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Games. Tech. Musings.

Games offline and online. Technology. Random stuff.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Explaining Guild Wars

My last post probably didn't make a lot of sense unless you already have a reasonably good idea of what Guild Wars actually is. So, just in case, here's a somewhat condensed definition.

Guild Wars is almost an MMORPG. It's not really an MMORPG, although it looks a lot like it. The way that the game works is that there are two types of areas: "towns" and "areas". All the areas are instanced, so you never see people outside your party in them. You can only meet new people in towns.

Now, stripping away all the flavour for a minute, what does this mean? It means that we have a graphical veneer over lobbies and a straightforward multiplayer online game with a low number of players - max 8 and lower than that for lower-level areas.

As you may know, bandwidth costs vary with N^2 where N is the number of players. So this means that NCSoft's bandwidth costs aren't very high - the only places where N is high are the towns and you can't do an awful lot there. Hence, they can get away with not having a subscription costs and just eat the bandwidth and server costs as part of cost of goods, just like Diablo did. The major difference is that most of Diablo's players were singleplayer whereas all of GW's players are multiplayer.

The game itself is a mix of two types which are almost completely separated. There is a "PvE" (player vs. enemy, or AI) section which plays mostly like a normal MMORPG and a PvP section with several different sub-game-types. The PvE is competent and the PvP is exceptional, simply because that was the focus of the game from a design perspective.

The key game mechanic is skill choice. A given character has a primary and secondary profession, each chosen from a pool of 6. The available professions are Elementalist, Mesmer, Monk, Necromancer, Ranger and Warrior. The primary profession gives you access to a few more skills and skill-enhancing equipment that works for the skills of the primary profession only. Each profession has approx. 75 skills so once you unlock all of them you can choose from around 140-ish. Except that you can only use 8 at a time - you can reset them whenever you go to a town. In fact, you can reassign skill points in towns too so you can nearly completely "re-roll" your character whenever you want. The same mechanic applies in PvE and PvP. This pre-choice mechanic gives the game a strong flavour reminiscent of Magic: the Gathering - given character "builds" will be more or less effective depending on what the opposition is doing.

Now, technically the game isn't strictly multiplayer. GW offers a powerful feature that the real MMOs don't have - henchmen. Henchmen are serviceable AI companions that will come along with no (gratis, even) to fill in spots in a missing party. This means that you can play nearly all the PvE content on your own if you wish. This is ideal for a casual player, since you can get halfway through a mission and simply find a safe spot and leave the character sitting there with the eternally patient henchmen.

In general, GW is much more friendly to casual players than traditional MMO designs. Travelling between towns? Sure, it's fun to ride that horse/griffin/whateveritis for the first time - but by the 3rd you've seen it. In GW, you can just magically teleport between towns (no explanation given for this in flavour). This pretty much sums up ArenaNet's approach to the game design - if it improves gameplay, they did it, even if it doesn't fit with the flavour of the game. If I only have 1/2 an hour to play, I can do it and (this is the key part) still feel like I accomplished something. Death penalties are all reset if you go to a town area so it's very low-risk.

Ok, now onto the PvP. There are 3 base kinds of PvP: Arena, Guild vs Guild and Tombs of the Primeval Kings. Arena is a straight-up 4v4 match with two variants. "Competitive Arena" has randomly chosen teams where you keep the same team if you win. "Team Arena" is the same thing except the teams are pre-chosen by the players. Guild vs Guild is a 8v8 match where the object is to kill the opposing Guild Lord (a NPC). The maps for Guild vs Guild are the lower ranked guild's Hall (fixed for the guild, picked from 6 choices). The maps feature a bit of Capture the Flag, a sprinkling of NPCs (archers defending your hall), basic fixed siege weaponry and so on. Tombs of the Primeval Kings is a 8v8 tournament format where the object is to get your Ghostly Hero (a NPC) to the final stage and have him hold the altar in the final map for a period of time. In the tournament you fight sometimes 1 team at a time, sometimes more (always more at the final stage).

