Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Knights vs Demons vs Swarm (and Spirits)

After writing the classification of massively multiplayer games and reading about 6 hours about Camelot Unchained I realized that I need to collect and update my ideas about my dream game. Especially because currently I have little faith in Camelot, for the same reason why every faction based PvP game failed: players aren't loyal to their factions. It's most visible in EVE faction war where most players have alts in opposing militias, playing the one with the most rewards. In WoW, while Wintergrasp or Tol Barad had any relevance, they were often dominated by one side, because the other gave up on the optional feature. In the games I've know of (and Camelot isn't an exception), the factions are mirrors of each other with only lore differences. They mean nothing to the players who openly talk about "mobs", "content", "l33t", "pwning n00bs", "ilvl" and other meta-gaming terms, showing that they are rather interested in the social or competitive aspect of the game than in roleplaying in its World. There is nothing that keeps them in one faction when it is losing or can offer lesser rewards than others. It doesn't mean that developers can't balance the game in a way to avoid a faction being exterminated, typically with rewards for joining the one behind, but it means that you can't care less if your side is winning or losing.

My long-held idea is now complete. Please note that the idea itself is about factions, not game mechanics. You can design any kind of combat mechanics and graphics on top of it, from cartoon superhero FPS to dark fantasy turn based card game. The factions have completely different gameplay and philosophy, that lock the players to the faction: they simply love to play this way and would hate to play the other ways, so they are this faction, for better or worse. The basic setting is simple: the factions fight for territories that become vulnerable according to some timetable. Territory control give the faction access to resources and buffs in PvP in that territory.

How do these factions fight?
  • Knights, the achievers: the knight gameplay is most similar to (old) WoW gameplay. There are distinct classes with min-maxed specialization: tanks, healers, glass cannons and crowd controllers. While individual performance matters, even the best of the best is nothing alone, while a team with good synergy is strong. Adding more teams (zerging) doesn't add synergies, two teams are just two teams next to each other. Tanks have abilities to keep the enemy in place at the cost of them being locked to them, healers heal them up, CC-ers keep other enemies than the target away from combat, while glass cannons deal most of the damage at the cost of being one-two-shottable if the tank and CC fails or they position wrongly.
  • Swarmlings, the socializers: lore-wise they are beasts, fighting with fangs and naturally attained spells. They don't have many abilities and the mechanics are simple. There is no specialization among them, a more advanced swarmling is just bigger and stronger in everything. They fight in large groups (zerging), but they don't have to care about UI management as their strength is automatically gained from the swarm. Nobody in the swarm can die as long as the swarm itself is alive, as the swarm (swarmlings within range of each other) have shared HP. When the swarm is on half HP, it does half damage, so damaging the swarm weakens them, but no individual member is suffering for his bad luck or incompetent play. Similarly, there is no reason for a swarmling to be anti-social with another: every +1 swarmling makes you stronger by adding to your HP pool. Having the "shoot nearest enemy" spell on autocycle, and just chatting with friends while watching the combat visuals is completely accepted "competitive" play for swarmlings. The swarm either dies at once, or dissolves as more and more members run away to save themselves.
  • Demons, the killers: lore-wise they are lone demons. While they can form small guilds, they can't unite their forces. They are hindered by "demonic greed" a stacking debuff they receive from every demon nearby. Guildmates have weaker debuff, but still only a handful demons can work together before they become completely useless due to the debuff. On the other hand demons are strong. A single demon has 50-50 chance against proper 4 man knight unit (tank+healer+DPS+CC) of the same skill or against a 10-man swarm. Demons live and die by their skills, the proper execution of combos (like stun plus slow buildup avoidable huge damage) and the proper choice to engage or flee.
  • +1 Spirits the explorers: they are a strange addition to the game, as they can't conquer anything. They probably don't want to, because they are explorers. They are combat-unable faction with strong abilities to run away from combat.

