[GW2] Space for Failure?

I’ve been mulling this for a little bit. It’s an evolution of The Essential Scatter found in Rift. Is there room in the design for player failure in the event system in Guild Wars 2?

Let’s point a finer point on it. We know that events can fork when there is failure. If centaurs are attacking a fort and there is no player defense, then the system is set up so that the fort will fall. There is also the scenario of an elite event occurring with only one or two active players. Those occurrences are more like branching scenarios than actual failure. What I am talking about is an occasion where the players are simply too ragtag, unskilled, uncooperative, or not lucid enough to beat the event. Is ArenaNet ready to punish them?

In Rift I saw failure a plenty in open world events. Yet, it mostly seemed like it was a balancing issue rather than a problem on our part. The rare times the fight seemed fair but we were failing, the system allowed time for us to recover, replan, and attack again. I would say that during whole zone invasions if it was to be believed that the system fairly planned things out based on active player population, then we were punished for failure. Yet, I must say every time we lost it felt like more of an issue of rallying what little player population there was rather than failing to hold the line.

The biggest difference was that events in Rift, at least when I played, were very sterile in comparison to the more organic events in Guild Wars 2. They didn’t balance on the fly. They were usually very compartmentalized. They could be avoided. And most importantly, they weren’t quests. Rift events were quest detractors. So even if an event punished a player, there was always the on-level daisy picking, rat killing, goblin skinning quests to give players a quick win.

So we have the two dragon bosses, The Shatterer and Tequatl the Sunless, that lead dev Colin Johanson, has stated in multiple places would basically be a boss based on a culmination of zone-wide events. Just for purposes of the demos they were set to be individual events. These are big, huge bosses that take time and dedication to unlock. I have no idea how long ArenaNet plans the chain to be, but let’s assume 1-2 hours of zone-wide activity.

For 1-2 hours, Helpful Asuras, a mega-guild chartered to “lead all bookahs” is making sure that Tequatl the Sunless will be unlocked. The four Helpful Asuras leaders are really good at each leading their quadrant of the map, yet when Tequatl comes out and smashes some things. The Helpful Asuras are all squabbling over the various tasks leaving the bookah rabble they had collected over the past few hours to construct their own chain of command and task management. It becomes every bookah for himself really quickly.

The question: is ArenaNet ready to punish this failure?

Let’s zoom back out a sec. Guild Wars 2 will also have dungeon, which are very compartmentalized challenges. Players will expect significant challenges and failure because it’s easy to accept it. I know when my dungeon party of 5 is just not in sync. We aren’t gelling. There is a sense of control and acceptance in this scenario. In the open world, it’s pretty much based on swarm theory. Can intelligence form out of individual, seemingly random, actions? If Guild Wars 2 does make it challenging to the point where failure is definitely on the table, players are more likely to see it as a systemic fault rather than their own.

Yet, Guild Wars 2 has an ace-in-the-hole. The events aren’t compartmentalized so that if Tequatl owns all face, there will be after effects. ArenaNet can put in to place “retribution”-style events, which make the players feel like they did win after the momentous loss. The centaurs overran the fort? Well we retreated to base camp, and now we have some goddamn horse-killing catapaults. That makes the whole thing feel like a win when you see a leg of horse going flying over the stockade. Okay you won’t in Guild Wars 2, but you can imagine it!

This is where game design becomes art, in a sense. To give feeling the whole event system must have flow. There must be crescendos of action and codas of rest. There must be moments of pressure and moments of victory. Even in failure, there must be something rising out of the ashes. I hope ArenaNet sees event failure not as a moment of finality, but as the next step in telling the story of the zone. I think this will open much more design space for player failure than a binary win/loss event design. It will be very interesting to see how ArenaNet orchestrates a whole zone of events. I do not imagine it to be a simple task.

–Ravious

41 thoughts on “[GW2] Space for Failure?”

  1. Awesome post as always Ravious. It will be interesting to see how they go about designing the dynamic events and how failure/success influences the zones we play in.

