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News & Features Discussion  » [Column] General: Designing for the Theme

9 posts found

Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 16015

OP  11/11/13 4:36:01 PM#1

Story. Lore. Theme. All of these are critical components to any MMO, and features that make the games we play somehow seem more "real" when tied in with mechanics. In his latest column, Matt Miller talks about this and much more. Read on before heading to the comments.

Some of the most memorable battles you have played in MMOs have been ones where the lore and story have tied directly into the game mechanics. When you start with a solid story, have established motivations, and know what characters famous for, then designing your encounter becomes a matter of how to translate that into game mechanics that the player will encounter.

Read more Matt Miller: Designing for the Theme.

Associate Editor:
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom


Advanced Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1835

11/12/13 11:31:42 AM#2

Honestly,  I've always disliked "Boss Fights" in general. They are usualy just very  gimmicky. I do like the idea of opponents in general reflecting the motivations and nature of thier characters in how they fight. So animals might be tough and strong but not particularly nuanced in thier use of battle tactics...just attack whatever is big and standing in front of thier face. While intelligent and experienced opponents use more sophisticated and dynamic tactics.

"Bossess" should, IMO, just be tougher fights either being stronger or more skilled or bringing more resources (minions) to bear on the combat. They shouldn't be nearly undefeatable unless you step on the magic square and click your ruby red slippers, etc together 3 times,  etc. (Edit: Which all too often represents current design of them)

Fights in general should be forgiving enough that groups can make some mistakes in tactics or execution but still plow thier way through to victory. "Boss Fights" should simply be a less forgiving example. Oh and it should be pefectly acceptable for a party to LOSE a fight. Furthermore LOSING a fight shouldn't be a roadblock to progressing or completing a story-arc, it should progress or end DIFFERENTLY. If there is nothing I hate more about current MMO design, it's the "repeat this encounter 50 times until you are successfull then proceed to the end." mechanism. The world and the characters careers should continue on whether they win, lose or draw.  Give the characters one shot at a particular fight...if they succeed great, if they fail..ok the world gets a little darker but they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on to the next threat. That's my 2 cents.




Novice Member

Joined: 7/09/04
Posts: 402

11/12/13 12:36:32 PM#3
What Grumpy Mel said. 

Novice Member

Joined: 1/23/13
Posts: 45

11/12/13 1:13:45 PM#4
The last stage in the first Freedom Force game was like this.  Timemaster had you trapped on these cog-shaped platforms that you had to traverse, like the inside of a watch.  It would have been nice if he had had more time-based powers (I forget what he did).   I could give a lot of CoH examples of stuff I liked (The Terra Volta reactor room, the two-map Lambda run, the Hamidon, the abandoned sewer trial, etc).   There was actually one thing they used to do in CoH that I kind of disliked because it WASN'T in-character enough.  There were halloween zombie attacks where the zombies came up out of the ground, and there were occasional Rikti Invasions with Rikti Ships in the air, but the occasional Nemesis attacks were just Nemesis guys spawning in zones where they didn't normally spawn.  No ships offloading guys, no air-drops, and most disappointingly, no Mole Machines.  I REALLY wanted a giant Mole Machine to pop up out of the ground, then have the Nemesis spawn around it as if they just got out of the back or something.  

"Well sure, the FrinkiacVII looks impressive - DON'T TOUCH IT - but I predict that within 100 years computers will be TWICE as powerful, ten THOUSAND times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them." -Prof. Frink


Elite Member

Joined: 5/12/10
Posts: 2626

11/12/13 2:07:08 PM#5

Similar to GrumpyMel, I never really cared about boss mechanics, or at least purely the mechanics as in your example. Btw, great CoH column again :)


However, I agree with the start, not some but all of my "memorable battles you have played in MMOs have been ones where the lore and story have tied directly into the game mechanics". AoK in AoC is still my most favourite one to this very day, when I first was in there and saw the chained Frost Father... amazing memories :)

And in cases like that I liked the mechanics as well, back then there were no guides or stuff so you had to figure it out or asking on General for advice. When the frikkin Devourer sucked us dry, or when we tried to defend the folks who struggled with cutting the chains... good times.

Same for Atum-Keket in the Pyramid, he has a pretty simple (but nasty) mechanic, lots of tombstones were left in his chamber until he finally went down the first time :) (and every other time too, last when I reached there with a character a few months ago, I died 2-3 times because of a badly timed switch)


Advanced Member

Joined: 11/03/13
Posts: 1232

11/12/13 2:16:53 PM#6

Story and lore are well and good, but whats supposed to make MMORPGs special is that this is OUR story.

The fights I remember aren't the scripted, usually poorly written, instanced storylines.

The fights are remember are the white knuckle fights at the bottom of a dungeon, dreading some death penalty, or loss of a good camping spot, with tanks desperately grabbing agro so the rest of the group can escape, or so the cleric can log off, come back and rez.

