Posts Tagged ‘World of Warcraft’
Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
What is a leader? A century ago, we might have said, “He’s the boss, the man in charge.” Back then, most people did routine jobs and needed someone in charge to tell them what to do.
We are in the 21st Century now; times and people have changed. Most of us are skillful and well educated. We know how to do our jobs, and for the most part, we enjoy doing them. We don’t need bosses – We need leaders.
There is a parallel in fantasy games. When we created Quest for Glory, the Warrior had a simple role. He was strong, good with weapons, well armored, and perhaps not too bright.
Those times are no more. In the School for Heroes, the Fighter has become the Warrior who leads others to greatness. In MMO (massively multiplayer online) games like World of Warcraft, the fighter has become the ‘tank.’ A tank has more responsibility than anyone else on the team.
Tanks have five main responsibilities: They need to lead by example, inspiring the rest of their team. They need to survive and overcome injury and other setbacks. They need to act as the first line of defense, protecting the other team members. They need to divide the opposition so that the party never faces more than it can handle. And most of all, they need to encourage and support their team so that everyone does their jobs well.
In other words, a great tank must be a leader.
Here are some lessons that every good tank – and every good leader – needs to know.
Lead by Example
The best tanks know their own role thoroughly and understand the abilities of the other players. They don’t tell another player how to play, but they provide clear direction so that everyone works together. They choose which targets should be “crowd-controlled” (stunned, put to sleep, trapped, etc.) and which should be the first “kill targets”. Then they focus on their own job and trust the rest of the team to play their roles.
The best leaders are right there in the trenches with their troops, doing their own jobs competently and effectively. They give general direction without trying to micro-manage every task. They act more like knowledgeable co-workers than bosses, and the people working with them can see that the leader is right there working hard. When someone on the team has a question, the leader answers promptly and concisely.
Take a Lickin’, But Keep On Tickin’
The tank’s main job is to stand up under fire. He might be able to withstand four or five enemies better than anyone else in the party can handle one. The other players will do their jobs better if they know they are safe. This role starts with good equipment and character abilities, but continues with skillful timing and play. Is a big attack coming? Then use a mitigation talent. Is that attack a powerful area effect? Then move out of the area! Don’t just stand there and stress your healer’s ability.
The business equivalents to stamina and mitigation are tenacity, resilience, and flexibility. Is a supplier late with a critical component? Respond by changing the production sequence so that part is needed last. Or temporarily get a substitute from an alternate supplier. Are creditors late with their payments, or are they on Net 60 payment terms? Make sure you have the tenacity of sufficient cash reserves so that you can continue to produce while waiting for payment.
Dance the Masochism Tango
MMO tanks have many ways of attracting the enemy’s attention. They can “taunt”, they can do a sweeping attack that angers everyone, they may be able to daze or stun the enemies for a few seconds, and they can move around so that the rest of the team has a safer area in which to fight. To be a great tank, you have to be a little bit of a masochist – You have to want the enemy to hate you and to hurt you. Why? Because you can handle it, and your teammates aren’t as well equipped to survive a heavy onslaught.
Above all, the tank takes responsibility for everyone’s actions, not just his own. A great leader does that too.
Never forget that your job as the leader tank is to keep everyone else in your organization safe. That means you need clear policies that allow others to take appropriate risks and occasionally fail. They need to know that their jobs are safe (as long as they are effective contributors), and that you are their shield against outside critics and job uncertainty. Let your employees and co-workers know that you trust them and that you “have their backs”. If another manager – or an outsider – criticizes your team, take personal responsibility – Don’t blame the people who work for you. You are the tank – You’re tough and you can take the heat.
An MMO tank is responsible for taking on only what the team can handle. That includes directing crowd control to split up the enemy forces, and “pulling” small groups of enemies so that wandering patrols don’t join them. If you are storming a castle, you will do better if you first take out the sentries one by one than if you charge down the middle yelling, “Leeroy Jenkins!”
