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Intrigued by Altis Life RPG Mod for Arma III

I recently discovered a really neat looking game/mod that has me seriously contemplating whether or not I should buy Arma III. The game is called Altis Life RPG and it puts players in a persistent world where just about anything goes. The one caveat on the servers I would play on seems to be that roleplaying is required and you can’t kill other players without interaction or provocation.

Players on the Asylum Altis Life RPG servers truly take on the roles they are playing. I watch several of these streams during the day and see players taking on the role of law enforcement, drug dealers, random civilians hunting animals, paramedics, bounty hunters, etc. The goal in Altis seems to be to progress your character and truly roleplay a ‘life’ that you’ve chosen to live.

Cop players will approach suspicious players and act the role. I watched a stream where two guys were on patrol and came upon some suspicious players at a gas station. They got out of their cars with guns drawn and told the hooligans to put their hands on their heads (a feature actually in the game). One of the guys complied but the other took off running. A chase ensued and it all ended up being hilarious and awesome as roleplaying took place over voice comms.

The cops on these particular servers have to apply to become members of the force and form a fairly tight unit that uses voice communications to interact with each other and organize the policing of the server. Playing as a cop you can earn money by enforcing legal activity and bringing wanted players to justice. The opposite is true for civilians choosing to break the law and not progress lawfully.

I was watching yesterday and saw a group of players riding around in a truck who would randomly rob other players and process drugs to raise money for weapons. They came upon one car with a bunch of other players and a mini gang war broke out with tons of gunfire and yelling at each other. It was hilarious watching them roleplay. Then the biggest gang on the server rolled up in a helicopter and mowed them all down for being in their territory. I was laughing so hard at the interactions and fake accents.

Some random features include:

  • Prison (having to live out your sentence there or break out of prison)
  • Hunting
  • Drug use
  • Robbing the federal reserve
  • Vehicles (land and air)
  • Territory control (form gangs like a guild) where you can hold permanent areas of the map.
  • Talent system and upgrades
  • ATMs

With 100 people on a server at a time, and a fairly large world to explore and interact with, it seems like the perfect type of jump-in-jump-out persistent roleplaying experience I’m looking for these days.

Do any of you happen to play? Is it worth the $60 at get Arma III? Is it hard to set up the mod and get into the game? I’m just looking for a game where I can jump in progress at my pace while having legitimate dynamic interactions with other players.

Survival Games Need Survival

h1z1 zombie survival

I’m really looking forward to SOE’s upcoming zombie survival game called H1Z1. With MMOs completely failing to live up to what I want in a persistent world that I can log in to for hours and days on end, I’m really starting to crave a great jump-in-jump-out persistent game that won’t require the commitment but will still provide a meaningful experience. H1Z1 is looking like a great candidate.

One of my biggest complaints with survival games in general is the player’s complete lack of regard for anything around him. When you spot another player there’s no reason to let that player live. Kill that player immediately because he has stuff you want — the goal is to get stuff. Here’s why it’s so easy to kill other players in DayZ:

  • Zero environmental threat
  • There’s really nothing else to do but kill other players

h1z1 base building

Survival games have to incorporate reasons to let other players live and not simply kill them on sight. Zombies or nature itself has to be a greater threat. Seeing a zombie should terrify the player so much that if another player runs by the two of them desperately want each other’s help. People should want to gather together to pool resources and survive.

Common goals are important. Surviving can be a common goal. Crafting and trading can also be common goals. Communities can form around the idea that players go out and find things and trade amongst themselves. Creating a base can be a common goal.  If there is no common goal then the goals will be created by the individual, and chances are that goal will involve killing everyone else out of boredom.

As alluded to already, there has to be more to do in a survival game besides killing zombies and other players. Eventually players will tire from shooting NPCs and turn on each other. Base building is a really cool idea if given the proper attention and fleshed out to be a meaningful and rewarding goal. Whatever features are added, there needs to be depth to these games or else they’ll simplify to the least common denominator: Trolling each other.

As my chosen title notes, survival games simply need survival. Animals, Zombies, weather, sickness & disease, fatigue, hunger, thirst, shelter, etc., can all be elements of surviving. What the player is having to survive against can still include other players, but if the environment isn’t a huge part of survival then the game is simply PvP.

Should Do

My friends and I are once again in our go-to game: Minecraft. We have a server up and running on Feed the Beast Monster which contains like 100+ different mods and all sorts of crazy addons. The biggest problem I run into with modded Minecraft, especially with so many mods, is an overwhelming sense of having no idea what to do. I feel like there’s so much to do, and so many options, that I spin my wheels and almost do nothing because I can’t decide what I want.

I said to my friends, “I don’t know what I should do first,” to which one replied, “There is no “should do” in a sandbox.” Fascinating concept, and at first I felt like that was totally true and chastised myself. Now the more I think about it, sandboxes or every game for that matter need a ‘should do’ even if it’s a loose direction. Sometimes that ‘should do’ is a little hard to identify — that’s okay. Thinking over Minecraft, my ‘should do’ is gather resources and accumulate resources like electricity and power. In a MMO the should do is advance my character (whether a prescribed way or however I choose).

