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News & Features Discussion  » General: Editorial Debate: Combat Styles

14 posts found
  Stradden

Managing Editor

Joined: 7/08/05
Posts: 6729

 
OP  9/23/06 1:08:34 PM#1

Our Saturday Editorial Debates make a return this week as Dan Fortier and Garrett Fuller return to duke it out over combat styles. Dan won initiative, and will make the first move:

 

Dan Fortier: When it comes to combat in MMOs there seems to be an ongoing struggle between those that want more involved combat that uses the skill or reflexes of a player over instead of the standard automatic 'hit a button and wait' method that seems to be the standard.

While I don't count myself firmly in either group, I have to say that I prefer to have a lot of strategic options in my combat, but that doesn't necessary involve strafing around like the old Robotron game dodging attacks. The reason I play video games instead of going out the local Renaissance Fair and swinging real weapons is because I prefer to not have to work up a sweat killing things. games like Asheron's Call, while offering more of a twitch style of combat, seem to put too much emphasis on free movement while not providing a more realistic combat than the automatic systems.

Read the article, here.

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

  scaramoosh

Novice Member

Joined: 7/02/05
Posts: 3466

9/23/06 2:45:59 PM#2
link just goes to mmorpg.com

---------------------------------------------

Don't click here...no2

  Sabbicat

Novice Member

Joined: 6/19/06
Posts: 261

Common Sense - The ultra rare loot with extreme decay.

9/23/06 10:19:06 PM#3
I guess the argument is as cyclical as the artical link

  hadati

Apprentice Member

Joined: 10/20/05
Posts: 27

9/24/06 12:00:28 AM#4

Greets.

This is the first time I've posted here at MMORPG, though I've been a member for a couple years now.

The main reason I decided to post was because I do have some strong feelings about the combat systems in the past and current MMO selections and I wanted to weigh in on this topic.  I'm not trying to change anyone's mind on the issue, just give some food for thought and maybe one day a developer will listen. 

I think many MMO people dislike "twitch combat" in MMO's because it often ends up being about who has the faster graphics card or who has the fattest bandwidth rather than about other things (story immersion and authenticity, etc).  And to a certain extent, I agree.  Without excellent environments, music, graphics, and so forth, you can't have a truly great game.  However, the biggest issue I currently have, across the board with MMO's is the combat system.  Its just not immersive enough.

I think there needs to be a more intuitive and immersive form of gameplay combat in MMO's to truly have gamers feeling like they are in the game, that they have become the character, that they are under attack when a volley of arrows is incoming.  Take WoW for example.  Horrible combat (imho) because clicking buttons on a bar at the bottom of your screen is about as far from feeling like you are immersed in the combat as you can get.  And this problem is by no means limited to WoW.  Most MMO's out there have a stupid bar you have to pick combat options from.  You end up in combat looking up and down between your bar, the fight, your health and mana meter and back again.  That's lame and I can't believe gamers are still okay with it. 

In fact, I'm going to post my "Top Reasons MMO's Suck" List here.  Feel free to comment or add your own.

***********TOP REASONS MMO's SUCK**********

PvP - either there’s too little or its not implemented right (only DAoC had this even sorta right). There needs to be a natural and pretty horrific consequence for someone that’s level 1 quadrabillion one-shotting a level 7 and spitting on their not-yet-cold corpse.

Combat - either its too slow or its not engrossing enough (you hit the same button sequence on your bar over and over to kill virtually every stupid mob).

Customization - not enough options to distinguish yourself from the other 10,000 nerds playing. If I want to play a fat merchant, let me slide the slider bar to decide how morbidly obsese I want to be in char creation.

Economy - screwed all to hell because of IGE and eBayers selling gold/plat/gil to 12 year old ninnies. Should be locked down so items are bought with energy or something that drops from mobs which is bind on pickup and can’t, therefore, be bought or sold or traded between accounts.

Mobs - lack of variety, lack of AI, lack of sense of accomplishment when they go down, they’re there 2 minutes later and appear out of thin air?  How realistic!

Wimpiness - your player starts off basically naked and then gets some dorky clothes and corny weapons for putting in the first 10 levels. What a reward!

Classes - players have to choose classes as they level. It ought to be skill-based. The more you do a certain thing, the better at it you become. You can be a jack of all trades or super skilled in one area. Like in Ultima Online or Dungeon Siege.

User Interface - Not customizable enough. I want skins for my GUI. I want transparency options, resizable, movable, font-changeable options.  And for God's sake, don't make me look away from my character during combat to see if I have enough mana or health left!

