Saturday, September 19, 2009

Re: Combat

Another long winded exposition on how MMOs should be. Grab a cup of coffee, strap yourself in, and let's get rolling.

Combat. It has been said my myself on more than one occasion that combat is what makes an MMO. There have been plenty of games that, while interesting, totally didn't do it for me because combat felt wrong. Final Fantasy 11 was my first (brief) brush with an MMO, so I missed EQ and DAoC, and whatever came before it. I distinctly remember being in the WoW beta, as well, and feeling how everything felt wrong. Before that, turn based RPGs like Final Fantasy had my characters waiting patiently for me to give them an instruction (Attack!), and they would step into combat, execute said move (one sword slash), then jump back to the line, waiting for my next order. Even Final Fantasy 7 had a radical new approach to combat in that combat moved in quasi-realtime. If no orders were issued, the enemies still would do their thing, and eventually I'd die.

Seeing MMOs take this another step further to a system where my character automatically attacked a mob over and over, and the introduction of a global cooldown timer took some getting used to. I remember thinking how disconnected what I saw on screen and what was happening in my combat log felt. Getting over it took some time, and being that WoW is the foundation now by which every other MMO is judged, whenever I come across a radically different combat engine (AoC, LotRO), it feels jarring. Warhammer, too, forced me to really slow down in combat, but that's mostly because the animation system sucks and if you spam abilities, the animations will play regardless of whether the skill is ready or not. Some skills even require a 2h weapon, and if I'm wearing a sword and board, the animation plays, and then the game is like "oh yeah, lol, ignore what I just played, REQUIRES 2H WEAPON". Basically, WoW, through the course of its gazillion dollars in revenue, and time spent on the market, has perfected MMO combat flow, in my eyes. I enjoy playing Warhammer because it's new, but I'd wet myself if the WoW engine was licensed out the way the Unreal engine is, and people could just create their own worlds-and-lore / classes-and-systems to play in, while using WoW's underlying backend.

Now that that's out of the way, how do I think I could make WoW's combat system more interesting to take part in? That's easy! Give each fight meaning, and drag each struggle out longer. For me personally, given the Scarlet Monastery Cathedral's cathedral itself, and having a choice between clearing in its current form, or clearing it out where there was only one or two fights that dragged on for 5 to 7 minutes each, I'd choose the latter. I'd love to have 'regular' combat slowed way down and become more of a rarity as well. If you think about how hard combat in actual armor must be, and how much it would take out of you, then imagine that you can go out from Thrallmar or Honor Hold and slay 150 Fel Orcs in the course of an hour, it's pretty silly. Obviously this isn't real life, and it's supposed to be fun, but there's no fun involved in playing 5 on 5 basketball with 5 Michael Jordans on your team, and 5 Woody Allens on the opposing bench. It's just a slaughter. Instead of being honestly challenged, we rely on overcoming sheer numbers and boring repetition to reach the end of each area.

The obvious problem is that in order to make the Woodys shuck and jive like Mike would require more AI than our games are possible of delivering, which I just don't believe is true. A few really basic rules, and liberal use of the dreaded RNG (random number generator) that Blizz loves so much would make fights much more interesting. Have aggro randomly drop. Have healing aggro be 5x DPS aggro. Give mobs more than one ability, and don't have every humanoid in Scarlet Monstery turn and run at precisely 17% HP remaining. I want to be frost nova-ed, sheeped, and POM pyro'd in the face. I want to die. I want to fight tooth and nail every pull, not just on boss encounters. Speaking of boss encounters, I want each boss to be like the Opera Event in Kara, where you don't know how it's going to play out until the curtain comes up. Even then, there were only four choices, and once you learned them all it was GG. Something more along the lines of the Anubisaths in AQ40, where you'd have people shouting over vent to either stand below them or spread the hell out ASAP!

