About the Art system

Art System Window
The window dedicated to Arts: simple!

I’ve been working lately on the Art system implementation. It took some time to code it, but most of the work actually went into its design. The window in the screenshot above is not fully self-explanatory, so let’s talk a bit about this system, and what it provides.

Why it exists

Usually, MMOs and online RPGs tend to be very restrictive when it comes to what they allow players to do. Crafting jobs are limited in number or levels, you can’t change your class or use a weapon other than the intended one(s), etc. While I can live with such limits, I rarely like them, mostly because if you want to experience what is beyond them, they become a cheap way to force you to consume again the same content with another class/job/whatever by creating an alt. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of about MMOs, it’s that they already take more than enough time for a single character.

As you can guess after reading the previous paragraph, I didn’t want to put too many limits regarding how characters can be built in Metaworld. Or rather, in this case, I didn’t want to put too many locks that couldn’t be removed. The Art system is the key for these locks.

How it works

A new player does not know any Art. It’s a novice that can’t do much until it acquires some bits of knowledge about how to use a weapon or a tool, what will be done by starting to research Arts.
The mechanic behind Arts is very simple. Pick an Art, research it, and after some time (whether you’re online or offline), it will be complete, and you’ll have access to new items, classes, etc. It’s a core part of Metaworld’s character progression.

Once a player has acquired the first level of whatever it may want to try, the research time start to increase drastically. Most of the first Art levels take around 5~15 minutes of research. Level 2 rise to ~40 minutes, Level 3 to ~2 hours, and so on. The higher the level of an Art, the more time it will require to be researched. Needless to say, higer levels can take up to days. Oh, and there isn’t any upper limit to Art levels.

The time resource will encourage players to make choices about how much they’ll level a class or equipment. They can be jacks of all trades, but can also be very specialized. A new player can quickly be efficient if it goes straight to his Art goals.

Aren’t early players advantaged?

Take two players. Because the researches are done in real time, the one who started first is indeed advantaged as it could have learned more Art levels. But, that will be true only if none of these two players interacted with other “teacher” players, since there are actually two ways to lower the research duration:
– to be taught an Art by someone who already knows it,
– to use a book to learn an Art, book that can only be written/crafted by someone who already knows it.
Both of these methods involve other players who have either different Arts levelled, or have been playing longer than the learner do. There are no drawbacks for the learner, but the teacher/writer has some, so be prepared to see an economy based on Art transmission in the game :)

And that’s all for now. I tried to summarize as much as possible the essence of the Art system. I’ll gladly answer any question.

Answers to ten weird questions

Something I’m regularly doing when not working on Metaworld is reading forums/sites dedicated to online RPGs and MMOs, and try to answer the questions asked there, as if they were directed towards the game I develop. It’s something really interesting to do, since it’s forcing you to look at what you develop from another angle, and gives an indication of how far you’ve thought your game design or overall player experience.
For once, I’ll write and share the answers. These questions come from the site MassivelyOP, and more specifically this article about ten weird questions, that was published earlier today. If you’re interested in MMOs and online games in general, and does not already know about MassivelyOP (or its former self, Massively), I highly recommend this site!

Please note that all the informations I’m giving here are real, and based on Metaworld’s current game design, but of course, they might undergo some changes as I’ll progress in the development:

1. How easy is it for enemies to knock me off my mount?

It is not possible to be knocked off of a mount, however, your mount (or balloon/boat) will take damage and slow down the more it is hurt/damaged, until killed or destroyed, so it might be best not to let it take too much damage. Especially if you’re using a balloon, considering the potential fall damage.

2. Will I have a choice of weapons?

Metaworld’s class logic is inverted compared to the usual one used in online RPGs, it’s not the class that determines the weapon, but the weapon that determines the class(es). Let’s take the ‘staff’ and the ‘bo’ as examples: if you use a staff, you can pick either the Arbiter or the Warden class, whereas if you use a bo, you can pick between the Warden and Warrior classes. The staff-user Warden and the bo-user Warden are variants of the Warden class. They’re not exactly the same regarding skillsets, and they’re balanced individually, but the core remains the same. If you don’t consider variants as separate classes – and you shouldn’t in my opinion – then yes, there will be a choice of weapons.

