Epic battle climax!

Related to the discussion about how to make hopeless PvP defenses a bit more epic and fun.


– Develop a system similar to Lucasarts’ iMuse (music tunes dynamically adapting to the situation in the game). The zerg approaches and you are outnumbered, and a special epic badass music starts to play.

War skills

The Horn

Mechanic: This is a commander skill. It can only be used when the team in a zone is outnumbered. When used it works like a simple trigger, enabling the “Braveheart” skill on all the players in the same team and in the zone. The horn is also a huge physical object that cannot be transported, so a commander must reside at a castle in order to use it.

Metaphor: The horn is played and its deep sound will be heard through the valley. You hear the sound, your realm is calling you. Fight for your realm!


Mechanic: after you hear “The Horn” your “Braveheart” skill lights up ready to be used. When pressed your character is locked into place, building up a morale boost that enhances your stats. If you are hit in combat you’ll be interrupted. This “buff” has a cap, so once filled it won’t pass that limit (you get the visual cue of a bar filling up, so you always know the status of this buff). Around five seconds to go from zero to cap. Your morale will then slowly decay over time and go down every time you deal damage, proportionally to the damage you deal.

Metaphor: You hear the calling, your realm is calling everyone to arms. Your character rises his fist into the air (animation) and SCREAMS THE HELL OUT OF HIS LUNGS (sound). You are answering the calling. In a castle “The Horn” is played and all defenders answer the call by screaming at unison.

Asymmetric PvP/warfare and processes of inclusion

Taking from a thread on F13, mine and someone else’s quotes.

This addresses “the problem that isn’t a problem”, meaning the population unbalance in persistent PvP.

People fail to understand that population IS PART of this type gameplay. Those unbalances are part of the system because they ARE the system. We are simulating the “struggle of nations” and even in real history those unbalances existed. History would SUCK if every battle was fought by the exact number of people. Taking all your people into RvR to defend your realm was THE game. This social aspect was THE game. A real motivation: fight for your realm or watch it fall. The realm NEEDS YOU.

The second you have EXACT numbers on either side, this kind of real RvR is over. “Numbers” are the heart of this kind of gameplay, not something to eradicate. The second you decide to lock numbers on either side you don’t have anymore real warfare, you have something else.

So look at this from the other perspective: instead of locking numbers to erase this unbalance, why instead not trying to make the game fun and exciting when you are outnumbered?

This can be done by making correspond to asymmetric numbers also asymmetric objectives. So that these objectives (and victory points you earn) are measured on your *current* condition, and not on the unfair premise that everyone has an equal chance. We *know* that it’s improbable to obtain equal footing in real persistent PvP so we don’t make a game assuming that, we make a game anticipating those problems and around those conditions.

Mythic’s big mistake was to design RvR ideally assuming that the three realms were always symmetric. They are not. The game rules should anticipate and be based on this.

tazelbain: Now with Scenarios giving the most VP, teams with best PvP teams controls the zone. This is a preferable situation because individual players have a better chance of overcome a teamwork gap than the numbers gap.

Nope because this is exclusive PvP. And exclusive PvP means that it’s selective. And selective means that some players get in while other players are left out.

A successful mmorpg must promote inclusion, not exclusion. Battles, the real medieval battles were about inclusion and numbers. Grab a pitchfork and join to fight. But we all also just saw “300”. And we know that a good team CAN overcome numbers. Or at least that’s the myth that games should make us live, because that’s what makes games feel cool and involving. Giving us myths.

The problem of zerg vs zerg must be solved elsewhere. I always said that the game must provide paths (through directed/objective based PvP) so that the game is fun and exciting even and IN PARTICULAR when you are outnumbered, because there’s the potential for something truly “heroic” that the players would love (see 300 again). While it’s dead boring if you know you are winning and the victory doesn’t require any effort.

How to achieve this? Instead of locking the number of players who participate in a defense/attack (which negates the immersion and the WHOLE POINT of the warfare), you give teams different objectives that are balanced for that specific situation.

A concrete example for a taste of what I mean: the team with the large zerg will have the objective (and related victory points) to conquer a castle. The outnumbered defenders will have the objective to defend it *as long as possible*. The more they resist, the more points they earn, and the more they are outnumbered the more the points they earn over time scale up.

Asymmetric/immersive warfare is the whole point of RvR. You just need to make it correspond adaptive/reactive objectives that are balanced to the current status of the realm.

And to precise better: are the game rules to lead the players around and determine what they’ll do and what they’ll avoid. Carrots on a stick, goals, power-ups. That’s what the game is about and what the players chase. They simply go where the best points to be made are.

What’s bad in PvP when you are outnumbered is that you only waste time feeding enemies points without getting anything back. So it’s often better to just /quit.

If this is seen as a problem then you can use the rules to encourage and motivate players to defend. What I mean is that this is ENTIRELY a problem of game rules.

It’s about time that game design starts to “legislate” on this, start working on models, interactions. Because till now RvR was just a big zone with a keep in the middle, with some bleached, gimmick features tacked on it. Not much development went into the actual RvR and warfare, and that’s the main reason why all that potential is untapped.

Just think to what we could have now if RvR had received in the years the same focus and numbers of reiterations that went into PvE.

That’s what I’m saying. RvR is still a closed door. The first step.

On the first question, is open RvR ever going to have mass appeal? I don’t know. Indications from daoc were that it’s worth a try, the casual players genuinely liked 100 v 100 face offs at keeps. The hardcore liked the open aspect of RvR much less, because it diluted their individual advantages. Certainly RvR is the only major thing that is unique to Mythic and WAR – and it’s the only mechanism I’ve seen for having hardcore and casual players interact constructively – so it seems nuts to focus instead on something that is already the focus of games like GW. At the end of the day, what we do know is that meaningful sport pvp is an unlikely premise for a mass appeal game, while RvR is at least unknown.

First off, prep-work. The beauty of RvR prep work was that the double mega hardcore did (and enjoyed) the prep work for the casual masses. Casual players did not have to do prep work for RvR, but double mega hardcore players who wanted to get shit done in RvR had to communicate that prep work to the casuals, it wasn’t perfect, but I have yet to see a better MMOG model for getting hardcores to talk to casuals. Plus prep work was only necessary at all for the very largest RvR events, on your average night of RvR you just use the realm war map to go find the action.

