Empire (Second Thoughts)

So, another year, another shot at Profound Decisions “Empire”. Last year here I commented that whilst I’d enjoyed it I thought a second crack at the game was in order to properly appraise it. So, Event Three of 2014 rolled around and once again I decided to suit up once again and give it a go.

Generally I’m still positive about it, but looking over my comments from last year the same concerns are still there. Looking at those comments and updating (I’m going to start with the bad for reasons that will become apparent);

The Bad.
– For all of the money that has (undoubtedly) been spent on the IC infrastructure, not getting the OOC toilets right smacks a little bit of misplaced priorities. I work on building sites and the toilets were quite frankly worse than anything I’ve encountered in the building industry. This really needs to be sorted out.

To be frank this is the biggest bug bear still and one that PD really need to start addressing. Yes, I understand that it takes time to maintain the facilities, but the problems are more underlying than that and point to a lack of ongoing maintenance rather than cleaning (which was being done on a regular basis over the weekend). I can’t help but think that a lot of this issue couldn’t be solved by looking at the current facilities, working out what the general problems (lack of external drainage, general condition of cubicles getting in the way of cleaning) and trying to address them over the winter.

Creating separate make up facilities could help as the toilets end up looking like someone’s been murdered at each sink with the amount of makeup around them, it would help to separate sinks for general cleanliness from utility sinks. There would be a cost outlay, but this would also solve the morning queues as people didn’t fight over sinks for two separate reasons.

Disabled facilities seem non-existent, how you have a shower over the weekend without serious help I can’t even begin to fathom.

– There are some things you can turn a blind eye too, cut-off jeans and modern tee-shirt aren’t one of them. Whilst the general levels of costuming have improved greatly, the worse elements of costume have got worse. Yes, I understand that PD are trying to be inclusive, but there are times when they need to step in and comment as to what’s acceptable.

A lot less prevalent, and mainly limited to the odd pair of trainers (I’m often willing to overlook that, it’s difficult to find appropriate footwear). Certainly I saw no jeans & tee shirts outside of the OC area over the weekend. Whether this is the player base helping out or PD having a gentle word I’m unsure, but this doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore – top marks for turning this around!

Promising, but not there yet…
– The various nations going to war are brilliant, but for all the time that appears to have been spent creating a different look for each nation seems to have disappeared on the battlefield as everyone metals up to get the immunities. There didn’t seem to be much individuality to nations on the battlefield, perhaps something like the Navarr getting the immunity to Impale from Medium Leather Armour (without gaining the extra universal hit point) would address this and play to the supposed strengths of each nation –although how you’d balance this I’m unsure.

Still needs to be addressed in my opinion – its better as each nations costume / look becomes more apparent, but the arms race is creating a new problem and also in danger of favouring better off players and could make it difficult to appeal to newer players as the initial outlay increases in order for players to be able to compete. There’s still not much flavour once everyone suits up, or at least I couldn’t see that much.

– Impale. At present it feels a little overpowered and could be triggering the “metal up” problem. I do now understand why Marksmen was so many points to buy at creation though, and an army that could field over a third archers would be terrifying. There could be balances to this that I’m not aware of yet, but this is very much the first impression.

I’m going to retract this, Impale seems fine as archers haven’t dominated because of the hard skill needed to use a bow and presumably the cost of replacing arrows OC. Whether the other calls need to be reworked (and whether a few NPC specific ones for the Orcs would help) is open to debate, although this could tie in with comments regarding monstering later, but Impale seems fine at the moment.

– Site Set-out. I understand that putting all of the general areas in the centre makes a degree of sense logistically, but I wonder if spreading things out would lead to people getting to now other nations more? Put the Arena on the edge of the field next to the Orc Encampment, the Senate opposite the gate and surrounded by High Guard – break things up so it feels more like a living, breathing place than a series of camps around an unsupported town in the centre. Make people use the whole of the field to access the various IC services.

Better, but the site has obviously taken a battering recently and looks to be in serious danger of becoming unusable ground in some places. Whether PD could look at rotating fields to allow some to recover would help (and introduce a little undulation), but a bigger question is whether they’ve out grown Tournament Stud these days. Previously I wondered if dropping to three events in order to not have event burn out, could this also help the site deal with the ravages of players and nature better as well?

Toilets in the IC area are great, toilets that aren’t hidden from plain view or at least in discrete locations less so – more thought could be given to some of the site layout with his regard.

