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Lessons from WoW – from both player and developer perspectives

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Last night our guild (a 10-man party) finally conquered Nefarian in Blackwing Descent in normal mode, which is the 12th and the final boss in the latest patch of World of Warcraft – Cataclysm. It has been more than 3 months since we started the raid progression. We are not a PFU (play for uber) guild at all, and this progress is by no means fast, as top tier guilds have already finished the hard mode for all the bosses months ago. Still, as a team that can only spend around 7 hours a week, we all felt really excited, with the great satisfaction of achievement :)

This is the charming part of World of Warcraft. Even though it’s already in its 7th year and 4th major version, it still provides great fun for so many players around the world. WOW is still considered a hardcore game, because they don’t provide you a way to level up or gear up fast even if you’re willing to pay. For new players, it would probably take them 3 months to get to see the boss if they only spend an hour or two per day. But on the other hand, the fruit of success tastes so much better for the efforts you spent.

The raiding experience in WOW is both fun and challenging, and requires very high level of teamwork, including:

1) All the members should have similar levels of expectation. Blizzard has been trying very hard to accommodate all sorts of players – including those pursuing world first kills to those who never raid but fish all the time. However, you definitely cannot put them in the same party. It’s the best case if all the members can regularly spend the same amount of time (meaning sacrificing their personal time for other activities), be willing to make progress, value the team’s overall benefits over his own, and always respect others. This has nothing to do with game skills or anything – in fact PVE in WOW is never a skill intensive game. But having this kind of team is by far more difficult than the game itself.

2) There are 10 classes for characters and 3 talent trees for each class, allowing the formation of a 10-person group with various combinations. The boss skill is very versatile, and according to the team’s composition, there are usually different types of strategies that players need to find out themselves. Top tier guilds find out the solution by trial and error, and lower tier guilds can have plenty of resources to find on web. Even with the numerous guides online, you still have to find out the best way that your team can execute with the lowest possibility of error. It’s very common for a team to get stuck at a boss for 50-100 raid attempts.

3) Even if the game is not skill intensive, it is knowledge intensive. The game has a lot of internal mechanisms, which are either announced by Blizzard, or discovered by the community. Some players even spend time building mathematical models and do simulations to find out how to maximize damage / survival ability, and all players participating in raids would have to reference those information for the best performance. This kind of information cannot be found within the game, and the players need to spend extra time on the web to find out.

I was very lucky to have a team like this so that I could enjoy the game. Some of the teammates are my old friends back in college, and some of them are 10 years younger than I am that I have never met in person. Still, while we were playing, we all had the same goal, and I believe we all had the same fun.

I started playing WOW around 5 years ago when it was still relatively new. Stopped twice in the middle, but then came back again when a new version was published. The game has changed a lot since its first version, which is something that we can learn from.

1) In the first version, PVE raiding was so much harder than it is now. I couldn’t even conquer the entry level dungeon at that time before I quit for the first time. At that time, a raid team requires 40 people, and just to get all the people online at the same time is already a huge pain. Everyone in the team had to spend probably over than 50 hours to keep farming for some special gear. Otherwise, it was impossible to survive. Probably less than 1% of the players would be able to get in the final dungeon, let alone experiencing it.

Blizzard clearly tried very hard to fix the problem by finding out a way to satisfy both the uber players and normal players. Right now, a dungeon can be finished by either 10 or 25 people, with the same set of drops (just different in quantity). Each dungeon has a normal mode and a hard mode, where normal mode can be accomplished by a team like ours, and hard mode definitely requires a lot more.

2) The progress of leveling and collecting gears can be repetitive and boring. Blizzard also made a lot of efforts here. They made leveling much more faster, easier to get access to fast mounts, and older version of dungeons much easier. Whenever they have a new version (new dungeons), they nerf the old ones, so that new players would be able to catch up more easily.

Blizzard also spent a lot on designing missions during leveling. A lot of missions have stories behind them, and by helping out the NPCs you get to experience them. Some of them are pretty big stories that are described in series of missions, and some of them are really interesting or sarcastic little things that will make you smile knowingly. Even without the raids, by going through all the missions and experience the story, the game would already be very good.

3) Blizzard is never afraid of changes. They are even notorious for tweaking things back and forth especially for class balancing – one common critique of WOW. Despite that, there are something that never gets changed: for instance, the threat system, which requires a team to have tanks, healers, and damage dealers. This is core of PVE gaming, which requires each member to co-work, rather than having a hero that is better than everyone else. Also, unless you pay other people to play for you, there’s no way to get top gears without participating in the raids, as few of them are trade-able.

You can definitely tell that this game is well designed in all perspectives: story design, world construction, boss skills, game complexity and so on. That’s how Blizzard makes a good game that keeps me playing.

Shatter

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This edition of Games We’re Playing is contributed by our friend and gaming junkie Alexander Liss

 

I heard about PSN downloadable title Shatter a while ago when it first came out, but it wasn’t until recently when it made news as a 2009 IGF Finalist that I decided to get it. With a few simple tweaks to the classic block-breaker formula, and some top notch production values, you have an awesome game that is a feast for the senses and a thrilling test of reflexes as well.

 

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Captain Forever

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The Boing Boing games page just turned me onto Captain Forever, an awesome way to kill some time and entertain your dreams of becoming the next Buck Rogers. It’s everything you want in a flash game: easy to learn, tough to master, with addictive gameplay, and a unique sense of style.

 

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Demon’s Souls

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gameswereplaying
This edition of Games We’re Playing is contributed by our friend and fellow gaming junkie Alexander Liss

 

I just finished my first playthrough of Demon’s Souls, a third person action RPG from From Software, and I’m moving into New Game+. I’d boldy say it’s the best game on the PS3 to date, and perhaps even one of the greatest RPG’s of all time. Trying to describe how good this game is is like drinking from a fire hose.
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Tips on How to Play Tap Defense

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tapdefensehighscoreTap Defense, the iPhone version of Tower Defense, has some variations that makes it interesting. The path of the enemies are pre-defined, and the towers are built along side the path. To get high scores, I’m talking about network leaderboard worthy high scores, the key is to conserve cash, and to build the minimum of what it takes to get through a level. Sometimes, you’ll just have to let some monsters like the Devil pass through to conserve money and economize. Read the rest of this entry »

Pandemic

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PandemicFor all of you aspiring board gamers out there, here is your best way to battle the swine flu – with a purely co-operative board game called Pandemic. You and up to 3 other players do battle against 4 diseases spreading across the continents. The coolest part of this game is that if the disease concentration in any given node (city) reaches critical mass, it will overload and spread to all adjacent cities. If those cities have reached critical mass as well, they will chain react, sending an unstoppable plague across the globe. Great balance on difficulty, and a highly social game.
Just bring your surgical mask.
Get a copy here and support Muse Games!

Valkyria Chronicles

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I just played through Valkyria Chronicles again this week (going for perfection), and I must say, it’s the surprise game of the year for me.  Surprisingly good that is.
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