Open RvR remains untested in the market since daoc. And that was pretty much a stealth product by recent standards, I don’t think you can automatically draw conclusions about how an RvR game would do today.

There is significant evidence that meaningful (as opposed to diversionary) sport pvp is hard to sustain in a typical mmog setting because it dramatically emphasizes differences in player skill, at the same time as limiting community size and so forcing the uber up against the noob too often.

But at the same time, the best you can say for RvR is that people who tried it usually liked it.

In daoc, assuming you survive to level 50 rr4 or so (ie. rvr viable, and yes, that needs to come sooner in WAR), your realm is, in effect, a form of guild.

But in a normal guild, the guild community can form around social links, and so it is naturally cohesive. In a realm on the other hand, the game has to build a community around the arbitary membership of the realm.

If people (scrubs included) don’t care that scrub participation in sport pvp hurts the realm, that means you didn’t set up an environment which builds the community right, and as such you already failed the most important precondition to make RvR work.

This is really key, if you make everyone believe they are involved in a genuinely realm versus realm competition, and believe that they can contribute, and believe that the rest of the realm is on their side; then tbh most other stuff falls into place by itself. DAOC was built entirely on that principle, in that game pve was ostensibly about building community, and open-RvR was how the community entertained itself on an open-ended basis.

Here is my “David Perry” MMO project

This is the result of twenty minutes of “logic” brainstorming.

Logic brainstorming because I didn’t start from an inspiration I got. I just started to think about the nature of the project, its restrictions and then figuring out a scheme that could fit that project well.

I’m referring to that Dave Perry’s Top Secret project that I’m still skeptical about but that still keeps teasing me for obvious reasons. On F13 I posted that it could be fun to participate as a group as we are somewhat that part of the MMO world who has always had gripes and knows EXACTLY what is wrong. So it could be interesting to have that solid foundation: even if the project sucks, we aren’t naive and we know the genre and the industry well enough to cut the superfluous and talk about what matters. So whatever we achieve would be still respectable.

Then I started to think on my own about the project itself and what kind of casual game could be appropriate for it. Finding a set of features that must be respected and that are common to all game concepts possible within those restrictions. From there I tried then to deduce a specific idea about a possible game.

Here the skeleton of the project:

1- This is supposed to be a smallish project as they said it must be completed in about a year and will be one of those “free” games. So nothing ambitious like a complex sandbox, a virtual living world or a massive-scale game.

2- It should work on current or easy-to-make technology. So you cannot focus on something innovative or not already proven from the technology side.

3- Low production value. You cannot expect large and immersive worlds, with impressive vistas and focus on the exploration. Nor the “epic campaign” or hundreds of hours of character development. It’s a good idea to build a thing that can work with a limited group of art assets, easily expandable, and where things can be reused. Mudflation or leveled content should be banished from this project.

Considering these points I guess the best choice is for a game easily accessible, with a shallow power curve, small download, that you can get, log in and have some cheap fun within a couple of minutes. Since the “scope” cannot be the goal I guess the focus to realize a decent, interesting game should be on a core gameplay that is easy to get and fun. Nothing with multiple systems stacked on top of each other. Something simple but that can be also be mixed and freeform to hook the attention of the player in the longer term, while on the other side not losing the accessibility and fun.

One idea I had was for a Macross/Battletech/Gundam hybrid with simplistic RTS elements. Something like Planetside, but more RPG-paced. The fact that art assets should be reused makes a good idea to lean toward PvP. It could work through a short PvE introduction, with simple missions to complete, either online with mates, or offline. Completely skippable.

Then you reach the “end” game. A set of “maps” that may be linked by goals and purposes. PvP/conquest maps as well PvE cooperative mission maps. Either path (PvP or PvE) viable without forcing players one way or the other. You get points more or less like DAoC or WoW PvP. Then use these points to buy new mech parts.

The “core feature” of the game could be the freedom on how you build your mechs, so that you can put together and rig all sort of crazy, custom mechs. You build for the game a basic infrastructure, like a “grammar”, then let the player recombine mech parts for a near-limitless number of combinations. Studying a system so that the final stats and capabilities of the mech fall within a directed “balance”… Maybe you can take inspiration from Magic, the card game, where each “map” has also set “requirements” (like Magic’s tournaments where some cards are banished), so that the mechs must meet those requirements in order to participate. Or like in Gran Turismo (the racing game) where you have to have the right type of car to access set competitions. For example through a system where your final mech is automatically “tiered” or “ranked”, defining the kinds of missions it can enter.

You can then have “practice” maps where you can go to test and fine-tune your mech, or just play for fun, on your own, without any restriction at all. Just being wild with your mech design. Think to something like X-men “Danger room”.

Gameplay-wise it shouldn’t be twitch (twitch games need EXCELLENT execution and it’s not a luxury you can aspire to have in such a project). I would use the same system I imagined for my Fallout concept: playable with a gamepad (and ready to port on consoles if you want), using a single key to automatically target what’s in front of you, or switching targets with buttons for automated weapons. Maybe different mech parts could be linked to different control methods. For example you could drive a mech with “legs” with the analog stick, while a mech on “tracks” could use acceleration and deceleration keys.

It would feel fresh enough to draw the attention of the players, while being at the same time “sticky” with the mech customization and unlocking of new parts, along with the variety of mission maps available.

Another main goal is that this game structure is also easily expandable. You can freely add new mech parts and even completely new missions and brand new gameplay. As each map has its requirements you can easily add all sort of stuff without worrying to keep everything balanced for all the rest of the game. It’s so open that you could easily build whole new games within.

+ The game concept makes it also easy exportable to the large eastern market.

EDIT: I got an idea for the first “expansion”: Super Robots!

I was thinking to that japanese RTS game, Super Robot Wars. Instead of toying around with anonymous mech parts, you could do what City of Heroes did to comics. Use mech parts inspired to Mazinger, Gundam, Daitarn and the like. Then have “invasion” mission types where you take your Super Robot and invade metropolis like Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York. Stomp over fleeing people, take building parts and toss them around, take down aircrafts with your lasers, blow things up, destroy everything on sight and even fight Godzilla, Gamera, King Kong -like creatures and all sort of cool, weird stuff. Like those wonderful classic Japanese movies. Okay, maybe this goes a bit beyond the reasonable scope, but it would be one hell of fun :)

EDIT2: To who thought “where is the multiplayer” about the idea above…

Super Robots Arenas! Think something inspired to WoW’s arenas. 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3 or 5vs5. Ranked or unranked. The metropolises of the idea above would be the “ring”. How cool it would be? And in ranked matches, as it happens in Magic, the winner loots one random mech part from the loser ;)

Considering that this MMO won’t run on a monthly subscription but will be “free”, I fear that it’s almost obligatory to support RMT, whether you want or not. Considering the structure of my idea (unblocking and modding mech parts) I believe it wouldn’t be all that hard to put RMT on top of it. Even if I’d despise it…

You purchase new mech parts, new missions, and you may even purchase more “mech slots” to store in your “garage”. So that you have more mechs ready and set up for all the different kinds of maps. Instead of having to dismantle and rebuild your current ones every time.

