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Arm Chair MMO Designer

The MMO revolution starts now...or, well...someone will get around to it eventually...

Author: Tatum

DAOC and PvP Design

Posted by Tatum Tuesday April 22 2008 at 12:20AM
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Ever since I got into MMORPGs with DAOC, I've always felt like they almost hit on a really great PvP design.  I say almost because, while the core PvP design was revolutionary, (IMO, of course) I still think it was fairly shallow and too restricting.  

Before I get into that though, I'll briefly explain the basics of DAOC's PvP system for anyone who may not be familiar with it.  In DAOC, there were three realms, separated by physical barriers and "connected" by frontiers, with HEAVILY guarded realm gates.  There was no PvP inside of the realms and the frontiers were full-on RvR.  As far as I know, the only way anyone ever managed to get into an enemy realm was through gaps in the zone walls.  This was considered an exploit.

So, what would I add or change?

Frontiers - I would add a few features to the frontiers to give them more depth and to give players more incentive to populate them.

   1) Resources - Ideally, the frontiers would hold the most valuable crafting resources.  Locating these resources and controlling them would be an important aspect of the game.

   2) Structures - Players could build structures almost anyone in the frontiers, however, these structures would be vulerable to attack.  To counter this, guilds/players could purchase a very significant amount of defense for their structure, such as more durable materials, NPC guards, and possibly spawn points.

Realms - This is where I would make the biggest changes.

   1) PvP Raids - It would be possible, though difficult, to raid the enemies realm.  All that would be required is a force big enough to fight their way through the realm gate with it's uber guards and defending players.  Once inside an enemy realm, the raiding force would have free reign to slaughter and loot players and NPC's as long as they can stay alive.  I might even suggest moving the relics into the capitol of the realm that's currently in possession of them.  Of course, the big challenge would be to make sure that this is not a "common" occurance.  It should be extremely difficult to bust into an enemy realm and once inside, the realm gate guards should respawn at twice their original numbers (or something along those lines) and should stay this way for a pre-determined amount of time.  In addition, there would be no respawning in an enemy realm and resurections might be restriced.

   2) Guild vs. Guild - I know this is an RvR design, but I would also add the ability for guilds (of the same realm) to declare war on each other.  Members of enemy guilds would be attackable anytime, any where.  Although, NPC guards would aggro and join in if there is fighting near them.  Not sure if there should be any rewards or incentives for this, other than settling a dispute or possible RP purposes.

Of course, there are many other changes I would make (such as removing the level grind, changing to skill based, and focusing more on a player driven economy) but this is what I would love to see, as far as PvP design.


Accessibility in MMO's.

