Posted in Dev Logs
by Ron on Sep 02, 2021 18:27 PM
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Welcome to PlayRF Dev Logs!

In our original Dev Logs for RF Community (RFC), we wrote various articles about our decisions behind the (re)design of the game. Players were very receptive to hearing our full and transparent thoughts.

We feel sharing our open thoughts and encouraging deep discussion about them is one of the best ways to collectively address the flaws of our favorite game. Today we're taking the first step of bringing this open discussion into PlayRF.

Transparent discussion and challenging the typical mindset of RF is the only way this game is going to progress in a sustainable way. We were actually so open and transparent with RFC that we feel we convinced official servers to start picking up on some of our changes. For example, our increased party size on RFC that official copied a few months after we released our Dev Log covering the change. It's a shame they never took our increased object view range... but I digress.

Some interesting discussion recently occurred in our Discord. I began typing a response but quickly met the character limit even for Discord Nitro. Rather than dropping a long paste that will get lost in chat, I thought to myself; "what better chance to re-ignite Dev Logs?"

Today we are starting off our first PlayRF Dev Log by discussing some of the points players recently raised in Discord. We hope that sharing of these thoughts will encourage even more discussion on these issues while also giving players insight as to why certain changes are being made. We also hope this first log helps players understand the importance of keeping an open mind.

Solo Play

Remember that RF was not designed as a solo game. The cap in the original release, what most call as "classic", was much lower. The game focused more on progression over time and tactical group PvP rather than rushing to end-game as quickly as possible and one-shotting your enemies.

Once CodeMasters (CM) closed and CCR took over publishing the game with releasing 2232, they started decreasing the difficulty of the 1-50 grind in an effort to get players to end-game faster. The reasoning is they wanted to players to feel less "behind" and more quickly catch back up to where they were on CM, hence introduction of returnee weapons. When they did remove returnees in later versions, they still made the 1-50 gameplay even easier and faster without them.

They designed the new end-game around making cash shop boosts a borderline requirement to progress. Retail went as far as decreasing base run speed just to sell you speed charms to make up for it. They decreased tank aggro generation just to motivate you to spend on items that help make it back up to make your class functional again.

Private servers multiply this exponentially in an effort to extract as much money as possible from their players. This leads to an unsustainable game and is directly related to why the only consistency between most servers is the fact they will restart (wipe) every other month to refresh the cycle, be it a transparent decision or a fabricated "issue".

If players could solo throughout the entire game with no outside help, these servers would not make as much money, and these servers would be less inclined to keep "restarting". This leads you to an experience that is nearly completely optimized around the thought of solo progression. They don't want you as an individual player to feel held back because this isn't what motivates you to spend money.

As a result, RF players of today are not used to the originally designed grind. They are expecting the 1-50 range to be fast and not require group effort. We feel the true justifications were to get players to 50+ content as fast as possible so that they do not feel "behind" and will be more inclined to spend in the cash shop.

That isn't a game. That's a real-life money sink. The only difference is your work, money, and most importantly time, disappear at the whim of server owners who do not care beyond finding ways to make you spend more money. They aren't creating a game, they are creating a money draining machine.

Breaking the Solo Cash Shop Mold

For PlayRF, it is different. PlayRF will not be designed around requiring cash shop boosts to progress. PlayRF will be designed around every player having the same in-game opportunity regardless of how much money is in their pocket.

RF is a PvP game with a complex economy system. We feel the focus should be on PvP, gear optimization, economy, and working together. While player progression effort is important and is required for a sustainable game, it should not be setup in a way that you need to spend money to overcome poor game design.

Players who work together will have an easier time than players who decide to solo. You will still be able to solo, but the experience will not be as seamless as you no longer have the paid boosts and negative game adjustments that made soloing more viable in the first place.

I will admit that a big challenge for us is retraining players to adjust to the reverted experience, and forcing them to reconsider what they understand as what the typical RF experience should be like. There is a high chance of failure, but we would rather fail than to regurgitate the RF cash shop mold.

For example, for various reasons mostly related to PvP balance, the highest attainable gear level will only ever be 50. That isn't to say only the current 50 gear will ever be available, but it will be the max effective level players need to reach. Once you hit 50, you're endgame, and you can work on a variety of areas without ever needing to worry about grinding level again.

