PvP theory in Warhammer

Arthur Parker continues to leech informations, this time from the May issue of CGM. I’ll quote the relevant parts and add some comments:

Being Green In the Warhammer universe, there are 14 known armies and lots of other races that are references, but in the initial release, we’ll see only six (seven if you seperate Orcs and Goblins, which most people do not.) There are two loose aliance: Agents of Order – Empire (Humans), Dwarfs (not “Dwarves”), and High Elves – and the Agents of Destruction – Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins), Chaos (Humans), and Dark Elves. This provides for three battlefronts: Greenskins vs. Dwarfs, Chaos vs. Empire, and Dark Elves vs. High Elves.

This already says a lot about the RvR structure. Orcs and goblins are clumped together and count as one, so it’s basically two factions that can then be branched into three different contrapositions.

I’m not sure they are planning this smartly, though. It looks as the beginning of the game will have unique zones by race, so the PvP will be about the “one vs one”, instead of the “three vs three”. If this is true it will bring to problems. We already know that the “levelling game” (Warhammer seems to have no levels, but I’ll come to this point later) tends to work like a wave of water that progresses uniformly till it reaches a “wall” (the level cap) and then starts to stagnate. (see the second graph)

It makes sense, in particular in a PvP environment where you depend on other players to have fun, to clump together the players in the newbie zones so that they can meet more easily, then opening up the endgame, where there are more played piled up, so with the possibility to spread them more without having population issues. This already happened in DAoC, where they had to consolidate the starting points to one per realm because the early game was desolate and it was impossible to meet other players and group.

This doesn’t happen in WoW for other reasons. The newbie zones are fragmented because the game starts as “single player”. The newbie zone is nothing more than a tutorial and it is perfectly balance to have a single player flow, without your character depending on other players. You can easily do all the content available in the game without grouping till level 10, when you move in a larger zone and where you can find more complex quests that may need some collaboration.

But WoW at level 10 isn’t a PvP game, not even on the PvP server. This is why Warhammer will have problems if Mythic wants to support PvP from the first minute without consolidating the players as much as possible.

A model similar to a branching tree would be more appropriate, with one zone for each faction (three vs three) and then branching up in more selective battlegrounds and scenarios. For the “flow” of the game it would make sense to just start in your race starting zone. But this would be about replicating the WoW’s model, which is definitely smarter: the game starts “slow”, giving you time to grasp it in “single player” and then slowly moving out to the contested zones where the PvP becomes a reality.

Remember that the PvP in WoW was BRILLIANT. The best EVER.

What sucked (and sucked badly) is the whole endgame development, with those horrid battlegrounds, the ridiculous honor system, the itemization and all the rest. The early PvP (minus the honor system that fucked up everything) was PURE GOLD.

The game will have player-versus-player combat from the get-go, but people who don’t care to participate in PvP can just as well carebear their way through the game entirely. Mythic has designed the content in four “tiers” of areas, each of which will have both PvE and PvP content, except on the PvP servers, where it will be everywhere, all the time. As you approach a PvP area, a mysterious voice says, “There is no stopping in the red zone,” and you become PvP flagged after five seconds. You can then choose to proceed, retreat, or say, “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only.” Once you step back, you’ll stay PvP flagged for five minutes, though. “What we don’t want,” says content director Destin Bales, “is for someone to go across the line, throw a fireball, then step back and go, ‘Neener neener neener.'”

This is exactly what I expected by reading the first hints.

Think to a zone, add two entry points at the opposite sides, one for the good guys, one for the bad guys. Then divide this zone vertically in three sections. The two at the extremities, near the entry points, are the “carebear zones”, where you can do your PvE stuff without getting bothered. The protected space, the PvE game. Then, as you go outside your zone, you enter a PvP space. The transition is seamless but as you cross the border you are flagged for PvP.

They only need to add some sort of objective in the middle that attracts the players, or the whole PvP will be along the borders, no matter of the five minute cooldown (and will also lead to some dull gameplay).

My opinion is that this “recipe for PvP” could work. At least if the players aren’t too spread out between too many zones and if there are some interesting environments with OBJECTIVES to fight for. PvP in a flat plan gets boring quickly so they need really to make the environment have a primary role and create interesting *contexts* to fight for, not just personal rewards.

I still think my model would work better, though. It would be more appropriate for an open PvP server (more points the more you move closer to the PvP hotspot). It would also lead to a more natural and varied environment instead of a silly definite line between PvP and PvE with a voice announcing that you moved to a warzone.

Mythic’s model works, but it could be much better, and easily. It’s still better than DAoC, thanks to a more seamless and natural transition from PvE to PvP.

I had an half-written article but I’ll add here the main point. A PvP game could be successful and dethrone WoW with enough resources. But the key to make the better PvP possible is in the PvE. It’s a countersense but it’s the real secret. A full PvP game won’t go anywhere. A game with PvP and PvE as two separate entities won’t go anywhere.

The key to the success is about using the PvE as a “bridge”. As a “gate” to the PvP. It should work as a smooth transition. Exactly following all I said about the sandbox games. You need to lead the players there, you need to make them understand how the game works. You need to slowly have them getting more “secure” about the game and their character. Confident.

The best PvP game will be the one where the PvE has a great value and accompanies the players to the other, more complex, form of gameplay. The two would be tightly interconnected. And not alienated one from the other as two different games innaturally coexisting.

Warhammer’s model accomplishes some of this, but not everything.

Faction Fiction One thing that you’ll notice is that, right from the start, War is everywhere. The core of the RvR combat is based on four layers of increasing sophistication. The first type is Skirmish Combat, where two guys just cross paths, hate each other, and fight. The winner will collect various rewards in experience, coin, items – they haven’t really ironed out the specifics yet.

