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My Ideal MMO: A 5 part series on a theoretical Sandbox MMO
by Jason Carter on 07/11/12 02:30:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


My Ideal MMO:

Part 1:  The World Set Up


  So, I have had in my head for a few years what my perfect, ideal MMORPG would be, because nothing out there has really drawn me in.  Rift is good, I used to be a WoW junkie (Vanilla -> Cata), SW:ToR was good for a while, but nothing so far has really got me involved.  I want a game similar in play to Darkfall (for PvP servers) but with a few tweaks here and there, and including PvE servers which would introduce a whole new line of play and appeal to a different crowd.

  I will treat this as a pseudo game design document, explaining each area of the game and how it would be set up and why.  In this first part I will lay out the idea for the world, the story behind why the player is there, the starting area for the player and the graphical theme of the game.  In the second part I will go over skills and leveling  which will lead into the third part about crafting, questing and player owned land after that.  Next I'll discuss PvP/PvE servers and then finally end game content and how it will fit into the game.

  Well let's get started!

The Beginning:
  Story (rough idea):
  Since the beginning, the gods have warred over the galaxies.  Daemonica, the god of darkness and evil, sends his forces to swarm the planets and take control of them, while Zoan, the god of power and light, sends his empowered ones to fight back on each planet. 

  You are one of the empowered ones, sent to this planet to establish a foothold and gain the power to stop Daemonica.  Only you and your empowered allies can stop the darkness.

  The World:
  Think LoZ:  Windwaker.  The world is a massive water covered planet with many island chains and small continents strewn throughout.  Players would be able to travel from island to island via crafted boats, and visit many sorts of locations varying from frozen isles, to desert isles to massive volcanoes.  This sort of split up island system makes zoning monsters and levels very easy and gives island control meaning in the PvP servers.  

  Level 1:
  The very first players to load into a server would start with nearly nothing to their name.  The first players to start on a server would be stationed in an open field with purchase-able land and one lonely NPC:  The Servant of Zoan, who will explain the game to you and give you some basic starting items and tools for you to begin your journey across the land.  You will be able to sell items to the servant for a very cheap prices, bringing in a source of gold to the game.  At a certain level, you will be able to purchase land from the servant if there is any land left in the area to be bought.  (Note:  Land purchases will be capped and player ownership will be detailed in Part 3)  From here the player will go out and begin forging their world. 

  The graphical theme for the game would not shoot to be too realistic.  Players would be human looking, but the game should focus on being colorful and aesthetic, rather than realistic.  Colorful, bright graphics would fit the theme of the game rather well.
  Some games do well with beautiful, precise and realstic graphics, but this game would benefit from simpler graphics in my opinion.  Plus, with simpler more colorful graphics, you save a lot on high budgets and long development times on the art and modeling side.  Also lower poly counts means easier rendering for those with less powerful computers which means more people are able to play.

Part 2: Leveling and Skills

Doing whatever you want:
  The system would be freeform similar to Runescape, Darkfall or The Secret World.  What I have in mind is a system where ANY type of character you want, you can make.  Want a swordsman that uses elemental magic?  Level up magic and sword arts.  Want a plate wearing healer?  Level up heavy armor and restoration magic.  Want a fist fighting necromancer?  Level up Bare handed fighting and necromancy.  Sure it would lead to overpowered combinations, but that's why you'd make counter classes, and of course scaling levels (which I'll explain in a bit). 

  I figured three main categories would work:  Physical, Magical, and Armor.

  Under each of these categories would be multiple professions to choose from.  At any time you can choose to use these skills to level them up.  First we'll take a quick look at each skill, then we'll go into how to level up and the level system.

  Physical Professions:
  - Ranged (Bows, Guns, Throwing Weapons):  The ranged profession would encompass skills that revolve around using ranged weapons.  Skills would include things like:  Empowered Shot, Ice Arrow, Attack Speed Boosts, and retreats.  Starting out in the ranged profession would start you out with very weapon specific skills to use.  For example, you would learn Ice Arrow at a low level, which could only be used while having a bow equipped.  Then once you begin to reach the Ranged Level Cap, you would start to learn other skills that synergize well with other professions such as Attack Speed Increase or some sort of disengage maneuver.

  - Swords (1h and 2h):  The sword profession would use, as the name implies, skills with both 1 and 2 handed swords.  Skills would include:  Double Slash, Heavy Blow, Lunge, and rushing and melee related skills.  Like all combat professions, the Sword profession would start you with weapon specific skills and branch out to more general and powerful skills later.  The Sword profession would be a very high damage output profession relying on quick strikes and effective movement. 

  - Axes (Axes 1h and 2h and Poleaxes)  The axe profession would encompass both axes (1 and 2h) and poleaxes (polearms, lances).  Skills would include:  Hamstring, Ripping Strike, and other cleaving type abilities.  The axe profession would rely more on sweeping AOE strikes, bleed damage and slowing effects to keep the enemy weak and immobilized. 

  - Hammers (Maces, Hammers (1h and 2h) and Clubs)  The hammer profession would encompass all blunt attacking objects both 1 and 2h.  Skills would include:  Crushing Strike, Spinning Force, Stunning Blow and other smashing type abilities.  The hammer profession would utilize stuns, armor reducing attacks, and slow heavy blows to crush down on opponents. 

  - Daggers (Daggers, knives, shivs) The dagger profession utilizes daggers, knives and other shank type weapons.  Skills would include:  Backstab, Kidney Rupture, Shadow Dash, and other quick, mobile, and high burst skills. The dagger profession revolves heavily around quick movement and high burst skills.  It lacks sustained damage and relies on the player getting in and out of combat quickly.

