Greedy Goblin

Friday, April 28, 2017

What game companies can learn from Albion Online

Albion Online has many great features and I'm really sad that they failed to set up proper internal security to prevent a few corrupted devs to ruin the economy, therefore the game. But among all of them, the best feature, one that I strongly recommend to all MMO devs is low graphics.

No, it's not at all ugly. It's just pretty unzoomed and has a fixed viewpoint, like some early 2000 games. This makes the game not only very light on computer load, but also on art and engine development costs. Creating the breathtaking graphics of Black Desert, or the somewhat cartoonish, but flashy and fiery WoW takes hundreds of millions of dollars, both to create the art and the engine that can render it. Such features don't add much to the game's competitive core. I mostly watched various inventory screens on BDO and most competitive players watch the battleground with maximum unzoom, where the characters are just little dots on the map. But the most perfect example of the effort being wasted on graphics is this EVE screenshot about Logistic (healer) ships. Please rate the ships according to their beauty in comments:

Sure, after you have hundreds of thousands of core players who like your gameplay, you can afford good graphics, cutscenes, voiceovers to cater to casuals who are just drawn to the hype and either play a game for a month before they realize they can't compete, or play some safe and irrelevant part of the game happily ever after. But before you get this core, you can't waste precious development resources on these beautification parts.

While Albion is far from being a success, Minecraft is a well known success story, despite its graphics isn't "simple" but "absolutely hideous". The new star of Steam, Playerunknown's Battleground (Battle Royale FPS) has graphics that reminds me to the HL:CS mod of 1999 which is responsible for so many evenings wasted. I'm pretty sure that if it keeps up its success, it'll get better graphics engine to cater to the idiots who pay money for cowboy costume. But for now, to grab the diehard FPS players, the 1999 style graphics is more than enough.

Crowfall devs - assuming they aren't ... like Star Citizen devs - made a huge mistake for not making the game first, graphics second. A simple engine where objects are just plain boxes with text over their heads to identify them as "tree" or "boar" would be perfectly acceptable for alpha testing, assuming the actual mechanics that make Crowfall unique (Eternal Kingdom + campaigns, progressing worlds) would be testable.

Please note that "just license an engine" is not an option (as Star Citizen devs learned). Graphics engines are typically designed for single player or very limited multiplayer games and perform horribly when you try to put in thousands of players. To make a competitive MMO, you must make your own engine that can safely handle a 10K battle, even at the cost of TiDi. Actually, EVE TiDi is the poster child how hard it is to add later. EVE TiDi fails to handle really big battles, because it cannot slow down movement sampling and network traffic.

I really hope that upcoming game devs don't follow the Crowfall road and go the way of Albion. Except for the gold speculation and supporting RMT part.

I was hesitating to break the "no politics" rule on the blog, because I really wanted to say something, but luckily the wisest contemporary thinker wrote what I meant to (and much better than I could).


Anonymous said...

Graphics matter a lot less to FPS, where living in the wrong part of the country can make you uncompetitive due to lag/latency. I think they matter for MMOs. These days, I think better graphics is something that devs need to spend money on; the MMO market expects it. I think you can spend money on deeper gameplay, if the game and its advertising is attractive enough to get a profitable enough number of players. Die hard FPS players play FPS, not MMO.

I disagree with you on the engine. CU wrote their own engine and even with their MMO experience, they are a couple of years late, 100% over budget, and not to Beta. But they will be able to do thousands of player battles. The games that appeal to you are smaller games from smaller companies; I can not see them having either the expertise or finances to do an engine, certainly not one that can do more than a hundred or two players in a battle.

There are no mathematical proofs. These are my opinions, based upon what I think I know about the current state of MMOs. I may be wrong and you may be right. I just don't think so. I don't think by the end of '18, you will be playing an MMO that can handle thousand or even 500 person battles well. That is a testable hypothesis. There are reasons why game companies are making multiplayer coop games like Destiney and GTA5 instead of MMOs.

P.S.: BDO announced they are working on upgrading their graphics, which even I think is overkill.

Jim L said...

I know this won't make it past your filter because it is critical of your thinking and the precious snowflake that you are cannot handle criticism, but Ann is way wrong.

You are making the same mistake she makes. She thinks that somehow building a useless wall somehow closes the border. It doesn't. The wall does nothing to protect the border. It is just fodder to make the unthinking masses think that you are doing something to protect the border. You just are naive enough to fall for it.

Smokeman said...

