DF:UW – Sacrificing the game at the altar of false choice

May 13, 2014

I’ve hinted at this before, but now AV has made their plans for revamping the ‘class’ system in DF:UW public, and rather than post this to the limited audience of Forumfall, I’d rather it get more exposure here on this blog.

The change is a classic example of sacrificing some real choice to create more false choice due to the illusion of freedom. If you have played a few MMOs, I’m guessing you know where this is going.

It’s important to understand what is first being sacrificed by this change. Currently all four roles (Warrior, Skirmisher, Primalist, Elementalist) are seen in-game. Additional, almost all schools (sub-roles) and all abilities are used. There are a few exceptions, but easily 90% of all roles/schools/skills are used and are viable. No system is perfect in terms of balance, but based purely on variety and usage, what DF:UW currently has is very solid.

I’ll use one of the roles (Skirm Deadeye main) I currently play as an example. To farm certain monsters that are best killed at range, this role works very well. I also use that identical setup for PvP. The range allows me to stay alive longer than a Warrior, and the ult (Salvo) is a very useful AoE ability for large-scale combat.

After this update goes live, this will no longer be the case. For PvE I’ll be wearing light armor (+dmg) because for PvE where the failure state is simply a time delay, time-to-kill is king, and +dmg is what best increases that (even if the attack speed bonus is better, durability loss per attack would still make this choice inferior). I’ll also replace more PvP-oriented skills with skills that either make PvE easier directly (self-heal, stat regen, etc), or increase my chances of escaping PvP (movement abilities, more on those specifically later).

For PvP, I’ll have yet another build, replacing abilities that work best in PvE with PvP-based ones (most likely AoEs for damage, and filling the rest with escape/utility).

If you believe the system increased choice, you are missing the boat. Sticking with the above example, I still have one choice for PvP, and one choice for PvE, but post-patch those are two different things, and in a world PvP MMO like DF:UW, that’s not a plus.

When everyone is out in the world farming with PvE-specific builds, attacking people at a mob spawn isn’t going to be much fun. Either you smash them due to running a PvP build against someone with a PvE build, or they escape because their PvE build includes enough of those abilities to make it possible. For a clear preview, see EVE PvP when you jump a mission runner in low-sec. At least today in DF:UW when a fight breaks out, just based on builds the field is more level, not a fight decided by the fact that one guy has a warp scram and the other is only cap-stable vs NPCs.

Moving to a higher level, there is basically zero chance that post-patch 90% of all abilities are viable. That means more skills go unused, which wastes their art, their animation, and the diversity they bring to the battlefield. So while technically the game will have more possible skill combinations on paper, in-game you won’t see nearly as many skills used, and most likely, you also won’t see as many viable skill combinations used. Would I be shocked if there is basically one flavor-of-the-month build for PvP? Hell no. And that build won’t be some fun ‘Paladin’ build or whatever. It’s going to be a tank-mage that chucks AoEs, heals, and exploits movement abilities. If you love playing an AoE-chucking tankmage ala most of DF1’s prime, congrats, DF:UW is going back to that. If you enjoy the current real options and diversity seen in-game? You’re outta luck. Viable options have been replaced with false choice, sorry.

Some other points.

PvE is going to be trivialized with this change even more, as player power is going up while mob difficulty will remaining the same. Worse-case, there is one FOTM PvE build that is broken-level powerful. As with the PvP aspect, hope you enjoy that playstyle, because if not welcome to gimp-ville.

Movement abilities are either going to be grossly nerfed across the board, or make unwanted PvP impossible. To go back to EVE, imagine roaming around looking for PvP if every ship was immune to warp scram and that’s going to be post-patch DF:UW with movement abilities. Going out to dig up some treasure chests? Your ‘class’ is now one where you stack movement and escape skills to reduce the risk of map running to zero. Scouts? Same thing, zero risk build ahoy. Worst case, post-patch the game becomes an arms race of who stacks more movement abilities or exploits them best. That would actually make me miss the bunnyhopping idiocy of DF1.