You can even add “durability” to the mech parts, so that you may have to repair or repurchase broken parts.

This project is “gated content” certified (all content always accessible, with no “endgame” separation or drifts from solo -> groups -> raids. All modes always available right away) and “permeable barriers” certified (mechs can be dismantled and rebuilt freely, no character locked into classes or one-way choices to make). So it respects all the principles I laid down in regards of MMO game design during the latest years. And it may be the proof that they are valid :)

“Gang wars” Vs “struggle of nations”

First post Lum wrote about game design since… forever. But he is well justified.

It’s also about a theme so dear to me that I discussed many times in the past. I usually presented it in the form of “personal Vs communal objectives” and here instead Lum does what he does best: being much more clear and straight to the point.

I agree with everything he wrote, both on principles and analysis. I’m also waiting for a game that goes in that precise direction. That’s my “dream game” and that kind of innovation I’d like to see. Whether it is really innovation or just incremental progress or evolution.

I always said that I don’t care much how something is delivered, but I care that specific goals are set and specific problems are recognized and addressed. So thanks to Lum to give this theme some legitimation. My effort in the past was to persuade people of the potential of that direction.

What lessons would YOU add to make a PvP game more of a struggle of nations and less of a gangbang?

Acknowledging that the “struggle of nation” is desired or even preferable to the gangbang already wins me as a supporter. Recognizing that point and setting that goal is already much, much more than what happened in the WHOLE industry till today. So I somewhat agree with Sinij, that’s exactly the heart of the discussion. Because before figuring out how to encourage and support the “struggle of nation” you have to have the desire to have it in the game and motivate this choice. Instead of going with the beaten path of the classic gang wars.

The next problem is the “scope”. This isn’t just one of the goals. This becomes the basic structure of the whole game, so it is tied with every other part and it’s actually very hard to make general considerations. In the past I suggested many ideas to address many of the problems that come up with the system (Ubiq in the comments brings up one: “The losers of any fight will only take being a loser for so long before they leave (either go to another server, or leave the game entirely). It’s imperative to give them a way back into the fight.” And a problem that is also somewhat near to an article from Gamasutra) the problem here is that it all depends on the actual structure of the game. What I mean is that you cannot abstract too much here, you have to go deal with the practice of the system. You have to have referents. Then you can prospect solutions and delve in every particular issue that comes up.

But that’s also what Lum demonstrated in the specifics. By providing well-known referents (“lessons” learned from past games) it’s much easier for people to follow what you write and understand the point. The problem is when you try to leave current games behind to suggest new solutions.

The simplification in “Gang wars Vs struggle of nations” is still already a lot. Partly because it gives legitimation to that goal, as I wrote above, and partly because it’s clear to the point. It sets two trends one against the other.

About the “lessons” I agree with each Lum pointed. In particular the last, that isn’t a “lesson” as it wasn’t actually learned, is something I’d STRONGLY support. And if I’d have to bring a concrete example about it I’d bring up what I wrote long ago about the early implementation of PvP in WoW. If systems are well put and coherent, then players comply to the context in a natural way. To the point that they don’t even notice this “transition”. But when the context is CONTRADICTORY, as it happens in WoW’s PvP where to get more points you avoid the fight (or jump between BGs looking for a more favorable situation), then all the context you are going to develop, no matter how much polish you put on it, will always get ignored.

The lesson here is “mandatory” to make Lum’s last lesson possible, like a postulate: develop systems so that they are faithful to the context. Or better, develop games systems starting from the context, to “realize” it.

Why this is a lesson? Because the reason why contexts till today didn’t work is that they were “tacked-on”. Added later. And not instead the *premise* from where you start to build the game systems coherently.

This is similar to the critics I had made to Raph about SWG. You should design a game “from the inside”. The game design should be a “simulation” of the setting and context. And not the setting and context “tacked-on” an arbitrary game system. “Metaphor” and “mechanics” ARE NOT independent.

That was one of my crusades and one lesson I’d suggest.

Instead I have some objections about the first lesson. I don’t think that the first lesson is absolute, but then, thinking more about it, it’s just that I would disagree on the implementation.

I don’t like the economy to have a strong impact on the game because it deteriorates other aspects and makes them overall less accessible and fun. Economy creates barriers. But I agree that the “economy” can be the fabric of the conflict. Going back to my ideas and notes on the “dream mmorg” I separated these two same-layers. From a side the personal economy, from the other the world economy. Usually in games these two blend. The same money you spend on your own items and other personal services is the same money your realm uses as greater motivation. In Eve (as Eve was the example) the money you use to buy your ship and modules is the same money involved in the warfare. What changes is the scale.

As I repeated a million of times I dislike this. I dislike the shortcomings that economic system bring and all the negative effects on the fun and accessibility.

So here I somewhat disagree on the goal and would look into possibly better alternatives. One specific idea I wrote about was about that separation. Personal from a side and communal from the other. For example everything belonging to your character would be “safe”. There should be the possibility to store your belongings so that you are sure that when you’ll log back in the game everything is still there. All this “layer” that concerns the “personal” sphere should be excluded from PvP and the level of the economy.

Then we have the other layer and that can be an element of the conflict. So I want resource systems, points of control and all similar structures. But I would keep all these on this specific layer. It means that their *purpose* in the game never coincides with the one of the single player. So if you get resources used on this “layer” you cannot sell them to buy your character a better sword. These two sides, personal and communal are kept separate. Personal wealth should be unrelated to realm warfare, the two systems should be impermeable between each other. Moreover while your personal items can be stored safely, all that belongs to the “world resource system” is persistent on the world. This means that nothing is ever safe (aside your own personal progress). Enemy players can come and not only conquer your territory, but even pillage your cities and steal resources from your depots. There would be no way to take the objects used on this layer and log off safely with them. If something exists on the world, then it never exits. It is sitting somewhere. You can hide it, you can defend it, but you cannot take it out the game with you.