    If I log in after a previous rough night will the zone layout/progression be dramatically different and will the quests/task being offered allow for a truly unique experience. If they can pull something like that off the sidekick system, replayability and playing with friends at anytime/point will receive a tremendous boon.

  2. Fully agree with points made about Rift’s events, and they always somehow felt more of an afterthought to the game rather than something that was planned for years. Anyway, to the GW2’s DEs; Colin mentioned in Totalbiscuit’s 2nd asura guardian video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWAlT8XpGG4 , around 16 minutes in) that should the players fail to kill Tequatl, it would start sending undead troops to conquer nearby villages and outposts. What Tequatl itself does during this time is still unknown (could be that he either flies off or dives back into the sea).

  3. It would be a great subject for the Arenanet blog, how an epic event chain like this fits together.*nudge nudge*

    They mentioned that there would be repercussions for failing the Tequatl event, the nearby villages would be invaded and presumably an event would kick off for each one, but when does the players get a second chance at the boss, right away or does the mob of players have to split up and defend the outposts first before Tequatl will face the players again. Rift would be much improved if when the invaders won, they remained until beaten back, the wardstones restored, the boss is spawned and defeated, then finally the invasion is cleared. The most memorable experiences in Rift is when things go down to the wire, there needs to be less desirable state where the zone is taken back outpost by outpost, because loss is not that big of a deal.

  4. A few months ago I posted about some of the worries I had re: dynamic events.

    One such worry was whether some events run and run in the background, regardless of whether players are there to participate. If so, we could zone into an area for the first time and find it in total disarray.almost turning them into chores which nag at you, like that pile of bills waiting to be paid.
    On the other hand, if the event is triggered by player presence imagine being the first player in a zone: zombies eating kittens to your right, ogres raping heket to the left! What do you do, hotshot?!

    1. And that’s exactly what happens, when those events happens “in the background” if you happen to be there you can actually see the zombies eating kittens and ogres raping hekets.
      Makes no real difference if the events are triggered by players or run regardless the presence of one, and I think there are both kinds of event.
      The scenario you described, will happen anyway.

    2. @Distilled @Ravious

      Building on these two congruent lines of thought… what if the Tequatl “event chain” actually begins in a state of abject failure?

      What I mean is; the zone is occupied by Tequatl and he has been allowed to run loose (without player intervention) until his chaining events reach their ultimate “worst case scenario” conclusions, and that’s the state the zone starts in at the beginning of play day one. Enter the players, who immediately declare “WTF?!?” and begin setting things to right. So, the “event chain” that results in the confrontation of Tequatl is actually working “backwards” through various decision points until you’ve “corrected” enough things to spawn the boss.

      Whatever the case may or may not be, I can’t wait to start pushing buttons and pulling levers. Short of DEV run events I’ve never seen anything this interactive and exciting sounding in another MMO.

      On that note; don’t forget that CJ has said that they will continue to tweak the event system after launch, “tuning it” as necessary and the challenge or difficulty of a particular event may not stay static.

      Perhaps, from time to time, the Dragon’s minions will be giving an almost “unfair” upper hand to give the event chains a chance to cycle in the other direction if the players are able to dedicatedly lock them at one end of the spectrum for too long. He also mentioned that they were looking at special “DEV run” events occassionally as well.

      The whole thing gives me wood.

      1. That would be a decent idea, AA. I mean, if Tequatl is at the end of a chain – does it reset once he’s down? Or does he continue to spawn every 30mins or so until he wins the battle? At which point the event chain is bumped back a link.

        Having a dynamic difficulty system would shake things up a bit at least. Still, has to be used carefully. You can imagine players skipping events once they identify the difficult spawn.

  5. I like what the previous commenters have been saying, and phrasing it more in terms of consequences or repercussions for failure, rather than “punishment.” Why should we be “punished?” Didn’t we just spend an hour or few attempting something only to fail? Isn’t that “punishment” enough?

    Now, having consequences or repercussions in the world as a direct result of that failure, that’s perfectly fine and would be a welcome change; something to make the world feel like a world, and that these events “matter” in some means.

