Can RvR Ever Work?

Been reading a few of the “Woe is WAR” posts floating around like Keen’s and on The Greenskin.  I’m reminded of similar discussions around Pirates of the Burning Sea (technical issues aside) as the struggle for the soul of the game evolved.

I’m left with the question in my brain of whether a primarily Realm versus Realm MMO can really have any chance of succeeding, or whether the MMO genre is really just too poorly suited to this kind of gameplay.

A persistent world with persistent characters comes with a price that may have some inherent limitations or conflicts when brought into contact with most MMO character progression models.  I didn’t play DAOC in its heyday, so forgive the lack of insight there.

I wonder what discussions roiled around the conference room tables when the Mythics and Flying Labs of the world discussed designing a faction oriented pvp game.  Without being exhaustive, I’d think they have to have pretty good answers to questions like these, and more importantly, the answers to any of them can’t conflict with answers to others.  No small task indeed.

What happens if:

  • one side is more popular than another?
  • one class is more popular than others?
  • there are not enough people to overcome PvE objectives?
  • there are not enough pople to overcome RvR objectives?
  • the population is spread across a number of regions?
  • the population is spread across a range of experience?
  • one faction dominates RvR objectives?
  • no one engages in RvR?
  • if RvR objectives are only undertaken when there are no likely defenders?
  • if there are players that don’t want to engage in RvR?
  • if a faction is “victorious”?
  • if a faction is “defeated”?
  • players only have a 2-hour block of time to play?
  • if players are unable to coordinate with each other?

and on and on.  I’m beginning to think that as soon as you replace factional progression with individual advancement, you’ve lost the RvR game.  Likewise, the opposite seems true too– as soon as you replace individual advancement with RvR progression, you lose the MMO game.

A game about “us” seems incompatible with a game about “me” and vice versa.  I’m hoping someone proves me wrong.

Just to avoid any confusion, PvP /= RvR and doesn’t suffer the same conflicts.  “Warfare” in a PvP game like Eve, for example, is an extrapolation of a one v. one conflict to a many v. many conflict.  Though complicated conflicts require specialization and coordination (just like PvE games), Eve remains an individual experience, whether or not you are part of a big corporation, whether or not you are Gallente, Caldari, Minmatar or Amarr.

Ultimately the rewards of the corporate warrior or the doughty miner inure to the individual, and any collective effort via corps and alliances, etc. are at their core still motivated by that individual advancement mechanic.  In Eve, thats mostly pecuniary.  ISK is King, and all good things come from ISK.  In PvE games, that’s levels and loot.

Self selective collaborative group effort is still built on an individual achievement model, just like PvE MMOs.  We run the instance to get the loot for ourselves and for our group mates’ “selves” but not for any conceptualized “us”.

My individual interests may have been aligned with those of Varian Wrynn from time to time, but if the King of Stormwind said “Go slay 1,000 scourge”, the first thing that comes to mind is “What’s in it for me?”  PvP and PvE allow us to keep individual score.  An RvR game has yet to crack that nut.

So can it be done or are we all doomed to me first MMOs?

A Map Makes a World

I’ve forever been mesmerized by maps. You map people out there are already nodding your heads. Its the E gene in my Bartle EASK personality.

I know I spent more time studying the maps in the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion than I ever did reveling in Tolkien’s, ahem, poetry or songs… In my table top days (modules, blech), when I was GM, the world always started with a map– a world of mystery in which to reveal adventure. Dark and wild forests, high frozen wastes, searing deserts, storm tossed seas, windswept isles and perilous journeys in between…

The geography creates half the story. Consider the Caradhras Pass and Moria.

One of the things that grabbed me on day one about EQ’s Norrath was the map. As a wee noob, I could make the death defying run from Ak-Anon to Qeynos and see first hand the wide and dangerous world. Simply, the world was a place and that place was subdivided into wonderfully diverse and mysterious zones, all interconnected (zoning or no zoning, it still had the feel of being one world).

The map created that sense of space on Day One.

