Developer Journal #5
Mission Designer discusses the PvP system
Hello, everyone. My name’s Raymond Wood, and I’m a mission designer for Pirates of the Burning Sea. I joined Flying Lab earlier this year and have been having a great time shouting “Arrrrr” at all my coworkers. Normally, mission designers build PvE missions and combat encounters, but recently I was lucky enough to lend my mission expertise to one of the coolest parts of the PvP system.
Our first design goal when we sat down to work out the details of the PvP system can be summed up in one word: “Relevance.” Too many games place PvP on the borders, as something that happens at the edge of the map between players who aren’t necessarily tied in to the rest of the game. Often, PvP takes place in areas that are wholly separated from the main geography of the game. That isolation makes the player versus player struggles seem less exciting to us, so our first decision was to place the PvP in places players go, places they care about. In Pirates of the Burning Sea, the hottest PvP areas will be right in the middle of the map, where players live and trade and do missions.
At the appointed time for the port battle, you and the rest of the British players are pulled into the Ready Room. This is an avatar space where you can form groups, and lay out an order of battle. On the Ready Room’s tables, you find charts showing the port, the fort’s location, and lines of approach. You don’t want to take too long, though, because while you’re here, the Spanish are setting their ships up outside their port.
When you’re prepared, you go through the Ready Room’s door, board your ship, and start sailing on the port. The Spanish are arrayed against you, ready to blow you out of the water—or splinter their hulls under your own fire! If you wish, you can remain in the Ready Room to sail in when reinforcements are needed, but anyone who hasn’t joined the fight after ten minutes is considered a no-show for the battle.
Our second design goal is “player decisions matter.” We think the most interesting part of a PvP conflict isn’t the numbers scrolling on your screen when you crush another player captain, but the clever strategy you came up with that let you beat him without losing a single crewman. To that end, every decision you make, from which port to attack to whether to load your guns with roundshot or grape, is a decision we want to matter.
How the battle goes is influenced by choices the British players made in the three days leading up to the battle, while the port was in contention. During this time, missions and fights in the PvP hotspot around San Juan earned conquest points for England. England’s point total activates conquest benefits in the port battle itself.
I mentioned “lines of approach” earlier. When your side has 100 or more conquest points, you unlock the Approach benefit and the Ready Room changes a little: instead of one door leading to your ship, there are now three. Each door starts your ship at a different position outside the port harbor, on an approach from the north or from the west or from the south. You can split your forces for a two-pronged attack, or launch a small diversion from one side while the bulk of the fleet attacks from another.
At the 350 point level, you earn the Fort Sabotage benefit. Saboteurs sneak into the fortress protecting San Juan and plant bombs in the powder stores. During the battle, the bombs explode, damaging the fort and weakening its offense.
With 600 conquest points, you receive a status effect called Advantage: Morale, which regenerates your morale at a faster rate so you can use more skills, more often.
Earning the maximum 1000 points grants everyone on your side the Advantage: Surprise benefit, which makes your ships very hard to spot for a full minute after entering the battle. This lets you take best advantage of the tactical flexibility that Approach offers.
Our design philosophy for the conquest benefits is “more points = more excitement.” Earning higher level benefits gives your side not just more power in the battle, but more tactical flexibility. As a subgoal, the attacker benefits are designed to support aggressive tactics rather than slow advances. The defender’s benefits, on the other hand, favor holding the attackers at range for as long as possible.
We considered and dismissed the idea of adding NPC allies for two reasons. First, it isn’t as much fun when an NPC is the star of the battle as it is when the players win all the glory. Second, our battle size is based on performance limitations. If we can squeeze five more ships into the fight, we want them to be sailed by players. So what happens if one side has more players lined up for the fight? We’re not going to coddle you—PvP is a grim, hard business, and if you don’t work with other players in your nation, you’re going to lose ports. That said, the times the port battles take place are not set by players, and we expect every major battle to cap its size limits for both sides.
And of course, the most important design goal for any game system has to be “Fun.” We’re all really excited about the game in general and PvP conflict in particular. Every week, we run PvP playtests and blow each other out of the water. It just never gets old to hear someone yell, “Arrrrgh!!!!” as their ship slips below the waves.
- Raymond Wood, Mission Designer
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