Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

13 October, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Pets
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:55 AM

Pets are very meaningful to a lot of people in the offline world. So, it makes sense that we see them in online games. This week, let’s take a look at pets and think of some ways they could be improved.

There are two main types of pets: combat and show off.

Combat pets are NPCs that help you in the game. Usually these are animals, but in the case of some necromancers, it could be a zombie or skeleton. The perform some type of gameplay activity, usually helping in combat. In general, it seems that most pet classes are rather powerful. In WoW, for example, the primary pet class is known for being the easiest class to solo: the Hunter. This ease of play has given rise to a lot of stereotypes.

Show off pets are the opposite: they have no gameplay function and are just for show. They can be an accessory the player buys, a token of an event or holiday, or something that shows off an accomplishment, or perhaps a token that shows the player is just really lucky. Generally they’re intended to be eye-catching. Often they follow the player around, or they may be limited to the player’s house.

Of course, sometimes the lines get blurred. In EQ2, players could get a god pet that did not engage in combat, but that gave certain stat bonuses; they were somewhere between a combat pet and one purely for show.

The now canceled game Gods & Heroes was intended to allow players to have a small army at their command. Even though these “pets” weren’t just animals, they were subservient to the main character.

So, what do you think? What additions could be made to pets to make them more interesting in other games?


  1. EVE’s drones. Remotely controlled weapon/utility systems with (half) a mind of their own.

    Comment by michael, St E — 14 October, 2008 @ 3:58 AM

  2. In some games (Ryzom and Ultima Online come readily to my mind), there are also pack animals. These are usually treated solely as storage (in the case of Ryzom), but they are indispensible to most crafters/harvesters – either for that storage, or to help transport materials (in the case of Ultima Online).

    Further, in Ultima Online, you’ll see a more expansive treatment of mounts. Most games, the mount is just a mount is just a mount. In Ultima Online, if you’ve taken the skills to become a tamer, you can have a mount AND a combat pet in one. Nightmares were a perennial favorite, for example. The animals were trainable (meaning their skills and stats could be improved), and served as mounts. In at least one case (the beetles), they could be trained for combat, ridden as mounts, and used as storage.

    I’d like to see a pet treatment similar to that, but a little more expansive. And suitable to the world in which the actions are occuring, of course. Imagine a tameable pet that is trainable to sniff out a special kind of resource. From a design point of view, something like this is a potential gold sink, and also a potential for urging specialization. (Designers; be wary of ever forcing something like that. UO was great for its skill flexibility, but over time lost that by requiring certain skills to fill your 700 skill points, if you wanted to be effective or even survive. Removed most of my interest when I could no longer have a unique template and hope to survive even PvE encounters.)

    Comment by Jenna — 14 October, 2008 @ 11:52 AM

  3. How about pets that can exist more than 100ft away from their owners and which are able to carry out tasks (semi)independently?

    An example would be, for instance, a carrier pigeon which, in addition to being a show off pet, could also carry messages or items to other players or locations.

    Comment by Lobosolitario — 14 October, 2008 @ 1:28 PM

  4. I’m very interested to see how the dog in Fable 2 plays out. It’s a combination of both combat and show, and has uses well beyond those… such as pointing out hidden treasures and reacting to NPCs.

    What I loved most about the Creature Handler system in Star Wars: Galaxies was the variety in pet types and ways of acquiring them. By making wild creatures open to taming, the designers provided a huge assortment of potential pets without having to design a lot of pet-only creatures (the wild creatures could be fought and skinned, thereby providing PvE content).

    A pet is much more meaningful when it clearly represents a personal choice, individualizing the player. In real life, people show off the individuality of their pets, not the common features. They might describe their pets from afar as “a black lab” or “a beagle”, but they always point out the pet’s individual personality and appearance when we actually meet it. And the individual characteristics are what we take the most joy in, even when watching wild animals.

    Fable 2 allows individual players to train their dogs differently. That’s a good example of making pets both personal and meaningful.

    Comment by Aaron — 16 October, 2008 @ 11:18 AM

  5. I agree with Aaron,

    I would also like to note, that we need to take from multiple systems and combine their good parts, beat them with a whisk, and them carefully balance the mixture.

    In essence, we need to start creating systems in more than just pets that give personal choice to the player where he/she can make a choice of what type of pet to have and how they treat it, it treats, others, how its fed, trained, and take care of. I don’t want it to be a ‘job’ but it should have pros and cons as a part of the pet system.

    Pets for show are less time consuming and most likely can be at the players house for longer periods of time without personal attention, but would need water / food.

    Pets for combat would need much more personal time with the player, for training, feeding, and taking care of them. There is also the time to fight that would be needed.

    Pets for work, Ox’s, cows, and other beasts of burden that would be used to pull a cart or carry heavy items wouldn’t need a lot of personal time, but would most likely need more food / water than other pets.

    There could be a crafter profession ‘Tamer’ who could with skills go out in the wilds and tame pets. The more rare (as a pet) the dev teams wants the pet the more time (hours) it might take a player in attempting the tame. Tame would not happen over night and might require the player (tamer) to venture to the pet multiple times before the pet accepts or at least follows the tamer to his pens (cages).

    There could also be trainers, who would take a tamed pet and begin the task of training it with some basic skills or even advanced skills if other players can’t do this on their own as in (every player).

    There could also be breeders (now this could get tricky if you want it too or it could be pretty basic. If you want to two pets to breed, one could be considered the dominate breed and that is the type of pet that is created. The other pet would be an ‘enchancer’ as in breeding a Dragon and something tiny might create a miniture or toy (dog sized example) Dragon. In other world, your creating a tiny dragon instead of a full blow dragon.

    Other breeding might be done to give a dog better night vision for players whom want to live in dungeons (dungeon crawlers). Other might want a Wold that is a big more aggressive like a Bear for example… so on and so forth.

    There is other things I could come up with… just a quick response after getting off work.

    Comment by Danny Smith Jr. — 31 October, 2008 @ 1:49 AM

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