Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Ogres picking daisies

I never played much of the original Guild Wars, which probably comes to no surprise to you, given the game's PvP focus and my dislike of PvP. So Guild Wars 2 wasn't high up on my list of games I'm waiting for. But in the open Sunday thread several readers asked about my opinion about the announced Guild Wars 2 Dynamic Events System. So I looked it up, and I really liked what I saw. Not just the announced feature, but also the writing about the feature, which reads a lot more like a blog than like some marketing hype. Quote:
For example, in a traditional MMO, the character who gives you a quest will tell you ogres are coming to destroy the character's home, and you need to kill them. You then get a quest which says, "Kill 0/10 ogres" and you proceed to kill a bunch of ogres standing around in a field picking daisies. Since every player in the game needs to be able to do this quest, the ogres will never actually threaten the character's home - they will just eternally pick daisies in the field. The ogres aren't actually doing what the quest says they are - the game is lying to you!

At ArenaNet, we believe this is NOT good enough. In Guild Wars 2, if a character tells you ogres are coming to destroy a house, they will really come and smash down the house if you don't stop them!
Now several people said that this is just like the public quests in Warhammer Online, but to me it doesn't sound like that. I rather have the impression that any situation has several possible "states", and it is the player's actions that influence what state the situation is in. Look at this quote:
If an enemy dredge army is marching out of their main base, players will be asked to mobilize with their allies and help destroy the army. If the dredge army is defeated, other events will cascade out from there. Players will be able battle their way inside the dredge base, face off against their commander, rescue captured friendly troops being held in the dredge prisons, and even hold the captured base while fighting waves of dredge, who arrive from deep underground to try and take back their home.

If, on the other hand, players fail to destroy the army, it will establish a fort in friendly player territory. From there, the dredge will send shipments of troops and supplies to the fort from the main base while building up walls, turrets, and siege engines to help defend it. Enemy dredge forces will then begin to move out from their newly established fort to attack friendly player locations in the area, sending snipers out into the hills, sending assault team forces to capture friendly player villages, and trying to smash down friendly fortifications with massive dredge walkers. All of these events continue to cascade out into further chains of events where cause and effect is directly related to the player's actions.
That sounds a whole lot like what I've been asking for nearly a year ago. Not that I believe ArenaNet got the idea from me, but players have been asking for more dynamic virtual worlds for ages. How many million times have players told Mankrik that his wife is dead? And he *still* keeps asking every passerby to look for her. The current generation of MMORPGs is static, with most things resetting within minutes, and nothing ever changing unless the change is part of a patch.

And I believe that it is because of the fundamental truth of the above quoted "the game is lying to you!" that players stopped reading quests and just look at the reward and click accept. Why should I be interested in the long story how the dragon kidnapped the princess, if I know that 5 minutes after I slay the dragon and rescue the princess, the dragon will be alive again and the princess back in captivity? Rescueing the princess has no impact on the world around me, so I concentrate on that what *has* an impact: The 10,000 xp and Sword of Uberness quest reward. The quest text being, well, text doesn't help, but I don't think that is main reason players just aren't interested. Which is why I believe Guild Wars 2 has the better idea here, with the dynamic event system, than Bioware has with their "4th pillar of storytelling" for Star Wars: The Old Republic. If the stories of SWTOR don't have any impact and everything resets 5 minutes later, players will click through voiceovers as fast as they clicked through text to get to the list of rewards and the accept button.

Having said that, a dynamic virtual world also has obvious pitfalls. The player population in any given zone goes up and down with time: There are more players online during prime time than at night, and newbie zones are full shortly after release, and then get progressively emptier, with a bulk of players moving through the various zones as they level up. That was one of the problems the public quests of Warhammer had, a public quest or dynamic event with a big invasion isn't much use to you if you are alone in that zone. And when the zone is crowded, the event becomes too easy, which also isn't all that much fun.

Nevertheless now I started looking forward to Guild Wars 2, even if it won't be out before next year. I would really like to see how they actually implement those ideas about a dynamic virtual world. Because if they do it right, this could easily become the next big thing.
It does sound neat, but I wonder how players will feel if they don't get to experience a quest because it's no longer available due to the world being dynamic?

And actually, what it sounds like they are doing is branching, multi-part quests. I wouldn't be surprised if the fort with the dredges resets at some point and it starts all over again with them amassing an army and marching.
I wouldn't be surprised if the fort with the dredges resets at some point

I would hope that it doesn't reset by itself, but that the existence of that dredge fort causes quests to spring up that ask the players to drive them out. Thus the reset is player-driven again. Yes, there can only be a limited number of states, maybe there are even just two, but with the players determining which state the game is in, it makes all the difference.
That's very innovative, but completely breaks the theme park model of WoW. In a theme park (Disneyland is one famous example), you get on a ride and experience the same thing each time. The only impact from other patrons is that a high population can result in long queues to get on your ride. The benefit is that the player experience can be carefully engineered.

Allowing players to influence the state of quests moves it a step towards sandbox, which makes it harder to control the experience. For example, a player entering a zone for the first time will jump into the middle of a story-quest-chain and have to figure out what's going on. Similar to zoning into a battleground you've never seen before. True, this is more like real life, and your actions can have more impact (until the eventual storyline reset). But it can be more confusing or disjointed.