I always look at the graphics first. If they tout "The best graphics EVAH!" and are making promises that no art team can deliver on, and you know it's vapor. They may have had the best of intentions, but stupid does what stupid does.

Game comes first.

The other point and laugh moment is when they promise stuff that the current state of technology on this planet simply cannot deliver. You can't beat the laws of physics, yo.

I knew Star Citizen was vapor from minute one because they broke both those laws. Just because you have a pile of cash and a dream, doesn't mean you can bend reality.

So. On the competition thing. I have been playing the HELL out of Screeps. In fact, I probably need an intervention at this point. But when you look over the landscape of the world, there are some really huge fish in the sea. We're talking people that have a dozen or more fully womped rooms with nuclear arsenals and everything. There is no competition against this... if they decide they want my room with it's resources, they are taking it. I can just watch.

This is the problem with "competition" in a persistent world. Do I waste my energy on small fry, damaging my own advancement in the process, or do I bide my time until all the super whales quit?

Screeps needs an "arena mode" like Starcraft, but with bots. Hell, perhaps they have that, and I just don't know about it. I'm very competitive, and I would like nothing more that to test my screeps algorithms against actual opponents, (Well, when they can actually fight, I'm still trying to wring all the energy out of the spawns.) But no way I want to be just nuked into the stone age in the first round.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: Minecraft made history with its hilarious graphics. Players still play EQ1. Gameplay is more important than graphics.

@Jim L: since for a change you wrote some arguments next to your heap of insults, you made it trough moderation. The wall is PROVEN to be working:

@Smokeman: then you wouldn't give a single cent to Columbus who claimed that he can reach India from the west, which is "stuff that the current state of technology on this planet simply cannot deliver".

They can probably take your room "for fun". But if they are competitive and not random griefers, they won't bother. If they are griefers, they'll waste time lolstomping you and lose to a superior player, while you rebuild your base somewhere else. Just think of EVE: small corps in lowsec or NPC nullsec or even as renters in nullsec survived, despite PL could destroy them any time. Also, you can make alliances. Remember how the 2014-15 results of "undefeatable" Goons vs me ended (these are undisputed, 2016 is stolen by Lenny): both years my protegees destroyed 2T+ Goons with a couple 100B losses.

Anonymous said...

> The wall is PROVEN to be working

Different situation. A wall is effective when the primary means of illegal immigration is "people walking across your nation's border via a wilderness area". Illegal immigration in the USA is dominated by people entering at official crossings under false pretenses (e.g. tourism), and by people entering legitimately but then overstaying their visas.

A border fence can't block this sort of ingress. If you're serious about it then you'd seek to address the enabling factors (such as employers' preference for cheap undocumented labor, SSN falsification, etc). Spending billions of dollars on such programs might achieve an actual effect on undocumented labor, thus improving the prosperity of working-class citizens. Spending billions on roads, bridges, and telecomms could improve the overall prosperity of the country. Spending billions on drug-treatment programs could abate the cross-border traffic in narcotics. The border wall is an expensive vanity project which addresses none of the underlying issues.

When we say "the wall won't work" we don't mean that walls NEVER work. We mean that it's a poor fit for this particular demographic+geographic+historical+economic setting.

L Papay said...

Graphics-first really stems from the fact that you do have lots of "3D artists" of any kind floating around. It is well known that there is quite a glut of people willing to work for not-that-much-high-of-wage. And half ot them are at least decent. You can pick and choose.

Programmers, especially those that can handle game development, are few and far between, and expensive. Game Engine programmer is not your "IT guy/web developer" that most universities produce.

Case in point: Star Citizen ran in circles for over 2 years till they struck gold and got hold of "disgruntled ex-Crytek Employees" (aka ~60-ish guys in Foundry 42 Frankfurt) that can actually make something more than cinematic or demo.

Ðesolate said...

@Gevlon: The wall-concept works, has been proven before. It was not about keeping people out, more about keeping people in (not massively different). I'm not old enough to remember it personally but my family had members in eastern and western Germany.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: the wall is not sufficient, but necessary, because when you close down a venue of fake-legal entry (like overstaying legal visa), illegals just roll back to "cross the wilderness". This is why deported illegals are captured again. They surely didn't cross in a legal way, as their deported status is recorded and they are denied entry at any crossing.

So border wall is the lowest level of defense. With it, you can still lose the war on immigration, but without it, you surely lose.

@L Papay: so since I can't build the foundation of my house, I should just buy the carpets and the furniture in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

Ohh if we could not go by the looks and would give the ugly a chance. they can be grounded, intelligent, funny and are most likely not full of shit like the pretty once.
this sound familiar and seems to apply to nearly anything or anyone.

