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Skill-based games, PVE, and FAQ

Posted by vajuras Friday February 29 2008 at 12:38AM
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Anofalye and Grimfall brought up some good questions about skill-based games. Basically, they both countered that these systems are weaker for PVE (grouping). I've seen a lot of posts on the message boards allude to this as well.

Grimfall basically stated it simply this way, "If a player has 32 in healing (32%), and I need someone with 100% healing how to communicate this?"

Well this goes back to "Sports" gaming. It's sort of the mentality we see so prominent in many mmorpgs today. Players can only bring a finite amount of players- like 5, 8, 25, 40, etc. It's like Football or Basketball. 

Anyway, "sports games" will always have a set number of players that can be brought to an encounter so players min/max their team distributions to fight against that challenge. We must have so many Meleers, Tankers, nukers-DPS, and Healers to win the encounter (or beat it in record times).

In a Sandbox MMO there is no set limit to how many people you can bring. Thus, you wont stand around in a city looking for someone to fill a 'job' but rather you'd post job requests like so,

"We are going to Dungeon X and we are looking for people to come."

That's pretty much it. You might inquire players to determine if they can survive and not be one shot.  So at the very most, you might inquire how many hitpoints they have or their resistances. Everyone usually has some form of healing so that's not the type of questions you usually bother asking. Maybe you'll ask if someone has Magery and their points in that. You'll probably look around at your group members armor and immediately you'll know if you need to put on Tanking gear. Recall, in skill-based games everyone is a hybrid if you let them. How can teaming suffer if everyone can learn any skill? It's a silly assumption that it wont be way easier to fill spots. Few will debate that. Yeah, perhaps you might have to spend more time speaking to your fellow man to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Oh the horror, lets hit this one again. "Vajuras, I have to actually TALK to my team members and LEARN what they are interested in? NOOOOoooooo vajuras you ask too much!"

Well if that really is too much then this just goes to show the weaknesses of sports gaming. I'm sorry but even in World of Warcraft I was asking our hybrids what their interests were. I made sure if the Shaman didnt playing backup/secondary healer in a crysis. I made sure our Warlocks cound banish. I made sure our Druids knew what their roles were. I dont get it why is talking to other players so bad?

Also, in a Class based title we must remember they take the total XP for a mob and split it up for that group. In a skill-based title, grouping tools are a little less needed because there is no XP but rather you achieve skill gains for actual use of a skill (if it's a Use Based system). So if too many people participate in taking down an epic mob boss then the only griping you might hear is:

1) The mob died too fast, I didnt get the chance to get skill Y to go up, etc....

2) loot rolling, we brought too many people who gets dibs?

But as you see, the issue in this scenario is how to divide up loot in which players can handle by themselves (DKP systems) or with simple little dice rolling user interfaces. The developer doesnt really have to do anything in this scenario but let you roll on who gets what. That's pretty much it.

No raid tools. No grouping tools. Freeform. Skill-based games have 'natural' restrictions. Players are discouraged naturally from bringing too many players because there is less loot for everyone and maybe the mob dies too fast for us to skill-up (if this is a Use based title like Ultima online).

Also, its quite easy for Skill-based games to overlap into Class based titles. If the developer wanted, they could allow players to earn "titles" according to having a certain set of skills. So you could earn a "Warrior" title for having a few Melee skills maxed out. You could earn a "Mage" title for having a few spellbooks maxed out and so forth. These titles would just give players a general idea about each other and totally overlap Tactical Transparency. This is why experienced players will many times say Skill-based systems 'overlap' Class based games. They do.

Anyway there should be some PVE based skill-based MMOs coming out soon. Also, theres a few indy MMOs out there that employ skill-based (use based) systems. Check those out if you can. Apply for some closed betas who knows maybe you'll get lucky :)



Q. Skill-based games are too grindy!?!

 A. No, you might be referring to Use Based systems which is a 'variant' of skill-based systems. In the original pen and paper games players earned skill points as a reward by the GM after completing objectives and alloted those accordingly. some developers interpret this as Use Based like we saw in Ultima Online and Elder Scrolls. Other developers, like CCP, interpret this as 'Time Based' to reduce the risks of macroing altogether. Others, like what I suspect Cryptic will do with Champions Online, is envision this as 'stat based' system more or less like the HERO system (Pen and paper) was. In this article I covered Use Based systems though. Really, if the developer wants they can award you skill points for completing a Quest. Elder scrolls allows you to outright purchase skill points from trainers (single player RPG though). UO had a bit of that too.


Q. I like for my teammates to have weaknesses!

A. Listen to yourself, you want for your teammates to be limited to one 'job'? What if one of your teammates leave during an encounter? In world of warcraft, city of heroes, etc (insert X MMO here) many times we had lost many, many hours due to this. In skill-based RPGs you have overlap. It's not a machine thats quickly ruptured so easily when one cog breaks. If NASA built space shuttles like this we'd see meteors crashing down into the earth left & right! No, they believe in redundant systems, fail safes. Backups.