Of course this choice would also force to deal and address other long-time problems, for example guaranteeing a balance and a tactical depth, so that when you log in the game you won’t find out that the enemy realm “won the game” during the night while the defense was down. I thought about these problems and I believe that they can effectively addressed with some work, but again I think it’s pretty useless to abstract here, as the solutions are too dependent on the concrete implementation and scope of the game.

In my “dream mmorpg” the conquest of the regions was somewhat predictable and strictly paced, with a wink to wargames, so you would know which regions you are going to conquer or lose just by glancing at the map. Basically the outcome is predictable, you would be able to guess what could happen in a day, within a best and worst case. The overall goal would be making this “struggle of nation” like a slower paced campaign. Something that evolves through days and weeks, not something that can be resolved in the arc of a few hours. Somewhat similarly, in Eve it takes a loooong time before you can effectively take over a system. You cannot conquer the map in just a few hours, it’s just not functionally possible.

As I always repeat in these cases, I don’t care much about the actual implementation, but just that the right goals are set and that the right problems are considered and addressed. I offer my own solutions, but this doesn’t mean that there cannot be better ones. In this case I believe it’s possible to counter effectively the problems arising.

Concluding. From a comment:

You looked at history of mmorpg PvP through distorted prism of hear-say and reached wrong conclusions. I think its prevalent problem with PvP designing, its never designed by someone who actually, you know, serious PvPers, instead it what other people think it should be and it often fall short.

PvPers want gang warfare and turf wars! Small scale guild warfare over points of control is ideal state of PvP in any game.

Yeah, that’s EXACTLY the reason why today PvE is much more prevalent over PvP. Because PvP was always delivered with that shortsighted mentality of yours.

The point is that we have already plenty of offers of those “turf wars”, in particular with non-persistent games where that model works better. So go play them, and leave us have at least ONE game that gives us the “struggle of nations”, that is where persistence can become a strong quality. Because we currently have none. And because it has the potential to become significantly more successful than current, unambitious models.

Again, I prefer games integrating players as much as possible instead of games designed around small and extremely selective niches.

I also wonder, why when I write about the same themes, brining up the same points I get completely ignored while when Lum does exactly the same it triggers impressive chain reactions? Oh well, I know the answer ;)

Mmorpg game design emergency: do something

I was writing on F13 that the natural growth over time of Vanguard’s subscriptions will fall sooner compared to similar titles:

A side effect of an “hardcore” game is that it will age worse. The subscribers growth will fall sooner.

In WoW the solo friendly design helped the longevity a lot because the game is built so that you can have a good experience even if you aren’t part of the initial “rush” on the server. The fun experience is well preserved.

Vanguard will probably have a much harder time to grow subscribers in the mid/long term as the grind when there aren’t players around will feel much harsher. Being more “group friendly” makes the game vulnerable to lack of players, off-peaks and so on. The longer leveling curve will also build much bigger gaps and it will take ages for a new player to join his friends and play together.

These kinds of barriers are overlooked RIGHT NOW. But I’m sure they’ll become a major factor later on.

This is part of a bigger picture. The majority of the games out there and in development are showing obvious needs, the players are exposing them. These are cues that must be understood now. There must be answers at least to those problem that the majority of these games are showing.

So this is a design discussion common to ALL these games, not about a specific one. Game designers are LATE on providing valid alternatives and answers. I don’t consider “being innovative” giving a strong, valid answer to these main problems, but if this industry must proceed through incremental improvements then at least let’s DO SOMETHING. Narrow down some very simple and essential problems and tackle at least those. Define some strict goals that are *proven* as valid.

From my perspective these three are the priorities. The design principles to work toward even before the preliminary work on game design started:

1- Server structure. Brandon Reinhart recently wrote how “the fundamental server architecture has an impact on the game in a very real, money-in-the-pocket, subscribers-on-the-line kind of way”, as I also did a number of times in the past. Mmorpgs should develop as FIRST PRIORITY a flexible server structure that balances the server load, population and PvP factions, while avoiding to build barriers between players. For me this means “server travel” as a basic, exposed mechanic built in the game. I don’t care about the implementation. But your game MUST remove barriers between players, must let them meet together easily. If there are barriers these MUST be passable. Permeable. So if there are barriers they must be temporary. The “sharding” should never be a cage to separate players permanently.

2- Game structure. Let’s build games as worlds that can live and flourish. Let’s develop systems well connected between each other, with a solid function. And let’s develop them so that the whole structure is well developed and maintained, so that the game doesn’t become stale for new players who finish confined in forgotten and deserted parts of the game. A new player when starting the game should be presented with a vibrant, lively, active world and community. Not an abandoned zone. The game should be considered and developed cohesively, not just focusing on the last segment of a linear development scheme. Not toward a dispersive drift that will necessarily bring to a decline. Let’s not build these games so that they can be easily replaced, let’s build them so that they become solid structures on which you can capitalize. Solid foundations on which you continue to build and improve. Not castles of cards. Not perpetuating mistakes just so you can fuel and hype unnecessary sequels.

3- Remove gaps and barriers that prevent players to have fun together. Instead of FORCING grouping, let’s make grouping not a chore. Let’s keep the power differential between new and veteran players narrow so that they can join their friends, play and have fun within the first hours in the game, right as they are comfortable doing so after they learnt the ropes of the game. And not after months of grind/work. Let’s build a structure of the game to keep the community together and focused instead of scattered along an infinite treadmill. And let’s give player’s classes flexibility (for example directly through class switching and alternate paths, without having to relog new characters) so that a group can be put together quickly without having to waste time waiting for a specific class, letting players ADAPT their characters to the group.

These aren’t vague and abstract principles. These are founding values. These aren’t game “wishes” aimed toward a specific game or preference. These are actual EMERGENCIES in all today’s mmorpgs.

Design priorities. Everything else is subordinate. Setting, combat system, gameplay, these are all secondary. There may be millions of different and valid answers to those three problems. But we MUST provide answers to them. I don’t care what the answers are (mines or someone else’s), but I do care that they are aimed there.

So, dev people out there, lets agree on these basic principles and do something to start moving in that direction? Let’s at least have the will to go there.

