Monday 10 August 2009

Star Wars TOR: New combat animations video

My attention was drawn to this awesome display of Darth Maul style double-bladed lightsabre combat mastery.

And here's the original for comparison.

Can't wait for the game to come out now!

Saturday 8 August 2009

Eve Online: flying a Drake, heading for a Raven

I started out intending to become a miner in Eve but got a bit bored and frustrated. So my current focus is on running missions.

I'm doing level 3 missions in a passive shield tanked Drake. It feels very comfortable, even over-powered.

First, about ship modules

I've discovered that modules basically come in 4 flavours:

Dooberry I is your standard Doobery. Player made or drop.

'Panic' Overcharge Dooberry is a named loot drop that is a slightly better version of the standard one. Drop.

Dooberry II is a tech 2 dooberry which will give better performance but need higher skills to fit. Usually player made, occasional drop.

Angel Pirates Dooberry is a special faction dooberry that you get for currying favour with a particular gang of pirates or a corporation.

Now the second type of item is often significantly better than the standard one and is often easier to fit. They can also be cheap since most players don't recognise the value. That's partly because of the way veteran players talk about fits.

To a veteran player a fit is either cheap (ie uses Dooberry Is) or expensive (uses Tech 2/faction modules). Even though they know that named modules are better it's too much hassle to research what exact type of Small Shield Extender I is best and repeat that for every module. They just say Small Shield Extender I as shorthand for Small Shield Extender I or named equivalent and assume it's obvious that you get a named version if possible.

It isn't obvious.

From day trading on the market I can see that a lot of the vanilla items are higher in price than some of their named equivalents. It's obvious to veteran players but new players just get told to get version I and don't think to check the module stats.

That's a long preamble to explain why I've fitted out my ships with named modules.

The Drake

Name: Bait Ship (might give a ganker pause, you never know)

Theory: focusses on regen rather than resists. This makes it an omni-tank which is useful. The idea is to get regen so high that the ship just copes. It helps that the various regen modules are better the more other regen modules you have whereas resist modules reduce a constant proportion of incoming damage.

High slots:
7 * 'Malkuth' Heavy Missile Launcher I
Small Rudimentary Concussion Bomb I (low damage and hits my own drones so I really only stuck this on there to get used to smart bombs)

Mid Slots
3 Shield Recharger Is (tsk tsk, forgot these were not named ones, should go get better versions)
Viscoelastic EM Salubrity Ward I (placeholder until I train for Invulnerability Shield)
2 Large F-59 Regolith Shield Induction

Low slots
3 Beta Reactor Control: Shield Power Relay
Shield Power Relay I (20% to the named one's 24% bonus, tsk tsk again)


For Core Defence Field Purger I rigs
Jury Rigging 3
Shield Rigging 1

For V-M15 Braced Multispectral Shield Matrix
Tactical Shield Manipulation 1 (for Invulnerability field)

The Raven

Estimated launch date: about a month to 6 weeks. It could be sooner but I'm focussing on learning skills at the moment.

Theory: I'm trying to really flood this ship with capacitor so I can maintain the active shield tank. The 2 Nosferatus also help this theme.

Raven 85 000 000 isk

6 'Arbalest' Missile Launcher Is 10 800 000
2 Heavy Diminishing Power Drain System Is 960 000

X-Large C5-L Emergency Shield Overload I 115 000
'Stalwart' I Particle Field Magnifier (or better) 7 860 000
Eutectic I Capacitor Charge Array 1 015 000
V-M15 Braced Multispectral Shield Matrix 450 000
2 specific active boosters
from 'Anointed' I EM Ward Reinforcement 17 200
Non-Inertial Ballistic Screen Augmentation I 3 000
Ditrigonal Thermal Barrier Crstallization I 14 000
F-515 Braced Deflection Shield Matrix 12 000

Beta Reactor Control : Capacitor Flux * 3 60 000
Muon Coil Bolt Array I (or better) * 2 8 000 000

Capacitor Control Circuit I * 3 45 300 000

5 Hammerhead Is 110 000

TOTAL 159 716 200 isk

Skills to train:

Shield Compensation
Shield Operation
Shield Management
Energy Management
Energy Systems Operation
Energy Grid Upgrades 4
Engineering 4
Energy Emissions Systems 3
Salvager 3
Standard Missiles 3
Heavy Missiles 3
Missile Launcher operation 5
Cruise missiles 1

Friday 7 August 2009

Querulous Plains: response to reader feedback, part 1

Thanks so much for all your thoughts everyone.

First off let me clarify something. Unlike many of the independent designers who are actually making games and blogging about game design I am an armchair theorist and the purpose of these threads is simply to explore ideas in what could be done. The chances of me, at the age of 44, giving up the day job to work 80 hours a week for a slim possibility there could be money at the end of a game project are close to nil.

I think there's a value in exploring ideas and I have very much enjoyed the very constructive feedback I've had so far.

OK, so now to specific concepts


Jack wrote: "I don't know of a single person who really RPs in Eve...By working "RP like" situations into the game you are not actually encouraging people to RP. You are simply encouraging them to interact. The miner intereacts with the trader in eve (or they are one in the same) but they do not RP their transaction."

OK let's consider two example players.

Cap'n Blythe is a self-professed role-player in World of Warcraft. He walks up and down the dock at Booty Bay with a parrot on his shoulder, a pirate hat on, drinking rum and saying "yarr" to players who pass by.

Leetboy doesn't even know what RP stands for. He plays Eve and camps gates for non-combat players. He runs from pvpers and kills carebears and loots their wreckage.

