Exclusive: Crowfall's world building pipeline video and interview
Are you a fan of Tetris but wish it were more free-form and connected to an MMO's world building tool kit? Yeah, neither am I, but apparently someone Artcraft thought it could work in Crowfall. Today we've got an exclusive first look at Artcraft's latest world building video, plus a chat with Creative Director J. Todd Coleman, who discussed with us the world building process and helped to clarify the parcel system and player territories.
First up: The world building pipeline video.
Like a lot of our readers and writers, I'm a Crowfall backer, but I don't pay a lot of attention to updates. I did a lot of homework before committing since I'm honestly burned out on buy-to-play alphas and "early access" games that fail. The frequent updates let me know my money hasn't been wasted, and I dig into some of the headlines, but mostly, I'm waiting for the cake to fully bake.
I've also had limited game time. Justin has some great suggestions on getting over this, and one of the ones I've learned to embrace is trying to find a game where I can get in small doses of game time. However, I had a hard time ignoring the rat race, and my game time usually comes while I'm eating dinner, so my drug of choice is usually limited to one-handed action. Crowfall, with its promises of crafting, world building, and balance between persistent worlds and ethereal campaigns, seemed like the right investment.
However, one thing that always confused me was the way the "parcel" idea was used.
Always seeing the term "parcel" used for the player landmass made me strongly associate the term with "player housing." In fact, the official FAQ about them defines parcels as "pre-joined land cells that players can place in their Eternal Kingdoms." However, as you can see in the above video, parcels are also used by the developers to build campaign worlds. In fact, some parcels are unique to campaigns so as to limit the rarer resources from entering player-controlled properties, but your average player has control of about the same toolset the developers have.
For this reason, it might be easier to think of Crowfall's player housing as the "Eternal Kingdoms (EK)," which every player receives, and "parcels" simply as the building blocks. Despite the name, you don't have to actually build a kingdom in these areas, which was something that kept confusing me personally (hopefully I'm not the only one!). Each player's kingdom remains the same size, but it's simply empty open ocean space until a parcel is dropped to change that.
So, even though you have your own EK, you can keep it undeveloped and private, or give admin rights to other people by choosing subdivisions (or "regions") in your EK, right from the start. This will begin a monarchy, allowing various levels of control for you and the people you invite to your EK. You can let people drop their own parcels, control spawns, or just rent space to build a house (while taxing them, if you want).
While this may seem a bit scary for those who have experienced other games' housing systems, Coleman says that placing your items (including parcels and buildings) in another player's EK, or giving them rights to do so, doesn't actually transfer ownership. If one of your vassals goes rogue, you can kick them from your EK. The land that was once there becomes ocean, or the building will be returned to them. Everything they physically owned simply goes back to them. In your EK, you only allow people to borrow space. There's no territory warfare or building destruction in the EK.
For me, this is pretty significant because it avoids a lot of drama I've experienced in other PvP games. It helps cut out most of the EVE-like heists guilds in these games have to worry about. The monarch also retains the ultimate authority, including the ability to change a noble's rule set within their region, so if a noble goes mad with power and turns on PvP in the market place, the monarch can just turn it back off and maybe demote the noble (for public safety reasons). That being said, if your guild does have a spy from another guild, and you physically give him goods (including parcels, as they are actually physical deeds you need to use, whether crafted or purchased for real money), Artcraft won't help you get anything back.
There's still a bit of risk in the world, but at least for me, the current system has reassured me that my general fear of griefing on a social level will be controlled under the proposed plan. Since Coleman mentioned that parcels play no part in the territory conflicts within campaigns, winning or losing a single campaign due to meta-gaming doesn't have the same sting as losing your guild's home of 2 years until you can build up the right alliance/weapons cache needed to take it back, if its possible.
This flexibility also means that small guilds can immediately team up and create their own space in the game world from the start, without having to worry about land rushes or losing the whole town because several members went inactive. However, Coleman notes that you really shouldn't expect to just start grinding in your EK to build it up. If you only want to play within your EK, you won't get very far without interacting with people who have access to higher level resources. Even as a crafter, you're probably going to have to venture out of your own space (unless you have a lot of help from friends), but this also ensures that the game remains MMO-ish at the least, rather than allowing for a solo Animal Crossing like experience. In fact, when I asked Coleman if Artcraft wanted players to be able to play only within their personal EK, I was told that:
The world building pipeline is just coming online, and as we find out which of our assumptions work (and which ones don't) it will certainly impact secondary systems that are built on top of it like taxes and building upkeep. The short answer is that taxes exist to force upkeep on parcels. It's effectively a giant resource sink to provide a continuous demand on resources. Different players will fulfill that demand in different ways (participating in campaigns, generating wealth by providing goods and services to other players, or recruiting other players to use their EK and then levying taxes from their vassals.)
It's not a yes or a no answer, but does mean that, if it's possible, it needs to be balanced out with other game systems, which makes sense. At least for me personally, after having experienced Star Wars Galaxies about a year and a half before its closure when many of the players had enough max level characters to take care of themselves and exit the market, having a fully self-sufficient player base makes the game feel quite dead.
In terms of developer use though, the parcel system will be seeing some improvements. Coleman told me that the team is currently "building the campaign worlds by hand, meaning that every parcel is made by an artist and he is using a tool to procedurally add rocks and trees and whatever else to it. Then a designer assembles the parcels on to the world grid to create a new campaign map. Eventually that process will be procedural, too."
Parcels themselves are also still being worked on. The team's still not sure yet how much variation we'll see in terms of parcel shapes, but ideally, Coleman says, there'd be a variety of "shapes and sizes to support each of the stronghold types (forts, keeps, castles, citadels, etc.) and to provide a wide variety of natural features. The procedural tools are working well so far." So we may get that, but he is "not quite ready to make that promise yet." It's why there's still no news on how the shapes and sizes of starter parcels or parcels from Kickstarter rewards will be distributed.
That being said, distribution is something the team's talked about. Coleman said that Artcraft will probably "allow some mechanism for [players] to 'try before you buy' different parcel types... but honestly, aren't quite there yet in our tool development." There's been a few options discussed so far, such as "maybe letting players drop transparent (or shaded) versions of the parcel onto the map, but not letting you commit them to the world until you acquire them," or letting players "create 'blue prints' that give you can 'pay into' with resources over time." The latter's certainly an interesting idea the team wants to offer, but it says it's "not just quite there yet."
Naturally, with parcels being purchasable, I had to ask about what the difference between player created parcels and store-bought parcels would be. Coleman said that, "The parcels and buildings that you buy are to be used in the EKs (not the Campaign Worlds)," and that "Anything you can get in the shop can ALSO be created or collected in the game (i.e. we don't require you to spend real world currency.)," though services and VIP tickets are two exceptions and players can trade VIP tickets in game.
Many thanks to the Artcraft team and Todd Coleman for answering our questions!