  - Bare handed:  The bare handed profession is leveled by using no weapons when fighting enemies.  Skills would include:  Double hit, Jump Kick, and other martial arts style moves.  The bare handed profession is low damage in comparison to other weapon skills, but gives the player mobility and rapid sustained attacking in exchange.  Movement and control become the players assets in the bare handed profession. 

  - Staves (Staves, wands and other magic items): The staves profession uses staves, wands and other magical items such as books, relics and charms.  Skills would include: Wand Shot (a ranged type attack), Empower Spell and other magic supportive skills.  The staff profession is more of a supportive profession to magic spells than a heavily combat oriented profession.  Most of the skills would include things that either buff spells, return mana on melee or ranged hit, or give you defensive buffs.  The melee and ranged attacks by the player would be usable when out of mana, but weak compared to other melee skills.

  Magical Professions:
  -Elemental Magic:  Elemental Magic includes fire, water and ice, earth, wind and lightning magic.  The player uses the elements to cast damaging spells.  Spells would include:  Fireball, Frost Wave, Quake, Lightning Shock and other elemental spells.  The elemental magic profession is the main magical profession encompassing most mage-like spells.  Elemental magic relies on heavy burst and slowing spells to nuke down enemies.

  - Restoration Magic: Restoration Magic includes healing, supportive and resurrection spells.  Skills would include:  Heal, Recover, Revive, and other restorative spells.  The restoration profession would be the main cleansing and healing profession relying on both heal over time spells, direct heal spells and shielding spells to help allies.

  - Necromancy:  Necromancy includes death resurrection spells and black magic.  Skills include:  Raise Zombie, Zombify Ally (turn an ally into a zombie when they die), and crippling / debuff type magics.  The necromancy profession uses dark magic to raise undead creatures to fight for you as well as putting crippling hexes and damage over time spells on your enemies.

  - Arcane Magic:  Arcane magic utilizes time warping magic and other gravitational type magics.  Skills would include:  Slowing Field, Gravity Well, Arcane Blast and other heavy damage gravitation type attacks.  The arcane profession would be different from elemental magic in that it alters the fabric of time around the player to bring massive damage to enemies and would be a more AoE style magic.

  - Illusion Magic:  Illusion magic takes and alters an enemies perception using alteration and illusion magic.  Skills would include:  Invisibility, Mind Attack, Magic Reflect, and other skills that alter what an enemies sees and does.  The profession would rely on reflecting back attacks and diverting attention to false images or other enemies.  Players using illusion magic wouldn't rely heavily on damage so much as avoiding damage and would be best used as a lesser skill in conjunction with another damage skill. 

  Armor Professions:
  - Cloth Armor:  Cloth armor would include all soft type armors.  As you level armor skills, you both increase the effectiveness of armor in battle as well as allowing you to equip higher levels of that type of armor.  Higher levels of armor skills would also give you bonuses for wearing all cloth armor and sets of cloth armor.  Cloth armor in the game would generally have magic enhancing stats and low armor values giving the player better magical aptitude but not much physical defense.  Armor skills would be leveled by taking damage while wearing that armor. 

  - Leather/Light Armor:  Leather armor would increase mobility while giving moderate physical and magical protection.  Leather armor would be a good balance for players who want to rely on mobility during combat. Leather armor would give stats increasing physical damage rather than magical.

  - Heavy Armor:  Heavy armor would include both plate and chain mail type armors.  Heavy armor would give massive physical defense with reduced mobility and be susceptible to magic type attacks.  Heavy armor would best be suited for heavy melee characters wanting to get in peoples faces and stay in the thick of battle.

  -Shields:  The shield profession would include all types of shields.  The shield profession would be leveled by blocking with a shield during battle and would allow you to equip better shields, block easier and for more damage, and gain certain shield skills as you level the profession up.  The shield profession is for those players who want to be a tank type character able to absorb lots of damage while staying in battle. 

  Well that sums it up for the professions, let's take a look at the leveling system and how all that relates to the game. 

  First of all, you can level any profession at any time, just by swapping to weapons, armors of that type or using a spell of that type.  Each time you fight using a weapon (for physical combat spells) you would gain a small portion of experience toward that profession.  As you level up, you are able to use better items and abilities under that profession.  These would be learned automatically and there wouldn't be any skill trainers in the game to learn them.  Leveling would be slow.  You would not gain many levels a day.  This isn't the type of game where you hit max level within a week, in fact, there really wouldn't be a max level as it would be fairly impossible to reach it.  

  Also you would mainly only gain experience from monsters and players around your level.  Fighting very low relative level monsters would mean you wouldn't get much experience, but fighting boss monsters and high level ones would reward you for your effort.

  Like Runescape, the game would have a meta-level that would be your overall level.  Each time you level any profession, your meta level would adjust accordingly.  This would require some thought and detailed algorithms to get it balanced, but basically you would have a combat level that would be used for PvP and enemy comparison purposes. 

  Each time you gain a level of any profession, the experience for the next level of any combat profession would increase.  So if it takes 100 experience to get your very first level in swords, it would take say 110 experience to get your next level in heavy armor.  This would increase dramatically as you gain many levels making it very difficult to level up more than 3-4 professions at once.  This would be balanced to keep players from swapping their professions around and leveling all of them together.  Your meta level would be much higher for one, and you wouldn't have the high skills or items that you can get with those skills that others of the same meta level would have.  This keeps players focused on a few skills that they want.  Think of Skyrim in this regard.  You can't level everything at once, you are forced to make decisions.

