My, my, my... forty-some-odd minutes of footage later, we've learned a few things, haven't we? We got a first taste of the mechanics, specifically a description of how three different Discipline powers each functioned, referring to something called a "token." We learned that there was a playable version of the game called "World of Darkness Year One" that I'm sure will surface, at least in rumors, in the months to come (remember your virus scans, people). We a little more about the three elements of gameplay, that the Cafe will be a more casual gaming experience, but still meaningful, the Theme Park will be mostly PvE, and the Sandbox will be built around more PvP play (which we'll discuss below). Finally, we learned that the project, while alive, is behind a bit, due to understandable complications, and that it's probably going to be a long time before we see anything else official on the subject.
Oh, and Chris, no hard feelings about that "EVE community who really supports CCP" comment. We know you love us best, and that you had to say that with your marketing guy right there, on-stage.
Today's Blog will be about the Sandbox, an element truly near and dear to my heart. Before diving in, I wanted to give a big shout-out to Seven and Rick Gentle for commenting about the difference between "losing" and "not-winning." Good points raised there about the differences between the two. Your posts got me thinking about some of the things we heard, along with some things I read in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. If you haven't read it yet, I higher recommend. This guy is to Game Theory what Michael Pollan is to Food.
Why can't we all just get along?
Vampires. Eternal, unchanging, all that. Something that comes up a lot in the off-channel chats is why they bother with the byzantine, cloak-and-dagger political games, when it seems the optimal strategy is a mutual nonaggression pact. Everyone agrees not to interfere with one another, builds a tidy Herd, and sets about to spend eternity doing something that makes them, or someone else happy. Competitive models area always more wasteful than cooperative ones, as resources tend to get expended, destroyed or allocated in a sub-optimal manner. When those "resources" are also the global force from which you're required to hide or risk complete annihilation, it just seems like all the more reason to play nice, share, and otherwise keep your head down. Why the bitchy snippets in Elysium, trying to get other Kindred to Frenzy? Why the posturing and titles that contribute nothing directly to your food supply? Why fight the Jyhad, if every move made endangers the Masquerade, threatens the food supply, and never, ever makes anyone actually happy?
Herding, and Cultures of Honor
The answer comes from Gladwell's chapter on cultures of honor. Agrarian cultures, those who primarily grow crops, trend toward cooperative behavior. Harvesting crops is labor-intensive work, and in the days before combines and tractors, it meant asking help from the neighbors, which required maintaining good relations and setting aside grievances now and then. Sure, maybe Jake borrowed your strup and hasn't given it back, but he's a hard worker and winter's coming soon, so maybe give him a little more time to give it back. Herding cultures are different. While still being labor-intensive, the primary function of being a herder, that of watching over the animals, is much harder to out-source. If animals go missing under someone else's watch, it raises prohibitive questions of theft by the watcher and things get ugly. Living as a herder means that the livestock upon whom you depend could be stolen by other herders, and any signal to others that you're too weak to protect the rest invites theft from others. Whereas crops can only really be stolen by harvesting them, a herd of goats, sheep, cows, et c. literally have feet and legs with which "walk off" with a potential rustler. Of course, if you do get caught breaking the rules, poaching another's herd, you'll bring shame on yourself, as well as your family, regardless of whether you get killed yourself. That's part of why Honor-Shame cultures tend to develop along-side pastoral societies, while Guilt-based models show up more with farmers. Gladwell's chapter on honor describes the continued influence of this mindset on modern people who've descended from these different sub-cultures, from the blood-feuds between Southern clans to the persistent impact of where you grow up on whether you'd escalate a conflict to the level of violence. (It's a great book. Go read it.)
Funny side-note, by the way: In the Book of Nod, Cain is described as being a farmer and his brother, a herder. Interesting, isn't it that Seth's children took up farming after Cain's exile, while Cain's progeny ended up with a herding model?
Little Critters of Nature
Anyway. We see parallel behavior in animals as well. While herds of herbivores do stake out a territory, things have to get pretty lean for rival herds to directly conflict over feeding in a particular area, and other than dominance for mates, direct physical conflict between members of a herd are terribly rare. That simply fits their model: Plants don't move around and can't be scared off. If you see plants to eat around you, you eat what you need and spend the rest of your time resting. If you don't see plants around, you wander over to where there might be others, and when you find them, they don't put up much of a fight. And if things get too lean, you and your herd wander away until you find more plants to eat some place else.
Life as a predator is different. Just because you don't see deer drinking down by that river right now doesn't mean they don't come here often when they're thirsty. That steady embankment might not look like much to anyone else, but if it made the difference between a wounded elk getting away versus filling your belly, it would be a prize to be treasured and used later. Predators need to establish territories for themselves, and develop keen familiarity with them.
