Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another idea about PVP games - Rock Paper Scissors

Somehow I ended up reading Kieron Gillens RPS piece about  and something struck me about pvp games in general. Travian is a kind of online mmo/rts hybrid and from what I can make out the big guys beat on the small guys and this process continues until an even bigger guy comes along to beat on them. In Travian this process is so institutionalised that they call it "farming" but I think it sums up a lot of multiplayer pvp games.

When you think about this is a pretty tedious game mechanic - player A will always be bigger and stronger than player B who in turn will always be bigger and stronger than player C.

Why not spice things up a bit by introducing a tried and trusted formula for gameplay success: Rock Paper Scissors. In essence to make this work you need at leat three categories of players - Category A are stonger than Category B, CAtegory B are stronger than Catergory C but lo and behold Category C turn out to be stonger than Category A!

One way to implement this would be to implement a special category of players (lets call them bandits) who have special bonuses against high level experienced players but who have extreme weakness to newer less experienced players. Imagine the interesting game-play situations that could bring about.


Thallian said...

I like it but it'd have to be tuned carefully like everything else. Incidentally WoW tried to do rock paper scissors with their classes. But a levels/special type based rock paper scissors I don't think anyone has tried.

Tesh said...

When the leveling/gear power band vastly outweighs any RPS balance, there's little point in using it.

The complex RPS-ish balance of Team Fortress 2 (a noted PvP game) works because there is no level band. If you really want interesting PvP where RPS and/or player skill are relevant, you either need to work in a level-free gear-free environment, or have some other equalizing factor, like an arena that automagically normalizes gear and levels, letting the RPS balance take priority.

That said, I'd still find pure RPS design to be unsatisfactory if it's purely class-based. I'd hate being stuck as Scissors, for example. Now, if I could switch at the drop of a hat to respond to tactical situations, that would be much more interesting. RPS balance in TF2 or the more complex variants in Pokemon work primarily because they are team based.

TF2 teams rarely have everyone as a single class, because that would be like playing All Rock, All The Time. Paper will wipe you out.

Good Pokemon trainers don't usually stick to a single type. They field a team of critters that can handle whatever comes up.

I look at PvP as being on this level of RPS; give players choices that allow them to vary their choice of Rock, Paper or Scissors during a match, and let them outplay the other player. Playing a Rogue against a series of Mages (Scissors to Paper) just isn't fun for anyone.

tl;dr version: RPS PvP works because players can change their approach between "throws". PvP really needs to be player-skill based, but if the "skill" is limited to choosing different colors of Rock all of the time, it's just not good design.

More specifically to the proposal at hand, using level bands as your Rock, Paper Scissor categories is interesting... but doesn't that open things up to twink abuse? Also, if you gain XP via PvP, shifting between categories as you level could be a painful experience. You could smooth out the transition, but even then, couldn't sneaky PvP teams just fire up a series of new low level alts to blow veteran enemies out of the water? The disproportionate time investment there would be a PR nightmare.

Mind you, I'm all for some good yummy yomi RPS design. I just don't think it works to use classes as your categories, and I'm pretty sure that level bands as the categories would be full of trouble.

I'm happy to be proven wrong, though. How would you balance it and compensate for alt abuse, twinking and level gaining mechanics? How does gear fit in?

mbp said...

Hi Thalian, Hi Tesh. I admit there are a lot of issues that arise if we try to enforce this on a level based game. You mentioned twinking. Would we allow players to postpone levelling indefinitely? I don't know.

Perhaps it just bitter memories of the few times I have tried pvp and my level 1 character was immediately squished by a passing level 80 with no hope of recourse. I do think that combat should never be so one sided as this. You could abandon levels and make every one equal as in FPS games but the three sided model has some track record.

I could imagine the three sided system being implemented quite well in EVE. Pilots who choose to set-up outside the law and become pirates might get access to special skills and ships which are very effective against high end ships and structures. On the other hand newer players (perhaps those still in newbie corps) could get special bonuses against pirates - perhaps the ability to call in the invincible concord police to destroy pirates.

Tesh said...

Oh, I certainly think that RPS balance is good to build around. I just think that it has to be with a narrow power band, so that leveling doesn't make it irrelevant.

