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In My Humble Opinion

My ramblings on where the MMO's of tomorrow are going to have to go to keep us all interested...

Author: Melf_Himself

Random idea - symmetry of combat

Posted by Melf_Himself Friday May 16 2008 at 5:51AM
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Ok, I feel it only fair to warn you that this idea is a little out there. Stick with it to the end before you jump in and flame it though.

I was pondering the nature of group PvP combat in RPG's recently, and it occurred to me that combat systems are very asymmetric. By this I mean that damage, pound for pound, is better than healing, even though it's more expensive. By better, I mean that damage dealers can concentrate damage in a short time frame ("spike") to kill a character before the healers have enough time to react.

To make up for this, games always make healing more efficient than damage - a healer's "HPS" (health per second) is more effective than a damage character's DPS, both in terms of cost efficiency (eg mana cost) and in terms of health change per second.

But what if we removed this concept? What if healing and damage were truly opposites of each other? Let's think about this...

First of all, symmetry means that it would be possible to heal a character above their normal HP. ie a character may start on 500hp. 500 points of damage will take them to 0 HP, after which damage has no effect. Equivalently, it should be possible to heal that character to 1000hp, after which healing has no effect.

Let's take this a step further...


Attacking inflicts damage on an enemy, reducing their HP and causing total debuff (death) when HP reaches zero….. to put it another way, that player’s efficiency is altered by -100%...

Why not make it so that…

Defending inflicts healing on an ally, increasing their HP and causing total BUFF when HP reaches max… to put it another way, that player’s efficiency is altered by +100%...

What do I mean by "total buff"? Since death involves your team being "down a man", your "total buff" would involve it being "up a man" - your character would effectively double in abilitiy. This means attack speed doubled, mana cost halved, cooldowns halved.

Now if you're struggling with the realism of this situation at the moment, envisage "total buff" as ascendancy to a higher being. This comes about as a result of a large amount of healing, or channeling of divine energy through your body, to reach this higher state. Or something.

Now let me say right here, I of course realise that the ability would probably play out as being extremely overpowered. The ability can be tweaked to not be a +100% buff of everything... maybe it would only be 50%, maybe only 25%, worst case scenario only 10%.

Wherever you draw the line, it would have major cool factor to include this in a combat system because:

a) Healers would no longer be just "healbots", they would also have to try and conserve some of their energy to try and "spike buff" their damage dealers

b) When a character is ascended, you'd give them a cool glowy aura, wings, whatever, and it would just pretty much feel awesome to be uber godly for however short a time.

Now that you've got your head around where I'm coming from, a few extra features of the idea:

1) I'd still end up making combat fairly asymmetric to favor damage, in the traditional way... it's just I'd throw in this "ascendancy" system as a way to liven things up a bit. If damage didn't have a clear edge over healing, players would never be able to take down teams of all healers.

2) What happens when you die? You start on a respawn timer to res at some nearby res shrine. So what happens when you ascend? You start on a "despawn" timer (ie the buff only lasts for a while). To avoid being imbalanced, this timer could be made shorter than the death respawn timer by some amount.

3) What happens when you die and somebody resurrects you before your respawn timer is up? You return to life on the spot..... so, keeping with our theme of symmetry, it would be possible to "desurrect" ascended people, returning them on the spot and removing their buffs. No extra skills would be required for this - you could make standard resurrection skills do double duty (making them a bit more interesting). The stronger the "desurrection" skill, the less health the ascended player would have on returning.

4) What happens when you die and people try to keep healing you? Nothing, you're dead, no amount of healing can bring you back alive. What happens when you're ascended and people try to damage you? In a perfectly symmetrical system, the same thing - no amount of damage can kill you while the effect lasts. In practice, for the sake of balance they wouldn't have to be completely invulnerable - you could make it so that a certain (large) amount of damage would knock them back to normalcy. There does need to be some kind of extra HP pool or invulnerability granted though, otherwise it would be possible to "fart" on people and de-ascend their character.

5) I'd also make the person still vulnerable to debuffs (otherwise it would be a bit unfair since they'd be unstoppable and have ridiculous damage). However, debuff duration would be halved (since we're going for the concept of there being "another you", that other you shares the debuffs with you).

6) Continuing the "other you" concept... if there really was another you, you'd be able to move him around to attack other targets. I thought about granting people an NPC clone to do their bidding, but the AI would probably suck quite a bit. Then again, since the concept is possibly very overpowered anyway, this may be a good thing.

Another option would be to give you a "shadow" which you can position wherever you like while you go about your business. All players could see the shadow. At any time, you could swap positions with your shadow. This allows a neat teleport effect, but players have some forewarning since they can see your shadow come towards them.

