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Star Player

Musings and ramblings on MMO design philosophy and mechanics. Allstar - BOON Control - @AllstarMMO

Author: Allstar_MMO

WildStar interview with Lead Combat Designer Chris Lynch - Part 2

Posted by Allstar_MMO Friday August 30 2013 at 8:59AM
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Welcome back to the second part of my interview with Chris Lynch, Lead Combat Designer on WildStar, where we discuss Crowd Control, Hybrid play and more!


I'm reminded of one of the encounters in Stormtalon's Lair, where you're disoriented and have your controls switched around and you have telegraphs thrown down to deal with at the same time, very difficult!

Ah yeah, that right there, that confuse or disorient is probably the most punishing form of Crowd Control we have in the game right now and I'm probably gonna have to get in there and look at it a little more, I've seen some good uses of it, and some uses where really it feels a little punishing to me right now.

We have a philosophy on the combat team, it's going to sound a little corny but it's the Three R's; Recognise, React, Reward and with the way that we've been using the Disorient in some of these dungeons there is no time to Recognise so you don't get to React. Due to that I don't enjoy it as much because for me as a player, I want time to recognise what is happening to me, formulate a plan in my head on how to deal with it and then react to it whereas what is happening in that encounter he's like “DISORIENT! TELEGRAPHS!” and you're like “Ohmygodwhat” and then usually someone dies.

There is a good example of using it where in one of our mid level zones you get a quest where this little Squirg (adorable little land-squid) gets put on your head and you're Disoriented and the only thing you have to worry about is getting back to the quest hub so you have time to get used to the idea of “Oh, I'm Disoriented and I need to get back to the Hub” so you have time to Recognise and React and by getting back to the hub you get your Reward.

In the case of the Stormtalon boss it's like, YOU'RE DISORIENTED! REACT! REACT! C'MON! C'MON! TELEGRAPH! TELEGRAPH!



Yeah, and you're dead.

It happens to me too and I'm a very good player at our game and I'm like “Nah, we're not gonna be doing this, please lets tone down the use of disorient and make sure we're finding the appropriate uses for it”.

In fact, now I'm not saying that this will happen, but I've been thinking about Disorient on the trip out here and maybe instead of disorienting your movement controls we could disorient your ability hotkeys, something that’s a little less jarring and less punishing.



Were there any other challenges you faced developing your Crowd Control Systems?

Well, there's another one that I know a lot of people are talking about right now.

When you're stunned? Rapid-tap F right? I have a macro keys on my keyboard right? Stunned? Ohh not any more!

We do gate that on the server side, there's a maximum number of inputs per 250ms and it isn't much more than I can do manually, it's still more efficient to macro but it doesn't mean that you instantly get out, the most you can ever reduce your stun to is by half but the nice thing about a macro is that it makes sure that it keeps up that tempo, and I can actually have it running on the back-end before the stun even happens.

We're mostly looking to fix that, it's good for right now but by the time launch comes around I don't know if I would expect Stun to be the same breakout gameplay. In fact, we had some other ideas for other CC that may or may not make it into the game that we may make use of.

Imagine that these represent your player, sorry your recorder can't see this (Chris stacks one water bottle atop another), imagine that these are inside each other and you get stunned. You, or the part that you control gets knocked over here (moves one of the bottles across the table) but your actual body that people see in game remains here (indicates the remaining bottle) so you're like a ghost now that nobody can see and you're travelling back, trying to get back to your stunned body and when you get back you regain control.

That would be another way I would look at handling Stun, that way isn't macro-able but it still has the same Recognise, React, Reward mechanic and then you have a gameplay that you're trying to do because you can see your body getting beat up and you need to get back and tell it to get away. So yeah, there are things that we could do.



Were there any PVP concerns surrounding the new CC mechanics?

Our breakout gameplay has helped a lot in PVP, it was actually designed specifically for PVP to prevent player on player frustration with stun locks and stuff like that. it's working very well in PvP but we're probably going to add some protection on top of that, making sure that you can get stunned too many times in a row etcetera through Interrupt Armour.