More on Vanguard and world design

Not trying to vehemently bash Vanguard, just explaining better what I mean for decent “world design”.

Since people say I’m deliberately picking horrid screenshots to ridicule Vanguard (the truth is that I picked those that illustrate better my point), here’s a good looking one that still shows what I pointed out. A lack of world design. There’s this bumpmap effect applied to all the terrain everywhere but it seems that the textures themselves are random noise patterns with a varied hue.

The lack of “world design” isn’t the fact that there aren’t many objects visible. But that those that there are, like the boulder, the fence and the tents, seem all completely estranged from the environment.

How would it look if there was an at least passable world design? It’s not that hard. The lines (textures) between objects shouldn’t look so definite. The areas around the tents should have probably used a different texture that shows there’s activity in that place and the sand near the fence would surely look different. Since there’s water, a possibility of high tide, along with the fact that the sand is soft, that big boulder would have likely sank more in the sand creating a hollow in the area, maybe even a small pond. And I also doubt that a cliff so close to the water would look like that and the same for the transition between the rock area and the beach.

EDIT: Credit to Jpoku for a much better “reading” of the scene (and this is a very good design lesson):

the connectivity is poor for whatever reason. It just doesn’t feel as alive. The fence, gate’s and tents look like they are about to fall down. The sea creature looks like it has just fallen out of the sky and landed on the ground rather than having led there for ages. Also someone could just swim round that fence. What’s it defending against? No signs of it being a real barricade. WoW here would have supplies behind the fence, strong supports holding it up. On the other side there would be bits of broken wood, swords or corpses (like a fight has happened there so a fence is needed)

Another example. If in the real world you make objects on the terrain invisible, you would still see many evident cues that something WAS there. Now imagine to remove all those objects you see in the screenshot. Well, There would be no sign at all that something was there. The terrain would look uniform.

Vanguard world design is this: a fractal terrain generator on which were then dropped with no real logic a number of trees, rocks and buildings of various type. It’s the opposite of an organic world design.

In general there’s always a glaring clash between the terrain and the objects/models. As if things were photoshopped into the scene. It gives a very “false” feeling (and this is the result half of the art quality of the textures and half the graphic render they coded, which sucks. See Black & White 2 for a terrain render that looks amazing).

Now take these other examples:

1- Transitions. Can you see how in this case the transition between the beach, the grass and then the rock areas is much smoother and organic (dithering aside)? And how the result is a believable, immersive scenery?

2- Detail. Notice how the terrain is painted to have some kind of trailing effect near the wooden planks, as if some water dribbled around them. Imagine to remove these planks and the terrain would still reflect that something was there.

Now go and see if you can find in Vanguard a similar example. WoW can deliver some organic scenery even with an empty landscape. In Vanguard the terrain looks as if it was colored with the airbrush in MS Paint.

Try to walk along the coast in Westfall and you’ll see plenty of wooden planks, barrels, tree trunks, shipwrecks and so on. That’s world design.

Please understand that this isn’t a Vanguard vs WoW. I’m just pointing out one of Vanguard’s flaws and using WoW because it offers descriptive examples of good world design.

And consider that I’m pointing out only one tiny aspect of what I consider world design, just because it was the easiest to explain. I hope it illustrates better the kind of point of view from where my comments were coming.

I know very little of “world design” and I doubt I could do a better work, I don’t have any practice with it. But I see something that looks amazing and then something that feels like crap. What I do is just to ask myself why. I try to analyze and dig what I see and try to understand what makes the difference. So I’m trying to learn by myself. I compare things to learn the differences. It’s not simple but I expect that those who actually ARE WORKING in the game industry know these things I’m trying to teach myself.

The collection quests

The “collection quests” (meaning those that require you to loot “x” objects that may or may not drop) are a quest type that is often criticized by everyone because it feels grindy and frustrating. Many also wonder why they just don’t all get replaced with the more straightforward kill-quests.

I don’t think that collect quests are bad but the players don’t like them. Still I believe these types of quests shouldn’t be removed as they fill a different role than simple kill quests. They should be tweaked, though.

While playing in WoW’s Outlands and even the starting zones I noticed plenty of quests that weren’t well balanced. In particular those that require you to collect different kinds of items are usually badly balanced. Often there is one object type that is ALL OVER THE PLACE, while the other much more rare. This tends to feel frustrating.

The point is: it’s not the quest type to be bad, it’s the balance. The quest type just exposes the quest to this vulnerability.

Rule for collection quest and non-grindy gameplay: It’s ok till you don’t push players to kill respawns.

That pretty much guarantees that a collect quest is a good one. It also feels better from the point of view of the immersion. “Respawn” is a workaround mechanic to refresh the world, but it should be as invisible as possible from the player’s perspective. In the case of collect quests the “respawn” becomes an ACTIVE mechanisms of the quest itself. This is all kinds of WRONG.

As an example, one of the first quests in the Outlands (Alliance side, but I guess mirrored even for Horde) asks you to collect 12 badges from the fel orcs in Zeth’Gor. The place is big enough, but with just a few players around and about a 50% (or less) chance of getting the badges you’ll HAVE TO kill respawns at some point. In my case I killed the orc in the forge five times before I was able to complete the quests. This is grindy. Players should be presented new challenges, even with minimal variations, but at least some. If I have to kill the exact same mob, in the exact same location, then the game starts to feel grindy. And I shouldn’t be put in the condition for this to be required.

This is bad. A quests that makes you kill respawns is bad. It’s a very simple rule. And in the classic game there are more than one quests where not only it happens that you kill respawns, but in some cases YOU HAVE TO. As there aren’t enough mobs to complete the quests if you don’t wait for respawns. It even happens that you exterminate a zone, but the quest requirements still aren’t complete (concrete example: it happened me two days ago collecting venom sacks in Stonetalon near the lake).

Come on. This kind of balance and game design is very easy to understand and to execute. WoW could use some tuning. It’s not hard.

Having fun playing WoW pt. 2

Answering indirectly Raph’s comments and blog.

I suspect we’re reaching a little bit of a language barrier. :)

I don’t know if it’s a language barrier but it’s probably a term that defines two different things. The one I’m talking about is strictly “functional”. Content -> purpose/function. Mudflation doesn’t exist till the function of the content is preserved. And it is always preserved till it’s not deliberately replaced.

