Darkrot

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Darkrot

PostPosted by Flatfingers » Sun Jun 22, 2014 7:18 pm

I'd like to address the one significant concern I have about what has been shown and discussed about FRONTIERS so far. I can name this concern in one word: darkrot.

To begin with: when I'm trying to see in the night (4:40 in the Guild University video), the orb light is blinding to the point of nearly being painful. I appreciate the effort to simulate how the eye works, but this effect is so strong that I'm inclined never to use it such lights... except that I will have to use something like it if I ever want to go outside at night because of:

Darkrot.

I've searched for references to this to try to understand its purpose and function. The only description I've found is the devlog from 2013/11/11 chortling about adding this feature:

Railboy wrote:I took a brief break to work on darkrot, which I can't wait to spring on unsuspecting alpha testers. Hehehe.

Right. I can see that this is one of those features that feels like it will be fun.

At the risk of being disinvited from the forum, I'd like to ask: is darkrot really going to feel like "fun" to most players of FRONTIERS?

Let's start with what darkrot is supposed to add to the game. What is darkrot supposed to add to the game?

I haven't seen any explanation for why it needs to be included, or why it needs to function as it has so far been shown to do. I think I heard a reference in the Guild University video that there is some lore behind it, and possibly a hint that it's part of the overall challenge/story of the game itself, but I'm not aware of any other information about it.

It does appear that, as in Minecraft, there is intended to be a survival aspect to playing FRONTIERS. That will appeal to the gamers who play games because they enjoy high levels of exciting simulation. That's not me, but it certainly is a lot of people, some of whom will likely be drawn to FRONTIERS. I unequivocally support providing content that they can enjoy.

But that brings me back to the question of whether darkrot really serves either thoughtful exploratory play or exciting survival play.

It's already feeling not-fun to me just seeing it in action in the Guild University video. I don't consider myself representative of all gamers, but I do suspect I may be representative of at least some of the people attracted to FRONTIERS because of its strong exploration gameplay. I don't know that others will agree with me, though, so I'm asking: am I the only one who feels that the fun of FRONTIERS will be weakened, not strengthened, by darkrot as it has been shown so far?

What I'm concerned about is the mechanical effect of this feature (as shown so far) on exploration and stealthy play and active combat play. Darkrot as shown so far makes me think that trying to do anything in the Wild at night will be more trouble than it's worth. It shows up if you don't keep moving, and you can't really do anything about it other than start moving around again.

My impression is that this interrupts exploration. It also offers the survival-oriented players no active way to fight darkrot.

To put it another way, this feature of the game is actively penalizing me for wanting to see how the world of FRONTIERS behaves when it's dark. Darkrot punishes me for trying to explore at night.

We're told that a sufficiently bright light will keep the darkrot from infecting us. But that is passive play, not active play. Even if I step close enough to one bit of darkrot to dissipate it, others will form as long as I'm not constantly moving quickly.

Is that desirable? Does a feature whose only counter is avoidance "fit" with the rest of the design of FRONTIERS if this game is intended to encourage active exploration and survival play?

A warning that I'm not just blowing smoke here can actually be heard at 6:20 in the Guild University video: "stuck until morning fighting off the [darkrot] clouds." Will most players really find that enjoyable?

This reminds me of the comment in the Trapping video at about 7:20: "Don't go out at night." I understand that this might have been a joke made as a little self-deprecating humor at the repeated demises of Our Hero. But I have to think there might have been a little bit of truth to that comment.

While I appreciate and agree with the idea that there are survival elements in FRONTIERS, and that they are harder when it's nighttime in the game, I'm not persuaded yet that darkrot effectively supports that design goal. A mechanical feature that strongly discourages exploration -- even at night when there are other dangers -- means that players are being told "don't go out at night," effectively cutting them off from exterior exploration during roughly half of the time the game is running.

The game is called "FRONTIERS." Frontiers are dangerous, and reasonably even more so at night. I get that, and I support that. My question is whether darkrot, which can only be responded to passively, effectively serves the goal of making exploring these frontiers fun as a game.

The interruptive effect of darkrot would be mitigated somewhat if players had an active way to dissipate darkrot. Then it would be another tactical gameplay challenge, similar to wandering monsters, for the player to figure out how to handle. But then it might lose its quality as an effect that's frightening precisely because you can't directly fight it.

So: assuming I'm not the only person who's thinking about darkrot in this way, is there some way to modify it so that it is less of an interruption to gameplay and more of an active gameplay feature? Is some active way of dealing with it planned or implemented but just not shown to us yet?

