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Tempting FATE

Ryahl Smith Posted:
Columns The Eorzea Prospect 0

We are in a bit of an information lull for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  Memories of the last media tour are fading, the benchmark videos have been deconstructed, and the last producer’s letter has been analyzed in detail.  One aspect of FFXIV:ARR that players are looking forwards to is the FATE system.  FATE stands for Fully Active Time Event and represents the Square-Enix take on dynamic content. 

In the recent Video Producer’s Letter embedded above, Yoshida demonstrates a couple of FATE iterations.  For an example, see the 1:05:33 mark of the producer’s letter.  In one example, the players have to fend off waves of rushing Goblins.  In the video, FATE appears both on the mini-map and zone map (1:06:59) and appears to have context sensitive pop-up text for each FATE (in Japanese, so I can’t be certain).  In the second demonstration (1:09:25), the heroes are working together to take a fort from bandits.  Entering a FATE area prompts the player with a large splash screen message and gives the player a set of objectives for the FATE.  Players appear to work together to complete the FATE, regardless of whether or not they are in a party.

To the casual viewer, this appears to be very similar to the Dynamic Events experienced in Guild Wars 2.  Indeed, I have seen comments here at MMORPG and at other public discussions suggesting that FFXIV is simply taking the dynamic content idea from ArenaNet and deploying it in their game. 

While it is true that there are similarities in the concepts, it bothers me that people credit GW2 for inventing dynamic content.  That’s a bit like crediting Apple with inventing the smart phone.  In both cases, the companies in question deserve a lot of credit for mainstreaming their respective idea, but in no way did either company originate the idea for which they receive so much credit.  Smart phones were around a long time before the iPhone and dynamic events were around a long time before Guild Wars 2.  

In this column, I want to review the history of dynamic events and look at some of the aspects of this surprisingly old MMO game element.  Over at EorzeaReborn I continue the discussion by examining how to put the dynamite into dynamic content.

Killing Newbs: The Original Dynamic Events (1999)

If I were to borrow the MMORPG wayback machine, we’d really need to dial back before dynamic events were introduced.  In the early days of MMO’s, it wasn’t unusual to see a game’s development team directly interacting with its players.  I’m not just talking about forum wars either, but actual in-game “dynamic” events.  However, these weren’t automated events, they were events run by the game masters (GM’s) for the title.

In Everquest, such events might involve Dark Elves pouring out of Neriak and raiding the Commonlands, or something similar.  In Ultima Online during one beta role-play event, a player managed to kill Lord British, the avatar of the game’s founder, Richard Garriott. 

Returning to Everquest, generally a GM or two would take the role of a high level NPC and go about slaughtering low-level players en masse.  Eventually, enough players would show up to cause the zone to lag out leading to players disconnecting from the server.  When that was recovered, the event would end, rewards might be distributed, and everyone would basically agree that something cool had happened.

The modern dynamic event is really an attempt to automate and bring back these player/developer interactions.  The unpredictability of the event and the epicness of needing to have a whole server band together really helped reinforce what was unique and special about the massively part of a massively multiplayer game.

Our First Dynamic Event: Alien’s are Invading (2004)!

While their technical execution has been criticized, there is no denying Funcom’s innovativeness.  Pretty much any cool game feature you think of as old-hat or even mandatory these days started off in a Funcom MMO. 

  • Clickable, hyper-text chat?  Anarchy Online (2001).
  • Instances?  Anarchy Online (2001)
  • 3-Faction, “realm” style PVP (with frontiers)?  Anarchy Online (June, 2001).
  • On-demand, summoned boss encounters?  Anarchy Online: Shadow Lands (2003).
  • Dynamic Events?  Anarchy Online: Alien Invasion (2004)

Alien Invasion added player owned cities which were ultimately invaded by the titular aliens.  An Alien Invasion was a dynamic event, at launch you didn’t know when one would start (things changed a bit after AI launched).  You needed lots of folks working together.  Based on the success or failure of the event, a limited number of participants would get the opportunity to take the fight to an Alien Mothership.  Participating in Alien Invasions won players alien loot as well as Alien experience, used to buy up skills in a player advancement mechanic.

In Tabula Rasa the game plays YOU: Tabula Rasa (2007)

There is a good chance you missed Tabula Rasa.  Richard Garriot’s second MMO received little fanfare and the game’s publicity was ultimately surpassed by press coverage of the controversial NCSoft dismissal of Lord British and the game’s ultimate closure in 2009.

Garriott, much like the Funcom crew, is one of the real innovators in our field.  You may not like everything in a Garriott game (I’m not a big fan of open-world PVP), but you definitely see someone pushing against the edges of his industry.  In Tabula Rasa, Garriott took the basic idea of dynamic events and turned it into always-on combat points.

Each zone had combat points, places where the Bane (the big bad) and the human NPC’s had repetitive combat.  Generally these were forts or other strategic locations.  The idea for these contested points was that the game would “play” for control whether or not players intervened and, because of various outcome potential, the zones would be different every time you visited them.  Sadly, the idea that the game world had objectives outside of just being the player’s play-mat appears to have died with Tabula Rasa.

If the humans owned a combat point, various player resources were available.  Additionally, the Bane would launch attacks on these control points, trying to take them over.  These attacks would scale up, potentially bringing in boss mobs, until the attack was either pushed back or the defense failed.  Successful pushbacks merely meant the players got a brief respite until the next attack started.

In a failed defense, ownership of the combat point would flip.  Now, the Bane would own the location and players would need to take it back.  Attacks went through phases as well, each of which involved progressively more (or stronger) Bane defenders.  The Tabula Rasa take on dynamic events added event branching (success and failure conditions) as well as tokens which could be redeemed for gear and rewards.

