Darkfall Cometh?

As noted over at Keen & Graev’s, Darkfall is in the news again having announced they are accepting applications for beta testers and having released some game play videos that say “Coming 2008” near the end, apparently indicating that they are shooting for a release this year.

You can find the six game play videos here on YouTube.

Announced almost exactly seven years ago, Darkfall has promised a very ambitious feature set (from Wikipedia), which a friend of mine described as the merging of the best of EverQuest and Ultima Online (pre-Trammel).

  • Unrestricted PvP, with no safe zones, only protection by NPC guards in racially controlled cities.
  • Indiscriminate player killing results in changes in alignment (see alignment section below), which in turn has severe in-game consequences.
  • A character advancement system devoid of player levels and classes. The majority of player capabilities are determined by the possession of skills, which improve in response to in-game use. For example, all weapon proficiencies, the ability to swim, cast spells, ride mounts, and climb various obstacles are all skills that can be learned and improved through in-game use.
  • A real-time combat system that includes FPS-style manual aiming & blocking. Ranged combat and general play will be viewed from the first person perspective, while melee combat will be third person perspective. There will also be no ‘player radar’ or floating names with which to identify players or NPCs, and inflicted damage and the health status of actors are indicated through visible damage, blood-spray, and audio cues.
  • Furthermore, friendly fire is always in effect, so missed melee attacks, misfired arrows, as well as area of effect offensive and healing spells affect both friends and enemies.
  • Complete looting. All of a player’s items become world lootable on death (see looting section below), and virtually all props and items in the game will be player-craftable.
  • Cities that can be built, sieged, captured and destroyed by players, as well as individual player housing.
  • Player mounts and mounted combat, which can be captured and killed by players.
  • Naval warfare, with the ability to create, board, capture and sink player controlled ships, including player-mediated ship-ship and land-ship combat.
  • Real-world physics, including inter-character and projectile-character collision detection. Projectiles (spells, arrows, cannonballs etc.) can be evaded or blocked in real time. Players can be pushed or blocked by other players, NPCs and/or explosions.
  • Dynamic, physical weather, including variable, directional winds. For example, foggy or rainy weather can severely limit sight range and high winds greatly influence tidal wave amplitude and ship movement. Day and night cycles are based on a realistic planetary system of 2 orbiting moons, producing dramatic sunrises and sunsets.
  • Enhanced monster behavior and AI. Monsters do not simply stand and swing at players until dead; they may employ sophisticated combat tactics based on their capabilities, social behaviour, and intelligence level. For example, intelligent monsters will preferentially target healers, casters, and/or weakened players. Monsters do not have fixed spawn locations or sizes – monsters form their own communities, may construct buildings and/or may relocate to new areas in response to being hunted by players. Monsters may also fight other monsters in their region.
  • A zoneless game world capable of supporting over 10,000 concurrent players per game instance,including explicit and dedicated support for large-scale (> 200 player) battles at playable frame-rates.

Seven years is a long time for a game to be in development.

To put that in date in context, in August 2001 Dark Age of Camelot was readying for release.  I was still playing EverQuest, which was on its second expansion (count now: 14), on my 400 MHz Pentium II system with a hot TNT2 based video card, having finally ditched the 3Dfx Voodoo2 configuration. And Duke Nukem Forever was only approachings its fifth year of not being available yet.

The game has a dedicated following that rivals the ferocity of the followers of Derek Smart during the height of his fame on Usenet, and who write things like:

Darkfall is going to be one of the biggest subscription-based MMORPGs over the next decade. It will rival and surpass EVE. Mark my words, you heard it from me first.

-Amonn777

with complete belief and conviction.

But is there really a sizable market for such a game?

Didn’t UO end up with Trammel because such a ruthless, winner-take-all world threatened to chase off a big chunk of their subscriber base?  Does not a game like that almost require a substantial subscriber base willing to be on the losing side, stripped of everything, yet willing to start over again?

Somebody will mention EVE Online naturally, but CCP is tightening down on high security killing with the Empyrean Age 1.1 release and they have published statistics that show that most players not only never venture into 0.0 space, what the hard core declare to be “the real game,” but they never even venture into low security space.  And EVE has its own crutches to take the sting out of loss such as the insurance system, which pays out a good 40% of the price of your ship even if you never bother to insure it.

I have often heard the opinion that the World of Warcraft playerbase will eventually seek to graduate to harder, more challenging games, but have yet to see any proof of that.

And doesn’t the PvP MMORPG community have a standard bearer coming up in the form of Warhammer Online?  Doesn’t that make the balance of 2008 something of a risky time to be launching Darkfall?

So with all that in mind, I just want to ask…

I am undecided, myself.

16 thoughts on “Darkfall Cometh?

  1. NBarnes

    The problem with Darkfall is that the designers seem to think that they have wonderful gameplay ideas that will solve most of the problems we associated with pre-Trammel UO. And from their description, they’d be right. But.. will the alignment system actually force people to choose between ganking and alignment? Or will it just force people who gank to then work back their alignment via some unforeseen workaround? Will anybody care enough to siege a city? Or to defend a city? What happens when The L33t Cr3w sieges a city at 3 am with 40 people?

