Category Archives: Vanguard

Five Things Other Games Should Copy From Vanguard

Now that Vanguard is gone (except maybe for an emulator version), the question is: what stays behind? I think there are a couple of very well-designed aspects of Vanguard, and I hope some games will pick them up eventually:

The offensive/defensive target split. This is such a small but immensely useful innovation. It’s easily the thing I want to see every single MMO have. There is no excuse not to. Being able to target an enemy for offensive actions and, at the same time, an ally or yourself for beneficial effects makes so much sense. From the top of my hat, I can think of only one other game that has this, and that’s TSW. (Oh, there are probably more, no question.) Which is probably the reason why TSW also does a second thing well that I first saw properly done in Vanguard:

Offensive healers. Healing by using split damage/heal attacks. Healing by leeching. Without an offensive/defensive target split, the only way to do this is use abilities that are more or less intelligent about who to heal, or by giving AoE heals. Both of these don’t make for very compelling gameplay, and it’s one of the downfalls of RIFT’s Chloromancer in that respect. A special mention goes to the Disciple, one of my greatest loves in class concepts. A class who heals by hitting the enemy in the face from melee range, that worked? Yes place.

Modular Bard songs. These days, many games don’t even have proper bards. Both RIFT’s and FFXIV’s bard are merely slightly specialized DPS. You keep doing DPS normally, and just get a few fig leave abilities that are classified “songs”. Vanguard, in contrast, didn’t have song abilities. Instead, you learned parts of songs, and you composed your own abilities by combining sections into songs. Need some healing? Stack some healing verses and add a cleanse bridge. Traveling? Run speed stanza and levitate coda. And so on. I think the Necromancer had similar modular abilities to create undead from body parts, but I never played one.

Deep crafting. I’ll admit, I never got far into crafting, because I got confused by the building process. It also was a bit too grindy for my taste. But we know from games like EVE that complicated, deep crafting can work, and I’d prefer to see that over the half-assed “must level to cap making 1000 chestplates of uselessness to collect buff ability” route that some games go.

My last point is diplomacy. Again, the implementation in Vanguard lent itself to grinding, and the interface made the whole thing much more cumbersome than it should have been. A deck manager in which you could’ve saved a few decks to switch between would’ve gone a long way. What I liked about diplomacy was that it allowed you to place a lot of side content and information into the game. Just by listening to and convincing people, you could learn a lot about NPC characters, personal affections and grudges, alliances and enmities, and so on. It was a great “downtime” game.

Those are my five. Do you have some aspects that you really liked about Vanguard and would love to see in other games?

Mea culpa

In late 2006, for the first time in almost 18 months, I looked around for other games again. WoW had enchanted me for longer than any other game, even more than Diablo II had done in its day. But the vanilla age slowly came to an end, and the resizing of raid forces led to an unsavory fallout in my first guild, which collapsed over the fights of whom to keep and whom to kick. An exceptionally long honeymoon was over.

It was in that situation that I came across a game which promised so many things and sounded like it could be all that WoW was to me, just better. Harder and more group content at all levels, huge continents to explore, no PvP (or none to speak of) to influence PvE balancing… and, what was that? A melee healer who healed through dealing damage? I was intrigued. Vanguard had caught my interest. Sure, I read how the game still had quite a few bugs and how you needed a high-end computer to run it well. But that didn’t worry me too much. My computer at that time was pretty decent, and bugs? Oh well, I had seen my share of bugs in WoW. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

I couldn’t get into the closed beta because I was too late for that, so I spent my time reading Silky Venom and some other community sites. The people were so excited! They couldn’t wait. And I couldn’t either. I decided that this game would be the next big thing. Maybe not as big as WoW; even back then, I didn’t trust the people who claimed it would be the legendary “WoW killer”. And why would it have to be? It would be for the “real MMO gamers”, like those that played Everquest back in the day, a game for people like the guys (and occasional girl) in my old guild who had told nostalgic stories of the good old days of MMO gaming. And after all, Vanguard was made by the same person who had designed Everquest! I preordered the collector’s edition.

Vanguard's Collector's Edition goodies: cloth map, sound track, art book, the whole lot. That box had been collecting dust on my shelf and not been opened for a couple of years by this point, I think.

Vanguard’s Collector’s Edition goodies: cloth map, sound track, art book, the whole lot. That box had been collecting dust on my shelf and not been opened for a couple of years by this point, I think.