WAR!, HUH, what is it good for?  Public Quests, for one (2008)

The modern dynamic event really emerges in the EA: Mythic title Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.  In every PVE area of WAR, players would come across public quest areas.  In a public quest, players would band together to work through a multi-stage encounter.  Each stage had success conditions and a timer.  Completing a stage successfully advanced the quest and successfully completed events provided scoreboards and loot rewards.  After the completion of an event, success or failure, players received a timer letting them know when the next event would cycle.

The real innovation Mythic brought to the table was open-grouping.  In prior systems, players needed to work together, but the UI of an MMO is really built around cooperating with your specific group.  As a healer, it’s easy to figure out which of your group-mates needs help, it’s nearly impossible to know which nearby stranger needs it.  Mythic solved this by adding Public Groups - players entering a PQ area could simply click Join and be popped into open teams or raids.  Cooperation was never easier!

Final Fantasy XIV: At your behest (2010)

The real irony of accusing FFXIV of ripping off GW2’s dynamic events is that FFXIV had a form of dynamic event built in at launch.  The Behest system, present at the launch of FFXIV featured open-party, scaling events. 

Each leve-hub in the game had a Battle Warden.  Every so often, the Battle Warden would announce that a Behest was about to begin.  Players had a few minutes to register for the event, get organized into groups and then follow the Warden on the Behest.  Behests would scale in level and difficulty based on the number and levels of players present.

Many Behests featured stage encounters.  Successfully defeating one stage of an encounter would trigger a subsequent stage.  Some stages involved monsters running for help and bringing in reinforcements.  At the end of the Behest, players would receive rewards based on their participation.

Behests will be back in Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn and they, along with the Hamlet system added later in the game, will become part of the FATE system.

RIFT: A Game of Dynamic Events (2011)

Where prior games had embedded dynamic events into game play, RIFT is the first MMO title to build its game around dynamic events.  The titular rift’s were the game’s take on past dynamic events.  A rift would open, stages would occur, rewards would be disseminated.  But RIFT also took it up several notches.  Those rift’s would also spill over invasion forces who would become literal wandering monsters on the map.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the dynamic content scene, though, were RIFT’s zone invasions.  Here an entire playfield would become littered by rift’s and invading forces.  The players would get zone-wide play objectives (take this, defend that, etc.) generally culminating in boss battles.  Whenever people try to tell me that only a handful of people like raiding, I often point to RIFT’s zone invasions.  Huge chunks of a server would be present, with multiple raids operating, just to complete a zone event.  Players of MMO’s like the massively part of these games and more developers should look to add these multi-group events to their game play.

RIFT also brought out the open group concept previously seen in WAR.  As you moved along in a RIFT, you would get a “join” option if you were in the area of an open group.  One button click later and you had a team to work with on the rift event.  RIFT also provided a very good map overlay for their dynamic events.  Finding a RIFT or intercepting an invading force weren’t just a function of dumb luck.

Guild Wars 2: I hear they invented the Internets (2012)

This brings us to Guild Wars 2.  GW2 didn’t so much invent the dynamic event as it did consolidate what had been done before.  Dynamic events were built into pool areas, much like that of WAR.  However, GW2 also returned the idea of branching events based on success or fail conditions, much like what we saw in Tabula Rasa.  Finally, GW2 added map overlay elements similar to what we had in RIFT.

But, GW2 also left elements behind.  The open group concept initiated by WAR and continued in RIFT are missing.  Largely this is a function of GW2’s role-less game play.  There isn’t really any need for the group UI in GW2, so on-the-fly grouping was dropped.  GW2 also dropped the spill-over invasions and zone-wide epic events of RIFT in favor of more localized zone story-events.

GW2 really deserves credit for how they handle the staging for dynamic events.  While prior MMO’s used some form of “lore moment” to introduce dynamic content, GW2 really nails the staging and delivery of the starting moment.  Like most elements of GW2, dynamic events were a mixture of prior best practices and a lot of polish.  That deserves a lot of respect and it would be great if future MMO’s gave a nod to GW2’s staging work.

We’re sending you back to the future, Marty

So, we are back to 2013 and looking forward to the FFXIV FATE.  Based on the FATE demonstrations in the video producer’s letter, we see some of the elements of past MMO’s.  We see the zone map overlays from RIFT.  We also see that FATE uses localized story events like the WAR public quest.  It appears, in the producer’s letter, that at least some FATE will have branching events.  At the 1:15:44 mark, we see a third FATE event at the same fort the prior event occurred in.  In this third event, the bandits appear to be trying to take back the fort.

We also know that past FFXIV game elements such as Behests and Hamlet defenses are being rolled into FATE.  So, we know that FATE is more than just localized stories.  We don’t know if FATE will have spill over invasions, nor do we know if FATE will allow for open grouping as in WAR and RIFT.  Ultimately, we are all waiting on Beta-3 (see road map) to really get a feel for what FFXIV:ARR has in store for us. 

Have you experienced dynamic content in any of the games I listed?  What do you think?  Did I miss a game in my history of dynamic content?  What do you like and dislike about dynamic content?  I think I just saw a discussion event start below, hop in and join in on that dynamic content!

Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com.  He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides.  He has been playing MMO’s since 1999 and remembers when choose your own adventure books was dynamic content.  You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.


Ryahl Smith

Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com. He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides. He has been playing MMO’s since 1999 and remembers when the holy trinity didn’t involve DPS. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.