Friday, January 27, 2012

How to build a game on crafting.

Realistically, there are only two ways to do crafting. The rest is mostly extra details and customization, but two options are mutually exclusive and greatly change how things work. They are also very easy to understand, but very hard to properly put in. Decay, or no decay.

If you go with a non-decay route, then your crafting system won't really have a major impact on the game. Typically, I-lvl type progression games take this route so the 'crafting' system that the game really uses is drops. However, if you do a sandbox route, 'drops' really don't make sense. Why would a vulture have a two-handed sword?

I plan to go with Decay, and it's not just to carry through with 'realism'. With decay, you can create enough of a player market that it becomes the economy itself. With players at all ends of the creation process, You create an entire class of players that can succeed in what they want to do in a non-combat related way. You do, however, need to put some kind of barrier in the process to allow some kind of 'progress'. In EVE, this barrier is blueprint research. That process involves researching a blueprint and allowing the possibility of discovery of a new level of tech (i.e. level of the item, or a stronger version). That, however, doesn't fit a post apocalyptic society, at least in that form.

Well, blueprints will sort of be part of the equation. Let's take a sword for example. It will have a Blade, Hilt, and Pommel. Each would have a size allowance. As in, a minimum and a maximum. You could chose anything in those ranged. Then, you would choose curved, straight, wave, or notched for the blade. Server side, each of these would do specific things to the weapon, from major (making a weapon take two hands) to minor (increased damage on angled plate).

However, the root of the system is actually much more important than this. Here, we have my jewel of a system created from bits and pieces of many games all into one amalgamation of least awesome in my opinion.

Everything in the world will have 'unit's. A tree would have X 'units' of wood. When you choose to harvest an item, you choose a unit size of X by Y by Z. Then, each unit will have properties viewable and not-viewable. These properties will be given a value by some form of in-game scanner. Of course, have to keep it realistic, but making it technology related keeps some of the sci-fi theme. So, let's say you pull a 2 x 2 x 10 unit of tree. If you scanned, you'd get:

  • Hardness: 5, Flexibility: 7, Flammable: 10, Aging: 3, Bouyancy: 8
Now, when you go to make a sword, it requires an item at least 2 x 1 x 8 for the blade type you chose. Items must at least have a hardness of 3, a flexability less than 10, and an aging less than 8. Since this wood you took is within range, you can use it. The item will keep the other factors as well. So yes, you could make a wooden sword, but it might not be your best choice. So, why go with this system? Well, everything feasible in the game will have stats like this. this allows Minecraft level gathering with EVE level crafting. Just fit your items in the limits and you can make it. Of course, gathering becomes a bit interesting. Metal, cloth, rock, meat, most anything becomes a barter good. This will lead into my post Monday on Currency.

However, what if all the rock in your area is of junk hardness, and you want to build your fort out of very hard materials? Well, here is where the Caravans come in. Caravans at their end-points become markets where you can buy and sell materials...kind of. When you arrive at a carravan end-point, you have a buy and sell option. For Buy, you can either search for specific stats, items between a range of stats, or place a buy-order for an item with specific stats. Then, that caravan will spread the word to other caravans, and if there is a sell order with that item then will give you a time frame when it arrives.

When you put in the buy order, it takes your money at that time to keep things from getting out of hand. Note, the item you will get will be the first item it comes across, so you'd need to be specific since it will be chosen by whichever caravan they run into first. Selling is also just as simple, with you giving your items in a sell-order to the caravan and they take it with them selling it to the first order that comes up that is above your minimum allowed, or you can scan buy orders they have and sell yours instantly. You could also add in the option that if the cost of an item, or the offer by the buyer was too low or high, you would be allowed to approve it instead of just passing over a possible good market transaction. Also, the caravan would likely take a cut, but it would be a small amount.

These caravans, however, become an entirely different PvE element when they are traveling between towns, and that will be on the list Monday as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why is Damage a number?

That question has plagued me for a long time now. With all of our advancements, we still use HP. Well, HP definately needs to go. Especially if you are going for realistic, a simplicity such as HP is a rather large barrier to deal with. So, how can you have 'damage' in a game and not have HP?

Well, here is where real life can step in. Damage becomes percentile and server side. Damage also becomes localized. So, if you attack say the left leg, and keep attacking the left leg, as long as you are able to hit your target then your attacks will slowly (or maybe instantly, depending) render that limb immobile, or worse, cause so much trauma that they may die. Injuries should be visible. If you smash an enemy with a mace hard enough, you should see the cuts from the flanges, yes, but you should also see the bruising from internal bleeding.

