Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Knights vs demons

For years, if not decades, I've been thinking about the basic layout of a game that can run forever. No, not how to make a "really fun" WoW clone, not about the "right" scenery, story or mechanics, but basic - even pen-and-paper playable - rules that guarantee that the game remains fresh forever, like sports that are played for centuries without "content patch".

The current technology doesn't allow good and on-time PvE content development. You either spends years of creating content that players consume in less than 100 hours and have a blast or you create "meh" repetitive content that they consume as you build them. Only PvP content can be entertaining and in large supply. Look at League of Legends with one major map played again and again and again and players still love it due to the opponents and teammates always creating new content.

OK, let's just make PvP games. But then comes the the PvP curse: the top 1-10% of players are more powerful than the other 90-99%. In EVE, 7K pilots did half of the damage in 2014. 500K did the other half. All the game balancing is done to tone down and defuse this bad situation. This is either a frustrating cheat (World of Tanks) or a world-less, sterile ladder system (League of Legends). None of them can even hope for a persistent World where you can make difference. EVE tried it and struggling with a few elite groups dominating everything, stomping out everyone else and then making RMT deals on top.

Recently no one tried to build a PvP-MMO, because it is considered impossible to balance the pros against the casuals. I agree. But what about harnessing this and build the game around the reality? Ladies and gentlemen, meet the "knights vs demons" design philosophy.

The core idea is the eternal conflict of two asymmetric factions. The "demons" are meant to be played by pro players and the demon playstyle fits them: ruthless, rewarding for success and punishing for failure while as competitive as possible. The "knights" are meant to be played by unskilled casuals and this playstyle value participation, socialization and cooperation.

Generally, the demons and the knights are competing on a persistent map for strategic points. These forts serve as base of operations for the faction controlling them and provide nearby respawn and rearm point and buffs for fighting nearby. For knights owning a fort means easy farming of the nearby lands for resources. They spend it for building more forts, building gear (which is lost on death but easy to replace) and on "improving" their vanity guildhall in the safe zone. Demons on the other hand don't need the land resources. The only resource they need is human souls that they harvest from killing humans. While they can loot corpses and take gear and resources, they only do it to grief the humans. Human souls are the "ammo" for their more powerful attacks. To prevent simple alt-farming, they can't carry more than 2. They must harvest during the fight, practically killing one knight by a powerful attack just to get the soul back.

As I've said, the knights are cooperative, participation based and social. There is not a PvP situation when a knight should be unhappy seeing another knight nearby. There is no friendly fire and killing a demon creates a "morale" buff which affects everyone on the server for a short time. Of course those who are around get a more powerful version, but there isn't a single knight who shouldn't be happy to see a demon slain. There would be large guilds working together with any kind of theft is forbidden both by mechanics and by the GMs. Any form of griefing or insulting is forbidden and policed by GMs. All knight classes would have methods to buff or heal or otherwise help a fellow knight. The preferred method of killing demons is zerging them down in large numbers. This is encouraged by the toplist: everyone who was nearby when the demon died or damaged it in the last 5 minutes gets a point. Same for capturing a zone. So it's a participation list, not a skill-list.

To be welcoming to casuals, knight classes would be easy to play, therefore seriously underpowered compared to combo- and skill-extensive demon play. A solo knight should not be able to kill a demon who is not totally noob. Knights should always bring friends.

The demons on the other hand are competitive to the edge. Demon-on-Demon attacks are encouraged by the official toplist: every knight you kill (who haven't died before this day to prevent alt-farming) has a chance to give you a "pure soul". Bring it back to a nearby fort for toplist points and buff. Other demons can take it from you if they kill you before you reach the fort. Demons also have absolutely no synergy between each other and even punished by a "demonic greed" aura that decreases their power if other demons are nearby. It's like -5%/demon, so a few friends can pack together, but large groups cannot be formed. They are also encouraged by this debuff to kill fellow demons who would just tag along and leech. Player interactions (besides out-of-game illegal things) are not policed and griefing is encouraged among demons.