How do these factions claim land?
  • Knights: They conquer land by building. After they destroyed the strongholds of enemy factions, they must gather and move resources and build a fort WoW Garrison style. Their task to build strongholds are huge compared to other factions, but so is the prize: a well-advanced fort, staffed by well geared and skilled knights acting as a unit cannot be conquered by demons and the swarm must outnumber them 30:1 to win.
  • The swarm captures land by ... swarming. After destruction of the enemy stronghold, swarmlings just have to be on the spot while a capture slider is filling (the more, the faster) and a living hive is built which has automatic, unmanned defenses protecting itself even when no swarmling around, and merging its HP with the swarm when it's nearby. There is one mechanic to prevent the swarm razing enemy forts just to grief (Demons can grief, swarm can't): hungry swarmlings can't attack structures. The land can't feed a huge swarm, they must either spread out to farm, opening them up for small gangs of knights and roaming demons or they must use rations from their hive. As hives grow, they give out bigger and bigger rations, so to be able to effectively siege, swarmlings must protect their captured hives long enough to be able to give out big enough rations for a siege battle.
  • Demons are unable to team up for a siege, so they can't really fight a properly formed knight army or a large enough swarm. They win territories by either finding undefended ones in the back, or wearing down the defenders by picking them one by one while farming forcing them to just go away - and due to no fast travel, being too far to fight when the timer is up. Demons don't have to build anything to own land, any land unclaimed by the Knights or the Swarm belongs to them with a defenseless demonic pillar growing on the stronghold spot. The longer it's there, the more powerful buff it gives to demons and more HP it has, but it sill can't defend itself, demons must show up and PvP to hold it. When the server starts up, every land outside faction safe zones are demon land.
  • Spirits don't own land besides their safe zone, which is in the middle of the map, while the other faction safe zones are on the edges, far from each other.

Character progression, death penalty, time spent outside battles for territories:
  • Knights: During breaks of fighting they have lots of tasks to do: gathering materials, crafting gear, upgrading the fort, killing natural monsters for XP. One can spend 10+ hours a day for years as a knight and still have something to do. The XP they gained is permanent. Gear is lost upon death and lootable by everyone. Looting takes time and interrupted by damage, so can practically done only upon victory. Fellow knights are noble, if they loot a corpse, the gear is automatically returned to the owner in damaged form. If enemies loot it, it's lost. Powerful gear acts as artifact for spirits.
  • Swarmlings grow naturally while fed and shrink when starving. On death they reset to basic swarmling, but it's not a big loss, as even the most powerful elder beast has just +100% damage and +200% HP (which is only relevant in single combat, as in group the HP is shared) stronger than the most basic newborn. When they grow, they also get a slow visual upgrade which they can't lose and make them look more and more badass. The only thing to do for swarmlings outside of combat is killing natural monsters for food, but as I mentioned, it's really optional as the reward is small. One can be (and most will be) small swarmlings playing casually, socializing most of the time and playing only on big, timer battles.
  • Demons progress their character by killing other players. They can't just farm the same noob or alt again and again, they must roam and find new ones to kill. Their strength grows by every kill with no limit, but they can lose a big part of it upon death. Multiple deaths can push a demon back to newbie state. They are anti-social, they are the only faction where killing another member is possible and it's even rewarded: killing a fellow demon gives the biggest reward to killer - and even larger penalty to the loser.
  • Spirits spend all their time outside of combat (unless they are caught) and their whole play is about exploring the land, while finding relics. They must also find mana stones to eat. With every relic delivered home, their HP and ability power grows, along with their capability to search relics. Upon death, they lose the relics they carried. For them, the other factions mean obstacle in their quests, as relics are seen as valuable building materials (or gear) by knights, huge chunk of food for swarmlings and powerful temporary buffs for demons. They are seen as thieves by other factions, creating interesting dynamic.