Q: What if we need to take like 40 people into a Dungeon what if I want someone with 100% Healing (max)

A. Instead of bringng 1 uber healer why not bring several decent healers? Sandbox mmorgs normally dont have party limits I've never seen one do that. But I havent played everything. Also, there is plenty of overlap in skill-based RPGs. But worse come to worse and if 'labels' are required then this very easy for the developer to introduce. Skill-based games totally and completely overlap Class based titles in every way.


Q: But aren't Skill-based games hard to balance? I've heard many developers say that....

A: EVE Online accomplishes this via ships.There are many, many other ways to create naturally balancing systems. Alas, I'm sort of lost what gamers mean by this when I think about World of Warcraft.... City of Heroes.... Those games are always constantly being tweaked.... Where was the balance in City of Heroes, when only Ice Corrupters were welcomed to VG vs VG back in my day. What balance?


Q: My character won't be unique....

A: I really dont know what's so unique about Classes in the average Class based MMORPG. Usually developers achieve 'uniqueness' simply by disallowing you the ability to respec your avatar anyway. But if uniqueness is the goal, this "might" be achieved via a little refinement to GURPS or HERO PnP systems. Players will always optimize however so instead I think more effort into character uniqueness is better spent on character custimization. Now Cryptic (City of heroes) realized this and scored pretty big for themselves.... They had all kinds of FOTM happening but it was the hero outfits that was truly unique...

 Q: But there is no reason to group in a skill-based title....

A: True, many sandbox mmorpgs are totally freeform. But this is a Developer problem not related to skill-based per se. In the pen and paper, trust me people GROUP. In Ryzom I have heard the pvers had to group for darn near everything. Make things hard to solo, death penalties, and great loot you'll see people grouping. It's a developer issue- they decide on sandbox or linear. Most pen and paper is strongly objective based. For a use based system, there is really easy ways to give gamers many positive incentives for grouping.

Arena Based PVP MMOs

Posted by vajuras Thursday February 28 2008 at 1:37PM
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The other day I probably said something people probably didnt expect from me. I said I dont expect 100% PVP Based MMOs to do well. However, I was thinking about Pure Arena Style MMOs. Sure, one can say they have a lot of fun in Guild Wars however, PVE is a LARGE part of that title as well. When Guild Wars launched this was a must for pvpers to do in order to acquire new skills. A few months after launch (after it was already a success), they became a bit more pvp centric. In a patch, ADDED the ability to unlock all skills and weapons via PVP. Note, this was way after GW: Prophecies was a HIT. But prior to this expansion, you had to PVE in order to unlock skills and weapons. See what I'm getting at? Guild Wars does not support any argument whether a pure Arena PVP based title is viable. It has a LOT of PVE that is very fun to do I might add.

Next up we must consider Fury, Exteel, Gunz, Rakion, and other Arena style MMOs. I've played pretty much all of them and they are all fun in their own way. But their problem is they must compete against Call of Duty 4, BF2142, Team Fortress 2, etc. These are all free to play titles that are incredibly popular amongst pvpers. If you are planning an Arena Style MMO then sure you can do well but realize you will have to compete against all those monsters (Team Fortress 2, CoD4, Rainbow 6: Vegas, etc). So you need offer new features that cant be found in the big heavy hitters and/or take them out via brute strength (license a popular IP or present awesome gameplay). We must also must note that the big guys also include Character Progression. So no, having a 'leveling' scheme in an Arena Style MMO doesnt carry much weight.

In an interview with Auran's Fury Developer Adam Carpenter commented Fury was unique (for PVP based titles) because it presented persistent stats (character progression). No, that is not true at all. Most any major FPS nowadays offer that as well and is by far more superior for the purposes of PVP then most any MMORPG. In BF2142 players progress linearly for the most part. You earn XP and invest that into skills you want to unlock. Characters never vertically grow per se but they become much more diverse. In this fashion you can grow your avatar linearly and even unlock multiple roles (Classes) on one avatar. Very freeform and fun. I've read so many ideas on this board requesting this sort of character advancement.... Well rest assure it's already been implemented.


Now let's consider EVE Online. Does it have to compete with FPS titles? No, it doesn't. There is nothing like it in the FPS genre. For one, there is not any Space Fleet pvp based titles (unique setting). Next, they present persistant warfare in EVE Online- which does not exist in FPS space. Players can own terriority and directly make an impact in the universe directly. The scifi setting (as I already covered) is pretty rare in itself. Also, you can have HUGE fleet battles in EVE Online and can actually zoom all the way out, turning every ship into an Icon representation which makes them runnable on even pretty crappy computers (at least in theory). Also, EVE Online has PVE anyway which allows newbies to learn the mechanics fairly safely until they're ready for PVP.

