DF:UW – Levy

April 14, 2014

Just as ESO went live, AV released a major update to Darkfall: Unholy Wars that included a new Area of Influence (AoI) system and a levy system. I’ve talked about the current flaws in the AoI system, but even flawed its better than the nothing we had before, and activity in-game reflects this, with clans sieging and realigning to create beneficial kingdoms.

The levy system works like this: whenever you kill a mob or harvest a resource in a holding’s AoI (yours or anyone else’s), the item/resource has a chance to be copied into the local levy container. The higher the value of the item, the higher the chance it is copied. Once the levy container is full, anyone can go empty it using a special item plus ‘ammo’. The levy container and how close to full it is is visible on the world map.

What’s great about levy is the depth and details of the system. For instance, it has made higher-tier mobs more valuable because their loot has a better chance of making it into the levy container compared to lesser mobs with lower-value drops. Killing the red dragon can fill a levy almost 10%, because he really only drops top-quality loot, while an activity like harvesting a regular iron node fills the levy very slowly due to very low chance of iron and rust making it into levy.

It’s also a great motivational tool for players. Say a group goes out to farm mobs for prowess/wealth in their AoI, and towards the end of their normal farming time they see that the local levy is 85% full. Prior to levy, they would be done farming. With levy, they will very likely farm a bit more to fill the levy to 100% and then go claim it. PvP might happen, it might not. The levy might have copied multiple great drops like a large treasure map, maybe it didn’t copy any. The unknown is part of the fun, and makes the entire thing far less formulaic.

Another example: You log in to see a nearby enemy levy is at 90%. If you see it ticks up to 91%, you know someone is farming something in that AoI. Go PvP if you want. If you don’t see it tick up, odds are good that someone left it like that; go do some quick farming in the AoI and collect the levy. PvP might find you; the 90% might also be a trap to lure you in.

The levy system is a good example of a sandbox system. It has its direct, obvious purpose (loot), but it also introduces more player-based, emergent gameplay as well. More stuff like this AV.

#DFUW #Darkfall


ESO: Genre meld

April 8, 2014

In the post below this one, one line of questions revolved around what percentage of ESO’s content is ‘themepark’, and at what percentage does an MMO go from having themepark elements to just being a themepark.

This post won’t have an answer, because I don’t think we (MMO players) can agree on an answer. Everyone will have a slightly different take, both just on the design items and how a player might actually interact with a game. I’ve mentioned before that if you play ESO as you would WoW, you will progress but miss a lot of what the game is really about, but really that is just one example. What about the player who hits level 10 and goes on to do nothing but PvP? What about those who float between quests and everything else, never finishing anything fully? What about those who do EVERYTHING in a zone before moving on?

Taking a step back, how did we classify WAR? Themepark right? But WAR was designed to be more RvR than PvE, it just failed. What about DAoC? For most they will talk about the RvR (as they should), but DAoC also had a pretty significant PvE side, especially Darkness Falls. So is DAoC a themepark? Do we need to start splitting themeparks between PvP-focused ones and PvE ones?

That I do have an answer for, and it’s no. No because the whole definitions thing has been silly for a while now. Some MMOs blur the lines, some lean more towards one style or the other, and on top of all that each MMO player has their own person view on what they consider to be a sandbox feature vs what they see as themepark. When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox. When it was EVE and WoW, it was easy. It’s not easy today, because some game devs are actually learning lessons from past MMOs and combining (and more critically, combining well) themes and features from both sides of the MMO table, not to mention aspects from other genres.

ESO is the latest and greatest combination. So far, lvl 17, it gets far more right than wrong, and I think in some aspects we are just scratching the surface of that depth. A great example is over at Keen’s blog, in the comments section, about class builds (starting with Kahlmodra’s comment).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle ESO has to get over has nothing to do with its content or design, but in getting the average MMO player out of “Play it like WoW” mode. After years of conditioning, that’s a tall task, and an interesting development to watch.

