Developer Diary: SoM Skirmishes: Overview by Zombie Columbus
While information about Skirmishes System are still coming, Zombie Columbus has unvield most of details in the latest Developer Diary: SoM Skirmishes: Overview.
Skirmishes are short, accessible, randomized, scalable, story instances with incremental rewards. Why Skirmishes became this can best be explained by discussing what the designerâs goals for the system are. Everything we added to Skirmishes was done with a high level âvisionâ in mind. By sharing this vision with you, I hope that you will see why we made the choices we did, and how we ended up where we are now. Our goals were to:
- Create finely crafted instance content that can be played by different group sizes and levels.
- Keep play-time short, allowing Skirmishes to fit into other activity cycles. Internally we've called them- "Pop-corn" experiences. If one is short and good, why not try another?
- Add randomized elements into Skirmishes to keep replays interesting.
- Encourage a rotational play of Skirmishes, to keep them fresh and prevent them from overshadowing existing playstyles. Skirmishes should complement the game, not alter it!
- Set up an incremental reward structure, like the instance barter systems.
- Allow players to feel that any amount of play time was a step closer to a desired reward.
- Give players a feeling of participating in epic struggles, and of being leaders of small armies.
Lofty goals to say the least; we arenât the first to try randomized, scaling gameplay. The benefit to players can be great, though, which is why it is attempted as often as it is. We've been working on Skirmishes for nearly a year now, doing significant amounts of iteration, re-design, testing, and feedback collection from both developers and our Isengard players. Each sub-system was designed to work toward the above high-level goals.
The initial design that eventually became Skirmishes began during a walk I went on with fellow designer Rhidden, not long after Moria's release. We mused about how we could put a fun sub-game inside LOTRO, using mostly existing tools, tech and art. I was playing a lot of Tower Defense inspired games at the time and Rhidden was interested in riffing on the popular Battle Instances. Mixing those and other inspirations together, we came up with the idea for LOTRO instances where the player would set up soldiers and siege weapons and use them against waves of incoming enemies. Some clunky ways to upgrade the soldiers and siege weapons were discussed, and we decided that putting the ideas together in a formal pitch might get them into the game. We put together a design document, circled it around the team a bit, got some feedback, and waited.
As I mentioned, Turbine had just launched Moria, so there was still some room in the next expansion for original ideas like ours. It was our hope that our pet project could get into the mix and become a small addition to the game. Other designers put forward ideas for the extra room in the expansion, extending existing systems, or creating other new ones. All of these ideas were about to enter a Battle Royale. What followed was a text-book example of the saying: "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." I think it's safe to add game design to that list...
Our lives for the next few weeks consisted of many meetings, discussions, proposals, counter-proposals, committees, sub-committees, e-mails and hallway discussions. Our little pet project expanded and changed in many ways, integrating ideas from all around the company, and eventually took shape as a marquee feature of the next expansion. Two of the bigger changes were Rhidden cycling off onto other projects, and jwbarry joining the team. He brought in some fresh perspective, a knack for making things work, and an emphasis on more story-oriented content. As the project gained momentum, we were allocated additional resources and people from inside the company, and soon the newly named Skirmish system was on track to be a significant addition to LOTROâs next expansion.
So, with all that out of the way, weâre ready to discuss the real nitty-gritty guts of the Skirmish system. We can say we want to keep Skirmishes from overshadowing other gameplay styles, but how can we work to that goal? As we publish more installments to this diary, various aspects of the Skirmish system will be elaborated on. As with all MMO development, we expect to change the systems and content we have in place based on player feedback â systems that work perfectly on one scale can behave very differently once released onto the live servers, with many players bringing their unique playstyles to the mix. We may even decide some of our high level goals are no longer valid. To me, this is a large amount of the fun and challenge of working on MMOâs -- change is just part of the game. We hope that you enjoy the change that Skirmishes represent!