More tools coming to the sandbox

March 31, 2010

DarkFall is set to receive a patch later this week, and two recent spotlights have shown off two new items that will be included; Clan Teleportation Chambers and Deployable Strongboxes. Both threads are already very lengthy with everyone throwing opinions and predictions around, with feelings ranging from overjoyed to ‘slap in the face’ style responses. Or in other words, it’s just another day on ForumFall.

I don’t want to spend too much time going over the features themselves, as I think once they are added in and we know the full details of their functionality, limits, and costs, only then can we really evaluate what value they have added. What I do want to talk about however is the general difference between adding such features to a game like DarkFall versus adding such features to a game like World of Warcraft. For this post, let’s compare the upcoming strongboxes in DF to the repair bot in WoW.

Both additions certainly share some similarities, such as being player-crafted, deployable, and providing optional utility normally found in a city. The key difference for me however is that when the repair bot was announced, its purpose was very clear; repair broken gear in an instance rather than having to delay and run back to town. There was no ‘sneaky utility’ to the bot, there was no “I wonder how players will use this” debate. The bots function is very clear, its use is very standard, and it does its job in a fairly straightforward way. Taken one step further, many (but certainly not all) features added to a themepark-style game also fall into this category. A new battleground or instance is a rather straightforward addition; it’s another place to do stuff similar to what you are doing now, just with different rules or gimmicks and rewards.

This is in rather stark contrast to adding something like the deployable strongbox to DarkFall, where in just one day many have already theorized various uses for them. From the expected (resupplying at a siege stone), to the possible (personal storage while out farming/gathering), to the unlikely (making a wall of boxes to block an entrance) to potential exploits (using it to block mobs in so they can not reach you); in just one day the possible uses for the strongbox are being explored. And this exploration and strategic adjustment will only intensify once the item is added to the game and players begin to play around with them. Will the cost be low enough to use as personal storage while out farming? Will players adjust to include siege hammers or other tools to break boxes when they head out to PvP? How will the terrain you know today look to you when you start seeing it as “where to hide/find a box”? How different will a siege be in terms of offense/defense with this addition? What about when combining strongboxes with the teleportation chamber addition? One could go on and on, but it’s this level of player control that I love about a good sandbox MMO. Additional tools and features are added as time goes on, but exactly how those tools and features are ultimately used is as much up to the players as it is the developers, and for me that adds a great deal of excitement to each patch.

But the dice keep the economy rolling

March 30, 2010

Yesterday I talked about randomness and luck as it relates to DarkFall’s combat, and how I believe the game benefits from having such events kept to a minimum. Today I want to address the other side of the coin; the randomness in DarkFall’s crafting and how it affects the overall economy.

Unlike in WoW or many other MMOs, each item you make in DarkFall will have slightly different damage and durability stats. For example, a rank 40 axe can have its damage range go anywhere from .52 (mob drop) to .57 (max). That .05 damage difference is the average difference between weapon ranks; or in other words, a top-damage rank 30 is just as good as a mob drop rank 40. Durability is also a little random, but a few points difference in durability is not nearly as big a factor as damage. The main differences in durability come from the Trueforge skills, and secondly your wisdom stat.

This randomness goes a long way to determining an items value, and presents some interesting choices. For instance, say you craft a few rank 60 weapons, and out of the batch you get one top-end piece. If you can afford it, you can opt to sell the lower damage weapons for a reduced cost and keep the higher end ones for personal use. Or, if the somewhat minor difference is not something you value highly, you can instead sell the top-end item for a nice premium and still use the other weapons you crafted. Factor in enchantment ‘crits’, and you can really build some very expensive stuff.