A business leader knows what she and her team can handle. She tracks performance and uses the results to plan future projects. She works with the team to break complex jobs into manageable tasks. She lets her team direct the schedule for individual jobs, but she keeps track of the results. If the team is having trouble meeting a milestone, she works with them to renegotiate the schedule and to further divide the tasks so that everyone can meet their goals. When you pull together, everyone on the team wins.
Support the Team
A World of Warcraft player named Jadden from the U.S. Argent Dawn realm posted this wonderful article, “I met an Elitist Tank last night” on the WoW forums. Stop for a minute and read it. Jadden talks about two types of players – the ones who would rather put people down, and those who are willing, ready, and able to help lift them up. A great tank supports the team, encourages players to improve without cutting them down, and makes sure that individual contributions are recognized and encouraged.
I’ve worked with people who believed that all managers suck, and that you just have to keep your head down and try to survive. That isn’t how people accomplish great projects. Real leaders do not tear down their teams and leave them working in fear. The best leaders act as resources and tools to help the team do great work. They listen more than they demand, and they act decisively on what they hear. If the team needs training, the leader arranges it. If their development tools are inadequate, the leader purchases new ones or schedules time and people to create better tools. They don’t say, “If you had any talent or skill, you would get the job done with what you have.” They listen, they learn, and they support the team.
Rule #1: The Players Must Have Fun
It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing an MMO or directing a project team. When everyone is relaxed and enjoying what they’re doing, they will perform better. As the leader, you will have a lot more fun when your team is having fun. The rules of tanking go far beyond the game. You can waste your energy complaining about the idiots around you, or you can transform them into smarter, nicer, and more helpful people. Lead by example. Help them learn to improve their outlook and performance. Being a jerk is self-destructive; helpful people have more fun.
You don’t have to wear plate armor and carry a shield to be a great tank. You just have to want the team to win and work hard to help them get there. Your team members will see the difference. There is nothing quite like hearing, “Tanks for being a leader” from the people you’ve helped to do great work.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
This Sunday is Easter, a time of symbols and traditions. It’s Springtime, and Easter represents hope, new life, fertility, and rebirth. Kids get a few days off school, and families get together to feast and celebrate the joy of life.
As far as children are concerned, the most important traditions of Easter involve chocolate, candy, and a bright pink or yellow Easter Bunny. People decorate colorful hard-boiled eggs which are then hidden about the house and yard by the Easter Bunny (cunningly impersonated by game-loving parents). On Easter Day, the kids scurry around trying to find and collect the eggs. A few eggs were usually hidden too cleverly. The real surprise came from finding these hidden eggs the following Easter. So these days most wise parents substitute hollow plastic eggs with a few jelly beans or chocolate coins inside. Easter is obviously sponsored by the dental industry.
Game Developers like to hide Easter Eggs, too, but they do it in their games. An Easter Egg is a hidden character, place, or event in a game that seems a little odd, hopefully in a humorous way. They can be references to pop culture, history, other games, etc. Sometimes they open additional game play (“secret levels”), but more often they are just there as a reward for observant players.
While Easter Eggs can be distracting, they actually have an important role in improving the quality of a game. I like to describe the “intensity graph” of a game as looking like a roller coaster. The action and intensity build to a peak, then drop down to a more relaxed level before starting to build again. The “low points” of intensity provide contrast for the high points. Without them, a game becomes stressful and less fun. Also, the highs seem higher when there are lows against which to contrast them. An all-action game or movie will not feel as intense as one that gives players/viewers a chance to relax a little between the action scenes. Easter Eggs provide that lull in the action.
Egging on the Clowns
Quest for Glory featured many Easter Eggs, including “mirages” in the desert such as the Persian Golfer (a reference to the Persian Gulf War), the Awful Waffle Walker, and a submarine that showed up in the lake near Spielburg. We also had cameo appearances by such luminaries as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and “Sanford and Son.”
During the development of Trial by Fire, Brian Hughes mentioned that our menu system reminded him of the menus in productivity software such as VisiCalc (one of the early spreadsheet programs). These programs often contained disabled menu items intended for future enhancements, and he suggested that we could have a menu item that did absolutely nothing. Thus was born the “Silly Clowns” menu, originally a feature that had no game effect whatsoever.
