A key part of the uniqueness of SEED is its embrace of a persistent gameworld: Avesta is a real place that continues to exist in perpetuum, it’s always there as players log in and log out. They are the element in the simulation that is variable: the world of SEED persists, it is always on.
And like any genuinely innovative creation, the inclusion of persistence when it comes to creating game design pillars immediately leads to some head scratching. What is fascinating about the challenge of making SEED is that as soon as you address one aspect of the game, another (such as persistence) comes along and complicates your elegant solutions. To take just one example: Seedling safety. We’ve pointed out by now in the devblog how much work we’re putting into caring for your Seedlings. Their needs, desires and general well being are central to the SEED experience. When you log off, you are aware that your Seedlings are going to continue to go about their lives, and as a player you expect there to be change. However, you don’t want them to suffer without you being there to witness the action, or be able to mitigate against it. Logging back on and your Seedlings have died for some reason is a sad possibility we need to present. We will write about the solution to these problems in the future - so watch this space.
Another thing we then need to think about is the ability to communicate what has happened when a player was offline in such a way that is not overwhelming for the player. This can often mean that feedback on, say, strategic decisions is not delivered and the player won't get the satisfaction of perceiving the result of their decisions or long term creative strategies. You need to understand why something failed in order to course correct and get it right next time. But this is also a great source of satisfying sense of progress - once it's perceivable in a digestible and understandable manner.
We now have the fact that pacing our game’s progression is constant. This means we need to slow down progression in many areas compared to other MMOs: we don’t want our game to feel ‘finished’ after a short period of time. We have talked about that elsewhere when we looked at in-game production.
The last thing we want to look at in this introduction to the concept of persistence is how we integrate new players into a world that has already existed for a long period of time. We can think through this aspect via two lenses: that of powercreep and level design. First, powercreep is when a player can gain too much power in their ability to impact the world and conversely other players (especially new players who have had no time to develop). Because if we build systems that inhibit the ability to grow, become powerful and gain advantage - then players may feel their choices don’t matter in the long run. We need to reward long term players in a fair and even manner. Secondly, level design: the resources and other strategic advantages across the gameworld need to be well balanced to ensure variation. We don’t want new players to be isolated, but also we don’t want them to all be crowded in on top of each other. Like choosing the best stop to pitch your tent at a music festival, maybe the best spots are taken but also maybe your friends are on the other side of the field. Maybe though, it doesn’t matter because the fun is to be had together at the front row of the concert.
We will be touching on persistence lots more as we continue to talk about developing SEED. This article can serve as a basic introduction and source for some early food for thought: there’s lots more where this comes from!