This thing I’m describing is also completely independent from the “social” aspect. It can be reproduced even in a single player game.

For example before the expansion the levels 58-60+ were covered by five dungeon instances (Stratholme, Scholomance, Upper and Lower Blackrock Spires and Dire Maul). From there you could get experience and gear upgrades along with the “tier 0” armor set, then move to raid instances. This was the intended progression.

The launch of the exp pack provided everyone an alternative path. Instead of doing those five dungeons multiple times now you can run a few quick quests through the new zones and obtain MUCH BETTER gear. With MUCH LESS effort.

What is the consequence? That suddenly the first path becomes completely irrelevant because devs have provided a much better alternative. “The path of least resistance”: over time content with the same “function” in the game system is progressively selected till there’s ONE path left (and here the players asking more “middle” content are in a wrong position). Content is eroded to the essential.

The content of this expansion doesn’t stack on previous level 60 content. Or we wouldn’t get any mudflation as the old content would retain its function. But the content in the expansion replaces the standard 58-60+ content. It allows you to skip old content entirely. It’s a jump forward.

Faster, soloable, better rewards = FUN

The point is: this not only the goal, but also the “escamotage”.

(2) The point is: by devaluing old content they can valorize the content in the expansion. That sort of “artificial fun” that is the KEY of these kinds of games. Here you manipulate desires. What people want, what people do. In the game you can create a “need” just by devaluing and replacing.

(3) The point is: without the devaluation, there cannot be new value. No baits to throw to the players.

Your Epic Sword of Pwn must become a toothpick so that you can then restore your lost power. You need to lose power (mudflation) so that you can gain it anew (valorization).

Hell, it even happens on movie sequels. The Hero who won both the kingdom and the girl at the end of the first movie must lose everything so that he can demonstrate how badass he is once again.

So the end point is that devaluation and valorization are strictly connected. WoW expansion is practically this: you take away from the players so that you can give them again. In a endless loop.

being able to go back and see something that was once powerful and is now trivial helps that, and both of these feelings are core to the value offered by this style of game

This is often brought up, my opinion is that it’s not really relevant. What matters is what you see ahead. What’s behind, in these kinds of games, is soon forgotten. Games based on this model are successful when they don’t even give you time to look back. They keep pushing you forward endlessly. As an obsession. If you stop, you lose interest.

How many players that are having fun with the new content are going to run old level 60 instances for the “nostalgia”? Some for sure, but this isn’t a core mechanic or motivation. It has a place in the game, but it’s a part that isn’t directly relevant. If players start to go back to past content it’s mainly because they lost interest in the expansion content, or because they already finished it. These cases are not good cases for the game.

restrict players from helping each other (limit trading, twinking, use soulbinding, etc)

Powerleveling happens (in fact the first 70 worldwide was poweleveled to victory), twinking is so limited that it’s not relevant in WoW. But in a game so founded on the solo experience the powerleveling isn’t a main phenomenon. What I mean is that the mudflation doesn’t interest the game as a whole, but just that part of content that is now “sided” by new content in the exp. Not content “stacking” (on top), but content added aside past content. And replacing it as the “new” was designed to be artificially more desirable.

As an hypothetical example let’s say that Guild Wars offers periodic packages, each offering the exact same level 1-20 experience, just in all new environments. If every package is balanced then there would be no reason for the players to buy all of them. So the devs decide that in every new package the 1-20 experience is shortened by a 25% and the gold dropped upped by 25%.

What happens? That new content looks graphically better and it’s even “functionally” better. So the new content completely replaces old content. Their function overlaps, so one is preferred to the other. As if we have two quests with the exact same reward, but one can be completed in half the time. Which one do you think the players will choose?

This becomes also a quality problem. There may be a quest that it is written very well and original. But there’s another quest with the same function that gives a better reward and that you can complete in half the time. “Players see past fiction”. That’s a quote from Raph. Players go for the game’s goal. Not for “quality”. And here we are at “The best route should also be the most fun route.”

The kind of mudflation pertinent to WoW (and that I commented here as a very SPECIFIC case) isn’t of the “social” kind. But is the fact that the lower end content in the expansion OVERLAPS with classic 58+ content. If the very first quest was only possible if you had a character in a complete Tier 3 set (last raid instance in the classic game), then Blizzard could have released a full expansion without an hint of mudflation.

The progession could have been: level 58 -> 5-man dungeons -> Tier 0 set -> Molten Core raid -> Blackwing Lair -> Ahn’Qiraji -> Naxx -> first quest in the exp

Instead the progression is: level 58 -> first quest in the exp

All that we had in the middle is gone. Bypassed. It lost its function in the fabric of the game.

And this mostly because WoW is a GAME. Pure game. Where more social, virtual world-like features like the Auction House are a minor phenomenon. A gimmick with relative relevance. In fact these work within VERY STRONG restrictions exactly to NOT GET IN THE WAY of the GAME.

Which is what Lum explained perfectly in the follow-up to that thread I linked.

Every MMO economy is false. Duh. Trust me, you don’t want a real economy in an MMO. It will, with stunning rapidity, result in a tyranny of a very small minority. Much like, well, real economies.

The problem with the typical MMO economic model is that crafting items compete with dropped items. Literally: crafters are in competition with the items that world builders are crafting to make hunting attractive. The problem is that one “faction” in this equation is always losing; either craftsmen complain (justifiably) that the results of their labors are marginalized because the Shiny New Sword from Deepest Dungeon is better than anything they make, or everyone else complains (justifiably) that the stuff they’re getting from monsters is worthless, because it isn’t as good as the stuff crafters are making.

So points Raph listed, such as:

– New users now have less “buying power” so to speak.

– Social contacts get harder early in the game, because users accelerate out of the shared low level experience quickly.

These are irrelevant in a game where you can (and, mostly, will) play solo and where what is *required* to buy are skills from NPC trainers that have fixed prices.

One interesting point is in fact that since WoW is so solo-friendly (single player game), it will also age much better than similar MMOs. Just because the social aspects and virtual world-like elements are already so weak and bland that the negative effect due to their degrade is next to none. Heh.

How to design a Fallout MMO game that gets 1 MILLION of players within the first year

(this post may look very superficial but there’s an HIGH density of pure game design)

I started to gather ideas just for fun a couple of weeks ago and it’s when I decided that title you see. I did some brainstorming for a few hours but then forgot the whole thing and looked elsewhere.

