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RazorsKiss

PvP vs PvE in a Space Combat RPG - postmortem

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Let's start by defining a "Postmortem". On GameDev.net, this is how it's defined:
Quote:
A postmortem is a procedure whereby you summarize a project's history and analyzes its positive and negative aspects. The goal of a postmortem is to draw meaningful conclusions to help you learn from your past successes and failures. Despite its grim-sounding name, a postmortem can be an extremely productive method of improving your development practices.
You can find a list of postmortems HERE. In this "Postmortem", I'll be examining Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative. Why? 1. It was the very first Space Sim incorporated into a MMORPG. Thus, it will always be "listed" as such. It will be a benchmark, until something that exceeds it comes along. 2. I'm in the concept stage on a game project called Æon Stratios. I'll post links and such later, once I get it past "initial concept" stage, but suffice it to say that it'll be in the same "genre" as Jumpgate. 3. It helps, when planning your own project, to examine the the things that were good AND bad about a game you admire, and similar to your own. So, there you go. We begin. Alright, I'm at concept stage on "yet another game". Suffice it to say that it'll span several genres, include RPG + a persistent world. In no way, whatsoever, though, am I expecting it to be easy, quick, or anything but a huge, huge project. Don't worry about the details, because, honestly, for the purposes of this post... it doesn't matter. Yet. The design of the engine and etc will go like it goes, and that's that, really. Slowly, too. The design PRINCIPLES are the real point, at this stage. WAY before you work on any of the technical details of the game, you have to define certain concepts, and the gameplay of the game you're going to design. So, I got the "common objections" (ie: WHY ARE DESIGNING ANOTHER MMORPG!!11!!!eleven!!... and the like.)out of the way - (I hope) since that's really not the point of the post. I don't mind the objections, really. I'm more interested in... concepts.. at the moment. In the "Monster Repellant" post of Wavinator's, we got a bit off-tangent concerning PvP, and how it affects players, and the design of the game. So, I'm going to post some of my experiences, and some of my ideas concerning PvP, PvE, the role that falls on developers when designing their games to incorporate both styles, and the complications that arise when you do so. With me so far? Alright. I'll take a deep breath... and dive in. Experiences I'm a veteran gamer - started with Elite, back on the PCjr, played every space sim/combat game ever, just about. Played a good bit of the RPG's, a hefty portion of the MMORPG's, FPS', RTS', and, of course, fhqwhgads. ( :D ). Tons, and tons of games, k? Combat is a selling point with me, whether it's PvE, or PvP. I started out on Elite, and just HAD to kill those mantas, cobras, vipers... It's never stopped, for me. Descent, Freespace, Wing Commander, Tachyon, Independence War/2, and, most recently, Jumpgate. See, everything before Jumpgate (in the space sim genre, at least) had only a limited, passing relation to the background story, and the world you inhabited - at least in a multiplayer setting. Elite, Wing Commander(s), Freespace(s) were all incredibly addicting worlds... as long as you only played single-player. Allegiance fared a bit better, but only marginally. Most space sims, when you get to multiplayer, are pure shooters - no RPG elements at all. Jumpgate, though... oh man. The first MMORPG... space combat simulator. There wasn't any before it, and only just recently are a couple coming out to compete. It's the dream some of the devs here have - a group of 4 guys, in a colorado basement, designing and building the first ever space simmer's MMORPG. I loved that game. In fact, I just recently quit the game, after playing it since beta testing - in, umm... '01 sometime. I ran one of the 3 all-time largest groups in the game for a good portion of that period, so I have a good perspective to offer on PvP vs PvE. In a minute I'll tell you why that is. After I tell you about Jumpgate. About Jumpgate In Jumpgate, you fly your ship, first person style, all over the galaxy - roughly 50 sectors. (I don't feel like looking up the actual number atm). You can fly quick little shuttles, light/medium/"regular"/heavy fighters, bombers, scouts, or, several classes of cargo haulers. There's 6 factions - 3 playable, 2 Roleplay only (nonplayable) factions, and one "AI enemy" faction. So, basically, there's a bit for every playstyle. I'm here to tell you how the "grand experiment" worked out - and what I noticed (at least from my POV). This is partially the desire of an aspiring developer to pick apart a game he wants to improve, and partially an essay on the "grand conflict" between the two playstyles that goes on in SO many MMORPG's. So, umm. Bear with me, and feel free to discuss it. This is going to become a *real* article, at one point, so I'd appreciate the input, really. I started at the *very* end of the "actual" beta, and learned the "basics" then. There was a prety steep learning curve for PvP, which I never became "excellent" at, but got good enough to hold my own. Mostly, because the squad I helped run was devoted to the PvE aspect of the game - hunting "conflux" (That's the squad site - the squad's still active, and there's a lot of info about that PvE activity there, if you're curious. I designed the site, so be nice please! :D). As PvE'ers, we had to be VERY conscious of the PvPers - because the game allowed almost unlimited opportunities for non-consentual (shoot anything) PvP combat. There was an attempt to hinder "non-combatants" by the introduction of an "Honor Guard" system - or, basically, a registry that says "I'm a civilian", or "I'm a combatant". In any part of "regulated" (read: faction-controlled) space, there were penalties for shooting down "civilians". For "Honor guard" (read: combatants) tagged vessels, there were no repurcussions at all for PvP combat. You see, you shoot, you win/die. Interesting system, and it *almost* worked. As a PvE squad, we had to have friendly relationships with the majority of the PvPers - and stay out of their way, basically. If we didn't affect them, MOSTLY, they'd