PvP is a critical part to many MMOs. Last week at AGDC I had the chance to talk to a lot of people about just how important it was. If you read my Jeff Hickman article and saw the chatter about Dark Age of Camelot it got people excited. More importantly I spent time at the Guild Panel with 4 of the top guild leaders in MMOs. Everyone was talking PvP. I wanted to outline something that makes PvP so much fun and has somehow been lacking in MMO lately, that something is The Hunt!
Let’s take Battlegrounds for an example, or any instanced ten vs. ten style game. PvP in this form is fun, but can get repetitive. Players always know the goal, always know the odds and if the group is bad and the opposition is strong, usually they leave to find a better scenario. All that being considered I do enjoy scenario PvP. I like the capture the flag or taking check points type of battles. They have their place and can be fun, but they are usually predictable.
Open world is our next example of PvP. It is easy to build the sandbox and have everyone enter and see what happens. The trick to getting open world PvP correct is in the implementation. Having keep or fortress fights as your main goal for area control is good to a point, but there is something missing. You are always fighting over a static point. In these situations the open world becomes small very quickly. When Dark Age of Camelot instituted New Frontiers it killed the game for me. My Berserker was now obsolete. My job was knocking down doors at a keep while casters and archers killed me from up on high. In this form of PvP the tank or melee classes become pointless. I am not sure how battles in WoW’s Wintergrasp zone go, but I can say that in WoW PvP ranged DPS classes rule the day. The same can be said for New Frontiers in DAOC. The static point battle at a keep is great for ranged classes, but it takes the warriors and melee artists out of the equation. You just alienated half your player base.
Warhammer implemented this keep and fortress system as their basis for PvP. They even went so far as to have City Sieges be the end game. I played a Black Orc in Warhammer and later on a Choppa. Never once during a siege did I feel like I could fully play my class effectively. It was a mess. I would charge down Bright Wizards to be fried like chicken. I would try to knock down doors and casters would sit on top of walls and pummel me. Where is the fun in that? It was almost as if Warhammer took the New Frontiers philosophy and made it into their entire PvP game.
Static battles become old quickly. Look at a classic European medieval battle. You had knights, archers, and footmen. The chess match between two leaders was when to use the knights and when to use the archers, the footmen where simply there to clean up the mess. Sure the movie Braveheart made it look cool, but that big battle took place on a bridge and in mud. That why Wallace won. Let’s take Agincourt for an example. Henry the Fifth took three thousand archers and killed fifteen thousand French Knights. They just kept charging across the mud all day long. The archers crushed them. The plan did not work. Perhaps MMO companies could learn some lessons from these battles. Change is a good thing. Change the static battle format. Give players a reason to fight more openly instead of directing them to specific points on a map.
So we have shown why static battles can get old real fast and why scenarios or instance fights are fun, but get repetitive. What is the answer for PvP? One thing that no one takes into account in PvP is The Hunt! In FPS games hunting down your opponents is part of the fun. You never know what is going ot happen when the hunt begins. It is exciting from the start. You are always on guard whether you like it or not and that element alone is exciting. Running to a static battle knowing the enemy will be there is okay, but hunting them down is much more interesting. Dark Age of Camelot before New Frontiers had this element in the game. Emain Macha was the place where payers hunted. Sure it looked like a golf course, but you never knew who would come over the hill. You never knew which side you would fight. These elements kept PvP exciting. It happened almost organically and it was fun. EVE online has the same element to it in open space. Players fly out there at their own risk. There are hunters waiting and looking. Both sides of that fight are exciting because combat could happen any time anywhere. You are not given a map and told to go fight here. You are simply entering an area where at any moment a fight could break out.
This hunting aspect has been missing in MMO PvP designs lately. The hunter killer attitude is what competitive game players thrive for. The guild panel guys at AGDC explained that what keeps them going and their guilds strong is being able to find the other guild and battle them. Give them a good system to do this in and they would hunt each other all the time. PvP in a constant static environment gets boring. Venturing out into the unknown and having your crew be prepared to strike at any moment can be exciting even if you don’t get into a fight for twenty minutes. I would rather run around and chat with my friends in an open warzone than sit in a queue for that time waiting for a static battle. There was a social element to the hunt. We were working together. There is no social element to sitting in a queue.
So I hope PvP players get something out of the column this week. I hope developers read this, cough…cough…Jeff….and understand what made PvP great for some. Everyone has their own version of what is fun in PvP, but running up to a line and dying constantly gets old quick I don’t care who you are. Having the hunting grounds in PvP gives an element of unknown to players. A hunting we will go and we will be happy for it.