Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My MMmanifesto - PvE

Wait, no. Kill ten rats! Nonono, wait, that's not it either. Well, it has something to do with hitting pixelated goblins on the head with a magic sword, but aside from that, what's the role of PvE in a game that's defined by player interaction?

The main point of it is to provide excuses for that interaction. Here we're getting into a lot of issues that stem from the transition from single to multi-player games. There are many features that were just carried over seemingly without thought to whether they fit into the social setting of a virtual world. Levels, classes and quests i'll deal with in other posts, but the main point here is the necessary shift away from the focus on making fights against AI interesting.

In a persistent world, the point of killing a mob is not the fight itself. It's the reward. Mobs should be varied, with varied abilities and a great deal of randomization. There will inevitably be a lot of farming, and one way to spice it up is by giving mobs rare abilities they only use once in a blue moon. They should generally not be just sitting around waiting for players to come smack them over the head, but wandering around on their own agendas. The population of mobs in a an area should vary, possibly based on player actions. This is in part the replacement for the complexity of individual fights in single-player, keeping things fresh, but it also keeps players moving and interacting, and helps even out the natural imbalance between larger and smaller player groups.

I've been presenting the ideal persistent world as PvP-centered, with destructible player-built structures like houses or entire cities. Larger groups of players (zerg guilds) will inevitably be more powerful than smaller ones and will be more able to secure profitable resources like mines or forests. This is desirable in itself as a reward for organization, but it cannot be allowed to progress to the level of an actual victory where one group of players chokes off all the resources in the game world. The balance can be attained through the difference between static and mobile resources. Shifting, traveling mob populations shift out of the control of zerg guilds and provide smaller groups of players opportunities for lucrative hunting.

As far as individual fights against monsters go, variety is more important than complexity or challenge. PvE should not advance to the point where players spend all their time in attempt after attempt at defeating the same raid boss, cut off from the rest of the game world.Certainly some monsters should be harder than others, some encounters should require large groups of players to defeat, but they should not require them to focus exclusively on that one encounter until it becomes necessary to segregate them into instances so they can do it in peace.
It's difficult to say what PvE should look like because as long as it feeds into the player crafting economy or affects the game world and doesn't interfere with player interaction, every addition, every variation is beneficial to the game.

- Hordes of mindless zombies shambling around waiting to get shot
- Skittish, fleet-footed deer that run away form players and have to be driven into traps
- Bloodthirsty sharks that can be lured by leaving an unlooted fish carcass in the water
- Devilish trickster mobs that pop out and nuke players to death in random places
- Monster villages waiting to get cleared out
- Invasions that deny players access to certain resources or NPC cities until enough people band together to end the infestation
- Buffalo herds migrating across the landscape as gigantic bait for players to compete over
- Giants or dragons rampaging through the countryside destroying everything in their path
- Mobs that hunt other mobs, competing with players and requiring extermination

Honestly, as long as it doesn't become a minigame unto itself, sky's the limit.

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