So this leads to another problem we see in a lot of Arena Style PVP based MMOs. Some have asymetrical PVP (lower levels fighting higher levels). In Rakion lowbies get wiped by higher levels (or was it the RMT that got me). Gunz was smart enough to split players apart. Vertical progression schemes should be an absolute no-no for an Arena Style PVP title in my book. All progression should be linear like we see in Battlefield, Rainbow 6, Guild Wars, etc. If its non-linear (vertical), then you will need either a PVE component or a way to split newbies and vets apart (like Gunz Online, Savage 2). If it's no progression then of course its not a big issue. Most players really dont have a whole ton of skill even though we all think we do. So a newbie can usually figure out the mechanics kind of fast and get some kills in a no-progression title. But even that depends on the ramp up of the title. For FPS its okay to toss them all in the pot cause that's familiar but in a complex game with new mechanics you might want to invesigate other solutions.

Really though I have no idea why would an Arena PVP Based game feature vertical progression or even try to rely on splitting apart veterans and newbies. The only way splitting apart vets and newbies will work is ONLY IF you have a big populace like Halo 3. See, a game like Halo 3 can split apart gamers they always have a steady influx of newbies. But for a game entertaining a small pop like Fury its suicide to rely on being able to split apart gamers based on their 'experience level'. No, just no. You cant depend on players being on at all times. This is why Guild Wars worked- it was all linear. So if I logged on at 3am in the morning I have plenty of teams to fight. Whether you are a newbie or a pro, you will have fun.

Static Class Based Games and Their Flaws

Posted by vajuras Sunday February 24 2008 at 2:56PM
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Being a proponent of Sandbox gaming I'm of course not a big fan of being bound by a 'Static' Class in MMORPGs. 'Static' Class Based games are titles like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Everquest, and so forth.

EVE Online is not a perfect game we all know this. Time Based Training aside- what was brilliant was the mix of 'Dynamic' Classes and their open skill system. Any player can learn any skill. No boundaries. Sure, it is not possible to learn every skill due to Time Based Training but you can learn any skill you want- if you follow.

Now, I want to say I do like Classes employed in FPS and other genres. Why? Well, they give me the freedom to switch Classes at anytime. This is why Classes are pretty nice in Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 2142, etc. Upon death, I can pick a new role. This allows PVPers to optimize dynamically to confront any situation. Take Savage 2, a Class based title. Is my team missing healers? Cool, at respawn I'll go switch to a Healer. Do we need more Warriors? I can switch to that. Anything to help my team most pvpers will try to cover their 'holes'. Samething with TF2 and Battlefield series

EVE Online was brilliant in that they gain the benefits of Classes via 'Ships'. Every ship has constraints just like Static Classes. They are balanced in regards to other ships. They provide Tactical Transparency (players will know a big huge Mothership on sight!). Also, this constrains players. Not every skill is applicable to the ship you pilot. Constraints.

Let's discuss why Classes are a win in MMORPG space briefly:

- They emulate Sports games. Everyone has a role. Our Healer might be our Quarterback, making major runtime decisions. Our Warriors are our offensive lineman. Our Mages can perhaps be compared to receivers, providing a long range threat to the opposition

That's the #1 benefit we get from Classes. We gain clearly defined roles. For PVE this is AWESOME because all of our challenges are 'known'. We can optimize to take down the raid bosses and NPC mobs. Everything is laid out for us through walkthroughs and previous experiences in an encounter.

But consider PVP. You are a Warrior and you are grinding on a mob. Along comes a Mage and nukes you before you can close range. Ouch, mismatch. Guess what gamers scream for on the forums? PVPers want balance. They think this is unfair. So the Developers listen and tries to 'balance' all the Classes to be equal. They give Warriors a 'Charge' move to close range and so forth. Now as you see we are sort of losing the whole idea of Dependance in the first place. Perhaps originally, the Developers naively thought Warriors should rely on Mages for long range dealing. Now, other Developers have taken notice what happened to MMORPG 'Perfection Online' and decide to fix this in their MMO. FFA PVP, gone. Open pvp, gone too.

You cant blame Developers they are merely trying to get rid of their design flaws.

The ugly problem way worse then "All Classes Are Created Equal" is envy and jealousy. 'Static' Classes bind players to a role they should perform. Let's say a Scout/Rogue and a Mage forms a team and decides to farm some mobs. The Scout notices the Mage is doing way more damage with AOE. It's crazy, he's darn near useless. Using his backstab attack, the rogue is only taking out one NPC. The Mage is taking up scores of them at once. Envy. Abel and Cain. Garden of Eve is aflame. The Scout wants to be more viable. The Developer then gives them Crowd Control abilities, picklocking, and anything they can think of to make them more competent.


We have two problems here:

1) Inability to optimize. The Scout cannot hope to match the Mage without Developer intervention

2) All Classes Are Created Equal. The idea of Classes is to enforce dependence. But players want to be equally viable. Especially nowadays with the heavy solo mentality


Hence we arrived at Developer Evolution #2. Quests. Developers know not all 'Classes Are Equal' so they introduce Quests as a way to make things fair for all to Solo through the game. So now we have Questing which grants XP. Now to make things more fair, they reduce the XP gained from soloing NPCs. This way, you make leveling more competitive between all the Classes

We have also arrived at Developer Evolution #3. With FFA PVP being tossed out and Open PVP also getting tossed (Because it reveals the game flaws with Classes)- we now transition into RvR or Faction versus Faction. PVPers love Faction vs Faction and RvR sounds great to us too.

