Peeking into the future of Darkfall PvE

Did you know that the undead in Darkfall have bad hearing, and due to that it’s easier to sneak up on them so long as they don’t see you? Did you know they have above-average vision at night? Did you even know that mob vision is affected by night/day conditions, and that rather than a pre-set ‘agro range’, the mobs do in fact have to detect you before they attack?

If you answered no to any of the above, you are not alone. The often-times ridiculed ‘advanced mob AI’ in Darkfall is indeed real when compared to most MMO mobs, it’s just that the game does a rather poor job of displaying it, and so that advanced AI far too often looks like “dumb mobs spazzing out” rather than the player witnessing something interesting.

Remember the first time you played Metal Gear Solid, and as you walked around, that giant pre-WoW exclamation point would pop up along with that distinctive “ving!” sound, letting you know the enemy is on to you? If you are like me, you marveled at how cool the AI in MGS was, how smart it was about vision, sound, the how realistic it was in trying to find you. And while the AI was indeed decent, especially for a PS1 game, it’s HOW that AI was represented that made it seem special. The game did a great job of communicating what it’s AI was thinking at the time, and that, perhaps more then even the AI itself, is what the players notice and respond to.

Darkfall needs its version of that “ving!” sound, it needs something like those giant exclamation points popping up letting you know a mob has seen you, or that the mob is scared and about to run to look for help. The AI is already there, now it’s time to let the players actually see it in action without sitting around and heavily studying mob behavior.

Imagine that as you walk near a goblin spawn, the first goblin you see points directly at you, bangs his shield to raise the alarm, and then charges you. Due to his banging, not only do the other goblins start to head over to check things out (they don’t make a b-line towards you, but rather gravitate naturally towards the general area of the original sound), but all of the players in the area also hear the commotion, letting them either come over to help, or to sneak up and set up a gank. Imagine that as you fight that goblin, you see him start to shake due to the fight going poorly for him, and then as he turns to run he waves his hands above his head, yelling for help. Imagine sneaky mobs actually using crouch-walk to sneak up on you, or territorial mobs like bears using a threatening emote to warn you they are going to attack if you don’t leave their area. All of that (to some extent) already exists in terms of AI coding, it’s just currently hard for the players to really see it in action.  Show off all of that work Aventurine!

Along with better communication of mob AI, the next ‘big thing’ for PvE is the addition of special attacks for mobs. Currently most of the mobs in Darkfall play with the same tools a normal player has, meaning melee attacks, bow shots, and spells. This was done mostly to save time, as coding a special attack takes time, and Aventurine wanted to work on PvP balance before adding additional complexity to the engine with special mob-only attacks. While that makes sense, and the combat being more FPS-ish than most MMOs means fighting even plain-attacking mobs is interesting, true PvE variety is needed to keep players around and entertained long-term.

Special attacks can be a wide variety of things, including PvP-destroying skills like stuns, snares, disables, etc. You don’t want players to be able to take away control from another player (DAoC being the perfect example of this flaw), but the rules are a bit different in PvE, as mobs won’t (hopefully) do underhanded things like taunt-chain a player off a cliff, or stun-lock someone to death. Varied abilities such a cleave attacks, knockbacks, and stuns would also open up group dynamics for PvE, and the rewards could be adjusted to compensate. You could, for instance, create a small-group encounter simply by having a mob stun a player often, making the mob impossible to solo but very doable for even new-ish player groups of 2-3.

Beyond adding variety to ‘average’ mobs, the ability for designers to include special attacks would open up the possibility to add more boss-like mobs to Darkfall; mobs similar to the Red Dragon. Whether these mobs are added to the new dungeons or the overworld, they could be rather unique encounters given Darkfall’s combat engine, and the possibilities for PvP to break out at any moment. A somewhat rare roaming boss mob that spawns on a 24 hour timer, drops mini Sea Fortress-style loot, and has some mechanic to make most players aware of his presence in-game? Yea, I’m guessing that might create a PvP hotspot or two, and the basic tech behind such a creature is well within the possibilities of the DF engine. Furthermore, the expansion of PvE variety, and its attractiveness, would open up Darkfall to players who gravitate more towards PvE than PvP, but still enjoy the occasional rush that PvP offers. I think that crowd is not only larger than most believe, but also heavily underserved in the current MMO market. Give those players more of a reason to jump in, and everyone benefits from their inclusion.