What is their UI look like?
  • Knights: Various windows and spreadsheets to properly manage various progress paths, buildings, resources and inventory. Outside of combat they probably don't see much from the World. In combat they have their map, their spell hotbar and group UI, similar to WoW.
  • Swarmlings: can switch between two modes. The normal mode has the minimap, the spell hotbar and a swarm counter, showing how many other swarmlings are in range. The combat mode is an RTS topside view where they can pan and scan to see the whole swarm and the battlefield, but of course they can only control their one swarmling.
  • Demons: have similar to the Knight combat UI, but they have various cooldown meters and combo counters and ability telegraphs on the ground, rather a WoW UI with the top raiding addons.
  • Spirits: have no minimap or any windows, only the spell castbar. They are probably locked into FPS view or closely behind-shoulder view. They have to do everything by seeing and interacting with the World. Their only "senses" are the ability to see their city beacon on the horizon to find the way home; a sunbeam-like effect showing the direction of nearby artifacts; and a danger sense that places red shadows to the distance where hostile players are.

As usual, everything on my blog is free to take. If you are a dev seeing potential in this, use any element in your game!


Smokeman said...

"The factions have completely different gameplay and philosophy, that lock the players to the faction: they simply love to play this way and would hate to play the other ways, so they are this faction, for better or worse."

That they do. And because of that, the Swarmlings would always win. The Knights would all just quit. It doesn't matter what the Demons do.

Why? Because metagaming. The Knights would always be the defenders, as you can't attack a swarm in a metagame environment, it just knows better and disperses. But that swarm can just nickel and dime you to death when directed by a queen (Metaphor for The Mittani, or whoever takes that role.)

The flaw is this: "that lock the players to the faction." That ONLY locks the Knights, the world builders. The anarchists and "I just want my side to win!" group (Goons) will go to the side that is winning, which will be Swarm, as it has the bigger pool of prospective players.

maxim said...

The big problem with Koster's original classification of "fun" is that very few human beings want to actually be locked into a specific playstyle. There is a dominating one, sure, but there must be a competitive way to achieve, socialise or kill for every faction, even for spirits.

I'd modify the idea to where everyone has the same basic character with same basic stats and abilities (maybe with a conventional class system on top of it), but are then forced to interact and rely upon faction NPCs and mechanics, that do different things for different factions and provide strongest rewards for desired gameplay (while not actively preventing other kind of gameplay).

For example, the Swarm are not beasts in lore, but something like an ideologically and mystically driven mob (play "Tyranny" for inspiration), where every member receives a magical Swarm tatoo which gives the exact hp spreading effect you described. They also constantly require something similar to quest item farming where everyone in the group gets 1 copy of an item regardless of how many ppl are in the group.

The Demon tower idea is not bad, but i suggest you read up on Evolve which tried the whole asymmetric gameplay thing and failed. I'd give the towers the ability to remove the "Greed" debuff from the demons.

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: The limit of the Swarm is travel time. Knights would just suck it up to ride from one end of the map to another to protect a sieged castle, while swarmlings would say "no fun lol". Remember World War Bee, the Imperium lost the Vale, Branch and Tenal without a gunshot because they simply couldn't make the walk from their lowsec staging system to there. NC. made it twice a day.

The other anti-swarm method is Demons (modeled after Mordus Angels) who force the swarm to indeed be a swarm and be unable to place smaller units. Those would be slaughtered. So the dynamic of the game would be mostly "Swarm always wins when it commits, but for every win on the left, it loses a territory on the right"

Anonymous said...

I believe you do not capture properly the nature of the socials with your swarm analogy. Swarm players would gather around players they believe are either powerful or influential to mimic them, access power faster without having to carve it themselves, and to take advantage of the dominance brought by the group they associate with.

The way you describe the swarm lacks this "social model" role, like any hive needs a queen bee that attracts other bees around them (a symbol very very well chosen by the goons in Eve, except as you point out that in Eve allegiances mean really nothing as players join the goons with one alt for best farming while having alts in other groups, creating a fake and twisted social construct, manipulated by just a few players at the top of the chain to keep any other new power to rise up).

In Albion, the established guilds like Niflgaard or Echo of Silence already carry a measure of fame that will just attract social players like mosquitoes to a light, regardless of the reasons they rose to prominence during the previous betas, and make trying to spring new competitive groups a very hard task.

