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Things that go BOOM!

Posted by jeffpk on April 20, 2004 at 7:42 PM PDT

This week's Blog is gonna be a ramble. I hope at least its a fun one.

Things that go BOOM!

Well I've been playing for about a week in the City of Heroes beta. I'm not wrong often, but when I am I do my best to own it. I've described this in the past as “The Greatest Game That Will Never Ship.” I was wrong. Its simple, but done, and will be going live on the 28th.

Whether it survives going live only time will tell. They have been doing their best to have us testers simulate launch load but I doubt we're even close to whats gonna hit these machines opening day. Lets face it Sword and Magic and Lords and Ladies has a pretty limited target demographic. But wearing bright colored Spandex and making things go BOOM has a pretty wide appeal. Based purely on what I see I'm going to make some guesses to their server architecture and what they've encountered so far.

It looks to me like the basic design of the game is very much EQ like in server design. They have central “congregation” servers where people tend to clump and then mission areas you get sent off to. Unlike EQ the mission areas are spawned dynamically on entrance. Thus if my team and your team go on the same mission we end up in different areas.

As well as spreading the load out some, this has the nice effect that you don't get to your mission just to discover someone else has already accomplished it. It also builds strong team spirit as those are the folks you really “are playing with.”

The whole setup is of course sharded into multiple “servers” each of which is really the cluster of servers running that instance of the game.

Having said this, it looks like they discovered during test that their congregation hubs just couldn't handle even the sharded the load. As such the effectively “sub-sharded” those areas into multiple instances. Atlas Park for instance is actually 6 or 8 different instances of Atlas Park and you chose which one you want to go to when you enter that region. The good news is that it keeps those areas from becoming over-crowded. The bad news of course is that it introduces an obvious “break with reality” into the game.

  • “Hey I'm in Atlas Park under the Atlas statue where are you?”
  • “I'm there too.”
  • “Oh.... ", pause, "Atlas park 2?”
  • “No, Atlas Park 5.”
  • The hacky nature of this makes me strongly suspect it was a kludge to handle over-loading on the server, client, or both.

    Are Roleplay Games about Roleplay?

    Role play, N. In role-playing, participants adopt characters, or parts, that have personalities, motivations, and backgrounds different from their own.

    Source: http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Role-play

    An interesting, and to me frustrating, observation from playing CoH is that the majority of the community not only don't role play, but don't even understand what role play is and why you would want to do it. As an old Pen and Paper role-play gamer this is the primary draw to me and role-play only works in an environment where people understand it and participate in it.

    Now come launch those like me are talking about staking off one server as the “role-play server” and moving there en masse but this begs a bigger question.

    Namely, is Role-play the primary goal of an OLRPG? If so then all the games to date pretty much fail in their goal. I have only actually ever seen one game that taught/encouraged people to learn how to role play. A pen and paper game called TORG. By its however nature that aspect would not convert to an automated environment because it requires a human to judge the role-play and modify results accordingly.

    On the other hand. These non-role-players, as lame as they might seem to me, are having fun and are paying big bucks up to the game developers. In any game development effort that sounds like a success.

    So maybe, just maybe, whats wrong is the name and we should stop calling these “Online Role Play Games” and start calling them something else. I'd vote for OLBMCJ myself (Online Bash Monsters & Collect Junk.)

    Conclusion

    Well, I have to say that even with server oddities, simplistic game play and lame kiddies who wouldn't know role-play if it bit them in the ass , City of Heroes is a lot of fun. How long it will hold my interest is tough to tell, I generally burn out on these things after I've explored most of the new-experiences and role-play potential. I also have some concerns about launch day. Cryptic is doing all the right things in testing, but its clear they already had scaling issues even with the just the beta population and there is no way then can predict or model the flood of pent up demand for this product. About all they could do is limit the number of boxes they ship, but that could have other bad impacts on their sales.

    All I know is I intend to be there banging on the login server with the rest of them the day they open the gates!

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