The other thing I worry about is the amount of design work it takes to make balanced, playable multi-stage quests.
There are a handful of MMO's I wish I had gotten to play at the very start and in its heyday. Asheron's Call, DAoC, and Guild Wars. So I am looking forward to this newest iteration very much.

As for Dynamic Events, I seem to recall similar promises made with WAR's public quests. So I'll just say that sounds nice but I'll believe it when I see it in action.
The interview over at sheds a bit more light on the system, especially down towards "How do Guild Wars 2's dynamic events differ from similar sounding, already existing game mechanics like, say, public quests in Warhammer Online?".
The key to GW2's dynamic events working is the difficult scaling. IMHO, this is why WAR's PQ's weren't as successful as they could have been.

I joined WAR on launch day and had a great time in the noobie zones because they were packed with people. The PQ's were great fun. I had to break for a couple weeks and when I came back most people had moved on and there were fewer people available for PQs. This meant the best 2 or 3 of us could do is Phase 1 or maybe Phase 2. And grinding Phase 1 of a PQ was usually the lowbiest thing you could do, i.e. defeat 10 waves of 3 lowbie mobs. It degenerated into grinding greens, and I never got to see Phases 2 or 3 of most PQs I tried. Now, you could say I should have been playing with people, but the thing is I tried and there just weren't people around who were interested in the PQ I was working on. Not really my fault.

GW2's scaling may end up creating some silly moments (i.e. 1 guy defeating an "massive invasion" of 3 mobs) but that's preferable to the PQ alternative.
Whether or not ArenaNet will deliver on creating a more dynamic "real" feeling world remains to be seen, but this post immediately put it atop the list in terms of MMOs I'm paying attention to. Hopefully they can deliver.
A dynamic world is preferable in my book, but I've long believed that you have to do away with a wide power band to really make it work. That can alleviate the "population has moved on" problem, as players of any level can contribute and have fun at any location.

That's also a key that the GW guys are focusing on; making fun moment to moment, rather than grinding to the point where you can start having fun. Time will tell if they pull it off, but it's a good design philosophy.
From a design standpoint, this isn't terribly different from what we have now in MMOs. The chain of encounters that constitute the "dynamic events" have to form a cycle (or at least reset) - perhaps larger/longer than in past games - or else the content generation becomes unmanageable. The events can't branch endlessly even if the branches are only binary.

I can envision two scenarios for how this plays out. In one a small stable of dynamic events particular to a region play out over the course of X duration and then reset. In another dynamic events are not tied to particular locations and can effectively be slotted into many locales. As one event plays out, another is queued up to occur after. The challenge then is in creating any kind of narrative consistency between what are self-contained experiences.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is not a sub based game. One of the motivations for this type of procedural system is to create as much or more content as a triple AAA MMO without the high continual development costs. Whatever you dream up about the implementation of this system has to keep that basic fact in mind.
While I do like the idea of these dynamic quests more than the usual static questing system, I’m skeptical that it’ll be anything to write home about. Most of that skepticism comes from the fact that these are the Guild Wars developers and I’d never use anything near the word “dynamic” to describe any part of Guild Wars.

To me it sounds kind of like a phasing system that is influenced by the players, which seems like a superficial take on the idea of actual dynamic gameplay. They may not reset like Warhammer’s public quests, but they will eventually loop. It may not feel static (Mankrik will never move on) but will probably feel futile (the AI will never actually get anything meaningful done, and the players are only able to influence the AI, not the world). We don't actually do any more than a static system, we just get to watch more scripted events.

A modern trend in FPS games is to increase immersion by creating cutscenes around the player. This gives the illusion of an exciting, changing environment while being able to control players in an even more linear fashion. This is what the system feels like to me. It’s an attempt to create specific content pretending to be dynamic so that the players are distracted from ever wanting to pursue actual dynamic goals. It will be ultimately very linear for the players, and marginally dynamic for the AI.

On another note as much as I love Star Wars, SWTOR’s philosophy of “let’s take the worst, most shallow parts from MMORPGs and single player games and smush ‘em together!” sounds awful. If I wanted to experience the story with someone else next to me I’d make a friend watch me play a single player game.
A more dynamic gameworld is good. The static and totally predictable nature of MMOs is one of the reasons i stopped playing them. SP games are so much better at creating believable, living gameworlds with depth. I do think that WAR had the right idea with PQs -the concept is brilliant- although the implementation could have been much much better. I too had a great time at the start in the noob zone, after which it all fell apart fast. Also these PQs (iirc) had a marginally random loot table. Excellent.
Bit puzzled by your opening remarks on not playing Guild Wars because of its "PvP focus". It's no more PvP focused than WoW. I wonder if, as with Fallen Earth, you've mistaken the pre-release hype for an accurate description of what's actually in the game?

I only played the original game when it came out but as far as I recall it has a large amount of PvE content which is completely separate from the PvP content. I don't believe it is even possible to engage in PvP in the world, which is almost all instanced. Don't you have to go to what are effectively battlegrounds to do PvP at all?

