Saturday, September 22, 2012

My First Book: Epic Failure - PVP MMO RPG Game Design

I've been playing online games forever.  I mean really, since the beginning.  No kidding.  I played first person shooters for ages and then started playing MMO's. 

One of the reasons I left FPS games is that it is really difficult to prevent players from cheating.  Due to the way various aspects of the game are assigned to computers, it is very difficult to keep players from doing things like running aim-bots (code that gives the player perfect accuracy) or invisible wall cheats (allowing...well you can guess, but it also applies to seeing through fog and smoke).  It seemed like about the time I stopped playing them, that a good one would be ruined by cheaters two weeks after it came out.

MMO's make it harder, but not impossible, for cheaters.  There are still problems, but at least the successful cheats are different. 

Anyway, there were things I liked about MMO's, but some things I missed.  One of the biggest things was player versus player combat.  In FPS's that's all there is (I treat the PvE aspects as more of a tutorial).  Sometimes everyone against everyone else, sometimes teams, but most of the time I was playing against other players.

I started off in MMO's as a PvE player (not much choice in early WoW as they didn't have any PvP on PvE servers).  I missed PvP.  Over time, I've spent more and more time playing against other players.  This was pretty much true of all the MMO's I sampled.

I really enjoyed the PvP in MMO's and spent a lot of time playing them...but you know, there's just something not quite there with PvP MMO's.  It's been bugging me for a log time.  It wasn't just one thing, it was as if the MMO game designers just didn't get.  They didn't get it, or the compromises they needed to do for a mixed PvP PvE game were so great, that they gave that appearance.

I got really frustrated with the games I was playing.  All the MMO's seemed to be missing the point.  In design decision after design decision it just seemed like they had headed toward something good, then went right on past without stopping.  I started recording where I think they went astray,  expanded on it and put it all into a book.

It's now on Amazon as a downloadable e-book.  Here's the link Epic Failure - PVP MMO RPG Game Design.  Actually I named the book "Epic Failure - Player Versus Player Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Design".  (Apparently the "G" is silent).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Probably stepping in it

I'm either stepping in it big time, or just making a comment that will be lost in obscurity over in @scalzi's Whaever.  Here is a copy below, as my comment about what comments might be acceptable might not be acceptable.

I'm likely to be the sole dissenter here, but I miss the pre yes men days that came before the "everyone is my friend which I shall not disagree with" current Internet.
Forums were a many to many form of communication intended primarily for the participants.  Sure, there were trolls, but they were easily tuned out.  Some of the most interesting material was in the diversions off the original poster's thread.
Today's blogs feel more like newsprint editorials.  The remonstrations (wow, is that really in my working vocabulary, I think not) in my mind translate to "Come on people, we've got a theme going here!  Stick to it.  We're not here for the enjoyment of you participants, you know, this is the age of few to many communication.  This carefully crafted thread and comment stream is intended for the comfort of the nonparticipating readers.  You are just here to provide the illusion of consensus. Back in line. *Snap* *Crack*."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best Mac documentation at Chicago Sun-Times?

I've been a win-tel user for years (that's Intel processor based Windows systems, for you folks not familiar with the acronym).  I like the idea of open (well "open-proprietary") systems giving us lower prices and more bang for the buck.  On the other hand my first computer was an Apple ][ plus.  I skipped all the Macs (until last month) and hadn't gone back to an Apple product until the original iPod, but I've generally liked Apple products (paying for them is another matter).

I've got an iPhone and iPad now and really love them so I'd thought I give the Mac a try.  I'm just so tired of things not quite working with win-tell based computers.  Bought a MacBook Pro last month with the expectation that the new operating system that was soon to be available would allow sharing files between my phone, table and the mac.

One thing that was worrying me was that Apple tends to make things easy to use, but doesn't tell you exactly what's going on before they do something important.  For instance, when I got the Mac it created a duplicate account based on the one on my pc when I was setting it up.  If I knew that I'd end up with two user accounts, I'd have just copied over the files I wanted.  I've also had itunes copy tons of pictures and music that I didn't want onto my phone, etc, when it didn't make clear exactly what it was about to do.  It's also wiped out files on my iPod, when I didn't want it to (what exactly does the verb "to sync" mean, anyway?).

Anyway, I was trying to avoid another situation where it did a lot of work doing something I didn't want.  I was worried that installing Mountain Lion on the Mac would cause it to upload a ton of files into iCloud that I didn't want.  I wanted to know what it would do and how it would work for the Pages files I had on my iPhone and iPad, and the copies of those (some modified) that I had on the Mac.

I couldn't find a single "official" bit of documentation that would answer my question.  I wanted to know if every file on my Mac (well, everyone one that was iCloud enabled) would be copied up, or how would it work?  Do I work on files on my SSD and they are magically synced, or is there some special way to specify that I want to work on the version in the cloud?

Couldn't find anything official, but after considerable googling I found an article from the Chicago Sun-Times that told me what I wanted to know.  Isn't it odd that I have to go to a newspaper to really find out how some piece of software works?  Oh, here's a link to the article I found useful Mountain Lion and iCloud


Saturday, July 7, 2012

MMO Game Design, the Beginning

As promised, my blog is going to be an eclectic mix of whatever I'm thinking about.

