Game design

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In order for sandbox mechanics to mean something, there must be curated content to accompany the player’s choices. Which means, as the developers, we must create that Themebox style content but for every possible path the community may take.[1]Steven Sharif

Ashes of Creation is a PvX game built on the foundational principle of risk versus reward. The developers may seek feedback and make changes to portions of the game, but the core design pillars of the game will never be changed.[2][3][4][5][6]

We will refine systems, we will iterate on systems, but we will never change the core identity of the intent and philosophical approach to what Ashes of Creation as an MMO brings to the MMO genre space... What we want to do is express that Ashes of Creation is endeavoring to build a risk-versus-reward centric PvX style game. And that intent and purpose will be delivered upon, and it will not change.[5]Steven Sharif
  • Ashes of Creation is referred to by the developers as a "themebox" or "sandpark" game as they aim to create a reactive player-driven world accompanied by curated content.[7][1]
When it comes to how MMO’s have been traditionally designed, most gamers are familiar with two distinct types of gameplay loops: the “theme park”, and the “sandbox”. The vast majority of MMO’s we’ve all seen come and go in the gaming industry have been of the theme park variety – these games put the player onto a specific path, guiding them along, with plenty of pretty sights in between the same old quest hubs, very little in divergent paths, virtually no freedom in player progression. Recently the MMO genre has seen some games of the sandbox nature come onto the scene, but despite the ultimate freedom the sandbox affords players, many are left wanting more, as there is by definition no pre built world content, no human touch, just the vastness of the “sand” for lack of a better term. Thus many MMO players often find themselves caught between the repetitive rock of the theme park or the vast dead spaces of the sandbox’s hard place. This chasm between the state of MMO gameplay loops is where we intend to inject Ashes of Creation’s Node system.[7]
Q: How do you go about designing some of the more old school systems such as XP debt, minimal fast travel, and open world raiding that have really gone away for the most part in modern MMOs?
A: When looking at the reasoning behind why some of those old systems existed, a lot of it was centralized around the idea of risk versus reward. I mean, let's take a look at the three that you name, XP debt, minimal fast travel, and open world raiding. Experience debt is a cost of failure. Experience debt is the bite of not achieving success. If I die to a monster because my strategy was bad, because my performance was bad, because my planning was bad: all of that means that debt is the cost I pay for the bad choice... Minimal fast travel: My location matters; and the time it travels there is the cost I pay. Open world raiding: I'm not the only person interested in completing this objective. I have competition. That competition represents pressure. That pressure represents a desire to succeed and perform. All of those are touch points on player emotional connectivity. There is a reason why I want to succeed: Part of that reason can be incentivization through reward; part of that reason can be distance; it can be incentivization through failure. So that I think are one of the core fundamental philosophies as to how you design some of the more old-school systems.[8]Steven Sharif

The design of Ashes of Creation adheres to five main pillars.[9]

  1. Engaging and immersive story
  2. Reactive world
  3. Player interaction
  4. Player agency
  5. Risk vs reward

In designing Ashes of Creation, we adhere every detail to five main pillars: Engaging and Immersive Story, a Reactive World, Player Interaction, Player Agency, and Risk vs Reward. Even in the environment, everything you as the player do will tie into these pillars, while everything your guild does, everything your server does will ultimately keep the world fresh, ever-changing, and most importantly... exciting.[9]

Inspiration from other titles

Ashes of Creation has taken inspiration from various other MMORPG titles.[10]

In terms of what came before, we're trying to figure out who did what best and take inspiration from that: Move the genre forward; keep things updated and bring it into the 21st century.[10]Jeffrey Bard
A lot of the systems in Lineage 2 were based around a concept that got lost today in mmorpgs, and that's risk versus reward. You know this idea that the more you risk the greater potential reward should be present is a complete paradigm shift away from everyone's a winner, everybody gets a participation reward, and here you go, congratulations you're a player in this game; and that's boring. It gives nothing for a person to aspire to achieve something, or to feel the bite of loss when you fail. Those are the driving forces of why people want to play games and it's a reason why new games when they come out have such a short lifespan, because they are always competing with WOW. You don't have to compete with WOW. You don't have to be a WOW killer. You can focus on something that is different from a philosophical design standpoint; and I think that's just what a lot of studios today don't want to take the risk on.[12]Steven Sharif

PvP background

While Ashes of Creation took inspiration from Lineage II (and other games) it has also addressed several flaws in the implementation of those games.[14][11][13][10] The approach of the flagging system in Ashes of Creation is to further disincentivize griefing while still allowing the system to keep risk relevant in the open-world setting.[14]