Again, this could be balanced by reducing the range of the teleport, introducing a small latency (eg half a second) to signal a teleport is incoming, etc.

7) In many RPG's when you're outside of combat and you've been damaged, your health will regenerate. We would do the same thing here - when your health is above the baseline, if you haven't been healed for a while, it will slowly degenerate back to normal. Again, a balancing factor can be introduced here - this rate of degeneration could be faster than the equivalent rate of regeneration to overcome damage.

8) Death is usually pretty obvious in RPG's. I would make ascension equally obvious. For example, maybe when someone dies a great black pillar appears from the sky. When someone ascends, a great golden pillar could appear from the sky.

9) Some games make you invulnerable, or at least less vulnerable, just after being resurrected. An equivalent period of enhanced vulnerability could be implemented following the ascension, to balance out its powerful effect.

10) When the res timer runs out, a dead person appears at some remote location (res shrine). When the ascendancy timer runs out, the person shouldn't appear at a remote location (we don't want to punish them). They should get to choose a nearby location to "despawn" at, since they will be temporarily more vulnerable as per point 9).


So, ascended characters could have 2 extra controls – a shadow or an npc to control (visible to all) and a despawn marker (visible only to them).


So that's about it on that idea. Just curious what others make of it... is it workable? What parts sound good, what parts sound ridiculously overpowered, and what checks and balances do we need here?

Travelling in MMORPG's

Posted by Melf_Himself Sunday May 11 2008 at 7:43PM
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I’ve decided I am a big fan of taking other people’s ideas, reworking them slightly, and then passing them off as my own work :p

I read the above blog by vajuras from a couple of months back. In it he talks about long travel times (ie no or limited teleportation) being a good feature for MMO’s in 3 different ways:

 A) In RvR, imagine 2 sides fighting over control of res shrines. By taking over all the res shrines, you can gain control over a particular area, since the other team will have to run a long way to get back to fight you. It creates a natural territory-based PvP victory condition.

B) Localized economies. If there is a particular area with good access to some resource, and other areas with no access, you can create some really interesting trade opportunities for players, as well as whole new professions such as haulers etc.

C) Makes the world feel bigger, since you have to run for quite a while to get anywhere.

An important comment was added by heerobya, which was that it sucks for somebody interested only in PvE for their res shrines to be taken over by a PvP army, and have their game negatively impacted.


On to my opinion.

I think point C kind of blows because I really don’t want to spend half an hour traveling to get somewhere. But points A and B are just so much fun, so I’d love to see a game implement them without having point C to bog us down, and without players who don’t want to participate being negatively effected.

I think the problem could be solved with a combination of ideas:

Point A (PvP): I picture the RvR as having large NPC armies, who will admittedly be somewhat cannon fodder, but there would be lots of them. These are accompanied by players, who accomplish the real objectives and direct the NPC armies (maybe players get small npc squads to control based on their rank with the faction).

As vajuras said, have special resurrection shrines that are static and capturable. When you die, if there is nobody around to res you, you res at the nearest shrine owned currently by your faction. Let’s space them a modest amount apart (say, a 5 minute corpse run).

But, have the NPC army ALSO include special npc "resbots". When you die, if you are closer to a “resbot” than to a res shrine, the closest resbot will resurrect you, which teleports you to them. They do this after a short delay (max 30 seconds) as long as they aren't being directly threatened. BUT they consume XXX amount of some finite resource to do so. That way, if a force wants to invade, they will need to equip a LARGE amount of these guys as a kind of supply train (which will make PvE resource gathering an important part of the war effort, as well as hiring mercenaries and buying weapons/armor for npc's). They would be an important tactical conflict point, as the other team would want to take them out, and you would want to defend them very hard.

Both teams would have their little group of resbots to protect, and so you'll have to choose between defending your own and trying to sabotage the enemy's. They shouldn’t be the only point of interest in the landscape though - for example there could also be shrines that when held give your entire force within a particular radius various buffs (offensive/defensive buff/debuff shrines, shrines that alter the amount of time between enemy/ally respawns, etc), as well as resource nodes where you can recharge your "resbots" somewhat.

So, PvP could be kept fairly fast paced but still heaps and heaps of room for tactical play, and it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake and die, because you’ll be coming up again really soon.

But what about teleportation? How do you get to the battle front in the first place? It would be easy enough to have teleport waypoints located in the various cities. When you click on the waypoint, a map can be brought up showing the locations of all your faction’s resbots, as well as your res shrines. You can teleport to either of these from the city, again at a cost of some limited resource.

