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Lord of the Rings Online Editorial: Improving Game Mechanics

By Andrei Harnagea on June 18, 2009

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Gamers have started paying attention more and more to the production of upcoming MMOs and discuss relentlessly on forums about the game's structure, problems and how they see it functioning. As a gaming society, we have earned more and more respect out of the growing collaboration between developers and the public's requests and needs. There are cries though that never get heard, cries which target crafting systems, PvP and PvE game play, computer requirements and many more. LotRO has been, in fact, a mark of such comments due to some missing features some players have expressed. Crafting is too boring and banal; combat becomes rather repetitive, not enough PvP and most of all not enough incentive to keep on playing for more than reaching the cap. In a way, we have to be realistic about what is possible and what forces the use of super computers as was the case with the release of Crysis. The battle we are fighting today is between complexity and computer power, and since it all come down to income, how can a game company produce something original, complex, fresh and most of all reinvented without burning a hole through our pockets?

Combat

Most of the Fantasy MMOs on the market today base themselves on a dice roll combat system which gives the user only the freedom to choose which spell/action he wishes to cast. It would be very interesting to have a change in that paradigm and introduce a more FPS approach to combat even in a game such as LotRO. If you are a hunter, you should have the ability to aim and shoot the arrow by yourself, taking into consideration the arcs of the shot, distance to the target, wind, movement and other possible factors. Whether it is PvE or PvP, combat is at the base of the game and its importance has to be taken into account. Parrying with a shield should also depend on user based reactions and foreseeing of blows as well as weaknesses in the enemy. The NPCs could be programmed to have weak spots, such as the heart or the head which take more damage and less time to kill. Movement in general is limited to a WASD/spacebar system which has so far been commonly seen in any game of any genre. Characters should be allowed to use movement to parry shots, attack and even to interact more fluently with the environment.

Imagine being able to dodge some of the enemy arrows by doing a roll to the ground, or by simply turning your body to the side at the last moment. At least the projectiles shot should not be triggered to follow a target but have them keep their trajectory without anything else except gravity and air resistance influencing it. Another feature I would see as necessary is mounted combat, or even mounts attacking along your side. If they attack, they have to stand still, therefore avoiding the two causing exploits. We have seen ammunition and such have an exhaustible trait in past games such as Diablo 2, Dark Age of Camelot or World of Warcraft. LotRO does not offer much in that field and ammunition is in fact disregarded as a useful tool in increasing damage or speed of firing. The durability of weapons is the only concerning factor when you are thinking of death penalty, yet this can be brought to be a bit more meaningful as most of us enjoy a challenge. Have the user be able to take a Hobby/Profession which allows him to repair the weapons himself. For example, your axe is at 0 durability, therefore it is either broken or is dull. You can now, interactively of course, sharpen your axe back and even take a risk in breaking it by overdoing it to increase your damage. As the axe gets used, the damage it deals decreases and by sharpening it you can get it back to full durability, yet by taking that chance of going for more damage you can ruin the blade by either making it too thin and having it break or having it distort and performing worse.

Crafting

Now the realm of crafting is a completely different beast that needs to be dealt with. There is no interactivity, no actual manual control and most importantly no variants. Going back to Diablo 2, the horadric cube allowed crafted items to have some variation, therefore making some items much more valuable and rare than others. The forging and building process should also depend on one's skillful ability to construct and keep measurements exact. The better his/hers ability to do so, the better the variables of the item should be. Farming should be carried out through the days, having users be responsible for pouring water regularly on the plants as well as depending on seasons and weather conditions. The skill points can be awarded accordingly and the time it takes you to reach Artisan level, for example would be the same as before. Cooking would also be influenced by one's ability to maintain temperature, cooking times and of course measurements and such. Some of the creatures that are hunted could have their meat be used for such purposes and you could select what parts of the animals are cut for you to keep.

A very complex, but nonetheless ideal, system for the end game experience would be the creation of weapons and clothing. Players who have managed to reach their final level and acquire the skills necessary should have the choice of installing a separate mod which allows them to create weapons by their own designs, however, the enchantments have to depend on his manual dexterity and functionality of the item created. Thusly, the mod or a GM could assess the weapon and decide whether it can be put in the game's inventory for a while or not. This will encourage some to learn software that allow modeling, texturing and animation of such aspects of the game's architecture and also enable the developers to have a much more game production savvy gamer database.

In the end I like to believe that it all comes down to the people that play the games, and what they want out of what the pay for. With the rise of machinimas and other user generated content players can be trusted more and more to change the game more to their liking. Pulling the Diablo 2 example for the last time, some of you can remember the duped Shako with two sockets instead of one, the duped Oculus, Oculus and Constricting rings or the Ith Bow. It is such content that make a game superbly rendered and alive for a decade. We all need to see more successful projects and fewer disappointments from the gaming industry and I believe the solution is in the gamers themselves. On that note I would like all of you to take the time and write in this thread what you would like to see done with an MMO such as LOTRO, no matter how crazy or how unrealistic it sounds. Be honest with yourselves, since we are the ones who populate these virtual worlds.

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