What prevents either demons or humans from overruning the map? Demons can use a teleport in their safe zone and forts, placing them somewhere in hostile territory. So knights can't just push a front as demons spawn way beyond it, razing unprotected forts and killing sole farmers. So knights must always whack-a-mole to keep their land clear. Demons can't capture the whole map because as they capture more and more, the knights become more dense, forming bigger and bigger zergs, and demons can't match that due to the demonic greed aura.

The idea is that both factions are appealing to one or another playstyle, so populated by either explorers-socializers or killers-archievers. Both teams finding themselves surrounded by alike players while having a reason to dislike the other faction "they are all n00bs" vs "they are all jerks", adding an important reason to fight them.


Eaten by a Grue said...

Is there progression? That seems to be the hook for most players.

Gevlon said...

Why not? I mean it's not necessary, but it's possible, especially for knights.

maxim said...

You are making quite a few assumptions.
1) Killing / achieving is not necessarily directly tied to success in the game. Explorers and socials can achieve as much, or occasionally more, depending on game mechanics.
2) To begin with, there is a roughly equal amounts of killers / achievers and social / explorers. So the notion that there will be fewer people wanting to play demons than knights is false to begin with.
3) People will naturally gravitate towards more skilled play as they play longer. Even the noobest noob will learn stuff over decades during which you intend the game to be played.

The only way i can see the proposed system work is if knights can become demons if they choose to. And demons can lose their power and revert back to knights.

maxim said...

Something like this sounds more promising:

Everyone starts out as basic knight, who are essentially newbies knighting around, not taking the game seriously enough to advance, but who are important for crowding it up. Basic knights will get advancement through "shiny loot" systems. Other people will essentially generate content for these people to play with.

At some point every Knight will receive a "demon vial", which is initially filled through quests. Demon vial is consumed for craftables. Stronger craftables require more points in the vial.

Having stronger demon vial makes the knight become stronger when wearing the loot that he himself crafted. Wearing loot that he himself crafted in all slots makes him a demon. A demon is the optimal state for power, because personal gear outscales all other gear at high enough vial levels.

When a knight goes demon, other people start to receive benefit from his demon power on gear, crafted by that demon. Not as much as the demon himself gets from his own gear, but enough so that a person that didn't really get into crafting game is served better by purchased gear than by his own. If a knight ever stops being a demon (that is, wears any loot that is not his own), the gear that people received from him will become unrepairable and will be removed from the world upon breaking. Said knight also loses his entire demon vial and all the benefits that came with it.
This creates a dynamic between a demon and "his" knights.

Any demon can curse another knight's or demons piece of gear, making that piece of gear his own. A curse can only be done by concent, or when a target is killed and a special 10 sec cast ritual is applied to its corpse. A cursed item requires singificant investment to be removed, but also gets the benefit of the demon's power at the time of cursing.

A demon cursing another demon's gear piece will break the other demon down to a knight, because the other demon is no longer wearing his full set. So PvP between demons can have essentially "death-of-character" level of consequences.

Any knight can obtain a supremely powerful "angelic" piece of gear, by besting a demon in combat and taking a piece of his loot through a special purification ritual. This ritual is not available for demons. Obviously, this breaks the demon in question. Angelic gear is stronger than all demon gear available for knights and rivals the effect of demon wearing his own gear, and thus is a constant draw for all knights, and is also an incentive for demons to have their own knights attack other demons.

However, every piece of angelic gear in the world makes demons lose a % of their vial every X IRL time. It can be used by lesser demons to upset the power balance against stronger demons, but demons cannot tolerate having too many angelic gear in the world. Cursing the angelic gear removes it from the world.

