The Dev myth of 3 Faction Warfare (and related errors)

Discussion in 'PlanetSide 2 Gameplay Discussion' started by Zan_Aus, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. Zan_Aus

    If you don't like wall-of-text posts or have a whine to voice then stop reading, this is only for those who like to meander through game design issues.

    I write this post from the perspective of a very dedicated Guild Wars 2 and PS2 player because many of the same problems we saw over in GW2 are repeating themselves in Planetside 2. They also occurred in a slightly different way in Aion (3 factions, one being NPC) and in EVE-Online (unlimited "factions"). The reason I bring GW2 into this topic is to show that the problem is not just an SOE or PS2 problem but a generic one to this game-play model. Other devs have the same problems.

    For now though the most directly comparable experience is GW2. In GW2 the factions are servers rather than empires on the same server but the end result was effectively the same. 3 sides battling it out on one multi-"continent" map. The emphasis in GW2 is on sieging fortress combined with some smaller bases and a smattering of open field combat much the same as PS2's bases.

    GW2 has a caravan mechanic to deliver resources rather than PS2's automated delivery of resources. The main difference is that resources are used to build bases and siege level weapons rather than fuel individual equipment, however, the difference is not that great.

    So ... on to PS2. Do I have a miracle solution to the following problem? Not really, I just felt like writing about it and some other issues with a few random thoughts for changes. Everything to follow is pretty simple stuff, I'm no rocket scientist and I'm just restating what everyone knows emotionally, if not intellectually.

    One of the key errors that PS2 makes is the same one that GW2 made, the assumption that 3 faction warfare works. Yes, this is a pretty core tenet and can't really be unwound, however game design decisions after this fact need to be made with the associated problem in mind.

    3 faction warfare is implemented based on the ideal that it will be a self correcting mechanism for population imbalance as well as the hope that it will make for more interesting, chaotic warfare by throwing more variables into the mix with multiple fronts. IE: 2 smaller populations will keep a larger faction in check by "ganging up on them" and with 3 populations you'll have at least 3 separate front lines rather than just 1 in a 2 faction game.

    Sadly this ignores the basic tenet of any fight, large or small, digital or real life. Don't fight a war on 2 fronts (or don't fight outnumbered). It hasn't worked for any empire of the past and it won't work for you.

    So what does this mean in GW or PS2? It means that by design and by natural flow it is in the interests of the largest faction to eliminate one of its enemies and this typically means the smallest faction first. A canny commander will do this deliberately and the natural flow of morale and victory and the bully factor will reinforce this pattern even if it isn't deliberate. One will bring the majority of one's firepower to bear on the faction that can be crushed most easily (smallest numbers, worst positioning on map, lowest morale or most disorganised). In an online game where there is respawn and no final victory this is effectively achieved by either demoralising the opposition to the point they give up or corralling them in a tight, easily managed square of land (warpgating in PS2 or home portal castle n GW2).

    So what is the second side doing during all this? Surely they can see that the aggressor will turns his attentions to them once he has crushed his smaller opponent? Best to step in now and help fight the larger opponent now while its still manageable right? Wrong.

    Through a combination of stupidity, fear, lack of communication and Neville Chamberlain'ing, the second side will more often than not be a willing accomplice to the larger aggressor. They act as opportunists and take snippets of leftovers from the weaker party's poorly defended side lands and generally act weakly against the larger. After all no one likes to be the victim and if we get too rowdy they might turn on us.

    In an online game we add the very real spectre of consequence-less faction hopping. In PS2 this is the ability to create a toon of all three factions on one server, in GW2 it was the ability to hop servers with your characters at no charge, at will. People like to win, hey, its a game, but I am pretty sure I don't need to explain bandwaggoning here.

    Related Errors
    Snowballing is the next error. Game devs design a system of rewards for success and (dementedly) punishments for failure. I'm not sure why they do this, my best guess is long held tropes regarding psychology of game rewards and providing carrots for action to gameplayers. Rewards are good but not when they:
    a) Affect the fairness of individual combat
    b) Snowball the process of one side being crushed.