Which one is the pirate?

Roleplay, to me, is about playing a role. In the sense of actively doing it. Just saying you do something but not actually doing it is dramatisation, improv theatre.

To make a genuine roleplaying game you have to get people into their roles first in the sense they are actually being bandits and sheriffs and witch hunters and paladins. That is the prerequisite from which all else flows.

To me Leetboy is a roleplayer because he plays the role. In the examples above he's the one who actually is a pirate in-game. OK he lacks the window dressing but a player who is a pirate without acting out as one is more a pirate than a player who isn't a pirate but acts like he is.

Once you have a full world of people with competing goals you get very interesting play emerging. Someone who starts by being very much a gamer gets sucked into the role.

Let me give an example from Larp. I used to be a member of quite a militant faction of orcs, goblins and other such creatures in a UK event. Our leader was something of a carebear which didn't quite fit the faction. A very cunning clique of players started calling him Dark Lord and humming the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars whenever he walked into the room.

By acting as if he was an evil overlord the gameplay followed. Even though he's not naturally inclined that way he was lured to the dark side by the expectations of an appreciative audience.

So if Leetboy were to start playing a pirate I believe he would gravitate from the lolololol teabagger stage to a sophisticated and interesting characterisation if he played it long enough because of the demands of his role and the complexity of the game's interactions.

I've seen this behaviour happen. Most pen and paper role-players have seen it happen.

So the main purpose of QP is to create a virtual world where role-playing behaviour emerges as a direct result of game design. Warhammer Online has "witchhunters" who are just a generic melee dps class who probably never even think about prioritising witches as targets. In QP witchhunters are paid exp for hunting witches and not for anything else. So QP will have witchhunters in a roleplaying sense because our witchhunters will actually walk the walk.

And I hope that also explains why I think Eve is more of a role-playing game than World of Warcraft.

Klepsakovic wrote: "I suspect the unfortunate truth is that most players don't want to RP."

And that my friend is why we don't tell Leetboy he's roleplaying. We just let it sneak up on him.


Jack: "Permadeath needs to be meaningful, or at least death less pointless. I don't want to lose a year's worth of work because I lagged. If you must have permadeath make the death of a long lived character beneficial in some small way to your next one. Even tabletop RPGs (which seem to be your comparision) have ways of getting characters back."

Well originally most people played D&D and AD&D at levels lower than 9. Ressurection is not available as a player ability until level 9. Many other games either had no ressurection mechanic or significantly discouraged it.

In Call of Cthulhu your character slowly went insane as you progressed. There would be a point in your progression where your character became a NPC maniac and you needed to re-roll a new one.

Stepping back further many many games do not offer persistence. You can play Chess for a year without having "wasted your time" because your king died in the first match. You can play with your toy soldiers again and again even though most of them die every time.

RPing is often compared to acting. Actors don't give up because their character dies. In fact many of the most interesting characters do die during the drama (MacBeth, Boromir).

Consider what Richard Bartle said in his IDC presentation earlier this year:

"There are three kinds of story in MMOs
- indeed, in all games
Backstory describes what happened before the MMO went live
- how the elves came to Middle Earth
Narrative is what the designers arrange to happen
- quests to help the Fellowship of the Ring
History is what actually happened
- cool, I fell off Weathertop!

Of these history is the most important."

The most interesting and powerful history in a dramatic sense is character death. This is very clearly illustrated in our culture - the death of Eowen in LOTR, the sacrifice of Jesus in the Christian religion. Very very powerful images that resonate through our lives.

Permadeath does not rob players of anything if you play to experience a history rather than to accrue personal power. It adds to the game since it makes the story more interesting.

I played Hardcore Diablo 2 for two and a half years and before that many larp and pen and paper games. It does suck to lose a character. But it's worse to lose a character to boredom than to lose a character to misfortune.

Why limit people by classes?

Two reasons:
to make it clear to people what their job is (eg Witch Hunter).
to make it easier to reward people for doing their job

Essentially the game depends on players being incentivised in differing ways

Players abusing the system

Tesh wrote: "Your lawyer example wouldn't have much pull if the lawyer didn't have the ability to draw up binding contracts, in this case, of inheritance. That's one example of a power that might easily be abused by players."

Players always abuse systems especially if they see an advantage. People farm kills in Warsong Gulch while the flag runners go by. Goons use Grid Fu to exploit the draw mechanics in Eve fleet battles.

It's something to tinker with in QA and Beta rather than a game-breaking design flaw.

I don't even see what the problem with binding contracts is. There are binding contracts in Eve and slick and smart players get advantage over naive and foolish players constantly using the mechanic. It just makes things more interesting.

You don't need to swaddle players in cotton wool.


Klepsakovic wrote "When decisions have permanent consequences it makes people avoid mistakes at all costs, meaning constant checking of third party sites and planning out exactly how to run a conversation and there goes any sense of immersion."

I think the solution to this is secrecy and change and the social element.

Don't reveal precise mechanics in great detail, it's not a raiding game.

Changing hidden mechanics is a legitimate way of keeping the theorycrafters from "cracking" the game. In some games theorycrafting players enhance it. If as a developer one feels they are not enhancing it then change things unannounced. Nothing would be more discouraging than recording 10 000 swings at a target dummy only to be told a week later that the same experiment is giving different results. A games company is not obligated to provide entertainment for theorycrafters to the detriment of everyone else who plays.

