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Your Sacred Cows' Mad Disease

Challenging the Tired and Used assumptions in MMO's - and gaming in general.

Author: badgerbadger

Character Creation: Background and Training

Posted by badgerbadger Thursday September 27 2007 at 11:38AM
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  You know; character creation is one of the key elements of games; and yet; I find that it one of those least actually questioned in terms of "why is this done this way"?

  Remember in 300 when Leonidas asks the other city-state citizens what their professions are?  And concludes with "See? I brought more soldiers than you did.."

  This jibes with class versus level games; and of course; to some degree the fact I was thinking about it again has a touch to do with my questioning of what people see as their concepts of "cleric" or "priest" archetypes in fantasy games.  I am one of those that think that if merely graduating from a monastic college or monastery grants you the ability to do magic; we're really talking "spells" in the sense most people associate with wizards...  and few books; let alone games; have really pursued the consequences of such a thing.  BUT it does provide us an example of the idea of PROFESSION and training.

  This has been handled differently in many games - and not surprisingly of the so many games long forgotten; at some point someone has tried almost everything.  Like betamax versus VHS; the better way is NOT always the one that survived - nevermind that VHS is all but forgotten now too.

  BUT what I'd like to point out is that most games now use what i would call a "kit" - basically premade templates of character background.  Class is fine for this;  in fact most of the better arguments for still having class in systems seems to go back to this.  Kits were particulary helpful for new players or for those seeking to play a specific; usually genre-specific archetype; for example, the knights of the green scale; or ? an agent of the crimson masque... What have you; these are characters that could be made by choosing the specific weapons or skills available to everyone; or at least to a larger "class" type; with at best usually a few small advantages unique to their sub-class or "prestige" class.

  I don't think classes; PARTICULARLY for background; is necessarily a bad thing. 

  On the other hand; does anyone remember TRAVELLER?  creating a character was an adventure in itself!  talk about customization!  At least the edition I played; most of what you learned from your background was actually rolled for; it was a novel approach.

  A somewhat similar approach was that in Palladium's games; in addition to class; one chose hobbies; etc; that modified your class.  Your background as a boxer for example had obvious effects... You may be an accomplished swimmer or a great reader.

  My point here is; what if we suppose a system where making a character you choose background decisions that CREATE his attributes and starting skills as a RESULT of what he's done in his life UP TO when he becomes a" playable" character.  Classes - preselsected backgrounds for common archetypes - could still be available for new players to get started until they feel the need to further customize.  But for those who enjoy fleshing out a character - both in terms of true "character" and in abilities- the OPTION to make background selections that create the starting character i htink would be a welcome boon.

A note on training...

 Consider that apprentices spent until their adulthood learning their trade (trades many players think their characters should pick up between adventuring), and a Knight was a page at 6; and a squire until about 18. Quite a bit of training.

  However; as anyone who's had a real job knows; training is beneficial; but will only get you so far.  Real-world experience is often different than training; especially when there's real danger.


  You can hone skills you already know; and you can be taught skills you haven't taught yurself; but to really improve; you have to challenge yourself.  Most games already try to represent this  with experience points increasing exponentially for improvement.  Once I have practiced my own moves; I can fight white belts in the dojo all day; they simply won't teach me anything new.

  Ever heard of front-line veteran combat uints reporting back to their trainers to 'gain a level'?

Wizard's Crown; an old computer RPG I've mentioned before allowed you to train any skill you could find a trainer FOR - it only took time and money...  but the problem of course was that you could only train the skill so far.

   After that you had to actually improve those skills the hard way.



Trying Again.

Posted by badgerbadger Monday September 17 2007 at 7:27AM
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A game that is.

  Like many of those whose blogs or posts I've read lately; I am between games in the sense that none played lately has really sparke dmy interest.  I find myself hoping the coming games offer something new.Normally a single-player game would be my recourse when I feel a desire to be lost in a sense of wonderment... not seeing any immediately; I decided to go back to DDO; the first MMOG that captured my imagination, to see if it - or my perceptions - had changed.

 Even those who could care less about this particular game may find what I am learning interesting.

 I quickly found reminders of what I loved - and of what drove me away.

 The intro story reminded me of what it took me a good while to get through my thick skull while playing...

