Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Querulous Plains: raiding

Querulous Plains is somewhere between a virtual world I'm designing and a home for all my off-the-wall armchair design ideas.

I'd like to describe how I see raiding working in this world.

Competitive PvE.

In football most fans like to see their team's hard man kick someone in the shins while making it look like he was trying to get the ball. And they love to the 12 year old come on at half time and bounce the ball two hundred times without letting it drop.

But what they pay for, what they cheer for, what keeps them coming back year after year is the struggle to score goals at one end and prevent them going in at the other.

In MMOs we've seen shin-kicking presented as the end-game. 0,0 in Eve, a mean area of skilled veterans, mercilessly killing any trespassers. We've seen arenas and battlegrounds adopted by a minority of WoW players. We've seen Conan, Warhammer and Aion launch with the aim of providing end-game pvp of depth.

We've also seen ball-bouncing presented as the end-game. Zone into your own private sub-area with some of your friends and kill a boss monster in privacy. It can be intense and challenging. Yet it's private, what you do in there really isn't terribly interesting to anyone who isn't in there with you.

What we haven't seen much of is competitive PvE.

The nearest we've come to it is Everquest's world raid boss spawns. They were a pretty horrible mechanic. At some point during a week a boss would spawn and uber guilds would frantically telephone people telling them to drop everything and rush to their computers. The first guild to get their team together could take a crack at it. The rest had just rushed there for nothing. Better luck next week.

That's horrible in many ways, mainly the need to organise your life around your hobby and the no second prizes element of people who don't come first not even getting to play.

Visualise a raiding system where killing a boss is one small step you take in a military campaign, a campaign in which you are striving to out-perform your rival factions.

Your raid content is always there. No one can tag it so you can't have a go.

Your raid content is interesting to other people. Killing a boss is scoring a goal for your faction. Your friends smile, your enemies groan.

In Querulous Plains there will be 4 levels of raid content at launch. Raid content may be visualised as a large castle with the first raid taking place on an area of level ground in front of the castle.

- The Field, entry raid, an endless stream of monsters which need coordinated large groups to beat. Group size is unlimited and monsters can be crowd controlled or tanked which means for this content everyone is welcome. A clueless newbie is one more rifle whittling down the bad guys. Kills here score a modest amount of points for your side.

-at the end of the first month the faction who is leading on points is declared the winner. Recruitment to that faction is closed, new players can only roll on one of the two losing factions or on a different server.

- The Walls. The faction that won the first month has breached the walls. They can now attempt tougher boss monsters that spawn on castle walls giving them a terrain advantage. They will still see some packs of entry level monsters but less than they saw in the previous month and less than the two other factions are seeing. They will only have a slim chance to win Month 2 because the tough bosses only award slightly more points and are considerably harder to kill. This month should see the other factions catch up but not necessarily.

- in each month after one faction will be promoted by one level of raid. So perhaps one of the other factions farming the Field will breach the Walls. Or the faction that raided the Walls could breach the Bastion. Only factions that are behind other factions are open to new players.

- The Bastion. An area of tough raid bosses. In addition raid bosses on the Walls and in the Field will occasionally spawn during raid attempts and need to be held away (creating a second min-raid). Essentially you will need to raid with a second raid force in reserve ready to peel off and engage add raid bosses. It is harder to earn points when in this mode than in earlier modes which will allow the losing sides a chance to  catch up.

- The Inner Keep. The final raid. Adds from outer zones are a significant hazard and the bosses here are exceptionally tough. Points alone are not enough to win, you must defeat the Four Nemeses to claim victory.

- Victory. If a faction wins the server is effectively closed down. There is a day allowed for people to log on, celebrate and enjoy (or endure) scenes of the losing sides' towns and cities burning. PvP is globally enabled so players can victimise their foes or put up heroic pockets of resistance.

Winners are allowed to create a new character on any server. This new character will get Son of [original character] or Daughter of [original character] after their name. This can grow over time so someone with 5 straight wins would be Great-Great-Great Grandson of [original character].

Losers have to re-subscribe (pay again). Just like any other new player they can join the game and attempt to win. Possibly this may be the main revenue source of the game. In other words if you win all the time you play for free, losers and new players finance the business.

Crafting is a key element to success. Weapons break in this system as does armour. End game raiding particularly as you get towards the Inner Keep is brutal on a factions supplies. Players will have to work hard to produce enough weapons and armour to sustain raiding. It is certainly possible that raids could falter because they don't have enough equipment.

Raids rewards victors with crafting inserts. These inserts when used in a craft will produce better items than normal. Using these items effectively is a key part of winning the game.

In general players are fairly even in power. The difference between a new character with starter gear and a veteran with mastercrafted dragonbone loot is not huge. It's not a system when getting a new weapon doubles your dps output.

In conclusion there is a market out there for players who want to beat other people by killing dragons, not by ganking them and teabagging them. There is a demand for games where people can drop in casually for 20 minutes and be useful but where hardcore players are still fantastically valuable. And this game would provide a very different raid experience that people would love to play.

After all we all love to win!


  1. PvE races for people with 20 minutes already exist: AV.
    "losers and new players finance the business." Losers have a bad habit of quitting, permanently.

  2. I loved the original 4+ hour Alterac Valley. Of course they were more pvp than pve in those days.

    But if you imagine Alterac Valley with just one side and the same hours-long slog as back in the old days that's how I see Tier 1.

  3. AV would have been very slow without other players to slow us down. The old version used NPCs to supplement player defense, or the other way around. Either way, against only NPCs it would be pretty quick.

    I'm not sure I'd have much fun with PvEvP. Why not join a hardcore guild and race for server firsts? This sounds similar, except that individually you have so much less ability to influence events.

  4. This kind of competition already exists since MMOS exist - comparing gear with another guy of the same class, nowadays also checking achievements.

    But you are right, it has never been officially made part of the game.

    Guild Wars tried it with the "Challenge Missions", and score boards listing points and time needed to complete them. They have not been received well and were not popular at all. Now one wonders if it was because the missions itself were boring or if the clear comparability of results (you can always be convinced that your gear combo is better/perfect, or offers much more bang for the buck, or somehow is better despite the other guy having this or that better item) was turning people away. Or maybe there simply is not really a need for a competitive pve environment of that kind.

    It somehow also collides with the contemporary MMO socialism: Every content should be accessible for everyone.

    Accessible is nowadays often mistaken and synonymous for "victory is granted for every idiot, including yourself". :)

  5. What I have in mind is taking loot out of the equation to a large extent.

    So a sword made from Tier One Dragonbones might be 80.6 dps, a top mastercrafted sword might be 80.1 dps.

    WoW and other MMOs that are so loot based make people obsessed with loot because they offer huge upgrade. That one item will make your character.

    I'm hoping here to change the chat from "where does X drop?" to "how are we doing?"

    Possibly 80.1 to 80.6 dps is too big a gap even, it could be 80.1 for top end crafted and 80.2 for entry raid loot crafted.

    Now Guild Wars added these challenge boards in after the game had been around for a while. That's always going to be a side issue for players, to make something like this work the whole game needs to be built around it.

    As for colliding with MMO socialism these projects take a long time. If we started development tomorrow the market would be very ripe for some MMO elitism.

    In any event unlike old school raiding where if you didn't hardcore raid you were nothing the guys farming Tier 1 will always be scoring points for their team and being useful and getting raid loot even if they're too inept to be worth taking to Tier 4.

  6. Oh one other thing. A big element of making people concentrate on the team over themselves is the whole "loser pays" deal.

    Is that a good idea?