The time has come for another Fantasy Sandbox

The time has come for another Fantasy theme sandbox game.  We haven’t had a true one — a good one — in so many years.   I’m playing Fallen Earth, thinking about UO and SWG and how fantastic elements of these games are/were and then I think about the themepark model and how I’ve been increasingly frustrated and turned off by MMO’s lately.  I would love to play a Fantasy MMORPG sandbox, and I have a big picture idea of how I would want it designed.  The problem with so many of the games trying to be Sandboxes today lies with how their systems are designed and implemented.  I’m not going to lie, these ideas are not entirely my own.  I am basing this heavily on Star Wars Galaxies (pre-NGE/CU) because I feel so strongly that a Fantasy game with these mechanics/systems would astound people.


Traditional is always better.  Age of Conan, Darkfall, and even Fallen Earth’s (even though FE’s isn’t terrible) combat illustrates that nothing is better than traditional.  For those having a hard time understanding, just think about the basics of WoW’s combat system or EQ’s combat system — that is traditional.


Entertainer Skill Tree
Entertainer Skill Tree

Let’s do away with levels for progression and go to a  skills system similar to what SWG used (pre-NGE because I have no idea what happened after), but not one like we’ve seen fail multiple times in the past few years.  Borrowing heavily from SWG’s system, skills would be arranged in a tiered tree system.  The system would be experience based meaning that if you used a sword you would earn sword experience.  This experience could then be spent on sword tree skills that you can purchase and move up the tree.  The tree system would be tiered with multiple paths to progress, ultimately leading to a “Master” tier at the top if you go up each branch.  Obtaining the next rank in the tree allows you to unlock not only new abilities but improvements to the overall use of your skill or other bonuses.

A Master Swordsman in this Fantasy Sandbox would have knowledge in the use of 1h sword, 2h swords, and other sword-like skills with bonuses and attributes matching a Sword user.  Such a skill tree would look similar to the Entertainer skill tree from SWG (shown on the right) where the Entertainer not only knows how to dance and play instruments, but also has become a specialist in entertaining (bonuses) and hair styles.  Imagine a Sword user increasing their finesse or something.  Similar trees would exist for Magic (offensive, healing, etc) and plenty of others.

There would be a limit to the number of skill points you can allocate.  Perhaps you can only “Master” 1 entire tree, but you could have points to go up a single branch in another.  This would allow you to be a Sword Master, but also be proficient in shields, or perhaps some healing magic, or buffs.  If you wanted to be a “tank” you could “Master” whatever tree focuses on the defense and go up the 1h sword branch in Swords (Or maces, etc).

Armor use would be incorporated into trees.  Anyone can wear simple cloth but to use higher level armors without immense penalties you will want to go up the branches in your tree that increase armor use.  The major defense tree may have a branch dedicated to alleviating the penalties of heavy plate, whereas the magic trees would have a branch dedicated to giving the player bonuses that make up for some of the shortcomings of just using cloth.  Regardless, armor will be important but not the end-all-be-all.  You may come across a Master Swordsman who kicks the crap out of you and all he’s wearing is Cloth even though you’re in plate.

Unlearning skills would be as simple as pressing a button.  However, you would lose all exp gained and spent on that skill.  This would allow people to feel like they have some ability to experiment and change what they want to be without always being stuck in one play-style, but at the same time give the community a sense of permanence where people aren’t masters of everything or bouncing around.  Investing time to earn “Sword Experience” enough to earn the top skill in a branch would be something you won’t easily want to abandon because you worked hard for it.


Artisan Skill Tree
Artisan Skill Tree

The beauty of the crafting system is that it provides literally everything.  The entire economy is player driven and based upon a principle of constant need.   To craft a sword requires resources.  These resources come from areas of the world/region that are particularly rich in the resource.  However, these resources would shift on a weekly basis making them harder to come by — again, very much borrowed from SWG.  Where the system would differ from SWG is in the automatic gathering.  SWG used harvesters that you placed and paid upkeep on that would extract the resources.  You simply come back and collect.  That doesn’t fit into a fantasy game too well, unless we stretch deeply into “magic”.  I would prefer the manual collection of resources in this setting.

Resources would vary in quality.  I might find Iron from a mine/rock in one location but it might only be of a .785 purity.  Testing the resources in another location, perhaps 20 feet or even a mile in another direction could yield a richer purity at .984 which means I have found a much higher quality.  The higher the quality, the better my ability to experiment with it during the creation process.  Crafting something would not only depend on the richness of the resources, but allocating experiment points and then succeeding when experimenting.  This introduces an enormous level of customization to the crafting process and diversifies the items crafted to the point that someone could have an Iron sword made by me and one by Bob and they could be extremely different.  We both might have even used the .984 Iron but based on how I experimented my Iron swords might have more durability and his might do more damage, or my Swords might offer you some other bonus (let’s not even get into how freaking amazing this crafting system gets when we introduce magic to the equation).

Crafting would not be on a single item basis either.  Bringing back Iron will take time and experimenting to find that perfect sword you want to make will take skill, effort, time, and more.  Each individual piece of the sword (hilt, blade, etc) can be experimented on thus increasing customization exponentially.  When it’s all put together and you have the template for the perfect sword it will take a long time to craft.   Why not create 3, 4, or 5 swords at once?  I see no reason why you can’t do this.   In SWG we could create crates of pistols sharing the same stats and the market flourished.

