Author: Vhalen

Sensible Scope

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Count Floyd knows what he is talking about. Open worlds are great when they are vast, but for the team developing those worlds, it can be SCARY! But wait… now that we have Crowd Sourcing, we not only have terrified teams of developers we also have panicked patrons that have already bought into these worlds. For the latter, they may have a longer wait for their prepaid adventures if those worlds fall behind schedule. Some of these lofty open world projects might even fall in the event horizon of vaporware. Having had ongoing nightmares from both perspectives, I propose the old design adage, KISS, (Keep It Simple, Stupid) be updated for MMO’s and Open Worlds. Just like the worlds the acronym is often applied to, KISS should be extensible, such as… KISSASS (Keep It Simple, Stupid And Sensible Scope.)

Sure! This is a bit of fun on my part, but having fought through many world design battlegrounds and taking note of worlds in development, this updated design mantra is needed. All too often, open worlds spawn delusions of grandeur that can make many developers oblivious to the oncoming ‘Reality Train.’ And when that train hits, which it always does, things start to get axed, schedules are altered and sometime, good devs are even let go. The entire project takes a massive hit and the repercussions are felt within the gaming community. What might have been a grand game world becomes simply sufficient or lacking.

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My current opinion on the matter is that open worlds should be developed in a smaller scope. Indeed, most are already designed that way when dev teams devote early milestones to the development of a portion of the world that contains every feature within its strata. This is sometimes called a Vertical Slice of the world and it can prove the effectiveness of each feature intended and reveal weaknesses in content and world design. If the vertical slice tastes good, then the whole pie should taste the same. Unfortunately, the intended scope of the world could fracture the foundation of a game schedule regardless of the success of a vertical slice. If the ‘Launch Scope’ is far greater than can be carried on the backs of the development team, you’re going to have some major problems. To add more stress, designers can often add features that were not in the vertical slice or art pipelines become clogged by team growth and a many tiered approval processes. This commonly occurred on projects I was involved with and it placed a lot of stress on teams and led to many a world being chopped up. In one of the worlds I worked on it led to the shattering and sinking of an entire continent well into development. But no matter how much pre-planning takes place, something will always go wrong, that is a given. Just don’t add on to the frustration by creating a scope too large for launch. Create a sensible scope for launch.

Looking back on projects, I am confident that strong conviction must be given to the ‘Launch Scope’ of your world. It doesn’t have to be as vast as your dreams. Not at launch. It just has to be large enough to sell your setting, compel players and allow for extensible content. As a team, you can commit to a small amount of features and a world that is large enough for your player population and Content Strata, the intended layers of player content. If you try and bite off more than your team can chew, the game will choke. But that does not mean your world will always remain the size of your launch scope. It shouldn’t. Integral to this design is the ability for your world to be extensible. You must be able to add more features and more slices to your world. We see this in old school MMO expansions and they work well and can be developed in tight schedules. They also create some of the most experienced development teams in the industry. Cheers to those ‘live teams’ that forged many of the expansion protocols used by MMO’s today. If a team is smart they can maintain a healthy growing MMO or open world game.

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As I sit here typing at 3am, I almost forgot to mention one more thing I feel is needed for this new smaller Launch Scope to work, keep your changes in management to a minimum. Adding too many new managers to a project and shuffling their roles has always slowed the development process and led to tiny disasters such as disrupting team synergy. Changes in team size are inevitable, but changes in management should be limited. As with everything else, the team should be extensible. Some departments might not be needed to mid production. If you find you are adding a new department to a project, it should be for a feature you have already committed to in your design scope. Want to bring your sound team on later in the schedule, great! Want to add a team to support a flying mount feature that was not part of the original scope… oy vey! Like a line a cars on a multi-lane freeway, each new feature compounds other features, creating break lights and one hell of a traffic jam. Try and commit to a smaller scope and stick to it. A Sensible Scope! It might be neat to have 20 races and 18 starting cities, but be realistic with your budget and team size. Keep your launch scope simple and small. If your world is extensible, you should be driving along, your foot off the brake pedal and rockin’ some Van Halen tunes down the open world highway to a successful launch day.

