How to Ruin 3 Faction MMO PvP

TESO Cyrodiil Instances

I can see it now…

If you ever have the desire for a guide on how to instantly ruin 3 faction MMO PvP, and guarantee no chance of it ever recovering from a shallow and meaningless themepark experience,  The Elder Scrolls Online appears to be writing the book. Yeah, that’s harsh, but I’m shocked more people aren’t saying something.  Here’s what I’ve learned from various media who were able to see the game in action.  Personally, I hope they have it all wrong, and if they do someone speak up.

Since there is only one “mega server”, Cyrodiil (the PvP zone) will be split into multiple instances to accommodate population. Players are assigned a campaign when they create their character (or reach level 10 or something). The campaigns are apparently NOT integrated in any way (I thought they were). There’s really no way you can spin that to sound good to anyone who knows something about open-world persistent RvR.

Problem: There’s no true sense of permanence or achieving a victory when you duplicate a zone.  Even if you call them “permanent instances,” even if they are technically open all the time and mimic servers, nothing is ultimately hinging on your campaign.  “How’s Ebonheart Pact doing in your campaign? We’re losing.  Oh you should transfer over to campaign B since we’re totally dominating here!”

If a certain campaign is struggling, the devs will funnel new players to that instance/campaign.

Problem: Developers getting involved in who is winning?  HANDS OFF the battlefield!  That’s the entire point of having three factions: let the battlefield balance itself.  So not only are there population caps on the battlefield and multiple instances, but the developers can choose to, at their discretion, help the people losing side by giving them more players.

When you hit level 50, you can go to the other faction’s PvE areas.  At that point you’ll be able to communicate with the other factions, and even make friends and run dungeons/play with the other factions. [Source]

Problem: They are supposed to be your enemy!  You wake up each morning with a burning hatred and passion to wipe them off the map, not plan to raid with them.  From a PvP perspective, this is a mistake.

So let’s sum up what we have so far:

  • Multiple instances of the Alliance War zone creating no continuity between Cyradiil and the rest of the world.
  • Funneling population where it’s needed to alter balance by automatically assigning players a campaign.
  • Grouping up and PvEing with your opponents

In short, how do you ruin 3 faction MMO PvP?  You instance it on a mega-server.

I’m curious to learn how I’ll be able to meet up with friends in campaigns.  According to what I’ve read, new players are assigned a campaign to participate in.  What if we get assigned different campaigns?  What if my guild of 20 wants to go play together?  How do we get into the same campaign?  Can we transfer campaigns instantly? All I’ve read is that transferring is “limited”.   Why are these even questions I have to ask?

Remind me why this system exists?  Remind me why the alliances exist, and why they are fighting on instanced battlefields but chummy in dungeons?  The Elder Scrolls Online should just drop this PvP charade altogether and go straight PvE; clearly their PvP is a tack-on.  I can’t understand why anyone would ever think these are good PvP design principles.  If I can see the huge problems this far away, why can’t the people in charge?  Who is deciding to forgo servers, one static battlefield, and a real sense of faction-based fighting in favor of this shallow disconnected and seemingly meaningless themepark nonsense? [Read more…]

Penalties for dying in PvP

DAoC RvR death penalty

Here’s a random picture of dead people in Dark Age of Camelot.

The subject of consequences isn’t foreign to this blog.  We talk all the time about wanting games with more meaningful decisions. Over the past few days, Mark Jacobs has been publishing a lot of what he calls “Foundational Principles” wherein he discusses his thoughts on this very subject.  While reading his thoughts, and contemplating my own current feelings, I came to a conclusion about certain PvP penalties/consequences.

I’ve circled the MMO block a few times.  I started PvPing consistently in DAoC where there was no direct penalty.  I’ve played games like PotBS, Darkfall, UO, etc., where you can lose everything.  Personally, I prefer not losing my stuff.  I don’t see a need for losing gear, experience, or stats for a PvP death.  To borrow a phrase from Mark Jacobs, those are more often than not “quitting points.”  Different methods can produce very similar results.

Take DAoC for example.  Death meant being out of the fight.  You missed out on the action, missed out on the points, and had to run all the way back.   If you’re thinking to yourself that running back isn’t a big deal then you clearly never played DAoC where the run could be 20+ minutes.   In reality, it could take even longer waiting for a portal to teleport you back, and even longer if the action moved.

In my opinion, DAoC’s penalty for dying in RvR handles the issue with much more finesse.  By comparison, simply losing all your stuff feels like a cop-out, and unsupported by the rest of the game.  Weak penalties, like the one found in games like WAR, where death is nothing and neither side truly loses anything — ever — are just as bad… maybe worse.

Balance is needed between just enough to be meaningful, and not enough to make you want to quit.  I prefer when the penalty can be incorporated with more of mechanics and features of the world, rather than simply going the full-loot route.

Since I mentioned MJ’s foundational principles in the beginning, I’ll close by mentioning that Camelot Unchained will not have full-loot in PvP.  When I spoke with Mark at length about penalizing players for dying, he agreed with me that DAoC’s penalties (as I mentioned earlier) were adequate  and alluded to taking Camelot Unchained down a similar path.