  Also, as you gain meta levels, your character is able to choose the type of stats they want to specialize in.  For instance, you level up swords to level 2, heavy armor to level 2 and restoration magic to level 2.  Your meta level has now reached level 2 since you have obtained enough skills to level it up and you are given the option to choose:  Intellect, Agility, Strength, Endurance.  Selecting one of those stats will increase that stat by a small amount more than the others.  In this way you have a portion of customization over the stat increases of your character as you level up. 

  The meta level is the displayed level to other players as well.  It takes into consideration every combat profession you have leveled and gives you a level to associate with your character. 

  Now let's take a look at combat and how you would use these skills.  I think some games are coming out with much better action based combat and that is what I would like to see.

  Combat System:
  The combat system would be an action style combat system.  It would very skill based and rely on player skill rather than levels or powerful armor gained.  Abilities, level and armaments would all help, but skill would play a very important part. 

  For example:  Ranged skills and attacks would be similar to a first or third person shooter.  The player would manually have to aim their attacks and target enemies manually.  Skills would include this kind of targeting as well.  Melee skills would rely on the player clicking for each attack with a global cool down on auto attacking.  The direction the player faces would be very important as well as good positioning and knowing your striking range.  Magical attacks would be similar to ranged attacks in that you have to aim them at enemies or choose locations for AoE based attacks to land. 

  In this way the player is actively engaged in every fight.  I believe TERA uses a system to the one I would like to see, but I have yet to play TERA.  The game would revolve heavily around the action based combat as there would be very little convenience in both combat and crafting.  In my opinion most modern MMORPGs make everything so simple that the game is simply boring. 

  Also, this type of leveling system, in conjunction with mobs being somewhat difficult (on par with your level), makes the player be engaged in each fight in order to level up efficiently. Fighting mobs lower than you would give drastically reduced XP to whatever proffession you are leveling.

  Crafting would use a similar free form system, minus the scaling levels across all professions.
Part 3: Crafting, Player Owned Land, and Quests

Crafting has always been, in EVERY mmorpg I have played, my biggest pet peeve.  The systems are boring, meaningless and don't impact game play all that much.  You can be a master craftsman, making the highest level armors available and... well... they are completely pointless compared to raid/boss loots.

For my ideal MMO, a wild rat monster wouldn't drop you a cloth armor.  For one, that makes no sense.  And for two, by removing armor drops from monsters, bosses, demons, etc., you make crafting very, very important.  And you can make it fun too!  What I will do is go through the crafting segments and what they do, and then talk a little bit about how you use crafting, the importance of crafting to this fictional game, and how it would involve the player in something more than just click to make 100 boots!

First, let's break the entire crafting skills page into 3 sections:  Gathering, Production Skills, and Other/Social.

Here are the crafting skills I envision for this game:

Gathering: (mainly deals with attaining items from nature)
  Herblore:  The discovering and identifying of types of plants, herbs and shrubberies.  Also includes deducing uses for those herbs and attributes of the herb.  Higher levels allow the harvesting of better herbs.

  Woodcutting:  The cutting of trees to gain logs via woodcutting axes.  Higher levels allow the use of better wood axes and the cutting of rarer trees.

  Mining/Smelting:  The mining of metals, rare metals and gems via pick axes.  Also includes the smelting of these metals into usable bars at a forge.  Higher levels allow the use of better pick axes and the mining of rarer  and more valuable metals.

  Butchering:  The scavanging of skins, meats, bones and teeth from animals and wild beasts that are slain.  Also includes tanning of hides into leather.  Leveling increases the types and levels of beasts you can butcher.

  Fishing:  The ability to fish from lakes, rivers and oceans via fishing rods.  Also includes the ability to track and locate hot spots for fishing and the ability to craft rods and lures.  Higher levels allow the use of better fishing equipment and the chance to catch and locate rarer fish.

Production Skills:  (mainly deals with making new items from essences learned)
  Mixology/Alchemy:  The creation of potions, poisons, elixirs and antedotes using vials and ingredients.  Includes the ability to grind bones and teeth, turn herbs into extracts, pastes and oils and use of alchemical equipment.  Higher levels allow access to more powerful essence patterns. (**explained after the listing of skills**)  

  Carpentry/Wood Working:  The creation of wooden items, houses, housing furniture, docks, boats, handles for weapons and tools, fishing rods and poles and other wooden equipment.  Allows the ability to create boards from logs as well.  As with all production skills, higher levels allow the access to power powerful pattern essences.

  Armor Smithing:  The creation of metallic (plate and chain) armors and shields using hammers, anvils and other smithing tools.  Also includes the creation of studs for leather working, and other metal items on armor.

  Weapon Smithing:  The creation of metal weapons:  Swords, Axes, Maces.  Includes wood axes, pick axes, arrow heads, and other metal weapons and tools.

  Sewing/Stitching:  The creation of cloth and cloth armor.  Includes making various types of cloth from plants, animal products and other materials.  Also includes all other cloth items such as bags, packs, and strips of cloth.

  Leather Working:  The creation of leather armors made from tanned hides and leather.

  Farming:  The planting of seeds in a tilled area of land to grow food, trees and herbs.  Farming is only available on either owned property or public farming land.  Includes the tilling of land, harvesting and planting higher level goods and other farming maintenance skills.

  Fletching and Bowmaking:  The creation of bows, strings, arrow shafts and arrows from a variety of resources.  Includes the assembly of arrows and bows as well.

  Cooking:  The creation of various foods made from herbs, meats, and other goods from farming and collected in the wild.