leave us alone. Sometimes, we'd have "incidents", but because we grew to be so large, eventually, they were few, and far between. "Honor Guards" (henceforth referred to as "HG", or "HG's") received a bounty when they shot down a "Civilian" (henceforth referred to as "Civ"). So, as it goes in games, bounty hunters went after the bountied pilots, and a relative balance was achieved. For a while. Inter-relationships See, in Jumpgate, there were many, many "types" of players, from both "gameplay styles". On the PvE side, there were explorers, AI hunters, cargo haulers, miners, pseudo-factional economy boosters, station stockers, and etc, etc amen. PvPers relied on these types to keep their equipment stocked at the factional stations, and to supply them. The "unwritten rule" was to leave the PvE'ers alone, because your supplies depended on them. Attack the other faction's stockers, and you'd find your own being attacked (or quitting, if they were exceptionally annoyed by non-consentual PvP... We called these types "carebears" :D ). On the PvP side, there were the "factional" hardcore PvPers, who fought anyone from other factions who did "bad things" in their territory (read: gave them an excuse to attack them :D). There were others who only defended their own territory from incursion, and still others who were only "part-time" PvPers. Still others were the "bad guys", and were pirates, non-conformists, your typical griefers, and the "random Pkers" that are so annoying to your typical PvE'er. The game was excellent, the balance *almost* worked. A couple problems, though. Like in all games, when interest began to wane, the company promised an expanson pack, with all kinds of neat stuff. The problem was, this was an MMORPG, full of people who had never played one - a large group came from the "I want action now" space sim crowd, and many others came from the "I want Elite online... but not necessarily where other players can kill me" crowd. So many divergent interests, one single game, and frustration rising, because... the developers didn't meet a deadline, and kept having to push it back. Well, the missed deadlines lost them players - and lost them the critical, "part time" PvPers, and the "adventure loving" cargo hauler crowd. The "hardcore" players started getting annoyed, and piracy/random PK events rose with the loss of the usual "bounty hunters", and the people they preyed on were the type that didn't want the non-consentual PvP. They had been "protected" by the status quo so long, that they didn't realize what COULD happen, if the balance went away. To top it off, the "hardcore" trader types found an economy exploit that was subtle, but killer for exacerbating their woes. The economy didn't reward via deman, but only by supply. So, some adventurous traders started making millions a day. This had a very, very bad effect on the game, as I'll explain next. When the "hardcore" traders started making millions (this was well before the "great exodus"), the PvPers discovered that a very short time could make them the same amount of money. eventually, EVERYONE was making money hand over fist. This went on for months. This had some nasty results on the balance that used to work so well. 1. Cargo haulers weren't needed anymore - everyone had the money to do what they were doing. Plus, a great many of them were exploiting the economy quite badly, which led to later problems. 2. PvPers didn't need PvE'ers anymore. 3. PvE'ers no longer had the "free ride" they used to, for several reasons. I'll explain some of these further. 1. By washing the economy with so much money, the PvPers no longer had to worry about dying, or where their equipment came from, or how to pay for it. They could fight forever, with no repurcussions. BAD, for an RPG, and BAD when bounties no longer mean anything, because they're rich! 2. PvPers no longer had to, or wanted to, rely on PvE'ers to do what their situation now allowed them to do - fight forever. They had the money to bring the equipment in, with a short run, since the market was now flooded. 3. Some of the PvPers resented their "tactical sim" being reduced to a "deathmatch". They blamed the cargo haulers/PvE'ers for the issue. To some, "matter farmers" (the exploit used to make loads of money) were the enemy, and the battle expanded until many, many of the cargo haulers left entirely. So, we're stuck at a point where there's VERY high tensions... Then, finally, the "expansion" was released. Well, it wasn't everything it was cracked up to be. It had problems, which affected everyone, and it continued spiraling downwards. Well, to add to the "flavor", after all the bugs were fixed, the ability was added to "pirate" (REALLY pirate, not just extort money from) haulers. That's when it got REALLY ugly. So, not only was there an active PvP vs PvE "war", but now pirates could actively steal from the haulers, too. The PvE'ers, many of them, became PvPers (and got slaughtered, pretty obviously), and that cost a LOT of players. The two largest squads, which were both PvE-based, were mere ghosts of themselves by the end, with over 2/3rds of their players gone. The PvPers ruled the roost, and they've never really lost that position. So, after that (relatively) short postmortem, here's some issues I identified. A. Balance can change VERY quickly, in unprecedented ways - even when it's "always worked". B. Additions to a game can totally change the paradigm, very easily. C. The PvP vs PvE issues have to be very, very, VERY carefully discussed, determined, and resolved, before a game with both playstyles EVER goes into production. It also has to be monitored after it goes live, and fixed, should problems arise. D. PvEers really have no recourse, save PvP, unless you GIVE it to them. The PvEers in Jumpgate shot themselves in the foot by removing their own recourse. (And having that recourse negated by a poor economy design). E. As much as it's the "designer's dream" to have a self-regulated system to keep nonconsentual PvP within bounds, that has to be taken with a grain of salt. So. What do you think? I'll probably expand this, after discussion, but I just wanted to get it out and in SOME sort of (marginally) coherent form, before formalizing it as an essay. NOTE: I'm going to put this together more as I go, so check back, if you're interested. I'll also be reposting it to my blog. [Edited by - RazorsKiss on September 5, 2004 12:02:06 AM]