Beyond level 50 gear, RF turns into a game of who one-shots who first, removing the majority of tactical play and by effect reducing the usefulness of utility classes who make the most impact in tactical situations. Some aspects will need to be adjusted with the mindset of a 50 cap, but those are challenges we are both willing and capable of addressing.

On PlayRF, you will have a grind throughout the 1-50 experience, but not the slow experience players think of when we say "grind". While we think players should not reach cap in a matter of days, we also think it should not take months to progress through a handful of levels. That isn't what we are going for at all.

Design Flaws

Due to the design aspects mentioned above, a lot of modern RF is not setup with a focus on the 1-50 experience. That is why when you set 50 as the target goal, a lot of the game feels very broken. Pretty much everything to do with the game needs to be adjusted for the focus on the lower level ranges to make sense again.

This was the biggest factor in regards to us stepping away from AoP. Since they raised cap in AoP, they made mobs such as VC and higher into an actual solo game. It is directly mentioned in the official AoP patch notes that changes were made to help improve solo play. They also added "channels" to maps to spread out players even more for a less interrupted solo experience.

Many aspects need to be changed to make a 1-50 experience sustainable long term. When changing the goal of the game, the design needs to be overhauled as well. Setting the cap to 50, making minor adjustments to content, and then calling it "classic" just doesn't work. Classic was flawed, too. We need to do a lot better than simply reverting to older days.

Party Questing

We aren't just developing. We are also actively testing the game ourselves. In one of our latest tests we noticed a pretty big flaw in early game party play.

Imagine you start playing day one with a total party size of 8 players. For example purposes let's just say everyone is on Bellato and they are all just starting their Lunker quest in Rift Cave. Everyone has a requirement to kill 20 Lunkers.

You kill a Lunker and get your quest objective to 1/20. You then kill another Lunker and you are at 2/20. One of you party members then kills an additional Lunker, but your quest objective remains at 2/20.

The only time a Lunker kill counts to your quest objective is when you last hit the monster yourself. Others killing Lunkers does not progress your quest objective, and on the other side, you killing Lunkers does not progress the quest objective of other members in your party.

Do you see the major flaw with this yet?

With this design, with 8 players in your party all on the same quest of killing 20 Lunkers, the party as a whole would need to kill a total of 160 Lunkers before everyone can progress together. If a member who already completed the quest is just trying to help their friends, if they last hit the Lunker by mistake, the kill is wasted.

This creates a situation where the game essentially forces you to solo quest to progress through your quest chain. You can micro manage who last hits each monster, but this is not very intuitive and creates a frustrating questing experience. With this mechanic it is easier to just solo.

Most modern games allow parties to complete quests together. This allows players to team up and progress much faster than if they were on their own. You still have the option of solo play if that is what you prefer, but group play is not penalized.

In our next patch, all quests will count as party capable quests. If you play through the quest chain with a friend or group of friends, you will all be able to progress together without holding each other back.

We feel this is significant because it changes the early game dynamic. It will streamline questing and encourage players to group together to progress even faster. In our example, the requirement of 160 Lunkers for 8 players to progress drops down to just 20. Sure, you will complete quests a little faster and will have gaps to fill with grinding, but you can level a lot faster in a group with party bonuses than you can on your own. This also has a trickle down affect in many areas such as reducing the amount of currency each player must spend on potions.

Quests will be getting even more of an overhaul in the future. Certain changes will be made to keep quests inline with other changes we are going to make. This is just one example of a change we can implement today to give players a feeling of the overall direction we are taking.

Leveling Difficulty

We noticed some testers had disagreements in regards to what the difficulty should be, specifically in regards to leveling from 1-40. Most players typically expect VC to become harder so I want to instead touch base on the grind up to 40.

The grinding difficulty getting up to 40 is currently a bit tricky to have an open discussion about. There are certain aspects about our production release that we want to keep as last minute surprises.

We generally agree that the current grind up to 40 is faster than we want it to be. We want to encourage party play throughout the full grind rather than just in the last part of it. Solo'ing to 40 doesn't fit the overall design we are trying to achieve.

That being said, we don't want to make it "slower" to progress up to level 40 on our 50 cap. We just want to encourage grouping as much as possible for the content players may be progressing through at the time rather than soloing through the majority of it.

