Dead Characters

I was just thinking about animations for characters and NPCs in MMOs and I realized the more successful ones (or at least the ones that feel right when playing) tend to have idle animations. Some are subtle (such as frosty breath in cold areas or actual chest movement from breathing) while others are somewhat more obvious and come with easy gains (such as head following nearby targets or people). Without some of these (and even with some of these done wrong) the character seems more a like a doll than a character.

When thinking about WoW; I can easily visualize a dwarf running in it’s awkward manner over the snow and leaving foot prints behind. The arms move back and forth over top its girth while the legs almost scamper quickly underneath. When they jump, I see their comical jump filled with start and finishing motions that are smooth and fluid.

I an also easily imagine the Night Elf female idle bounce and ears flopping when they run. The twirl when they jump or the mid-air somersault that is sometimes there. I can see the combat stance and strikes easily and without extra effects.

Thinking about other games, there is nothing really positive that stands out.

For EQ2 the models are very doll-like. They do seem plastic and lifeless – lifeless being the bigger turn off. This is further worsened by their use of the head tracking targets to the point you’d almost think they were owls. In some cases this makes them look like marionettes controlled by someone that forgets they have to control the head too. The system of morphing the armor to the models and the similarities in the majority of the models means they all run and jump pretty close to the same. The females look like they’re in a rush to get to the washroom while the males look like they walk on their heels and flap their feet down.

In LOTRO the models don’t really fit the world. They seem far more removed because the game world is just that good but also because they don’t impact the world in small ways – like leaving footprints in the snow (maybe that’s something only Elves do as the lore suggests – but I can’t recall my dwarf characters leaving footprints either). The run animations are nothing exciting or memorable and the jump animation… it has to be the worst I’ve seen so far. The combat animations might stand on their own, but it’s hard to tell because of the white flashes that accompany an attack or ability (these are really jarring and unnecessary).

Very disappointing but also true to Turbine’s other games. I don’t think they quite get this.

DDO seemed somewhat lifeless as far as characters go. They only got a part of it and didn’t follow through with Tumbling (or Acrobatics) – higher points in that skill made things look a little different. They seemed to stand about and do little else.

Some of the NPC actions are nice. I give them credit in LOTRO for that guy in the first town whot sweeps the dirt but I have to take it away when I head up the road and see the NPCs standing around at a farm gate with no animation. They just stand there doing nothing despite the quest they want to give you.

Vanguard suffered from this (among other things) as well. The models, short of the heads, were much the same and followed the same animations making the animations seem quite bland. At first you might not have noticed as much because most of the class ability animations seemed different (though some of it was reused with some different colored sparkles), but then if you saw more of the same class, you realized the animations were much the same (if not the same) no matter the race.

WoW isn’t perfect but they made the decision to make the races attack different giving the races more separation and personality. You get more of a feel for playing them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Eviscerate finisher for a Rogue; try it on different races and then try it on the same race with different genders. Watch the attack animations of a Blood Elf (female with a two-handed weapon is pretty cool) or a Tauren or a Dwarf. All really different.

Rift also had an element of this. I noticed the facial expressions, eyes blinking and some of the idle attitude the characters had. But a lot of it was too subtle and you were more likely to notice it on the character select screen rather than in game where the character’s back is to you. I don’t remember as much about the combat animations but I do remember a different feel for the classes (so far as animations went). The casters seemed to have animations that drew on magic, the rogues felt sneaky and the warrior types seemed to stand taller.

These weren’t dead characters.

Your EQII account has been activated for 7 days‏!

So?

Okay, I give them credit for implementing flying mounts. Something that WoW has had for two expansions (maybe and a half in there) and even failing games (like Vanguard) have had since release.

My first thought was, “Meh. I can’t go back to EQ2. I liked it way back when, but it doesn’t interest me now.” Really, through no failing of its own. It’s a good enough game, I just lose enjoyment of it after a month or two of playing it. Some of that comes from disliking the fact that things are zoned and these zones don’t feel as big as the ones in EQ1. Also, I’ve created a bunch of characters and leveled through the starting experiences several times. Qeynos, Freeport, Neriak, EoF, RoK and even did a trial of the Velious starting area when that was available. I get to a point (usually DoF content) and I lose interest. On the rare occasion I hit KoS content and lose interest again.

Meh. It’s not doing anything for me.

My second thought was, “How will this work in a seamed world? You know, where you have to hit a zone line and pop over to another zone rather than just fly over the rocks separating Commonlands from Nektulos Forest?”

Again, I think the small zones sort of kill this. On the bright side, you’ll be able to fly up and over some things that previously blocked you in some zones.

I see they’re giving away XP Potions – I already had a ton of them stashed away from length of subscription rewards so not really a motivator.

Nope, not going to do it.

And NO, you cannot have my stuff.

Server Status on the Launcher?

I’ve always wondered why it was so bloody hard to put the server status right into the launcher. I mean, if you start the game and it takes you to a launcher before you can play, doesn’t it make sense to tell the users right then and there, “Hey, servers are down!” or “Server status is:  (list)”.

