Friday, February 6, 2015

Wishlist: Top features for creating better communities - Getting rid of walls



In the final words of the earlier Game Director's letter, GD Joel Bylos wrapped up the letter with the following words, "Remember, people who play together, stay together!" It's so true.

Community is what makes MMOs. It's one of the reasons players log in again and again to play amazing games such as The Secret World. Even though the changes to the new player experience mentioned in the letter are pretty great at easing the game play for new players and old players alike, there's more that could be done. In perfect world, that is, where only MMOs would matter, and money, or player numbers, wouldn't be an obstacle. There are definitely some changes the game could do to make its community building more easier.

If developer resources were basically infinite, what changes would really benefit the community? Here's couple of my favorite changes:

1. Better dimension hopping - Get rid of walls between servers.


Even though the upcoming fast travel system sounds good, it could be even better. Currently it's described as a way to jump between wells in the current location, without having to die. Neverwinter is doing something even better. It allows players to switch between instances of the current playfield. In TSW lingo, this would mean being able to switch between dimensions, and different instanced versions of said playfields in that dimension. No longer would you be stranded on an empty server. You would be a click away from playing with new people while still playing the same part of the game you were playing earlier.

Why is this probably not going to happen any time soon? Servers are probably not designed with this kind of large scale player hopping in mind, and there might be some big changes required, to make the servers work this out efficiently. Unfortunately, in the world of multiplayer networked games, inefficiency seems to be the big terrible word lurking beneath the surface.

Why this should still be implemented? Even though it's possible to hop between dimensions, it's only possible to do so when you have someone you know acting as an anchor for you on the other side. Communities are created from interaction. Interaction cannot happen without contacts, and more importantly for communities to spread, those contacts need to be new ones.

Being trapped to a half dead dimension is one of the big reasons people quit MMOs. If not for community's sake, it's also for psychological side. If it seems that there's no one else playing a game that is marketed as multiplayer (aka to be played with others), players easily think there's a reason other players are not playing it. Perhaps it's not good game. Perhaps I shouldn't play it either. Alone is no fun.

2. Multifaction cabals - Get rid of walls between factions


In the beginning the devs over at Funcom had a fine idea of having multiple different factions, competing against each other. As currently the only remaining indicator of this feud are the faction limited cabals and faction based minigames, it might be time to give the players a bit more room to mingle together, at the expense of some lore and features that never came. Seriously, it's been years since the game launched. Faction limited cabals feel like dinosaurs of the past, except that for some reason they are still with us.

If it's lorewise hard to call such multifaction cabals 'cabals', there's an easy solution. Just switch the name to cloak and dagger societies or some such name with similar meaning but different wording. To keep the lore interesting move them a bit below, a bit above, or a bit left of normal cabals. The thing with real world cabals, at least in all the conspiracy stories, is that they all intermingle with each other.

Why shouldn't this be the case in The Secret World as well.


3. Multiple cabal support - Get rid of walls between communities


The current model of cabals is great for keeping up with your current cabal mates. On the same time, it does a great job building walls between your cabal and the rest of the player base. It's giving you better tools to work with the members of your cabal, than the tools you have for your non cabal friends. The main problem being, the player itself cannot decide where these walls are being built. Instead it's done by cabal leaders and officers.

The solution would be to give players possibility to join multiple communities simultaneously. It's currently possible to mimic something like this by creating chat channels, but that's not totally the same thing.

What communities in general sense offer to individuals, is interaction, and common identity. With chat channels players can interact easily, but creating common identity is harder because of the lack for rules for such development. Sandboxing is hard, players want amusement park rides. As weird as it is, it totally applies here. Currently it appears the chat channels cannot be moderated. At the same time there are no clear rulesets to push players into organizing the channels into organisations inside the game.

If full multi-cabal support is not plausible, some kind of lil-cabal system could be helpful as well. Just the chance to add persistent in-game information, such as description and group title for the chat channel, and ability to moderate it would allow people to grow new communities from these channels.

Similarly, a group could be made into a smaller ad hoc cabal, or at least give it a more visible role in the game, by just allowing groups to have a cabal like title above their members while the group is formed.

Why is this probably not going to happen any time soon? Cabal are tightly knitted with the chat system and Funcom has several times mentioned that the current implementation of the chat is something they wish not to touch, due to it being very complicated system. Also this kind of cabal system change might require lots of rewriting under the hood.