We may have lost some of the purity of the idea, but probably made it more fun, when we decided that we could actually do something with a “Silly Clowns” mode. In the production version of Trial By Fire, Harpo Marx only makes his cameo appearance in the alleys of Shapeir when Silly Clowns is active. Some of the death messages have sillier versions too. Since these are totally useless changes, they keep the spirit of the useless menu option.
Brian was also responsible for the “Saurus Repair Shop” Easter Egg in Trial by Fire. This scene had to be cut from the original release because we ran out of disk space. However, AGDI contacted Brian and recreated it for their recent VGA version of the game. Saurus maintenance – not for the faint of heart.
One of the Sierra artists, Jerry Moore, was famous for slipping a Star Trek reference into every game on which he worked. For example, there is a miniature Starship Enterprise on the shelf of the magic shop in Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire. Jerry also added the Maltese Falcon statuette to the treasure room at the end of Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero.
At the time, this was purely an Easter Egg, but Lori decided it would make an interesting plot point for the rest of the series. We put a “black bird” in each game and added a Thief story thread inspired by the movie, “The Maltese Falcon”. It started as an Easter Egg and became a MacGuffin (a plot point object).
Easter Eggs of Azeroth
World of Warcraft is full of Easter Eggs. “Critters” in WoW are small level 1-3 animals that are just there for atmosphere. While wandering through the Grizzly Peaks, I came across an odd group of critters. They were in a group consisting of a deer named “Mother of Bambina”, a small fawn named Bambina, a rabbit named Thudder, and a skunk named Flower. The names are variations on characters from Disney animated films, and the reference could have stopped there, but…
Suddenly I heard a gunshot and saw Mother of Bambina fall. Off to the side appeared a dwarven hunter; I could imagine his gun still smoking. Bambina called out, “NOOOOOO! Mother, we will avenge you!” Then he ran to the hunter and stomped him flat in a single attack, after which the rest of the party wandered off. It’s amazing what a level 1 critter can do to a level 75 hunter, given enough incentive and adrenaline.
There are dozens, hundreds – maybe thousands – of other pop culture references in World of Warcraft including an entire quest chain with character and object names from The Legend of Zelda video game series.
World of Warcraft also has the traditional type of “Easter Egg”. Every year at Easter time (but running late this year), WoW features the Noble Garden festival, which includes having Easter Eggs hidden throughout Azeroth. Inside each egg is a small prize – a few coins, or sometimes a lovely Spring dress. The latter are rare and much sought-after by role-playing ladies and completists. Lori spent most of our first WoW Easter searching for eggs and slaying bandits with her Paladin in Westfall.
Speaking of eggs in Westfall, Alliance players can tame a chicken in Westfall by repeatedly doing a Chicken Dance around it. If they are willing to make themselves look completely ridiculous, they can earn the small reward of a special pet.
There are of course Easter Eggs in many other games besides World of Warcraft and Quest for Glory. We just don’t play very many of them these days. Feel free to comment on this article with some of your favorite Easter Eggs from other games. Here are a few from older games:
Some Sierra games were best known for the many ways the character could die. LucasArt’s Ron Gilbert thought that character death was bad storytelling, so the player character could not die in The Secret of Monkey Island. Except when he falls off a cliff, and a Sierra-style death message pops up: “Oh, no! You’ve really screwed up this time! Guess you’ll have to start over! Hope you saved the game!” A few seconds later, the box disappears and Guybrush bounces back up onto the ledge. He looks towards the camera and explains, “Rubber tree.”
In Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, the main villains are Trebor and Werdna. Try reading those names backwards, knowing that the game authors were Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg.
During development of King’s Quest IV, someone substituted a picture of Roberta Williams topless in a hot tub on the death message screen. The original image came from the cover of Leisure Suit Larry, but was touched up to “add a couple details”. That image lasted almost until the final version, but Roberta made them take it out shortly before the game shipped. Alas.