First and foremost, PvP in Ashes exists in both opt-in systems and events, as well as our open world flagging system. And while it is true that I enjoyed and took much inspiration from games like Lineage 2, we have innovated and adapted our approach to Ashes’ flagging system in order to further disincentivize griefing while still allowing the system to keep risk relevant in the open world setting. The overwhelming majority of player’s experiences with PvP in Ashes will be through consensual systems like caravans, sieges, wars, the open sea and other events. Players will make a choice to participate in those systems or not. And if they choose to participate there will be significant rewards for success.[14]Steven Sharif
In the open world, when competing for the scarcity of resources, raids, dungeons and or hunting grounds, an important element of risk vs reward is introduced through our flagging system. Players must be aware of their surroundings and the reputation of other players who may be in proximity. The flagging system is intended to always provide an element of risk in all settings, but also architected to ensure that griefing and PK’ing is almost never worth it. The subtleties of this system are complex, which is of course why it will require considerable testing and feedback.[14]Steven Sharif
  • Corruption gain takes into account level disparity between the attacker and the player that was killed. The greater the disparity the higher the corruption accrued.[11][15][16][17][1] Corruption penalties occur as the corruption is gained.[18]
These are all things that I've changed in the system that help to safeguard some of those loopholes. Now of course, as we said, we can't and we don't want to 100% remove the ability for that risk to be alive- for that risk to be realized. But what we do want to do is make sure that those occasions are few and infrequent, and are not the majority of a player experience, let's say in the open world; and we do so by incorporating all of those risks and costs into a decision to gain corruption and then PK another player in the open world. It's just not going to be done often and that is my expectation and opinion. It's also the goal of the system is that griefing is not a viable option or play style. And as a result of that desire for the system, we will fine tune it in such a way through testing that that outcome is achieved. And that is the intent and purpose of the design.[19]Steven Sharif
  • Non-combatants can attack corrupted players without flagging themselves as combatants.[19][26]
  • There is a 60 second timer to logout while corrupt. Force-disconnecting the client during the cooldown will leave the character in-game.[19][30]

Artistic style

Ren'Kai architecture concept art.[31]

Part of the biome that the Ren'Kai are accustomed to is a more swamp or marsh oriented, so they have these almost stilt-like foundations on some of the assets because they're intended to sit above that marsh.[31]Steven Sharif

Ashes of Creation will have a higher graphical fidelity than most western games. It will not be too stylized or "cartoony".[32]

We can push the limits a little bit on the graphical fidelity, especially using Unreal Engine 4... My desire was not to see very cartoony games. I'm not a big fan of highly stylized art.[32]Steven Sharif
It's not to say that people can't do steampunk well. I've enjoyed some steampunk stuff. I'm a very high fantasy oriented type of storyteller; and the inspiration for Ashes obviously comes from my pathfinder campaigns that I ran long ago; and those are always set in a high fantasy world. So it just compromises what I believe is the perspective of the storytelling in the environment.[33]Steven Sharif
We do not use AI for production, except in unique internal cases when communicating fast reference material.[34]Steven Sharif
Asian influenced Ren'Kai architecture.[35]

Character races are super important. These are the choices that we make at the onset of our adventure in an MMORPG: what race- not just mechanically aligns with our decisions, if those races have game mechanics behind them from a stat perspective, but visually and culturally and historically: What are these? What do these races represent? So it's important that visually they're distinct. And everyone's seen fantasy games do Elves, so everyone's seen them do Humans, everyone's seen them do Orcs: There's an established expectation almost behind what these traditional fantasy races represent; and there's a risk, because whenever you're creating a new IP or a new story or a new world- a new Universe; a realm in which things don't have to always be the norm, you can take a little bit of creative liberty to redefine some of the aspects of a particular race; and that can be a good thing, because it's something that is new to players. It's something that is unique to the realm that we're building- the surroundings that you have. So what we wanted to do was push a little bit more on the unique side of what the Py'rai would look like from a visual perspective.[36]Steven Sharif

You will see in the different races that are available from a player character standpoint a lot of different influences that reflect many cultures in the world: Not just European, not just Africa, not Mesoamerican. These cultures are going to be present in many of the races.[46]Steven Sharif
The idea is just to find a base component in the real world as a starting point and then to begin to fantasize.[37]Steven Sharif

Cultural references

There will be real-world cultural references, particularly with regards to real-world holidays and historical events.[47]

  • These won't be out of place in terms of immersion. They will be homages.[47]

There will be some real world references, particularly with regards to potentially real world holidays as well as some historical events or cultures. For example the PAX East ship that was named Eleanor that we released a cosmetic of, you know, being a reference to the Eleanor ship that the tea was thrown off of; or colonialesque look.[48]Steven Sharif

Open development

Intrepid Studios has embraced an open (transparent) development approach, rather than sharing information through carefully curated press releases and announcements.[49]

