World of Darkness Online: Sharded or Shardless?

I mentioned in the last post that I expect WoDO to be a single-shard game in a similar way to EVE Online. Scott from Pumping Irony, an outstanding blog that you should be reading if you aren’t already, called me out on it. This post is my answer. I’ll make three concessions before digging into my reasoning:

  • I could be wrong.
  • This expectation may be wishful thinking on my part. The MMO commenting community is rife with this kind of projection onto almost every in-development title. I think I recognize this more than some, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely immune to the phenomenon.
  • I may be underestimating the engineering challenge involved in making it so.

With that out of the way, I still expect WoDO to be a single-shard game. Sic cogito:

  • A single shard has enormous advantages for players, and in itself can be used in marketing, at is has been in EVE’s case. It is thus a desirable outcome of the design.
  • Prior to EVE Online, the idea of keeping all your players on one server was thought to be impossible unless your total population was so low that one server was all you needed. EVE was the first to try it, and while it has certainly caused problems in places and at times, by and large it’s worked.
  • Over time, the problems have lessened and the single-shard technology (barring hiccups,) has worked better and better. In other words, CCP is not only the best in the business at this, but they have an entire team dedicated to making this work better and better.
  • I submit that the people who set the parameters for the design will set this as a design goal.
  • CCP has shown a willingness to work through the aforementioned hiccups.
  • With these things in mind, I further submit that CCP’s engineers will make it work, even if it turns out to work less than flawlessly at launch.

Now, one can make the argument (as Scott did,) that EVE gets away with a single-server setup because its universe is three-dimensional and has lots of empty space. My response: So? Why can’t the WoDO be designed in a similar way? If we regard each system in EVE as a discrete location that multiple players can occupy, then a 10x10x10 3d starcuster contains an order of magnitude fewer locations than a 100x100x1 ‘sheet’ of urban sprawl. The systems in EVE were procedurally generated in the first place; I see no compelling reason why a algorithm for procedurally generating city blocks couldn’t be written. Granted that the algorithm would have to be substantially more complex, and you’d have to put in more stuff by hand to avoid the samieness that you see in EVE (where that actually works,) but I see it as achievable. You’d only have to spread the space out (mostly) across a flat landscape instead of into a third dimension.

At that point, you have to manage how players congregate in the locations in which activities take place. EVE handles this largely via the economic engine that drives the whole game (as well as by the lack of instantaneous travel,) and it’s far from clear that WoDO will have a similarly open economy. But again, this is a mere engineering hurdle. If EVE can handle fleets of thousands fighting in one system and keep client performance acceptable (not good, but acceptable,) I can’t see a reason why a game with what seems to me to be a lower emphasis on huge battles couldn’t keep clients and servers running.

Note that I’m not saying that such a thing isn’t difficult. There’s a reason why EVE remains the only single-shard game with a significant population – Champions Online had to resort to a set of horrendous kludges to make something that’s only technically a single server, with (presumably) a much smaller number of players and a lower concurrency rate. While this may not be how the game turns out, I and a lot of other people would be disappointed by a traditional multiple-server approach – and also that if anybody has proven the conventional wisdom on the limits of MMO technology wrong in the past, it’s CCP. If anyone can do it, they can.

6 responses to “World of Darkness Online: Sharded or Shardless?

  1. A way to combat areas from becoming too crowded would be to implement collision between players and npcs. You wouldnt have 1000 or more players in a little nightclub in WoDO if you couldnt physically get inside. It would make people think twice about going where everyone else is at.
    Of course CCP would have to make the city or world properly fitted with fully interactive buildings, neighbourhoods, etc, so that people have the maximum number of options possible in terms of “places to go and people to meet” sort of thing.

  2. It could also depend on your definition of “shard.” Look at Guild Wars or Cryptic’s games where all players are (from our perspective, anyway) on one “server” but each area is a population-controlled instance but players can switch from instance to instance to find specific players while being able to chat with everyone no matter which instance number they’re in.

    On the one hand, I think that’s a great thing for having a high number total players while keeping population down per instance for performance reasons. The major tradeoff is that technique also mandates a zoned environment, which is a turnoff for a lot of MMO players.

