Defining dynamic

Talk about dynamic events has been somewhat constant since ArenaNet shared information about the idea, with KTR posting some new comments, Tobold and Keen putting posts up, and on this blog I put my own thoughts down on the subject as well. I’m still not sure this won’t be more than PQ2.0, but rather than continue down that path today I instead want to talk about what dynamic means to me in an MMO.

When I think of dynamic events I think of a developer setting up some random variables and letting them loose on a virtual world. The interesting and yet dangerous thing here is that since the developers don’t fully know the results, much less the players, the event could go horribly wrong for a number of reasons.

Let’s say the event in question is an undead horde rising up to attack an empire. The devs identify locations the horde could arise from, what mobs have a chance of spawning, and what their behavior will be (hold, attack, retreat, etc). Other random factors could include the appearance of special mobs such as necromancers to speed up the growth process, vampires to act as champions, or human cultists to infiltrate cities and act from within. But all of this is randomized, so one location in the world might only see a few skeletons protecting a graveyard while another might get 3-4 necromancers that overnight create a city-crushing horde.

Of course what happens next is where the real player-driven randomness kicks in. If a strong guild attacks the three necromancer spawn early, they might defeat all of them and that area will be safe. If you are not online or around when this happens, you miss out. If on the other hand the graveyard of skeletons is left unchecked, it might eventually get a vampire champion and a cult of humans, leading it to grow to such a size/power that the local players are unable to stop it, and in turn they lose a city or a questing area. If the player population continues to ignore the area, the horde continues to spread and its champions get stronger as time goes on. Since variables rather than a script are in control, nothing is to stop the area from getting a silly amount of necromancers and being swarmed, or a vampire champion growing to an unstoppable power level.

At some point the devs might have to step in if the players are unable to handle things, but this just presents an in-game lore-based opportunity for some NPC hero (maybe GM controlled?) to rise up and aid the players in pushing the evil back. Again however it’s entirely possible that without such aid, entire areas of the game world might become death zones, and while veterans will know to avoid such places for the time being, newer players might instead view this as the game being impossible and simply not fun. The randomness creates a lot of variety, but not all of it will be positive for everyone.

For any of this to happen you would need a fairly open-ended MMO with a dev team willing to take some significant risks, not to mention some impressive technology to correctly handle it all, but when the topic of dynamic content comes up, this ultimately is what I envision, and hence why what GW2 is pitching does not meet MY expectations.

13 Responses to Defining dynamic

  1. Mala says:

    I’ve become more and more torn about Dynamic PvE content. Its something I’ve wanted for some time, but the more I think about it, the more I think its just wasted effort. The people who want PvE content generally like it for its *predictability* at least in part. If I am a WoW player and I want to log in and do a dungeon, its nice to know that content is there waiting and a random “dynamic” event isn’t going to put a damper on my plans for that evening.

    Before you hit reply to call my a carebear tourist or whatever though, read the rest. I think a FAR BETTER use of resources is to go with Dynamic PvP content, ala EVE, or even something like Planetside or World War 2 Online. Put the systems in place to allow the players to do it. The results will be far better because players, rather than variables, are in charge, and it’ll give the players that much more control over their game.

    I guess there is a sort of holy grail that we will likely never see where PvE and PvP become basically the same thing and you don’t know whether you are fighting a player or an NPC at any given time (hinging on ridiculously good AI of course, so this isn’t something I’m asking some dev team to bang out in a few years). But aside from that, I think that Dynamic PvE content is by and large a waste of resources that could be better spent making that Dynamic world suitable for player control. Will guild wars likely produce a more interesting game world than WoW or WAR or Aion. Sure. Like I’ve said previously, hopefully it can evolve into something better. But in terms of the long term/big picture, I don’t know how much we can really get out of “dynamic” pve content.

    • SynCaine says:

      I agree that most WoW-type players don’t actually WANT dynamic content as defined above, which is more than likely the reason its not more common. In a way, what GW2 is trying to do is make those type of players believe the content is dynamic, while still ‘safe’ enough so their individual nightly plans don’t get too disrupted.

    • garumoo says:

      Ah, tourists… but that’s what most MMO _characters_ are though. They flit from zone to zone in pursuit of the shiny, moving on any time they get bored or unrewarded.

      =P

  2. Julian says:

    Well I didn’t say it over at KTR because I didn’t get the chance, but I’ll say it here. Calling GW2’s system “dynamic” is a quite large stretch.