And the difference between the system in DarkFall and say the crit system in LotRO is of course the full loot and durability aspects. In LotRO the crit version of an item becomes the ‘best in slot’ item (assuming there is not a better PvE-based item to get), and the non-crit version is vendor junk for most players. In DarkFall, due to the fact that someone is likely to loot you, or even if you are really good, eventually due to durability even the best items are lost and need to be replaced. It’s because of this that non-crit items still retain much of their value, and why mid-level crafted items like rank 40s and scale/plate armor are still in demand. If DarkFall had rules similar to most themeparks, the only items worth crafting/selling would be Dragon Armor with Q5 enchants and Q5 keened R80s. That sounds silly if you actually play DarkFall, but it’s the reality in so many other MMOs.

And aside from the final stats on a crafted weapon, there are also other things to consider when determining an items final value. For instance, even the best crafters don’t have a 100% chance to create anything. Even a simple task like smelting ore into ingots has at least a 1% chance to fail, and smelting rare ore can be as high as 20% depending on your skill and stats. Now failing to smelt a regular iron ingot is not that big a deal. Sure you lose some ore, but at an average price of about 8 gold per ore, ‘wasting’ one or two is not very noticeable. If you fail to smelt a theyril ingot, where one piece of ore goes for around 4000 gold, well, that stings. And then of course you can fail actually making an item that requires a theyril ingot and lose it that way, which is a quick 8000 gold hit. Factor all of this in, and it’s not hard to see why some of the top-end gear goes for the prices it goes for.

The final piece of this somewhat complex puzzle is that the truly expensive gear; stuff that goes for 10k+, is really only marginally better than gear that costs you a few thousand instead. Take for example the difference between a Q5 (max) keen enchantment versus a Q3 (mid level) enchantment. The Q5 on average adds .11 damage to a weapon, while a Q3 adds .07 damage. The average difference is .04, which might only translate to 1-2 hit points of additional damage per swing. The average cost difference is literally thousands, and we are talking just one enchant on one non-permanent item. Multiply this across half a dozen items, and you just turned an ‘average’ 3-5k ready bag into a crazy 100k+ bag, both of which can easily be lost if you happen to get into a bad combat situation or simply get outplayed (or best of all, crash or disconnect and die).

It’s all of these dynamics working together (randomness in crafting, item power/cost scaling, full loot and durability) that keep the DarkFall economy going, and allow for mid-level players to still compete in certain situations (not 1v1s) against top-end players. The best player in DarkFall might die once for every ten deaths you die, but when that single death costs him 100k and your average death costs you 2k, things balance themselves out, especially if you loot that 100k bag and end up selling it to fund your level of gear. This is also why important sieges are such events, because almost everyone pulls out their top-end stuff, and the winners can walk away with a fortune in gear.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

No dice rolls here

March 29, 2010

I’ve recently been playing some Catan online, which is acting as a solid game to play while my character in DF is doing less input-heavy tasks (gathering, crafting, etc), and it reminded me how much certain games factor in luck over others. Because even though Catan is a strategy game with a lot of depth, a heavy dose of randomness and luck plays into every game, which is vastly different than playing something like Chess, or DarkFall for that matter.

Initially luck having such a heavy influence on Catan turned me off from the game, but having played it some more (the major advantage of having the online version is that you can play a lot of games in the same time it would normally take you to play one off-line) I can see that luck and randomness are important factors in keeping the game interesting when you play it repeatedly. In the long run the better players will win more than they lose (think Poker), but in any given game a poor player with luck on his side can beat a pro. If it works when millions of dollars are on the line, it can certainly work for Catan.

And this brings me back to DarkFall, because when you really think about it, DarkFall has almost zero luck/randomness in its combat, which is very unlike MMO combat. The only truly random factor I can think of is spell fizzles, and I guess you could make an argument for insta-decapitations, although that is only a factor AFTER any individual combat (though it heavily factors into group vs group combat). Everything else is based on player and character skill. The damage range for any hit is very limited, there are no random crits, there are no hit/miss dice rolls, there are no “if this happens you can use this” style events, and, most importantly, at the end of any duel you can’t point to some random factor and say “well, if that random event went my way, I would have won”.

