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I am designing a game based around a fairly realistic simulation of 'Age of sail'-like trading and combat, and I am currently trying to decide whether to make the game a limited on-line application, in which the game world exists only while all the players - 2 to 8 of them - are all online, or a persistent real-time mmo application, in which game events occur on a set schedule. As a game for a small number of players, uninteresting events could be time-accelerated away.

The trouble with a real-time MMO is that the world objects would be persistent, yet the players would be transient. Since in-game encounters and combat would take place on a schedule determined by the actions of all the players, not just those that happen to be online, players could easily miss an encounter or battle in which their vessel happened to be involved - or at least could be involved.

An idea I had for the MMO version was that otherwise idle time could be spent in training - which would be simulated, not merely administrative, and that active crew positions such as gunners, helmsmen, marines and officers could be filled by players, so one ship might have many players online in engagements, each contributing to the success - or otherwise - of the battle. These positions would be filled by players whose vessels were all engaged in uninteresting travel or laid up for repairs, using a matchmaking system to match the players' observed skill to that of the NPC into whose shoes they would be stepping. NPC skill progression would be based upon the actual skill improvement of the players who step into the role.

What other game mechanics could allow a game such as this to be playable as a persistent real-time mmo, especially when vessels could spend a long time in transit, doing nothing much of interest?

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The experience players would be looking for when they hear "Age of sail simulator" would be lots of naval battles, plundering and trading.

But a "fairly realistic simulation of the age of sails" in real-time with real-world scale and with every player playing a sailor would likely not be a very enjoyable game. The reality was that sailors usually spent weeks on open sea during eventless voyages, wondering if scurvy or boredom will kill them first. So if you don't want to create a "sitting on deck and staring at waves simulator" with a pathetically low awesome per second frequency, then it is important that you avoid players being stuck in long travel times. This will require some breaks with realism. Possible options would be:

  • Fast-travel. Just skip the long voyages and teleport the ships right to their destination. The result will be plenty of non-stop action, but also a very chaotic strategy meta-game. The players go to bed and when they wake up the world control map looks completely different. Whether you want a slowly changing strategic world map (like in Eve Online, for example) or a quickly changing strategic world map (like in Planetside 2, for example) is a matter of preference.
  • Realistic travel speed, but make the game world unrealistically compact, so that voyages which would take weeks in reality now only take minutes. This also makes encounters between player ships during travel a lot more frequent. This might have the same effect as the previous solution: Lots of action and very quickly changing strategic situations which allow little long-term planning.
  • As you suggested, ships move in real-time, but players don't. Players are allowed to "teleport" to where the action is. Managing ship movement on a separate world map could then be a meta-game which plays out in real-time. Action events happen when a ship arrives at its destination. This also neatly solves the problem that most players will want to be captains of their own customized ship [please tell me you have plenty of customization options. It's Halloween. How much do I need to pay to get a spiderweb pattern on my skysail and a pumpkin as a crow's nest?] and nobody will want to be "just" a sailor on the ship of someone else. Players are captain in the events which involve their own ship, but those only happen rarely. While they wait for those to happen, they can play crew in events involving ships of other players. This travel mechanic should also allow players to schedules events in a way that they happen when they and their friends have time to play.

    The biggest game design challenge I see here is to balance travel times, encounter durations and crew sizes in a way that players will always be able to find events to join but are still able to attract enough crew members during their own events. The easy solution would be to simply auto-generate events involving only NPC ships when nothing is going on, but this would also be the least interesting solution.

Me and my crew are looking forward to sending some scurvy dogs to the bottom of the ocean in your game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My idea was for a somewhat accelerated time flow, like 4:1, since realistic loading times on the order of 5 minutes would be a bit painful, plus players can jump into selected crew-members and take over their duties. It wouldn't be AoS sailing, but AoS flying... \$\endgroup\$ – Monty Wild Nov 1 '18 at 22:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since, realistically, in a sailing-speed flying scenario, encounters would likely be able to be predicted an hour or so in advance except in inclement weather , and if necessary, the AI XO could delay any engagement, would it be effective/playable to have standing orders, with a notification system with quick options to Avoid/Delay/Join/Engage, where the 1st 2 options would mean the AI avoiding action, or delaying action as long as possible, Join means loading the UI, and Engage means that the AI - or a human replacement - goes ahead without the player. \$\endgroup\$ – Monty Wild Nov 1 '18 at 23:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ There would also be strong elements of ship design - players could spend a lot of time designing or redesigning the flying sailing ships, and then testing the prototypes - if that interests them, or they could design ground defences. At the beginning, there would be very few ship designs, but players could modify or design their own. \$\endgroup\$ – Monty Wild Nov 1 '18 at 23:54

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