All of the healing classes and some others have access to Interrupt Armour, what this does is that if you get hit with a CC whilst you have units of interrupt armour, lets say 2, it doesn't do anything but it decrements your Interrupt Armour down to 1, if someone else hits you with CC it will decrement to 0 but the effects will still be absorbed and then any type of CC after that will go through but it will protect you from interrupts or CC during that time.



Moving on from Crowd Control, a lot of MMOs recently have been favouring specialisation at the expense of everything else in terms of combat and ability design. This has left little room for fans of hybrid play, is there anything your team is doing to combat that?

There is absolutely room for hybrid play in our game, for example we've had feedback surrounding some Esper abilities in that they make the class feel too much like a caster/melee hybrid and we've responded by adding some new abilities to get them back to a ranged feel but we're keeping those short range abilities on there because since they require the light armoured Esper to be up-close, they will actually improve due to how we balance skills.

The way we balance our abilities is that we have so many points per ability, (this is all internal speak by the way, players will never see this stuff) essentially we start off with say 100 points per ability which can be spent on functionality or damage, it might cost 50 points for a stun and we could use the other 50 points to see how much damage it will do or another ability could have all 100 points go towards damage.

One of the key things is, there are a while bunch of modifiers that determine how many points an ability really gets. Is it a stationary ability? It might get an additional 20pts because I have to stand still to cast it. Is it a 3sec cast time or 2 sec cast time? If it takes a long time to cast, more points.

So one of things we will probably end up doing with Spectral Frenzy for the Esper is we will actually increase the number of points that it gets because you're a squishy class, and to cast it you have to get up really close so it might get some extra points that might be used for extra damage or extra effects.

So in terms of hybrid play, I can be an Esper that like to get up close and even hybrid on the other side, so all classes have access to two roles, every single class has a DPS role and a secondary role of either tank or healer. In the case of the Esper it's a healing role, if I want to I can put some healing abilities on my bar and some DPS abilities and hybrid that way. I can also be different types of DPS like we were talking about just now, I can be ranged DPS or I can get up close, if I'm getting up close I have a lot of risk because I'm squishy but I'm going to get a lot of reward because I'm doing lots more damage.



We haven't heard a great deal about Game Content yet, what can you tell us about the current state of end-game activity?

I can give you a brief synopsis of where we're at right now, a lot of this information is getting released very, very soon, we're wrapping up some of our raids, so we're going to be pushing that into beta very soon.

If I were to draw up a chart, there is a lot of end-game content depending upon your play-style.

If you're a PVEer you're going to have solo content, you're going to have solo end-game storylines in personal instances where you go to experience the story of nexus. If you're a group, you can go into dungeons and eventually 20man and 40man raids.

Now on the PVP spectrum you're going to have arenas, you're going to have battlegrounds. Battlegrounds are more for groups, Arena can be solo or small group and then eventually Warplots which is our PVP version of raids, 40 players on each side.

If you're a social player, we're going to have something for you, you've got your housing, that’s your solo thing. You can play with your own house or your friends houses and you can invite your friends to do Adventure instances on your plot.

And then on the ..wait, I can't talk about that yet because it because it's not going to be launch.


Ah go on, you can say it. I promise I won't publish it.

I won't say, but eventually there will be a social thing for ..raids, social raids.

Not social raids, but imagine like, groups of people larger than just a single group getting together to enjoy social content. Yeah.


Last one is a freebie!

What one thing are you most excited about for release?


I really enjoy dungeons, I'm looking forward to getting back to work next week and we're going to finish polishing off all of the dungeons and raids and we're going to get those out to our testers.

Other than the combat, one of the things I really enjoy about working on WildStar is that I love watching players reactions to what we do, I like watching people enjoy our game . it's been that way for any game I've ever worked on seeing people enjoying the stuff that you make is amazing.


Thanks for your time Chris, looking forward to the WildStar party this evening!

Thanks, I'll see you there!



Thanks for reading!


WildStar interview with Lead Combat Designer Chris Lynch - Part 1

Posted by Allstar_MMO Thursday August 29 2013 at 7:24AM
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This week I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to sit down with Chris Lynch, Lead Combat Designer on WildStar to talk Combat, Telegraphs, Crowd Control and more.


We've seen a lot more information on housing plots this week with a lot of new cosmetic features, are there any non-cosmetic features planned that might give players an edge in Raiding and PvP?

