I've been playing open world games a bit this week. Playing on the test weekend with the spectre of constant crashes behind me, I was able to worry less about keeping the game running and focus more on how I and the other players were playing the game. People were mostly making it through selecting a location and building their first base. Eventually they would run out of things to build and the question became "what do I do now?" Playing other open world games this week for inspiration, I was looking at how they address this problem of direction.
When I play Skyrim I choose one goal out of a bunch of quests which then shows as a mark on the map and HUD. On the way to reach each goal I discover small dungeons, occasional large dungeons, points of interest, interactive items and scripted NPC encounters. I also gawk at the sheer beauty of that game. When you're playing Skyrim you never have to wait more than a minute or so for something new to happen.
With Watch_Dogs you pick a goal from dozens of choices on the map, then you can drive there, or instead walk there and scan NPC's for money, songs and cars while the game constantly prompts for side missions or online invasions into your single-player game. I thought I'd turned invasions off, and then one happened. The whole time I played Watch_Dogs I hadn't killed anyone but the game wanted me to play hide and seek with someone online. Instead I tried a psychopathic solution and just drove my car over every pedestrian in the area. That worked. I turned online invasions off again. After the next invasion I turned them off again -- Watch_Dogs settings screen is kind of awful. I think they're really off now.
So where does that leave me? Miranda isn't an open-world RPG. Nor is it a traditional scenario-based or match-based RTS. Miranda needs more things to do so that players don't go more than a minute without something interesting to do, that has been obvious for a while. But what sorts of things?
The key thing I plan to do to grow the list of things to do on Miranda is to add new types of units. There are the core units in the game now for building and combat, but Miranda needs spies, and engineers, and walls, and planes, and spy satellites. I have a lot of ideas for units.
I also think Miranda needs something that gets players moving through the world, interacting with other players, and like Skyrim, the world needs to surprise them along the way. I'm envisioning a to-do list of sorts. Not a story-based quest list like an RPG, but something to suggest to players what to do next. If a player is low on parts it will suggest you find a vendor and highlight an area to search. If a vendor has been captured by the enemy, it will suggest taking it back. If the player's base has low power it will suggest building power plants. If players choose a Nemesis, those challenges will also appear on the list.
Once players are exploring, there needs to be things for them to discover. With Miranda's gigantic world, expanding the list of things to interact with in the world has always been a big part of what I have planned for alpha. A map that shows where all those things are is not one of them. The map will record the player's discoveries so they can easily revisit them, but not be an exhaustive key to every location in the game.
Something else I came to realize playing this weekend is that Miranda needs NPC's (non-player characters) for people to interact with. Not in the sense of the traditional RTS AI skirmish, but more in the Skyrim style of scripted encounters that play out in the shared space: the NPC is harassing my harvester, the NPC is protecting an enemy convoy, the NPC is holding an unassailable citadel with something good in the middle. Maybe you work with your friends to take down that citadel, maybe they help the NPC.
Given that Miranda's primarily a multiplayer game, I've also been thinking about how to get players to interact with each other more. I read an interesting article on building in-game friendships that has a lot of things that Miranda isn't doing yet. One change I'll be making soon is to modify the map to make it easier for players to find enemy players (like they can when they are selecting the location for their base.) I've also decided to make vendors capturable. I'll write more about that soon. The large resource fields on the map were always designed to encourage players to fight over them, however since there are currently far fewer players than resource fields, that hasn't worked out. That also will be changing soon.
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