November 2nd, 2005


CoH/CoV: PvP Done Right

Sorry, got distracted ... new game, then the holiday, then the mess from having a new game and a holiday at the same time. Nothing makes me feel less like writing than having a kitchen full of dirty dishes that I don't want to deal with, or a mess all over the house because the trash hasn't gone out. Where was I?

City of Heroes and City of Villains are played on the same servers, so of course there's some player versus player (PvP) combat. Which is hardly a major innovation, almost every massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMPORG) has some player versus player combat. You probably don't remember this, since it was almost two years ago, but I started playing Star Wars: Galaxies in no small part because it started out with a really interesting concept for PvP in an ongoing role-playing game. However, since MMPORG players suck, organized protest campaigns and boycott threats persuaded them to change it all around so that it was just like every other MMPORG on the market. That is to say, they changed it so that the people who get away with cheating, with automated scripts to level up their characters and collect the most powerful weapons, get to use their cheated-for powers to beat up the honest players on the playground over and over again, in fights where the honest players have no meaningful chance of surviving, let alone winning, in a game where beating another player in combat has serious enough consequences that the cyber-bullies can pretty much count on ruining at least a couple of peoples' whole night's worth of gaming per hour.

And then there's City of Heroes/Villains, thank Prime. Which is everything that PvP in a roleplaying game with character levels ought to be. There is no organized culture of cheaters using scripts to power-level their characters. Even if somebody did, all PvP zones have "leveling" mechanisms that act to bring characters' levels closer together, to give a weaker character at least some chance to escape from an ambush by stronger characters. Nothing personal is at stake; losing a fight costs you nothing but a couple of minutes of time before you can go right back to whatever you were doing. Despite this, PvP isn't pointless. You don't have the power to hurt individual players, but each fight you win makes a visible difference in some part of the game for your side, the heroes or the villains, or grants you or your supergroup or your side some small but useful benefit. And most importantly of all, PvP is entirely, and I mean entirely, optional. If you don't want to do it, you'll never miss it.

That's a tough balance to hit! I'm seriously impressed. Collapse )

I expect the crying from the power-leveling griefers to start by the end of the year. But unlike Sony, who are total whores, the team at Cryptic and NCsoft have a pretty firm will when it comes to their creative vision of the game. I've heard it joked that in most MMPORGs, the real player versus player combat takes place in the game's offline discussion forums, because that's where the various sides and the various character classes lobby the designers to make them more powerful and their enemies weaker. Well, I can tell you that so far, Cryptic has almost never caved in to pressure -- to the best of my knowledge, never on a matter of creative design, and only very, very rarely when many months' worth of people have offered rock-solid evidence that some part of their game isn't achieving whatever design goal they intended for it. So maybe this one will stay cool for a lot longer than SWG or Neocron did.