If a knight ever puts on a full angelic set, he becomes an "Angel", getting 100% damage bonus vs demons and an angelic sort of curse that breaks demon-enchanted gear. Presence of an Angel in the world is a constant threat to all the demons, that need to band together and hunt the Angel down, or potentially lose their entire progress. Alternatively, they can serve the Angel, protecting him from other demons.

The Angel is strong enough to challenge NPC factions (ruled by NPC Angels). Should the PC Angel succeed in usurping the throne of an NPC angel, the NPC angel is then replaced by the PC's Angel avatar, and the PC Angel gets the ability to flag the NPC faction friendly or hostile to other individual demons or other NPC factions (but not knights).

However, an Angel cannot log out of the game anymore (if he logs out, his avatar stays in the game). So an Angel is able to make game-Lore alterting events, but also needs constant protection.


Wow that escalated quickly :)

Esteban said...

The design will, I'm afraid, crash on the rocks of Dunning-Kruger. Most people, even socialisers/explorers/white knights will not outright admit that they're joining the 'individually underskilled' faction, and as a result you'll have a majority population of crappy, bickering demons and a minority of unhappy, farmed knights. Expect 'gtfo to knights' to become a common taunt demon-side.

I would, actually, join the knights in your game and try to win by superior organisation; as a dedicated and reasonably competent social, that would be the challenge I'd enjoy most. However, I am certain there would be very few of us.

Anonymous said...

I would play this game, probably on both sides, depending on mood. I think you're on to something in trying to find a way to bring together asymmetric play styles, Gevlon. WoW's approach has been to separate PvE and PvP (while failing to balance for both styles) and even to separate PvE into a variety of non-interacting experiences. This would let people get ideological about their playstyle in a fun way.

Gevlon said...

@Esteban: socials has the wonderful ability of self-delusion. No scrub ever admitted being bad at games. The better players aren't better, just no-lifers.

@Maxim: I don't think less people will try to play demons. Most will just fail and either join knights or leave the game. Both are good. The No1 mistake of game companies is trying to hold every player and fail to really catch any. If someone believes himself to be super-leet without being any good is better dumped.

Anonymous said...

You basically described naval action

Bad language is immediately chat bans you
Griefing is not allowed
Pvp is free everywhere - no highsec
Pirates are demons and can attack each other (they even have a demon rank)
Nations are knights and must cooperate and can't attack each other

But demons-pirates have decided not to leet PVP and started to cooperate. And now control half of the Caribbean and are allied with Dannmark-Norge which was one of the small hard nations and received lots of Russian pvpers as a result.

Ulrik said...

I think sounds fun as well! Initially there may be a lot of demons, but good tuning can make sure that the few knights can group up to gain buffs while the demons have to turn on each other to remove the debuffs.

The weaker demons then might want to join the awesome knights who can group up and slaughter demons, while the stronger ones farm demons until the debuff is low enough. This could be great.

Esteban said...

Yeah, but self-delusion is the essence of my point. Lower-skilled people still won't join knights because knights will become known as the no-skill faction for people who can't cut it as demons. Most will rather quit.

It would take some slick (hate to say it, but old-Goon-style 'we suck but we still win lol') marketing to keep the knights attractive to their intended playerbase.

Still, some kind of faction asymmetry by design is a good idea, and may well be a magic bullet. It just ought to be a bit more subtle.

Gevlon said...

@Esteban: no, the knights won't be "low-skilled", that's why they are designed to be weaker than demons. A knight vs demon 1v1 is unfair, so no knight will ever face the fact that he suck. He was just caught unlucky.

Demons won't be considered "l33t", but "nolifer assholes" by the masses (and not without reasons).

Ulrik said...

The intended player base for the knights is not sucky griefers, it's people who want to band together to accomplish stuff (ie PVEers). I'd join the Knights in a heartbeat.

One challenge is to make sure the Knights won't just zerg any demons they come across. Demons will need clever tactics to work around a knight zerg that rolls around the map like an Arathi Basin zerg. It might actually require more coordination to play demons than knights, in some situations. (You have to coordinate your people AND keep them spread.)

maxim said...