Gear would break and be gone forever.  Yes, it is necessary for the economy.  You’ll get a LOT of use out of your things though and this will create a necessity for full-time crafters.  As you use your gear it will degrade and you’ll lose condition.  As you repair your gear it will lose durability.  A weapon may have 100 condition but 10 durability.   Eventually it’s going to break.

Player Housing/Cities/Shops

This is key.  Players need the ability to set up their own buildings in the world freely (with the help of a player who is a construction crafter).  Not only can players have houses, but they can convert these into shops that have NPC’s in them.  Players can decorate their houses like this industry hasn’t seen in years with elaborate levels of customization (there’s a crafter for that).  Cities can develop around this concept with players coming together and electing a mayor.  Player cities won’t be like Darkfall cities that are all pre-determined.  They can actually be placed freely and the Mayor can place buildings and choose which ones go where, etc.

If I’m a blacksmith I may want to have a forge near my house/shop or in the player city that I hang out in.  I can have one made so that I do not have to travel to town all the time.  If I’m an entertainer (Yes, I want Bards to come back and the social aspects of the Taverns to live again) then I’ll want a Tavern built.  Imagine a player building his own Tavern off in the wilderness, perhaps near a popular hunting spot, and it turning into a thriving location for commerce, entertainment, and social gathering.  Not only has this barkeep succeeded in his accomplishment but he has created a place for someone who makes drinks (yes, with bonuses for players) to sell goods, entertainers to hang out and receive tips, and players who love combat to have a place to come back and receive buffs (from watching dancers, etc) and stock up on supplies (again, provided by actual players).


These would be a mix of open-world and instanced.  I’m not entirely against the idea of removing instances because they do have their place, however I do not see them as something that should be overused to compensate for a lack of quality open-world content.  You won’t find amazing loot dropping from your average dungeon (in some, but not all, and never better than what can be crafted), but you will find ingredients in these dungeons that you can bring to a crafter that will allow them to augment your weapons and make them something special.  This is key here.  If I kill a dragon and bring back a fang then I can have that fang used in the creation process of my staff and it will allow the crafter to create a staff with magical properties and stats vastly superior than had he not used the staff when creating it (even if he used a .99 resource with experimentation points used where you wanted them).


Oh yes, there will be PvP.  This is a key part of the game, in my opinion.  While the game will not revolve around it unless you want it to, PvP will be rewarding and a part of the game with fun content.  There will be sides (this won’t be a FFA PvP game — go away).  Think Rebel vs. Empire, Albion vs. Hibernia vs. Midgard, etc.  You can do battle with people anywhere in the world if they’re not of your realm, but there are areas of the world that are clearly designed for PvP content.  These would resemble the old DAOC frontiers with Castles to claim.

Why PvP?  Well, there would be a specific skill-tree (with its own limitation on points) for it that you could earn exp and allocate points into.  It would be very, very difficult to earn this exp but you would not lose it.  It would operate the same way the normal skill-trees do giving you the ability to remove points invested in something but lose the exp you spent.  These abilities would give you a clear advantage, but resemble the older DAOC realm abilities.

The additional benefits of PvP could include something along the lines of DAOC relics.

In conclusion…

I really think this would work well.  Obviously I have not gone into any details about the game world itself but I think it should clearly reflect a big open sandbox game world like we have seen in the past with Vanguard, UO, SWG (think of the planets being combined though..), and other games.  Ultimately the sandbox style needs to be all about setting the player free while providing structure without the player knowing it because that structure is being a tool in providing freedom (ie, items breaking giving players a need for crafters, giving people the ability to play a full-time crafter, giving the game a full-time player-drven economy, and so on.)

It’s a rough big picture outline, but take this idea and run with it.

  • Wow looking at the SWG crafting tree’s sure does bring a tear to my eyes. Will game companies go this route in the future? Who knows… But for the time being it feels that these golden age games are a thing of the past.

    I’m one of the people patiently waiting for the second coming of great sandbox mmo’s to arrive. Let’s hope it isn’t too much longer till one finally get’s here.

  • So when is this gaming company going into effect Keen? 😉

    I’m not too sure about the free reign on the player housing though I do agree with the “mayor” system and more freedom with where the building go within the “town/city” setting.

    In all honesty I think that the “harvester” system could work in a fantasy setting without too much trouble and for the most part without the magic idea. Something along the lines of having a profession “guild” that you just hire NPCs to hire to collect “local” resources as per what you described above. I think this would work well with city building by requiring you/the players to actually have to get around to constructing this Union shop prior to being able to hire them out.

    The only thing I would add to your crafting system would be once an item “breaks” that final time and can’t be repaired it leave behind some scrap that could be used in the process (an example being that you craft a 10 ingot sword that after it breaks you can smelt the scrap and get back 3-4 ingots of material).

    BTW I’ve been meaning to post a topic in the General section of the forums something along the lines of “Your personal 5 must haves in an MMO(RPG)”. I think with this blog post you got 4 out of my 5.

  • @Warden: Fantastic idea with the NPC collectors. Set up little camps (replacements for the extractors) and it could have a few NPC’s sitting around and walking around them representing those working. You can then come to them and talk to the NPC who hands you the resources they collected. Your upkeep would be paying their salaries. You can pack them up and move them when you want to change harvesitng locations.

  • The NPCs are a great idea so long as the opposing side can raid them and kill them and take their stuff.

  • @Humakt: Nah 😉 That’s not what it’s about. I’m tempted to want PvP only in PvP areas, like DAOC frontiers. Perhaps that would be better than PvP anywhere — like DAOC Realms.

