Warhammer design challenges

With more details about Warhammer coming up, it’s easier to imagine how the game will be and the possible problems it could present. The guesswork is the true nature of game design, you need to anticipate the outcome even if you have only rough sketches in your hands. And the problem-solving is fun.

Since I don’t enjoy to analyze and criticize but also design solutions, here are some rough ideas to address some of the problems I examined. I like these sort of “design challenges” because it’s an indirect way to confrontate solutions. From the rough previews about the game it’s already possible to imagine from where the problems could arise. Here I suggest some possible solutions and I’ll see if Mythic’s own answers will be better than mines, when they’ll be revealed.

Point 1:
clarify the role of Battlefields and Scenarios while addressing population balance issues

I was thinking that it doesn’t make much sense to support instanced PvP for starting characters, but then I also thought that with the initial release the noob zones will be quite crowded and in this case an intelligent use of instancing may help a lot. I don’t know if Mythic has thought something along the same lines but the interaction between battlegrounds and scenarios could be exclusively driven to regulate overcrowding issues.

The players would enter a queue as they step in the PvP zone. The scenarios could be just mirrors of the same battleground (minus the PvE portion), but instanced. As the battleground gets too crowded to support a decent PvP action, an instance is spawned and the players in the queue prompted to join. As this happens the “shared PvP objectives” would automatically switch for all players from the battleground to the scenario, so that the players would be encouraged to join. This would create a dynamic system that would spawn scenarios only when required, while keeping persistent “world PvP” always alive even where there are only a few players around. In this case the players wouldn’t be able to manually spawn an instance if the battleground isn’t already overcrowded.

At release the noob zones will be filled with players, so it could be possible to have multiple scenario instances active even in those starting zones. After a few months they’ll get much less populated and in this case the instances would be dynamically removed and the players made naturally “converge” in the persistent, base battleground. For the outcome in the “campaign” the results of a battleground objectives would matter only if there aren’t instanced spawned, while, in the presence of the instances, the players would be encouraged to move there by automatically switching the shared PvP objectives.

With this idea I have better defined the interaction and role of battleground and scenarios, also addressing some of the population issues.

Point 2:
a “recruit system” to keep the PvP alive and accessible at all levels and always, taking advantage of all the content available and without losing progress

As I wrote in the other article analyzing the game, there’s the necessity to lock the level range of a zone if Mythic wants to support open PvP zones and levels at the same time. In DAoC the lower levels battlegrounds are level capped and instanced, while the open frontiers are only playable at the high levels. Warhammer is supposed to have PvP and PvE mixed in the same zone. Without a zone level cap an high level character could go in a noob zone and ruin the PvP for everyone.

The “recruit system” is an idea to allow a player to dynamically bind its character to a zone that is currently out of its normal level range (but only downwards). This would retain the current progess in the game (like in Guild Wars you can only move between content already unblocked and visited) but it would also allow the players to still experience the content “backwards”, without the need to create a new character.

The idea is similar to EQ2’s mentoring system but in this case tied to a whole zone instead of a group of players. At the entry point of each zone there could be an “office” that would grant the entrance to the zone only to those characters in the appropriate level range. An high level player who wants to enter a lower level zone would need to go to this office and get “recruited”. The recruit status binds momentarily the character to that zone and lowers its level to be appropriate with the level cap of the zone.

As for the mentoring system, the player still gains some progress toward its normal level even when “recruited”, while the current level is locked so that he doesn’t risk to outlevel the zone where he is playing. This means that playing in a lower level PvP zone could still be a rewarding experience. With this system the level/ranks become more like a measure of the content you can access more than just an unidirectional power growth. An attempt at a “sandbox”.

The original idea is of “permeable level barriers” (the idea of “permeable barriers” I keep reusing and that I consider the keyword to advance the genre). Your character grows, but it can still move “backwards”, continuing to have access to lower level content if the player makes that choice. The “recruit status” is temporary in the sense that the character can always leave the zone and regain its normal level.

Ideally a player could decide to never go past level 10 if he likes particularly that PvP zone. At the same time that character continues to earn progress, so that when he decides to leave he won’t have lost any progress just because he decided to stick with the lower level battleground.

The goal of this idea is to keep ALL the game content accessible for ALL players and characters ALWAYS. Maximizing and valorizing all the content the game has to offer. Without the need to create multiple specialized characters or risking to outlevel and leave a PvP zone you particularly like. You make the choice, the game would be completely OPEN ENDED. Wherever you want to play, you’ll always continue to gain progress, albeit at a slightly lower speed (to give some incentives to those who play at the appropriate level range).