Lastly the thing about competing goals is that most of your really difficult challenges are social. Back in the day we did some advanced PVE content in Star Wars: Galaxies. We could sometimes get a Dancer to come along. Now there was no loot for her, the drops weren't going to make her prettier. To get her to come and to stay for a while we needed to feed her a constant stream of chat and compliments because the game didn't give her any reason to be there so we had to come up with something to make her want to stick around. Very different from raid leadership in WoW!

In Diablo 2 at first it's very striking how defensively characters are built in hardcore. You get obssessed with stats at the expense of immersion. However after you've played it a while it becomes normal so you get immersed again. It's just part of the learning curve.

Miscellaneous questions

"The town/city/wilderness skills was a cool idea. I liked it a lot. Can classes multiclass or train cross class? Sometimes my artist likes to dabble as a part time guard or adventurer. Or maybe my diehard criminal has a soft spot for clothes."

The beauty of permadeath is that you get to try everything out in time. It's a very alt friendly mechanic.

I'm thinking of a general skill package for each player. So a town-based artist would get his art skills and some general town skills like haggling, not getting lost and so on. The criminal with an interest in clothes needs to find a tailor though.

"As for transaction times why not set timers for the items used instead of for the quest type itself? So a painter can paint as many barns as she can stand to in a day but no single barn can be repainted within 24 hours of the last paint job on that barn. Also why limit a person to just one job per one unique person a week? I want Harold to be able to help me milk my cows and paint my barn not just one or the other."

It seems an obvious weakness in a transaction based system that people will just level off each other. In SWG medics sometimes used to duel and heal each other while ignoring wounded players wanting treatment nearby.

"For the assassin; a quest giver gave me an item would this get added as an xp bonus too? As in a dagger has a base gp of 5 and I get one from killing a particularly week target, do I get 5 xp?"

Yup. Assassin is a trade class and you progress based on your income, barter or cash systems both acceptable. The whole point of being one is murder for money.

Initially you are going to need NPC based transactions. Even Eve started this way. The economy is strong now (well actually its in decline but its self sufficient at least) but it originally need NPC support.

Mmm, not sure you need this in fantasy. Just give everyone basic combat competence and the ability to find a stick or a rock to use as a starting weapon.

Remember everything you give to a NPC you take away from player crafters. I kind of like the notion of a queue of customers wanting to get a Basic Knife off a weaponsmith on Day One.

"The rock god seems annoying. Screaming into microphone. Pop ups after the griefing stops."

I think reducing the radius when they get Thumbs Down would sort that out fast. If someone is being an ass soon you won't be able to hear him or get his pop-up unless you stand on top of him while he plays.

"And the kings. I would seriously campaign to be a king just to raise taxes to 99% and kill as many people as possible. Problem with that?"

That's wonderful because you'll establish a context where people really appreciate good kings. I think that would really enhance the story.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Player-created porn in MMOs

In response to my ideas on classes in Querulous Plains Tesh brought up a very interesting objection:

"all of this runs into the typical problems with anonymous internet art; way too many people who think porn is cool and being rude is OK."

I'll admit I hadn't thought of this even though I've heard of this before.

It first really came to my attention with the assault on Second Life players by the flying penises of the Goons.

What made this particular storm in a teacup absolutely fascinating were the over-the-top responses of aggrieved party Prokofy Neva such as

"Your notion that they "need" to be shocked and they "have to understand" that it is "just a video" game let's us know the kind of Nazi stormtrooper/Leninist KGB cadre work we can expect."

Entertaining stuff!

I found a Youtube video. Don't click the link if you don't wish to see an example of a Second Life flying penis:

See it soar majestically through the skies

In WoW you can simulate sex with a druid character by mashing the sit key very fast while in bear or cat form. It creates an appearance of thrusting that is very sexual. And furry.

People also cyber and simulate sex with non-druid characters although its not quite so explicit. Nevertheless the tunnels of the Deeprun Tram and the inn at Goldshire have a reputation for "erotic roleplay".

And in most games now pvpers celebrate victory by "teabagging" their opponent's cold dead corpse which is actually simulating a fairly extreme sex act.

OK, so we know it's a problem, how do we make a game that contains it to acceptable levels.

You can just ignore it

As far as I can see in both WoW and Second Life it's just ignored for the most part. I know that recently in SL they've created a special zone for all the porn but it bumbled along quite happily before that with plenty of porn everywhere.

Possibly people might have been banned for harassing individuals but just displaying pornographic avatars in SL or simulating eroticism with your WoW avatars seems to go completely unpunished.

There is a limit on what you can ignore however.

In most countries child porn is illegal, you can go to prison here in the UK if it is on your PC. If it becomes present in a game, even if in cartoon or hentai form then the server admins surely need to act.

Second is anything involving grooming. "teenagers, phone Dirty Bill to lose your virginity + phone number" is something that you would have to act on.

In some jurisdictions the authorities will take less lenient views. China has recently cracked down on a broad range of video games that in the opinion of the Chinese government cross the line with regard to public decency. I suspect that the main reason this hasn't happened in Islamic countries is because the religious laws tend to be made by very elderly men who probably have absolutely no idea any of this is going on.


The next question I'd like to consider is who is responsible. Philosophically I'm inclined towards the view that an individual is responsible for his own actions. If someone uses a MMO game to meet and abuse children then that individual should go to prison, not the game devs.

Next if it's the software that is to blame then which piece of software? If I'm shocked by something I see in WoW and my jurisdiction allows me legal recourse then do I sue Blizzard or my isp or Microsoft Windows? All of those companies are involved in providing software that has allowed another person to offend me.

