Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vehicle Combat in Dust514: A Future Vision

While the CPM has had some good meetings with the new Executive Producer, we are still awaiting a statement from CCP and I am withholding comment about the recent internal proceedings until we see that statement delivered.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share some of what's been on my mind recently regarding the game itself.  I initially posted a brief version of the following to CCP on Skype along with the full-length description on our internal forums.  However, the concept is important enough to me that I wanted to share it with all of you as well.  Especially for those of you that play Dust514, its important for you to know what kinds of ideas your representatives are championing.  [Note that this is not specific feedback for the current rebalance slated for Uprising 1.7, but rather the next few steps needed to blow the vehicle combat in Dust 514 wide open and into some really compelling design space.]

Without further ado:

I believe what's ultimately missing in Dust514 is a true MMO-style combat system. Dust has enormous potential as an "MMOFPS" not just in the way it ties with EVE, but all the way down to the core combat. When you think about it, most of the tools are in place for a "sandbox" combat system with lots of room for creativity by allowing players to combine elements of the traditional MMO "holy trinity" - Tanking/DPS/Healing.*

There are three fundamental changes in particular that I see necessary to facilitate/activate such a system:

1.) Move vehicle repair modules to a turret. Moving them isn't really needed, existing modules could be maintained and a turret repair simply added.

2.) Allow vehicle tanking modules to be operated by a passenger. This could be as simple as an option to assign on-board module control to a passenger of choice, so solo drivers could retain full control of their ability to mitigate damage

3.) Remove fixed turret slots, and use a larger pool of high/low slots along with a hardpoint system to keep players from mounting multiple large weapons on an HAV, or large weapons on a dropship. Hardpoints would be a simple number of allowed small or large turrets per vehicle - but the important part here is allowing players to forgo a turret in favor of additional tank or utility.

The third fix alone addresses another major issue with vehicles as they stand today - the lack of strong roles. Instead of trying to nail down the ideal role for every vehicle, why not give them to players as canvasses to be painted on? There needs to be a damn good reason for this much customization (it comes at the cost of the learning curve, after all), and so the design team misses a huge opportunity here if they don't allow players themselves to define how they want to use the vehicles (or even dropsuits) given to them.

The end goal should really be a near-infinite amount of combinations of repair/support/tanking/DPS gameplay...across both infantry AND vehicles. Want a super-tough HAV that doesn't dish out damage at all, but is a tough turtle that crawls along and keeps a few squad members alive using small repair turrets? Easy.
Want a fast dropship with no tank but more small turrets for your crazy suicidal squadmates to man and rain fire? Done. Want to create a new meta around mutliple 3-man teams of spider-linked HAV's (one driver/DPS, one tanker, one healer on the small turret)? You can even create the "Holy Trinity" in a single vehicle. Or, alternative, fit one for solo work and do it all yourself. No one is ever forced to play any particular way, and creativity and teamwork become the ticket to greatness.

I know this probably sounds scary and overwhelming to Dust's design team - but I really think its important to consider the instant depth this game would gain when WE come up with the innovative tactics that we can't right now with vehicles drifting further in the direction of being merely "dropsuits with wheels". In my opinion, Dust 514 should derive its challenge from innovating ways to counter opposing player creativity - and not just devolve into another wall of twitch skill overcome through endless practice.

This, to me, is what I really hope CCP Rouge considers as he moves this project forward. MMO depth can be added in many more ways beyond simply expanding the EVE-link! It can be achieved moment-to-moment in combat by giving players tools to create new tactics with.  By now everyone mostly has an optimal way to use each item, suit, or vehicle - and this reality should really be seen as a design flaw to improve upon if the goal is to bring the full power of EVE's customization into the FPS world.

The sooner the developers reach towards the "sandbox" in day-to-day game play - the more rapidly we players end up providing each other with more "content".   Other shooters on the market wouldn't be able to touch this level of flexibility - in most contemporary games players are stuck waiting for a new map, item, or feature to provide them with a brand new experience when they log in. If CCP makes Dust514 a true sandbox shooter - it takes pressure off their own content creators because we will end up making the game constantly fresh for ourselves. This design ethos has worked really well in EVE Online, and it only requires periodic skilled rebalance effort to continually rekindle the fire.

