Massively's Black Prophecy Q&A: Mission Systems

James Egan
J. Egan|02.01.10

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Massively has been following the development of the sci-fi MMO Black Prophecy very closely, and was pleased that the title's developer Reakktor Media wanted to do a series of focused Q&As with us on several aspects of the game. Our last such Q&A started at the beginning with character creation, but in our second installment of the Black Prophecy interview series we discussed the game's mission design. To that end, we posed some questions to Lorenz Dames, the Lead Game Designer on Black Prophecy.

Lorenz explained a great deal about how Reakktor is approaching solo content vs. group-oriented gameplay. He also told us how Reakktor Media is merging the completion of mission objectives with dogfighting your fellow players through PvP missions, where other players will try to counter your efforts to complete goals. Our interview should provide Black Prophecy fans with a solid overview of the game's mission design, which will be an essential aspect of the sci-fi MMO's gameplay.%Gallery-46991%
Massively: Can you tell me about Reakktor's approach towards the design of the Black Prophecy mission system?

Lorenz: From the beginning, the mission system for Black Prophecy was directly tied into the general gameplay design. We all are very much influenced by the early and mid '90s space action games like Wing Commander, Privateer or X-Wing and Tie-Fighter. While we also like the simulation aspects that can be found in a lot of space games, our design approach was to focus on the action aspect found in these games. Stuff like crazy dogfights, bursting lasers, maneuvering through asteroid fields with the enemy on your trail. Another thing which was clear from the start was that Black Prophecy was going to be an MMO. So our design approach is and was to really give the player an action feel in addition to the MMO experience. This means fast paced, FPS-like encounters with real collision and a physics system, coupled with the multiplayer feel of a persistent world.

"Our design approach was to focus on the action... Stuff like crazy dogfights, bursting lasers, maneuvering through asteroid fields with the enemy on your trail."

So with our missions, we did not want to just give the player the classic delivery, collect and kill missions found in MMOs. With Black Prophecy we want to be able to tell stories with unpredictable events and streamlined dramatics. We want to give the player the feeling of not just completing tasks on a list, but to really be involved in what is going on in the mission. This includes new objectives given throughout the mission, mission objectives changing because of unexpected events or just simple things like radio chatter depending on what's going on around you.

What types of missions will be available in Black Prophecy?

There are three main mission types; the majority of the missions would be what we call "dynamic missions". These are offered to players through terminals in stations and they have further subtypes like PvE, PvP, or special missions like clan resource missions. Then there are story missions. These share characteristics with missions you would typically find in single player games, with cut scenes and big events that drive the story of the Black Prophecy universe. Finally, there are the so-called "Jobs". These are given by NPCs all throughout the game world. Some reside directly at known stations, some need to be discovered first.

Will players instantly be transported to a mission site when queuing up a mission or will they need to navigate and fly to this location in space?

It depends on the mission. If you are going to play one of the Jobs, you just accept it from whoever (or whatever...) gives it to you. Sometimes your star map will be updated with a location related to the mission, sometimes part of the mission is finding out where to do what you are supposed to do, or where to find what you are supposed to get. If you are going to play one of the dynamic missions you will be transported to your mission instance automatically in some cases -- in other cases it could also be that you get a new sector on your star map that you can jump to. But there will be no things like "flying 10 minutes through empty space to reach your mission start position". Only you, your team, or -- in case of PvP missions -- your enemy has access to them.

What can you tell me about how the mission system will work within these instances? And what challenges did this present?

Well, the challenge was to really make use of the advantages of this feature. When thinking about the design approach we wanted to take for the missions in Black Prophecy, the use of instances was a very early decision. This gave us the benefit of developing a mission system able to create complex missions with branching storylines in a dynamic environment, which is something we could not have done in a persistent environment. But we will still offer missions that share a more "classic" MMO style. Our Jobs can be completed in the persistent game world, and also while playing a dynamic mission.

"We want to give the player the feeling of not just completing tasks on a list, but to really be involved in what's going on."

Instanced missions gave us the ability to really focus on the story and gameplay. We implemented dynamic systems which are able to alter the main mission scripts to play anywhere in our game world. These dynamic systems affect nearly all aspects. It could be that you and a friend both accepted and played the same type of mission. But while your mission played in a misty ice asteroid belt around the planet Triamon, your friend operated in a dark lava asteroid field around Claves. In addition, it might be that the mission you are on involves battleships or stations. The type of stations or battleships will be dynamically decided when creating your mission, so you are never going to play the same mission.

But the most important aspect is that we do not restrict this to visuals. Because of these systems, we as mission designers can focus on the actual stories and gameplay in the missions, leading to not only dynamic visuals, but actually dynamic missions. Say you and your friend were sent on a search and rescue mission for a missing transporter. You found the transporter in the ice belt around Triamon and escorted it back home. Now, it could be that your friend did not find the transporter but instead only the remains of it. It was most likely blown to pieces by the Jadd Baran operating in this area. Now your friend's mission objective will be changed to seek revenge by assaulting the Jadd Baran responsible.

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