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The Best MMO Mechanic: People

We’ve had some great discussions over the past few days in our comments section about MMOs and how mechanics have changed over the years.  Throughout the discussion one theme kept rising to the top: Relying on others.  Whether it be for survival, advancement, accomplishment, or social edification, the human component has slowly disappeared. Grab a drink and relax.  It’s story time.

Once upon a time…

The worlds we played in were dangerous and unforgiving places.  We used to huddle around light sources in the middle of camps so that we could see at night and at least know that death was coming.  Finding another player evoked almost this ‘I want to hold on to you for safety and follow you just because…’ kind’a feeling.

Grouping with others usually increased your chances of survival.  It may have decreased your experience per kill or slowed you down, but even the chance of dying once wasn’t worth it.  Grouping meant you could do and see more amazing things.  Solo play was incredibly effective, but grouping gave options.

People used to talk in groups.  That annoying thing in the bottom left corner of the screen with all the words in it — we used that to communicate.  Over days, weeks, and months of grouping people gained real reputations.  We knew the people on our server.  Tim the Enchanter was a day trader; Marvin the Wizard was a veterinarian; Doug the Necromancer was in middle-school.  We discussed the world, each other, and built relationships.

And lest you think this tale is solely about grouping, solo players and those wandering the world relied on each other as well. Happening across another player who could increase your run speed or mana regeneration changed your life.  Stumbling upon someone who could resurrect your corpse made your cry tears of joy. When lost in a dungeon and filled with despair knowing you are going to die and potentially lose your corpse just as a hand reaches out from the darkness and guides you to safety is a feeling beyond my ability to relate with words.

People.  People are a mechanic I want to see more of in MMORPGs.  I want that human interaction.  I want the unpredictability.  Other people are the truest form of ‘dynamic gameplay’ we will ever see.  People are the greatest tool a developer can use to leverage the world they’ve created. In the end, I don’t care how it’s done.  Old school or new, I just want the results.

Character Advancement

I touched briefly on the idea of character advancement in yesterday’s post, and I think it warrants further discussion.  Right now MMOs seem to have one common theme: Pick a class, quest to level, unlock all abilities, then do end-game activities to get loot to make your abilities better.  That’s the gist of character advancement.  If I were responsible for looking at how characters would advance, level up, improve, etc., in a MMO here’s what I would do.

Specialize

Play-style should radically change based upon one’s chosen profession.  I use the word profession in its truest sense.  Wizards being blacksmiths, blacksmiths being thieves, everyone being everything, it just doesn’t make much sense to me.  Professions require extensive training, prolonged study, and practice.  I like when players need to specialize and choose a path.  Be one thing, and have the game be capable of supporting whatever choice you make by providing a unique and 100% fulfilling experience.

Advancement

Blacksmiths should become better blacksmiths by making weapons.  Thieves should become better at stealing and moving about undetected by actually trying to do so.  Warriors wanting to increase their strength and skill with a blade should have to go out and slay beasts.  I like when I see that my character has become better at using swords because I have actually used a sword. I’m not a believer in universal advancement or “choose where your point goes” systems.  If you use a sword and gain a level, why should you be able to increase your armor value?  I’m not saying that everything should make perfect and realistic sense — it’s a game after all — but these things are capable of being great gameplay mechanics. [Read more...]

MMO Mob Leashing

Mobs never used to give up the chase so quick.  In games like EverQuest, mobs never stopped following until you ‘zoned’ (a concept also becoming foreign these days).  Zoning meant crossing the invisible threshold into another ‘zone’ (that’s where the name came from, btw) which gave a loading screen.  While annoying, this simple concept had incredible influence over so many aspects of the game.

Dungeons were downright deadly.  Going too deep meant your entire group would have to zone if you got aggro you couldn’t kill.  Not only would that mob chase the person it aggroed on, but it would probably hate anyone who looked at it along the way.

Zone size was an important consideration.  A huge zone meant you had to run really, really far.   You couldn’t always outrun the mobs either, so if you were too far from a zone line you might be screwed. I was always – always – keeping in mind where the zone line was so that I could make my escape if a train came by or I quickly found myself outgunned.

Speed buffs mattered.  Spirit of the Wolf wasn’t just a travel luxury, it was always a survival mechanic.  Given the aforementioned points, run speed was almost mandatory for some situations.

Pulling was possible.  Groups used to sit in a corner of the zone and send out one person to grab monsters and bring them back.  Players could sit down, claim a spot, socialize, and just kill mobs.  Certain classes were also “pullers” giving that mechanic life.