Is it the government's fault? If I'm offended by someone from, say, Belgium, should the Belgian government act against the individual on my behalf? What if it's a crime here but not there?

Is it my responsibility simply not to use the internet or play games where I might be offended?

Co-operative approach

I think in the end a co-operative approach is called for.

Governments should legislate where they feel a need to protect the morals of their citizens. If China or Australia bans my game that's correct for that country. If it's not supported by the people and it really matters to the people they can lobby their government or ultimately replace the government with one that suits them better.

As a game developer however I do think that where you can, as an institution, take action to protect minors from sexual predators and unsuitable images.

The simplest way is just to slap a M, Mature, rating on your game. It should not then be sold to minors at all.

You could devise in-game mechanisms for dealing with it. For instance in Querulous Plains you could devise a Puritan character class who gets exp for hunting down smut and a Judge character class who gets exp for punishing players the Puritan and Police players catch. That doesn't necessarily diminish its role in the game however since it makes it playable content.

And of course in an impact pvp game like QP there's a simpler solution. If someone offends you then you can get some mates and just kill him and burn his paintings.

You could ban accounts that create porn. There might be considerable scope for grey areas however. Are naked breasts porn? Well, they have been in almost every M rated film since the iconic American Werewolf in London and those dvds are not considered porn.

If you create definitions then for some players the challenge will be to subvert the spirit of the law while keeping within its letter. For example "no graphical depictions of intercourse, everything else goes" would result in a slew of pornographic imagery more disturbing than mere intercourse.

I think this is a real area of concern for anyone managing an online community and a very difficult problem. People do behave worse on the internet. The internet is heavily used for communicating porn. If your game supports player creativity porn is very likely to follow.

But I don't think people who run virtual worlds can just ignore it. The main problem is that online sexual predators are likely to be attracted to a game community that combines teenage players and rampant pornographic imagery and behaviour. If some child is raped and murdered because of your game that could lead to you or the people you work with wishing you'd never made it for the rest of your lives.

It's also a problem that children will play the game and see images they are too young to deal with. It's very important that if your software supports porn you make the dangers explicit to parents of younger players.

There are also political problems if your internet virtual world has significant player-created pornographic elements. China will ban you. Maybe other governments too. Parents may try to sue or get you closed down. Negative publicity may impact your game.

I realise that MMO games are subjected to a higher bar than films or books and that some gamers may feel this is unfair. But gaming is a very personal experience and it's an interactive one. If you see something you don't like in a film it's natural to look away. In a game it's not natural to log out so you may get pursued by someone trying to get a rise out of upsetting you.

Lastly it's perhaps important that designers should solve these problems before someone else solves it for them.

Monday 3 August 2009

Querulous Plains: crafting system

Resource stats

In Star Wars: Galaxies resources were rated on different aspects like Malleability, Conductivity, Toughness. I like that idea and think something similar is in order for this game.

However instead of stats being so random I think it suits a fantasy game better if different resources are different quality. Mithril may have some small variation from bar to bar but it is always lighter and stronger than Steel.

Rare resources

The presence of crafter resources that are better and rarer than more common resources provides a great opportunity for plot to be attached to them.

Let me give an example. The absolute best bows in the game are made of Ent-wood. Moreover any woodworker making an item out of Ent-wood gets a lot of exp. However any Woodcutter cutting down his fellow guardians of the forest actually loses exp.

So an unscupulous Woodworker persuades a naive young woodcutter to go with a group of adventurers Ent-hunting. The day after he turns the treants into planks (or next log-in) the Woodworker player receives a private cutscene pouring on with a trowel the tragedy for the woods of enticide and the cutscene is followed by a "You Have Lost Experience" message across the centre of his screen.

Then a window pops up.

Advanced Class Unlock: Druid
Become a druid? X Stay on as a woodcutter? X (check one box)

Now to further enhance this add in an ecology for rare creatures. Let's say there a 50 ents in the world at the start and too all intents and purposes they don't breed. Players will drive them to extinction creating several druids. One day the druids will log in to see a message and cut scene A Species Has Become Extinct. You Have Lost Experience.

Ents becoming extinct enables an obscure quest line to restore them once more to the world. The quest line will pit them against other players in some way, possibly they might have to get all those Ent bows back off master archer players and snap them. Oddly at this stage woodcutter players have an incentive to subtly help the druids - the best crafting material in the world for them will only become available again if the druids succeed.

Player character resources

Certain items and spells will require players as resources. For example the Dread Lord Ts'amanach can only be summoned by a Master Demonlogist who sacrifices seven elf players as part of the spell.

This naturally leads on to a consideration of more personal character details than players are used to providing. Characters should pick whether the avatar is a virgin on creation. Possibly that may change during play (although I'm thinking Gone With the Wind style curtains blowing in the bedroom window to suggest sex rather than actually making a pornographic game).

There may be a stat bonus for being a family member. +0.1% to hit or craft if a family member is within 50m. That means people have to create virtual family networks which allows evil magic involving people's firstborns or seventh son of a seventh son and so on.


I have quite a novel idea for durability: the Pigpen look

With a nod to the late great Charles M Schulz, the idea here is that all new crafted gear looks reasonably decent and as it loses durability it starts to acquire a muddy-brown pigpen look. Your sword won't fall apart if you don't maintain it it will just look crap. In addition the more fancy an item the lower its durability. A gold bikini with tassels and bells on it will acquire the pigpen look after a three day trek through the jungle.

This keeps an active market for player crafters without forcing adventurer players to loose exceptional gear.

All gear is player-crafted

Boars don't drop plate mail in this system. Creatures will provide crafting resources but like the real world stuff you use is generally made by other people.