One of the things I’m missing a bit from Warhammer is the same feeling of one giant world. I’m told (though I haven’t tried) you can run from the noob zone to a capital city. I’ve no doubt it can be done with a certain amount of dying. Part of that feeling comes less from the way the game is designed (3 factions with four tiers of progression, each with matched pair zones) and more from simply the way the world is presented in the map.

The Warhammer map is kind of a chopped up affair. Somewhat sensibly, the default view is your zone view. But there are three relevant viewpoints for Warhammer maps– zone, “Campaign” or “pairing” and world. Unfortunately, switching between these views is a bit clunky, only marginally useful and frankly very unworld like despite the fact that the zones are contiguous. To go from viewing the Empire starting area, you need to either select a different campaign pairing from a menu selection in the upper right or select world or pairing view from buttons below the zone map.

In a Google maps world, I would hazard a guess that most users have some expectation to be able to zoom in and zoom out by simple left and right clicking. In a post-WoW world, I’d hazard a guess that MMO players would expect to be able to left click to zoom in and right click to zoom out to shift their frame of reference. Its not trivial whats lost in the translation.

The WoW world map is made up of actual clickable zones. Even if all the landmass isn’t accessible within them, each zone butts up against all the others (and is depicted as such) or is separated by some immersion consistent barrier (i.e. the ocean). Zone, right click, continent, right click, world, left click, other continent, etc. Like nested dolls, they all fit together. Ditto for LoTRO. Ditto for EQ2.

WARs zones are depicted as merely boxes on a world map underlay or they’re circles connected by dotted lines on the pairing map. Quite frankly, I feel like I’m living in boxes despite the fact that the world is quite broad and interconnected and the main roads (mostly) “line up” between them. Even though the world is much more WoW or EQ2 like (contigous zones) the map makes it feel like Age of Conan’s world in boxes! The truth is, Norsca connects directly with Troll Lands, so why the dotted line of mystery?

When you flip perspectives, you lose the sense of interconnectedness of the zones. Within a zone map, I’d like to be able to click to go to the immediately adjacent zone without going “back out” and “back in”. This is particularly cumbersome in the RvR lakes where the lake and objectives are spread across zone boundaries (separate discussion about whether having a battleground span a zone boundary is a good idea…).

A perfect example is the Tier 2 Empire/Chaos pairing of Troll Country and Ostland. In the RvR lake there, there is a battlefield objective (Monestary of Morr) and a keep (Stone Troll Keep) in Troll Country and another battle field objective (Crypt of Weapons) and a keep (Mandred’s Hold) in the adjacent Ostland zone. Mandred, the Crypt and the Monastery and the warcamps are a very short distance from each other.

Each faction has a warcamp conveniently located nearby and battles often zerg from one objective or keep to another depending on where the attackers and defenders might be tied up. Its quite a pain to see if a battle is happening just down the road which is technically in another zone by opening your map, selecting the pairing map, selecting the next zone and then clicking into that to see if there are any RvR battles going on, ooops shanked by a Witch Elf, gurgle dead.

Question whether it would have been a better design decision to make RvR lakes an indepdent zone between each of the pairing zones… Discuss.

Then there’s the mysterious criss cross between Tier 2 and Tier 3 in Empire/Chaos. Not being Tier 3 yet, I can’t verify what’s going on, but I’m getting a real EQ/Boat on the Ocean of Tears feeling about those zones…

Another aspect of the disjointed clunkiness of the map is the loss of navigational sense. Here, I’m mostly thinking of Saylah’s post regarding the defense of Altdorf. Altdorf is, ahem, a challenging city to navigate. That’s made more difficult by the fact that the Altdorf map, even if discovered, offers no labels for major landmarks, let alone zone access points.

Case in point. I’m a noob, Destro is making their move on Altdorf, I’m in Altdorf, and even if I’m aware of the attack and that I’m supposed to go to defend the Reikwald or the Reikland, where do I go? The Altdorf map offers no clue. Had I not happened across a swirly when I was looking for the entrance to the Sewers, I wouldn’t have been aware of it. Apparently, I’m not alone.