Trying to hold all the players is not a mistake.
To begin with, if you don't cater to all players at all levels of play, you don't get enough playerbase to sustain a modern MMO.

A more complicated notion is that even the purest of killers need to be able to occasionally kick back, relax and have other types fun. Just killerin' all the time really gets old quickly. There is a reason why WoW vanilla honor grind didn't take.

Anonymous said...

Why not make a King of the Hill style game where players who wish for recognition can assault the land's capitol in a Siege battle (with organization similar to old Ahn-Quiraj opening event). Your demons will be switched to nobles and kings, players must fight for their rights instead of voting systems. Skilled players will be drawn to pvp and politics, powerbases will establish themselves for total control of the gamespace. Newbies will start out as serfs, PVE content will lead them to establish themselves as minor nobles in the kingdom. From here on, 2 choices are possible: either expand the kingdom to earn themselves land as PVE rewards that they can improve, or they enter politics and PVP to gain recognition faster.
Any player can challange anyone for almost any position, the learning curve and social dynamics will sort the hierarchy out. The most powerful position is the King and the Council of Six, each Chancelor representing the six most powerful factions in the game. The King has the right to give orders to anyone, non-compliance is treason, hence lethal. He also sets tax policies, recruit an army against immediate threaths (PVE events with NPC invasions etc.), while keeping the confronted factions in check. The Council gets a percentage of the tax collected by the King as long there is a King on the throne and get rewarded by the King for proper services. If the King is disposed of, an Interregnum initiates with an NPC-Puppet King being a temporary ruler until the Council elects the next King. However, while in interregnum, taxes can be set by the Chancelors in their own ruled areas, but there is central standing army to hold off PVE invaders, which will become increasingly stronger since no central authority exists.
The central map would consist of 3 Kingdoms fighting over strategic resources. PVE exists to expand the gamespace of factions and to procure economic goods otherwise not procurable in the kingdoms. PVP is for Kingdoms to fight each other and themselves, so the ruling class will have the need to constantly adapt to new threaths and opportunities. The ruling-class can have the power through organizing themselves or just being good at killing people. They will have the best armour, best weapons and everything money gets. What they will lack is numbers, so they will need masses of "serfs" to tip the scale in their direction. The serfs on the other hand are massive in numbers, have restricted access to endgame content due to their inability to gear themselves early on. Either they join the gang to get gear faster or they go "explore the world" and "vanquish the evil monsters of Lake Calahas" to gain the monetary funds to progress further.

NuTroll said...

Id add in the caveat that the demon debuff for relative proximity to other demons is reduced by the proportion of total knights in the area.

So if there are a ton of knights, there can be a greater density of demons. If there are fewer knights (like say right after demons win a major battle), the demons have to turn on each other or split up.

Id also introduce units on both sides that are the opposite of the paradigm for both sides. Goblins as low level demon troops that can mass but are as weak as nights (for holding territory), and Demon Hunter/Rogues who lose the ability to stealth and draw from the same energy/mana pool of demon hunting talents that give a normal human a chance (small chance, still balanced that demon should win) to 1v1 a demon, when more than one or two DH/Rogues are around (or too many knights).

Demon players could play as goblins for free (reduced death cost) to build resources to manifest as a demon (entailing risk). Imagine a bunch of goblins attacking a demon to get the points to be a demon themselves. Muahahhahaah

Gevlon said...

@NuTroll: knight zerg roflstomping demons is a central feature and the main attraction of being a knight

NuTroll said...

Even with the debuff to the debuff, the advantage should still be to the knights.

But its less fun 100 to 1 stomping rather than say 10 to 1 stomping. So allowing 100 to say 5 or 10 demons is still a zerg on the knights part. Plus if the demons manage to turn the tide, in order to collect the loot they should have to turn on each other.

