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Your Sacred Cows' Mad Disease

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

Author: badgerbadger

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

Posted by badgerbadger Saturday September 1 2007 at 4:10PM
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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.






DemonZealot writes:

If you say Sacred Cow one more time, i'll slaughter YOUR sacred cow Mr. Sacred Cow. Is that enough of a Sacred Cow of yours?

And your argument stands against one of the first and most basic rules of an RPG. As you gain experience, you get stronger. Eventually you get so strong that beings of a weaker nature cannot harm you as much or at all. If you don't like it, play an FPS where you die in 1-2 shots. Don't go trying to change the fundamentals of RPG's just because they "seem wrong to the eye." You mean magic missiles, orcs, and elves look normal to the eye? Give me a break.

Sat Sep 01 2007 4:27PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

Actually; as i pointed out

 the idea that as you gain experience you are nigh-indestructible IS a SACRED COW-

 and its NOt a fundamental part of RPG's - its ONE way of handling things (which is in fact a relic of a mistaken ABSTRACTION from early edition D&D- and EXPLAINED to NOT mean Invulnerability to damagein AD&D).

 other RPG's - Hero System; Runequest; GURPS, etc all proved it COULD be done differently. And HAS.

  Hit points meaning nigh-invulnerability  ISN"T integral to RPG's - its integral to a certain TRADITION of them...

  A certain tradition which has grown so stale that most older palyers are losing interest.

Sat Sep 01 2007 4:33PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

 Call this an edit:

The whole point  in bringing in the 2 coming games is that THAT S.C. which ironically WAS just defended AS IF speaking agianst it was heresy :)   ...

  WAS specifically that it is a uniquely inappropriate approach for EITHER of those IP's.

  And from what i have seen and surmised; i was not alone in hoping that NEITHER of them would subscribe to that particular way of handling combat / experience / "endangeredness"...


Sat Sep 01 2007 4:43PM Report
godpuppet writes:

I partially agree, but then again, if you go back and look at MMO's 4+ years ago and then compare them to what we have today, theres definately an improvement in MMO combat systems.

Its important to take into consideration that if you make an MMO truely hardcore, your killing alot of the fun factor. Fact is people dont subscribe to be 100% dependant on another class, to have huge downtimes after each engagement nor to pay impovering fees. Perhaps it works in an FPS, but not in an MMORPG.

Not yet, atleast...

Sat Sep 01 2007 5:03PM Report
taliderian writes:

I agree with a lot of your points. I also think that until we get away from the stupid, overused "holy trinity" of tank/dps/healer and healing during combat, that combat in MMO's will continue along its present boring and unimaginative path.

Sat Sep 01 2007 6:20PM Report
soulwynd writes:

See, that's why I play shadowrun tabletop. If you're a human and get shot in j0 [sic] face, you're most likely dead. And by most likely I mean there are people irl who have been shoot on the head and survived, so there.

But I have to agree with most points. I hate HP. I also hate games that make the character seem immortal even when he wasn't supposed to be. One thing is being Bruce Willis in Die Hard, the other is being a level 20 warrior who can apparently take quite a few dozen arrows, not only survive, but remain operational, and certainly heal in a couple days.

Sun Sep 02 2007 9:43AM Report
bardq writes:

Jeez! And I came online, particularly to this website, to find a new MMORPG experience! Instead I am leaving feeling dirty, reminded of how much I really do hate these games! They are typical and uninteresting. All of them. The following rant could outline the non-heroic, non epic nature of these games; the cookie cutter characters; the boring "who clicks first wins"; the been there, done that quests. But I wont mention those things at all! Instead, I'll simply agree with your post, and unfortunately go off with nothing to relieve my adventurous itch, because at the end of the game, what adventure was really had?

Sun Sep 02 2007 9:55AM Report
Drolletje writes:

I agree with most of the things you say, especially about the overused tank/healer/dps-setup. However, the danger of having a system where you die in one or two hits is that combat will be over in a matter of seconds, leaving no time for tactical choices in combat. I think its more important for a game to be fun and rewarding than being super-realistic or even real-life-ish. That's something that belongs to shooters, not (mmo)rpg's.

Sun Sep 02 2007 1:27PM Report
foulu625 writes:

Just wait for Fable 2. No HP, one hit kills, using the environment to your advantage, epic dodging and attacking, the whole deal.

Sun Sep 02 2007 1:31PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

Bardq- those of us that ALREADY feel that way; DISCUSS it in the sometimes seemingly vain hopes that some Dev will notice a Demand for something different.

Drolletje- Again I reference the movies... getting one or two TELLING blows may NOT be such a quick thing.  getting thru an opponents GUARD - not wearing down his hit points - is the objective in a fight.

  i'm also not saying ALL hits are lethal hits OR that Hit Points are useless.

