Good morning you happy people out there. I joked yesterday about opening a real life air rift, but in reality I guess it felt a bit like that. We managed to get through the storm relatively unscathed, but not everyone did. Yesterday the report was that roughly 100,000 customers were without power, and in on the drive in there were numerous intersections that were reduced to four way stops. The neighbor across the street lost the entire fence on the front part of his yard, and the shopping center my favorite game store is in was pretty much demolished by the winds. It is so odd to have tornadic style damage without the Tornado.
Race and Class Restrictions
Yesterday Rowan posted a thought provoking pieces on whether or not there should be class and race restrictions in games. Namely this was spawned by Wildstar, but the question carries over to every game. Why does it make sense that fanatical characters should be limited by some sort of pseudo real world logic? In an example he gives… why CAN’T a robot do magic… isn’t that just imposing some kind of logic on fantasy gaming that doesn’t really exist? Is it not just as fantastical that humans can perform magic?
Ultimately I am against class and race restrictions… but even more so I am against faction based restrictions. My general theory is… that in every situation… ideology never breaks down solely along racial boundaries. There will always be people that play across the lines and are branded as either Sell-swords at the best, or Traitors at the worst by their own faction. One of the worst experiences you can have is when a new game comes out… and you are super pumped about one specific race… only to find out that every single friend you have wants to play the OTHER faction.
My mantra has been anything that gets in the way of you playing with your friends is bad. Faction based race restrictions get in the way of you playing what you want to play… and also playing with your friends that might have different tastes. I will go one step further and say that Factions in general… are generally bad, but more so games that try and set up an artificial “red versus blue” faction wall. That essentially feels like imposing artificial limitations on your players just to solve poor design problems. If have to rely on polarized faction based combat to keep your game moving, you made some bad decisions somewhere along the process.
Abolish Faction Walls
Some of the most liberating gaming experiences I have had come from games with much more flexible factional boundaries. The Everquest series probably takes the cake for its ability to give the player malleable faction alignments. Essentially you start out as either aligned as an Evil race or a Good race… and that sets up certain default racial relations that you have with other factions in the world. Given the time and the inclination… you can perform tasks that will alter these boundaries through lots and lots of player faction work.
Iksar for example started off hated by everything and could do business nowhere but the neutral Nexus and Cabilis their home city. However I had a friend who through lots of work managed to become maximum reputation with the Halflings… and he was treated as a favored guest in their territory. I myself took my Half Elf ranger which is natively a good aligned race… and managed to get him the same reputation with the Evil Erudite city of Paineel. This experience of letting the player dictate their alliances through their interactions with the world is the best possible scenario I have seen. Sadly… no one since has adopted this model.
In Everquest 2 you had something similar… defacto good vs evil racial set up… but over the course of the game you could decide to betray your home faction and begin gaining rep with the other. While this was not as rich and robust as the Everquest system… it was still a far better choice than the archaic “red versus blue” mentality. Additionally no where in the Everquest realm are you ever limited in who you can group with, communicate with, and trade with. All players can interact regardless of their personal choices.
Faction as Fiction
Singlehandedly one of the best choices Trion has ever made with Rift is to release the fabled “Faction as Fiction” patch abolishing strict faction walls in that game. While not as open as a game like Everquest that was designed NOT to have firm factions, it was a great way to “hack” that functionality into an existing game. Essentially in one pass they allowed Guardian and Defiant characters to group and guild freely, and set up a new neutral three faction based PVP system called Conquest. Players essentially act as mercenaries for three different political factions and wage proxy battles for them.
I feel like this decision point more than anything has allowed House Stalwart to grow so much recently. Many of the players that we were pulling in, tried it shortly after the release of Rift, but felt limited by the race and faction based choices. We were a Defiant guild, but many players just feel more comfortable with the kinder, gentler, greener… Guardian starter experience. Being able to tell them that “faction no longer matters” has almost become a rallying call as I get new folks invested in the game again.
I cannot help but think that games like World of Warcraft and Wildstar would not be far better served if they threw off the mantle of “red versus blue” and embraced letting players choose their own alignments. While we have extremely rabid Horde and Alliance players… I was one of those players that had friends on both sides of the pond. When Stalwart originally launched with the release of WoW, we had an Alliance Guild on Argent Dawn and a Horde Guild on Silverhand. The intent was to play in both places, so that we could stay together… but over time the majority greatly favored Alliance… leaving a skeleton crew manning the Horde bulwarks.
So instead of having like Fifty players all happy and acting together… we had 35 happy alliance players, and 15 unhappy horde players that felt abandoned. Any design choice that forces potentially pits players against their friends… is ultimately a bad one for the sake of building long lasting communities. Had we been able to BE an Alliance guild, but also had a number of “Horde” race sell-swords… I feel as though this would not have been a problem. The players didn’t care about the faction… they cared about the available races to play… and ultimately went to the side that they could play what they wanted to.
One of the biggest detractors for me in everything I have heard about Elder Scrolls Online is the fact that once again there will be three distinct and insular faction groups. While choosing which faction to align to was easy for me… since I always play a Nord, Argonian or a Dunmer… it will not be quite so easy for my friends. I have a few friends that prefer Altmer for example… and I tend to go out of my way to kill them when playing Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls is a setting where there have NEVER been absolute race based factional boundaries. There are always Nords that are willing to sell their blade to the highest bidder, as well as Altmer that throw off their heritage and adventure freely in the world.
My biggest hope is that there will be a way for my friends to be in Ebonheart Pact where I plan on building the House Stalwart guild… but be able to play whatever they want to play. This will ultimately determine whether or not a Stalwart guild succeeds in this game. I realize that this is probably just a pipe dream, because everything that we have seen to this point seems to enforce the strict racial boundaries. But I guess I can hope… I realize factional boundaries are easy for companies to enforce, that they greatly simplify many aspects of the game. However this does not stop me from feeling like they are bad for the players.
ESO is still a long ways off, so I have the smallest glimmer of hope that they might rethink the firm racial limits, however Wildstar feels as though it is right around the corner and has set up the same tired walls. We are going through the same problems with that game as we have every other faction based title. Granted I am only really mildly interested in the game… but various Stalwarts are EXTREMELY interested. The problem is… each of us seems to natively align ideologically with one faction or the other… and currently it the sentiments seem to split down the middle. All of this is generally because we prefer to play one type of race over another. They could really serve to take a book from Trion and make guilds transcend factional boundaries.
While we are on pipedreams… one of the biggest flaws in The Secret World is the fact that Cabals are faction locked. This game is so liberating in certain fashions… you can group with any player on any faction or shard. However the fact that their guild system is limited based on a specific faction really throws a monkey wrench in this whole openness scenario. It has essentially forced guilds to manage three separate factional units… and then try and communicate between them using server channels. Everything would have been far simpler had they just said that cabals were free floating. I really hope this is a decision they revisit in the near future.
Well it is that time again… I have wasted another perfectly good morning rambling on. I had intended to talk about all the awesomeness that we did last night as a guild, but that yarn can wait for another day. On a related note however.. I totally suggest you check out Fynralyl’s blog post about her entry into the guild and reentry into Rift in general. Warms my heart to see that folks are enjoying themselves in an environment I have pulled together. Any questions I had as to whether or not forming a House Stalwart in Rift was a good idea… have long since gone out the window. I hope you guys have a great day, and that the weekend comes quickly.