  Jeweler:  The molding of rare metals and gems into rings, brooches, necklaces, and charms.  Includes the cutting of uncut gems and polishing and refining of rare metals.

  Enchanting:  The creation of magical enchantments to place on jewelry and the assembly of magical weapons such as staves, books and wands.

Other / Social Skills:  (other skills not in gathering or production)
  Pick Pocketing:  Allows stealing from humanoid NPCs or (PVP servers ONLY) from other players with the risk of being flagged as a PKer for a while.

  Lock Picking:  Allows picking of locked chests and doors found in NPC villages.

  Outdoorsman:  The creation of campfires, tents, animal traps and fishing traps (fishing traps level up fishing as well as outdoorsman). 

  Cartography:  The creation of maps for other players to use.  Maps can show popular fishing locations, monster locations, other gathering spots that have been discovered and other exploration information as level is increased.  **will talk about this a bit below**

  Taming/Breeding:  The ability to tame and breed non-demonic wild beasts as either combat or non-combat pets.

Those are some of the skills that I would like to see in the game and let me address a few important notes of information about the skills here.

Essence Patterns: Skills wouldn't be learned from a trainer. Rather as you level up a skill, when you are out killing monsters, you have a chance to gain an essence pattern, which would give you a production pattern that you are able to use. Certain monsters would have rare patterns able to drop off them and part of the fun would be finding massive boss monsters with your guild to go find really good and rare patterns to make. This way it would make players who explore and go out a lot have a better chance of finding cool patterns to sell.

Cartography:  Basically, each player wouldn't have a free map of the world.  As players explore, their map and mini map will light up in the immediate areas around them, but a cartographer can craft a map for players with information showing where certain things are located and those maps can be put as overlays on the player map, able to be toggled on and off.  Certain skills would be required for certain map designs.  For example, a fishing map would require a certain level of fishing skill to make that map for people.

Carpentry/Fishing:  Carpentry would allow the creation of boats, which could be ridden to travel from island to island, skimming across the tops of the ocean.  Boats would be able to be fished off of and driven with passengers to take people around the world.  They would be free moving boats, with players able to jump off at any time, as well as fight or jump to an enemy boat.

Now, onto my big pet peeve with crafting.  It's so dang boring!  And pointless!  Well, in this MMO, there are NO drops from monsters to give you phat lewtz.  Rare essence patterns would drop off raid style bosses (detailed in the last post) as well as rare materials used to make those items. 

The other part about crafting is to make production crafting skills a mini-game.  Now the idea here is to make it worthwhile to craft and more fun.  This changes it from people who just buy massive amounts of material and max crafting to a system where people who invest the effort will see the results of their work.  They will have to work at making quality items, and by making skill based mini games, you can have an item have a quality reflective of the players ability to craft well.

For instance:  How you do Armor Smithing:  You would go to your anvil (either one in your house or in the local blacksmith's shop) and open up your armor smithing menu.  From your bag you bring out the correct materials and put them into the slot for crafting and select the item to make.  From here, a mini game pops up with a hammer and a sheet of metal.  On the metal hot spots or icons would show up that you have to click on as fast as you can to hammer out the metal.  A short, quick skill based mini game would give the feeling of actually crafting something.  The result would depend on how well you did in the game as well.  For example: You missed 3 out of 4 hammer hits and the result of what you were making is:  'Shabby Iron Bracers'.  But the next time you hit 3 out of the 4 and the timing was okay on all of them.  The result would be:  'Good Iron Bracers'  and if you nail every hit with perfect timing you would get:  'Perfect Iron Bracers'.  Each would have a different armor value reflecting the quality of work put into them.

Also, a way to engage the player outside of the game is to include mobile cross platform involvement.  If your player is logged out of the game [in your home, possibly], you can log in on a mobile app and craft items and play the mini games for production crafting.  What you would need is the proper crafting materials either on your player or in storage chests in your house, and the proper production facilites on your property (e.g. an Anvil, Tanning Rack, Alchemy Lab, etc.).  This would let players go out and collect the materials they need and play the crafting mini games in their spare time to make items in their home on their smart phone.

In this manner, each and every Production skill would require both time AND effort on the player's part to make good items. 

Also most every item in the game would be made by players, so people who make quality goods would be known and trading would be a very important and social skill to have.  I would honestly shy away from an Auction House as well.  This would force players to barter and spend time finding good deals and trading goods and money for things they need.  

Now onto our next topic:

Player Owned Land:  (and the creation of a town)
One thing I would like to see as well is the ability to purchase land from a set out area and own personal property.  This could be achieved by setting out large plots of land throughout the world that are able to eventually be settled.  The first players would be able to buy land from the Servant of Zoan and start making the first town.  As more players buy land in an area, special quests would show up at the servant to begin making other NPC buildings in the town such as:  A blacksmith, a forge, a bank, walls, etc etc.  These quests would be to collect  massive amounts of resources and special items to improve the town.  Also as the town grows, you would be able to hire guards, and other NPCs defend the town with the players.

Once a player has bought a chunk of land, they would be able to begin collecting resources to build a house with construction the land.  Houses would take massive amounts of lumber and materials to make, but would be a place that you can upgrade later, furnish, and have to yourself.  Also owning land would allow you to farm on your land, defend it with walls, and have other neat items on your land such as a personal forge, an alchemy lab, and other crafting stations.

There would have to be a cap on how much land each player could own, and there would have to be enough space throughout the world to be able to colonize other parts.  Also if a player is gone from the game for months on end (say 6 months or so) their property would be put up for sale, and another player could buy that property, and the money would be sent to the player for whenever they return to the game.