    If we’re going by the “I see something happening that wasn’t there before, I go to the area, do what’s required and gain xp” then $MMO’s system is just as dynamic; the only thing GW2 would be doing would be transforming the location-static exclamation points into something that’s happening in the world.

    I applaud them for trying to change things, even if I’m not 100% on board with this particular change, but until I see it in action all it’s doing so far is saving the user a couple of clicks and quest text writers months of work.

    (and no, don’t sell me the “vibrant, unexpected, changing game world” bit, ’cause this it ain’t. It might be unexpected and changing on the first playthrough. From the second on it’s routine)

  3. sid67 says:

    Obviously, being a PvP sort of guy, I would prefer a PvP oriented Dynamic Event. The sort you are describing where a football is thrown into a group of people and then the players either start playing football. Of course, too often it just devolves into “Smear-the-Queer” but that’s another issue.

    When I think of Dynamic PvE, I think of Diablo with it’s random dungeons. I’ve long maintained that dungeon instances and raids should follow that kind of model. It would add a bit more.. uncertainty ..to that 100th Heroic run.

    One thing I always kind of like about Magister’s Terrace was that the members in the ‘group’ boss fight were random. You could get a good draw or a bad draw.

    Sure the bad draws were harder, but I happen to be the sort that enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to beat the encounter with a less-than-optimum group composition.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea but as Mala pointed out, most hate ‘bad draw’ type scenarios because they have to ‘work’ harder for their reward. Those who enjoy this type of challenge are in the minority now in the MMO space.

      • Mala says:

        And the thing is, its not even that blizzard, or ArenaNet or whatever company is consciously thinking “ok, this will be the ‘hard’ encounter if it spawns.” Just by the nature of designing encounters its nearly impossible to make multiple different encounters have the same difficulty, especially tossing in variables like group construction etc.

        However, once the player base gets a feel for the “easy” one, that one immediately is the standard by which the others are set. The others become “broken” or “overpowered” or “too hard” but the free loot pinata is never “too easy.”

        Its just a nightmare balancing act that, even with good intentions, is going to end up with a frustrated/angry/annoyed player base.

        The other side of it is that the casual player is probably going to have no “say” in how the game world evolves, realistically speaking. Remember the AQ gate opening event in WoW anyone? The top few guilds on the server literally had people farming for the necessary stuff ALL DAY EVERY DAY until the gate was open and they unlocked the other quests they needed to do, etc.

        That is how this is going to play out, at least in any zone that has anything resembling end game content attached to it. The top guilds aren’t going to view it as a dynamic game world, they are going to view it as a game mechanic, and they are just going to use that game mechanic to their best advantage like any other.

        • sid67 says:

          I disagree just a bit. I think this problem only exists in games which already have a ‘static’ model.

          A Random Dungeon Generator for WoW that was added today is going to be compared to the “old way” of doing instances.

          A brand new game has the opportunity to break that mold because it doesn’t have those expectations.

          For example, when I play Diablo or some other game which has dynamic content — I don’t get upset about it. That’s because it’s how it is — and how it’s always been.

          It’s really about managing expectations. If everything is random and you EXPECT it to be random — it’s not something you complain about.

          However, if your used to it a certain way and expect it to always be that way — then yes, you are going to resist change (particularly when it’s harder).

  4. garumoo says:

    If however players had reasons to be invested in whichever territory they occupy, then they’d stay and fight.

    Sadly, reviewing the scant information on GW2 dynamic content (interviews and such) suggests that most events will be short lived – they talk of events lasting very short periods of time, maybe an hour or so before it cycles around again. Yes, they also speak of various states persisting for much longer periods (weeks even), but no _event_ lasting days on days.

    I’d like to see a real knock-down drag-out campaign against the baddies that takes days and days of effort. (Of course, there needs to be rewards doled out for short term efforts during all that)

    Do that, and provide in-game means for a player guild to stake some claim to some territory, and you’ll see players sticking around to fight against overwhelming odds for little immediate reward.

    The devs can also design their game world such that some parts of the world are very much in flux, while other parts are much more stable or changing only gradually. If you only log in casually then you should gravitate to the stable zones, while more active players who keep on top of changes could cope with the wilder and woollier borderlands. Design to accommodate diverse demographics.