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Hey. So I was pointed to this thread by a friend who reads these boards daily. I'll probably start reading them more and add my input. I am not really a Dev, and have only midl interest in ever being one. But more I just love to play.

But hearing this story, I felt somewhat compelled to reply. I want to talk about Star Wars Galaxies, and share my experience with that. Using knowledge and failures of more games might help your future.

As all of you know, SWG is the first ever SW MMORPG. so as a huge fan of the trilogy, I had to get in. I was in a club with a guy, and he decided he wanted to get ready for SWG. So this was 7 months before release. I got into beta about 3 months later.

The game mechanics were not to bad initially. You kill stuff and get xp, and gain new skills when you get enough xp.

Now for me, I ran the intel for the main force of the Rebel Alliance on my server. My group that I was part of were the best 30 guys on the server. We had the strongest leader, and this guy had already been runnign the oldest SW club on the internet. We could take down groups in PvP 6 or more times our size. We were just that much better. And it wasn't just higher skill, but we worked as one. We knew everything about the game, and knew how to win.

That group ended up inventing all the original tricks of the trade to get everything we needed faster then everyone. For 6 months, we were good.

Now the PvP system, there are 3 allegiances you can get, and two levels of them. You could be Imperial, Rebel, or Neutral. And as an Imp or Rebel, you could be overt or Covert. Overt means any overt of the other side can attack you at any moment. Covert means you are safe, unless they happen to be rich enough to have had a covert detector, which makes you overt. So most crafters tended to stay neutral. And also there were thnigs called a TEF, or Temproary Enemy flag, which is really what you got if you engaged in combat with the opposing faction as covert. You were overt for 10 minutes.