Alternately, is darkrot the only way to produce the effect of dreading nighttime in the wild frontier? Is there some less frustrating way of inducing caution (beyond the dangers of aggressive nocturnal creatures) in players who choose to go out into the Wild at night?

To put it directly: is darkrot fun as gameplay? If not, how can it be improved?

Thanks for giving fair consideration to these observations and questions, which (as always) are meant to be constructive notes on a game I enthusiastically want to succeed.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Railboy » Sun Jun 22, 2014 8:10 pm

OK, so I recently went on a lengthy rant about players (or potential players) making demands of developers, and how I thought this was bad for everyone.

I bring this up because I want to use this post as a point of contrast. This post is well reasoned, well-stated, not hyperbolic or hysterical, and with a general undertone of mutual respect. It's demanding, sure, but in exactly the right way. This is how the developer-player should work, in my opinion.

I'm in the middle of a big feature audit but once that's through I'll return to this thread. (Nobody else touch this one - thanks.)
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by yarnevk » Sun Jun 22, 2014 10:33 pm

My only complaint about that scene is the way the lantern is held, nobody holds one in front of their eye like that effectively blinding them, no matter how much you want to show off blinding HD gfx.

But I am not going to comment on gameplay that I have not played. The sea has its monsters to keep you out of it, so if night has something to be avoided that is OK with me. Passive dangers that you can easily mitigate is that part of survival of being prepared. Is it any different than building a fire when camping out in D&D on your overland travel to avoid any bad encounters?
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Railboy » Mon Jun 23, 2014 1:40 am

OK. One piece at a time.

there is intended to be a survival aspect to playing FRONTIERS


Yes. And every aspect of survival exists to support exploration, including darkrot.

In the first 6 months or so of developing FRONTIERS I created a prototype that was pure exploration with zero tension, which is what I thought I was after. And it was... boring. Really fucking boring. I felt restless and fidgety while playing it. Figuring this out prompted one of a few start-from-scratch re-imaginings.

So the thrill of exploration and a feeling of relaxation don't come from those things, it turns out. Who knew? I realize it seems counter-intuitive, but darkrot is an important part of the recipe that actually does create those feelings. I've been tweaking that recipe for over a year now. I won't claim it's perfect - playtesting will result in a lot of tweaking - but it's a hell of a lot closer than the yawn-fest I started out with.

Darkrot as shown so far makes me think that trying to do anything in the Wild at night will be more trouble than it's worth.


Yes - at first, anyway. If all you have is a lantern, you'll want to avoid going outside at night.

But that is passive play, not active play. Even if I step close enough to one bit of darkrot to dissipate it, others will form as long as I'm not constantly moving quickly.


Right. A better solution would be to set up a campfire, or several campfires. Or to create a ring of light around yourself, if you absolutely must remain where you are. Or to create a campsite, which counts as civilized terrain, in which case darkrot won't form at all. But that will require a path linked to existing civilization, so that'll take a bit of work. And of course you can avoid going out at night altogether.

But that's an irritating thought, isn't it? It irritated you enough to motivate a long forum post. If you'll go that far outside the game, who knows what you'll be willing to do in the game? My hope is a lot.

A warning that I'm not just blowing smoke here can actually be heard at 6:20 in the Guild University video: "stuck until morning fighting off the [darkrot] clouds." Will most players really find that enjoyable?


They'll undoubtedly find it frustrating. The first night they'll get hosed and realize, 'oh, I do have to think a bit. Not like Dark Souls level thinking, but I've got to keep a light on upstairs while I'm playing.' The next night they'll wonder 'okay, where's my lantern? What path am I taking? Is there a campsite nearby? There isn't one near where I'm going. Can I build one?' Eventually they'll start making paths so they can bring civilization to unexplored areas. (By the way, paths weren't cut, just one aesthetic feature related to them.) And of course there are methods of avoiding darkrot that I haven't revealed yet. All of them require you to do more exploring - you'll have to gather skills & knowledge and materials from all over.

But eventually you'll find yourself walking through the night without fear. Imagine that you're all stocked up and prepared for whatever, and you step outside. It's a relaxing feeling isn't it? Like stepping into the freezing cold wearing a nice thick jacket. You'll appreciate the moonlight a lot more knowing that you're surrounded by a conquered danger. And heck every sunrise is a miracle!