At some point there will be only one "swarm" group zerging around, unless the mechanic of the game does include an exponential factor of inefficiencies the more a swarm grows (something that Eve is missing completely because of its core mechanics)

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: If you want to cater to everyone, you cater to no one. I do not lock a PERSON to be in the swarm. I lock a player of the game there. It's OK to log off and play minecraft after he got his swarm needs filled. It's OK to play counterstrike to have a little killer fix. It's OK to play some indie single player to explore. You don't have to make your players play only your game. You should make them play your game when they are in need of one type of fun. Being in the swarm gives a chance to be in a meaningful social group: you see how the tower of the "griefer 12 years old basement dwellers" or the fort of the "no lifer autist faggots" fall to your merry band of fun-loving crew. (demons without greed debuff would be unbeatable)

@Anon: where there are people, social heads will appear, because of ad revenues. The swarm will naturally find its "Mittani" in streamers, youtubers and other media personalities.

"exponential factor of inefficiencies" is called demons. They travel alone behind enemy lines and capture territories at the back of the zerg, forcing them to put out fires at home (just like one of the CFC alliances had to rush back from the Providence test-invasion because Mordus Angels reinforced their home station)

Anonymous said...

"@Anon: where there are people, social heads will appear, because of ad revenues."

Why did social heads appear before ad revenues then?

People flock to those they believe can lead them, or in some way look up to. Not everything is about media.

You come back again and again to eve analogies. It seems that the game you are wanting to play, is, in fact, Eve.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

You seem to contradict your own view that players want power above all. Wouldn't they all join Demons to be l33t, hate it, then quit the game and tell all their friends it's stupid?

Gevlon said...

@Anon: streamers and other social media celebrities are like roaches: wherever people are, they appear. I know them from EVE, because that was the only game where they mattered somewhat (why would anyone follow a WoW streamer)

@Slawomir: demons have no power. They just have kills. Not many people joined James 315's ganking crew.

maxim said...

Most MMO players don't enjoy having to constantly switch between multiple games. One game that caters to most player needs will always take away the customers from many games each catering to just one (and probably actually being a negative return on others).
Also, you can't sell a virtual world if there aren't all kinds of people in it.

maxim said...

Regarding - "unkillable". Currently your design is too all over the place to make blanket judgements like that.

However, one has to wonder how the demon faction would be able to hold their towers against a determined attack if their ability to group near towers is hardcapped by greed debuff.

Gevlon said...

@maxim: at first you say that people don't want one kind of play. Now you say they do. A game can't be hot and cold at the same time.

I explicitly wrote that the demons are NOT able to hold their towers against a determined swarm or knight attack. They are not even a real faction as in-faction PvP is rewarded. They are killers, they care about towers as much as James 315 cares about mining.

Anonymous said...

I think this will be quite difficult to implement and to maintain. 4 different UIs and playstyles would amount to more work than 4 individual games.

You could start with "The knights game". Demons are NPC. Swarm and Spirrits don't exist yet. Groups of knights would compete with each other. Payed subscriptions will allow to build up the infrastructure and ongoing development. Skill and power progression of avatars is permanent. Achivements become the lore of the game (the fortress of thos build, big battle of , the peace of , the betrail of ) and are permanent in game. Engaging gameplay, payed subscriptions first, later f2p but for new comers the gap in game time can be reduced with pay. Or you need a mentor knight to get up to level.

Than the first explansion "The swarm" adds the swarmlings as a new playable race. Kights band together or get thrown back into a small easy to defend area. Swarmlings don't create lore, but measure their progress by destruction and humiliation of the knights. Motivation to play awarm is difficult though. Swarm raids must be hillarious fun. Engaging at times/Casual but f2p without pay for power.

Third "The spirits". The world needs to be interesting enough for an "explorer" game style. You prob. need some minigames, chained missions, mysteries to make this engaging. Casual and f2p but with pay for utility items. For "spirits" the rest of the game provides the living world to explore and to study.

