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Looking to the future...

Reflections on the MMO genre and thoughts on how MMOs could develop.

Author: Aryas

PvP MMO + FPS: What would make a successful hybrid?

Posted by Aryas Friday February 22 2008 at 6:10AM
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I’ve read quite a few posts recently on the subject of MMOs/FPS hybrid games and I thought I’d put together what I think would need to be considered to make a successful hybrid, a format which may – technology allowing – become the defacto standard game format for the MMO genre one day.
Note: This post primarily contains ideas based around MY OPINION and is full of loose GENERALISATIONS.
To start off, I thought I’d consider some of the key positive and negative aspects of both genres are in terms of what I feel many MMO-gamers like:
·          A very ‘hands on’, involved experience
·          Easy to pick-up
·          No levels, no grind
·          Lack of depth
·          Lack of skill, based on good reactions
·          Technically demanding due to totally real-time nature of game play
·          Deep, involving content/lore
·          Non-linear progression
·          Advanced character customisation (skills/talents/etc)
·          Combat is typically turn-based/uninvolving
·          PvP success is often dependent on kit not ability
·          All aspects of game play require often unnecessary repetition to progress (grind)
If a game company could produce a game that combined the positive elements of both genres and eliminated as best as possible the negative elements, I’m sure they’d be onto a winner.
I think the biggest issues with developing a game of this type lie in 3 areas. Firstly, there is the issue of character depth. FPS games often have little or no character development options. You choose a class and off you go. MMOs have excellent character development/customisation options, but to gain access to these options you have to put a significant amount of effort into the character in terms of experience. My suggested halfway house option would be to give players access to all abilities from the outset and have them scale in power, assuming a rank/level system is also implemented. A bit like starting WoW at level 70, choosing your talent allocation and then selecting say, a maximum of 20 out of the 100 abilities available for you class.
Another issue would be class balance. Due to the complexity of MMO character development options, achieving class balance appears to be a real issue for developers and they often appear to adopt a paper-rock-scissors approach to the class strengths and weaknesses. My suggestion would be to do away with the formal class structure and have players build characters as follows:
Select class:           Melee, Magic or Ranged (each with a basic melee point tree and a type-specific point tree)
Select sub-skills:     Choose 2 trees from 3 specific to your type. Each tree improving certain aspects of you class.
Select abilities:        Choose 20 abilities from a total of 100 for your class.
As these options wouldn’t be earned as such, the player can design their character as they wish. To avoid constant changing, players could be allowed to modify their character build when not actually in a match. Certain builds would become popular but there would always players who develop builds to exploit certain classes. The trees and abilities could even be respected every so often to force players to re-jig their builds.
One problem with PvP in any online setting is technical limitations of connection speeds, etc. With auto-attacks and turn-based approaches, this doesn’t affect MMOs too negatively. However, this can often leave actual combat requiring very little skill, even if the overall battle requires a lot of tactics. FPS games don’t seem to require much skill either, just lightning reactions. I will site AoC here as being an example of a gaming company that’s developed a new and involved combat interface. Whether it is effective remains to be seen but I think this is the direction all games should move in, particularly MMOFPS PvP games. Getting the correct balance of involvement, skill and technical requirements will be key to success here.
Something I find irritating in many MMOs and FPS PvP games is the speed with which a character can die. Often the damage output of all classes/types far exceeds the amount of life/armour they have. This means 1/2/3-hit deaths are all too common. This again negates the skill aspect, so I would suggest significantly upping the life points of classes in any PvP game so attacking players are forced to apply skill as opposed to just getting lucky and getting the first hit in. I think it’s ok to ambush someone, but to reduce their life by 90% with 2 button presses is ridiculous.
Other things I think would be good include:
·          In match quests, that temporarily boost your abilities
·          Bonuses for number of kills
·          Randomly generated maps
·          Multiple backdrops for each match-type
·          No healing classes (I hate these!)