Why this should still be implemented? Communities that have nodes connecting randomly through out the community are far more healthier than communities which consist of few nodes connecting lots of smaller communities together. Basically the latter community (or network) easily breaks into parts if the few connecting nodes leave the community.


4. More ways to show cabal / group identity - Build (good kind of) walls between communities


In perfect world, cabals could represent themselves in the game world. This could be done by showing corporate cabal names and logos in billboards, with cabal members wearing cabal gear showing logos, with cabal related placeable objects or with something totally different.

Even small things, as just allowing players to create cabal labeled junk near them, would make cabals bigger part of the game than they are now.

All this would lead to more ways for players to bring their cabals into attention of others in passive ways. It would make cabals part of the game world, in-game entities. Same could apply to the aforementioned lil-cabals and adhoc cabals.

In the uber perfect world, cabals would be playable game entities. But yeah, that's not happening, as it would be a brand new different game.

In addition to boosting cabal visibility as non-playable game entities, there's another super useful thing in order to help community formation. Give players easy ways to differentiate themselves from the rest, while still being able to easily identify own organisation's members as well as members of different other organisations.

At the moment many cabals are having specific cabal clothes that they wear as uniforms, or specific cabal colors that they recommend members to wear.

How this could be made easier, would be to allow cabals to buy themselves cabal uniforms from the stores (from both pax and cash stores). This could be done perhaps in a way that cabals could buy normal items from stores to cabal's catalog, and from this catalog cabal leaders could pick the current cabal uniform, consisting of different clothing slot items, that would be same for everyone in the cabal. This way cabal members could use same fitting cabal gear as others, but they wouldn't have to buy the clothes themselves, as lowbie chars might be low on pax, and not everyone is interested in buying items from the in-game store. Same time the more wealthier cabal members would get a chance to pay bills for the rest of the team.

Similarly, a cabal could have one cabal uniform (consisting of all normal clothing slots) available at the beginning, and they could unlock more uniform slots for their different member levels from missions and item store.

Even better, players could have a group uniform slot, that they could share with the people in their current group, while its formed.

5. New PvP modes - Get rid of walls together


Instead of all the pvp happening in minigames, what if they would be taking place all around the game, and they would be happenig between cabals, instead of factions. What if cabals would have different PvP roles. Say, CTO, holder of holy dagger of broken nerfing, politician, judge, spy, spymaster, etc. The cabals then would get assignments to find a certain role from certain cabal, and do certain action with them. Perhaps this action could be your regular PvP assassination, perhaps it would be about broken phone, where cabal agents would pass messages from first cabal to the eight, and the final would have to pass the message to an npc. Perhaps it would be about following certain persons. Perhaps it would be about escorting random npcs. Perhaps it would be about killing npcs. Perhaps it would be about trying to solve what message is going in broken phones. Perhaps it would be taking samples.

The main idea being, that instead of players killing npcs together, maybe they could do other things together, that would make them interact more.

If two people need to meet each other in dark alley, and exchange special messages via chat, there's a good chance they might also exchange couple of additional words just for fun.

And in the end it's about playing together.

Orochi Tower and New Player Experience

There's a new Game Director's letter available. You know how sometimes these letters don't have that much new information about new things coming to the game. Well, this is not one of those letters. There's quite a lot of changes dedicated to raise the new player experience and bit of revealings about Issue #11 as well.

The Orochi Tower in Issue #11 is going to have a new floor system, working a bit similar to how levels are generated in roquelikes. There's going to be 512 different floors, from which the game is going to randomly pick couple for players to tackle for each play through.

Sounds pretty cool, but it's yet to be seen how it will be implemented. 512 different ways to generate a level might be a lot, but compared to some roquelikes with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of different unique levels, 512 doesn't sound a lot. But then again, it's only a number. Sometimes when roquelikes try to show off with their numbers about unique ways to generate content, they count everything from color changes to different superlatives in level names into those numbers. So it kind of tells nothing. Given the quality of content Funcom has been generating in the past, I take Issue #11 will be pretty interesting Issue to dive into.

That being said, I'm thrilled about any and all roquelike elements whatsoever being added to MMOs.

In other changes there's coming at least new beginner tutorials, tweaks to enemy difficulty and rewards and a new fast travel system. The last one is something that was mentioned first time a long time ago. It's great to see that the other parts of the content under development are considered to be in such condition, that it's possible to release part of the team to work on these much anticipated quality of life improvements. One of the monster groups mentioned to be on their way to the nerfing factory is the ak'ab.

