A “massively online game” is a game with a large enough population that there will be some requirement to distribute processing work and some form of shared, persistent state that is going to make distribution non-trivial.
WWIIOL is a big empty PvP sandbox with a shared world-state and a single, shared, resource (supply of equipment). Elite Dangerous is technically just a multi-player, map-based shoe box (star systems are sharded dynamically) but it has a single, shared, supply economy… Both are “massively” by the technical definition.
People have been making “massively” games, then, since 1988 (AirWarrior) at least. Many of the same problems have persisted across the development process since. But it seems that, today, there are still people stepping over that threshold in denial and breaking themselves in the process.
There are two main ways you can flop across the finish line, whether you’re a new startup or an established and successful developer…
I’m unsure whether to write a long, rambling rant about my observations of ED, trying to explain and expound, or whether just to cut to the brutal chase. Today is my birthday so I’m going to treat myself to a short brutal vent.
Frontier have released a decent number of games and they’ve done OK in the console/pc box game market.
Elite Dangerous is the first Elite to leave the hallowed ground of single player, and it’s skipping simple campaign / self-hosted co-op and going straight to sharded MMO. And I see all the warning signs of a box-game dev team making the mistake of thinking they have a clue about how to develop an MMO.
1. They’re referring to the current state as “beta” when it is clearly “alpha”. Unfortunately, the terms have their meanings kind of fixed, and people draw conclusions based on them. Including the engineers etc working on the product (“What comes after beta? Pay!”)
2. They seem to have selected Web Forums as the primary means of communicating with players. Perhaps they have secretly discovered that the 12 years or so of evidence that this does not work only applies to games developed in the US? But click that link and compare the number of posts in “Elite: Dangerous General” – just the one forum – with the older frontier game forums which represent games that have been out for years.
3. Any MMO dev who plays the game and loiters in the forums briefly for a week or so will know in their bones that nobody is “watching” the beta, certainly not any of the important metrics, stats etc, and since they are clearly competent at single player games, you can only conclude that it’s because they just haven’t got a clue that they should be.
4. There is no evidence of QA.
I’m just going to skip straight to the conclusion I’ve drawn from years of experience applied to filtering/processing what I see in their forums, in their patches, etc.
Frontier are working this exactly like a single player game would be shipped, with the addition of forums to handle the online community.
I’ve been an Elite fan for a long time, so naturally I backed the kick starter.
Since I’m in the middle of seeking new employment, I’m not getting a great deal of time to play, but you may see me flying around as ‘kfsone’ if you too are trying to beta.
So I’m back on the job market. Lots of ideas and inspiration from my time at Blizzard, a really great place to work. No, I won’t tell you. I already have a few job apps out, and I’m trying to stick to the US west coast and gaming.
I’ve been in the games industry proper for near 12 years now, and while that’s where I’m going to look first, I’m going to be open to possibilities back in the real world.
Right now I’m toying with the idea of a C++-centric code templator I’m thinking of calling “C” (C-squared); something that can handle trivial cases like “take this list of words and generate an enum statement and an array of strings” to the ability to generate multiple complex code modules from shared definitions.
Still trying to rescue one of my virtual machines on my ESXi 5.5 blade that I erroneously upgraded to 5.5 virtual hardware (which prevents you from using the vSphere client to edit settings any more). I finally got an evaluation vCenter running, only to find: you can’t use vCenter to manage a free ESXi host. Even if you pay $6k for vCenter, it can’t manage a free vSphere host.
I continue to be impressed at just how customer-hostile VMWare manage to be.
Step 1: Give all products vague and conflicting names (VMware vCenter Server requires VMware vSphere Client to access),
Step 2: Make every feature a product rather than having products with licensable features, because that was cool in 1995, damnit,
Step 3: Instead of hiring copy/technical writers for your web site, make instructional videos that are approximately related to something vaguely within a a page or two of of the link you clicked on.
I just watched what appeared to be the “omg you want this” promo for vCenter, and it was all about how the client is now web-based which can now do a search, and you can do other stuff while it searches and go back to the search. Seriously, the entire video was in the context of “sure, there’s other stuff to click, but look – we can go back to our search!”
What brought this on? I have an old SuperMicro server blade that hosts my Ubuntu apt-cache and Windows server, and I thought I’d try upgrading my ESXi from 5.0 to something newer. Even though the blade has stock e1000s, when I upgrade to 5.1 or 5.5, they kinda quit working, and you have to dig down into VMware forums to find a link that basically says “force it to reinstall the 5.0 drivers using magic shenanigans”.
Then I got shanghai’d with 5.5 – it’s still free but they’re cutting off access to the “vSphere Client” you use to manage it, and I upgraded the “virtual hardware” on one of my machines, It paused for a while so I went to click again, exactly as a dialog appeared with the “OK” button directly under my mouse.
This was presumably the dialog that was mean’t to warn me that upgrading the virtual hardware would lock me in to requiring vCenter Server to change settings on the server in future.
And now that server won’t boot because the mac address conflicts with something. So I wanted to install the vCenter Server trial, I think. So I follow the link that the old vSphere client provides and … I have no damn clue what this is that I’m installing.
The website is just a mess. It’s harder to shop for a specific product than it is to find a decent Windows 8 tablet (ka-ching).
Well played, VMware, well played. I’ve left your site feeling dazed and confused and with a strong desire to buy shares in Microsoft…
I’m left confused, annoyed, angry and also confused.
In a nutshell: They took what they’d developed in previous games, streamlined it to make room for scope (more side games etc) and shipped a game which did nothing really well.
The game spends more time tipping it’s hat than a fez-wearing Doctor Who bobble head, as a result, none of the side collections were engaging and the overall story line was very shallow and lackluster, the plot is it’s own synopsis.
During my play through, all kinds of things bothered me about the game as an experienced developer; it smacked of too-many-cooks and too-many-new-recipes. So when I finished the story, I let the end-credits run. Oh. My. Goodness. What is that – 8 minutes? 10 minutes? Of steady scroll?
It’s not the run time of the credits but the sheer headcount. Firstly it makes it much, much harder to deliver a cohesive story across all the little details when you have so many people. The bigger problem is the amount of time that must have been spent in meetings.
Why did they need so many people? Localization for one part, but also because they broadened the scope of the game. My personal take is that they were unsuccessful: you don’t get to say “I made an omelette” just because you put 12 eggs into a pan and applied heat.
From a gameplay perspective, the first AC game was tedious and bland, dull, repetitive. It was the story telling that sold it. ACIV’s gameplay is less honed and less nuanced than Revelations and the story telling is abysmal.
Seriously – one portion of the lore you can collect is done in the form of audio tapes. Long, drawn out voice acting sessions, which didn’t really contribute anything for me. They have no video component, which just makes them feel cheap/lazy. One set are letters from Desmond – which had less value to them than eating the box your cheerios come in – but which came with a written transcript so you could skip the tedious reading. The other set are audio-transcripts that you can’t pause without resetting and have no written transcript.
If AC IV is a taste of AC to come, I for one have left the target audience.