Exceptions: anyone can pick up a stick and use it as a basic weapon. Wilderness-based players will be able to find shelter and work out how to carry water without needing player crafted items.

Querulous Plains: sandbox or theme park?

This game doesn't quite fit into the conventional definitions.

Perhaps the best way to view it is as a collection of theme park rides without the rails that they usually run on. So if you play an Evangelist you have a clear set of developer-made and player-made quests and goals as well as very loaded incentive scheme intended to push you towards a certain style of behaviour.

However most other players are sitting on different rides going in different directions and the whole thing is a messy snarl-up of frustrated people shouting at each other for being in the way then grudgingly agreeing on some form of mutally beneficial compromise (or else jumping out of the vehicles and punching each other).

Querulous Plains: class system

Working title

I've come up with a working title for my new MMO RPG: Querulous Plains.

Class system

Now to talk about classes.

Basically the levelling system will be like pre-NGE SW:G. You have to earn experience by doing certain actions that are relevant to the skill you are pursuing to progress. An adventurer may have to kill things. A crafter may have to make things.

Levelling is towards a certain high point along a diminishing returns curve. For instance suppose you start with a generic 20% chance to hit that any adult character in the system will have. After X amount of experience you get to 40% chance to hit. After 2X you get to 50% chance to hit. After 3X you get to 55%. After 4X you get to 57.5%. You will never quite hit 60% nor will you ever max out.

You will never get combat skills so advanced that you can laugh at 3 peasants with pitch forks.

Every player gets a general package of skills that are either town-based, country-based or wilderness-based in addition to a set of class-based skills. Every class gets basic combat skills just like any reasonably fit adult in a medieval society. Each class then gets specialist skills to help them in their job. Progression in that job is related to actually doing the job, a cook won't become a better cook by killing orcs.

One of the key elements of levelling is the transaction system. This is a player-created quest system where one player pays another to do a job. For example a player could hire an artist to paint their house and the artist would get experience if the quest issuer signs the quest off. You only get experience and payment if the person asking for the work signs it off as satisfactory!

There are two timers on the transaction system. Basically you can only do a job once every four hours. And you can only do a job for a particular person once a week. You can't level up just by painting someone's barn 400 times.

Class: The Artist

This class depends on an extra functionality in the User Interface. Just as in Eve Online some of the basic Windows tools have been replicated in the game's UI (browser, calculator, notepad) this character will use an MS Paint type application in-game to create works of art.

At beginning level they have few colours and only broad brushes. Early jobs might be white-washing someone's barn. As they progress they get more colours and later on thinner brushes.

Class: The Assassin

Unlike other games the Assassin is not a combat character as such. This class functions more like a tradesman. Using the transaction system you accept a contract and then after terminating your target ask the contract issuer to sign the contract off.

The Assassin has good infiltration skills allowing them to pose as a lower level member of another class. They also have a surprise attack move on a long cooldown which is quite likely to kill a target. Chances of success are lowered by witnesses especially NPC guards and player police. If you think you might be a target stick to the crowds!

Assassins only get experience for gold received for completed contracts making this an arduous class to level.

Class Type: The Adventurer

This is actually several different classes, including the familiar Fighter, Mage, Cleric and Rogue. This class gains experience for completing player quests involving defeating monsters or outlaws. Someone has to want something killed, has to make a quest offering pay, then has to sign the quest off as completed in order for these players to receive experience.

Class: The Outlaw

This class levels by player killing. Any PK you do or help in counts. This is a combat class so the more players you kill the better at combat you get.

Class: The Builder

You progress by building structures. To start with you will probably build simple buildings like a barn. As you progress in the class you can take on more complex buildings and also can take on help. After a level or two you can have an unskilled helper. At high levels you can lead a team of high level builders (aka architects), supervising a gang of builders supported by a host of unskilled labour. You can at this level build Wonders of the World such as Pyramids.

Class: The Demonologist

You gain experience for player kills made by your summoned demons. Summoning demons is a high risk vocation. When you summon a demon the game generates some kind of minigame representing a contest of wills. This is on a timer and may take a different form every time - maybe a crossword, maybe a sudoku, maybe a game of bejewelled. If you lose the demon eats you.

In addition to the general difficulties of using a demon any witnesses that survive will trigger Witch Hunter visions.

Class: The Witch Hunter

This class receives visions when one of the supernatural evil character classes performs an act of supernatural evil in front of witnesses that survive 10+ minutes.

The visions are a clue to the witch's name and direction.

First you get the number of letters and a direction, eg:

_____ ___ North

Next vision will give you one letter of the alphabet as many times as it appears, eg:

N_NN_ ___, North-West

The Witch Hunter gets experience for PKing witches and can retain visions of two different witches at any one time. The more careless the witch the easier they are to track.

At higher levels your combat skills advance and you get better directions eg North-North-West.

Class: The Rock God

This is another class using a special application. This character can actually sing into the game. As they progress in the class they get to add backing music of increasing complexity. A low level Rock God might only be able to add a basic drumbeat while a high level Rock God could set up a Springsteen-class guitar riff to support their vocals.

Progression is based on a Thumbs Up system. Basically after they finish a song a "did you like it?" window pops up in front of nearby players. Players can choose yes or no.

If a Rock God is popular he can play louder in-game and the range on his Thumbs Up window increases. An insanely popular Rock God might be able to do a huge gig for hundreds of players at a volume to drown out the ambient noise. However if his massive audience didn't like him his volume and range would plummet!