#ESO #MMOdesign


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.


ESO, DF:UW – Sometimes we go looking for something we already have

March 17, 2014

This past weekend ESO had another beta weekend, but I wasn’t able to play much as I had issues with the account my highest-level character is on. I did create an Imperial on my purchased account, but beyond that and testing mob collision quickly, I didn’t really play the game.

I did play a lot of Darkfall, as that game has sunk its hooks back into me. Momentum is a powerful force in the MMO genre, and who you play with is, IMO, a bigger ‘content driver’ than the actual content itself.

Quick example: On Saturday a few of us went out on a boat to attempt to kill the Ice Dragon. We failed; his regen offset our dps and we didn’t have enough people, enough arrows, and enough repair shards. One member of the alliance was driven to killing him, so much so that he pulled together the enormous amount of mats to craft the biggest ship currently in the game (a Ship of the Line), had it crafted, and put together a large crew to attempt the dragon again.

This time we were successful, and even though some uniquely Darkfall stuff happened (climbing to the extremely tall crows nests of the ship was the key to success, as at that height you are able to target the dragon with arrows much easier), the fight was overly long and the loot was terrible, so until its buffed we won’t be going again.

So overall not amazing content in terms of effort/reward, but something that entertained 16 people mostly because of those 16 people. If that doesn’t sum up WoW 40 man raiding, you didn’t raid enough. Is there such content in ESO? We’ll find out shortly.

Another comparison; DF:UW isn’t known for its PvE. ESO has a lot of PvE content and that is a major selling point. One of the early complaints about ESO is that the PvE is faceroll easy. Another is the combat lacks a real feeling of impact, and Bethesda has made multiple changes to that area to help fix the problem. I don’t think anyone has ever said PvE in DF lacks impact, nor has anyone called it faceroll easy by MMO standards.

Quick example: Near one of the hamlets our clan owns is a mob spawn with some easier mobs and one terror-level mob. Lately I’ve been making the quick trip out to the spawn to kill the terror. It takes me 2-3 minutes to kill him using full plate (3rd best warrior armor) and a leenspar greatsword (second best weapon). My character is maxed when it comes to spending prowess for a warrior and the related stats. I haven’t died to him yet, but each time I have to kite him a bit, recover hp/stamina, and use my life-leach attack as often as possible.

Beating that mob is harder than anything I’ve done in ESO, and that’s 100% ignoring the fact that at any point someone could come along and jump me at the spawn; something that can’t happen in ESO. In ESO I’d also never consider what gear to bring to kill him, I’m always wearing the best stuff I have. In DF I could wear higher-tier armor/weapons, or lower tier if I felt in greater danger and accepted that killing him would take longer. Also in ESO I’d kill him once and be done Perhaps not major decisions overall, but still decisions to be made vs no decision at all.

Another example: Rynnik and I set out to farm some Black Knights. We both had not completed the feat for them, we both could use the loot they drop overall, and Black Knights specifically drop the item needed to make the gauntlet for the new village requisitioning system. Three birds, one stone.

We recalled to his house as a starting point as it was close to the spawn, and we both set ourselves to Deadeye skirmishers since we were going to kite and bow them down. Rynnik also brought a party strongbox deployable so we could store the loot inside rather than carry it on us.

Things were going well for the first wave. We killed and looted all the knights, stored our loot in the strongbox, and waited for the respawn. About a third of the way into the second wave, a warrior and mage attacked us at the spawn. Initially they fought both of us, but shortly both focused on Rynnik and he ran them away from the spawn. I recovered and Rynnik circled back after losing them. Stupidly we started farming again, and quickly got jumped by those two again. I went down, Rynnik escaped.