The idea with the DH/Rogue is to introduce the knights to the Demon playstyle by giving it a halfway point. You would still be as weak as a solo knight, but you'd have some ability to trap/hunt an individual demon.

Likewise with the goblins. Except goblins and demons would be able to attack each other, unlike the knights and DH. Keeping any aoe/friendly fire on for demons and goblins should balance that out by limiting the organized tactics those groups can use.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of PlanetSide lattice system

maxim said...

Roflstomping big bosses is an attraction, if you know for a fact that this boss is far stronger than anything a single player of adequate progression level can achieve.
Players as big bosses doesn't work nearly as well, - the epic feeling is simply not there.

Though i admit that i don't have an experience of hunting down a Titan in Eve. Though the example is a bit different - Titans are not exactly bosses that can fight on their own, they are more like big cannons that need constant babysitting.

However, hunting down a huge ship with a pack of frigs does feel kinda awesome, even if the ship in question is some freighter. I guess this has something to do with the fact that you are not ganging up on a single human avatar, but rather ganging up on a ship orders of magnitude larger than your own. There is definitely an aesthetic hook to consider here.

Phelps said...

You need a barrier to entry for the demons. They should have to max out (however teh game does it) a knight character before they are allowed to make a demon alt. THEN, the demon alt has to be able to go negative in progression.

That way, complete newbies can't jump straight into demons -- they have to see how "rewarding" playing a knight is by the easy progression and leveling and the no consequences nature. THEN, when they get into a demon, if they truly suck they can't even progress -- they just keep going negative in progression and get WORSE than a brand new character. They will end up rerolling lvl 1 demons over and over.

So, after the S&M have rerolled demons a few times and keep going negative, they will say "demons are stupd, this system is broken only no lifers can progress and they probably haxor too" and will go back to that nice, shiny, no consequences max level knight they have waiting there.

99smite said...

Epic! Would love to see this as a kickstarter project...
No kidding!

Anonymous said...

I can see some disadvantages but otherwise, its great concept.

Knights want to farm and kill a demon in a big group. If they got big farmland, then need alot players to secure it from demons. To get to the point where knights dominate whole map, there must be extremly big amount of knigts and lack of demons. Even if knights are very organized, its still not likely scenario to happen. Farmland is for everyone, so more farmland is benefictial for every knight and there is reason to hold or increase it.

On first glance, demons food is knights and other demons. But if you have organized group, demons fighting demons part falls out in favor to efficently to farm knights. Demons can go and find a better place to farm knights instead of killing eachother. If you get that knight killing focus, its easier ot find them if they occupy a smaller area. And it ends up like a fish swarm. Knights are in swarm, demons just split it up on smaller chunks until they can digest it.

Anonymous said...

This won't work because everyone will want to play demons. Incentives matter, and the way you've described it, there's no incentive to play knight.

For this to work, the cool interesting sounding side must be for the social players, and the boring but technically superior option is for the alpha-pvp types.

Gevlon said...

No, everyone like you (competitive players) want to play demons. The knigths can "have fun with friends", while the demons are constantly in-fighting "jerks".

Ryan Trevett said...

I like the concept but I see an exploit.

Demon alts.

Knight players can use demon alts to "farm" their mains so they don't reward pure souls that day. This will disincentivise the more coordinated demon players from attacking them as they can simply gain better rewards from attacking other knights.

Worse: knights can simply leave demon alts logged in, particularly during demon attacks on their forts to incur the demonic greed debuff. Sure, demons can still raid the countryside, but taking forts would be a near impossibility.

I guess to overcome the latter, one could introduce some sort of "siege warfare" mechanic. Make it so that forts require a constant stream of resources to maintain strength e.g. food. Demons could essentially "starve out" a fort by maintaining pressure on surrounding farmland, preventing knights from gathering required resources. Once sufficiently weakened, even with a full greed rebuff, demons still have a chance of taking the fort.

Gevlon said...

There will be so much more knights that a few farmed alts won't make difference.