Factions as Fiction: WildStar

The latest WildStar update from Chad Moore a.k.a. Pappylicious blows away many of the walls that prevent Exile and Dominion players from adventuring together. In their most recent update, “Redmoon Mutiny: New Features Coming to PTR“, the Carbine Studios staff reveal that cross-faction functionality will be available in the following areas:

  • Groups
  • Raid groups
  • PvP arena teams
  • Guilds
  • Circles
  • Neighbors
  • Friends

Rift did the same thing over four years ago with its 1.10 update, Factions as Fiction, in which the Ascended decided that perhaps they didn’t hate each other as much as they thought they did and thus proceeded to gallivant off into the wild beyond in search of strife and terrible monsters. With a snap of the fingers and a wave of the wand, players woke up to a world that had changed dramatically: seeing the “other” faction in person and in chat channels is now a Good Thing. If you still think it’s a Bad Thing, well, that sounds like a personal problem.

The lore for this is equally easy on Nexus: the Exiles and the Dominion have decided to form a pragmatic alliance and take on mutual threats. Not only does this allow the two factions to romp around the world together – and have an easier time forming groups – it also formally legitimizes a greater range of role-playing self-expression in terms of one’s attitude toward and relationship with the opposing side: e.g. uneasy collaborator, indifferent profiteering smuggler, optimistic diplomat. It leads to greater dynamism all around and makes informal, on-the-spot teamwork more likely, the way it should be in any healthy game not predicated on non-consensual player combat that values a unified player base.

The upshot is that those red player names in Nexus chat will be eligible for group invitations. You can lounge in your Mechari neighbors’ metal-plated backyard and invite those obnoxiously cute Aurin over for tea. You can go a-plunderin’ with a gaggle of naughty Chua as long as you’re not in an adventure or world story instance. The addition of PvP leaderboards and cross-faction arena teams just might encourage a revival of the all-but-dead arena scene. And after they’re done slaughtering each other in the mosh pit, Cassians and Humans can hold hands with everyone on their friends list as they walk back to Algoroc and Ellevar, much to the chagrin of their somewhat more zealous overlords and/or clergy.

When we play MMOs, we’re able to mentally juggle and accept the selective reality of mutually conflicting and temporally misaligned events in various stages of completion without much difficulty. Blurring the lines between factions is no different – indeed, it’s a stage of progressive game development which embraces growth and incentivizes both ad-hoc and structured collaboration. Everybody wins.

Calling a Hit Point a Smeerp

“A good-enough [post] violently written now is better than a perfect [post] meticulously written never.” – Elizabeth Gilbert on novels, modified

Psychochild recently discussed doing away with hit points. To my armchair game developer’s eyes, at first glance this would seem to me to be the product of wishful thinking; however, Mr. Green is an experienced game developer and this therefore merits closer inspection. Reigning World Commenting Champion Bhagpuss suggested that this is semantics. While I am personally not interested in the epistemology behind this, I would agree that semantics play a large role in such a discussion insofar as the attempt to design away hit points is very prone to the trope of Calling a Hit Point a Smeerp due to the enormously useful role they play.

Toughness, resilience, fatigue, vitality: any of these may be substituted for “hit points” or “health” without fundamentally altering the basic notion of numbers as a convenient form of shorthand readily understood by humans for determining win/lose, failure/success, or victory/defeat conditions, whatever you like to call them. (Semantics, indeed.) Reduce them to zero and you are done. By comparison, using numbers to represent levels is rather less scalar than one might be led to believe: they may represent an amalgam of things such as they do in stock Oblivion, where gaining five of anything results in a level up; or they may function as a temporary placeholder for levels by another name, e.g. item levels, such as in post-level cap Final Fantasy 14. Designing away levels is therefore not terribly problematic because they can represent a variety of notions with regard to how powerful a character is presumed to be and thus have a large pool of notional equivalents or approximations.

Hit points, on the other hand, are an objective measure of how dead you are. They are the beating of your heart. For those of us who are not pursuing a degree in cardiology, moving beyond one’s pulse opens up a world of possibilities that implicitly assume continued blood supply to the body without having to constantly reference it. Correspondingly, there are a myriad of systems which have been designed that downplay the fundamental primacy of hit points. There are two that immediately come to my mind: Hearthstone and Achaea. Hearthstone is a well-known trading card game; Achaea is a long-lived MUD which uses afflictions, pipes, salves and so forth in a complex system of play and counterplay (to the point that a client and prepackaged script library are recommended to be able to keep up defensively).

Neither of these games has innovated in the domain of player health and yet both offer a play experience that is substantially different from that found in Eorzea, a crushingly beautiful world overpopulated by hit point sponges. It was not necessary in these cases to redesign the fundamentally binary status indicator that hit points represent; acknowledging that health bar whittling may not be enjoyable for the non-woodworking enthusiasts among us is sufficient as a first step.