All of the activity in Altdorf revolves around market square, the flight master, the auction house and bank, etc. Even the noob “Tour of Altdorf” quest doesn’t take you near the War Quarters which are gigantic and largely deserted. A better depiction of Altdorf and its physical placement in the world answers that basic navigational issue. Where the hell is the gate to the city?

Its an irony of an RvR game that a faction’s capital city is entirely unaccessible to the low level player EXCEPT by flying in. Just like when we fly to a city we’ve never been to, we have no real sense of geographical place in our minds. Airports, taxis, buildings, traffic, hotels, but what lies beyond?

Consider EQ2 or WoW where all noob roads eventually lead to the big city and its sense of awe and wonder. No wonder all those peasants stay inside the walls, its a dangerous world out there! Goldshire it ain’t.

So that’s my rambling directionless Friday rant on WAR maps. Anybody else get the same feeling? The maps shape my virtual world view and my worldview feels like a bunch of boxes even though I know its not the case. I’d love to see some tweaks to the map to “bring the world together” a bit and make RvR FEEL like there’s a real R there.

Free-Style Groups

Saylah’s got a good read over at Mystic Worlds.  I started a response there and big surprise, it grew, so I decided to just flesh it out here.

In re static groupers in WAR… as a devotee, I’m not sure  that they would be less likely to be a fan of WAR.  I’m thinking just the opposite actually.  So far, our little static WoW group has found it quite the contrary.  We’ve migrated over and we’re seriously considering a “no set agenda” approach because unlike many other games its highly feasible in WAR when you consider the goals of a static group (at least ours anyway):  a means of creating a long term shared social experience through collaborative play.  We will still have to manage our level creep (*shakesfist*), but we can choose to follow our noses whereever they lead us (and opportunity presents itself).

So much in other games gets in the way of that, that about the only course left for many static groups is to lock into PvE content along a known progression model because players are penalized for deviating from that path.  Its all in group objective IMHO.  I don’t think our WoW paradigm of running all the instances at level translates well to a game like WAR, no should it because there is so much more to do.

The great thing that WAR seems to have done somewhat agnostically (and as you mentioned WoW 1.0 did but is almost entirely extinct there now) is to permit many paths without creating a drastic preference or a penalty for most players.  Couple that with softening the level disparity in RvR via bolstering as well as not requiring an optimal group composition and you have a game that I think creates more opportunity for static group play than others.

In this regard, WoW BGs and public PvP areas are a spectacular failure.  All the incentives go the wrong way and at the expense of other types of play.

The chord that resonated with me most from Saylah’s post was the notion of preference and penalty applied to play styles.  This is it exactly.  In its zeal to cater to the solo player, WoW threw the group out with the bath water for the leveling game.  (Excuse me, but I thought that WAS the game…)  Its no secret the grouping for ordinary PvE content yields significantly less XP and divides loot more than experiencing the same content solo.  WoW now has a default group penalty.  XP/5 per hour is significantly less that XP/1 per hour.  Collect 10 foozle gizzards becomes collect 50 foozle gizzards in a group, etc.

More’s the irony then that homogenization of character development and “forced grouping” is required to experience the so called “end game” raid grind.  Alternative specs need not apply.

So far our little group can hop in and choose between doing some PQs, regular quests, RvR scenarios or open world RvR (with our without dozens of other players)– all together and all on a roughly equal footing.  As a matter of fact, some of the most fun we had was defending a T2 battlefield objective with others that was under attack that we just happened to be near.  Random, spontaneous, situational and fun.  You don’t know when or where the enemy will attack.  Good xp and renown too.