Classes is the remaining anomaly however. Let's consider Guilds and Instanced combat- like Battlegrounds. PUBs (Noobs not on Ventrillo) get massacred. Why? Well the Guilds are optimizing their team compositions. They will bring the optimal amount of Healers, Mages, and Warriors to bare. The Pubbies cant optimize like this. Remember, we are playing a 'Static' Class based game. So PUBBies lack the freedom to optimize their teams. FPS games dont suffer this problem, they allow you to switch upon respawn. MMORPGs dont do this and they will suffer from a basic design flaw that FPS games have evolved out of a lonnngggg time ago.

Thus we will arrive at a critical point where Classes will either become more hybridized (more versatile), open skill systems (like skill-based), or they will allow gamers to unlock multiple Classes on one avatar (like Battlefield 2142).


Now think about Guild Wars. They are really a 'Static' Class Based game. They suffer from all of these issues. They outright disallow PUBBIES and Veterans from fighting against each other. They know their game flaws and optimized it out. Unfortunately, we sort of lose a certain Massive Multiplayer feeling with this sort of solution. But it works for them.

Ultmately, what I would like to see is a move towards more open systems that allows PVPers to optimize for dynamic situations. PVE is static- all of our challenges are known. PVP isn't this way. Guilds will try anything and min/max. Tossing 40 random people into an Arena with a Guild is simply slaughter. I remember Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft when we saw Guilds tags everyone would darn near AFK and get bounced out of the instance it was soooo bad.

If mmorpg developers want to really employ Instances with 'Static' Class based games they will suffer from these flaws. It is no wonder why a huge population of mmorpg players stick to PVE. Classes work great for Sports. Everyone knows their role and has a great idea of what will happen. Just like Football


Q: Why is EVE Online not a 'Static' Class based game? You just contradicted yourself, they have Classes via Ships!?

A: True, but in EVE Onlne you can always dock and switch ships. Thus, you can switch Classes possibly if your station/mothership is under siege and you want to swtich ships.


Q: Why is Guild Wars Static is very freeform.

A: Agreed I love that title. But during Guild vs Guild you are unable to switch roles. It is still fun game, but you have to hope you have covered every conceivable 'hole' in your defense way ahead of time. Perhaps this is more realistic some could argue. But in real life, I would argue most people are pretty diverse.

Realtime Dodging Part II

Posted by vajuras Friday February 22 2008 at 1:54AM
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I didnt expect any interest in this topic but people seem interested and asked good questions. So let's just cover it here briefly- why I think Realtime Dodging is critical. If I cant convince you quickly that this idea has merit feel free to tell me off to go back to FPS (in which I do play alongside MMOs anyway).....

1. Complex Strategies. TonyD hit this one. Shields serve pretty much no use in mmorpgs. They are sort of just another dice-roll and look pretty. But if a player could click a button to bring up his shield just imagine guys. Imagine you are in a huge war and a shower of arrows come from opposing army. All the warriors stand side-by-side and bring up their shields. Each man will depend on their fellow man for protection. If you have watched all medieval style movies like Braveheart, 300, or even that Brad Pitt movie where he portrayed Achilles then you can see this image vividly in your mind too. New strategies open up in a big way.

2. Meleers are more competitive. A friend at work showed me a film he put up where he is what--- Level 62 in World of Warcraft? 64? Anyway a Level 70 Warrior tries to jump his mage. This Warrior has on Arena Season 2 gear I think he said. Man that Warrior got leveled. How many MMORPGs have us Warriors been treated like this? In City of Heroes for Supergroup vs Supergroup PVP my guild told me to leave my Warrior at home and get on my long range damage dealer. Range > Melee. Argh, we shouldn't be this useless. What good are shields if they cant protect me from an arrow anyway?

3. Survival Rate Increase in Large Battles. Like I said before, anyone that's participated in big wars know how deadly it is to have multiple people target you. Why do you think PUBs (public group of noobs not on Ventrillo) get worked from sun up to sun down? Because the good guilds get on Vent, call the target, and EVERYONE in that guild all focus fire on that poor slob. From Guild Wars to EVE to City of Heroes to World of Warcraft this is how it goes. This is why a smart MMORPG designer will usually discourage big wars. They know their game flaws and they want to hide it.

4. Newbie Versus Veteran. Oh my- do we need to cover this? In typical mmorpg a newbie is freakin' DOOMed when confronted by a Veteran. Say this is not so then you're not being honest. Now take Starport, an MMO that has dodge. Day #1 I logged unto the server I got jumped by a red (immoral PKer) and I LIVED. Thanks to realtime dodging I survived that encounter to live another day. Realtime dodging puts more control in the hands of the player. Hell I almost killed that red. I also almost soloed an Epic boss single handledly as well thanks to realtime dodging.