This change will have massive economic impacts. Some people are going to be royally screwed and will be very upset about it. I don’t want to fully dive into this now, but again if you have played an MMO or two I’m sure you know where this is going.

This change also dramatically increases how much prowess (XP) you must earn before you become PvP viable, which hurts new players most. Currently that point is around 40-60k, but post-patch it will be much higher. Having 100 in all four stats will be far more important, as will having access to all boosters. You will also need to max more skills, especially if the expected PvE and PvP builds vary so much.

Additionally to a longer grind to viable, the system as described is also more complex and arcane. How intuitive is assigning your Wisdom stat to a Greatsword to get access to better Greatswords? Oh and then assign your strength stat to cloth armor so your swing with the greatsword hit for more damage. What sense, even in a world where people throw fireballs, is there in leather armor allowing you to cast spells faster than other armors, including the wizard-looking cloth armor?

So yea, I’m not really looking forward to this. In fact, it’s basically taken most of my motivation to play away. It’s just hard to keep building in something that you know is going to fall off a cliff, and off a cliff is exactly what this update is. Sad really, especially given the big steps forward AV took with DF:UW from DF1, and even with more recent patches.


EVE: Player control vs game restrictions

May 12, 2014

Quick follow up to yesterday’s post.

First, getting over the social hurdle in EVE (getting into a Corp) is not harder than in other MMOs. A new character won’t get into a top-tier raiding guild, just like a new pilot won’t get into a top-tier EVE Corp. There are mass-recruit guilds in other MMOs, and there is EVE Uni, RvB, and Brave Newbies in EVE. And I’d argue the EVE Corp’s are far better than your average mass-recruit guild in other MMOs in terms of helping players and teaching the basics.

Do Corp’s do spy checks? Absolutely, just like games with clan banks don’t give everyone instant and full access. The degree and style is deeper/different in EVE because EVE is simply deeper and different than your average MMO. You don’t have an API in your average MMO like you do in EVE. You don’t generally have guilds with hundreds of thousands of man-hours of effort built up that can be ruined by a spy. Hell, in most MMOs you don’t even have guilds that have been around to build up hundreds of thousands of hours of effort to be ruined, even if it was possible.

Second, getting yourself into a Corp that makes the game better isn’t luck. If you just drift around running missions till you get bored, waiting for a great Corp to find you, you are doing it wrong. Like in basically any social situation in an MMO, the more you put in the more you will get out. If you do some legwork to find a quality Corp, and then put in the effort to impress and get in, you will be accepted 99% of the time, and will get 99% more out of EVE for doing so.

The critical difference between the EVE hurdle of being social and the average MMO hurdle of 100s of hours of gameplay/grind before you see ‘end-game’ is that in EVE, you are in control of how long this takes. If you want to drift around in high-sec, or join whatever random Corp and derp around, that’s on you. If you really do want to jump into the deep-end, and are prepared to put the effort in, EVE gameplay mechanics allow it. In contrast, no matter how motivated I am in the first 10 hours of WoW, I can’t get into the latest tier of raiding.

EVE puts the control in your hands, most other MMOs keep you in a pre-defined path until the game says you are ready.


EVE: Day one lessons not learned for 11 years

May 9, 2014

There are easily dozens of “How to make an MMO” design lessons in this combat report from TAGN, but clearly the biggest one is that in EVE, a new player is able to not only see advanced content, but meaningfully contribute to it. It has been stated many times, but if you actually break it down, it’s rather remarkable how unique that is to EVE, and what a black mark it is on other MMOs that something similar can’t happen.

Let’s start with some basic stuff. The biggest hurdle the new player got over prior to this was the social one; he was already in a major group that not only accepted him, but also is smart enough to understand that new players are very important and showing them what the game is all about is critical for the Corp’s (and by extension, the game’s) growth. The mechanics of the game make it easier for the Corp to have such a program, and to allow newer players to jump in, but without that initial social connection the new player won’t be about to jump in and see such content so quickly.