Posted by Tatum Friday March 28 2008 at 5:50PM
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First of all, yes, I do realize that this exact same topic is covered in numerous threads.  And yes, I also realize that it can be an extremely divisive topic with a difficult arguement to make.  Thats fine, I still don't believe that it's a dead horse.  Actually, I think the opposite is true.  With the direction the genre is taking I believe that this topic will be one of the more important ones when it comes to new MMO's. 
So, what does "Accessibility in MMO's" actually mean.  Well, if you spend a lot of time on MMO forums you probably already know by now.  Many times, it's "old school vs. new school" or "intuitive" vs. "confusing" or even "instant action" vs "time sinks".  All of those arguements, however, make the situation sound far more clear-cut than it actually is.  In my opinion, it's short sighted to just assume that accessibility is an evolution in MMO's.  To assume or to claim this, you'd have to ignore that fact that there are consequences for every action.  You can, of course, claim that the results out weigh the consequences.  Really, thats the easy side of the arguement.  "I work and deal with everything else during the day, so I only have a couple hours a night to play.  I want to spend that time with my friends having fun, not wandering around, lost in some forest looking for an NPC."  I'd say thats a valid opinion, not one that I agree with in this case, but it's a personal preference that I can understand.   
My arguement here, is that the consequences of accessibility have had a fairly significant, negative impact on MMO game worlds.  The tricky part, is trying to prove or explain this, because the individual changes are mostly small and subtle, even though they add up to a noticeable, yet hard to explain effect.  In many cases, I feel like we're sacrificing depth and immersion just for short term enjoyment.  Thats really what I'm trying to get across here, the fact many of the great memories and stories and moments of immersion come from "inconveniences".  The only way for me to really explain this is to go through specific features or situations that have become more accessible.
Leveling/Progression rate - Leveling is WAY too fast now!!!  Just kidding.  Thats a whole other topic that I'm not going to touch right now.  Besides, I was never a big fan of long, tedious level grinds anyway.
High tech UI - I could really break this down into a few catagories, so I'll go with combat first.  Honestly, how many of us spend more time in combat watching the UI rather than the actual fight?  With all the indicators and cool downs and status bars we might as well just play text based RPG's.  Seriously.  I know this isn't a new problem with MMO's, but it definately feels more severe than it use to.  What happened to the days when you actually had to watch/listen to the fight and manually activate all of your skills?  Do we really need the UI to do everything for us?  Sure, it's much more convenient, but don't we log into the game so that we can actually play it ourselves?  Personally, I think things need to be trimmed down to the point where all this UI juggling isn't neccessary.  As slow as MMO combat can be, I'd still prefer to experience it directly, rather than through the UI.  Maybe one solution could be having a small number of skills (per class or build) that are mostly reactionary, positional, or situational?  Any idicators you might need for a skill would be right there infront of you, in the action.  Anyway, I'm getting side tracked here, so I'll just move on.
GPS/Maps/Indicators - This is a big one thats not exclusive to MMO's.  In Oblivion (yes, I've spent WAY too much time playing that game) you literally have a map, with GPS, and indicator arrows for EVERYTHING.  The same goes for many MMO's now.  Sure, it's nice at first.  You just want to find the location, talk to the NPC, and get on with the quest.  All that extra stuff inbetween just slows you down.  I'm guilty of this as well.  It gets frustrating when you're completely lost and you're just happy to you have something that can tell you where to go and what to do.  But, how many of those experiences do you actually remember once their gone?  There was no unique, individual journey to get you through that quest.  More than likely, you didn't learn much about the game world as you were running straight from point A to B to C.  You didn't talk to any more NPC's than you absolutely had to and you didn't really pay attention to the ones that you did talk to, because you can always just check your quest log later and skip straight to the important stuff.  So, no extra bits of lore or useful knowledge of the game worlds geography.  In short, you didn't "experience" the game, so much as you just played through the UI.
An example here that we've all probably been through is being lost (for hours possibly) in Random Forest.  Bob the blacksmith said that I should seek out Fred the hermit at his hut in northwest Random Forest.  The sign says that this is the South Road into Random Forest, so I guess I should head that way...The next hour or so is usually full of lots of running, lots of cussing, lots of getting stabbed, slashed, and smacked, and plenty of wondering where the F--- you're at.  If you're good (or lucky) you'll eventually find Fred the hermit and proceed with the quest.  So, was it a purely fun experience.  Maybe, but probably not.  At the time, you were probably thinking about how you'd find Fred, murder him, take the loot, then go back to Bob and kick him in the N---.  Looking back though, it was more than likely a very memorable experience.  You've probably told the story to everyone that will listen and you came out of the situation with some well earned knowledge of Random Forest.  In truth, because of the experience, Random Forest would feel much more like an actual place, rather just a clump of trees on the map.
Thats just one area, of course.  An entire game world like this would be a very rich, challenging place.  Travelling from point A to B wouldn't be just another trivial task inbetween the "real content", rather, travelling itself would be content.  The only way to truly learn about the game world would be to experience it the "inconvenient" way.  Head out and figure things out on your own, talk (and listen) to NPC's, learn the landmarks and geography, play the game...
Character creation/customization - Without a doubt, this is one area that I won't compromise on.  The whole character creation and speccing process has been watered down to the point of...well, lets just say we've gone from RPG, to RPG-Lite (with less calories/thinking), to "what does RPG stand for again?".  I'm sorry, but the "I'm a casual player" whine doesn't cut it for me here.  So, you screwed up your first character because you thought it would be cool to be a wizard with high strength and constitution, you know, the Renaissance Man build?  Yea, it sucks, but who cares.  You'll get over it soon enough and you'll either stick it out with your "gimp" character or you'll learn from your mistakes and roll a new one.  We've all done it and, as weird as this may sound, it wasn't the end of the world, we lived to game another day.  The point is, when you have a system where starting stats actually matter and where you have some options with your spec/build it adds that much more variety and uniqueness to characters.  You may not appreciate it at first, when you have no clue as to how to build your character, but later on, when you're a little bored and looking for something new, it's nice to have a more complex system to experiment with.  Believe it or not, some players actually enjoy creating and playing really unique, oddball builds.  
The change in character customization from DAOC (my first real MMO) to LOTRO (the last MMO I spent any time in) was very significant.  Sure, DAOC was far from perfect in this area, since each class only had three spec lines and you couldn't mix and match much until higher levels.  However, it was worlds better than LOTRO, where there was, essentially, no speccing.  Every player of a given class had almost the exact same list of skills/abilities.  Again, it's a serious lack of depth.  Sure, these new, high res graphics are nice, but uh, I'd rather have some depth back.  
Instancing - Yep, this is a fun one, guaranteed to stir up the some controversy.  In all honesty though, I'm not comming from a biased back ground here.  At first, having more instancing really did sound like an interesting idea to me.  You could have more exciting and dramatic encounters with out having to deal with other players or groups.  The reality though, for me at least, was...meh.  Quest instances still don't approach anything near what a single/multiplayer game can present and you've essentially segregated the player population even further.  Eventually, the game world will just be a hub for players to meet up in between instances.  Hmm, last time I remember, there was debate as to whether some specific games were worthy of the MMO title based on this design...yet, this is the way that most MMO's are heading...and players are happy about it!?
Obviously, the "massive" feature is the major thing that seperates MMO's from other genres, so why is being slowly removed?  I'm sure that most of us got into MMO's because they were massively full of actual players.  Hell, even chronic soloers (like me) are attracted by the idea of having a world thats populated by real people (or their avatars atleast).  If you dilute this feature then theres less of a reason to choose this genre over one that has better game play.  And, I'm sorry to be an ass, but not even the most carefully constructed, well thought out, well written instance is still shit compared to the type of drama and immersion that the player population can create amongst themselves.
Now, don't get the wrong idea here.  I'm not saying the "accessible" MMO should die a fiery death, never to return.  As long as there are players that enjoy that type of MMO I think it should be represented fairly in the market.  What I really hope to see in the future is just a much more diverse genre where the "pie" is sliced a little more evenly.  We don't need another WOW to come along and, indirectly, steer the genre into one narrow direction.
Of course, any comments are welcome here, as long as you actually read the whole blog.  And, I'm really interested to hear some comments from the "old school" crowd on this subject.  What subtle depth and immersion differences have you noticed between the MMO you started with and the one you're playing (or not playing) now?