Posted on 18 November 2006 at 20:28:19 by Magi.
The development and implementation of the Outpost Token system taught us many things, not the least of which is the lesson of unplanned results. Whenever you design large systems, you never really know what the players are going to do with them. No amount of theorizing in the office can predict everything that will happen once a system goes live…and that is one of the great things about online worlds, though it can also be one of the great frustrations as well.
When we initially designed Ground Zero - our high-level Player vs. Player (PvP) zone - we wanted a system to focus PvP combat somewhat and give players a goal. So, we placed fifteen outposts in the zone. These Outposts cast beneficial skills on players who capture them. They also gave out experience. Most importantly, though, is the fact that they gave Outpost Tokens over time to players who successfully capture an outpost. Players got one token after fifteen minutes, then two tokens at thirty minutes, and four at an hour.
Outpost Tokens are a form of alternate currency. Players can spend tokens in special stores to buy some of the best equipment in the game. It’s not easy, though. It represents a lot of work to purchase items in the store…and the more impressive the item, the tougher it is to get enough tokens to purchase it.
We figured that this system of doling out tokens would encourage PvP combat. Players would fight over the Outposts, trying to capture them and then hold them long enough to gain tokens. What we found, though was that capturing the Outposts wasn’t too hard for players, but holding them was. There just didn’t seem to be enough players to go around defending all the Outposts. This made the situation discouraging for many. They were getting their tokens at a painfully slow rate, especially those belonging to a race with few players active on Ground Zero.
Since our players are smart, they decided to remedy the situation themselves. They got together and managed to form a truce. Each race received a third of the Outposts to capture and hold. The other races wouldn’t intrude, and thus everyone could gain tokens at a satisfactory rate. In fact, players could simply leave their cars parked in Ground Zero, and get tokens without lifting a finger. Ingenious!
Well, this wasn’t exactly ideal. In Auto Assault, we’ve built the game around the undying hatred that our three races have for each other. And yet, in the final map, instead of a raging war, we had a three-way truce and many of our players not even at their keyboards! Not exactly the climax we had intended. Things had to change.
At NetDevil, we spent hours and hours trying to figure out ways to solve the problem. If we changed it so that Outposts gave tokens right away after capturing them (negating the need to defend them) the races would simply organize and take turns capturing the Outposts in rapid succession.
The only way we could see to prevent cooperation completely was to make token payout a zero-sum game. We could, for example, require a team to hold ten of the fifteen Outposts to get any tokens at all. That way, only one race at a time would ever get any tokens, making cooperation much harder. The downside, of course, is what happens to the race with the fewest players? Are the underdogs always going to get shut out, and if so, are they just going to stop playing?
So, we went back to the drawing board. The first thing we wanted to do, based on our own thoughts as well as player feedback, is fundamentally change how we give out tokens. Instead of doling out tokens for defending a base (often not very fun), give out tokens for killing enemy players (almost always fun). Now, if you or someone in your convoy kills an enemy player, there is a chance that you will receive a token. Instead of being passive, you now have to be active to get a token.
We still want Outposts to play a role in the token system, however. We want players to have strategic goals rather than just mindlessly swarming around and killing each other. So, holding an Outpost now increases your race’s chance of getting a token when killing an enemy. The more Outposts your race has, the greater the chance that you will get an Outpost when you kill an enemy. Outposts will still give out tokens directly, just at a much-reduced rate.
The other problem we wanted to tackle was giving a helping hand to the underdogs. To do that, we made the base chance for getting a token vary by the population your race has on Ground Zero. If you have the fewest players online, you’ll have the highest base chance of getting a token. That way, even though you’ll have a harder time getting Outposts, you’ll still have a shot at getting tokens.
Another consequence was that now quite a few high level players acquired the powerful Battlemaster items with the old Outpost Token system. Now with Update 3 we’ll introduce another hefty selection of items we call the Wargmonger set. INC developed the Warmonger set when they discovered a nearly intact 21st century military base. The Warmonger equipment represents INC’s best effort at duplicating the objects found within. Although based on ancient design, they are still extremely potent on today’s battlefield. The Warmonger set consists of the following:
Warmonger Ornament of Destruction
Warmonger Bladestorm of Piercing
Warmonger Neutron Ray of Penetration
Warmonger Polaron Laser of Disruption
Warmonger 120mm Abrams Tank Gun of Destruction
Warmonger Armor of Defense
Warmonger Anti-Matter Power Plant of Megawatts
Now of course we’ll have to see if our new system works. Will this system encourage more conflict? Will the players figure out how to game the new system in some unintended way? The answer to the second question is likely to be yes. We’ll probably be scrambling to adapt to the players, like developers do in any MMO. I feel, though, that this is a major step in the right direction, and I hope players enjoy it!