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Slower Combat Had More Depth

MMO Combat

I love the image above from a post I wrote a year ago about combat in MMOs changing from slow and methodical to fast-pace button mashing. The summary you all can already glean here is that older combat was slower in the sense that you used less abilities, it potentially took much longer to kill something, and more thinking had to occur to overcome the opposition. New MMOs focus more on using abilities rapidly, creating something that looks visually active, and killing something fast enough that you c an move on to the next before your abilities come off cooldown.

I want to focus in on the older combat and why I think it still has more depth despite having a fraction of the abilities, UI, animations, or tech of modern day games.

Complexity of Decisions

Today there are very few decisions to be made. One simply walks up to a mob and executes abilities in any order. The real decision is which order to use the abilities to kill the monster fastest–everything is about actively attacking. There isn’t much thought to being hit yourself, or minimizing usage of abilities to preserve mana or stamina. The two real thoughts that I have are, (1) Do I need to kill this, and (2) Do I want to? The HOW has been completely lost.

There are several examples in past MMOs where the ‘HOW’ of combat was king. EQ methods come to mind: Root Rot, Kite, Reverse Kite, and Charm. UO had weapon types and spell combinations like the halberd corp por, katana to rapidly poison, or mace to stun. Then grouping added enormous complexity which mostly has to do with what I discussed yesterday with downtime.

Aggro

Tanks used to require a decent amount of time to get aggro. I really can’t remember the last time I grouped and waited before DPSing. In EQ a wizard absolutely would not nuke until the mob was below 80% — the wizard wouldn’t even stand up. Healers wouldn’t even heal because aggro would come off the tank. Tanking took time, monsters took time to taunt and build up a safe aggro, and players respected that or died.

Class Specialization

This could also be called the “characters do one thing well” category. Having certain classes in your group would actually slow down the rate at which you could kill a single mob, thus slowing combat, but might improve your abilities to survive, pull multiple mobs at once and take a tougher spawn, or recover from battle quicker and move on to the next kill. Sometimes a class would literally be invited to do nothing but pull and contribute very little to DPS. Sometimes a class would do nothing but heal or buff. These days everyone is a DPS.

Managing Resources

Managing mana consumption was often the difference between a great player and a good one. Healers who knew which heals to use and when, Wizards who knew how many times they should nuke to add the most efficient DPS to a group (the key being “efficient”), etc. Consume your resources and combat was slower. Have to worry about them at all and combat naturally becomes much, much slower.

Auto Attack

Remember our old friend “white damage?” I love auto attack. I remember the days when it comprised of a massive portion of overall damage done by melee characters.  The entire concept is all but completely done away with in favor of rotations and constant ability usage. Older MMOs had fewer abilities (most of the time).

All of these things, and more, contribute to the concept that combat in MMOs used to be a much more thought out and slower experience. That said, despite its now archaic UI and tech, no one can deny that combat in older MMOs was a much more dynamic experience and that today’s combat is trending toward the shallow side.

Downtime

Downtime has always been considered a negative. It’s meant to be something players have to mitigate. Developers create abilities meant to reduce downtime or make it more bearable. That said, downtime is not only necessary but adds remarkable depth to a virtual world.

Players need reasons to play smart. Modern MMOs seem to be operating on this idea of unlimited combat resources and spamming abilities. The goal in combat is to simply avoid death which is usually brought by standing in a red circle or not DPSing fast enough. Once upon a time mana pools had to be managed and a healer would actually have to sit between heals. The entire group had to think about maximizing their potential in order to avoid the amount of downtime a group experienced.

Downtime hasn’t always been a group only mechanic. Downtime used to be a bigger issue for solo players.  Now’days it’s simply a matter of following quest markers–you can do that all day long and never stop. In the past, sometimes you’d find one mob you want to kill and wait for it to respawn. Respawns added to downtime, but sometimes you had to wait for your mana to regen.

I remember very clearly the internal debate I would have about whether or not to group up. Bad groups have downtime, but good groups could avoid the issue altogether. Sometimes a good group could pull non-stop because of the classes or the player skills. Sometimes a bad group meant waiting for a healer who can’t manage her mana, or DPS who can’t avoid being hit.