Witness taking a cat into a new house or apartment. The cat freaks out. "Where's my food? Where's the water-dish? Where's the litter? And for Bast's Ever-loving sake, where are the places to hide??" Eventually, the cat learns the new layout, develops a routine, and all's well. Bring a new cat into the room, and it's a potential poacher. The territorial instincts kick in, and the otherwise docile little kitty turns into a tiny ball of fury, bent on proving to the other cat that she's not a weakling. It's only after a cat learns that the new arrival isn't depleting the food supply (or your attention, or whatever) that they start to get along, and maybe even make friends.
Weren't we talking about Vampires, Crowl?
Vampires are predators, to be sure. As such, it makes sense to stake out a territory in which to feed. It helps to know which bars have late hours, after parties, and happy hours. It helps to know which alleyways are dark enough to quietly feed without notice, which ones have obstacles that make foot-chases easier for the attacker, and which ones offer the best hiding-spots when the situation requires stealth. Another vampire in your territory probably isn't there by choice. Odds are, her own territory has been running a bit thin, requiring her to broaden her search for the next pint of O+. That means she's likely intent on expanding her own borders into yours, unless you're able to stop her. Since she's probably hungry, and less familiar with the lay of the land, you've got that advantage over her, but if you let her get a foothold, the ground levels, and may even tilt against you. Add to that the herding cultural component. Any violation of your Herd of vessels is, quite literally, a threat to your food reserves. Poachers who are allowed to continue will siphon off the blood you'd depended upon, right under your nose. If you don't respond in due time, you'll be the one showing up to the fight hungry and weak, and at the mercy of your opponent. Any sign of weakness on your part, whether it's a misstep at Elysium, an unwillingness to shed blood, or an inability to rain suffering down on those who wrong you could be taken as a sign to other Kindred that what is yours tonight, could easily be theirs tomorrow.
The funny thing about culture is that it works an awful lot like evolution. Natural Selection isn't an engineering process, where the best designs are put forward, tested and remodeled for optimal performance. It's more like tinkering in the basement, where accidental changes from a previous model happened to come in handy, but then persist in later iterations until they prove sufficiently maladaptive as to completely remove themselves from play. As such, Kindred culture persists, with at least some trappings of civility, layered thinly over the cultural and instinctive behaviors that serve herders and predators.
Back to the Sandbox, then...
What does this mean for the MMO's Sandbox? We won't know for sure for months (years?), I'm sure. However, we do know that control of territories will be important, and that blood will be the resource around which play will revolve. (Speaking of, "Resources" might simply be a game stat for buying things from mortal NPC's. E.g. "You must have Resources 3 to buy a shotgun from this store," or "If you have Resources XX, you can bribe this mortal to doing ___ for you.") Perhaps you'll get bonuses to certain actions when you're in your territory (hunting, fighting, et c.), going into Torpor in your territory results fewer consequences and/or you'll have access to easier feeding some how. On the other hand, you'll need to defend that territory and its delicious mortal occupants from other characters, lest they steal one or both from you. Borrowing from last week's comments, perhaps the low-stakes conflict might center around poaching Vessels from other players, while a more high-stakes conflict might involve a territory grab.
Scenario one: You need a certain amount of blood in a certain window of time to bribe another player, purchase a new trait, use an
Echo Bazaar, err... Fallen London-style "Opportunity Card," or whatever. You've already shaken down your own modest territory for nourishment, but you still haven't hit your quota (or maybe you have, but not by enough to not feel vulnerable and exposed). So, like any predator in this situation, you go looking around a bit. Your neighbors' territories are close-by, at least a little familiar, and close enough to your own to retreat if things go all-to-Hell. However, as they're your neighbors and you don't feel like earning their ire just yet, you decide it's worth the additional risk to go out afield a bit. You happen on a run-down, likely-neglected territory, possibly of a vampire in extended Torpor (I.e., a player who hasn't played in quite a while). Either way, there's no one in sight, so you find yourself a wandering NPC or two, snack as you like, and slink away. When the other player returns, the pickings might be a bit slimmer, but only for a bit. If the other play had returned, you'd either high-tail it before a fight breaks out ("not-winning" from last week's comments), or fight him on his own turf, possibly resulting in you going to Torpor (whatever that means). Either way, small risks and small rewards.
Scenario two: You got what you wanted last week, spending the blood to buy up your next dot in Potence, or what-have you, and now you've got another goal. It's bigger than the last one, so again, you wring every last crimson drop you can from your turf, and then look around you for more. Perhaps you stop by the Cafe to listen to rumors of who's easy pickings. You trade a favor to learn the guy you'd Poached-from last week has fallen on hard times. If you don't steal his land, someone else will. You've got the time, so you hop the subway and (insert the game mechanic that signifies a territory-grab) in his grounds. You get there in time to watch him finish off one of your neighbors, who clearly got here first. That takes your neighbor out of play, or at least leaves her temporarily weakened, perhaps, as a consequence of failing here. On the other hand the conflict took its toll on the Incumbent, and when he turns to fight you, he does so at a disadvantage. When the dust settles (metaphorically), his torpid body is taken to Elysium, where he's given rights to a small, unclaimed parcel as a consolation prize for his loss. You, on the other hand, have a new piece of turf to call your own, to build up again. Unfortunately, it's not connected to your previous territory directly, making it a bit less-than-ideal.
