Optional Ways to Play

I want to support optional ways to play the MMO. I think these add a lot of depth and replay value, and for little effort on my part. Here’s what I have in mind at the moment (but as always, these ideas can change easily, and your comments are much appreciated).

Optional Challenge: Not Killing Sentient Creatures

One of my first thoughts was “wouldn’t it be great if the game supported pacifism?” But it just isn’t practical. Too much of the game is about killing. A “pacifist” character would inevitably end up being just a trade mule or pure crafter. It’s not hard to be a pacifist if you never leave town…

But how about this: you can choose not to kill sentient creatures, instead only killing animals and beasts. That way you’re not “murdering” — you’re just “hunting”.

If you want to take on this challenge, you just do it. The game keeps track of everything you kill, broken up into sentient and non-sentient enemies. As long as you meet a certain threshold (say a 100:1 ratio of non-sentients to sentients), you’ll gain access to a special title, and players who examine your character will see that you’re a non-murderer. Hmm, I need a good name for that.

And maybe there’s a few other little bennies for doing this, like access to a special vendor with a handful of random rares for sale. Nothing big. Not being a murderer is its own reward. (Or not, as the case may be.)

Also, all undead monsters are sentient, but they aren’t really alive, so it doesn’t count as murder when you “kill” them. (This is a cheaty technicality, but I think it fits with the spirit of the idea pretty well. Nobody considers it murder to destroy these vile creatures, and anyway they can just be re-summoned, so they really aren’t dying.)

Alternate Version For Druids

For druids, we turn this idea on its ear. Druids vow to protect nature, which means they get in trouble if they kill too many non-sentients! They’ll have a lot of slack, though. Perhaps they need to maintain a 2:1 ratio of sentient to non-sentient deaths. If their ratio is out of whack, they can’t train from NPC vendors or gain other special perks.

But it’s not as punitive as it may sound — even if you can’t buy training books because you’re a dirty Bambi-killer, you can always ask a different druid player to buy them for you, since training-books can be traded. Mainly, this rule is there for flavor, to give druids a little something additional to worry about. But not to make your life a living hell because you accidentally stabbed too many spiders. So I’ll have to play with it to make sure it works out. (Druids won’t get implemented for a while, so there’s lots of time to refine the ideas.)

An Aside: Hats For Mantises

If you want to avoid killing sentient creatures, it’s pretty important to be able to tell them apart from animals! This is usually pretty easy. Goblins are all sentient, tigers are all animals, etc, etc.

But mantises, well, some are psychic mantises gifted with extreme intellect. But they look like regular mantises. What to do?

I pinged Anthony Cook (who made the mantis for me), and we came up with a solution that fits the game vibe well: hats.¬†Lore-wise, sentient mantises were created by a mad wizard. They’re pretty insecure about their place in the world. Giving them hats seemed to reinforce that idea: they’re using the trappings of other sentient races to validate their identities.

Mantis in a fedora

This jaunty fella is actually a friendly NPC. That hat's too classy for a villain!

Mantis in a thinking cap

This mechano-magical "Thinking Cap" is used by the highest castes of sentient mantises.

Mantis with magic stones

These are "ioun stone"-type floating gems. They're used by psi-blaster mantises.

Mantis in a bowler

Bruiser mantises wear more pedestrian hats, like this bowler.

Optional Challenge: Harder-Core Death Penalty

After play-testing a while, I’m convinced that a certain segment of my target audience would benefit from a more punitive death system. (The default death penalty is “you get sent back to an inconvenient location”, plus some money sinks.) For some players, the game will just be more fun if there’s a little bit more danger involved.

I’m thinking that there’ll be a shrine that you can visit and enable harder-core death. It’s not really hardcore, but it’s a bit more punitive: you will drop a random assortment of items on death. They’ll appear in a special loot box that lasts for a certain number of hours.

If you choose to enable hardcore mode, there’s a minor benefit — perhaps 6% faster XP gain or something like that. I don’t want the reward to completely make up for the penalty, but I do want a little gesture to show that you’re not completely insane for taking this on.

A common fear with this sort of idea is that it will split up the population. The idea is that “norms” won’t want to group with “hardcores” because if the hardcores die, they’ll be more inconvenienced by the loss of equipment. I think that’s a very reasonable fear in a game with randomly-assembled pick-up groups, but I really don’t think it will be a big problem here, in communal dungeons with people you’ve probably seen around before. Hopefully in this game, people won’t look for any tiny reason to kick you out of the group.