Personally I love ak'ab, so I'm worried over what this change may yield. Even now, from time to time, I go back to the treehouse in Solomon Island, and dance with the ak'abs. Even in tokyo gear it's still challenging, as the danger doesn't come from the damage ak'abs inflict, but from their stunning charges, that require you to keep moving all the time. It's fun, because the difficulty is less about the quality of items, and more about mobility.

As it is, most of the ak'ab populations are away from the main paths in game. It's not like they are aggressive, they are just defending their nests, which they have deliberately tried to create as far as possible from any other living things. It's not their fault.

To wrap it up, without counting possible changes to ak'ab, the changes in overall sound very good indeed.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In anticipation of Halloween

Halloween is almost here. Actually, it was supposed to hit The Secret World today, as mentioned in the latest Game Director's letter, but something came along. My guess is, it has something to do with Jack, or perhaps John?

So, Halloween in The Secret World has been post poned for now, but it's coming before Halloween hits our own more mundane world.

Then again, it's always Halloween in Kingsmouth.

To pass the time until Halloween and the Broadcast, the new Halloween event, begins, Hollow Earth has set up a number station of our own for all the interested parties to listen. You can find it over at station.hollowearth.io.

The number station has been fine tuned to interrupt messages straight from the listener's local environment. How cool is that? In addition, there might be some encrypted messages coming as well some time bit later. Not no, but well, later.

If you have a (secret) message that you totally must get to broadcast on the number station, feel free to write us at contact@hollowearth.io. No promises, but if it's cool/easy enough to implement, that might just happen.

Bit of technical stuff: the station will only be working on latest browsers, and only on some of them. So far chrome seems to be working, but chromium not. Mobile browsers might or might not. Currently there are also no way to change volume.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Joel Bylos and Semzra talk about upcoming content in the last Friday's surprise Twitch stream

Joel Bylos and Semzra had a live stream on twitch last friday. Here's one summary of it. The official thread about the stream has also some of the most important parts summarized in it. You can find the recording here. You can also use the timestamps below to jump to the relevant points in the recording. If those are not matching correctly, let me know in the comments. Although, the timestamps have a slight 5 second before the topic mentioned starts, but that's intentional to make sure it doesn't start too late.

The stream has lots of info on the upcoming content. Joel and Semzra anwer questions and reveal quite a bit of interesting stuff. There's no big story related revelations in it, but the more usual implementation stuff regarding what's coming and when. The thing that Joel and Semzra keep repeating, is that feedback on the forums is being read, and more is appreciated.

Hit past the break to read the summary with timestamps. Could contain slight spoilers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Issue 9, the Tokyo update, has been released

The Black Signal cover
With today's server update, the Tokyo expansion has been unleashed to live servers. And it's a big update, consisting of a whopping 1.3gb. But so is the Tokyo update. In addition to delivering the first new playfield since the launch of the game, it has more cinematics than any other region before this. Then there's the whole new Aegis system, and a loads of story missions and normal missions, and a wide load of new characters.

There's two versions of the Issue 9 DLC available this time. The basic version costs 1200 points and contains the mission part of the Issue 9. In addition to this there's a Collector's Edition that costs 3000 points. If you have already bought the basic version, you can upgrade to the collector's version with an extra 1800 points.

In addition to containing the Issue 9 missions, the Collector's Edition comes with an Orochi made barrier trinket, a Sensei title, and demon masks and school uniforms for both genders.

As of writing this, the end of the Whispering Tide is taking place, and the migration of Flappy birds has started towards Tokyo. After the migration is over in 20 short minutes, Tokyo will be unlocked.

Other non-Tokyo related changes include the long waited functionality to see the date your cabal mates have been online the previous time. Read the full update notes here, and Funcom's official Tokyo announcement post here.

UPDATE: You need to be a subscriber to be able to access Tokyo for the next 3 days. If you subscribe now, according to the official announcement, you should get enough points to buy the Issue 9 right away. If you do it now, be aware there might be a bit of wait as everyone is trying to simultaneously buy the required Funcom points to be able to buy the Issue.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Orochi Group hacked - but who is NeuromancerQueen99?