  • This has some really really excellent ideas. I’d like to envision this game having monstrous amounts of space for these player colonies. think like EVE amounts. The last thing that a good sandbox needs is overcrowding before actual communities develop.

    Also, I think a good mmo should make a guild’s crafters indispensable to their pvpers in some way. Maybe there can be high tree crafting items that can’t be vendor bought but could potentially turn the tides of a battle. IE: craftable siege equipment similar to that in DAOC or WAR. PVP rewards would need to benefit a crafter in some way to make them want to help.

  • @Humakt: I would say that this type of NPC be limited to the “general” material resources (so say iron ore). Things like what Keen is saying where higher “purity” mats would be a little more difficult to get or “rare” components(say mithril ore) should be in the PvP areas and only able to be collected by the character itself.

  • [I tried to post another version of this comment earlier but I think it got caught by the spam filter. It had several links in it to various posts relating to designing sandbox MMOs; I think the number of links triggered the filter.]

    Any reasoning behind these design decisions, Keen? Or are you just throwing out ideas that feel good to you?

    Seems like you’ve just mishmashed your favorite games together. I’d like to see more detail.

    I write about this stuff a few times a week on my blog. If you want to talk about specific facets of designing this kind of game, I’d like to see your ideas and the reasoning behind them. I welcome those interested in the design of sandbox MMOs (and general game design analysis) to engage in a serious discussion about these issues in the hopes that we can arrive at a framework for the next generation of great MMORPGs.

  • sounds like a really fun game.

    One thing I’d like to add. They need to take it back to where the crafting and combat aspects of a character aren’t exclusive from one another.

    I always felt the older sandbox game communities and social structures were better when you had players who WERE crafters. Not Barbarians who smithed armor on the side. If you want to dabble in both, that’s cool, but it should come with costs. This kills the ingame economy when everyone makes something. Item durability + crafting/combat skills purchased with the same skill point caps = sweet ingame economy and community.

    Going along with that, I think it should be one player character per server. Alts would only be allowed on different servers. With the option to respec your skills as you outlined, the only reason for a same-server alt would be to gain an advantage in soloability like having various crafter alts. This is equally community damaging IMO.

  • Sounds pretty UO/SWG-ish. 🙂

    Stopping level and item stat powercreep and focusing on a point limited skill-system would create a world where old areas not immediately get obsolete once 10 new levels and areas get added.
    Item decay and crafted quality goods are also paramount for the economy to work.

  • I think the only way any of us will ever get to play our ideal game is to build it ourselves because everyone out there wants a little something different from the next person.

    My perfect game would be similar to yours, however I’d have zero instancing, and dungeon loot would not be inferior to that of crafted, but would be much rarer thereby making crafted still a viable aspect of the game. My combat would not have the auto-targeting but would be a little more “involved” or slower than something like Darkfall but still with manual targeting.

    To be honest, my perfect game would be something very close to the original Vanguard faq. If that game was made I’d play that thing forever.

    I think the game Dawntide has been mentioned here before, but if not you should check that one out. It’s in a very (and I do mean very) early beta stage but I think it has some of the things you are looking for in your perfect sandbox game. Plus the devs seem very open to communication and suggestions so you may actually be able to have input into how that game builds out if you get in as a beta tester and spend some time with the game and communicate with the devs.

  • Anyone tried Mortal Online? Was thinking of giving it a whirl since the mmorpg scene is truly dead atm.

  • MO is still in beta (wasn’t sure from your post if you knew that), and a lot of not-so-good tidbits have been trickling out on that game from leakers. Sounds like they are having a lot of issues so far. Hopefully they get cleared up before release…like the concepts of the game but I’ve said that for a lot of games that never panned out.

  • Yeah know it’s in beta but you can preorder and get in…I think I may pull the triger and see what’s going on in there 🙂

    I had a blast in DF for a few months so who knows maybe MO may last longer? Certainly if they pull off their concepts it should have some staying power.

  • All of this really does speak to me, Keen. Especially the “Progression” and “Player Cities” parts. Companies seem to have forgotten that players need a -role- in a Roleplaying Game. The game you’ve illustrated is also a nice bridge between your hardcore gamers and hardcore roleplayers. Everyone in between can benefit nicely. I also strangely -like- the idea of “losing all exp gained and used by the skill.” This would profit older content as experienced players would run the content with players just beginning it, and companies would love the idea because people must play their game longer if they want to change something about their character. Someone needs to take these ideas and enact them Keen, a very nice writeup.

  • Great post and something I would play.

    Combat–Agree with the basics, as long as they are not TOO basic….ie no automation in it like target locking, keep it skill based.

    Progression–again keep it skill based but not to the point of being able to raise skill like swords simply by swinging them. Have to use it on something to raise the skill. Love the skill exp penalty for respecs idea.


  • Keen, a bunch of us need to simulatneously win the lottery so we can quit our jobs and have enough money to fund a project like this!

    I would absolutely love to pore over an immaculate MMO design document and business plan but to what end? I’m just not willing to risk everything I have to make it a reality.

    I can, however, start buying a few random lotto tickets! 😛

  • This is why I always come back to reading your blog Keen. You describe what I also want in an MMO.

    This one would take the cake. Sign me up.

  • I would definitely sign up for the newsletter if someone made this game. 🙂 Having never played SWG I’m having trouble envisioning exactly how progression would work for me, but I like your idea on how to “unlearn” a skill – that should help prevent some min-maxing tendencies.