But unlike Catan above, the absence of randomness in DarkFall’s combat is a huge plus rather than a negative IMO. Because combat is so heavily player-skill based (character/items/etc are big factors as well, DF is an MMO after all), I think luck/randomness would remove some of its importance. It would feel very out of place if during a duel against a better player, you end up winning because some random event triggered your ultra-rare “I win” ability. That works in a themepark or PvE-based game, but only because the mob you just used that “I win” button against is designed to die, and won’t start sending you hate tells about what a lucky bastard you are.

The removal of luck also allows for deeper strategy and the reliance on your own actions. Again think Chess vs Catan. In Catan you can go into a game with a basic plan/strategy, but once the dice start rolling you have to adjust and go with what you are given, and if it’s not your day, no amount of adjusting is going to allow you to win. In a game of Chess, nothing happens randomly, and who wins or loses ALWAYS comes down to who played better. In a player-skill heavy game like DarkFall, the latter is a much-preferred system, and encourages everyone to constantly improve their ability in-game.

Tales from DarkFall: The PKs of dwarf lands

March 26, 2010

I’ve been trying to finish the first step in the Vitality title quest for some time now, but killing 200 of two types of kobolds plus 20 of another is a rather daunting task, especially because around the city I’m normally at (Dagnamyr) we don’t have a single kobold spawn. There are a few good ones somewhat close if I travel north to the dwarf starter areas however, which is exactly where I was last night.

And much to my surprise, the area is not only busy with newbie dwarf players (who rolls a dwarf…?) but also PKs looking for an easy kill. Until recently I had always assumed the dwarf area was the least populated in the game, so either all of the starter areas are now just as busy, or trial players love dwarves.

One PK was particularly memorable not only because he kept coming back, but also because of his fighting style. He heavily favored debuffs and archery, and went into melee with sub-par (under r40) weapons and armor.

The first time he rushed in to melee me, my guess is assuming I was a new player. At that point I had decent-enough gear on me to easily handle him, and soon he was decapitated and his loot mine. I was not his first target that night it seemed, as he had a tombstone full of some rather random loot.

Some time later he came back, and this time was real sneaky about things. He hit me with a few debuffs before I could find him, and I then made the mistake of just charging at him with my vitality low. As I noob charged he put some arrows into me, and this time won the melee battle as I had about 150hp when it began. Round two goes to him, with some nice loot off me.

For round three I was wearing a robe and only had an r40 greatsword on me (another PK of much higher skill had just killed me), so I just charged him while dodging his spells, but lacking any ranged attack above a mob-dropped r0 bow, he was able to kite me long enough to get the kill. Round three to him, though his winnings were slim.

For round four I actually spotted him trying to kill a different player near a wilderness bank close to the kobolds, and initially engaged him mounted. He got in a few shots on me and my horse while I got some hits in with my axe, but at around the time I was going to pull back to save my horse he decided to pull off and head into the water. After I despawned my mount I followed him into the water where, much to my surprise, he was shooting arrows at another player on the waters edge. Since I had aqua-shot, I just jumped in, went underwater, and starter putting arrows into him. He initially fired back but soon realized I was out-damaging him (crafted r40 ftw) and tried to escape. Sadly for him he was both low on health and not close to any land, so after only a brief chase down he went. Funny enough he had a mount on him at the time, along with other assorted gear. Round four was mine.

For round five he brought in a buddy. His friend (a blue human) initially shot me with a fireball within tower range, so got zapped a bit. In a panic he spawned his mount, and I happily shot it out from under him as he tried to get out of tower range. Since he only hit me once he went blue again before I could actually fight him, but the death of his horse would do. The two then tried to jump me at the kobold spawn, but I managed to dodge enough of their attacks to make it back to the tower/bank. At this point it was getting late, and having had enough fun with them, I logged after a bit of friendly (not really) trash talk.

