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.