I understand it’s tougher for Blizzard to do since they’ve got more servers than some countries have computers, but a simple mechanic of setting up a server watch. Person fires up launcher, goes into options, selects Show Server Status, checks off a limited number of servers to watch, launcher pings those servers for status and displays them for the user so the user doesn’t have to click play, log in and discover the servers are down.

I’m not even really talking about Blizzard here.

Think about it.

  1. Start game.
  2. Doesn’t actually start game, it fires up the patcher/launcher. Okay, sort of needed for MMOs, gotten check files and make sure you’re up to date.
  3. Click play.
  4. Game actually starts. Depending on the game you might have to deal with the cinematic and various sponsors or companies involved. Some actually fail to have a mechanism to bypass this or require interaction to skip (WoW doesn’t it notes that you’ve seen the cinematic and likely want to skip right into the crack, er, game.
  5. Type username (if it doesn’t save it for you)
  6. Type password (maybe even an OTP from an Authenticator)
  7. You might have a loading screen here.
  8. Here is where games deviate; same will have a server selection, some will have character selection but almost all of them will tell you at this point if the servers are down.

That’s roughly 8 steps to tell you that the servers aren’t available when you could inform them as early as step 2, but instead you decided to fill the launcher with advertisements.

Yes!

Why wait or make a customer do a bunch of stuff only to discover the service isn’t available?

I’m flagging all the MMOs I think this applies to. I could be wrong because it’s been awhile since I looked at any of them and I hate to admit it, but I think DDO actually does show server status on the launcher. For others I simply can’t remember (DAoC, AoC).

EQ2 Feels Dirty

Call me crazy, but every time I think of EQ2 I can’t help but feel like it’s dirty. Not in the typical way, just that there is so much shit in there now that going back to it would be overwhelming. It’s like an episode of Hoarders - so much stuff lumped into that game which – to me – feels like it’s piled on top. And despite having all that stuff (or maybe because of that), I’d end up playing through the same areas, doing the same quests and getting the same HQs again.

A gamer friend is talking about it a lot to me at the moment because he’s managed to convince several co-workers into playing it (netting him three months of free subscription with two more months on the way). It’s nice to hear about but, as I said above, I don’t see myself going back to playing it.

Because it feels dirty. My characters are in a messy state where I have two different types of AAXP to sort out, various HQs, all sorts of changes to the game mechanics, etc.

In some ways, the WoW mechanics have ruined me because I can’t help but feel there is more choice in WoW with less mess than EQ2. I guess one way to put it is that WoW mechanics allow for a clearer path – I can see where I want to go with a character and steer him that way where as in EQ2 it seems like there is a lot of stuff that is just… stuff for the sake of being there.

At least that’s how I feel every time I go back to the game.

That and I don’t like the art change they made, ironically, to look more like WoW. Okay, call it higher fantasy, more colorful, what ever. I don’t like it. I don’t like Neriak and I don’t like Echoes of Faydewyr… or however that’s spelled. I didn’t mind Gorywn and actually thought that starting area was good.

Maybe I’ll give this new free-to-play sample a shot, even though you get limited to some pretty boring races and classes.

Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t have time for that.

EQ2 remains dead to me.

EverQuest Next?

One of my D&D group members linked this from Massively on our boards and a discussion ensued.

Massively has some video footage of a press release about EverQuest Next (which is just a working name). The questions asked are quite good and actually touch on several points of frustration about EverQuest 2 (mainly). The answers are about what you’d expect; they answer with ideals and what they hope they deliver or how they hope to make things work.

In other words, don’t hold your breath. Wait and see what they deliver because the hype machine just turned on. From what they said, it sounds like they’re trying to aim somewhere between EQ1 and EQ2. It could be interesting.

Here’s my laundry list of things they did in EQ2 that they need to clean up:

- Get rid of the mechanics for the classes – there is one underlying mechanic that is basically mana and every class effectively dips into this pool to fire their abilities. Every class. Even the supposedly mundane warriors. It makes every class play in the same fashion with the same basic resource management required – no variety. Yes, the results are different in effect, but the core gameplay is the same. Don’t be afraid to make a different system or require that the player pay attention and what for some sort of cue making things even better. Damn, you had so much potential to make each of the bazillion classes mean something else but you missed it!

- Reduce the number of abilities. I can remember there being a huge grid of hotbars with all sorts of abilities on there for every class. It stops being about choice and starts being about which one is available. Whack-a-mole. Make the abilities active to the class and don’t rely on splashing some visible effect to it with a different color. It really does get to be an eyesore and people lose sight of what they did. Active abilities are fun! Include movement in some of the abilities! My favorite abilities in WoW all have movement tied to them; Charge, Disengage, Blink and Death Grip (now there’s a pull!).

