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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

Making sense of it all

Posted by BadSpock Wednesday December 5 2007 at 2:07PM
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So I just read the latest dev journal from the guys over at Spellborn..

You can find it here -

Just wanted to highlight some key points, and discuss them a bit via my blog.

"What if a goal said that the combat experience should be “dynamic and realistic”? Really dangerous terms and they sound like something players will want. Dynamic as in, mobs will pick the weaker target during the fight, make sure there’s no healer in the back, finish off players with low health, ignore players who are good at dodging and so on. Realistic because you want a bear to be a bit slower then a tiger, but have more biting strength. Swords to cut and maces to break bones, but where’s the limit?
I’m sure a couple of you readers now think “cool, yes I want that, of course, who doesn’t”, yet most MMO’s you enjoy work with very transparent aggro systems. Having these complex ‘dynamic’ and ‘realistic’ systems in place, combat could become very chaotic, unpredictable and especially, not a fun player experience at all.
So it needs to be translated to something transparent and somewhat predictable. Players want be able to anticipate moves, create strategies, want to know what kind of reaction(s) they can expect from their actions.
In general, players enjoy it if they can achieve real control over the fight. This doesn’t mean that the behavior should be dead-on like:
-‘hit the mob, get aggro, mob won’t go anywhere else’.
But rather an enhanced version of these simple mechanics. It’s one of those cases where less can indeed be more, in terms of player experience. So, let’s apply that on the above behavior.
-‘hit the mob, get aggro, mob will go to another target if previous target keeps being healed’.
Although this is ‘dynamic’, it’s far from the poohah-dynamic AI you read so much about on game box covers and feature lists, but will in fact add a great deal of gameplay. Let’s add another little simple rule.
-‘hit mob, mob checks which nearby target is the weakest and aggro’s, mob will go to another target if previous target keeps being healed’.
Simple additions which can already cause countless of ‘dynamic’ combat situations. Because these rules are rather basic, players will be able to predict the behavior after a couple of encounters, so they can be expanded with more of these basic rules.
Some designers prefer to add chances here and although I think some use of ‘chance’ can make the experience a lot better, excess use of it will make the fight chaotic and eventually destroy the fun all together.

So, should fights be predictable? The basics, yes, to a certain level, even though it makes the situation not so super-dynamic-high-realism. It will create a better, more manageable user experience and players will be able to estimate what can happen…to a certain level. "

This is simply genius.

I know there are those that are going to disagree, they'll read this and still want the totally dynamic combat that El “Selachii” Drijver describes in this article...

And to some extent, I do agree. I would like to see more variety and "chance" type events.

Currently, modern MMO use things like resist to add that "dynamic" element. You try and mezz/root/polymorpth mob X but it resists the spell, instantly changing the situation. Unfortunately, this is usually countered by a simple re-casting of the mezz/root/polymorph spell.

Threat levels and mob aggro can be controlled be experienced players. Again, they throw in resistances to spice things up a bit. Some monsters are immune to Taunting effects, so Aggro must be more carefully managed. Other monsters have aggro drops, starting the aggro/threat process all over again during the fight...

These things are what Drijver talks about as "Simple additions which can already cause countless of ‘dynamic’ combat situations."

Now imagine if these types of things were randomized. In encounter number one, mob type Z is normal, mob type X is immune to stun/mezz/root/polymorph effects, and mob type Y is immune to Taunts. Then in encounter number 2 mob type Y is immune to stun/mezz/root, mob type Z is immune to taunts, and mob type Y is normal.

Some say they'd want this kind of "random dynamic" but the majority would just find this annoying. You'd never know what to expect. While this may be interesting, requiring spur of the moment, lightning fast reactions to changing situations, is it really worth it? These can of course be fun, but every encounter? Every time? 

There is a reason Drijver works in the video game industry and we don't.  

Players want fun and varied content, they want a bit of variety and chance; they want a "dynamic" nature to their games... something unexpected they have to react to. In a MMO, reacting to changing situations is the primary qualifier of the "skill" neccessary to succeed in a MMO.

But they also like being confident that they know what to expect, knowing that they've "learned" how to handle the situation and feel in control. They like to win.

What do ya'll think?