This is NOT D&D.  It's not even really Eberron.( the intro clearly places the game environ in "blank" part of the campaign map; purposefully left open to development in the setting) ... Much like trying to enjoy the X-men movies...  You have to put aside what you know - and your expectations - to be able to enjoy the game on its own terms.  This issue - game companies using IP's - brands - to draw customers and thus having sets of expectations to contend with...  It's a question of whether or not one is shooting themselves in the foot.

  The graphics... a step above what I have gotten used to lately, even on my subpar machine.  The atmosphere of the dungeons is suitably grim (if a little too... empty? perhaps.  I htought no food/ no living quarters 'monster holding pens' went out long ago...).  So its visually impressive; which i'd forgotten.

 The music and sound effects.  It's funny; the GirlFiend and I had just been watching a movie commenting on how effective music was in evoking atmosphere.  I had forgotten as well how familiar; for example, the songs of the bards had become. That in particular gave me a sense of returning 'home'.  Going into the first dungeon; the music gave me the eerie sense of foreboding.

 So: immersion? Check.

 More familiar with MMO controls now (and confident to keymap); meant I was less confused and distracted from the GAME - which calls to mind one of my own theories - don't let the audience concentrate on the wires if you want them to FEEL.  It also reminded me of the many discussions here about "accessibility"  - how a strength of; for example; WoW was that it kept the controls peopel had become accustomed to or easily learned.  Unnoticed by me the first time; my inability to get a first-person view frustrated me now.

 In no time i was crawling a dungeon with an inappropriately-named female character that i assumed had to be a horny 14-year-old boy.  The lack of enabled voice chat hinted as much. Later; speaking on her mother's computer mic to chastise team-mates who wouldn't stay near her cleric, I discovered I was quite mistaken.

Very soon; I was lucky enough to find one of my old guildies; and had myself a party.  Old names were mentioned; new people met; and hilarity and uproar was the order of the day.  i was quickly reminded that even after the game had lost its 'adventure' for me; I had played because I had enjoyed the comapny.  We were laughing so much I didn't notice how quickly we were running through the dungeon mercilessly pummeling compltely-outclassed baddies... until I noticed that i wasn't noticing; so to speak.  The danger that is.  What fun kicking puppies?  And  i had paused to have some private tells with the one player i realized was new.  No one noticed that we two were paused.  The new player was trying his damnedest to keep up with people who'd run the same quest at least once for each 'toon; and as a result was getting nothing out of the adventure.  As founder of a for-new player's guild; this was a little more of a concern to me.

   "Let's do it again on elite" ... rang the inevitable cry.  The new player and I agreed to speak later; and i looked at the players with me.  This time i went with more as an observer.  Really I had no choice of role...In DDO you may repeat adventures at a higher level of difficulty - which affects the rewards of course.  For the reasons that I play; I'd much rather move on to a new adventure... Where I don't know where things are.


 It is in MY opinion one of the game's greatest mistakes that while having an exceptional (for mmog's) stealth/perception engine... the lack of random placement - or better yet random dungeons - means that scouting; stealth and trap detection - are immediately rendered pointless if anyone has done the adventure before and hasn't agreed NOT to spoil it for the fresh members.  So while there is a play option for people who like "farming" a quest for greater loot and xp; there is NO option for the other play style - those who like suspense and discovery.


   In a game engine already skewed against missile weapons (increased hit points of monsters paired with relatively low fire rates); increasing the monsters to level 5 made my level-2 longbowman (i'll pause to laugh about my composite longbow) liitle more than a shieldmanSo... I accompanied my friend's party of insanely-outfitted twinks; as little more than spectator.

  I watched as characters wielding weapons they would NEVER find on quests of this level; use endless potions and wands to negate the hits of monsters that should have been "pwning" them. I watched soemone I once knew as cautious and tactically excellent eschew teamwork in a laughing race for 'kills' in the sure knowledge that nothing here was a real threat; and if it was we could just walk back in for a small xp hit  (20% of xp doesn't seem small? what if its xp you really don't deserve? YOU LOST). I watched our mechanical wizard (don't ask... don't ask) throw spells so carelessly that twice he had to leave and recover his "mana" (spell points) - and come right back in( resoucre management FTW!!).  Once my friend shared that i could use wands and had given meone; the play got even more ridiculous.  I made a Leeroy Jenkins joke that no one got.