 I DID say that games where the wound is meaningful; and where Hit Points or life force don't really increase;

 HAVE BEEN done - and  IMO (not just mine; WC won quite a few awards) - WERE MORE INTERESTING.

 HOWEVER like now; there was a risk in doing things people aren't used to...

 Some people don't like change... Others demand it.


Sun Sep 02 2007 1:43PM Report
Hike writes:

Indeed a very interesting read I must say (even tho the overabuse of the words "sacred cow" ^^). And I do agree with you, on some level, that the combat system has gotten quite boring. It's seldom that the HP-lvl has any effect on a character's combat performance (some classes in CoX seem to have it tho). And, as you've said, the HP-bar could easily be changed into a fatigue bar (or some such), that when it reaches zero (or atleast goes down), you start taking LEATHAL hits. Untill then, it's a series of parries, blocks, dodges, counters and so on, to wear down your opponent. Trow in a couple of "special moves" that reduces more fatigue or criple your oppents combat abillity (so that he/she has to fight harder and loses more fatigue).

Meh, I could spew out ideas that's already been said before, but instead I'm gonna be a game developer/designer and actully do something about it ;)

Sun Sep 02 2007 3:30PM Report
vagu writes:

I agree 100% with badgerbadger. a great post, imo.

Sun Sep 02 2007 4:11PM Report
Dantes77 writes:

I have to agree it is a good post. And, don't forget the only reason we do have this system, is thanks to EQ. Which is not a bad thing, especially for that games time and the others coming after it.

This system of fighting was made to fight lag issues, and create fairness for the players due to connection speeds. I think what everybody is aching for, is a well done and truly immersive game based on total control and a different way of strategy. Also the only reason this system hasnt been changed is because it is very difficult to create a good and fair system that works, completely from scratch.

Deadlines and the cost involved in making these games is way to risky for some to try and step up and make something new. In all honesty, you guys are all playing the same game when it comes to mmorpg. Except each one offers better bells and whistles than the others, but essentially they are the same game. 

I know it's easier said than done, but when developers are given more freedom, then we can expect new ideas and innovation. It's easy to be a critic, but a lot of people who complain are impatient and very naive about the process of making these games.

Mon Sep 03 2007 12:44AM Report
Norden writes:

Great reading badgerbadger, I agree wholeheartedly. Already while reading I thought RQ, GURPS and especially FUDGE. Levels and hitpoints are and allways have been - for me - unheroic, unrealistic.  Lost 95% of your points? No matter, fight on with no penalties! Same with insta-healing, it takes all the roleplaying out of roleplaying. Never does our hero drag along with wounds, threatening to fester if not treated properly soon.


Mon Sep 03 2007 5:13AM Report
UltroPro writes:

I played DAOC for about two or three years as a Druid, so I know what your talking about with the ablitiy for me raise someone from near death to Full HP in a matter of seconds, Toss down a Mana pot and be done with it. But, with a hit points variable is a playability variable. If you were to Half-Ass a realistic combat system that's sorta representitive of actual life and death and hit points scales, the game would be horrible. It's all or nothing, and that's a big commitment for a game dev. company. You shouldn't downplay AOC and Warhammer for following that same path either, it's what the public wants, not to mention that a combat system Equiv. to Elder Scrolls with Block and Parry and all that would have HUGE lag exploitations. A new HP scale is coming I'm sure, developement and interest will take it's course and we'll get there eventually. Like I said tho, I wouldn't Flame AOC and Warhammer for providing what the public wants.

Mon Sep 03 2007 10:03AM Report
Meltdown writes:

 You have some good points. The only two games I felt truely in "danger" in were EQ and DDO. A lot of people were disappointed in DDO and I was no exception. But when you are only give one or two places in an entire dungeon to rest it brings back more of the idea that your wounds are very real and getting hit is a big deal, nothing to be shrugged off.

Some people say the Dungeons and Dragons rules make it so (like people were saying) a lvl 20 is immune to the world of sub-lvl 12 mobs. But this was/it not true. Disease, poisons, natural 20s, curses, modifiers such as size, weapon types, surprise attacks etc etc. The system has been balanced for these things. Not only that but a lvl 20 wizard is only rocking 20D4 HPs anywhere from 20-80 hps, hardly immortal.

Anyways I agree about the dps/tank/healer trifecta. Cheap heals, not enough utility involved from some classes, and yes the immovable, indestructable tank. EQ is probably partly to blame for this, but its what made raiding possible, otherwise it would be a zerg-fest.

Mon Sep 03 2007 6:46PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

It will surprise no one that i was trying to organize a coalition of guilds in DDO that were requesting ONE server (of the then 14) be set aside for a rez-out stay out; no rez shrines; no twinks;"mod".

 Guess how well that went over ?

Among other things; once we could buy wands to "buy" heal our way thru almost anything; the game lost interest for me. Once you know that winning is  merely a matter of time and hassle...

Tue Sep 04 2007 6:39PM Report writes:
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