People - There are some real jerks that play MMO's. We need a really good system for kicking people from group, putting them and all their toons on ignore and adding them to a guild blacklist.

Originality - I don’t want the used up, cliched dwarf, elf, human, warrior, rogue, caster races and classes. Make something new. Something exciting.

Balance - Everyone should be able to solo effectively. Not just if you have pimped out gear and get a guildy to buff you because you specced a certain way that gimped you so hard you can barely solo a wimpstyle mob that’s your level.

Partying - There should be no penalty for grouping together and no bonus for it either. The experience you get should come from skilling up, not farming items or gold.

Dying - You get a multiplier for staying alive longer. If you die it zeroes out and begins again.

Stuck - Options for people shy of having to contact support and waiting 20 minutes for a company payed GM to help them with a simple /unstuck command the player should have been able to do themself.

Quests - Player wiki-able thotbot ingame, allowing players to help write the user guide and make corrections, taking pressure off the dev team come patch night to fix all the little bugs.

***********************

Dovie'andi se tovya sagain.

  kopema

Novice Member

Joined: 9/18/06
Posts: 265

Take THAT, subspace!

9/24/06 2:09:31 AM#5

Believe it or not, I think I have a solution that could make both camps happy.

The key is not complicated button-based strategy; or split-second reaction-based timing. The simplest and most immersive solution is to combine the two into one thing by focusing on STRATEGIC TIMING.

When you're watching a fight on TV do you think "block that jab with your left hand, then use a ‘roundhouse flurry combo?’" Not unless you can think twice as fast as a fighter can move his hands. No, that kind of conditioned response is the job of the guys in the ring.

Instead, you look for strengths and weaknesses and (whether the fighters can hear you or not) you yell things like "He’s got a strong left hook; keep your distance!" or "He's rattled; it’s time to move in for the kill!"

Just that kind of strategic timing could be the basis for an extremely engaging and immersive combat system.

I love martial arts in real life, and drilling my footwork is fun to me. But studying button combos for a computer game is a meaningless abstraction. When you think about it, Pong was a lot better simulation of a tennis game than modern fighting games are simulations of hand-to-hand combat. What do "combos" and "powerup" button clicks have to do with actual fighting? Zippo.

Let the guy on the screen handle the reflex actions (at least until somebody can build one of those Holodeck thingies.) By focusing on strategic timing - instead of intentionally making the interface more complex to create a separate and non-immersive "mini game" - developers could make the experience much more simple and immersive at the same time. You only need a few options you can easily fit on a mouse. And instead of fifty clicks a minute, you’re spending most of your time admiring the (hopefully nice looking) combat animations, intently trying to decide exactly the best time to make that critical move.

Sadly, the doctors who do carpal tunnel surgeries would lose out big time, but look at the bright side:  everyone else would get a fun game to play. 
  BountyGreg

Novice Member

Joined: 5/14/06
Posts: 37

9/24/06 4:13:24 PM#6
eventho Strategic Timing sounds fun, you can't do that in an MMO.
If you do that, you would have to actually guess where your opponen will hit or not, in reality, you react to a movement, in MMOs it's not possible because of ping/lag and whatever problems, unless you put all this on client side, which can be exploited big time, so your solution, as good as it sounds, is not possible with actual technology.

I know players wanna see results and no problems, but that's how it is, it's not possible, as simple as that.
  kopema

Novice Member

Joined: 9/18/06
Posts: 265

Take THAT, subspace!

9/24/06 5:30:55 PM#7

Originally posted by BountyGreg
eventho Strategic Timing sounds fun, you can't do that in an MMO.
If you do that, you would have to actually guess where your opponen will hit or not, in reality, you react to a movement, in MMOs it's not possible because of ping/lag and whatever problems, unless you put all this on client side, which can be exploited big time, so your solution, as good as it sounds, is not possible with actual technology.

I know players wanna see results and no problems, but that's how it is, it's not possible, as simple as that.

It's impossible to be sure what you are trying to say here, but it sounds like pretty much the opposite of what I suggested.  Of course you wouldn't have to "guess where [whether?] your opponent will hit or not."

As I tried to make ridiculously clear, I am specifically NOT talking about split-second responses here.  And of course I never suggested that the player "react to a movement."  That would be a bad idea regardless of any packet sniffing concerns.  (Until, as I said, somebody can build a real-life Holodeck.  And if that had happened by now I wouldn't be sitting here wasting my time typing on a Web forum!)