    These are all very real and very serious problems with the sort of open-PvP game design that UO, Shadowbane, and now Darkfall are attempting to deliver. Frankly, I doubt that Darkfall will do much better on these issues than Shadowbane did, though I wish them the best. If they do reach their design goals, it will be quite a feat, and I’m sure I and others will give their nearly-revolutionary game a spin. But I sure won’t pre-order.

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  2. heartless_

    Trammel was the easy fix for UO. I don’t think it was necessarily the right one though. A lot of problems pre-Trammel stemmed from the “bad guys” being able to exploit the “good guys”, thus the good guys left in droves. OSI at the time had a very tongue and cheek attitude towards fixing a lot of known exploits and crazily out of balance game mechanics.

    I honestly believe had the UO developers buckled down and fixed what needed to be fixed, added what players wanted, and delivered it without Trammel, the game would of been in the same shape, if not better. Instead they opted out. Copy the world, stop PKs, and everything else was gravy in their eyes.

    Darkfall will equal Shadowbane’s disaster, if not end up being worse. Shadowbane at least had the benefit of having a fairly “open to crappy games” market to play with. Not so for Darkfall.

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  3. Openedge1

    My issue is it has been 7 years in development, and still looks like it came from 7 years ago.
    I kept seeing EQ everytime I watched another video.
    As well, I stated on another blog that it seems to be all staged. Almost Machina like in it’s video quality.
    We know companies try to make their games look cool, by setting up scenes, but this looked like they used some 3D program, made some videos and called it a game.
    So, even though it is right up my alley for the type of game I wish to play…count me out for this one.
    It is still vaporware!

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  4. SpartanRedeemer

    I cannot express how overjoyed I am that Darkfall looks so unappealing to those who obviously know what good games are. Here is to the carebears never corrupting Darkfall with their presence.

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  5. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Openedge1 – I’m not sure graphics are going to be that much of an issue. You see EverQuest, but then EQ has something like 200K subscribers still. I’m betting the guys at Adventurine would declare complete success if they hit that mark.

    I think the big question is if they can deliver on their very ambitious feature set. If they could do that with a stable client I think a lot of people could easily get past graphics that were somewhat dated. That also has the advantage of lightening the system requirements as well, or it should.

    As for the “is it real?” aspect of the videos, I certainly couldn’t tell you one way or the other. But I’m willing to believe because if the videos do turn out to not accurately represent the game, it is Adventurine that will pay the price. It is in their best interest keep things as close to what people will experience.

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  6. NBarnes

    I very much doubt that Darkfall’s intended player base cares that much about graphics if the FFA PvP gameplay they want is there. In those terms, Darkfall’s competitors are Shadowbane and the dessicated corpse of UO. Moreover, most people agree that FFA PvP can be a lot of fun, but that game design technologies to successfully balance such a game so that it’s consistantly fun for everybody involved have yet to really be worked out. If Darkfall is the first to really successfully dance on the head of that pin, they won’t have any trouble reaching whatever subscriber number they have as their goal.

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  7. mutantmagnet

    ” Or will it just force people who gank to then work back their alignment via some unforeseen workaround?”

    Alignment in DF works similarily like sec status in Eve. You kill someone on your side you have to kill another player (not npc) that is considered hostile by your race. But if you harm an enemy your clan is at war with or a friend while fighting side by side against your mutal war opponent alignment doesn’t change.

    “What happens when The L33t Cr3w sieges a city at 3 am with 40 people?”

    A person declaring a siege doesn’t dictate the exact time fighting can occur. The defender is given a window of time to choose when war begins. Secondly a defender only has their clan stone (on object that must be captured to control the city) contested. The attacker puts in jeopardy all of his clans cities.

    “Darkfall’s competitors are Shadowbane and the dessicated corpse of UO.”

    Darkfall’s competition is all mmos just like how all mmos with compete each other in market context sense. As for games touting similar experiences you are forgetting Eve Online, Ryzom, some Roman game I can’t recall and (based on how people complain about WoW pvp and not how Mythic built their game) Warhammer Online & Age of Conan.

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  8. Openedge1

    I think everyone missed my point.
    The game right now is all talk. Yes, it looks ugly also. But, for full FFA, I know people could care less about visual quality.
    My MAIN point is it just did not look like the “real” thing. Almost like some dudes doing 3d Studio graphics work in their basement making the game the way THEY want it.
    I am more scared of another Gods and Heroes debacle. All talk, no action.
    For your guys sake, I hope not.

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  9. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I’m not sure I missed that point. I did comment on the “is it real?” aspect of the video clips. I just think that you have to take a bit of this on faith. The guys at Adventurine are going to be depending a lot on word of mouth to get people playing the game. If they have grossly misrepresented the game play via these videos, then that will be the message that gets out about the game and they will all be looking for new jobs a few months after launch.

