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Camelot Unchained Class Q&A with Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs and the team working on Camelot Unchained have released their very first class design document. This information comes as part of their goal to have a transparent design and development process. With this first class document — The Viking Warrior Class (Drengr) — comes information on a major part of the class system called Paths.

We were able to ask Mark a few questions about the design document. As always, the questions we ask when we interview a dev (even a friend like Mark) are the ones we want answered most — even if it means throwing a few tough ones in there — and the questions we feel our readers care about. If you have additional questions for Mark please feel free to leave a comment. He reads what you have to say and might even comment himself.

Keen: In the Path system you have stated that going down a ‘path’ unlocks ‘achievements’ and that they are entirely (or majorly) cosmetic type stuff. To be 100% clear for our readers, is it right then to assume that choosing a Path is not a means to unlock new abilities like Thor’s Lighting Smash Attack, but instead would be something more like ‘because you use crushing attacks you now glow purple and red with lightning and blood’?

Mark Jacobs: That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work! You just explained it better than I did the first time, when we presented the document to our Internal Testers for their initial review.

Keen: The path system seems like a clever way of disguising levels. “Looking for a Drengr with x Thor milestones” sounds like a spiced up way of saying, “Looking for a level X warrior with DPS spec”. I know that I have oversimplified this for the sake of asking this question, but is this the overall intention of the path system — to create a means of giving players a way of stating what kind of character they have built?

Mark Jacobs: Once again, you are correct, but with one slight modification. Since we don’t really have a vertical leveling system, but rather a horizontal one, I would describe it more like “Looking for a DPS warrior who has unlocked Thor’s Lightning Smash Attack, Mjolnir’s Revenge, Goldilocks for the Win! (just kidding), etc. With the Path system, identifying yourself when you are LFG becomes just a wee bit easier.

Keen: Path Banes and Boons (PB&B) seem to completely contradict the idea that a path does not unlock talents or skills, etc — especially if non-optional. It’s one thing to use a hammer and get better with a hammer, but another to use a hammer with the intent to unlock PB&B’s. Can you clarify how these banes and boons can exist within this path system and not play a major (if not complete) role in the choice?

Mark Jacobs: That was one of the points I discussed with the IT folks on our Forums. Now, if those B&B unlocks could be achieved by non-Path players, it works out fine. In that case, the B&Bs would be tied to amount of time in-game, power, or some other condition(s) that would track across all Paths. But, as you say, if the B&Bs are tied solely to progression along the Path, that might be a problem. That’s one of the reasons my initial thought was to have these B&Bs open to all Drengr, and not tied only to Path progression. This is definitely one of those points that we are going to be in deep discussion internally as well as with our Backers over the next few months and beyond.

Keen: There seems to be a lot of progression elements for the player to focus on: Weapon choice, skill usage, skill crafting, runes, banes, boons, potential skill degradation, bonding, stats, and now paths. (Did I miss anything?) Are paths meant to be a way of organizing all of these things to give the ‘general populous’ their path of least resistance to a play style by providing a common denominator?

Mark Jacobs: That’s the beauty of the horizontal system we are trying to build here. We can’t rely on the traditional verticality of leveling systems to give the players more and more powerful stuff as they progress in the game. OTOH, if we have a lot of different ways that players can progress, we can always keep adding small things to the game without breaking Rule #1 for Camelot Unchained, which is that new players have to be able to be competitive in RvR from day one.

As far as them being a path of least resistance, I would agree, but not just for the general populace. If we can create really cool and interesting classes and Paths, then even some harder-core players might be immediately attracted to one or more of them. With the mostly open-ended nature of the class/Paths, they could start their adventures in our game focused on one Path, and then tweak their build as time goes by.

Keen: I can’t help but think of old school Ultima Online here. You have a skill cap of sorts with the potential to choose any combination of skills. You can max out a few or dabble in several to build whatever type of character you want. Back in the day, players used to give names to certain combinations of skill point allocations: Dexxers, Hally Mages, etc. Despite the fact that non-cookie cutter FOTM builds were great, people seemed to always go for these templates. Are you worried that players will identify too closely with a ‘build’ thus reducing the perceived ‘openness’ of Camelot Unchained’s character system?

Mark Jacobs: I hope not. The fact that we will not have cheap and easy respecs will certainly limit the FOTM builds, but as you point out, that’s not the only possible problem. I do think that some players will perceive certain builds as being “the” build for certain situations, but if we have enough Components in the game, and in turn enough varied and distinct abilities, that won’t be as much of a problem (we hope). Keep in mind that without PvE, and with large-scale battle and sieges being a huge part of this game, I think it will make choosing the “best build” a bit more difficult. OTOH, if our Backers and players are happy with a “best build” tradition, then that works too.

Keen: Do you hope that most players will use and embrace the path system or create their own sub-class?

Mark Jacobs: A mixture of both would make me very happy. If our Backers and future players think that the Path system and the classes we create are worthwhile, then that alone will mean that we have done a good job. If, after playing the game for a while, we have a mixture of heavily focused class/Path combos as well as player-made combos, and players are happy (as per above), then that would work for us too. As I’ve said since I created my first online game, no matter how smart we think we are, the players will always have their own opinions, and will also be, at times, smarter than us. We just have to try to create a great system, and then react based on what we see, hear, and experience as we and they play the game. That is one of the reasons we are releasing this document now, as well as why we plan on having much longer Alpha and Beta test periods, with a much larger group of Backers/players than most other MMORPGs have.

As always, thanks to Keen and Graev for this interview and support of this and other games I’ve been fortunate enough to work on over the decades.

Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer our questions!

Be sure to read the Viking Warrior Class Design Document for more information.

H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.

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.