Another thought: once you turn this on, you can’t turn it off very easily. And that’s not just me being a jerk. It might seem like something you should be able to turn on and off easily, but ¬†players will actually enjoy it more if it feels like a permanent decision. That’s due to a psychological phenomenon where we rationalize unchangeable decisions and are generally happier with them. (Even though consciously, we sure don’t think that will be true.) That’s why hardcore mode is permanent… unless you send me $50 to turn it off. Mwahaha! Okay, fine, I’ll think of something else.

Yet another thought: if you don’t make it back to your items before they disappear, the items will go into a special pool and be distributed to vendors throughout the world. So your lost sword might show up in a second-hand weapon shop.

Optional Challenge: Vegetarianism

Not all challenge modes need to be super dramatic or difficult. If you want to be a vegetarian, you can. Just don’t eat anything with meat in it.

The game will remember if you’ve eaten anything with meat, and as long as you’re clean for 30 days, you’ll get access to a special title. Players who examine your character will also see that you’re a vegetarian.

Being a vegetarian is easy for some people, but for others, it can be a real challenge. Werewolves get benefits from eating the corpses of their foes. But guess what: that’s meat. Necromancers have a power that is activated by eating a raw heart. And again, hearts are meat. So this challenge will vary in difficulty depending on what skills you focus on.

All vegetarians are lacto-ovo, meaning they can consume milk and eggs. Why? Because there’s just not enough recipes in the game to support more restricted diets. I don’t want to have to add 200 vegan dishes here — the idea is that these challenge modes are supposed to be easy additions.

But hmm, you know what, if you want to roleplay a vegan, feel free. The game will recognize when you do this, but I won’t add extra recipes for it. So don’t expect it to be an easy challenge!

Other Challenges?

What other challenge modes would you like to see in the game? Hit me with your ideas.

For now, I’m most interested in things that don’t require a lot of new systems. So the best choices are things that you could already do on your own (like take a vow of silence, or promise never to buy arrows from a shop, or something like that). Those sorts of things are pretty easy to add: the game can just track to see if you’re doing it or not.

(I’m also interested in challenges that require new systems, so feel free to suggest those too! But they’ll probably end up getting added after the game launches.)

Progress Report: Necromancy and Staff Fighting

I’m still implementing these two combat skills. Staff fighting turned out to be more entertaining than I feared. But that’s damning with faint praise, since I was afraid it would be unbearably boring. It’s about half-fun right now. I think it will become fun when I add the secondary support skills, though.

It has a 50-50 mix of offensive and defensive abilities, making it a solid second choice, rather than a primary fighting style. The same staff you use for Fire Magic can also be used for Staff Fighting, so these two skills are naturally synergistic, giving the blast-happy wizard a bit of defense and threat-management ability. (But lots of other secondary skills make sense for Fire Mages too — Combat Psychology gives them more crowd control; Necromancy gives them dangerous pets; Psi-Warrior gives them some survivability and a backup attack method against fire-resistant foes…)

Necromancy is further behind, and not playable yet, but the design is fleshed out. I have some very cool necromancer powers planned, if I can manage to implement them in my game engine.

Most of the necromancer’s skills involve raising the dead, but there’s a few attacks, too. Here’s a screenshot of me working on the Life Crush attack (which rips part of the soul out of your enemy). A cloud of smoke erupts from the target, briefly forming a death head before disappearing.

Skull Cloud

(Particle effect courtesy of Kalamona, who, btw, sells tons of amazing effects in the Unity asset store. In this screenshot, I'm just wiring it into my game engine.)

An interesting quirk is that the necromancer’s blast attacks have no effect on undead — so it’s actually a little difficult to use necromancy to kill enemy undead. (They can still have their pet undead kill them, but they can’t blast ‘em with dark energy.)

More updates coming soon! I’m way behind on getting the next video diary up, maybe I’ll do that this weekend.
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19 Responses to Optional Ways to Play

  1. Kirk says:

    I’d like to suggest a tweak to the sentient challenge: if the sentient attacks first it’s self-defense, not murder.

    Titles? I like Peacekeeper.

    I like the hard core idea (though I’d probably never take it myself). As to removing the change, perhaps a small quest initiated at the same shrine (or one of its kindred)? A little time and effort, doable by both small and large. (Example: you are given the location of five sites, each a short distance away — too close to make fast travel worthwhile, far enough to take some time. At each is flower which you must pick. You must bring back all five flowers before they wilt, a time limit so you can’t stick them in your bank for insta-switching.)