But what if, as heero said, Joe PvE is getting his res shrines messed around with when he wants nothing to do with PvP? My solution to this is what I’d call a “tiered resource” approach.

ie the “resource nodes” (whether these are mines or uber dungeons or whatever) with the greatest output would be located in the areas of greatest conflict, eg half way between 2 rival factions. There would be other resource nodes stretching all the way back to home base for either team, but with diminishing returns, so that the resource node closest to home base is the weakest.

So Joe PvE and pals would need to choose where to adventure – if their faction is successful, they get the greatest node “hotspot” to adventure in.

Now, you might say, that’s unfair, what if Joe PvE’s alliance has lousy PvP’ers, meaning Joe PvE can only ever do lousy resource collecting? In answer to that, I’d say it should all be tied in together. If his faction are losing the war effort, Joe PvE should gather more resources for the army, and hunt down more monsters so that the army can divert more attention towards the opposite faction.

Point B (localized economy): Obviously, teleportation to and from the “battle front” and to other cities would have to be limited in what you can carry with you, to prevent “taxi-ing” of items.

I think the best option would be to make teleportation more expensive the more items you have on you. You could make “strong magic interfere with the teleportation” (more expensive magic items cost more to teleport), as well as large amounts of weight (carrying lots of, say, steel ingots) or volume (carrying large amounts of, I don’t know, wool :p).

Another (some may say unrealistic) way to do it would be to make items “bind on teleport”. ie if you’ve teleported with an item, you can no longer trade it. A warning box would pop up saying: “Your items will no longer be tradeable if you teleport with them… continue?”

Another way to do it would be to make all items “bind on equip”, and not make inventories able to be teleported. I like the “bind on teleport” way better personally, and the simple scaling of cost with quality/number of items idea better again.

Regardless of the option chosen, I’d allow people to teleport back from PvE land to the closest town if they’re within a certain distance of it… Nobody wants to run an eternity back to town through an area cleared of monsters. Once back in town, if they want to sell their items elsewhere, they can form a merchant caravan to start their way off to another town, or (even cooler), they could subcontract it out to a professional “hauler” who does that sort of thing full time and really enjoys it.

Throw in some border taxes on the main roads and the increasing ability to rob said merchant caravan the further it gets from the main roads, and you’ve got yourself some extremely fun professions added to the mix – bodyguards, bandits and smugglers!


Easy To Learn vs Hard To Master - Part II

Posted by Melf_Himself Thursday May 8 2008 at 4:33AM
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This is a follow-up to this blog:

In there I basically said that on the one hand, modern RPG's in general have too many choices for people to make when they're new to the game, it's overwhelming. On the other hand, you can't remove those choices because then there's no room for people to experiment and come up with their own builds, once they've become semi-pro at the game.

I think there are a couple of ways to address this problem.

1) Make PvP and PvE the same. I've said this several times before, and I'll say it again. The reason for the great divide between PvE and PvP players in most games is that PvE doesn't teach you to play the game properly. The AI is usually so bad that a set of tactics to exploit that AI is always the best strategy in PvE. Then when you get to PvP and those tactics don't work, you feel like a noob.

The bottom line is, you're already asking people to practically learn a new language when they play your game with all the options open to them. Don't teach them to become fluent in that language before they realise that they have to learn a whole new one to PvP.

2) Allow full respec of a character whenever you want to. Preferably for free. If your game makes use of skill levels (eg WoW), make it remember the max level that each individual skill has been trained on that character, and allow it to be put back to its max whenever the player wants to.

Guild Wars allows unlimited respec and it makes it really easy/fun to mess around with builds. They also really remove the grind, by not requiring use of skill levels. Skills are just linked to specific attributes, which can be changed around whenever you're in town.

3) Every class should have many BALANCED builds available. What do I mean by balanced? I mean the builds function slightly differently from each other, but one is not inherently better to the team than another. If ever build X is the only build people want character Y to take, then the build selection is not balanced. If people want build X to match one team build and build W to match another team build, that's fine and dandy.

4) Start new characters off with one of these builds, COMPLETELY ready to go. This is a tough one. It means you actually have to know what's good in your game. Devs, please please play your own game, or become buddies with the top guild and get them to tell you about your own game.

In Guild Wars, when you make a new character you get a default set of skills, which are a complete joke. At one time, there were premade templates available that allowed you to use the skills even though they weren't unlocked. The problem with these was that the templates sucked, were an even bigger joke than the default skills, and still required people to unlock the items to use the builds properly.

