It’s before daylight when I walk through my door and take the first steps of my trek to ArtCraft’s studios in Austin. Bundled against the wind-chills that are easily reaching the low fifties, I chuckle a bit to myself with the wry remark, “Winter is coming.” It’s decidedly ironic because I’m on my way to see a gamed called Crowfall, and there are indications that it’s drawn significant inspiration from the book come HBO series, Game of Thrones.
Gordon Walton, Todd Coleman, and their team are taking some time to show me a bit of what they’re working towards, and I think they are really on to something. The main reason I’m predicting success is because they’ve come up with a system that allows them to be wildly creative with very little risk to the long-term game, but they’ve also got a lot of other ideas going for them. Folks, this is a game you seriously want to watch. My only complaint about this development effort so far is that we’re going to have to wait to play.
The genius behind what these guys are doing is this idea of transitive game worlds inside the larger persistent meta-game. The persistence comes in the form of a home realm in which players can build their base of operations and have some sense of permanence. Todd tells me this portion of the game universe will have mobs and to some degree, a very limited amount of resources. This persistent realm, called the Eternal Kingdoms in the game’s parlance, is very resource poor and that’s the drive for players to visit the “Dying Worlds.”
Now, this is probably one of the most controversial moves these guys are making. I also happen to think it’s by far the most brilliant idea anyone has come up with in a very long time, and those who are panning it, very likely just don’t understand how it all works. The basic concept of the Dying Worlds is that outside the Eternal Kingdoms there are realms that are slowly falling into entropic decay.
These worlds are arranged in concentric bands around a central point known as “The Hunger,” the rules sets getting progressively more chaotic and hardcore towards the lowest layer. There are a whole lot of mechanics tied to this system that’ll be covered later in the article, but here’s the gist of it for now. Each level changes the PvP rules to make your list of potential enemies larger and limits the equipment each player carry in as they enter the campaign. Conversely, and as you’d expect, the rewards get better as the rulesets get progressively more hardcore.
Each world, or campaign as it is also be called, can exist for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. On the surface it sounds gimmicky and I think a lot of folks will be turned off by the idea of worlds that die periodically, but if that’s you stay with me a little longer.
Here’s why I think it’s the smartest thing since the initial crafting system in Star Wars: Galaxies, though. The developers can fail, and there’s a system built in to handle that nicely. Yeah. It’s that simple, but think about it a bit. It’s no secret that World of Warcraft, despite all its success, has also done a lot to stagnate the genre. Games are expensive to build, MMOs are more so, and no one in their right mind takes the massive risks that are needed if we’re to get over this creative hump when that sort of money is on the line. Well, that would be true unless the game were built around worlds and rulesets that constantly were deleted and rebuilt on new ideas. Seeing it now?
ArtCraft will be able to get as crazy as they want, try new items and new rule sets, new mobs, and anything else those insanely brilliant people come up with, and anything that doesn’t work as intended gets blown up in short order anyway. Things that do work well, will continue on in the mix to be recreated in another campaign.
Players also have a choice of which campaign they want to join, or if they want to join one at all. Todd Coleman notes in our conversation that there’ll be a number of very different campaigns to choose from at any given time. Various campaign rulesets will make for faster and slower campaigns, and players can even join mid-campaign if they prefer playing in the fall or winter seasons of the Dying Worlds. That should give the folks at ArtCraft great metrics on what players find fun, and what they don’t. It also means that they’re not limited to targeting rulesets for the majority, and can spin off the occasional campaign that smaller segments of the population enjoy.
One other massive advantage to the Eternal Kingdoms idea, is that it solves a lot of launch problems. How many games have you tried to play at launch, only to find the first few days are a total disaster? It’s so common to launch with fewer servers than what’s really needed, that the overcrowding of launch day and subsequent server mergers are a running joke in the gaming community. Won’t happen with Crowfall, though. They just kick off as many campaigns as they need, and then as the initial campaigns end they’ll kick off new ones paralleling the population demands.