This would give players an INVESTMENT in the game.  It would keep them playing and working to both improve their character's combat ability but also their home as well. 

Each major settling area (in fields and other areas around the world)  there would be a servant of Zoan to assist the player in their development of that area.

This idea would take lots of planning and would take lots of programming to implement, but I think it would be tremendously fun.

Questing in a player created world:
Well, you are probably thinking:  Well if this is a player created world essentially, with towns forming around wherever players build their houses and buy land, will there be quests? 

Well the idea I had for questing would be a very non linear type quest.  There would be monster slaying quests as your town developed to go out and hunt down the Demons plaguing the world.  Quests would be tailored to the players current combat level and you would assist both in helping create your town and defeat evil demons.  Rewards for quests would most likely be rarer materials, special tools, items and potions, whatever fits a decent reward as well as gold rewards. 

Gold would be gotten by selling items to the servant of Zoan, completing quests, and killing enemy NPC humanoid characters.  (Such as tribal villages and stuff)  The gold sinks would be:  Housing, town building and other tools/items bought from the servants of Zoan.

Questing would certainly be more free form and exploring / killing monsters out in the world would be the biggest thrill as well as creating your own land, developing new towns and defending those towns from demon raids.  The world would constantly be filled with Daemonica's slaves, demons sent to destroy the Empowered Ones so there would be periodical server wide events as well. 

Part 4: PvP and PvE

Player vs Player:
For this game, there would be both PvP and PvE servers.  However unlike most MMO's, they would be vastly different and most PvP oriented players would probably still want a character on a PvE server as well.  PvP in this game is BRUTAL.  Your decision to kill another player comes at a high cost, but with high benefit.  At any time, any player can choose to turn on his PvP toggle (so that you don't accidentally kill people unintended) and kill another player or engage in PvP combat. 

First, I'll talk about the evil/good system.  I imagine a sort of system that has a bar going from good to evil.  Killing another player that is either neutral or good will immediately flag you with a PvP flag and a PK flag and put your alignment into the evil sector.  A PK flag indicates you have killed a player and you can be killed with no PK penalty to the assailant.  PK flags would last a minimum of 1 hour of in game time and as you repeat PKing people, the time you are flagged for as a PKer goes up.  People who PK all the time would be perma flagged in this way.

If you are aligned to good, you keep a portion of your items/armor when you die and receive no penalty for killing players aligned to evil and flagged as a PKer.  Most players who don't go around killing newbs will be aligned to good.

If you run around and kill people, you will very quickly be aligned to a very evil state.  Being flagged as a PKer means you will drop all your items when you die, people who kill you receive no penalty for killing you, and you are unable to talk to NPCs in a "Good" aligned town.  [I'll get to this in a minute].

Evil players (according to the story) would be those fallen empowered ones who forsook Zoan and now follow Daemonica.  They use their powers to kill other empowered ones and take their items.

There would be many benefits to PKing such as a potential for mass amounts of loot, lots of experience for player kills and rare items they may be carrying.  However, you risk a lot trying to kill them.  You put all of your own items at risk and it's a dangerous thing to mark yourself as a PKer and align yourself evil.

Scaled % Drops in PvP:
Also, there could be a scaling % of items dropped by players when you kill them based on their relative level.  In this way, killing a low level character would net you zero profit and the lowbie wouldn't lose all their items this way.  You could have a 5-10 meta level difference below for items.  However killing a  higher level player would cause them to drop the same amount as a player on par with your level.

Players who align themselves either good or evil would only able to enter towns of that alignment without getting murdered by the other "faction".  Perhaps there could be neutral players who can enter both, but as players flagged themselves as PKers they would have to flee the main cities and congregate elsewhere and build their own city.  This would eventually make Island Control a very important part of the game for each faction.

Evil/Dark Aligned Towns:  
When Evil aligned players get to a field or development area, instead of a servant of Zoan, a servant of Daemonica would let you buy land/get quests/build your city, etc.  In these PvP realms, there would be a less emphasis on demon invasions (which I'll detail in post 5) and more of an emphasis on "evil players" vs "good players".  Structure and "Laws" would have to form in these 'Evil' towns in order to ensure that PKer players don't just kill other PKers cause they can.  Community and a form of order would have to evolve in order for the Evil towns to not get decimated by the Good ones. 

In this way there would be no set factions, but two factions would evolve, only, you get to choose which side you want to be on!  Also, there would be ways to get your alignment back to good if you had become evil.  Such as a long quest chain or something like that.

Since there are heavy negatives to being a PKer there would be hesitation for a player and a moral decision to slay another player.  You would be ostracized from your own society and cast out to join with the dark side of the game.  Also I imagine specialized PK groups and guild forming as well as Bounty Hunters (players specialized in finding and killing PKers). 

This kind of free form PvP would be a rude awakening to people who think they like PvP.  Which is why I said that even PvP die-hards would want to have a PvE character as well to experience the more passive, fun side of the game. 

And this is why I said, my game would probably not be insta-popular (at least in regards to PvP).  But the PvE should also be fun enough and engaging enough to draw in the casual players as well.  Especially the crafting / town building side of it.

All in all, this kind of PvP system thrown into an MMO makes you sit on the edge of your seat, never knowing if another player is lurking in the forest.  It would make hunting parties a priority for safety in numbers.  The game would evolve around this intense free form PvP into, in my opinion, one of the most fun and engaging PvP systems out there.

