Facebook Destined – Rumble in the Void

‘Facebook Destined’ is a feature about games which should be ported onto Facebook. They all share a common theme – simple but addictive gameplay with low technological requirements. Ideas about how social features could be added and how things could be monetized will also be present.

It’s fitting that the first game for Facebook Destined is the first online multi-player game I ever got my hands on. Back then it was when I had a 56k connection and had just signed up to the free multiplayer gaming platform ‘Wireplay’. My username was stupid (Funkst3r) and I thought I’d check out this free game that came with my copy of PC Zone. This was the game that opened my eyes to deathmatch gameplay, and it would be great to see it opening the eyes of casual/social gamers around Facebook.

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Rumble in the Void (RitV) is very simple. Players fly around a space environment, complete with asteroids, space clouds (??), floating barriers and space satellites. The objective is to kill opposing enemy ships using a variety of weapons. The game is 2D with a top-down viewpoint, controlling similarly to the vehicles in Micro Machines with the UP key accelerating, DOWN decelerating and the LEFT/RIGHT keys turning. You have a 6 slot inventory which can be used with the SHIFT key to switch to the next weapon, or by using keyboard shortcuts. CTRL fires weapons and SPACE respawns. That’s it!

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Ship Select screen - RoboTAI my favourite

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Each ship has 5 attributes; Armor, Speed, Thrust, Energy and Recharge. Essentially HP, MP and Manoeuvrability.  In addition, ships have a starting weapon. Some ships have unique weapons which are rarely found on the battlefield, others have suped up versions of standard weapons such as the Cannon or Goo. RoboTAI has a Taser, a short range but devastating weapon which drains a lot of energy. Coupled with his high speed and high energy recharge, he is a devastating hit and run melee attacker.

What makes RitV great fun are the physics. It’s not anything advanced, there are no Havok physics systems implemented here. There’s just a nice feeling of low gravity as you bounce off obstacles/ships or turn. Mastering this system takes real skill so, while it’s very easy to pick up and play, it’s rewarding chasing people and evading death. Coupled with the different ships and weapon mechanics there is a lot of life in RitV.

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There are no screenshots of Rumble on the internet. This is from a camera phone. Apologies!

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RitV was released in 1999 and there has been a lot of development in the broad ‘multiplayer combat game’ genre. What makes a new version of Rumble exciting is the amount that can be added to the game, learnt from 11 years of industry refined online deathmatch.

Rumble already has a leveling up system, which gives nothing but bragging rights. It could be implemented like Defence of the Ancients’ (DotA) leveling system, which gives selectable upgrades to skills with every level up. Other possibilities include Aura style buffs and debuffs to promote teamplay, which would not only improve Team Deathmatch combat but introduce other, more tactical, modes such as Capture the Flag.

Team Fortress 2 is a great example of every character class having a role. With a little bit of re-jigging, each ship could be designed (through attributes and weapons) to have a more specific purpose. What appeared to be haphazard design in the original RitV, can be improved and made more intuitive with few graphical and gameplay design improvements. Intuition is the key to a number of Facebook games, so RitV could learn a lot from Team Fortress 2’s team.

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Rumble in the Void ‘Facebooked’

There are 2 important factors present in all Facebook games; Social Features and Monetization. Here I will attempt to add a Facebook spin to this non-Facebook game.

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Social Features

RitV doesn’t have a home or anywhere players can visit (one of the key social features for many Facebook games). Therefore how is one to promote inviting friends if you have nothing to do with them? As with most gamers, I don’t really need an incentive to play with friends… I like playing with friends. However, most Facebook gamers like to tend to crops, play a guest DJ set or gift them some music. Of course, these games are not real-time so you don’t get the buzz of playing with people you know (like Rumble would). On the other hand, it can’t hurt to have these sorts of features.

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  • Salvage
    All ships in the game would have 2 designs, a simple version and an upgraded version. The difference would be purely visual (to promote balance) but the upgraded ones would look super badass. Much like Hats in Team Fortress 2.Each ship design would be split into 5 parts, which can all be upgraded by finding salvaged ship parts on the battlefield or randomly while players are logged on (a random pop-up). Players can trade unwanted parts with their friends or can be ‘gifted’ parts by their registered allies. Friends are not required to actually give parts, the parts will be randomly generated. Therefore, having more friends = having more parts..
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  • Assistance
    Ninja Warz by Broken Bulb Studios
    has an entertaining system of ‘visiting’ friends. Ninja Warz does not have a customizable player ‘home’ to visit, so it needs to encourage adding friends another way. Every day your allies will need help with random problems such as delivering food parcels or defending the town from shuriken. When you click on a friend, you’ll take part in a mini-game to help them out. The reward you receive is based on the grade you get for completing the mini-game.Rumble for Facebook could have a similar system. It’s space! You could have mini-games for preventing space invaders (see where I’m heading?) or navigating through asteroid belts. Rewards could be in-game cash or special weapons. Rewards could even include salvaged parts mentioned previously.

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Ninja Warz: Deliver food to your allies for cash and experience

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  • Lobby
    The main reason why I think Facebook gaming could be a good thing is because Facebook is essentially a game lobby. When your friends are all featured on a friends bar at the bottom of the application, appearing online and showing their level/experience… isn’t that a lobby?

    RockFREE has a lobby system where you can visit other players’ clubs. These clubs are just rooms for you to queue playlists and challenge each other. This sort of functionality can be introduced into Facebook Rumble, notifying friends when you create a lobby and allowing invites to currently online allies.