/craft rant on

Its not just XP as the be all end all either.  Many crafters know all to well that much grinding of gathering materials (ostensibly with no “reward” other than the mats which will get consumed) will be required to develop your skill and through the course of that development, countless hundreds of all but useless items will be required to be manufactured generally at a loss of gold and a penalty of time away from other activities that the developers have sought to reward (i.e., the preferred combat-based progression model).  If you don’t level the traditional way as well, you can’t gain access to the higher level materials required to progress in the craft and as the low level stuff is generally crap, you’re not going to produce your way into the high level mats through the economic game nor can you train/learn recipes without attaining the required level…

Your “peers” that quest solo, or forestall taking up a craft until its progression to utility is all but trivialized (i.e., starting at 70 and powerleveling it) will level more quickly and acquire and retain more wealth and material items (hence “unlocking” additional content) more quickly than someone engaging in a non-traditional path.  Not that I’m such a complete carebear, but in just one fantasy MMO, I’d like to have the opportunity to have a purely economically driven archetype that truly “progressed” in a manner roughly equivalent to its combat-oriented counter parts.  Not an uber Warrior who, oh by the way, can also make his own health potions, but an Alchemist that spends his or her career becoming increasingly powerful as an Alchemist doing alchemical things like, um, alchemy to progress.  Specific content, specific gameplay, unique progression.

The closest I can think of would be Eve and (maybe pre-NGE SWG). WAR is still lacking this part.

/craft rant off

WAR is far from perfect is this regard, but it has come a good deal in the right direction IMHO in providing a number of roughly equivalent alternative advancement paths, individually or group wise.  Because of these alternatives, I think it will be a good vehicle for static group play.

Pithy Insightful Commentary

Actually not.  Its just hard to come up with continuing variations on a “Weekend Update” theme.

WoW

The instance group is on temporary hiatus due to certain vacation plans, so while we are all about 68+, the slog up the final Hillary Step seems to be exactly that.  A slog.

We have been extraordinarily efficient in leveling almost exclusively via instance work once a week and only one other noninstance session each week which, particularly since the 2.3 patch, has allowed us to pretty much remain level appropriate for all instances with our modest play budget.  With the crack like concentrated xp that instance work has generated, its very hard to feel like you’re making any progress by “merely” doing quests.  Even more so when you’re running a group of more than two or three.

As Wilhelm, the Ancient Gaming Noob reported, we lifted our self imposed stay at level rule for our group since we were so close to 70.  Playing mostly with the group twice a week, I hadn’t really noticed how significant the solo bias has crept in.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pro solo experience but I’m also very pro small group.

A week or so ago, I happened to take a Sunday– ostensibly a non-WoW day– to grind a bit to get over the hump to level 68.  Several of us were still stuck in the last half of 67.  In a matter of a relatively short time, I knocked out some green quests in Terrokar and Shadowmoon to get over the hump.  Others of our group, playing only during our “appointed” group times twice a week have failed to keep pace when doing non-instanced content.

No news here, but for the same amount of time that we play together, we make less progress than had we undertaken the same content for the same amount of time.  Playing with a group of three or four, we simply don’t make as much progress as a solo or group of two.

That’s frustrating.  Instance minimum is five but if I can’t make the same experience (or more) working together with a group for the same amount of play time, something’s borked.

EQ2

So much for WoW.  Mrs. P and I logged into EQ2 for a brief session and managed to level and nearly get another as we scale the teens and try to remember how to play the game.

Diablo

Like so many other bloggers, we took obvious note of Blizzard’s announcement of Diablo III.  Go them.  Despite the gameplay being so NOT MMO, I loved the original and will give them at least $50 as a nostalgia dividend.  If the multi works decently enough, I could see our WoW group trying to explore this game ad nauseum.

Others

Given my state of boredom with the MMO space, I downloaded the Spore creature creator and spent some time playing with that.  Lots of fun and I’m very interested in seeing what the rest looks like.

One of our instance buddies mentioned that he had been looking around for something else and mentioned Sins of a Solar Empire. I started drooling at the possibility of rekindling an RTS night.  Before MMOs, RTS games (C&C, Warcraft, AoE, AoK) ruled our universe for years and Sins seems like a good opportunity to go there again.