Would you really, honestly like a fully dynamic mob AI system in place for combat? Or would you rather see more advanced and varied versions of the AI reactions we already know?

However, a great portion of this is dependant upon the existence of the "holy trinity" of class structure. Aggro and such only matter if you have tank/healer/dps combo to have to worry about aggro. But if you abolish the holy trinity, what do people do in groups?

I see this in Tabula Rasa. My only experience grouping in TR was just zerging through. No structure, no organization, and no cohesion. It might change in later levels with more specialized classes and thus require you to diversify your groups... But I see this as a prime example of group play without defined group roles. It's chaos. As Drijver said,  "Having these complex ‘dynamic’ and ‘realistic’ systems in place, combat could become very chaotic, unpredictable and especially, not a fun player experience at all."

From my grouping experience in TR, I'd have to agree.

Now you have to understand that I take most of my group AI experience from WoW. Each class has a defined role in a group, each class has their set of abilities that are available in a group environment. WoW grouping in instances/raids is about controlling the situation. Assigning different group members to different tasks on every pull. Rogue saps this, Mage sheeps that, Warlock banishes this, Hunter traps that... etc.

The most important part is knowing what the enemies you are facing are capable of. Which mob is a caster vs. melee, which calls for reinforcements, which summons, which runs when low on health, which is immune to this effect or that...

But once you learn a pull or encounter, generally, it's the same every time. Depending on your group composition things might change slightly, but in general mob X will always be sheeped first, mob Y will always be trapped, and mob Z will always be the one the tank picks up...

WoW actually has a very impressive variety of "simple additions which can already cause countless of ‘dynamic’ combat situations," but what more could it offer? 

What more can be offered before the AI becomes something that is "not a fun player experience at all?"

I'd like to hear the thoughts of my fellow fanatics. Please be constructive and avoid flaming! Thanks.


streea writes:

While I think it would be unique to have dynamic mobs like that, I don't think it'd be very fun if you're playing a class that requires taunting abilities in order to survive. If all classes were able to gear up equally (such as with armor), it wouldn't be an issue, but with the current formula of caster = cloth, dps = other, tank = plate, it would be not only annoying, but frustrating, to play a class that is randomly picked off by a mob because of chance.

Now if every class had a number of options... that is, any could wear decent armor, any could have multiple types of spells, any would have anything they would need in case a role changes suddenly, then it would be a dynamic that people could actually adjust to on the fly. But if suddenly someone useful becomes useless and they're forced to stand there picking their noses while other classes are dying, you'll probably find people getting pretty tired with the fact that every time they log in, they're not fighting monsters... they're fighting luck.

Wed Dec 05 2007 2:17PM Report
Hexxeity writes:

A far more thoughtful exploration of AI than Dan Fortier's recent attempt, by far.

Many people -- especially PvP enthusiasts -- do not understand that, yes, PvE AI certainly can create as challenging an experience as PvP, but when they do, the players complain loudly and often.

Healing aggro in EQ was originally quite high, and still is to an extent, but players complained and complained until they were given a way to heal with less chance of grabbing the AI's attention.

In PvP, healers are the top of the aggro list before they even cast a single spell.

What I'm saying is, the "PvP is better because AI is stupid" is a load of bull.  AI is stupid because that's the way players have trained developers to make it.

Wed Dec 05 2007 2:39PM Report
BadSpock writes:

Streea - as I said, you'd have to remove the "holy trinity" and everything that comes with it... but how do you do so without combat devolving into pure chaos?

Only through specialization, as we see in a sandbox game like EVE, can we see skill based or "sandbox" games still give meaning and purpose in a group environment... but what's the difference between that and specialized classes?

You could have a skill based system, pick your own skills and essentially make your own "class" but you'd still be defined by your role in a group environment.

If everyone chooses skills that makes them a "jack of all trades" then there is no group dependancy. Everyone can tank, heal, and dps enough to take care of themselves.

Is there another way?

Hexxeity - You'll find that in PvP, at least in class based games, an experience player will follow the EXACT same kinds of thought processes that they'll use in PvE.

Ok, that guys a warrior, he can do this, he'll respond to this with this, so I have to do this based off the class that I am.

Wed Dec 05 2007 3:00PM Report
JB47394 writes:

Improving monster logic would be a great win as far as I'm concerned.  But not in current class/level games.  In current games, complex interactions will slow down the processing of monsters for experience and loot.

