Today we’re revealing another game system: the Sacrifice system. One might ask “why do you need this system?” and it’s a great question. In general, we have reached a point in the project where we are trying to go back and finish systems, not add new ones. So first let’s talk about the design issues that we felt we needed to address, and then we’ll jump into our solution – and why we believe it is the right path.
THE MOMENT-TO-MOMENT PROBLEM
As you know, we’ve made some pretty radical choices with Crowfall: passive training, vessels, disciplines, a super-shallow power curve… and more. Each of these bring some very impactful (and ground-breaking) benefits, but – taken as a whole – we still have a few gaps.
The biggest of these, in my opinion, is the “moment-to-moment” experience: “What can I do to make meaningful progress in the game, when I only have a few minutes to play and no one else is online or available?”
If the moment-to-moment experience isn’t right, the game won’t work. There is a concept in online gaming of crowd momentum; quite simply, everyone wants to play a game that other people are playing. No one wants to play a game that no one else is playing.
You can see this on login; and once you recognize the behavior (even in yourself) it’s hard to miss. The more a server is humming with people/activity, the more likely new entrants are to stick around. And, conversely, when a server is dead, new players are more likely to log out. Without moment-to-moment gameplay goals, someone logging in is very likely to logout because there is “nothing to do”, which in turn makes it more likely for the next person to logout – and the game never hits the critical mass that it needs for multi-player engagement to happen. It’s not enough to have a thousand people log in over some period of time; you need those play cycles to overlap.
If you look at our design, we have an abundance of macro-level goals (capture this fort, build this keep, dominate this campaign, corner the market on axes, construct this stronghold, build a thriving kingdom)… and a distinct lack of moment-to-moment personal goals that can be achieved quickly, either alone or with a group.
The traditional answer to a strong moment-to-moment loop is character progression via skills or levels. Commonly, this progression is based on advancement via PvE content – because monsters, unlike players, can always be counted on to be present and willing to fight. This can be a very steep power curve (like WOW), a flat curve (like Ultima Online), a slow experience (like EverQuest) or a fast one (like Shadowbane).
There are some huge benefits to a player advancement system, but there are significant detriments as well. The biggest is that this advancement is typically contingent on grinding monsters, which is something we want to avoid.
So, the question is, “Can we tease these two things apart?” Is it possible to harness the advantages of a fast/shallow/simple advancement mechanic without making it reliant on killing monsters?
The answer we came up with is the Sacrifice System, a secondary advancement system for vessels that sits on top our existing systems to provide a moment-to-moment advancement path without reliance on either quests or monsters. The goals of this system are to push players out into the world and force interaction with others (both positive and negative), to strengthen the player’s emotional attachment to their character, and to provide a series of simple “what’s next?” goals that drive players to stay in the game, thus creating the critical mass for the multi-player game loops to trigger.
For those of you who are familiar with Shadowbane, you’ll also notice some similarities in our design approach, namely: to speed the characters through this progression (i.e. you can max a new build in a weekend), to keep the power curve very shallow (meaning that the power differential between min and max level is very shallow, i.e. < 10%), and to encourage the creation of new builds and experimentation with different Races, Classes and Disciplines.
SCAVENGING FOR THE GODS
The basic idea behind this system is that players collect resources, items, and relics and sacrifice them to the Gods for divine favor. This idea dovetails perfectly into our lore, as the central conceit of our game is that the players have been selected as immortal champions of the Gods, Crows sent forth to scavenge the Dying Worlds for resources, relics, and thralls.
As items are sacrificed, favor builds up, allowing the character to level and gain attribute points to spend on Strength, Dexterity, etc. The numerical impact isn’t huge, but it’s (hopefully) noticeable enough to drive activity in those short periods of time when nothing else is going on.
Let’s outline some of the details:
- You collect resources, assets, items, whatever. You sacrifice these into a brazier and are rewarded by the Gods with divine favor/experience for this vessel.
- You can sacrifice anything for divine favor… which means that anything that allows player to collect resources or items (exploring, harvesting, crafting, looting in PvP, everything) can be converted into advancement. (This means every item in game has a baseline value to someone.)