The part with TEF could lead to lots of griefing. IF you were covert with a group of any overts, all it took was for them to attack your overt person, and your whole group could sweep in and attack him.

There were also Combat Medics, who have a poison that can destroy your hp in seconds and it is all but impossible to stop... boom your dead. They could it you from a long range, and never missed. Totally killed the true combat of the PVP game when those came out.

Then around 6 months into live, there were no Jedi yet... And being SW, everyone wants a Jedi. So the devs decided to invent Holocrons which give you hints how to become a Jedi. The whole game shut down, and everyone started tryign to loot these, and so the first Jedi race started. My whole clan all quit after that. I came back 4 months later to see what had changed. There were now about 100 Jedi out of thousands, and know one knew really how to become a Jedi still. So the Devs decided to waste the next 6 months making a standardized quest based system. Nothing new came out in the game since then. They finally released the new system this last Tuesday.

But that isn't all, this is the part they made me think to post here. When Holocrons came out, no one had tons of money, but everyone was well enough off to get by to get new stuff and be happy. When Holocrons came out, everyone who just wnated money could sell them for millions and be rich with one lucky loot. So the devs decided to do a quick fix, and raised the rewards for doing PvE hunting missions. So prices over inflated, and it cost over a million creedits for a decent pistol.

As a high level character, I could hunt the largest paying missions, and make a million creds in a couple hours work. It was easy, with no risk of dieing. And with PvP all but dead, everyone was doing this.

Now there were a few Jedi around, I as a former head of intel knew everyone practically when they became one. But the thing is, you would think Jedi would be good combantants at least? nope. My skill template could take down a couple Jedi at once if I was on the ball that night.

A little PvP started, but it was mostly people trying to hunt Jedi, who got a TEF during any combat at all. And you could challenge random ppl to duels, but I could spend an hour in 1 duel with someone the same template as I had, and not get anywhere.

Now, everyone has millions and millions, everyone just goes and grinds xp, and doing quests that even a fresh character at novice could complete most of. And the the new Jedi quests came out. Not a sinlge person in the game does anything but that. And all the old JEdi I know, some of them friends, practically retired bc they were sick of it. I was too, and so I finally quit for good (I hope).

The only thing that really kept me so long was the whole SW MMORPG. That had been my dream (wether I knew it or not) since I first saw the movies. I wanted to always play a person in the SW universe. Well I had lots of fun the early months of the game. And am very glad I wasted that first semester of college in SWG.

But I feel good getting that all out. Thanks. Hope even any of it helps. I can go on and on about any minor detail, spend hours telling stories of battles and times I saw the game falling apart before my eyes.

If you want more, my contacts will be in my profile. Feel free.

-Prajna

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I disagree.

However, I'll be editing this further, as I go on.

I may end up making a series based on Jumpgate experiences, with various portions of the "experience".

With so many aspiring "Space MMORPG" makers, it might be interesting. *shrug* Not too many people have heard of, or played the only *sim* MMORPG, afaik, so it may be an interesting study.

Edit: I may end up turning this into a real, submitted article, and include a LOT more detail. I'll get it to a more finished state on my blog, and we'll see.

Also edetid fur speeling :P

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Well thought out. Very good observations. Unfortunately, you further confirm for me personally why I should stay the hell out of the MMOG arena. [smile] I've never had a positive experience in a MMOG game, which I think is a prerequisite to being able to design one (can't design that which you can't master, I think).

It is really too bad that the game went south the way it did. In my experience the two show stoppers are failure to clamp the economy (games need a Federal Reserve, not built in, but run by a Greenspan game equivalent who gets paid to watch these things); and mixing the PvP and PvE players, who are really of two different minds. On the last note, it's always struck me that PvE players just DO NOT like the hurt feelings that come from losing to another player. I play both game types, and there is a decided unfriendly edge (which I contribute to) when it's deathmatch. Too much gloating, too much supremacy, too much trash talk creates a noxious atmosphere that a player should only be a part of if they want to.

I'd be interested to see your thoughts turned into an article, btw.

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Then we disagree. *shrug*

Let me also add slightly to my above statements. I should've added "in a persistant world" as a qualifier. PvP in finite worlds such as Allegiance or Tachyon's basewars is definately viable in my opinion.


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