Since I played a lot of Warcraft 3 tower defense last week, I got to wondering why MMOs are not like this. The bulk of MMO play is attacking hapless, inoffensive enemies. We are the aggressors. The only things we build are characters and weapons for destroying things. Where is building and defending?
I want PvE enemies who will bring the fight to me. I want to build my own castle, hire NPC archers, and defend the battlements. I want to band together with my friends in defense of our community, not just to go blow up someone else’s community. Give me a little bit of Civilization and SimCity in an MMO. At least that is what I want this week; players are fickle.
I am not coming out of left field here. These ideas have been played with at various times. If you look back at the Horizons developer diaries, the plans for player-built communities and castles were great. Functional player-built towns! Defense against enemy attacks! Special structures to improve the town!
Shadowbane’s entire point was city vs. city combat, which is the same notion in PvP. That gets back to “building to destroy,” but it had a great economic notion. Hire NPCs to do the less exciting parts while players worry about high-level resource management and the “blowing things up” parts.
Okay, I have cited Horizons and Shadowbane so far, so all I need is for someone to tell me that Earth and Beyond had similar ideas. Hey, Asheron’s Call 2 promised that players could pay to upgrade crafting facilities in town. Great idea, Zubon, have any more games from the bug zapper that inspire you?
Asheron’s Call was doing city invasions as far back as 2000. They seem to have been among the more popular events, with many repetitions and variations over the years (shadows, elementals, undead, the Hopslayer). Players like fighting back the tides of the enemy, rather than stalking the static spawns. No building, but defending.
EVE Online is closer to the Shadowbane model, build to destroy. I have not logged a lot of 0.0 time, but POSes look something like what I am talking about, although they sound a bit like big PvP turrets with some conveniences. Commenters, help me out here?
Several City of Heroes missions, such as the respec trial, work on the same principle: set up camp around something to be protected, and waves of enemies come. It combines two mission aspects from the game: spawning ambushes and defending objects from attackers. Not that hard, really.
This is really two feature requests: build and defend. Build towns. Put them in the world, not in an instance or separate zone, not in some distant corner of the world. Make player housing meaningful, not just a vault that you can decorate. You can still have some of those, maybe instanced apartments in a major city like City of Heroes supergroup bases or Asheron’s Call apartments, but put players on the map. Let us build our own crafting facilities and a shop with an NPC shop-keeper. Let us build guard posts, with guards who we pay 20 gold a day to protect against enemies. Let us set up our own mailboxes or auction houses that tie into the pre-built system, or have us build the system entirely on our own. Give us the option to enable enemy attacks, presumably with some benefit from it (or tied to some advanced city amenities), that we can defend against as players and with our NPC hirelings.
Let me explore this a moment. The basic idea is to let players build anything that exists in the world: houses, shops, roads, whatever. Players can hire NPCs, who appear from the same ether that produces all our enemies. NPCs could perform simple functions like being the shop interface or a guard, or you can go for more advanced features like being smiths (I bring you materials/gold, you make what I tell you and put it in the shop) or being a fully stocked NPC store (I pay for it to be there, possibly for every item I want stocked, and I get a cut of the take). Really expensive town buildings would include teleporters/griffon stops, auction houses, etc. NPC enemies will attack player towns under certain conditions; this could be a scheduled event so that PCs can be on-hand to defend it. These could start when you build building x (and increase as you get y and z, so that each mailbox spawns one orc grunt a day who wants its dead, an auction house gets ten ogres, etc.) or players could select whether to be attacked and how severely in return for some benefit. For example, enable one attack a day from a small force to get a 1% reduction in crafting times while in-town, or a large raid with several waves of enemies every Friday night in return for free stone and building materials for building construction and maintenance. The in-game explanation for this is that the NPC citizenry (which increases with more buildings) is tithing or being taxed for your protection. Every aspect has a monthly maintenance cost, payable from your vault/bank. If anyone wants to hire me, I can write a full design document and work out some obvious issues.
I don’t think this is an adaptable idea to most games. They are just not built to allow it. They have nowhere in the world to put all the houses, although I understand that Vanguard has vast reaches of empty space. The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ has quite a few empty zones, although no one could live in The Shire. You could not erect a new player town in World of Warcraft, but Asheron’s Call has housing districts that could grow into towns. Players could take over the various shops and empty buildings in City of Heroes, which is funny because the game has the space for in-world player-owned structures but no reason for it, and its bases are their own little worlds on the other side of a portal.
I find that aspect really disappointing in several games: your property is something outside reality. You build a castle and no one can see it unless they are in a group with you and invited to your instance. If you want a pocket dimension or hidden lair, and I know that many do, this works brilliantly. If you want a castle or the Fantastic Four’s tower, well, you can have a pocket dimension. It’s solipsistic.
So much of the social systems for MMOs lies outside the game. The game does not facilitate it, and might even hamper it. As far as the game itself is concerned, all the social aspects are just noise in the chat channel, and maybe you can have your own chat channel with a special guild tabard if the game supports that much.
I am tired of being the next wave of dumb enemies running at the towers. When the wave has enough players, levels, or equipment, it wins, otherwise it crashes against the wall and tries again. Have you ever thought of your quests and raids as tower defense maps, with players as those waves of enemies? Your first few times fail to break through, but later you come back with more levels, more people, better equipment, or the trick that gets by the type of towers built. This time you have better fire resist gear, so you win, despite not doing anything different than last time.
Give us the tools to build ourselves a place in your world. Nothing ties someone to your community like owning a home there.
Hat tip to Cybercat for the flash TD game