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Bringing Back Support

Duffy Swiftshadow
Bringslite of Staalgard
It is still a control tool, yet it does not fall over us as a mandatory control tool. If used it will still polarize the hell out of all Power Blocs in the game. Where is the room left for the Up-And-Coming? The Power Blocs will still have great power over their local border areas: who can settle, how many hexes they can claim, how strong they can grow if they want to stay independent, etc…

But isn't that how politics and power are supposed to work in a wild universe?

Agreed and that's why this is not the only thing I'm concerned about, Support is just one of the most glaring that's on the immediate roadmap. Influence and Holding PvP are two of the others but they aren't on the list for any sort of revision at the moment. Too much ability to control other players ability to fairly interact leads to stagnation, we need to be aware and are careful of that.

On the specific point being able to access some training when you need it is very different from having to maintain what boils down to 'permission' to continue using it once you have learned it. And I think that gaining that general access is a strong enough incentive to accomplish Bob's above stated goals without getting into permission to use it continually.

@Bob
Support dictating character power levels puts downward pressure on political change and encourages more ruthless behavior patterns by those at the top, I say this because I've already discussed the plans to use it that way, this is not idle thought. Coupled with no limits on influence and thus holding growth it allows the largest groups to exert a lot of power on the map. There is no nuance or meaningful choice: Get big (whether through politics or recruiting) is the answer, it's the only answer as it's the only way to insure success and access. Whichever groups accomplish that will eventually exercise control over the rest and stagnate the game.

Your alluding to other systems being based on support? What other systems? Nothing we have today seems to tie into it besides character feat access. It has some ancillary value like encouraging bulk use, but that's not a hard mechanical tie at the moment. Could you elaborate on some of that? I would be thrilled to be wrong, but so far no one has presented a counter argument of why the things we fear won't happen.

Have you tried entertaining as a thought experiment that the root idea of support (in reference to player capabilities) may just a bad idea? If it was gone what 'bad' things would potentially happen that aren't solvable with another system? I know you guys have a lot to deal with and theirs only two of you now, but in my experience one of the worst situations to be in as a developer is an echo chamber. I've got a dozen people to talk me out of bad design decisions at work and I can't imagine the stress and difficulty of getting it right with a pre-existing design that was never fully realized with only two to three people. I do not envy that, regardless of the outcomes, my hat is off to you in that regard.
Flari-Merchant
We probably have convinced Bob that support is probably not needed as an anti-grief tool.
We may have convinced Bob that support is not needed as an incentive to build our settlements up.
Let's see if we can convince Bob that without support, new players will be encouraged to join existing settlements.

Those seem to be the three most common Key Phrases that I see in his replies. But I have to wonder, why is the third part so important? Seems to me that taking away the drive to build something yourself would be counter productive for all the Would-Be-Kings out there.
Bob
Duffy Swiftshadow
Have you tried entertaining as a thought experiment that the root idea of support (in reference to player capabilities) may just a bad idea? If it was gone what 'bad' things would potentially happen that aren't solvable with another system?

My designer side loves nothing better than challenging all the assumptions of the design, exploring alternatives and variations, and generally just analyzing everything into little pieces. If it weren't for my producer side smacking me around regularly, screaming about silly things like available resources, looming deadlines and other practical considerations, I'd never get anything done.

I suspect I've run through upward of 20 different explorations of the support system over the last couple years, ranging from minor tweaks to full-blown replacements. Most get shut down when designer me concludes the change doesn't really solve the problems I'm concerned with at that time, or just causes more problems in other areas. Producer me kills another good chunk of them by pointing out that they're just not feasible right now. Those that survive I bring to Cole and Lisa, who helpfully ground my hopes and dreams into a fine powder, the black market sales of which is what's actually keeping the servers running.

The only idea to survive that process so far has been this tweak, moderating support to make it much less punitive than the original design. That's not really surprising, since support has been in since the beginning and was debated repeatedly back when we had an even larger team. It's a survivor.