Popularity decays over time so the only way to be able to play loudly is to continually receive positive approval from other players.

While some players might be genuinely adored by everyone most Rock Gods will probably go through something like the real world small band syndrome. You start off playing in front of small audiences packed with your mates. You get really over-hyped. You play in front of a big crowd and they are luke-warm. You fade back into obscurity.

Class: The Fashion Designer

This class gets its own special application like MS Paint but for fashion design. Otherwise very much like the artist.

Secondary class: The King

Politics is a disguised democracy.

The way this works in once every three months players are invited to Cheer for Their King. Players turn up to a big parade and vote for who they want to be King. If the current King wins the game launches a zone-wide cutscene of wild popular acclaim.

Any character of any class can run for office in three-monthly elections. The winner retains full class abilities and also becomes King.

Kings can cause NPC guards in their kingdom to aggro other players. They can have guards kill or capture players.

Royal consent is required before new buildings are placed in the Kingdom.

Kings can also set a tax rate, up to 99%.

After three months a player election happens. If a King loses an election there is a zone-wide cut-scene where the current King is dragged by cheering peasants to a guillotine and decapitated. The winner of the election then becomes the new King.

Example of play

A band of Outlaws is having a fine old time ganking and murdering. The local town collapses as non-outlaw players flee and the outlaws have the numbers to vote their leader Zogg the Black to the Crown.

King Zogg is ambitious. His outlaws have rubbish armour, just looting what they find and pretty rubbish weapons. He has captured two player weaponsmiths in the takeover. One of them is happy to work for the outlaws. The other has been coerced into working for them by King Zogg assuring him that any where in the world he goes he will be hunted down and murdered if he tries to leave. He could just not log on but the player finds the situation interesting in a soap box kind of way and figures he'll get plenty of exp in the short term and his freedom in the long term. He stays on as an unwilling prisoner of the Outlaws rather than leave and get killed, permanently losing his rather advanced character.

The outlaws daringly capture a caravan of iron and bring it back to town. This has certain political repercussions but the outlaws win the ensuing war and capture more non-outlaw players. King Zogg now presides over a thriving war economy and the outlaws are starting to look quite well-equipped. However three months has flown by and another election is looming.

Horrified King Zogg realises he actually has more non-outlaws than outlaws. He decides to ritually execture 20 non-outlaw players the night before the election warning his citizens that more executions will follow if anyone votes against him. (Incidentally getting a fat exp bonus in his primary class, outlaw, for 20 PKs).

The next day he wins the election unanimously and enjoys his wild popular acclaim.

The executed players now start over at level 1. They might become outlaws, part of Zogg's growing army. They could become heroic knights sworn to defeat him. Or they could move a long way away and go back to crafting.

Example 2

A party of adventurers wants to loot a treasure said to be hidden in the remote Vale of Akatosh. The Vale is guarded by a terrible monster that is said to be invulnerable. However scholarly research indicates it has a weakness to music.

At the last moment they realise they don't have anyone with wilderness skills but are lucky enough to find Bert, a lumberjack who can keep them from getting lost and set up camps during their trips. With their highly successful Rock Goddess friend, Britnay, they set off for adventure!

It's a long trek and they have to log out for the night. Britnay complains that she didn't realise it was going to take so long.

Next day they progress. Bert helpfully reminds them they are paying him by the day and pockets some more of their gold. It doesn't give him exp like the old logs do but it sure pays better! Britnay asks Bert if there are any Fashion Designers out here.

They reach the Vale. Britnay has a panic attack. No one has appreciated her artistry for a whole day! She's ruined! (Her skills have indeed degraded slightly).

Before they can approach the monster the party has to sit politely through three warm-up songs by Britney, applauding rapturously each time except for the time when Bert clicked No by mistake (he was watching telly). That almost caused the group to collapse until someone pointed out to Britnay that it would take three days to get back alone without Bert's wilderness skills.

The party makes it past the monster and gets hold of the treasure. A treasure map is a special item that functions like a player transaction: effectively the party will be paid as if for completing a player transaction if they get the loot back to civilisation. Unfortunately Bert gets himself eaten by a crocodile.

It takes three days to get back. Britnay's singing skills have deteriorated alarmingly mostly because the party are all thumbs downing her now they no longer need her to soothe the monster. Even worse her expensive outfit is ruined since in this system style needs to be compensated for by lowering durability. All those sparkly gold bits and tassles lower the durability of a piece of clothing when the Fashion Designer makes it.

However they check into civilisation and get their exp.

Unfortunately the King is not happy to hear he is now short of one lumberjack. He demands compensation. The group has to grovel and hand over half of their loot.


I've tried to give an example of a system where the design of the system itself will cause roleplay to happen. The key to this is that players should have different goals and are rewarded differently.

Sure a bunch of griefers might just try to mess things up for everyone but this system gives them a role and a RP purpose. They are playable content for other players and other players are playable content for them.

One interesting facet of this system is that some of the classes have an ecology. If there are too many competent Witch Hunters then Witches and Demonologists become very rare and very careful so Witch Hunter becomes uninteresting and hard to level. People re-roll thus allowing more of the evil supernatural characters to enter the system.

RP emerges!

Spotted a wonderful blog post exploring the fundamental idea I have that roleplay can naturally emerge in MMOs because of the game design.


Sunday 2 August 2009

A design idea for a MMO RPG

Let's role!

I present to you a game idea designed to encourage roleplay in a MMO setting

Role-playing games became a sensation in the 70s and 80s because they were such great fun. Now they are in decline because it seems the technology works against them now that most of us would rather game online than travel out to someone's house on a Wednesday night once a week for four hours of dice and pizza.

