Bringing EVE’s Empire space to DarkFall

The phrase “Play to Crush” from ShadowBane has an ironic history behind it. Before SB’s release, it was a rallying cry for the PvP ‘hardcore’, a declaration that all of those ‘soft’ features from other MMOs need not apply here. During SB’s lifetime, “Play to Crush” was a style of play, where one side would literally crush the other until nothing was left. Once SB finally shut down (after being on F2P life support for a bit), “Play to Crush” stands as an example of why catering ONLY to the PvP ‘hardcore’ is not sound business strategy. Or to put it another way, the ‘best’ players of SB were so good, they literally crushed the game itself. Congrats on your overwhelming victory.

Yesterday I asked EVE players why they believe alliances last so long, and how in a brutal environment like 0.0, EVE is able to both retain and attract enough players to continue growing well into its sixth year. The overwhelming answer was Empire space, that lovely section in the middle of the universe that’s safer (but not 100% safe) than any other. So what exactly makes Empire space in EVE tick, and how could that concept be applied to DarkFall?

Empire space is certainly not Trammel, the no-PvP side of Ultima Online that is the bane of all PvP-minded players. The differences are many, but the two key points are that Empire is not 100% safe, and that areas outside of Empire space provide significant advantages to those who venture out and lay claim to them. As many noted, what Empire does, among other things, is provide a place for defeated alliances and corporations to regain their footing, to resupply, refocus, and most importantly, to prevent being crushed out of the game entirely. In DarkFall’s early history we certainly saw plenty of “Play to Crush” examples, and not a single one of them is a positive for the game.

But beyond aiding PvPers, Empire is also a breeding ground for future PvP players. EVE statistics show that a large group of EVE players only play in Empire space, never heading out into 0.0 to actively engage in combat PvP (econ PvP is a totally different topic). What those statistics don’t show is how many current PvP players started out as Empire-only pilots only to later be lured to 0.0 for one reason or another. Without Empire, they might never have gotten their feet under them, or never got themselves invested enough into EVE to finally make that jump. And even if a pilot never heads out to 0.0 during his entire career, he is still paying a monthly subscription to fund future development, so even in that roundabout way he too is ‘contributing’ to the progression and improvement of EVE PvP. Point being, the more players you have, whether they PvP or not, the better off the PvP will be in the long run (assuming the devs don’t give up on their original focus and shift direction, which is a different and legitimate fear PvP players have).

So what can Aventurine do to ‘Empire-up’ Agon? For one, living under a certain level of protection (NPC zap tower functionality) should be more viable. Currently once you leave the immediate surrounds of a starter town, you are playing under the same FFA PvP rules as the most die-hard PvPers. That might sound ‘hardcore’, but it’s not going to impress, and more importantly, retain, a newer player just trying to get started. Nor does it really lead to any worthwhile PvP anyway, as anyone going to a starter area to gank goblin-hunting noobs is really not there to find true PvP. The recently added newbie protection was a good first step, but it does not do nearly enough as it only covers truly new players and only for a limited amount of time.

My suggestion would be to slightly revamp the areas right around the starter towns to include only lower-yield mob spawns and resource nodes, but offer up zap tower protection to not just the towns themselves, but the whole local area. Image each races starter region under single zap tower protection (the lore explanation could be that the zap comes from that races patron god protecting his kind), with the border identified by an easily crossed but highly visible wall (each race could have its own unique ‘skull and crossbones’ style warning barrier). The same rules for zap towers still apply, so clans at war can still fight it out and breaking the law under zap tower protection still does not mean instant death. If you see a rich-looking player target, you can still try to kill him before the zap tower kills you and have your buddy loot him (aka Empire suicide ganking). Obviously no player cities/hamlets could be within this area, nor would you want it to include any real ‘worthwhile’ mobs. Plus the resource nodes should have a higher rate of gathering failure and a lower overall capacity. Again think EVE empire mining vs 0.0 mining.

The intent is to give both new and newly defeated players somewhere to go to stock up and get ready to return to the FFA PvP lands. Perhaps with further changes and additions, these areas could also serve a Jita-like role as centralized areas for economic activity. One major difference, and if done right, benefit DarkFall has over EVE is the tight ability to control access to a region. In EVE a corp/alliance can gatecamp and keep everyone out, while this is much more difficult in DF. The benefit to this is that PvE-minded players would have an easier time venturing out of Agon-empire to gather resources or hunt tougher and more profitable mobs. This would give them short, controlled bursts of life on the ‘hardcore’ side, with the hope that eventually they would learn how to deal with the tough breaks and enjoy what that style of MMO gaming brings.