    People say "Oh but I need a reward for all my hard work in defeating the enemy, I deserve a bonus, after all, I proved myself the stronger side (note I didn't say better player)". Sure, no problem, but whatever that reward is, shouldn't create a snowball effect, bad for game, especially seeing as the snowball is a multiplier on the 3-faction problem.

    In GW2 these problems basically appeared in 3 forms, the worst of which were the "Orbs of Power". These were basically captureable items that got held in special forts that increased the stats of the controlling side's players. So the more Orbs your side controlled the more powerful each of your individual players became, meaning each fight on a tactical level became progressively more and more unbalanced. I can't fight back because now each enemy soldier I come across is not only more numerous but also magically substantially more powerful than I.

    The second was resources, yours are now mine so not only can I build more siege weapons but you can build less. The third was fortifying castles, the longer then imbalance remained, the harder it became for you to retake all these castles with upgraded walls and weapons.

    In PS2 it is the mainly three things: loss of the ability to spawn MBTs, loss of forward operating bases necessitating spawning tanks (and air to a lesser extent) from distant locations and resources (not major in each moment of play but the cumulative effect adds up, mainly in infantry resources: running out of mines, C4, grenades, med kits).

    In both games there is no corresponding difficulty associated with holding vast tracts of territory or operating miles from one's home base. You can make the case that the aggressor simply lacks the manpower to populate his vast holdings, making him susceptible to guerrilla raids and flanking. In reality this doesn't really happen. Map travel times are far too short and in an imbalanced situation (either due to faction strength or snowballing) it is pretty easy for a stronger side to mop up guerrilla units.The back territories are just filler for now. PS2 is a little better than GW for this, the maps are more complex allowing for taking side territories but in general its still just cosmetic, taking back the Spec Ops camp doesn't change the fact that the aggressor owns all your main bases and controls 3/4 roads out of your warp gate.

    In reality the only thing the stronger side is susceptible to is boredom. Eventually after a certain period of time stamina and interest wanes, people log off or wander off or finally decide to start beating on Italy, I mean the second faction and the losing faction gets sufficient breathing space to fight back. The fact that you have to rely on the other side not wanting to play anymore is pretty poor design.

    Where to?
    So with 3 factions and snowballing where do we go? I don't really know, I haven't given it enough thought and the few ideas I have had, I haven't examined for further consequences so I can only offer random whimsy:

    1) Remove mechanics that create a snowball.
    Example: Remove resources entirely for vehicles and rely entirely on the cooldown mechanic (rejig this if need be). Make resources for infantry a set amount that is constant for all players on all factions (cooldowns for infantry items is less workable than having a resource pool, ie another word for money, than can be distributed as the player sees fit). Remove the reliance on MBT spawning on owning the Tech Plant.

    2) Rejig the "reward" for owning lots of territory
    Example: rebuild the XP system so that it rewards the winning faction for holding territory (yes this could create a very slow long term snowball by building up the winning side with more certs but hopefully over the long term would even out).

    3) Create challenges for holding lots of territory yet at the same time making it desirable to do so (really damn hard)
    Example: See some of BCP's post regarding excessive hexes. Without introducing the lattice system and funnelling into one spot perhaps investigate the possibilities of caravaning and supply lines. Introducing delivery via Galaxy of fuel or energy mechanics to vehicles or bases (I was trying to think of a simple and workable mechanic for in-air refueling to control air range). Create (not overly complex) supply lines so that flankers don't ghost cap (boring) they disrupt supply lines being run (and defended) by opposing players to deprive large vehicle zergs of fuel (and therefore endurance and range).

    4) Create a very solid motivation for the two lesser factions to actually ally
    Consider an actual mechanism for alliances or create/accentuate a major xp benefit for killing the faction with the most players (still thinking about this one).

    Anyway, bored now, maybe more later.
    • Up x 1
  2. Arquin

    Just supportive, as a GW2 player too. I don't like being crushed.