[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he beauty of online multiplayer is in the camera perspective of the beholder. In our modern world, we play games together that provide game worlds capable of hosting almost endless possibilities. Sandbox survival games push that possibility even further, allowing players to craft, team up, fight, and explore. Encountering other players in games is a core event that the experience is built upon. Reign of Kings has opened my eyes to what we’re capable of as developers and players, and it’s terrifying and exciting to see where we may be heading with online gaming. In my short play session to get acquainted with the game for this segment, I endured a handful of strange and hysterical things. For years we’ve seen success in MMO’s, particularly in RPG’s. But when the survival and crafting mechanics are introduced, virtual reality becomes a blank canvas for players in each server. In this piece, I’d like to share my first experience with Reign of Kings, and speculate a bit about the direction we’re taking in online survival sandbox games.
Welcome to Reign of Kings! What do at least eight out of ten players do when they jump into a server? Run around the spawn zone and pointlessly kill other spawning players just because they can! The first two people I encountered attempted to murder me for my driftwood club. The first encounter I didn’t survive, but the second one I managed to run away. The third person I met was marveling at the floating fireplaces that dotted the coast. I ran up, greeted him, and asked what was going on with the floating furnaces. To which he replied by informing me that people in another server were saying that hackers were placing the furnaces in the sky. After watching him thwack a mound of dirt with a club, I stood near him and smacked a tree with mine. I’ve found in my travels (particularly in DayZ) that these encounters that don’t end in conflict are very uncommon. After I finished gathering wood chunks, I turned around to find that he was already gone. This is preferable to a club to the back of the head however.
Some people prefer to work alone. This being my first foray into Reign of Kings, I decided to run around, click on things, and pretend the universal text chat catered to me. Instead of running inland and waiting to be murdered, I pestered everyone talking to each other, pretending they were talking to me. I asked for help when I was attacked by a wolf, and also requested that a castle be brought to me since I was just murdered recently and had to respawn back at the beach. My only reply was the usual “wtf”, however my request didn’t go ignored for long…
I tried so hard to carry myself as a friendly throughout the server. During one nightfall, I actually bolted through a field where a fully armored person was standing either marveling at the fortress they were building, or wondering why a naked man with a club was running toward him. With feigned politeness and sarcasm, I boisterously uttered a “HI” to which he surprisingly reciprocated with a confused tone. I had soon killed a chicken and was peddling chicken breast across the land, chasing people and asking them if they wanted chicken. The first person thought I was trying to kill them and ran away. However they soon circled back and cautiously followed me, until I was attacked by an armored man with a bow. I bolted across the field, turning 180 to witness the man sink three arrows into the other man’s chest, who I had originally offered chicken to. For some reason, the man sought refuge by trailing behind me, carting the archer with him, who was now attempting to kill us both. I escaped, never knowing what fate befell the other naked man.
Soon, I happened upon a pair who were returning to their fortress. I followed them, and hid behind a tree outside their fortress to see what they were up to. Foolishly, I walked right up to them and offered chicken. The short angry man with the blade (pictured above) immediately attacked, his partner soon after. I managed to run away, with the two close on my tail, screaming all the while that I just wanted to offer them chicken and that they should stop trying to kill me.
What came next you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t know I was talking about a video game. After being chased by the two mean men for about a solid minute or two, I began to hear someone speaking to me in a hushed tone, which I could barely understand at first. The third voice was telling me “hey dude, they’re gone, stop running”. I didn’t know what to think, but I took their word for it. Hiding amidst a rock formation and bleeding to death, I turned around to find an invisible Samaritan, GODLIKE. At the time, he was my Deus Ex Machina, but looking back, he may have just been a hacker who helped me in my time of need. Dropping bandages, armor, weapons, water, and materials to build my own castle, he asked if I wanted to go back there and get revenge on the two mean men. I began building my castle, thoroughly enjoying the building mechanics and the freedom it provided by allowing me to build a wall where no one could get me. Just when I was thanking him for his help he whispered “I must go now, my people need me” and just like that, he was gone. GODLIKE, wherever you are, just know that you rescued me in my darkest hour. One day I hope to return the favor.
With spruce needles and stone bricks, my first home was made, safe by the pond where I could swim, or walk along the bridge I had created that ran across it. This was the beginning of something much bigger, a foundation for a grand adventure. Reign of Kings has an excellent set of features, with loads of crafting that gives players a wondrous and potentially twisted world to live out large-scale adventures with other human players. The odds of something not going as planned are astronomical, and that’s what makes the whole experience worth it. Playing a game for the main concept (in this case conquering land and creating guilds) is something that today often goes astray. In my quest to make it inland to see what kinds of battles were going on I ended up encountering everything but. Meeting strange people, helpful people, evil people, and apparently a Robin Hood-like, were the highlights of my experience, creating stories I’ll never forget, and that’s where online multiplayer titles are building on. This isn’t something new, but the years of playing online together have taught us a lot, and the best part of interacting with other players are the stories we don’t forget when something strange, interesting, or funny happened. Many developers are putting focus on finding ways to make these kinds of moments happen more often, and that’s the foundation future multiplayer titles will bloom from, emphasizing the ways we interact with each other.
Crafting, combat, scavenging, and exploration: these main elements of gameplay are the core toolset provided in Reign of Kings. Spawning with almost nothing, scavenging for materials, and building your way up to creating a stronghold make up some of the large milestone goals. Along the way, crafting can involve misery. Having your things looted or destroyed is a possibility. Sharing with a less fortunate player is another. Trying to harvest materials and craft your own properties are not easy tasks, with the local wildlife (I got killed by a giant spiky werewolf) and the other players constantly gunning for your demise, picking flowers and flax are no walk in the medieval fantasy park. Combat is such an uncertainty, especially when all you have is a driftwood club and someone is shooting arrows at you. Avoiding combat will keep you alive longer, at the loss of potentially winning a fight and taking the downed player’s things. Greed brings out the worst in players, and desperation sets in. When you’re dying of dehydration and there’s a chance that the player in sight has water, what do you do? Normally, I don’t get asked, in which case I would be more than happy to share. However it seems easier (and possibly more fun?) for people to try to kill me for my things than just ask so everyone leaves happy (and alive). Giving players a sandbox environment to project themselves onto is an interesting and terrifying thing to do. We’re never sure how serious someone is being, and it’s all too easy to give in to human nature and be a greedy murderous person.
We see many things in the servers. It’s supposed to be fun however a lot of the time we log out of a server on the verge of a panic attack wondering what just happened. With the long development lives of current MMO survival games, a lot of feedback and research is fueling the future of multiplayer games. Seeing how people interact with each other in an environment that provides for them is similar to the real world in many ways. Using what we experience in these games will we learn how to better deal with people when we’re not running around clubbing each other for iron ore in a server? Survival sandbox games like Reign of Kings are a great example of how in-depth we can take a multiplayer experience, and interact online in a raw simulation accented by fantasy elements.