I remember realm wide rallies, pulling 500 people into the frontier to defend against 700 attackers, holding onto the relics that gave our realm a boost to our mana.

It was nice to know the background lore, to know that it was Merlin's staff we were defending, why it was important, ect. But it was the people and MY choices that made the moments special. Not the script.


MMOs should craft a world, fill it with lore and background information, and let the players make something of it.


Advanced Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1835

11/12/13 3:57:07 PM#7

I'll echo what Tibernicuspa said there. The fights I actualy remember are either from MUDS or from FPS games not MMO's. The only MMO which I remember fights from (which I only played for 9 months) was WWII Online...which pretty much played like a big FPS game.

I remember at least a dozen different fights from that. Like laying down surpressing fire with a Bren gun up a narrow street in some hell-hole of a village at Axis players occupying a 2 level control building while other British forces worked thier way up a parallel street and praying that they could push thier way into the building before my ammo ran out or a Kraut finaly got me.

Or being a lowly rifleman hiding behind a bank as a Tiger rolled by with a German Officer riding aboard it and somehow timing a grenade throw perfectly to take out the Officer and then remaining hidden from the Tiger for what felt like hours (but must have been only minutes) as it hunted me.

Or managing to sneak out of our base as an assault began and get into what looked to be a ruined church behind the assault lines and firing at the assaulters from behind until my rifle ran out of ammo as they tried desperately to break thier way into the base, not realizing that they were getting shot from behind due to the sheer volume of fire being exchanged between the base. Then seeing the base fall and realizing I'd have to sneak out in the darkness and swim across the river to make it to friendly lines.

I remember all that and more (and plenty from FPS games like BattleField '42) but for the life of me I can't remember how a single raid went in the last MMO I played. Funny thing I actualy like PvE in MMO's....but the "big fights" in them mostly just seem to fade into a sea of unintersting blandness. The MMO moments I do remember are almost all about RP-ing not combat.

P.S. I even remember some rather inglorius and unheroic moments from WWII the first time I was in a truck in an attack column heading upto the front and getting straffed by German planes. The feeling of helplessness just sitting there as the driver swerved crazly trying to avoid the straffing....and then getting blown to bits as the planes came round for another pass and unloaded on us.




Elite Member

Joined: 6/10/09
Posts: 6998

11/12/13 9:15:29 PM#8

So I'm not a huge fan of raid and dungeon instances either, but there are a few games I've enjoyed that stuff or I thought were fun.


My favorites are in EQ2 because, like you say, they mostly all tie into a story so the zone feels more like a tough group zone than it does a scripted dungeon or raid instance. Nektulos castles is one I think is done particularly well. Not only that, but there are rewards in them that are more than just gear advances. There are unique titles, appearance items, and illusionary appearances (like the charm that turns your pet into a hex doll). That is probably why EQ2 has ended up my favorite themepark game.


Rift's dungeons feel much more traditional and "dungeony", but are sort of fun in a hack-n-slash way. The master mode dungeons are raid level difficulty but for a single group (5 people). Those are particularly fun to run with an experienced guild group.

Caduceus Rise, on Ember Isle, is a huge open world "dungeon" instance. There are some really tough boss fights, especially in Master Mode, but the most challenging is Caduceus himself. He sits in a room inside a structure. The fight is challenging due to some standard boss mechanics like cleaves and some special attacks, but the tricky part that seems to defeat most groups are these missiles that come out of the wall. There is more than one way to handle them. The best way for a group to handle them can depend on group class composition, gearing, class skill (especially for the healer and tank), and how well the group works together and times their actions.


Lineage had some fun group areas. These were public dungeons and group zones - all public. The Tower of Insolence from floors 70 - 99, Forgotten Island, and the bottom levels of a few other dungeons (the names escape me now). The trick to these was that the mobs roamed and repop was pretty fast. You had to keep of the pace and rhythm of combat or you would get overwhelmed. The deeper you got the more intense and fast paced it got and the less room you had to stop and rest.

Why I Don't Like Scripted Instances

It feels contrived. At best they tie into the story, but typically it just feels mechanical and artificial. Like you said, in an effort to create new, bigger, and better, it ends up piling on the glitz. Rift's raids are horrible for this. They feel like disco dances - always jump in the red circle, stay out of the flashing moving green squares, when the waves come move out of the way, when the boss looks at you turn away, games of boss-simon says, and so on ad naseum.

Throw in the fact that the best items, neatest shinies, and real character progression is locked behind these discos and it's a recipe for reluctant participation, at least for me. I don't find it fun for more than the rare visit. I hate that fun gear and items are locked behind them as a result. All that's ignoring the raid social structure that I just don't appreciate.

No one has as many friends as a man with many cheeses!


Novice Member

Joined: 1/04/13
Posts: 2

11/19/13 11:38:55 AM#9

I SO remember Stampede.  I played that game for hours.  Those damn black anguses (angi?) that would come at you truly sucked.

*goes to fire up my Atari 2600 emulator...