    Not sure how you’d avoid groups/lines of players camping dungeons if many of them are open-world, though perhaps I just lack the imagination to see how it would work.

  • The day that Game is made I’ll play it for the next 10 years 🙂 but we know this kind of game will never see the light of the day because the MMO gurus want their game to have mass appeal 🙁

  • @ Valdur

    I disagree. The more we see the current MMO formula being regurgitated, the more we see the new games failing to meet their mark.

    I think the next gen MMO’s will be alot more along the lines of what’s described above, and actually I think a few companies are already developing a few of them. Mortal Online and Heroes of Telara are just a couple in development that are going back to what made these games so great.

    While I don’t think they’ll be a huge success, at least it will give us more of what alot of the UO/EQ generation are craving.

  • i think I would want a game where COMBAT isn’t everything. In games these days, everywhere you go there’s COMBAT. you even have to battle prey for gathering.

    I for one would like to see a game that wasn’t only focused around the development of combat skills.

  • @Teleth: You dork! Haven’t heard from you in forever man. You and Razzmir just up and ditched. 🙁

    @Cyprus: You’ve nailed it. Losing exp when unlearning skills could allow me to play my character up to being a Master Swordsman (no small feat) and then unlearn my skills and re-experience being a lowbie again in content that is now trivial that I want to play again or that I missed altogether.

    I’m all about putting the player’s role back into the game. If I ever get the opportunity to work on designing a mmorpg you can be sure that this would be at the top of my priorities.

    @Valdur / @ Dismantled: It will be a few years before we see a game like this, however like Dismantled said the current trend is actually taking us in this direction by going the opposite way. I have this gut feeling that we’ll see a return to the UO/SWG/EQ formulas and it wont be from a small unknown company, but by one of big ones.

    @Evizaer: I do not see it in my spam filter, but more than two links will definitely mark it as spam and alert me (where I can usually approve it). I’ve received no alert though, sorry about that.

    There are definitely reasons and although it seems like a mismash of my favorite games (which is is, actually) there are specific reasons. I think it would take an enormous blog post to explain it all, and one that would probably exemplify my ability to ramble and confuse people, so I’m going to just quickly go down the list with basic reasons for each system being how I described.

    Combat: Traditional just works. When it’s tight and fluid like WoW it’s simple a pleasure to ‘do’. I liken it to comfort food in that regard. It’s also the only combat system that I think has lasting appeal. AoC and even FE combat gets old.

    Progression: Levels hinder. Skill trees allow for customization and freedom, as well as a more “open” approach to designing content for the player to experience. Earning EXP to place into the skills to fill branches of a Skill tree allows for players to have tangible progress. Unlearning that exp, and losing it, allows for what I mentioned above in my @Cyprus comment. It also allows for players to change their minds, their playstyles, and be their character living in a world in a whole different way than simply creating a character that follows one path.

    Crafting: This is the only crafting system that I have ever seen work completely. It allows for players to actually be full-time crafters and get as much out of being a Blacksmith as their friend does from being a Sword fighter. It creates a real economy.

    Player Housing/Cities/Shops: Needed to create that ‘role’ and immersion. It’s the glue that holds the game together and provides a community IN the game.

    Dungeons: I didn’t go into enough detail to really justify anything.

    PvP: Probably needs more detail to go into it over, but I feel strongly about a DOAC style frontier because it creates pride (yes, realm pride is real but it requires a game designed to promote it) and content that replicates itself dynamically.

    I’m very interested in deeper discussions where we break down individual mechanics. Let me know which ones, when, and where.

    @Pelkor: That’s very much the direction I want this Fantasy Sandbox idea to go. Everything receives equal value, not just combat like you mentioned which is receiving 100% of the focus in today’s games. I’m all for discussing how we can further improve the equality of all playstyles.

    @Snafzg: I too am playing the lottery in hopes of winning big and creating my own company. 😉 The dream will never die man.

  • Keen, I really like your ideas about MMOs. One thing I’d like to see you talk about a bit more regarding this post is how some of your ideas about faction systems (or reputation systems) might work in a world with at least 2 (maybe more) PvP sides or “teams.”

    I agree with you that the EQ system was foundationally really good and with some tweaks it could be great. In that regard, how would PvP factions be aligned in a system like that where faction reputations have a much more profound effect on gameplay than it does in most games today? Around cities? Nations? Races? Religions? Could PCs switch teams by changing their faction? So, for instance, if teams are based on a race, a player could live out the classic “Drizzt” character or their own version of it. Or would these “teams” be completely compartmentalized from each other similar to DAoC?

  • I think a great way to incorporate crafting and meaningful PvP is capturable fortresses which allow access to high end mines and such to gather the best resources. The crafting system you described sounds very interesting.


  • Sounds like some good ideas, although wouldn’t instanced dungeons sort of go against the “Open World” concept? Anytime you are loading a new zone, you are closing yourself off from the rest of the world.

    Anyway, in the mean time, I am running my own browser-based MMORPG that I think you will find very interesting. Check my link! 🙂

  • @Balthazar: Compartmentalized like DAOC, but with a faction system like EQ. You’ll start with races or a “realm” that you naturally fit in with, however you can go against your own people and effectively defect to the other side.

    I wrote a post about faction that really sums up how a good faction system should work. Given that this would be a sandbox game I want the faction system to fall somewhere between knowing who your allies are and being able to move around.

