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100% cheshire.
Thoughts on zOMG!
Originally posted at void-star.net ß.

So the other day I posted my first impressions of Gaia Online's attempt at an MMORPG, zOMG!. Since then, I've had some more time to think and played a little more, and, well... while my initial impressions of zOMG! were fairly positive, in the intervening days I've hit what I guess is the game's equivalent of a level curve, and it's made me rethink my initial standpoint.

zOMG! still isn't a bad game, but it suffers greatly from its confused parentage. The fact that it's still in beta gives a bit of hope that some of these structural issues can be fixed, and in the grand tradition of the internet, here's what I think needs doing:

#1: Decide What Kind of Game We're Playing (or, If This is a "Casual MMORPG", Then Make It One)
zOMG! is supposed to be a "casual MMORPG" but it isn't. Ideologically, it owes a lot of to games like Ragnarok Online, Final Fantasy XI and FlyFF, which in turn come from what I guess is the Asian branch of MMORPG design. It differs from western ideas -- seen in games like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Guild Wars -- in that the focus is on, a) grouping, and b) grinding.

Now, I know a lot of casual MMO players, and as a general rule neither of those things are what they look for in a game. As a general rule, casual gamers like a fast-paced game with small, easily-achievable goals that build to something longer. Your standard casual is looking for something they can pick up for five minutes or five hours; give them a hundred "kill 5 mobs" quests and they'll be much happier than if you tell them to kill 500 from the outset.

#2: Get Rid of the Emphasis on Grouping ("Crewing" wink
In casual play, grouping should be something people do for fun, not something they do because the game mechanic forces them to. MMORPGs that are successful in the casual market (particularly WoW) are so because the majority of their content is accessible solo. With that in mind:

- Be very, very careful about making grouping do things like increase normal drop rates. Players should not feel penalised for not grouping, but neither should they feel penalised for being in a group.

- Quests that require a group should not "break" a quest line, especially if questing is your primary way of levelling up.

- Understand that if you do implement content that requires a group to complete, a lot of players are going to takle that content by going away, levelling elsewhere, then coming back to finish off the lower-level content when they're more powerful.

- Get rid of the G'hi meter. Seriously; this is the nastiest mechanic in any MMORPG I've yet to encounter. Better yet, merge it with Stamina (i.e. rename the boringly generic 'Stamina' to the more zOMG!-specific G'hi) and remove any links with "social" activities. For the record, "social" and "casual" are not the same thing. Gaia already has plenty of outlets for the former.

#4: Increase the Pace of Gameplay
Last I checked, the most successful casual games around were all incredibly fast-paced. I'm thinking of everything here from Peggle and Bejeweled to The Sims and Guitar Hero. All of these games require, in at least some points, what's half-jokingly referred to as "uber-micro" in hardcore gaming circles; that is, the ability to make multiple complex decisions/movements in a very short period of time, with the possibility -- but not necessarily requirement -- of complex, long-term strategies ("if I drop this block here then this can slot in for the combo there..." wink .

As it stands, zOMG! is a slow game. I'm not even talking about the death penalty (which I actually think is very good), but just about everything else. Drop rates are slow, levelling is slow and killing is slow due to the lack of temporary restorative items (the premium ones purchasable with Gaia Cash don't count) and fast drain of Stamina.

This latter thing is the real problem. You don't want players to have time to sit and think about the game, lest they start thinking of other games they'd rather be playing. The motto for any casual game should be "fast and fun". Stick to that.

#5: Don't Be Afraid of the Market
All MMORPGs have a market, and Gaia of all places should know that a thriving market is one of the cornerstones of a thriving community. Don't be afraid to allow your players to get rich from playing zOMG!, even if it's just from selling (a hell of a lot of) "trash drops" to the vendor. Offset this by putting in time-money sinks (i.e. a "tax" whereby money you earn is sucked back into the game -- as opposed to transferred to other players -- in proportion to your overall wealth); every other MMORPG in existence does this by selling rejuvenating items (health and mana pots, item repair), and in this case there's no reason to mess with a good thing.

The other side effect to this is to get rid of Soulbonding on Rings (at least to some extent, q.v. below). People should be able to get large quantities of gold on the off-chance they're lucky enough to get something really awesome; this is part of the general risk-reward that's inherent in every good game. The only thing that really groks that way in zOMG! are Rings, and Soulbinding all of these is crippling in a number of ways:

- It's incredibly nasty when coupled with the absence of a loot veto mechanic. As a general rule, I don't like having to Salvage a Ring I've already got when it's dropped for me but not a crew member who'd make better use of it.