    Of course, it could be some principle investor driving that sort of thing. There have been more than enough cases where a company blows their future credibility in order to stay in business today. I think we saw a lot of that in the moves my Perpetual with Gods & Heroes.

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  10. Striker

    I am sold finally on Darkfall. Reasons? There are plenty, but I will go through a few of them.

    I have played MMO after MMO since I left Asherons Call and have never found a game to equal it. Sure others are thinking I should have said EQ, but well, back then you were either EQ UO or AC, and I happen to come from AC.

    I miss the insane custimization in AC where every xp point could be placed into any skill. Now is a game that is trying to merge the ideas of the greatest hardcore MMO’s that come to mind and run with it. Very high risk, but look at their background. A team of 5 started developing this game and though have increased in size, they never sold out or took hold of that big company mentallity. For instance, games that dumb down their difficulty or make changes to try and lure WOW players to them. I highly doubt that is their goal. Small company with a realistic goal, they want to start with a base of 10’s-100k fanbase and work their way up with profits. They are not going to be able to handle a insane hype launch of millions, so that should be removed from your mind now.

    I like how it is a ruthless PVP like my old days in AC. But what I love more about it is that there is alignment. We have all had our problems with gankers killing off new recruits to our favorite games in their dieing days, but now if they want to be a ruthless killer they have to live like one in obscurity. Hiding from town guards and players, scratching out a living in flea infested dwellings unless they ban together to make their own safe haven. I will be waiting for the first time I see a player walking around ganking someone and then think they can go to a nice town and shop like everyone else. How many bank robbers or murderers do you see openly mocking us at the local grocery store? Realism is what is being implemented and I like it.

    I however will be evil, and look forward to the challenge of banning my fellow villains together to lay waste to your cities and kill those close to you. So don’t think that you are forced good, it is just only true killers will survive in DarkFall

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  11. mbp

    Darkfall sounds like vapourware indeed. However the concept does sound a lot like EVE and I can’t believe there isn’t a niche for an EVE-like fantasy based mmo. Not a WOW sized niche but a profitable niche none the less.

    I think you are reading too much into the fact that the majority of EVE players choose to stay in safe areas. The fact remains that EVE is a game where you can lose precious stuff if you do something stupid. An inevitable consequence of this that people try to keep themselves safe. Any other behaviour would be irrational.

    I also feel that those who claim that the real EVE is 0.0 warfare are equally missing the point. EVE is the sum of its parts and the high sec carebears are just as important to the game as the 0.0 warriors. They all add to the richness of the EVE experience.

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  12. Scott

    The comparison of EvE PvP, loss in EvE, compared to that of PvP in games like UO, or Darkfall isn’t a good comparison and never was.

    Honestly it drives me nuts since few knew what PvP was really like in UO and make a big deal out of it by basing assumptions off of their experience and knowledge of games like WoW.

    PvP in UO was fast, and fun. Losses were only heavy if you set yourself up to be carrying anything of significant value in your pack (which in most cases you wouldn’t be, or after the first time you’d learn not to).

    Generally you’d only go out and PvP in what I call commodity gear, cheap bought, looted, or crafted gear that had such minimal value you’d have chests back at your house holding tens upon tens of replacement sets and PvP regent bags. Contrary to the raiding style games of today, gear wasn’t the end-all be all of the game, and had relatively low value.

    So when people make assumptions of ‘hard core’ pvp and place the idea of loss with what they know of MMORPG’s of today like WoW, they always assume their risking T6 Raid gear sets representing hundreds of hours of work at the mere mention of a game feature such as being lootable upon death.

    I would expect the Darkfall developers to have enough foresight not to make that basic of a mistake, or to at least put mechanics in to allow players to flag their active worn get to be unlootable.

    As much as I love PvP, my problem and I assume many players problem with PvP in Eve-Online is it’s affinity for playing like a high stakes poker game. There’s so much setup, time, and effort put into fights that often come down to all or nothing. Somebody eventually pushes in all their chips to commit, locks your ship down and often the result leads to a fairly heavy loss on one side with a severe loss of time in order to re-equip and rebuild after a fight. A lot of that can be minimized, but even I cannot get past the texas hold-em no limit style of Eve where I feel wiped out after a fight regardless if I have a full hanger and billions of isk waiting for me, it’s mainly the hassle in engaging in, and the times of being defeated that negates much of the few seconds of adrenaline induced fun of the battles.

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  13. Neri

    The only thing that remotely interests me about Darkfall is that for once someone is doing a damn beast race without watering it down.

    Scott, didn’t the whole PvP looting thing give rise to Naked PK Wizards in UO? Carting around nothing but the reagents necessary to kill you…

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  14. Alice Cooper

    @ Neri

    Yes, the typical PK mage would wear no clothes, and carry only the regs needed to cast spells.

    I’ve killed more people online in my skimpies than you can imagine.

    Signed,
    Alice Cooper
    Chesapeake Shard (Server)
    4,023 murder count (The highest on Chesapeake [before I quit])

    I must consider my sins!

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