What I'm talking about is making a decision to attack based on whether your opponent appears weak or strong.  This would be a trend or perhaps a cyclic condition.  The split second at which the strike takes place would not be terribly important. 

Video game players have become conditioned to seeing weapons "attack" basically as fast as they can be swung.  That's kind of a silly way to fight; it's how third-graders do it:  both opponents close their eyes and flail their arms wildly at each other, hitting each other dozens of times before somebody finally has enough.

The cool thing about melee fighting (as opposed to gunfights, or third-grader slapfests) is that it is possible to have a "guard" which must be overcome and/or bypassed before you can actually hit your opponent.  Unless one opponent is infinitely more skilled than the other, this process takes a certain amount of time. 

The more time that passes, the more each opponent's guard is overcome.  The critical element of Strategic Timing is deciding when to make your move to try to bypass what is left of the guard and strike your opponent.  If you make it too early, you are likely to miss, and in the process diminish your own guard; if you make it too late, then your opponent might hit you first.  That would result in a WOUND, which hurts a lot, and would presumably impact your ability to continue the fight to some degree.

As for how this could be handled in an MMORPG's sequencing, I think you have a good point, assuming that by "not possible" you meant to say that it would be "relatively easy."  This would not be one tiny bit harder than deciding whether a "special attack combo" kills an opponent in any current online game.  There would be roughly the same animation delay during which the data transfer could easily be masked.  How many times have you had the computer tell you you're dead and then say "Oops, no you're not?"  It's not that big a deal.

The biggest difference would be that DELAYING that attack could be just as important as making it soon enough.  This way, timing becomes an important strategic element in the fight; not just a measure of how smartly you can tap a refreshing button to squeeze as many attacks in as possible before the fight is over.

  Jade6

Novice Member

Joined: 7/06/04
Posts: 429

MMO session a day keeps doctor at bay.

9/25/06 5:00:25 AM#8

PvP - There needs to be a natural and pretty horrific consequence for someone that’s level 1 quadrabillion one-shotting a level 7 and spitting on their not-yet-cold corpse.

I take it you meant a level 7 one-shotting a level 1 and not the other way around?  That said, those who like to PvP claim that they enjoy the danger so it's probably all fine for them, and those who don't want to PvP really couldn't care less what happens to the attacker afterwards - the attack must not be possible in the first place.

Combat - either its too slow or its not engrossing enough (you hit the same button sequence on your bar over and over to kill virtually every stupid mob).

Better than the twitch option, like in DDO... you just run around the mob and spam mouse button endlessly. With a button sequence, at least there's room for variation; a sequence that works against one mob might not work against another. Seriously though, the only game that I ever played that actually met that requirement was Max Payne, and the bullet time effect just doesn't work so well with MMOs.

Customization - If I want to play a fat merchant, let me slide the slider bar to decide how morbidly obsese I want to be in char creation.

99.9% of the playerbase doesn't want to play a fat merchant though so isn't that a bit like the high level raid instances in WoW?  Most players never need that option, so if it causes extra work for devs, it's not actually worth it. But sure it was nice that they made them anyway, I was among the less than 50 people in total who had made serious progress in Naxxramas on our server by the time I quit the game. I would not have played it that long otherwise.

Economy - screwed all to hell because of IGE and eBayers selling gold/plat/gil to 12 year old ninnies.

Not true, but not going to argue it further here.  There is not much devs can do about false perceptions, although they are certainly trying, by giving the (equally false) impression that they are tackling the problem.

Mobs - lack of variety, lack of AI, lack of sense of accomplishment when they go down, they’re there 2 minutes later and appear out of thin air? How realistic!

Hard to make complex mobs; one way or another they still have to attack you. I have to this date never seen "smart AI" in any game, MMO or otherwise; the mobs see you and attack you, that's all. The only actual reason they seem smarter in some single player games, is that they have been positioned in a smart way by a level designer. And then there's also the issue that they might become too hard... for example, imagine a ranged mob that runs or flies away very fast when the player tries to catch it, and chases after him when he tries to run away; how is an all-melee fighter going to beat it? He can't, he knows he's dead as soon as he sees the mob. Talk about class balance right there. Or if the mob was really smart, it might go get its 200 buddies and come back; you one-shot it from range or die basically.

Wimpiness - your player starts off basically naked and then gets some dorky clothes and corny weapons for putting in the first 10 levels. What a reward!

Hey, ease off on teh wimps. That's most of us in real life 24/7 after all.

Classes - players have to choose classes as they level. It ought to be skill-based.