- It makes the assumption that people get into zOMG! via Gaia and not the other way around. Allowing Rings back on the market creates an incentive for people who started with zOMG! to get involved in the more "traditional" Gaian activities by giving them a way to get cashed- and blinged-up.

Limiting twinking is a noble enough aim, but don't do it at the expense (hah!) of the market. Speaking of which...

#6: Limit Twinking, Not the Market (or, Why Soulbonding Sucks, and How it Can Be Awesome)
Every single other MMORPG I can think of (and likewise almost all RPGs) have an inherent mechanic to limit twinking. It's usually called levels. More powerful items are thusly limited to more powerful characters, and this is a Very Good Thing. Twinking (in this sense, using in-game currency to purchase high-powered items for a low-powered character, thus reducing the difficulty of content) isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's use should always be limited.

zOMG! attempted to solve its twinking problem with Soulbonding, which I think was a poor move for reasons described above. The corollary to that, of course, is that the Rings that have escaped Soulbonding will skyrocket astronomically in price as people hoard them now and sell them in six to twelve months' time (as I plan on doing, o ho ho). I think a much better option is to give an inherent player stat governance over what level Ring can be equipped, and Total Charge is the prime contender. zOMG! already has a "soft" player level system anyway (q.v. G'hi), so why not use it?

That being said, I still think Soulbinding Rings isn't a bad idea, just limit it to certain conditions: Rings received from quests, for example, or ones that have been levelled up by players. That way you're left with a happy (WoW-esque) medium between the two current extremes zOMG! has seen.

#7: Standardise Time Played vs. Reward Gained
zOMG! is the only game I can think of off the top of my head where XP is a random drop. Seriously. In the last two days I've played, I've gotten absolutely nowhere on my character due to the infrequency of drop rates, and that's ridiculous. Hell, I haven't even heard of a hardcore game in which that's the case, let alone a self-proclaimed "casual" one.

Here's the deal, guys; for your RPG, online or off, to be a success, you must reward the player consistently for effort spent in game. The main way that happens is XP. If I kill a hundred mobs, I'd damn well better be more powerful afterwards than I was beforehand, else I'm going to get annoyed and go play something else.

Broadly, games have a two tiered reward system; one that is slow, steady and predictable (usually XP and possibly gold) and one that is randomised (usually items and possibly gold). The steady reward stream keeps people coming back when the randomised stream isn't paying out. In its current incarnation, zOMG!'s steady rewards -- namely the rewards from repeatable quests -- are weak and, worse, situational. If I could only change one single aspect of the game, this would be it.

Enemies need a standard drop rate for Orbs. This would make levelling too fast at the current rate, in which case the Orb requirements to level Rings should be raised accordingly. The main point here should be consistency.

#8: Rethink the Cash Items
Specifically the Superchargers. Cash for items is a common exchange in the world of "free" MMORPGs, but the items available in this way shouldn't be things that are required during day-to-day gameplay. As it currently stands, if you don't have money, zOMG! has no "panic button", which is both, a) frustrating, and b) pretty unique amongst everything I've played.

As a general rule, cash-buyable buffs should be minor twinking items like the Ring Polishers, or items that slightly increase drop rates. For zOMG! specifically, the much-desired "self-Defib" items makes an excellent candidate here.

zOMG! isn't a bad MMORPG, but it isn't a great one, either. It's kind of new and exciting at the moment, but it doesn't really have a hook that Gaia itself doesn't, and as such I don't think can survive standalone. There are some really bad gaming design decisions here, I think, lifted whole-cloth from other games that are popular in the market Gaia is aiming at. But the designers at Gaia need to realise that people play things like FlyFF and Ragnarok Onlinein spite of their flaws, not because of them.

You wanna make a MMORPG that's cutesy and appeals to teenagers? Fine. But go to the effort to make it a good game as well, else all you're left with is another gimmicky imitator.

Need a book to read? Don't feel like spending any money on it? Then do I have the deal for you!

Go. Read.


The Gold Wot I Do Not Have
For gods' sakes stop asking me about gold.

I don't have any. I can't get you any. And I wouldn't even if I did and could because you annoy me.

So stop. Asking.

