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PvP vs. PvE - EA Mythic on Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

Currently in development, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) is positioning itself to be the ultimate blend of PvP and PvE gameplay. All aspects of the game, from the Living Guild system (where the whole guild gains levels and bonuses) to the Public Quests (quests that can anyone nearby can help complete) work in support of WAR's brand of massive battlefield action called Realm-vs.-Realm (RvR). Big Download chats with EA Mythic's Jeff Hickman, Senior Producer for Warhammer Online for insight on the game's features and how RvR will change the face of PvP gameplay. Read the interview after the jump.

What is the general philosophy toward developing PvP content for Warhammer Online?

Jeff Hickman: We generally start everything in our game with a thought toward PvP. PvP isn't the first thing we think of, but it's one of the first things. We think of Warhammer Online as a PvP game that also has monster and PvE content. So, when we balance our careers, we balance the content around player verses player, not fighting monsters. We balance the classes against each other. Then, instead of balancing those classes against the monsters, we balance the monsters against the classes. Our philosophy is to make the best PvP game in the world and build the PvE content around it. We know how much damage each class can do and take, plus all the utility each class can provide. So, instead of balancing each ability, we just need to modify the overall damage output and absorption of each career.

Does this approach make modifying the classes easier later on?

Jeff: Modifying a class after launching an MMO is never easy. It would cause us lots of problems in the long run. Knowing where each class fits in relation to each other, and getting the class balances correct, allows us to tweak the monsters. Monster changing is easy, but balancing the classes is difficult. In the long run, because we did things right the beginning, it'll be easier for us to make minor tweaks moving forward.

How do you go about balancing the factions against each other?

Jeff: There are two realms, Order and Destruction. Each of these realms has multiple classes. Each class fits into one of four archetypes. There's a melee damage fighter that hits the enemy in the face until it dies; a tank encaged in armor that can take a lot of damage but doesn't dish it out as well as others; and a ranged character that shoot arrows or fireballs from afar. Then there are healing characters that can also fight very well in our game, but play a role in keeping their friends and allies alive. We take an archetype from each side then balance them against each other, so one would be very good at killing a specific type. A healer might have a good chance at defeating a tank because it will be able to recover damage faster than a tank can dish it out.

Does working with the established Warhammer license make developing content easier?

Jeff: There are different challenges. It makes it easier from the standpoint of having great lore to draw from. Instead of sitting down at the design table and figuring out what to do, we instead need to figure out what shouldn't we do. There are so many careers, history and abilities to draw from that we need to figure out what to include and what to save for later.

How closely do you follow the Games Workshop rules?

Jeff: Games Workshop has been fantastic in giving us the leeway we need to build an MMO. They realize that the rules from their myriad of games, from the role-playing games to the tabletop games, don't apply very well to MMO's. We try to do iconic features that are derived from those properties, but we do our own thing by taking what we need and inventing new things.

According to the lore, the Empire faction is corrupt and Greenskins are looking for a fight anywhere where they can get it. Is there going to be a lot of in-fighting within the factions?

Jeff: That's tough for us to do, so the answer's no. We have a dueling system that lets you challenge people within your own realm, but the great thing about Realm-vs.-Realm is that you always have the good guys and the bad guys. You always have a group of friends at your side who will help you in a battle against your enemy. It's really more than about PvP. PvP is about yourself. It's about going out, alone or with a group of friends, and fighting the enemy to gain bonuses for yourself personally. We do that too, but RvR is about hundreds or thousands of your friends and realm mates going out and fighting for yourself and your realm. Gaining bonuses, gaining land, and dominating the world gains benefits for your realm and everyone in it.

In developing Warhammer Online, do keep an eye on what others are doing for PvP? For example, Age of Conan has mounted combat.

Jeff: There's a baseline that everyone expects from any MMO. They include crafting, quests, etc. We provide that baseline experience, but we're also looking for areas where we can innovate and improve on weaknesses found in MMO's. Only one game has mounted combat, so it's not part of the baseline. That's the area they're innovating in. We've chosen to innovate on our Realm-vs.-Realm system. It makes our game all about PvP, skirmish PvP, instance scenario combat and castle sieges. Players will be able to grab hold of their enemies' lands by laying siege to their capital cities, fighting within the capital city itself, and conquering by taking away everything the enemy holds dear.

We also have a bunch of unique defining features like Public Quests, which nobody even comes close to doing. Our Living Guild System and Tome of Knowledge are also unique. So, we've chosen four or five iconic things to innovate on that nobody else does, and that's how we raise the bar.

What are some of the biggest challenges to balancing PvP with PvE gameplay?

Jeff: It's all a big challenge, but one of the biggest is making both of them feel and flow right. I know that sounds simple, but it's a huge challenge to just get the tactile feel of combat right across both game types. You want the amount of time it takes to kill any given enemy, in any given level, to feel good - not too long or too short, especially in PvP. The challenge is in making abilities that work both in PvP and PvE, making sure they take the right amount of time to kill things, then creating monsters that feel almost as good as fighting a human enemy. The problem is, human enemies can think, so they'll present a much bigger challenge than a monster.

Will there be monsters in PvP to act as obstacles?

Jeff: Yes. Although we like to keep PvP focused on players fighting each other, we do mix things up. Generally, they're not monsters. Usually, you'll find NPC guards and keep lords inside castles and keeps that will help allied players defend it. But there are also monsters inside capital cities. So, you might invade a capital city, kill off the entire populace, then take on the monsters that lurk underneath the city.

How integrated are the two game types? Does it just flow from one to the other? Can you sack a capital city and move straight into monster hunting?

