RuneScape’s Barbarian Assault: a minigame done right

As I wrote previously, RuneScape’s core gameplay is incredibly monotonous (even though it is alleviated by the variation of skills and processes required to train them), road-of-thousand-miles-one-step-at-a-time style. Distraction from The Grind is provided by quests (and those aren’t of the “kill 10 wildlife” variety – stories! puzzles! limited amount of hand-holding, so you can be genuinely stuck unless you listen carefully to the dialogue and search every corner en route) and so called minigames. A minigame is an instance, most often with limited time and typically with a limited or preset number of players, where you pursue minigame-specific goals and, again typically, get some kind of points for it that can be exchanged for useful stuff. Some of these are PvP, some are PvE, and some are non-combat entirely.

I want to talk about one of them, called Barbarian Assault. It is a PvE minigame for a team of 5 players, and it provides what Syl of mmogypsy.com demanded here: an activity where every player has a strictly set role and certain tasks that can’t be covered by the others. The roles aren’t the traditional trinity though; nevertheless, in order for the team to progress and get decent rewards, everyone should honestly and diligently do their highly specific job. There are, however, two other points about that minigame that Syl doesn’t mention, but I feel they are highly relevant to the traditional trinity problem as well (and it would do the trinity games quite well to make some motion in that direction).

  1. Communication is enforced. Not quite the chat-based communication (I, for one, find it hard to type long sentences while playing. I’ve seen people who are much better at it than I though), rather a kind of signals through the interface, but still. In short, each role has 3 or 4 ways to perform it, and at every moment only one of them is the “right” way which gives you points, and the other “wrong” ways make you lose points instead. This changes at random every 30 seconds, and the current “right” way for every role is not revealed to the players performing that role, but to another player instead, who then has to use the interface to communicate it. So, you have to be aware of that 30 second interval, and every 30 seconds you see the change, signal another player, and receive a signal that tells you what you should be doing next. This alone makes it feel like a team game rather than 5 people happening to do their separate things in the same room, which it very well could have been with all the specialization.
  2. Personal rewards are tied to performance. Your reward from the game is points, and the points you get depend on the team’s overall performance, but on your individual performance too. The way it works, if you fail at what you should be doing, you harm everyone’s score, but before that, your own score is utterly destroyed. If you slack or troll, you don’t get anything at all out of it (except entertainment? maybe? but it seems like entertainment alone is not worth the time spent). As a result, there are clueless players (the minigame has its ropes to learn), and there are leavers who abandon mid-run so the team has to disband, but I have not seen a griefer there, not once. Granted, there is not a whole lot of players doing the activity, but still – not once.

If I were asked how to improve any kind of pick-up group content, I’d probably name these two things, the second one being higher priority. And this is not exactly a “what if”: as I said, there is at least one example of it working, to a satisfactory (at least to me) result.

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