I'd love to have a static list of 80 boss abilities: Enrage, Sheep, Whirlwind, AoE Silence, Disarm, +20% Healer Aggro, +20% DPS Aggro, etc etc etc, and have each boss randomly select 5 abilities from the tree before first pull, and then keep those per raid ID until they died or the instance reset. You'd have honest to god communication (gasp!) among your guild after each pull, and some weeks Hydross would be a huge pain in the ass because 'healer aggro is through the roof this week'. Raids would need to adjust strats accordingly, and there would need to be new general strategies formed. In the above example, healers would need to be positioned specially for in case they DID pull aggro, it wouldn't lead to Hydross crossing the beams and reverting to his other form. These wouldn't be the ONLY skills each boss had, but would be 'in addition' to his regular repertoire.

Back to the problem with trash pulls in Scarlet Monastery, I'd love to see it boiled down to two or three hard pulls, then to just perform the exact same pull over and over and over 12 times, only watching out for pats that don't get alerted when they look across the room and see their homies being slaughtered by blood-thirsty savages. The very idea of line of sight should apply to mobs, and this isn't me picking on WoW. In Warhammer, I'm able to walk up close enough to smell a mob, throw an axe past his face to hit the named quest mob, then turn around and run back to a safe area to kill the mob to complete my quest. I want mobs to be on my ass! If I can see them, they should see me, and it would actually make stealthing ahead to scope out the next room a necessary tactic. Hell, static spawn points for the mobs at all is silly, unless there's a specific reason they happen to be standing in the courtyard with their thumb up their asses. How awesome would it be to zone in and have a boss jump on your ass because that's where he happened to be when you zoned in? How awesome would it be to stand outside the instance portal, making sure everyone is ready to zone in together, just in case that happens?

I want mobs that feign death, and mobs that Vanish and try to sprint off, forcing us to react like we would in arena... "Quick! Demo Shout, he vanished! Don't let him get another group on us before we can drink!" Given the previous thing with the 80 Boss Abilities, why not have generic 'spell caster' or 'healing' mobs, and give them each random pools of their own to pull from? Sometimes the abilities wouldn't line up, and you'd get a mob that was too easy, or too hard, but every time you ran the dungeon it would be something new.


David said...

One of my beefs with WoW's combat is the disconnect between the action bar and the character onscreen. I deserve a "L2keybind noob" here, and I do keybind 1,2,3,4 and q and e, but still I find myself looking at the action bar buttons more than the action onscreen, especially melee classes, which are more immediate in their skills than most caster classes.

While add-ons solve a lot of these problems, its problematic and usually the lack the 'blizzard polish' (meaning my addon setup skills lack Blizzard's design sense, I guess). I'd like a more heads-up design for combat so I can use the full scope of my abilities without having to constantly look at the action bar.

Finally, I think the global cooldown is silly. What makes it so that all classes can execute abilities 1.5 seconds apart? I know there are exceptions, just for simplicities sake. If you do a mortal strike doesn't that keep you from swinging at me again for more than 1.5 measly seconds? More powerful attacks should enact a longer gcd, and weaker ones less.

Maybe a combo system that reduces the gcd for a string of abilities, but break the string and you're on gcd for 5 seconds as a penalty. Risk and reward.

WoW's combat seems a little stilted and predictable, and I would like to see a system with a little more variation in how abilities are actually used.

Rich said...

yeah, but if you could just spam moves as fast as you could hit the buttons, everyone would make macros that have them executing 7 different attacks (7 different individual-move-cooldowns) in .5 seconds.

For me personally, on something like my rogue, i know when moves are ready, or they don't overlap enough that i find myself glancing at my bars that often, but when I started in arena (horrible PvPer), i made a special bar that i blew the buttons up to 125% scale, and only put anything that actually had a cooldown on there to see. for example, on my druid, i wanted a big fucking button to light up the instant feral charge and bash were good to go again.

I used bongos for action bars, which has since changed names and become Dominos. Any Addon by Tuller gets a hearty thumbs up in my book, the man is good, and everything i wish his addons had are already there.

Rich said...

ah, actually found a pic of the DruidUI i had hosted already. you can see Swiftmend / nature's swiftness / bash / feral charge / nature's grasp / innervate / hurricane and tranquility all on thier own little 'extra bar' above the others (in addition to being in their normal spots), plus my trinkets.

I was horrible at arena, but this helped ;)

Anonymous said...

