Would you swap your guildie for an NPC ‘companion’

So among all the press releases and interviews about Star Wars: The Old Republic last week, one of the features of the game that Bioware has been pimping is the companion NPC. Not to be confused with a pet (oh, who are we kidding?), the companions can be recruited, will have storylines attached to them and can even be romantic interests for characters. We assume they will also fight with you. In any case, the idea is that players will be more involved with the companion NPCs.

And I don’t know about anyone else but although this sounds fun and all, it leaves me with a chill down my spine. I feel as though I am looking into the future of MMOs and there is less and less place for that whole annoying ‘interacting with real people’ thing.

Real people are annoying. They aren’t always there when you want them to be. They don’t always want to do the same things that you want to do. Sometimes they play badly, or not the way you think they should play. They mess up your schedule, they cause drama, they make it difficult for you to do the stuff in game that you want to do. They cause frustration.

NPC companions could solve a lot of that. In games like Guild Wars, you can have a whole party of fairly competent NPC companions which makes the levelling game a solo affair when it may not have been before. And people love them. Guild Wars isn’t my game of choice (difficult to explain why. I like a lot of things about it but I never felt the immersion; maybe because the trade channel is so amazingly horrid. An auction house would have improved that game immeasurably) but I liked having a whole group to control. I think most players would love to be able to grab some NPCs with which to complete all the group content in an MMO up to and including raids! Not only that but the NPC never bitches at you, can be programmed to be a well behaved love interest, and will admire you and pander to your every whim at the press of a button.

The other issue with real people ™ is that it takes time to form relationships and make a community in a game. That means time hanging out and chatting. Time in instances. Even time in scenarios if you see the same people around a lot. You can’t really short-cut it. That means sometimes you’ll be sitting around bored because other people are doing something else. There’s a random factor. A lot of players would prefer to focus their time completely on progressing their character and leave that socialising stuff to other people. The NPC companion/s remove that necessity, they may or may not require time but at least they are decent enough to keep to the player’s schedule. They don’t deliberately organise all the most fun events for when the player is offline or has their mother-in-law turn up for an unexpected visit. They don’t level without you.

There is no doubt that NPCs are more convenient, and no doubt in my mind that if you gave most people the choice, they’d vote for more NPC AI and less reliance on other real people. I was talking with Arbitrary this weekend about why we dislike the term healbot. I wonder if part of it is because we know that most people would LOVE the chance to replace a ‘real person’ healer with an actual bot that would follow them around whenever they wanted, always prioritise them for healing, have a minimal programmed reaction time, never complain, and best of all … never want loot for its alts.

I’m left feeling that this more than anything else is why PvP is such an important element for MMOs to get right (if they do it). It isn’t impossible to use pets and NPCs in PvP but real people are better allies AND better enemies. The PvE bot-based MMO is going to happen and it will be fun for lots and lots of people. But I like the mad drama, the stupid conversations on TS, the daft people you end up grouping with, and the whole gamut of playing with real people. There’s no reason why PvE can’t be a solo experience and great fun, but all my best MMO memories involve real people and I would hate to see that die because producers decided that most people would find it too much hassle.

Are you looking forwards to NPC companions? And why is it that games so rarely give us the option of having healing pets?


Updates upon updates

We don’t talk that much about what we’re doing in-game, we think other bloggers have that pretty well-covered and we’re in that kind of crazy first month of running around madly and trying to fit in work, life, TV and gaming all in one messy pot. I’ll write a little more about how it’s affecting me personally this weekend, I think.

But here’s a quick rundown.

Hawley’s offline (boo!), he’s got himself a fancy new job which meant relocating, and thanks to a certain big company not being very .. good, he’s delayed getting back online. We miss him.

Me and Spinks are still playing Archmage and Rune Priest as our mains and enjoying them, finding ways through the Tier 3 slowdown. Spinks has been organising some guild keep takes/defences, while I’ve been knuckling down and getting to grips with mastery specs. If you can bear angst, I might talk more about that also. We’ve also got alts of various levels that might enter the blog at some point.

Guild is going well, it’s big and we’re currently on closed status, but am sure eventually it’ll open. Getting some more officers for what is likely to be an interesting November. I’ll definitely be spending time on Moria, and obviously Lich King will take some people’s attention away from WAR for awhile. So anyway, that’s behind-the-scenes guild stuff. Generally we’re all pretty happy with the guild I think! We’ve got a great bunch of people and there’s always something going on (often spontaneous, sometimes organised).