3. Where’s the screenshot key and folder?

By default it’s the F12 key, and the screenshot are stored in the “my documents” folder. On this screenshot, it’s not in “my documents” for the simple reason that this folder is set to the D: disk drive on my computer:

Screenshot tab
The dedicated screenshot tab with all of its current options.

4. What’s the most popular class?

Considering that some classes are starting classes, and that others can only be accessed by playing and getting the weapons and arts making them available, I’m 100% sure that the most popular ones will be the starting classes. In case you wonder, the main purpose of arts is to allow the usage of equipments, weapons and tools.

5. Do you have an insane dev on staff who thinks that jumping puzzles are the bee’s knees?

Huh, no, unless you consider column-like terrain artifacts to be jumping puzzles.

6. Where are your patch notes?

Patch notes will be accessible through an in-game window. It might seem like an invasion of the game technicality into the virtual world, but Metaworld is not a game using the suspension of disbelief. It’s just a virtual world with its own logic, and it is shown as it is.

7. How toxic and/or welcoming is your community?

So far the community – composed of a tremendous count of 5 players – has been focused on killing and resurrecting each others (then repeat), failing to kill mobs, “anonymously” insulting people in the chat, and competing for the first player to reach the highest moutain. So, yeah, it’s probably the most toxic community ever considering the evilness to player ratio.

9. What one or two stats do I need to concentrate on?

Depends of the class, but thanks to this question, I’ll probably add an in-game helper for beginners. Please note that the class system is made to allow multiple viable build and will probably also depends of a metagame, so it’s likely to be very variable.

10. Are there any red flags for your game’s future operation?

Does not being out yet count as one?

Improving the combat system

If you watched the previous video (here on YouTube), you might have noticed that the combat looked a bit dull. There were multiple causes to it:
– click targetting,
– long skill cooldowns,
– no auto-attacks,
– move-locked skills,
– characters drew their weapons for an attack, then immediately put it away,
– reworked UI.

I’ll detail all of these points, but for now, let’s start with the video:

Adding tab targetting

Tab targetting is something that is well-known to players. If you’ve ever played an MMORPG, there are good chances it used tab-targetting for target selection. While some players feel that such systems have been overused, and wish for more actiony ones, it’s still used daily by millions of players (WoW, FFXIV…), and remains one of the more precise and quick way to select a target.
With this addition, the combat is more maniable than with just the click targetting, that remains available.

Low-cooldown skills

Having no short cooldown skills or auto-attacks forced the players to move around a target to avoid being attacked. While it can be interesting in itself, it was 80% running for 20% skills… Which is a bit too much. The fact that the current classes didn’t had a lot of skills surely didn’t help, but still, I meant them to be representative, so, the fact that it didn’t feel good enough made it obvious that a rework was neededg.

Adding auto-attacks was tempting. It’s another well-known system consisting simply in having a weapon-based implicit skill dealing some damages on a regular basis, without the need for a player input other than start/stop. It’s not just use in some RPGs, but also in MOBAs and other genres.
I thought about this auto-attack option for quite some time, but came up with something I consider a bit more interesting in the form a low cost skill with a low cooldown (500 ms). Practically, it’s the same thing than an auto-attack, except that it requires a permanent key press or skill click to be activated. To bring some depth, there will be more than just one skill per weapon type, though players will have to choose only one. As you might guess, these different skills will have varying execution time and damage.

Combat in motion

This is certainly the biggest improvement of all, and one that cost me a lot of development time: the ability to use skills when moving. Modifying the animation system to allow this wasn’t easy (I might write a post about it, by the way), but totally worth it, since, as you can see in the video below, the combat is a lot more dynamic now, and even the player character looks more alive when following the target.

Fighting when moving around also implies that the angle of attack is now an important thing to consider. As before, when you’re idle, then initiate an attack, the game makes your character face its target. However, if you’re running around, it’s not something that can be done without changing where you’re going to – what could be potentially dangerous – thus, it is the player’s task to make the character face the right direction. Note that the system remains quite flexible, granted your target is not in your character’s back, as you can see in the video.

Also, regarding the “why should I move if I can stay put?” argument, I plan to add some bonuses for attacks done when moving. Nothing that could turn the tide of a combat, but bonuses big enough to make the difference between two players with similar builds.

Combat mode

“Combat mode” simply means that when a player starts using a weapon, it will stay in combat mode for some time, showing a drawn weapon even when running or being idle. At first, it might seem to be an eye candy – and it partly is – but this offensive stance will have an impact on both PvE and PvP. They don’t exist yet, but some skills will require to be in or out of combat mode to be used, the most notables probably being the stealth skills.