That last part most likely just drove any graphic designer out there insane, however here is the other issue with the current MMO market. Just because you have a great idea for a system and that technology is not close enough to make that system perfect doesn't mean you scrap it. While it would be great if all of the player models and creature models perfectly showed damage and whatnot, you could get the same success with a small HUD of sorts to quickly relay this information as well. You could even make this a skill of sorts, making it so more skill would increase detection, and skill way above and beyond your current target could even point out weak spots.

Of course, this eludes to 'skills' being part of the game, and that will be covered in a later post. Skills aside, this creates incentive for players to be selective on how they attack creatures. Something like a lizard, attacking it's chest would be incredibly hard, but it's back easy. The lizard could have strong back scales though, and it's chest scales very weak making it a risk vs. reward scenario. Luck out, or go for the consistent kill? This would make things even more lucrative for the 'skilled' FPS players. Imagine the prowess of a seasoned FPS-Sniper veteran, able to do amazing things with a bow/crossbow/gun? The skill of landing a perfect left-eye shot would be hard to do. Especially if creatures aren't just standing like logs.

However, this also makes you look at equipment with a hard, long look. In a game with exacting standards on 1v1 combat, you can create a very complex, yet easy crafting system. Remember, keeping things realistic requires you to really try to stay away from numbers in places that they shouldn't exist. Weights should be numbers, but not 'how sharp?'. Those numbers should be explanations. So, do you go for the barely-sharp edge or the well-honed edge? Very quickly, you can expect one to cost more. This would make low level combat take about as long as very high combat, and keep a natural progression of weapons. On top of that, with weapons becoming more about preference than anything, looks begin to play a role in crafting too.

Tomorrow I'll start drilling down that crafting system, as I personally believe it to truly be the base of an MMO.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Combat evoltuion in MMO's does not impress Darwin.

So, last post I went over how combat as an environment can actually drive crafting forward, as well as adding in a very player-base important feature. Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room in all MMO’s. Combat.

Let’s face it. Combat hasn’t really changed since Everquest. Perhaps even before that. It’s still the same stat + button system. Now, as much as I’d like to call it a failure like many might, I’m actually here to say that it’s a success. What the stat+button system does is turn combat into something trainable in such a way where you can go about half-auto-pilot and ‘enjoy’ the visual content of the game. However, if you see that statement in its true form, you see why things have hit the way they are in SWTOR. The belief is that, by making combat less invasive you allow for even more visual content. That’s the error though; people do not want purely visual content. They want game content. Unfortunately, because that hasn’t really gotten through, we have a visually stunning game with great audio.

There are two ways to handle this and not make the player-base feel like they are just paying to watch a movie. First, you can diminish the role combat has in the game. For a good example of this, you can see A Tale in the Desert. There is no combat at all in the game, yet it still functions and succeeds decently. By no means a AAA-rating MMO, but it does show there is room to buck the curve. And does this curve need bucked. First, the deficiencies of the system need pointed out.

Let’s start with what should be glaringly obvious, but isn’t. Stat+button is NOT skill based. I’ve seen people in World of Warcraft that actually just hit one button and keep up with people that perfectly follow the priority based rotation. Yes, the rotation users could be called ‘skill-based’, but with the macro-user being non-skill based, that kind of throws off the whole system. If the macro were published, ‘faith’ in the system would quickly vanish. So, how do you cater to both of these people? Well, I’m here to say you can’t cater to them without including the third person. And that is the twitch-gamer. I’m talking the guy who can sniper-shot a moving target in a video game from far enough away all you see are a few pixels, but you still pull it off. How you might ask?

Well, I consider it a mix of combat from many various games. It’s a fatigue and balance based system. Damage would be based off of two variables to be determined, be it stats or skills, and chance to hit would be based on other variables, preferably realistic ones. However, you would have two styles of play. Locked combat and Unlocked combat. There would be no penalty to either, but each would have a couple of downfalls. First off, locked combat would start by picking a target and locking the target. As soon as you lock a target, you are given the option to Engage, Keep Distance, or Disengage. This allows ranged or melee to take advantage of this style. Locked style allows you to not worry about moving. The AI would be enough to keep you from running through, or backing into things. Now, just because you are trying to disengage or keep your distance doesn’t mean you will, other factors are involved to keep it realistic (i.e. trip over a rock?).