A silly carebear today might turn into a deadly PvPer tomorrow, but if you crush him out of the game before he has time to establish himself, in the end the only one crushed is the ‘winner’, left to go play yet another WoW clone.

22 Responses to Bringing EVE’s Empire space to DarkFall

  1. PeterD says:

    I think something like that would be helpful in any PvP game. Shadowbane got halfway there with the PvP free level 1-20 game, but once you left there was no going back, and the transition could be extremely painful.

    I was in a guild on the receiving end of a “crush”. We were a member of an alliance and participated in an alliance sanctioned attack on another city. We killed some people, damaged a few buildings, and left. The alliance that city belonged to responded by razing my guild’s city to the ground. Our alliance apparently offered us up as sacrificial lambs, as no alliance members came to our aid. When I logged in the next day, our guild suddenly had no city, which meant no services, no money, nothing. Most of the guild simply quit the game, it was clear there was no point in playing because we had no reasonable way to rebuild.

    In EVE, we could have retreated to Empire space and recovered. In SB, we were free kills standing around for any guild that cared to gank us.

  2. sid67 says:

    Interesting post. Although, I still think a lot of the difference is more related to a bigger need for lasting alliances in EVE. Relative to EVE, Darkfall alliances just strike me as more temporary and transient in nature.

    Obviously there are exceptions, but on average, EVE just has much more firm and solid alliances.

    As I wrote in your last entry, I think that has more to do with the fact that new areas are (relative to Darkfall) more difficult to take over.

    Strategically there is just more depth to taking a region from another Corp in EVE than taking a Hamlet from another Clan in Darkfall.

    Or put another way, because the team goal is harder — it requires more commitment from the individual members. The result is stronger bonds and more trust.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    What was it about Trammel that made it the anathaema it seems to be for early UO players? Can’t just have been a PvE ruleset shard, surely?

    I played UO for a couple of months in 2000 and I can’t honestly say I knew what Trammel was, although I did hear it mentioned. Maybe I was on it!

    • SynCaine says:

      The problem with Trammel is that it was 100% safe, and that it was a complete copy of the entire world. Very very different from Empire space in EVE.

      The other issue with Trammel is once it was added, dev focus shifted away from making UO a virtual world, and more to making it an EQ1 me-too game (which eventually turned to making UO a WoW me-too game)

      • Bhagpuss says:

        Scott’s piece sheds a lot of light. Thanks for the link.

        When I was looking at the possibility of playing an online rpg back in 1999, something that seemed outrageously weird and disturbing in so many ways, I spent over a month just reading websites to decide which MMO it would be. I had a choice of two: UO and EQ, which was then 6 months old.

        In the end I went for EQ specifically because it sounded less terrifying. The very idea of playing online was scary enough without adding in the concept of “playing against”. Had I been considering the possibility a year earlier, with a choice of UO or nothing, would I have played anyway?

        This far on, I can’t say, but I see Scott’s point and he’s right. It will never happen again.

  4. Tom Hoffman says:

    I think it is worth mentioning that the risk/reward ratio in EVE is skewed, particularly for individual players and small corps, rather heavily toward *staying* in empire and running missions. So not only can you survive and regroup in Empire, you might even be making more money, unless you’ve got the right moons in 0.0 (which you probably don’t). CCP is very carefully rolling this back towards advantaging higher risk, but it is a slow process.

  5. Hatch says:

    Good post

  6. Kyff says:

    I am pleased that you changed your view on this issue. Extra protection for starter towns to retain newbies is quite the opposite of “the weak must be culled” in this post: http://syncaine.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/bank-heists-in-darkfall/

    However I think your suggestion does go a bit too far. in my first four months in DF I was probably killed four times while gahtering outside city limits. That’s not too bad. I also didn’t lose too much stuff because I bank regularly. Furthermore at least for my race every starter and NPC town has different nodes within the city limits. So I can actually harvest every resource in a safe environment. If you add the safety pockets provided by wilderness banks with guard towers I don’t think the range of protection should be increased.

    I also don’t like the idea of a wall. Then the Goblin spawns would either be inside the walls – making you wonder why these little buggers arent zapped as well – or they would be further away from the cities, which wouldn’t change anything at all.

    What should be changed in my opinion however is the power of the guard towers. It should not be possible for PKs to survive the guard towers in arcane reistant robes with a healer. So the damage should be increased a lot or the towers should randomly zap with arcane rays, acid splashes or arrows/bullets.

    • SynCaine says:

      Two very different things: protecting noobs and appeasing those who ragequit over the normal flow of the game (a city being taken). And nothing here would change the overall point of that post, which is that the bank heists had little to do with in-game mechanics and more about general player stupidity.