 Much like the new player no one had noticed; this was a bit disturbing to me.  Within just few minutes of being so glad to talk to an old friend whose company I cherish...  I had a reminder of why I had lost interst in playing with him.  And this isn't about him.  It was about what the opportunity to "cheat" brings outin players. It was about what different people ENJOY in a game.

  We had started as a group of players who came on a trial, met, and as a joke made a 'new blood' guild.  We soon found quite a few other new players. An older guild had discussed adopting us as their welcoming commitee and a place to 'graduate' our members to.  We had a falling out over how they brought in new player - by twinking & care-bearing them through all the early content boring to the older players - which made it boring to the new players.  We played through quest others said we couldn't do- at our low levels - without auction house weapons; with solid tactics (i got lots of 'sparta!' ribs) and teamwork.

  As our levels advanced; we found people had the in-game money to BUY powerful magic.  People began to have contacts (e.g.;one adult fellow's father; & the other guild) that could give them discarded weapons [a phenomenom of DDO is that you will almost always pull loot and rewards usable by a lower-level character - i suppose to encourage an in-game economy.  What it really results in is MAD TWINKING].  In the end; our guild split over such things - we ended up with a graduate guild and a new-player friendly guild that  discouraged twinking and revealing dungeons to new players.

  What I discovered was simply enough; that everything boiled down to replaying content and game balance.

What was fun FOR ME was when our magic and resources FORCED us to use teamwork to beat enemies just as tough - or maybe moreso - than we were.  Once we had people able to SURVIVE blind reckless charges into groups of enemies.. where was the impetus to use tactics or teamwork?

  In a game with no random dungeons; once we started playing with people who could cite from memory the location of every monster; trap; and secret door; what was the purpose of the scouts?  What fun for the players who ENJOYED playing stealth?  The ones that laugh when people complain "stealthy repossession is too hard".. Why? Because not everything can be handled by blundering brute force? Welcome to the special forces; asshole.

  My friend Harur put it best... Yes we can buy endless wands or run through adventures with bought magic items or do runs on adventures we've done before; all so we know we can win...


The Sacred Cleric-Cow Part2: Class and Mechanics

Posted by badgerbadger Friday September 14 2007 at 3:13AM
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  In my quest to examine and question the underlying assumptions that may well be responsible for the  trends that many people complain have made gaming stale...

 Combat brought up healing; and with healing and role-playing; comes the cleric.  Some of the attendant assumptions about class & role are central to many other metagame aspects.  I will just touch on two aspects - roleplay and "class" mechanics.  Guess which this is?

  In previous posts I have asked people to not only consider the implications of healing on game balance and design; but also the implications in terms of ability (is this healing a return of life force? does this cause you heal yourself like the sci-fi "stim-pack" - if so; how quickly... if it's addressing the actual wound; does this imply a flesh-shaper?... or the ability to create/conjure new flesh? What powers does THIS imply? What can this 'healer' do TO you?) - relatedly to all this; is the idea of the SOURCE of these abilities...

  Without going too far into the tangent of magic systems(this time); I just want to establish that most  games have swallowed the now comfortable and familiar concepts set down years ago by D&D - and so to some degree these root ideas; as a base; inform the resulting metagame...

 There are two basic "ARCHETYPES" of source/explaination for abilities:

  The first I'll refer to as the 'mystic' - someone who through some sort of studies has learned to 'cast' the 'spells' that are necessary to make some spiritual force (otherplanar; natural, the dead, etc) DO something. Maybe its a few words in Latin?  Few people have any idea that most traditional magic (root word; magi -  a "priest") involves this - particularly in the genre fiction of the pulp era that influenced D&D. Certainly; shouldn't those accessing different... sources have different powers?  However the cognizant point here is by supplication or manipulation, we have someone who as a result of completing a professional training; has the ability to cast spells.

  The Second archetype is the Champion: these aren't really casting 'spells' in the traditional sense- they have a degree of power granted to them - they are in effect themselves supernatural...

 There are those who are so as a "race" for whatever reason in the setting - be it ascension/corruption- or by being created so directly: Angels/Demons, Unicorns, The old D&D dragons (the ultimate "champions" in the old storylines - metal served good; colors evil - their ruler; Tiamat, the babylonian 'god' of Chaos); some versions of vampires & werewolves, perhaps the Fey, Tolkien's "wizards", old D&D's Drow, and certainly the Sidhe/Avalonian-inspired versions of "Elves" ...

