Progression: Say What?
6/5 on the Bat Shit Crazy Meter
The final reveal of BSC Days was the progression system, and it breaks our scale. The concepts you’re about to read are so radical that the stream’s chat had to be silenced and cleared. That’s right; there was a virtual uprising on Day 4 over this stuff. Camelot Unchained’s core progression system is absolute madness.
Let’s step back a minute and look at traditional RPG design. You have a character, and they level up and progress by gaining experience. Experience may have differing names and characteristics (such as appearing as skill points instead of an XP bar), and how you gain it may also vary (killing monsters, completing quests, mining an iron node for three hours), but the very root of the system is “Do things, collect experience, get better.” Because these experience gains are programmed, they are pretty static and predictable, and they drive us toward our goal of being the ultimate character. We stop killing gnolls and move on to killing ogres, because they give us more experience points. We move on from lower level zones to higher level zones. We stop mining iron and start mining platinum. And, since we are often given feedback on the exact result of our actions (10 experience gained, one skill point earned), we continue to progress further based on this feedback. We go on and on, in ever pursuit of bigger numbers. No matter the form of experience, we become stuck in a grind, doing what we need to do to reach that ultimate game goal ahead of us.
Camelot Unchained is ready to rip all of that apart. We’ve already talked about the stat system, and part of that hinted that progression would be slow and steady over a long period of time. Stats must be improved through action, which means progression comes from performance. But instead of gaining your experience immediately – mine a rock, gain three experience – you’ll gain it daily.
Yes, daily. Each server will take in every player’s actions over a full 24 hour period, tabulating the entire history of the realm in a detailed internal data mine. At the end of that period, the server will look at all of the data and calculate experience for each player based on a number of factors. These factors will not only include what each character has done individually, but also how the realm has performed as a community. This calculation will reward based on many (mostly unannounced) factors including realm population, RvR activity, cooperation, and land claims. Underpopulated realms may get small bonuses of materials. The server will also look for harmful behavior, such as keep trading, and punish the entire realm with diminished experience gains. Yes, the server is going to take after that one elementary teacher you always hated because they punished the whole class because someone scribbled “LOSER” on the chalkboard. Community isn’t just encouraged, it’s enforced.
After its calculations, the server will then send a daily report, in-game or possibly via e-mail, to each player, detailing their gains along with their realm’s status during the day. A newspaper will also be sent out detailing various happenings on the server and in the realm (and can even be put in your house). Because your experience is delayed, and influenced by so many factors, there’s no way to predict or be led by the system into “appropriate” tasks to progress. In fact, the entire set of mechanics underlying experience gain will remain hidden. Sure, you’ll know that you’ll want to spend time swinging your sword to build your strength and increase your combat abilities, but no one’s telling you who or what you should be hitting. And who knows what impact the choices you make each day to expend your limited crafter class ‘mana’ pool might have on your progression. The freedom of choice is yours, and CSE’s hope is that this will encourage players to a new mindset in which they are welcome to freely do whatever they enjoy doing, rather than being tied to particular tasks to progress.
For those players still looking for tangible goals, each realm’s King will also issue a daily request. these requests will often be along the lines of gathering a specific resource and creating specific structures, but we’ve been told that they will come in “all kinds of forms.” Naturally, completing these requests will grant bonus rewards or experience at the end of the day.
The real hot button issue was the phrase “server shutdown.” Those two words sparked a rebellion in the stream chat, for good reason. Daily server shutdowns mean predicted interrupted gameplay; a time period where even in the middle of an epic battle, the server will go into its sleep mode. This doesn’t just break the immersion of gameplay or force players to go to bed. It also has the potential to see some disappointing styles of gameplay, where end-of-day activities on the server adapt so as to avoid being interrupted. We can easily foresee the last hour of RvR activity becoming a dead zone as players avoid getting embroiled in an interrupted skirmish, or players rushing onto the field as soon as the server comes back alive to try to exploit the lack of players for their benefit.
However, Jacobs explained that he mentioned server shutdowns to be transparent, as he sees them as the worst possible outcome. He also explains that these shutdowns would be meant to take only minutes, and that the daily schedules would take European players and backers into mind. He also explained that the King’s reward system is meant to help balance gameplay as well as provide a non-direct means to support lesser populated realms, while offering currency for combatants so they don’t have to craft to make a living.
Still, the progression system is so “out there,” we’re not sure that this kind of BSC is good. Interesting, game-changing, innovative? Definitely. But this is the hardest concept to prove in action, because we simply don’t know how well the gaming community will actually respond to mystery progression and no clear carrot on a stick to lead them along. Who would have thought character progression could be this controversial?