We’ve run some small roleplay events, claimed our first keep (thankfully the server reset it before we went bankrupt), a little chicken run to explore some areas, a couple of runs through bits of Gunbad with either groups or warbands and many many sets of PQs and scenario groups. Oh, and we’re part of an Alliance!

Order on our server is getting to know one another, and becoming more organised, we have channels set up to discuss open field RvR and it appears to be effective. There’s a roleplay event set up for saturday for guilds to meet up and chat.

Last night I spoke to Zizlak online too, he moonlighted as Order to come say hi. Though we were in the boss fight of a Gunbad wing, so I think I was a bit lame in my responses. Sorry Ziz!

What is Blizzard thinking with WoW PvP?

I’ve been keeping vaguely up to date with the Wrath of the Lich King beta. And because it’s in beta and a lot of decisions still aren’t set in stone, I never thought there was much point pontificating too much on their plans. But what they are planning with PvP and the PvP gear right now puzzles me a lot.

Currently you can run battlegrounds (like scenarios in WAR) and earn honor points from them which you can spend to get gear. You can run arena (a totally separate ladder system based on 2/3/5 man group deathmatches in small arenas) and get a different set of arena points which you can spend to get better gear. Some pieces can only be bought with honor gear.

Arena can be much more of a hardcore prospect, battlegrounds can be queued for solo (like scenarios, you get put into a raid group when you zone in) so can be more casual.

They had originally planned to wipe all of the honor and arena points when the new expansion hit so that people couldn’t save them up and use them later to buy level 80 PvP gear. The idea being that everyone started with a blank slate and would be running battlegrounds together. Which is not a bad plan. Then due to screams of overreaction, they decided instead to leave the existing points but heavily inflate the prices for the level 80 gear, whilst giving out more points at level 80. So effectively doing the same thing but letting people keep ‘their’ points, even though they’ll be mostly worthless.

So far so good. But then Kalgan (one of the Lead Game Designers) posts this on the forums. And here he sets out their plans very clearly. There will be craftable gear for people starting out in PvP to use in battlegrounds. But all the better quality gear will require both arena points and battleground points. So the casual players who ran a few battlegrounds for fun will be pushed into arena if they want to upgrade, and the arena players will have to run battlegrounds.

See this is exactly what I mean about giving players the illusion of choice. If I hate arena (and a lot of people do, it’s very different from queueing up for Alterac Valley when you’re bored and have a free moment) then why force me to do it? And in PvP, the quality of your gear directly affects your survivability which affects your FUN. It really isn’t fun to be rolled the whole time by people with better gear. In the current system, although the arena gear is better, the stuff you can get from battlegrounds is still good. So there are effectively 2 upgrade paths. They don’t plan to do this in the expansion.

Kalgan’s comment:

That aside, it is important for me to point out that the arenas were never really meant to become quite as much of a focal point for the overall pvp game as they have (part of why we set the system up so players could get the full benefit from the system with only 10 total games per week), it’s more of a natural consequence of the fact that because we have a way to measure success that feels reasonably balanced against pve, we’re able to put high-end items there, which on its own creates the focus of importance.

So arenas weren’t planned to be so dominant but they’re going to go with it anyway. He has no answer for people who hate arena and liked battlegrounds for their casual-friendly nature except ‘get skills, noob!’. I’m reading this and thinking about how much fun I’ve had with PvP in WAR, and I’m sad to see a good game like WoW deliberately make itself unfun in that aspect.

About last night (with tips!)

About scenario queuing, if you haven’t read it already all over the WAR blogs, and some of my guildmates hadn’t last night. You can now queue for all scenarios across a tier from anywhere in that tier. Simply open the queuing button and use arrows at the top to select which scenarios to queue for. Or all of them. (NB: There’s also an addon out there that will auto-queue you for all available scenarios, but be warned I think it only queues you solo and also flags you for RvR)

We used it last night to select only our favourite ones from the Tier 3 melange, and that was fairly successful. I suppose because Order are in a minority (do we have a server yet where Order outnumbers Destruction?) we get to be a bit picky with our scenarios. I think I’m mad cos I actually like some of the ones that seem to favour Destruction, but last night we stuck with a couple and I finally got to play the Cemetery. It’s not bad at all, but at the end of the evening, scenario healing definitely gets harder.

