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Vertical vs. Horizontal Progression: Can one ever really exist without the other?

Horizontal vs vertical progressionI was thinking tonight about what to write tonight (I’m suffering from some massive writer’s block) when I decided to catch up on the Camelot Unchained videos that released while I was moving; Mark did like 5 of them in one day.  I watched the video where Mark talked about character progression and how he wants Camelot Unchained be a game all about horizontal progression with very little, if any, vertical progression.

The knee-jerk reaction these days is to immediately think that horizontal progression is the way to go.  So many people are tired of the gear grinds and this constant desire to chase the carrot upward.  Vertical progression is this horrible monster that makes characters stronger the older they get, and lets them one shot new or ‘less vertical’ characters.  While true, that depiction chooses to demonize the worst aspects of vertical progression while ignoring the upside.  Horizontal progression isn’t perfect.  I get really bored when I feel like my character isn’t progressing in strength.  Being able to do things ‘differently’ isn’t always as satisfying to me as being able to do something better.  Achievements are boring.  Relying entirely on the skill of the player and teamwork can only take me so far before I feel like I’m playing an arcade game or Counter Strike.  Sometimes I don’t want the playing field to be perfectly equal.  Sometimes its not enough that my fireballs are green and yours are red.

Dark Age of Camelot had vertical progression.  Realm Ranks were almost like an experience system for max level players killing others in RvR.  You kill a player, you gain some realm points. Those realm points earn realm ranks, and with those realm ranks you can unlock abilities to make your character stronger.  That is vertical progression.  A RR8 character had abilities that a RR2 did not have, and as a result that RR8 had an advantage.  Was the advantage huge? No, in fact a bad RR8 player would still be killed by a good RR2, but the RR8 was technically elevated above the RR2.

Emphasizing horizontal progression, or making your character different from others, is fine if you can truly create a game where players can be different without gaining power, all the while not creating a completely boring experience.  I have never played a MMO offering me the ability to truly seek after ways to make myself different from others in such a way that I feel like I have truly PROGRESSED horizontally. Choosing a different starting configuration is not progressing horizontally.  Dying my armor another color isn’t progressing horizontally.

I’d say I want to expand the breadth of my abilities, but can that really be done without it being at some inching towards moving vertical?  If I unlock more abilities that others won’t have if they haven’t unlocked them, isn’t that vertical progression?  If I have more tools in my tool belt than you, with everything else held equal don’t those abilities become an advantage that an older character will have over a new one?

No one should be quick to dismiss vertical progression. I truly believe a game relying solely on horizontal progression is destined to lack depth and become boring.  At the same time, if vertical progression is emphasized at the expense of horizontal, then an equally boring game about nothing more than chasing the next tier with absolutely zero depth will be the result.

In the end, it appears that what I’m really saying is horizontal progression should be more vertical, and vertical progression should be more horizontal.  Maybe, in an ideal state, they should be the same line, minimizing the power gap while still creating some room for growth.

Camelot Unchained’s Building and Mining Systems

Camelot Unchained is getting closer to their goal, but even closer to their deadline.  I’ve pledged, and I think a lot of our readers have pledges as well.  CU’s building, and in a way part of its crafting, system was revealed recently.   Personally, I would have lead with this information.  This is huge.  In fact, this is indeed unique and revolutionary, and something that really needs a lot of attention.  I think Camelot Unchained’s building will be at the forefront, at the very core, of everything players are fighting for in RvR, and everything players are working towards.

Why fight to win in RvR? Simple: Finite Resources.  What do you do with those resources?  You build whatever you want in a system that resembles Minecract.  Watch the video below.

CU Mine OwnershipI have my concerns.  These past few days my thoughts have been centered right on the necessity of guilds, and one of my all-time biggest complaints about modern PvP games has been this elitist jackassery that we see in games like GW2. There are these big guilds who think they are God’s gift to the game and they the only ones allowed to own, do, or lead anything.  There becomes this stigma and unwritten rule about taking an area or even participating in PvP if you’re potentially taking the spot of someone else who for some reason ‘deserves’ to be there more than you or should own a keep because victory is more assured if that guild owns the area.

