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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 3:07PM
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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.