Diablo is famous for the “Secret Cow Level”. Fan rumors suggested that the original game had such a level, so Blizzard actually added one in Diablo II. You have to play through the entire game, then take a couple of special actions in town, to unlock a game level populated entirely by very aggressive cattle.
Have an Egg-Ceptional Easter!
This Easter, hide some fun for your young (or not-so-young) friends and share some Easter Gaming Goodness. And maybe you can help us find some of those lost eggs from earlier Easters.
So, What Easter Eggs have you found in computer games? We look forward to reading about your favorite game – and real life – Easter egg experiences in the comments.
Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
One of the biggest Black Swan events in history has been the meltdown in the financial sector. Triggered by risky lending practices, unemployment, real estate inflation, and overextended insurance policies (the “Credit Default Swap ” insurance market), the United States is currently undergoing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of 1929-1933.
Games have their own forms of economic disasters. As with combat systems, game developers need to walk a narrow tightrope between giving players too much and not giving them enough. Inflation in gold, equipment, and character abilities is inevitable in a long-running game (either a game series or a massively multiplayer game). Careful designers put a lot of time and effort into balancing game economics so that the game is as fun as possible for most players for as long as possible. This can be done by restricting aspects of the economy, reducing restrictions in other areas to keep things balanced, or by providing bread and circuses so the players are distracted from economic issues.
How to Kill a D&D Campaign
Two of my early Dungeons & Dragons campaigns come to mind when I think about game imbalance. In one game, the beginning dungeon master tried to foreshadow the ultimate battle of the first few months of the game. Unfortunately, players tend to focus on the here and now, so we immediately went after an opponent that should have easily destroyed us. Unwilling to have the campaign end in its first week, the DM had an NPC lend us some powerful magic weapons. Using them, we easily won, nabbed the treasure, and found ourselves equipped with magic that should have come much later in the game. After that immediate gratification, the rest of the game was an anticlimax and soon ended.
In a game that I ran, I had a “Deck of Many Things” as a treasure at the end of the first major dungeon. One player pulled a card that jumped her character 5 experience levels, so we had a party of 2nd and 3rd level adventures with a 6th level Cleric. I could handle it these days, but at the time, I found myself completely unable to balance the fights. Anything that would be a challenge for the Cleric would inevitably kill the rest of the party. The campaign went on for a few more sessions, but then died out because I couldn’t keep it balanced.
Whoever Said That Making Sequels Is Easy?
The Wizardry computer game series ran into this problem. Following the typical RPG trope, players started out as very weak beginning adventurers. They gained spells, abilities, and magic items as the game progressed until they were demigod level by the end of the game. Wizardry 2: The Knight of Diamonds allowed players to import their Wizardry 1 characters and continue the game. While KoD was still a very fun game, there was much less room for variety in the game because the player characters started out at a very high level of power. Unable to keep that going, the authors set Wizardry 3: The Legacy of Llylgamyn a generation later, so that players created new characters and began again as beginning adventurers. Wizardry 4 had a nice twist – You play as the evil Werdna, trapped by the goody-goody adventures from Wizardry 1, and have to escape from your own dungeon … starting again as a weak character with few powers.
Dungeon Master had similar problems when they created a sequel that continued where the first game left off. Lori and I loved Dungeonmaster on the Atari ST and spent many hours exploring it. We barely got past the first section of Dungeon Master 2 – It was just too difficult and stressful to be fun.
We kept these lessons in mind when we planned the Quest for Glory series. We intentionally masked the limits of the skill system by putting skills on a 0-100 scale. We figured that players would assume it was a percentile system and that 100 was the highest possible. However, we knew that we would be setting the limit to 200 in the second game, 300 in the 3rd game, and so on. Instead of letting the player wield godlike power by the end of the first game, we gave him a few abilities that would be equivalent to 1st, 2nd, or perhaps 3rd level spells in D&D. That left plenty of room for improvement in the later games.
