Guardians at the Gates 2: Empty Cities

Returning to a topic I started a while ago, am I on the cutting edge, or am I recommending that MMO companies commit suicide? There are several games that have tried some form of robust housing and city building/defense system, and almost all of them have been disappointing.

Asheron’s Call was the weakest performer of its crop of games, and its sequel did worse. A Tale in the Desert and Wurm Online are niche games. Shadowbane and Horizons have a recurring feature at GU Comics called “the Bug Zapper,” and Horizons still beats Vanguard as a model of how not to make a game. Star Wars Galaxies … yeah. Wish never went live. EVE Online is the lone winner of the pack, although didn’t it hit 100,000 subscribers before it added player-owned outposts and starbases? Age of Conan is the next test case, although its high violence and gore quotient may affect its results.

Is this just an apocalyptically bad idea? Perhaps the technology was not there in the past, but it is now becoming viable, like voice chat? It is not the sort of thing you can easily add to an existing game. You cannot just paste some cities on the side and call it good; that is meaningless. Where would you put it in Azeroth or Middle Earth? Shadowbane built around the idea, and it fit EVE’s existing structure perfectly. I know I am not the core MMO audience, since I do not play WoW, but am I completely in left field here?

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Guardians at the Gates 2: Empty Cities”

  1. Asheron’s Call 2 bombed. I can’t refute that. The first game of the name, though, may have underperformed EQ, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a “crop” of games. The market barely existed, and the game was well-populated and well-liked by those who played it. I would argue that marketing played rather heavily into the disparity, there.

    Wurm, I’ve never heard of. A Tale in the Desert starts you off running along picking grass and slate; it turns from too slow into too ridiculous (gliders, fireworks, and traffic puzzles) to survive most new players. I can’t speak for Shadowbane and SWG. Horizons interfaced and looked too awkwardly for any but the concept-lovers to really get into it (that and those who wanted to play dragons).

    I think the biggest obstacle between here and there is the game design. Aggro-based systems are not well-designed for large-scale or long-term PvP combat, and heavily PvE-based systems tend to have power level issues which break balance and give little fun/incentive for low-level players to participate. Alternatives get into the realm of awkward FPSs (fantasy Planetside?), and build-centric action-RPG’s, which don’t fare well with the majority of unjaded gamers.

    What you are asking for is neither impossible, nor beyond the technology (though the state of broadband in the US might be a limiting factor), but it’s not the game we know, which frightens off job security, and it’s doesn’t ring of blockbuster, which scares publishers. Don’t hold your breath… we’re waiting for a world-toppling underdog, or a wealthy philanthropist to toss in a WoW-launch-comparable marketing budget.

  2. You forgot Dark and Light … which beats Horizons, Vanguard and Shadowbane for how not to make / operate / launch a game. It easily trumps AO for worst launch evar.

    Dark and Light promised much in the way of player controlled cities and fortresses, including a complex government heirarchy. It delivered little.

    On the basis of promise alone, though, the Dark and Light forums had one of the most active communities of any in-development game I’ve followed (and, as I recall, nearly 200,000 forum registrations while it was still in early beta).

    There’s certainly more than niche interest in a game like this. The companies with the many tens of million of dollars to pull such a game off, don’t currently seem interested in assuming tha additional risk of such a game.

    Unfortunate. I’d p(l)ay.

  3. Well,

    /start NDA protected speech/

    ***** ****** *** ******* ********
    ** * ***** ********* ***,
    ***** ** ******* *********
    *** ****** ***** *** ** ******!

    **** ***** * ******* **** ****** ****
    ***** ** ******* *********?

    ***** ** ******* *********
    *** ****** ***** *** ** ******!

    /end NDA protected speech/.

    Pretty kick ass huh? I can’t wait either.


  4. I don’t think it’s something that’ll inherently result in failure, but it does have a lot of issues.

    Part of it is simply that defensive play isn’t typically as friendly to players as aggressive play is — you can’t take a smoke break in the middle of an ambush string, some options such as toggling up or other preemptive powers aren’t viable, and you can only fail once in a defensive mission while an aggressive mission has virtually unlimited tries. Another part is that anything involving player creation does have the potential for harm, whether it be as small a problem as a crudely-drawn curse or as major as player-created glitches or griefing. It also relies on people working together : it’s not fun to play an RTS with unresponsive units, and just as little fun to be a single unit being given random commands. Good grouping can counter that, but most instances of player buildings aren’t really strong on ally selection.

    The big issue is simply that this sorta stuff takes a lot of time. Mob AI has to be made extremely strong at things most players won’t notice until they break it : path-seeking, target selection, and cooperation, all have to be orders of magnitude more complex than standard MMO baddies, or they’ll be exploited. The construction engine, typically a dumbed-down version of the in-house level editor, has to be rock-solid, incapable of making “broken” maps, and just generally designed for complete idiots to use. Extra balance considerations have to be made — players can’t have widely varying amounts of downtime, or too little burst damage.

    That wouldn’t be a problem, if Guardians at the Gates really revolutionized the game’s play.

    It doesn’t. It’d be a fun aspect, sure. But combat itself is the same once it starts.

  5. Why was SWG pushed off to the side as if it had horrid player housing setup? SWG had fantastic player housing options which made the game that much more immersive. You had combat player housing (which the other faction could destroy and which spawned your own NPCs) and non-combat which (as long as you pumped credits into it) was ever-lasting.

  6. You are off on the “as if.” SWG’s good systems were rendered irrelevant by the rest of the game, if they continue to exist.

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