Blogosphere

I can’t believe the continuing “conversation” that has grown from Richard Bartle’s off the cuff comments “I’ve played Warhammer.  Its called World of Warcraft.”  or somesuch (I’m too tired to link the quote).  Raph Koster has weighed in and said that MMOs left more features of MUDs behind than they implemented.  A ridiculous quasi-historical discussion ensued on Raph’s site that seems to be racing to discover the Big Bang of the current MMO genre.  Most folks left it at  D&D was a major root influence from which all or most MUDs, MOOs, MUSHs, and later MMOs flowed.

So we owe everything to Gary Gygax’s Chainmail (R.I.P.) or Avalon Hill or Tolkien or Risk or Parchesi.  Meh.   Two questions go unanswered in all this conflated Gas Baggery:  1) Why hasn’t anyone innovated on the basic game mechanics in 50 years and 2) WTF happened to the single most distinctive feature of the table top gaming system that purportedly evolved into MUDs and MMOs:  the Game Master.

Absent the game master, the game is simply a ruleset, generally applied to static content.  No MMO to date has anything even close to the approximation of a real live breathing game master.  Therein lies the next generation my friends.

We can all learn how to kill Van Cleef as a staged, canned encounter.  Its the same whether its a group of 5 alliance mages or a mixed group of hordies or a level 70 warlock and 4 various classed noobs or whatever.  “Van Cleef pay big for your head.”  And you for the box and the subscription.  Make that encounter dynamic based on the level and mix of classes in the encounter– and what they’ve done in the virtual world then to date– and I’ll buy stock in that company.

Non Game

Finally, it warmed my heart to hear that the 73 year old Leonard Cohen stole the show at the Glastonbury Festival.  My faith in humanity may have been restored.

And the first tomato from my garden was harvested and it was good.

P out.

Lost Colonies

Reactive blogger that I am, and bored with all that is MMO at the moment, I decided to take up Tobold’s $50 Million Question, so here goes.  Anyone who’s been reading for while might recognize some of the themes I’ve touched on before.

Name of the game: Lost Colonies (working title)

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Short description of gameplay: 3d space fantasy (sword and planet) universe with action taking place both on planets (cities, zones), spacestations and in interplanetary space.  Several unique aspects– multiple modalities of gameplay from traditional hack to ship based combat to non-combat tycoon activities.  Players and guilds could occupy and control planets, moons, asteroids etc.  Another unique aspect would be a reconceptualizing of the guild system– players could belong to multiple guilds simultaneously and guilds would be able to own and operate property in its own right (more on that below).

Business model: I’ll be boring and say box + low monthly + velvet rope

Backstory

The backstory similar to that of Eve or Battlestar Galactica, DS9 or any number of other sci-fi IPs:  colonists of Earth long ago departed for the far reaches of the galaxy after discovering messages being transmitted from some ancient beacon.  The unravelling of the beacon mystery is the epic storyline that unites all the factions.  Technology being what it was at the time, the colonists departed on what was understood to be a one-way journey, each headed off to the location of a different beacon.

Colonists arrived, adversity ensues, generations pass and each ends up taking their own unique adaptive and evolutionary course based on their unique circumstances.  At the time the game begins, the sundered colonies are spread out over a large but navigable sector of the galaxy far from the now mythical earth.  Each of the colonies has devolved into factions that don’t necessarily get along with each other.  Only in recent generations has each developed to the point where travel and communications among the various colonies has become possible.

Archetypes

Five homeworlds representing the five defacto races each with different archetypal traits as a result of their independent divergent evolution since their departure from earth.  Each of the archetypes would have rock-paper-scissors like strengths and weaknesses:

Colony 1.  Humans 1.0.  First would be basic humans which pretty much survived intact and suffered the least differentiation from their Earth ancestors.  Like the Terrans in Starcraft, they are versatile but equally vulnerable.

Colony 2.  Biological Mutants.  Crash landing on an environmentally unfriendly planet resulted in a massive loss of life and the survival only of those resistant to the initial effects of radiation and environmental hazards.  In order to survive, the mutants became extraordinary genetic engineers and developed ways to influence and select favorable mutations in themselves and organisms in their worlds.  Mutants have unlocked previously unknown abilities of the human mind.