Despite that, we still had issues with inflation. We had to balance the combat and puzzles so that a player who started in the second game had a character comparable to that of a player who imported her character from the first game. We tried to keep the game fun and challenging for all character skill levels, encouraging the player to practice skills, but not absolutely requiring it. There were flaws in this process. I think that by the 3rd game in the series, many players found it boring to repeatedly throw rocks until they had a high enough throwing skill to win a spear throwing contest, and so on. We relaxed the “practice makes perfect” requirement in the last two games to try to cut down on the tedium. Of course, in doing so, we also reduced the challenge for players who really wanted tough fights.
Oh Yeah, About That Gold
You might find it strange that I’m deeply into a post on economics and so far haven’t even mentioned money. While gold and silver are the most obvious economic systems in games, there are really multiple economies at work. I’ve mentioned character skills. There is also learning curve inflation – where a player gets so good at the game it stops being challenging – character abilities, equipment, pun tolerance, combat and experience points, and several other reward and challenge systems. If any reward comes to easily, it loses its value to the player. If it becomes too difficult, players become frustrated and might stop trying to get the reward.
In the original Bard’s Tale, no character class had a healing spell until (if I remember correctly) level 3. It was also possible to meet very dangerous enemies with your level 1 party, and it was difficult to earn silver. As a result, almost all of the characters’ money was spent on healing and resurrection spells at the temple. Most players ended up “cheating” by creating mule characters, adding them to the party, transferring all their money, then deleting the characters. Players had to work around the game system because the economy was too stingy.
World of Warcraft and similar massively-multiplayer games probably have the hardest time with inflation and balancing the budget. WoW has been running for over 4 years now, and many of the players have become jaded; it’s difficult to find any reward system that will keep them playing the game. Blizzard has relaxed many of the rules that originally created a tight economy because they know that long-time players don’t want to put in as much work for rewards that will soon be superseded. (Oh, and I learned how to spell “supersede” a long time ago in a Superboy comic book. Lana Lang became suspicious of a Clark Kent impersonator because he mistakenly spelled it “supercede”. Never let it be said that reading comic books is a waste of time – at least not all the time!) Dungeons that used to require long and arduous “attunements” before characters could enter them were opened to all players. This has allowed a lot of players in “second tier” guilds to experience content that they would otherwise never see (see The Burning Crusade paragraph below).
Blizzard initially made a number of good decisions to keep their economies balanced. Rewards for slaying monsters and completing quests were scaled throughout the game, so that each level of player tended to have just a little less money than they needed to buy everything they wanted. Blizzard also restricted magic items by giving them a minimum level for use and “soul binding” them – Once a character has equipped a magic item, it can no longer be traded to other characters. More powerful items are “bind on pickup”, which means that only the character who first picks up the item can ever equip it. These decisions meant that a player with a rich level 60 character couldn’t create a new character and have it instantly become much more powerful than its level.
WoW also keeps players involved by holding special events, often tied to seasonal or “real world” events. During the Olympic Games in China, participants in the battlegrounds became “competitors” and earned special tabards. Winning a battleground gave players a chance to win a “Spirit of Competition”, a Chinese Dragon pet that had no game purpose except to look cool. Other “critter pets” include the Invisible Wolpertinger, a jackalope-like creature that you can supposedly only see when you’re drunk, the Baby Murloc that was only made available to attendees of the first live BlizzCon convention, and many others. The rarer ones are highly prized; some are sold for hundreds of real dollars on eBay.
Black Swans Invade a World of Orcs
There was at least one “Black Swan” phenomenon in WoW that might have been obvious to Blizzard, but caught me totally by surprise. Prior to the release of The Burning Crusade expansion, characters were “capped” at level 60. Unlike in Everquest, where the maximum level was a goal attained by few, a high percentage of World of Warcraft players got to level 60 with their characters. In order to keep them active and interested, Blizzard provided a large amount of content designed specifically for level 60 characters. This included the three major “raid dungeons” – The Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, and Naxxramas – that required guilds to put together well-balanced teams of 40 players at a time to have any chance of success. Most of the big World of Warcraft guilds were structured entirely around the raid dungeons.