    Otherwise if we take the traditional MMO world and expect to have all 300K (I’m borrowing EVE’s numbers here) players on one world, you end up with something like Vanguard or worse with miles and miles of landmass with nothing on it and nothing to do. If there’s stuff there to find and do, now we’re talking extra development time for CCP to fill all that stuff. The more players a server can hold, the more the developers have to work on spreading the players out to avoid having all 300K players in one city and bringing the server down.

  3. Iki,

    Are you at all familiar with the technique of defending space in EvE by crashing the server dealing with that particular system ?

    It worked pretty well for a while, especially if it locks the people in that system there.

    WoD TLDR : Crash Prince’s nightclub with shovelheads, overrun Elysium with shovelheads, The Mittani Says Hi

  4. EVE works with a single shard because space is huge. You can be in a system with dozens of other player and run into maybe one or two over a couple of hours.

    If WoD is going to try single shard, they will have to look into running parallel versions of areas the way EQ2, LOTRO, or STO do. But that comes with a price.

    I hope they can find a way to do it all the same. A single world is ideal.

  5. The reason why you can’t (at least, not without a LOT of effort) do it is because of art asset requirements.

    Making a convincing city that’s large enough to house EVE’s population would be daunting. To date no one has successfully created a city block generating algorithm that feels remotely realistic, especially from the point of view of the people on the street. Even if you’re using an algorithm to generate buildings out of a set of base parts, your art team still needs to create those base parts, and to make a convincing city big enough to house over 30 thousand concurrent users, you need a *lot* of parts. EVE doesn’t have a lot of unique art requirements outside of the ships, so this issue is significantly diminished.

    There are other problems though. From a design perspective, a single server may not be ideal for a game that focuses heavily on politics. Unless the city is districted in such a way that you can form pocket communities (which EVE does, but does as a result several of design choices that don’t necessarily work in a WoD game: a city as large as EVE is in terms of distance between players would need to be truly massive, and EVE sub community formation tends to cluster around conquerable space, something that may not make sense as a gameplay mechanic here) you can end up with some issues with community fragmentation that could be quite detrimental to social gameplay. Explicitly limiting the population size by creating multiple servers keeps each individual server’s population lower, which helps to minimize this problem.

    Single server solutions aren’t necessarily a good idea, though they can be. It has to work with the rest of the design and shouldn’t just be done for the hell of it. Without more details on how the game plays, it’s not even a great idea to speculate on whether it should be there or not.

  6. Speculation I think is and will be one of the hard works for CCP to do this MMO, as much as it would be the designing no matter how they will choose to do.
    IMO, theres actually a pretty direct (maybe not easy or a good way but still..) method to try and keep cities from very-crowded situation. If CCP speculate on really using oWoD lore from the books, its as easy as: “the prince is not accepting new members” or something like that. Camarilla nor Sabbat for the matter were never democratic anyways (cross the way of an ultra-conservative lasombra bishop and u’ll know what I mean)
    Lets follow in this speculation, now depending on how many players will actually enjoy the game and subscribe and play for real, one of the challenges for CCP would be to make enough cities, the world IS big enough I guess. supposing 300k vamps, and based on common lore, which says 1 vamp for 50k humans, a world with “allegedly 15bi” would do it, remembering WoD is fictional yet based on a “punk/gothic-ish spectrum” of the real “Earth”, or we could lower this stats and all would be fine. I hope i’m wrong supposing that the “scenario” would be only USA or the American continent for that matter. Playing in Cairo or mirroring the “by nights” games that run from Brazil to New Zealand would be very neat =P.
    Even if picking only major cities from the world, i still think a “shardless” would fit more than perfectly (or as said by scott, a shardless in player-perspective at least)
    Ok, I am overpassing many difficulties as terrificly exposed by Eolirin, but its just a humble analysis in the perspective of _wod lore_, it would make so much more sense. The Red list would also be far more richer with the real bad guys hehe (looking at a camarilla based scenario of course).
    and only to say about the permadeath issue, I may be biting my tongue but again, based on the lore, it just makes sense to be permadeath (even though I aint hardcore and i suck at pvps anyways). Also considering as said by someone there, a game of socialization with possible combat would be more WoD, at least while in the mood “vamps-cammarila-cities”. There are the six traditions, and I really wonder how CCP will use it. I wish them luck and hard work and for the record, I’ll play it from the release date, no matter which choices they make. Oh my, this waiting is so painfull xD.