This is a tough concept because while I enjoy your more open style combat ideals I have conflicting views about their applications. For instance, if you have this random agro drop built into combat then aren't long raid fights basically going to turn into coin flips? You can't keep relative difficulty high if there is a chance a mob is just going to de-agro and regen 40% of its HP in a second.

Also upping healing agro across the board is a bit silly. I like the concept of strategic healing. I.E. at 40 yards healing agro is normalized to X and a modifier for every yard closer to the mob raises your agro exponentially. If you have talents to increase your healing radius you can in effect reduce your agro. This would force boss setups to be more strategic. Tanking in certain spots vs others, movement, knockbacks, etc would all have to be factored in. Heal within 5 yards = boned.

The combat system in WoW is nearly perfect though. I mean as a template it is amazingly versitile. I do enjoy Warhammers adoption of PvE skills converting positively to PvP.

The GCD argument brought up by david makes little sense to me. You are arguing that a GLOBAL cooldown be enacted under specific situations. That makes no sense. Instilling a GCD is necessary to pace combat and buffer latancy. Without a GCD whenever a player lagged they could spam something like moonfire and insta-gib a target with 40 MF's in a split second. If you want to install your combo idea then simply build a cooldown in for specific abilities after you use another.

The hardest thing about all this combat business is it must be comprehensive to all functions of the game. While Iso's idea might make normal everyday combat more engaged and fun it complicates PvP and boss encounters.

And yes all you n00bs need to keybind everything! ;)

Rich said...

1) lol, i use keybinds religiously. my screenshot didn't imply i'm a clicker, it's just showing when the skill is ready to be pushed (on the keyboard... well, okay.. belkin)

2) I.E. at 40 yards healing agro is normalized to X and a modifier for every yard closer to the mob raises your agro exponentially.

err.... unless something radical has changed since i stopped playing wow a month ago or so (played a bit tonight on a my trash warlock, killing headless horseman 12x times), this is just not true.

Aggro has a range cutoff, and past that range (is it 30 yards or 30 feet? i can't remember... i'll assume feet for my post here) it makes no difference to be 31 feet or 301 feet, the aggro generated if you're 'outside the window' is the same (130% threat needed for the mob to ignore the tank and pull to you). any healing talents that increase the range of your heals just mean if you're running up to someone to get a heal off, it'll go off that much sooner. once you cross into the range (29.99 feet), you will pull aggro at 110% threat. it isn't 100% exactly, because they're giving you an OH SHIT buffer to deal with. but at 111% (inside 30 feet), or 131% (outside of 30 feet) you will pull aggro.

Melf_Himself said...

Good suggestions ixobelle, I have recently discovered your blog and like where your ideas are going.

Re: The GCD thing. You don't need a global cooldown as long as you give everything an activation time. That stops spamming of skills, while still making it feel like you're doing things. Guild Wars's system works like that and it's got the best combat system I've ever seen in an MMO.

Cronoo said...

You don't need a global cooldown as long as you give everything an activation time.
If everything had an activation time, it wouldn't allow ability preventing moves to be used effectively. For example, say you're a Rogue fighting a Mage, the Mage begins to cast Scorch, the Rogue has 1.5 seconds to kick the scorch(and even less by the time it sees the spell being cast) if there were some sort of activation time for the kick this wouldn't be possible. The kick button would be pressed, the Rogue would be hit with the scorch and then the Rogue would kick.

Anonymous said...

"err.... unless something radical has changed since i stopped playing wow a month ago or so (played a bit tonight on a my trash warlock, killing headless horseman 12x times), this is just not true."

Yep. Which is why I said I liked the "concept" of strategic healing. I meant I wanted to see this in game.

Khatib said...

"Obviously this isn't real life, and it's supposed to be fun, but there's no fun involved in playing 5 on 5 basketball with 5 Michael Jordans on your team, and 5 Woody Allens on the opposing bench. It's just a slaughter. Instead of being honestly challenged, we rely on overcoming sheer numbers and boring repetition to reach the end of each area."

Aha! But there Iso, you've hit upon the keys to WoW's success.

The lowest. common. denominator.