Problem with skill-based systems is that some templates are always better than others, so you go for optimal template or gimp yourself. Think about dungeon siege, was it ever worth having someone in the group who was "fine" at many things but not really good at anything? No, you went for full-melee, full-ranged and a healer for spamming that one AoE heal 24/7. Why? Because that was the most effective way to get the job done.

User Interface - Not customizable enough. I want skins for my GUI.

Skins might be nice, but otherwise customisation tends to lead to dependency on mods, like in WoW. it's all just eye candy anyway, and it's not like any other games had even nearly as much customisation as some MMOs.

People - There are some real jerks that play MMO's. We need a really good system for kicking people from group, putting them and all their toons on ignore and adding them to a guild blacklist.

We have that already. What I would like is a warning _before_ I actually group with them, like a voting system where each player could vote for or against another player, and anyone could then look at their saldo at any time, anywhere. Trouble is, those real jerks pay a monthly fee to the game company as well...

Originality - I don’t want the used up, cliched dwarf, elf, human, warrior, rogue, caster races and classes. Make something new. Something exciting.

Inventing something entirely new is difficult, plus you never know if people will like it or hate it. But seriously, not everyone can do what Tolkien did, so MMO developers are better off choosing an existing genre with an existing fanbase. That said, there are some really interesting intellectual properties out there with no MMO in their name yet; Aliens, Battletech, that sort of thing.

Dying - You get a multiplier for staying alive longer. If you die it zeroes out and begins again.

Death penalty means people never take risks, so I would rather make content more difficult than punish the player for trying. Otherwise we will have knights and all camping bunnies all day again because that's safe.

Stuck - a simple /unstuck command the player should have been able to do themself.

WoW actually has a button like that, plus you can soulstone out of there if all else fails. I would imagine that one reason everyone has a soulstone is exactly that, to help them get out of nasty situations on their own.

  Bardas

Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/22/05
Posts: 2

9/26/06 1:24:36 PM#9

As somebody who is more than fed up with classical mmorpg-style combat, I think I am with Garret in this discussion. However, I think combat in these games still have a long way to go before they are really satisfactory.

A few things:

Collision detection. Yes, I know, that’s always a bit of a problem because of latency and possible exploitation. Yet without it, any opponents, whether PC or NPC, will feel..insubstantial? Not to mention the weirdness of tactics of people running through each other.

Physics. One of the things that still requires work, even in single-player games, is real-life physics, and its combination with physical combat and encumbrance. It should be possible to really push your enemies (or obstructive bystanders) back or aside; the encumbrance of heavy arms, armor and a backpack full of goodies should not only slow you down, but also affect the way your character moves. Ideally, there should also be some kind of sensory feedback, perhaps by way of force feedback gamepads.

Computer combat, especially of the pre-industrial, hands-on melee style, won’t feel “right”  before you get an almost physical feel of playing a believably moving and fighting heavily armored dwarf, or a lightly equipped, fleet-footed elven skirmisher.

Mounted combat. See above; this will work best if the collision detection and physics problems have been dealt with. Mounted combat is absolutely indispensable, I believe. Right now, mounts are fast means of transport that are handed out as rewards fairly late in the game; they do not play a role in combat. Also, they are more or less permanent and mysteriously pop in and out of existence as needed.

Anyone played the German action RPG Sacred? Or the indie game Mount & Blade? Both have mounted combat, and it’s great fun. Especially against opponents on foot it gives you a feeling of power…though Mount & Blade adds a welcome touch of realism – and enforces proper tactical behavior – by making your horse vulnerable to attacks.

The latter thing might have other implications as well – basic horses could be comparatively cheap, available early in the game and at the same time not very effective in combat (for instance, they might be relatively slow, or refuse to charge enemies – just like real horses do). Battle-chargers would be much more effective and at the same time hideously expensive (as they were historically – you could literally buy dozens of ordinary horses for the price of a good war-charger).

There are some other things that could be affected. Greater stress on player skill may make the continued use of class/level/hit point systems in some ways superfluous. I think player characters should gain in strength and widen their abilities, both through character experience and gaining items. But perhaps the strength gains should be very slow and gradual and cap at, say, two, three or four times that of a new character. Likewise, NPC opposition should vary more through AI (variable but sensible tactics), numbers and tactical composition (a mix of heavily armored melee fighters and mounted archers would be nasty…) than simply put in another bunch of Orcs with slightly higher combat stats and slightly different skins slapped on their models and operating according to the same old tired aggro mechanisms, damn it!

