During my week of vacation Aventurine was busy on the forums making posts about upcoming changes to DarkFall, along with a new initiative to drive more developer-player interaction as related to the design of the game. They also gave more solid information about their plans for 2010, with expansions coming in June and Q4. The June expansion is likely to feature, among many things, the graphical updates to player models (including the new dwarf model shown here), while the Q4 expansion is likely to bring DX11 enhancements and prestige classes.
The addition of a proper Maharim mount (found here) is nice, and gives Maharim tamers a unique mount to craft and everyone else one more option for transportation. It should be fun to see bear cavalry charging into battle, and variety in a game like DarkFall never hurts. The more interesting info revealed in the post was some more specifics about specialized mounts. This was hinted at when the battlehorn was introduced, and now we have confirmation that Agon will be getting a weaker, faster mount as well. Without going into too much detail, such an addition opens up a lot of tactical options. The faster mount won’t help much in mount vs mount combat, but certainly will to chase people down, or to escape yourself (assuming you can get away before it is killed). As some have suggested, a water-based mount would be nice as well, especially if it had the ability to dive underwater (the current weakness of going into water on a mount), along with whatever else Aventurine has planned for future mounts. All balance concerns aside, more options and tactical decisions to be made by players in a sandbox is a good thing, so bring on the new mounts.
The other major post made last week was about character progression and Aventurine’s view on how quickly characters should develop. The post itself is a good overview/reminder of some of the freedoms DarkFall allows compared to other MMOs in terms of character restrictions, and also what AV views as a viable and then advanced character.
One thing that stuck out to me was the timeframe they used to hit the viable phase and then the advanced phase. They state two months of moderate (which of course is itself very debatable) to double (high 30s low 40s) your stats, and 4-6 months to triple (50s-60s) them. My current NA1 character, who I have been playing since the release of the server (July 13th), is right in line with what AV considers advanced, as his primary stats are in the 60s and I have many of my skills at 100, with a bank full of moderate to high-end loot/wealth. However that’s over 9 months of playing, and fairly consistently at that. I will say though that if I had really, really focused on character development, I would be much farther along, but instead I spent a lot of time either working on non-combat stuff (crafting, exploring) or PvP’ing. Things have also changed in that time in regards to progression speed, so in the games current state I don’t think the 4-6 month timeframe to triple your stats is unreasonable.
The adjustment to hitpoints is a good one however, as currently that is the one major difference between a really build up character and someone in that 2-6 month range. Having 260hp and facing someone with 390 is just a major disadvantage. The veteran SHOULD have some advantages over a newer player, such as hitting slightly harder and having access to more utility options, but the massive hitpoint difference is just too much, and tips the scale too far into character strength rather than player skill to determine who comes out as the winner. The other benefit of hitpoint gains scaling is that newer players will see results faster, which will be just one more hook to keep them around. Everyone loves seeing character progression, and a characters hitpoint total is one of those fundamental stats that everyone is always looking at and hoping to increase.
Finally, prestige classes were mentioned, with a target date of Q4 2010. Not much information was actually given, but my hope is that prestige classes will function like a collection of specializations, giving you significant benefits in one area at the expense of others. Perhaps this will also return some of the original balance planning AV had in, such as being able to only select certain spell schools at the expense of others. With a selectable and changeable prestige class kit, you could get a boost in say fire magic at the expense of your water magic access, or necro at the expense of arcane, etc.
The final post made last week was one about communication, and the creation of a new forum sub-section intended to drive player ideas and reaction to upcoming gameplay and balance changes, and foster dev-player interaction. One thing that AV (and anyone reading the forums) noticed was that whenever a non-gameplay spotlight was posted, some would complain that this was a waste of time and why was AV not fixing MY issue. Now this happens on all game forums, and no change you make will ever please everyone, so it’s interesting that AV is actually responding to this and creating a new forum section. The benefit of course will be that moderators will then be able to delete any non-related posts when things like art or community items are highlighted, which will clean things up nicely.
The one fear I do have over this new sub-section is Aventurine listening too much to the player base. MMO history is littered with examples of when NOT to listen to your players, and while some teen with too much time on his hands might think he is gods gift to game dev (and look, all his group-think buddies agree!), that’s not exactly who I want influencing what I’m currently playing. That said, I’m fairly confident that AV will do a good job to filter out or minimize the noise made by those who have “perfectly balanced” something based on a forum post, but stranger things have happened to an MMO.
Which is not to say all player suggestions should be ignored, far from it. The best testers in the world are MMO players (we pay monthly for beta software!), and who better to highlight details or imperfections than those who play more than most people work in a given week? Gaming history is also full of player-made content that easily trumps professional work (be it WoW’s player-made UI, Counter-Strike, or the DotA map for WC3), so completely ignoring that resource would be foolish. As with most things, proper balance and filtering is key, and hopefully Aventurine has the team to get it right.
And all of this talk about DarkFall really sucks when you don’t have a PC to play it on, especially after a week away due to vacation. The itch to play is certainly there, and something tells me the shakes I’m experiencing are not just from being back at work…