game mechanics

Meanwhile, not in Black Desert Online… Hang on, why am I not playing this game?

A BDO town - witness the beeeeeoooooty!

A BDO town – witness the beeeeeoooooty!

The GGGs have decamped from Tyria and taken up residence in the world of Black Desert Online*. Well, most of them. I remain in Tyria, despite many (very kind!) offers of week-long trial keys, resolutely tramping about doing the same old stuff I’ve done in Tyria since beta.

Now the Gs in BDO are all loving it and are singing its many praises over in the GGG G+ community and the consensus seems to be that BDO is a Very Good Thing for a variety of reasons such as beauty, horse taming, exploring, and a general sense of the world being alive. All of these things are things I claim I want in a game so why am I not playing it?

Well, as with many things in life there are many overlapping reasons behind my steadfastly Tyria-bound feet and these include:

  • I just don’t have enough right now. I can’t dedicate myself to learning another game (a problem the otherwise enjoyable trip to Tamriel & Elder Scrolls Online suffered from) and I’m not sure I will until the summer.
  • A lot of expense at home recently means I’d only look at getting BDO in a sale and I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.
  • I’m not sure if there is or isn’t a lot of lore for BDO yet but without it I’m likely to be less invested that I’d like to be.
  • This is a complex one as BDO offers a lot of what I’ve been saying I want from a game but at the same time it offers a lot of what I really, really don’t want. The biggest two things that put me off right now is lack of a deep sense of cooperative play, the kind Guild Wars 2 has baked into its core, and the AFK-style mechanics used in travel and gathering.

Out of these I honestly think the last is the one keeping me from the game the most. Guild Wars 2 has spoilt me by providing the one thing I want from a game – fun on demand. In Tyria I can teleport around the world with ease, each jump sending me close to a dynamic event, group experience, or hidden surprise I can join in and play. In LOTRO, the last game I played with a horse-riding mechanic similar to BDOs, I use to hire a ride from Bree to wherever and then walk away from the PC for 10 minutes until the horse pulled up the new stable and vanished. After that I’d have to run out into the wild to start work on quests which needed turning in back at the stable’s location area. Whilst my first ride to Rivendell was fun, my third really wasn’t. I hated it that waste of my time with a passion.

Ultimately I think this is what will make me wait a while longer before I join BDO, and to be fair to that game, any other MMO including Elite Dangerous. Guild Wars 2 has many flaws but being easily accessible and pretty much always fun isn’t one of them. Grind in Tyria is optional, at least serious grind for something like a Legendary, so I never feel like the game is wasting my time. The cash store is pretty fair so I never feel I’m being milked or fleeced as I did in LOTRO. The barriers between players are so low that I never feel like I can’t just help someone out. For me, at least, Guild Wars 2 hits enough of my playstyle needs even if it misses a lot of my desires and that’s what keeps me from straying too far.

Now if I could just get Arenanet to make the world come alive with more NPC interactions, readable books, watchable plays, and open housing in cities…

*  I’m not sure if the world has a name so for now it’s just going to be BDO to me.

Meanwhile, in Tyria… A Burro once more muses on what he wants from Guild Wars 2 and this time sets his ill-informed sights on storytelling, more or less.

So, in my last musing I mused about what I want from a game and whether or not it is possible. I’m sure it didn’t adequately cover everything I want and it certainly didn’t tell me if it was possible so that post could, in the eyes of a sane and rational person, be seen as abject failure. Luckily I’m a blogger and therefore such measures as sanity or rationality don’t apply to me. No, that last post wasn’t a failure but rather another bright spot the spectrum of my unfolding selfhood, an oasis on my journey to joyous enlightenment, a shining star right in my fundament. Oh yeah, each of my posts are just that good so hold on to your hats because here comes another one, you lucky buggers.

OK, in that last slice of awesomeness I toyed with the idea of multiple story lines happening around the world that players could get involved in at will and it’s this I want to expand on here, partly because I like to think about a game world where this could happen, partly because I like to sound of my own voice droning on and on and on, but mostly because I’m hoping one of my three readers might offer so cool insights into this idea that my baked bean sized intellect hasn’t been able to grasp so far.

Let me start with Kryta and those pesky ponies… *cue wavey dissolve*

Grrrr! Those pesky ponies!

Grrrr! Those pesky ponies!

The centaurs that currently plague the humans of Kryta have nothing to do with Zhiatan and everything to do with humans and centaurs beating on each other. This means stories could be played out there with no harm to the Personal Story that drives new characters towards a final (disappointing) fight with the Big Bad Zeester. Obviously there are stories playing out there but let’s take a broad brush look at them:

Heart Quests: Whilst these add flavour and some background & lore to the area they can hardly be considered stories or adventures. They are fun diversions at best, slow drags at worst and they have no impact on the world or character other than a XP boost and opening up some trinkets for sale.

Dynamic Events: Now these start to get closer to what I’d like to see and I have waxed lyrical many-a-time about just how much I love GW2’s DEs but as far as I can see the devs see them a resource sink that takes them away from developing more (increasing poorly named) Living World* story updates.

Dungeons: What can I say? The staple of adventuring and they have been abandoned by the devs in favour of raids and fractals. What a total waste.

Living World Events: Occasionally a living world story arc will see a zone become the focus of an attack but these are usually nothing more than zerg-fest fights which are fun but pointless.

So the in-game offering isn’t exactly ideal. It’s not conducive to making the world feel alive. There’s the big old Dragon story or nothing. Well, nothing but trivia instanced and disjointed, which is a real shame given how detailed the world and the lore can be.

Instead of just the above, what I‘d really love to see is three-fold:

  • (More) Dynamic events that lead to dungeons with both being changed and updated.
  • A ‘Bulletin Board’ system in local towns and taverns where players can pick up jobs, some of which would lead to the events in item 1 above.
  • The ability for players to create and run their own adventures in game via the ‘Bulletin Board’ system in item 2.