  6. That is a big drawback to a quest based game with world events. Failed world events impact the quests which makes questing folks angry.

    1. If you change a quest trigger from talking to an NPC to entering an area, is it still a quest?

      I wonder if you can make a game with only events and no question mark on NPC style questing. I think you lose the ability to explain context somewhat (who reads quest text anyway?) and might have a harder time directing the player around, but I’m not sure those are really negatives.

    2. Well, there aren’t any quests in GW2 except for the personal story. So events won’t affect any of that, presuming they put the triggers for the personal story in the right out-of-the-way places.

  7. Yes, this is key, the good npcs always have to die without players helping them, but they also can’t lose too fast or it will look absurd. At the same time, the events should be hard enough that theres about a 50-50 split (I could go as high as a 70/30 advantage to the player) in the chances that the events could fail for the player.

    This shouldnt be too much of a problem, since Arenanet says they will reward you for participation in the event even if the event itself is a failure, and even if that failure leads to less desirable conditions in the game itself.

    Mario may not have reached the castle, raised the flag, or saved the princess, but he’s still handsomely rewarded.

  8. “There is also the scenario of an elite event occurring with only one or two active players.”
    Nope, there is no such thng. According to ArenaNet, elite events (right now, coz it’s iterative) have a minimum of 10 players who are required to kick off the event, so that there a enough players present to keep up with the level of firepower demanded.

    Talking about normal DEs, I think they will be pretty hard to fail. ArenaNet made clear that these are the content for casual players while skillful players can go and grind dungeons. Considering that casual is often used synonymously to “bad player”, one can consider the normal events as being really easy.

      1. Then you’re gonna get stomped, and that’s alright. If there are no random players joining and you have no friends, that is. But seriously, we’re talking about an epic event. If not for the money, karma and exp, at people are going to join in for a special skin.

        And even if they fail, there will simply be some new events in the area. Perhaps a handfull of traders will be temporarily gone, but that’s nothing grave.

        Something that interests me way more than this is how much the personal story can block you, if you don’t manage to advance.

  9. I hate to say it but I think this is what they’ve been telling us it’s like since the beginning of the DE reveal. You succeed at an event and it’s reflected in events that trigger afterwards. If you fail it’s reflected by other (not good) things happening in the world that create more DEs.

    This is what you’re talking about right?

    1. But are they designing it so that active players can fail? Or just… if heroes aren’t present? I put in the second paragraph that branching outcomes is different from active players losing.

      IOW, what are the design pitfalls in creating event challenges where active players face a challenge and lose?

      1. I think the main challenge is keeping the event chain from snowballing. As much as we might like to pretend that we will stand our ground against all odds, you’re going to lose players each time an event fails. Just like if you start winning, people are going to show up out of the woodwork to push the event chain towards total success. Balancing is going to be difficult. Personally, I think there should be times where you cannot win just as there are times when you cannot lose, but they should be rare.

        1. The point is that they are not only events, but dynamic events. They are supposed to scale according to the number of players present. So losing players should be no problem, as long as ArenaNet’s balancing system works fine.

          1. Just a hypothetical example:

            There’s 20 players in an area when the event starts. 20 monsters spawn. It turns out 2 of those players were just passing through and everyone else wasn’t coordinated, so the event is lost.

            The next event starts, this one has a general/boss/whatever. He’s tuned for 18 people when he spawns, so he’s pretty badass. 5 people look at his health bar and say “screw this, I’m outta here”, so now you have 13 people trying to fight a boss tuned for 18.

            The next event has you fighting to take back camps and outposts. 8 people decide that’s not worth their time and the other 5 split up to different camps. Someone entering the zone sees that you have to fight 3-4 enemies at the same time per camp and calls out in general chat “This zone sucks!” before leaving.

            The real question is: HOW dynamic are these events? Do you despawn mobs when someone leaves the area? Does the boss’s health/abilities change every 30 seconds? Does the dragon turn into a fluffy kitten because a majority of the players left?