The second type is called Battlefields: these are basically hotspots in a PvP area to which players will naturally be drawn. For example, there’ll be a ruined Dwarf village that may have some resources that are valuable to both sides. “We have so many proposals along this front that it’s scary,” says Bales, as he pats literally mountains and mountains and mountains of printouts of gameplay content. The next level is the Scenerio, which is instanced, open RvR combat. The battles here are quick, repeatable, last about five or ten minutes, and will be objective-based, using many of the basic paradigms of CTF, Deathmatch, King of the Hill, et al.

Some of this we already knew.

It seems that the “battlefields” are just a smaller set within a bigger one. An “hotspot” (battlefield) within the PvP area (skirmishes), so again part of the same seamless model that blends PvE with PvP.

Instead it’s the whole idea of “Scenarios” to suck. Noone wants another WoW with that stupid, artificial PvP borrowed from the FPS. It’s not a matter of queues, it’s a matter of scope and ambition. One thing is about adding objectives to PvP. Another is to transform everything into basic, redundant arcades that are just not appropriate for this genre. It’s just a direction that holds no virtue here and an experience that other game genres can and already deliver MUCH better.

So why chase WoW in this absurdity?

But it’s not over, because this stupid part is directly linked with the whole point of the game:

The overall victor of a Scenario will gain control of the entire zone (Skirmishes and Battlefield victories will come into play). This affects the fourth style of combat, the Campaign, which is, at the macro level, the heart of the game. In the fourth tier of zones lies a capital city for each front, and the objective, as you may imagine, is to take over the opponent’s capital and kill the leader and everyone else there (via Scenerio). Afterward the victors will retain control for some arbitrary time, say 24 hours, during which they may pillage and plunder to their hearts’ content. After that period of time, the game rebalances, forces you out of the city, and resets ownership of all the different maps, and the battle begins anew.

It’s here that things start to sound too weak.

Just join one line to the other and you can see how this idea just cannot work on paper, even less in a actual game:
“the battles here are quick, repeatable, last about five or ten minutes”
“the overall victor of a Scenario will gain control of the entire zone”

It is so flawed that it is probably a mistake done by the writer, or an early draft that just doesn’t make sense.

So we have more precise detail about the start of the game, this part looks solid even if not perfect. While the hints about the latter game are still not so encouraging and confusing. A conquest system tied to an overall campaign is an interesting model, one that I’m supporting and elaboriating from a few years already. But tying this conquest system to quick, instanced battles with game-y objectives just doesn’t sound as a smart idea. It’s like throwing the whole potential out of the window.

This “macro level” is based on the wrong parts of the game. The idea of a campaign should be something that slowly progresses, the “context” of the war.

From my point of view Mythic is playing too much with these different models and forgetting that the main objective is to offer shared, consolidated goals instead of spreading the players between multiple zones and styles. I wouln’t be surprised if the game fails because all the players are spread around and there’s little to no actual PvP activity. Leaving the great majority of the zones completely deserted.

What they are hinting here is a model that looks to fragmented and granular. The PvP should work as a set. It should comprise and bring the players together. Create shared objectives. Mythic is putting together too many PvP models at the same time, while it would be much more convenient and profitable to build up a coesive model with a few precise goals. Something unique instead of a patchwork of PvP styles that are badly joined together with purely functional purposes.

Too many plugs. They need to simplify a lot for the PvP model to work and be strong. Focus on less structures and define less, but more solid founding goals to achieve.

C&C The basic character system that Mythic is using is not a typical “class system.” They’re keeping some portions of the Warhammer universe and adopting others. “The career system operates along the concept that we want you to be able to choose an interesting start to your character’s progression, sort of complete the chapter of your character’s life, and then choose a new chapter,” says lead designer Steve Marvin. So they’re using a basic progression tree where you start out as either a Fighter or Adept (read “magic user”) and then, at an arbitrary stage, you may choose your next career step either in the same path as your original choice or in a direction that moves you into a different career.

In essence, a path straight through in the same discipline makes you what, in other games, is considered “pure.” Or if you like a more balanced, hybrid approach, you end up being what most think of as “multi-classed.” You’d think that this sort of thing would be a real challenge to balance, but Marvin isn’t worried. “It would be a real nightmare if we didn’t have this kind of encapsulation that gives control,” he says. “Because we split the Fighter from the Adept, we’re not trying to balance all the magic with all the weapon attacks… that helps us.”

Most surprising is the absence of levels, replaced by a career system similar to that of the tabletop game. You choose a career, then select certain elements of that career which you’ll attain once you have acquired enough XP. So improvements are gradual, rather than an enormous leap with each new level, and entirely in the hands of the player. A character learns four careers thoughtout the game, building a unique class of choosen elements.

A class system. No levels. Hmm…

There’s a lot of vapor in the eyes, I think. They play a lot with the terms but it seems that they are just recovering the system already designed for Imperator. That is the same in the original EQ2 and that was recently scrapped because it didn’t meet the approvation of the players.

You choose a class and then further specialize it. Branching classes. You start from a few options and then the system branches up in more possibilities. Nothing new, just different names for the stuff we already know.

No levels? We’ll see, there are still not enough details to understand the system. We know that you select a basic class, then you’ll move through three other specializations (the four careers total). There will be xp points and probably these will go to unblock gradually specific skills.

Basically is a branching classes system with levels disguised as achevement points. A remix without significant or even noticeable and justified improvements.

This while Mark Jacobs continues to be as fun as ever:

Any PvP flagging we may use, keep in mind that I actually created the PvP flag concept (and called it that) almost 20 years ago in my first MUD.

No, really.

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