Neuromancer, she's a queen
The small big news of the yesterday that got stomped under the leaked journalist tour and the big revelation that Tokyo is coming tomorrow was the fact that orochi-group.com was hacked. By whom you ask. We don't know yet, but who ever it did left behind the picture you can see above. So, who is this Neuromancer lady, that goes by the name Neuromancer Queen 99, and what does she want with Orochi? And does she have anything to do with the namesake on twitter?

It might be worth following what the twitter account has to say, in case it's the real Queen99. You might just find out how she fits with the things taking place in Tokyo.

May Game Director's letter is now available and contains information about Tokyo

Oni, two, three, T O K Y O
So, the last night's live stream was not supposed to go public it would seem. What was supposed to go public was the May 2014 version of the Game Director's letter that hit TSW websites near you today.

The big official (not official, just massively reporting) news is that Tokyo is going to be released tomorrow, Wednesday. That's probably the early bird period for the subscribers, and the rest of us need to wait another couple of days before getting a change to buy the Issue 9 that is required to get an access to Tokyo.

Go read the letter now. While it's not a treasure trove of information compared to the yesterday's stream, it's still a small fortune of juicy information, and contains a lot less spoilers than the stream notes.

So which one is it for you, the red pill or the blue pill?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Joel talks about Tokyo in a Twitch Stream - Lots of juicy Tokyo spoilers

Tokyo is coming soon. There's a teaser trailer already available. Game Director Joel Bylos has also given a tour in Tokyo for some journalists from major sites. You can find the tour at twitch in two parts. The recordings of the stream are no longer available it would seem.

There's a chance Tokyo could come this week, but it's not totally sure.

Read more about it and about other spoilers after the break, where I have written down the most important things mentioned in the two twitch streams. There's a lot of new information.


Update: Tokyo is coming this Wednesday.

Apparently the stream was not supposed to go public, and the recordings have now been removed. Although, Joel did say on the stream that there was no embargo for any of the information.


But lucky you, you can still read the summary of the best parts of the stream below. 


It's unfortunately a bit messy, as what lies below is basically the notes that I wrote down while watching the stream. There's probably a tremendous amount of mistakes in it due to mishearing a lot, and also from me misunderstanding what my own notes meant, when I tried to clean them a bit after the stream last night. And to make it clear, I was not part of the troupe on the stream. Just someone lucky enough to saw the link to it on The Secret World's own forums.



Update 2: In the text below, Game Director Joel Bylos was loosely quoted saying that Tokyo would not be free, but since then he has corrected this. Tokyo can be accessed cannot be accessed without any extra payments by doing the free scenarios. I heard wrong, my mistake.

Update 3: So, Tokyo is not free. I seem to have totally misread what Joel wrote in the earlier link.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Remember to follow us on Twitter

Just a friendly reminder that we are also on twitter with the handle @toHollowEarth. You can find more updates there. While there haven't been that many posts here on our main site as of lately, twitter is getting more updates due to it's shorter content size and for the ease of updating things. Don't worry though, there will be new posts coming soon here as well.

Follow us already on twitter for more updates.

On the other hand, if you don't have a twitter account yourself, you can follow our latest tweets on the twitter widget on the right side panel of this very same page. The widget updates itself every 10 minutes or so.

Down the page you can also find twitter feeds for the #hivehum tag used for The Secret World related in-character tweets, as well as tweets from Funcom handled official twitter accounts such as Richard Sonnac, Said, Miss Geary and Buzzing to name a few.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Time table for the latest part of Whispering Tide event now available

With the May 7th server patch the next phase of the Whispering Wide event has started. During the phase player's get a second change to do those event missions that they didn't manage to do when the missions were available first time. Those that missed the previous

If you have been wondering where the winged menace in filth, aka, flappy* has gone after the patch, you'll have to wait a bit more in order to met the jolly dragon again. The current phase comes in two parts. The first one is already going, as since May 7th, the 3 gathering phases for the filth event have been available. Those are the missions, where you are supposed to melt runes into the 3rd age ingredients that are used to get rid of the filth contaminating the portals. This part will be lasting until May 14th, when the second part will start and the instanced missions of the event will be switched on. The second part of the phase will last until May 21st.

But what happens after May 21st? Will there be a final phase for the Whispering Tide event, or will that last part be the first part of the Tokyo expansion? Will have to wait, I guess.

Meanwhile, if you want to get the beehive helmet that is handed out on completing all the event missions, now is a good time to act.

*not related to the more widely known namesake. Although, flappy has had it's time in the wall avoiding, tapping madness that it's namesake started.