Reworked UI

The UI has been cleaned, a lot. The chatbox is now auto-hiding itself to avoid cluttering the screen more than necessary. In low resolutions such as 1280×720, the difference is quite visible. While the chatbox appearance is still the same than, I plan to rework it a later date.

The other big UI change is the transformation of the small player status bars (HP, MP…) that were on the top left of the screen into big and visible bars at the bottom center of the screen, under the default position of the hotbar. You’ll have to trust me on this one since few people have tested the first combat version, but having these informations more visible and accessible is a lot more comfortable aswell as helpful when it comes to understand what is going on and evaluating your chances of survival.

That’s all for now!

Picking a number of character attributes

There’s one thing that few game developers can avoid when working on an RPG, it’s designing attributes. As long as an RPG includes equipments with a progression curve using numbers, you have to give a mean to those numbers. Not only regarding the way they’re used internally to determine – for example – attack damage and defenses, but also if and how they’ll be exposed to the players to allow them to compare equipment and understand what is better. One of the notable decision is the “model” that a game will use for its attributes, model that mostly plays on the amount of attributes that the players will have to deal with.

Warning: text wall ahead.

Common attribute models

If I’ve only recently started to implement attributes meaning inside Metaworld, I’ve been working on them for quite some time, on paper. I did some research, and I identified five of these attribute models. Of course, all of them are abritrarily defined by me, but it helped me to categorize such things. If you’re thinking of any other, feel free to comment, I’d like to hear about it!

  • the simpler the better (15- attributes), aka the beginner-friendly model. Few, easy to grasp attributes such as attack, defense, hp, mp. Classic and efficient, found in a lot of games. Does not offer much in terms of build customization, it can be very limitating on the long run regarding equipment quality and diversity. So, Usually, it’s used by smaller games, or games focused on fun or short-term gameplay rather that long-term equipment build. An example: Cube World.
  • complexity is depth (35+ attributes), the more attributes you have, the more complex it is, the deeper it is. Even if it’s true that this option will bring a lot on the table, it can take some time for players to digest the use and meaning of all attributes, especially if they’re not named distinctevely enough. An example? When you have magic resist, magic resist, magic power, spell strike, magic fortitude, magic suppression, it’s a bit hard to expect the players to intuitively know what they’re used for (Aion, are you here?).
    Something I regularly saw in this case is that the attributes where duplicated for each damage type. You’ll have attack, defense, precision, etc, existing in different versions: physical attack, magic attack, physical defense, magic defense, etc. It helps to understand the attributes, but when overdone, it feels a bit cheap… ArcheAge is faulty of this for having three damage type, melee, range and magic, with plethora of duplicated attributes. It does not seem deep, it seems that every basic stat has been copy/pasted to grant a complexity to the game.
  • average all the way (15~35 attributes): games using a middle ground count of attributes, trying to bring the best of the two world, but bringing some of the worse too. While not exactly being beginner-friendly, the learning curve is not as steep as the more complex games. The build complexity is usually good, at least enough for many players to enjoy it on the long-term. Final Fantasy XIV or Star Wars The Old Republic, both being MMOs, are in this category.
  • composite attributes… Too few is shallow, too much is too complex… Other than going for the middle ground, there’s the possibility to regroup attributes to reduce their amount. Happens a lot in games using things such as “dexterity”, that will for example determine the critical rate, hit precision and evasion rate… All of the sub-attributes are being hidden, though. In this case, it’s obvious that the game need to have a clear explanation of what each attribute does. If my memory is not failing me, Diablo 1 had such a system.
  • hierarchical attributes, that are actually quite similar to composite attributes, except that both the parent and children attributes are modifiable. For example, you have a “Strength” attribute that increases HP, damage, etc, while HP and damage can still be modified individually. It makes the “Strength” attribute very valuable, while still offering granularity in the build. Something also used by ArcheAge.

Three details that are worth noting:
– some games are using a mix of these models, some only one.
– in most cases, there are attributes deemed “primary”, meaning that they’re more important than the other. It does not mean that other attributes are useless, but that those primary attributes are more powerful and visible. Having such a split helps player comprehension when having many attributes since it gives them something to focus on.
– there are some cases of “fake” attributes, that does not impact the gampleay, but are mostly informations given to the player that are deduced. It’s the case of the “DPS” attribute, that shows the damage per second, but is something players won’t have a direct impact on. However if they increase their damage, the DPS value would change in consequence.