Also, as far as balancing issues go:  If there is a heavy evil to light ratio or vice versa, the weak faction could be given a moderate buff to PvP combat (not game breaking, but enough to make people want to swap sides).  It's probably a large topic to debate about, but I am sure with a free form faction system, there are plenty of ways to balance it out. 

Player vs Environment:
The big draw of PvE servers over PvP servers is that the game is actually fun and relaxing.  You can go fish, level up your skills and become a master craftsman, or do whatever you want, and you won't just get ganked out in the wild.  

PvE servers would draw in players with a Harvest Moon style of game play as well.  Not everyone needs to be a raider and go kill big bosses, they can level up their home, collect neat items from around the world and engage in a more social experience rather than an intense raiding or PvP experience.  This would allow all sorts of players to enjoy the game.  Exploring would also be a more viable option for fun without having to worry about being too far from your town.

Part 5:  End Game, Dungeons and Conlcusion

Well, you might be thinking after reading through the first 4 parts: 'You haven't mentioned instances or bosses, how will that work in this game?'  Well, it'd be different from most MMO's.  The idea is to keep server populations rather small so that instancing is not required.  What there would be is persistent boss lairs that require teams to group up and go take them down.  What this allows is for giant guilds to attempt the boss with more people than normally would be required if they under gear the content or want to get it down quickly.  Especially on PvP servers, what makes this viable is that if you  die, you drop half your gear.  Even on PvE servers anyone can pick this up, so there could even be thieves on PvE servers who follow raids around and are scavengers of corpses.

So, let's talk a bit first about dungeons and world events, mostly Pre-Endgame.
  -Instead of a few specific instanced areas, there would be massive underground dungeons, island dungeons, volcanic and cavern dungeons and outside dungeons.  These would all be persistent areas in which the content would respawn at specific intervals.  So for a large outdoor end game boss, the respawn rate might be a day, or a few days, or a week for really powerful bosses.  The goal is to keep servers relatively small to say WoW or other MMOs, and make epic boss fights that are a risk to engage.  A wipe to your raid would  mean thousands of gold worth of items strewn across the battlefield for looters to come and get.  Guilds might even try to have a few people stand aside in case of a wipe and collect all the items they can from the corpses.  

  Side note - Soul binding:
  Also another gold sink for the game could be soul binding items.  Similar to soul bound items in other MMO's you could pay a large sum of gold to bind a piece of gear to your soul (PvE servers only).  This would make it so that no matter where you died, you would never drop that piece of gear, but would make it unable to be traded to other players.  It would only be able to be sold to vendors.  This would keep the gold economy in check as well as give high level raiders a way to keep their amazingly epic items that their guilds craftsmen made for them from epic boss loots.

  The idea though is to make it risky.  MMOs these days have no risk.  Just reward.  Sure, players would complain about it, there are lots of complainers, but it adds to the intensity of playing the game.  You would feel actual nervousness or excitement when facing a boss that has the ability to wipe out your hard earned gear.  But at the same time the reward for killing the boss would be worth  the risk.  There would have to be a balance between risk and reward to make the game intense.  

  World Events:
  Also, I envision, (going along with the story line) world invasion events, where demons sent by Daemonica would rush at towns and attack them, in an attempt to destroy the cities.  This would be downplayed and less frequent in PvP worlds since Players would be doing most of the city raiding.  In fact there could even be angelic/light type minion attacks on Evil towns by Zoan in PvP servers. 

  These world events would add an element of defense to the cities and towns around the world.  Players out on missions across the oceans would have to come back home and help defend if it was left unguarded.

 Side note - Housing HP:
  I imagine houses having HP [lots of it] and being able to be attacked [not entered or looted] and eventually destroyed during attacks.  However as towns grow, their town would have NPC guards that are like mini bosses [get stronger the bigger the town], but aren't endless like WoW guards.  They would have tons of HP and fight alongside the players in defense of the town, but when they died, they would drop a nice chunk of loot and gold and the players would have to pool their money to commission another guard later.  I imagine the payment of guards and other town services as your town grows a large gold sink for the game that can balance out gold income.

  World events would supplement the bosses and dungeons that are in the game and keep players busy.  The idea though i that there is so much MORE to do in this game than in other MMOs such as leveling crafting and other skills, that  you don't need or really want to be fighting bosses only all the time.  There would be lots of content to get throughout all levels, that you can do pretty much anything (especially on PvP servers).

 Also players who make towns in higher level areas would be subject to stronger World Event attacks.  Such towns would be closer to powerful enemies to farm, but would have to be defended more strongly. 

  End game:
  - End game would basically consist of epic world bosses.  Massive dragon lairs with a giant dragon boss, giant enemy NPC fortresses with massive warlord bosses, islands inhabited by only super strong monsters and endless tunnels in a mountain governed by giant rock monsters are just some of the dungeons I can imagine being in the game.  Players would gather up with their guilds and charge out to fight these epic battles and come back with riches should they succeed. 

  Since bosses don't respawn very often, servers would need to be somewhat small in order to let all players experience content.  This could also be achieved by debuffing players who kill a boss so that they take double/triple/quadra damage or something from that boss for a few days to let other players do the content since it's not instanced.  This could be for only the most powerful bosses though.  There should be enough content in the game that with 1 day respawn timers on the normal dungeons, most players can experience going out and fighting in these dungeons.  This would need to be balanced with difficulty of the dungeon and the number of players, but I do not think that instancing is the ONLY answer in MMOs. 

  All in all, I think that with some polishing and balancing, these ideas could work very well together in synergizing to make a great game.  This post is of course, pure theory, and none of it has been tested or tried by me.  I know there are plenty of designers out there with years of experience but I just wanted to throw my ideas out there.