            It’s an intriguing system, but it’s still going to be a PITA to balance.

            1. From what I understand they are more “on the fly” balancing than any other MMO. It’s not balance at spawn… except in the case where adds spawn because of additional players.

              It’s not going to be perfect, but I think it will be fair. I am pretty sure that it’s going to be intelligently designed too…. with things like griefing and monster poking (3 hits and I’m gone) in mind.

            2. I would wait and see how the balancing is done. In existing games, one can already see different methods of scaling and balancing at work. In Rift for example, the hitpoints of the mobs are buffed and debuffed with a stacking effect based on how many people are fighting it. The mob doesn’t pop like a balloon when 50 people rush it, but can also realistically scale down to being beaten by 1-3 players.

              Offhand, one might also spawn more helper NPCs to take out or tank excess mobs, provide or spawn more buffs for smaller sized parties, etc.

            3. Well, you could still adjust other – none-visible – attributes, other than health, based on players being present, such as damage dealt or damage resistance of monsters. makes it easily scalable without anyone suddenly noticing

      2. CJ did state that the DEVs would actively monitor DEs after launch and “tweak” the difficulty of them from time to time to alleviate stagnation at one end or the other of a particular event chain. He specifically talked about giving the AI greater advantages on occassion to temporarily press an event chain back against the player’s efforts and keep things interesting.

        It sounded to me like ANet are going to “keep a hand in” sotospeak and like the entire system has a fair amount of flexibility built into it.

        1. Are they going to do this on a server by server basis?

          What if my guild, full of min/max uber-hardcore players destroy every single event we come across. Are they going to just boost the events for our server? What if we all mass-quit? Rebalance just that server?

          1. I doubt it. The smarter thing to do would be to refine the formula to balance the changes based on the data your uber-hardcore player guild provides.

            Then if the balance formula checks to see if uber-hardcore player data exists it could balance the event thusly.

            I have a feeling though that there will be very few events uber-hardcore players could not smash through though. Dungeons and PvP are going to be their arenas of play.

  10. Colin stated that if the Sunless is not defeated that the undead will begin to swarm up the hills and capture towns and other points on the map. I believe that is in TotalBuiscuits video as an asura guardian where he ran across the event in a “failed” state where undead controlled pretty much the whole beach and most of the hylek and asura manning the cannons were dead. The event was detached from its chain for the demo.

    Also consider that scaling caps out eventually. Rallying enough players can eventually overwhelm even elite events by sheer numbers.

    Sidekicking and lack of fixed class roles will mean that higher and lower level players of every class can help, have fun and get useful rewards so you dont have to get 100 players between level 60 and 65 with 10 healers and 3 tanks, you can get every guild mate online, all their friends and all their friend’s friends regardless of class or level.

    1000 smart phones will receive notification that someone needs help with an epic boss thanks to the extended experience apps.

    As far as players actively trying and failing, that should be pretty rare. As long as people perform pretty well and work together in some reasonable fashion the heroes should succeed.

    I am pretty sure Colin also said that there is a time limit to these events that also triggers failure responses so if people just individually charge the dragon, die, respawn and repeat that they wont kill it fast enough and the undead army will begin its advance up the mountain.

  11. I’m still playing Rift, which seems to be busier now than it has been for months. Now that players are completely familiar with and used to the various invasions and events, what I’m seeing is a much more reward-focused approach.

    Currently there is World event going on which is based around the Fire and Earth planes. When events featuring these planes kick off the zones rapidly fill with really huge numbers of players. In Shimmersand the other night there were four full raids doing an earth event. On the other hand, in Stillmoor the same evening when the big Death event popped, there was barely a flicker of interest. When the event was lost, which happened about as fast I’ve ever seen and someone yelled “Epic Fail” the reply was “Who Cares?”.

    This would never have happened within three or four months of launch. People took events and invasions quite seriously for a while. Now, though, even when new events are added, people only bother with the ones that give them things they want.

    It’s going to be very interesting to see if GW2 can find a way to keep people motivated to do events for which they don’t see a direct benefit once those events have become familiar and even commonplace. Or how they will keep people from clustering at the events that are reported to provide the most sought-after rewards.