Now imagine the blank state of mind that comes from not fearing anything, not having to prepare anything, not really having to think at all. 'Yeah ok I'll go outside at night, why not.' Blank isn't the same as relaxed. It's just blank. Yawn.

So no. Darkrot is not fun. But not everything that's fun is fun all the time. It's the fun kind of not-fun, the kind that makes the relaxing moments feel valuable.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Flatfingers » Mon Jun 23, 2014 5:37 am

Sincere thanks for the useful notes. I think you've taken my comments and questions exactly as intended: something is bugging me about this part of the design, and I'm not sure if it's a Real Thing or just my lack of knowledge/understanding. So I thought I'd ask.

I take your point about needing something like darkrot as grappling with the question of "why." Why explore? Why does it matter? Why would anyone want to do it? Why would anyone not get bored with doing it?

Even if I'm still not 100% sure about darkrot as currently revealed (which I'll get to in a second), it warms my heart to see a developer asking "why." Many don't. They bash out some mechanics, link them to art and audio assets, maybe have a friend throw some lore text in the mix, and call it done. That might be a fun game, but I think it's rarely a deeply engaging game. Asking "why" players would want to engage with some area of content almost immediately improves a game by helping the developer see where the bits can be linked together so that all of them are more fun. And I like deeper games.

So that's me saying, "yep, I get where the notion of darkrot came from." As a design goal, I say nothing against that.

Here are the questions I still have:

1. What does darkrot deliver as a spice to exploration that other (more actively combatable) dangers don't? What makes a problem you can't fight directly a better answer to "why explore?" than challenges that players can actually overcome?

To some extent I think you've answered that question by pointing out that, at some point in the player character's progression, there will be ways for them to, if not "beat" darkrot, at least push it aside so that it's less of an irritant.

It sounds like the early stages of playing FRONTIERS are meant to be pretty rough sledding, though. I wouldn't suggest babying players, exactly, but I might consider ways to encourage more than just the hardcore survival junkies willing to keep playing past the early stages when our characters are puny and weak.

2. It still sounds like darkrot will always be interruptive.

Interruption happens in games, and it's not always bad. I can be doing something in Skyrim and, next thing I know, a bear is trying to eat my face off. (Bears are jerks.) That's a moment (or a kind of moment) I remember.

But a wandering mob attack is a challenge that can be completed. I can kill the bear -- problem solved. That bear will not be bothering me again. I can then go back to whatever interesting thing I was concentrating on doing before I was interrupted. That interruption, while delivering some intense sensations, doesn't meaningfully get in the way of me trying to learn and do things in the world.

It doesn't sound like that's the plan for darkrot, though. If I'm understanding correctly, darkrot -- unlike hostile but mortal creatures -- will be something that's always around you at night, no matter what. You can get better at holding it back, but you can't "beat" it so that you can then focus completely on whatever other thing you were trying to focus on.

I won't call that a problem. It's more a question posed for consideration: how will that inability to "win" against darkrot be perceived by players of FRONTIERS, many of whom I suspect will be surprised to discover that this game is not so mechanically gameable as most other games?

Or is figuring out how to truly end darkrot, perhaps as a symptom of a larger, deeper problem, the ultimate goal of FRONTIERS?

Never mind. Rhetorical question. ;)

...

Finally, thanks for the correction on the paths. I think you were just saying that the automatic generation of paths based on creature/person movement patterns may not make the cut, yes?

If so, that reminds me of when I proposed exactly that mechanic to the developers of Star Wars Galaxies. Their response was approximately, "No, we're not going to implement that because some people will deliberately make paths that spell out naughty words and pictures."

:D
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by antihuman09 » Mon Jun 23, 2014 5:51 am

There was a planned feature of path-building in which placing a heavily used path would essentially degrade and eventually eliminate grass and shrubs under it (as a regularly used path does in reality). This is what has been cut for the Beta. Placing a good path will not wear away the grass under and around it.

Purely aesthetic but, if i'm honest, something i was very much looking forward to. Quite an incredibly complicated feature to implement, I always suspected.

Boo. Hopefully it will exist eventually.

I'm actually really curious about Darkrot and i love the idea of having something to fear at night. It is a bit unrealistic to be exploring at night with no greater danger than during daylight hours.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Gazz » Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:59 am

Flatfingers wrote:But a wandering mob attack is a challenge that can be completed. I can kill the bear -- problem solved. That bear will not be bothering me again. I can then go back to whatever interesting thing I was concentrating on doing before I was interrupted. That interruption, while delivering some intense sensations, doesn't meaningfully get in the way of me trying to learn and do things in the world.