Now there is a lot there expressed in those three points so let me explain a little further:

Dynamic events leading to dungeons is easy enough to understand and if you’ve ever experienced the dynamic event thread in the Harathi Hinterlands that leads you to face off against the boss Centaur then you’ll know what I’m getting at, only I want them to go further. No other game does dynamic events as well as GW2 (at least as far as I know) but they could be so much more because by now the DEs in game feel more like they are endlessly repeating without any reference to your actions. I want the experience of running past a villager running in the other direction and for them to tell me their village is being attacked only for my defence of the village to coincide with an army push into enemy territory to bring down one of the biggest enemy strongholds around which someone is using as cover for a robbery of an ancient artifact from the dungeon below the stronghold, etc. etc. etc.

Many other games have a ‘Bulletin Board’ system (hereafter called a BB as I can never remember how to spell Bulletin!), most notably for me the Elite games, and I love them! I want to head into the town square or pub and look for a list of jobs in need of brave/stupid souls. In the example above the BB could advertise for guards to defend the village or for militia to march on the enemy or even for thieves to delve into the dungeon. These jobs could be generated by the game to match a DE or they could be player generated.

Player generated? Are you mad, Burro? Well let me explain. You see, if there were a system that allowed players to create adventures such as the one above (and many more far more interesting and better thought out than that poor example) then just imagine how much content would be created for free by the community. Star Trek Online has just such a system with The Foundry and whilst I have not played it and I’m sure it will have issues, I can’t help but think that allowing the players to create BB jobs and events and dungeons for other players to participate in would be amazing. Sure you’d have to also implement a moderation system to filter out inappropriate content, and yes you’d have to manage the loot and XP and other rewards, but none of these things are insurmountable. If the player tools were good enough to allow talented creators to design adventures for other players then Tyria would be a far more dynamic place full of roleplay and storytelling. Hell, you would even have the best GMs designing their own seasons that people would follow, possibly with more interest than the main Living World story line.

So there you have it. This is one way in which I’d open up GW2 to help it feel more alive but I’m interested to hear what you think so leave comments below.

 

 

* I’m not sure that the Living World story actually makes the world feel alive to me. Phasing of locations would do that so that if I took my characters through story seasons out of order the locations would not look like they do for everyone regardless of the period. The little town of Prosperity in Dry Top is a great example as no matter when you visit it looks like it does after the Mordrem vine attack, even if you play through a chapter that takes place before that attack! That’s not living.

Meanwhile, in Tyria… A Burro further muses on what the hell he actually wants from a game and does it resemble the moon on a stick.

moonstick

Over the years I’ve used this blog to try and work out what the hell I want from a game. I’ve ranted about systems that I hate, raved about those I love. I’ve condemned mechanics I can’t wrangle, commended those I can. I’ve groaned about ideas I hate, gushed over those I don’t. Ultimately I’ve been guilty of being an armchair dev and backseat world builder, teetering atop my own rickety soapbox whilst I fill the air with the sound of my own ill-informed droning and whining about ‘the perfect game for me’.

I see no reason for this to change, do you?

Good. Buckle up as I once more bellow impotently into the void and try in vain to describe just what the bloody hell I want from a game.
First off though, you may ask why am I covering this old ground again? I mean, wasn’t all that waffling on about world building in 2014 enough? Didn’t all the musing in 2015 lead me to some form of Nirvana? Well, in a word, no. In more than a word; no because a) nothing has changed, b) I still haven’t found what I’m after, c) I’m not even sure I know what I’m after, d) even if I do I don’t know if it exists or can exist.

I’m not sure anyone can help me with the first two of those but at least I can try and make sense of what I’m actually looking for in a game, even if the result is to confirm to me that it doesn’t actually exist and won’t until extremely clever computers exist. Still, I won’t know until I try so here goes.

A Manageable Illusion…
I always thought I was looking for open, but given that I had totally open in Second Life and hugely open in Elite Dangerous and I have left them as both left me bored trying to make my own entertainment I am pretty sure I don’t really want an open world.

Equally I’m not all that enthralled by closed worlds. The list of games I have never finished is staggering and shows me that although I like the initial thrill of a new game I get bored and stop playing. From single player games like BioShock to MMOs like LOTRO & Guild Wars 2 I simply never complete the story arcs and never feel bad about it, after all I can always find out what happens from Wikipedia and YouTube. From this I am pretty sure I’m not after some huge storyline that takes me all over a grand world.

So maybe I’m looking for a small but highly detailed world, one that feels a bigger part of something alive and connected. A manageable illusion of vast openness. So far Guild Wars 2 has come closest with its limited Tyria play area although my recent brush with Elder Scrolls Online has shown me another version of this in Tamriel. Both worlds feel similar to the worlds I drew as a kid hooked on playing Tunnels and Trolls. Both are manageable slices of a much larger world, worlds in which I think I can have an effect.

Big fish, little fish…
There was a video released by Arenanet prior to GW2’s launch, part of its manifesto, that talked about your effect on the world. People in villages you saved would remember you, things you did would impact on the world, and ultimately you and your actions would matter. Unfortunately, like so many of their early claims, this never came to be. In the same way that choosing your story path at the start of the game makes no real difference to your path through the game, saving a village in Tyria has no effect on your character. At the same time I’m railroaded into following a career path I wouldn’t take in any game, that of ultimate hero and saviour of all. So on one hand I can save a village and never be remembered whilst on the other I somehow become the Pact Commander in charge of the greatest army ever assembled. I’m both a minnow and an orca when what I’d rather be is a basking shark, or a seal, or a gull, or a… well you get the picture. My brain simply can not resolve being the most important person alive and also the least, especially when I don’t want to be either.

In the game I want to play I want to choose my own path and I want it to have consequences. I want to be remembered for saving that village, dammit! If, and this is a big if, I want to fight in the army I want to choose how instead of being artificially (and through no more skill of my own than key clicking and wiki-reading) promoted to Commander in Bloody Chief.

Career Advice 101…
Something I have come to like better in ESO than GW2 is the fact you can be anything in the former. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Engineer class in GW2 but I’d rather like to play a mash-up of an engineer, a thief, and a Mesmer but I can’t. In real life I’m doing a job that combines lots of different skills and also holding down family & social lives that involve others. In all the time no one has said to me that I can only use a limited set of skills from one aspect of my life. Games have conditioned me to accept this limitation in their worlds and I’m rather sick of it.