Last comes "The Demons". This is for the whales. Most prone for p2w, but needs to be difficult (or/and expensive) to balance against the rest. The demons become playable. They need the rest of the weaker races to feel superior. But as you wrote are balanced against each other. f2p but heavy p2w.

How would you prevent colution between player of different races?

Anonymous said...

> How would you prevent colution between player of different races?

Why would you care?

A knight-healer or knight-tank could sabotage his party but he'd quickly get kicked. Knight players are all about mastery. They don't care whether your poor heals were due to treachery or bad gear or wife aggro; they'll just kick you. A defector can't pull an EVE-style heist and destroy an entire corporation; at best he can get 3 people killed while simultaneously losing all of his own gear. If he keeps at it then he'll soon get kicked from his guild (for shitty stats) and eventually blacklisted (like an EVE awoxer).

A demon could feed kills to the other factions in order to pad someone else's killboard. So what? The other factions are supposed to be capturing territory; killing demons doesn't win them any castles. A demon player could collude with swarmlings by ambushing a knight party and enabling the swarm to destroy an important fortress ... but that's just metagame balance-of-power stuff. Temporary alliances are a feature, not a bug.

If you imagine that a swarmling horde is standing off at a slight distance from an enemy force, then a "defector" could move into combat range and take lots of damage. This damage would get distributed across the swarm and weaken everyone. But the "defector" is indistinguishable from an over-enthusiastic "Leroy Jenkins". And the swarmlings are just going to immediately follow the Leroy into battle anyways. Those guys chose to play swarmlings because they *want* to mindlessly zerg themselves into battle and then MASH F1 BUTTON until they win or die.

Anyone could collude via out-of-game coomms (e.g. by reporting on troop movements and castle defenses) but it's impossible to fully prevent that stuff, and it often happens accidentally due to Twitch streams. If I was on the devteam for this hypothetical game then I'd take a wait-and-see approach.

Tithian said...

What you are describing is called "Asynchronous Play" and it exists already in a smaller scale: in Board Games, and before that in tabletop RPGs. It is not uncommon for different people (or groups) to play with different rulesets and objectives within a game.

When translated to MMO scale, the problem is two-fold: you cannot enforce a hardcap on a faction without people rioting and you cannot stop people from piling on the winning side. In your example the most obvious outcome would be that everyone went into the swarm and everything but the safe zones would be dominated by a few large guilds that could coordinate their defenses. The knights would be pushed back into safe zones pretty quickly and maybe a few Demons would roam and kill swarmlings, but would never be able to hold territory long enough for their 'pillar' to provide any tangible benefit.

Basically EVE.

Gevlon said...

@Tithian: faction piling isn't a problem, exactly because swarm playstyle (be an irrelevant cog in the machine) does not satisfy achievers, killers, explorers. An achiever or killer will say "knight/demon or logoff".

Sure, logoff is a danger in itself, but I've already outlined two methods to prevent swarm domination: lack of fast travel combined with a large world map that takes several hours to cross. This hurts swarmlings the most as they are casual players who have no taste for "3 hours move op for a castle siege where the owners will probably run and don't give a single kill", while achievers would set the alarm clock and ENJOY THE WHOLE PROCESS.

The other is the fed mechanic that forces swarmlings to find food before an offensive siege. The nearby land doesn't have enough spawns to feed a large swarm. So they must take rations from a nearby hive and run to siege. This means they can effectively attack territories only next to territories owned by the swarm and have high enough level hive. So they can't just hit any random castle for grief, they must push front, allowing knights to gather reinforcements and demons to get to their backyard 2 hours of walking time away from the front hive. The hive grows by a level every day and has a vulnerability period every day. If the swarm fails to show up for a defense timer, the achiever knights will sure as hell will be ready to ride out, burn down the hive and set up a lvl 1 fort which needs to be razed (1 day) and then wait for the hive to grow up again.

Xmas said...

It sounds like a good idea. I'd add in that "ownership" of a region flavors the region somehow, with NPC/MOB spawns changed by ownership and some other visual affects.