You can't challenge anyone, especially not the casual gamer, because if they lose, then they are upset, and if they are upset, they won't pay you money. So they only real challenge you get is small timing challenges amidst mostly gear checks in raid instances that require so much time, most people never get to see them.

I have to say, the first MMO I played seriously was SWG, at launch, and their combat system even involved a combat queue. Yet it still felt like there was a lot of urgency to PvP combat at least, because you didn't instantly know what your opponent was capable of, due to the lack of a rigid class system, thus you had to be very quick at picking up what was going on in your combat log and reacting to it.

Then I moved to L2, which was somewhat slow, I felt, comparably, but probably because I never made it beyond lvl 30. Then came WoW, which felt very comfortable. The only problem being that the very loosely regulated macro system allowed you to set up macros that basically allowed the game to play on one button. And even if you don't know jack about jack, no problem, you can just copy/paste something from the realm forums, and never hit anything but 2 ever again in a fight.

Even if you didn't use macros, your average fight wouldn't see you using more than a half dozen hotkeys. This led to WoW combat, though the timing is solid and the animations are tight... it led to it becoming incredibly stale.

From WoW I moved on to AoC... with a lengthy downtime between, and a few FPSs in there, and a failed run at VG, lol... And I have to say, AoC impressed me in SO many ways. I really wish that game would have launched with a more polished endgame and more stable client. Their melee combat, while it had it's failings in laggy PvP situations, was bar none the most fun PvE I've ever experienced. Grinding became so much less of sit there and hit 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, tab, run 50 feet, repeat. You actually had to play reactively again. Well, you didn't HAVE to, but to play as efficiently as possible, you did, and that's what I did, and I loved it. The shield system, the combo system, it was all pretty revolutionary in my eyes. Hopefully more and more games in the future will start to blend in a "twitchier" combat system like this as systems begin to overtake graphics requirements and broadband makes lag less an issue, even in MMOs.

From AoCs dismal endgame, I moved to WAR. At first, the game felt INCREDIBLY slow. Painfully slow, with it's 1.4s GCD. But -- once you hit about level 20, you start to gain so many abilities, that combat still has a bit of a rush to it, even with that long cooldown. I love the way there are no ranks with the abilities in WAR and the abilities just level with you, keeping them viable from the level you first got them, all the way to end game. It certainly adds some serious variety to combat, and gives you a huge arsenal of situational moves to use.

Of course, you don't HAVE to use all of them, but to play as best you can, you should be using many of them, and that keeps it interesting for me.

Again though, there's less reactional combat than I would prefer, but I still feel there is more than what WoW has. As a black orc myself, I love that guard is basically spammable. No cost, no cd. I'm moving it constantly to keep it on priority friendlies. Taunt and detaunt abilities require heads up and changing of targets. Spells like the shaman's "Gork sez stop" where people take damage unless they stand still for two seconds... that is pure genius in ability design and pure hilarity when noobs kill themselves on it.

Overall, I think WAR is doing a little better than WoW in their overall combat model, but definitely they need to fix animations firing when they shouldn't.

I also think that AoC took more steps in the right direction than any other MMO has in years, and I was very sad to see them fail. Although a couple months back they did hire a new game director, so possibly in a year, it could be a whole new ball game for AoC.

It'll be interesting to see what direction BioWare goes in with the KOTOR MMO.

Khatib said...

Holy crap that got way longer than I expected. Tough to tell in that little box.

Ooke said...

this is akin to the Priestess Delrissa or Faction Champions (3d boss of TotC) fights and their "Faux" PvP.

That RNG can cause a lot of trouble or it can be a cakewalk. That variability is what PvE players hate. Balance just doesn't really exist until you outgear the encounter by a fair margin which makes the challenge moot.

I guess if the game has that expectations from the start it would be acceptable but as it stands I'm sure it will be a long time before we see another encounter with such variability.

Anonymous said...

Re: Line of Sight & Mobs...

I think this should work both ways...

Walk into SM at level 40, if the mobs see you, you better run....

Walk in at 80, you better have your run speed boots on, because when those mobs see you they will be running around like chooks with a fox in their house.

Imagine having to chase bosses through instances because the trash ran past and warned them....