  I think that for a long time, MMOs were too scared to branch out and try new things, however, I think that lately some awesome new games are coming out that are trying a lot more of the things I posted here.  I welcome criticism and suggestions.  This is just a post to open up discussion and is really learning for myself as well.  I have had great feedback so far on my blog series from reddit and some excellent suggestions and valid concerns about game play and what not.  
  Thanks for reading!

The original blog can be found here:  

and is written by:

WakeskaterX aka Jason Carter, an aspiring indie designer working on SBX2 at this time. 

Gamasutra Version Updated/Edited 7-15-12 

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Game Designer


Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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There is too much wrong with this design document to properly analyze it in a comment so I will go with a snarky quip instead.

It is obvious you are not making an incredible and innovative MMO but Darkfall 2.0 (3.0?)

Jason Carter
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It's not meant to be a design document, persay. It's more getting my ideas down. What is wrong with it? It's not meant to be some amazing idea, this is just what I would like to see in a game. I have never played darkfall, but please do tell, what are your criticisms?

I wrote this to engage in discussion and debate.

I might change the title, I am not saying these ideas are new or innovative, but that combined together (in my opinion) they would make something new. I haven't seen anything like this before, only bits and parts of it here and there.

Edit: After reading up a bit on Darkfall, I can see your point. Darkfall 2.0 looks really promising. I have to say, WOW they fall right in line with my type of thinking, i need to try the game out. The main divergence is that, a game like that should have heavily focused PvE as well, for those who are not PvP fans. This type of game COULD appeal to mass markets, but a strict PvP only system alienates a large amount of players. I imagine if Darkfall included PvE servers that removed the PvP element and focused more on player development, they would draw a larger player base.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Its not the issue if your ideas are innovative or not, its about that you wrote down a list of features instead of explaining to us (yourself?) what the purpose of those features is in the game, and how they interact with each other or how they are going to be implemented.

You are falling for the same traps that the Darkfall developers did, they made a game that has features but no interesting gameplay, because all its features are disjointed from each other and they did not consider how people will -break- their game.

In Darkfall skills are learned by using them, like in Morrowind. So people with programmable mice have already a leg up because they can push a button to execute a macro to jump up and down for three hours to grind out their "athletics" (like swimming against a wall in Morrowind) etc.
This could have been easily remedied by including a skillpoint-pool, i.e. you can only gain so many SP. So either you can jump really good and have high stamina -or- you can have two handed-swords maxed -or- magic, etc.

As an example from your idea sheet:
You mentioned making crafting a "skill based mini game" with QTE (Fable 2).
What exactly does this accomplish? I understand you would like this mechanic because you consider crafting boring (in the form you experienced).
However this is an RPG and you would lock out people from the crafting that are interested in crafting by the skill-cap you impose on their real life abilities (not their ingame avatar).
Not everyone has the lightning-reflexes of a cougar and QTEs are generally not what i consider "fun".
That, and not to mention QTEs are hugely unpopular in the gaming community as a whole.

Of course there is a fix for this, making the higher levels of the armor-smith skill make the "hotspots" larger or the QTE duration longer so even physically unskilled players have a chance to complete a perfect item.

But then whats the point of this system in the first place?

You are mashing together a skill-based system with a progression system in a place that makes absolutely no sense.
What does giving control to the player over swinging the hammer accomplish?

It makes sense for example to mesh a skill based system and numerical progression in combat (targeting/dodging + damage/armor) because it gives players more control over whats happening in situations of distress (combat) and it gives the player a sense of fairness if they fail (Dark/Demons Souls).
Crafting isn't a situation of distress and failure is just annoyance. Your system would completely ruin crafting for 90% of players that are interested in crafting.

If you want to see a good (or for me, the best) crafting system, please look towards Ryzom.
It features assemblage and interesting complex balance mechanics of materials that create an exciting game of risk and reward. (Do i use materials higher than my crafting level and risk failure to assemble a superior item or do I play it safe but assemble a generic equipment-piece? etc.)
Not only that, the sum total of Ryzoms crafting system connects seamlessly with its unique simulated ecology and gathering mechanics. There is a risk-reward minigame when harvesting resources that can lead to over-harvesting of a zone, which will in turn make harvesting more risky (deadly) and high quality materials rarer on the market.
Which in turn ties seamlessly into the games economy where you can sell all you craft to any vendor in a zone and people can pick it up from there for a better/worse price than any other zone (simplified).

That is a marvelously clever and well thought out system showing that great thought was put into designing the game as a whole.

Your whole idea-sheet is a wish-list.
This wouldn't make a MMORPG because features do not make games.
Mechanics make games.

Do you see how much I could write about just one tiny splinter of your ideas?
I just can't go through every single point you are making.

Jason Carter
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I think it would be worth my time to go play through Darkfall and get a feel for some of it's weaknesses and downfalls.

I will check out Ryzom. There are lots of games I haven't tried, and so far I have had great feedback from this blog series on games to try out that have similar or better systems than what I have posted here.

I do appreciate the feedback, I'm not a game designer for an MMO and haven't experienced the issues that come up and worked to resolve them over years. I guess this is sort of a wish list, but I think a sandbox style MMO like this could work (with enough funding and balancing). Sure, in the way I described it, the synergy of the parts may not be great, but I wrote it to learn primarily.

And (at least from what I've read about Darkfall) I think their game would appeal to a much larger player base if they included a PvE server in which players can play a more stress free style. Who knows, Darkfall 2.0 may turn out to be great too.