EVE does a good job here because the mechanics don’t punish the new player OR the group he joins when they bring him along. In fact, ‘bring him along’ is actually understating the situation, because he isn’t just allowed to come along and view what is happening, he is able to meaningfully contribute. That isn’t the case if the group was raiding, doing set-number PvP, or any content that scales for the number of players. Think about your current MMO; how many of the above pitfalls does it feature?

The true beauty of EVE is that while it allows that new player to jump right in, it ALSO highly motivates him to also keep ‘growing’. He is in a tackle ship on day one, but he saw battleships that are still months away in terms of training and needing the ISK to buy one. Even further out, he saw a Titan, which realistically he is likely YEARS away from flying. The real key however is that while he sees the carrot, and the carrot in some cases is VERY far away, the game doesn’t make him feel useless or a burden until he has progressed. Again, look at the MMO you are playing today, and consider how many barriers the game has placed in front of a new player prior to them reaching any kind of ‘end-game’ content. How much of its other content is FORCED onto a player before giving them access to something else.

What continues to blow my mind about the MMO genre, in a very depressing way, is that the blueprint that is EVE has been around now for 11 successful years. It might be rocket science (see what I did there?), but CCP has done the heavy lifting for the industry. Is everyone else so truly inept that not only can they not figure out what CCP has figured out, but they can’t even copy/paste it well-enough to produce something remotely close to EVE?

#EVE #MMOdesign


EVE: I’m going to put this next to my “History of WoW Empires” book

April 25, 2014

Via TAGN, Kickstater (already funded) for a history of EVE Empires book. Easiest $25 I’ve spent in a while.

 

#EVE


EVE: Space Famous

April 21, 2014

The latest EVE Blog Banter topic is about “space famous” individuals and everyone’s thoughts about them. Jester has his entry here.

The topic reminded me that I had previously talked about the importance of such players, here in more general terms and this post about my personal experience. I still agree with my 2012 self on the topic; the more “MMOish” your game is, the more important and beneficial the ‘space famous’ players are, at least the ones ‘space famous’ because they impact a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

Side note but not really: It was kind of depressing skimming blog entries from 2012, in that they just had a lot more passion and drive behind them. Sure, more than a few were ‘off the handle’ rants or seemed to focus on laughing at Massively and the comments section, but overall more was happening on the blog itself and clearly in my gaming at that time.

I’ll of course lay some of the blame on the MMO genre. I mean, I’m currently playing one game I fully expect to kill itself with its next major update (DF:UW), and the other is a really fun solo experience with bits of multiplayer that, while entertaining, don’t really ‘fit’ into the game for me just yet (ESO).

On the horizon the only title I’m legitimately excited for is Pathfinder, but having seen so many similar titles not even come close to delivering, I’m not going to be a fool again and jump in head-first here. It would also help if more of the Inquisition core group was looking forward to it, but I don’t believe they are (or it’s not on their radar just yet). Blah…

#EVE #DF:UW #ESO


DF:UW – Ushering in the play to crush era

April 3, 2014

“Play to Crush” was the marketing pitch for Shadowbane (SB), a somewhat short-lived MMO that was based around PvP conquest. The core reason SB died? The players crushed it. Server by server, one alliance would rise to dominance, and that dominance lead to all enemy opposition being crushed either off the server or out of the game. The ‘why’ includes a laundry list of design mistakes and technical issues, but at the heart of it all was the general idea of playing to crush, and the players did just that; they crushed SB until it was gone.

An even larger theme than “Play to Crush” is that the players always seek to ‘win’ a game, even if the road to that victory means removing the fun out of the game itself. More than providing victory conditions, a good designer will seek to ensure that the path to winning is not only fun, but in the case of an MMO, sustainable. Basically, NOT allowing “Play to Crush” to happen.

EVE does a good job of this, at least if you consider the rest of the genre anyway. Some EVE players will tell you CCP sucks in this regard and lets the Goons win because the Goons run CCP, but yea, if you look around the genre EVE has balanced motivating winning without crushing well for the past 10+ years.