However, even if combat becomes more engaging and dependent upon player skill, there will be one big problem: Many players are not very good at it, or even like it. For them, the slower, less skill-dependent rhythm of mmorpg combat is preferable. I think that will remain so for a long time. Quite possibly, a split will occur between several types of mmorpg, with some adopting a mixture of a more or less realistic “twitch” combat style with a (either limited or more traditional) character stat-increasing system, while others will simply feature the classical-style combat & class/level/hit point system.

  kopema

Novice Member

Joined: 9/18/06
Posts: 265

Take THAT, subspace!

9/26/06 5:56:29 PM#10

Originally posted by Sabbicat
I guess the argument is as cyclical as the artical link

Hehe. Good call. Now the link is fixed, but I'm afraid it didn't help one little bit. One guy says constant twitching hurts his tendons and the other thinks auto attacks are boring.  Imagine that.

Why do people have to look at this a bipolar issue? It seems to me there is a huge amount of room for original ideas here. Why do players - and much worse game designers - keep looking at RPG combat systems as a finished product, with nothing but compromising left to be done?

How about some different concepts thrown into the mix?  Just throwin out a few examples:

- Eliminate the "attack as fast as you can swing your sword" nonsense. Real combat doesn't work that way.

- Let the character ('toon) handle feints, dodges, parries (defense) and let the player (human) decide when to commit himself to an attack - which might only happen once or twice in a fight, but can be pretty darned dramatic when it does.

- Don't show characters being stabbed by a sword a dozen times in every fight. This is, frankly, silly.

- Eliminate in-fight healing. Neither real combat nor ANY genre of fictionalized combat outside of video games works this way.

- Give the player something to lose in a fight short of life or death, because (if you think about it) death is the most non-immersive thing you can possibly have in a computer game. 

- Draw a distinction between a swordfighter's "guard" (i.e., stamina points, which refresh very rapidly) and actual wounds (hit points, which take proportionally longer to heal)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to "sell" my own system(TM). I'm just trying to illustrate that there is plenty of room for LOTS of genuinely NEW ideas, rather than just an infinite number of compromises between two ridiculously abstracted systems that Gary Gygax and Nintendo invented thirty years ago!

Processing power has multiplied by a factor of a MILLION since then, but all we've used it on is graphics. It's time to wipe the slate clean and look at this from the bottom up. Think about how REAL combat works (or if not "real", at least in terms of verisimilitude -- like what we see in movies and read about in books) and see if there is a way to make something like that work on one of these newfangled "computer" thingies all the kids seem to be talking about these days.

  kopema

Novice Member

Joined: 9/18/06
Posts: 265

Take THAT, subspace!

9/26/06 6:43:45 PM#11

Originally posted by Bardas

...There are some other things that could be affected. Greater stress on player skill may make the continued use of class/level/hit point systems in some ways superfluous. I think player characters should gain in strength and widen their abilities, both through character experience and gaining items. But perhaps the strength gains should be very slow and gradual and cap at, say, two, three or four times that of a new character.

,,,However, even if combat becomes more engaging and dependent upon player skill, there will be one big problem: Many players are not very good at it, or even like it. For them, the slower, less skill-dependent rhythm of mmorpg combat is preferable....


When you think about it, what is the real purpose of general "leveling?"  All it does is move you through RPG content.  You don't really FEEL any different at level 50 swinging an adamantium sword at the Rat of Ultimate Doom than you did at level one swinging a stick at a regular old, everyday rat.

That makes sense in traditional RPG's, where you don't want somebody skipping ahead in your cleverly laid-out story.  But why does that have to apply in the "sandbox" world of an MMORPG?

Why have character strength, skill and power just GENERALLY go up in power at all?  Why not make the game progression more broad than tall?  Keep all the characters' attributes and skills at basically the same level, but give more advanced players a deeper bag of tricks? 

Sort of like that old Magic The Gathering card game:  they claim that a clever player with a starter kit can beat a boob with every card ever printed.  

Likewise, why not give starting MMORPG characters only a few powers, but later let them earn a wider selection of more varied - but not wildly more powerful - abilities?  That way, instead of being effectively excluded from all the higher - and lower - level content, and having to store a warehouse full of fire-resistant armor, a group of advanced characters can still have fun battling orcs on a more-or-less equal basis with a newbie friend, but also have a set of skills that they can (hopefully wisely) select from when they want to storm the dragon's lair with their uuber guild.  And who knows, if he "plays his cards right" maybe that newbie can still have a role to play in the raid with the one or two skills in his little bag of tricks.