That is all.

so for those of you who didn't get the memo, last Tuesday was :userwombat:'s last day at his, well, previous job. He doesn't start at his new place until tomorrow, so in the way of these things I hacked some rec leave for last Thursday and Friday and we headed on up to the Blue Mountains for a holiday. For those not 'in the know' about these things, the Blue Mountains are about an hour's drive west of Sydney. The whole area is kind of a gentrified weekend retreat for middle-class Sydneyside professionals, comeplete with more boutique-antique clothing and furniature shops than you can poke a wrought-iron 19th century fire poker at. It's also got things like the Jenolan Caves, which were Australia's first official tourist attraction (and as such as on Touring Road 1). I've never been up the Blue Mountains, but damn I do love caves. And walking through rainforests, which the area also has (temperate ones; yes, there's such a thing as a sub-tropical rainforest).

Anyway, we headed down on Thursday morning and checked into our non-serviced apartment at Leura a little after 2 in the afternoon. It was [********] cold -- Leura is higher up than Canberra is, and some noob forgot to pack her coat -- so we went and hid in a little Italian cafe and had the most delicious soup in the whole world; no exageration. It was like carrot and ginger and celery and man was it great; that soup kept me going for the entire time we were down there. ******** all the other food (over-indulging on holiday; who woulda thunk it!). At four :userwombat: had booked me into an aroma-massage we apparently got free with the room, which was interesting. I've old ever had, like, theraputic massage before -- working-out-the-collagen kinda stuff -- so the aroma-massage was quite different, but still very enjoyable. Then we just kinda bummed around in the apartment for a while, rearranging the furniature so we could watch TV lying on the fold-out bed in the living room. Apparently the Discovery Channel plays American Chopper all day, but despite turning it on no less than four times, I still didn't manage to see an entire episode. Useless trivia.

Anyway, we had dinner at a nice Thai restraunt called (hilariously) Bow Thai (oh man, you're killing me, stop it). That's the good thing about these gentrified country resort towns; good ******** food. Very important, that. Afterwards, :userwombat: got the munchies and took off in Yareth to find a supermarket. He was gone for ages, and I was totally just about to call him -- I swear, it's just the laptop was warm and The Doctor and Romana were visiting the Leisure Hive -- when he came back with milk and cookies. Apparently he'd ended up having to go to Katoomba, which was at the end of a long, winding mountain road. We ate some cookies, and went to bed (well, I went to bed; :userwombat: stayed up to watch the football).

The next day we got back on the winding road and headed out to Scenic World, which is kind of the main valley rainforest walking park place. We went on the glass-floored cable car across the valley and saw the Three Sisters, then I dragged :userwombat: around the bush a bit, which was fun seeing as how the ground was covered in puddles and my pants are, like, really long. Humourous. Eventually we headed back to the cable car and back across the valley, only to get on another cable car, this one descending down. It's pretty damn steep, which prompted lots of nervous laughter and "Woah!"s from the various tour groups packed into the little thing. We got to the bottom without dying, and went on our ten minute 'awareness walk' through the valley floor. There were more tracks down there that I would've liked to ramble along, but I'm not very good at exploring with other people around. Plus there might have been, like, ticks and leeches or something. Ick! So instead we took what is apparently the world's steepest railway back up to the top of the valley and, yeah, it was pretty ******** steep. I thought the cable-car was bad enough coming down, but I'm glad we did it that way; I wouldn't've been able to deal with the railway going down! Going up was bad enough, watching the track appearing out behind us (the seats face down the hill no matter which way the train is going).

After Scenic World we went and had lunch in Katoomba, then prepared ourselves for the long drive back home. turning roughly two blocks away from the main street and, hey hold on, this looks mightly familiar... there's our apartment!

Yes, apparently Leura is a glorfied suburb of Katoomba. Apparently :userwombat: found the scenic route. The really scenic route. Hilarious.