Today I was thinking again about a part that I didn’t completely resolved, so I decided to put together at least what I had written (and that I partially posted on Q23). I love to brainstorming, in particular in this case that it is BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that this title is pure vaporware that will never be released.

So, pick up the challenge. Put together a sketch of a design plan for a Fallout title aimed at the mass market and that can reasonably aspire to get 1M of players within the first year of release.

As I said I sort of dropped this challenge, but here it is what I got during that initial brainstorming phase.

Inspiration: Mad Max, Army of Darkness and Cowboy Bebop. What I used for inspiration is already quite weird, but I think it works to visualize the kind of world and gameplay to mimic.

Ash Williams! Chainsaws, shotguns and dynamite!

I started to find some key values that are meaningful to that setting. Things directly “fun”, visceral. The cool factor. Basic expectations. The post-nuclear world.

– Ranged combat (getting ranged combat right in a RPG isn’t trivial)
– The setting: I see it like a flavor of cyberpunk, just more decadent
– Tribal nature (small outposts, gangs, local mafia etc..)
– Water, food, gas and ammunitions represent the “wealth”.

It’s also a bit steampunk. There’s technology, but a raw kind of tech. We don’t have spaceships and fancy computers, we have muscle cars, dune buggies, rust, heavy metal (not the music), screws, nails. Gritty world. Dirty. Both new and old. Sixties music could fit better than modern. It’s the “retro” feel. And the reason why I used Cowboy Bebop for inspiration.

The Fallout world has the essence of something strongly familiar. It’s more a distorted way to see the past, than an interpretation of the future. It’s actually more fantasy than sci-fi from this perspective (hence the reference to Army of Darkness).

One part I was considering is that the setting is somewhat “desolated”, few people around, most are dead. You really cannot portray a noob zone with hundreds of survivors whacking droves of mutated spiders, rats and scorpions.

How to preserve the post-apocalyptic mood and give an idea of a mean world where nothing is secure and where the personal initiative makes the difference?

That’s the main theme: there isn’t anymore a general government, so everyone is organized in smaller tribes, ala Mad Max. Everyone is more than ready to stab the other at the right time and steal what is possible to steal. And most of the gameplay should be about the smaller, unexcused wars between the tribes while the rest of the world goes to hell.

Now the overall scheme is where the game can be more interesting and it’s the easier part to realize as there may be so many good ideas and things to build around the concept. From this perspective the setting is ripe of good ideas and the possibility to step far away from the usual treadmills. So I don’t think it’s too hard to make an interesting, “fresh” game with a wide appeal.

The part that actually gave me more problem is about the combat itself. The gameplay. How do you realize this core?

Obviously you cannot go turn based. I discussed this on the forums. The premise of the challenge is to make a game that could be a huge success and a turn based game will be much harder to market. The other common mmorpgs are also turn-based, in a certain way. But instead of dividing “time” in regular segments, the division is more variable and the gameplay more fluid. I see this as a step forward, so I wouldn’t go back.

The first idea I had was to use a RPG kind of (ranged) combat that could feel “right”. Right meaning the opposite of SWG. SWG had ranged combat totally abstracted and weird. To explain what I meant I used the example of Company of Heroes. A kind of gameplay that feels “right” without the need of going “twitch”. But people thought that a CoH from a closer perspective would be boring. It’s actually hard to explain what you mean when you bring these examples.

The point is: no fancy particle effects and floating icons. Bullets, not rainbows.

It’s not just CoH that got ranged combat right. Even Gears of War is a good example of combat going in the right direction with the use of the “cover”. The cover is a basic element in the real ranged combat, and it’s exactly what you have to reproduce if you want the combat to feel “right”. The cover mechanic that is now popular in that game was something I asked *for a very long time* for SWG when I was criticizing its combat on the forums.

SWG was oblivious of those basic lesson and we got weird, fancy combat with colored bars and special attacks. THIS is what I never forgive to Raph and that I’m rather sure he still didn’t understand. The “metaphor” isn’t a dress. It’s EVERYTHING. And if you betray it, the game will greatly suck.

The second idea I had was to use squad-based combat, like a mini-RTS where each player controls four characters with different classes. I quickly discarded this idea for a number of reason. I believe there are many good reason to keep mmorpgs the way the are. One player = one avatar. That’s also a kind of visceral relationship that I don’t have the courage (or real motivation) to break. It would be odd to have a player with four different names and it also depersonalizes the game. It would look also odd seeing everywhere these squads of four guys going around, especially where games have problem with lag when every players controls just one character. All these problems could be actually addressed one by one. But I don’t think it’s worth the work. So idea discarded.

The third was about making it a FPS. So aiming and everything. Assuming the game has a huge budget we could dare to put aside all the technical problems and try to go in this direction. But in a realistic scenario this would mean focusing the WHOLE development on trying to make a good FPS. And in the end it would mean that we have little more than a FPS. So idea discarded because I think I could use better the resources available and focus on other parts to make this game an unique experience. Not just a FPS set in the Fallout world. That’s not interesting enough.

And this is the part that I didn’t complete. My design here branched in multiple directions between these various modes.

When I brainstorm stuff I use to repudiate the kind of gameplay of today’s mmorpgs. One good way to force things in another direction is by designing the controls on a gamepad. Not only you get rid of the typical “hotkey” kind of gameplay that BORES ME TO TEARS, but you would be also able to design a game that will be easy to port on the consoles. And if you want that million of players then every other market opening up is precious.

So. No aim-twitch because we care for the servers and cannot waste three years of development just on that. And a gamepad. Now design the combat. Ranged combat.

I usually try to portray things as a cutscene, then I try to translate that into gameplay. I was thinking of a bunch of characters with ragged clothes, all whacking mutated rats and scorpions. THAT’s what you expect from a Fallout mmorpg (Fallout 2 actually started like that). Then you hear a buzzing sound that seems increasing more and more. You cannot see far away because there’s a sand dune and all at the sudden you see a black shape that kind of takes off from that dune, leaving a dust cloud behind it. And it’s the classic dune buggy with one driver and another on a mounted turret controlling a vulcan. This dune buggy moves incredibly fast, jumps off the dunes, nearly turns upside down after a sharp turn. The poor guys killing scorpions see this thing approaching at them at an insane speed, they try to run away and the dune buggy passes right through a bunch of giant scorpions sending pieces and green stuff in all directions. Then the buggy does a sideslip and the other guy on the vulcan turret takes care of the remaining scorpions.

