The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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6:50pm on Tuesday, 8th March, 2016:
I've been playing Black Desert for several days now, and have to say I'm impressed not only by its extent but by the way its component systems all fit together. It's a superbly-engineered piece of game design. OK, so the instructions are opaque, the mini-games are irritating and if you want to find a decent place to set up your wheatfield you can forget it, but these are just nit-picking complaints when set alongside everything that's good about it.
Example: there's a system for putting "energy points" into trade nodes. Energy points accumulate based on how long you play (one every 3 minutes) and they have a variety of uses. If you put them into trade nodes, that increases the drop rates in the area that trade node covers. This helps you, but it's "family"-based, meaning it also helps your alts. When you start a new character, it can therefore advance faster than if you start afresh, because you've invested energy in the trade nodes through which the character will be progressing. This in turn means that a few years down the line, the developers won't have to dumb down early content and increase XP gain (so people can level their alts quicker) as players can speed up their alts' progress themselves; this means that new players don't have a diminished experience of the early game just to satisfy players who want to breeze through it.
The level of detail is impressive. OK, not so impressive as in some text MUDs, but there's more verisimilitude than in most MMOs around. The inventory is still abstracted unrealistically ("Shall I drop this one gem or these 120 potion bottles?", because obviously they take up the same amount of space in your pockets), however you can't dry fish if it's raining, money has weight and you at least look wet after you've swum to an island.
This kind of thoughtfulness inside of design applies outside of design, too. For example, to get a horse you need to capture one, but there's a limited number of them — they spawn in only a few places, maybe three or so every couple of hours. This would be bad if thousands of players were all trying to capture a horse at once, but the developers gave away horses in pre-orders specifically to lessen the impact: instead of thousands of people wandering the horse-spawning sites, there are just a handful.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of the game, although will shortly have 4 weeks of relentless student assignment-marking to slow me down. My main concern for its long-term playability centres around the impact of its cash shop, though. This is the kind of game that needs a level playing field, and if people can buy their way to success then it could well suffer. I believe the developers are alert to this, but they do need to make money somehow...
Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out what the game is trying to say to people. It's very strong on the craft of design, but I'm not feeling the art yet. I'll give it more time...
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