The flip side to this is Elite Dangerous’ ‘do what you want’ ethos. Fancy being a trader? Fine! Want to try out being a pirate now? Also fine! Bounty Hunter? Miner? Assassin? All fine, do what you want! Except who the hell actually does that without consequence? Who joins the peace-keeping, law-enforcing Navy only to then be a trader for a week and then a bounty hunter and then a pirate and then back to the Navy?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily looking for a game I can be a pirate in as I enjoy playing the hero far too much, but rather I’m looking for a game where I can use all of the skills I want to use to follow the path I want to follow without artificial barriers blocking me.

Never a dull moment…
Do you know what raises a good games master above the crowed of OK ones? Adaptability. A good GM will see how an adventure is going and adapt to keep the energy flowing. A good GM will be able to see an opportunity to create a story out of thin air and run with it. An OK GM just sticks with a pre-planned path and never veers off. This is currently my biggest bugbear with GW2. Unless there is a Living World story out (and they are few and far between) there are no stories in the game. Sure there are dynamic events, although these have proved hard to maintain, update and add to so they offer just repeating loops of the same thing. Yes there are dungeons and fractals and puzzles throughout the world but again they are endlessly repeating fights.

What I’m looking for is story everywhere, not just in one area. After all, we know that [insert name of current Living World threat here] isn’t the only threat to Tyria but it’s the only one we can concentrate on and the only one we are allowed to participate in. Very much like the fact I’m forced to be the Pact Commander, I resent the fact I’m forced to deal with X dragon threat when what I want to be doing is helping the Seraph investigate a burnt out farm, or the Lionguard retake Claw Island, or the Priory recover Orrin artefacts, or the Nolan Village council find a lost cub in the catacombs. Anything and everything other than fight another bloody dragon. Or rather, than only be able to fight another bloody dragon.

Better together…
One aspect I really can’t fault Arenanet and Guild Wars 2 for, except for the fact they have ruined every other game for me going forward, is the focus on ensuring other players are not seen as the enemy but rather as friends who can help out. This has, so far, been my biggest stumbling block in ESO with its non-instanced nodes, shared XP for kills, and lack of ‘down levelling’. In GW2 I will tell people if I see a node, I look forward to people diving into a fight with me, and I never feel hugely over-powered if I’m in a lower level zone with lower-level friends. GW2 makes me want to play with people whereas all the other games I’ve played have either been single players games (Borderlands, BioShock) or MMOs that feel like they are (LOTRO, ESO). I can only really feel at home with a game that is as inclusive and other-player-friendly as GW2.

In concussion…
Previous posts in this ‘series’ have talked about how I wanted the world of GW2 to feel more alive with cities that have daily cycles, working shops, player housing, and an assortment of festivals and celebrations. I don’t think this post is really any different in that what I’m looking for is Guild Wars but alive and living. I want freedom to follow my own storylines in my own way and with my own character built in my own way but with other people.

I have a (pipe) dream that I log into GW2 and walk out of my house in Divinities Reach right into a night time parade for a celebration of the gods complete with dancing and singing and food. I move through the crowds and contact any guild mates who are online whilst at the same time checking the local newspaper. There is a report of a farm burnt out south of Shaemoor and the family have vanished so I suggest to the guildies who are on that we go and take a look, especially as the Seraph are offering a small reward for details. Three of us meet at the pub in Shaemoor and to the outside observer it is impossible to tell what class we are. We set off to the farm and start an evening of investigation, puzzling, jumping, and fighting that leads us back to a hidden bandit cell in the city and a fight that scales up as people jump into help. The next night we do it all again but this time heading out to the Shiverpeaks to uncover an ancient book that was thought lost and can teach one of us a key new skill, if only we can get past the Dredge army that have camped on top of the location ahead of an attack on a large Norn homestead.

Now that is a game I’d want to play more of for the sake of playing it rather than logging into to complete my dailies but I suspect I’m asking for the moon on a stick…

Elite Dangerous: A Burro drones on about drones (arf arf, see what I did there?)

Now bear with me as I take you on another wee flight of fancy to illustrate a point but imagine you walked into a computer game shop to buy a new game and the conversation went something like this…

You: Hello shopkeep, I would like to purchase a copy of GTA X, please!

SK: Of course, that’ll be £1,000, sir.

You: *splutter* What the chuff? A grand! A GRAND!

SK: Yup, £1,000 for the game computer. And another £40 for the game source data.

You: Oh! Ah, the computer… No, I just want the game.

SK: Yup, the game computer. You buy the game computer and the data.

You: What?

SK: It’s simple. All games now use the same resources and therefore come on a single data source but the computer is what decides exactly what game will be played.

You: But… that’s insane!

SK: You’ll need a new table too…

You: Fu…

Erm, I’ll leave it there but suffice to say if that happened you’d think the world has gone mad and yet that’s exactly how drones work in Elite Dangerous – you buy multi-use drones that each take up exactly 1 ton of relatively valuable cargo space and then use up a far more valuable module slot with a use-specific controller unit and that means if you want to use two types of drone (why have two? ohhh I don’t know, if say you’re prospecting and also want to collect maybe) you’re going to have to sacrifice two module slots. Why? Why does a drone need a new controller? It’s madness! The controller should be universal and it should be the drones that are specialised – not only does that make logical sense (why would a fuel drone be the same machine as a prospecting drone? And what if they ever introduce repair drones?) but it makes better play-sense too as it frees up module slots allowing greater flexibility of ship use.

If you ask me (let’s all pretend you did) I think the decision taken is possibly due to Frontier needing cash sinks in the game (due to a flawed economic model, but that’s got another post) and also to give players a path through the shipyard. The problem is I don’t want a path through the shipyard. I want to play in a sandbox and I want as much flexibility as possible which means I want to make better use of the (arbitrary) module slots on each ship I fly so I can play the way I want to.

So, in summary, the number of controllers is too damn high. Thank you.

image

Too many damn controllers!

