Back in Feb 2009, Slasher prodded me to install QL and write down my thoughts, which I understand he then passed along to the dev team. I've copied them below in their entirety. Even today, 2.5 years later, these notes give a concise overview of what I think are the main issues confronting QL's appeal and popularity. Some other players I've shared them with have encouraged me to share them publicly, hence this post.
Disclaimer: the purpose of this post is not, for instance, to slight the efforts of the QL developers, whose circumstances I'm not familiar with, but rather to share, at the encouragement of others, a brief account of my thoughts on what makes certain online games appealing and which features should be prioritized in allocating limited development resources. There's a lot more to say than what I've written here, but I worry that attempting to expand or perfect this post might result in its indefinite postponement. Some of what I discuss below is only of "historical interest" (old bugs, etc.), but I left it in anyway.
- I. Overview
- I.A. I had played some QL back in August and thought it had great promise, but hadn't touched it since then until a couple days ago. There were some serious issues / bugs that arose in updating and configuring the game, which I'll describe in detail below, but for now let me just say that they made it unnecessarily frustrating to get started, and would have probably put off many potential new players.
- I.B. First, some general comments. It seems that most of the effort into QL over the past six months has gone into tweaking the gameplay in subtle ways. The only structural difference since I last saw the game is the addition of a fixed set of skill tiers to match players with appropriately difficult opponents.
- I.C. I think that most gameplay tweaks (e.g., the lightning gun now does xyz at abc range) are irrelevant to the success of QL. They strike me as "premature optimization." While they might determine whether an already experienced PC FPS player switches to QL from his current game of choice they will not effect its mainstream appeal. There are larger structural issues in QL that deserve consideration.
- I.D. While it is tangential to what I'm going to write about I'll mention that I believe that the goal of making a game newbie friendly", i.e. making it harder for a great difference in skill between opponents to reflect in a large score difference, is often misdirected, and ultimately counterproductive because it reduces the game's staying power; Quake1 was very popular and yet had the proper weapon and armor /imbalance/ to give a high skill ceiling. It is very important that a game be attractive to new players and this should be a major consideration of the designers, but efforts in this direction are better spent improving the accessibility and user-friendliness of the game than overly tweaking the gameplay.
- I.E. I'll discuss my experience installing QL and playing for a few hours, and then give some suggestions for ways to improve its mainstream appeal. Also, I'm sure most of these ideas have already been passed around and are slated for inclusion, but I'm just going to write down everything that's on my mind, even if much of it is obvious.
- II. Issues experienced in installing QL and playing a few hours
- II.A. The installation succeeded in IE6. But when I restarted and loaded up the page, the main panel where the list of games should appear was blank. I wondered "am I missing something here? should I be clicking on a link somewhere to make something happen?" and tried that for a few minutes. There was no indication that anything had failed, but nothing was happening, either.
- II.B. Eventually I gave up and tried installing QL on Firefox The installation failed because of an error like "Can't install PunkBuster if it's already installed Fortunately, I knew from having played the game a bit several months ago where it keeps its data files. I navigated to my Application Data folder and deleted the PB folder under QL. The installation then succeeded. Good thing I knew where that folder was!
- II.C. In Firefox, the main panel appeared, and I began my training match. The game loaded and presented me a screen with two buttons: one to start the training match, the other to cancel. I moused over the start button and clicked repeatedly, but nothing happened. I tried using the keyboard to tab over to either of the buttons, but that didn't work either (and what kind of interface doesn't support keyboard control, anyway?) I could alt tab away from the program, but then my mouse was still stuck in a rectangular window. I tried alt-tabbing restoring, maximizing...and yet still none of the buttons worked. I eventually noticed that there was a separate Quake cursor stuck in the upper left of my game display which was not following my windows cursor. I alt-f4'd out of my browser, restarted, and the mouse worked fine.
- II.D. I entered the training match and navigated through the menus to configure my movement and weapon keys. Now I haven't had to configure Quake binds through a menu in awhile (thanks to a config file that I spent some time setting up many years ago), but I was disappointed that the menu interface was still just as clunky. Also, it has bugs that cropped up right away. Let me be a bit more specific.
- II.D.1. Bugs.
- II.D.1.a. The first time I bound all my weapon keys and returned to the game, several of them seemed not to have bound I had made a double pass through all the menus to make sure I got them all right before exiting the menu, and I had. But once I returned to the game, some subset of them no longer worked. I checked the menu and some binds now had the default bound along with the key I had assigned (I had originally cleared the default and some binds were lost altogether. I rebound them and something similar happened again. The third time every bind stuck.
- II.D.2. User unfriendliness / wanted features.
- II.D.2.a. If I want to, say, rebind my forward key from W to R, I have to click on "W", hit backspace, then click on the blank space again, and hit R. If I ever screw up later on and bind R to something else, I have to go back unbind W, and rebind R. That's annoying.
