Chaos in MMORPGs

The topic of “chaos” came up in the discussion we’ve been having lately regarding things we want/don’t want in a next-gen MMORPG.  I thought I might share my thoughts on the subject and get your input.  First, what is meant by ‘chaos’?  I like the second definition available from Google: “Behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.”

EverQuest Sand Giant
This poor fellow is about to experience chaos first hand.

In terms of class mechanics, a little bit of chaos can be fun.  A very static game is predictable.  An ability that does 5 damage will always hit for 5 damage.  Throw some chaos in there and that ability might hit for 5-10 or activate an effect.  Some ideas I have for implementing chaos include a bit of RNG (random number generator) and skill.  Imagine if you could hit someone with a sword on the leg.  First you do some damage, but since it was a sword you might also inflict a ‘cut’ to cause the target to bleed.  If you hit hard enough maybe you also hurt the target’s ability to move (snare or something).

Chaos can also be added into content.  Forget about randomness for a second and consider the ‘experience’ or ‘atmosphere’.  In EverQuest there was almost always an element of danger and unpredictability within a zone.  Desert of Ro and Oasis were plagued by Sand Giants.  For the majority of players in those zones, a Sand Giant would one shot you because it was a high level mob. This meant you were always watching your back in case a Sand Giant came up behind you. Unrest and Guk were infamous for ‘trains’ of mobs being dragged through the tight spaces of the zone.  One wrong step and a train might wipe you and your group.  This ‘chaos’ was more dynamic than it was random, and greatly increased my overall enjoyment of the game (even if it sucked hard dieing to a train).

In terms of RNG or unfortunate events, chaos can be really frustrating if it doesn’t go your way.  But you can also have amazing moments where the stars align and the game’s fun factor shoots through the roof — even if only for a few seconds — and uncertainty or chaos can create an atmosphere 10x more immersing than a linear and predictable experience.

What do you think?  Does ‘chaos’ have a place in MMORPG’s?  Should everything be apparent, expected, and linear or should you be surprised every once in a while?

  • Chaos has a place in MMOs, and it is one of the reasons I finally left WoW after 7 years.

    You see, like you, I was brought up in a totally different MMO environment. An environment where the game world was actually dangerous to the individual. While I did play EQ for a short time (very short), my MMO life began in FFXI. Where you always had to have an eye out or something bad may happen. Where very little of the world was easily soloable. Where spells like Sneak and Invis were two very important parts of survival while traveling.

    WoW has none of this Chaos. Most notably in raid and dungeon encounters. People like to complain that RNG in raiding hurts the game, but in truth it hurts the game that there is no chaos in encounters. Every time you fight Deathwing (or whatever it is you fight in Pandaland) you are in store for the same encounter with the exact same timing. Hell the timing is so exact between encounters there are mods that tell you when something dangerous is about to occur. In older games, you did not know when something devastating was going to happen so you had to take steps to protect your group for the inevitable and use teamwork and smart play to get out of jams when you weren’t as prepared as you thought you were. This made encounters more enjoyable the second and third time around.

    WoW is dead to me. The more free flow and unpredictability of other games has caused me to move on. We can only hope that in future MMOs we see more Chaos seeping in and less scripted timing.

  • RNG in a combat system I think mostly sucks. LOLINSTAGIBBED is no fun when it just randomly happens and break the flow of battle. It is is especially bad for any sort of arena style competitive pvp. In larger setting it is fine but it does not add that much I think. On other hand World RNG (Sand giants, Aion style portals to the enemy pve zones) those are great

  • RNG Encounterwise is fine (like the giants example)
    RNG in own abilities is not fine: performing badly due to being unlucky is not fun
    RNG stopping progress is not fine either (Boss can go left or right, if he goes left it is a guaranteed wipe (eg: Imperial Vizier heroic in wow before fix)

    I am not sure RNG is really viable in games. After all, High RNG (due to numbers or due to ‘procs’ like the bleed example) makes you lose due to no fault on your own, and just try again till the gods roll in your favor. Low RNG/static makes optimal rotation very calculable.

    The problem with encounter RNG is that it is impossible to balance. An example of encounter RNG would be Spirit Kings in wow, where you fight 4 bosses in a random order, that carry over an ability after dieing. The order of boss hugely matters on the difficulty level of the fight. (the entire fight is undertuned though). Perfect encounters where everything is equally difficult are hard to make.

    I mostly agree with Thelg: RNG on world level is great, it makes things vibrant and alive. RNG on individual ability level is bad design. RNG on encounter ability is very difficult to pull off and probably requires too much investment to warrant return.

    In the end combat wise when people talk about RNG the game I love the most is Dark Souls. The is absolutely no RNG in individual abilities there, every action has always the same result, it is all about timing and skill while still managing to not be overly twitchy due to the relatively slow pace. This combat I enjoyed the most out of any games I’ve played.