  But also are those who EARNED - became - a champion. Sadly; for all it's potential in a story; there are few representations of this currently.

 The first example I personally saw was the 1980 "Basic D&D" clerics: they had to prove themselves and got NO abilities until 2nd level.  And xp was NOT user-friendly in those days.  Similarly; in one addition; one became a Paladin by attaining 9th level while maintaining alignment as a FIGHTER - and gained paladin, like a prestige class now.  In computer games;  In Ultima:4, your actual actions in the game could advance 'virtues' that moved you closer and closer to becoming an Avatar.  The cognizant point HERE is we have someone who has earned by their actions power that has been granted - and as such is dependent on their continuation as a representative of said powers.

  For Roleplaying and taste reasons; I have a hard time accepting mystics 'casting'  spells that a higher power (rather than say lesser spirits) responds to unconditionally; so it is the earned powers that I actually prefer.  The potential in terms of Game mechanics is; if people will "grind" quests for the reputation for, for example; an extra bank bag/slot; do you not think they would do the same to gain access to a CLASS? .. or specific powers?.. or for that matter the favors they so often ask for - healing potions? -the resurrection of a friend?

 Why make reputation/favor/aligment irrelevent?  The mechanisms exist to track this... Use them. Not only for story advancement,roleplaying & suspension of disbelief; but for CHARACTER ADVANCEMENT.

 Relatedly, Who would not like to see their characters not only gain power form their patron; but perhaps: actually begin to change... ascend or corrupt as they become further aligned with their "power".. gain celestial or abyssal qualities... begin to perfect, or grow wings perhaps? or twsit with chaos? --I always treated the drow like this in my games - the powerful ones became driders, not as a punishment(i fail to see why a spider-goddess-demon would see it so or why her worshippers would NOt want to be like her), but as a natural consequence of becoming closer to something ELSE.  My oldest druids become in time tree-ents.

   As a final example; the 1-size-Cleric-fits-all has not always been the only model.  2nd edition D&D had "specialty priests" that were effectively a seperate class for each deity.  Too complex perhaps- but within any one given setting; this is probably feasible (it made its debut if I recall correctly; in the Dragonlance materials-perhaps balancing it on a larger scale was the issue? or people just LIKED their old 'generic clerics').  In my personal D&d campaign; the 'priest' of each deity is indeed represented by a seperate class... And who in games doesn't like options?

All these are questions and ideas that I hope will make you question how these things are represented in games; and if there is not some alternatives that just might be interesting to you; rather than the "Tired and Used" assumptions.

The Sacred Cleric-Cow part 1: roleplaying.

Posted by badgerbadger Thursday September 13 2007 at 5:28PM
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  In my quest to examine and question the underlying assumptions that may well be responsible for the  trends that many people complain have made gaming stale...

 Combat brought up healing; and with healing and role-playing; comes the cleric.  Some of the attendant assumptions about class & role are central to many other metagame aspects.  I will just touch on two aspects - roleplay and "class" mechanics. 

 Since so little is true role-playing discussed; I will cover my thoughts on that as quickly as possible. if you ask most gamers about their characters; you're likely to hear a bunch of statistics; a list of favorite weapons and "trophy" kills. If you ask a roleplayer; you will hear something entirely different - you may well hear of the character's children; motiavation; and his rivals... Without going too far into this tangent; my point is that character advancement is; from the earliest days of "role-playing"; often confused for a role-playing element. So I know full well that I'm whispering into the winds here.. but:

  The first "sacred cow" I want you to question is "Clerics are there to heal you". 

Simply put; NO THEY ARE NOT.  Clerics are there to serve the purpose of a higher power. Period. The chess pieces serve the player; NOT vice versa.  I won't belabor this; but I just want to point out how overlooking this - assuming that Greater Powers are there to serve pawns - allows quite a bit of  other conventions that undermine the Internal Consistency required for suspended disbelief of the story - what we refer to as immersion.

 Most of what i have seen players do in RPG's and MMO's goes quite counter to role-playing the Champion of a higher power.

