Crowfall – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
Crowfall is one of those games that I’ve been excited about for quite a while now. Most of my excitement has been around their Dying Worlds mechanic, and probably not something many folks think too much about. All the PvP and crafting systems are certainly cool, and the execution of those will definitely determine the success of the game, but the dynamic creation of numerous campaigns will be the part that has the most impact on the industry, I think.
I went to Austin last week to talk with the team and learn more about what they’ve been working on recently. I left for the trip with some optimism because the pace of development is falling pretty well in line with what I would have expected, and that gives me a lot of confidence in the project. What I learned both confirmed my expectations and surprised me at the same time.
On one hand, I did confirm much of what I suspected about where the game is in its development cycle, but I was also surprised and excited to hear about a couple new mechanics the team is working on and planning to push out in the next release. One new mechanic, what the team is referring to city building, adds a great deal of depth to the game and I think will help continue to encourage strategic thought in how players approach each campaign. The other system to be soon implemented will be an expanded Divine Favor system that creates alternate methods of accruing points, further supporting the dynamic nature of the game.
Winter is coming… and now, you’ll have visual clues to that effect in Crowfall.
Systematic flexibility is one of the key things I’m looking for from ArtCraft Entertainment, as they push towards the release version of Crowfall. The dynamic campaign system is the bedrock that I think this game-changer in the industry is going to hinge on, but that system only works well when there are systems in place that support multiple campaign types. It’ll also be important to ensure campaigns of even similar types play out differently.
The team is taking important steps in that direction for the next major release and will be introducing something called the Divine Favor system. I though Todd Coleman explained it incredibly well when he compared it to some of the same systems you see in popular board games such as A Ticket to Ride. In these games, each player gets secret conditions that only they know about and meeting those conditions by the end of the game gives them extra points towards victory.
This system further echoes early design concepts of Crowfall by offering teams randomized goals among the Glory, Wealth, and Power sets. Each of those representing tasks for the gods favor such as sacrificing items, crafting and industrial support, and accomplishing certain PvP objectives, respectively. Each faction will get a set of these goals at the start of each campaign and completing them will earn the faction bonus points towards victory.
Wealth conditions will be completed through crafting and resource collection, which will allow crafters to contribute more to faction victories.
One of the interesting aspects of the system is that these options may be complimentary at times or mutually exclusive. A team might have a condition requiring a certain keep be captured and another to repair the fortifications of another. If holding both isn’t an option, then the team will need to choose one or the other. Though, sometimes the conditions may play off each other, such as perhaps a mission to craft some number of an item and another to sacrifice the same item to the gods.
I really dig this system because it not only creates a bit of randomness to the campaign, but also creates an opportunity for crafters to directly contribute to victory. It reinforces the viability of being a pure crafter in a PvP-centric game, which I think is a really smart move. I also like how the system makes each campaign subtly different, even if nothing else changed.
Looking forward, this is a system that can easily be supplemented to create new and interesting conditions going forward. Also, campaigns can have conditions restricted to fit a specific theme, which also calls back to the idea that rulesets for different campaigns can be tweaked over time to allow players the choice of something different or returning to popular favorites.
My only concern is that there’s no such thing as a secret once more than one person knows. I don’t think there’s any way to prevent other factions from learning quickly what everyone’s victory conditions are. This seems more like a system that’ll be more effective in the Guild verses Guild campaigns than the ones featuring larger, especially self-elected, factions.
Divine Favor will also be used to help subtly promote the lore of Crowfall.
Now, what I’d really like to see is this system expanded slightly to the individual level. If each person had randomized conditions that they could complete to contribute some modest amount of points to conditions, this would greatly increase the ability of crafters to contribute to victories. Perhaps additional conditions could be randomly reassigned each day or week to give players personal goals that continue to update throughout the course of the campaign.
Not only would such a system be a good ranking and recruiting tool for the often less glorified role of dedicated crafter, but it’d be a system that would also reward players for being active in the game. Something that gives players a tangible and time-sensitive goal also helps build a sense of suspense around the game that I think also helps with immersion.