Till Yonder,

Tony “Vhalen” Garcia

The Holy Grail

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Way back in nineteen ninety-dickety, (We had to say “dickety” because the Drafling stole the number eight), a group of developers at Verant Interactive pondered on the existence of an MMO player narrative, a hero’s journey, within EverQuest. We often referred to this as the “Holy Grail,” because it was an elusive prize that could deliver an unmatched personal experience within an MMO world. While it was possible to craft such a personal quest, doing so would often fracture the massive social experience. After all, how could every player be the “Chosen One” or the primary antagonist within an overarching epic quest-line? EVERY player! It’s insanity! The MMO tools to aid in this endeavor were few or in development. In the early days we experimented to get results. This was a work in progress, but I, among other developers, sought this “Holy Grail.” However, should this quest have ever been undertaken?

In the early ages of EverQuest development I saw the world through the eyes of an adventurer: the gamer. This was good, but what I needed to often remind myself is that I should be looking through the eyes of an MMO gamer. At its core, an MMO is a social game. These are worlds where you experience the wonder and dangers alongside hundreds of other gamers. We should choose to play MMO’s to interact with a world of gamers. If not, then we should simply play single player RPG’s. So with that in mind, how does a “personal narrative” that is meant to be epic and unique fit within a world where everyone will be undertaking it at varying times? I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t fit well with the core fundamentals of an MMO. Sure there have been great strides in this realm, but many of the tools of the trade have taken the player away from the social experience in their attempt to deliver a player narrative that is much more of a solo adventure. In my opinion, such a narrative removes a fundamental social element that makes MMO’s special. However, I fell prey to this in my dev days and began my own quest for the “Holy Grail.”

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My quest for the grail had led me to the shores of EverQuest II where I hoped to craft massive narratives that all players could partake in. These narratives would often allude to you being the only one worthy enough or lucky enough to be chosen. It gave players a chance to interact with deities and other lore personalities, creating a pseudo-relationship with these EQ icons. Although I requested, “phasing” I opted for liberal use of quest instances (personal zones) and content only visible to players on specific quest steps. For the most part, I thought it worked quite well. The players had large story arcs that they were a major part of, sometimes making Norrathian history. But as time went on and expansions released I began to dislike the removal of the player from the MMO world. In an effort to set memorable encounters that could be experienced by all the players, the quests were removing the social aspect of the MMO. And I was not the only one doing this. Slowly over time, these “personal narratives” began to appear in other MMO games as well. Many of the other games had devoted resources to develop features that supported such experiences. (How envious I was.) We developers got better at delivering grand personal odysseys. But the cost for seeking the “Holy Grail” was expensive.

The development of an MMO is very expensive. I think we can all agree on that. I am not only talking about the financial expense, but also the resources, schedule and manpower. You are limited by a variety of budgets and as a developer you must be wise and choose to integrate the features that best support your game without blowing your budget. Sure, you could try and be everything to everyone, and who hasn’t done that, but that sort of design path will lead you to ignoring or limiting other aspects of the game. So, if an MMORPG is fundamentally a social game, it seems to me that we as developers should devote resources to features that keep the community engaged with one another. But in the pursuit of the ”Holy Grail” many developers ignored this, myself included. Our passion to deliver an immersive narrative blinded us. The many features I had so wished would propel players into an epic personal narrative had removed them from the magic that makes an MMO special- other players! Our journeys within MMO worlds should be experienced alongside other players. In games I worked on and others in the MMO sphere, too many resources seemed to be devoted towards features that played contrary to that core social gameplay. This is fine and dandy and helps explore the bounds of MMO narratives, but always remember, MMO’s are massive beasts that are expensive to develop and support. Spend your budget wisely.

Although I was once a member of the “Holy Grail Expedition” I have since grown as a developer. I feel MMO resources should be solely devoted to supporting the massive social gameplay. It is an aspect that should not be forgotten. To place resources elsewhere is to ignore the core elements of the genre. While some MMO’s have been crafting some great “solo narratives” we need to ask ourselves in the MMO community if these are resources well spent. In my opinion: no. As much as I loved questing for the “Holy Grail” it taught me to respect the fundamentals of an MMO. There is a “magic” in MMO’s. That magic is you, I and every other player in that world. As developers, we need to seek the right grail. Choose wisely.