  Whats ironic about this is that mechanics to enforce faction or "alignment" loyalty have existed since -at least - Ultima 4's Virtues( to become an avatar)

  Whats ironic is; people will grind quests to curry FAVOR or reputation for a Faction but yet that i have seen; to EARN the right to be a champion of a higher power.

   Most people never consider this: Berserkers; Knights Templars; Ninjas; Assassins:

                                                ALL : RELIGIOUS FANATIC "CULTS".

  i joked before; if you think 'clerics' are there to heal you; go ask Moses how many people he healed; or ask a priest of ol' Set (or Vecna?) to heal you...

but aside from that joke;  the reason all this is overloooked is that almost no one minds... most games are so weak on story for the same reason no one questions these long-swallowed conventions:  

99% of playersdon't care about role-playing; they are interested in the hack'n'slash loot'n'level game-play model; and couldn't care less so long as SOME kind of "walking medicine cabinet" healbot enables that :)...

..or an IV of heal potions:



"make it accessible" - my concern

Posted by badgerbadger Monday September 10 2007 at 5:34PM
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 my regularly-scheduled rant on sacred cows has become a bit sidetrecked by my viewing of the trailers for the 4h edition d&d rollout...

 Why? Twofold:  Firstly; almost all the SCow's that are mistaken as "the only possible way" are from granddaddy -D... 

hack N slash = RPG....( like it or not; almost from the beginning 'serious' roleplayers tended to move to other,"niche" storyteller games); 

"clerics are here to heal you" ( lets ask Moses - shall we?  "but badger i don't remember moses DOING any healing...OH."  JC did alot of healing.. want to consider him a cleric? or isn't that blasphemy?)

"wizards and clerics are easily distinguished" (the most famous wizard; Merlin; arguably comes from druidic tradition... Gandalf; and the wizards of middle earth; area RACE not a profession- and might i add; basically they're guardian angels sent by the higher power... the point is; like my last point about clerics; ask a 'priest' of Set... in most of the fantasy genre both dealt with entities; not raw energy as jack vance's wizards did)

hard to kill = "high hit points" Oh no one wants to hear THAT again from me; do they?  I guess bruce willis has a LOT of hit points.  I just thought his bad guys couldn't aim.

  I'll hold the rest; I'm sure you get the point.  Really the cognizant point here -there will be a quiz boyz an girls- is that the games that did it other ways never became AS popular; and so made relatively little impact on the "paradigm" of what constituted fantasy roleplay - most 9 even some that influenced how GDD changed) aren't remembered.

Secondly; is that what all the big MMO companies seem to be saying sounds eeriely familiar.

  In the clip; I heard them mock waiting on a turn.  Unless their "mud" is going to make it it real-time; in person games are still going to require turns. But with that and making fun of "grapple"( was grapple really that difficult in 3rd? I believe as a rule most undead and animals SHOULD grapple/overbear - and i've been often flamed for saying so).. what i really got out of this was...

  we're going to make the rules simpler

 classes will be more clear in their roles.  rather than my rant on that - oh and you KNOW I want to - ***sigh***  I'm just going to say; what i suspect that means is ' to guide new players'

  you won't fight a troll; you'll fight 4 trolls - yeah; i noticed this in DDO - make the creatures weaker...

now - the whole provide a graphical network for users is interesting... Too bad it looks about a GENERATION behind MMO's - hell it looks like a flash game; is it? - but to me; what i heard was again; accessability.

  And thats why I brought up the recent articles and presentations by MMO moguls... What I kept hearing was "accessibility".

  From a business standpoint; I realize this makes sense... For all the reasons that most movies try to avoid an R (and the first conan movie HAD an R) -and for all the reasons some mobvies might want an R; a game now might want an M.

  But my concern is;

   I am very concerned that perhaps they are taking all the wrong lessons from the MMO successes - nevermind demographic discussions about target audiences in either RPG or MMO-RPG's...

    And i realize perfectly well the casual market is probably always going to be larger

   but at what point does "make it accessible" simply become DUMB IT DOWN?  I mentioned the trolls - how easy the monsters were in DDO(relatively to 'real' D&D) - at what point does this mean make it so easy that no one has to be "griefed" by the horror of losing once in a while? Did everyone read the article where the "wow-beater" at bioware said; level FASTER than wow?