Definitely, a couple of things. First off, as you're levelling you're probably going to want to decorate your house so that you get the rested EXP stuff, additionally there are tradeskill mines and machines that give you benefits as opposed to the tools you have planet-side.

As far as raiding, one of the things we have show is a raid portal that will take you straight to the raid and give you a buff.

One of the ways I like to see housing personally is like my little station. When I'm done adventuring after I've saved money and saved stuff to sell, when it's time to go sell it and adjust myself I don't go back to town I go back to my house and sell it to my own vendors.

One other thing is Adventures, these are where you're building a micro instance on your plot that you can go into alone or with other players.

There will be more perks, we're still investigating what the perks are and what other perks could be but there are going to be real-world benefits.



Earlier this month, you announced the closure of CBT3 and it seems that CBT4 will not return until October. Can you explain the reasoning behind this hiatus?

Over the first 3 CBTs we collected a lot of great feedback and some of that dictates that we make some large changes, we didn't want to be releasing CBT phases in the middle of these changes because this would mean releasing half-implemented stuff so we just wanted to buy ourselves a little time to make sure that we could implement these new systems, polish them and get them ready without any bugs and then get back into beta.

Otherwise beta testers would have been testing half-implemented, half-broken, half-buggy stuff which wouldn't have been a good use of their time or our time so we're going to make sure we get it all right and then release it back out there.



What has been the biggest change from original concepts through beta?

Was there something you were absolutely convinced about that changed based on feedback?

I have a whole list! Right now, I would say Time To Kill on creatures is coming down. Our Time To Kill was a little long, and testers didn't like that so there are a couple of things we're doing to fix that.

First of all, we're bringing the Time To Kill down and second off we're making it so that DPS classes do more damage so those two things are multiplicative.

That, and also one of the things we're doing is we're actually going to leverage one of our strengths; telegraphs.

So we have auto-attacks and telegraphs, one of the main pieces of beta feedback that we had was that players didn't enjoy the frequency of telegraphs because most of the creature behaviour in combat was auto-attacks with occasional telegraphs. This meant that most of the damage came from auto-attacks which you couldn’t avoid, even when a telegraph was dodged it was such a small portion of the overall damage that it didn't feel like skill came into play.

One of the things that we're doing is increasing the frequency of telegraphs so it feels even more like an action game now because creatures are telegraphing much more frequently, which also means that you're dodging more and player skill comes more into play as to how much health you have left at the end of a fight and it feels a lot better this way.

There are tons of changes we're making based on feedback, but those are the top ones for me.



Staying on telegraphs for a moment, how do you feel players are responding to telegraphs when scaled up to a 40man content environment?

I think “excitement” is how they respond to it because one of the things we have been able to do is evolve the telegraph system in the last 2 years and it has come to a great point at which we can do a lot with it and you don't really see a lot of this until you get to the end-game content.

Once our testers start getting there, the shock, surprise and excitement on their faces when they start to experience some of that stuff is pretty great for me.

It starts off with a static telegraph, very static, doesn't move and then we slowly start introducing moving telegraphs around level 20 and then as you start heading toward the 30s, 40s and 50 you're going to start seeing telegraphs that require very fast reaction time, some moving towards you so there is a sense of anticipation as you see a telegraph actually moving at a certain rate towards your character and you're running as fast as you can to get out of it.

Excitement is the best word I can use to describe it, because I enjoy it. I enjoy watching it, I enjoy playing it and just having the communication and messaging of it because we've been training you for 50 levels to do this, it becomes instinct, but then we're trying to scale up how hard it is, especially in the dungeons and it's lots of fun.

I'm trying to think of some of the fights we do at level 50, there's one called “Raina” (sic, apologies if the name is inaccurate, I declined to ask for a precise spelling) and she does this thing, imagine a wall of fire coming at you where there is only one small opening and the walls of fire keep coming so you're trying to squeeze through these openings and finally you get to her and interrupt her, lots of fun!



Action oriented combat naturally raises the entry level for skill, Do you feel like the telegraph system could prevent some people from enjoying the game versus a traditional model, particularly those with slower reaction times?

I would say that is a fear, but I'm hoping that it's fun enough that they actually want to play it.