Colony 3.  Cyborgs.  Similar to mutants, they were dealt a different set of cards and evolved to developed and exploit technology and augment themselves to adapt to their circumstances.  Resistance is futile.

Colony 4.  Convicts.  One of the great colonial experiments was to offer commutation of sentences for convicts who volunteered to leave Earth to earn their freedom and a new start on a new world.  Old ways died hard and the convicts usurped their masters to set up a civilization that ran by their rules.  Don’t drop the soap.

Colony 5.  Capitalists.  Similar to the convicts, the capitalists usurped civilian rule to establish an amoral state focused entirely on economic exploitation of space and their neighbors.

Gameplay

Most of the traditional MMO features but with a bit less emphasis on the individual.  Player combat would be somewhat MMO-FPS like– swords, blasters and psi-magic.  Ship combat would be less Eve and more X-Wing fighter.

Character advancement would be largely skill based with strengths and weaknesses of the various archetypes impacting but not limiting the ability to specialize in various areas.  There would be no classes or professions per se– they are in essence one and the same and mastery is attained by deploying skills toward your desired end.  The entire amount of skill points deployable would be limited, so that even though a player could choose to master anything, they would not be able to be a master of everything at once.

Careers could be changed, though not instantaneously.

Players and enterprises (discussed next) could colonize existing planets, moons, asteroids, etc. and build outposts, factories, facilities in space.

Enterprises

For want of a better term, I’ll retread Eve’s Corporations aka Guilds for a player affinity group I’ll call Enterprises.  Enterprises, operate like simplified corporations in our world: they are in effect persistent gameworld entities that can own property in their own right, have their own internal set of governance rules and allow different degrees of individual ownership.The big innovation is that a player is not limited to one enterprise.

Items and structures can be owned by an enterprise outright, not by its members individually, so individuals could set up say a mining processing business by building a structure on a planet, moon, asteroid etc. and set up shop.  In this instance, the facility could actually serve the public (for a fee) if desired.  An enterprise could buy, sell and build assets and the proceeds would be distributed automatically to its members in accordance with their ownership interest.

Each enterprise would have a governance system established at its founding and could only be changed in accordance with its determined ruleset.  Board of governors or single iron fisted executive, you choose.

Since players could participate in multiple enterprises, there are many many opportunities for “orthogonal” gameplay and player collaboration.

PvP, RvR

It has to be there but on the frontiers of civilization.  I think Eve got this right with the concept of security space.  Out in 0.0, its anyone’s game.  In 1.0, its basically carebear PvE.  Players would have individual faction with different “realms” but their actions would contribute toward RvR status.  If the Convicts are raiding a lot of Capitalist shipping, a state of war could result turning each into attackable opponents and KoS to NPCs unless individual faction was high enough to “trade with the enemy”.

Player activities would influence the RvR state– real and economic warfare could result in a “victory state” occurring such that hostilities cease and the benefits of victory persist for some period of time– i.e. favorable exchange rates, prices etc. for the victor and likewise unfavorable tolls and fees for the vanquished.  Likewise, diplomatic and trade activities could result in an Alliance state developing with similar benefits to all of the alliance members.

Finally, the more a faction occupies an area of “neutral” space, it will eventually become that faction’s territory.

Careers

For the solo player, canned career groups or enterprises would be available.  Stay in the Terran Navy for your entire career, join the Capitalist Geological Survey or launch your own enterprise when you’re ready.

Epic Story Line

There are two natural overarching story lines just waiting to be explored– Is Earth real or just a Myth and Who or What is Responsible for the Ancient Beacons?

Velvet Rope

With a space based game, there are no natural limitations to the game space allowing for the easy addition of new worlds.  A velvet rope business model would allow both devs and players to incrementally expand.  Traditional big expansions could be implemented for major content additions, but incremental expansion could drop in new content which players could unlock for a small fee, expanding the playable universe for them.

Alright, this has gotten long enough.  Back to thinking about Diablo III.