I've just bought the Complete Guild Wars and I will be very surprised indeed if it turns out I've bought a PvP game. I read a bunch of reviews before buying it and all any of them talked about was the PvE storyline.

As for GW2, it's currently the upcoming MMO I am most interested in, or neck-and-neck with FFXIV. GW2 looks like the reall innovator though.
How closely is Guild Wars 2 going to match 1 in instancing?

I mean this sounds like a neat idea, but given the developers this isn't as impressive if you are playing a single player game with multiplayer like guild wars was. Instancing and phasing both already in MMOs right now, even if having permanent instance results is new.
The initial release of Star Wars Galaxies had a simple implementation of a changing environment years ago. The village of Aurilia, where your force-sensitive character trained as a Jedi, cycled through several states: preparing to be attacked, being attacked & fighting off the attackers (IIRC). This cycle took place over several weeks (again IIRC).

Admittedly the cycle was fixed and not managed by players but it shows the idea does work. The loss of Aurilia was one of the (many) things bemoaned by old time SWG players. The recent re-incarnation of the village is not the same thing.

SWG also allowed for players to switch control of key towns from Empire to Alliance, and back. Though that didn't really have much impact on quests.
I think that this is a great idea, but one which has to be done very carefully. If you have a questline which branches, you basically have two options: It either loops to the original default state after the players win completely or lose completely, or the questlines branch out indefinitely.

The first option is not much different than the current implementation except the intermediate stages could vary from realm to realm. Players fight with enemies in an almost endless tug of war back and forth between states at each end of the questline. The second option requires developers to come up with a nearly infinite amount of content for every conceivable branching situation either before the game starts or add relevant questlines as the game is played out.

I'm interested to see how they implement this and keep it not only interesting but also viable.
Sounds really interesting.

technical issues aside, if it works it would be interesting what it will do to in game behaviour.

Would an obvious publicly visible cost of failure prompt gamers to group more often simply to ensure success, without a heavy rewards based motivation?
To answer Sine's question, GW2 will be an open world with instanced dungeons and personal storylines, which means that players can find and interact with each other outside of towns and outposts like other typical MMOs.
I wonder how similar GW2 will be to the original... The main thing that set GW apart from other MMOs was, in my opinion, the fact that outside towns EVERYTHING was instanced. On the one hand, it makes dynamic events much more feasible. On the other, it feels more like a single-player/co-op game with towns acting as sort of lobbies.
I like their ideas, but I have concerns. Mostly from past experiance with a certain cheif game designer that once decried the old school quests....BEARS, BEARS, BEARS! And if memory serves, the delivered product did not match his rhetoric!

Can Arenanet deliver on this vision, can we really move from a quest based system to an event based system? Would we not just quickly work out the patterns and feel the game is lieing to us?

I'm excited by the possibilies, but sceptical that those old MMO shackles can indeed be thrown off.

They will be scaling the events too (as more people participate, the harder it gets). There will be sure issues with balence with that I guess :D

I'm looking forward to this one though, no matter how much of their vision translates into reality!
Good follow up that may address some of the comments we've raised:
It's wonderful that GW2 will have this kind of dynamic world, but considering how much easier it is to implement such a thing in an instanced game vs. an open world game like WoW, I think crowing about it like it's some kind of achievement is sorta cheating at the PR game, honestly.

And he (Mankrik) *still* keeps asking every passerby to look for her.

Worst case of denial I've ever seen, poor guy. *tuts to herself and shakes her head*
I had forgotten Guild Wars even had PVP. Huge PVE world, I never got through more than a small bit of it.

If you have a questline which branches, you basically have two options: It either loops to the original default state after the players win completely or lose completely, or the questlines branch out indefinitely.

There is a third way:
Instead of 123123123 consider

With each successive 5 becoming more difficult:
Ogres attack. You drive them back past point A, past point B, C, D. You stand in front of their cave. The longer you stand around here the more rewards you get, but the more ogres come out. Within minutes every reasonable number of player is overwhelmed and the massive amount of super-ogres return the event stage 4.
From what I've read you will be able to participate in events solo - there will be no population issues. Presumably more people will be nice to have rather than being a hard mechanical requirement.

Bri - your 'open game world' is just a series of instances you can step between anyway, I think your vaunting it here. I remember in one spot in wow where I would run at a spider, but as I got to him he'd disapear - because I'd stepped over an instance 'wall' and it wasn't duplicated in the other instance. When I'd back pedal, there he was again. This wasn't a dungeon, it was the open world (somewhere in the nelf forest area)

From what I read guild wars PVE will be just as 'open world' as in they are both instances.
I know this discussion is pretty much over, but I’d like to add that I think the dynamic events system will be a greater success if they operate on varying scales. Most of Warhammer’s public quests were about the same size (small and secluded) but if there was a dynamic event the size of an entire region with smaller events inside, that would be very cool.

@ Callan S.

Every MMORPG can technically be called instanced, but for the sake of design and actual gameplay (aka, the parts that matter) Guild Wars is unarguably far more heavily instanced than WoW.
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