Just the fact that this was a thought process at all is kind of cool because it meant there were complex decisions. Avoiding slow or downtime heavy groups meant figuring out who was a good player. The downtime mechanic built reputations (good and bad) and created diversity in the grouping experience.  Every group is the same these days–you don’t even have to talk to people anymore. That diversity is fading as these mechanics like downtime begin to go away.

Focusing on the negative is easy. People don’t like to wait or have limitations. I get that, but it’s the fact that you don’t want those negative things to happen that makes having them so great. If nothing can go wrong, and nothing can slow you down, where is the depth? I’m in favor of adding complex decisions and thought back into MMOs. I’ve sorta had my fill of mindless button mashing and every experience, group or solo, being dumbed down to the least common denominator.

EXCLUSIVE: Camelot Unchained BSC Q&A with Mark Jacobs

If you haven’t been following Camelot Unchained then you’re really missing out. Mark Jacobs and his team have really been working hard to get solid information out to the fans about what type of game we can expect.  Our relationship with MJ began years ago.  We really respect his development style, and he has shown us a significant amount of respect over the years by paying attention to our humble site and community.  His team contacted us and offered us an opportunity to once again fire off any questions we wanted about the information released during their ‘Bat Sh** Crazy’ week-long information extravaganza. We jumped at the opportunity!

We took our time with this one and really went over the information they sent to prepare some questions we felt our readers would care about. We would like to thank Mark and his team for their time and willingness to answer openly. I want you all to visit the official Camelot Unchained website. Below you will find links to information you MUST READ.  Much of our interview requires some knowledge of the information released.  Our questions are broken down by section for ease of reading.

STATS

Q. Can players truly “gimp” themselves at character creation or during any meaningful decision making process? Whether a yes or no we would love to hear your thoughts on why.

Yes, they can. We’ve been very clear on this point from the beginning, and I see no reason to change it. We will give the player plenty of warning/advice during the character creation process, but if having the world’s weakest fighter is how you want to play the game, well, you should be allowed to make such a choice, up to a certain point.

For example, our classes/abilities will have certain minimal specs, so to be a fighter-type, you will need to have at least some strength. Do you have to be “strong like ox?” No. It will help you, but if you want to play your character this way, we are going to allow you to do so.

Now, this cannot be done within a vacuum, so the player must know that the character is likely to be gimped before making that decision. But once this is known, we want to give the choice to the player. As I said during our Kickstarter and beyond, choices matter – even bad ones.

Q. Will there be any way to respec primary or secondary stats?

We may allow a brief respec period after character creation (it will be longer if we can’t generate the volumes of support material I want for this game at launch), and there will always be respecs given if we have f-ed up something so badly that a class has become significantly out of balance/nerfed. Other than that, they will not be easily obtainable, as per what we said during our Kickstarter.

Q. Botting and/or macroing has been a big issue in previous MMORPGs where stats are based on usage. Can you elaborate on any plans you have to combat macros, botting, etc.?

As to bots: Die, die! Kill them all! Make them suffer! I’ve seen the botting problems in some current MMORPGs as well as older ones, up close and personal, and I hate them. I don’t feel as violently opposed to macroing (depending on one’s definition of it), but we’ll just have to see what happens. I do hope macros will be less of a problem in our game, and I think that bots will play less of a role due to certain design decisions that will make buffbotting less advantageous, but as always, time will tell. I’ve been very clear about how we will be aggressive in both our design and CS policies to deter botting.

Read on for our full Camelot Unchained interview with Mark Jacobs!  [Read more...]

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m developing this idea of a Darkness Falls type dungeon based entirely around PvE factions instead of how player realms are doing in some PvP/RvR/AvA type system.  First, I think a quick primer on what I mean by factions is required.

In this MMORPG I’m concocting in my head there are no predetermined sides.  You’re not joining the Alliance or the Horde or the Good guys vs bad guys. My world’s factions functions much in the same way the original EverQuest worked.  Every race has its own faction, and relationships are fluid based on actions taken by the player. If you are a Dark Elf and you kill Dark Elf NPCs you are going to be hated by your own people, but the Humans might start to like you more.  Killing certain monsters can bring faction hits or gains. An Ogre could work for a real year to gain enough faction to enter the Elven City.