TiDi is a mixed bag of everything. In the end the compromise is: it is better to shutdown the node or let the server crash.

Millions of Americans who hadn't voted in 30 years came out in 2016 to vote for Trump. If he betrays them, they'll say, "You see? I told you. They're all crooks."
Ehm isn't that the job description of a politician? And since when do they represent me? I am the sheep they are the sheep herders. Sure there is some more overlap of interest nowadays but make no mistake they govern the people there are some differences that mostlikely are perspective like we think that we are free and aspire to be 100% happy all the time. *sigh*

vv said...

There's no direct connection between engine and graphics. Graphics depends from artists in first place. Engine is just a way to abstract from hardware, set of APIs and tools. Using existing engine is helping you to save a lot of time. Albion Online and Crowfall both made on Unity3D for example.

"Make gameplay first" is currently standart way to develop games or new features in games. Good tools is what helps here. You can check how Breath of the Wild looked like on early stages for example.

Minecraft is unique case and can't be repeated.

Gevlon said...

@vv: there is a very direct connection between engine and graphics: budget. A dollar you paid for that picture perfect orc tooth is a dollar not paid for closing that exploit that a few griefers use to ruin the alpha testing phase for everyone.

vv said...

Paying artists for perfect orc tooth has nothing to do with engine. Engine is just a tool to show player that orc with or without perfet tooths. Both models are just a set of triangles with skeleton and animations for any engine. But creating your own game engine will cost a lot. It's a very hard technical task. So using existing engine is a way to save a lot of money.

For server side there's no premade engines except trivial cases. So any MMO developer had to create it's own. For EVE TiDi problem is on server side. In 10K battle client will have problem even without graphics at all. As far as I know CCP is close to hardware limits here.

L Papay said...

@Gevlon : more like extend&pretend while providing community with shiny visuals, as this is what people understand.

It's little bit like with architecture. It is shiny visualizations that sell the building to investors. The engineering capability to pull that building off is implied, and more often than not what gets build does not resemble visualizations at all - or never get built. Then it becomes a matter settled in courts.

After all on the long run you want their money and showing something is a way to obtain it. Lines of code are not something your "clients" understand, same as they do not understand technical drawings for foundations.

If you couple easy access to visuals (UE4, Lumberyard), real problem with obtaining technical talent (there are no Ove Arupp's in game design yet) and whole "early access"/Kickstarter model of "give me money and maybe you will get something out of it", questionable business /ethics breaches are just a matter of time. Intended or not.

Dàchéng said...

I took a look at Screeps and concluded it is the very epitome of Pay To Win. Would you agree?

Smokeman said...


First, Columbus. He didn't use any technology that didn't exist. Everyone had boats that could go across the ocean. His idea was that if you DID that, you would literally get to the other side. Now, if he was going to get to India by shooting himself to the moon, looping around that, and falling on India... that would be different.

They could take my room as an aside, without fear of consequences. They are already at a detente with any player similar to themselves, and mutually have no incentive or reason to attack THEM. But I'm barely more than an empty room to these guys.

Yeah, I was ignoring the "market interface", as what would it be good for? The resource I need is energy, and it's in every room. At some high level, you might need minerals that can be traded for other minerals, but if you could sell excess energy... that throws open the works. However, if you can't program your colony... all the energy in the universe won't help you do anything but get to level 8 faster. The docs speak of a mineral, "Ghodium", which is probably either super rare, or an item shop... actually, I don't even know if they have an item shop... gimme a minute...

LOL! A bug completely shut down my entire colony during the night. I logged in to find no creeps whatsoever. I bet my inbox is blowing up... Well, I get to test the "zero start recovery system" I put in in case something like this happened. Anyway, you can buy any resource with cash. Ghodium is apparently just another mineral. But why? You can't use them without programming. But this explains the big colony farms. I'm sure that at some point, I'll conclude that the game is inherently pointless.

Anonymous said...

"@Anon: the wall is not sufficient, but necessary, because when you close down a venue of fake-legal entry (like overstaying legal visa),"

If they wanted to close down illegal immigration, they would act on the people overstaying legal visas. The laws for immigration already exist, they have massively increased the border patrol staff under the last few presidents, so why not just apply the existing laws. Additionally, they could go after the people who employ people (and bring them across the border) who do not have permits, instead of turning a blind eye to those businesses, and making it about the immigrants. It is already illegal to employ people without work permits. Apply the laws that exist, and illegal immigration will reduce massively, but, punishing businesses is not a key policy, much easier to blame individuals.