Give me my game that lacks character death and then add complex monster actions.  Monsters are doing inventive things that make me wonder what I'll have to deal with next.  I'm not worried about how quickly I kill monsters because there's no experience.  I'm not worried about them being too smart for me because my character won't die.  The issue in PvE shouldn't be about whether the players will win, but how they will win.  Having sophisticated monster logic only aids in making the how more entertaining.

I'll stop there because the very notion of abandoning class/level is highly contentious to gamers who enjoy them.

Wed Dec 05 2007 5:01PM Report
JB47394 writes:

Based on your comments about classes, here's my genius invention for the day: group specializations.

Every player character has its skills as decided by its player, and that's how the player character functions when operating alone.  However, when player characters group, they are given free adjustment points that they can use to move skills around.

For example, let's say that all characters have 100 skill points that they distribute across skills.  You are part of a group of five.  That means that the group is collectively given 25 skill point adjustments.  For each point they add in one area, they must subtract in another area.  Skill 'areas' would have to be balanced such that someone couldn't boost their damage output by sacrificing their shuffleboard skill points.  The additions and subtractions may be built into the skill system.  That's all subject to debate.

So the group has to decide who needs adjusting based on the needs of the team.  I'm an okay healer and most groups have me specialize five points so that I'm a strong healer.  I take the points from my weak ranged-weapon skill and put them into healing.  We have another guy who's a really powerful warrior, and we always like to pump him up even more by giving him 10 of our allotment.  He sacrifices healing, ranged weaponry, some movement speed; everything he can find that isn't going to cripple him yet still permit him to stomp everything that comes within reach.

And so on.  People tend to either go Jack of all Trades so that they can solo and specialize when in a group, or specialize all the time and then get extremely focused when grouped.  This can also permit a team to respecialize as new situations are encountered, which matches up with my desire to have monsters do all sorts of unexpected things.  When those situations arise and the players can't get past, they can fall back, respecialize and then hit the problem a different way.

Wed Dec 05 2007 5:18PM Report
t0nyd writes:

Heerobya - "you'll find that in PvP, at least in class based games, an experienced player will follow the EXACT same kinds of thought processes that they'll use in PvE."

I so dont agree with that statement. In most MMO's PvE is simple. When grinding you usually do whats most efficient. With WoW as an example, my lock in the outlands it was simple, dot, dot, dot, run to next mob, dot, dot, dot, run to next mob, lifetap when needed, and never stop killing things. Now there is no way I would approach PvP in that manner. There are diferent tools to use vs diferent opponents, but most of those tools only matter in PvP. I cant think of one moment that I ever needed deathcoil for PvE. I can think of several ways I used it for PvP, escape spell, to interupt, a quick finisher, etc..

" combat could become very chaotic, unpredictable and especially, not a fun player experience at all"

I disagree here also. PvP is chaotic. I love PvP.  I love trying to anticipate my opponents actions. I hate PvE. PvE is usually very monotonous and lacks any real surprise.



Thu Dec 06 2007 12:13AM Report
BadSpock writes:

JB - What you are talking about is solo vs. group play skills, more or less. It'd be like having a Talent build in WoW for when you are soloing, questing, etc. but as SOON as you hop in an instance, your talent build changes to a more "group friendly" one. You swap some gear and go at it. (Just using WoW example because most can easily relate to it.)

I've often thought of something similar. In fact, for my perfect MMO I was blogging about before, I had come up with an idea I thought would be cool.

Every player character has two skills/attributes. The names aren't 100%, but let's just call them "Leadership" and "Resourcefulness." The more you solo, doing quests, killing mobs, etc. the higher your Resourcefulless attribute goes. The higher it is, the more added bonuses you get while you are soloing.

The more time you spend in groups, the higher you Leadership attribute goes. The higher it goes, the more added bonuses you get while youa are grouping.

I like this idea, because it allows players to benefit from playing their way. Like to solo? You get "better" at it the more you do it. Like group play? You get "better" at it the more you group. I feel it encourages players to do both. I hope that makes sense.. don't really want to flesh it out fully in my own comments section lol.

t0nyd - I understand the difference between the decisions you make in PvP and in PvE. I'm just saying that in both, in class based games, you respond to different situations in the same manner. For instance, you know a mob/NPC is a mage type caster, you will react differently. Maybe you'll try and silence them? Fear them and dot them up as they run around? Etc.