There’s a balance in there somewhere. Too much and it becomes a themepark leading you by the nose to every objective. Too little and it ceases to be gamelike. All of that said, I’ll err on the side of less ‘should do’ and more freedom any day. For me it’s all about having something to constantly work toward and achieve. Once I identify what that is, or I can create my own objective and it’s truly meaningful, I’ll play for years. As soon as that objective seems pointless, like a stopping point, or too easy to obtain, I’ll put it in the ‘why bother’ category and move on.

How about a Medieval Survival Game?

Being sick for the last 4 days gave me a lot of time to do nothing but sit and watch streams on Twitch (which was just acquired by Amazon for 970 million… pretty cool it’s Amazon and not Google!). I watched a lot of open-world survival games and mods for  Arma III where people take on the role of cops and … everyone else.  It’s was fascinating to watch the dynamic nature of those games and how much more the players, rather than the game mechanics, influence everything.

All of that got me thinking about how much fun and easy it is to jump in and have a unique experience in games like this, and be able to do so at one’s leisure. There are elements of persistence, but very little permanence. That sense of ‘starting fresh’ adds something special and unique. What I’m most fascinated by, and wanting to explore further, is the idea of setting. They all seem to be either modern or post-apoc. What about a medieval setting?

Imagine a game like H1Z1, DayZ, or Arma III mods, but in a setting matching something out of Robin Hood or King Arthur. The quasi-persistent open-world could be a lot of fun in a setting with rolling hills, large forests, townships, and keeps. The idea of vehicles could easily carry over to horses, and the rest transfers just as easily.

We’re seeing a lot of copycat designs and not a whole lot being done to expand or develop the emerging genre. I’m thinking there’s still a lot that can be done to make it better. Just a thought.

Time Frames

This world we live in — the real one, not your virtual world of choice — is one in which we value time over anything else.  We’re constantly trying to make things faster because faster is ‘better’. The same principle appears to apply to MMOs.

Time frames for just about everything used to be very different in MMOs.  Leveling used to take years, then it went to months, now it’s as low as weeks or even days. Finding a group used to take days or hours, and now it’s instantaneous.  Obtaining the gear you wanted could take months and months, but now if you take longer than a few weeks or even days to gear up you must be a filthy casual who clearly isn’t as good as the guys getting their gear to drop on the first run.

Everything is speeding up, and as a result everything is getting more shallow. People care less about the moment, less about the experience, and more about getting to the next activity as quickly as possible. Developers are spending less time building quality experiences and focusing more on quantity.

So the question now becomes how do you slow things down, or should you slow things down?  I am clearly in the camp of people who believe MMOs shouldn’t be about ‘racing through’ but ‘living in’ the world. So with that said, I’m going to focus on the how. Some of these ideas work well together, and others do not. I’m just going to take inventory of the first 4 or so ideas that come to mind as I write this out.

Remove levels
Leveling creates a virtual finish line. There’s a desire to push toward reaching level 50 because that’s the perceived point of victory.  If that’s gone, you’ll take a vertical environment and almost flatline it completely from the start.  People will look around and say, “well, what do I do?” That’s when you can turn their attention to other activities meant to cultivate a virtual world. You actually want that moment to occur where they pause and think.

Increase the scope of character development
Characters have devolved into three things: (1) Levels, (2) Ability, and (3) Gear.  There are so many other opportunities available for customization. Characters should be able to develop social identities and/or a role in their virtual society. I can remember an experience I had in SWG where I had tapped a resource node and was harvesting amazing resources. I supplied those resources to dozens of other crafters and become a supplier. I spent a week doing nothing but trading commodities.  I had other activities I could do, but I put them off to take advantage of this opportunity.

Expand the world
Easy one. Make the dang world a whole lot bigger. I want the world to be so big that I can’t even possible comprehend its magnitude.  That feeling of not even realizing how big the world is and how far I have to travel, or how far others players are from me, is such an amazing sensation. It will eventually fade, but it should take months, not says, to have that illusion at least come into perspective. Traveling should take time and players should be spread out.

Increase the difficulty
I won’t soap box this topic or wax poetic about the old days, but realistically things just aren’t dangerous anymore.  I’m not saying you should die every time you walk outside a town or that you should lose your gear or experience. I’m also not saying fights should take longer or that combat should be twitch based.  I’m simply remembering a day when danger existed and how danger made me think before acting. That pause was important and slowed everyone down.

Instead of logging in and thinking I need to gain ten levels to feel accomplished, I just want to log in and have moved the mark ahead a tiny bit or had a fun enough experience that it doesn’t matter — perhaps I even lost progress. That mindset can still be present in today’s burn ‘n’ churn MMO, but it’s not at all supported by the game.

I want MMO time frames to once again be months rather than days. I want the experiences to last and the scope of every day activities to grow. I want a richer, fuller, and … I want MMOs to present an opportunity to build a ‘life’ once again.