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on space missions (AKA “Death by 1,000 procedurally generated yawns!”)

Another mission, you say…

There is a place in Guild Wars 2, a small human outpost near the front line of the war between Man and Centaur, where something wonderful and exciting can happen to you if you are lucky to be there at the right time. The first time this happened to me I had no idea it was in the game and therefore no idea it was going to happen and by the time it had finished it had changed the game for me forever. Before I tell you more about that place and what happens there, I should give you a little background. Guild Wars 2 borrowed an underdeveloped idea from Rift which had in turn borrowed it from War Hammer but it was only GW2 that came close to getting it right. The idea was Dynamic Events and it allowed the game to react to your presence, kicking off a pre-scripted event as you passed through an area. On the surface that wouldn’t be anything worth writing about but Dynamic Events were more than just triggered events because a player’s actions could influence their outcome and then that outcome could trigger a new event which in turn could trigger further new events, all chaining together to form an unfolding storyline that you became caught up in until it was played out. Now in this human town, the name of which escapes me, you might be lucky enough to hear NPCs chatting about a patrol about to set off and if you did you could volunteer to join the patrol and help out. Once you (and your follow players – these quests scaled up and down as players came and went at any point in their narrative) had set out with the patrol you were part of what was to become one of the most ambitious Dynamic Events ever put into the game. The patrol was to check on various camps and way points, each deeper into the Centaur territory and each bringing a fresh assault. The attacks had to be defeated and camps set up before pressing on, all the time being driven on by a charismatic NPC captain until the patrol, swollen by players and NPCs alike, decided to take on the Centaur main camp. This led to an all-out, multi-phase assault on the stronghold that ended up with the patrol fighting the main Centaur boss. All of this was in the open world, not a closed off instanced dungeon, and it was exciting as hell every single time I took part. The feeling of daring do at the outset, of desperate struggle during the patrol and of emboldened heroism throughout the assault was palpable, yet the devs managed to make me feel like that without ever crossing the line into making me feel like a dull untouchable superhero. My choices and decisions mattered, both to myself and to the other players and NPCs of the patrol because at any point we could fail. It was breathtaking.

Now in Guild Wars 2 I played an engineer called Jurak Gearwright in GW2 and with a quick fast forward of a few thousand years to Elite Dangerous I’m piloting Jurak’s direct descendent, William, around the Milky Way and something seems to have been lost in the intervening millennia because the missions in ED suck like a turbo charged Dyson. Waaaaay back in beta the devs introduced ‘Branching Missions’ and I wondered if they would become like the Dynamic Events of GW2 but despite my best efforts I could never find any missions that went past the initial ‘hand in’ point. It’s been a recurring dev claim throughout several updates that the missions were being altered to add more variety and branching and I’ve yet to see any that don’t fall into the following categories: trade, smuggle, steal, kill and locate. And apart from the always annoying NPC trying to get you to swap sides I’ve seen no branching at all. You get a mission, do a mission, hand it in and you’re done. Missions do not seem to branch and do not seem to lead on to other missions – I say ‘seem’ because I could be wrong as my game time is not stratospheric and I am bored.

I’m bored of my bulletin board missions having no impact or effect. I’m bored of my gameplay not leading into areas I haven’t dreamt up in my wee brain. I’m bored of cut and paste missions from cut and paste stations found in cut and paste systems everyfriggingwhere the game. A friend of mine has posted about a conversation we had today and it’s a really good read that at first seems to be at odds with my views but in reality shows, I think at least, that we are both coming at the same point in different ways. Both of us are lovers of the Elite universe and are glad that Elite Dangerous has been made. Both of us enjoy RPing in and out of the game about our in game experiences. Both of us love the size and scope of the universe crated by Frontier Developments. Where we do split, I think, is on the matter of depth versus breadth. It would seem at first glance that I’m calling for a deeper game offering stronger, linear story telling and that just isn’t what ED is about – ED is an open sandbox where you make your own reason for existing or you just don’t play. But I don’t agree.

What I want isn’t exactly a hand-crafted narrative designed to drive me along a storyline not of my making but rather the introduction of a system that can chain missions together to lead to some kind of meaningful change in the game state. Let me explain by way of an example.

Current mission: I pick up a mission to recover military plans from a system following a never specified incident (why the military can’t get their own effin’ plans is beside me but hey, they’re paying). I fly to the system and start the boring and repetitive task of signal source hunting. Eventually I drop into a signal source where the RNG engine in the game decides I’ll find the wreck of a ship with cans of military plans floating around. Quite often the wreckage of the ship raises questions I’d like to look into, as does the fact that whoever destroyed it left the plans floating about in bleeping cans, but there is nothing more complicated I can do than scoop the plans up and fly back to the mission’s starting station to hand them in. The biggest threat at this point is being scanned and fined and even then that[‘s just because the mission becomes a net Credit loss as opposed to anything approaching dangerous. This is dull after a short number of identical missions, trust me.

Better Idea (1 of many): I pick up the mission and fly to the system. For a start the location should be a system with active war zones or some other type of conflict that would explain the presence of military ships and plans. The mission brief should contain last known coords so I can head, using the compass, to the right location but this should be a race against time as other agents are also after the same things. Getting the plans should involve hacking the ship’s computer – only tech and supplies should be in cans, not bloody data! At some point I’d have to escape as other forces come in *or* when I get there I see other forces leaving and they have the data. The mission is then chained to a chase and interdict mission. At the point of interdiction other missions could chain – the ‘enemy’ could pay me off to not only leave them alone but to even take false data back to the initial client *or* I am congratulated by the first client and informed this was a test and they would like to use my skills on a far more dangerous mission. This could even be a recruitment exercise for one of the new Powers in Powerplay and further missions could be chained here.

You see, that wouldn’t need a hand-crafted storyline, just a far richer mission generator that can link missions together to give them a sense of narrative greater than that of your average Yodel driver. As it is the game is just like my 9 year old son with his homework – doing the bare minimum to get by whilst promising me that the absolute best is being done *and* that that more effort is coming at some point in the future. I have to put up with that from him, I don’t from my game.