Saturday saw me drag poor :userwombat: out to the caves, which are about another hour's drive beyond Katoomba (no, really this time). I love caves; I went and did some 'real' caving at Wee Jasper with the Cub Scouts when I was a kid, and it's something I really enjoyed. You know; caves are dark, warm ("You're caving in winter! It will be freezing!" Seriously, people; learn some geology) and full of bats. How could I not like them? Janolan is a huge tourist attraction; they run tours of the caves at certain times, and you have to book. We didn't get there until after 1pm, and the next avaliable tour with free places was of the Temple of Baal at 2:30. There are a bunch of 'show caves' at Janolan that are all lit up (trivia: Janolan was the first place to light its caves with electric lights) with well-caved walkways and so forth. Baal is one of those, and it was pretty ******** cool; full of, like, twisty rock formations and big sheets of calcium carbonite with names like 'The Angel's Wing' and 'The Red and White Altars'. The Temple is named from the Biblical story, and the guide pointed out all the features to us. Poor ol' Baal; he was a pretty innocuous diety from Carthage that kind of got raped in Judeo-Christian texts, and is now forced to live out eternity as a weird-looking stalagmite scaring kids on cave tours. I guess there are worse fates for a god; personally I thought the stalagmite looked more like Cthulhu, but maybe that's just me. Of course, get two geeks walking into a cave called the Temple of Baal and you're bound to wind up with a bunch of Baldur's Gate and WoW jokes. Back in the '50s, the Temple was considered to be a good enough tourist drawcard for the Trust to blast a direct passageway to it; previously it was only accessable after a 'four-hour' hike through the Lucas and River caves. The passage is pretty much just that, dynamited through the mountain and sealed off with three airlock doors (to prevent the outside air from polluting the very deep cave). Anyway, nothing makes a WoW-geek feel like they're about to enter an instance like waiting in front of a door in a cave with twenty other people. Despite not assigning any tanks or healing rotations, the group leader did a good job and we got through the whole instance with no wipes.

I could spend a whole holiday at the caves, I think, but by the time we got out it was after 4, so we walked back to the car and drove back to the apartment. The carpark, incidentally, we a good ten minute hike up a hill away; the next time I go to Janolan I'm taking a bus, seriously.

And that's pretty much it, I think. The next day -- ie. today -- we got up early and headed home. I could totally go back to the Blue Mountains. There's so much stuff there that we didn't see; lots more caves, for starters, and bushwalks (must find out about tick/leech status). I think mum is plotting going back up there at some stage in the future; she and dad went recently, but she spent the entire weekend stuck inside at a conference, so I think she's a bit jealous. I'd totally go back with mum; we could get up early and go walking while dad and :userwombat: stay at the hotel and sleep. Heh.

I totally used my phone to check my email while I was away, too. I didn't need that $10, really...

Kicking Out the LULZ
Reskinned profile.

Pfft. Whatever.

Also, while I'm at it, these colours are ******** ugly, but Gaia's colour changer thing is broken and apparently they don't trust us enough to enter in our own HEX codes because OMGOZ apparently that's too hard for the average Gaian.

No sarcasm there, incidentally.

Oh, My Goth!
It occurs to me that there are an awful lot of 'goth' guilds at Gaia. Not only are there an awful lot of 'goth' guilds at Gaia, but they are -- combined -- filled with perhaps a grand total of six actual goths (or other associated darkwave subcultures), with the rest being made up of writhing little kids who think System of a Down are the most goth thing since forbidden rice.

To which, of course, I mournfully cry, "Where's the elitism?"

Where are the catty oldskool goths peering down their collective noses and scoffing at anyone who does know who Clan of Xymox is? Where are the millions upon millions of photo-rating style communities like those that exist on LiveJournal?

I mean, I suppose I realise it's symptomatic of the low age of people on Gaia in general. But, seriously, when I was 14 I was listening to the Cure. I mean, I guess technically it was because we didn't have mainstream nu-metal back then, but that's not the point. The point is that I want a place where people actually come to talk about goth things like showing off photos of their latest corsets or dreadwigs or USendingIt mp3s from some obscure band they found.

I hate the bump culture here at Gaia. I mean seriously, check out this conversation, ripped straight from the GGR:
Poster #1: may I ask why you have a girl avi if you are a guy???
Poster #2: NO scream just kidding, I could make my avatar look however I want her to look. I would rather look at a female avatar all the time than a male one.
Poster #2: inuyasha is on I love inuyasha heart
Poster #1: I see what you mean, but what is some other guy was to come up and not see your siggy and starts hitting on you??? j/k. I'm really hiper so you will have to excuse me!!!*starts dancing around in circles* by the way what is your asl??

Jesus, maybe it's just me but... take it to the goddamn chatterbox. There's so much useless spam at this place as it is without you using it as bloody AIM.

So last night in a fit of 'WTF?' I made Cheshire Black. I don't really expect anyone to join. Honestly, I'd probably rather they didn't. But all the same, there it is. Maybe in 15,000g time I will make it into an actual guild. I've always wanted to play around with that interface. Hrm...

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My two cheshires from my current interactive pet project, Pillbox Wonderland. If you click on them, you'll be sent to a page where you can play and feed them. Ooh, special!

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