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Lack of Information

The idea for today’s post comes from one of our long-time readers, Bhagpuss. While discussing yesterday’s topic of older MMO combat being much slower, and as a result much deeper, Bhagpuss reminded me that this can also be due to a lack of information provided to the player.

“What does that mob con?”

I love how this phrase originated, at least for me. I first started using it in EQ, and I think that might be its origin. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, a mob “con” is usually referring to its color and aggression status. Back in EQ one simply targeted a mob and pressed the ‘C’ key. In the chat a description would appear in a certain color. The description might say the mob considers you an ally, warmly, kindly, amiably, indifferently, apprehensively, dubiously, threateningly, or ready to attack.  Then the infamous color con system was incorporated to give players a general idea of where the level of the mob might be–We had to figure out what “dubiously” meant and whether or not the mob was our level.

Con’ing a mob was just one step. Sometimes that con meant very little. Certain mobs would wreck certain classes regardless of their level. Some mobs would be massive undercons meaning they could con blue but hit you like they were 10 levels above (Dorn in NRo anyone?).

As Bhagpuss bring up in his comment yesterday, a group pulling a red con might be in for a surprise. That red con might be among other reds that are just 2-3 levels above your group… but that red might be 10 levels above. There was really no way to know.

Figuring Out A Fight

Once you were satisfied that a monster might be safe to pull you still had to deal with what came next: What can this mob do to me? Pulling a new mob in EverQuest was always an adventure. Sometimes those mobs could nuke ridiculously hard compared to how hard they melee. Sometimes they charm your own party members, blind, etc. While this element of not knowing what a mob does can exist in every MMO while people are just starting out, it always felt like a constant in a game like EverQuest.

This sense of unknown created danger. Danger slowed people down; Danger brought people together.

Aggro

I talked on this yesterday but it’s worth bringing up again that mob aggro wasn’t something people could really grasp because it didn’t appear to be exact. If a tank engages a mob and only stays on it for 5% of its health, and a healer casts a heal, that mob might decide the healer needs to die and nothing is going to stop it. Proximity to a mob affected how much it hated you. Healers should never heal standing near the mob.

Interpret and Predict

Players had to do a lot more interpreting and predicting to overcome the challenges presented by a lack of information. I like how Bhagpuss put it, “That fuzziness in itself made for much more thoughtful, tactical combat.” That can apply to everything about old school MMOs. Players weren’t given UI addons, mods, data, or instruction. They were thrown out into the world and told to adventure.

Sure, people charted the world and revealed the approximate level of every mob. Maps were made, guides were read. That still never seemed to remove the ‘fuzziness’ or the danger, and certainly never made anyone have to think less. Players learned to predict and learned to interpret, and as a result they became better players.

As you go about playing your MMOs today, or thinking about them at work, consider what a little less information and insight might do to make your experience a little more dynamic and enjoyable.

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...]

Early Access: The Next Pay-to-Win

Yesterday we had a good discussion about pay-to-win strategies and how gaming companies are starting to slowly back off of the “whale-model.”  We also noted that the pay-to-win or else you have to grind model is also inherently flawed as it fractures the game into how it was meant to be played and how some people are forced or opt into playing depending on which side you’re on. Now I want to talk a little bit about something that I think is starting to replace the pay wall model: Early access.

Early access is a fascinating thing. There’s a degree of marketing genius behind getting someone to actually crave and desire to buy a game before it is completed. Money today is worth more than money tomorrow according to all those finance classes I tried to sleep through in college. We as gamers always want in on the ground level. If a game is ready to play now then we want it right this second. We’re also inherently wanting to be the best.

Is this almost a basic form of pay-to-win? On one hand they’ve simply moved up the date of the game and gotten you to pay to stress test.  On the other hand, if this is a F2P game then they’ve gotten you to willingly pay-to-play or in this case… we might even consider that winning. What’s even more ridiculous is that they’ll get us to pay a price way beyond what we might ever even pay in the cash shop.

I am 100% leading the pack face first into this one. I pay for early access all the time!  I would -never- spend $100 in a F2P game’s cash shop, but I’ll drop $100 to access an alpha for a game I’m anticipating. I’m either well within my right of exchanging value for value, or I’m insane. I think a little bit of both.  Either way, I have payed to–some degree–win.

This entire early access model is going to fall flat fairly quick. What’s happening is that the majority of the industry is becoming frustrated by games never finishing. The incentive to finish a project seems to wane when you no longer have to make sure you’re working hard to develop a product people want to buy–they’ve already purchased it after all. I still have early access cash tied up in 3-4 games that may never see completion. Am I pissed off? Ehhh no. I knew the risk, I played them for many hours already and could justify that for the price of admission alone, but gamers are wising up.

Just like with F2p/P2W models, gamers are expressing their dissatisfaction and unwillingness to accept shoddy craftsmanship. Early access will be no exception here. Regardless of your “business model” (and however hard you try to turn your game into a business), if you can’t make an amazing game you will fail. The market will catch up with every model eventually and demand quality.