In locked combat, combat becomes more about key presses. In unlocked, however, combat becomes very much FPS style. Chance to hit would be entirely based on reach, aim, and speed of the user. As you could imagine, firing arrows off a castle wall into a sea of players and mobs might not be the best idea. Friendly fire will be possible, but limited by a ‘Lookout Sir!’ rule. In other words, due to the nature of lag and just common sense, you wouldn’t fire an arrow without saying ‘Lookout Bob!’ Anyone hit by friendly fire would get a penalty to X things for Y seconds, showing that you did get hit, but not badly. The distraction from avoiding would be the worst part of it, since your balance would be thrown. This benefit is only from ‘party’ or ‘guild’ members. Direct PVP is handled later, with different consequences.

Now, what about the single-button guy? First off, macros would be allowed, but just the pure chaos theory around this type of balance/fatigue based combat, you would only be able to macro like that if you wrote really well or fought easy things. So, we have two styles here too. We have finesse and power. Finesse involved stringing attack after attack, as each attach affects balance and fatigue differently, as well as putting you and your weapon in a position that whatever you do next could greatly or minimally affect your balance. You could use ‘Bash Bash Bash’ and probably slowly become more and more unbalance, or you could use ‘Bash left, Bash Right, Bash Left’ and keep your balance perfect. This allows button mashers some degree of success, but also gives seasoned players constantly changing combat. The seasoned player could go unlocked as well for even more realistic combat, giving a massive risk vs. reward for those truly ‘skilled’, but keeping things realistic enough to make it easy.

Tomorrow, I’ll be tackling that other part of combat that just needs revamped as well, Damage.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Content Post: Player and Org Housing

So, you’re on a post-apocalyptic world, barren of life, and living in a colony that is barely scraping by on available resources. It’s quickly evident that one bad drought or catastrophe would be the end of your life as you know it. So, in a story like this…who’s the bad guy? Do you need one?

Here is the defining difference in MMO’s today. Most, if not all, feel they must have a major villain. Even EVE tried this at one point with Sleepers. However, EVE had completely missed the boat. They already had a massive villain in game. Sovereignty I feel is definitely the way to go when you think of PVP. But what do you do with PVP? How can you take the sovereignty system and turn it into a PvE system?

Well, let’s focus on the facts. Sovereignty works by ‘owning’ an area. You do this via several steps, such as deploying X amount of things. There is a far easier way to see this though, without months of work and research. There is an RTS out there that used the sovereignty idea, and it’s called Rise of Nations. As you built towns, your area of ‘national sovereignty’ extended. As you researched more levels of the ‘Civic’ technology, your reach expanded more. Forts and strongholds expanded this. The goal in expanding your area of control was to reduce the enemies. For anyone scratching their heads trying to figure out how this could work in a PvE pure setting, you’re forgetting the other half of the RTS market.
You can play vs. Computer AI.

So, by making each ‘colony’ its own sovereignty, each building made will expand its region. Yes, I said building. A vastly under-estimated idea in MMO’s is player property. There should be enough restrictions in place however to make sure it doesn’t look like an old UO shard, but relaxed enough to not feel like it’s not worth it. Such as one residential building per account, and one fort per org/guild/whatever, I feel that’s a close proximity to fill things. Now, with the stipulation you can only build on Sovereign Ground, and the fear of loss will keep people from building too far from a fort. Yes, that’s right, there will be environmental variable that will make it useful to build near a fort, rather than off on your own in the middle of nowhere.

For those Asocial, you will be able to build away from a fort, but you do so with the knowledge that there will indeed be many issues with this you will need to deal with. Just because the planet is barren does not mean it’s devoid of life. On the contrary, it’s teeming with life just below the surface. Sometimes, this underworld life comes to the over world, and depending on what it is it could be quite hard for a solo household to fend this off. The only plus side is solo-households would be low-value targets for anything major.

If you notice, though, content right there was made. Not only content, ‘hardcore’ content. Living near a Fort gives you access to higher ‘level’ attacks because a fort is a much higher value target. The more houses around a fort, the stronger the fort, the higher value the target is. This creates very strong enemies to deal with, depending on the amount of concurrent people at the fort. Now, the fort itself can be ‘toppled’, but not destroyed. Toppling a fort would simply remove it from sovereignty, shrinking buildable area around the fort until it’s repaired by the owning party.