I regeared quickly and made my way back to the area, as we hoped they had not found our strongbox and we could at least recover all of our farming loot. As we crept back into the area, we noticed the mage was standing on the nearby hill, and as we continued, we noticed the warrior was just returning. They found our strongbox, and the warrior had gone to get battlespikes to blow it open. As they were focused on opening the strongbox, we gained the high ground and prepared to attack.

I opened with a large AoE that puts a DOT and also slows anyone caught in it, while Rynnik went for more direct damage. The warrior reacted quickly and moved away, but the mage was loot-drunk and had his head inside our now-open strongbox. Taking advantage of this, we put a half-dozen arrows in his back and down he went. We fought the warrior for a bit, but the 2v1, double-skirm vs warrior setup was highly in our favor, and he too went down. He had banked my previous gear set, but in return we got his, the mage’s, and also all the loot from our strongbox. A nice ending to our little PvE adventure.

 


GW2: Spinning in place

March 14, 2014

Zubon’s description of GW2 updates since release are nightmare fuel for me in terms of an MMO. It’s basically all of the bad aspects of launch (bugs, everyone in one spot) without the good (playing a foundation towards something more). Place that into GW2, by far the most bla and forgettable MMO I’ve ever played, and yea, I’m not exactly itching to return.

GW2-specifics aside, just going off that post and other KTR GW2 posts (they cover the game well), I’d have to say I strongly disagree with how Anet is approaching updating the game. If a new player picks up the game today, how much better is GW2 today than it was at launch? Some, yes (minus whatever the current buggy content is that everyone is doing, of course), but the level doesn’t match the amount of time/effort put in by Anet. A lot of that was one-off, here today gone tomorrow stuff. If you are new, that means nothing for you, other than knowing you missed out on something and can’t revisit it.

Current plays also suffer from this whenever they roll an alt. Now maybe they wouldn’t want to run all of that one-off content again, but in GW2 they don’t even have that choice; they can’t. Furthermore, they fully know they can’t and have context, so if something was up for two weeks that they loved, they KNOW they are missing out on that.

Now the GW2 business model doesn’t rely on players getting sucked in and really committed. The big payday is up front (the box), and if they get a few bucks off you from gems, great. But in terms of building an MMO, Anet isn’t really building much here, rather they are mostly spinning in place, every two weeks removing something to add something else. That they have kept this up for a year is surprising. If they can keep going like this it will be really surprising.


DF:UW – Sweet peaks

March 10, 2014

I write often about the highs and lows a great MMO can take you on vs the sustained averageness of far too many MMOs today. I think in many ways that is the core difference between an MMO and all other forms of gaming; in any other genre getting a solid 15-80hr experience is seen as a successful title, while only getting 100hrs or so out of an MMO is seen as a failure, regardless of how great that 100hrs was.

Since release I’ve had my ups and downs with Darkfall: Unholy Wars. It was in possibly the worst shape I’ve seen an MMO be in beta, to the extent that all of Inquisition decided not to play the game at release. I’ve talked often about how DF:UW was intended to fix the flaws of DF1 and also build on the core (best combat in the genre), and while AV got some things right, some critical flaws remained.

At the same time, here we are in 2014, and the MMO genre still sucks overall, we still have EVE as the only title to get it ‘right’, and so many recent entries are either entirely forgettable (GW2) or hilariously bad (SW:TOR). Yet AV keeps plugging away at DF:UW, trying to improve one of the only decent sandbox titles we have, so it would be rather hypocritical of me to ignore that, especially as I have already wallet-voted for ESO, possibly yet another themepark (the ‘possibly’ is for a different post).

I noted that I resubbed when AV added gear destruction from PvP, because IMO that one changed fixed the biggest core flaw the game had; an unchecked economy. More changes are still needed, and AV doesn’t have the greatest track record in terms of delivery time, but it’s still progress in the right direction, and in the MMO genre until the servers are down, I believe you are never truly out.

The above four paragraphs is a long-winded setup for the events that happened Sunday night. (Spoiler alert: high peak incoming).