Oh and feel-good bonus of the night (possible of the year): When I got killed by the above-mentioned powerful PK, I went to the dwarf capital bank (that is my current bind point) to regear, feeling a bit down (I had a good fight with the PK but ended up losing a decent set of gear that I brought out to fight the other PK with), and at the bank crafting is an enemy guild member. Just for kicks I grab an r40 greatsword and start attacking him, fully expecting him to run around and make it impossible to finish him due to the other blue players in the area. Swing swing swing, no movement. Swing swing dead, no movement.

I open up his tombstone and find two blue bags which I immediately grab. As I grab the second, I notice a stack of steedgrass behind it, but before I can even see the number on the stack it’s gone thanks to the random other players now crowding around the tombstone. It was at least 10+, and possible 20+. I then check one of the bags and inside I find 37 horse mounts. Mounts go for 800-1000 a pop. Thanks buddy, and welcome to DarkFall.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

Because it’s Friday

March 26, 2010

Playing WoW lately has reminded me of Blizzard’s development cycles and how they churn out patches very quickly.

Put down the crack pipe.

PvP Systems: FFA vs Faction

March 26, 2010

Coppertopper previously asked my opinion on FFA PvP versus set faction PvP, and today seems like a good day to throw out my opinions on the topic and also see what everyone else thinks. Examples of FFA PvP include Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call – Darktide, Shadowbane, EVE Online, and DarkFall, among others. Examples of set faction PvP include Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Aion, and Warhammer Online, among others.

Let’s start with the strengths of each setup. In a set faction system, you are assigned to a side and hence immediately start the game with pre-defined enemies and friends. This means you can get right into the PvP action without having to solo or find a guild. WAR is the best example of this strength, as right at level one you can queue up for a scenario and play as part of a team. Balance is also generally easier to achieve in a set faction system since the developers know exactly which races/classes are going to be facing each other. Lore is easier to design as you have clearly defined enemies and allies, and the story can progress as the devs see fit.

A FFA PvP system on the other hand gives much of the control over to the players, from determining enemies and allies to how guilds choose to define themselves (mercs, RP, specific race/class/focus). Politics become a huge factor, as your enemies one day might be your allies the next, or vice versa. In games like EVE or DF territory control is important due to its relationship to valuable resources, and this opens up economic PvP. Finally the ‘bad apples’ can be placed on Kill on Sight (KoS) lists, giving the player community some additional control/tools.

I stated to Coppertopper that I prefer the FFA PvP setup, but really it comes down to how you design your game. For instance, I don’t think DAoC would have been a better game had it been FFA PvP from the ground up, while at the same time I think a game like WAR is hurt by its strict two-sided conflict. I also really enjoy the political aspect of a FFA system, but again this comes down to how involved you are with an MMO. I would say most casual players don’t keep up with politics, and so that entire side is a non-factor for them. If anything, a simplified “who do we fight” system is better/easier for them to jump in and get to some fighting. Fighting also tends to be more frequent in a set faction system, at least when comparing games like DF/EVE to DAoC/WAR, although the style of PvP is certainly not the only factor to consider when asking why.

MMO history has also shown the set faction games generally fare better than FFA PvP games in terms of popularity. I think a large part of that has to due with the more streamlined approach a set faction system allows, and also because a FFA system is more difficult to predict. A quick look at Shadowbane’s history will show that the FFA setup largely contributed to the games failure, as the winning side would be so dominant as to literally kill a server. On the other hand EVE and its one server has yet to see complete domination, despite the efforts of many, and while DF started with a few large alliances dominating, today on the NA server the world is split into many smaller alliances, each with its own political connections and history, and many ‘little guy’ clans are able to claim property and carve our a space for themselves.

Tales from DarkFall: Sunstone Seige

March 25, 2010

Now that was a fun siege! Alliance versus alliance (with some minor politics involved), jungle fighting, interesting use of terrain, great tactical moves, high participation from both sides, and everyone wearing their Sunday best made last night a truly great time in DarkFall.

