When I first wrote this up it was on my cellphone, and I wanted to transfer it to my personal computer but I had used this “memo” app in my cellphone that is a glorified clipboard thing but while i could delete the memos and copy paste them, i couldn’t figure out where the file was in the phone itself to just move it to my hard drive. So rather than fight with it all day i just copypasted it into the wordpress app also already on my cell and thought I’d edit it that way, but my wordpress app doesn’t have a button to save as a draft it only showed “PUBLISH” as an option, so this went online long before I was ready for you guys to see it. So if you happened to see it before I was done, I apologize. It probably won’t make any more sense after I’m done, and I probably shouldn’t really care either way, and I’m sure someday I’ll learn a much better way to do this, but I’m still relatively new to the world of cellphone app crap so pardon my mess.

Also, this started (as many of my blog posts seem want to do nowadays) as a comment in a message board elsewhere on the Web. I think it was the Reddit Marvel Heroes thingy. However, while I began to answer someone else’s question about how the “party” option works in practice in the game Marvel Heroes, my rambling quickly stopped being about answering his question and began being more about how I wish MMORPGs worked when it came to interacting with other people online. I want the experience to be, in a word, ORGANIC. Rather than try to make me, a human being, cater to the confines and restrictions of a computer program whose designers incorporate parties and guilds and human interaction as an afterthought to whatever the hell their purpose for making the game really was in the first place, I’d want the game designers to start with the social aspect of online play, and then build their gaming experience around that skeleton. Failing that, cuz that’s never gonna happen, I wrote up the following castle in the sky as a kind of compromise between the two.

The party concept in Marvel Heroes (and other games like it) doesn’t really work intuitively for me. It doesn’t coincide with my needs as social animal or as a digital player in cyberspace. My schedule is weird so the idea of being able to plan when to meet other people online or even get to know people in the game and remember their names from one game session to the next, it used to be easier twenty years ago when I had more brain cells in my head but after oh so many beers and brain killing lolcat jpegs, I need more help in the social butterfly department. I ain’t as social in Marvel Heroes as I recall being in previous games like this. I could cite excuses here or seek therapy but that would be a digression. Let’s move on.

The game’s party system should automatically be more organic to each player’s unique situation. I doubt this is currently code-able but if wishes were horses right? Currently it works much the same way other games like it have been, since before World of Warcraft. There’s a chat function that’s always in the way and randomly one finds oneself spamming letters into the chat field when you thought you were still beating up on bad guys. Oftentimes these chat rooms consist of people telling each other they’re wrong about whatever it is someone else chimed in about, and randomly people will ask questions and other people will answer them. Sometimes the chat will drift into subject matter that not everyone watching chat wants to talk about, and other people will complain about it and still other people will complain about those guys complaining about it, and after awhile one gets into the habit of ignoring that chat field on the screen or turning it off entirely.

Then there’s guilds, clans, or “SuperGroups” for the Marvel Heroes genre kind of game. I used to join these guild things, and get to know people and make friends and think oh boy this is fun.. then maybe a few days later I’d run into them online again and we’d go do a raid together or something. Maybe we’d try to do a weekly or biweekly thing, where I’d have to actually schedule into my offline life a specific block of time where I could be online, and not everyone in the clan is in the same timezone of course so we’d have to start late enough for California but soon enough for the UK.. or vice versa. Then there’s always that one guy from Australia who everybody loves so nobody ever thinks to tell him get in a SuperGroup (clan, guild, whatever) that’s for the eastern hemisphere. And nobody ever gets any sleep anymore. And that goes on for awhile but then someone moves and forgets their password to get back in, or someone gets upset with the changes to the game and boycotts, or there’s drama there’s always drama and some people leave the guild for whatever reason or someone else gets married and they start showing up less and less or someone was already married but now they have a kid and oh boy is that a headache or someone gets a job and never logs in anymore and you’re like whatever happened to so and so and they’re like oh yeah his mom grounded him from the computer for six months and you’re like shit I thought that guy was fifty and they’re like he is but he still lives at home. And then you haven’t logged in yourself, in awhile, for whatever reasons you keep to yourself, and you come back and nobody’s ever online in that guild anymore and you think maybe leave that one and join another one. and the cycle starts all over, or you say heck with it and that just becomes another thing on your screen that reminds you there’s stuff on your screen you don’t even use anymore in this game.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Meeting up with people in an MMORPG is not very user friendly. It quickly turns into how things were the last times you logged in when it should be about NOW. This is how I’d want partying in Marvel Heroes to work. First off some terminology.

If you’re not familiar with Marvel Heroes I don’t know why you’ve read down this far but the game consists of “zones.” There’s areas where your characters interact with each other and the bad guys and just the Marvel Universe in general. There’s a Story Arc with many maps that are content driven, like if the story required a warehouse for a battle to take place, the game designers made a warehouse map and that’s what you run around in to beat on Doctor Octopus and his minions. There’s all kinds of maps and each map is a Zone. Some zones are intended to only be used for one person (or up to four ppl if you’re in a “party” or a few more than that if you’re in a “raid.”) and other zones are open to the public, which means when you transport your character to that zone, there will be other players in that zone with their avatars (i call em toons) aka super hero characters they are pretending to be for purposes of gameplay. The Zone is really big compared to what you can see on your screen. The game has many area specific powers which are “range” specific, meaning they work in a circle around your character with your character being the center of that circle. Based on many different variables, that circle might be rather small or incredibly large but when you get your toon up high enough level, the range is usually about the size of what you can immediately see around you, give or take.