Obviously there's a lot more details than this but that's the basic summary of the game. Hope that was useful if you didn't already know it. I'll probably be posting more actual analysis at a later point.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Guild Wars: PIE. Tasty, tasty PIE.

The current fascination over at Clamatius HQ is Guild Wars. A very interesting game from the design perspective. I already wrote something about it over at the GWOnline forums but rather than just link it I'll grab the salient parts and add it here:

One thing that strikes me about GW is that it's pretty much what you'd end up with if you try to make a "fair" (i.e. "skill"-based rather than time-spent-playing-based) fantasy PvP game. Let's look at that for a moment. I'll have an imaginary conversation with myself for illustration purposes and because my prose sucks.

Me: "Goddamn it, I got ganked again in PvP. Couldn't hit the damn guy at all 'cause he was 2 levels higher. I wish you could have a game where levels didn't matter."

Naysayer-Me: "Ok, if your ability isn't based on time spent playing, how is that actually going to work? And where does skill come in?"

Me: "People can just create characters for free, doesn't matter how long they played. They can have a base set of skills that should be pretty much competitive and then they can unlock more later. They'll have a wider pool of skills than the ones they can actually use at one time so there'll be a meta-game too, just like M:tG. Competition! Tournaments! It'll be great!"

NM: "Um, but we're going to need a PvE component to the game too. Marketing said they found that out from their focus group. Apparently otherwise it won't sell."

Me: "Really? Crap. Erm. Ok, we'll have a PvE component and their characters can play the PvP too once they get bored with the PvE. I mean, it's all server-side stuff - the AI is never going to be good - so fundamentally the PvE will end up being boring eventually."

NM: "But... then the stuff they have and the levels they have will matter and you said you didn't want that!"

Me: "Yeah, well, we'll just stick a pretty low cap on the power level of everything and let them get different colours of stuff if they want. The PvP guys can create the same stuff mechanics-wise for free and the PvE guys can have shiny stuff with different flavour."

NM: "But won't the people Marketing was talking about get bored?"

Me: "Nah, once they try the PvP they'll think it's so exciting they'll just play that once they run out of PvE stuff. Oh, one more thing - no more monthly charges! They'll love that too!"

NM: "No monthly charges? How on earth will we afford the bandwidth?"

Me: "Well, most of the bandwidth use comes from the n-squared play areas. We'll instance those like we did back for D2 and make lobby areas that seem like the game. We'll stick really low player caps on the instances, say 6 or 8 or something so those will be nearly free. The lobby costs will be painful but we'll have to suck it up and make it back on expansions. We'll get God's own compression engine for patches and that will help too."

NM: "But what about the people that get bored and don't like PvP?"

Me: "Well, it is a PvP game, so... umm.... Ok. Hopefully that won't be that big a percentage and they'll like the game enough that they'll buy the expansion. And don't forget, they won't cost us bandwidth in the meantime!"

Et voila, a game.

If you're thinking about getting GW, let me help. If you are looking for a standard cooperative MMO, you're probably better off with WoW unless:
  • you don't want to pay subscription fees
  • your free time is limited and can't manage the multi-hour time commitments that WoW makes
Now, for me, the second point is valid, but really the good bit of GW is the PvP play and that's the reason you should get the game. A lot of thought apparently went into it. I'll go into more depth in describing the kinds of PvP in another post.

Oh, and the blog post title? The guild I'm in is PIE, chock-full of ex-Natural Selection players. Why is it called PIE? I hear pies are tasty. That's really about it.

Once More Unto the Blog

Or something like that, anyway.

Like so many out there, I've been remiss on keeping up with the blog.

New Natural Selection (3.1.x) necessitated some coding and now there's a new WhichBot version to support it.

Main problem with that was my computer deciding to commit suicide - hard drive crashed and the motherboard started acting up. Finally got round that problem now.