Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Horrible Ball of Fire

I've been playing EVE for over four months and really enjoying it. Although I only have a couple hours a night to play, I don't think I could handle more time with it. PvP and piracy can be intense, and living in low-security keeps me on edge constantly. It's emotionally draining to just travel around. The environment provides the exact grand emotions I originally sought, yet I admit I occasionally wish for more meditative gameplay (e.g. mindlessly farming mobs).

I've created a more informal journal for my EVE experiences and thoughts: Horrible Ball of Fire. The higher level design articles related to EVE or MMORPGs I will continue to post here on TATI, but any play session that I feel is story-worthy, no matter how inconsequential, I will record on Horrible Ball of Fire. I often video record fights so that I can review them later and identify mistakes, but I also post them on youtube to share.

My favorite article thus far is about my attempt to destroy a battleship with my tiny frigate: So a Wolf and Armageddon walk into an asteroid belt. My heart was racing and my stomach was full of butterflies from the moment I spotted the ship on scanner until the fight was over. It was the most emotionally intense experience I've ever had an in video game.

So if you are interested in reading more frequent and informal stories and analysis, then be sure to check out Horrible Ball of Fire. I try to keep the jargon down, but some times I forget.

Monday, December 26, 2011

World PvP: A Common Model

World PvP comes in many forms, yet there is a simple environment model that gets used over and over again. It can be seen in World of Warcraft, EVE, Darkfall, Dark Age of Camelot, and many other past and future games.
  1. Rewards for engaging in PvP.
  2. Risk associated with entering "PvP" areas.
  3. Non-PvP content/rewards in those areas.
This simple list describes Isle of Quel'Danas, Tol Barad, and world bosses in WoW; low-security space in EVE; dungeons in Darkfall; Passage of Conflict in DAoC; and any resource node or choke point in any MMORPG with PvP capabilities ever.

Rewards include crafting materials, mob access, safe passage, money, abstract currency (Honor), and loot. Note that territory control is not a reward in itself--owning land for the sake of owning land is meaningless and players will not value that "resource" unless it gives them an advantage or creates wealth/value, including vanity (player houses). Territory control is often an objective in competitive multiplayer games, but at the very least players win the game by claiming control--most MMORPGs are not "won". Compare the difference in activity between the Zangarmarsh control points in BC WoW (gaining a +5% experience boost in the zone), to the Spirit Towers around Auchindoun (allowing bosses to drop Spirit Shard currency). [TC rant over...]

Risk is "exposing (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss". Something must be risked to have infectious PvP. It could be as minute as lost time on a corpse run, or as harsh as the entire net progress of your character (permadeath). The severity of the potential loss directly correlates to the emotions conjured during those risky situations. The more the player risks, and thus the greater the consequences, then the more intense the emotions associated with PvP events (fear, thrill, fiero, agony, anger). Adrenaline can be addictive and binds players to the game (or makes them run in terror). "What a rush!"

People are risk adverse and are afraid of losing value. But the beauty of MMORPGs is that none of it matters! It's all make-believe.

Make-believe squid-monster riding giant eagle-horse.

The Non-PvP content in the zone attracts "grazers": players that are not looking for a fight, and will be tackled by a tiger if they don't pay attention. These players serve as content for the hunters (and the hunters provide thrilling experiences for the grazers--hooray symbiosis!). If this hunter/hunted paradigm is used, it is a good idea to include tools that allow players to evade or to truly hunt other players (foot tracks, dead mobs, chat, scanners, etc.).

Do not think that grazers are innocent victims. Players will alternate between hunters and grazers rapidly depending on what their immediate goals are. Also, longer term grazers ("carebears") who engage in risky behavior to amass rewards at an accelerated rate are the ones trying to cut corners. ;)

Assuming players are frequenting zones that follow this model, it is likely that World PvP will foster. The combat itself has to be vaguely interesting in order to motivate players to use it, so dull combat can thwart any attempts to create this environment. World PvP is an emergent dynamic and a powerful aesthetic of combat, aggression rules, and scarce resources. The fundamental mechanics need to be solid first.

Friday, December 23, 2011

World PvP Case Study: EVE Online

During my definition of World PvP, I explained that PvP in an MMORPG is inherently unfair, and World PvP is simply a mindset. It isn't knowing how to attack, but when, and for what purpose. World PvP is less restricted, and involves nudging a situation in your favor.

I expounded on this concept with a look at WoW's history to help illustrate that world PvP is much more of an emergent behavior, sitting on the Dynamics layer. WoW uses rewards in particular to guide players, perhaps accidentally, in one direction or another.

A very different game with very different architects is EVE Online. World PvP in EVE is so encompassing, so defining, that it is difficult to dissect. Put simply: there are safer locations, but nowhere is "safe"; and your ship is forfeit as soon as you undock. The most popular mantra (warning?) of EVE is, "Don't fly what you can't afford to lose."

(It is important to change the way one thinks of "possessions" in MMORPGs when playing EVE: ships, modules, buildings, and commodities are all tools for content. If one becomes attached to these virtual items, it is emotionally difficult to risk and lose them.)

EVE has significant information warfare. Knowing where, what, and how your opponent is flying is paramount to success. Players must capitalize on this knowledge while not showing their own hand. It is a game of buffing, baiting, taunting, misdirection, and downright dirty tactics where players let the enemy think they have the advantage, only to seize it away.

Baiting is the act of letting the enemy think there are fewer ships in the engagement. When the bait is taken, players are prevented from docking or changing solar systems for 60 seconds. In that window, friendly ships undock, enter the system, or warp into the fight.

Solo vessels can also employ bait tactics: if a ship has some form of health repair, they could artificially sit at low health trying to provoke a target into attacking a damaged hull. Once engaged, the ships are prevented from docking/jumping, thus the ship repairs his health and kills the target that preyed on the weak.

Hiding half a fleet, using cloak, and "hot dropping" capital ships are all within the realm of possibilities. Undocking in "High Security" space with an expensive ship or cargo could get you suicide ganked.

A less "honorable" form of PvP is "gate camping", where unsuspecting ships warp to a gate, only to be surrounded by hostile players with fast-locking ships or warp disruption fields. In these situations, as soon as the player made the decision to use the gate, they lost the fight. EVE provides maps and intelligence tools (solar system statistics, directional scanner, and proactive bookmarking). Failure or unwillingness to use these resources is as fatal a mistake as not turning on weapons.

It could even be said that the economy and marketplace of EVE is a form of PvP. Arbitrage, undercutting, speculation, and many inventive scams exemplify a player vs player system where knowledge brings riches and haste is punished.

World PvP in EVE involves significant preparation; many fights are not won on the battlefield. EVE also comes with the expectation of PvP everywhere: assume a fight is around the corner. Pick any Sun Tzu quote, and it applies to EVE.
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.