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MMOWTF: To Twitch or not to Twitch

Weekly MMORPG.com columnist Dan Fortier takes a look at the idea of using twitch-based combat in an MMORPG.

To Twitch or not to Twitch

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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Of all of the features requested by gamers on a virtually non-stop, a twitch combat system stands out as one that is constantly ignored for all the wrong reasons. The industry standard MMO combat system of click-and-wait has proven that it is easier to balance and cheaper to implement, so it's no surprise that many developers have shied away from a more active combat system. This week, I want to expose a few myths about twitch combat systems and see what trends might play out in the future for the genre. Take off your rose-colored glasses and read on.

When I say 'Twitch' combat, I'm referring to a system that gives players with faster reaction time, better aim or quicker wits a decided edge in combat. You could make a case that even auto-attack systems can achieve this to various degrees and you would be right, but for the purpose of this article, I'm specifically referring to systems that have a real-time element to them rather than a 'stack' or queue for your actions. There are many different ways of integrating this real time element into combat and there are even various hybrid type systems that have been used to create a more exciting combat experience. Games like Fallen Earth and Age of Conan are already promising these types of systems, but only time will tell how successful they will be, since most games have enough issues without trying to raise the bar.

Most of the reasons you will hear from Devs when asked why they don't use a real time combat system involve words like latency, exploitable, and petitions, but while it might require more resources and more testing and refinement, a twitch combat system is not an impossible feature for a well designed MMO. Some feel that real time combat doesn't gel with MMOs in general though, and while I wouldn't want to try and execute non-stop combos for eight hours straight to gain a level, I do feel it's important to constantly push the boundaries of MMOs in both the technical and game play aspects.

One of the biggest areas that a real time system would be put to the test is in PvP. Any game that wants to cater to the killer and achiever crowd is going to have to be very careful with the combat balance in a twitch system. We seem to take for granted some of the things that make combat fair between classes in a click-attack system like attack speed and cooldown timers. However, even if a twitch combat system uses these elements, the difference between defeat and victory could come down to something as simple as facing. Things like constant strafing and jumping in order to dodge attacks (a la FPS) becomes a legitimate strategy for victory, but looks utterly ridiculous.

Players have enough complaints without forcing them into Twister-esque combat styles in order to survive.

The issue of exploits further complicates matters for Devs looking to tread this path since anything that provides those extra milliseconds will end up on community websites before too long. With all of the logistic issues involved in designing a working and fun system we can only hope that those who choose to undertake this holy mission are prepared to see it though for the sake of all us closet twitch lovers.

This is going to do it for this week so consider it your homework assignment for this weekend to fill in the blanks for me. I'll be back next week for more self-aggrandizement, so stay tuned.