5. Simple to Use, Complex to Master. Pretty much everyone knows how to Jump. Even World of Warcraft players learn to jump in the lowbie dungeons. In City of Heroes it was a thing of beauty, watching veterans jump into range, fire a few shots, then get out of range. It's this movement capability that helps players survive "focus fires"

6. The Impossible is now Possible. I just hinted at this above. Epic Bosses can be darn near soloed if you're good. Newbies got a shot at killing vets especially if they gang up on him. We place more control into the hands of the player and see more interesting tactics emerge


How Realtime Dodging Works----

It's as simple as you imagine. All long range attacks are projectiles for the most part. You can still have AOEs, etc sure. Projectiles are fairly friendly to high latency clients too and require fairly low bandwidth server-side.

Games that employ dodging is pretty broad really. Most mmorpgs include it in some form. In World of Warcraft / City of Heroes you have location based attacks that you can even aim (goblin engineering in WoW, AOE attacks in City of Heroes). Guild Wars included this for Rangers (archers). Asheron's Call 1 and Starport have full blown server-side implementations. So yeah, you might be playing an mmorpg right now that has it and not realize it!



Q:  Isn't projectiles (like arrows) easy to dodge?

A: Nope, games can make them seeking, range based (outrun it), and/or really fast. In Guild Wars with my Ranger I would fire fast arrows that would launch in your direction. Very hard to dodge. In Starport, you could acquire AOE missiles that would detonate to cover a wide area.



Realtime Dodging Or Alternatives....

Posted by vajuras Wednesday February 20 2008 at 11:36PM
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Realtime dodging is a feature I would like to see. I'm going to dedicate an entire blog to this- brief though it may be

Currently what servers (MMO) do is roll a dice to determine hit-or-miss. The problem, if you got a large group of people all targetting you at the sametime then you'll get hit. Espcially if their chance-to-hit is pretty high. This is why ZERGs (huge group of noobs they use pure overwhelming numbers to win) are so unstoppable

Realtime Dodging was implemented a long time ago in games like Asheron's Call 1, a seamless MMO pretty much. Also, Starport, a 2D MMO I played for a bit has both realtime aim/dodge.

We really need realtime dodging -OR- a more intelligent way to dodge attacks server-side. City of Heroes at least does a ray trace initially (line of sight, LOS) to check for visibility. So it is possible to break an attack this way if you're quick. Not bad. And you can get out of range really fast due to the incredible vertical movement in the game. Strangely enough, City Of Heroes suffers from zerg / spike-damage issues but not due to the combat mechanics per se but rather due to puzzling imbalance issues. By that same token, I have seen some recent PVP footage from City of Heroes where Storm Defenders (very hard to hit) fair really well (#1 configuration now I believe for SGs). This leads back to my point, dodging is so key to success

Currently I'm playing Savage 2- an MMO-like game. Having a lot of fun with it. They integrated realtime dodging and it adds a lot of depth.

Savage 2 reinforces what I've always felt:

1) Warriors have much better viability in PVP. If they carefully dodge long range attacks they can close range on casters

2) Players can use Terrain better for Cover.


Notice I'm not covering realtime Aim because that is a lot more ping dependant versus projectiles which are much more feasible for high latency clients

PVP Justice Systems

Posted by vajuras Tuesday February 19 2008 at 2:50PM
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Noticed there was a lot of confusion what a "Justice System" entails. Quite simply we will refer to EVE Online. In Empire space, when you perform an unlawful action, you can be attacked by local authorities (Concord). So even though the game is techinically free-for-all, it is also lawful. Your attacker incurs a risk in order to get their reward (loot from your cargo).

Quite simply, that is all it is. Placing an all-seeing government body within the game to enforce order. Think of 'cops' as a direct extension of the developer- enforcing order in a choatic land.

In EVE Online, the security systems go from 1.0 (safe) to 0.0. The lower the security, I believe the longer it takes cops to arrive at the location where you are attacked. 0.4 and below Concord will not help you. In high sec, it might be possible for  pirates to suicide bomb your transport ship if they scan you for valuable ores. Make no mistake, EVE Online is FFA PVP however it just takes a bit more imagination to be a pirate in high security space.

So, we kind of arrive at the best of both worlds you see. The victim is pretty safe in high secuirity space due to presence of local law. Any player can still attack but they will have to incur the wrath of Concord.

Also, trying to smuggle illegal goods can get you in trouble with Concord. Stealing someone's NPC loot will flag you as freely attackable in high sec.

In World of Warcraft their safe zones make hostile action totally impossible. So, if a friendly walks up and steals your resource node nothing you can do. In EVE Online, they will possibly be flagged as hostile and you can attack without interference from Concord. You can also declare all-out Wars against enemy Guilds making them open to attack ANYWHERE

EVE Online is truly FFA however, you can still peacefully get around in high security space.


Anyway that's a quick rundown for you guys. As you can see, this concept can be transferred to any other type of MMORPG quite easily. Most mmorpgs already have 'guards' anyway but they lack this level of depth

No Death Penalty and the lies that come with.....

Posted by vajuras Friday February 15 2008 at 2:31AM
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What kills me these days is the total, blatant, lack of impact in games. I'm going to cover one example. In World of Warcraft we ran one of the largest guilds in our day. Totally dedicated to PVP and outright killing of Alliance. We were villains, we were heroes.

