Monday, January 23, 2012

Combat evoltuion in MMO's does not impress Darwin.

So, last post I went over how combat as an environment can actually drive crafting forward, as well as adding in a very player-base important feature. Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room in all MMO’s. Combat.

Let’s face it. Combat hasn’t really changed since Everquest. Perhaps even before that. It’s still the same stat + button system. Now, as much as I’d like to call it a failure like many might, I’m actually here to say that it’s a success. What the stat+button system does is turn combat into something trainable in such a way where you can go about half-auto-pilot and ‘enjoy’ the visual content of the game. However, if you see that statement in its true form, you see why things have hit the way they are in SWTOR. The belief is that, by making combat less invasive you allow for even more visual content. That’s the error though; people do not want purely visual content. They want game content. Unfortunately, because that hasn’t really gotten through, we have a visually stunning game with great audio.

There are two ways to handle this and not make the player-base feel like they are just paying to watch a movie. First, you can diminish the role combat has in the game. For a good example of this, you can see A Tale in the Desert. There is no combat at all in the game, yet it still functions and succeeds decently. By no means a AAA-rating MMO, but it does show there is room to buck the curve. And does this curve need bucked. First, the deficiencies of the system need pointed out.

Let’s start with what should be glaringly obvious, but isn’t. Stat+button is NOT skill based. I’ve seen people in World of Warcraft that actually just hit one button and keep up with people that perfectly follow the priority based rotation. Yes, the rotation users could be called ‘skill-based’, but with the macro-user being non-skill based, that kind of throws off the whole system. If the macro were published, ‘faith’ in the system would quickly vanish. So, how do you cater to both of these people? Well, I’m here to say you can’t cater to them without including the third person. And that is the twitch-gamer. I’m talking the guy who can sniper-shot a moving target in a video game from far enough away all you see are a few pixels, but you still pull it off. How you might ask?

Well, I consider it a mix of combat from many various games. It’s a fatigue and balance based system. Damage would be based off of two variables to be determined, be it stats or skills, and chance to hit would be based on other variables, preferably realistic ones. However, you would have two styles of play. Locked combat and Unlocked combat. There would be no penalty to either, but each would have a couple of downfalls. First off, locked combat would start by picking a target and locking the target. As soon as you lock a target, you are given the option to Engage, Keep Distance, or Disengage. This allows ranged or melee to take advantage of this style. Locked style allows you to not worry about moving. The AI would be enough to keep you from running through, or backing into things. Now, just because you are trying to disengage or keep your distance doesn’t mean you will, other factors are involved to keep it realistic (i.e. trip over a rock?).

In locked combat, combat becomes more about key presses. In unlocked, however, combat becomes very much FPS style. Chance to hit would be entirely based on reach, aim, and speed of the user. As you could imagine, firing arrows off a castle wall into a sea of players and mobs might not be the best idea. Friendly fire will be possible, but limited by a ‘Lookout Sir!’ rule. In other words, due to the nature of lag and just common sense, you wouldn’t fire an arrow without saying ‘Lookout Bob!’ Anyone hit by friendly fire would get a penalty to X things for Y seconds, showing that you did get hit, but not badly. The distraction from avoiding would be the worst part of it, since your balance would be thrown. This benefit is only from ‘party’ or ‘guild’ members. Direct PVP is handled later, with different consequences.

Now, what about the single-button guy? First off, macros would be allowed, but just the pure chaos theory around this type of balance/fatigue based combat, you would only be able to macro like that if you wrote really well or fought easy things. So, we have two styles here too. We have finesse and power. Finesse involved stringing attack after attack, as each attach affects balance and fatigue differently, as well as putting you and your weapon in a position that whatever you do next could greatly or minimally affect your balance. You could use ‘Bash Bash Bash’ and probably slowly become more and more unbalance, or you could use ‘Bash left, Bash Right, Bash Left’ and keep your balance perfect. This allows button mashers some degree of success, but also gives seasoned players constantly changing combat. The seasoned player could go unlocked as well for even more realistic combat, giving a massive risk vs. reward for those truly ‘skilled’, but keeping things realistic enough to make it easy.

Tomorrow, I’ll be tackling that other part of combat that just needs revamped as well, Damage.

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