The good news is that all of this IS coming, the bad news is that while some of it is on the ‘coming soon’ schedule, other parts are ‘coming not so soon’. Waiting is a bitch, but the eventual future is indeed very bright.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris owns all of the No.1 pencils.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Combat Systems, Darkfall Online, MMO design. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Peeking into the future of Darkfall PvE

  1. Tipa says:

    Might be worth pointing out, that as far as advanced AI goes, FFXI has many of these features. Mobs there are sensitive to sight, smell or sound, and if you want to walk safely among all mobs, you have to deal with all three. If you know a mob has bad eyesight and stinks so bad your scent won’t be noticed, then all anyone has to do is walk silently. And so on.

    The original EverQuest had both sight and sound (but not scent) detection, but that really only affected races/classes with hide and/or sneak. And of course, unlike FFXI, the mobs in EQ just stand around for the most part, or patrol fixed paths.

    Point is, as Darkfall moves in some ways toward more PvE elements, it’s going to come more into conflict with existing MMOs that have done it before and possibly better.

    • SynCaine says:

      Well that’s like saying if an MMO ever gets a working eco system, all they are doing is repeating UO back in 97. The ‘setting’ matters as much as the feature itself. A tab-target mob detecting you to run up and exchange blows is very different than a DF mob detecting you, or having it’s aim impacted, or the amount of noise it generates. The open world, the FFA PvP, the full looting, the combat mechanics; you can’t put all of that to the side and say “well EQ1 had mobs that could see, so this is nothing new”.

  2. sid67 says:

    I’m not convinced this a good thing. Can’t the mob just stand there and let me beat on it until it gives me my loot? Preferably after hitting tab and then cycling through a 1-2-3 rotation. What you are describing sounds too difficult and challenging. ;)

  3. Hollowman says:

    Unfortunately no word about “wandering mobs that have their own culture and build big settlements if left alone or extinct at a region if hunted too much”.

    Thats what Tasos repeatendly was telling to the public in those live events during closed public beta test phase.

    Anything indicates that this idea is still alive over there in Athens while you visited AV studio ?

    • SynCaine says:

      Actually wandering mobs is a server performance issue. Basically every spawned mob takes as much server resources as a player, hence they only spawn when someone is near them. That would not be the case with wandering mobs (and no, wildlife does not work like this, at all), and right now that would cause too many issues.

      The whole extinction part (IMO) just does not work in an MMO. The players don’t care, and will farm whatever is easiest for them to farm. It would take a lot of work to make such a system really work.

      Wandering mobs are not totally off the board, but its not something that’s going to be added to the game soon from what I was able to see. Perhaps they where hiding stuff from me though :)

      • Hollowman says:

        Well server can handle 10k concurent players, they could fill remaining spots with these dynamic wandering mobs and the spots are atm there ;)

        What i am intrested in is the aspect of if such settlements existed PvE would become somuch intresting cause it would equal a siege to take those down.

      • sid67 says:

        Actually wandering mobs is a server performance issue.

        Bah! That totally depends on how it is coded. I can think of a half-dozen ways off the top of my head that you could reduce the load such AI would require when players aren’t around.

        There are certainly other technical and, to your other point, environmental issues to consider but server performance is a red herring.

        • SynCaine says:

          Well, given the way the mobs are currently coded in DF, it’s an server issue. Perhaps when wandering mobs are added, that part of the code is redone, but again, we are talking a good amount of work here for a very, very small team with a lot on their plate already. Effort/reward and all that.

        • sid67 says:

          Again. No, it’s not. Server issues in this situation are a red herring.

          I’m not denying there are technical challenges or that it might be unreasonable to expect a small team to implement it anytime soon.

          All I am saying is that you can’t blame server load for that problem as it’s one that is fairly easily mitigated in a number of ways.

        • SynCaine says:

          Maybe server issue is just the wrong way of putting it, I don’t do server work myself so I’m not an expert, but when I asked the guy behind mobs and the AI about it, he rather point-blank told me they could do wandering mobs from an AI perspective, but that it would cause ‘server issues’ with the game (I assumed he meant server lag or a performance decrease). Given that it’s important to have mobs despawn if they are not being used, and that I remember reading Raph talk about early UO and their issues with having mobs around 24/7, I believed him, but again, maybe I’m using the wrong terminology to describe the root problem.

      • Hirvox says:

        One way of mitigating this would be to scale the AI depending on how close any players are. If there’s nobody around, then they can be as dumb as WoW mobs, just walking around and reacting to things via proximity alone. When a player gets close enough for the mob to plausibly see/hear/smell them, then the advanced AI features would get turned on.

  4. Erruk Lonneh says:

    Very nice! The stuff about making the AI obvious to the players is great! Great work!

  5. bonedead says:

    I coulda swore Vin Diesel owned all of the No. 1 pencils.

  6. Song7 says:

    Well done Sync. I think the trip to AV helped and or getting married hehe. This is by far one of the best write ups I’ve seen from you.

    NA Server Alfar : see you in game !

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