So when I say ZONE I mean the whole of a map where anyone might be with you, like say the Midtown Manhattan map, or the Madripoor map. Just cuz someone isn’t visible on your screen, they could still be in your zone. That’s important in trying to make the rest of what I’m about to say make any sense. When I say RANGE or SCREEN, I’m generally referring to that circle around your character, and I try to get that circle to fill up the screen so when I use a Area Of Effect kind of power, it affects all the bad guys in my character’s immediate view. Also, when other players are in view immediately around me, I’d like my characters abilities to help them more immediately than if someone’s in the same zone I’m in, but not immediately on screen with me.

Right now in Marvel Heroes, in order to be in a “PARTY” you have to do this invite thing and up to four people can be in a regular party and I think it’s eight that can be in a “RAID” party. I don’t do many raids. This is an archaic practice that dates back to before World of Warcraft. In the old days it essentially meant when you join a raid or a party you were at least indicating to the other players that you’d stick it out with them till the end of whatever immediate mission everyone was gonna tackle. This invariably didn’t pan out depending on the time and difficulty of the mission involved. On many occasions I’d start with a full team and by the end of the mission there’d be less than half of us left and we wouldn’t have what it takes to take on the final big boss so we’d have to quit, thereby wasting hours of gameplay. And you could be mad at the people who logged off for whatever reason but that’s just it. This is JUST a game. If people have to leave after two hours of play, that should be ORGANICALLY INCORPORATED INTO THE GAME STRUCTURE. Cuz people have lives.

So in this new approach to game play that I am envisioning here, there is no “PARTY” invite thing. There’s no need for one, because whoever is on screen with me right now is who I am teamed up with in this instant and all team oriented bonuses should be designed so that they help not just my party but anyone within my range. If I’m playing Cyclops or Captain America and I have a natural leadership buff that helps other people in my party, rather than consciously invite people to join me, that leadership buff should just immediately extend to any players immediately on the screen with me in that instant. As I understand it there are some powers in Marvel Heroes which do this already and there are others that are specific to players actually partied up with me and other people on screen are ignored by the game. I’m suggesting that across the board all team buffs just extend instead to a RANGE that would be about the size of my screen, give or take, dependent on various stats for my character like level or intelligence or whatever.

This would be to mirror the actual comics. Supers don’t always plan ahead in comic books. Sometimes they call each other up on the phone but more often than not they run into each other while both just happen to be going after the same bad guy for different reasons and they decide to join forces and improvise to work together. When this happens it’s never ideal and they often step on each other’s toes figuratively speaking, so beyond the passive team abilities I already suggested, there should be no extra bonuses by default.

If you are in a supergroup, having any other sg member in your zone gives you boosts and boons. What those are would be hammered out by the game designers, but should depend on the number and kinds of raids your group has done together. The more sg members in the same zone the better and the more sg members in range (on screen) the more significant the bonuses and boons. So the more you actively seek one another out and stay together in zone or on screen, the more over time your group’s bonuses become. However, if you can’t all stay together all the time for whatever reason, you don’t get penalized for that.

Next would be character affiliations. This would not be zone specific like with supergroups. It would depends totally on proximity to one another, and again that proximity would be range specific, usually to about the size of the average player’s screen. So long as you two can still see each other on screen, you’re getting various bonuses and boosts to different stats. Each character would get bonuses and boons if they are in range of other characters they team with significantly in the comics. All mutants would get boosts and boons if near other mutants. All norse gods would get boons and boosts. Fantastic Four members past and present would help one another out more than those not affiliated with Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben. Avengers would want to gravitate toward each other and so on. I’m tempted to try to draw up these connections but that’d take forever. The game designers would probably have to draw some boundaries. For the Fantastic Four boost, players using Human Torch would benefit from seeking out Invisible Woman, Thing, or Mister Fantastic (when he’s included in the game for play), but pretty much everyone would want a player controlled Spider-man or Thing in sight cuz at one time or another they’ve teamed up with everybody. So the game designers may have to restrict some characters where this system would make them way too popular or even powerful in upper levels of gameplay. Spider-Man has worked with everybody. He’s been an Avenger, he’s hung out with the mutants (tho technically he’s not one himself) and Spider-Man’s been a member of the FF before. So he’d theoretically be giving boosts to practically the entire roster of characters currently in the game.

Storm and Black Panther were also FF members for awhile. I’d say that’d mean whenever near a FF member they’d get a boost and the FF members would also get boosts but in different ways, and how significant these boosts and boons and plusses would be would depend on a wide variety of variables that again would take too much time for me to attempt to detail here and the game designers would know better than me what would work and what wouldn’t. These plusses would be less significant in lower levels and would be boosted by having the right Insignia on your character.

In fact for new players these changes wouldn’t really have an effect. It would kick in more for upper level players and players who have prestiged at least once. The more you prestiged, the more significant these boosts and boons I’m talking about for group play.

Next would be your personal friends list. If you choose, when you log in, the game would let you know who among your friends are currently online. If you seek one another out you also get boons and boosts when zoned and ranged. Changes made to friends list on the fly would go into effect for the next game session, to prevent ppl from befriending strangers to get immediate benefits. Also the longer you have befriended someone, the better the plus. This way you are not limited to an arbitrary party number or raid number of players. However for chat purposes there would need to be /zone and /screen specific chat functions. Supergroups would of course still have their own chat and /social would still be server based.

So that’d be it. The plan would be to make teaming up with fellow players more organic to the gameplay in the moment, and less trying to hammer out something in chat or around the hubs only to lose half your team by the time you all decide which mission you’re doing and zone there. Eventually the “PARTY” option would be redundant. You just love the ones you’re with. I’m sure there’s a billion reasons why this can’t work, but it’s wishful thinking.