We Are the Barbarians At the Gates

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.

: Zubon

Hat tip to Cybercat for the flash TD game

17 thoughts on “We Are the Barbarians At the Gates”

  1. It’s posts like this that really make me wish that I had gotten the opportunity to follow through on my plans for Wish. Wish was going to have NPC’s that “brought it to you”, player controlled towns that would be subject to raids by NPC’s (which could be tracked back to their bases), roads, town upgrades (better blacksmithing forges and so on), even, if we could have made it work, monster-type NPC’s taking over towns and developing their own empires.

    Eve has been steadily moving towards the kind of thing you talk about in 0.0, although it’s all PvP. POS’s serve two major purposes, one is industrial platforms and the other is bases in territorial warfare. And we’ve had player-built Outposts (which are structures where you can dock, refit your ship, access the market, refine minerals, and so on) for a while.

    ASCN was a major alliance that was basically wiped out a few months ago, but even though they are gone the Outposts they built remain (under new ownership), and as a result their former territory is extremely valuable real estate because it’s so comparatively easy to exploit. ISS was a commercial venture that created quite a few “free port” style stations, they were wiped out a little over a month ago but their stations are still there, still being used.

    CCP keeps dangling some really interesting carrots in front of us, player-built stargates, automated defenses for stargates and outposts, planetary exploration and exploitation. Out in 0.0, the world really is what the players make of it, and we care about that world because of that.


  2. Ackadia had (has?) monster-invasions… nothing overly complicated, and so never much more than an excuse to go kill monsters that otherwise would have just been minding their own business, not bothering anyone, doing whatever monsters do, until the “good guys” come to murder and rob them.


    I do wish someone would implement that level 10 stronghold part of the game described in 1st edition AD&D thirty years ago.

  3. Great comments so far. Please, keep telling me more. I love our readers. Any thoughts on why more games are not trying more of this or the variations and restrictions on how it has been tried?

    Player built Outposts, that is what I was missing. Do the NPC corporations set up shop at them?

    Yes, Age of Conan sounds like it is right along those lines. Excellent, something for me to read about.

    Jeff Freeman, the most important blogger in the world, I was thinking of that a bit myself. I don’t know how many D&D campaigns used it either, though. It shifts the game into an entirely new dimension if you are focused on resources and politics rather than adventuring, and I think it fell into the background often.

  4. You don’t get NPC mission agents setting up in player-built stations, no. Wouldn’t really want them, since ownership (and therefore docking permissions) can change. They’re bases where station-only services (especially the market and refining) can be accessed, and they’re the focus for territorial warfare (because to exert control of the space, you need to control the stations).

    I don’t interact much with the PvE side of Eve, I don’t even rat or mine in 0.0, I work the market system (which is always PvP). There have been a few RP events where NPC’s “attacked” player controlled 0.0, but it’s fairly lame IMO.


  5. SWG has most of what you’re talking about. Player cities, with a player as Mayor, paying for civic building like a shuttleport or cantina with taxes. A city militia which could (once upon a time) be called upon to attack the enemies of the city. Well, until one day someone used that ability to attack and kill a CSR.
    Player crafters have NPC vendors they can place and stock with goods, setting their own prices. These NPC vendors are searchable from the central bazaar system.
    Bases for either side of the Galactic Civil War (Rebel or Imperial) can be purchased and placed, once they become active they are PvP hotspots defended by players against player attackers seeking to destroy it. NPC guards can be purchased to outfit the base to help defend it.

  6. I think the next “generation” of MMOs will have a lot more of this dynamic content. It’s much more heroic feeling (in my opinion) to defend your lands from incursion, rather than to invade other lands yourself.

  7. Wurm Online – Everything is player created: swords, armour, shovels, pickaxes, roads, houses…….everything! The land is deformable i.e. you dig the land drops, you drop dirt the land rises. I found this game years ago, since then I’ve tried WoW and Eve but they just seem very sallow in comparison.

  8. One of the coolest WOW moments IMO is when you are fighting along side Sgt Bly defending the temple in Zul Farrak. I remember thinking to myself the first time I ran that scenario “wow, this is great!”, only to be disappointed at the fact that I wouldn’t encounter anymore situations like that one.

    Age of Conan sounds like they are going to be using some cool ideas, but I learned my lesson with Vanguard when it comes to believing all of the BullS*$ that marketing departments churn out. I am hoping for the best as AOC has been on my radar for months now but I wouldn’t be surprised if we are all playing WOW or EVE thru 2007.

  9. I hope Shwayder is right and the the next gen will have more dynamic content. I fully support this idea. We need to take pressure situations out of dungeons and pvp only, and make them happen on more common grounds. It’d be nice if it was completely random too. I would get bored and jaded if I knew that every friday evening, mobs attacked my home city. Just my 2 cents.

  10. There was a big chunk of what you’re looking for in Anarchy Online.

  11. I really hope the future does include more games with world impact .. although I bet there will be a few stumbles on that path.

    One oft mentioned problem with non-instanced player housing is that the landscape will quickly get cluttered with buildings that are nearly always empty.. the player is only online a few hours a day (if that), and when they are they are often elsewhere.

    I think one possible answer to that problem is to instead have NPCs own the buildings and such, but their growth, prosperity, and interest in providing services being strongly dependent on players contributing to their continued safety, supply of resources, and such forth.

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