Regarding drugs, we have drones, and planes and boats, a wall won't stop drugs coming into the USA, and they know it.

All a wall does is become a white elephant.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: in order to catch someone overstaying visas, someone has to actually catch him. Sanctuary city police officers won't do it. ICE is undermanned to randomly stop and frisk (and probably it would be attacked on courts on the basis of racial profiling). Catching illegal employers are even harder, as you actually has to storm workshops, which would need not only search warrant, but info what to search. I mean how do you know if there is an illegal workshop behind that door? Illegal shops are "victimless crimes" (the victims are the tax budget and the unemployed citizen), so no one will report them unless they make a mess.

The easiest thing to do is to guard the border and catch those who want to cross.

S Riojas said...

Gameplay should always be first over appearance. Not much different from real life:

You take the shell of a corvette and put it over the body of an Datsun and make that Datsun look great. But the car, no matter how good it looks, will still run and handle like a Datsun.

I would still play EVE if they used the original graphics engine: most of the time I am zoomed out when doing anything and that graphics engine was easy on just about any machine you ran it on. City of Heroes actually had really decent netcode {you could play on cruddy connections better than other contemporary games}, but their graphics caused major graphical lag when you had PvP or large fights going on. The game looked good, but to the detriment of the gamplay in large engagements.

I think your idea of building the gameplay around stick figures and simplified objects is not a bad one.

Anonymous said...

Checked screenshots for battlegrounds, doesn't look nearly as bad as you say.
I mean, "looks like CS" is a pretty damn big insult...

Dàchéng said...

The P2W aspect I'm thinking of in Screeps is CPU power, which you get 10 of with your monthly subscription (newbies get 30 initially), but which you can buy in limitless amounts for real money, Smokeman. Or have I misunderstood its importance?

99smite said...

Lol, this is so old news that I am really disappointed that you emphasize on this.
Since CD-drives were introduced to the PC world and the "beginning of the multimedia hype", game developers could be put into two categories, those that favour graphics and those that favour story telling or game mechanics/experience. A lot of french game companies that existed in the early nineties were well focused on graphics, sometimes so badly that the "games" they published were rather an "interactive" movie or gaphics demonstration...
The discussion amongst gamers has been going on ever since. One faction wants to have pretty images, others want to have difficult challenges and a good story.

Regarding Anne Goebbels/Coulter, it would be nice if Orban would build a wall that would stop criminal east europeans leaving their homeland and doing bad things in central Europe. Another advantage would be that such a formidable wall would prevent the hard earned EU money to flow into Hungary only to vaporize with no positive effects.
Coulter fails to prove that disease is brought adross the Mexican border. She fails to acknowledge that US american agricultural industry would collapse if not for the "criminal, rapist, STD-ridden illegals" who can be so easily exploited working on US American fields. Maybe, after Orban has his wall, he could lend Hungarians to work on the American fields, because EU-based companies would have to stop producing in Hungary and employing hungarians would be a waste of time and money since nothing can permeate through such a formidable bulwark.
For the cost of such a huge construction at the US-Mexican border, the US government could multiply their patrols, hire more DEA agents or even invest in programs in Mexico so that Mexicans can make a living easily with a legal profession.
In case you did not know, cocaine is not produced in large scale in Mexico, Mexico is simply part of the trade routes. So, please find some reasonable articles with sound arguments that withstand a thourough inspection, not this alt-right Coulter BS.

Smokeman said...

Blogger Dàchéng said...

"The P2W aspect I'm thinking of in Screeps is CPU power, which you get 10 of with your monthly subscription (newbies get 30 initially), but which you can buy in limitless amounts for real money, Smokeman. Or have I misunderstood its importance?"

No, it's importance is huge. But this isn't a "time based" game (Well, after the initial coding effort...) It's basically a bot game where you run as many bots as you can make fit in the single account limit or are willing to pay for.

They changed the way this works in 2016, now you have a subscription that gives 30 CPU when your GCL (Global Control Level) is 1 (You're a noob.) and the CPU goes up 10 for every GCL you go up. You can start a new colony (have a controller that you own in a room.) with each level of GCL.

It's not a bad system. If your colonies are efficient, you can run several until you start to feel the pinch of only 10 CPU extra per colony, but you SHOULD BE PAYING MORE if you're running a huge colony farm... essentially doing the same thing as running many accounts in a regular MMO.