, this sort of capability makes a lot of sense for a virtual world, where you don’t know where or when you’ll see any specific friend again.

3. You could still do the corpse run, and get your stuff back yourself (should you enjoy that sort of challenge, or if you’re next online when your friend’s aren’t). Once you’ve acquired your stuff, you may even be able to get the game to do something silly with any remaining supposed bags of “Matt’s Stuff” laying around.

For example, “You swear there was something important in here, but it’s just a goblin’s dirty laundry,” or “It’s a bag of rocks. Why are you carrying around a bag of rocks?”

 

Posted in Project Gorgon | 25 Comments

Toward more interesting deaths

New Penalties

I’m still mulling the death penalty in Project Gorgon. I’m happy with where we left the Hardcore Penalty discussed earlier, but I’m not happy with the normal death penalty. I don’t want it to be more punitive, though. I want it to be more fun.

The normal death penalty is that you’re sent back to a graveyard. Eventually there’ll be item damage, which means you have to pay money to fix your stuff. And that’s the entire penalty. Which is perfect in terms of punishing players for dying. I don’t want it to be more punitive, really; that’s what the Hardcore mode is for.

But it still feels like a missed opportunity. Death is a natural point at which the game’s “flow” can be broken. (The flow in an MMO is usually “kill, loot, kill, loot, kill, loot, sell, turn in quest, kill, loot… yawn”.) Breaking up that flow is really important to sustaining play for the long term. The Hardcore penalty does a good job of breaking the flow, but it’s very punitive. How can I break the flow for regular players without feeling like I’m kicking them when they’re down?

My first idea was “death curses.” Every so often you’d respawn with a curse that gave you some modest stat penalty, and you’d have to seek out a cure. The cures would be craftable items spread all throughout the crafting skill trees, so this was an excuse to get you to socialize with other players who could help you. But it was way too punitive. Even if the stat penalty was negligible, it felt like this huge burden you had to fix. Turned out to be a terrible idea. So I took that out.

But while talking with Sandra the other day, I stumbled on a better version: role-played death penalties! Every once in a while, when you die, you come back with one of these penalties on you, telling you to role-play a certain way.

Fear of Spiders

The only thing it does is put an icon in the player’s status bar. It has no other effect whatsoever. When the player earns enough XP (or enough time elapses), the effect disappears.

If the player is feeling frustrated, they can ignore this entirely. But if they’re in a more accommodating mood, this gives them something new to incorporate into their playing.

Usually the effects will be pretty small, and might not even come up during play at all:

Occasionally the penalty will be more invasive:

And very rarely, it will be extremely disruptive:

Some players will completely ignore these. Others will be delighted by them. But hopefully very few players will be really upset by them.

Hardcore: The Two Possible Implementations

Speaking of death penalties! I’m still figuring out how to implement the Hardcore penalty (where items are dropped on death and you have to go back to your corpse to get your stuff). There are two ways to do it, and they both have pros and cons.

First there’s the Asheron’s Call way: your items are transferred to a Corpse entity which lays on the ground where you died. It’s a real entity (much like a player, or an ore mine, or a monster). You click it to get your stuff back.

The advantage of this approach is that it’s completely detached from the player. Thus a player could give their friends (or their guild) permission to loot that corpse, and then go to bed. Their friends could get their stuff for them. Pretty cool.

The problem is is that there’s a limit on the number of entities that can be in one area at a time. If a really popular dungeon has hundreds of unclaimed corpses in it, the game needs to clean some of those up to avoid lagging other players. And cleaning it up means… the items go poof.

What I’d do is tell players, “Your corpse will last at least 3 hours, and up to 72 hours, depending on server load.” That way if I need to, I can clean up their corpses pretty quickly, but if things are going slowly, there’s no rush.

The other way I could code it is as a “fake bag”. In this case, your items are transferred to an imaginary bag on your character that you don’t have access to. To get access to that bag, you have to go back to the spot where you died. Then the GUI will give you access to your stuff.

In this case, there might still be a corpse in the world, but your stuff isn’t stored in it. It’s just a handy way of spotting where you died. That corpse might decay out of existence early, but you could still go back to that spot and reclaim your stuff. (There’d be special abilities that helped you find your stuff if the corpse melts — creating a special glowing trail for you to follow.)

The up side of this is that the items can last as long as I want them to. And instead of counting down time in calendar days (“you have 72 hours to get your corpse”) I could count it down in time-played (“you must retrieve your corpse during the next 20 hours that you are online”). This has big benefits for people who can’t play again until next weekend.

The down side is that when you’re offline, so is your stuff. So there’s no way for other people to retrieve your loot for you.

So I have to pick between these two approaches. (There’s lots of other solutions, but these are the two that are relatively easy.)

I’m leaning toward the “invisible bag” approach, but please let me know your thoughts!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 14 Comments

Twitter Updates

Twitter Account: I’ve started tweeting each day about the development process on twitter @GorgonMMO. Mostly I post minutia and useless factoids, but if you’re reading Twitter anyway, you could do worse.

Facebook Sucks: (warning: non-MMO-related rant below!) By the way, I’ll probably never do much with the Facebook page, due to how Facebook now charges to make sure posts get seen by my followers. If I don’t pay, only a fraction of followers get the news!

The way they presented this is pretty skeezy, too. They call it “promoting” a post, and say that all I’m doing is paying to get my news to the top of your news feed so it doesn’t get missed. This is only kinda-sorta true.

They actually removed your ability to see your unfiltered newsfeed a while ago. Now you can only see your newsfeed as filtered through EdgeRank, their algorithm for sorting news. If a news post has a low EdgeRank for you, it doesn’t show up in your news feed at all. They make it sound like those posts just get sorted to the bottom of your feed, but actually they take it out of your news feed entirely.

A post’s EdgeRank score is highest right after it’s posted, and then it degrades rapidly after that. So if you happen to view your news feed right after I post, you’ll see it. If you wait too long, my news will get cold and it’ll fall out of your news feed entirely. Unless I pay to keep the EdgeRank high.

This is starting to cause a lot of outrage among business owners, and Facebook’s reaction to their complaints is very frustrating. They say they’re just trying to keep users’ news feeds from being too crowded. But their “fix” is to prioritize the people with big advertising budgets. I’m positive that’s not how any sane person would prefer to have their newsfeed sorted.

My RSS reader has thousands of posts in it, but I’ve never gotten overwhelmed. That’s because it’s not all one single news feed! Why can’t Facebook show me a list, saying “You have 16 news messages from friends, 5 from game pages, 10 from celebrities, 8 from…” and then let me click the feed I want to see first? They made this problem by having a crappy interface, and now they’re “fixing” it by charging me money. Yay.

Anyway, since Twitter and RSS are free, and I don’t yet have a big Facebook following anyway, Facebook can go to hell. I’m not going to spend my time building an audience there and then have to pay to talk to that audience.

I’ll still post big announcements on Facebook, because some coverage is better than none… but I won’t bother with posting the smaller stuff.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention the Twitter account. I’ll have a more substantial blog post soon!

Posted in News, Project Gorgon | 10 Comments