  Is that how its going to be;a synergy of make it easy / make it accessible between the 2 markets? or better yet a competition to see who can make it EASIEST and MOST accessible?

   A strange cold reminder came to me - how quickly the yu-gi-oh "DUEL MONSTERS" game overtook the game It was a dumbed-down version of; MagicTG...

  so: guess i'll be seeing you all in the REAL "Next Generation" MMO:


* hides in badger cave *



The Danger of Blogging... (or: enjoy those Sacred Burgers)

Posted by badgerbadger Tuesday September 4 2007 at 5:29PM
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...The danger of course is that all the interesting and thought-provoking comments will draw someone already prone to tangents into forgetting what it was they were Intending to Blog on about.

   but clearly thats not entirely a bad thing.  Simulataneously; there have been some VERY interesting and even pertinent threads on MMORPG - yet even with the search function I am having trouble finding them to refer to and credit - my apologies in advance.

  I think my use of the term Sacred Cow was vindicated by the very first response...

On other threads (sorry again) the point was made of WHY there has been so little variety - Ultrapro also alluded to this - are I believe primarily market-driven. I DO believe there has been a lack of originality; but i VERY MUCH believe that the people holding the Developer's purse strings are the bottom line determinant... And as I said; I hope enough of a demand will become apparent that someone will risk something different.

 Meltdown mentioned DDO - and in fact I HAVE a seprate post about why i left that - but its worth pointing out that even though DDO made considerable concessions to standard MMO "SC" (healing in particular)- they DID risk more originality than most games - and got SOAKED for it( and generated so much whining...often becuase; lol; the players from other games found their generic MMO tactics didnt work there ).

  But all of this goes back to firstly what Dantes77 pointed out about WHY the current system became so prevalent (even before WoW) he pointed at EQ (before my time as an MMO gamer) - and particularly he mentioned fairness due to connection and lag speeds.  And I must say; at risk of picking on DDO - the only time it didn't lag me was in instanced zones - same with CoH; but in DDO the lag was more an issue - FOR the very reasons we're discussing.

  So: I wanted to recognize all this. I wanted to establish we actually have SEVERAL cows here in a herd. But I also want to establish - one of the threads i can't find now was the one over the weekend by mostly vet mmo-ers saying how tired everything had become. SO: there is some Demand.

    Another thing I'd like to establish is, the current combat system is NOT as some seem to think the ONLY way things have been done. Best and most popular are not quite the same are they? <..betamax...>

  So I'd like to look at some of the other ways things can be done. Another poster pointed out that MMO's don't seem to have continued to develop as single-player RPG's have.

  CONTINUOUS FIGHTING... The 3rd edition D&d rules DESPITE being turn-based did take steps to represent that people weren't stopping on the other guys turns. Original D&D, btw; used 1MINUTE rounds for combat - never intending that to represent 1 swing. Warhammer rounds are skill versus skill -and these are turned based YES.. but the point i'm getting at is combat shouldn't FEEL like turns of I'm swinging.. waiting for a recharge... you're swinging...

  With respect to Ultropro; i haven't played ElderScrolls; but with games calculating 40+Frames per SEcond; I dont think skill vs skill rolls (as an example) for parries and blocks are going to be the big demand on processor OR connection.

 Player Involvement is i beleive the real issue here - people have spoken on the lock on and auto-attack - or hit the same old key attack routine. at least the "skills"(attack options) involve the player to a degree.  Nice start - need it stop there?  What if; for an example, the options you were given were while they were fighting; to try actual attack options or combinations that made a difference - perhaps the rock paper scissors of  Lost Worlds, Magic Realms; Knights of Legend?

  I'm not necessarily saying a game system be all "twitch" to Involve the player - the character can be blocking and dodging - already  somewhat IS in most games- but I'm not being made to FEEL it( and as i said in most games you're more worreid about those hit points than getting in - or fearing - a telling blow. YET in the WAR movie; I was CRINGING...give me that ina GAME). Even the most rudimenatry animation that they are still fighting would be a start - that they DONT STAND THERE AND POLITELY TRADE SLUGS is the feeling I'm asking.

A NOTE ON WOUNDS AND HEALING - I think one of the most cognizant points commented was the link between the way healing is done in most games; and how it CREATES a metagame which i think in all fairness we can say has grown stale for many players.