The swarm needs something else besides "size" to differentiate themselves. Not much, just something simple like ranged or melee, and maybe a choice between two or more abilities when you become big. Nothing too complex. In EVE, even "Press F1 for Candy" fleets had tacklers and reppers. I'm not saying the Swarm needs healers, I'm just saying that some differences are needed to ensure dynamic play. A PvP game needs some metaplay to make it interesting. Even if the majority Swarm players don't care about it, whomever is organizing them will.

maxim said...

You didn't read me correctly.
People want multiple kinds of play. They also want it in one coherent world, not having to switch between titles all the time and not having to suffer through a title that takes a dump on, say, exploratory aspects just to get a, say, PvE fix.

ColdComputing said...

In Dark Age of Camelot you could not have characters on more than 1 faction per server. If you were in Midgard, all of your characters on that server had to be Midgard. People were even banned for using a second account to play a different faction (spying) on the same server as their main account. Yes, it did still happen some but the devs were watching for it. This did foster faction pride and did make people more engaged in defending their realm or helping with big offensives in other realms. Also, you couldn't even talk to characters from other realms as you spoke a different language in the game when typing.

From everything I have read it is going to be the same in Camelot Unchained. Your account will be locked to a the original faction you choose at least on a server by server basis, possibly even across your whole account. Cross realm communication will also not exist.

While, I'm still not saying its going to be the perfect game. I think its headed in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

> A PvP game needs some metaplay to make it interesting. Even if the majority Swarm players don't care about it, whomever is organizing them will.

The person organizing them will have his hands full:
-deciding which objective to pursue next
-trying to shout over all of the drunk chat on Jabber in order to make himself heard
-trying to convince the horde to stick together and pursue objectives (instead of fifty dudes peeling off to chase a Demon whose base movement speed is greater than their sprint speed)
-trying to convince the horde to make a flanking maneuver instead of zerging themselves onto prepared defences and AoE killzones
-trying to convince the horde to follow HIM instead of swarming randomly across the map via Brownian motion
-trying to cajole a few people into making logistics runs
-trying to get reports from the scouts that he dispatched ten minutes ago

He won't have enough time to spare for managing and positioning sub-hordes of rangelings, meleelings, heallings, armorlings, etc.

And he wouldn't care anyways. If any part of the swarm is in contact with the enemy, then everyone is taking damage. If players can see the enemy then they'll naturally move to attack. If everyone is dealing damage, then they're doing their job. Calling targets (focus fire) presumably wouldn't work against Knights due to their tank mechanics, and wouldn't be necessary against Demons (because they're usually solitary).

The whole point of swarmlings is that you win before the battle actually begins - because you have 5000 dudes on your subreddit, because you successfully pinged 200 of them to login, because you established an effective us-vs-them narrative (grr Knights hat Knights). Swarmling command should be mostly social (e.g. convince your dudes to interrupt their /dance tournament and actually fight the enemy) rather than tactical.

If you don't have enough dudes then you're probably going to lose regardless of how well you fight. But that's okay. You just suicide-zerg-rush a few times, post memes about how Knights are Overpowered and Gay, and then declare a cultural victory.

Gevlon said...

@Maxim: I disagree then. There are many very successful, very narrow games, like League of Legends, World of Tanks, Counterstrike, Starcraft.

maxim said...

In that case, with all due respect, Starcraft, LoL, Counterstrike and WoT are not even technically MMOs. Any "persistency" or "world" they formulate largely exists through out-of-game means and the questions you pose have very little relevance to them.

Ucki said...

Well Planetside 2 is (was ) a sort of swarm gme. And because the "clan" functions were missing it was a pain in the ass to cordinate your zerg. Without a good leaderships all the "social" games fail. So if you don't cater to the leaders your swarm will fail ...

Xmas said...


Metaplay is more strategy than tactics. If the entire swarm in some region had the same set of abilities, because the hive they've spawned from has some structure XYZ, that would be fine too. I'm not thinking something complicated.

The Knights are going to Min-Max in their team composition, equipment and prepared abilities. The Swarm players are going to need some variation beyond just number of bodies, in order for the fights to be interesting for both sides.