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“New Class3 Details Emerge” or “A Post-Apocalyptic World to Warm my Heart”

February 13, 2012 1 comment

I have mentioned once or twice that I love the post-apocalyptic genre. Fallout, Left 4 Dead, Metro 2033, Gears of War, Rage, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are all examples of games that have a deep and lasting impact on me, simply because they are set in a desperate world with humanity’s survival is very much at stake. But even within this genre, games like Fallout, Gears of War and Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. don’t carry the same weight because you are in control of a trained soldier, someone with the means and weaponry to make short work of anything in his or her path.

The sub-genre I particularly enjoy is more along the lines of the Left 4 Dead series, because you can relate to it better. The characters weren’t space marines on steroids, or genetically cultured to be superior, or armed to the teeth with the latest fancy weaponry and equipment. They were ordinary people, armed with ordinary weapons, and an extraordinary willpower to survive the madness that had consumed their world. Recently I logged into both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 servers, and I was sorely disappointed to see that a very limited number of people (1,647 at peak hours) were playing the game, and finding a new game was an exercise in futility.

For sometime now, I have been following the paper-thin trail of information crumbs that keeps coming out of UndeadLabs and their upcoming zombie world. Dubbed Class3 and Class4, the two are respectively a single-player game and an MMO based in a world that has been overrun by zombies. The game (series?) has a very particular Left 4 Dead vibe to it, with a few additional twists.

First, the game focuses on four key elements in the survival game: food, water, shelter and ammo. You will need to ransack stores, houses and other locations for supplies. Patching yourself with a medical kit will not be all you need to survive. You will need nourishment. Walking around in the open-world (and yes it is an open world) all the time is ill-advised and you should always have some form of a shelter. Said shelter can be fairly flimsy or very well-defended, and you can take steps to further improve its standing, such as board up windows etc. Ammo will also be rare, and you will need plenty of it to survive the copious amounts of zombies that the game will relentlessly throw at you.

Second, the action is supposed to be very fluid and dynamic. You can jump over fences, skid, dodge, slide, jump onto cars, drive the same car to mow down some zombies. The gameplay is highly action oriented, so don’t expect to comp in a corner, cover your 90-degree arc and fire away until kingdom come. It just won’t work.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, both Class3 and Class4 feature a “dynamic” world. I say this with a word of caution and advise you to take this with a grain of salt, because this claim has been made countless times, but never fully realized. A dynamic world in which your actions will affect how the world responds to you. New challenges may emerge, or emerging threats may be nipped in the bud, depending on your actions. We’ll see about that.

Just today, I also came across a new set of Q&A for the game. And it has some interesting pieces of information:

  • There are no loading screens anywhere in the open world, all indoor environments can be entered and seamlessly so.
  • There is a barricading-your-shelter component that can help increase your chances for surviving.
  • There is no split-screen in Class3.
  • They are working on some crazy-hard achievements. I think.
  • Vehicles are very precious assets, maintaining them and using them to your advantage can be critical (or critically fatal).
  • They are using CryEngine3, oooooh, pretty.
  • There are no “mutated” zombies. They used to be people, and in their infected form, they are still recognizably so, without gaining supernatural abilities.
  • It will be out when it’s done. Bitch.

I am excited. The game is being developed for consoles and with DUST 514 also in the works, it appears the next step in the MMO evolution will be on consoles.

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Categories: Class3, Class4, Preview, Sandbox

“What MMOs Can Learn From Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” or “The Themepark vs. Sandbox Debate Continues”

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Part of an ongoing series; previous entries:

An Iterative Process of Improvement

I recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I have played every major game in the series and each successive iteration continues to build upon the strengths of the one prior, while (attempting to) eliminate the flaws. As I mentioned before in the mini-review, the biggest improvement is the combat. The first two games required you to passively sit there, waiting for your opponent to strike and then time a counter to kill him instead, and over the course of time that became very frustrating. I especially hated the penultimate battles of Assassin’s Creed II. It took forever to wipe out a group of guards because all you had to go on was counter-kills. Brotherhood changed that up by introducing execution streaks, where once you got a kill, either by counter-killing or aggressively chain-attacking, you could chain that into a series of potentially endless moves that would offensively dispatch your foes around you. There is nothing more satisfying than taking out seven or eight guards in a row without any of them having stood of chance of so much as attacking you, let alone harming you.

I am beginning to go off-topic. My point is that each game was better than it’s predecessor, and Brotherhood was no exception. I was very pleasantly surprised by the improvements and thoroughly enjoyed the game, especially considering this latest installments was designed with a completion obsessive compulsive player in mind. It’s like Christmas came early!

Optional Quest Objectives

One of the cool new things brotherhood introduced was the choice of completing the mission in a very linear manner, the way the game intends, or using your own ingenuity to tackle the problem. If you follow what the game wants you to do exactly, which, at times, can be quite difficult, you get 100% synchronization with the Animus. if you don’t follow the optional objective and play it out the way you felt like it, you got only 50% synchronization.

A few days prior, I made a post in which I gave an example of having variable quest objectives to make the world feel more natural. In short, what if the NPC you interacted with asked you to kill as many mobs as you could to help the town against <insert antagonist faction> invasion. You can kill one, or two, or five or twenty, and you are given quest rewards, experience and currency based on how many mobs you killed. A commenter pointed out that grinding the mobs will likely be the most desirable solution, so most players will gravitate towards the option with the most rewards, and as such quest designer wouldn’t consider such a system. The feasibility of this idea merits another conversation, suffice it to say that quest structure in MMOs (in my humble opinion) needs an overhaul. We have the technology (such as phasing), we have the hardware, and we have the colossal development teams. Yet no one has been able to crack the formula of putting every last player through precisely the same content with little variation.

One thing that Brotherhood does, and does quite well, is the concept of optional 100% synchronization. You are sent on an assassination mission. You can kill your target in a wide variety of ways. You can attack him with brute force, tearing down everything around you to get to him. You can use a ranged weapon. You can methodically wipe out all the guards in the area, till there is no one left but him. You have the freedom of choice. But if you want the “additional reward” of 100% synchronization, you must kill him while blended into the crowd, sitting on a bench, and you must assassinate the target without being detected.

The 50% synchronization scenario is much easier to execute and requires little thinking on the player’s part, but it doesn’t reward you as well. The 100% synchronization takesĀ  planning, time and solid execution, but rewards you much better.

I think this is something MMOs can learn from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Give players the option of completing the quest objectives any way they see fit (the sandbox paradigm), or in the exact manner you intend, which would be tougher and most time-costly (the theme-park paradigm). Purists will of course argue that this inevitably favors the theme-park side of things. But let us not forget that the theme-park oriented solution requires additional planning, time and coordination. I personally feel that this will give more flexibility to the game, in terms of giving players, who already feel that their entire experience is too on-rails, the freedom of choice for solving their quest objectives. The only people who will be forced to follow the 100% synchronization, there-park oriented path will be obsessive compulsive completionists like me, and I am quite OK with that!

Thoughts on the idea?

P.S.

Bonus discussion question: What if the rewards could vary, not necessarily get better or worse, with how you complete the quest objectives?

Thought of the Day: “Sandboxing the Themepark” or “Themeparking the Sandbox”

December 4, 2010 2 comments

With all the debate about whether themepark of sandbox MMOs are better, what if someone were to create a title where you could control your experience? You could actually choose if you wanted it to be completely on-rails from glitzy start to epic finish, or if you wanted to go off of the beaten path, either altogether, or in small doses. Would that shut everyone up?

Categories: Sandbox, Themepark