      I’m sure EVE has culled it’s fair share of ragequitters when they either loss some territory or even just a ship. I’m still not trying to keep those players in DF. What this post is talking about is the SB mentality, of playing to literally make someone quit. EVE pilots don’t generally do that, and Empire supports this as well. I don’t generally think DF players “play to crush” either, but currently the game mechanics somewhat support this.

  7. natris says:

    I think the main difference is the difference with approach to races. While in EvE all the races share same empire space and thus can use NPC region freely, in DF most clans can not use racial NPC cities due clans being different races. This would limit the usability of such zones to clanless people. Also the layout of the map is such that safe areas would not be easy to implement due to vicinity of some player towns.

    I think that the only possible solution is normalization of HP, removal of archmage/mana conservation/quickness 100 effect and introduction of specializations and prestige classes which would reduce the time to getting “viable/slightly competitive” to 1/3 of time needed now.

    • SynCaine says:

      Good point about the races, missed that rather crucial fact. Short of making the four chaos cities near the center zap tower cities for all blue players, I don’t know what exactly could be done. I mean some clans live out of chaos cities already, but it can be rough going.

      I think the HP change and all the rest will also help, but that’s a more overall thing than the benefit Empire space provides in EVE.

  8. Jordan says:

    IMO Darkfall would benefit greatly from 3 design changes:

    1) Make it much harder to conquer and take over a guild hamlet/town/city. Not impossible, but it should take longer and more resources for the attacking guild(s) to be successful.
    2) Make the guild holdings much more desirable to own. Something like the “wonders” that I remember hearing about a while back but haven’t really heard much since, but x 10.
    3) To Syncaine’s point- gotta do something similar to Eve with the “semi-safe” 0.0 (I believe…not an Eve expert) space. Maybe take the large middle area of the map in Darkfall and set it up with a similar philosophy to 0.0. Then heavily populate that area with PvE content, few large dungeons, quests etc. This will give both the noobs starting out in the game, as well as guilds who have just been crushed and are on the verge of rage-quitting, a place to rebuild and plenty of things to do during the rebuild process. Again, need to make the guild cities outside of this safe area a very desirable thing to own so guilds don’t just set up permanent shop inside the “0.0” area…although maybe some will anyway that don’t really care much for the PvP aspect of things (and therefore won’t get the absolute high-end best of the best in terms of materials/”wonders” etc.), but that would be perfectly fine and would only serve to keep the overall population up anyway. Also, for these guilds in the safe area, give them incentives to at least roam outside this area either in small parties or solo, by making the rarest high-end materials/items available in remote areas outside of the safe area. If they want in on these items they have to risk a little PvP to do so, but it wouldn’t be a absolute requirement for them like it is now.

    Anyway, that’s what I’d do.

    • Kyff says:

      I don’t think it should be harder to conquer a clan city/hamlet. At least on EU-1 currently most cities are held by a few big alliances. It is already hard enough for upcoming clans to control a part of the map. In my opinion there should be some game mechanics installed preventing clans from owning more cities/hamlets than they can populate. Your suggested change will benefit those who already own a lot.

  9. Max says:

    I always advocated tiered pvp zoning -with starter areas being isolated from game world and being 100% safe, beginner area being mostly safe, intermediate conflicted , and the edge zones which are completely PvP.

    Ironically the only game which has that approach is WoW. It worked great in vanilla up until the honor system bullshit came, later battlegrounds instances put last nail into coffin of world pvp . The coffin itself was the fact that wow had few resources to compete over ( it was mainly world bosses and some chaotic skirmishes near end game instances entrances)

    Zappers is pretty bad cop out . NPC guards are better and more immersive approach imho – but that takes more resources to implement.

  10. Brawndo says:

    Great post. I think this is the best way to go for future pvp focused mmos. Unfortunately I can’t see it working in darkfall. The world is just too small to accommodate these changes properly. You’d need to almost double the amount of land available to make it work with 10k players on the server. I couldn’t imagine packing 6000 players into the small starter areas. And you know most of them are going to be living in the “empire” area. You’d need the whole main continent to make it work. That would leave only The 4 small subcontinents for pvp.

    • SynCaine says:

      On the other hand over-population of the protected areas could be a benefit, as it would encourage more players to move out and into the more dangerous but profitable FFA areas. Plus the side bonus of any new players entering the game seeing his local area teaming with activity, which is always a good thing.