  2. Scott says:

    For sentient creatures, especially what we’d consider the intelligent variety such as humans, etc. What if they had their own survival instincts too? Why rush into certain death like monster AI always does? If it were a player roleplaying the bad guy, he might decide to surrender or create a chance to run rather than face death. (Intentionally disregarding respawning; we don’t plan on a respawn when we die for real, else we would have no survival instincts whatsoever.)

    If you have some form of “diplomacy” system, why can’t problems be resolved via that (and I don’t mean a friendly card game with the villain either) rather than the usual video game trope of “Every problem can, and must, be solved with violence and murder.”

    Hardcore Mode… On the one hand, I at least intellectually support this mode. Playing Dark Souls on the 360 showed me that my core was nowhere near as erect and mighty as I had thought, however. Viagra Core is needed, /sigh. But generally speaking, I have to wonder why it only seems MMOs have adopted this idea of a “death penalty?” I don’t recall such additional punishment in tabletop, where failure or death meant you just “wasted” (not really, you had a good time face to face with friends) hours and possibly need to start over with a new character (though there’s no “replaying content” in tabletop). I don’t even think Dark Souls has a death penalty. It doesn’t need one, the entire game is sadomasochistic punishment, but that’s part of its unique charm. But I have to wonder why MMO devs in particular have this fetish for punishing and penalizing their players, but seem to be loathe to consider the opposite? Champions Online is the only one that comes to mind where there is, for lack of a better term, a Survival Bonus which you can “stack” up to five times. Each defeat removes one until you’re at zero, but it never further penalizes you.

  3. wins32767 says:

    How about “Elfbane” or “Mantisfoe” for restricting your violence mainly to certain species?

  4. Spence says:

    For a long time now yours have been the blog entries I most look forward to – Project Gorgon needs to be released already. I demand you hasten the event by sacrificing all sleep on the altar of my impatience.

    xp gain/death penalty trade off is a great idea.

  5. Conor says:

    Combining optional challenges with support for a more hardcore playstyle, I’d like to see a sign in town showing who got the farthest before their first death.

    Spice it up by providing specific info for the players to analyze and be proud/embarrassed about: “#1 – Jimbob earned a combined 263 skill levels, specializing mainly in Sword and Fire Magic, before finally being overcome by Pig.”

    Might as well make a zone-wide or server-wide announcement out of it too. :)

  6. Kiryn says:

    Those mantis hats are great. Can you give them little monocles too? That would be adorable.

  7. Eric says:

    @Scott: Death penalties aren’t only in MMOs, they show up in lots of game contexts. It’s really just “anything bad that happens when you die.” In most FPSes, death adds an embarrassing death count to the scoreboard, which is a sufficient penalty to the people who care. And the earliest arcade games had incredibly punitive death penalties: if die too many times in Space Invaders, you literally have to stop playing… forever. (Unless you pay more real world money.)

    Galaxian without a severe death penalty would be boring, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. That particular combination of game mechanics just needs a strict death penalty to make it work for its target audience. On the other hand, New Super Mario Bros. doesn’t need as much of a death penalty — having to redo the level is sufficient.

    MMOs have a tough job: they need to be accessible to a large range of player skills and motivations. As a result, they tend to be pretty easy. You rarely die in most MMOs. Maybe only 1 out of every 10 fights has serious risk of you dying. And that’s okay. (Especially if there are harder-difficulty areas you can go into when you want to.) But I want the thrill of danger that comes from the occasional near-death experience. And that doesn’t happen if death doesn’t have enough sting. (But what “enough” is will depend on the player, their skill, and their experience with the genre.)

    There’s also the added difficulties of sustaining a “virtual world” where death is impermanent. I’m sure you’ve played an MMO where people routinely kill themselves in order to teleport back to their bind point. This sort of behavior can have a landslide effect on the game: people don’t fear death, so they don’t use expensive life-saving potions, so those potions aren’t valuable. People don’t fear death, so they don’t buy town portal scrolls, they just commit suicide.

    You don’t have these problems in other genres because the world is a lot less fleshed out. (We don’t give a shit how Mario gets from the ice level to the lava level. He just got there somehow.) The more real-life details your game has, the more jarring it is if death doesn’t work as a deterrent the way it does in real life.

  8. Eric says:

    @Conor: not a bad idea!

    @Kiryn: Hmm… yes… I’ll see what I can do!

    @wins32767: a good thought! Maybe goblin-bane and undead-foe, since goblins and undead are pretty common.

  9. Marcelo says:

    What if, in hardcore mode, instead of your item going to a random vendor, it goes to a distant land and the player has the opportunity to track its place and try to retrieve it? I think this would generate a lot of fun quests.