The Burning Crusade changed that dynamic entirely. Players who had spent a year or more at level 60 raiding the dungeons or fighting against other Level 60 players in battlegrounds now found themselves doing quests and exploring 5-player dungeons again. In order to encourage players to buy the expansion and try out the new Outlands content, Blizzard greatly increased the availability of gold and the power level of magical weapons and armor in the new environment. Instead of the level 60 raid dungeons gradually becoming phased out, they were all abandoned the day TBC launched. With 20-20 hindsight, we can see that much the same thing will happen with all of the level 70 dungeons after Wrath of the Lich King launches. A few guilds may visit one or two of them for nostalgia, but they will soon be entirely abandoned as players focus on reaching level 80, exploring the new dungeons, and find more powerful items than they could get from the level 70 dungeons.
Overnight, the big raid guilds splintered. Nobody had any interest in struggling for hours in a level 60 raid dungeon to have a small chance of winning an item only slightly (if at all) better than what they could find in a 5-man dungeon in Outland. Some guilds set up teams of 5 players to work together to “beat” the dungeon content and get “attunements” to the new level 70 raid dungeons and heroic-mode dungeons. Many of the guilds collapsed, because the 40-man raid dynamic was what had provided the social environment that held them together. Others survived by emphasizing role-playing or by working together to make sure that everyone in the guild could find fellow adventurers when they needed them. The entire gameplay for most of the players altered.
The Bird’s-Eye View
How do you balance a multiplayer game? Step 1 is to make good initial decisions. Always be aware of the dangers of a runaway economy and build balances and restrictions into the game. Step 2 is to create simulators. Set up test cases for characters of various levels (or skill development for a non-level-based game) and earned or purchased equipment. Run simulations of combats and other quest activities with them to see if the better-equipped characters are overwhelmingly powerful. If so, make adjustments. Step 3 is to put the systems into the hands of beta test players and play testers. Separate them into groups and present different rules to each group. Then keep the ones that are most successful. Finally, pay attention to your players once the game goes live. Gamemasters and community managers can observe the players to see if they’re having fun and where they’re getting frustrated. If there’s too much money in the economy, find things they can spend it on that give them marginal improvements. If there isn’t enough, introduce new quests or other activities that make it easier to earn money. If all else fails, release an expansion.
More than anything else, game balance is what makes or breaks a computer game. Creating and maintaining well-balanced economic systems for gold, equipment, character skills, tension vs. reward, and other aspects of games is essential to creating games that last. Keeping a game balanced while half the players are trying to find ways to unbalance it is one the most challenging tasks faced by game designers and developers. As Julia Ecklar wrote in her song Crane Dance, “Balance is to understand the crane while it’s in flight.” Cranes and black swans – Look at game economies from a bird’s eye view. You’d be bird brained not to.
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) discusses rare, unpredictable, and catastrophic events that – after the fact – people say, “Oh, it was obvious that was going to happen.” The current government intervention into the U.S. banking system definitely qualifies as a Black Swan.
Unemployment statistics understate the real issue, since they do not generally include “discouraged workers” who have given up on trying to find work. As unemployment has grown, people have been unable to make their mortgage payments. That’s what is really meant by “high-risk” mortgages – Lending to people who lose their jobs.
The CDS, or Credit Default Swap, is a new type of financial instrument within the last 10-15 years. Companies insure lenders against customers who default on loans. The problem with CDS’s is that they are based on averages. That leaves the insurers (such as AIG) unprepared for catastrophic Black Swan levels of default. The current CDS market is estimated at $55,000,000,000,000 – that’s $55 TRILLION. CDS’s allowed a lot of lenders to overextend themselves with risky loans because they were insured. That didn’t help when the insurers couldn’t cover the losses.
This article was written by Corey and illustrated by Lori. Mojo is Lori’s Troll Beastmaster in the World of Warcraft game who is the proud owner of a baby Murloc.