  11. nnn says:

    I agree with the general sentiment of the post, but one thing I think you miss is the clan war system and the role it plays in making regaining your strength unnecessarily hard. Does it really matter to increase the zap tower range, if all that it takes to turn that freshly ‘empirified’ space into virtual 0.0 is just a small one-time fee? At least in EVE’s empire wars you can just sit at the station/bank in safety, if there are too powerful enemies around, in DF you can’t. Would the empire work in EVE, if you could freely without Concord interfering gank your war targets while they are sitting in Jita 4-4 browsing the market and fitting their ship? (EVE wars also require weekly (somewhat high?) maintenance fees, instead of that single one-time fee.)

    Logical step around this as a DF-player is of course to drop your guild, if you’re forced back to npc-cities/empire to regroup, but sadly many also take the next logical step after that, which is to drop the game.

  12. MoCal says:

    Remember the starter island in Shadowbane? A good idea IMO.
    A safe starter area for players under L20 or 21 where you could get a grasp of your characters abilities and become familiar with the controls and game play aspect of SB, and not have to worry about being killed over and over.
    Would it work for DFO at this point? I don’t think it would stop the bleeding population at this point. With summer coming up and new MMOs on the horizon.

  13. Unhandled says:

    Let me first preface this by saying a bit about me.

    I wanted to give hardcore PvP a try, but the role I wanted to play was a crafter/harvester who could hold his own in guild-related fights, I never wanted to be a primary ganker or raider. I wanted the winners to be wearing my armor and using my bows.

    I said this several times on the forum that the reason why Darkfall was fail for me is because there’s no “ownership of presence”. Holding land or property was a liability in the game. When EU transfers happened, this became all the more evident with constant raiding and the ending of two corners of Agon. I wasn’t part of those two corners.

    Here’s a few things that I thought made sense but I got shot down on Forumfall for…

    Pulling out mounts should take time. This screws harvesters some, yes, but it introduces new hurdles for raiding parties. Harvesters can keep a mount out beside them and keep an eye out for gankers, giving them a reasonable method of getting away. However, raiding parties would have to LEAVE THEIR MOUNTS OUT when they come into a holding to gank. This provides those players who are dead or ungeared an opportunity to cut off the raiders escape and facilitates quicker ganking raids or forces someone to stay behind to protect the mounts. You should have seen the complaints when I made this suggestion on the forums.

    Holdings should mean something. Give players that own the holding radar around it or more detailed system messages so they know when there are invaders and know generally where they are coming from.

    For that matter, why is there 0 radar in this game at all? The cheaters had radar for over a year and once DamnCheaters gets their client updated, the cheaters who make new accounts will get right the hell back into it. Having an idea of where the danger is coming from provides an advantage. If you want, you can even make the crouchwalk skill valuable by making it radar proof, giving a purpose to the skill that it honestly lacks. In other words, radar gives players ownership of presence. In an MMO that just makes sense.

    In Asheron’s Call, when I played on the Darktide server I was born with a guy ganking me at the spawn, but I would regularly run into people that didn’t want to fight. In Darkfall, you never run into someone that isn’t trying to kill you except in starter towns. Never. Not once does it occur to someone that the person might have something you want that you can’t just kill them for. No, instead if you run into someone you don’t know, you have to try to kill each other. There’s no such thing as PK and anti-PK in Darkfall.

    The interface needs a serious overhaul. Switching from crafting to combat is an arduous process. Ready bags help this, but I had issues getting to a point where I could defend myself due to how difficult it was to gear. Having all these different racial weapons made gearing and switching weapons/wands very difficult. Again, this is an advantage for the ganker, because the element of surprise is actually so much more than just surprise, it’s like stealing candy from a baby.

    I’ve read plenty of your posts about culling the weak like Kyff said, and I’d agree with that, but Darkfall doesn’t cull the weak, it makes players weaker for choosing to use the game a certain way. Crafters and harvesters were purposely ignored and their concerns were tabled for things like adding slot machines to houses.

    You might attract 10 new people with a great idea, you could attract 100 people with a superb idea, but if you don’t fix glaring mechanics issues, you’re going to be designing a game for people that like shiny new things and guess what those people do when someone else is making a shiny new thing? They jump ship. Those people left Darkfall and moved on to something shiny, be it Aion, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth or whatever. Meanwhile, those of us who wanted gameplay mechanic changes and a better interface had already left.

  14. Pippo says:

    This thread makes me laugh.
    The Darkfall fanboys finally find out that any other normal mmorpg is better than their ganking ghetto and
    after having praised their game as the ultimate hardcore pvp solution they realise now that pvp and 24/7 zerg-ganking arent necessarily the same thing.

    Darkfall was never about skillful pvp, was just a zergfeast with horrible graphics, game design and UI.

    Now that the player base is completely destroyed zergers dont find it fun anymore?
    All of this was obvious from day one and Eurogamer’s 2/10 rating appears now to be quite accurate.

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