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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

How to make a real combat system in an MMO

Posted by Melf_Himself Tuesday September 11 2007 at 10:24AM
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Disclaimer: I'm talking about designing a system around PvP combat. That combined with good AI = much deeper PvE experience than most games, so bear with me even if you don't like PvP...

Standard MMO combat doesn't require much thought. Oh, sure, you've got to spend several hours researching your build to come up with the most leetest character with which to pwn all, and you've got to grind for a few hundred hours to get the right gear, but once all that's done, a monkey could pretty much be playing your character.

Depending on the MMO and your class, you'll either spend most of your time auto-attacking, or pushing the same couple of buttons over and over again.

I'm hearing more and more people say that they're over this kind of system, they want something deeper. And game developers are apparently listening, for example one of AoC's biggest selling points is its 'skill based combat' involving a bunch of combos that have to be executed by the player. This is a nice idea in theory, but it sounds like it's going to require twitch reflexes and heavily favour whoever has the slightly better ping.... I'll play an FPS for that thanks.

Another way for a combat system to go might be one that is less intensive on reflexes but more intensive on micro-management. Think Starcraft in MMO form (somehow). This again doesn't appeal to me, as I don't have crazy korean micro hax :)

That leaves us with one more option - combat via some kind of turn-based strategy system. Goodbye lag issues, goodbye micromanagement, hello tactics.

One blogger I read recently suggested a system similar to Magic : The Gathering. This is a nice, balanced game (ie many different builds all fairly much equally viable in the right hands) with loads of strategy. However 2 things that don't really make it suitable: 1) The luck factor. If you don't draw the right cards and your opponent does, there's often nothing you can do to win ; 2) The game is based around summoning creatures that attack and defend for you. I can't see the majority of players wanting a system like that, they want to feel like THEY are the uber leet ones, not their pets.

Another game worth talking about is Guild Wars. True, Guild Wars does revolve around the standard concept of pushing a few buttons over and over to fire off your skills. But thanks to the way the different classes were designed, there's a very rich interplay between them all, and various tactics are made possible by virtue of map design. The only problem is, the game seems to be designed around one build, the so-called "balanced build" (for those that never played guild wars, it was 2 melee, 2 anti-caster, 1 support caster, 2 healers, and a flag runner). This led to cries of a stale metagame. Any deviation away from this metagame was usually nerfed (as the deviation would otherwise just become the best build). So top end GvG often looked pretty damn boring.

The next big thing in MMO's is going to need to have multiple builds all equally viable, all with equal chances of beating each other, and all feeling completely different to play compared to each other - ie the choice of build should be purely an aesthetic one that is made before the match starts, and has no impact on your odds of winning that match. Each build should have multiple tactical options open to it. The more builds that are viable, the more interesting the game feels to play, and the longer it takes players to get bored with it. Looking at Starcraft again - a beautifully balanced game, still I believe one of if not THE top game in Korea. Number of aesthetically different options available to player before the match begins? Three! (there are 3 races to choose from, all equal, that all feel extremely different).

It turns out that it's pretty damn hard to design an RPG with a turn-based combat system AND lots of different yet equally viable builds available. But I do think it's possible, and have a lot of random thoughts floating around on the subject which I shall start going through next time. Feel free to share your own as well! Who knows, maybe somebody will listen...

BadSpock writes:

most MMOs are pushing towards more "action" based combat, you are right there. I too am not a big fan of "twitch" combat in MMOs, like you said, that's why I play FPS games too.

There have been totally turn based MMOs before. One I can name without research is Dofus. Yeah, it's a silly Asian grindfest game, but the combat was turn and tile based, like Final Fantasy Tactics almost.

Most MMO players don't like such a system because it is slow. True, you have more opportunity for strategy and tactics, but when most MMOs focus so heavily on combat, having such a slow pace really drags the game down.

Hence, why we see many upcoming MMOs with "traditional" auto-attack + abilities combat systems, but they are all adding a new twist.

I can't give away too much info, but I'll be posting my own blog about comment to my ongoing series, so check it out!

I would very much like to hear your ideas though.

Tue Sep 11 2007 10:36AM Report
lmzz writes:

Age of Conan is not twitch as you can´t swing faster than the animation, which is about half a second. It´s more that you can direct the swing and move at the same time that makes it real-time, NOT twitch.

Tue Sep 11 2007 10:40AM Report
generaltao writes:

I'm a big fan of the PSU style of combat even though in PSU it is very limited.

For those people who don't know, PSU is real time combat. The effectiveness and accuracy of moves is based on your position on the mob, attacking is not set on a time but how often you push the button. It has a lock on key to keep your character focused on the enemy you're fighting.

PSU only gives you a standard attack (the animation changes to make it look like a combo as you hit the button more) and a special attack (same drill).

If you could somehow add more moves and real combos much like the fighting games on most consoles, it could be fantastic. It would require real skill, be real time, and give you a variety of options. Also, even if you use the same tactics every time, the battle is bound to change unlike WoW, or, God forbid, FFXI.

anyways, my 2 cents.

Tue Sep 11 2007 1:27PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

 Interesting thoughts.

MY opinion is that the current "standard" MMO's are intentionally 'slow' enough to be in all effect turn-based combat - its just timed- input turns. This isn't necessarily bad - the issue is WHAT players can do in these 'turn' windows of opportunity- and the lack of options - or meaningful options - within set metagame is what makes combat feel 'autopilot' and the players involvement minimal.

  REAL options in combat -without as you say a single, optimal move; combo; set of tactics - is what is required; i believe to keep combat involving. Any combat system where a macro could fight for you is just grind- and will quickly feel like it.

Tue Sep 11 2007 3:03PM Report writes:
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