       Healing and all the related discussion of swallowed assumptions is something I want to save for another post; but I htink it has to be touched on.

  Games existed and ran quite well that didn't make "hit points" the basis of advancement -or high hit points represent near-invulnerability. Lets speak of one.

  yes its old; and yes it was a single-player "RPG"( rpg? i'd argue it was a tactical combat game - at least fallout tactics admitted this - sorry tangent). But this goes back to MMO's not learning much from single-player games... see/ I tangent b/c this really does all connect.

 Wizard's Crown.  The interesting thing about this game  was that it kept wounds ABSTRACT which is the strength of "Hit Points" systems. Having played games that are very specific about them - I'll say they both have their place.

  A successful hit in WC based damage off  "hit quality" - how much you had exceeded your target difficulty - rather than it being a seperate random roll. So accuracy meant more of your POTENTIAL damage was done. (this is why critical hits and "sneak attacks" in D&D do greater damage- they were trying to represent getting around skillful "damage reduction" to do REAL DAMAGE... Good hits from 2h axes; at the battle of Hastings; were cleaving thru man AND mount).

  The physical damage types were cutting; piercing; and bludgeoning> an actual wound resulted in resultant degrees of INJURY and/or BLEEDING.

  Injury was a penalty to skill checks - representing actual physical impairment.                                            Bleeding steadily reduced your "LIFE" (hit points).

 if your life droped entirely to zero; you died - and if your injury exceeded your current life; you simply went unconcious.

  The unconcious feature is not only realistic (btw: ask your favorite combat medic: most people die of shock) but should help ameleliorate the concern that evryone will die; all the time.

  The interesting thing about healing was that the first step was merely "stop bleeding"; the next, heal injury, then restore life forces, then finally raise dead (if it was soon enough that the soul was still in). Without going too far into this tangent; if someone is healing your WOUNDS I want you to ask How. is it JUST by making your body do it..(forced regeneration) or are they flesh-shaping? In either case i want you to ask:  If they can do THAT.... me this is like discussions i was flamed for elsewhere - suggesting that magically-enhanced swords might do more damage becasue they are harder and thus SHARP; or that maybe zombies should GRAPPLE :).

  Anyway; the advantage of this sytem was it was still abstarct (simplicity) but that it ALSO made you FEEL your wounded charcter was in DANGER. You really had to balance staying in combat versus backing off to be healed - could the rest of the team cover?  The bleeding was a continual threat - try to finish my opponent or go on defense until I can get healed?...It made AVOIDING damage important - including,yes, armor that could reduce damage - particularly against things you couldn't dodge.

  Keep in mind this was an award winning game (that obsoleted itself by making it possible for the company to produce a more commercially successful "least common denominator" appeal game :) -which I believe WoW to be) -  and a system that supported play from a gritty low-fantasy start game to a world-hopping high-fantasy endgame.

  But that was just one example that combat's reliance on experienced survivability must ="high Hit Points" simply ISN'T the case.

  I myself enjoy more in games -esp MMO's- than combat; but as much of the EXCITEMENT factor - one necessary element - in them comes from combat; and as the generic combat CONTINUES to not provide that for many players; I think we must - those who like me have neither the resources to fund; or modern programming knowledge to develop myself - if we wish to see games advance; Question the ruts they have fallen into- and in future i hope to question other gameplay aspects than comabt- and just as importantly; put our time and subscription money where our mouths are - or there will BE no innovation.


(btw my GF's first mmo was DDO- as a result she considers other mmo's combat  "too boring" - and is back to playing Diablo2...)

    I also want to add that a good part of why the "trinity" works is lackadaisical AI. It rarely works in PvP games (offline?try it in chainmail/ D&D minis) or games where the AI will go after your "artillery"  (DDonline; or; offline; try TOEE).


 Once again thank you for reading my long and rambling thoughts.



Boring Combat... in hack n slash games no less...

Posted by badgerbadger Saturday September 1 2007 at 3:10PM
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  Yep I just committed heresy...

  The reality is most of the MMO's - and computer "adventure" games (managing a character's advancement and calling that "Role Playing" is a whole 'nother Sacred Cow I'd love to slaughter)... are Hack 'N Slash driven... that is to say; combat plays a very heavy part in the game play.

  And yet, most combat is fairly BORING.  And ironically; far from genre-representative.