I’m currently in a clan named Last Call, which is part of the Sick Bastards alliance. I’m there because of my buddy Rynnik, who I also followed to Proxy from OTG. Hopefully Last Call doesn’t disband like Proxy did. If they do, I blame Rynnik. The clan is a great group of people, and the alliance includes many MVPs I’ve talked/argued/insulted via Forumfall. On that front, so far so good, and having a good group to play with is perhaps the most important part of enjoying yourself.

On Sunday we had some siege action. First our hamlet was sieged by a rival alliance, and we shortly after dropped a siege on their hamlet, the timers being just minutes apart.

The action started off in our hamlet, first with some small (10v10) skirmishes, later escalating into bigger action. At one point the enemy spawned a boat in the small lake near our hamlet, using the cannon to damage our zap tower. We countered with a boat of our own, and ended up sinking their ship while holding their players off long enough to get the job done.

A bit later they spawned another two boats, but this time they were able to keep us off and the boats disabled one of our towers. As this happened, they made a large push into the hamlet itself, and were able to wipe us. I thought at this point we had lost, because most of us were bound at the hamlet and regearing would have been nearly impossible with the enemy right there.

Oddly enough, they instead just looted our tombs and backed out, giving us a chance to regroup and regear. We did just that, and counter-pushed to the siege stones. Someone from our alliance dropped one of the new deployable land cannons, and through heavy fighting that went back and forth for a long stretch of time (and four gear bags for me) we held the enemy forces off long enough for that cannon to take down the siege stones, winning us the siege and ending the threat to our hamlet.

After our successful defense we rode quickly to the nearby enemy hamlet we were sieging. As we rode, we were getting updates that the enemy was trying to destroy our stones, and our defenders were badly outnumbered and just looking to buy as much time as possible. They were successful, we arrived in time, and were able to not only defend the stones but a second force was able to rush the hamlet stone and destroy that with more cannons.

2/2 on sieges that night, not bad, especially considering we had constant action for over two hours without a single technical (lag, FPS) issue.

We then took out a Frigate that I captained for the Sea Fortress, but that is a story for tomorrow.


Fail and try again, succeed and move on

February 27, 2014

“Few people go back to content that was trivially easy; most people repeat content they failed the first time.” – Zubon

I believe the above is true on average. Yes, some people rage-quit instantly, while others love nothing more than facerolling something over and over, but I believe the majority of gamers follow the above, be they MMO players or not.

I think this is a major reason why so many themepark MMOs fall into the 3-monther category; players speed through content because they can beat it the first time, and aren’t interested in beating something trivial again so they aren’t as motivated to roll an alt.

WoW somewhat gets away with this because they have so much content, both during the leveling game and then at the level cap. The problem for other game’s isn’t so much that they can’t compete with that, it’s more that the players they do get just hit that wall and leave.

 


Themeparks: PvP is the filler between the cracks

February 25, 2014

Wilhelm is asking if an MMO must contain PvP. It’s actually a more interesting question when you really thing about it, especially if you limit the discussion to themeparks (the answer for sandboxes has its own tab on this blog).

Instinctively you might want to say ‘no’ for themeparks, because they are PvE focused and you would want that to remain the focus. Makes sense, on paper. But in reality, themepark PvE content is often one-and-done, and what is repeatable (daily quests, raiding) is often tied to some long term, but still one-and-done reward (rep grind, raid gear).

PvP shouldn’t be the focus, but rather play the role of filler between content updates. From my experience I think vanilla WoW did this best. Whether you were waiting for a raid to reset or had a night off, battlegrounds provided a nice side activity, made more rewarding as you could use your raid gear to get an edge (though not a brutally overpowered one from MC/BWL gear).

As time went on PvP in WoW got a bit silly, first with PvP-specific gear and later with rankings and all that stuff. It went from being a fun side activity to a game-within-a-game. It also didn’t help that all of the talent on the WoW team left and the interns ran the place, but we know that story.