Freezing player leveling is an interesting option. Of course, that still underlines the concern I have about high level players using lowbie alts to RPS-gank rival high level players. That's no fun either, since lowbie alts are cheap and easy to produce, while high level characters are time consuming.

I think it's that imbalance of time and progress that bothers me most. RPS works in something like TF2 because players can jump in immediately with a full-fledged character with a complete skillset, no grind necessary.

There's certainly something appealing about counterganking high level predators... but I'd say that PvP always needs to be consensual and should be normalized, bringing players to some sort of universal baseline "level" before the contest starts.

Puzzle Pirates handles this by using NPCs to prevent ganking. If a high powered ship attacks a low powered ship, the NPC "black ship" comes in and beats the stuffing out of the high power ship. There is some variance where midlevel powered can attack some low level powered ships, but if the difference is strong enough, the black ship steps in.

I guess the question becomes: what problem do you want to solve? Ganking and wide level-based power bands, or are you trying to make interesting PvP based on RPS balance? I'm not sure the two can be mashed together.

You're right, EVE is a good example, but I think it works because it's not level based, but rather, technology based. (Ship tiers, unique gear, that sort of thing.) An X-Wing can still take down a Death Star because it fights differently. That's the essence of RPS balance, I think, and I really do like it.

How would you do that with a wide power band, though? Low level pirates would need not just a Veteran Killer death strike, but also ways to avoid being killed at range or during the time a player would need to employ the VK attack. See, it's not just the combat tactics in question, it's the HP pool, gear, avoidance/mitigation, and even skillset, since most MMOs don't give many skills to low level players.

It's not impossible to balance, I just think that the level power variance is one more variable that could get in the way and be too troublesome.

If the real issue is ganking, well, maybe we just need some countergank mechanics, like a black ship equivalent, or some sort of Revenge Ghost mode. (Ganked lowbies turn into an invincible, invisible ghost that can one-shot KO their killer for a period of time. They can only counter kill once, and when they do, they become visible again so that the ganker knows what happened. Or something like that.)

mbp said...

Hi again Tesh. While anti-ganking may have influenced my thinking I don't think that is an ambitious enough objective. It is really the levelling curve itself I am trying to tackle.

As you rightly point out the standard levelling model makes any form of rps irrelevant. I guess I have to acept though that people like levelling. they like getting stronger and actually getting weaker might be a disincentive as well as leading to twinkng problems such as you describe.

Here is a slight variation - How about a brand new character starts out with balanced strengths in all areas. As they level they can become stronger in one area but must lose strength in another. So for example as you become a stronger melee character you become more vulnerable to magic, a stronger ranged character becomes more vulnerable to melee and a stronger magic character becomes more vulnerable to ranged.

Tesh said...

I hope I'm not coming across as argumentative or deleterious. I think this is a great discussion. I do ike tackling the leveling curve. ;)

You're right, people like getting stronger. This is one major psychology shift between PvE and PvP. PvP is something you get better at when the *player* improves, PvE can be outleveled and/or outgeared by the *avatar*. People don't like to be told they need to get better, which explains the general malaise when it comes to PvP.

Regarding your new idea variant, I like it. It would certainly make player choice more interesting and relevant. Choices requiring sacrifice to have to dance the razor edge of feeling like punishment of some sort, but it could work if you make the choice to specialize interesting enough. I'd also suggest the ability to remain a generalist, with its own pros and cons.

To a degree, this is what I saw shades of in Aion and Tabula Rasa, with early levels being more general, and class "upgrades" to specialize and focus. Seiken Densetsu 3 did something similar, allowing players to choose "light" or "dark" at two points in the game, effectively giving 8 different final classes for each character. It made for some fun experimentation. (None of those seemed to retain the "generalist specilization"... as contradictory as that term sounds, I still think it should be a viable option.)

I'd probably go further to allow players to shift their choice pretty much at will, since grinding up a new alt to experiment with new choices can be a soul-killing time sink. That's a matter of taste, perhaps. (I really like how Guild Wars allows a fair dose of free respeccing in towns, and it's notable that *that* game has a considerable PvP focus.) It's certainly not at odds with your core idea of increasing specialization.

I like it most for the ability to play for a bit before choosing the specialization. That's a great way to let people get comfortable with how they want to play, especially if they really do want to PvP or not. Even if we assume these players want to PvP, it's still nice to let them get their legs under them before springing a choice on them.