  Bardas

Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/22/05
Posts: 2

9/27/06 11:03:48 AM#12

Kopema,

I think your last two posts raises several issues, many of which have been discussed to death in the past on various forums, but which remain highly relevant to mmorpg’s.

Should the combat in mmorpg’s be more realistic, or should it simply seem to be more real, with reality simply acting as “source material” (my personal preference)?

When it comes to parries, feints etcetera, letting the avatar (so much more elegant a word than “toon”, I think J) perform these rather than the player could easily devolve into a playstyle that is only marginally more engaging than the current “point & click & occasionally press a button / activate a macro” way. Personally, I like the sheer physical exertion of having to slaughter my way through a horde of enemies. Then again, I do like some breaks between the intense fights, thank you very much.

However, there are probably solutions to this as well. Perhaps a player can toggle between “auto-defence” and “manual defence”, with a skilled player being more effective at “manual defence” than the avatar by its own using “auto-defence”. Looking back at “Mount & Blade”, the NPC opponent AI made a reasonable showing of blocking the player’s attacks with shield and sword, so why shouldn’t an avatar be able to do something similar in auto-defence mode?

It might be worth to reconsider the whole hit point thing; some gaming systems, like the old FASA space combat game “Interceptor” used a hit location / flowchart system, where a weapon first had to go through shields and armour, then followed the flowchart to knock out various of the ship’s systems and weapons. This, in turn, diminished the ship’s performance. Another game, the RPG “Harnmaster”, used a system of hit locations and wounds of various types and levels of severity diminishing the character’s combat effectiveness.

Replace energy shields, ablative armour and ship weapons and systems with plate mail, padded gambeson and bones and organs, and there you are…

Of course, such a non-hitpoint system hasn’t been tried before in computer rpg’s and mmorpg’s, so it would require extra work and considerable testing before it works. There would also be the problem of feedback to the player, giving him an idea how well he or she is doing against the opponent; right now, hit points above the victim’s head perform this feedback function, and it’s non-immersive as hell. A non-hitpoint system would require good visual feedback in the form of visible wounds, damaged armour, the dropping of weapons, slower movement, the loss of control over limbs, cries of pain… In short, it would very much enhance the game, but require a lot more work on the part of the programmers.

As for the punishment for failure in combat – death – I don’t think you can quite escape that. But one could approach it creatively. Animals that aren’t interested in you as food might just leave you unconscious and badly wounded – when you revive you can heal yourself, crawl to the nearest healer, or call for help. Sentient opponents might take you prisoner, intending another fate. Slavery for instance, leading to a series of “physical” quests until you can escape, or complete a trail or quest that will restore your freedom. Or they could simply eat you, leading to some nice animation of your body being ripped apart.

Revival, too, could be done in a variety of ways: being resurrected by a healer type present near your body, your patron deity resurrecting you (provided your avatar’s standing with that god is good enough), or some cult of necromancers regrowing your body from a piece of your anatomy you left with them and implanting your soul, called back from the dead, into it. For payment of course, and not without, ahem, certain by-effects.

The class-and-level system of current EQ-style mmorpg’s have various advantages and disadvantages for designers and players alike I won’t repeat here; they have been amply discussed elsewhere, for instance on Raph Koster’s site. However, levels have one major benefit for players: they are the main reward for playing. They clearly reward players with more power in exchange for the time they have played. More powerful items are simply a variation on this. Of course, compared with the creatures of one’s own level the avatar hasn’t increased in strength at all; in a way, it’s an illusory gain in strength. Yet it works.

Of course, it isn’t the only reward system. In general, the higher-level items often look “cooler” than the lower-level items. There’s the reward of finishing a well-written quest with some kind of emotional pay-off. There’s the ability to enter interesting-looking new zones and dungeons. However, “ding” is the main reward. If you get rid of the levelling, you have to compensate by making other forms of reward more important to the player. I think this can be done, but it means that quests have to become more interesting; NPC’s have to become more memorable (better AI and more unique personalities); the landscape scenery itself has to become jaw-droppingly beautiful; hard-earned titles and positions in in-game NPC organisations should have meaning and bring consequences; NPC’s should clearly react to your avatar’s achievements and overall reputation, etc.

Personally, I think a certain amount of inherent gains in power should always be there; the wizard really should be getting better at using magic…the knight should become physically more powerful through training and practice. However, not by excessively much.