AV today publicly posted a preview of the next big patch for the game, which will include the territory system. They unfortunately went with player-based buffs over the suggested area-based system, which IMO leaves many of the real benefits of the system on the table and introduces a potential major “Play to Crush” aspect.

To quickly sum it up, the new system will provide a clan-member (and at a reduced rate, alliance member) a buff to PvE (gold, item, and prowess gain) if they are within the area of a holding they own. The more holdings that they own that are connected, the larger this buff becomes. The main sources of this buff will be cities and hamlets, but villages and the two sea fortresses can also contribute if they are captured and connect to your territory. There is currently no cap on the number of holdings that can factor in and stack here.

If you are the most powerful clan/alliance on the server, you will shortly have no negatives to capture as many connected holdings as possible, while each additional connected holding further widens the gap between your wealth generation efficiency and everyone else’s. On paper, its pure snowball “Play to Crush”.

The one saving grace, ironically thanks to the fact that the DF economy is still poor (everyone is still PvPing in top-end gear, because the added sink from PvP was far too small and AV hasn’t increased it), is that wealth generation isn’t a huge factor in DF:UW. You can’t win a war through economics, because basically everyone has access to everything and nothing is all that costly or difficult to replace.

This of course also reduces the impact of the new territory and buff system, but we all know MMO players don’t need major motivation to go out and crush in the name of winning. Hell, epeen alone is often enough, as made crystal clear by the power of meaningless leaderboards that people love and chase spots on.

Like so many times in its history, AV was on the brink of taking a significant step forward, and instead trips over its own feet. Or in this case, got a significant nudge off the cliff thanks to a subset of the community that supported this flawed version of the system.


DF:UW – This is how you should play in the sandbox

March 27, 2014

The shitstorm that is the Bonus Room controversy continues to rage, and as of now CCP hasn’t made a move. How all of that plays out will be very interesting to watch, but I want to put that aside for right now and talk about a different post from Jester.

The main thing I want to focus is the second-to-last quote, where Destiny talks about the sandbox and the players insisting that everyone play a certain way. Jester and Destiny are talking about EVE here, but I want to apply that to Darkfall.

My likely very biased opinion is that Darkfall is in a make-or-break period right now. AV has made a few solid changes (dura loss from PvP being the main one so far), and their plans for improving the conquest and territory control aspect of the game, if executed correctly, I believe will turn the game around, going from a “PvP for the sake of PvP” oversized arena to, you know, more of a sandbox with sustainable content and reasons for players to do things.

At the same time, there is a minority subset of current, but mostly former players that want AV to focus mostly on changing the combat back towards DF1; allowing for hyper-carries and for the elite to better handle larger groups of lesser players. They are convinced that the total appeal of DF is limited to what it is now, and that rather than attempting to expand that appeal, AV should instead just work on getting the ‘core’ base that loved DF1 back. They seem to ignore that said core wasn’t large enough for AV to keep DF1 going, and instead replaced it with DF:UW, but yea.

My overall take on this has been pretty simple; the only thing the elite actually need in a game like Darkfall is a population (targets), and one of the main things that drove people away from DF1 was said elites going superman on a group of casuals, over and over. League of Legends wouldn’t have the millions of players it has if Riot allowed the top 1% to regularity play ranked games against those far below them. There is a reason LoL exploded while DoTA itself never did; Riot fixed a lot of the core flaws of the game, chief among them the very idea of a hyper-carry (one player deciding the fate of 9 others in a game).

Most gamers are ok losing sometimes, but most won’t put up with getting smashed over and over. LoL controls the smashing, DF1 didn’t. DF:UW does to about the extent it really can. Numbers can help overcome skill, but at the same time an elite group can still run into double their numbers (or more) and win. That balance is in a good spot IMO, but AV has a bad tendency to listen to the Forumfall minority and shoot themselves in the foot.

As I said earlier, I think the game is coming up to a critical turning point moment, but I also have this fear (based on history) that AV will take one major step forward, and a giant leap back.


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