    @Skryre: That’s not a bad idea, but it starts opening the door to bigger problems like emphasizing PvP since PvP unlocking the best materials would control crafting which makes the best materials. Suddenly the entire game centers around capturing forts.

  • As much as I really did enjoy SWG I would also add a bit of EVE philosophy in the mix.

    Character Progression: I personal hate “unlearning” skills. I think it is a bit of a hack to limit max power and the “Tank-Mage” convergence. I would rather see some type of equipment based approach. You have a limited number of “slots” in which to hold your active powers. Retooling your slots requires being in some “safe” place for some time. Also don’t force separation between the crafters and the adventurers. Use something like Vanguard where they are difference spheres of game play. Becoming a master crafter does not preclude you from being a max level adventurer.

    Crafting/Economy: Get rid of repair and have things break on death. you can still salvage/recycle parts of the item raw materials. But for less than manufacturing. However you also have to keep things easy to produce. Also “loot” items are no different from player created items.

    I would careful of getting to detailed with items. In SWG there were too many variables that really did not matter. Though you can still keep experimentation. That would be your chance of getting a “better than normal” item.

  • Sounds like you are describing much of what Mortal Online would like to be. I haven’t checked back on their betas so I don’t know if they have managed to knock down some of the bigger issues.

  • @Gustavef: I really do disagree about the Vanguard sphere system. Crafters should be that — crafters. It should be like a class that you’ve chosen to play. However, it’s not like you can’t spend some skill points on crafting and also on combat. In SWG there were enough points to master a craft and get proficient at a combat skill. It was enough to go adventure with your friends even if you weren’t going to be the best.

    I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by “Unlearning”. I’m talking about the ability to remove points spent, lose the exp you spent on allocating that point, then spend that point somewhere else once you earn exp associated with that new skill.

    @Curious George: Except Mortal Online is using first person only and a combat system resembling Darkfall/Oblivion, right? I don’t know many of the details of the game, but that’s the first difference that stands out.

  • With the combat thing. i have to say i enjoy darkfall, and especially AoC combat mechanics. I would say Aion was better then both those, but most everything else is far behind.

  • Great ideas, Keen! I agree with them…pretty much across the board. I think the skill based system (as opposed to leveling) is important. You raise skills by doing those skills. I also think that most if not all items should be craft-able. The best stuff comes from crafting. I too think that housing is important and can be used as the centerpiece, around (and in) which a player’s activities take place. It gives people a stake in the game. The Sims games aren’t as popular as they are for nothing.

    I never played the pre-NGE SWG and I really wish Sony would set up a server or two with that game. Even if it doesn’t hold people due to it’s age, it should be available for academic purposes. I should like to spend time studying the game mechanics.

  • RE “unlearning” : One thing I did not like about SWG is that you would eventually stop growing your character. You get the template you want and that is it. Sure you could change your template and unlearn and learn a new skill tree, but I kind of found that as a kludge.

    This is were EVE kind of shines. There is always something new to learn. However they can do this since skill training is real time and the amount of time it would take to learn every skill to max level in the game is more than the total time that the game has been around. However, how you create a similar type of “unlimited” growth yet no do in realtime training?

    Here is the deal, I sort of hate Alts, but I create so many of them since I want to experience different parts of the game. So by forcing a split between the “spheres” is annoying. However if you have limited character growth then that is what you must do.

    One way of kind of achieving this is by implementing some type of “XP slowing” as you master more trees. So your first mastery would not take too long, but as you progress, learning more different things just take longer. This would encourage people to focus early on, but over the life time of the game a single character does not “max out.” As such you can limit players to one character per account/server but not leave people with “what now”

  • @Gustavef: Reaching the point of “maxing out” is just like any other MMO. However, I think it’s important to highlight the PvP tree that would be in addition to the skill tree system. You could continue to develop your character and progress with the PvP tree that would take a long, long time to fill yet provide you with significant bonuses.

  • If you want to create a sandbox game, you need to create an effective “ecosystem” within the game that creates interdependencies between the game elements. This might sound strange but if you research things like Systems Integration or Permaculture (principles for ecosystems), you’ll start noticing a lot of principles and concepts that can be utilized in your ideas.

    “That’s not what it’s about. I’m tempted to want PvP only in PvP areas, like DAOC frontiers. Perhaps that would be better than PvP anywhere — like DAOC Realms.”

    Actually this is EXACTLY what it’s about. You want to create interdependencies between the different styles of play within the game, so that they in turn benefit each other. Games like WoW and Warhammer try to do this but they failed miserably in their implementation (as they aren’t really true sandbox games).

    In effect, the best RESOURCES are those which are often in the most dangerous places (i.e. your dragon fang is a perfect example). So you get different play styles helping each other out to obtain these resources (i.e. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). This in turn creates a huge community focus and goal that everyone can work on, no matter what their individual focus may be.

    You can see a perfect example of this within RTS games like Warcraft II. Peons go out and gather resources which are needed to product units and increase your realm’s tech tree. Yet at the same time, these peons (PvE’rs) need the protection of warriors (PvP’rs) to effectively do their work.

    That said though, if you want to avoid PvE’rs experiencing PvP combat, there’s a way to do that and still achieve the above. Just allow territorial control to have front lines (PvP zones) and safe zones (PvE zones). So once the PvP players capture a territory, your realm controls it for a certain period before it can be recaptured. During that time, PvE players can rush into these newly captured areas and gather as many resources as they can.