You see a player mage, you know what they are capable of, you won't do 100% exactly the same thing, but your thought process will be very similar.

It's true. The only way this doesn't happen, is if you've never fought that class before, or if the game is class free and you have no idea what your opponent is capable of. It's all about knowing before hand what your opponent is capable of, and in class based games, this is true in both PvE and PvP.

Also, the comment about combat becoming chaotic, not fun etc. was strictly for PvE. Of course PvP is chaotic. I also love good PvP. It is expected that PvP combat will be hectic and unpredictable. PvE combat is suppose to be somewhat predictable. I understand if you don't enjoy that, no prob Bob.

Thu Dec 06 2007 9:00AM Report
JB47394 writes:

heerobya, I understand the system you're describing.  "Getting better by doing" is "character progression through repetition" which is a fundamental element that I automatically exclude from my own designs.

While changing talent builds would be somewhat like the system I'm talking about, note one key difference: the group dictates how much of a respec any given group member can perform.  I can't just swap gear and respec to my favorite form.  I have to do it in negotiation with the members of the group.  Respec points are a group resource, and that resource grows as the group size grows.

This means that a two-man group respecs one way, while a three-man group might respec another way, and so on.  Further, if the circumstances of encounters in the game can vary greatly (the original premise of this article), then the players can begin to formulate variations on themes.  They can invent their own 'classes' and come up with strategies for dealing with the circumstances.

The game's strategies become defined by the players instead of the designers.

The designers structure strategy by the design of the game's classes.  The players would define strategies by the structure of the skills that they choose to employ.  If a group cannot use one strategy for a given circumstance, then they should be able to try other strategies.  Joining a group of strangers would permit an exchange of techniques.

Thu Dec 06 2007 10:03AM Report
t0nyd writes:

Heerobya- " I,m just saying that in both, in class based games, you respond to diferent situations in the same manner. For instance, uou know a mob/NPV is a mage type caster, you will react diferently."

I still disagree. WoW is a great example of horrible PvP. Here is my warlock,  if i approach a caster mob, i dot, dot, dot, and walk away and he dies. If I approach a rogue mob, I dot, dot, dot, and walk away and he dies. If I approach a warrior mob, I dot, dot, dot and walk away and he dies. You get the idea. When fighting mobs the only thing I had to worry about was,  is it an elite mob thats immune to fear? For PvP I had to think completely diferent. In PvP I would use skills that I never touched in PvE. I mean seriously, in PvE all a warlock needs is corruption, curse of agony, siphon life, lifetap, and the occasional life drain. When playing my hunter it was much the same. Send pet, auto shot til dead. Next mob. If it was a caster mob, I never used viper sting. Whats the point, it will be dead so fast draining its mana is of no effect. Now in PvP vs a caster, i might just toss viper sting out there...

This is my point in the end, a majority of MMORPG's give you tools that you just do not need for PvP due to the game being so easy. If I wanted easy id masturbate...

Thu Dec 06 2007 11:28AM Report
t0nyd writes:

I meant...

This is my point in the end, a majority of  MMORPG's give you tools that you just do not need for PvE due to the game being so easy. If I wanted easy id masturbate...

My bad on the typo...:)

Thu Dec 06 2007 11:30AM Report
BadSpock writes:

Hmm.. very interesting JB. In fact, Iove it. That is an excellent idea. Guess I didn't understand it as well before you re-explained. Thanks.

Still though, even your type of system only works if there is a certain element of predictability in the monster AI. You have to know what to expect, to some degree, in order to figure out how you and your group members decide to specialize for that occassion.

If it were truly dynamic AI, as Drijver describes, then everyone would just spec for what gave them the most survivability. Why? Because the AI will be smart enough to always go after the healers, to avoid the dex'ers, etc. This, again, would lead to chaos and confusion, which is not the "point" of PvE game play.


You speak from a single perspective, that of a Warlock in WoW. I could say that before, Warlocks in PvP would simply DOT + fear everything that moved, which is exactly what you described you did in PvE. Is it any more brainless?