    At first this won’t be an issue, but six months in, when a high proportion of the population are committed GW2 players with significant investment in their characters, and when a good deal of the mechanics of the system are known and codified, cherry-picking might well become a problem.

    1. Rewards are given in the form of karma points and gold (in addition to chest drops we don’t know about), so you can get nearly whatever you want if you win. There’s little reason not to participate in events, because you will always be given something you can use.

  12. Anet has pretty much said that most events just need a few folks around actively participating to be won, but there will be a small percentage that are balanced to be considerably tougher and require a significant amount of coordination. I don’t think this will necessarily just be the boss fights, either. So I am pretty confident they are planning that yes, sometimes players will not be coordinated enough to win events and yes, there will be consequences when this happens — at least in some cases.

  13. It’s hard for me to say too much in response to the Rift part, as I only played the beta up to around lvl 20, but I don’t think the rifts are a good comparison to GW2 DEs. The reason is that Rift had traditional quests as the main part of the open world game and the rifts were just extra content, whereas GW2 only has dynamic events in the open world.

    To me, this makes me think the game, at least in the open world, will play more like a large multiplayer shooter, like Battlefield, than what we are used to in traditional MMORPGs. This comes from the level scaling, in both directions, along with all of the content designed to be played together and in compartmentalized pieces, with each player being wholly self-sufficient yet given tools to aid those around them.

    In a tradition MMO, each player plays fairly independently, going through their own version of the zone’s story quest chains. This gives all the barriers to cooperation such as quest mob stealing and being at different parts of the chain, that Anet intends to fix. This has a side effect though in that allowing players to come in at any point in the DE chain takes away most of the context that they would have received if they had to start at the beginning. E.g. a traditional quest chain. Instead, players will be far more likely to find a nearby event that looks fun and engage it through to completion, then move on without necessarily continuing the chain. One can argue that the npcs saying “help! Centaurs have busted our water pipes” gives context, but it only gives a very compartmentalized sense of context.

    If you continued on that chain, probably fighting back the centaurs, you would get a larger sense of what is going on with the centaurs and might start to care about the quest. But the thing is that you are not required nor even offered incentives, at least no more than any other dynamic event, to continue that chain. The question then becomes are players going to really invest in an event chain enough to actually care about its outcome. At first we will, since we have been trained that way, but due to the cyclical nature of events, I don’t believe that will stay the case.

    Having the world change based on your actions definitely gives that player a feeling of accomplishment. Anet claims that this allows players to feel as their actions matter, but is this the same thing as accomplishment? I would argue, no. Finishing something, being rewarded for something are feelings of accomplishment, thus completion of any DE will give a feeling of accomplishment. Stating that an action matters, implies lasting effects; something occurs differently because of you, which is true since DEs can “fail”. However if the event will eventually happen again, “succeeding” or “failing” independent of you, will you truly feel that your initial completion of the event mattered? Moreover, if you completed but a single event in the middle of a chain would you care about the outcome at all? I argue that it does the exact opposite.

    First and foremost for players to feel that their actions actually matter, they have to care about the outcome. Think about your example of the helpful Asura, they will likely care about defeating Tequatl, since they have been doing the whole DE chain leading up to him, seeing all of the destruction his minions have caused. In effect they have context. Now all of the other people that join in just at the Tequatl fight, have no context, other than “big freaking dragon! Kill!!!” To them Tequatl will be a few minutes of “oh cool” and then they will move on, with no thought, or care, to what that fight really meant in the larger scale of that zone.

    This combined with repeating DE chains means that in the end, that Tequatl fight means nothing, because he will come back and do the same thing again. Eventually players will mostly likely stop caring at all about which specific DE is going, or completing an event chain to the end. Instead players will start to treat these events like people treat objectives in Battlefield, a bunch of things going on that I can play in.