Naturally, I was in for quite a shock. When I got my open beta access, I immediately rolled a Kurashasa disciple. But what was that? Instead of an open, free world, I was stuck in what looked like a gaudy space ship with faux gold applied everywhere! I mostly went through claustrophobic hallways and used teleporters to travel around. This was not what I had signed up for! From chat, I learned that this was just the starter zone, so I decided to ride it out. Sure enough, I eventually made it to the surface of Telon.

Wow! I was quite impressed by the scenery. It made me forget the weird equipment textures, where every piece of armor seemed to have been polished until it gleamed in the sun like a brass pitcher. Sadly, it didn’t make me forget the bugs. Oh, the bugs! Had I said earlier that WoW also had its share of them, so how bad could it be? Unplayable, that’s how bad it could be. The game crashed every hour or so. The camera angled around weirdly. NPCs were unreachable or completely missing.

I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit. But I still thought all would be fine. Deadlines are for extending, not for keeping, right? They’d never release the game in that state, right?

… right.

Mea culpa

So I abandoned the game. I went back to WoW and bought The Burning Crusade. A bunch of people from my former guild had reformed, and I joined them. We thought we could pick up enough people on our way to 70 to raid. In the end, that wasn’t happening, the guild bled players, and I decided to call it quits. Vanguard beckoned.

By then, it was late spring, and the game was running a lot better. It only crashed about once a night or so. I played my disciple (or did I reroll one? can’t remember) until around level 20 or so. But I couldn’t help but notice that something was amiss. The awesome group content? It was almost inaccessible if there were no groups to be found. And those people who had not left the game by then (which is most of the people who had bought it) were already too high level to be in my content bracket. I loved my disciple to death, and if I found groups, I found healing with him one of the most fun things ever. Juggling offensive and defensive target, HoTting, direct heals, wipe saves with feign death and evac… it felt awesome. But I was tired of sitting around evening after evening waiting for the occasional group, wasting my time killing turtles for two minutes of fighting and 0.1% experience a pop.

Mea culpa

So I abandoned the game again. I went back to WoW again, and found an awesome guild who I’d play with until late WotLK. When that guild also succumbed to slow, but constant loss of players, it was Vanguard that I turned to first. I tried to like it. I still did. But the population situation had gone from bad to worse. It was even harder to find anybody to group with, and the game was plain painful going solo.

So I abandoned the game for a third time. I rerolled on a different WoW server (this time on the European side, so tabula rasa for me), found yet another guild, raided, had fun. Only I didn’t really. Just half a year later, I quit WoW for good (at least until now… never say never with MMOs). I started trying out lots of different MMOs and writing this blog.

Vanguard still beckoned, but this time, I remembered why I had left. I played other games. I told myself, “if only they could solve the population problems”. Game after game went F2P. Those events typically led to a huge influx of players into the game, though rarely for more than a short time. I realized, “hey, if they ever do that to Vanguard, you could go back and finally might be able to play the game you love the way it’s meant to be played!”. When they announced Vanguard’s move to F2P, I was looking forward to it.

Mea maxima culpa

The day came, the way went. I didn’t play Vanguard. I abandoned it again; this time, I didn’t even bother to try. Why? I think something newer and shinier caught my attention. In all fairness, TSW was an awesome game. It did a lot of stuff right, plus, at that time, I was just burned out on Fantasy MMOs.

Still, I feel like I let down the game that I had always been fascinated with. Maybe, the longer I didn’t play it, the more it became a canvas to project my ideas for a perfect game on. It’s probably the same with Vanguard as it is with EVE: it’s more fun to think or read about than to actually play. But I feel like I at least should have given it another chance back when it went F2P.

I’m not devastated, but I have this feeling in the back of my mind that a game that I loved is going to die, and I have to blame myself for that, because I never gave it the support it needed to survive. Maybe part of it is that, I just realized, this is the first MMO I played for more than a weekend that is going to shut down forever. Maybe that’s why I feel more strongly about it.

But I guess there always has to be a first time.

Another Chapter in the Endless Story of Gamification

Keen notes that many MMOs these days focus on “unconventional gameplay”, and he names TSW’s investigation missions and GW2’s jumping puzzles as examples. In the comments, some people say that MMOs are returning to how they used to be and how they should be, while others point out the inevitable “but X did that, too”, which, in this case however, is an important note: it tells us that probably these things were never fully gone from games.

And indeed they weren’t. Jumping puzzles have always been in MMOs, they were never gone. I’m sure almost everybody at some point wondered whether they can climb a particular mountain, or house, and tried for a couple of minutes, and either succeeded, or gave up. More dedicated souls might have stretched the trying to hours. I know that back when Vanguard was releases, one of my favorite pastimes was climbing up mountains or towers, and just gazing at the amazing landscape. (Granted, that had as much to do with Vanguard’s at-the-time amazing graphics as it had with the game being released with buggy combat and insufficient content in the classic sense).

