Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 03, 2010
 
Fighting over the sandbox

Are you into free-for-all fantasy PvP MMORPGs with a sandbox game design? Then this could be quite an interesting month for you: Darkfall announced it's first free 14-day trial offer, previously the trial did cost $1. In the other corner of the ring Mortal Online's counter to release day is at less than 6 days now. While Darkfall is more established, being already a year old, Mortal Online brings some new elements to the genre. Like rare mobs that don't respawn. Quote:
Is your goal to face a legendary monster? Well, that is usually suicide – if you can find one. But if your guild would actually manage to kill one, it’s dead. Gone. Rare monsters and quests do not resurrect or come again, whether it’s an ancient beast, a crumbling temple, an island rising out of the sea or a great ritual that fails or succeeds.

You might get away with an item never seen before, or the unique scar that tells about the experience. There are not many of these opportunities but they are usually important enough to affect the whole world and its history. All you have to do is be at the right place at the right time.
Makes you wonder whether the Darkfall free trial timing has anything to do with the Mortal Online release date. :) As Darkfall seems to be stuck at 20k subscribers for a while now, it will be interesting to watch how the release of Mortal Online with a rather similar design concept affects the popularity of Darkfall. Which one would you bet on?
Comments:
Not to be the eternal pessimist, but I wonder how long it will be before we find that the bosses are randomly generated, or worse, repetitive in all but name.
 
I'll give it a shot (as I do most everything). DLing the beta now, patching patching... ;)
 
From what I have seen out of MO it will not be a competitor to Darkfall until it handles some of its more prominent issues.
 
with a sandbox game design


More like sandbox without any sand. if you like macroing, grinding mobs and wasting years of your time - then yes darkfall could be for you
 
I just don't understand why the fantasy sandbox MMOs (DF, MO) who seem to care more about immersion always use the CS combat, instead of WoW combat style.

I mean: The WoW style is much more immersive in that you actually have a character that fights and it's not just you with your mouse.

The CS-style combat naturally attracts the CS-'kiddies' who play such a game not because of the immersion, but to grieve, kill and destroy. These are the kinds of things that destroy snadbox MMOs.

Sandboy MMOs need to be about 70% creation and 30% destruction. DF and probably MO are about 90% destruction and 10% creation. That doesn't work.

Anyway, the latency-critical CS-combat style is not good for MMOs in my opinion. Core gameplay is one of those things I'd copy/paste from WoW.
 
Like Nils said, the best thing about a sandbox MMO is creation, and neither Darkfall or Mortal Online have anything close to that. They are like sandboxes that have only dry sand. No toys or water, all you can do is occasionally throw dry sand at other people if you feel like being a dick.

I haven’t played Darkfall, but I was in the Mortal Online beta for a bit and there were some wonderful exploration moments. I remember walking out of a forest and seeing miles of rolling hills and far off mountains on one side and a vast ocean on the other. It was a great feeling and I could really understand how massive the world was, how much opportunity for true exploration and expansion there was.

But that’s pretty much it. There is no real exploration because there’s nothing to do besides kill other players, and you need to kill other players because… nothing, there’s no reason. Yeah there’s some PvE, but it’s ridiculously generic and the bugs make it virtually unplayable. Now I’m normally not one to be anal about bugs, but literally every single creature I would (try to) fight would zip instantly a hundred yards away, appear floating above me, or simply disappear.

It’s a shame the actual gameplay (seriously, every single aspect of the gameplay) is so horrible because the world is so extensive. Mortal Online (and I’m assuming Darkfall from what I’ve seen) is very shallow and sandbox games, if anything, need to be deeper and more involved than the theme park MMOs to make up for the lack of meticulously crafted content.

It feels to me like these games were made by a group of hardcore gamers who have long forgotten what actual fun is. The kind of people who use “noob” liberally, believe internet memes are the only brand of humor, and for whatever reason, think distressing someone else is the greatest form of self validation.
 
Please think of this a pre-Sunday question; it grew during composition; sorry.

How segmented/interrelated do you see the MMO market? I.e. you said you feel the console and PC games are distinct. A million more CoD4 customers would have a minimal impact on WoW. And new Farmville customers do not come at the expense of DF or EO.

Is it "location" - SF/space vs mythology vs fantasy? Or PvE vs PvP vs nonconsensual griefing PvP?

WoW success probably means the whole MMO genre is larger as people try a replacement/additional MMO.

