Why Movement Matters
Earlier this past week, the team at Carbine Studios released a new DevSpeak video on movement in their upcoming flagship MMO, WildStar. What I loved about this video wasn’t just how irreverent and humorous it was (as WildStar videos always are), but rather how it showed that the team at Carbine if focused on going down to the very core of MMO gameplay and making sure that everything from the ground up is peppered with fun or it doesn’t make it into the final product. I caught up with Chris Lynch (Lead Combat Systems Designer) and Hugh Shelton (Lead Class Designer) a couple days ago to talk about the DevSpeak video, movement in WildStar, and just why it matters so much in Nexus.
First off, I asked the guys why movement should get so much attention from MMO players, and the answer was simple: movement in most MMOs is taken for granted, and it serves as a core part of the combat and exploration experience in WildStar. Every ability involves positioning (from attacks to heals, and of course dodging), so why not show WildStar’s prospective players why movement is not only a key component of the experience, but also different from your run of the mill MMOs?
One way in which the game is differentiating itself from others is the addition of a double-jump. As in, you press spacebar once, and then again in mid-air to jump even higher. This is a common mechanic among console platformers and the like, but rarely if ever has been used in an MMO. I asked Chris and Hugh why it would be included here, and their answer was typical of the sort experimental design approach Carbine is taking: it wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. But someone at the office began bandying about the idea, and once it was in the game, they realized how much fun it was and started designing around it.
In combat, they don’t want people just bunny-hopping all over the place, because they know how annoying that is. But they’re not about to limit the mechanic entirely, instead they’re making sure that you can’t double-jump your way out of harm. Just because you DJ up into the air when someone swings at you, doesn’t mean you can dodge their attacks. That said, the double-jump mechanic will be a part of avoiding your enemies, but in more of a “run away!” sort of maneuver when you double-jump over a wall to get cover, or bridge a gap in the environment.
The DJ will also play a big part in the Explorer Path as well, and jumping puzzles in general. See a far away ledge? Double-jump might get you there. But then there’s also the Sprint mechanic, which is something we’re seeing more and more of in games these days. Sprint is exactly as it sounds: you can hold shift and for a brief period of time you’ll run faster. A sprint meter will drain and refill as you’re using it or not using it. But again, in PVP, they didn’t want Sprint to become an easy way to get out of hot water. So while you’re sprinting, if someone hits you, you will be Dazed and thereby slowed (not just stopped from sprinting), and sprint will also be disabled entirely for a few seconds while dazed. This means you might want to save your sprint meter perhaps for charging into a battle, or chasing down a lone opponent, as opposed to relying on it all the time as a getaway mechanic. You can also use Dash (working name, think Dodge) to get out of harm’s way immediately). But for getaways, and for direct use in combat, there are going to be many class-specific movement abilities.
There are a few highlighted in the video, like Projected Spirit for the Esper. This skill, which you’ll place on your hotbar like a normal ability, will dash the Esper forward healing people in their path on the way. These sorts of abilities have their own cooldowns like any good MMO skill, and so while the Esper might want to use it to get away from someone, it’ll often best be used in group situations when retreating as it can heal those he or she leaves behind in the fray.
Then there’s Gate, a Spellslinger ability that teleports through an enemy and stuns them as it happens. Stunning in WildStar also makes one vulnerable, which then causes the stunned target to take more damage. So you can easily imagine using Gate on a foe, and then firing multiple shots into their back for increased damage.
And let’s not forget about Spatial Shift. Another Spellslinger ability, it allows you to shift positions with an enemy target (or ally). This led us to talk briefly about another mechanic of combat in WildStar that will soon have its own DevSpeak video: Breakout Mechanics. You could, for example, take your Spellslinger and jump him off a cliff. If you had an enemy target back on safe footing, you could use Spatial Shift to switch places with them... leaving your enemy to Wile E. Coyote off the cliff while you watch in sadistic glee.
In all this combat talk, Chris and Hugh alluded to one of their other mechanics: Disorient. In some cases, attacks may disorient a player, leaving their controls completely reassigned to other keys so that movement is a chore in and of itself. You can “breakout” of this with other abilities, which the future DevSpeak video will no doubt address. This mechanic is random too, meaning that you won’t know what keys will do what when you’re disoriented. So here’s hoping you know how to get out of the disorient quickly.
Lastly, we talked briefly about gravity, and how it will affect movement, jumping puzzles, double-jump. Mostly, right now and internally the team is using low gravity for these sorts of things (exploration, puzzles, etc.). But in the future, they may experiment with how it could affect PVP. For example, Chris and Hugh told me how players could potentially paint areas of low gravity into their Warplots (customizable PVP-enabled fortresses). Imagine storming someone’s turf, only to suddenly find yourself floating away into space. But like all things in WildStar’s development there are a lot of great ideas thrown at the team every day... it’s about whether those ideas can actually turn into something fun to play with that counts.
And that about sums up my impressions of what movement means for a game like WildStar. It’s not just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about having fun with the journey and how a simple jaunt from one town to the next could have you floating in low gravity, dodging erupting lava, and double-jumping your way to a hidden vista. Above all, fun is what matters most to Carbine, and that has me very keen to see what else they come up with for Nexus and its inhabitants
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.