This is not only a significant advancement in the overall design of the game (all accessible and based on the player’s choice), but it will be also useful to keep the game well-populated and vibrant at ALL level ranges even years after launch. This because the players aren’t forcefully pushed against the level cap wall, but can also go back and decide where they prefer to play. The players will ALWAYS have the possibility to go play in the PvP zone where there’s some action, no matter at which level it is. The levels aren’t anymore impassable barriers separating you from the fun or your friends. Instead they become “permeable”. Just a way to measure the content, but not a way to segregate and isolate.

This would also effectively solve the gap between casual players and hardcore. By making everyone progress at their own pace.

On top of this I would even add specific rewards and military ranks to recruited players. It’s just an alternate character progress system to reward the players. So that the player can gain special ranks for EVERY PvP map and not just overall. In this case the rewards wouldn’t be in “power growth”. The idea is to offer items and perks, but that only define a status without giving directly more powers.

Like unique and recognizeable weapons and armor pieces who don’t have better stats, but just a special look as a reward and demonstration that the player has achieved a lot of experience on that map. Just a way to “personalize” your character even more, without fucking the PvP balance and gameplay.

At the very end of these specialization paths there could be even some special skills that would still remain usable only occasionally, more like fun events that the player can trigger and that would engage ALL the players. So not in the form of personal skills and attacks.

You can easily open up the recruit system to give the player all sort of fancy services, with the overall rule that these services wouldn’t provide directly more power. Just more customization and cool stuff to equip your character with. But not +damage stuff.

It would become an incentive to continue to play, without the pressure to reach the loot because you just cannot compete without it. It’s like RMT done right: through gameplay and dedication, but still without obtaining unfair advantages over other players in a PvP environment that should remain ACCESSIBLE AND FUN FOR EVERYONE. Hardcore or newbie.

Point 3:
a “bounty system” to balance direct player kills with shared PvP objectives, while avoiding exploits

In my analysis I already underlined the problem of PvP balance in the form of rewards.

– In DAoC: the players form selective and specialized ganking groups and ignore shared PvP objectives because ganking is by far the best way to gain Realm Points, while defending or conquering keeps is never as rewarding.
– In WoW: the honor reward coming from the objectives is much better than direct kills (diminished returns) to the point that a good number of matches are “arranged” so that both factions cooperate to get the reward without the effort.

Balancing these two is a crucial problem for a PvP system, but I don’t believe this balance can be achieved through simple math. This is a deeper design issue that is about the real meaning of a conflict. If the players are there for an external “carrot” they’ll try to get the carrot without fighting. Such is the nature of games. PvP is about killing players, the objectives are a way to add a variation and some significance to the formula. The goal is to make the direct kills still the focus of the PvP, but this while fighting for an objective.

My “hotspot” idea solved this by rewarding more points in the proximity of a PvP goal. So the “hotspot” or objective becomes more like a magnet, while the game still relies on the pure player vs player (if there aren’t players around you don’t gain points).

In the case of Warhammer this idea isn’t easily portable because of how the zones are being designed, but the idea of “bounty points” could still address the main problem of the balance of the reward.

The idea is that the players only gain a small amount of “progress” (experience, realm points or whatever) directly from killing opponents, but at the same time every direct kill grants an amount of bounty points. These points are only useful when they are “cashed”, so they need to be converted in the currency that the PvP system uses.

To convert these bounty points the players will simply have to win the shared PvP objective of the battleground. Basically the idea is that accomplishing the PvP goal isn’t worth anything on its own (only a small amount, like for the direct kills), but it’s the only way to convert the bounty points you have gathered while fighting. It’s a system working in two moments. First you collect, then you “cash” into tangible progress. Both chained together.

The amount of points converted after reaching a PvP shared goal is capped, so that it’s possible for the designer to tweak an ideal “ratio” between direct kills and objective-based PvP.

The purpose of this idea is also to avoid exploits. For example if there aren’t players in the other faction it would become too easy to win the battleground repeatedly while noone is around. With the bounty system the objective itself wouldn’t be worth anything alone, but it becomes important after you have fought enemies for a while and then need to redeem your bounty points. No enemies = no bounty points. So nothing to convert. The PvP goals are essentially just exchange systems.

The system is supposed to bring together the direct kills that are the essential of a PvP environment, with objective based PvP in a way so that it cannot easily boycotted like it happens in DAoC, where the shared objectives are really not worth the time they require.

It’s a way to put the PvP “carrot” where the purpose and the fun of PvP should be. Avoiding to create a “faked” PvP system that is then exploited like it happens with WoW and the arranged matches.

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