See what just happened there? Bam, crafting system that has real world impact. Building creation, repair, and upgrade will be a large part of the system. Also, by taking an EVE ship-fit approach to buildings, you can make it so all building upgrades are viable on all levels, making the market for them always moving. Guards also become a commodity. Initially, Guards will be ‘created’ by these households. The more grouped households, the greater the guards created. However, these guards go to the main colony, not the fort. In turn, these guards ‘mature’ and become novice guards. If left, they continue to get better, though costing more in the long run. A cap would be put in though to make sure a single guard would not become so powerful that it would be too costly to ever buy.

So, just by adding a small feature like player and org housing, you’ve added Over world-raid content (raid is meant in the MMO style of raid, many players against strong mobs), opportunity to add in specialty items from said content, crafting needs for building, and a self-fulfilling protection ability based on pop size in areas and making sure that the guard amount only becomes an issue if orgs don’t buy it, and it makes sure that it’s based on players on to tailor fights to be challenging, yet not overwhelming or destroying things when people are offline. Oh, and of course, this won’t be the only content, this would be a small piece, but a very important piece.

Story So Far:
In a post-apocalyptic universe, the barren world your colony is on is slowly building up, desperately trying to expand its resources by providing incentive to build outside the colony walls. Markets are slowly springing up, along with well-fortified buildings to protect from the denizens below at night. You have the choice to forge ahead on your own, carving out a small wilderness living or staying near one of these large forts for safety and the chance at personal wealth in fending off the hordes of under beings.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Community, is it size based?

So, let's talk about community size for a second. No, not total game size, community size. Previously, it was decided that each colony area would be the "server" of each place. But, how large?

Well, there are a lot of factors here that are often overlooked. First, real size. How far can you actually see?

A good for here would be to use a school. I feel a good in game colony sizes would be about the size of a standard university. From the top of the highest building, you could see the whole place, and perhaps a bit farther party the walls for safety reasons. Remember, the player will be on a hostile barren planet after all.

Larger than this, the colony and alone feeling would be diminished. This also brings about another aspect of the community, NPC's. Some games have as few as possible. Others, there are non-essential NPC's running around everywhere. Here is where I like to draw upon my DM Roots. In Dungeon and Dragons, when the DM sets up a scene, that's what it is. NPC's are actually a shapeless blob until someone talks to them, and after talking they return back to that shapeless blob. But, how would you carry this over to a Visual game?

The answer is actually simple. Remove NPC's from being important. They should remain a shapeless blob, moldable clay only made manifest when the ENVIRONMENT needs it. If you force the player to constantly interract with NPC's over and over, I feel this is what kills individuality. Yes, you completel this quest, but so does the next guy. And the next guy. And even the next guy. You don't feel important, unique, or special. In fact, next time do do that 'quest' you pretty much don't even read it. One of the largest failings that this system of massive amounts of quests does is what is happening in WoW now, people just skip the text and follow the objectives.

Let's face it, the quest system has been in existence since RPG's were around, and I think we've honestly grown past that. They deserve to stay in Single Players. 'Quests' are how you turn progress-lists into leveling tools, it just isn't necessary in this day and age. I'm all for the questlog being replaced by something more like an adventure journal. This would be the first major feature, and major features are usually make or break. Remember, this feature will remove the need for constant NPC visiting. However, this is more a mechanic issue, so it will be addressed later. That said, the world will need not as many PC's as an Everquest or WoW, making it easier to keep that colony feel.

Back to the shapeless blob. Think of when you are at the mall. Do you see each person, or just a sea of faces? Now, here is where it gets interesting. When the player moves around, how will they be moving? Will they be traveling like anyone else, or will they take shortcuts? That's probably a dumb question of sorts. However, being post-apocalyptic of sorts, we won't have tons of cars or vehicles, and while solar is still possible, thats something we'll cross later. Animals however are a possibility, so it may look more like a circular wild-west town from an old western.

Why that style? Well, anyone that would be a traveler or stranger would probably take the 'walking across the middle/street' style of travel and the townsfolk would just take normal routine paths along the edges. With this, you can keep random NPC's walking around, but most likely people won't even really 'see' them, kind of like guards in most games.

Tomorrow, we'll tackle the dead horse. Environment in real mmo's, which is combat heavy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How many is enough?

MMO size is something that I believe is always left out of things. First off, you’ve got two very basic options at the start, single-‘server’ or multiple ‘servers’. I use ‘servers’ in quotes because in this day and age, you aren’t talking about real hardware, you’re talking about how the players are parceled out. Anyone who has given EVE a serious go has learned the upsides and downsides of single-server. However, EVE was not the first single-server MMO I had played. My first one was Anarchy Online, and technical hurdles aside (Let’s just say they had a bad launch), they had much the same separation of players as EVE has done. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EVE devs learned the strategy from AO.