It doesn't sound like that's the plan for darkrot, though. If I'm understanding correctly, darkrot -- unlike hostile but mortal creatures -- will be something that's always around you at night, no matter what. You can get better at holding it back, but you can't "beat" it so that you can then focus completely on whatever other thing you were trying to focus on.

If you can completely eliminate a game feature (like with an "Immunity: Darkrot" skill), this feature is just gone.
What will take it's place?

A gradual increase of your ability to deal with darkrot is far healthier (gameplay-wise) than a binary immunity.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by yarnevk » Mon Jun 23, 2014 1:49 pm

Think of this feature like the FrostFall mod in Skyrim. In vanilla Skyrim the environment is Artic yet has absolutely no effect on you. With FrostFall if you walk out in rags after spawn into snow you will freeze in your steps. Simply carry the fur tent and fur coat, the gameplay is exactly the same as vanilla Skyrim, except it has the risk that you might forget your coat and stay out into the cold night. The person who rage quits the mod because they died frozen in rags is not the target of the mod, sure if the mod auto puts their coat on for them like the NPC do themselves more people would play the mod. But that comes at the cost of those who wanted a mod that gives the game that tension of they might forget to put their coat on, even if they always put their coat on, otherwise the game has that same boring feel of vanilla where the weather does not matter.

Exploration/Survival is a feature that outside of the zombie horror game genre has not really existed in RPG despite the success of those Skyrim mods showing there is a market for it for game features that are not about combat that make you think and be prepared to survive. I am glad there are some indy games focusing on it despite knowing it is a niche market, because AAA gaming is never going to do it because they want to hold the hand of someone that says I should not die because it is cold out. The weather is something on earth you cannot kill with combat even though it can be the most horrifying monster, so why should darkrot be something you can kill with combat?

Even though it is just localized sprites (which BTW looks way too much like the flesh flies in ESO...), had it been implemented as a freezing voxel fog that rolls inland at night it would be the same gameplay. If you could kill it with combat then there would be no tension every time it gets dark and you have to worry about if your lantern or fire is going to lite. There is a gameplay difference between the game saying I am not going to kill you vs. I am prepared so the game will not kill me unless something goes wrong. Without that edge what motivation do you have to make civilized paths thru the world, because then it just becomes just a quest achievement no more exciting than the 'you have walked 100m achievement'.

BTW I also use the Skyrim wildlife mod that makes bears behave just as they would in the wild. Instead of rushing onto the path and eating your horse everytime you try to get anywhere, the bear lurks to the side and might even be sleeping. It actually adds tension to the game of can I get past the bear without it noticing me or waking up, is it going to attack me or not. Just like being out on a hike and seeing bear scat and bent brush your heartrate goes up in fear, something that does not happen when the bear pops up like in a carnival ride and you plink it with your bbgun, which is much what vanilla Skyrim combat feels like because it was designed like the cinematic summer blockbuster thrill ride that games need to be to sell to the console masses.

Lars is not remaking an Elder Scrolls RPG, he is making an RPG that many of us have tried to mod Elder Scrolls into being, even though some of those mods may have had a market of only tens of thousands rather than millions. Without kickstarting the $150k, these types of games never get made because 10k times $15 is $150k, there is too much danger it will not even break even for something that is niche gameplay.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Flatfingers » Wed Jun 25, 2014 6:09 am

Gazz wrote:If you can completely eliminate a game feature (like with an "Immunity: Darkrot" skill), this feature is just gone.
What will take it's place? A gradual increase of your ability to deal with darkrot is far healthier (gameplay-wise) than a binary immunity.

Sure... but who said anything about "completely eliminate" or "immunity?" Not I!

What I actually said was:

"Flatfingers wrote:is there some way to modify [darkrot] so that it is less of an interruption to gameplay and more of an active gameplay feature? Is some active way of dealing with it planned or implemented but just not shown to us yet? ... Alternately, is darkrot the only way to produce the effect of dreading nighttime in the wild frontier? Is there some less frustrating way of inducing caution (beyond the dangers of aggressive nocturnal creatures) in players who choose to go out into the Wild at night?

That's not a "hrr, make it easier!" objection; it's an open-ended question about whether there might be a way to change or replace darkrot with an environmental feature that retains the danger (and possibly the story/lore/quest arc function) without being a frustrating "it interrupts my search for knowledge and I can't do anything about it" component of the game.

If as Lars said our characters can get better about pushing it back, that helps. That's an answer to my question about whether there's a counter that we just haven't been shown yet.