- Make the classes mean something. In EQ1 Bards were more effective with instruments in their hands while in EQ2 they were just another type of Rogue that had spells and buffs (really, this is a symptom of the first point I made). Make a Paladin seem more like a basher of undead things or things unholy. The Paladin just felt like another tank type that got a free horse at level (which ever level it was). The Guardian and Berserker didn’t really feel any different (or look any different either thanks to tiered crafted armor) – one had more defensive buffs while the other had more AoEs but in the end, the gameplay felt the same. This came up in the video as well. I missed the Enchanters of EQ1 being able to make illusions or enchant metals – where did that go? Heaven forbid the crafting types require any real assistance from non-crafters. This complaint was a good one that came up in the video footage as well.

- Tiered/level gear system sucks. The path of least resistance became using the not-so-rare rare crafted items for armor and weaponry for all classes. Again, the underlying mechanics were so similar it was just tiresome. How do they change this? Make drops more useful and place limitations on just how much you can craft. Don’t let crafters make a full set of anything. Instead allow them to make various parts or even the odd piece that is really awesome but self only so they get some sort of reward out of crafting that isn’t just another product they can sell. There is no heart in the crafting; nothing to want or look forward to aside from the next tier of gear or something I can sell. Make some fun tradeskills too! Take Engineering from WoW as an example. This complaint also came up in the video.

-The bell system and lack of any real zone boundaries that didn’t involve a door of some type. This is a huge must. EQ1’s zones felt better and more natural than most of EQ2’s – most of them. In EQ you felt like you were transitioning from area to area in a way that made sense but with EQ2 that was often not the case. Commonlands to Nektulos Forest? Come on. That was lame. It got a little better at the higher levels and in future expansions, but it didn’t really change my feeling that I’m in a big box and in that box is this type of stuff.. and the only hole out of the box is right here and it only takes you to this place. It felt too contained.

- Content was sort of dead and inanimate. Oh sure, some wandered around the towns and said things but it still seemed a little heartless and empty. I’m not really sure why. I think some of it is that the enemies just seemed to be there for the sake of being enemies. They were pretty inanimate. The odd patrol or wanderer but most of them just sat around at camps or at spawn points without doing much else. Even the named didn’t really seem to have a point in a lot of cases. There was little that gave you a clue as to why they were there (and yes, I read or listened to the quest stuff). There should be more scripting to the encounters or bosses or something of interest. In the Thundering Plains there was a small town that was randomly attacked by centaurs but nothing ever came from that. Why not? Missed opportunity.

- Dungeons weren’t big enough or were often a little too linear. Some had some pretty big scale to them, but were still very linear. There was little exploration or secret areas to discover in them. I think Varsoon’s was about the only one I played in that wasn’t all that linear. Some of the higher level stuff was better, but you need to keep people interested and rewarded for going into these places.

One of the other voiced complaints was, in essence, about forced grouping. While I don’t dislike being able to solo, I do also enjoying grouping and playing along with friends. EQ2 eventually went the route WoW did and made most of the outdoor content solo content while making the indoor content mostly ‘heroic’. Yes, I use that term loosely. I’m on the fence about forced grouping.

Those were my main issues with EQ2.

Blast From the Past…

Earlier in the week I popped onto IM and saw a request from a familiar name so I approved it but it was a request sent while I was offline so he wasn’t on… or at least who I thought it was wasn’t online. But that’s a good thing. If it was some porn spammer I would have had immediate response.

I got an IM from him just a short while ago but was in a meeting.

Who?

Sabist.

He was a Wizard I played with on Stromm in EQ1 and later ended up with my level 65 Cleric in a three way trade (where Kaldonar ended up with Sabist’s Necromancer and I ended up with Kaldonar’s Shadowknight).

But that was awhile ago.

Sabist (and his wife) joined us in EQ2 when it came out where we created a guild together which later merged with another friend’s guild. In other words, a good number of my long standing MMO buds should remember him.

After EQ2 we sort of lost touch until Vanguard came out. Sabist gave it a try but didn’t like too much for plenty of good reasons.

Man, it has been awhile! Several years – I wonder what he’s up to?

Too Critical?

Wolfshead posted an entry called EverQuest2 Revisited Part 1: Analysis of the First 15 Minutes which is a decent read. Some of the things he picks on might seem minor, but in the end they all add up and with minor changes can make some sense. Give it a read and keep going when he mentions WoW – this isn’t a “make it WoW” post, it’s an insight to why WoW did certain things that make sense (things like UI, loading screens, etc.).

I have to admit, I agree with everything he posted even if they do seem pretty minor.

I do realize a number of the items he identifies are limited to some specifics – for example, most the Fighter-type combar arts are instant cast while the Mystic class is more of a caster than instant action type. A lot of the instant cast abilities are in the higher levels making it something they can earn.

The comment about the similarities between his barbarian and some of the other races is definitely true (using the original models).

The background being generic in the character selection wasn’t always the case, but I definitely agree there too.

There might be other ‘holes’ in the entry but if you consider it is coming from someone “new” it’s all fair game since a new person wouldn’t know what lies ahead.