Metaworld’s case

I’ve played Aion for quite some time, and while at its begins, it was rather tame on attributes (the balance between simplicity and depth was good), through the successive versions, their count have exploded up to the point that it ended up in the situation I described earlier with hard to understand attributes, and worse, no in-game explanation for them. Somehow, it convinced me that the primary goal I should have was to make attributes easy to identify, and, ideally, intuitive regarding their purpose.

If you look at this picture, you’ll see most of the Metaworld’s current attributes:

Metaworld character attributes
Current character attributes in Metaworld

Even without the labels, how most of these are used should be rather intuitive, except maybe for the three ones on the top left, that are skill damage values.

Other than all these attributes, what’s left to add are the HP and MP, aswell as HP and MP regen, that clearly don’t need explanations if you’re a bit used to games, and the life steal/magic absorb attributes thar aren’t named yet.

As you can see, I’m going for the average count model (close to the arbitrary upper bound with 32 attributes). I’m not interested by a tremendous amount of attributes since it would likely lead to a dilution of the player’s attention between many values, and a steep learning curve. Beside this, I also used the duplication model for four attributes: Attack, Precision, Critical and Defense, that are coming in two different versions corresponding to the two different types of damage that can be inflicted. And finally, I have somewhat composite attributes with the elemental resistances, since they indeed increase resistance towards an element, but all effects from this element also. Which means that increasing the Lightning Resistance will reduce damages of lightning type, but also reduce the chances to be hit by a paralysis effect, that is of lightning type.

I’m quite satisfied with the current set of attributes, but it wasn’t always like that (and there will come someone to say that it’s still unclear ^^). At first I used attributes such as “Cancelling”, “Nulling” and “Concentration”. While the last one can evoke something, it’s tricky to say for sure what it will do. However, the two first attributes… Good luck. I’d like to hear your ideas, just for fun (answers are next paragraph).

Any idea?

Cancelling and Nulling were actually the same attribute with two different temporary names. It was supposed to be an equivalent to an evasion of magic damages: have enough points of that and a bit of luck, and you don’t receive any damage. In the end, I merged this idea with the Evasion, that now allows one to dodge any kind of damage, as long as the player faces the damage source. The split between physical and magic evasion appeared to be somewhat unnecessary, and more restricting than interesting (use one? use both? probably none).
And regarding concentration, it was an attribute used to determine whether or not the player could be interrupted when casting a spell. Another name could have worked, but I went for another mechanic instead, thus removing the “problem”.

And done with this post. Talking about the number of character attributes can be a bit underwhelming, but in my opinion, it’s more important than what it seems to be for both accessibility and long-term investment of the players :)

Introduction to the weight system

Continuation of the work on characters.

If you have read my previous entry, you might have noticed that I pointed that playing with the character creation is something that I liked to do. I do, and I know that many other people do. At some point, I had to question myself. How could I put this fun into the game ? This question can be answered pretty easily : the game should allow characters appearance to change according to some factors. One of these factors that a player will be able to toy with is the character weight. A rather obvious one since it defines a lot of a character’s shape.

Currently, the weight system works through food buffs. If you’ve ever played a MMORPG, you’ve probably come accross food buffs. Things that you craft in cooking professions, that give you various bonuses. Usually, they’re not that great, but since I want cooking to have an important place in Metaworld (like crafting in general), these bonuses will be relatively strong. And coming with an additional effect to manage.
When a player consumes a food, it grants it a buff with a number of stacks and a buff timer. Those stacks grant the player bonuses when being consumed, what occurs when performing some action (mining, casting, attacking, resting, etc). If there are unused stacks at the end of the buff timer, they’ll disappear, but add some weight to the character.

The effects of additional weight have yet to be determined. But you can be sure that there will be both advantages and drawbacks. I don’t want extra weight to be considered like a bad or good thing, but as something that is part of character building, both visually and gameplay-wise.

And I’ll conclude this post with an image of what it’s looking like in-game. The way I’m making characters heavier or lighter is fairly basic, since it’s a simple scale on some voxels, yet it’s working well in my opinion :

Metaworld voxel character weight variation
Only 4 steps represented here, but it’s linear between each one.