I’m worried that the mine locations in Camelot Unchained will be treated with this same inevitable elitism.  I’m calling it right now; if I roll up to a mine that Wart’s guild has built around and I start tapping away, I’m going to get grief for taking resources away from Wart’s guild who, for some reason, think they own the thing and have a claim to the resources inside.  Just because a mine doesn’t run out right away, that doesn’t change the nature of the typical entitled elitist.  I see on the list that mines can be claimed.  If individuals or guilds claim mines, this will be a disaster that will destroy realm pride and unity.  I still need to be convinced this isn’t destined for epic failure.

The building system sounds awesome, though.  Placing each cell individually the same way I would if I played Minecraft has me already thinking up ways I’d build a base.  Being able to roll up on an enemy’s base and break it down into raw materials introduces this entire new way of getting the crafting side involved.  If a player just wants to set up a house/shop and sell weapons, he or she can do so.  But if a crafter wants to be apart of the combat, they can roll up to a siege, or participate in the salvage operation.

My mind is racing with creative possibilities for this system, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start imagining things that CSE isn’t capable of doing.  So for now I’ll just take what they’ve said in the video and know that it sounds like a ton of fun.  I have my doubts about the mines and their faith in humanity, but maybe there will be a way to keep people in check.

If you haven’t already, consider pledging.  Camelot Unchained needs your help to get funded because without it we’ll just have a bunch of ideas and no game.

Will Camelot Unchained have its own version of Darkness Falls?

Camelot Unchained Darkness Falls

Will it be Darkness Falls?

The Camelot Unchained Kickstarter is coming along nicely.  They broke a $1,000,000 two days ago, and tomorrow they should be announcing their stretch goals which I hope (and believe) will increase the number of pledgers — pledgers actually being the issue and not the amount they pledge since the average donation is quite high.  I’m rooting for them!

What I really want to write about tonight is the little teaser from Mark and CSE.  You can see the image on the right.  I’m thinking it’s going to be some sort of mystical realm or area unlocked by winning the ‘realm war’, mirroring the Darkness Falls mechanic from DAoC.  Essentially whichever team owns the most territory gains access to this highly coveted spot.  In DAoC, Darkness Falls was home to fantastic PvE leveling and gear for most players.  In CU, however, there is no PvE progression — what will get players fighting to gain access to such a place?

This location could easily contain highly coveted materials, such as rare ores to mine out of the ground, used in the crafting of amazing weapons.  Guilds will want to own the place so that their crafters can enter and begin harvesting.  When the ‘purge’ occurs, or another realm gains control, the crafters will have to be defended and/or scurry out.   Players would want to own it, benefit from owning it, and have fun taking it back.  It fuels the war and rewards players for trying.

The area may actually be full of epic PvE mobs.  Mark has been very careful not to rule out killing monsters.  In one of the recent Kickstarter updates, killing monsters for their materials was even confirmed as a possibility.  Kill a deer, take its pelt, make some armor.  The same principles can apply to killing mystical beings inside this magical realm of awesomeness.  Kill them, harvest their essence, and allow crafters to imbue magical properties onto weapons.  These magical properties don’t even have to be stat based — a glowing blue flame sword or a shadow-black hood with billowing dark clouds of mist coming off it will get everyone crawling over each other just to get through the door.  I haven’t read anything, or heard anything from Mark in our discussions, to rule out the possibility of killing mobs for this sort of stuff.  All we know is that there won’t be gear progression or leveling up on mobs.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if CSE is sitting back and looking at all the ideas coming from their fans thinking, “I like that one.  Let’s do it!”  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. [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.