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on crime and punishment (aka “Won’t somebody think of the children?!”)

When I was a student I lived on a borderland street in Cheetham Hill in Manchester. For those of you who don’t know Cheetham Hill simply think of Coronation Street but real and more violent. For those of you who don’t know Coronation Street then imagine Cheetham Hill to be the place the Fresh Prince was sent away from rather than away to. Then add rain. And grim Northern poverty. And drugs. I’ll wait while you stitch it all together. Here’s some music while we wait…

So, there I was, 21 and living on my own for the first time and in Cheetham Hill, a place where all of the following happened in my two years there:

  • The road behind me had a huge police drugs bust with more cops than you’d see at a football match swarming all over an entire row of houses.
  • The local hard man had his freshly macheted attack-dog’s presented to him on the pool table of the local where I’d taken my parents for a drink after I moved in. This resulted in many beatings and stabbings. The dog’s head, not my mum & dad having a drink there.
  • A house across from me was burgled and had everything including the cooper water pipes and water heating tank stolen, seemingly to order.
  • A sweet old lady down the road baked me a hash cake without telling me it was a hash cake and I spent a large part of a weekend off my tits.
  • I took a fancy to a young lady of the neighbourhood and when I got back to her house I found the entire bathroom, bar the sink and toilet bowl, covered in rat cages with many a squeaking vermin beadily looking out at me. It smelt very, very bad.
  • A long running neighbourly internecine war flared up again resulting in the house two doors away being repeated rammed by a transit van until the said van died and the driver staggered off.
  • A young lady of the neighbourhood (she of the rats) decided to tell me at what I considered to be a rather inopportune moment that her brother was currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for deliberately burning someone’s face off with acid.
  • I tried to get the whole house to visit a pub a few streets away in order to get drunk and watch what I shall call here ‘exotic dancers’. Unsurprisingly enough no one wanted to go which turned out to be a rather good thing as two people were shot dead at the pub that night.
  • Another pub we were in was surrounded by a local youth/drug gang who had been banned by the landlord and the whole thing became like a rain-sodden recreation of “Straw dogs” until the police arrived to save us.

And yet, despite all this violence and misery, only three streets away was a sweet little park, more like a communal garden really, that remained untouched by vandals and drunks. It was in the middle of an oasis of houses owned by a tight-knit orthodox Jewish community and the transition from unkempt, often boarded up houses in some streets to mirror images of the same houses but loved and treasured the crossing of a street was profoundly moving for the 21 year old me. I’d come from surburbia where everything was more or less nice for miles around, and to find places where the delineation between lawful and lawless ways of life was so clearly marked that crossing from one street to another seemed like moving from one country to another was one of the most shocking things I’d come across*.

What, dear Burro face, has this got to do with Elite Dangerous? It had better have some connection otherwise I shall read no further and instead email you a slap! (I assume this is what you are thinking at this point as opposed to “I wonder what old Burro is wearing?”. Weirdos.**). Well let me tell you…

Frontier Development’s new Powerplay update (1.3 if you are counting) is going to bring in some serious changes to how miscreants are punished and to say I’ve been struggling to understand how is to say that I was missing the point of banning public nudity***. But then Lave Radio #61 came to my rescue! At about 20mins in (give or give a couple of minutes) they start discussing it and it all becomes clear and it now seems like genius to me! So here’s what I think will happen, although the final details have not been released and of course can change after release based on player feedback/goat bombardment.

  • You do something naughty and receive a fine – you will have 7 days to pay that fine off. Pay it off and all is well with your world. Don’t pay it off and…
  • The fine becomes a bounty and you can not pay that off for 7 days (a counter that resets to 7 days with each bounty).
  • In these 7 days you are fair-game for bounty hunters so you may well want to keep your head down.
  • After these 7 days you can pay off the bounty and you’ll no longer be wanted BUUUUT…
  • The paid bounties are the added to the re-buy cost of your ship in the system you accrued them in therefore making any death in that system more expensive than somewhere else.

The sum total of this is:

  1. If you are law abiding but get a small fine, pay it off and all will be well.
  2. If you are RPing a pirate, using hatch poppers and letting both NPCs and players live, you will accrue fines and bounties but this will be on a (hopefully) manageable risk-reward basis and gently move you out to less risky systems such as anarchies, which is where pirates should be operating because the risk of punishment, and therefore the cost of re-buying your ship in that lawless system will be less.
  3. If you are saying you are a pirate but really you’re a dickhead just shooting NPCs and players because you have poor social skills, low empathy for others and are too lazy to play in any other way than negatively then you’ll soon find that racking up huge bounties across many systems will mean you simply can’t afford to re-buy your ship and you’ll be back in the starter Sidewinder. Hopefully you will then modify your playstyle to consider the feelings of others or, and this is my preferred option for you, fuck off out of the game forever.

All of this, plus the inevitable tweaks and expansions (possibly to include bounties that stretch across the whole of human space rather than local systems) should mean that the ridiculous spectacle of a few players driving off a capital ship in Earth orbit never happens again because the core systems should be the equivalent of that wee park in Cheetham Hill, peaceful and safe, whereas the frontier systems should be like the road I lived on, exciting and dangerous.

You see, I don’t want to get rid of the player groups currently roaming the game making a name for themselves by alternating between generating gameplay opportunities and just out-and-out griefing people. No, I actually now see these as being central to the Elite Dangerous game as they do drive forward interesting storylines and system-wide changes, but I do not want to see them running things in system where a huge, powerful, organised security force would be in place to stop them. They should be ‘driven’ back to the fringes of society, the strip clubs and boozers where shootings and severed dog heads are the norm, and there they should be the ultimate powers. Until a power-mad, expansionist head of a Faction decides otherwise of course…

Cmdr Gearwright out.
************************

* I’m older and wiser now and have visited Darwen so such things no longer hold any shock for me.

** This, of course!

*** Yes you can pretend it’s to maintain public decency but really it’s to avoid fielding awkward questions from your kids, you can’t fool me!