AO was separated into rather decent size quadrants separated by zone lines, and each area had essentially a designated mission hub where people joined up at. Of course, there were cities with large amounts of people, however, chat was separated by level, meaning you could turn off level 1-20 chat if you were 30, or 20-50 chat if you were 70. Trade channels were designed this way as well, making sure that players were given ways to stay as separate as they’d like. I think this is key to actually fostering an environment, especially in a single-server. Single-server also is a better design for the new players, as they get readily accessible experience and economies.

So, single-server or Multi-server? Well, think about it honestly. If you indeed do single-server, the game world has to be large enough to pull it off. Single-server also removes any need for server transfer, mitigating costs down the road for the player base somewhat.

For a single-server to be in my design, the single-server becomes one single planet. Oddly, this is convenient and makes it even easier to control the environment. So, how to add in the separation brought about by servers in a single-server design? Well, you have to make communities, and sometimes the best solution really is the obvious one. Make a community. I’ll separate the barren surface into many communities. Say, ten total. Then, it’s time to give each community a look and feel. Here is where a lot of ‘race’ designs fall flat. In a game like World of Warcraft, Races are there to give a choice, but you do not choice a race based on ‘where’. The same can be said of EVE somewhat, Race is just starting space, which ultimately isn’t really useful in the grand scheme of things. I’d prefer race/society to be a choice that will actually funnel like-people together. So, that’s is what I’ll do here, with each community, or ‘Crew’.

Each ‘crew’ will be the remnants of the crew of each mining-colony ship that contained more than just miners looking for the fuel to repair interstellar travel, it would also contain the families, scientists, farmers, essentially everything to be sustainable in case things go south.

So far:
You are a colonist, your colony can not leave the planet, cannot call for help, and there is no space travel due to a universal (literally) fuel outage. Your technology is running out of its own fuel, and soon your society itself will be required to become self-sustaining. Your colony has been operating for 60 years without incident on a barren world we’ll call ZG-1287. It was never given a formal name to keep hope of leaving shortly alive. There are 10 colonies, each has developed its own sort of personality, ranging from gregarious to xenophobic and paranoid. The planet to date is a barren waste-land of sorts, with water only being found underground. There is a large distance between each colony making travel long and hazardous between them, making trade caravans their own communities as well.

Next, we’ll answer the original question with the new direction, How Many People?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

That's Crazy Talk

Probably my favorite line from Dilbert. It’s usually right before that statement that is so alien and out there that it can only make sense in bizarro world. So, why start with that?

You start at the end of the game:
Yep, there’s the crazy talk. Most games, you start before a great war, at the time of a great catastrophe, a new era. Here? Nope, all that already passed. Your living standard day to day life AFTER everything went to hell. So, what was with my talk of letting people play through the calamity?

Training. Above and beyond normal training. Because it’s in the past, and a different time, I’ll let them have access to most everything in the game. Imagine the newbie missions in EVE letting you use a fully outfitted Drake or racial similar ship? Maybe if the newbie zone in WoW let you play an 85 through a simulation raid? That’s what I’ll do. You start off as one of the colonists in the landing of the ship, you pick your name, and you do your best to survive…

Only to flash forward and it’s an old man telling the story to his grandson or old woman telling the story to his granddaughter. Then, you’d choose whether to keep the first name to honor them, or change it. This gives you a real tangible connection to the story. Let’s be honest, In a situation like this, training someone with some tutorial based around ‘solving’ small day to day tasks with in-game functions is, well, overdone. EVE does an acceptable set of tutorial missions, as well as Skryim/Oblivion. They attempt to teach you the skills you will use in the way you use them.

However, as part of the tutorial, I’d like to throw in a feature that I don’t ever see. Keybind-on-the-fly should be part of any tutorial. If you are learning to do X by hitting the b key, but instead you want to use the h key, then you have to interrupt the tutorial and figure out how to change keybinds, usually something tutorials don’t even cover, much less explain how. By adding in something like when it says ‘Press the WASD keys to move Forward, left, back, or right respectively, or hit the F4 key to change the default movement keys’ I feel could give some quality of life to some people. Also, at the end, a quick sheet to say what was changed and if you’d like to move them around. After, it would give you the keys on how to get to the game control configs for later.

So, there you are, you are just an average joe/jane. Two hundred years after any real action. The environment is essentially set here with this, and you can go any way with it, from all out war to straight-up survival. Which way to go?

Well, wait right there, a very important key is missing. Size. That's the next topic.