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Mr. Jennings at Broken Toys, and Mr. Green of Psychochild’s blog have both penned recent blog entries reflecting on PvP playstyles, offering some evolving insight on what seems to work, what doesn’t, and go into a bit of brainstorming on what might be tried in the future to make something universally palatable.  The original forum conversation that prompted these learned reflection can be found here at F13 and asked the rhetorical question, “is there any difference between open PvP and gang warfare”.

I’ve started to write this post about 5 times so far.  It seems to be a difficult one to 1) keep relatively short, and 2) put my various thoughts into any significant order.  With that in mind, this will not be the most coherent post I’ve ever written, but I’ve decided to just go with the flow and get one done, by just making some comments on a piece-meal basis…

Why bother?

First thing that comes to mind: why bother?  Players that are actual open PvP enthusiasts don’t seem to really appreciate any attempt to move beyond a gang warfare meme anyway.

Different rules

Some of the suggested strategies for accomplishing this “open PvP that isn’t gang warfare” seem to boil down to “let’s do a far more detailed job of recreating the real world”.   However, there are two central aspects of “real world” warfare that never seem to make the list, no matter how lengthy or detailed the list is otherwise… permanent death, and lack of fantastic elements/attack forms/abilities.

Recreating the typically referenced “Braveheart” combat scene, for example.  If you had a game where everyone was some flavor of warrior, you -might- be able to pull it off.  However, when you have artillery in the form of “mages”, and “stealth bombers” in the form of rogue/thieves, and “no effectively equivalent substitute even in modern day warfare” in the form of healer/priests… it might be something, but it’s not going to be “Braveheart”.

You’re far more likely to recreate something that feels like a modern day aerial dogfight, or guerilla war, than the scene from “Braveheart”.  Capabilities drive tactics, not the other way around.

And remember the end of that favored scene from Braveheart?  Recall that there were a lot more corpses (or corpses-in-the-making) than actual ambulatory warriors?  I’m guessing most players do not see their characters in the former role… yet, without that, you don’t have the same combat.

You are going to be dang hard pressed to effectively recreate all the feelings and influences of real-world warfare if you cast aside death as a possible (and more importantly, permanent) outcome… it’s kind of central to the entire concept.

Carefree free-for-all

The goal of creating something that doesn’t “feel” like gang warfare seems a rather stillborn concept, actually, if you start with the usual arguments and usual suspects.  It feels like “gang warfare”, no matter the trappings, because it “feels” like gang warfare… many of the same emotions and assumptions drive the interaction in game as drive the interaction in gangs: there are obvious differences, too, but the similarities are striking.

In the popular view, at least, gang members are fighting over ephemeral slights and claimed “territory” that really isn’t theirs to claim.  Sounds familiar.

Most gang members are young, with all the youthful “nothing bad could happen to me” devil-may-care attitude (often along with a sizable depressing dose of “I’ve got nothing to lose”) that comes with that territory.  Hmm, seems similar, especially since, in games, it’s actually far closer to true.

Gee, negative much?

Yeah, all the above has a pretty negative tone to it, but the bottom line is that this seems to be largely a situation of people wanting their cake, and eating it too.  You could relatively easily create the type of combat people say they want, but they’d have to give up too many other things they desperately want to keep to get it.  Heck, it’s been done in some measure… Planetside, WW2 Online.

It’s the same old, same old… most everyone always wants to be the hero, the winner, last man standing.  But, almost by definition in this particular situation (open PvP), there can be only one (at most, a handful) of people in that role.  And there are precious few volunteers for continuously recreating the role of the “conquered masses”.

Could you do it with NPCs?  They don’t mind losing, and they’ll show up for any fight, no matter how hopeless, any time of the day or night.  Yep, you could… and you do.  There’s even an acronym for it already…. “PvE”.

Anyway, please feel free to comment and convince me that I’m completely delusional and desperately wrong.

Believe me… I’d really, really like to be proven wrong.

Star Frontiers Cover Star Frontiers (1982)
Copyright: (c) 1982 TSR, Inc.
Advancement: Skill-based, ranks purchased with XP; attributes improved by XP expenditure
Features: Straightforward resolution system, sci-fi setting not rooted in existing movie/book license

Star Frontiers was an early sci-fi RPG that did fairly well for a time in the early 80s.  A large portion of the credit probably goes to it’s relative success in terms of generating and describing an interesting sci-fi universe to explore, without falling back on an existing license, and a free-wheeling, open-ended one to boot.  Anyone who played it probably has some fond memories of the Star Frontiers setting, particularly the alien races PCs were allowed to play (Dralasites, Vrusk, and Yazirians, oh my!)