Again, all this requires a lot of work…

Let’s face it, EQ-type mmorpg’s and their combat style satisfies enough people.
Going beyond it, right now, would require a lot of hard work, creativity and a very large budget. Big bucks and lots of time, while until proven a new type of mmorpg will be a commercially risky venture.
I suspect when change comes, it will come from several directions: incremental improvements in online technology, gradually reducing lag (that will take quite a few years, I expect…L); incremental improvements in the EQ-type mmorpg’s themselves; the “sideway” leakage of the gradually evolving single-player computer games, whether first-person shooters, sandbox games a la Grand Theft Auto and CRPG’s like Oblivion and Gothic III; and true innovation in indie games a la Mount & Blade. The first company to successfully bring all these elements together will produce a game that’ll eat WoW for breakfast.

Let’s hope that still happens before the outbreak of WWIII around the middle of the 21st century…J

 

  kopema

Novice Member

Joined: 9/18/06
Posts: 265

Take THAT, subspace!

9/27/06 1:04:03 PM#13

When it comes to parries, feints etcetera, letting the avatar (so much more elegant a word than “toon”, I think J)

Either way, it's nothing but a tool.  Feigning respect for such a creature is a conceit, not a virtue.  I want him to handle all the mundane stuff, and I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about doing that.  As I said, give me a Holodeck and I'll drill all day long.  But practicing my "mad leet button mashing skilz" is something I can do without.  Computers are good at mindless conditioned responses - let them have that part of the "glory;"  I'll settle for just taking all the rest.

 ...However, there are probably solutions to this as well. Perhaps a player can toggle between “auto-defence” and “manual defence”,

Exactly.  Of course there are a thousand potential variations on any of these ideas.  All I want is for a game designer to TRY something NEW for a change; not just endless combinations of the same two 30-year-old themes.

...Another game, the RPG “Harnmaster”, used a system of hit locations and wounds of various types and levels of severity diminishing the character’s combat effectiveness.

A system that detailed might end up feeling being a bit morbid in practice.  Personally, I'd recommend something closer to a "two hitpoint bar" system than a "punctured your left kidney" system.  But, hey,  it might still worth be worth a try anyway - who knows what you might finally come up with.  My point is that the line could be drawn ANYWHERE within the vast range between pure abstraction and gut-wrenching realism.  The problem is that for the last thirty years it hasn't moved one inch from the starting block.  It's time to open some minds.

Of course, such a non-hitpoint system hasn’t been tried before in computer rpg’s and mmorpg’s, so it would require extra work and considerable testing before it works.

ALL systems require testing.  As for the process of trying some new initial parameters, that's called "creativity," not "wasted effort."  In RPG's, that's where the money is.  Originality is worth its weight in gold.  (Well, technically, it's worth infinitely more than that, but you see my point.) 

Anyway, a designer could spend as much or as little time at that as he wanted.  As long as the system seemed to be getting "more fun" they could keep going, and stop whenever they want.  But it's not just wasted time.  If you sink a little time in up front and come up with a new combat system FIRST, that makes the millions you spend on developing content later on all that much more productive and potentially profitable.

Now, if some game designer told me they tried to move a milimeter away from the two "standard" paradigms, and everybody sitting at their screens instantly screamed in unison:  "OH MY GOD, THIS IS HORRIBLE!!!"  I'd shut up about it.    But I'm pretty sure that hasn't happened. 

There would also be the problem of feedback to the player, giving him an idea how well he or she is doing against the opponent; right now, hit points above the victim’s head perform this feedback function, and it’s non-immersive as hell. A non-hitpoint system would require good visual feedback in the form of visible wounds, damaged armour, the dropping of weapons, slower movement, the loss of control over limbs, cries of pain… In short, it would very much enhance the game, but require a lot more work on the part of the programmers.

Adding adaptive animations (wounded left leg, right arm, etc.)  would probably be very expensive.  But re-coloring parts of a character skin during battle should be easy.  Personally, I've always thought SOUND is under-utilized as an RPG combat feedback mechanism.  When a character makes the exact same "uh" sound a dozen times in one fight, what does that mean?  That he's being eviscerated or receiving so many paper cuts?

But a whiff (complete miss), a visible dodge, a parry, and an armor chunk all sound VASTLY different from a fleshwound.  And even different parries could have different sounds without having to add adaptive animations.  A series of "clinks" could turn into some pretty worriesome "clunks" as you became weakened. 

The collective effect would be like hearing and seeing a gathering rainstorm.  MUCH more dramatic than watching a bar shrink and grow, but not all that much more expensive to implement.  WAV files are dirt cheap and require no significant increase in client processing power.   Heck, a lot could be done simply by varying loudness of existing sounds, and that's all but free.  

