Monday, 31 January 2011

Flashpoint Update: Taral V

When playing MMOs I often find myself playing solo more often than not, so last Friday's official update showcasing a new Flashpoint (i.e. group dungeon) wasn't that interesting to me. Still, it's nice to see some of the story-based content that they're including and that the group content contains just as much story as well. Here is the official news:
Some missions are too dangerous for just one hero. In Flashpoints, players team up with others to confront monumental challenges at pivotal moments in the game story. Fight deadly foes, make decisions that determine the outcome of the story, and get some of the best rewards in the galaxy as you and your allies experience Flashpoints.

The new Flashpoints Game Systems page features more detailed information about Flashpoints along with an exclusive video look at Taral V, a never-before-seen Flashpoint from the game. Get ready for great multiplayer action in Flashpoints in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™!
To save you some time looking up the video at the official site, here it is from YouTube:

I find it funny how they keep referring to "the Jedi prisoner" instead of referring to the individual by name. Sounds very awkward and, to me, smacks of some big identity reveal for said Jedi waiting to happen.

Next to the video there's also a new Game Systems page with some details on a few Flashpoints, showcasing Taral V and givign this description regarding Flashpoints in general:
Taral V is just one of several unique Flashpoints in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. Every Flashpoint takes a group of Imperial or Republic players through its own self-contained adventure, culminating in one of several outcomes based on player choices. You won’t have to miss out on any of the story, though – Flashpoints exist in specially instanced parts of the galaxy and can be repeated as often as you’d like. Flashpoints feature enemies that require skill and cooperation to defeat, and are much more challenging than single-player missions, but they offer valuable loot and rewards. Gather up your allies and get ready for explosive multiplayer action in Flashpoints!
What I find most interesting here is that in the examples they list there seems to be a clear interplay between Republic and Empire. The low-level Republic Flashpoint is about a Republic transport being attacked by Imperials... and the low-level Imperial Flashpoint is about imperials attacking a Republic transport. Could this be players seeing two sides of the same conflict? Seems very likely. The mid-game ones, including Taral V, is similar with the Empire one being about tracking down an escaped prisoner (could that be "the Jedi prisoner"?). And then the last one is just one Flashpoint that both can play. I wonder whether it's pretty much the same for each or whether they approach the same Flashpoint from different directions. They promised no repeated content between sides, so it's a little confusing to see something listed that looks like repeated content.

Anyway, that's the official update. Read after the break for a Q&A at GameSpot on Flashpoints as well as developer quotes from the last week.

The Taral V video was actually available through GameSpot before it was available through the official site. Not unusual as GameSpot has had more exclusives like that where they get to break news one day before the official site does (such as with the Smuggler reveal IIRC). But what gives their update added value is that they included a Q&A with Jesse Sky, World Designer. Here's an excerpt:
GS: Without spoiling anything, can you give us a quick run-through of what it will be like to try to conquer this flashpoint? What kinds of enemies will players be up against? What kinds of player skills and tactics will be important? How many hours is the flashpoint intended to take?

JS: You and your friends will form a covert strike team and land a shuttle in the jungle beyond the walls of the fortress. You'll face vicious beasts, battle an entire legion of Imperial soldiers, and confront the ruthless Sith who oversee operations on the planet. The fortress on Taral V doubles as a research facility, so you should come prepared to deal with some advanced weapons technology.

Taral V can be played in roughly 90 minutes, which is about the average length for a flashpoint. A completionist play-through would probably take more than two hours. If you have any stealthy friends, you might find them particularly useful on this mission.

Ruthless Sith... is there any other kind?

And of course there's also a host of developer quotes again. As before I'll post a list with links first and then pick out a few highlights.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Kyle Garner on story.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on PAX East.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on customer service.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on auto-attack.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death penalties.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on dancing on mailboxes.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on kicking people from Flashpoint groups.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on MoistureFarmVille.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on idle in combat.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on meaningful death.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on healer. (German)
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Flashpoint Q&A.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on playable Taral V.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on news post time.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Flashpoint video voiceover.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on skipping Flashpoint dialog.
Lots of posts again and a lot of meaty ones at that. We'll start with a post by Kyle Garner about story:
That's a good question, and you're right about our "story" being a lot more than just a tale being told.

A good example is how I personally like to throw in memorable cinematic moments tailored to the individual class. For instance in a non-class quest, any one of the classes involved may interact with someone who's giving some attitude, and that means the scenes play out differently. An Inquisitor who can throw lightning from his hands may do something differently than the Bounty Hunter, who might prefer to knock someone's teeth in. The trick for us is to make something just as exciting / rewarding for players to see if they pick the diplomatic choice too.

Then also it's fun to sometimes take into account the background characters and their reactions to what is happening. A few seconds of, ahem... 'interactive story'... can take a lot of consideration and work for us.

I can only speak for myself with the term 'story' vs. 'interactive story'. With the exception of short little droids with holorecordings... all of our story content contains an amount of interactivity, but frankly when it comes to talking about it - one word takes less keystrokes.
Personally I think I'll generally prefer to pick the more diplomatic choices, violence is just way too... simple, so I'm curious to experience what exciting and rewarding choices that you come up with. Just remember, what's exciting to someone who prefers the violent approach isn't always exciting to ones who pick diplomatic choices.

The next post I'll quote is one by Georg Zoeller on auto-attack:
At this point in development, the combat design of Star Wars: The Old Republic does not include an auto attack feature and the flow of combat is designed around this fact.