What else did we do? Ah yes, discovered that open field RvR might not be the best thing to do in-between queuing for scenarios. And had a starter roleplay event for the guild in Altdorf, which started at Sigmar’s Hammer (yay, Burlok’s Altdorf got to rank 2 at the weekend) and moved to the Blowhole so we could start a real live barroom brawl (a few times, as it happens).

Was a nice mix of an evening, the roleplay reminded me I enjoy being in-character even though I don’t do accents and assume everyone can inject Northernness to my phrasing (kind of dumb, since I lived in Yorkshire for 5 years so could manage the dialect just fine if I stopped to think about it), but I prefer to get my message across. So with the promise of more roleplay, we went our separate ways. Good times.

And because I mentioned Sigmar’s Hammer and this started with a tip, I’ll end with a tip. Go to Sigmar’s Hammer, head to Quartermaster and buy a scroll of recall¬†(whatever it’s called). Go upstairs and check the flightmaster – you can fly to anywhere from Sigmar’s and you can now port to Sigmar’s from anywhere for 30 brass. Just remember the scroll disappears when used and doesn’t stack (though you can buy more than one) so buy one everytime you port there.

So How’s that Cloning Working Out?

MagnusK runs down some points on how well the cloned servers are working out in the EU. GOA only cloned the servers a couple of days ago so it may be too soon to expect the dust to have settled yet. As of now, perhaps unsurprisingly, most people have chosen to stay on their (over)full server.

He also comments that they’re not planning to force people to roll specific factions (eg. by stopping character creation on any realms) but that there are incentive plans in the works to encourage new players to pick the servers/sides that need more people. He also notes that free transfers are a service they eventually plan to offer.

You’re never alone with a clone

Now it’s the EU servers’ turn to get some clones! This means that some of the servers are going to be copied (right down to every character and every content of every bank vault) and players who had a character on the old one can then decide which of the clones they wish to play on, without losing their characters.

Details are here.

The cloned servers will be as follows:

Karak Eight Peaks will be cloned to Tor Anroc
Karak Azgal will be cloned to Zhufbar
Karak Hirn will be cloned to Yvresse
Eltharion will be cloned to Tiranoc

Amusingly, my test Witch Elf from yesterday’s post is now going to be a clone. I hope the Order guys are as scared as I am.

Life in the RP Lane

We decided one of the ways to give you all a glimpse into the Roleplay server was to keep some anecdotes of RP episodes we’d enjoyed. Not giving conversations, but moments when we realised we were very happy with our server choice. So, here’s a few quick clips into life on the Roleplay¬†server.

Today I had my first roleplaying encounter in game. I was up early and was polishing off a quest that needed me to kill some NPC witch elves in a Public Quest area. I saw another Archmage there too, so we teamed up. And when she joined the group, she greeted me with, “Hello, sister.” (No, it wasn’t Arbitrary.) We had a brief in character (IC) chat and then got on with the business of killing witch elves. It was going well so we went on to duo the second stage of that PQ before parting ways.

Fortunately it’s easy to RP a High Elf. Just be vaguely polite to other HElves, vaguely snotty to everyone else (to some of us this comes naturally), and no one minds if you use cheesy fantasy expressions and say ‘Aye’ instead of yes.

A couple of us hardy dwarf lasses were out fighting in Mount Bloodhorn, slaying Dog Soldiers left and right while scavenging their corpses and butchering their hounds. We were staying fairly in-character, except for me noting on guild chat that we looked like a pair of mini-Valkyries. But we did.

Along came a lone male dwarf a couple of ranks lower than us. He was bravely slaying bandits on his own, so with a hearty ‘hello’, we invited him to join in and participated in a little Dwarf Roleplay, mostly to do with death, destruction, gold and beer. I enjoyed it. It was just enough for me to feel part of the setting, but it didn’t stunt my ability to say I didn’t think we could do stage 2 of the PQ we were in. In fact, I just didn’t say it. And we got very very close to doing the stage!

Another time, a group from the guild decided to tackle some Public Quests in Troll Country and we quickly got together a group to do so. As we started slaying the undead with great righteousness, we spotted another group. They hailed us in Sigmar’s name, and we quickly slipped into roleplay mode, from our usual chit-chat in-party. After rather easily completing the quest, the other group suggested we merge and go attack the local Destruction-held Keep. All in roleplay terms. In fact, just when a couple of us were asking privately how to describe some aspect in a roleplay way, one of the other group would manage it perfectly. Phrases that will stick in my mind for the next time I want to inject some in-character-ness to my RvR.