PvP Implications

I’m finding it difficult to comment on issues. I’m more into directly tackling the problem. Well, maybe it’s just at times that’s what I’m into. So, I’m going to do something I have found to be rather productive: writing what amounts to a stream-of-consciousness analysis of some game mechanic or system. Today’s rambling will be on some of the implications of Player vs. Player combat systems.

It seems that often more risk = more reward. Things gain significance as more is put at risk. The flip side is that some thing or activity will not be particularly important if there is or was nothing put at significant risk. I’m thinking of accomplishments, though dedication to a goal is significant. So, it’s not just risking something… in addition there is the significance of dedicating one’s time and energy to a goal. But I’m getting off track. I’m supposed to be digging into a PvP-related mechanic and its implications. I thought I needed build up some justification that to have a truly valuable gaming experience you had to have everything put at a very real risk. Ah, but it doesn’t have to be “either, or”. A valuable game experience can come from either dedication to a goal or from truly putting something on the line in the hopes of accomplishing some goal, or a combination of the two. I’d say most MMO design has been squarely focused on the latter, and I think as a result the potential for truly valuable game experiences is gimped from the get-go; gimped by half, or nearly so.

Anyways, we want as much user-generated content as possible. That implies player cities. These cities must be as open-ended as possible. That means there is little that is directly dev-defined. Start with a fully-developed player city. What does it look like? Well, there are houses. Lots and lots of houses. But loads of houses all packed in close to each other does not define a city. There has to be some official thing al the players do to trigger a cluster of houses to become recognized as a “city” or “village”. They have to have built a city hall. That city hall structure, once built, essentially creates a sort of “spawn area” with a defined territory, that is, the city limits or an area of influence. This city hall requires a mayor, who is elected somehow by the owners of all the houses within the town hall’s area of influence. This mayor, then, can set what objects are protected within the area of influence of the town hall, whether they be specific players, specific clans, structure types, creature types, etc. When an entity is on the “protected list” of the town hall, whenever it is inside the area of influence of the city hall it is flagged as “not attackable”. So, player cities then become safe zones.

If a player is not on the “protected list” of a city hall, he is fully attackable by anyone while he is within the city limits, just as he would be if he were outside any city limits; he cannot attack anyone on the “protected list” while inside the city limits. However, if someone on the “protected list” attacks him, that player is immediately flagged temporarily as attackable, even though he is within city limits. Any entity at any time may be put on or off the “protected list” by the mayor or designated player with those permissions.

What about when a non-attackable player attacks someone outside city limits and immediately runs into the safety of the city limits? Well, when a player engaged in combat with another player or creature enters into a city’s limits, he is given a cool off timer that keeps him attackable until it expires. It has a default time, but a city can set how long that timer lasts by donating resources.

The area of a city’s limits changes based upon population, chosen city upgrades, surrounding cities’ limits and their relative strengths, as well as what buildings have been constructed. Envision the system in Rise of Nations where your nation’s borders adjust based on the relative strength of adjacent nations. If a mayor builds a turrent tower near the edge of the existing border, the city’s limits will bulge out around that tower. If a player builds his house near the edge of the limits, the city limits will bulge out around that house, though not as much as for the turret. A mayor could choose to engage the “expansion” city upgrade that boosts the city’s limits, but for a cost in resources and currency which must be paid for out of the city treasury, which in turn is fed by the mayor’s selected tax rate. To allow for some very meaningful commodoties market influence, city maintenance must consist of not only cash but specific kinds of resources, all of which must either be donated or purchased on the player-generated market with city funds.

Interestingly, a player not on the “protected list” could build a house inside city limits, though both he and his house will be continuously marked attackable. This allows for players to build harvesting equipment inside an enemy city’s limits as part of a challenge to their influence. After all, it’s one thing to lay claim to something, it’s another to be able to defend it. This defense, however, will be stacked in favor of the occupants of the city, since they can choose when and how to rid their land of the intrusive structures. A pre-existing structure will remain attackable unless marked otherwise by the mayor or his designate.

