Note: All of the below is really outdated and is not what we are planning anymore. The new missions system keeps EXP around, doesn't have a difference between core and side missions, and so on.
This one I'm labeling as "design notes" rather than "brainstorming," because this is really more about collecting my thoughts and getting feedback/commentary on them, rather than truly going for a brainstorming session like some of the others.
None of this is set in stone yet, though, and I'm still working on the design to make sure it all fits together properly. I've attached a photo of my whiteboard where I laid a lot of it out visually, to show the flow of all this.
REMOVAL OF EXP
The civilization level and spellgem tiers are absolutely vital and central to the game, and aren't going anywhere. EXP, on the other hand, is just a vehicle for letting you increase the civlization level. Problem is, as a system it's actually a bit TOO flexible. You can gain EXP by grinding bosses, grinding exploration, or in other ways.
Flexibility is often good, but not always. But in this case the problem is even more core: the chief way that you gain EXP (defeating bosses) is also the chief thing that you need EXP in order accomplish (bosses being the main source of challenge). So in other words, there's no way for me to make a disproportionate challenge without there also being a disproporationate EXP gain. And, depending on player play style, EXP gain might rush upwards way faster or slower than it really should.
Those are just some of the problems, and I believe some of the reasons Keith was arguing months ago that we shouldn't have EXP. This game just isn't an RPG in any way, shape, or form anymore, despite it having sort of started life slightly more in that direction.
The reason why only bosses give EXP at present is twofold:
1. We didn't want for players to have incentive to farm/grind smaller monsters.
2. We wanted to reward players for larger-picture task completion rather than all the minutiae that goes into completing the larger task.
The idea was that that would give some more flexibility into how you'd go about completing the larger task, but in reality as this game has evolved what we're finding is that most BOSSES are actually part of the minutiae of completing all sorts of other tasks. They're still not as easy to farm as smaller monsters would have been, but it's still not an ideal situation by any stretch. And it ties into some other problems with the game-as-currently-implemented.
ADDITION OF BINARY CORE MISSIONS
This will be a major new addition to the game, and basically will provide the central "here's what to do next" guidance that is currently so lacking from the game. I really like sandbox games, and this game will always be a sandbox title in a lot of respects, but there needs to be some central thread to hold all the other sandboxy bits on.
In AI War, which is also somewhat sandboxy in a lot of respects, the goal is implicit because you have a clear foe that is trying to kill you and who you are trying to kill. But ALL the details in between that end goal and your starting position are pretty much left up to you, which is great for hardcore grognards (like me, I might note) but kind of stressed out some other players. I remember RCIX, a longtime AI War player, talking about that as his biggest gripe, and he wasn't alone. I think that the Fallen Spire campaign was really popular with some players partly because of this very phenomenon.
Anyway, but that's AI War -- as a strategy game, making it pretty open-ended works for a lot of people because it's really freeing and makes you feel MORE like a commander. For AVWW, though, it's not a strategy game at core. So that means that the freedom tends to make most people (including myself, I should again note) feel kind of aimless rather than empowered. I have a blast with AVWW just with the visceral nature of the mechanics themselves, and it's fun to play with new enemies and spells and all that, but a lot of players, including myself, want something deeper. Which we've always planned on providing, I should again note. This is still early beta, after all.
Having a central thread of missions for the game is more of a new idea, though, in the last few weeks. I keep thinking about Red Faction: Guerrilla and how much I loved the flow of that game: the central story missions are what advanced the state of that world, but there were all these side missions that I could do at any time, plus just general exploration and such. Kind of like with GTA, you could just piss off the authorities and go on a romp if that's what you felt like doing.
Right now I think that AVWW takes that sort of sandbox spirit that those other games have, but without a central thread of missions that's something that winds up being pretty aimless. Personally I played a lot of the original GTA and GTA2 and _never_ did the missions in them, so that's actually not super unappealing to me, but to some folks it really is. And I find myself wanting some tough goals, in an AI War sense, to make interesting choices with. With AI War, even though it's unstructured how you have to beat the AI, you can't just wander around and do everything because of the AI Progress and the fierce opportunity costs that come with every choice you make.