Till Yonder,

Tony “Vhalen” Garcia

 

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Questing for Quests

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Player: Hail, Bronto Thudfoot.

Bronto: Back off bud. I’ve got more [important things] to deal with.

Player: What important things?

Bronto: I don’t have time to chat. I have to plot a course to the Sword Mound in Halfling country. Now beat it before I smash you.

 

That is a small example of how I hoped to design questing in the original EverQuest: speak to people in cities to get HINTS of where to find your adventures. This was after entering a city and hailing many NPC’s to see if they had anything important to say. Not every quest was offered that way, but allusion and investigation were key components of my quest vision. For the most part, the original EQ was setup to promote the exploration of the world and discover content rather than guide caravans of players from quest hub to quest hub. There was refuge out in the wilds, but you had to find it. Emergent gameplay often created player hubs for safety, trade, and even languages. It was not perfect, but we EQ devs were treading new ground and learning as we go in some cases. With Norrath, the world of EQ, we had a geography that was crafted for exploration. It was also a social game where we wanted the players to interact with one another. For me, I hoped to reinforce those two aspects of the MMO genre by providing quests that promoted them. By doing so, players would then begin to share information and try to reveal the answers together. At times it was frustrating for a player, but that was usually when they were trying to go it alone. Finding quest starters required players to search the world and speak to other players. We had no NPC’s crowned with “!” or “?” and the absence of a map marking your next step helped to promote exploration of not only adventure zones, but cities as well. In the end EQ helped establish many of the standards for the modern MMORPG genre. But as mass appeal grew, quest mechanics designed to ease frustrations and attract greater numbers would actually take away from exploration and social interaction.

 

The Age of quest hubs and exclamation points was upon us. No longer did a player have to seek out an NPC and “hail” him for clues. No longer did they have to exchange information with fellow players to divulge the location of the super secret treasure. It was all there in the UI. I still believe in Social Hubs, but I began to find that when it came to quests, it turned MMO adventures into MMO tasks. NPC’s became job boards you quickly interact with then rush off to the next quest stage. I understand the need for this and I even fell prey to it as both gamer and developer, but I also began to notice I was less of an explorer and more of a member of a tour group. The exploration was lost for me. I don’t mean to say that I abandoned such pursuits. I admit I spent many hours in MMO’s on many tasks and had much fun. The bad side of this was that there began to be no alternative in the MMO genre. Questing in every MMO I tried became a matter of “X” marks the spot, or rather, “!” and “?” did. This became a new questing standard. It was not until I looked around the MMO playing field for true exploration that I noticed modern quest systems where part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, they work perfectly well and are welcome in almost every game, but there should be some evolution in the MMO quest system and from my perspective, it was not happening. Thankfully there are some MMO’s out there that are treading new grounds. Independent games that are not afraid to claim themselves “niche” are exploring new designs. I even continue to participate in the questing pursuit, aiding others as well as working on my own projects that hope to change the way we play MMO’s. Those of us that want more out of MMO quest systems as gamers and as developers are on the brink of a new age. Hopefully we will see a return to exploration and guided tours will be replaced with expeditions into the unknown. Until then, I urge all you explorers out there to look around and support those small projects that are trying to lead us there. Become part of the community because in a sense, you already are. Till Yonder!

 

Tony “Vhalen” Garcia

Slumbering Lore

Greetings Lore Seekers,

 

Welcome to 2015! As they so often (mis)quote; “Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Lore4 has been silent, but still remains active. Many changes have taken place and some projects must be placed on the shelf to focus all our firepower. Lore4 is still active. But is the team the same? Yes and No.

Lore4 began with… 4! We soon found a great artist to join the quartet and off we were to forging worlds, some of them others and some our own. As we moved forward we had other community members come forward who shared their desire to contribute to various projects or implement their designs. These core devs became the gears that moved Lore4’s various projects. Unfortunately, with personal endeavors and family matters of the team (myself included) it became impossible to keep the aggressive schedule we set forth. For this reason, we are taking a step back to refocus and also support the various individual efforts of team members.

