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Building a Successful MMO

Examines the theory and implementation of MMO features and game mechanics.

Author: Norem

AI - Where is it?

Posted by Norem Tuesday June 17 2008 at 1:29PM
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           MMO’s are filled with mobs that wander aimlessly just waiting for an adventurer to come and kill them. Animals, plants, humanoids… they all have one thing in common: an IQ of less than 10. Each character of a certain type generally performs the same actions in about the same order over and over. Once you’ve fought one of them, you’ve probably figured out the most efficient way to kill them and they pose no serious challenge to a careful player.
           So where is the intelligence? I understand that MMO’s work with limited resources, both technical and man-hours, but an activity that makes up a large chunk of any players time should be a bit more entertaining. I’m proposing two methods to spice up combat and raise the IQ of mobs at least 5 points.
Artificial Intelligence
           Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a developer, programmer, or designer. But this is theory plain and simple, without any consideration to resource management or programming limitations. 
           Step 1 – Add multiple short scripts to each mob. For example, one script that has them check their  health and cast a heal if needed, another script would have them use a knockback ability, etc.
           Step 2 – Allow the scripts to combine randomly.
           Step 3 – A list of successful script combos is generated and each combo has a higher chance of being used depending on its rank on the list. There is always a chance for a “mutation”, which means no combo is used and the mob uses random scripts in an attempt to form a new successful combo.
           Here’s an example:
A mob has the following combo list:
           1. Melee > Stun > Heal > Melee
           2. Melee > Yell for help > Melee
           3. Cast fireball > Melee > Stun > Melee
           4. Mutation
The combo in the first position has proven the most successful in the past (success meaning the mob survived the encounter) and therefore has a 60% chance of being used. The second combo has a 25% chance of being used, the third has a 10% chance, and the 4th has a 5% chance. Lets say that the mob uses #4 and a random sequence of scripts is used. If this combo is successful it is saved and added to the list at position 3. 
           This system is not true intelligence but it does add variety and challenge to encounters.
Real Intelligence
           I don’t play LoTRO but I imagine that this idea is very similar to monster play. Basically add an option to allow players to take control of a mob. I imagine this as a widespread system with no indication of when a mob is being controlled, thereby adding an element of surprise and danger to questing in those areas.
           I know a lot of people will say pvp is the answer to all this, but pvp is a different animal all together. The fact remains that while I don’t think every mob needs to be an epic battle, at least some of them should be.


Character Customization - The next level

Posted by Norem Thursday June 5 2008 at 2:31PM
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To many people the definition of “character customization” starts and ends at what your character looks like. It might be your race, your body and face features, or even your costume (eg. CoX). But this is a narrow view that stifles a fundamental craving within every mmorpg player: the need to be different, to individualize, and to customize. It is the depth of customization which, more than any other factor, attaches a player to their character.
           Let me start by saying that the holy grail of character customization is a classless system. That’s not what this article is about. Certainly many games have made steps towards this level of definition using feats/talents etc., but a truly classless system is beyond the scope of this article. Instead I’m going to focus on a slightly less epic way in which characters can achieve singularity.
           Perhaps the most overlooked area of differentiation is in armor and weapons. Personally, I feel that the weapon my character wields is as much an expression of themselves as their face. Especially since the weapon is generally both more functional and visible. As such, it baffles me that most games give you very little freedom in this category. Sure, the argument can be made that you can equip any weapon you find on your travels that suits you, but that customization usually comes at the cost of effectiveness. Any player who is not a hardcore RPer is going to use the weapon with the most beneficial stats, regardless of model. 
           But why should we have to choose. I’m proposing a system in which all players have the opportunity to completely customize their weapon, from model to stats. Instead of getting high quality weapon drops from quests or mobs, replace them with the materials to build your own weapon. Each player carries a custom crafted weapon right from the early levels of the game. Here’s an example:

            A character by the name of Axeman reaches level 10. He can now wield a crafted weapon of superior quality to the common garbage that mobs drop. He kills a level 12 boss mob and is rewarded with a gemstone that adds +2 dps when used in the crafting. Next he collects iron ore and wood either from drops or tradeskills. He then goes to his local NPC weapon crafter and is able to choose his weapon type, an axe, and model from a list. At level 10 only basic models are available to him, but he selects the one he likes best and names it. Next he customizes the speed of the weapon and damage range within a range limited by his weapon type and level. He gives the iron ore and wood to the weapon smith, which is necessary for the crafting. Finally he adds his gemstone (at this level he is limited to one) and receives his weapon.

            A system like this allows the player a great deal of control over one of the most visible aspects of his character, his weapon. There is no major change in loot except that mobs that might normally drop high quality weapons will now drop components to make weapons. Gemstones, runes, glyphs, raw materials, even schematics providing rare models. The same system could be extended to armor easily. This system also lends itself towards a richer tradeskill system.