In the next segment of a developer journal from Brandes Stoddard, a systems designer for the upcoming post-apocalyptic MMO, Fallen Earth, fans learn about the niche-protection approach that governs weapons in the game.
In my first journal entry, I mentioned that every weapon needs a niche, a situation in which that weapon is ideal. The broadest categories are pretty clear: melee weapons are excellent for close-quarters fighting, and ranged weapons are for killing the guy who's all the way over there. (By definition, even!) When we first started building our lists of weapons, we had only three niches: melee weapons, sniper rifles, and all other guns.
As Alpha and Closed Beta progressed, we saw that a few weapons proved superior to all others. I remember in particular the "Day With the Devs" PvP test in New Gallows when we realized shotguns were simply the best weapons in the game. They had superlative damage output and highly competitive range. Playtesting also revealed that the distinctions between the light, medium, and heavy versions of each rifle were essentially empty: a tenth of a second here, a half-second of reload time there, and none of it markedly improving gameplay. In addition, some of the ballistics crafting options were so eminently better than others, many of the latter guns were irrelevant. Strangely, no one wanted to craft the ridiculously expense, low-damage assault rifles. Go figure.
The essence of a game is having interesting decisions to make, but the game's arsenal was quickly reduced to right and wrong answers. Things needed to change. We needed more conceptual niches for the guns to fill, and we needed each gun of a particular group to have some characteristic distinguishing it from others of its type.
Our first effort at niche protection went something like this: All rifles carried a hefty penalty to the wielder's Melee Defense, increasing the frequency of critical hits from melee attackers. Pistols didn't share this drawback, so if you simply had to gun down an axe-wielding survivalist, you were better off with pistols than rifles. Rifles were for times when you had some range to play with, as when fighting other gunners.
The problem we ran into is that Pistol and Rifle tend to be mutually exclusive skills, since each requires AP to improve. We needed these skills to support multiple situations independently. We also needed to consider how melee weapons, mutations, and thrown weapons would be integrated into our niche-protection theory.
Our plan now looks something like this.
Close-quarters Combat (starting at 15 meters or less)
Medium-range Combat (starting between 15 and 30 meters)
Long-range Combat (starting beyond 30 meters)
As shown above, shotguns are now close-quarters weapons that utilize the Rifle skill. Their Melee Defense penalty is much less severe than that of other rifles, but their range is quite limited. Sniper rifles are still for... well, sniping. We also have assault rifles, rapid-fire guns ideal for killing fast-moving or strafing enemies. Additionally, we made room for a middle-ground style of rifle, slower than the assault rifle but much faster than the shotgun or the sniper rifle. Thus, the battle rifle: useful when you aren't prepared or able to adapt your armaments to your situation. Grenades are open to all players based solely on level requirements, providing Melee and Support characters with at least one ranged weapon option.
These niches support teams with specialized roles, just as the AP system demands specialization. Our internal PvP testing indicates that a coordinated team with varied armaments has tactical options that make a real difference over a team using only one type of weapon. Our revised niche protection plan also ensures multiple builds are still viable and interesting for solo play.
From the broader perspective of good gaming, our itemization has to support Fallen Earth's sandbox-style world. We give players a broad list of options, but we make sure that those decisions have meaning rather than being purely arbitrary. At the same time, our game has story progression and level progression, so we introduce new armament options that show the gradual rebuilding of the world's technology.