I like, on paper, what ESO has planned. Once you reach the level cap, you can still PvE to gain more skill points for horizontal progression (you can only use a small number of skills at one time, so getting more skill points to open more skills doesn’t increase your power, just gives you options), but you can also get into the 3-way RvR battle areas. I think the limit to horizontal progression will help the PvP balance a great deal, as will the fact that (as of now) the best gear comes from crafting, not PvE, raiding, or PvP. Assuming that stays mostly true (a few items being BiS from non-crafting is fine IMO, so long as most stuff comes from crafting and the gap isn’t too great), I can see the model working.

I can further see it working because as players spend time on the repeatable content that is RvR, Bethesda will be given time to expand the PvE offerings. I don’t think ESO players will experience running into a ‘content wall’ like in SW:TOR.

So my answer to the question is yes, you do need PvP, but at the same time you need to ensure that the PvP remains a low dev time, high repeat, limited impact aspect. Not easy to get right, but certainly pays off if you do.

 


DF:UW – If everyone had diamonds

February 17, 2014

As previously noted, Darkfall: Unholy Wars took a huge step towards becoming a sustainable sandbox with the recent increase in gear loss from PvP. As some have asked, I don’t know if it’s enough, but it’s certainly a start, and more importantly shows that AV is serious about the game and making it something worthwhile for the long run to MMO players, rather than continuing down the path of creating an oversized, risk-free PvP arena game.

This post isn’t about analyzing the change however, as it’s much too early to do that. Instead let’s see how Forumfall is taking the news (this below is a reply to how PvE would work as a sink, since the poster suggested that would be a better solution than a sink from PvP):

Remove resources? I don’t care if resources are removed or not, you do. I want active activities like mob farming to actually be worth it. Why? Because I actually play the game. I want to see an active world, and I want contested mob spawns. Does that mean make bandits drop 50 neithal essences each? No, it doesn’t. Give us open world mobs that are actually worth farming though. The Golems would be a great start, limited amount of them in the world, and they have a fairly high respawn timer.

The above is the best of the worst, at least in terms of the content/froth ratio that runs rampant on Forumfall. It does, of course, completely fall on its face in terms of logic, and that really is the point here.

For a long time I had feared that AV was listening to Forumfall too much, and were just doing what Forumfall said it wanted. I think the above post is a nice highlight of that. The player is asking for mobs to be ‘worthwhile’, at the same time that he is saying he doesn’t care to balance how resources enter and exit the game.

Bad AV would just do what was asked, buff mobs, and a month later Forumfall would once again ask for mobs to be made ‘worthwhile’, or more likely complain that non-mob rewards are now ‘worthless’, and to buff those. This, of course, assumes there still exists anything of value, an end-point that DF:UW was rapidly approaching, with most already regularly PvP’ing in the second-best gear (r70). Once R80 is common, what then? Do a themepark-style soft-reset?

So as predicted, the usual suspects of Forumfall are throwing their hissy fit as they experience actual consequence for PvPing. What is surprising, and encouraging, is that others on Forumfall are seeing the benefits of this addition, and trying to push back the idiocy. Ultimately it doesn’t matter so long as AV continues to show a basic understand of MMO design and what’s important to keep a game going.

Furthermore, most of those currently complaining will change their tune, as AV is finally able to add more meaningful and interesting faucets to the game, and those faucets will stay relevant for longer than a week. On that front they have some good plans, and recent actions suggest they will correctly follow-through on said plans.

As for the game’s future overall, as multiple MMOs have shown in the past, a game can slowly build itself back when its core issues are fixed and things start working again. Launch is the best time to grab the most players, certainly, but especially in the MMO niche space, where DF:UW resides, players have limited quality options, and are more than willing to revisit something if they hear it has improved. If AV continues down the path they have set out on with the last update, they will be successful. Here’s hoping.


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