  • I think it’s clear that the question isn’t whether ‘chaos’ has a place in MMO’s but rather that some people have forgotten or never learned how to deal with the ‘chaos’. After being handheld for so many years by games like WoW, I feel people have lost the ability to ‘roll with the punches’. They crave instant gratification as opposed to challenge. I think people have forgotten how to handle being frustrated. Bar none, my favorite experience in WoW was travelling to Mulgore as a low level Night Elf Hunter in order to tame The Rake, that might or might not even be there if and when I get there. I think that was an example of ‘chaos’ in WoW that was summarily extinguished with the inception of the new pet system. I’m sure there are a number of other such experiences people can list that were removed in order to streamline the game for mass appeal. I like constantly learning about a game, never quite knowing everything there is to know about a game, otherwise the game quickly stagnates.

    In my opinion, chaos is something that isn’t easy to manage but, when done right, can make a game shine.

  • EQ was definitely the king of chaos for a PVE MMO. The Cazel train in the screenshot… then to turn and run up the coast, to see a 2nd griefer with a pack of spectres cutting off your escape. Great times!!

    The definition of chaos: being a lowbie killing yard trash in a packed Unrest. *red text* TRAIN TO ZONE!! Will there ever be an experience like what followed again? Doubtful, and that’s sad.

  • I take chaos over predictability every time.
    It just gets so stale when you know what will happen all the time.

  • I think I agree on this one. Chaos is a big part of what makes a game fun. My number 1 gripe with GW2 is that they took the opportunity to have something dynamic and over-scripted it. The fact that the dragon encounters are on a fairly strict timer is just a shame.

    While I hated trains in EQ, I loved the presence of overleveled monsters like those sand giants. I can play most MMOs nowadays on auto-pilot because the games are designed in extremely predictable ways. With the exception of hidden references and a few achievements, most everything that you want to do is in plain sight. If you see a cave, it probably doesn’t have anything other than normal mobs in it unless you have an explicit reason to go in that is already spelled out. You can count on most monsters you see to be on level for the zone with a few very rare exceptions.

    One of my fondest memories of EQ was that lake near the birdman village. I don’t remember the names of the NPCs or the zone at all, unfortunately. What I do remember is that I had a nice farming spot on that lake. Every so often I’d jump in the water and notice something that looked like an underwater cave beneath the central island in the lake. I spent a lot of time wondering what’s in that cave — maybe a giant sea monster, maybe nothing. I never checked because I didn’t want to die and lose my corpse. In a modern MMO I’d assume the cave is either empty or full of a few normal monsters because that’s just the way games are designed now.

    That said, there were a few (lack of) chaos-related things that I HATED in EQ. The need to camp waiting for rare spawns to pop up was absolutely awful. It very much got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t get anything nice because I didn’t know what the spawn timers were and couldn’t afford to spend hours sitting in the same spot waiting, hoping that nobody else got there first or that nobody would come and steal the kill. I was THRILLED when instancing was first developed because it solved this problem. I still prefer instancing over static rare spawns as a method of loot distribution. Of course what I’d really like to see is a UO type system where gear is mostly replaceable, gear degrades, and gear can be found just about anywhere. Use a highly random world drop system that encourages players to both find good spots to set up camp AND explore new areas that other players don’t frequent as much.

  • @Tudor: I agree that some people cannot deal with chaos but I dont think it has anything to do with being spoiled by WOW. This existed already long before WOW. Rather, I believe it is a personality trait and as such a preference or “taste” that is just different from someone who likes or doesn’t mind chaos. It is more prevalent if it is about winning or losing against actual people (but not limited to it). I do think people “like that” do like challenges and they dont need instant gratification – in their eyes it just has to be fair.

  • I totally agree here. Chaos is one of those things that needs to be there to give the player some real challenge. For example, if there were no RNG when doing tradeskills — you’d just have to grind out x items to gain x points in that tradeskill. In EQ, having a master *whatever* was a huge accomplishment, whereas in SWG, it was no big deal. I like the idea of chaos being more balanced though, whereas most games equate chaos to bad things happening (SG squishing you, etc.). I like the idea that for every bad thing, there’s a good thing that can happen. This way, you never know what is going to happen when you’re playing, and I feel that this is a good thing. Predictability = Boring!

  • I don’t think the question is a have it or don’t have. Random/chaos has to be in any MMO, the question is how much.

    Take an extreme example, you don’t want there to be so much randomness in a raid encounter so that the best strategy is to keep wiping until your group gets a good roll right? That’s an example of too much RNG. What you want to shoot for is enough RNG to keep people on their toes but not so much that they can’t overcome the bad roll.

    Take another example. . .PvP. How much RNG do you need in PvP? Too much and people lose the incentive to particpate because it feels like they can’t do much to affect the outcome. When it comes to PvP and RNG I feel like less is more, PvP forces you to pay attention (when it’s decent) so you don’t need any extra chaos.

    You’re right, predictability is boring, but too much unpredictablility and it feels like you don’t get a chance to affect the world or control some small part of it. I don’t want to play in a world that consists of just going out there and rolling dice a thousand times a day.

