How hard it is to immerse the player into the world of the game? Pretty hard I’d say, especially for MMORPGs. Usually, developers resort to embedding as much story telling as possible into visual design of the environments, dialogues, quests, cutscenes  and hoping that the players will soak up as much as possible via thick ambiance.

However, by following this route we will quickly run into a problem of not having an infinite budget to handcraft each part of our massive world and, besides, if a goal of players is to get to the end game asap chances are they will simply skip all of that in favor of progression. It’s like gobbling down the food in a rush without taking your sweet time to chew and taste the flavor.

WoW is suffering from that ignorance immensely, as all 10 year worth of content that precedes the current expansion is almost irrelevant in the eyes of new players.

Black Desert Online (BDO) came up with a very interesting solution to that problem by interconnecting world exploration with progression system of a character. How? Well, let’s take a closer look.

Knowledge

Mining an ingot will result in you gaining knowledge about iron. Catching a fish, talking to an NPC, discovering a new area, fighting enemy, crafting, etc will grant you knowledge about them.

Knowledge gained.jpg
Every time you discover something new the game acknowledges that and informs about a new knowledge gained.

I’ve no access to EU client of a game so an improvised translation will have to do

Many games have knowledge databases and even encourage players to unlock them by rewarding items, experience and achievements, however, in BDO it is elevated to a separate progression system with very practical and desirable rewards.

Knowledge base
The entire database of Knowledge can be explored via special menu. Here discovered enemies in a particular zone.

Energy points

Energy in BDO has a very similar concept to the Energy in social games like Farmville – you spend it on various activities like gathering, crafting, investments, conversations, etc and regenerate by completing FedEx style daily quests, laying in bed (alone sadly) or over a period of time.

Energy Points
At the top-left corner of the screen you’ll see an Arm icon, those are Energy Points (available/maximum amount)

Every Knowledge you gain fills that bar and upon completion increments the maximum number of Energy Points by 1.

In BDO you are constantly spending Energy Points on various activities regardless of your playstyle. Providing a complete list of them, however, is a problem as the entries will vary based on the region you are playing on.

This approach results in a very interesting change of player behavior. Previously, an average player, upon discovering a new area, would grab all available quests and run to the farming spots to grind EXP just to move to another location and repeat the cycle. But now player is encouraged to learn everything, discover and find as much as possible in this area: talk to every NPC, slay each monster type, skin them, gather every material and leave no corner of this area without attention just to max out on Energy Points.

Conversations

Apart from the actual dialogue that you can have after interacting with an NPC, you can also try playing a conversation minigame with them that could unlock new quests, more Knowledge, rental objects and shop items. This is perhaps the most clever implementation of a conversation that I’ve ever seen in a game.

Conversation Start
List of Knowledge used in the conversation on the left. In order to start this conversation we need to spend 4 out of 159 available Energy Points.

In order to play that minigame you need to gather Knowledge about the topic that specific NPC is interested in. If you are talking to a guardsman you might want to approach him with a knowledge of the city he is guarding, a hunter will be more interested in the local fauna and a cook will only converse about the local cuisine, but, thankfully, most of the NPCs will simply require you to be acquainted with other NPCs in a certain town or a village.

The actual minigame is quite simple and might get a bit repetitive after you’ve played it for a while, but the basics are as follows:

 

Conversation Minigame
Place Knowledge from the right-bottom corner into the sockets to start a conversation. Order and quality of Knowledge matters.

 

There are two parameters at play with: Interest and Sympathy. Each NPC and Knowledge has them in variable amount. The whole point of the game is to place the Knowledge into the sockets forming a zodiac that serves as a representation of a conversation. The closer the Interest of the Knowledge to that of an NPC the higher the chances of getting a positive effect and receive Sympathy from the used Knowledge. The end goal is to complete a task given to you with each individual conversation, that could be something like:

  • Having 4 Successful Interests in a row
  • Have 2 Failed Interests during the conversation
  • Reach 100 Cumulative Sympathy points during the conversation
  • Simply talk to the NPC

Successfully completing the task and earning the maximum amount of Sympathy points will advance your relationships with an NPC.

 

Conversation minigame sequence
Red dot indicates the flow of the conversation navigating from one Knowledge to another and showing smiley faces if you “caught NPCs attention”

 

Conversing with NPCs isn’t something you have to do, but it’s a great source of extra quests, primary dailies, that have a purpose we’ll talk about shortly, and extra knowledge to boost your maximum energy.

Loot drops

Just like many other Korean MMOs, BDO is a game about grinding monsters for hours and hours and fighting for the grind spots in order to get a small chance of a rare item drop (top tier accessories can only be obtained via mob grinding or an auction house).

