Happy New Year, folks!
Judging by the response so far, 5.8 is off to a fantastic start! In the last three weeks, we’ve managed to get more than a handful of unique Campaigns under our belt in both the U.S. and EU. We’ve seen a dramatic uptick in new players and in-game activity and we successfully navigated both the holiday period AND the move into our new office.
Now that we’re on the other side of that initial bout of insanity, let’s talk about what happens next.
FIRST SANCTIONED CAMPAIGNS
For anyone who missed the announcement, we will be hosting our first “sanctioned” campaign events soon. These are our competitive ‘war’ events, one in the U.S. and one in the E.U. (as has been our pattern since 5.8 launched). We’re currently targeting these to hit towards the latter end of January, and we will give you seven days advance notice so that you can prepare.
That said, how should we configure this Campaign?
- Should we wipe passive skills?
- Should we wipe characters or, rather than wipe them, simply restrict entry to the Campaign to newly-created characters?
- Should we start the Campaign with no imports? Unrestricted imports? Limited imports?
In the spirit of a true “tournament” you would typically assume that we would start players on an equal footing, i.e. bringing in as a little as possible. In this case, though, the Campaign is going to be shorter than the Campaigns that we eventually want to run (we’re currently thinking this will run one to two weeks) so it might be better to allow characters at higher level to jumpstart the Throne War.
What do you think? Since this is your Campaign, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Share your feedback with us on the Crowfall forums or on our Crowfall social channels. We’ll be watching and listening.
OK, so let’s have a design discussion. Put on your thinking cap and let’s talk about what we want to achieve next. The eventual goal is long-form Campaigns, providing months of gameplay for thousands of players – having them continue to provide an engaging experience, right up until the end.
To get there, we need to do it in steps. Everything moves forward one step at a time. Now that we have a foundation, we need to build on that base. There are a ton of things that we would like to see before the first Campaign – way, way more than we can get done in the limited time between now and then – so, as always, we must choose what to focus on; what are the core items that we feel are most important, right now?
I want to remind everyone that this is still pre-alpha. The game isn’t finished, so bugs and performance issues, while unfortunate, are still to be expected at this stage.
The areas that we are going to focus on most, in the time between now and then:
- Game Performance: The great news is: we are seeing, and supporting, larger fights than ever before… but we do still have some bugs that cause significant performance issues, and if you hit one of these it can tank you even in a small skirmish. We’re working to resolve these to make the game smooth when you need it most – during PvP encounters. We have made huge strides in this area already in First Campaign (5.8) update, and hope to make more in the near future.
- Resources: We don’t have the kind of resource flow that we want, so we are juicing the flow of materials: adjusting the vendors to sell white materials at a fraction of the current cost (ie. back to roughly where they were in the 5.7 game update), and we are placing more resources in the world to get the economy moving.
- Scoring Mechanics: Lastly, we have several changes coming to adjust how Scoring works, to address a handful of gameplay issues. This one warrants a bit more discussion, so let’s break it down further.
LET’S TALK SCORING
Our maps include different types of capture locations that factions can capture to gain Victory Points to win the Campaign.
Including capture mechanics and scoring in our most recent First Campaign (5.8) update was a major milestone for us as for the first time it gave players (and guilds) the ability to finally and decisively take over territory and “win” the Campaign. But it also brought back an old problem – in fact, it was the first problem that we set out to solve…
THE RETURN OF UNCLE BOB
One of the biggest challenges that Crowfall set out to fix was what we call “the Uncle Bob scenario” also known as “slippery slope”, a condition of game state where the game rules naturally reinforce the strong team (Uncle Bob) getting stronger and the weak teams (everyone else) getting weaker.
So, what do we layer on top of the Campaign’s strategic foundation to deal with slippery slope?
Some games (like bowling) deal with this in a heavy-handed manner: give the losing teams a handicap. Crude, but effective.
A better model might be a game like “7 Wonders” (the tabletop board game). It breaks each game up into three “ages”, which are akin to our seasons, and provide a graceful escalation in potential point accumulation with each successive season. This keeps the losers in the game because they feel like they still have a chance through clever gameplay to turn things around and win – because sometimes they do!
I may decide that we need additional changes to deal with slippery slope, but my FIRST broad-strokes change is to add a “Capture Point” mechanic on capping any strategic location. Don’t pay attention to the numbers below yet; as a designer, the numbers come last. The first step is to put in the knobs that I want so that I have the ability to balance the system later based on player feedback and outcomes.
We already have a concept of seasons (each Campaign progresses from Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter before the game’s conclusion) so this mechanic provides an excellent skeleton on which we can add scoring adjustments to keep the game interesting over time.
Seasonal changes to victory point accumulation
The first knob that I’m asking for is simple: we already give a variable number of Victory Points based on the type of location(s) players hold. I want to add another dimension to that table so that we can adjust these amounts by SEASON, as well.
Example: Points by Capture Location Type and Season
(…again, ignore the numbers for now!)
This table will help increase the stakes in later stages of the game, which is good! Remember that our primary goal here is to drive player behavior (i.e. keep the losing teams from quitting) – the secondary goal is to make it possible for them to win without making it easy.
Since Victory Points accumulate over time, this might still might not be enough… it could just reinforce slippery slope because the winner already holds more and/or better locations. If, when Winter comes, one team has such a mathematical advantage that it becomes impossible for the other teams to catch up, then we still have a problem.
So, let’s put in another knob.
Capture Bonus Pool
I don’t like handicaps because they just hand points to the losing teams. Instead I prefer to provide opportunities that a losing team could use to get back in the race through clever gameplay and greater skill.
Adding a “Capture Bonus” provides me that kind of mechanic. Strategic locations already accumulate Victory Points – that’s how you win – so what if they also slowly accumulate a “Bonus Pool” – a separate collection of Victory Points that will be granted to an enemy team in the case where this location is captured.
This Bonus Pool…
- Accumulates only when the location is owned by a team,
- This bonus is separate from the number of points given to a team for holding this location,
- Cannot be claimed by the owning team, and
- Uses a separate (configurable) table of point values based on location type and season.
(We can ignore these numbers also – though one thing you’ll notice is that, in this case, I’ve asked for granularity to set values but I’ve just set them all to 50%. That’s because I suspect I might need this knob in the future, but I’m not ready to play with it yet. I don’t want to spin too many knobs at once as that makes it difficult to look at the rest of my tests and know what impacts what and I need to learn that to know what to turn next.)
Seasonal Multiplier on Capture Points
Lastly, we may want even more control over the accumulation or awarding of the Capture Pool as it allows us to ramp things up at the end of the Campaign:
Grant on Capture
When another team captures this location, they should immediately be given a number of Victory Points equal to the Capture Bonus for the location (times the multiplier) and the Capture Bonus pool for this location should be reset to 0. These point changes should be applied to that team’s score, and this change should be reflected to all players on the relevant Campaign scoring interfaces.
While the numbers can be changed and adjusted, the basics of this system seem sound. It’s simple (the “get it” factor is high), it leans into a design concept that we already use (victory point accumulation), and it naturally benefits the weaker teams more, because the winner has more to lose.
It also has some other benefits that are helpful: it ensures that all strategic locations will no longer be equal.
Over time, long-held forts and keeps will become increasingly juicy targets, and it will require coordination and strategy for teams to decide what to go after and what to protect.
TESTING AND BEYOND
We’re going to add some variant of this prior to First Sanctioned Campaign and my hope is that this will give us the knobs that we need to avoid slippery slope and, in doing so, allow us to start running Campaigns that last longer. I also want to get this up to Live for a few short test-runs before we make it official, so we can deal with the obvious balance issues and potential exploits that pop up whenever a new system comes online.
I’m delighted to be reaching the part of the project where the actual game – the Throne War that we promised – is finally becoming a playable game experience. As always, I want to thank you for your patience and your support, and I want to express my sincere gratitude for your willingness to test the game, even though it is still pre-alpha.
Have thoughts or questions? Have an opinion about how imports or level prerequisites should work for our first sanctioned Campaigns? As always, we want to hear from you. Jump on the forums and let us know your thoughts!
J. Todd Coleman
Creative Director/Co-Founder, ArtCraft Entertainment