Rebalancing is much, much cheaper than producing entirely new toys - and by moving to this system the developers would gain a huge multiplier on the impact of their time spent tweaking gear performance. Enabling this level of combat depth should actually make for less work for the Shanghai studio in the long run, not more.
That's not at all to say there won't be a need for new items and vehicles - only that there is tremendous value in creating game objects that can be played with like wooden blocks, rather than a puzzle with a single solution.

*And yes, I'm quite aware that most of the time "Holy Trinity" is used as a perjorative and a design rut that many MMO's are trying to migrate away from, but I use it here only to highlight three distinct jobs that players can provide each other if given the proper tools - and the value that they would bring to an FPS game.  This extends to other roles such as crowd control as well - Dust514 has a huge place for electronic warfare in its future if given the opportunity.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CPM Activity Report #8 - October 16, 2013

We have reached a crossroads.

Four days away from finishing our 6th month since CCP Dolan announced the Council of Planetary Management, an immense amount of work remains in the process of establishing a practical, efficient working relationship with CCP Shanghai. By now most of you have learned that we now have a new Executive Producer: Jean-Charles Gaudechon, also known as CCP Rouge. My original hope was to have gotten far enough along by now that we'd be ready to collectively teach Dust514's next E.P. the merits of a strong working relationship through direct demonstration. Today, it appears that he is our best remaining chance at building that relationship.

I've struggled the past few weeks to figure out exactly what to write about since my last report, for fairly obvious reasons. Many of you have already been asking lots of questions about initiatives discussed in previous reports, such as the establishment of a CPM charter or a regular meeting schedule. Many of you have also noticed we haven't had a lot of answers. I finally sat down last Friday and hammered out a rough outline of what I'd write if I were to produce another typical Activity Report. Under normal circumstances, I ask questions about the items I'm unsure about, though I don't ever have CCP directly review or "rubber stamp" my blog posts. I've been doing this long enough to know what's safe to share in most cases, and I think its also important to retain my own voice as much as possible.

This time, however, I wanted both CCP and the CPM to be on exactly the same page about what has transpired since I last blogged, and to give both parties a fair chance to give me something different to write about. The response from CCP was immediate – and since Friday the CPM have been in and out of a series of intense discussions with CCP Logibro, CCP Dolan, CCP Saberwing, and almost every member of the ever-growing Shanghai management group. The culmination of this was a meeting held yesterday with the new Executive Producer, CCP Rouge, an event we weren't expecting for another three weeks at least. The timeslot for the meeting was originally planned for a discussion of an upcoming event, but the meeting was cancelled and replaced with some face time with the new boss. Rouge had caught wind of our internal discussion about the state of the CPM and its development, and wanted to get involved immediately.

As frustrating as this may be for some of you, I will not be discussing the meeting in this post. Everyone knows what the CPM has been asking for, and everyone knows what has been promised in previous meetings. While we very much welcome CCP's apparent enthusiasm, we've also seen it many variations of it throughout the last 6 months. Were there commitments made in this meeting as well? Absolutely! But I will not be outlining them here.

The time has passed for the CPM to take verbal assurances at face value, and from this point on we can only evaluate CCP's interest in engaging the community through observing substantive action. As your representative body, pledges of cooperation made to the CPM are also made to each of you, and because of this they should almost always be made to you directly. Since CCP Dolan's initial post announcing our formation, the CPM's activities as well as CCP's interest in our development have been documented almost exclusively through this blog, and that will no longer be the case. The last pledge from CCP that I will communicate on their behalf is this: There will be a public statement by the end of the week, where CCP will update the community on the state of the CPM as well discuss how we will be proceeding moving forward.

It is only fair at this point to expect CCP to provide the community with their own transparent and critical examination of how we got to where we are today, as well as to share how they plan to improve the situation in the coming weeks. We have a window of opportunity now that CCP Saberwing is onboard to attend to the CPM in Shanghai, at a time when the possibility exists for top-down integration and management of the communication pipelines we've been waiting for. Hope certainly remains, but optimism will only return once we see the immediate mobilization that we deserve at this point and time.

There is certainly a lot more ground to cover, but the community must look to CCP to follow through on the public statement and begin this process themselves. Once everyone is caught up on the events leading to this point as well as what was covered in the meeting yesterday, I will have a lot more to discuss. If things get moving quickly enough, my intention is to resume weekly posts provided I actually have tangible news to deliver. In the meantime its CCP's turn to catch up with the community, and I look forward to seeing what hey have to say.