The actually fighting in WoW PvP isn't bad. In fact, it's probably one of the most balanced and even PvP systems out there... it's just that it's:

1) Too dependant on gear
2) Rock/paper/scissors which means you have little chance against certain foes.

The actually mechanics of the actual combat are some of the best I've seen. Too evenly gear opponents that are equally likely to win (i.e. not paper vs. rock) make for an exceptional fight.

I dunno, the game is 100% different from the perspective of a melee player vs. ranged such as a Warlock. I'd say the perspective on WoW is 100% different depending on your choosen class.. which is a good thing. Especially in PvP and high end-game PvE.

For instance, warrior ability Intimidating Shout. Our AoE fear. Never used in PvE unless something went horribly wrong, used as a "OMFG time to run away" move. In PvP use it ALL the time. Also intercept, Zerk stance "catch up" ability. Rarely used in PvE in comparison to Charge, but Intercept is used constantly in PvP.

Point is... I know if it's a caster mob, I need to get close and try to stun/silence the target. Same with PvP caster. Melee mob, need to disarm/overpower/demoralizing shout etc. Same as PvP melee.

That's the point though. What you learn in PvE, you take with you to PvP. The mobs have the same abilities as players, just their use is a LOT more predictable. What you learn in PvP you take with you to PvE. Same principles...

Thu Dec 06 2007 11:47AM Report
t0nyd writes:

Heerobya -

I agree that gear difference and the rock, paper, scissors theory ruins wow. But what I dont agree with is that pve prepares you for pvp. You can solo to 70 with each class using no more than 6 buttons. With some classes it takes even less. A rogue can solo from 1-70 using nothing but sinister strike and eviscerate. As far as " the mobs have the same abilities as players " no way man. Mobs dont have trinkets to break your CC. Mobs dont pop pots. Mobs dont have an epic flying mount. Most of the problems with wow PvP arise from insane equipment, insane movement speeds (mounts), class imbalances, and the elitest environment this game caters to.
 If your weakness is that you have to be in melee range, then I give you 2 ways to basically teleport to melee, then I give you insane melee damage, then I give you a flying mount that flies so fast you basically appear in melee range, then i give you several ways to counter every CC in the game, does this weakness really matter? Same goes for rogues. Can any class be as easy to play as a rogue? Heh. Man i hate that game..:)

Thu Dec 06 2007 2:01PM Report
BadSpock writes:

I guess I'm thinking more of the "real" PvE not just leveling.

I'm talking dungeons, raids, etc.

Farming standard mobs and leveling, yeah, pretty easy and simple I agree there.

But that is on purpose. The "challenge" comes from the dungeons and raids in PvE.

But yeah, there are several ways to counter everything. I like that. Everything has a counter/weakness. I call that balance :)

Thu Dec 06 2007 3:13PM Report
JB47394 writes:

heerobya: "Still though, even your type of system only works if there is a certain element of predictability in the monster AI. You have to know what to expect, to some degree, in order to figure out how you and your group members decide to specialize for that occassion."

The degree of specialization matches the predictability of the encounter, but it also reflects the types of characters that have grouped.  If a bunch of player characters are strong healers, they're going to have to specialize at least enough to have some competent fighters.  Further specialization could come by knowing the terrain that the group is in, or the type of opponents, etc.  The variability of the encounters is the key to entertaining the players.  If they don't know what's going to be thrown at them, then they can choose to either specialize anyway and risk defeat or remain generalists and still risk defeat.

Again, my notion of defeat is simply that the player characters are forced back or are unable to advance.  They don't die.  Death is a waste of time.

heerobya: "If it were truly dynamic AI, as Drijver describes, then everyone would just spec for what gave them the most survivability. Why? Because the AI will be smart enough to always go after the healers, to avoid the dex'ers, etc. This, again, would lead to chaos and confusion, which is not the "point" of PvE game play."

I'm not trying to kill the player characters.  I'm trying to entertain the players with variety in the encounters.  The rules of the world need to be rational, but that doesn't make them predictable.

Thu Dec 06 2007 5:44PM Report
BadSpock writes:

Exactly, "simple additions which can already cause countless 'dynamic' combat situations."


Fri Dec 07 2007 12:27PM Report writes:
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