We've all felt for some time that support (or some alternative) needed to return soon, and some of the systems coming online soon (e.g. settlement takeovers, settlement structure upgrades, changes to bulk resource production) added to the time pressure. The easiest way to cover this need would have been to simply turn support back on, since literally all we had to do for that was make support level start come from settlement level again, instead of just setting support level to 20 for all settlements. All this tweak required was a slight change to the math that previously limited active rank to supported rank, to instead have it limit active rank to a point between learned rank and supported rank. Then we threw on a tiny UI change to make the results of support clearer, which honestly we kind of needed even with the original support system because we regularly got customer support questions asking ranks had been lost. We also fixed a bug where settlements failing to pay upkeep dropped to settlement level 0 instead of 9, something we wanted to fix anyway but that really needed to be fixed before anyone found their support level dropped to 0 as well. All of that was a very minimal amount of actual work, largely because so much work was done in the past to implement the support system in the first place.

There are certainly other alternatives that could replace support, but none remotely as easy to design and implement as what we've done for EE 12, and none that we've yet found so compelling and likely to work that we'd even want to talk about it as a long-term goal to tackle sometime after we complete the roadmap. We're not against changes where needed, even for systems as central to the original design as support is, but we don't want to give the impression that we're likely to head in a direction when we don't have a plan that we're convinced will eventually work. And right now we have to focus on getting all the aspects of the roadmap working together, so there's not a lot of time to explore things beyond the roadmap in depth, and support is definitely one that calls for a deep exploration before committing to any big deviations from the original plan.
Bob
Bringslite of Staalgard
We probably have convinced Bob that support is probably not needed as an anti-grief tool.
We may have convinced Bob that support is not needed as an incentive to build our settlements up.
Let's see if we can convince Bob that without support, new players will be encouraged to join existing settlements.

Those seem to be the three most common Key Phrases that I see in his replies. But I have to wonder, why is the third part so important? Seems to me that taking away the drive to build something yourself would be counter productive for all the Would-Be-Kings out there.

The general assumption was that most players won't have territorial ambitions, and will instead be focused more on the advancement of their own character. However, we still wanted to draw them into the territorial aspects of the game, and push them to pick a side to battle on. Giving settlements the ability to train better feats or ranks than NPC settlements would get characters to visit those player settlements, but we wanted a compelling, continuous advantage that would get them to actually join a settlement and throw their efforts into helping that settlement expand and upgrade, and the mechanism chosen for that was support. Characters pretty quickly rise to the point where they can benefit from the lowest levels of support, so they do want to join a settlement early on, but almost any active settlement can offer support at a level that will let characters fully support their feats/ranks for a year or so, and the EE 12 tweak makes that time last even longer.

For those who do want to make a go of it on their own, the idea was always for them to join existing settlements at first, get trained up while also building up a company and stockpiling some goods, then go out and claim some territory with or without the blessing of their current settlement. A company of nothing but newer characters that tried to strike out on its own too soon would be easy pickings unless they had powerful friends anyway. There's also ultimately supposed to be a mechanism whereby support drops off more slowly, to give characters a little time to take advantage of full support while starting up a new settlement, but this tweak already blocks characters from losing about half of their support anyway, so there's less of a rush to add that cushion at this time.
Flari-Merchant
@ Bob

Can you elaborate on what systems are reliant on a support mechanic?

What happens to support when individual buildings are set to individual levels? Seems like that could get messy with all of the skills that you can't have without this or that pre req skill.
Bob
Bringslite of Staalgard
@ Bob

Can you elaborate on what systems are reliant on a support mechanic?

What happens to support when individual buildings are set to individual levels? Seems like that could get messy with all of the skills that you can't have without this or that pre req skill.

We're still debating what happens with support and individual buildings. The original plan was that you got specific support from specific buildings, but we blogged as long as two years ago that we were concerned about that system and exploring alternatives. We have some thoughts on it, enough to be convinced that we'll be able to come up with something satisfactory by the time those individual structure upgrades go in, but don't have anything you'd call a plan at this point. Fortunately, we've got some time before we need one.

