Roundtable #4: DarkfallOnline
This week is the 4th week of our Gamemethod roundtable. So far we have introduced to you three MMORPGs (1,2,3) that push new boundaries such as Permadeath and broadband-only. Today I'm going to cover yet another exciting upcoming title, DarkfallOnline. The DarkfallOnline website went up around August 2001 and almost immediately it gathered a community, having several fan sites in a very short time. There is something exciting about DarkfallOnline and it shows.
DarkfallOnline was designed on the philosophy that well rounded game play and a complete world will provide the best gaming experience. It is clearly pointed out in the FAQ that as much time was spent developing good questing and crafting system as was spent on PvP. Many players overlook the importance of other activities beyond PvP. A classic is example is once again, UO (yeah, yeah, I should get over it). UO is the kind of game that is whatever you make it. Want to craft? Go ahead. Want to hunt? Go ahead. Want to murder innocent miners? You're free to (in UO:R). The completeness of UO's world attracted many different types of players to make a complete social immersion with many different types of people. Because of that completeness UO worked well. If you have a world with all killers there will be an extreme imbalance that will affect the game play, who would be your prey? To elaborate on the subject to player types interacting Richard Bartle wrote A little something about player types, it's a good read. Darkfallonline developers aren't just making a hack and slash game, but a world to play in.
When a complete world is not made you get a one-sided game, as represented by ShadowBane; the biggest waste-of-time treadmill attached to a city vs. city PvP game. Here's ShadowBane in a sentence: You level up, get gold, build a city, watch it burn, lather, rinse and repeat. Being a PvP-centric game substantially decreases game play and creates a dead-end game. What do you do once your level 60? Kill stuff. That's all there is to do. Fun? Sure, for a limited time but when your billing people per-month you have to keep it fun for years, that means diversity!
Here's an interesting bit from their FAQ that should turn some heads:
Is Darkfall a Player vs. Player (PvP) game?
Calling Darkfall a PvP game would be selling it short. Of course there's going to be a lot of PvP combat and the combat game play will be as fast paced and fun as a first person shooter, but the focus of the game is kingdom building, clan warfare, and conquest. The battles will be epic and will require a lot more than just PvP skill to be won. Darkfall is as much a social, a real-time strategy, and a role playing game, as it is a PvP game.
Will you offer a world without PvP for those of us that do not enjoy it?
We like to think of Darkfall as a game where there are no restrictions to player interaction that don't make sense. The fantasy literature and mythology that inspired fantasy based RPGs contains a lot of combat and warfare and it's part of what made these worlds so dramatic, the characters so heroic, and the endings so rewarding. Having said that, we're sorry but we cannot offer a 'soft' version of Darkfall.
I don't like PvP, why should I even consider trying out Darkfall?
If you give it a chance, you'll discover that Darkfall is an extremely well rounded game. For example, there's as much effort going into the quest engine and the crafting process, as there is going into the combat design. Darkfall features the ultimate player based economy, more useful trade skills than any other released MMORPG to date, advanced NPC and monster AI, and a quest engine constantly creating new and challenging content. Furthermore, the game world is huge; you could move to a remote area with your friends and try to create a safe haven for other like-minded players
I was able to interview Claus, the lead designer/producer of DarkfallOnline, and asked him a similar set of questions as the previous weeks so we can all get a good idea of how DarkfallOnline is compared to the rest of the games out there.
Dionysis: Which games influenced the design of DarkfallOnline?
Claus: Pretty much every game we ever played. Some gave us good ideas, others showed us new ways of improving game play or confirmed design theories we had on paper for years. Even the games that we didn't like gave us something spotting a bad or poorly implemented feature in a game can be as helpful as finding a great one, and can influence design decisions. We try to learn from mistakes we find in other games so that we don't repeat them in Darkfall.
Dionysis: What’s the style of play you’re trying to achieve?
Claus: A fun one! We're making Darkfall as much fun to play as possible.
Dionysis: How do you feel about permadeath as a mechanic that brings about repercussion and consequence to one’s actions?
Claus: I think there are better ways to hold players accountable for their actions than permadeath. The alignment system in Darkfall is designed to do just that.
Dionysis: Do you believe that there is a synergy between PvP and permadeath?
Claus: Not at all, in fact I think they are direct conflict with each other. PvP should be a fun and challenging feature, not a big bad scarecrow that most players are afraid of. It's like having to level up a new character for a month or so every time he dies in Counterstrike or Unreal. Permadeath in any form or shape is directly damaging to a PvP game.
Dionysis: What would you say if I told you DarkfallOnline is heralded as the “next UO” for all those hardcore players out there beyond “we know” =]
Claus: Ultima Online in its original form has definitely been a great source of inspiration for Darkfall, but as our players will find out, Darkfall brings a lot of new and unique things to the genre. Obviously, being heralded as the 'next UO' sounds good to me.
Dionysis: How would you respond to the following statements?
“Easily the largest (and most profitable) group are games that cater to PvP-players. Bigger companies tend to go with the safety that PvP- games like FFX1 and EQ2 provide, while startup companies take a risk to produce PvP+ games like DarkfallOnline, Trials of Ascension and Frontier 1859”and
“The gap between PvP+ and PvP- MMOrpg’s is growing. The intricate detail necessary for balancing a game of each play style requires a different perspective on designing treadmills, economy and social structures. soon PvP+ and PvP- games will make up separate genre’s.”
Claus: I don't agree with these statements at all. I think the first really good PvP MMORPG may sell really well, and it probably has a bigger potential future audience than any of the PvE games.
Human nature is competitive by design. We really enjoy fighting other people, and since permadeath is the biggest design flaw in real life, we invented sports so we could re-spawn and fight the same people over and over again.
I think when the mass-market that's already playing PvP games such as Quake, Half-Life, Counterstrike, Unreal, Red Alert, Wolfenstein, Magic the Gathering etc discover a PvP MMORPG that can give them the correct combination of adrenaline rush, sense of togetherness in the form of clans and communities competing against each other in a rich and well-developed online world, the mass-market will be there for the PvP MMORPG.
When it comes to the gap between PvP+ and PvP- MMORPGs, well I don't really see why there has to be a gap at all. The PvP community has been short-changed for years, with PvP content poorly patched into games clearly not designed to support any meaningful player conflict. With Darkfall we hope to make a game that has enough MMORPG content to make the PvE players drool with envy, and at the same time delivering prime PvP.
Dionysis: Thanks a lot!
If you want to see some Images check out the DarkfallOnline Gallery.