E.g., what sort of game would be most likely to pull customers from EVE or WoW? least? Do they impact the game immediately as people unsub DF to play MO? Or is it that new players who would have tried DF now try MO; so DF shrinks not by people leaving but by not replacing the inevitable unsubs that any subscription business endures?

And aren't monthly subscription games more at risk than F2P/microtransaction games. E.g., if you haven't played WoW in a month, you feel like you wasted the subscription. At least with EVE Offline you can train skills. It would seem I would be less likely to formally leave a F2P when I went to try The Next Big Thing so my barrier to return would be lower.

And how many people are monogamous to their MMO and how many play most trials.
 
I mean: The WoW style is much more immersive in that you actually have a character that fights and it's not just you with your mouse.

I couldn't disagree more. I absolutely loved Darkfall's CS combat system. Far more immersion and challenge than in the WoW style.

Something as simple as Dodging is actually possible when you don't have tab targetting.

WoW combat, by contrast, is designed for the lowest common denominator. Which is a positive if you are trying to make a mass market game, but it's FAR more boring.

In an MMO where you do the same repetitive tasks over and over, it's important to have engaging and fun gameplay.
 
@sid67

I think immersion comes from the world around you, not the characters. Having a first person view and twitch based combat may feel more realistic, but you’re still very aware that you’re not actually there. To me it feels like a cheap trick, because I’m never actually gonna be more immersed in an MMO if I see through my character’s eyes. I may feel like I’m playing my character as opposed to watching him, but that’s purely aesthetic, it’s not where my immersion comes from.

The combat mechanics in Darkfall and Mortal Online are also far simpler than WoW. I would much rather watch the character I’ve spent so much time on use multiple different skills and spells than spam an attack over and over at a person who’s taking up half my screen with his chest in a game that feels like an uncreative attempt at a fantasy FPS. I don’t think twitch gameplay can necessarily be considered better on the grounds that it’s more realistic and has a smaller audience. It’s just a different style of play, and I’d say it’s less tactical and engaging, which means less fun for me.
 
I believe Darkfall combat is more immersive than WoWs because in a combat you need to be focused and alert instead and every combat feels unique. In Wow you don't even need to watch your screen until you face the hardest mobs on the game. Combat isn't immersive if you can watch youtube videos while slaying the big demon.
 
I also believe twicht combat is more "sandy" than toon-skill combat.
Sorry for double comment.
 
Yeah I agree that WoW’s combat is pretty easy and formulaic, but I’ve found there are times (PvP mostly) where you have to think on your feet to win. I do appreciate that Darkfall and Mortal Online at least try to keep the combat unpredictable and exciting, but I’ve always liked the third person, non-twitchy mechanics better. An ideal system for me would be somewhere in between, with the niche PvP games’ philosophy and the classic MMORPGs’ style.
 
@Hobonicus

How can first person control be less tactical than tab targeting? I have dozens of spells/skills that I actually use in pvp situations in Darkfall. In WoW I used maybe 10. You are also completely ignoring the impact that terrain is able to play when the game uses first person. Physically crouching and peaking out from behind rocks, dodging around trees, using a couple people to block access to a doorway or narrow passage, ect. High ground actually has strategic value. In wow the most terrain ever did was break LoS or bug out my blink spell.
 
Dawntide is starting it's open beta tomorrow as well and it's another sandbox style game. It will have it's share of pvp as well although it's setup a bit more like eve from what I've read.
 
I don't hold out too much hope for Mortal Online, basically there are several things that separate Eve Online (the only successful game in which players-controlled factions fight over territory) from failures like Shadowbane and Darkfall, namely:

-Its a very bad idea to launch a game with conquerable territory available. PvP balance is always borked upon release and you need some time to work out the kinks before putting the high stakes stuff in. Also its good to have a lot of social networks and rivalries built up before the conquerable territory gets put in to make it harder to one big alliance to dominate things (as happened in Chinese Eve).

-You really really need places for the losers of territorial conflict to lick their wounds and recover.

-Having large organized wars over territory between player factions makes for a great end game (although it probably shouldn't be the ONLY endgame) but it makes for a shitty early and mid game.

-Large-scale PvP games need robust economic systems to provide something to fight over.

-The sheer size of Eve sets it apart from games like Shadowbane. In Eve after losing a war you can join an alliance on the other side of the map and your old enemies (probably) won't chase you across the whole damn map, which allows wars to actually end with something besides the losing side quitting.