  I mean REALLy what book or movie have you EVER read/seen where the hero stands toe to toe with a Giant Undead Demon Whatsit and beats it... BECAUSE he out-slugged it?  I can think of NOTHING less heroic or wrong to the eye.

  As an example; and at risk of sounding like I'm picking on these two; look at the TRAILERS for the two biggest upcoming fantasy games...

  Does it LOOK like they are trading blows until someone runs out of HIT POINTS? Or do those wounds look like they HURT? Does it look like they are IN DANGER?

 Most of each battle is trying to get a telling blow IN... creating or exploiting an opening... Completely unlike the actual combat systems of any modern game I can think of (most games Do have some block/parry mechanic now - but failing them is hardly catastrophic)

   Part of this involves the scared cow of Hit Points - and the short version of this would be simply to point out  HIT POINTS were NEVER intended to mean that a character could take so much actual punishment that a Ballista-bolt  thru the gut or a giants axe could be shrugged off!

 It was supposed to represent that he avoided most of the damage with SKILL.

  And of course all this fell apart with increasing abstraction (necessary abstractions for a game that started as a tabletop tactical minis

  Leery of going into too many tangents here; and wanting to clarify that i understand and agree that some characters WILL have supernatural resistance to damage; I think the point remains.

 One of the reasons combat is often boring is we are watching 2 sets of numbers exchange numerical hits. One of the hoped-for advantages of computer gaming was TRANSPARENCY.  Showing the wires is never a good thing IMO.

  Relatedly is that combat doesn't FEEL dangerous; usually. I know I can take sword hits... a few at least.

  YOU DO? How many "Hit Points" do you have to have to not be CONCERNED about an ARROW or SWORD going into your body? ? ?

  One of my hugest disappointments lately was when one of  the WAR links led to a class description that explained so-and-so was the traditional tank that could ABSORB damage for his companions...

 THATS A SACRED COW I want to slaughter RIGHT THERE.  You're going to Purposefully ABSORB DAMAGE? Have you SEEN what weapons DO????

     ARE YOU INSANE? ? ?

  Unfortunately to really get into that I also have to look at another Sacred Cow - easy cheesy healing.  And unfortunately this is derailed enough ALREADY.

   In any case what is what is ironic is that both games ae based on IP's where wounds are DANGEROUS... True heroes in WH tabletop may have multiple wounds - but that is only because they are fighting while grievously wounded when no one else would...(and suffer a penalty)

  ...Not because their little red "hit point" bar is barely scratched. Its also worth pointing out that "To Hit" in WH tabletop is ENTIRELY based on skill vs skill (or was last time i played :)  )

  A game i feel at least attempts to address this- despite the animations still being.. in progress... is medieval2 total war- very few of the units there can suffer more than 1 serious wound- you actually get a sense that they are struggling to kill each other - i see it as a beginning of the animations showing blocks; parries; etc..

  Its not hard to guess I prefer skill based systems; but dont see them as necessary - what I'm really looking at here is STALE COMBAT SYSTEMS.

 years ago; 2 games both offered some alternatives - Wizard's Crown and Knights of Legend.

 One was a commercial success ( it allowed the company to do the first-ever LICENSED D&D computer products); the other was barely noticed ( IMO it was before its time- and was victim of a poor interface)...

 But the pont in both was that you could actually BLEED (in KOL you got tired)- and that a lucky hit was dangerous to anyone.

  In both games; your "hit points" also never really increased...     GASP!   !HERESY!

  Think about THAT next time you fight a Giant or something similar.

 ONE hit from that club ISNT going to take a few of your hit points that your cleric is going to heal for you WHILE YOU'RE FIGHTING ( his deity doesnt mind him squandering power on nonbelievers on quests TOTALLY IRRELEVENT to His purposes)...

   No that Club will KILL YOU.

  Both Warhammer AND Conan IP's are VERY much along that line of visualization...

  And games did this and WORKED...

  So all i ask is QUESTION your assumption - your sacred cow - of these stal and boring combat systems. Sacred Cow enough that Damage-Absorber classes are appearring in both upcoming games...

  Sacred Cow enough that even in a nominally SUPERHERO genre game; you have Healbots - because no one is willing to try NOT leaning on the TIRED AND USED FORMULA.