Player feedback is important, however the identity and the vision of the game is not up for discussion; and so when we talk about the core systems and tenets and philosophies behind what the game that we're trying to make is, we believe that the game we are trying to make resonates with a large enough section of the MMORPG player base that it is a sustainable and profitable venture for us to create that core game. Now, the ancillary systems that live around the core philosophy of Ashes of Creation, or the subtleties and what we need to do in order to make a particular system or feature better... that we want to collect player feedback.[3]Steven Sharif
  • Some game aspects will be more polished than others before they are presented.[50]
The delicate blend between a transparent development process, but also understanding that [the] majority of your player audience will not grasp, or will not take into context, what a work in progress looks like. So certain things we have to polish to the point where they're presentable; where they can be understood- again in its own context without my verbal support or Margaret's verbal support.[50]Steven Sharif
I think that we live in an age where it's easy to be transparent if you're not trying to hide something. The downside is if you're showing something that's not a completed or finished product, it is incumbent upon the viewer to understand that fact.[49]Steven Sharif
  • The purpose of transparent development is to enable participation and feedback from the community without the need to purchase access.[51]
The whole purpose of our development process being transparent being open is that you don't have to buy a package actually to participate. You can be a voice from the community. You can observe people playing. You can give your experiences and feedback.[51]Steven Sharif
I don't answer to a board. I don't answer to a publisher. We answer to our players; and we try to be as transparent as possible with showing our progress; and showing it in a timely manner.[52]Steven Sharif
  • Certain aspects of the game will not be revealed early to avoid spoilers.[53][54]
There are obviously going to be some aspects of the development that we will not reveal, like lore and some system mechanics in order not to spoil the game for release.[53]Steven Sharif

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 MMOGames interview, January 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2023-07-28 (1:30:11).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Transmisja na żywo, 2023-04-07 (55:22).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2023-03-31 (1:00:16).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Transmisja na żywo, 2022-10-28 (32:52).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2017-06-01 (37:39).
  7. 7.0 7.1 A reactive world - Nodes.
  8. Transmisja na żywo, 2023-04-07 (40:30).
  9. 9.0 9.1 design pillars.png
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 Wywiad, 2018-08-24 (8:35).
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 CC effects do notapply to non-combatants.png
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wywiad, 2020-07-29 (9:02).
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 steven-l2.png
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 steven-asmon-open-world-pvp.png
  15. 15.0 15.1 steven-corruption-value.png
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wywiad, 2020-07-18 (41:54).
  17. steven-corruption-score.png
  18. 18.0 18.1 corruption.jpg
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 Transmisja na żywo, 2022-10-28 (26:48).
  20. Transmisja na żywo, 2022-10-28 (24:28).
  21. Wywiad, 2018-05-11 (5:05).
  22. Podcast, 2018-04-23 (51:31).
  23. Transmisja na żywo, 2017-05-22 (42:33).
  24. Podcast, 2017-05-05 (43:05).
  25. Wywiad, 2020-07-18 (44:35).
  26. 26.0 26.1 Wywiad, 2017-04-27 (0:17).
  27. steven-healing-corrupt.png
  28. Wywiad, 2019-04-22 (54:40).
  29. Transmisja na żywo, 2017-11-17 (29:45).
  30. steven-flagging-logout.png
  31. 31.0 31.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2022-02-25 (46:17).
  32. 32.0 32.1 Wywiad, 2018-10-20 (2:17:43).
  33. 33.0 33.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2023-03-31 (1:17:42).
  34. 34.0 34.1 steven-AI-artwork.png
  35. 35.0 35.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2019-10-31 (40:27).
  36. Transmisja na żywo, 2022-02-25 (49:42).
  37. 37.0 37.1 Wywiad, 2018-10-20 (3:47:17).
  38. dunirinfluence.png
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Wywiad, 2018-05-11 (1:03:21).
  40. Podcast, 2018-05-11 (31:35).
  41. Transmisja na żywo, 2022-09-30 (1:08:24).
  42. Transmisja na żywo, 2022-02-25 (44:28).
  43. py'rai archetecture.jpg
  44. Transmisja na żywo, 2017-10-16 (15:58).
  45. 45.0 45.1 Podcast, 2018-05-11 (31:35).
  46. Wywiad, 2018-05-11 (1:04:27).
  47. 47.0 47.1 Podcast, 2018-05-11 (36:28).
  48. Podcast, 2018-05-11 (36:28).
  49. 49.0 49.1 A chat with Ashes of Creation's Steven Sharif, 2017-06-7.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2022-04-29 (21:00).
  51. 51.0 51.1 Transmisja na żywo, 2021-12-23 (1:23:41).
  52. Wywiad, 2018-10-20 (3:43:52).
  53. 53.0 53.1 transparency.png
  54. Transmisja na żywo, 2018-05-04 (39:41).