  5. grammarye says:

    Good post. Unless one abandons PvE entirely, and does everything via players & player-generated content, the PvE needs to promote some form of social context. There needs to be a reason to hold a city under attack from the undead beyond ‘shiny lootz’. You cannot depend on players whose only motivation is reward – they need a more personal stake in whatever happens, in order to do the gardening & tending of a given world area, rather than wandering on to a new place.

    I’d rather see people set up camp in a given town and stay there, form communities, and so on, based around the dynamic content they like, than be forced to wander the entire world in the search for higher level encounters and more ‘epic loot’. This runs contrary to any levelling process at all, as you can’t scale dynamic content to levels if you have a level 2 and a level 30 both sticking around in Town B because they like it there and want to defend it.

    I would argue that perhaps the biggest ‘killer’ for dynamic content (beyond levels that promote population flux) is numbers & scale, along with NPC intelligence. Imagine a more ‘real-like’ world where there are countless NPCs and the space to get lost in as a PC is much more vast. You’d find yourself a little more reliant on those NPCs (and the smaller relative presence of the PCs you know locally), and more likely to care about them, and those NPCs would need to be smarter.

    I’d love to wander through a town and overhear from an NPC ‘you don’t want to go to the Forests of Blood & Death, I hear there’s a terrible army of necromancers driving through it, they slaughtered the last group of adventurers that tried to slow them down’ and then perhaps a discussion of when they might get to this town. Make the world seem more real, and the NPCs more aware of the dynamic events around them, and there’s more of a chance of the PC being immersed and not needing their hand held and a story told to them.

    When a town gets invaded by the undead in the scenario mentioned, more thought needs to go into just what the friendly NPCs do about this. The players should indeed tip the balance in places, but equally, the NPC response should be dynamic – has either army weathered a lot of attacks, are they well fed, has some pesky player poisoned a well, or failed to cure a plague, and so on. You can scale things such that no side ever gets too far in, to preserve ‘empire space’, at least without heavy PC nudging.

    I guess what I’m really describing (and possibly the original post) isn’t mere dynamic events at all – it’s world simulation, where the PCs really are just other players nudging the world in different directions, rather than the only generators of content. Such a game could be very satisfying; equally it could be very frustrating.

  6. garumoo says:

    I think a distinction can be made here between actor-based dynamism and event-based dynamism.

    With the former the actors involved, being zombies, skeletons, cultists, etc are each programmed to behave in particular ways and set loose on the world, and thus it’s possible that they could expand and expand and expand.

    In an event-based dynamic system they are pawns to the programmed events, and if the devs haven’t coded an event where the undead swarm march on the city then they never will, no matter how much they dominate surrounding areas.

    An actor-based dynamism can have interesting emergent properties (eg. killer bunnies in EQ) but it would lack the carefully crafted drama of an event-based system.

    It sounds like GW2 is going the event-based dynamic content route.

  7. Max says:

    For any of this to happen you would need a fairly open-ended MMO with a dev team willing to take some significant risks, not to mention some impressive technology to correctly handle it all,

    This is the problem -teams willing to take those risks do not have talent to implement them nor design them

    Teams which do have both design and technological talent never risk . Blizzard is perfect example – its a company which did not do a single innovative thing. NOT ONE! -all they do is polish. Their design is perfect as well as implementation, but they only rehash old ideas

    There were few companies (looking glass for example )which could do both ,sadly they all are now dead

  8. Thomas Holme says:

    For true dynamics to function, I think that a dynamic world is required.

    1. Create a dynamic world. Let each area of terrain spawn som vegetation or harvest node.

    2. Let the presence of nodes be the reason for some spawns to pop; if there is a lot of grass on the savanah, zebras may spawn.

    3. Base other spawns on other rules…If there are lots of zebras, let lions spawn. When the zebras die, let the hunting radius of the lions grow, so they can find something to feed on or let them die from hunger.

    Now we have a simple working ecology. Kill too many zebras and you will see lions attack the local village. Kill them all and you wont see a lion for a long time.

    To make sure players dont just kill all the zebras, give them a small faction hit with the locals whenever you kill one.

    So if you kill many zebras the locals will dislike you, and become less friendly.

    Unless you are on the zebra skin quest, that the village offers when there are too many zebras.

    …so you only get the quest when there are many zebras AND lions.

    Once the zebra population is in check, you may get the lion quest. It may become available wthe the zebra/lion quota gets too low. And that is when the lions become a threat to the villagers.

    It may work I think, you just have to motivate the players to act reasonably, rather than leave them a metagame puzzle in which they can mess up too much.

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