Archive for July, 2008

Numbers

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Many games employ a level of abstraction between the player and the character in the game. This often involves some kind of point assignment scheme. These points represent core statistics such as strength or agility, abilities such as “Sword Proficiency” or “Dwarven Language Skill” or meta-scores such as hitpoints or armor. Even games that have a high level of user interaction such as first person shooter games almost always employ something like a hitpoint score.

These numbers are useful because:

  • They provide a quantification of concepts that would be difficult to work with otherwise. This makes things easier on both the programmer/game and player. The game must represent the concepts as numbers in some way, and the player easily recognizes that a score of 2 in “Sword Proficiency” is greater (and more powerful) than a score of 1.
  • They provide a way to map user interaction onto a game character
  • They provide a mechanism for creating boundaries and barriers. Perhaps a character must have a score of 5 in Sword Proficiency before he can wield the Vorpal Blade or Important Plot NPC #28 will not talk to the character until they have more experience (level 3). Perhaps the character cannot even understand the NPC until he becomes more fluent in a certain language.

First Impressions: Tabula Rasa

Friday, July 11th, 2008

A week or two ago, I signed up for the free 3-day beta of Tabula Rasa. Unfortunately, I only had enough time to get up to level 7 or 8, so I was not able to evaluate many of the later-game or class development features.

Impressions:

Good:

  • Immersion – Coming off of Hellgate: London, which is all instanced, being forced to walk everywhere felt fantastic. I felt like I was interacting with the world rather than playing through an artificial level. Exploring the game to find the sigils was interesting as well.
  • Weapons – The weapon ideas seemed interesting, though I wasn’t able to try all of them out

Mediocre:

  • Skill/Profession trees – I generally like this better than straight class systems, but this implementation didn’t “click” with me.
  • Universal action key – “T” seemed to do quite a bit — Interact with NPCs, open crates, loot corpses, etc. Unfortunately, I kept wanting to click things to interact with them, which meant that I was often accidentally firing my gun at NPCs instead of talking to them.

Bad:

  • Lack of Descriptions – Many things could have benefited from better descriptions or tooltip text
  • Line of sight issues – Enemies just over a ridge could be in my (the player’s) view, but not actually in the character’s view, meaning that shots or special abilities would not hit the enemy. This caused frustrations when setting up long-range encounters. (“You can’t see the target” “But I can see it! It’s right there!”)
  • Inconsistant enemy looting – Sometimes items would auto-loot, sometimes I would have to press the action key to loot. Pressing the action key sometimes looted everything automatically, but would sometimes bring a loot window up, and then I would have to click “loot all” to loot the items. I never figured out what caused the inconsistency.

Overall:

I had fun with the game, but was often frustrated. Many of the gameplay issues could be chalked up to new-user syndrome since I didn’t have time to acclimate myself to the environment and gameplay. I usually encounter some level of frustration and confusion in every MMO game, but many of the issues seemed to be of the kind that would persist after acclimation.

I would probably enjoy the game for a month or two, but there are so many other good games out, and I need to keep a short rein on my MMO playtime since it tends to spiral out of control.

One interesting thing:

During character creation, one is prompted to select a starting armor set. The screen has controls to choose armor color, and I spent about 30 minutes mixing and matching armor, and choosing colors that I liked. I figured this would be an important character decision. Perhaps this armor choice would affect all of the armor that I wore, or I would be stuck with it for some time (a la costumes in City of Heroes).

Not so. Within the first few minutes, I had completed a quest that rewarded me with an item that replaced the armor I had spent so long choosing. Why let us choose armor if you will just replace it immediately? I felt like I had wasted that half hour of my time.