As for systems that are reliant on support, to be clear, it's not like the systems have a technical reliance on it. Instead, the need to obtain support is an integral part of the balance calculations for those systems, and is often a major part of the value proposition that certain things offer. As a simple example, consider the structures that only train combat skills. With the original support plan, those were incredibly valuable because they offered specific combat support, something obviously of extreme importance to a great number of settlement members and that could only be obtained at the highest levels from those buildings.

Remove support entirely and it's difficult to make those buildings worth the space and the upkeep. We'd either need to rethink the abilities at all the structures, or implement other benefits to add to structures that provide similar value propositions. I don't doubt that there are possibilities that would work, but they'd all require a lot of effort.

Leave in some form of support and then we get to leverage an existing system in various ways to provide balance. We may not do it the exact way originally planned, but it remains a lever we can push and pull in various ways to balance the value propositions for all the structures. It's much easier to just change the way the lever drives the existing support system than to replace the system entirely.

Again, that's just one specific example. Value propositions throughout the game are driven by the value of support, and there'd have to be a lot of rethinking to do if it disappeared.

All that said, that doesn't mean that it's essential for settlements to be the only method for getting support. It's more like we want that to be the most cost-effective way of providing support in bulk. We're very interested in eventually providing other ways of gaining support, and some of those methods nearly made it on to the roadmap (not necessarily just for support purposes in each case, but that was part of the consideration).
Flari-Merchant
For REAL: Thank you for taking all of this time to discuss all of this with us, Bob. It isn't normal in the industry. At least not in my middling experience.

If I grasp what you are trying to get across, you are still concerned that with Universal Support a settlement would not need to build structures at all? Does that mean that eventually if you do not have the right buildings you will not be able to support certain skills?
Midnight
Bringslite of Staalgard
Midnight
Bringslite of Staalgard
I guess what I am trying to say is:

2. If/when a single group can dictate to or control an entire world, the game is a FAIL or over.

and yet, we've seen global policy edicts,

and we've seen players just last week express an interest in game generated global intel so they can see who is complying with their blacklist policies.

People have been bold enough to TRY and people are obviously making plans even now.
You have seen attempts at Global POLICY making that probably could have been delivered in a better way. As you also saw, it didn't go over well…

I'm also thinking of the core 6 tower edict that all the established powers agreed to, some quite reluctantly due to exactly the ability to lose support, back then, if ganged up on.

But back to that other edict, the reason it didn't succeed was because it was issued with way too much bulk goods in vaults, support to 20, and no way to capture an active settlement. Their edict was just premature, apparently.

He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
-Edmund Burke
Midnight
I'm encouraged after reading Bob's replies, that he sees what we see and thus, over time, it can be addressed.

I am still concerned what new players will think of the idea that their character strength is in the hands of others.

But there's a lot of time until the big marketing spend, and since the development team is also aware of the issue this might all still become a game that can attract and retain folks.
He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
-Edmund Burke
Duffy Swiftshadow
First, thank you for the elaborate replies Bob, it is greatly appreciated information despite what my incessant whining may imply smile

As for the topic at this point I guess I don't have anything to add unless someone has a new point. The arguments so far have not convinced me of it's value, only that it's not something I nor do I think many others would want to experience in an MMO. I think Support is a fundamental mistake that has different yet strong negative ramifications for veterans and new players alike that works at odds with what the game is trying to accomplish. I believe it will end up hurting the game as it is too large a hurdle to overcome if it gets used like it's supposed to be used.

My last ditch effort: I ask you to just hold off for now then. It's not going to affect the majority of us if it was turned on tomorrow anyways. According to my math if we had no holdings we could run Canis Castrum and Hope's End with T3 support for at least 2-3 more years with the current supplies, and I'm sure our stockpiles are the lowest among the old guard. Revisit support when you get to the individual building upkeep, it seems like it will need a major tweak at that point anyways. See how things are by then, when a bunch of the systems that could achieve some of the goals of support have been active for awhile. Or if something really comes up between now and then it sounds like a small enough change that you can hot patch it in if necessary.
 
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