Tobold's Blog
Saturday, February 08, 2014
Building a better persistent Dungeon Keeper

My commenters are providing me with more and more links to reviews and videos that express outrage about the new Dungeon Keeper. And in every single one of them the reviewer complains that it takes hours to carve out the space for a new room in the new Dungeon Keeper. So let's forget the monetary aspects for a second and talk about time aspects. How would we build a massively multiplayer online PvP Dungeon Keeper better?

The first thing to remark is that of course the videos and reviews are lying. Or rather, they are being a bit selective with the truth. The new Dungeon Keeper has three sorts of stone blocks, soft, medium, and hard. The soft blocks take 5 seconds to dig out, and the whole center of the dungeon is full of them, so all the rooms of your starting dungeon can be dug out inside of a minute or two. The medium blocks state that they take 4 hours to dig out, but if you slap your imps they work at double speed, so it takes only 2 hours. And the hard blocks take 24 hours, but only occur at the outer edge of your dungeon.

So, why is that sort of feature in the game? Why do lots of other mobile or social games that allow you to build other things, like a city or kingdom, have building times that range up to a week? Is in ONLY to "force" people to pay to speed up those times? Of course not! There are even games which force you to wait for hours or days for something without giving you the option to pay to speed up.

Instead the slow building is in the game to prevent you from finishing the game in a single session. If you could build your complete dungeon in Dungeon Keeper in under an hour, fill all the space the map has, and add all the features the game offers to your dungeon, then why would you ever come back to it? Why would you be proud about the advanced level of your dungeon, if everybody is at the level cap?

Look at it from a MMORPG perspective: World of Warcraft clearly is not designed as a Free2Play game. Leveling up a character even in the very first version of it took hundreds of hours. Blizzard never made leveling slower, they only ever made it faster to keep up with the number of levels. This year Blizzard will introduce the option to skip leveling and go right to level 90 for a real money payment. Are you really going to say that a decade of World of Warcraft design was done ONLY to force people to pay to skip the slow leveling process? Or is the slow leveling process the natural state of the game, and skipping it for money is just an option for the extremely impatient?

The original Dungeon Keeper was a single-player game. With some difficulty you could set it up to play in a LAN. But even then it was never a persistent multi-player game. So here is my challenge to you: How would you build a massively multiplayer online Dungeon Keeper with persistent dungeons *without* having any timer for building or gathering resources? If you can't think of a way that a persistent game works without delays, then you can't complain that those delays are in the game!

I have never played either the old or new version of Dungeon Keeper so I may have this wrong, but...

isn't the difference between the extended leveling process in WoW and the lengthy wait-time to carve spaces in DK that in WoW you are compelled to spend long periods playing the game in order to level up while in DK you are compelled to spend long periods NOT playing it in order to expand your dungeon?

I thought it was the "pay to be able to play at all" model that people were complaining about, not the "pay to speed things up so we get to the good bit" model that has been widely used elsewhere with much less controversy.
Reduce all block timers to at most 5 minutes. This allows for base building< limited by other resources (level, rocks, gold)

Increase harvest rate by 100% so that a raid is nearly always cash positive instead of the current always cash negative, defeting the point of pvp

Maintin the building timers/costs.

The problem with DK is that it's a bad CoC clone. Less so that they took a good game and put it in a different model.

While WoW progression is by time played, there are other games - most notably EVE - where it is the wall time that determines your skill progression. Ofc, you can spend RL$ and buy a pilot with as many skills as you can afford and avoid all the waiting.

/sarcasm "back before CCP dumbed it down for casuals" I remember not undocking during my first three months "playing" EVE Offline as I trained Learning skills before they were removed.
I have an idea. So: in an rts being able to manage and see progress in your base is pretty important, but reaching 'max level' quickly in a persistent game is bad. Why not have a central base (your 'character') that you can improve slowly and steadily (e.g. By adding upgrades, increased troop storage) by doing missions in areas where one can quickly get a base up and running? Think hearthstone: it doesn't take long to get your main units out in a match, but getting all the cards is slow/expensive.
The problem with DK is that it's a bad CoC clone.

I would very much like more people to criticize the game for that.
I do think Liam is on to something. Age of Empires Online did something like this. You had your own persistent town that you improved slowly over time, and played maps as a more "normal" RTS game. Your town levels influenced things like unit power in the maps. The execution of AoEO was somewhat poor, but I think the basic model could work for these types of mobile games.

On top of that, I feel like the EVE/GW2 model is what you want for microtransactions. You don't sell resources to players directly for real money, you let them buy resources from other players with PLEX/Coins/Whatever. It is functionally pretty much the same, but players find it more palatable as it is resistant to being exploited. (i.e., you couldn't make it impossible to gather enough resources without paying, because then no one would have spare resources to sell either.)
If I were to make a dungeon keeper mmo, I'd make it all about resources and production/consumption rates and invasions of npc territory for resource extraction and progression.

There'd be a dozen or so creature types, each needing their own type of lair, the size of the lair a limit on how many of each you could have (with averages around 3-5 of each type). To attract a creature to your dungeon you not only have to offer a large upfront payment/sacrifice, but would need to maintain a regular payment/salary or the creature will leave.

Each creature will also need a work area (lab/smithy/barracks/whatever) with 2-3 different types of work areas per creature type, where it will either produce a resource or transform one/two resources into another.

Creatures would then be arranged in a pyramids, where you need this many goblins producing gold to keep this many trolls producing steel to keep this many orcs to guard your home from invaders.

Because this is an mmo and people aren't playing all the time, you can't have large scale invasions of your dungeon, rather it'll just happen automatically in the background. Depending on how aggressive you are, the human lands will send people to attack you. You have guards to counter this. When your guards are insufficient, you lose resources to theft and your creatures become damaged. If you're well protected, you'll get income from the dead adventurers' gear. You can also choose to become more aggressive to get more/stronger people attacking, so that you can harvest more from killing them.

Your own actions, beyond managing your dungeon and resource chains, will be about sending your own invasions out to attack and raid the (non-player) human lands. Imagine you select you want to attack with this creature, that one, and a bunch of those, and now you and they are on another map where you can send them at different targets to steal resources/technology/unloackables/etc.

To make it an mmo, make the resource ladders really broad, such that nobody can do it all alone, you have to engage on an underworld market. Also, let people team up with their friends to launch collaborative raids on larger targets.

Why would this be more satisfying than other games? I'd make all the dungeon building completely cost-free and instant. All the time delay would be in attracting creatures and launching invasions. So even if you have to wait 12 hours for your liches to generate technology in your library so you can unlock a new creature type, and the whole thing might take a year to unlock everything, you're free to mess around with everything you've unlocked without cost or hesitation.

Shrug, I think it would work.
Puttin' some glitter on that sunk cost fallacy, eh?

It's gotta be something to be proud of - sunk soooo many hours into it!
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