Every time you kill a new mob there is a small chance of gaining a knowledge about it that exists in 4 categories: C, B, A and S. Higher category will grant you extra damage and higher chance of getting rare loot.

 

Battle knowledge
It’s hard to tell at which point the drop rate is being affected and it’s actual increase since exact numbers are nowhere to be found and were not confirmed by the official sources

 

Once you’ve gained a Knowledge about a mob you can erase it by investing 1o Energy Points and re-learning it again in hopes of scoring a higher category.

What it comes down to…

The gist of it is that in most MMORPGs exploring the world is done by players out of selfish gratification. We call these players “Explorers“, acknowledge them, but rarely reward their playstyle, assuming that the the act of discovery is a reward in itself, isolating them from the rest of the players who want more substantial rewards for their time. Knowledge system is, not perfect, but still a way to interest everyone in learning more about the world. The game isn’t imposing that to you as you can get to quite a comfortable amount of Energy Points relatively quickly, but it does prolong your playtime and has a potential to deepen knowledge of the game world by using the resources that are already there, but very few players pay attention to. A brilliant idea, if I could say so myself.

Another reason to gain Knowledge is find out how to create certain crafting materials or where to get them. However, players are more likely to google that information instead and not bother to waste resources just to figure out a recipe.

Influence Points

 

Influence Points
Same top-left corner, but with a medal icon

 

In general, quests in RPGs reward loot and experience upon completion. In BDO, however, the latter isn’t always the case and, more often than not, you are rewarded with Influence Points. There are 5 reasons to pursue them:

Enabling Trading Routes

Trading in BDO revolves around manufacturing or purchasing special items in one place and selling them in another where demand is highest. In order for items to be sold above 30% of the market price you need to connect the origin (place of acquiring or manufacturing) with a location you are trying to sell them at via Nodes that require certain amount of Influence Points to be activated (deactivating Nodes will refund Influence Points, but not the invested Energy Points).

Trading Routes
Blue icons are cities, red are activated Nodes and grey are inactive Nodes. Orange and grey lines show the connection between them.

Connecting all cities in the game also serves a purpose as it allows automatic reallocation of goods between warehouses to be much cheaper.

Resource gathering

Apart from gathering resources on your own you could also invest in a Node and unlock the resource within and send workers to gather it for you.

gathering
Unlocking the mine will allow my workers to gather Iron and a special resource that can only be found in this Node

Loot

Every area is associated with a certain Node, activating it will grand bonus towards a drop rate from monsters within it’s territory.

Investment effect

Renting

Certain NPCs can rent equipment, gear, weapons and accessories to your character that can be used for the purpose of leveling, gathering, acquiring buffs and then returned with Influence Points fully refunded.

Renting

Real estate

This is the biggest reason to get as many Influence Points as possible. Every town, village and sometimes Nodes have buildings that you can purchase and use for different purposes, be it a personal housing (aka The Sims), a manufacturing facility or a storage warehouse.

Why would you care about that? Well in BDO your character is incapable of crafting anything but food and potions. You can gather and refine materials, but if you wish to create an armor set or a fishing boat you’ll need workers, who, in turn, will require housing, working facilities and place to store crafting materials and goods.

 

Street purchase
In order to get to the high level building [4] you’ll have to purchase all connected buildings on the same street [1-3]. That will take a lot of Influence Points

Needless to say that even by carefully planning your investments in the real estate you will require a lot of Influence Points in order to satisfy the wide range of crafting disciplines.

In order to increase the number of Influence Points player has to complete as many quests as possible, in that way the game is encouraging you to return to the earlier content and complete the quests until you’ll get a comfortable amount of Influence Points.

Conclusion

The baseline purpose of these systems is to get the best out of the already existing content in the game. Many players spend their leveling time mindlessly grinding just to reach the level cap and start enjoying the game never to return to the old leveling zones ever again. I can’t say that it is OK to leave things like that considering the fact that the greatest portion of an MMORPG content is dedicated to just that. Having systems that will encourage you to backtrack and experience the game in it’s entirety is great. This also helps occupying the void that is created in between content patches when some players have no reason to play the game at all.

But the main reason why I wholeheartedly support these systems both as a player and a developer is due to the fact that BDO decided to make progression account-wide. All of your characters on a single account belong to the same family (I think that it’s safe to assume that most of them aren’t siblings), as a result –  all of your Knowledge and Influence Points  are shared.

Sharing also includes warehouses, buildings, gear, horses, workers, etc.

If you are looking for a way to reward your Explorers and Completionists beyond achievements and vanity items, take a look at the Knowledge and Influence systems in Black Desert Online.

 

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