When our newbies would scream they were getting ganked on Ventrillo I was right there to help smackdown their attacker.

But you know what- their ganker would just go run and hide for a bit, wait til I left, and then rekindle their killing spree with new zeal.

This is the "lie". There is no impact when we lack death penalty and/or Victory Conditions. I can think of so many ways even casual games can employ that would enrich PVP. I know there are much more talented game designers out there. What's going on guys?

In Age of Conan I believe your risk vs reward will lie at "keeps" (forgive me I'm not up-to-date). Also, there is blood money and wear and tear of siege equipment (not sure I'm behind sorry)

In WAR, this will be on the faction wide level. EVE Online has it at all levels (personal, corp, Alliance wide). Think spellborn might do something with PeP but not sure.

I'm eager to see what the future brings us. I am excited actually.

Player Looting - The Good and Bad

Posted by vajuras Friday February 15 2008 at 1:34AM
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I'm no expert on player looting. Let's be frank if we can, my player looting experience comes from games in the vein of UO- like Starport, EVE Online, etc. Sure I played Classic UO but I have no awesome stories to regale you guys with

Let's cover the bad things first because these points are the show-stoppers:

1) It impacts the players avatar. You know what this is simply #1. I ran a poll here for "How important is Character  Custimization to YOU?". You guys probably thought I went soft but see I had a plan. I want to see what the votes were from a fairly reliable sample. OVer 90% voted "YES!!!!". OVer 90% guys.

This is #1. Players do not like seeing their avatar get impacted visually. Achiever types love prancing around in their rare loot to show it off. Socializers love the attention, gives them something to talk about. Hell, even PKers enjoy loot many of us are bigtime achievers. Explorers love the loot too, allows them to perhaps explore mroe game mechanics

We all love loot! Of course, many of us would rather see items go back to Classic UO format but that's another topic

2) Epic Items. I'm not going to bother covering this one we know this to be a big problem. Epic items will need 'blessings' to make them persistent. Now I think in such games players will just chase persistant items

3) Developers have no idea how much hell it took you to acquire your loot. This is a huge one. A guy can be plain unlucky or casual. One day he sees a brand new item drop. EVE Online and Starport use Insurance systems. Asheron's Call 1 I read employed "death items" on darktide

 4) Distrust. Players are much more warry of pirates and distrustful of others swindling them for their items. This is why geographical PVP zones has merits, justice systems, and so forth. In UO, evil players turned "Red". Then you just saw these guys group up and takedown the good guys. No, what I mean by justice systems is firm punishments for wronging your fellow man that you are teamed with or just simply disallow looting of teammates.



1) Economy. Due to high turnover of items almost every item now has value! I kid you not in eVE Online you see vets fly cheap ships all the time. Wasn't cheap T2 frigates the norm? Dont they use T1 frigates for tournaments? I'm no economics expert so unfortunately I wont bother elaborating a lot more. But its plan common sense though- the most marketable items are of course the consumables. In WoW- I was an engineer and I specialized in producing only consumable items. This way my customers must come back. Most looting systems include item decay. Its a big pain if some item just falls off the player. Its a short term BAD but long term GOOD for a game. However, its the short term BAD that developers dont want to risk. I dont blame them, I blame newbies. I blame myself too, because when I was new to MMORPGs I didnt want any penalty. I still hate XP loss (go figure). Then again my first coop RPG was Diablo which had full looting and item decay. I thought every rpg was going to be like that boy was I wrong!!!

2) Risk versus Reward. Assume we have geographical pvp zones (like EVE Online) in which allows players to make 'calculated risks' we can arrive at very nice risk vs reward. Now I'm not talking about full, 100% open pvp.

3) Victory Conditions. FPS, RTS, and any other genre has Victory Conditions. MMORPGs is the only genre that lacks this. Death penalty can get us there and the sting of losing resources can help get us there

4) Surprise. There is just something awesome about clicking on a corpse and seeing what they got on them. It's like christmas for PKers. You never know what they are carrying. But you wont know what this feels like unless it happens for you.

5) PVE and PVP smoothly blends together. Examine World of Warcraft what we see is a clear division between PVE/PVP. I'm not biased mind you- I see much good in this. However, in presence of player looting we see more of a blend and dependency relationship. Players feed on NPCs and PVE to obtain resources. PVPers depend on this relationship to acquire loot. This is much more natural then going with a "point" system. Now we have to worry about players cheating the system. Much less of a worry if player looting is in play. How will you cheat? Get a friend to kill you- um yeah he just took your loot.



