You’ve probably heard that former Mythic studio head Mark Jacobs is back in the saddle again. He is laying the groundwork for an MMORPG called “Camelot Unchained” (CU) that will be funded via Kickstarter.
Jacobs has been a significant player in the gaming industry, as his studio launched DAoC (Dark Age of Camelot) and WAR (Warhammer Online), the former being the RVR experience many players point to as the one they loved the most, and the latter not so much. For the record, I played WAR but not DAoC.
In this article, I’m take a look at CU Foundation Principles 2 through 4 and provide “Harvey Balls” ratings for particular points:
I believe this design decision will significantly enhance the gaming experience
I believe this design decision will enhance the gaming experience
I’m neutral on this design decision
I believe this design decision will be detrimental to the gaming experience
I believe this design decision will be significantly detrimental to the gaming experience
CU is a TriRealm™, RvR-focused game. It is not an RvR-centric game like Dark Age of Camelot and it is certainly not a “just bolt on the RvR; that will work!” game like so many others. It is as pure an RvR game that I have ever worked on, plain and simple. Everything in this game is geared to the TriRealm concept, whether it is the crafting system, housing, skill progression, etc. You will explore, fight, capture, level, etc. all within a competitive RvR world that was crafted with this FP in mind.
Halle-freaking-lujah! I’ve been waiting for years for a fantasy MMORPG to take this approach.
Developers have repeatedly made the mistake of trying to do too much. Trying to provide leveling PVE content and endgame/raid PVE content and battleground/arena/structured PVP content and World PVP content in the same game doesn’t make sense, because
- It’s too much content to create and manage, and
- It creates too many different contexts where classes perform unevenly, and
- Changes made to balance classes in one context often impacted other contexts, e.g. “don’t nerf my PVE because of stupid PVP” or vice versa
Developers have often tried to do too much without pleasing any particular customer segment, and as a result most games have been unable to sustainably grow their active player base.
Focusing strictly on RvR is K.I.S.S., and it’s smart because it lets your customers self-select whether they want to play the game, and it enables the developer to focus on building and balancing the game around a single context.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe that having 3 factions is the way to go for World PVP. Games with 2-faction single-server World PVP are too susceptible to population imbalances, as we’ve seen from SWTOR. ArenaNet delivered an additional layer of innovation for 3-faction World PVP with their World versus World in Guild Wars 2 by having factions (servers) matched up based on performance on a ladder.
Foundational Principle #3 – You should always hold the hands of your little children while crossing busy intersections but…
our players are not children and this is not an intersection crossing.
Basically Jacobs is talking about not dumbing down the game.
Let me break down select points made under FP3.
Case #1 – Follow the blinking line to your quest-giver like one follows the road of yellow bricks
By always knowing where you are going and eliminating the chance of getting lost, we also lost some of the frustration but also the fun and feeling of discovery, of exploring and gaining familiarity with a new world and the satisfaction that entailed.
In CU, there will be no blinking lines to follow, maps will be very simplistic and non-interactive (except in certain locations) and players will need to learn the world’s terrain to have the best chance to succeed.
This sounds good in theory, and I’ve always thought that the concept of leveling zones was cheesy and artificial, especially in games where due to power creep you could return to earlier zones and 1-shot the mobs.
Case #3 – Respecs and/or borking your build
When first conceived, respecs were hailed as a great innovation for both players and developers alike. While their overuse occasionally resulted in “flavor of the month” problems, they served as both a safety net for players who wanted to rebuild their character(s) for a variety of reasons.
In CU, while we want our players to have as much flexibility as they can within our class-based system, we will leave it up to them to decide if a certain combination of skills/abilities is a good idea and then, for the most part, hold them to that decision. While players of CU will have limited access to respecs, they will be difficult to acquire except when made necessary by a major change to the character class, in which case the players will, of course, get a free class respec.
Ease of respecing is foundational to providing a fun customer experience. Players love to experiment with different builds, playstyles, and roles. And remember, regardless how easy or hard it is to respec, the community will eventually sort out FOTM builds based on the current game and class mechanics.
I played World of Warcraft (WoW) back in Vanilla and if you respec’d frequently enough, the cost of a respec was 50g. That was a non-trivial amount of in-game currency, and it sucked having to tediously farm gold to be able to spec for a given context (raids or battlegrounds) or simply to try different specs out for the same context (e.g. PVP only). Granted, CU is RVR only, but even for a single context, ease of respecing is still important. E.g. one of the features I loved about WAR was that the cost of respecing was trivial, which led to lots of fun experimentation with a given class in RVR.
Let me break down select points made under FP4.
Example #2 – Race/gender selections
The races/genders will be very different from each other in terms of their starting stats/abilities but also in numerous other ways. For example, certain races/genders are better attuned to the sources of magical power in the world. I know some people will complain that this is not fair but that is how it is going to be in CU, where these choices matter.
The issue here is not of fairness. It’s being pressured to roll specific race/gender combinations to compete, in which case there really isn’t a choice anymore; the choice has been made for you by the developer. What if a male Halfling is the best Rogue, or a female Elf is the best Mage, and you want to play those classes but dislike those gender/race combinations?
With RPGs such as pen-and-paper D&D, having racial bonuses was for the most part OK (e.g. Elves got a +1 “to hit” bonus, or 5%, when wielding a bow or long sword), because the game was more about decisions by the players not math-based outcomes.
The issue with today’s MMORPGs is that they tend to be heavily based on math-based outcomes. Having even a moderate bonus to abilities or stats tends to make a difference (e.g. downing a boss before the rage timer, etc). I have yet to play an online game where racial bonuses or differences created a net-positive experience, especially for PVP.
Final example: I want to play a mage who likes to play with fire, a lot.
After deciding that a female Tuatha De Danann gives you a nice little bonus and after some serious min-maxing, you now have a character you cleverly call Fiastrtr. She cannot wield a heavy sword (at least not well) but now it is time to kick it up a notch. You choose to take “The Vow” and in exchange for not letting cold iron/steel touch your skin, you increase your attunement with magic. You also choose “You move like a pregnant yak!” (Not the real name but I could not resist a movie quote) further reducing your usefulness in melee but once again increasing your magical attunement.
Creating these kind of tradeoff decisions – what Extra Credits termed “incomparables” – is good game design, because it allows the player to make conscious choices about how their character performs without having decisions forced on them. This kind of class customization is what is made me very interested in The Elder Scrolls Online as I wrote in January.
I’ll take a look at the later Foundation Principles in later article(s), but I’m curious to hear what you think about these FPs referenced above.