Some of the work associated with factions can be done quickly. Depending on the race someone chooses, there will be predetermined dispositions. For example, Humans will have an easier time accepting a Dark Elf than an Ogre in their city. Some faction changes can be seen in a day, some a week, some might even take the player over a real year to accomplish.

Darkness Falls

Are you familiar with Darkness Falls? It was a dungeon in Dark Age of Camelot that would be unlocked for the realm (group of pre-determined allied races) who owned the most keeps in the realm vs. realm war going on in the frontier.  As soon as another group was winning, the dungeon entrance would lock for those who had it, and unlock for the other realm.  The other realm could then enter and kill the other players.

Darkness Falls in DAoC was an awesome PvE zone.  Great loot, great places to group, great PvP when purging the enemy, and all around a great place to be. It encouraged people to PvP.  People wanted this place.

My PvE Version of Darkness Falls

I’m still figuring out the entire idea, but I want to work a version of this type of open-world dungeon into my world.  I’m thinking about making it a dynamic dungeon that adapts to how various NPC factions are being treated by the players.  Imagine if the dungeon was centralized in an area where the orcs and the kobolds were naturally having a dispute — these would be NPCs.  If players in the area were killing more orcs than kobolds then the dungeon may be infested with Kobolds. If players were working especially hard to vanquish both of these NPC factions then another type of faction might actually move on and lay claim to the area.

What I don’t want is for the idea to devolve into some stupid public quest type feeling. I actually hate public quests and events because of how developers now rely on them to fake a dynamic and “changing” world. Bull crap people.  Take those lies to someone who believes them because they ain’t workin’ over here.

If this is ever going to work then the change has to be gradual, and the players almost have to be unable to perceive the change.  I don’t know, thoughts? I’m trying to work this faction system into impacting the world and I think this is one potential opportunity.  Whichever faction controls the dungeon would determine the mobs.  Think about how that can impact people based on what I said previous.

If I’m working really hard on my faction with the Elves and suddenly a faction of Fairies takes over the dungeon… I’m not going to hunt those fairies and take a faction hit.  In a sense I’ll have to work to influence the world in some other way to decrease the power the fairies have in the world.  If I can’t do that by killing fairies, I’ll probably have to kill the enemy of their enemy so that their enemy can overtake them.  It can add an interesting dynamic to how players thinking about factions.

As always your thoughts are wanted.

We Will Revolutionize MMO Mining

Two days ago I made a post about the MMO I want to make one day. From that post a ton of ideas have started to pour in about how certain features would work. I have been frantically taking notes as you guys expand upon my thoughts and even take the simple notes I posted and run with them in the exact direction I was wanting to go in-game.

One of our readers named Gringar hit the nail on the head with how I want mining to work.  I mentioned that I want miners to actually have to go into caves and mine, and he already jumped to where my mind was going: Vast cave networks!  Imagine if mining was done in massive mountains with tunnels and the deeper you go the better the resources you can find.  I started thinking more on the idea.

I’m not big into the idea of this voxel stuff where the world itself actually breaks. I don’t like WoW’s (and all modern themeparks’) style of nodes either. I think I would stick to something a little more like UO where you you can interact with various surfaces of the cave and resources can dry up and randomly replenish and rotate.  If you didn’t play UO, think like SWG.

These caves would be glorious to behold. I’m talking massive caverns, crystals, rare metals, super rare artifacts to uncover to be used by crafters to enhance weapons, etc.  The better your mining skills the deeper in the caverns you’ll be able to go.

Here’s where it can get interesting. Imagine how deep these caves can go… in the words of Saruman: “You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum… shadow and flame. “

Yep! I want there to be awesome enemies to stand in the way, traps and obstacles to overcome, and other horrors to frighten even the strongest miners away. What if certain areas of the cave could randomly be uncovered as a certain amount of ore or stone was withdrawn from deep enough in the caverns.  Imagine after a few weeks the caves have been mined deep enough that suddenly a door appears at the bottom with glowing runes.

The miners open the door and a massive winged abomination comes crashing through.  Adventurers would have to come and save the miners, or else the miners would have to retreat to a less deep and less rewarding tier of the cave.  That might be a neat way to get both gatherers and miners working together since the adventurers want what the demon guards, and the miners want the resources.

So many awesome ways to take simple systems like gathering and make them into a huge features. Keep the ideas coming  guys, this is great!