But what's this? The neighbor you'd seen fighting him, unsuccessfully, has a territory that would join the two together, creating one large, connected Domain? And here she is, recently weakened from her failed attempt, while you're buffed up a bit from success. My, oh my...
Of course, they'll need to balance the risks of poaching with the rewards, and make sure it's all fun for everyone (see last week's post), but they've got some great people working on their team. To be honest, though, what I'm really interested in here is how they balance the need for a persistent world with players' differing play-schedules. As mentioned last week, nothing sucked in Evony like logging off to attend to real-life, only to find out when you'd gotten back that someone decided to hit you with your back turned. On the other hand, given the disparities of power and what you stood to lose if you attacked another player and lost, I understand that that was the only way to make progress against a stronger opponent. Making territories of logged-off players invulnerable, at least for a time, seems to make some sense, but that will require balancing with what to do with players who've stopped playing, as well as giving players at least some assurance that spending time in the Cafe or Theme Park doesn't leave their own little Sandboxes overly-exposed.
Again, this project interests me because I'm a fan of the game, sure, but also because the choices the designers make will heavily influence the way players behave. Make the rewards for attacking too low, or the cost of losing either defense or offense too high, and everyone's on the defensive, huddled around stockpiles, afraid to leave their own backyards. Like the suburbs. Make losing cost too little and you'll have no one playing defense at all, with players pretty much just staking out claims for a day or two, or simply wandering the game map, eating whoever they find there. Like the Sabbat. Or like herd-animals, come to think of it. And thus, we come full circle.
Thanks for reading, characters. See you next time!
1 years 45 days ago
I think that it will be more of a networking aspect that a single vampire controling an area. You will form Coterie or Pack with other gamers and they will mutually enforce an area. I know that was one of the driving goals for me when I first started playing the game. We needed to show that we were worthy of a certain parcel of the city, be it a sole club, area, or even district of the city. Obviously the more people in your group, the better protected your Herd and the better you protect your Herd, the more likely the Prince will allow you to have more. There will likely be a boon aspect to it as well since the Prince will trust that you can handle more, but ultimatly the decision lies with him/her. Initial campaigning will be quite dynamic and probably quite a few perma-deaths in the first few months of release. When the dust settles many of these gamers will be as close to us as many of our RL friends are. I wouldn't be surprised that people will be contacting each other outside the game through email at the start and probably talking to each other via some social networks and even over video chat or the phone. I wouldn't be surprised to start meeting gamers if they are in my same city. I know a few of my friends will certainly be playing and hopefully we will gain new RL friends through gaming. If any of you have played EVE there are groups that mark out territories and defend those from others. The territories grow and shrink through direct combat and their ability to enforce in said territories. With WoD, the combat may take an actual physical (game wise) action and PvP. But I envision it will happen more in Elysium where the combat will be of reputation and respect. (I have to say that I find it funny that trolling will actually be an apsect of Elysium). Ultimatly the Prince will decide what Coterie will run each parcel of territory and will decide the fate of those who take care of their charges and those who neglect or show weekness. It should be fun and exciting to play in this way.
1 years 53 days ago
Definitely a reasonable and compelling look at the sandbox's concept. Vampires are predators, but i'd say that calling them hunters isn't the best term for description. I'd agree that many are more like herders. The kine are far too 'easy' prey for the hunt to often be that complicated. The kindred have a myriad ways to get the blood that they require, so long as they can sustain their own 'herd' within their territory; via keeping other influences from disrupting it.
1 years 53 days ago
*nods sagely* Social (and not-so-social) Darwinism. The Lasombra are big on that. An excellent layout of how the fundamentals of the situation likely work, and a lot of processes that would make the game absolutely killer to play. But the questions remains: How do we back it up with mechanics?
1 years 50 days ago
Good question. Here're three *very* clunky ways to do it. Insert all the disclaimers and stuff here, but here're my thoughts on a couple examples of how seizing territory might work, off the hip: 1.) By Feeding: Successfully feeding from a Mortal NPC in another player's territory gives you a small number of "points" toward taking it over. These points deteriorate over time, so occasional poaching does little other than acting as an annoyance. Built up over a time, though, and a careless player could lose a territory to another who'd managed to build up enough points to tip the scales. 2.) By Consensus: Get enough players with enough social clout to agree that you ought to have the territory and it's yours. One of the only things we really know for sure about player conflict is that you'll need the support of other players to become the Prince. Perhaps that scales down to this level, too? 3.) By Content (highly doubtful, given what we know, but still...): Perhaps every sub-unit of territory would have a "quest chain" that a character would need to do to claim it. One element would almost surely include a confrontation with the incumbent (an NPC if another player hasn't claimed it yet). We know they're not going to have much "content," per se, but perhaps a player who accomplishes a certain set of objectives involving a parcel could call it her own. Just a notion. :)