I can't say too much more than that right now. Expect changes to the early leveling experience, but also expect these changes to be intuitive in nature and not intended just to artificially "slow you down".

In regards to PT rates, remember that this is a long term game. It wont take you months to get GM PTs, but its not going to take you a few days, either. In our final design, expect to put in a reasonable amount of work to attain GM PTs. New players should not expect to catch up to existing players within a matter of days, but it will not be such a large progression gap that you will never be able to catch up. Players who do place focused effort on PTS should and will stand out above others. That is just part of RF.

The general rule for us is any player putting in reasonable effort should always feel like they are progressing.

Drop System

Monster drops are a primary driver of economy in RF. This is why we have placed so much focus on drops throughout our first two alpha phases.

The default drop system in RF is very flawed. Players fight against a "dot system" that constantly changes your drop rate based on your level. In standard RF, being higher or lower leveled than the monster you are fighting reduces your drop rates. You only get 100% effective drop rate when fighting monsters the same level as you.

On top of this, RF uses not only drop rate, but "operation count" to determine how often to drop items. Operation counts are the "rolls per kill" you get when killing a monster. For example, killing a monster that has a looting row with an operation count of 5 is similar to killing a monster five times with an operation count of 1. Operation counts do not change with level but they do change by monster as well as the type of items being dropped.

Some items may have an effective 1% rate but with an operation count of 5. Other items may have a drop rate of 3% with an operation count of 15, or a drop rate of 10% with an operation count of 3...

Confused yet? I wouldn't blame you if you were.

Streamlining Drops

The biggest change we have made is removal of the dot system's affect on drop rates. On PlayRF, no matter what level you are, you always receive 100% of the effective drop rate defined in the drop table.

You can be level 50 killing Flems and you will get the same drop rate as you were if you were level 1. This allows you to go back and farm lower leveled monsters without a penalty. On the other hand, a group of low levels could team up against high level monsters, and you will get the same drops as if you were the appropriate level for the monster.

For example, farming low tier booty at a high level would no longer require you to break down higher tier booty. Revisiting these lower level monsters at your higher level would allow you to still farm the specific items you are looking for.

The result is an environment where the drop rates set in the table are the true drop rates you will see in every situation regardless of your level. This allows us to more consistently control drop rates and rarity of certain items throughout the game. This system also entirely eliminates the need to create alt characters simply for farming certain areas.

Gear Level Adjustments

In addition to inconsistent rate calculations, gear levels from monsters are also not ideal. Since modern RF has been designed around quick progression through lower levels, the levels of gear obtained from monsters is much higher than the level you are when killing them for the first time.

This creates a situation where players are not obtaining level appropriate gear while they are progressing. It doesn't make much sense for a level 10 player progressing normally through their quest chain to be getting level 17-20 gear from quest appropriate monsters. It makes more sense for players to receive drops appropriate to their current level, especially on an original rate server.

Our global looting table has been adjusted to bring gear levels inline with normal progression. This enables a level 10 player to receive level 10-12 drops during normal progression, versus receiving items they will need to hold on to for a long time before being able to utilize them. This will bring more of a sense of immediate progression rather than filling your bags with items you are saving for future use and having no immediate affect on your ability to kill monsters.

Editing Complexity

If you have seen the RF drop table, you understand how time consuming it can be to modify them. It is near impossible for a human to make the adjustments we are making by hand.

These changes have been made possible through creation of a custom tool that allows us to rework the drop table with a custom algorithm utilizing monster data to determine the appropriate gear level for its drops. Our tool also corrects a lot of issues in the drop table that came straight from CCR, such as duplicated items within drop rows and mixed item types within rows. This tool also allows us to control setting drop rates by item type.

It will take us some time to perfect our algorithm to generate the most optimized drop tables. We are getting closer but it isn't perfect yet. Expect drops to continue to be adjusted throughout all of our alpha phases.

There are two main reasons why all of this work is going into the drop system. These come down to crafting and the combine system, which I will talk about next.

Crafting

The primary reason behind our heavy focus on drops is to enable us to increase reliance on crafting.