    In my opinion though, I’d rather take an approach similar to EVE Online. The front lines are like 0.0 security space and the safe zones are like 1.0 security space. So ya the enemy could still try to infiltrate safe zones but it would be extremely difficult to do so with all the powerful NPC soldiers around. If anything, doing anything other than scouting your opponents (i.e. watch troop movements to front lines) would be suicide AND if you die, it means you spawn back at a front line area not within the safe zone (so a very heavy penalty, as you’d have to infiltrate the safe zone all over again which would be very time consuming).

    And yes, as you can probably tell by now, I’ve got my own dream MMO design notes that I’ve been collecting for some time as well. Varies somewhat from your approach Keen but there are some overlapping similarities.

    PS. BTW I tried posting this earlier as well with two links in it. Your spam catcher might be bugged.

  • @Nollind Whachell: I’ve set it to 3 links or more before going to the moderation queue. Oddly enough it didn’t alert me that any comments were waiting. I’ll try to figure out what’s wrong with it.

    PvP is just a sensitive beast. Do it wrong and it destroys your entire game.

    With Forts unlocking the best resources, people will focus on forts and the game will begin to revolve around them, even if it’s not the intention of the developers.

    A random dragon fang dropping does not cause a shift in the focus of the game.

    Does that make sense? One merges playstyles without altering the focus of the game while the other does.

  • “PvP: Probably needs more detail to go into it over, but I feel strongly about a DOAC style frontier because it creates pride (yes, realm pride is real but it requires a game designed to promote it) and content that replicates itself dynamically.”

    I have my doubts that a true sandbox style game will ever exist again but I envision the future of sandbox games something like this:

    – MMORPGs tend to continuously take away player choices in order to tighten gameplay (i.e. presence of scripting, specific rules, limited choices of armor/weapons etc.), hoping to achieve balance and equality among players and thereby going away from the sandbox concept.

    – MMORPG players are extremely sensitive to game play decisions. Small decisions by the Dev teams can turn someone off in an instant (nerfs, decisions regarding death penalty, rewards…you name it).

    – This idea might be out there but I think we should go the opposite way and continuously increase player control and have players run the game as they see fit making important game design decision. The DEVS would be responsible for providing as many choices as possible and it is up to the players to decide what to choose.

    – Implementing gameplay decisions by players might be achieved by having certain parts of the world controlled by leaders, guilds, countries etc. where players are voted into “political” positions and where at the top – gameplay decisions were made. For example, one “State” might be controlled by Faction A which opposes harsh death penalties and dieing in their lands means your death penalty is almost nothing (maybe combined with low rewards) while Faction B controls a different area of the map which enables harsh death penalties. The entire game would be player controlled.

    – The fun part of such a system would be that factions could PvP/RvR against each other and increase their area of control and thereby imposing their values and gameplay choices on others. Giving people a reason to PvP (other than personal gain like real points etc.) is often challenging and people often dont seem passionate to go out and PvP for some great cause (e.g. defend this random keep). However, players of MMORPGs are extremely passionate about gameplay decisions and have their own views of how the world should be run. Making this the focus of a sandbox style game makes sense.

    – These ideas might be out there but I see them as something I would imagine a real sandbox style game looks like. Give control to the players and let them sort things out. The more control you can give away, the more responsibility you shift from Developer to Player – the less balancing needs to be done.

  • Keen, this is usually why group discussions on MMO design are often so difficult because people come with preconceived notions. For example, I said “territorial control” and you immediately thought of forts, yet I didn’t mention them at all. Same with the dragon fang. I never said anything about it shifting the focus of the game.

    I actually agree with what you’re saying. No single game element should have focus or control over the entire game. You achieve this by creating interdependencies. Therefore each game element is dependent upon another for its success (or survival), thus making no single game element independently successful over the others. This is how ecosystems work in nature.

    So yes, not even forts should be the focal point and single winning aspect of territorial control (i.e. cut off a forts supplies and it’s screwed). And yes, not even an extremely rare dragon fang should be able to shift the focus of the game. In effect, yes that dragon fang can help you create a unique magical item, yet still only one person can utilize it. Thus the magical item can perhaps shift the focus of a single battle but not an entire war. To shift an entire war, requires a concerted effort by many people in many roles, no matter how small their contributions.

    WWII is a good example of this. Think of the soldiers on the front lines (PvP’rs) as the tip of an iceberg above water. While all of the people supporting them (PvE’rs) are the part of the iceberg below the waterline. For example, if it wasn’t for people collecting scrap and rubber on the homefront, a lot of soldiers on the battlefield wouldn’t even have weapons and vehicles to use in combat.

    All said and done though, talking about things like MMO game design and system integrations is an extremely complex subject because to understand single aspects of the system, you also need to grasp and understand how the entire system works at the same time (and vice versa). It can drive you bonkers with your head going in infinite loops just thinking about it. 🙂

  • Think also PvP wise, 3 seems to be the magic number when it comes to sides. Its simple and dynamic enough it balances itself out. This can be 3 player controled sides or 2 player and 1 AI which the developer uses to Balance. i think player sides is better though.

    Another thing with combat systems. I really disagree with traditional being the best. i will say it is the safest bet to go by.

    Good combat system should be easy to learn hard to master.

    Aions: Was easy and intuitive but did not seem like it had a lot to master.