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Monetization

Another huge debate with free-to-play, or ‘freemium’, games is how to monetize the product. If you want a game to be a fair competition, which all online multiplayer combat games should be, then you cannot charge for powerful weapons. If you do that, the game just becomes a ‘Who spends the most?’ contest. Playdom’s Wild Ones has turned into this. While the game has standard weapons that are surprisingly powerful, premium weapons such as the ‘Nuke’ are not only extremely strong but also take no skill to use.

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Yeah I just one shotted a guy with my premium Tornado Grenade

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Any skill based game where a lesser skilled person can win by using money is wrong. It will quickly become tiresome for non-paying players and, since 90+% of people don’t pay, the community will die.

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  • Insurance
    I believe that Insurance is the most effective form of monetization with respect to keeping balance yet providing something worth spending a bit of cash on. While I’m sure it is in a number of games, the first time I’ve seen it is in Dragonica. Dragonica is a free to play MMORPG which appears to share my views on paid-for content. You cannot buy powerful loot with money (that would devalue high end dungeon crawling), but you are able to upgrade weapons. Unfortunately for you non-paying customers, weapons have a chance to break when they’re upgraded. So you find a powerful weapon and want to upgrade it a few times, maybe the first time you risk a 20% chance for it to break. After a week you’ve somehow managed to add 4 powerful gems to your items. Every upgrade makes the risk higher, you don’t just lose the weapon now… you lose the gems. This is a huge incentive to buy insurance, for a small fee, to guarantee that your free items survive the process. Yes it seems rather sinister at times, imagine risking it with an ultra-rare item and losing it on the first upgrade! However, it ultimately gives the player a choice and at least they have a chance to have an item as powerful as those who drop $20 a month on premium items.

    For Rumble there could be a similar system. Perhaps not on weapon power (since that could seriously hurt new players who get insta-gibbed) but perhaps speed or acceleration could be upgradeable with parts. Players can risk upgrading as much as they want, but when they get to levels where it makes a real difference on the battlefield they might think twice and say “hey, I’ll buy insurance for $1… just in case”. There are lots of ways to add small bonuses for individual players which shouldn’t drastically effect game balance. If ships had auto-regen health (a la Halo) then the delay before health regen could be reduced slightly. Perhaps energy could recharge a bit quicker. These are little things that could make a difference at higher levels of play, when people really start to get competitive.
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  • Please Wait
    This is the Farmville factor. Actually, I don’t play Farmville so I’m not sure if they even have pay-to-speed-up. Ok lets call it the Verdonia factor. Verdonia is a new strategy game based on Evony (but I don’t want to name anything after that joke of a company) in which you build various resources and structures in your town, then capture territories and defend them from enemies. It’s like a simple version of Civilization. Unlike Civilization however, you cannot skip a turn. Remember when you build a Granary at the start of a game and have to skip about 20 turns for it to build? Well in these real-time games, you have to wait hours. I just upgraded my Town Center to level 9… it took over 48 hours. If I was a serious Verdonia player and wanted to play it properly, I’d pay to speed that up. Right now I’m not so I’ll wait 2 days and play some other game. But for people who only play 1 or 2 games, or those who really enjoy it and want to get an upgrade immediately, they will pay.
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    Over 11 hours before my troops are ready? *Whips out wallet*

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    Rumble could do the same with its upgrade system. Perhaps users could create maps, remember they are just simple top-down arenas. On these maps you could build various obstacles, but they would take time to complete. You could hire a ‘Galactic Building Contractor’ to do the work for you, or you could DIY. The former costs  you but it’s done instantly, the latter is free but you’ll have to wait. Pay to speed up the upgrade of your passive farm resources or pay to speed up your custom battlefield… what would you rather pay for?

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  • Convenience
    Another thing I first noticed from Dragonica (it was the only free MMORPG I’ve played, so I credit a lot of these ideas to that) is that you pay for convenience. If you want to travel from A to B you can run there, which entails loading times between zones and hostile monsters to fight. On the other hand, you could use the premium Town Portal Scroll to instantly teleport to Town. In games like World of Warcraft you also get these items. Your Hearthstone is the same concept, but you pay with time (in the form of a cooldown). What is the most inconvenient thing about deathmatch? Respawn of course!
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    Home is where the Hearthstone is.

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    Lots of fast paced FPS games did away with respawn times altogether because it’s just a pointless inconvenience. In a deathmatch, there’s no point having people waiting to spawn. Now in Team Fortress or an objective based team game, respawn is used to balance the battle. Defenders with no respawn times = an immovable object. For Facebook Rumble deathmatch modes, respawns will be around but for monetization reasons. Players could purchase items which reduce their respawn times. It wouldn’t affect balance because the strongest players will never die… their kills:deaths ratio will be fine. Initially these respawn reducers could be given away for free (like a trial) so that newer players don’t get frustrated while they’re learning the game. Other convenience items could be health/energy regen delay shorteners (as mentioned previously) or even teleporters to non-combat areas to speed up navigating the map.

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As you can see, there are a lot of interesting features from other Facebook games that can be brought into an atypical social game. Indeed, some of these features might actually increase the longevity of the game and give a reason (other than awesome gameplay) for users to come back. This has been a long post and I congratulate anyone for reading through it. As I’ve been writing it, I’ve got more and more into this idea and I think I’ll be coming up with new features for this theoretical game in future blog posts. I wanted to do game design, so I guess this is it! Stay tuned for more info on Facebook Rumble… hopefully one day I can find someone (or teach myself) who can make it into a real game!

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Sam

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