That one seemingly smaller mechanic made a huge impact.  A lot of people are quick to say how annoying it was that mobs didn’t stop chasing, or simply dismiss the mechanic as old, but look at the result of mobs leashing.  You can take almost all of these points and flip them around and see the opposite.  I know it’s not “this is why things are the way they are,” but it’s worth taking note of the little things that have an impact on our games.

Old School vs. Modern MMO Combat

MMO CombatAs I continue to play EverQuest and dabble in the older MMOs it’s clear how combat and strategy has changed over the years.  Modern MMOs are all about pressing buttons.  How fast you can press your left mouse button, how well you execute keystrokes in order, where you’ve macroed your abilities, and whether or not you can time your keystrokes properly can be the difference between a mediocre player and a pro.  I’m overwhelmed with the number of abilities I have to have up on my hotbars, and how often I’m having to actively click, press, or faceroll.

Older games, or modern games built in a traditional style, are more about resource management.  I was in Sol A yesterday, and I would rarely use any abilities at all.  I made sure everyone in my group was buffed with breeze and quickness — which effectively doubled their dps, mez’d incoming adds, and debuffed mobs.  I think in a fight I pressed 4 keys then sat down.  Other classes may have the freedom to use abilities one after another, but managing mana is huge.  A wizard might be able to nuke non-stop but that same wizard will then be useless the next fight, or lack the mana to unload in a pinch.

Older games are about strategy, thinking ahead, and overcoming odds.  Modern games are about executing tactics and brute force.  There isn’t a ‘better’ way here, but they are quite different.  The latter, modern way, is more in-line with other modern games.  This generation is interested in action.  Any action will do, and they’ll all likely lead to success if done properly or frequently enough.  Older games are about choosing which path to take, knowing full well that failure is possible.  These are woven into the split-second decisions made during combat.  Do I pull this mob, or that one?  Do I use this ability or wait a few seconds? Which spells should I memorize (because I can’t use them all)  These decisions have been taken away from modern gamers.

It’s like the difference between Hungry Hungry Hippos and Risk — obviously two amazing but different games.  Where do I fall? You probably think I’m going to say I like the slower, more methodical gameplay.  I’m actually in the middle.  I think anyone who swings to either extreme and blatantly hates the other side needs to wake up. The answer isn’t in slow combat that was slow because of technological restrictions.  It’s also not in action combat designed to bring in non-MMO gamers.  Merge the two.  Make players have to think about which abilities they use instead of how frequently they use them, and restore that split-second decision.

Back in Vanguard. Pleased with SOE.

vanguard saga of heroesSome friends and I are back playing Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.  The idea was pitched to me by a member of our gaming community.  I’ve been looking for a reason to get back in Telon, especially after the new F2P model which essentially lifted all of the limitations until end-game.

The appeal of Vanguard comes from the traditional MMO feel.  Plentiful open-world dungeons and group content give players a reason to traverse the huge world.  There are dozens of different places to take a group of players and go on a challenging adventure.  If you don’t have a group of friends to play with then you’ll likely get to know a great deal of players, and form friendships quickly. I already met someone while on the newbie island, and for the first time I added a player to my friends list with the hope I’ll get to meet up with them again.

A lot of great changes have been made to Vanguard to improve the gameplay.  Lower level dungeons have been modified for higher levels, and additional content has been added to make the entire experience more polished and fluid — compare that to a month after launch.  Really makes me wish the game launched in this state.

SOE is winning me over these days.  Every MMO I’ve considered going back to is one of theirs.  SOE has the monopoly on tradition.  If they manage to keep up the nonrestrictive F2P model, and don’t manipulate players, I’ll continue to keep their games on my go-to list.

I’m also beginning to appreciate how my account works across all of their games.  I can log in to Vanguard, then go play Planetside 2.  Their Station Cash carries over from one game to another, and since I didn’t find anything in PS2 worth buying, I’m able to save that money for Vanguard or another game.  All of this is starting to get me hyped for EverQuest Next.  If EQ Next uses Station Cash, and I’m positive it will, then I’ll be able to use my same account.  I’m hoping for a B2P hybrid with the same nonrestrictive F2P model.

If you’re looking for a fun game to last you until Final Fantasy XIV, WildStar, or to simply be a go-to game like it is for me then give Vanguard a try (It’s on Steam).  I’ve had a lot of fun so far.  Keep it up SOE!