As mentioned yesterday, Super Friends dropped a siege on the DR-owned Sunstone hamlet up on Yssam, and on the forums it was stated that SF would like to keep this Alliance vs Alliance, no mercs or temporary allies. Such claims have been made before by other alliances, and for whatever reason it has never worked out, so it was very surprising (and fun) that last night both sides kept their word and just had a slugfest between two powerhouse alliances.

SF won some initial battles, most notably controlling the nearby DR city of Talpec that was being used as a meeting point and place to gear up. They dropped some cannons and disabled the bank (great move), and when they left a third party entered the city to control the stone. Whether this was random or hush-hush planned is debatable, but it did force the main DR groups to head back to Talpec and clean the city up. The bank was repaired and the Zealot alliance was called in to sit in Talpec. At the same time Dark Hand of Valor was also raiding Dagnamyr (another DR city on the mainland) and making it difficult for people to gear up and recall from that location. I believe this group was also countered at some point, but again it caused a disruption and some confusion.

Once Talpec was secured, a small (15 v 15 or so) skirmish broke out in the jungle just south of Sunstone. I and one other member of Inquisition (Hi Hoppy) were involved, and initially the fighting was going well. Lots of tombstones began to pop up, and communication on Vent was overall positive. Things quickly changed when a second enemy force rolled in and crashed into our flanks. The call was given to retreat back to the mountains, but not everyone made it. I escaped with one hit to go on my battlehorn, healed it and my other mount up, and went back to Talpec to regroup with the rest of Inquisition (we had a group of 8 going forward).

The main fighting at the siege was taking place just east of the hamlet, where SF had placed two siege stones. The area itself is a small maze of cliffs, ones that required some clever use of magic to get on top of. From this strategic position, both sides rained down magic and arrows at each other. Both sides were constantly trying to pull each other off the cliffs with knockback spells like Come Hither and Magma Storm. Arrows also move a character slightly and could be used to knock down anyone too close to an edge. Once someone fell off it became a challenge to get back up, and more than a few tombstones could be seen around the cliffs as players fell and were nuked down with vicious focus fire. The entire time it was stressed on vent to keep everyone alive and not let our numbers dwindle while we held position until the stones could be destroyed.

Back to our Inq group, we rode north from Talpec to Sunstone, being cautious not to run directly into the enemy. Eventually we reached a mountain to the south of the cliff maze overlooking the southern jungle of Sunstone. We noticed small groups of enemy riders coming from the south to join their main force, and we set up a little trap to hopefully pick them off. We spotted one player trailing behind and jumped out from behind our tree to down his mount. In short order our swarm of magic and arrows killed the mount, and he ran on foot towards the cliffs. After a short chase, we pinned him in the cliff maze and, while the magic battle raged overhead, cut him down.

We went back to our trap location, but after a short wait and no action decided instead to take up position just east of the cliff maze. We joined a few VAMP members and kept the enemy from advancing too far on the ground while adding some firepower to the magic battle up top. Once the word was given on vent to push north, we had to take only a few steps before we found ourselves in the melee battle. The fight was decidedly one sided as I believe the SF forced had been slowly ground down, and with no quick reinforcement spot (unlike DR with Talpec), they could not replenish their numbers nearly as well as we could.

Our group of eight worked well together, making sure to stay in close proximity to each other and offered support when needed. Many of the enemy players are some of the top guys on the server, and alone we would have made for some easy targets. Working as a group however we not only kept each other alive, but were also able to contribute to the fighting and down a few targets. Once this battle was over the siege was won as the second siege stone was destroyed. No one from our group got decapitated (we were able to rez the two who went down), and I think everyone came away with at least some loot.

The after-battle forum posting so far has been courteous, with both sides agreeing it was a great siege with near-even numbers. Performance from the server was perfect, and those with decent machines had more than playable FPS. I myself never dropped below 40fps with only shadows turned off. Last night was certainly a highlight night for everyone, and hopefully the start of a new trend going forward for sieging.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


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