There are "rock stars" in the video games industry - personalities that stand out and possibly even made a game that was good. There are definitely gods - Will Wright, Sid Meier, and Richard Garriott just to name a few. These defined an entire genre of gaming that stands to this day. Then there are the demigods, the lesser knowns without whom the systems that define the games we know and love simply wouldn't exist. Like say…loot. Like say the loot system in the granddaddy RPG of all time: Diablo II. Ok, so he was lead designer on the entire game but it was his design that has influenced loot drops to this day. This is where I'm supposed to mention his name I think…
Perhaps the most famous demigod is Hercules: mover of mountains, flamboyant, imposing. Stieg Hedlund (see, I did get to his name) looks exactly as his name would indicate…lithe, tall and Nordic! Or Swedish! Or Danish? Something Scandinavian…but certainly not Roman. And unlike his herculean counterpart he's rather humble and modest; this isn't to say you can't draw him into some wonderful conversations about what he's most passionate! Rock star he isn't! Demigod working on a game of demigods…with the herculean task of creating a good MMOG loot system. Gee, no pressure.
In a game that will ship without crafting, "it doesn't exactly fit the world to have demigods fighting the Telchine but stopping along the way to mine ore", but with a unique minion system (I have at least 121 additional "characters" to outfit!) what exactly makes a good loot system?
"We decided to go with a hybrid loot system. We'll have both random loot and targeted loot - items you know will drop from a specific creature - but the rest will be completely variable. The idea is to find rewards that you can use right away, others you'll want to save for later and still others that will be used to sell for money. The loot isn't tied to the person looting it, either. There's every chance you'll find something completely useless for you but very useful for a friend."
This all sounds fine and dandy unless the game is one of those where there are no consumables and you can stay in the field indefinitely. Backpack of infinite holding anyone? Stieg reassured us rather quickly.
"Of course we want you to be able to stay in the field and play but it doesn't make sense from a world perspective for your character to be out indefinitely. From a game perspective, there needs to be some mechanism to encourage sociability, economics…all of the interactions that require players.
You'll have packs of varying sizes with slots that will change as your character adapts. You'll have to make decisions about which loot you want to keep. Is this something for later use? Is this something to give to a random new player in town?
And, there will be consumables. We've not yet finished determining exactly what those are and their balance in the world, but you'll need to return to social points at least occasionally."
So, what about those minions? What's it going to take to outfit your own personal army? And will my minion X look different from your minion X?
"Minions will have equipment you can buy from the Custos Armorum (minion outfitter). Otherwise, we'll end up with the exact problem we're trying to avoid - people hoarding loot and not passing it off to other players directly, through trade, auctions or in shops. There would be no motivation if you needed to keep it all for your minions.
When we say that minions have a "Pokйmon" effect, it's really what we mean. I have a Pikachu and so do you. We just have Pikachu at different levels of development."
Just how cool is the loot? I wish I could show you some of the items I've picked up in the play time they've given me. Stieg didn't offer the number of variables for loot quality but did state they wouldn't be as arcane as number crunching to what is good against various elements and the like.
"We'll have four levels, from quality to exceptional. And the styles are very deliberately designed to appeal to specific class. Your armor will show assets based upon your class and gender."
This made all good sense to me based upon the world. Of course a gladiator will be wearing armor best suited to a gladiator but won't that give away some of the mystery of his skill?
"Items won't be restricted by class; if you choose to wear something outside your class, you simply won't get the benefit that may come with it. This also has the advantage of "social clothing". You can wear whatever you'd like when not in battle."
Then he mentioned the cool part.
"Our armor is user-tonable."
"It takes the hues of the character you've created and adjusts accordingly. So even though 4 people may have the exact same item, it will look different for each of them."
I get goose bumps thinking about this. I can quest or hunt or trade for my matching set of tonable armor!
Yet, there's one last piece of "unique" loot in this game…the Pokйmon, uh minions. I mentioned this before in our GDC Preview but minions can be traded.
"Minions vary in quality like any other "loot" in game. They have different levels and are available at a varied frequency. Most can be acquired through a pactum bellicum - a contract. You'll have to fulfill the requirements of the contract in order to receive the minion. The contracts then become tradable."
Ok…last question. When playing the game during GDC I came upon random chests in the wilderness. What's up with that?
"Yes, there are chests as a reward for exploring. They're permanent spawns and I suppose if you really want to you could just pull from them over and over. But, I'm sure you noticed they weren't in the safest of areas and the loot was commensurate to the level you should be when hunting that area."
Indeed I did. The wolves handed my…pike to me several times when I was trying to look at the loot.
It was hard to keep our time with Stieg focused; there are simply so many systems in the game I wanted to talk with him about! Too many things to explore in such a short time!
But, as described, the loot system for G&H fills my personal requirements for cool. It's got that great "slot-machine" effect that keeps me coming back for more; I can use anything I want (I just may not get any benefit from it); it's got shinies!; it's customizable right down to the avatar level; you've got to pick and choose - keep, sell, auction or donate - all great for encouraging socialization; did I mention it's got the shinies?
Oh, and I get to trade minions. It's like Pokйmon in Rome…'cept you get to dress up…and kill things…and pay tithes to the gods. Ok…it's not at all like Pokйmon in Rome. But, I am so very glad that it's not Hercules, but Hedlund who Perpetual is aligned with.
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.