Mark Jacobs gives us all the details on his upcoming MMORPG: Camelot Unchained

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Jacobs this past week about his upcoming project which was just officially announced today.  Mark is diving once again into the realm (pun intended) of MMORPGs — more specifically, three faction RvR — with Camelot Unchained™!

The setting for Camelot Unchained™ is once again the medieval Camelot setting focusing on what Mark calls a “re-imagining of the lore” like they did with Dark Age of Camelot, where the world of legends has come to life and needs to be rebuilt by the players.    The three factions are Arthurian (Camelot), Viking, and Tuatha (based on the old legends/stories about folks like Lugh, Nuadha, etc.).    Here’s the kicker: Camelot Unchained™ is entirely focused on RvR with very little to no PvE.  All progression comes from RvR.

I wanted to dig deep to really get at the heart of what Mark is trying to do with Camelot Unchained™.  I told him on the phone that my post isn’t going to outline features or repeat the same info everyone else has — I want the raw emotion, the purpose and the thought process he’s going through as he prepares to embark on what is shaping up to be a massive undertaking.  Our conversation was one of the best I’ve ever had with a developer.

camelot unchainedTo better understand just how dedicated Mark is to the idea of making a PvP game, I asked him about whether or not he thinks he might scare some people off by creating a game entirely about smashing skulls, taking territory, and playing against other people.  Mark was extremely candid (as usual) and said that he is well aware that PvP scares some people, but he’s not making a game for them.  He knows this game won’t be for everyone, and he’s not shooting for numbers. He’s not looking to launch a game to contend with WoW, or even to be the next big thing.  He has humble aspirations, and tells me if they achieved niche status then he considers that a huge success. “Numbers don’t matter. I know we’re not going to appeal to everyone, and I don’t care.”

Mark told me his team’s design philosophy is, “What is going to make the most fun RvR game?”  He’s making a game for the people who love RvR, who love PvP, and who want a game dedicated to providing that experience, and that experience alone.   In fact, he quoted what will be a slogan during development:

“RvR isn’t the end-game — It’s the only game.” – Mark Jacobs

To accomplish this goal, Mark is abandoning the idea of a mass-market vehicle.  “We’re bringing back arrows.”  He said that with such conviction that I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a fact or a metaphor.  Turns out, it’s both.   In addition to actually having ammunition, Mark’s goal for Camelot Unchained™ is to bring thinking back into the mix.  He wants you to value every arrow in your quiver, think before you cast a spell, and decide if going in to your death is worth it.

Mark said they’re going to get away from the soccer match between six-year-olds; in other words there will be meaning to your actions and you won’t be keep swapping and instantly getting back into the fight to contend meaningless, frivolous objectives.  He put extreme emphasis on making people play the game, not the system, and once again emphasized it should take intelligence to play.

The game will be class based and have some form of alternative leveling system.  Mark clarified that personally, he likes skill-based systems, but over the years he has learned that RvR players (he specified RvR, and said they are different from ‘PvP’ players) like classes, and they like filling a role.  “We’re putting the ‘R’ back in Roleplaying,” he said.  Going along with roles, crafting will play a central role in Camelot Unchained™.  All gear comes from crafters.  Players can dedicate their entire play-time to crafting to the point of opening shops to sell their wares.  Yep, there will be open-world housing.

Camelot Unchained MMORPG

Alright, that’s the gist of the information Mark gave me that he’s allowed me to share.  I know that was a lot to take in (going through sensory overload myself), but I hope you read through it all because I want to hear what you think.  Personally, I think it’s bold; but that’s Mark Jacobs.  More than anything else, I love his approach to making the game niche and I have nothing but respect for -any- developer who realizes you don’t need WoW’s numbers (or gameplay) to be a success.

Knowing who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there are three things very few developers ever understand.  After talking with Mark for a few hours, I think City State Entertainment has those down; whether or not they get there we’ll have to see.  I’m rooting for them, and I encourage anyone else with respect or excitement for what they’re undertaking to do the same.  Look for their Kickstarter coming in March.