In that way, GW2’s jumping puzzles are simply another step on the way to more gamification. Of course, the term might not fit perfectly, because you could argue that jumping onto hills, trees, or houses is already a game, so it’s hard to define how to gamify it. But what GW2 does is apply gamification techniques, notably achievements, to broaden the appeal of one game aspect. It used to be that hunting vistas was an explorer’s game. Now, it will be also a thing for achievers to tick off their list. Google a list of where to go, how to jump, collect map, ignore view, go to next puzzle.

OK, that sounded a bit mean. I’m not opposed to this. I’m just torn. I said before that I think there is good and bad gamification. This one might be good, because it broadens the appeal of a part of the game. It might also be bad, because the original intent (get up the mountain, enjoy the view) is lost, and becauseĀ  more obsessive achievers might feel they have to complete an arduous task they don’t enjoy just to tick more items off their list.

TSW’s investigation missions are different, but similar. In contrast to jumping puzzles, they were probably almost completely gone from MMOs for some time. That doesn’t mean they never existed before. Anybody remember Mankrik’s wife? That was one of the more simple investigation quests you could think of, and its infamy shows two things: MMO players, or at least WoW players, weren’t big fans of that kind of game (cue “Where’s Mankrik’s wife?” Barrens chat), and in effect, it was s solitary experience, a kind of test balloon, only rarely used as a bit of spice in some other missions. The Onyxia attunement springs to mind, and it was… a divisive quest chain. Let’s keep it at that.

Mankrik’s quest was removed in Cataclysm without replacement or followup. I guess the developers didn’t see a place for it in a world of streamlined leveling and quest locations on maps.

To go one step further back in time, Everquest’s quests didn’t have exclamation mark indicators. They often enough didn’t send to you a specific location, instead requiring you to roam the world to find the next place to go to. In MUDs, a typical quest might start from an item you found, and a cryptic information that “you should find someone who knows more about this”. If you were lucky, you might be told that finding the blacksmith who forged it might be a good idea, which reduced the number of possible targets from “all people in the world” to “all blacksmiths in the world”. Or, even more obscure: no notification at all, but when you talked to people while in possession of an item, you might get additional conversation options. Keep in mind that back then, not only did there exist no wowhead, no thottbot, no allakhazam. It was actively frowned upon to “spoil” these kinds of stories and quests for others.

The temptation to spoil or be spoiled when it comes to riddles is larger these days than it used to be. While investigation missions in TSW are not repeatable (as opposed to almost all other missions, after shorter or longer cooldown timers), they give, as a compensation I assume, a large amount of XP. I heard (delightfully rarely, but once or twice) the notion that “they are a great source of XP, especially because they are fast to do with a walkthrough”. Gamification and obsessive achiever mindset, indeed. I think these people miss the point. Yes, these missions give a lot of XP, but not more than a couple of the repeatable, more conventional missions. In return, you lose out on one of the strongest points of the game. Bad tradeoff, if you ask me.

So, the whole thing is a double-edged sword in my eyes: it’s good if games return to a broader appeal and range of activities. On the other hand, I’m not sure why game companies think they need to attach additional rewards to them. Do they think players might otherwise skip them because they aren’t “worth it”? Are they too scared that players might rather stay in their box than move out of it?

Mana as the Easy Way Out

I’m a bit behind because I was ill last week, and then had to catch up on work, so it might take a bit until I’m actually talking about news again. Right now, I’m just going through everything I missed, and this quote from Blizzard caught my eye:

As a Monk you can heal competitively without ever having to target a friendly player.

Monks will be similar to how a Discipline Priest can heal or cast Smite.

Balancing a non mana using healer would be too hard, so Monks are going to use mana to heal.

All Monks (DPS, Tank and Healer) will use the “dual combo point” resource (Force).

Monks are getting less and less interesting with every news update. I wonder whether they’ll ever reach the greatness of Vanguard’s disciple. It sounds like monks will just be a mobile healing stream totem, or restricted to the equivalent of atonement spam. I’m not sure what to make of the last quoted point. Will monk healers have some interesting mechanic to manage, or just some blue Chi bar, and the “force” just being neglected?

Besides, wasn’t there some developer discussion a while back when they said that Mana was a somewhat annoying mechanic, because it wasn’t as easy to balance as energy and similar ones that deplete and refill faster?