That's what I'm looking for here, rather than story missions per se. Because this is a game about infinite play, and doing whatever you want, and so literal linear story-type missions don't make a lot of sense in that context. We do plan to have a lot of story-type missions revolving around Personas, but that's really more Keith's area and I see those as either slotting in as occasional core missions or else being an entirely optional thread of the world that you can tug at if you're inclined to do so (with their own attendant rewards, of course, making them attractive as a way to pump yourself up for the core missions if you need to; but I'm getting ahead of myself now).
What makes the core missions "binary?" Well, there will always be exactly two of them available to you in the world, rather than one as in most linear titles. This was suggested by a player, and at the moment I forget who, but it's a really cool idea. I think the example given was some similar mechanics for the story missions in Starcraft II. Anyway, when you complete one of the two available missions, you get a reward connected to that mission, but lose out on the chance to complete the other mission and get its reward.
So, right there -- bam, fairly obvious opportunity cost. You're choosing how to affect the world around you, and you can't just "do it all."
CORE MISSIONS REPLACING EXP
The next benefit of these core missions is that completing a mission would be a major watershed thing to do. Each mission would be HARD. At least past the earliest stages of the game. And since you can't grind EXP (which would no longer exist), you can't just overlevel these to make them trivially easy.
Just how would you gain civilization levels, then? Well, completing a core mission would increase your civilization level by 1, with all the various benefits that currently come with that. This gets back to our core desire to reward players for making major progress in the game, rather than the minutiae along the way.
WHAT IS A CORE MISSION, ANYWAY?
Well, it could be a lot of different things in the details, but the broad outline is that it's some form of special semi-scripted challenge that takes a sustained expedition to overcome. These missions would occupy an entire region tile, I'm thinking, and everything in that region would be centered around the mission itself.
Based on the discussion in the Rethinking Warp Mechanics thread, I'm really realizing that in these missions the warp abilities need to not work at all. Thus you get the sustained challenges that the game is currently lacking, possibly without having to mess with the warp mechanics that are so convenient elsewhere in the game.
Mission regions would be inherently smaller than normal regions (aka not infinite and not filled with lots of random buildings and whatever else), and they're not something you could whittle away at to the same degree that you currently can most areas. If you left a mission region, or lose in it, probably a lot of the enemies would come back... or something along those lines. That part still needs the details figured out, and frankly will probably need some playtesting and iterations to really make sure that it's fun and sufficiently challenging without being annoying.
I'll also be doing the mission scripting through xml, so players will be able to design their own missions like they are currently able to design room maps. Unlike the intro mission, there will be a much heavier procedural element to these missions (as with the room maps already, actually), making it so that these can be reused a lot more effectively and will seem at least somewhat different each time. Thus preserving that infinite-play goal, compared to some sort of linear story progression. I think that will be a lot of fun all around.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CAN'T BEAT A CORE MISSION?
This is where the AI War style sandbox comes back into play. The core missions will always be harder than you can initially deal with (hopefully, anyhow). So to take on a core mission, you can't just go run right into the mission to beat it and move on to the next. You'll need to spend your time on various side quests, gathering materials and crafting new stuff, or finding other various supplies, or using your NPCs to do various things, to make it so that you can survive the next core mission and come out victorious on the other side.
So the core missions wind up occupying this conceptual space of "here's the next big thing I have to do, but I'm nowhere near able to do that just yet," and meanwhile you go about making yourself stronger in various ways to tackle the mission. Kind of like when the next ARS is on a Mark IV planet, and you have to figure out exactly how you want to structure your forces and then go after it. And if you fail, well, then you re-tool and try again.
Given that this isn't actually a strategy game there isn't an opportunity cost to _everything_, unlike AI War, and avatar improvement plays a role in place of certain strategic concerns as is common in RPGs or adventure games. But there will be opportunity costs to the various methods of avatar improvement, which I'll get into in a subsequent post (and which the whiteboard flow chart hints at in various major ways, based on ideas from other threads in this brainstorming forum from the last couple of days).