– Likewise, the woods are big enough that a section could be opened up to players for use throughout the day. Even a small section could lead to secretive meetings, a spot of murder and the like. They don’t need to be monstered, they just need to have a small bit accessible.

I still feel that something could be done with this, especially given the lack of cover on the main field – even if clear “exclusion” zones were established (it would be pretty easy to say everything over 100m from the right of “the road” was open without affecting the rest of the game).

– The IC economy needs balancing a little, festival prices have always been a bug bear with festival LARP and now there’s a civil service some sort of sense needs to be applied so that trading doesn’t become the default for anyone who wants to get anywhere. Players will vote with their wallets, and I’m aware that this isn’t something everyone has comments on.

Unsure about this, the bigger problem seems to be that the crafting game doesn’t appear to have been developed fully yet meaning that the economy appears to be mainly limited to festival food & drink. The spectre of festival prices doesn’t appear to have been raised, which is a good thing, but I’ve not really encountered the rest of the game beyond combat to encounter the economy in a larger sense yet.

– I miss the PvP. Not being constantly gate-camped is great, but outside of the battle field there feels very little threat. Assassins working for the barbarians targeting dangerous individuals, orc sympathisers, all of these could add colour to the game. Yes, it’s still PvE, but it could be used to generate PvP.

This may be my principle concern with the game. If the theme of a nation seeking a ruler is prevalent, where are the petty generals vying for power, the nation’s turning against each other as there’s no centralised ruler? It all seems to be being dictated that this doesn’t happen by the mechanics rather than the players and I’m not sure that it’s healthy for the game in the long run that to be the case. I may be wrong on this, but I can’t see any signs of dissent happening (or being expressed).

The Good.
– The group I’m with are all genuinely lovely people. LARP can be made or broke by the group you’re with and this seems to be the right group. Felt welcomed by everyone and looking forward to seeing them all again.

Still more than anything else the group I’m with is what will keep me returning (hopefully more) to the game. They really are lovely people.

– PD seem to have struck the potential of gold again. I say potential as there are a few rough corners that still need working, but this looks like a promising start. Given that it’s only two events old, the system seems robust enough for very little to be changed.

With caveats noted above and below, although on a second tasting this feels more like an intermediate game than the next great game that PD will produce. I somehow feel that a lot of what made Maelstrom good has been discarded in favour of creating a more mass market appeal, the complexity has been filed off.

– Monstering is great fun. I’m sorely tempted to get myself my own mask (the PD ones are fine, but it would make life a little more pleasant) and do two or three turns of monstering on a day. I’ll certainly be getting a bit of monster ready kit for the next time to differentiate (perhaps PD should make a note of this somewhere so that new players are aware).

The battles need a bit of shaking up, and the number of people monstering from each nation seems a lot smaller than when the nation goes to war. Maybe reduce the length of the battles so that each nation monsters for two battles (both on the same day, with a short rest break), with two nations taking the field against four nations worth of monsters to reduce the need to endlessly respawn? Increase the toughness of the Orcs so that instead of wave after wave it feels a bit more like an ongoing conflict?

Also, when did the head become the default target for absolutely everybody monstering? I’m fine with head shots but they seemed to be being used solely and without any attempt to pull blows.

– Everyone seems committed to making it work, and PD have upped their game on the administrative side of things. Processing at GOD was pain free, nothing was a problem. The livery for Ref’s is a superb touch and actually makes it easier to access PD when needed.

Still impossible to fault, the administrative side was a pleasure to deal with.

– The levels of costuming are constantly improving and encourage everyone to up their game. The kit made available to monsters is superb given the resources this must have required in terms of investment.

Still leaning on the good / excellent, players certainly seem to be putting in the time to ensure that their kit is good, although the fact that it’s likely to be highly re-usable in other games means that the investment may feel a little more secure.

– Kids. I was unsure as to whether letting kids on the field was going to work but I now feel that they’re a great addition. I’d like to know that there’s enough for them to do, but mostly I’m positive about their presence.

No matter what PD do next, keep the family friendly aspect is essential. Having kids around the camp feels natural, certainly doesn’t get in the way or create safety concerns and is a great way of introducing new blood to the hobby.

Overall, I’m still generally positive, although my concerns regarding the first point are on the verge of tipping the balance – PD really need to address the issue soon or they may start to lose players (others I’ve spoken to have expressed similar concerns).

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