I've been working on a non-fiction book about player versus player game design.  I've got a complete draft which I've edited several times.  My research of a couple of points I had skipped previously is now complete (I created a little spreadsheet simulation for one and looked up some numbers in my chess book for the other).  While editing I've discovered that I don't particularly like my sentence structure, paragraph organization or the overall organization of the book.  I'm also worried that the mix of serious examination of the topic with humor isn't working.  Other than that, it's going great :-).

The problem with organization is that I'm pointing out potential pitfalls without really giving the rules that the examples back up.  Remember the speech recommendation?  "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them."  Right now I'm just telling once (hmm, and now the ghosts of all the how-to-write books I've read are screaming at me "Show, don't tell!").

Anyway, I think the next task is to fit into the introduction a "here are some design rules" list.  Here's the current list, which doesn't exactly match the examples in my draft.

“Design Rules”
  1. Tedium is not a core game mechanic.
  2. Hero classes, just a bad idea.
  3. Easy to learn, hard to master.
  4. Between frustration and boredom lies fun.
  5. Stealth, an even worse idea.
  6. MMO’s  need to be fun on at least two levels, core mechanics, and character progression.
  7. PvP MMO’s need to be fun on three levels, core mechanics, character progression and for a single match.
  8. Just because you can play with thousands of other people doesn’t mean it’s fun to be required to do so constantly.
  9. It’s good to be king, but only for the king.
  10. No one has ever built a game around middle management, there is a reason why.
  11. The elite will always find a way to game the system, optimize play for the bulk of the players in the middle.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Single Figure of Merit and the Rating of Your Book

I've been reading a number of author's blogs recently and several have expressed concern or been upset when they receive a one star review.  They post their book on Amazon and wait for purchasers to rate their book.  They are excited by the early four and five star reviews.  More books sell.  Maybe they climb the rankings and hit a best seller list and then WHAM! they start getting one and two star reviews.  These purchasers give low ratings because the book is not to their liking, perhaps it was just not their kind of book.  Their reviews are flippant.  How dare they, the authors cry.  Clearly the book is well written as it received many high ratings already.  The low raters must be mistaken or are using the rating system incorrectly.

I see things differently.  The primary purpose of the rating system is not to help a specific book sell; it is to help Amazon to sell as many books as possible.  (Or so I assume as I can't read Amazon's mind.  Given that I don't have telepathic powers and corporations don't have minds, this isn't particularly surprising).  The rating system isn't your college creative writing class.  You aren't being graded.  (If you want to be graded send hate mail to John @scalzi on Whatever).

Let's take a look at the Amazon ratings.  They go from 1 (lowest) to 5.  Here are the guidelines:
  1. I hate it
  2. I don't like it
  3. It's ok
  4. I like it
  5. I love it
Notice how 1 is not "Wow, you really don't know how to write -- it's just B.A.D. bad."  Nor is 5 "Your prose is incomparable.  Prepare to receive a Pulitzer."  It's just 1 for I hate it for whatever reason and 5 for I love it whether it's because it's really good or because it's got cats.

Now if this whole rating thing's purpose was to provide feedback to the author, then we would probably not use a single figure of merit to rate the book.  Rather we'd break it down into a couple different values.  Maybe something for how much the buyer really liked it, as we have now, plus a separate rating covering whether we thought it was good, that is a quality score (this would be the one that the author's want to see).  In an ideal universe we could ask the rater to separately score how much they want the book to sell because it's their book or how much they want it to fail because they hold a grudge against the author (both of these last two would be ignored in the recommendation engine).

No one would rate books if we had to think about so many categories.  Instead, we've got a single overall rating; did the rater like the book or not?  Are the raters screwing up the usefulness of the rating system when they give a low score to a good book just because they didn't like it?  I think not.  I think the rating system is doing its job because of its ability to do long tail matching.

If a rater rates an author's book low as well as other books they don't like, then other potential buyers who also rated the first rater's book low, but haven't read the author's book yet, will not be recommended the author's book.  Did that make sense?  Let's try again.  If A hates X and Y and B hates Y, then Amazon won't recommend to B that he or she buy X.  That's ok, because they were unlikely to like it anyway and the good thing is that it leaves more room on the recommended list for books that they should like.  In other words, the low ratings on books are helping correctly match buyers and books.  Even though the low scores might be knocking down the rating of their books (and their egos), all authors benefit because more appropriate books are presented.

Anyway, as I do my final edits and prepare to upload my book, that's what I'm telling myself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Greetings and welcome to my blog.

I intend to post about random things that interest me.  Currently that's writing, self-publishing, science fiction, mysteries, and thrillers in one semi-related bucket of topics as well as games, game programming, game design, MMO's, and FPS's in another.  I'm also interested in Internet technology and advertising.  No doubt other things will come up.

The blog title "Way Outside the Box" comes from my interest in unconventional solutions to conventional problems.