    At this point you might think I’m ranting but I’m not. In fact I think this change is something the MMO industry desperately needs. That for the first time MMORPG will actually be a correct classification for a game. As in a huge number of players engaging with one another in a large open world, working toward a collective goal. Thus players will open up the world map and choose a zone that looks like fun, assuming they are a high enough level, without worrying about having to go to one zone because they have this quest chain to complete to get epic item #2534. They get deleveled if need be, and they are constantly earning money and rep to buy new things with, regardless of where they play.

    This is why I think it will play like a multiplayer shooter. People will load a map (choose a zone), and once they spawn in they look to see where the action is and go play. Since each event will likely be taken out of context for most of the players, after it is completed, just like in a shooter, the players will split up with some going to new event A and others going to B or C… etc.

    Thankfully I think Anet realizes this and is giving us some Epic DEs, that people might actually try to work towards engaging. Also with the solo story instances and dungeons, we are getting all of the story heavy content that players expect from Anet and need to care about the game world and to keep us coming back. In the end this is going to be such a divergence from traditional MMOs that I don’t think people know how to talk about it yet. We have to use something we have experienced to be able to discuss what these DEs mean in the grand scheme of GW2, I just feel that we need to look outside of MMORPGs in order to find an experience that is actually comparable.

    Now more to Ravious’ specific point in this article, I think if we look at it as I have suggested, like a shooter, people will likely break off after a “failed” event. Some will keep fighting to try and push the chain back and maybe succeed this time, while others will move on to different parts to try things there. Since there will be so many things going on at once and no real reason to continue a specific event, I think players will just end up finding their own fun, much like a shooter. I just don’t think the traditional need to complete a specific event or chain will be present in gw2 players for long, at least in the dynamic event part. We will just go where we think we will have the most fun and never really feel like we failed, since we still get rewarded when an event “fails”. There is always another area that we can help or something cool to do, which Anet has been trying to tell us, but we can be a bit stubborn.

    The only big question I have for Anet, and maybe they have already answered it, is what happens if we want to engage a specific part of a DE chain that is not currently active. I.E. if say the Tequatl invasion takes over town A and then moves on to Town B, and all of the players want to take back Town A, cause we like it or has a vendor that we want. Do we have to do the chain to take back town B and work the chain back to town A, or can we just go into town A and it already has a DE to take it back. If we have the work the chain back, that I believe would be a big pitfall of the system.

    1. You are rewarded for your efforts at EACH link of the event chain. Your premise that players won’t care about a DE enough to “jump into the middle” of ongoing event chain is therefore completely flawed.

      Players can participate (and be rewarded) in links 3, 4, and 5 of an event chain without ever seeing links 1,2,6 and 7.

      The rewards are not “specific” either. Players earn “Karma” which is usable at specific vendors for a wide array of items they can choose from. You don’t get a particular “sword” from link 3 of an event chain… you earn karma for your participation in whatever link of an event chain happens to be active at the time you are present… you then take that karma to a vendor and choose your own reward.

  14. I don’t think the nature of events is a bad thing either. If you arrive at the end of the Tequatl event you may not care or have enough context that time. But next time you may do the whole chain and say “cool, that’s how that happened”. The longer you play, the more you will learn about the interconnected nature of the game world. I think that’s a really epic thing.

  15. “These are big, huge bosses that take time and dedication to unlock.”

    In other words, raid bosses. Open world raid bosses. :(

    1. Time and dedication to UNLOCK. That’s the key word there. Sure they’re going to have quite a bit of health, which is unfortunate, but from the looks of things ArenaNet are trying to give as few small victories as possible to the WoW style of gamer while still being able to attract enough customers to turn a profit. By making the bosses slightly beefier for the raid-hounds who still think that killing a single enemy with millions of points of HP is crazy fun, yeah, there’s a bit of a concession. Getting to that point where you fight that boss though, is where everyone else can have fun playing an actually engaging storyline with branching paths and monsters that actually die after you hit them with a pointy stick a few times. And if you’re one of the people who actually enjoys all the different activities leading up to these climaxes in the event chains, then I highly doubt any boss will feel like a “raid” boss at all.

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