That’s the kind of clash I want between two kinds of gameplay. No sitting there and exchanging slaps with a poor creature. I want something fast (but not twitchy), something intuitive, immediate, with as little UI noise as possible. I want a kind of fun, arcade combat that still leaves a lot of freedom to the player. In particular I want vehicles and I want a realistic physics system. I want these vehicles to be fun to drive, even if you just do that. Driving, jumping off sand dunes, create spectacular crashes. Have you played Flatout? Company of Heroes has a very simple control of vehicles, but the physics system can do wonders to make the driving feel realistic.

I want the vehicles to have an important role in the game. We also solve the problem of travel. Today we are stuck in mmorpgs with mounts that go a bit faster than running speed. But even with a mount the travel still takes a lot of time if you have to go through a few zones. A vehicle completely reverts that perception because a car goes MUCH faster than someone walking through a desert. You can have a huge environment while making travel not a burden. And without the need of fancy teleports that aren’t appropriate to the setting.

Of course vehicles need gas, and gas is precious. The inspiration is Mad Max again. You need mechanic skills to repair and mod stuff. This part about vehicles alone already provides hooks for all kinds of interesting gameplay. You can also have race circuits, destruction derbies and whatnot.

You use Fallout to ridicule Auto Assault and demonstrate them how to deliver on the theme.

So: vehicles, physics system, turrets with mounted vulcans. Lots of bullets. Lots of Mayhem.

But this doesn’t complete the problem of the combat. It’s just a way to explain the direction I would like it to take.

Today I was thinking about this problem and I found a better solution. We use a control system similar to other arcades. Resident Evil, Tomb Rider, Metal Gear Solid. Classic third-person, non aim-twitch. You have a key that works as the “aim”. You hold the key and your character automatically targets what’s in front of you. No “target lock” as it depends on the direction you are facing, the position of your body. But we can also add a lot of interesting elements. For example lowering the precision if you are moving. Or the possibility to decide how to shoot between classic two/three types (single shot, burst and things like that).

It very simple and familiar but also different enough from current mmorpgs to feel fresh. Press a button to aim and then shoot. But without needing to aim yourself. It should be quick and visceral enough to be appreciated by a large public and at the same time it won’t scare away those who just cannot digest furious twitch FPS. It’s something in the middle that is intuitive and that at the same time retain a RPG depth, stats, kills, detailed character sheets, perks, professions and so on. You don’t have to be good at aiming to do well in the game.

Plus why not taking the best from current games. The cover mechanic of Gears of War again. You use a key that automatically makes your character take cover. You don’t need a real FPS to make a good use of a good mechanic (Company of Heroes, again, also uses cover mechanics). I say Gears of War because its a recognized example but surely not the first game to do that. Metal Gear Solid had similar functions and, again, it’s part of what I asked a few years ago for SWG. So aim, shoot, take cover. With simple, familiar, streamlined controls AND NO HOTBARS. No rainbows. We have already a good core. A basis of gameplay that can be used to define the rest.

No pulls also. I can integrate here all those design principles I bring with me from a long time. If I can see a bandit, then the bandit can see me and react accordingly.

In fact the success of this part of the game is all about the AI. Today the mmorpg AI just make a creature run or shoot at you. We would need instead an AI that also takes cover, uses the environment, cooperates and so on. The goal is to “simulate” a gunfight. If this part is well done then the game has already a good possibility of becoming truly successful.

The overall scheme

As I said, this is the part that offers more hooks for new ideas. There’s a lot to play with, perfect to push the creativity.

The overall scheme: The scheme of the “onion”. The more you move further away from the center, the more things go wild and only ruled by the players. “No Law” zone.

The idea matches the one of the original games. You have a central zone that is “known” and that is more secure. But the resources are scarce and you have to move out where it’s risky, build factories to produce ammunitions and weapons, vehicles and all the rest. Find oasis. Smoke dope. The hippie community, with the van painted with flowers and bright colors. Till they don’t find you.

It would lead to a structure similar to Shadowbane with the players-run outpost and everything, but with a predominant central hub where you can keep things under control (and directed).

You could also play with the concept of the “radiations” as a way to “shuffle” the game world and generate dynamically new things. You irradiate a zone and then the server regenerates it so that it will be ripe again for exploration. This procedure can be more or less tied with other parts, like the player’s settlements, PvP and more.

Balancing the servers

Starting from the idea of taking the deep scheme of Eve-Online, while replacing its slow, long-range, icon & spreadsheet combat system with a simil FPS where you SEE your target. Something frantic. Something strongly visual, immersive, visceral and with as less “interface noise” as possible.

All within a SEAMLESS world. From the room inside the building (and close combat), with a player-to-NPC dialogue, till the larger desert and larger battles. No loading.

Of course this is already a huge problem. Eve-Online worked as a massive world because it’s very slow and requires almost no bandwidth. So how to fit a large world, so that the players aren’t lacking, with a more fast and direct combat? First answer would be: instancing. NO. NEVERMORE!

A rough idea I had was to build the world like a “grid”. Now, normally you reach the limit of the grid and it would correspond with a “wall”. Instead I was thinking to something that was happening to older games. Instead of hitting the zone wall, you exit from the top of the grid and reenter from the bottom.

Yeah, lame :) But wait.

With one trick. Instead of exiting and reentering the same “grid” from top to bottom, you would enter a new grid.

Every grid = one server/shard. Every grid is a nearly exact copy of a shard (with the possibility to prepare slightly variated maps as it happened with Shadowbane’s shards). With its own “hub” and its own “wilderness”.

This would basically allow for a “seamless” world where you can add as many new “grids” as the population of the game requires. You could add new grids on the fly without affecting the remaining ones. You can expand or shrink the world depending on your needs. Every grid would work like an independent “shard”, as in current games, but with the possibility for the players to travel to the grid border and switch “server”/grid if they want. (permeable barriers)

It would work to “chunk” the players into more manageable units, while keeping the barriers between the servers permeable, so letting players meet each other in a global world.

It would also offer a perfectly scalable world that fits every need and that solves both overcrowding and desolation.

That’s pretty much everything I thought. And I really think it can be valid enough to go as close as possible to the goal and a broad market.

Of course only as a fancy dream, because this game will never see the light of the day. Nor in my interpretation, nor in another.