I don't play Eve (the minute by minute gameplay bores me to tears) but its really surprising that many more games seem to be trying to emulate the basic model of Shadowbane (a dismal failure) rather than Eve (a big success).

As I've said before on this blog, the first game that tries to do to Eve what WoW did to EQ (polish it up, make it more accessible and jettison the time sinks) will be a big success and I'm surprised we haven't seen something more like that in the works.
 
I sometimes have the feeling that these small companies (DF, MO, ..) spend so much time on making the software that they have noone left who thinks about the game itself. The rules, the playground.

To make a successful MMO you need polish and content and features and many more things. But it is also critically important to have at least one, better three, people who think about the game at an abstract level, like we usually do on MMO blogs.


@ David:

-Having large organized wars over territory between player factions makes for a great end game (although it probably shouldn't be the ONLY endgame) but it makes for a shitty early and mid game.

I don't think that is a necessary consequence.
 
@Hobonicus

Honestly I don't get a sense of not being in the game from cs style combat, in fact it is quite the opposite. In Oblivion I really feel on my feet about how my character interacts with the world. In WoW, against npcs, I most of the time am chatting or watching tv at the same time and not immersed.
 
The first person camera perspective should probably be called 'immersive', but not 'credible'.

It a rare occasion for these two attributes to conflict with each other.

The CS-like fighting is based on strafing, which is really non-credible, but necessary to make the player feel like having control over his character. Simply removing strafing is therefore not an option.

Please recognize that I played all of Quake and Half-Life and even Doom. I played the Halflife classic deathmatch mod for years; rather successfully.

So, it's not like I just don't like the first person view. I just don't think it fits into MMORPGs. Then again, I am not 100% about this.

What I am sure about is that this kind of targeting style attracts the horde of killer-PvPers. Those, who don't PvP for an in-game reason, but to test their RL-skills.

If you have too many this kind of player in your game, the forums start to burn, swearing is omnipresent in the game and the world just generally becomes about destruction more than about creation.
.. Until there is nothing left to destroy.
 
Nils,

So you say that any combat system without auto-targeting/auto-attack will bring out the jerkasses?

Isn't there a bit of a prejudice towards FPS players (I'm not one mind you)?

People will grieve in any game. It always boils down to the GIFT (Great Internet Fuckwad Theory) and even in Hello Kitty Online some will abuse any feature or bug that allows them to piss off someone.

I think that player behavior must be guided by design. A prime example of this would be, as Tobold often suggests, to have EXP bonuses when grouping in WoW.

If you want to get rid of the Fwads in CS style games you don't need to castrate the game. Just encourage players not be griefers.

One solution would be something like a flag of shame on the offending character (for example if ganking repeatedly a player or stealing low level stuff from a much lower level player) where he would have a temporary debuff (temporary as in hours of game not minutes) making PK'ing to really become a challenge.

On the other hand grouping and helping lower level players would give you honor points or something like that that could be spent on vanity items.
 
In short: give players incentives to not be dicks and most of them won't.

The ones who do will face a much greater challenge in game than the ones who opt to play nice.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
@Wyrm:
You may be right. I just described my experiences.

By the way: I finished reading through the Dawntide homepage and like it so far.

It starts open beta test today at 22:00 CET (8pm GMT). A lot is still unfinished, as it should be in beta and you certainly cannot expect a multi-million $ polish. But I think I'll have a try.

They seem to focus a lot on creation and less on destruction without magically disallowing me to hit somebody.

And you always need to remember the golden rule: Always start an MMO at release when it is still full of awe and wonder (and bugs :).
 

-You really really need places for the losers of territorial conflict to lick their wounds and recover.

-Having large organized wars over territory between player factions makes for a great end game (although it probably shouldn't be the ONLY endgame) but it makes for a shitty early and mid game.

-Large-scale PvP games need robust economic systems to provide something to fight over.



Agree hundred 100% .Thats are exactly my thoughts


As I've said before on this blog, the first game that tries to do to Eve what WoW did to EQ (polish it up, make it more accessible and jettison the time sinks) will be a big success and I'm surprised we haven't seen something more like that in the works.


I think the problem is competent designers and competent dev teams are in short supply. Those that exists are not interested in PvP

I think SWG (pre-CU - dont know what happened after) had brilliantly designed economic part of the game. But alas Raph was no pvper and everything related to player conflict and combat outright sucked
 
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