As for the punishment for failure in combat – death – I don’t think you can quite escape that. But one could approach it creatively. Animals that aren’t interested in you as food might just leave you unconscious ...

Of course death is a necessary possibility.  All I have a problem with is FREQUENT death.  That's just silly.   The process should be painful, but very rare.  When death happens, I want to feel like I did something stupid enough to deserve it, not that I fell asleep staring at the hitpoint bar and didn't click my heal potion or "Feign Death" button fast enough.

With the standard system, even after a well-fought battle you're "half dead," or a fourth dead, whatever.  The only "excitement" comes when your hitpoint bar nearly empties - and if you tread that line you'll die frequently.  How heroic is that?

Even a "no downtime" game like WoW makes me stop and rest after almost every fight.  But I rest 10 seconds after a conservative fight and 20 seconds after the most harrowing battle imaginable.  Why?  Even the shortest "time out" is a punshment.  Let me bounce back from a normal opponent without even sitting down.  I should only have to bandage, etc. if I get unlucky or make a mistake but make that take proportionally longer.  And only KILL me if I royally screw up, say if I keep pressing on in a dungeon that is getting tougher, even though I'm getting seriously injured in almost every fight -- BAD IDEA.  But only finding out I'm in trouble after I died a few too many times?  Stop and think about that for a second...

Imagine you're a tough guy and you have to fight a three-foot tall goblin.  OK, not exactly the Battle of the Century, but you'd still want to be careful not to get a nasty cut that you'd have to stop, spend time bandaging and have to put up with for a while - that would essentially be a "loss" right?  But if you fought well, all you'd be out is a little sweat you could recover in relatively no time.  This adds a bit of challenge to even the smaller battles, while leaving you plenty of leeway for tougher opponents -- for whom a heavier price may be exacted.   And only when you reach your ultimate goal do you face the dreaded "D" word.  Look up "heroic fantasy" in the dictionary some time; I think it'll be pretty close to that. 

Personally, I think a certain amount of inherent gains in power should always be there; the wizard really should be getting better at using magic…the knight should become physically more powerful through training and practice. However, not by excessively much.

I'm a believer in PUNCTUATED increases in power.  I hate "general" increases upon leveling  because you don't FEEL them.  Let me choose between 30% more hitpoints, OR 30% stronger attacks, etc.;  let me choose ONE new spell, instead of swapping out all my old ones for slightly better models.  That way you'll notice the difference.  But a tiny increase across the board doesn't have the same effect; you're traversing content, but losing a potential visceral thrill. 

Let’s face it, EQ-type mmorpg’s and their combat style satisfies enough people.
Going beyond it, right now, would require a lot of hard work, creativity and a very large budget.

You're taking a risk every time you start your car or stick your face in a fan.  You don't get to choose "no risk," all you can do is pick "which risk" you want to take. 

Developing content and putting an MMORPG online takes years and costs millions of dollars -- nowadays more like TENS OF MILLIONS.  The type of combat system you happen to choose has little effect on that.  Brainstorming and playtesting some mockups costs squat in comparison -- as long as you do it up front.  That's called "starting the car," and whether it pans out or not, it's worth a try.

The alternative is failing to innovate in today's MMORPG market and hoping you can do essentially the same thing Blizzard is doing - only more slickly.  Personally, I think that constitutes one of those "face in the fan" kinds of risk.

  _Seeker

Novice Member

Joined: 7/28/04
Posts: 178

What? Me worry?

9/27/06 6:16:31 PM#14

Yea i agee with much of what has been said in this thread. New ideas are whats needed. From the ground up is right. Pretty graphics might look ok but ifs its not fun or intresting, then why bother.

After people mentioned all the problems with using a more strategic type of system then is it realy possible to play a good MMO? Why pay $20 a month for something you can get for free on multiplayer deathmacth/capture the flag? Are MMO's dead?

Combat AI opponents need to be fewer and more difficult/intelligent. Not hacked, not unbelieveable, just more intelligent. But the easiest way to get intelligent/varied/unpredictable opponents is to have a varied combat system with HUMAN opponents. Why waste that many polygons on AI?!

Make combat dependant on:

Armor type

weapon type

attack type

distance from target

etc

Not ive played no stop for 3 weeks and you played 3 times a week for 2 weeks i win!! Or ive payed more to developers gg.

inshort more realistic conditions. Why reinvent the wheel? Copy whats already around you!