    AoC: Was awkward at first but had a lot more options and was better on the mastering part

    Darkfall: Lot of good things like archery, mounted and but a lot of it was just poorly implmeneted shambles. Was not as awkward for me as FE combat though.

    UO: Really good combat system simple easy to learn but hard to master, great back and forth also. Healing and magery worked well together.

  • Argorius: Wow, well said! A lot of what you just mentioned sounds very similar to ideas in my own dream MMO.

    “Small decisions by the Dev teams can turn someone off in an instant (nerfs, decisions regarding death penalty, rewards…you name it).”

    I’m actually conceiving a way where permadeath, of all things, can actually be implemented logically and make sense. I didn’t go out expecting to add it but when I look at how other aspects of my game worked, I was surprised to find that permadeath was a logical and possible approach to death. So in effect, due to the way I’ve devised the gameplay differently than other MMOs, permadeath can actually be added without feeling as though you are losing your character completely (because I would hate to experience that feeling myself).

    “Implementing gameplay decisions by players might be achieved by having certain parts of the world controlled by leaders, guilds, countries etc. where players are voted into “political” positions and where at the top – gameplay decisions were made.”

    This is exactly how I’ve created my dream MMO. In fact, I’ve devised a sort of universal management system that lets you learn how to “lead” in baby steps. In effect, the interface of the system is very similar no matter if you’re managing your character, a party, a guild, a town, or even a realm. The only thing that differs is the scope.

    “The fun part of such a system would be that factions could PvP/RvR against each other and increase their area of control and thereby imposing their values and gameplay choices on others.”

    Again this is similar to my approach. In effect, each “community” can vary in scope and size. More importantly, communities can exist within each other. So I could be the leader of an adventuring “party”, that’s part of “guild”, located within a “town” that’s part of a “realm” (with each thing in quotes being a community type). Each community’s method of government is determined by the creator or creators of it. So my adventuring party may be a democracy but the guild we’re in may be a dictatorship (i.e. thieves guild), but the town and nation we are in could be theocracies. Therefore we interact with each community we are within in different ways.

  • i hate to be the one to throw cold water on your ideas… but i think you’re forgetting how difficult something like this would be to code…. sandbox MMOs have soooo many variables and so many different systems that it’s a nightmare to actually get them all to work correctly… it seems to me that this is the single biggest reason we haven’t seen a “GOOD” game like this in recent memory… it’s possible to create a sandbox game… but it’s very, very difficult to create a GOOD sandbox game.

    just imagine all the back-end programming and testing a game like this would require in order to work out all the bugs… it would be insane…

    the ideas in this post are great, but it’s not enough to have great ideas, you have to have ways to implement those ideas.

  • @logan: 99% of my ideas came straight from one game: SWG. If SWG could do it, any game can do it. Sure, some are slightly altered but that changes nothing in how they’re implemented.

    UO also accomplished it.

    All of the ideas above have been implemented. Most of them have just been abandoned for what’s easier. The problems we’re seeing today are not with “coding” something, but having the ability to understand what works and what doesn’t.

  • Id play 🙂

    I miss the old SWG, kicking back in a tavern chatting to fellow social gamers as they danced, rp’ed and buffed beffore heading out into large stretches of land without funneling


  • if a GOOD sandbox MMO comes out within 5 years i’ll be very suprised… there’s plenty of market for it, but in order to get the kind of polish that gamers have come to expect, it would take a very, very long time and an enormous sum of money to make it happen…

    How old is SWG? think about how much more crap players were willing to put up with back then, compared to now?

    i’d love to see a good sandbox game as much as the next guy… but realistically it’s not going to happen anytime soon… the only real hope i see is if Blizzard goes in this direction with their new MMO… and that’s because they have the money and the time to make it work, but even then it will take at least 5 years from today, and it’s already been in development for a while now.

  • Excellent discussion all. I would play this in a heartbeat.

    One thought I had with regards to progression and the tree structure. If you use a sword, you would gain a certain amount of experience. Use it enough and you would progress up the tree structure and gain more and more mastery skills with it.

    Let’s say you wanted now to use magic. In order to gain magic experience, you start using magic. Of course, this means you are no longer using your sword. Every time you use magic you gain magic experience, but also lose a certain amount of sword experience. Lose enough sword experience and you lose your mastery levels and skills.

    This now allows an extremely varied amount of customization that allows the player to play how they want. It also means that they instantly don’t go back to zero and lose the ability to access higher level content.

  • I don’t really see much to hook me. Skill-based systems tend to be a lot more inefficient than dual-class systems, for one. If you are going to limit it to one master class with limited allocations to others, might as well make it dual-class, and remove a lot of the needless gimping and need to plan.

    Crafting I dislike personally, so harvesting and crafting I cant comment on. I hate dura loss with a passion. I usually tank in games, and dura loss means carrying multiple sets of armor over an exp session, replacing them as they break, and hoping the party doesn’t still the tank on drops so I can fix my armor which degrades so much faster than everyone else.

    Player housing…well if you all can’t stand barrens chat, good luck living next to those people. Let alone getting ganked outside of your house for easy pvp experience.

    You need to convince me that a sandbox really is an improvement over a themepark to win me. Unlike you all, I didn’t play UO, I didn’t play SWG, and sandbox doesn’t hold a special place in my heart. You see this as going back to what works; I see it as being a pain to actually play, and a nostalgia trip.

  • I think for PvP to really work well, especially in a sandbox game, you need to compete over the PvE. In your game I think that means competing over the more rare crafted resources. Otherwise PvP is just a mini-game within a game and not a part of a flowing game world.