  • My perfect MMO (only slightly tongue in cheek):
    – Take EQ1 as a base in terms of world crafting
    – Add GW2 style graphics and UI
    – Speed up leveling to about WoW-first expansion era speed; ie, slower than GW2 (way too fast!!), but faster than EQ1 (way too slow!!!)
    – Class design somewhere between Vanguard and GW2
    – Crafting a mix of UO and GW2
    – Quests like original EQ, except they actually work. No quest journals, no glowing puctuation, no crumb trails on minimaps.
    – no long spawn timers. Stuff either spawns as a rare spawn in a reasonable amount of time, or as the result of player interaction with the world/NPCs/time of day etc, or is unique to limited instances created for parts of special “epic” quests
    – death penalty can stay (some exp loss and naked corpse runs) with the change that you CAN NOT lose a level, and there is some mechanism for reclaiming your body/loot after a certain amount of time or for a fee if its really going to be nearly impossible to get it back.
    – lots of non-combat spell effects/abilities. This goes a long way to fostering player-created immersion and interactivity
    – loot that matters. EQ1 wasn’t perfect but I think I prefer it to WoW and GW2 style random prefix stuff. Less no-trade/character bound crap; Twinking helps give a game longevity.

  • @Khoram: That sounds like an MMO I would want to play! Only thing I would change is GW2 graphics to something else.

  • @iLkRehp: True – it is a matter of how much. If you talk about “chaos” – are we referring to truly random events that happen to us or are we talking about events that have not been “controlled” by the designer?

    If you go back to your Raid encounter example. Raids are carefully choreographed and under the control of the game designer. The encounter may be designed with a limited amount of viable strategies in mind that are meant to beat the raid encounter. Going on a raid then means to (a) figure out a strategy that the designer wants us to use and (b) getting your team to execute the strategy. The strategies have been tested by the designer and the designer has almost total control of the raid encounter. There is no real chaos in this system – only perceived chaos as you learn the strategy.

    On the other hand, a designer could also throw up a big baddie – give the bad guy a bunch of tools and let the players figure out if there even is a strategy that can beat this guy. No choreography – no control. You make the encounter tough and hope for the best. This is a system where there would be a good amount of chaos. A strategy that might work one day – might fail the next day because the actions of the big baddie aren’t carefully controlled. On the other hand, players might find an easy way to beat him every time.

    In the first example, you exercise control and ensure consistent game play. You execute THIS strategy and you will be successful and rewarded. Downside is: repeating the encounter becomes stale very quickly – as you get better at it – maybe even tedious. Eventually, the experience will be emotionally uneventful. At first you will be excited because you found the strategy – then you may take joy out of executing it well but overall the chance that you get a true emotional high is low – of course – the chance that you achieve an extreme emotional low is also pretty low…

    In the second example, there is no control and the results are inconsistent. You dont know what will happen even if you do the encounter several times. It can lead to a lot of frustration. In this case, you are more likely to get pushed into an extreme emotional low (dare I call it nerd rage!) but as you succeed, you have an increased chance to experience an true emotional high. This is an example of gameplay that is loaded with emotions due to the possibility of the extremes.

  • I’m all for “chaos”, although I’m not sure that’s the best word to use; it sounds too… well, out-of-control, messy, inconsistent, not-necessarily-fun…

    Sure, I want to be surprised occasionally, but in ways that are fun and that make sense. As I mentioned recently, creatures spawning again and again, out of thin air right on of me, 30 seconds after I just killed them — yeah, that’s surprising and qualifies as chaotic, but it makes no sense and certainly isn’t much fun.

    I want consistency in game systems, AI behavior, and world/setting features. But more to the point, I want emergent game-play; I want to be able to approach the game in my own way and do things the designers never imagined. I want to affect the world and others in the world, and I want to be affected by others in the world. That’s the whole point of a MMO! Part of the lack of “chaos” in MMOs today is that they are just single-player games wrapped up in the trappings of MMOs.

  • @Blargh: They’re not my favorite. They’re heavily influenced by the Asian/eastern style, didn’t perform well on my PC, and I prefer something either more stylized or just different. I’m also a fan of richer colors, whereas the palette in GW2 seemed lighter and at times more pastel. They’re not bad or anything.

  • Another approach to combat RNG is to hide the numbers completely. Long ago I remember playing M59 and when you hit something what showed is general description of what happened.

    You slash Bob with you scimitar, Bob staggers from the blow

    Staggers is a clue that he is wearing armor that is weak to slash. he might still be laughing at your pathetic damage since your skill is low and he has a ton of hp

    You cast Draining Fingers Bob winces from the spell

    “winces” armor is strong vs damage type

    Weapons have no dmg rating just descriptions

  • @iLkRehp I agree with you on the topic of PvP and RNG, but I want to put a twist on what you said. Even if there were no RNG mechanics whatsoever in PvP, there would still be chaos because human beings are unpredictable. You always have chaos when it comes to PvP. Ever notice how most games nowadays have the caveat “Game experience may change during online play”? That’s because they can’t account for human interaction. That’s also one of the reasons why a lot of games nowadays feel unfinished; they stick a multiplayer mode on a half-made game and say, “There’s your dynamic gameplay!”

    I think the question shouldn’t be pertaining to chaos in PvP; we should only care about chaos in regards to the game world. How the monsters, quests and environment can be made dynamic.