If a solo player is able to get their full intense gear sets as they progress, the reliance on crafting is decreased to utility items such as ammo. We feel the strong focus on player creation of items over excessively positive RNG from monster drops is what will help create a consistently flowing economy. If players received optimal gear just from the normal leveling experience, there is little to no incentive to trade items, and thus little to no justification or incentive for players contributing to the in-game economy.

Part of the problem with this is the currently uncontrollable crafting system. We do not currently have a way to easily control crafting fail rates. The only ways are to either hex edit the zoneserver, or to control this by patching in custom code (zone module). We are going the module route because in addition to the fail rate, we want control over the rates specs are able to craft Type A and Intense gear, which is a critical part of our drop design.

Type A & Intense Gear

Testers have noted a clear difficulty in obtaining level appropriate Intense gear outside of quests. This is intentional, and is in relation to us wanting to encourage the use of crafting to obtain these items.

Players have the expectation of always being in a full level appropriate set of intense gear to grind. Intense gear is a special grade for a reason... it is supposed to be rare and difficult to come across, therefore it should not be expected. Players who want the highest tier of gear available to them should expect to work for it rather than expecting it to fall in their hands. Expecting to receive one of the highest tiers of gear at every level removes the sense of progression from gear outside of talic upgrades, or at least it does to us.

We would argue that if intense gear is such an expectation, what about normal (white) gear? Should we remove all white gear from the game and only drop intense gear? If the argument is intense gear is required to stand against level appropriate mobs, we ask why you are soloing in the first place in a game originally designed around party play.

That being said, intense should not be impossible to obtain. More players means more drops, which means more of these items in the economy. However we definitely do not feel this should be the only way to obtain this gear... which brings me into the crafting aspect.

Our intention is for specs to be able to reliably create Type A and Intense gear for all levels. If a spec is crafting level 20 weapons, we want there to be a very reasonable rate to receive a Type A or Intense weapon. The same would extend to creation of Intense armor.

A challenge is the crafting system is somewhat uncontrollable through raw game data. We have control over the rate of items received from a successful craft, but we do not have control over the fail rate. Additionally we do not have control over which classes can receive Type A or Intense gear from crafting in general.

We will be solving these problems in the future to help make the crafting system more consistent and reliable. This will help fill in the gear gaps players are identifying within the current drop system and turn crafting into a useful game mechanism rather than a useless side show.

Combinations

An additional aspect to consider is the combination system.

Players will be able to utilize the combination system to create Type A weapons as typically expected. Ability extractors can be used to help create the Type A weapons of choice. Currently no combinations for Intense weapons or armor exists, however we do plan to create them if we find it necessary.

We generally dislike the combination system because there is no intuitive way to explain to players how to create certain items even if we do add custom recipes. The website will help with this in the future, but we still prefer crafting over combinations because the recipes are explained within the game.

Some of our ideas are waiting to see what we solve with the crafting system. We do still want to utilize combinations so non-spec classes still have the option at a chance of creating certain gear they may be looking for. We want to decrease reliance on combinations through crafting but we do not want to fully remove the system. What is left of the combine system will be streamlined and made more intuitive.

We don't have too much more to say about combinations yet because we need to solve crafting first. However, keep in mind that if we can't solve the gear gaps with bringing focus to crafting, we will solve them by bringing more focus to combinations.

You Made It!

I apologize for the giant wall of text... A lot of explanation was needed to clarify parts of our design so players have a more thorough understanding of what we are going for.

The main thing we want you to take away is that we are still in a very early stage. Not everything makes sense today because we simply had to pick somewhere to start. Many of our ideas play on each other, so we can't adjust one area without being absolutely certain of what we are doing in another. Give us some time and we promise things will start coming together in ways that make more sense. A lot of thought is being put into the game design to make sure we cover every possible aspect.

One thing we can say for sure... The native state of 2232 is not what we consider a sustainable game, and we are not releasing PlayRF until we are completely confident in a sustainable game design. We will continue to run alpha phases focusing on varying aspects of the game until we feel everything is coming together in the right way. Development will pick up speed once we get through these initial hurdles and the areas that are slow to test.

As always we are very open to any and all feedback you are able to give to us. We enjoy hearing the perspective of players and we will continue to include the feedback we receive in the design direction we are going for. Please join us on Discord and let us know your thoughts!

If you made it this far, we just want to say we sincerely thank you for your interest in our work. We are doing this for the love of the game and we hope our work reflects that.