In the over-world zones, I don't think that the telegraphs are too hard, as long as they have the reaction time to manoeuvre out of the way then they should be good.

We try to make the over-world zones a little more friendly to casual players. Where it starts to get difficult is if these players want to participate in hardcore group content such as dungeons and raids, or even PvP, but if they enjoy the over-world stuff whilst being immersed in a great world then I think the balance should be good enough that they shouldn't have too many issues.



That's all for part 1, come back later this week for part 2 where Chris and I discuss Crowd Control and Elder Game combat!



Apollo Program

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday August 5 2013 at 8:59PM
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The recent announcement that the team behind LUI, a popular World of Warcraft UI modification package, will be shifting focus to WildStar caused ripples within the MMORPG community.

This is one of the first signs of major community content developers embracing WildStar in the run-up to release and creates a perfect opportunity to analyse what the staff at Carbine have been doing with their budding UI and Addon community.



There is a strong philosophy at Carbine about UI modification led by Jon "Bitwise" Wiesman, Lead Client Engineer on WildStar and developer of the Apollo UI Engine, to the point where not only has the game been built up around the concept, but has led Wiesman to claim that he will never work with a game without this functionality in the future.



A bold claim, but so vehemently do they believe in the philosophy that they have included a fully-featured Addon development tool in the game files appropriately named “Houston”.

Wiesman has gone on record stating that anything the in-house UI team is capable of developing, the community will be given the tools to accomplish just as effectively by giving the community full access to the LUA and source code that Carbine use themselves.


This means that not only will users be fully equipped to make anything they can imagine, but by integrating these tools into the game engine Carbine has drastically lowered the barrier of entry for enthusiasts and hobbyists to bring their ideas to fruition simply by being able to dive into Houston and start seeing how it all functions.

In doing so, prospective Addon and UI developers will potentially be able to reverse engineer some of Carbine's existing functionality, users will be introduced to the idea of making addons in a way that has been previously limited by intimate knowledge of LUA and XML coding.



By integrating the software in this way, less third party software will be required, this means that an idea can go from concept to synthesis and working in-game within minutes.

Furthermore, all users will be using exactly the same tools, giving access to peer-level functionality and networking allowing contributors to collaborate on larger, more complex projects and pass it on to other users in the future.

It is even possible that the Apollo engine will allow players to browse, review and install Addons in-game, further reducing the need for third-party intrusion and creating an additional avenue for community interaction and development.

WildStar is already seeing its own Addon scene developing in beta, within hours of getting Beta access a now famous user by the name PacketDancer had uploaded her first addon to the beta forums, quickly followed by many more created by herself and others.

Carbine responded to this by inviting PacketDancer to their studios, this sort of community reward and recognition is going to be key to the successful community development of WildStar, building relationships with key users can only benefit the game and the community and inspire others to come up with their own ideas.


The power this will give to the community is unprecedented, features that the community request added to the game will be made by the community to a standard that normally has to be reserved for patch-cycles to be implemented successfully.

That isn't to say that the best features won't make it into the standard UI though, we have seen World of Warcraft implement addon functionality into the base UI in the past and we should expect no less from WildStar as features and ideas are developed by the community that Carbine themselves might not even have considered.


The Houston functionality then, benefits absolutely every end-user of WildStar, even those who will never install an Addon in their playing career will see the UI evolve as the community breathes life into it.

Great power, however, comes with great responsibility and the trust that Carbine are placing in their community is admirable but far from careless.

Libraries and Functions will be carefully considered and reviewed before releasing them into Houston to ensure that users have all the tools that they need whilst protecting the integrity of the game from malicious intent or misuse.



Opening the UI development to the community on such a large-scale is ground-breaking, whilst other MMOs in the past have allowed the use of addons, WildStar will be the first to fully integrate it as a design philosophy from day one.

It is inspiring to see major players in the mod scene involved with WildStar before release, even more-so to see the community breeding its own during beta (it is also refreshing to see a beta test used appropriately as opposed to a marketing tool) which serves to enrich the experience for all potential players.

I expect to see the addon scene develop explosively post-release and create a legacy for UI development in MMOs of the future, Carbine’s enthusiasm is as breathtaking as it is sincere, their commitment to making WildStar a success in every possible way is beyond remarkable.



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