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on the signs of war in 1.0 (aka “It’s quiet… too quiet…”)

tumbleweed3

Sure is quiet round here, pard…

Apparently I live in one of the most violent cities in the UK. I was a bit surprised by this news as where I live, three miles out in suburbia, is quiet and lovely but in the town centre it can be a bit of a war zone at times and this is evident by the sheer number of police vans and patrolling coppers you see over a weekend or when a football match is scheduled. As you drive into town you see the vans parked at key intersections, the bus and train stations have lots of burly looking uniformed coppers eye-balling everyone as they pass and every now and again there will be a burst of shouts, some police sirens and heap of fighting bodies being dragged off towards the open maw of a black mariah. As soon as you enter the ring of police influence at the strategic edge of the town you are left in no doubt that the normally quiet, sedate shopping centre has changed and is now a darker, more dangerous place to visit.

I mention this as recently I was flying into a war torn system in ED and docked at the station most contested by the feuding factions. Do you know what I saw to indicate I was currently at ground zero for all the bloodshed, brutality and horror a civil war inevitably brings to the population? Nothing. Nada. Not even tumble-weed. On my short journey betwixt star and station I was interdicted a grand total of no times by either side or by police or by vulture-like opportunistic pirates. Once at the station I was in no way inconvenienced by either checkpoint or blockade. Equally I was not contacted by the controlling (or contesting) faction of the station demanding I “behave or else!” and I found it ridiculously easy to get through the non-existent extra checks and entirely missing police ‘stop and search’ zones just outside the entrance. And then when docked absolutely no one tried to recruit me or pay me for any intel I might have gathered on my way in. Sure, the bulletin board did have a few rather familiar calls for arms to be brought in or food to be supplied, but other than those standard, run-of-the-mill jobs it is was pretty much business as usual in the station. In fact so normal were things in there that it was only when I accidentally tabbed to the ‘Factions’ part of the UI did I see the mention of Civil War! anywhere and lo and behold when I checked nearby contacts I could see there were conflict zones were nearby.

Now I don’t know about you but I have a sneaky feeling that if a Friday night of beery excess is enough to so noticeably change my home town from a shopper’s delight to a large scale cage fight, then if a frigging civil war broke out nearby I think I’d see some clues here and there, say the endless streams of army trucks going one way and the ambulances coming back the other, for example. Then there would be the police and army lock-downs and checkpoints, propaganda materials popping up all around the village, the frequent black-outs as power lines fail, the endless 24-hour news stream detailing the horrific excesses of one side or the other, and last but not least I’m, damn sure I’d hear my neighbours talking about the big bloody war taking place right on their bloody doorstep! One thing I doubt I’d see much of were Lancaster and Yorkshire to once more start lobbing more than insults at each other is a lot of traffic on the M62. I’m pretty sure Eddie Stobbart would tell its drivers to give whole area a very wide berth and in the end only the very brave/foolish/criminal would try to run supplies into the area and they would have to act far more like smugglers to avoid not only any criminal gangs that had sprung up but also one or both sides of the conflict – I rather doubt they would drive up to the Trafford Centre, unload and carry on as if nothing was happening.

My point (and I do have a point) is that in ED systems descend into war-like states quite a lot but unless you deliberately choose to drop out into conflict zone or checkpoint (who the frig voluntarily drops out into checkpoint?) you can get into the station and out again without ever realising the system is currently in a state of active war. It’s like some Monty Python sketch where everyone is simply refusing to notice the war because “it’s just Mr Show Off showing off and we ignore show offs here”.

No, what I want to see if the system in conflict, not just a few designated fighting areas dotted about I can avoid without a second thought. I want to see the stations change in mood, tone, look and feel. I want to hear NPC chatter about the conflict and I want to see the local versions of GalNet squawking about it. I want to feel like the universe is alive and not, as it does now, like a photograph of a game a Risk that’s been all set up but where the players are all off for lunch.

 

 

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on Community Goals in 1.1: Motivation, narrative and reward (UPDATED)

Come hither, handsome Cmdr...

Come hither, handsome Cmdr…

Way back when I was a student with a car there was an older, confident, gorgeous female student who one day asked me to help her move her bed from her old house to her new flat. Being a 20 year old idiot I assumed this was some coded come on that equated to “come and set up my bed and we’ll have wild sex – let me show you the magical ways of an older woman”. I was, therefore, somewhat disappointed and confused when all she wanted me to do was move her bed from one place to another. She made me a cup of tea, we chatted and no nudity was observed or nookie engaged in. I went home befuddled, once again wondering why popular media would mislead me so cruelly about motivation and reward.

Which leads me nicely onto the new Community Goals addition to ED because just like the popular media whispering lies into the stupid brainpan of the 20 year old me, Frontier Developments had convinced me that their new 1.1 release feature would provide me with some great motivation and rewards for playing alongside other people, some of whom would happily blow up my ship and tea-bag my RemLokked face just for a chortle. The reality so far is I’ve travelled over 200ly to run 40t of metals and supplies back and forth over a 10ly route again and again and again and again and I have nothing to show for it at all except profit. At least when I was moving the bed and not getting and of the sex I had the sex to think about – with trading in ED I have none of the sex to think about and all of the bed moving to do. On my own. Again and again and again and again.

OK, you might say, please stop talking about the sex and the bed and stick to the game and the new mechanic – why, dear Burro, do you feel so aggrieved by this? What was promised and not delivered? Give us details and stop thinking about that older student – yes you are, I can see it in your eyes – stop it! Bad Burro, bad!