Another major system soon to be implemented in Crowfall is the city building mechanic. Not quite what I thought it was when I first heard it, this is a mechanic that will have teams electing to build different types of structures in their captured keeps. These structures will range from cosmetic to some that provide bonuses of various types.
If nothing else, this is a great mechanic that will feed into some of the Divine Favor conditions and will help expand that system. It’s also yet another opportunity for crafters to step up in a meaningful way to contribute to their faction’s success in the campaign. Yes, I know I’m big on anything that’s good for crafting, but that’s because I think PvP-with-a-Purpose is the holy grail of MMOs and crafting is a critical part of that.
Some keep improvements will be cosmetic, others may increase innate defense by increasing the durability of fortifications or spawning NPC guards, and yet others will grant bonuses to gear crafted at stations in the keep.
Crafting these large function-supporting structures won’t be easy and will be a core consumer of the caravan system, which of course is also fodder for Divine Favor conditions. This means that opposing factions have even more reason to interdict caravans, which of course drives PvP.
Todd tells me that the different buildings could provide bonuses to armor or weapons, or they might even spawn NPC guards to defend the keep. It’ll be a system where factions have to decide which advantages they’d like to have and which to give up, because players won’t have the option of building all of them. Combined with the Divine Favor system, it could create some really interesting conflicts where situationally, one keep improvement would be better, but the bonus points from another may encourage players to take the harder road.
The only thing that I didn’t think to ask about the system is how a faction decides which improvement to build. Whether it’s a faction vote or just a race to provide the resources and the first resource benchmark hit is what gets built, I don’t know. It’s also possible that the mechanic may debut in Guild verses Guild, where the obvious answer is that the guild leader makes the choice. I’m not sure which way they’ll go, but I’m confident it’ll be hammered out eventually.
Another cosmetic, but impactful, improvement coming in the next release will be seasonal terrain changes. This should help a lot with immersion and spotlight the temporal nature of campaigns.
My meeting at ACE started with a lot of expectation setting. I think the team knows they’ve been doing a lot of foundational work and they know that outside the dev pit, you don’t really see a lot of the results of what they’re doing. There’s this sense that work has slowed down, and I’ve seen the exact same thing on other games. That’s actually why it’s not something that would bother me much. Before every game pushes into the next stage of development, this same sudden lag in observable content occurs, because there’s a large focus on things like optimization, security, and logging tools and UIs to support customer service.
It’s actually a good thing, if it were happening. Oddly, my concern (modest though it is at this point) is that the team actually has some surprisingly cool content in the pipe. I wasn’t expecting that, and even though I do find the new systems seriously cool, I’m very slightly concerned that those development resources were diverted from other work that’s needed before the team goes to… whatever we decide to call this next stage in the neo-development lifecycle.
I’m not scared by any means because the depth of experience and talent on the team easily allows them to deviate from the norm far more safely than most. There’s also a long record of consistent development at this point, so I’m probably more interested in the unexpected than concerned. That said, it’s something that caught my attention and that I’ll be trying to watch out for. If the team transitions to… It’s not really Alpha. Let’s call it ShadowBeta, because that’s probably more appropriate. If the team transitions to ShadowBeta in the next few months, then we know everything is okay. Much longer than that, we’ll need to ask some questions and start paying a little more attention, I think.
In the end, I’m very pleased with where Crowfall is in their development plan and I’m looking forward to the next year. I don’t think you’d be able to get anyone to commit to it, but I’m seeing next year as being a big year for Crowfall. We should see several phase lines crossed over the next several months and maybe some of the important dates around the project will start to firm up. Whatever happens, I’m going to have a lot of fun watching it and I hope you do as well.
NOTICE OF BIAS: Red Thomas is an SEC accredited investor and has invested in ArtCraft Entertainment, the studio developing Crowfall. While Red makes a good faith effort at subjectivity, unconscious bias is always possible, and readers should take the potential of bias into account.