I do still wonder how badly darkrot is going to spank new players and weak characters when, if the videos so far are anything to go by, even the developer is routinely getting deadified by non-darkrot challenges. But that's one of many things about this game of which I am ignorant, so I won't speculate further on it.

yarnevk, I think this response also addresses your comments, which I appreciate. I didn't play Miasmata, but I understand it had a similar exploration/survival design... or, as I like to put it, "scary thing interrupts my exploring, dammit" effect. I've grumbled about that, too. I'm nothing if not consistent. :)
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by yarnevk » Wed Jun 25, 2014 1:22 pm

I did play the mess that was miasmata. I liked the triangulation landmark map idea. But the devs was stuck on the idea that someone surviving would not even try to fashion some sort of carry bag, or that it would not be lootable in the science stations, that you could only carry your looted flora in one fraking hand, despite gathering flora being the main game mechanic and already conceding that the survivor was carrying a hip journal that could have gone in the carry bag. It was punishing to the point of absurdity because it made absolutely no sense. Even on that survival show Naked and Afraid they give them a loot bag! Want to light some branches to see at night you had to drop that rare flora you just gathered. Limited inventory makes sense, one handed inventory does not.

But the point you are missing is you insist that enemies be active combat, when if you watch any survival show it is you against the elements as the enemy and you cannot do anything about it other than be prepared and endure, it is about the mental torture rather than the physical torture that you could have been better prepared but now you are going to die. It is that falling off the ledge of not being prepared that gives the element of risk, if you could just make darkrot go away by hacking it with your sword, then that risk is no longer there because it becomes the simple +1 on your kill count no different than a wolf. Its like saying I should be able to slash my sword to make the jungle rain stop. Darkrot is just as much part of the environment and you are thinking of it as a creature.

Its a risk that can only be mitigated by engaging your wetware and thinking about what you are doing, which is something long missing from the hack and slash genre that RPG have become, even though it was always part of the foundation of the genre decades ago.

Of course there are going to be people that think 'ElderScrolls made by one guy (initially) I need to check this out', then realize it has survival elements in it and think they may not like it. That hook is there to get them to try it and realize there are other ways to make a game engaging yet not punishing torture. To me a game like Skyrim that pops up arcade bears and trolls whenever you step foot on a path is punishing (and I hear ESO VR levels took that to an extreme), and Lars has already said combat will not at all be like that. Getting yourself into dangerous situations here is always going to be your choice or your fault.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Railboy » Wed Jun 25, 2014 1:53 pm

Miasmata drove me out of my mind. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the design of the log & interface, I loved the way they presented the creature, I really loved filling in the World Map (even though the triangulation mechanic was fussier than I would have liked - in FRONTIERS it'll be a bit more automatic).

But despite all the things I loved it never gelled into actual fun for me. It's a perfect example of alarm clock gameplay, where you're doing fine exploring & relaxing until *BZEEEP BZEEEP BZEEEP* suddenly nothing matters except the obnoxious buzzing, and now I've got to hit snooze by finding another flower and doing some research or whatever. I didn't end up finishing it because I got tired of smashing the SNOOZE button.

scary thing interrupts my exploring, dammit


Pretty much, yeah. They didn't make the stuff you had to do relate closely enough to the stuff you wanted to do, in my opinion.

Darkrot is just as much part of the environment and you are thinking of it as a creature.


This is accurate - it's more like a storm than a monster. Again I'll bring up paths and the fact that it can be banished (not just dispersed, but prevented from appearing in the first place) by bringing civilization to wherever you're going. And again I'll mention that there are other ways to handle it, but I'm being cagey about those because spoilers.
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Re: Darkrot

PostPosted by Cornflakes_91 » Sun Jun 28, 2015 7:24 pm

hmm... maybe make the darkrot not appear everytime and always when you go out into the wilderness at night.

yarnevks analogy was quite hitting what i was thinking.

yarnevk wrote:Its like saying I should be able to slash my sword to make the jungle rain stop. Darkrot is just as much part of the environment and you are thinking of it as a creature.


the darkrot could be a kind of "weather" effect, not always there and "announcing" their arrival in environmental effects.
if you know how where and what to search for you can say "this night they'll appear around here" and avoid them without straight up "turtling" with lamps

like with seeing dark clouds and guessing that it will rain.

i have no idea what the environmental cues for the darkrot could be though.
but definitely not a straight up "darkrot-o-meter" you take a look at and you are done :lol:
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