For the macro/programmable mice situation and skill situation: It really depends how you build it. If you only make combat skills level up from action and scale it so you are forced to choose skills or spend too much time grinding out multiple skills, then you could give players freedom to choose, while streamlining the most efficient ways into preset paths.

For example, scaling levels so that no matter what you level in combat skills, the next skill no matter where you level it will require more XP. In this way, only 3-4 skills would be practical to level up at any one time. If you want to try more, you would just spend a lot more time fighting monsters and engaging in battles.

It seems like more games are trying the free leveling system. I have yet to try The Secret World, but it seems like they have a pretty good system in place.

Of course if this were to be made into an actual game features would have to be reworked, streamlined or cut. Nothing on first iteration is perfect.

"Features do not make games.
Mechanics make games."

If the same features are used over and over, but with better mechanics / implementation, is it really worth paying for a new game for something you have seen already? Even if it is marginally better?

I don't disagree that Mechanics are important, but new features are what draw players in. If the mechanics fail to back them up, then yes, it will fail. But good mechanics at the exclusion of interesting features doesn't sound like a good idea either.

Thank you for taking your time to offer some insight and criticism.

Santeri Saarinen
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If players would risk losing all of their equipment every time they wipe on a boss encounter, you couldn't make them too difficult, as the risk would rise way too high. Imagine having an encounter that is so difficult that you would need hundreds of tries just to kill it, and after every few tries, players would be forced to collect all of their gear again, as someone stole it. So they should be defeatable in a few tries. And having everything that easy would kind of defeat the intent of epic and difficult end game.

Jason Carter
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Yeah, that did cross my mind. Perhaps, but you also aren't limiting the player to say 20 people only or 40 people, they can bring as many as they think they'll need to beat the boss. It would have to be experimented with, but it'd be just as easy to say: Okay you don't drop items on death for PvE encounters only PvP.

I think it might be able to be balanced, also you wouldn't lose ALL your gear every time, just a certain % and this could even be adjusted for PvE style engagements.

It isn't bound to the same rules or logic as say WoW is, and bosses could be made to feel epic, without as much risk of wiping as in WoW.

A soul binding system could also be implemented as well as another gold sink. For example a high level town/city could get a vendor that sells items for a lot of gold to bind a rare item so you wouldn't drop it. (These could be removed on PvP servers to keep the threat of losing your items valid.)

Jason Carter
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I edited the post to address this issue with a small section on soul binding. :D Thanks for the good idea though.

Will So
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I was going to suggest Darkfall or reading about Shadowbane from way back when. The problem with super high risk or perma death in MMO is dealing with the "what if the player disconnected/lagged during a fight?" I think that is one of the things that hold back big MMO from making death more punishing, because they can't make it so that player's death is always player's fault.

I have a theory about player interaction in MMO, the less there is, the more interesting it is when it happens (look at Day Z). I always feel like a great way to help deal with population and server size in MMO could be to use Dark Soul's type of multiple player encounter. The game will limit the number of other players in the world you see, so when you walk into town, there isn't 10000 warriors running around. You only see maybe 5 people shopping. And have an algorithm that prioriize who you see, friends, friends of friends, people you have interacted with before, and people around your level, peopl ein your guild, etc, etc. Seems to me like most MMO player interaction is just seeing other people around. Something like this would make that encounter more interesting.

another thing is land owning seems very difficult to implement in a big MMO. one solution I thought of was having "housing areas" where your property doesn't have physical space, but it is one of the many mnay houses in the "housing areas". I thought of this as camps, you go to visit the "camps" section outside of town, and you can choose to visit your camp, or pick from a list and visit other people's camps. This way, you can have 100 players set up camps outside of the town, but it won't clutter everything up.

I always feel like MMO should create crafting mini game that can be played through a phone or a browser. when I am in a game, I don't wnat to spend my time playing a hammer game when I could be out killin gmonster. But when I am sitting in the metro, I would be happy to play crafting games that will benefit my MMO character. As long as it is not a requirement, I think it would be great.

Overall, I like where you are going with the game, but i agree with Aleksander, you post was kind of hard to read and everything seemed a little disjointed.

Jason Carter
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As for the post being kind of hard to read. That's probably because I did it 5 different days in 5 different posts. I just posted the aggregate here. I can stream line the post a bit and edit it some. (Which would be a good idea.)

I think land owning could be implemented persistently if you keep the players per server down. You don't need 10,000 players per server, but perhaps 1000 to 1500 would be a good number depending on the size of the world. This also addresses the player interaction issue.

The crafting being a mini game on a mobile device is a great idea for integrating social/web and mobile devices. You could even let the player craft in the game, but offer crafting as a mini game as well to get a chance to make increased quality items. So that it's optional, but still valuable.

And as for player deaths, well I imagine you would make it much harder to die, but that the penalty for death would be much higher. Also, PvP servers would be the most unforgiving, while PvE servers would be relatively relaxed and focused on community expansion, getting your player owned land set up, and have a more Harvest Moon type of feel rather than a Darkfall type of feel.

Thanks for the feedback! When I get some time off I'll work on streamlining this post a bit and clarifying/revamping some ideas.

Will So
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another thing about having the option to play crafting mini games in facebook/iphone, you can convince your girl friend to play it like its farmville and you get to enjoy all the benefits!

Jason Carter
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Haha, yeah I think an integration of social games and MMOs would be an interesting direction to see games go. That's why I think having both PvE and PvP servers (but with the intention of vastly different play styles) would be cool to see in a sandbox style MMO.