Jeff: Absolutely. That's one of the great things about our game, and sets RvR apart from other PvP. RvR is truly all encompassing. It's a flow between PvP and PvE. What you do in PvE actually help in your war effort in PvP. We want and encourage players to flow back and forth between the two types of gameplay. Players can play the entire game and level through RvR, or stay completely with PvE if they prefer. But the best story experience is going through PvP and PvE all the way through the top levels.

We know that doing PvE actions like Public Quests will help PvP, but is there anything that does the reverse?

Jeff: There is a little bit. If you're successful in RvR and capture land, there are bonuses that every member of the realm gains that will be useful in both PvP and PvE. There will be bonuses for morale, damage and some bonuses that go toward crafting. We're trying to spread that love out as much as we can.

Will there be PvP-oriented Public Quests?

Jeff: Absolutely. We focus on Public Quests because they're so iconic to our game. It truly became a focal point for PvE, so we try to spread it out to RvR as much as we can. If you look at our keep capturing mechanism, it's actually a Public Quest. As an invader coming up to a keep, you get a Public Quest for killing the keep lord, which involves breaking down the gate, finding the keep lord and killing him. As a defender, your job is to protect him. So, these opposing Public Quests encourage players to compete against each other. Capital cities have Public Quests that encourage invaders to enter the city, burn down buildings, and generally loot and pillage. There will also be Public Quests within Public Quests in capital cities.

"In RvR, down time is as important as killing time."

How will WAR ensure that a capital city isn't held indefinitely?

Jeff: We don't want people to win all the time, and we don't want people to be overpowered because they're winners. A lot of different factors go into measuring success when an enemy takes a capital city. Enemies are given a certain amount of time, typically 24 hours, to ransack a capital city. Actual owners of the city are encouraged to retake the city once that timer runs out. They become more powerful as time passes while the enemy gets weaker, so we give players bonuses and enhancements to push the enemy out. We don't want them to stay there forever.

What steps will be taken to help minimize griefing among players?

Jeff: It's always a problem when you get into PvP and some players go around and mess with lower level players. We've taken a few steps, but the most profound measure is breaking our game up into tiers. Tiers are basically ten level groupings across the forty levels. So there are four tiers (1-10, 11-20, 21-20, 31-40). If a higher level player comes down into a tier below his level and goes into the RvR area - basically a place he's not supposed to be since he's too powerful - he'll get a warning message stating that he's too powerful for this area and he should leave now or suffer the "coward's fate." Then he gets a ten second countdown, and if he decides to stay into the area, he literally turns into a chicken. All his abilities go away except for one, the ability to peck things for one point of damage, and he's welcome to run around in the RvR area all he wants as a chicken until an enemy comes to chop him up. That's a big anti-grief measure, and it works very well.

Will there be voice communication built in for RvR? What tools will there be to help coordinate combat?

Jeff: We're experimenting with VoIP technology, but we don't have plans to launch the game with it. There's a back and forth between the haves and have-nots - who uses it and who doesn't. It's such a big advantage that we're not sure if we're going to incorporate it or not. There are a massive amount of tools we put into the game to help players coordinate combat. Beyond voice chat, there's the social structure of guilds. For us, guilds are more than just a chat channel with a bunch of people on a list. Our guild actually lives and levels up with you. As you and members of your guild levels up, your guild is gaining experience. Guilds have forty levels, and they unlock new abilities as they progress. Some of those abilities help on the battlefield, some help PvE, others help crafting. Beyond that are alliances, groups of guilds, which provides unique communication methods to coordinate strategies. One idea we're discussing, but we don't know if we're going to put it into the game, are bonuses we give to guild leaders gained through leveling up their guild that help them coordinate the battlefield.

Will cities degrade after they get sacked?

Jeff: They do. As your realm does well, your city prospers and levels up through gaining city points. There are five levels of city, poor to prosperous, and the city changes as it levels up - opening new areas and quests. Enemies can see he city rank and its worth. They can partake in all those rewards (new areas, quests, etc.) when they attack and the city starts to level down the longer you allow them to stay in the city.

Some would argue that it's tough to socialize when you're constantly running for your life like in PvP. How does RvR going to work as a social PvP environment?

Jeff: There are so many answers to that question. A deep part of our philosophy is finding where the final conflict is... Where is the decisive victory? In RvR, down time is as important as killing time. Players will say they want to fight players all the time, but you can't. The adrenaline of playing RvR is so high that if you'll burn out if you do it continuously for too long. So, it's important that players feel a decisive victory. You don't want an ongoing, never ending fight. Some people will say that they do, but that hasn't been proven to be true. What you want is a battle and then someone needs to win. There needs to be a down time after that person, team or guild wins to take a break, stretch, and talk about their victory. That's the core for RvR to make it social. On top of that are all the socialization tools that include easily finding a group and give players a chance to walk away from combat to do something else. We have other tools that haven't been announced yet. That leads to socialization - sitting around the water cooler talking about the last battle you were in is as important as the battle itself.

What would you say to people who are apprehensive about stepping into a game so PvP-oriented?

Jeff: I would say you should come out and give our game a try. There's no danger when you first enter our game. There's no RvR unless you choose to enter those areas. It is purely up to you to play through the game how you want to play through it. I can tell you that my wife, who used to not be a PvP player, came into our game and enjoyed the crafting and questing. But because of how our game is designed, she was led near an RvR area, and she could look down into the battlefield to see what was going on. This kind of demystified it for her and she decided to try the RvR. She then spent the next two hours on the keep pouring boiling oil on people and having a great time. There's no fear in it. Enemies can't talk, yell or make fun of you. It's the easiest PvP you'll ever play, and it's so much fun.

Thank you for your time.

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