- II.D.2.b. Configuring "advanced settings" is still clumsy how is someone supposed to figure out what all these commands do? There's no obvious help system. Why not just imitate any of several excellent GUI implementations we've seen in FPS games over the years e.g., any of the Unreal Tournament games)?
- II.D.2.c. I have to use the console in order to configure horizontal and vertical sensitivities separately. OK maybe this isn't the most commonly sought-after feature but it'd be nice to have it as an option in the menu.
- II.D.2.d. The game was unplayably dark when I first loaded it up the default settings should be playable.
- II.D.2.e. I would rather not ever have to use the console, or spend any time looking up esoteric console commands to make sure I have the best "competitive advantage Everything should be customizable from a well-designed in-game interface, and the default settings should be nearly optimal. I would love to be able to sit down configure a small number of movement and weapon binds and then never have to reconfigure the game again It's simply too much hassle to have to learn what every command in the console does to ensure that you can be as competitive as possible -- making the default settings very good would take care of this Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who knows all the settings and commands in Q3 inside and out, authored some of the most popular scripts and config files over the years, coded his own multiplayer FPS engine and game, etc.)
- II.E. When I first played the game in fullscreen, the screen looked uncomfortably narrow and distorted. I fixed this by changing the r_mode in the console, but it'd be nice to have a decent-looking fullscreen mode by default.
- II.F. I completed the training match, which was OK, but didn't feel professional or polished -- I understand that it's probably a placeholder.
- II.G. I played a few games online, and those went fine -- no real problems that I can remember.
- II.H. I met a friend on a server and wanted to add him to my friend list. When I searched for his exact alias, say Joe," I had to wade through an alphabetical list of users with "Joe" anywhere in their alias to find my friend somewhere in the middle. Why not present any exact matches at the top? Certainly prefix matches should take priority.
- II.I. Later I was in the browser, chatting with a friend. I noticed that every time the chat box lost focus, it'd scroll back up to the top, forcing me to scroll it back down to the bottom. How annoying is that? When I hear about all the largely irrelevant) gameplay tweaks that have been made, I can't help but wonder if that time would have been better spent polishing obvious problems with the interface. There was no way to make the chat box bigger or its own separate window, like in GChat.
- II.J. The fact that I encountered so many of these issues in just a few hours of playing suggests to me that I'd probably find many more if I continued. To me, these are the most important things to fix.
- III. Suggestions
- III.A. Coop mode
- III.A.1. Warcraft, Starcraft and World of Warcraft have been popular games. One factor contributing to their success is the presence of cooperative modes which allow friends to team up against, for instance, computer opponents Many WC/SC matches consist of friends playing against a computer, as do nearly all WoW games.
III.A.2. TDM or CTF against bots might even do the trick provided that their aim is sufficiently nerfed to make the game enjoyable online. Imagine if I could play a 3v3 CTF match with a casual gamer friend and a flag-defending bot against three other bots, and if it could be made enjoyable and intuitive. That would be a great success, and would be a nice way to introduce new players to the game.
- III.B. Matchmaking
- III.B.1. I personally find FFA games more rewarding right now because there is less hassle involved in getting them started and they provide more immediate gameplay. A good matchmaking system is absolutely necessary for 1v1 to become popular. I think that if I am put off by the hassle of starting a 1v1 game, there's little hope for new players.
- III.B.2. Right now, if you want to play a 1v1 game, that usually means you have to wait as a spectator on a server, deal with jerks, hope that your opponent doesn't quit on you and so on. I would like, with the press of a button, to be matched with an appropriately skilled opponent and begin a game on a fair server. This should all take less than 30 seconds. Any more, and I'd rather just join a FFA server and get some instant satisfaction There should be a loading screen telling me my opponent's name and his "level" in the game (see below We should both be able to choose graphical avatars Mine should appear on the left with my name and "level his on the right. There should be some indication of the map or server we're playing on.
- III.B.3. Starcraft and Warcraft 3 have excellent implementations of match-making systems, and I see no reason not to copy theirs directly. Of course, this will require some difficult structural changes to Q3 (but it'd be a more worthy investment than any number of minor, inessential tweaks to the gameplay). In particular, I should be able to request a match on specific maps, of specific time limits, etc., and it should find me a compatible opponent.
- III.C. Leveling and statistics
- III.C.1. I discuss 1v1 in this section, but with some slight modifications, everything I say applies to FFA and the other game types, too.
- III.C.2. I become temporarily addicted to WC3 one summer because of the great matchmaking system and the levels it assigns players based on their wins and losses. Your level could become arbitrarily high -- it was not restricted to a fixed set of tiers. Beating a higher-level opponent earns you points towards increasing your level; conversely, losing too much lowers your level. It's awe-inspiring to see yourself matched up against a higher-level opponent, and the desire to increase your level is a great motivating factor for improving your game.