Not going to offer any if you're a designer its your job to think up some. Solve #1 is your best bet. EVE Online players fly ships. Problem solved lol. Seriously, that's a big one. In Classic UO, items was fairly easy to come by. I think my lowbie had pretty good gear really fast in UO (pre-AoS)

Think about geographical pvp zones #2. Safe zones, urgh. They usually mess up things but it might be possible to employ many fun uses of safe zones for everyone. After all, in the end, it might help PVP a bit. Allow players to grind up to cap until they feel confident they can fight. This is what we do in FPS all the time- use offline modes for practice then hop online to play

Do I think we will see Player Looting become mainstream? I hope to see more hardcore sandbox games like Second Life. I want to see that model get advanced more- whereas players can create worlds for each other and enforce their own rule sets. That's what I look forward to. Then ANYTHING is possible and it wont matter what 'mainstream' wants.


FFA PVP Debates

Posted by vajuras Friday February 15 2008 at 12:42AM
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I really love this site and this recent debate on FFA PVP has sparked this veteran to blog again.

Those that know me well or have read my posts know I'm all for sandbox or games that have loosely defined game rules. I believe 'artifical restrictions' produce unnatural behavior in gamers. Let's take a look at games like World of Warcraft where you can be ninja-looted, cursed out by someone in your faction, spat on by someone in your faction, and griefed by 'farmers' having to endure their endless spam. There you are, helpless. Boy I kid to you not- all my worst enemies were always apart of my OWN faction. Trust me, go to World of Warcraft forums right now. Go to Server forums. See which Guilds hate each other the most. Yep, yep. This occurs due to competition for resources (like healers), people leaving guilds to form others, politics, blah blah you feel me

Anyway no sir, that is not what I personally care for. I always sign up for the most open pvp server options normally. Not because I'm a hardcore PKer- no, I get pwned left & right. But because I believe in having freedom and having the right to defend myself from being griefed (too me griefing only occurs when I have NO way to retailate so no- this cannot happen on an open pvp server by my definition). Now if you can figure out how to make a Race vs Race game and allow me this freedom I'm all ears. Hell, I'll play a pure Race vs Race mmorpg even though it always ends up the same for me. I exaggerate to you not- I can understand why people in another Faction is mean but my own flesh and blood (ingame terms)?



Now let's debunk a common scenario. 5 versus 1. Is this a fair fight? No way a guy can win against these odds? Wrong. I've accomplished this feat in mmorpgs and started a thread (poll) here to gather opinions. I got crazy responses from pvpers that they've overcome the worst odds. Is it no wonder the average World of Warcraft films will feature someone owning multiple players? It's the norm now I believe. Put up a film just owning 1 versus 1 you better have a good storyline, music, and super skilled opponents. One guy that became heroic for putting up 1 versus 1 was a rogue that fought butt naked. That's the kind of stuff that's popular- winning against all odds.

So what does Solo vs Many net us? It's Rambo mentality of a sorts.

Level Based games. FFA PVP sucks for those right? Well it depends. We are never equal ever in mmorpgs these days anyway. So what if a Level 60 jumps my Level 40? Sure I'll get mad. But it makes the game 10x more fun for me once I get sweet revenge when my guild arrives. Boy, those types of films are great too- when the author shows himself getting beatdown by high levels in the begining but then affirms himself once he hits max level and claims revenge. Those are my favorites.

Pointless PVP? Yep, FFA PVP can be pointless in absence of Victory Conditions. We need Victory Conditions let taking over a city or a little more harsh death penalty. In EVE Online we get this via the long travel times. So if you are in another Corp's terriority you might have to spend 1 hour to get back. Harsh? I dont think so. You are tresspassing on enemy lands. You need to be dealt a harsh blow to be kept from harassing others constantly. You can also get good Victory Conditions by taking notes from FPS and RTS. Most mmorpgs will surely push pvpers into Instances. This can be okay but ideally, perhaps when technology improves hopefully we'll see much better emphasis on massive wars.

Lone wolf- not fun to not have a Guild right? Well it depends. Is this mmorpg for casual audiences? If so, then fine, dont include FFA PVP. But if you have a large majority of fans on your site screaming for it- then perhaps your audience is not fully casual. MMORPGs are about the "community" (at least some, not all I'm not Idealistic). So if you want to give a reason for gamers to group up then FFA PVP is your anwser. Trust me, on an FFA PVP server people will group up all the time. If I stepped out alone in EVE Online in low security space trust me I'm flying a junk ship I dont mind losing. Once I get to my Corp station I will get loans and hussle up some funds to get myself a much better ship. Then fly it when I got backup.

Zergs. Unfair for 40 vs 10 right? Wrong. In FPS we have FFA PVP even in Team vs Team games- its called "friendly fire". Guess what tears up zergs? Grenades, lack of discipline, and unorganization. Nothing destroys an uncoordinated team faster then friendly fire (along with death penalty as well I might add). From Rainbow 6 to Halo 3 to Call of Duty to Unreal Tournament we have FFA / friendly fire. Guess what in FPS we have uneven teams all the time. Bottlenecks, use of terrain, knowledge of terrain, and tactics all factor into victory. Sure, perhaps 100 versus 10 won't win but then I think about all the articles and journals that document historic battles where the little guys WON. Often, they used terrain to their advantage, bottlenecks, etc.