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Long weekend doing some basic stat analysis (54 million records take a while to work thru), followed by a bout with the flu… not a good week for my blog.

Some stuff I ran across…

An editorial in the Casual Play column on the “world vs game” concept over at… don’t be thrown off by the tone, the writer is usually pretty incendiary.  While I don’t agree with a lot of the specifics he writes, the UO bashing in particular, I do think that the general idea he expresses has some merit.  Products that focus on being worlds are, by nature, often less friendly to casual players as a result.  For definition purposes, casual players in this instance being those who cannot or will not invest dozens or hundreds of hours to “find the fun”. 

I certainly don’t see this as an insurmountable issue for “worlds”… I think it is something that simply gets overlooked in the course of trying to get everything else done.

The new mud-dev mailing list has been pretty active the past few days.  Nice to see it chugging along again.  If you’re interested in subscribing, here’s the link

More this weekend, including the return of the RPG Archive posts (I promise!)…

Just a few posts of interest around the blogroll that I thought I’d comment on briefly…

Raph (re-)opened the gates of Hell with a post on power-leveling services yesterday, which ended up having a loose tie-in with the SOE whitepaper re: Station Exchange, via the RMT angle.  Most of the same old arguments, for and against the everpresent “achievement meme” used to define “RPG” in the computer gaming world.

Lots of commentary, from various perspectives, from most of the usual suspects… it’s almost all linked via trackbacks over at his blog, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader…

It was kind of interesting… I went to the new mud-dev mailing list archive/forum to see if I could pull a “blast-from-the-past” version of this same discussion from around the 1996/97/98 timeframe.  I had no luck finding a perfect match, but this series of messages caught my eye as I was searching, and has some of the same back and forth down in the thread…

Speaking of the mud-dev archive… next step will be to at least loosely categorize it all.  The folks at have offered to make the attempt, but considering the size of the archive, I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into… even in the forum format, searching for a specific topic can be somewhat time-consuming at present.  The wiki project I remember seeing mention of (somewhere, grr, can’t find it) might also take a crack at it…

Craig Perko has had some great posts over the past few days on ideas for creating social simulations in games, both the pitfalls and some ideas for getting around them…

Brian Green, perhaps better known as Psychochild, posted some great news related to his recent collaboration/book, Business & Legal Primer for Game Development: it just went to it’s Second Printing.  It is an excellent resource, I highly recommend it if you have any interest in the business end of any kind of software development company: I’ve seen more than a few topics and lists of bulletpoints that easily apply to my own company.

Working on a little flash demo of what my version of a crafting game in an MMO might look like… we’ll see if I can find a few hours to throw it all together this weekend…

I’ve been trying to find a little time to dig into Vanguard, at least get a taste of the major elements they’ve tried to get built into it, and a couple of days ago I found enough time to track down the harvesting and crafting sub-games.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I was a little disappointed with each of them, but for different reasons (YMMV, of course).  My first impressions “below the fold”…

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Just some random stuff from the past day or so, while I wait for yet another data dump to parse thru here at work… 

Craig Perko has a good post up on a possible tactic for creating NPCs of interest… giving them goals.  An excellent perspective, I think…

I understand the “why” behind the design, but I still don’t like it: Vanguard’s harvesting and crafting sub-games both left me feeling cold.  At least it was for 2 different reasons.  More on that later…

Also, I’m personally finding the automatic shifting of equipment in Vanguard based on what particular task you are performing to be rather disruptive to my sense of immersion.  I know, I know… I’m a whiner.

On the plus side, I like that you don’t have to be godlike to own a horse (in Vanguard).  No doubt because there are plenty of other things (ships, houses, flying mounts, etc.) to fill the void… (/cynicism)

Oh well, back to the salt mines…

Since I made comments a week or so ago on Vanguard’s diplomacy system, I’ve been contemplating (off and on, as time permitted) how that basic framework might be expanded upon and added to, in order to create something with even more “meat on it’s bones”, as it were. 

Don’t get me wrong: Vanguard’s system is more than a mere faction system ala EQ with a more direct interaction paradigm.  It is a rudimentary second mode of “adventuring”, with systems for generating quest arcs, area-wide bonuses, and in the future, mercantile opportunities, from what I can tell.  What it doesn’t do, however, is really add anything to the NPCs themselves… they are still basically vending machines (quest givers/merchants) and/or pinatas (monsters).  They just have more levers, or have a bill changer as well a coin slot… you get the idea.

I haven’t gotten all that much further down the road in my musings yet, but here’s some notations on what I’ve got so far…

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February 2007

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