- III.C.3. I do not like the current "skill tier" system. There should be an unlimited number of levels (e.g. on the order of 20), and (as in WC3) there should be a small but nonzero probability that you would be matched with someone outside your appropriate range. I remember once being paired against the second-highest ranked player in WC3 at the time; he had level 15, I had level 8 Players of level 10 or higher were typically very difficult for me, so I got nervous, but it made me focus and play the best game I could -- when I "almost won it felt great.
- III.C.4. QL seems to have a functional "leader board" right now but it doesn't interest me in the slightest. I don't care who has played (or won) the most games or QL, or who can hit the highest rail accuracy in instagib. None of these stats are personally relevant to me. They don't involve me emotionally at all. What would interest me is something like WC3's system. I would like to experience the following by browsing the leader board:
"OK, I'm a level 3 player in duel mode. I can consistently beat level 0-2 players, but anyone with level 5 or higher I find quite difficult -- they seem to know the game better than I do fast forward a couple months...
"OK, I'm a level 10 player in duel mode. This puts me in the top 45% of active players in the game. According to this statistics page, the top player in the game is 'Joe', who has level 18. He has won 85% of his games against opponents of average level 15 -- that sounds very impressive!"
"Here are his weapon statistics, and how they compare to mine -- now I see that I should probably improve my LG accuracy if I want to compete with the best. It says here that he picks up twice as many RA's per game on dm6 as I do -- maybe I should work on my timing and control."
"Oh look, Joe and I have played against a common opponent 'Sam', who had level 14. Sam beat me 50-10 and yet Joe managed to beat Sam 45-[-2] -- this suggests to me that I have a lot of room to improve, and that players who I find difficult are actually quite easy for some. Moreover, I now have some awe and respect for Joe's skills. How could anyone beat Sam that badly? He was really tough."
"Oh look, some of Joe's featured game recordings are linked on his profile. Now I can watch him play a bit and see how he does it from his point of view. Oh wow this guy is impressive. Now I have respect for the skills that players of this game have -- I wonder if I will ever improve to the point that I could compete with the likes of Joe."
"Joe belongs to team XYZ. Oh wow, all of their players are level 16 and higher. Also, they are the top ranked team in 4v4 mode, and are the champions of QLCup #2 and QLCup #3. In their last 4v4 match, it says here that Joe had 0 deaths -- that sounds quite impressive, and I am now more intrigued than ever. There is a history of those competitions linked from their profile. I can read about the teams and personalities involved, and compare how teams did across the various tournaments For an excellent example of how this can be implemented in practice, see http://www.muppetclan.com/history
This demonstrates to me that there is a social component to this game in which friends compete together. Perhaps I'll join a team appropriate to my skill level and try to improve along with them. Fortunately the system has excellent support for scheduling and coordinating matches, and allows me to communicate easily with my teammates in an organized way outside of the game, so this can be accomplished in the most hassle-free manner possible."
- III.C.5. I realize that many of the last comments here address only a player who has already been drawn into the game but much of it applies in attracting a new player. If the game is set up so that the first few levels are very easy to achieve (e.g., there are easy bots of skill level 0 for super-newbs to play against), this would gives new players an immediate sense of investment in the game.
- III.C.6. Having a measurable "level" or set of "goals" to which you can work towards serves as motivation in many activities. WoW players strive to increase their character's level and acquire new items. A student might manage his workload with daily checklists to give him a sense of achievement and measure of progress. A programmer works off a TODO list, and feels a great sense of accomplishment when he completes a task Someone addicted to his email or blogs or forums probably gets the same feeling -- when he reads or replies to a post, his brain rewards him by releasing some dopamine.
Walking away from a session of QL, I might have the vague impression that maybe my muscle memory improved in some small, hard to measure way, or maybe I internalized a few new movement patterns on some map. It would be nice if I could earn some points towards increasing my level, or reaching other creative goals . That would motivate me to focus on improving, and give me a sense of accomplishment when I manage to do so. Such incentive/reward systems can be quite addictive e.g. WoW).
- III.D. Selling the genre
- III.D.1. The strength of the PC FPS genre lies in the great control it gives its players. Console FPS games e.g. GoldenEye, Halo) have seen massive popularity Their advantage over PC FPS games is their accessibility. However, it's hard not to feel artifically constricted playing a console FPS when you know the flexible and precise control a PC FPS with mouse and keyboard affords.
- III.D.2. There should be a professionally done, extensive interactive tutorial for teaching people how to play FPS games. This might involve simple movement challenges or target practice, but it should be fun and engaging. It could involve "goal sheets" of objectives like "hit this many targets in a big open room in one minute," or navigate through this obstacle course as quickly as possible, and aim for under 30 seconds." Think, for example, of Super Smash Bros., and the various mini-games that accompany the main fighting mode.
- III.D.3. There should be easily accessible demos or videos of the game played by good players, to show how it looks when done properly. Speed run demos of old Nintendo games are entertaining to watch and become quite popular on sites like youtube. Something similar for PC FPS games especially ones like Quake which give their users great freedom, control and speed, should be easily accessible and well-advertised on the QL page.
- IV. That's all for now -- thanks for reading!