Dare I say it: PvP isn’t necessary

So much of the MMO commentary out there these days focuses on improving or coming up with new ideas for PvP.  For the past few days I’ve had this nagging thought on my mind about whether or not I even truly care about PvP being in a game or not.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy PvP, I have a lot to say on the subject, and I know what I like and I don’t like about it.  I just don’t think it’s mandatory at all.  I’m going to quickly get my thoughts out and see if they form into anything coherent.

I think a game designed solely around capturing people in the moment by creating a really rich PvE world is a something I can really enjoy.  What does that mean?  I guess I envision myself packing a bag full of resources, and setting off in a direction with friends to see what we can find.  I like the idea of not knowing what’s out there, or not knowing when I’ll be back to town because the game — the world — is letting me go off and truly make the “player vs. environment” a reality.   Danger, intrigue, exploration of the unknown, and enjoying how I interact with the world rather than enjoying what I get out of it are attributes I don’t experience or see emphasized enough.

Many of my fondest (and worst) memories from past MMOs are from PvP, but the best and most memorable are from PvE.  Something about playing a MMORPG sounds like going out to slay dragons.  I realize that’s completely personal to me; maybe adding the “RPG” to the end — role playing — is PvE’ish.  Gosh, I don’t want to open that can.  Let me just quickly backtrack and say “PvE” is really ambiguous to some people compared to PvP being quite literally fighting other players.  I won’t try and define PvE, but I will say it encompasses much more than just combat against AI mobs; so much more that maybe it’s overwhelming for a developer to even attempt at getting it right.  That danger of tweaking PvE could explain themeparks — modular, linear experiences are easier.

Maybe that’s why I wish PvP was seen as less of a requirement.  PvE has the ability to create a much better experience for me, and I wish those types of experiences would be developed further even with the risk.

Hopefully that made sense and resonates with at least a few of you.

TESO Should Focus on PvE

The big news of the day is The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) cinematic trailer.  Let’s take a quick look, and then I want to offer up my thoughts.

We all know about trailers. You can buy into them a bit, but you have to really watch yourself; if you loose control you might actually believe the gameplay will be anything like that Legolas ninja shadowstalker sniper.  It’s never going to happen in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, it was quite exhilerating to watch and imagine myself in such a position.  This trailer shows me that TESO will have some money behind it, and they’re not goign to spare any expense with the hype and marketing.

Clearly this trailer showcases the three-way alliance PvP.  (AvA?)  What I want to know is just how central this PvP conflict will be to the rest of the game.  Is this going to be a huge focus?  Is the PvP what they want to drive everyone toward?  I think that would be a mistake.

In my opinion, they should focus on creating an amazing and innovative PvE experience in TESO.  PvP has ruined more games in the last ten years than it has helped, and we haven’t received any innovations or PvE.  I have a feeling that the game is currently on a trajectory to try and capture some form of RvR 3-way conflict market.  If they do that, and fail to pull it off perfectly, it will be a superficial/shallow themepark mess.

Here’s hoping that TESO doesn’t focus on PvP.  Yep, I said it.

Chaos in MMORPGs

The topic of “chaos” came up in the discussion we’ve been having lately regarding things we want/don’t want in a next-gen MMORPG.  I thought I might share my thoughts on the subject and get your input.  First, what is meant by ‘chaos’?  I like the second definition available from Google: “Behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.”

EverQuest Sand Giant

This poor fellow is about to experience chaos first hand.

In terms of class mechanics, a little bit of chaos can be fun.  A very static game is predictable.  An ability that does 5 damage will always hit for 5 damage.  Throw some chaos in there and that ability might hit for 5-10 or activate an effect.  Some ideas I have for implementing chaos include a bit of RNG (random number generator) and skill.  Imagine if you could hit someone with a sword on the leg.  First you do some damage, but since it was a sword you might also inflict a ‘cut’ to cause the target to bleed.  If you hit hard enough maybe you also hurt the target’s ability to move (snare or something).

Chaos can also be added into content.  Forget about randomness for a second and consider the ‘experience’ or ‘atmosphere’.  In EverQuest there was almost always an element of danger and unpredictability within a zone.  Desert of Ro and Oasis were plagued by Sand Giants.  For the majority of players in those zones, a Sand Giant would one shot you because it was a high level mob. This meant you were always watching your back in case a Sand Giant came up behind you. Unrest and Guk were infamous for ‘trains’ of mobs being dragged through the tight spaces of the zone.  One wrong step and a train might wipe you and your group.  This ‘chaos’ was more dynamic than it was random, and greatly increased my overall enjoyment of the game (even if it sucked hard dieing to a train).

In terms of RNG or unfortunate events, chaos can be really frustrating if it doesn’t go your way.  But you can also have amazing moments where the stars align and the game’s fun factor shoots through the roof — even if only for a few seconds — and uncertainty or chaos can create an atmosphere 10x more immersing than a linear and predictable experience.

What do you think?  Does ‘chaos’ have a place in MMORPG’s?  Should everything be apparent, expected, and linear or should you be surprised every once in a while?