This year I hope to rebuild what Lore4 is and set a schedule for our project and community interactions. I want to focus on establishing the universe of Oubliette before moving forward with the associated projects. As the Lore4 director, I want to be realistic and allow Oubliette to grow at its own rate while allowing various team members to work on external projects.

The growth of Oubliette shall be slow as I take the time to craft the foundation lore of the world so that it may be used for the first project I hope to see completed: Kaleidoscope. I hope to find the right artist that wants to help set the style of the fantasy universe of Oubliette. If you are one or know one, please contact me. Let’s make worlds.

In the coming weeks I shall be adding lore to the site. Every bit shall relate to the fantasy story of Kaleidoscope, a tale that aspires to be both Fantasy RPG and Board Game in the future. Lore4 lives and continues, but new things are on the way. The Slumbering Lore of 2014 shall wake to breath fire in 2015.

Till Yonder

Tony Garcia (Vhalen)

A Poem from Oubliette

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Project Kaleidoscope

Greetings Lore Seekers,

The LORE4 are pleased to announce the first of three projects based upon the dark fairytale setting of Oubliette. The RPG called… Kaleidoscope!

 

“Take your time and I shall take your daughter’s life. It’s not as powerful as the Kaleidoscope, but the loss would be so very entertaining.”Ludwiga, Witch of Vursenvel

 

Trapped by the psychotic witch, Ludwiga, a bard is forced into a quest for the lost spell of the Vyrm’Sung. You shall have the chance to take the reigns of his odyssey that will span the cursed marshes of Vursenvel and into the dangerous enchanted frontiers of Vurloria. You will search ancient harmonic dungeons, each a key to unlocking the supreme power of the lost spell known only as Kaleidoscope. Will you serve the witch and save your daughter or will you become like those that went before you, lost forever within the Kaleidoscope.

Kaleidoscope will be a mini-RPG where you play as the reluctant hero whose magical power will grow along his journey through Vurloria. It is presented in the charm and retro of early fantasy RPG’s, yet with the dark elements of Oubliette. We expect to complete this project this year and hope to have it available as an APP for download. Stay tuned for more info as our work on this and two other exciting projects continues. The world of Oubliette is lurking in the shadows.

Till Yonder!

Tony “Vhalen” Garcia

LORE4 Director

BELOW: Miserere and Habusa have been plotting out the game world of “Kaleidoscope.”

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The Map of Oubliette

Hail Lore Seekers,

We here at LORE4 HQ have been hard at work forging the new dark and twisted fairy tale-fantasy realm we call Oubliette. We are currently focused on the land of Vurloria, a medium sized continent in Oubliette. Some have stated that it reminds them of a seahorse or a spiral. Do either of these elements have any direct relation to Vurloria? Yes. Over time we will be releasing lore, images and tales that will hint of that relationship. For now, we are continuing our world building. There is much we will be sharing with you about Vurloria and how people find themselves here. You might have read the tales; “I’ve Returned” and “Till Yonder” at the Athenaeum (www.lorelibarary.com). They hint how some became trapped here and their tales and others will continue to be revealed over time. But back to the map! We will be adding more details to the map of Vurloria as we trickle out lore. These details can be icons or title to new geographical features. The world of Oubliette will always be expanding. This map will be our first step into the world that will play setting for future LORE4 projects. We hope you will join us on this adventure into the world of Oubliette.

Till Yonder!

Tony “Vhalen” Garcia

LORE4 Director

The World of Oubliette

Hail Lore Seekers,

The Lore4 would like to welcome you to your first glimpse of a fantasy setting we have been working on and continue to expand upon. This is Oubliette! The first land within this world is known as Vurloria and you shall be learning much more about it in the coming weeks and months. It is a realm of dark fairy tales and wondrous landscapes. It is the plan of the Lore4 to use this as the primary setting for Oubliette projects that we shall reveal at a later date. For now we invite you to look upon the first map returned to this world by one of the “strufflin” that defied the odds and found a way back. Just don’t get caught by the shadows that might try to snatch it back and you with it.

Till Yonder

Vhalen

“Take the damn map… TAKE IT! It’s a bloody beacon for the shadows and I’ll not be goin’ back. NEVER!” – Unknown Strufflin that escaped the world of Oubliette

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