I think there's a lot that could be done to bring the enormous fun of roleplay back into gaming by making it a more core element of MMOs.


When I talk about role-playing what I mean is a game design where people use characterisation to progress. To win, to beat an encounter, you may have to get inside the head of your imaginary friend and act appropriately.

RP in modern MMO tends to be a side-interest. Not only do the main progression mechanics not depend on RP they actively discourage it. A Paladin who refuses to group with demon-using Warlocks wouldn't get very far in WoW raiding.

RP is a form of play. Dancing on tabletops in inns while typing songs about beer isn't really playing the game, not in any progression sense, it's a sidetrack. It's something you can do instead of progressing in the game.

In order to make a genuine RP game you need to incorporate RP into the play mechanics.

RPing to win

One of the best examples is Baldur's Gate. In that game you are given branching options at most of your dialogue points.

Let me give a generic example: You talk to the little old man and you can either rescue his drowning cat or laugh at him while the poor moggy goes under. Your decisions will eventually change the dialogue options that you are offered and open up new story that you wouldn't see had you picked the other options.

The easiest way to play such a game is to roleplay. It's much easier to think "I'm going to be as mean as I can at every opportunity" than to look up on some site how to leverage each quest for maximum reward.

WindupAtheist over at F13 did just that and wrote it up as a story. Despite this being an old game this story is very interesting and fresh because RP is creative and ever-different.

His story demonstrates one of the challenges for an RP MMO: you have to anticipate the unexpected and build a world that supports it. So cupboards in random NPC's houses have stealable loot inside and there's a system for NPCs getting angry that players are committing crimes etc.

It also demonstrates that there will be loopholes: he says "and for the record I haven't actually lost even a single reputation point yet. Haw" and then he explains about the Reputation mechanics.

Player police

What follows on from the demonstrated faults in Baldur's Gate's judicial process is the notion that computer justice will always be exploitable so what you need therefore are player police. Players whose progression depends on their ability to catch and punish criminals.

Some ideas for this profession include:

Accuse ability - challenges another player in an area controlled by NPC guards. If the other player has committed a crime in the last 24 hours the policeman fines them 100g per Crime Point and gains experience. The criminal loses status.

Capture ability - upon defeating a player in pvp combat a policeman can "capture" a player turning them into an inventory item for 5 minutes which can be redeeemed at the local jail for fine money and experience points.

The players are your content

With player police, player politicians, player villains, player heroes, player cooks you create a world where players are creating interesting content for each other simply by pursuing their own disparate career paths.

This is very much like what Star Wars: Galaxies originally set out to do. In that game you had player politicians whose content was their citizens. You had player Bounty Hunters whose content was the highly illegal and rare Jedi characters.

SWG saw people really getting behind their roles. Scout players tended to go off exploring and get a feel for the lay of the land. Entertainers were concerned about their looks and their act and whether people liked them. We had an Entertainer come along to tourist a tough combat instance once. The instance was important and serious business for us but for her it was just a daytrip sightseeing. We really didn't want to upset her because she was actually very useful but we didn't have any reward to offer her. So it created the interesting situation with a hardcore raid team escorting a mildly bored tourist around a dangerous zone trying desperately to keep her motivated by complementing her outfit, her adventurousness, her dancing etc etc.

To get players to role play you must give people different goals. If everyone wants to kill the raid boss then people stop roleplaying and start theorycrafting. If 3 of you want to kill the raid boss, one wants to catch criminals, one wants to steal all the loot at the end of the run and one is just tagging along because she's bored you actually have a natural setting for RP.

So to make the players your content you need to give everyone reasons to interact with players who aren't necessarily pursuing the same goals.

Let's look at a game that does this brilliantly: Eve Online.

In Eve miners mine rocks. They do this for ISK but a side-effect of them doing this is metal is available for crafter players and easy targets are available for pirate players. The metal gets turned into ships and ship components a process that generates work for ancillary professions such as researchers and haulers and again offers opportunity for pirates. Ships etc get sold to various players including pirates, pirate victims, and in the process offers opportunity to financial predators to act as overcharging middlemen.

The economy basically runs on war, the more ships killed the more happy everyone is.

Very few players in Eve have the same goals as other players outside corp or alliance ties. But the whole is a beautiful synergy where the more any player does the more content there is for other people.

In a character-based MMO it is necessary to create the same virtuous circle of player involvement if you want to get players to role play their parts. Players need to be good at their roles to succeed and those roles depend to some extent on other players doing what is needed to generate content. So for example the politician player declaring a city next to the volcano might need a raid to kill the volcano monster once a year. The killing of the volcano monster might be a great opportunity for merchant players seeking to buy a rare metal harvested from its hide worth a fortune to metalsmiths.


This is another concept which is somewhat unfashionable these days but it's key to a role-playing MMO. If people and their stable of alts can simply solo all your content, your police player can level up by arresting your burglar alt then you won't get role play nor even much of a game.


One character per account

High interdependency of professions.

For example EQ2 launched with the idea of interdependent professions. However every crafting player had 7 alt slots and a hugh store of resources. In that game in order to harvest the resources you do want you have to harvest resources you don't want to free the nodes. This meant that it was highly tempting to simply level crafter alts rather than shop around for the components you were supposed to be dependent on. I think the first time I played I ended up with 8 different crafters all around level 20-30.