  10. DrBrydon says:

    Vegetarianism clicked for me. Back in the pen’n'paper RGP “Runequest”, some religions required you to take one or more geases (sing. geas), or taboos. These would be things like “eat no meat”, use no sword, wear no head armor. There was a table (D100) for rolling one for your character. Some of them really only impacted RP; some (like armor restrictions) could be a real challenge. (If I recall correctly, you could take extra geases and you would get benefits.)

  11. Whorhay says:

    You could actually break Pacifism out as it’s own class, make it a CC specialist or something. A pacifist though would still have to not fight back against a sentient foe, otherwise they’d just be a normal person. Could always just have pacifism and some other challenge title for someone that simply doesn’t pick fights with sentient creatures.

    For druids, make their ratio of animal to other mob kills directly affect the strength or potency of their spells and tweak it however you want. Maybe put in an xp penalty for every animal or plant that they kill which wears off over time or something.

  12. Fantastic ideas. I think Vegan superpowers ala Scott Pilgrim would be amusing but I don’t know how easy it would be to just not eat to get that.

    I imagine no murdering would be doable if you had a way to defeat/disable your enemies without killing them.

  13. Ma is says:

    One for me would the ‘loner’ title – a certain ammount of time without grouping. Perhaps increasing to such things as ‘hermit’ if you keep it up for a really long time.

  14. Kim "Gatreh" says:

    You say the necromancers attacks do nothing against undead, I guess thats fine but have you considered making dark attacks heal undead? as it is the undeads element it kinda makes sence, I also want to put some other ideas that I’ve figured would be cool to have in an MMO..
    If you’re going to have bosses you could have a high tier boss that is absolutely insanely hard to kill, the catch is that it will almost have no hp whatsoever.
    Resistances, if a boss has a massive ammount of resistances so that the player can barely harm it every time it strikes it will FEEL as if the boss itself is really strong when its just the defence of the boss that is ridicolous.
    Another one that I’m going to try to implement is that I’m not going to use levels, instead the experience you gain you can buy skills with, but you can only have a set ammount of skills at one time. Having a large pool of skills in this case is quite a bit more important but it does allow for some great customization, you can also have incompatible skills that won’t work with eachother aswell.

  15. Matt says:

    One MUD I sunk quite a few years into had some interesting death mechanics…

    It was possible, but not likely, to permanently die. Players had to obtain “favors” by performing tasks and sacrificing some experience into orbs, which were then placed on altars of their deity of choice. If you died, you were a corpse for 10 minutes and you could still speak as a ghost, but not move. If you were not resurrected, you lost a favor. If you had no favors, then that was it. You died. But of course, no sane individual really undertook any dangerous activity without having a good 5-10 favors in reserve. Each subsequent orb took more experience to charge (so getting that 10th+ was rarely worth it), although it really wasn’t a significant amount of experience on the grand scheme of things (a couple minutes of gameplay or so). Some considered this a pointless mechanic, but I thought it really gave players a sense of mortality, that they really could die if they were careless.

    It also spawned all manner of abilities to aid those who fell. Clerics had a high level resurrect ability, that could bring a non-decayed body back to life without them having to spend a favor, but the process was by no means instant. Paladins could make the process easier by inscribing glyphs on the dead person’s items to make them stick to the player. Paladins also had a spell which enabled them to transfer one of their own favors to the unlucky dead body with no favors left… the less honorable Paladins would of course charge a hefty fee for this service.

    Obviously these are more draconian than I think you’re going for, but I never knew anybody who permanently died for lack of favors, it became one of those flavor mechanics that made you realize your own mortality. Watching your favor count tick down to 2 was always a scary experience, and usually inspired a quick burst of faith in the immortals.

    The community also really banded together to help dead folk, and helping the dead could give you that “warm fuzzy feeling”.

    But yeah, I don’t know how well this would translate to a more modern MMO.

    Bonus points if anyone can guess the MUD to which I am referring, the players of which STILL pay a monthly subscription fee of 15 dollars or so. Except the players in the Platinum instance, who somehow cough up 50 dollars per month… to watch text scroll past. Funny thing is, if I were rich and had tons of time on my hands, I’d probably sign right up.

  16. @matt I miss dragon realms, they’re doing a lot of fun updates with their crafting systems and a huge skill update. Also Traders are getting magic.

  17. bubble says:

    Hardcore mode could switch off when grouped.