- We’re going to drop sacrificial loot items in the adventuring zones that are specifically intended for sacrifice and nothing else, to drive players to go there (and spur conflict). Crafted items will get a bonus to the amount of favor they are worth, and while raw resources can be used, you’re enticed not to do so.
- We’ll also add organs to the skinning loot tables, so that hunters can (for example) can cut the heart out of a fallen elk to feed into the fire.
- By “very fast leveling curve”, I mean exactly that… Ask the early Shadowbane folks. My goal is for a skilled player to be able to max a vessel in a weekend.
- When you gain a level, you’ll get some attribute points to spend on your vessel’s Strength, Dexterity, etc. These curves are generally flat/diminishing returns, as well. This means that you can make more active choices to differentiate your character: a Strength-focused knight can be somewhat different from a Constitution-focused knight. (Which helps with another problem area, which is reinforcing emotional attachment to your character.)
- The total power difference between “min” and “max” isn’t huge. A maxed vessel will get <10% of its power from leveling.
- There is also a diminishing returns curve on the amount of favor you get from sacrificing. You can only get a few levels out of white quality items, then you hit a wall. To keep advancing you need to push better quality stuff into the woodchipper.
- This will push players out of the kingdoms and strongholds and into the Campaign Worlds. It will also drive players into deeper and more dangerous Campaign Worlds.
- Due to the quantity and quality of resources, Dregs players will level much faster… as they should, because acquiring resources and items to sacrifice will be much more risky.
- This also acts as a massive economy sink, which is good for the game (technically) and good for the crafters (economically).
This system will have a slight ripple effect on vessels, but in truth, we needed to go back and revisit the vessel system, anyway. When we announced this system, we hadn’t built vessels as a real inventory item with which the player could do all the standard things you can do with an inventory item. Mainly craft, equip, unequip, and trade them. While we had a general idea of what we wanted to do with vessels, implementing them “for reals” forced us to answer some hard questions about how the system really works, and where the various pieces of data get stored. (It always seems so easy when writing a document about how a system is going to work…. making it work is another thing entirely!)
When a vessel comes out of the crafting process it is an inventory object and has a Race and series of attributes that the crafter assigned to it. This is a vessel that hasn’t been imprinted yet. Before the Race/Class split, this vessel contained everything you needed to start a character of that type. Now, however, we need to re-think that.
Vessels now dictate Race, but they don’t have a Class assigned to them until they are used in the character creation process. Once imprinted the Vessel is now permanently locked to the Race, Class, and customization options selected.
As noted, sacrifices are made at a “brazier” object, which can be found at the various capture points in the world. Interacting with a brazier will prompt the player with a UI which allows them to sacrifice items, resources, and pretty much anything you can place in your inventory. (Yes, you can also sacrifice vessels.)
Sacrificing an item will permanently remove it from the game. The amount of favor gained depends on the rarity and quality of the item(s) sacrificed and the player’s current level; as with everything else, this is set up on a diminishing returns curve to reinforce the risk/reward spectrum.
This means that leveling on a Dregs Campaign will be much faster than leveling in an Eternal Kingdom, and the natural fall-off of favor will limit how far you can advance without braving the Campaign Worlds – or trading services to other players who are willing to brave them for you.
TL;DR: COMING TO TEST SOON
This system wasn’t actually very challenging to implement, so we’re adding a “first stab” version of it to the TEST environment in 5.4 so that you can try it out and see how it feels. Once we’ve had a chance to gauge the impact on moment-to-moment gameplay, we’ll adjust it. If we like the sacrifice loop but don’t like the leveling, for instance, we can always move the system to grant buffs or items, instead.
Looking towards launch and beyond, there are a few ways we’d like to build on this system, such as making God-specific braziers and setting up the system so that your decisions have consequences (i.e. sacrificing items to one God will earn you the enmity of others).
That’s it for today! As we said, this is an experimental system and we’re excited to see how it plays out. As always, please feel free to leave comments on the forums, and we’ll see you in game!