Huh? Sorry, what? Oh, Elite… right. Well when they* announced these Community Goals I was a little bit excited that we’d have something to do. Then it turned out that these things to do would be hauling stuff from point A to B again and again and again and again and I became less excited but I still held out for some form of narrative structure I could lose myself in and some cool rewards to play with afterwards. So when the patch launched I stopped the rare run I was on and jetted over to Yembo where the first of the new deep space Ocellus stations was being built because I was full of excitement at the prospect of seeing the station taking shape as promised in the trailer. Now to be fair to that trailer, it does indicate that you would only see the station taking shape after enough raw materials had been collected but I still find it odd (and disappointing and dull) that I’m taking ton after ton from one station to the next only for it to vanish into a black hole with nothing to see. GalNet talks of the Yembo shipyards and yet I can find no shipyards in Yembo, just another copy/paste system like the billions of others created by the StellarForge engine. Hell, for the first couple of runs I wasn’t even sure I was doing it right because there is no feedback beyond a number in ship’s transactions tab showing you have increased your contribution and therefore rising up the reward ladder. Not only that but there is nothing in the world to show that anything is happening because the NPCs never mention it; GalNet only reports ‘global’ news and so there is no local colour to the feed; there are no missions on the bulletin board that even mention the damn station or supply line; and there is nothing going on in or out of the station that lead you to feel like it’s actually happening. Hell! there is no need for me to be at Naddodur Terminal at all – I could do exactly the same and experience exactly the same at Brunton Gateway in Dulos or Lave Station in Lave or in any port or outputs in any system in the entire galaxy. There is nothing – NOTHING – in Yembo to show that this event is happening and is part of a wider universe. People mock Eve for being spreadsheet game but this kind of gameplay in ED is little better and just makes ED a button pressing game. Still, at least there are the rewards, right. Right?

Well let me ask you this; when moving a bed** for a beautiful lady*** would you prefer the reward to be a warm fuzzy feeling of a job well done or some hot, rampant sex****? If the answer is the warm feeling please congratulate yourself on being a better human being than me but also please check yourself into the nearest clinic for some form of sex drive malfunction. What does that to do with ED, Burro, you growl sternly? I’m glad you asked, I smile sweetly. Look, if I’m in a game doing a lot of boring tasks in a boring manner for a boring end and in a boring place I’m going to want a fooking good reward at the end, that’s just plain obvious. What constitutes a fooking good reward will, I suggest, depend on what type of player you are but what doesn’t is easier for a player base to agree on and the current rewards on offer are, frankly, pants. I’ve only managed to supply a few hundred tons but I’ve already made C1.5m from doing so (along with various non-associated supply missions and trade runs at the same time) and so I find that my reward pot of C3k to be firmly in the “Not Really Worth It” category. True I’ll also get a small discount on the goods and equipment at this station for a period after the event is completed but both the discount level (and few %) and the length of time (a few days) are too small to make any difference, especially as I’m not planning to stick around this dead-end part of the galaxy once the damn station buggers off to HIP 101110.

So to recap, I’m doing boring trade runs to supply the building of a station I can’t yet see for a set of rewards I don’t actually want or need. On top of that, when the station jumps out to HIP 101110 I don’t think I’ll follow as there is fek all out there (yet) so what would be the point? And on top of that the increase in player activity makes the docking experience in Yembo both scary and costly, not to mention the sodding piracy! When I put it like this even I wonder what is keeping me there and then I realise that in playing the Yembo station storyline my game time has dropped from a usual 2 hours a session to 1 or less and I’m logging out after a single round trip run and going off to watch TV or edit videos instead. The boredom of the Goal has actually reduced my in-game time by 50% or more over just a few days! This is because I don’t want to give up and miss something by leaving to do something more fun because I’ve invested too much time and effort to just walk away, but at the same time I just don’t want to do any more supply runs for the damn Goal so I have no choice but not to play and instead wait until the damn event is over. Now does this sound like engaging gameplay to you? If it does could you please check for signs of a recent head trauma?

Look, these community goals are better than nothing but they need to be better than better than nothing before I’ll bother getting involved again so please Frontier Devs give us some immediate rewards in terms of visual clue to what is happening – let us see what is going on, let the station and NPC chatter reflect what is going on.. Give us some extra depth in the missions we can take on so that we feel as if the Goal actually exists and we can affect it one way or another. And for love of all that is holy give us some great rewards we might actually want and use such as a lot of credits instead of a handful; access to a great or unique upgrade; a decal for our ship; and maybe and some kind of title we can display for all to scan and see. I know these community goals are still being testing so I’m not throwing up my arms and crying about the sky falling in, but I really, really, REALLY hope FD are planning a large scale re-vamp of how they run these bloody things because as they stand they are a boring waste of time. Apart from the docking which is anything other than boring o.0

UPDATE (18/02/15): So the event closed and my hopes that the station would then start a construction phase were dashed when I turned in the mission and was told the station had now flown off to HIP 101110. Still, I was rewarded with C7,500… less than 1% of the profits I’d earnt in the small bit of trading I had done for the community goal. FFS.

*Frontier Developments, who else?

**Sorry, back to the bed again. I’ll try not to mention the sex though.

***Or handsome man, you choose.

****Failed. Sorry.

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on the boredom of exploration in 1.0

For my next randomly* chosen concern over Elite Dangerous I thought I’d have a look at** exploring and scanning.

Let me share with you a wee secret about exploring in Elite Dangerous: it can be a little dull. Shh! don’t tell anyone I said that or I’ll be kicked out of the club, but it’s true. Flying about the galaxy looking at stuff can be a little repetitive and uninteresting because once you’ve seen one class M star and flown through its flare to scoop fuel, well it’s more or less the same the next fifty times you do it. Of course this isn’t the point as if looked at like that everything up to and including breathing could be seen as a dull waste of your time and of course exploring is not about just going out places and ticking them off a list, it’s about risking all to see things no one has seen before and gathering data that you can feed back to the rest of humankind so they can use it to expand and move outwards across the face of the Milky Way! Exploring is about feats of daring do and noble self-sacrifice, damn it! Exploring is for real men (and women!) and don’t let anyone tell you different!

Which is why it’s a shame that exploring in ED is a bit of a dull anti-climax. Given a couple of weeks, some measure of self-restraint and some luck anyone can get across the galactic disk and look back over the thousands of light years to where Earth would be and think “Oh. Well that was easy. Erm. Right then, best head back I suppose…” OK, I’m simplifying it a bit but back when ED was still waiting to launch its Alpha test upon a slathering fan base, some people decided they were going to set up a group of travellers and explorers called The First Great Expedition to plan, resource and execute the first cross galaxy expedition. When the game was launched some bloke got to galactic centre on day one on his own. That’s just not good.