Now at one point, they actually allowed one of the top PvP guilds to alter the templates that new players get at the start of the game. This dramatically decreased the incidence of "tardness" all across the game. But for some reason, these templates were later removed. This was an epic failure.

The added bonus of starting someone off completely decked out for a given build is that it means that newer characters can adventure with their veteran friends without dragging the group down. Goodbye mentor system.

Now, you don't need to give the character that build/items RIGHT at the start of the game.

Let them pick a general focus at character creation (eg a warrior might pick sword/axe/hammer), and make the opening few hours of gameplay a large series of quests aimed at being a tutorial, and culminating in the acquisition of several items of uberness and unlocking all the skills for this build. Once this build is unlocked, players can feel free to mess around however they want to (now that they know the rules of the game), and they can still participate FULLY in the fun stuff like raids, sieges, RvR, FFA pvp, etc, without being gimped. Imagine leaving "noob island" in an MMO and not being easy fodder for a ganker, because you're both on the same level (both in terms of character level, and item level).

In summary, I feel like Guild Wars got half way there. It gave templates, allowed full respec, had lots of balanced builds available, and made it fairly quick to get to max level. But they failed for not knowing their game well enough to provide good templates, removing good templates suggested by people who DID know the game, and having crummy PvE AI that meant all people's hard work at getting good at PvE was wasted when it came to PvP.

I'm sure there are more good ideas out there to tackle this problem - thoughts?

Easy To Learn vs Hard To Master

Posted by Melf_Himself Wednesday May 7 2008 at 8:12PM
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So I found out recently that Shadowbane is now free to play, and had a server restart (characters wiped) < 2 months ago... Seemed like a perfect time to jump in and try it out. Downloading it, patching etc, no problems, load into character creation...


/me loads up shadowbane forums, spends the next several hours trying to figure out which choices to make so I don't gib my character...

There are a ridiculous number of options. Four base classes, 10 "real" classes on top of those (including ones that you can access via different base classes), a plethora of races, attributes, background traits. Then you get into the game and you have to split your "training points" as you level up between "skills" and "powers". Apparently attributes drive skills which drive powers. Or something.

I mean, I consider myself if not an MMO vet, at least an RPG vet. I've gone through a similar experience as above to one degree or another through many years spent playing a combination of Diablo II, Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, then on to the more traditional WoW, and Guild Wars. Also have played Magic the Gathering on and off for several years. In every case, if you want to make a character/build/deck that is competitive, you HAVE to do your homework. And you know what I've realised?

I spend more time researching how to play games then actually playing them.

Well, just about anyway.

I had an outsider's perspective of this a couple of months ago. I convinced my gf to get into Guild Wars (which I am very very happy about). I told her what the various classes entailed, she likes the sound of the ranger, gets through a couple of early levels. Time to buy some skills.

Her: "I have to buy skills now honey.... Is Power Shot any good?"

Me: "No, it sucks."

Her: "Oh... what about Penetrating Attack?"

Me: "Sucks."

Her: "Oh... what about Sundering Attack?"

Me: "It does the same thing as Penetrating Attack."

Her: "They made 2 versions of a sucky skill, great....ok forget about bow skills. How about Otyugh's Cry?"

Me: *Shudders* "Look, get Distracting Shot, Savage Shot, Apply Poison, Troll Unguent, Natural Stride, and take Monk secondary for Mending Touch"

Her: "Um, ok... How come 90% of the skills in this game are shit?"

Me: ".................."

(I don't know)

Mulling it over recently, I have come to the conclusion: if they only put the "good" skills in the game, then there would be no "choices" to make, and so the game would be easier to learn, and less hard to master.

Now, many of you will argue that knowing which skills are good is simply part of "skill" at the game. However, I would argue that it is useless "skill", in that it has no context outside the game. Compare this to learning such generic gameplay such as knowing which characters to snare at which times, which characters to interrupt at each times, when to switch targets, etc.

Learning what all the "skills" in the game do gives you a pseudo increase in power because you have mastered an arbitrary ruleset invented at the whim of a game designer, which is subject to change at any ime anyway. It creates a hurdle that will result in someone who would otherwise be a prodigy at the game being a total noob for several months.

Exactly like the much maligned "vertical progression" of characters getting better items and hence being much better than characters who spend less time playing the game.

Of course, as I said, they do this for a reason. They want to give the game "depth" to keep you entertained. I now throw the question out to the viewers: is there a better way to do this? Assuming that there was some kind of intuitive combat system that can be picked up in the space of, say, a couple of hours, how can we offer our players different, interesting, yet all *equally good* choices to promote depth?