    Optional paths:
    I’d have it a bit like a hybrid of exp and achievement system where if you cimpleted a set of tasks you got a relevant skill, ability or gear e.g. a hunter path might give pieces of a set of armor for each completed set of hunter achievements (the kind of armor that increases in power as you get more of the set). The hunter achievements might be things like killing one each of a particular kind of critter mob in a zone or collecting a certain amoint of meat or killing particular named critter mobs in a zone etc or tagging all the types of critter mobs in a game (where tagging was tracking and getting close without losing stealth)

    some options

    - hunter: animal and critter mobs and related activities
    - bard: learning songs and performing, maybe extending later to messenger and diplomacy
    - trader: like those old privateer type games, buying and selling npc cargo and transporting it
    - explorer: visiting waypoints and sites of interest, geography based
    - loremaster: visiting shrines, libraries, reading books, learning languages (this could get very involved i.e. learning a mob language so you can read a book with directions to a shrine)(explorer might be more interesting as part of this)
    - necromancer: travel around finding clues to find tombs of named necro and undead mobs (who don’t attack but their minions might) and learn your necro abilities from them in return for doing something or other for them
    - demonologist: learn to summon imp who tells you what to do to improve your summoning (like a subset of loremaster mixed with a demon-based version of the necro path)
    - hero: like hunter but with specific mobs that are enemies of some kind of faction or other e.g. Hero of Light, Hero of Darkness, Dwarf hero, Elf Hero i.e. each have their own list of enemy mobs you need to kill (general types of mobs plus specific named ones) and rewards for the achievements
    - cook: (or some other crafts like leatherwork, fletching) make a subgame out of it e.g. recipes have a sequence and each has at least one dropped or foraged ingredient which come from specific zones so you level up your cooking from ingredients from the mobs you levelled on

    so basically you could start the same kind of character in the same place but by picking a different path each time you could have a very different levelling experience because the paths would take you to different places.

  18. bubble says:

    re necromancy as an optional path and the earlier post about evil / undead etc.

    This may not fit your game but generally fantasy genre games that have actual gods should have gods with an agenda. Say worship and sacrifice gives them power then what do they trade for it? A principled “good” god might behave in some universally consistent way that fits your idea of good. Most of them might have a definition of good which means protecting a particular race or settlement so it’s only subjectively good and two good god’s followers could theoretically fight each other. Other gods might be much more clearly mercantile i.e a blessing for sacrificing some gold with an explicit price list and summer sales.

    But what about evil gods? What would they trade? They’re evil. I think they’d lie. So i’m thinking the evil gods (or maybe just one with multiple masks) would basically trick people based on a particular temptation e.g. lust for knowledge or power or something. So the temptees don’t neccessarily start evil but they get lured and trapped into it.

    So for example say necromancy is the temptation route for lust for knowledge. It could be tied into or be a branch off the default loremaster path i.e. in seeking knowledge there is a shortcut – asking the dead. So at some point a character on the loremaster path could be tempted by a necro npc to choose whether or not to go down that path. Each step of the path would involve small increments of evil starting with nothing much – dirt from a recent grave, then digging up a corpse for a finger bone for some kind of reagent, eventually to murder a murderer who knows but won’t tell some secret knowledge etc one step at a time closer to killing an innocent.

    The point of the process from the evil god’s point of view is to get the necro to damn himself by his actions so the evil god gets his soul when he dies. Eventually the necro realises this and when he does the god afflicts him with some rotting disease that will kill him fairly soon *but* he can postpone death by sacrificing others to take his place. For every soul he or his minions sacrifices he gets to avoid hell for a bit longer.

    It’s basically an evil pyramid scheme. The first necro is still alive in lich form safe deep underground somewhere because he gets a percentage of all the soul points of all the necros he recruited and all the ones they recruited and the ones they recruited down the pyramid (apart from the ones killed by heros over that time).

    I’m not sure that would fit the feel of your game as to be as memorable as possible it could get pretty dark although i guess a more Discworld type version would be possible also.

  19. tad says:

    I think you can add alternative ways to win by adding ‘classes’ (though I’d call them roles not classes) to a ‘classless’ game. Hard to give example of what I mean beause I know so little about the game – so perhaps it isn’t possible, or only possible for a few- but I’ll try. Take the Necromancer who specializes in death magic – a ‘true’ necromancer shouldn’t be working in any skillset that is life related: growing potatoes, animal husbandry or combat skills like sworsmanship/blacksmithing. So a Necromancer who accepts the Necromancer Role – is skill limited, but will got some additional bonuses for not dabbling in the ‘life arts’. Alternatively, can just have more generalized role: as a ‘magic-user’ – you can do the same thing – specialize in anything but straight-up melee combat and melee combat-related skills (e.g. blacksmithing, mining, swordsmanship) except for daggers/staves/unarmed. Just a thought.