    That is all PvP is basically in DAOC and WOW, a mini game inside of the bigger game. In UO, AC and even EQ it was so much more than that.

  • “99% of my ideas came straight from one game: SWG”

    Keen, are you saying that SWG was the best experience you’ve ever had in a game (note I never played SWG)? It just sounds that way when you say “99% of your ideas” come from that game. If that’s the case, why aren’t you still playing it?

    “All of the ideas above have been implemented.”

    I hear this from a lot of people. They usually say that all of these ideas have been done in different games. Yet that’s what my previous comments in this thread were trying to get at. Just because different games may have incorporated different ideas, doesn’t mean those ideas will all work together in one game. That said, even though one game may have all of these ideas (i.e. 99% in SWG), it still doesn’t mean it’d be great because the detailed implementation of those ideas is everything. So I’m assuming that’s why you’re not still playing SWG, correct? Good ideas, bad implementation?

    “it’s possible to create a sandbox game… but it’s very, very difficult to create a GOOD sandbox game”
    “the ideas in this post are great, but it’s not enough to have great ideas, you have to have ways to implement those ideas.”

    I have to agree with logan in this regard. Sandbox games differ from MMOs like WoW because their time investment is all invested into getting the game mechanics to work perfectly because the players themselves create the content and the rewarding experience. With WoW though, the developers invest most of their time into creating the content and rewarding experience (i.e. story on rails), thus the mechanics don’t have to be as perfect. Obviously they still have to work well but the complexities of them are no where near that of a sandbox game. Overall though, one isn’t more difficult than the other. Each just has different complexities and different time sinks.

    “That is all PvP is basically in DAOC and WOW, a mini game inside of the bigger game.”

    Ender: I agree. PvP in WoW is an afterthought and a closed system. For it to be more meaningful, it’s need to be integrated into the overall game at a deeper level. Not so much that it becomes the primary focus but just enough that it adds to the overall story and experience.

    “You need to convince me that a sandbox really is an improvement over a themepark to win me.”

    Dblade: Which would take a really great sandbox game as logan indicated. That said though, look at the themepark MMO experience so far and how jaded people are getting with them. Again both have their complexities and it takes a developer who really knows how to put everything together in a detailed and polished way for it to work well. So far, Blizzard seems to be the only company that can do this exceptionally well. Be amazing to see them take a radical approach and create a sandbox game for their next MMO.

  • @Nollind Whachell: SWG was changed drastically in a movement people refer to as CU/NGE. It is no longer the game that it was when it was the ideal representation of many sandbox systems — many of the ones I speak of here. Time kills games, and SWG’s day is gone. The ideas/mechanics/systems/etc, however, remain amazing.

    These ideas were implemented in one single game and they were AMAZING. I stopped SWG because I had played for years and was ready to move on — and they were planning to change it completely. Their implementation was near perfect.

    So I disagree with anyone who says these are only ideas. These are tried and true ideas. I’m simply asking for them to be done in a Fantasy setting with a few additional systems added (carefully added).

  • “These ideas were implemented in one single game and they were AMAZING. I stopped SWG because I had played for years and was ready to move on — and they were planning to change it completely. Their implementation was near perfect.”

    Ah, cool. Thanks for the reply. I know exactly what you mean now. This kind of reminds me of Quakeworld from a FPS perspective. The only thing outdated by it are its graphics. The gameplay is still amazing which is why some people are still playing it today.

    Same with Quake CTF. The original gameplay could not be duplicated in later versions of Quake (i.e. Quake 2, Quake 3) and is still the best version of CTF I’ve ever played in any game. So simple, yet so amazing. Definitely a testament to Dave “Zoid” Kirsch, the creator of Quake CTF. Believe he now works for Valve working on Left 4 Dead.

  • Keen: I was actually just reading all of the posts on the Web relating to the layoffs in the game industry and one commenter raised a great point. The cost of game development today has gone through the roof, thus making it extremely difficult to innovate and take risks in the industry. When I thought about that, I wondered if more sandbox games could help alleviate this because there isn’t a huge investment in content creation compared to games like WoW because the players in sandbox games come up with most of the content and interaction.

    That said, the initial cost of developing the game would still be costly but still could be sustainable. I mean the game LOVE is a sandbox game and it was developed by one guy. If you had a small focused team of say ten people (kind of like id Software), you could probably pull it off at a reduced cost compared to other big AAA titles. Guess the approach would be to start simple with the work initially on the side (i.e. don’t give up your “day job”) and then when things start solidifying, that’s when you start investing time and money into it more seriously.

  • Nollind:

    I don’t think it’s so much a good sandbox game, but I think the concept itself needs selling. You need to hook people on why it is an actual improvement.

    What keen says isn’t really that far removed from a themepark besides the player housing. It’s just a different style of mechanics for leveling, crafting, etc, and not all that better of an improvement. Some of it is negative, at least to me.

  • I agreed with everything you said – from the SWG skill respeccing options to crafting style to housing and so forth. I had an instant assumption you would be off base on pvp. I assumed like most mmorpgs you would assume that open field guild v guild = pvp.

    I was proved wrong (and happily). You said there must be sides – and you pointed out my favorite mmorpg of the past – Dark Age of Camelot.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I can only hope that a golden child comes to the mmorpg industry – not only will she or he have the financial control – but (gulps) will have the creativity to create the sandbox fantasy mmorpg of which you speak.