Still, you might argue,there is planetary scanning and that should slow explorers down as they stop to gain detailed planetary scans of the system bodies. Indeed there is, I might counter, and do you know what that looks like in practice? Do you? Well let me tell you…

You jump into an unexplored system and apply the anchors so you are far enough way from the star to target it without cooking and you let the automatic scanner scan the big hot ball of plasma automatically. At the same time you fire up the top of the range scanner you have undoubtedly fitted and a few seconds later it lists every single body in the system. You can then choose the ones that you want to scan and set sail for them to complete a detailed scan of their surfaces. At this point you might think that to obtain a detailed surface scan of a planet you’d have to get pretty close and set up some form of orbit pattern to, oh I don’t know, scan the surface but you’d be wrong. In fact all you have to do is point your nose at it and the automatic scanner scans it automatically for you and from such a great range that many bodies are little more than dots surrounded by targeting circles on the HUD . That’s right folks, to scan the surface of Earth you can sit in your ship somewhere by Mars and wait for the dashboard countdown to finish and baddabing you have obtained a detailed surface scan of the planet.

Now you tell me, is that what you were expecting when you imagined the life of a journeying planetary surveyor, because it sure as hell wasn’t what I was imagining and every time I do it as I jump in between systems I feel like a fraud – a feeling not helped when finding a system marked as wholly unexplored and then discovering there are three stations orbiting bodies in it! Unexplored? Really Frontier? Really? So nobody scanned and recorded these systems before mankind built several stations here on the off chance there were planets to orbit and they weren’t about to explode or whiz off in an erratic orbit or spew forth a horde of flappy bastards with teeth, claws and a liking for human eyeballs and testicles?

Sigh, look, before I do end up ranting here’s what I think they should do to make exploring fun:

1) Make exploring hard – bloody hard! Make ships take lots of wear and tear damage meaning they have to have resources and tools for repairs. Force they to mine asteroids (and then land on planets to gather resources once we can land on planets) to get materials to feed the auto-repair devices. Trying to explore without these should – must – spell certain doom for those foolish enough to try. Exploring should be one of the hardest, harshest, toughest things in the whole bloody game because that’s exactly what exploring is!

2) Make system scanning take time and effort. No more total scans of whole systems – that’s bullshit. Give the scanners a 500ls, 1000ls and 2000ls range and make people travel out to see if they have found everything.

3) Make planetary scans require that the ship orbits the body whilst scanning and add a display in the same place as the cargo scoop display that shows the planet and the area covered by the scan as the ship passes over and only when the entire body has been scanned is the scan complete.

4) Make the data worth something! Complete scans should be worth a lot more than incomplete, first time scans should be worth a lot more than subsequent scans (although they should always be allowed so as to provide funds to future players). Factions and political powers should want this data and they should act on this data.

5) Make the reason for exploring and scanning more than just “because its there” for the simple fact that such a motivation only ever applies to a small number of people. The factions a powers and even the august Universal Cartographics should offer jobs to players to gather this data. Hell there should be a careers path as a planetary surveyor! I would want to be a UC surveyor!

6) And while we are at it – why does the system scanner and the planetary scanner occupy different slots? For the love of all that is holy make the planetary scanner part of the top of the ranger system scanner – it would free up a slot for one thing! Hell, you could combine both in each scanner type but make them both weaker in the lower end ones and better in the high end ones – the system scanner half of the combined unit should getter better in terms of range and smaller body sizes it can find, and the planetary half would offer basic body composition at the lower end up to life and the habitable data at the top end.

As always I should point out I’m really enjoying the game, these issues may well be on the development radar, and I could be wrong (although I don’t think I am, of course :-D) so what do you think?

elite-dangerous-kills-off-potential-offline-mode_8rjj.640

This is exploring the exciting way…

download

…whilst this is not. Can you spot the 8 subtle differences?

* The first thing I could remember I wanted to post about – I really should start a list.

** Rant.

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on the UI (or “My, what a lovely door handle this speeding car I am driving ha…*SMASH*”)

About a year ago I bought an expensive new car. It wasn’t actually new, but it was pretty close and it wasn’t really expensive but it was more than I’ve ever paid for a car before so it was expensive to me. It’s not a sports car or anything flash, just one of the millions of people moving machines you’ll see on the M6 on any given day but to me it was a beaut; I’d paid a lot (for my bank balance) and now had a lovely car that wouldn’t threaten to shake itself apart as it approached the speed limit. I washed it, cleaned it, checked it and took good care of it because I loved it. And then time took its inevitable toll and the wonders of my car seemed all too normal and everyday. I soon forgot the dark days of its predecessor and soon the one loved car was just another part of my life, more background than fore and it’s moment of wonder had passed.

About the same time Frontier Developments released the Alpha of Elite: Dangerous and now, after playing it for half a year, I feel the initial glow of adoration is finally wearing off and I can re-examine some of the desires and worries I raised in my “ED: What a Burro Wants…” posts from before it’s release and my “ED: Grrr, Grit is so annoying!” post from the Beta phase.

I’m going to start with an old chestnut, well for for it is, and that is the placement of the bloody side UI panels.

Look, it’s simple. I do not think it is a good idea to have to look away from what you are pointing at to read some information about it and then make menu-based choices, especially if you are moving towards that thing is a pressurised tin can and at speeds that are measured in the realm of “per second” rather than “per hour”. When I’m driving my lovely red car I don’t want to look down at my legs and away from the road to change the station on my radio, especially if the car is moving forwards at 80 miles per hour (sorry Officer, I meant 70) towards the rearage of another car. Make that 80 70 meters per second and I really don’t think it’s a good idea to make me look away from the front window!

At this point I can’t see the Frontier Devs changing this bizarre design decision so all I can hope is that at some point some clever sod hacks the game (or produces a mod based on the official API, which would be far more legally acceptable) in order to move the two side panels to the lower left and right hand corners of the front view. Until then it’s just one more odd design decision that makes me scratch my head and wonder how anybody approved a system that saw a first person perspective game move the player’s view away from the action in front of them.