A number of associated facts to help your discussion:
  • Basic attack sequences in Star Wars: The Old Republic generally consist of multiple blaster bolts or strikes, so you don't click-spam attacks. We call these attacks 'flurries'.
  • The actual number of flurries during a basic combat cycle against a normal creature is generally low, we try to put an emphasis on special attacks instead.
  • As a result, an auto attack feature becomes unnecessary, since you chain few flurries together and often switch up your combat routine to deal with emergent issues during a fight.
  • You can definitely shoot on the run (or backpaddle and shoot on those following you).
Fine print: We reserve the right to change this design, like any other, based on feedback from those currently in Game Testing and potentially from community commentary. At this point, such a decision seems unlikely however, as testers have been commenting very favorably on this aspect of the combat system so far.

Thanks for reading.
Sounds interesting. I tend to prefer to be more hands-on with my character, but at the same time one has to be careful that it doesn't feel like you're repeating mundane tasks like pressing the same key(sequence) over and over again.

Georg has been quite the busy little posting bee again last week. Another post he made is one on death penalties:
There are definitely penalties to death, but they do not involve 'undoing' a player's previous achievements (e.g. negative XP), hampering future progress (e.g. XP debt) or forcing the player to sit by unable to play the game they have paid for (e.g. forced timeouts).

Sorry if anyone expected us to do something really hardcore here - we just don't believe that punishing the player harshly is good design.

Plus, there are only so many times we can allow players to become 'more powerful than you can possibly imagine' before even our imaginations fail us
Damion Schubert followed up that post with a big post of his own:
I see a lot of posts saying things like 'death should have sting', or 'players should feel death'. We agree! However that being said, miscalibrating your death penalties can very insidiously destroy your game from the inside out.

We don't want people to ignore the cost of death, but at the same time, we also don't want players to avoid taking chances. We want them to take risks. We want them to try wacky new strategies, and exotic new builds. We want them to wonder if maybe they can solo that boss creature. In the name of creating a sense of fear and risk, overly harsh death penalties can inadvertently make people stop taking them.

To wit: too harsh death penalties can create grinding. If death sucks too much, players will stop taking on higher level creatures or even equal level creatures, and instead only take on creatures that are lower level than them - even though those creatures carry far less reward, the fact that they offer far less risk, might make them seem safer and more efficient to the player. Of course, now the player is fighting boring, ultimately non-threatening enemies, and is being bored to death.

Harsh death penalties can disincentivize grouping. I'm sure we've all been in some pretty bad groups in our MMO playing. How likely are you to group with a healer or tank that you don't know if the penalty for failure is disastrous? How hard is it for new players to learn the skills they need to contribute to groups if other group members feel they can't risk taking on a new guy?

Harsh drop penalties (i.e. you lose all your stuff when you die) can result in players leaving their best epix in the bank all the time. Sure, you'll PROBABLY win fully decked out in ph4t purples, but what if you don't? And just like that, your epic purple lightsaber is something you only ever equip at the bank... just in case.

Harsh death penalties can create flavor of the month builds. If death isn't something disastrous, players will take risks and find new and exotic builds in the skill tree that continue to reinvent the game (and challenge the combat design team ). But if death is too harsh, more players will feel they have to go with a cookie-cutter template they found on a website, because it's just not worth the risk if your wacky idea is wrong.

Harsh death penalties can ultimately force designers to make the game easier. If it takes 10 minutes to respawn after a fight or the dungeon becomes inaccessible, for example, it dramatically limits the ability for players to repeat the fight and learn it. This forces designers to make the fight easier so that a reasonable percentage of the players can succeed.

Ultimately, we want players to play the freakin' game. We want them to group. We want them to deck out in their gear. We want them to experiment with builds. We want them to explore the nether regions of all the planets. We want to make really hard stuff for them. And we most assuredly want them to seek out challenges bigger than themselves.

Does that mean we want the game to be a cakewalk? No, we want there to be tough fights. We want there to be complex fights that might take multiple tries to get right. We want to put in challenges for groups of players that require good tactics, good teamwork and flawless execution to pull off. But I would seperate the idea of 'challenge' and 'punishment'. I would rather our challenges be gated by whether or not you have the skill, the gear, and the teamwork to succeed than whether or not you have the credits and/or time to wait out the forced downtime in between, you know, the fun part.
Generally I find that few things can kill my enjoyment of a game more than feeling like I'm repeatedly banging my head against a wall, which is something even a mild death penalty can cause. And most death penalties make little sense game design-wise. The player has just demonstrated to have some difficulty with a certain and what does the game do? Make it even more difficult with all kinds of penalties. Instead the game should gently try and nudge you towards content that you can handle better (which, personally, I find an xp debt system can do depending on available game content as you stay at your current level longer).

Most of the time though just knowing that I failed (and the run back to where I was) tends to be discouragement enough to keep me from wanting to die. Though I'll also say that games really need to stop calling it 'death' and start calling it 'knocked out' or such (particularly in a story-driven game where you want story death to mean something).

To finish with the developer quotes for this post (and with it conclude this post) there's a short one by Georg Zoeller on skipping dialog:
You can skip lines of dialog by pressing space bar (essentially opting to not vote), but it will only move on after the vote timer has expired or everyone else has skipped, in which case a default choice is assumed.

You cannot skip entire dialogs in Flashpoints - they are an integral part of the experience and the choices made in them define the way the Flashpoint unfolds.
I don't want to skip dialog anyway. Though I do wonder if this'll discourage people from replaying Flashpoints (and thus decreasing the number of players available to play them). I guess it all depends on how integrated the dialog is and how different each playthrough of a Flashpoint feels. I can see players pre-picking options before going in to try and speed things up. Players will do whatever they can to gain loot as fast as possible.

Anyway, that's it for now.

[link] to interview with Jesse Sky at GameSpot.

No comments: