Cows? Cows.

I’ve asked the pre-alpha players to turn themselves into cows and test out the cow-form curse for a bit. They’ve found some serious problems, like cows not fitting into doorways, and higher-level cows were accidentally invincible… so, testing is going well! Thanks, guys!

As I mentioned before, being turned into a cow is one of many curses in the game — like being turned into a pig, or even into a werewolf, or being unable to enter water without melting, or having the voices of evil demons locked into your head. They’re bad things — fates worse than death, in some ways.

Cows, though, are the newbie curse. You get this curse just by tasting rancid milk in an insane wizard’s laboratory. The game tries pretty hard to stop you from doing that — mentioning that it’s probably going to cause a fate worse than death, and that it would be really stupid to eat rancid milk — but you can do it anyway.

Why do I let you do that? Expectation management. I need to convey to new players that there are things that might happen to their characters that are not easily repaired. At the very least, they need to know to pay attention to warning screens, and when an NPC says something’s scary, they mean it’s really scary. Death isn’t very scary in most MMOs. (Especially mine!) But we still occasionally want something scary to be afraid of.

Having the cow-curse right here in the newbie experience also teaches players another important thing about the game: there are lots of ways to play. Being a cow is a difficult journey, but if you wanted to, you could eventually become a moderately competent fighter-cow. You won’t be able to wield weapons, but you’ll be able to use abilities like Mentalism and Combat Psychology, along with a barrage of kicks and moos.

Since it’s a newbie curse, it’s not too hard to lift. But not trivial! (Because that would completely screw the expectation management if later curses were hard to remove.) So removing the cow curse takes an hour or so of grinding, during which you unlock the various cow powers and see what it’s like as a cow.

I don’t expect many players to remain a cow indefinitely as it’s quite restrictive with very few up sides. But I do want some up-side to every choice you can make. Being a cow means you look harmless to other animals, so deer and similar animals don’t run away from you. (Thanks to whoever had that idea in the forums, I forget!)

Cows are also able to collect grass and heal themselves with it — which turns out to be a cheap, potent self-healing mechanism.

As for non-combat experiences, cows are kind of screwed — with hooves instead of hands, they can’t use a saw for carpentry, for instance. But with a little imagination we can envision a cow planting vegetables and growing a garden, so they can do that, and a few other things.

I wanted them to have their own crafting niche, so higher-level cows can create milk, which is useful for all sorts of cooking. Low-level milk is plentiful anyway, you can buy it from NPCs, but only player cows can create higher-tier milk. If they chew only top-quality grasses for long enough, they create better milk.

Seems perfectly logical, right? And it fits perfectly into the skill spreadsheet. But when I got it into the game, it … uh, felt a little weird.

First, I’m not sure I want newbie players to be accosted by other players roleplaying talking cows, saying “here, drink my milk, newb”. It’s a little unsettling to think about drinking milk that came out of another player. And the notion of higher-quality milk takes us further down that rabbit hole.

I just about chucked the whole idea, but then I decided, you know what, screw it. This is not the weirdest thing in my game, for better or for worse. Milk-obsessed cows fit right in with sex-obsessed elves and hate-obsessed undead and everything else. At least you won’t mistake it for WoW! Yes, it’s a little freaky in the Douglas-Adams-talking-dinner kind of way, but so what?

And having reassured myself that it was fine, I then logged in as a male character, and realized that male cattle can also create milk. Sigh. On the one hand, we’re already doing a lot of hand-waving with the whole cow experience. Can we hand-wave this one, too? I decided: no. If “drink my milk, I made it fresh for you” is disturbing, then “drink my boy-milk” is completely out of the question. Would people go there? Of course they would.

So I decided all cows are girls. It isn’t particularly obvious (the cow model lacks gender-specific anatomy, of course), but the game mentions it, and NPCs will refer to you as female for the duration of your cow experience. I… guess that fixes that. Sure! Moving on!

For the record, most cow-oriented mechanics ended up on the cutting-room floor. One of the most fascinating things about real-life cows is their digestive system, and I wanted to model that with grass that gets chewed up and regurgitated into cud. But I decided that the cow experience didn’t really need reminders about how cows vomit up grass 24/7. See? I know the limits of tastefulness! Really!

Next Up: Death in MMOs

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12 Responses to Cows

  1. Dan Hulton says:

    I have to keep reminding myself that this is an actual game you are working on that I will some day be able to play, in all its weirdness and insanity.

    Because every time I read a new entry on this blog, I half-feel like I am reading an update on Your World ( Like, “There’s no possible way all this crazy shit will be in there, and fun, and balanced?”

    But then I remind myself whose blog I’m reading. It’ll be in there. It’ll be fun. And balanced? Well, I’ll let that slide if the first two are true. =3

  2. Zubon says:

    Institute a difference “bull” curse, with more combat abilities but without the milk-crafting?

    Since the cow curse now comes with a potential built-in sex change, are there (going to be) other curses that do the same? Could we find a way to uncurse someone but keep the sex change, so that we see players intentionally going to newbie land in search of rancid milk as a sex-change end run?

  3. Zik says:

    As long as I have a hot key bound to “Moooooooo!” I’m cool with this.

    If you kill a cow player in PvP can you harvest meat or leather from them? *shiver*

  4. Wayne says:

    I love it when choices mean something, and role playing a cow could be quite amusing.

  5. Nick says:

    ISO alpha invite!

  6. Aes says:

    I have no doubt that every person who read this entry thought of it, but here it is

    “Tip: There is a cow level”

  7. Rauxis says:

    with all the these change shape features already in place …. what are the chances for a skill/spell/class that mostly lives from switching into different forms?

  8. Expert Novice says:

    Finally, an MMO where I can roleplay a gender-confused adolescent Egyptian demi-god on a spirit quest to find his mischievous inner anthropomorphisms! It’s about bloody time.

    You’d think this would’ve been out years ago but we all know how “the industry” gets along. Fight the good fight, Eric.

  9. Eric says:

    @Expert Novice: LOL… yes, I’m really not sure why that untapped demographic has lain unserved so long. But I’m on it.

    @Rauxis: the druid path will have a deer and a raven form, so there’s some crossover there. I’m not sure I want there to be too much reuse though, as it saps the uniqueness out of them a little if they’re heavily reused.

    @Zubon: I’m sure there will be other, less bovine-centric ways to change your gender if you want to. That is, if the final artwork makes that easy to implement. :)

    @Dan Hulton: Thanks! I’m just hoping for “ballpark balance”. As for Your World, I wish him luck, but I don’t think he’s really realizing the scope of the thing.

    The secret is I’ve actually have been working on the non-exciting MMO systems for a long time… on and off for many years. I just haven’t waxed poetic about the intricacies of spawners, NPC scripts, zone balancers, database backups, and so on and so forth… because that’s really boring.

    But before giving money to somebody for their insane MMO, do make sure they’ll be able to do the boring parts as well as the insane parts. :)

  10. Mavis says:

    I am now totally torn as to weather or not on play I will drink the rancid milk…..,

    My expectations have been managed – it’s not meant to be a super ‘fun’ experience – and yet if I don’t wil I feel like I’m missing out..,.,,

  11. Qvency says:

    How do I get to try this game! It sounds sweet…Role-Playing COWS!!!!!

  12. Sandra says:

    After talking with Eric, we decided that we will at the least support transgender characters so far as being able to change your gender without changing your character model. (Gender affects pronouns and how some NPCs react to you.) Letting you also change your character model would be a great option, but as Eric said we’ll have to see how the art works out.