Even if you make teams "even" that is the biggest lie I ever heard of. Players vary in player skill levels, Levels, Items, and ability to coordinate properly. You can have even numbers in MMORPGs and guess what I see "PUGs" get destroyed utterly all the time. I have never seen a PUG ever in my life beat a couple of players on Ventrillo. What's uneven too me? When there is a PUG fighting a coordinated force.

Let's hit it again. Why is 100 versus 10 fun? For most it probably isnt- that is until you get reinforcements. See, in real life battles are never even ever. Some of the best battles I've been apart of started out uneven, we got slaughtered. But once the numbers evened up, it got really fun.  Sometimes we would kill the little guys just to get the real fish to come. Yep, I've slayed newbies but took no joy in the act (unless I was testing out a new skill and just wanted to see if I could insta-kill someone with it but that gets boring after 1-2 insta-kills).

Gold Farmers. There is no way to stop these guys I'm not stupid. I've killed farmers over and over yet- they still treated me nice and helped me kill my mobs. They're no fun to kill at all in most cases and if you're crazy enough to FRAPs this act plan on getting clowned. But if player looting is in play, well now- this is interesting they can actually help the game a bit more. They will still come if they can turn a profit true. But now they at least provide a bit more entertainment.


Balance. In Race vs Race games that have different Classes there is no way to be perfectly balanced unless both sides are exact same. Granted, it can still be fun to have Race vs Race I'm not going to toss salt at games that have it (I love myself some Savage 2 with is Race vs Race). But anyway, in City of Heroes we begged the devs for FFA PVP zones to help even up balance issues. Was very nice we had it for a bit but they dropped the ball for a Level 50 FFA zone (which killed PVP once and for all for many because the balance was awful for us). Still a fun game to tryout though btw I hate that game, but still have good memories on other hand.


Level 60 versus Level 40. Yep, its no fun being pimped by a higher level. If I got mad enough, I'd call in my Guild to help me deal with them. PVPers really dont care much for Levels unless they just simply don't mean anything (like in FPS games if you follow). However, Levels still accomplish some good. For one, ideally, it creates a dependency relationship. Sometimes newbies are a little safer in packs. Also, it helps newbies to rely more on veterans. In World of Warcraft, I would help our newbies in distress and perhaps I felt 'heroic' for helping rescuing the victims. Also, it would inspire players to hire higher levels to protect them (ideally).


The BAD:

- Well, FFA PVP can be totally brutal to new players not familiar with PVP. In mmorpg space, there is about 90%+ of unskilled players out there. And thats me being optimistic. Assume your gamers have no skill to reach critical mass. So how to insure our players are not too negatively impacted by FFA PVP? Well you must solve that for yourself.

- The Wife problem. Most gamers have this twisted idea to play an mmorpg with friends. Sometimes wives get curious and want to try. Who wants to see their wife get ganked and spat on? Yeah, even if you offer different server options we might risk losing that extra account from wife and kids. Ouch. I dont know about you but I want every dime I can get. This is why I think CCP/EVE guys are so smart. They included geographical PVP zones in their title

- Newbies. Assume every player is a newbie when they start a game. If your game has "vertical" progression then yes we have a problem. Newbies will get absolutely stomped by vets in PVP. Its not so bad in games based on "player skill" but in RPG space yeah, we do have a problem.

- Griefers. My personal definition is being done wrong by someone and lack the freedom to retailate. Only in restricted PVP games do I feel 'griefed'.

- Losing. This is another thing I'm not too familiar with. If I lose a fight well chances are I FRAPSed it. As much as it hurts, I will review the footage, go on the forums to get build advice, and min.max. Hell yeah if it means winning I will optimize all the way. However, this doesnt mean embracing cookie cutter but rather, research tactics no one expects. You will read many so-called experts on PVP speak about "Tactical Transparency" and how much its needed. They are right perhaps- to an extent. However, it is "Hidden Information" that allows PVPers to net a win. Anyway, we will cover that later one day I hope. For now, let's just conclude I'm not too familiar with "losing" all the time. I will practice and practice to get better.

But let's assume over 90% of our audience might quit if all they do is lose. Now, we are getting somewhere. This is why PVE can be good. We can make everyone a winner. AI (Artifical Intelligence)- we can program those guys to lose all the time and make players feel like Heroes. Its a win-win.

So hell yeah I'd add PVE if possible. There are some really imaginative ways I can see developers arrive at this. You can possibly create an FFA PVP environment in which all can thrive (maybe not all cause different flocks collide in mmorpgs but close)


Is FFA PVP dead? I dont think so. It's mainstream in other genres. But it will take time to see really solid implementations. EVE Online is pretty much the most widespread application. Well there is also Lineage 2, UO, and basically Asian MMOs where there market is so oversaturated you see them try almost anything from Habbo Hotel to ZT Online

Do I think FFA PVP will ever be mainstream in mmorpgs? To be honest what I care about these days is not really FFA PVP. I'm more concerned about seeing more complete Sandbox mmorpgs come out. Perhaps I'll cover this later in more detail. I'll give you a hint- I look forward to more titles in the vein of Second Life. I'll leave you with that tidbit to ponder on.

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