In the game I'm proposing you get one trade (if that) and it's either a harvest trade or a gathering trade. So you might have for example
- sorceress - strong casting skills, no trade
- mage - moderate casting skills can scribe spells and make paper
- woodcarver - moderate combat skills, can make bows, quill pens, wooden weapons and shields
- woodcutter - no casting skills, moderate fighting skills, can harvest wood, some outdoorsy skills

So your sorceress would need to interact with the mage to get her spells written, the mage would need a woodcutter for paper, a woodcarver for quills (who would get his wood from the woodcutter) and an alchemist for inks.

Complex interdependency leading to involved player interaction.

Time and distance

To create a meaningful economic game you need to get rid of instant travel and a centralised auction house. These are mechanics to support a game where economic issues are a side-concern, barely a part of the main gameplay which is about getting a raid together and killing a dragon.

Putting time and distance in means you give value to merchant and highwaymen roles. You create opportunities for clever players to make money. Your economy is interesting instead of simply a spreadsheet.


You can't have a truly immersive RP game if the single most pertinent and meaningful element of life is missing. A character can't live unless it is able to die.

One very valuable aspect of permadeath in this system is that it gives meaning to the bravery of people who risk their lives and opportunity to people who prefer to sit in town in comparitive safety.

A plethora of classes

Not only should there be many classes but players should be encouraged to invent them. If someone invents a class it can be quietly introduced into the game. For example:

"My Lord, there's a man here who claims to be a lawyer."

"A lawyer? What good is a lawyer to us?"

"Erm, my lord? Are you the descendent of Ethelgrad the Magnificent who died owning the Sword Of Tyr and 2 rooms full of gold bullion?"

"As it happens so I am. What of it?"

"Well my Lord if your previous chara..., erm your illustrious ancestor had made a will you would have inherited all that wealth."

"Really? Sounds good, what do I have to do to make a will then?"

"Well so far My Lord this consultation has incurred the fee of 100 crowns....."

So here a player spots that there's a gap in the game system, asks the GMs if he can make a lawyer character, is quietly given the green light and goes out to make his fortune. A player-created class.

No Superhumans

Historically anyone with a weapon can be dangerous. It was perfectly normal for societies of the type that most fantasy MMOs are set in to call upon the general population to take up arms or even to be deposed by the populace in a bloodbath.

In this game while someone can choose to be a pure crafter they should still be moderately dangerous when they pick up a weapon. The only way to do this is not to have level 80 superhumans with mudflated gear. So while adventuring will make you more dangerous you progess in baby steps and even the most maxxed out player in the best armour might be in serious trouble against 3 peasants with pitchforks.


Putting the RP back into MMORPGs could be a very fruitful and successful endeavour but must be built on the notion of consequences. Even in the upcoming SWTOR the gameplay will encourage an RP system by closing doors to people. If you shoot the captain you don't get some benefit later in the mission.

This is a more extreme development of this basic idea. In creating a highly consequence-laden and interdependent game you bring back something that has rather faded from the current crop of MMOs.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Eve Online: playing by automation

One of the things I'm liking about EVE is that the game is very undemanding in terms of your interaction with the controls. You don't click stuff as often as in most games.

Your first fights consist of targeting the enemy, turning your laser on and hitting Orbit. Then you watch the spaceships shoot each other until either you win or you decide to run away.

I haven't had that in WOW since my paladin was about 40 and I used to kill mobs by starting autoattack then reading my book until the combat noises stopped. It's a playstyle I like.

The next big thing is that a considerable amount of gameplay is passive. Real world time, not played time counts for a lot.

Your character is mainly defined by his/her skills. Skills accrue at a certain rate reardless of whether you play or not.

At the time of writing I am learning Astrogeology to level 4. Each level improves my mining by 5%. It will finish in 15 hours, 46 minutes regardless of anything I do. I'm actually going to watch football tonight and while I am not playing I know that my character will be diligently studying his textbooks. Tomorrow I will be a better miner.

I have made a trading alt. She just sits at the biggest trading hub with a large amount of Buy Orders aimed at picking up skill books that players sell off at cheap prices and a number of Sell Orders for books that I've managed to obtain at prices which are pretty expensive. It's very much a passive process. Logging in and jumping up and down won't make people buy any quicker. So I just log her on once a day, update her orders, count my money and go back to playing my main again.

The game's travel system is also fairly relaxing. To travel from solar system to solar system you Set Destination for where you want to go then your route will show on your Overview as a yellow highlight. So I just look at the stargates listed, click the yellow one then click Warp To. 30 seconds later I'm there and I click Jump. Rinse and repeat until you arrive.

Alternatively there's an even lazier way to do it. Set Destination and click Autopilot. Twenty minutes later you come back and find the ship in the Destination system.

In High Security space travel is pretty safe. I've been ganked once in High Security space. I had a load of valuable implants and skillbooks on my trader alt and had actually fallen asleep with her on autopilot. I woke up a couple of hours later and she had been suicide ganked. Someone had checked her cargo with a cargo scanner, spotted that it was pretty valuable, murdered her, got killed by the police, then had a friend steal the cargo from the debris of our ships. Serves me right really, since then I keep her items inside a container when I fly her around trading.

In low sec I've been ganked a few times now, mostly because I've had a long trip and have afked or alt tabbed with autopilot on. Some of the journeys I make are long trips with one low sec system on the way. It's crossing that place that is the problem.

Generally autopilot in high sec is pretty safe. And even the paying attention way of playing is about 2 clicks per minute. So very much a non-twitch playstyle so far.

All in all Eve feels like it automates much of the busy work that you find in games designed, dare I say it, primarily for younger audiences.