Turrets and other defense structures will automatically attack anything marked attackable so long as they are fully maintained (paid for) and stocked with ammunition. They, however, will not be attackable by those being fired upon, as they are city structures (unless they are marked attackable for some reason). All city structures are technically destroyable, but only when the city’s defenses have been unlocked by an invading faction. A city’s defenses can be unlocked by essentially paying for it, and even then there is limited window of opportunity within which all structures are attackable. To unlock a city’s defenses, an invading faction member must first get into the city hall and pay the necessary fees to unlock the defenses (the fees are “laundered” through a city-unlocking item crafting system). The exact “price” will be calculated based upon existing city defenses, population, donated cash and resources to the defense fund, etc. Then, the defending city’s mayor has 24 hours to choose the window of opportunity within which his city will be attackable; the time windows will be discreet 2-3 hour chunks within the following 2 days. Some likely balance issues can be worked out by adjusting the required “fees” to unlock city defenses or by requiring additional missions or quests to be completed (think of the Task Forces in City of Heroes, something very challenging for the elite members of the attacking faction).

When a city is attackable, all buildings are, well, destroyable. The attackers can win the city by either destroying the city hall or capturing it. Upon capture, the highest-ranking member of the attacking faction can choose to raze all buildings in the city or assign ownership of each one to any member of his faction, even himself. Upon destroying the city hall, the city is stricken from server records and all the buildings simply return to being a cluster of buildings.

Upon destruction, a structure can be salvaged and looted. Salvage and loot amounts will be some random percentage of the total materials and items present before destruction. If the owner of a house in an attackable city doesn’t want to lose his stuff, he has to either pack it all up and move or defend it ferociously. Alliances with other factions, and the ability recruit mercenaries would really really matter when your stuff is at stake. When a city is in an attackable window of time, it’s a free-for-all, just as if the battle were taking place in the middle of the nowhere. Anyone can join in the skirmish. To help make it more obvious who is on what side, members or allies of a player’s faction are flagged friendly. Those not members or allies are flagged as enemy. The faction system must allow for quick allying and un-allying.

An interesting hook in this system is that it can fit right in with a dynamic creature population management system. A city is really just a spawn area. It additionally adds a terrain definition to its territory as being a “city”, so the various creatures that have an affinity for “city” terrain will eventually be found there. The competing city limits system is an extension of spawn area interaction system – it simply treats each city as just another spawn area. NPC factions can then calculate what kinds of activities it needs to engage in in order to optimize its own situation, and creating missions and quests are included as an available activity.

Another interesting hook is that player cities will become the start points for new players. When a new player chooses where to begin his adventure, she can choose one of several qualifying player cities, each of which has built a “newbie building” which puts them on the list. The benefits of attracting newbies would include larger population, meaning stronger defenses, larger economy, larger land area, more security, etc. Significant kingdoms are quite possible.

The placement of cities would also matter to a significant degree. Mostly static resource deposits would result in high strategic value to certain land areas. Cities placed in mountain passes would actually mean something if they could really restrict passage. Cities placed in close proximity could benefit from mutual protection or even engage in high-stakes economic competition. And none of this would require a single developer to define. It would just simply… happen.

The implied faction system fits right in with the way the creature management system handles relationships between any two creature species (or “factions”). You can apply and be accepted as an ally with any NPC faction, given you have sufficiently high faction rating with that faction. You can ally up with another player faction, given they choose to accept you. Your faction rating with other factions will be influenced by those with whom you officially form alliances. Only allies will receive any spoils of war through the game mechanics, though of course players can give stuff to helpers who were not officially allied. I’ll do another rambling on a faction system some other time. It’s cool stuff 🙂

The above is a snapshot, however fuzzy, of what MMOs will be. And oh how freakin’ cool they will be!