I know this a smidge off topic from my normal rants about game dynamics but I just finished an early version
of an ebook converter for my favorite gadget in the whole universe. The Kindle. So I thought I would pop It up
on here so any of those well red kiddies on this site could use it.
Below is the forum link to the app and discussion of the program.
After some time in both new releases Mass Effect and Assassins Creed. I wanted to discuss some of the similarities and positive effects of these games on combat and the skills they are trying to bring forward.
The good about AC was the completely fluid scale-able sword combat system that would also work very well as a combat system for some fantasy MMO titles. The best part is there is no need to engage and manually target each player. Simply by pointing in the direction you wish to attack your player will follow through. To the button mashing crowd this can be far less exciting then the mauler melee but the first time you take on twelve guards in Acre without a single one landing a blow you will just plain feel powerful you will understand. Itís a beautiful artful construction of death.
In reality death is just a small part of the total system. But you are an assassin so death is your trade, even though they try to peddle it as peace. This is definitely not the pinnacle of total single player combat systems but it touches on some major strong points. My general review places AC as a very solid but incomplete game. Although the focus was correct in making sure the game was completed before they worried about the extras holds true combat even at this high level can always be improved upon. Even with the inclusion of another very strong game play element in this system. Free running which is on its way to being a major hit in Europe could have moved this game to bliss very quickly. Imagine if you will running over your opponents instead of around them when fleeing from an encounter. Not that i feel this game lacked this as a major feature. Even could have detracted from the total experience it just an example of looking at the system as a whole not pieces that are used at different times. Ultimately this is the core of players creating their own content and game-play within a system. Some players of course could be brash and fight the guards while others could flee and escape by grappling and stepping over the guards. Of course in situations like this it is important to remember that a human has to control this with a limited control set. This said the control set used in this title would be perfect for the mode of game play. Using action toggles the number of permutations of actions could be greatly increased with little extra work from the player.
On the other hand is Mass Effect which uses no extra fancy animations and targeting is point and click. Although this is a very smooth system as well game play like this outside the game as a whole is shallow. Shoot shoot shoot shoot don't get shot. Tactical never really comes into play unfortunately. In most cases this is really the other side of the shell the player has to control everything and although a bit of time compression is used to help keep the player from being overwhelmed this is the old school of combat, lengthy and lacking reward. I guess no matter how many games I play there is never an end to the question "wow I look pretty damn good for getting shot that many times." I have always thrown around the ideas of putting a scar system into a game like fable did but it almost seems unimportant. A deformity system would be better. What better reason does a player have not to get shot up but a gimp leg from the last combat. Is this too much realism for a game. Games are supposed to be fun after all. Or is this a method of difficulty that is far better then just making the enemies have more shields. That aside in Mass Effect the failing in combat really comes after you have completed the game the first time and resume play with all your high power gear. You find that you will remain so over powered that it does not matter that the enemies have immunities to some damage. You just deal too much. This is rewarding in its own way of course but from a difficulty standpoint this only makes combat longer it doesn't force you to employ any new tactics.
This is as far as I am concerned the ultimate problem with MMOs like I have stated elsewhere combat in an MMO is very very lame. Truth is that even extra fancy animations are not enough to give it purpose if anything the combat has to be open. This means supporting combat with multiple simultaneous combatants enough one at a time. This also mean that combat has to be about hitting the enemy not shooting at them or cleaving away until they go down. Combat could be simplified to hit or miss a well defended opponent will be hard to hit. Imagine a world where everyone had 1 hit-point all the time and all that changed was how fatigued they were or if they were defending. Lets assume that in combat everyone is always defending by default we call this Neutral Guard to the enemy or enemies you have directly engaged with. Health is described as fatigue. The more aggressive dodges you do the more health you lose. Health can be gained by placing blows on an opponent so in the end it is represented as a mental thing. The spirit has more to do with fatigue then the body anyways. The actual combat can be time based or on demand the same effect can occur. The goal is that equally matched opponents will last a long time until both sides are worn down and eventually one prevails. This of course becomes a fancy game of rock paper scissors between the opponents with luck and the ability to read your opponent become key. Of course combat against an undefended opponent end swiftly. This works as is with melee but with projectiles that you cannot dodge it is a bit different. Fatigue again is a mental thing near misses drain upon an opponent. So in a fire fight you will try to stay out of the open fire zones. Of course this will force a tactical method of play automatically especially in a team sense. By providing suppressing fire your wear at the enemies will until they will succumb to an attack more easily. Game combat needs to be a dynamic dance like in the movies. Where the characters never get shot, just shot at. Also at the same time it forces the proper and necessary use of environmental cues. Not just choke points but cover flanking and drawing fire.
It is possible that rock paper scissors is too easy of an analogy for this combat system. More appropriately is fight choreography. When combat ensues its not a direct camera lock except at close range for convince. The characters are still free to move but will generally face each other. Imagine combat during free running in with one player chasing another player or NPC. The camera would be more of a chase cam showing both players while the players interacted in combat and with the environment. So in our example the player running away decides to climb a wall meanwhile chase player is shooting in this instance the player is exposed and moving in a slower forward rate. This affects what defensive modifier is applied to his fatigue while shots land around him. Of course if the player escapes the climb unscathed then he will have a much higher modifier as he moves over the wall and out of sight. In this same way the character chasing the player will have a higher modifier until they reach the top of the wall and become exposed. This will result in a serious drop in defensive modifiers especially since the offensive modifier that could be gained by the running character due to a better tactical position in relation to the opponent and a possible higher defensive bonus of cover if available. This is also a great chance in this system to turn the tables on the chase character by waiting for the chase player to pass by and reverse the tables. Most combat could play out directly or as a game of cat and mouse. There are more obvious options that could be placed in this situation but I think I have at least broadly drawn the picture of a more fluid on demand combat methodology.
Here is a post i found on the live journal of Pilgrim4444 and while i may have gone a little overboard some of the analysis I pulled from his comments seems to remain valid. Enjoy
Boring - The MMORPG - Chapter One: The brainless struggle
Don't get me wrong there are lots of things I like about today's MMORPGs. The vast and diverse world in which they usually play is certainly one of them, as well as the whole creating your personal ultimate hero over time thing.
But there are vast abysses which keep me canceling the accounts of the few MMORPGs I started playing every few months. Today I want to introduce you to one of these great fun killers: The combat system.In City of Heroes I play a tank called Crimson Lion on the German server Zukunft. He is great at standing up to even the toughest guys (lots of patches before he could even hold out against an arch-villian, one of the toughest things around). Before you run away, it's fine with me that I don't deal lots of damage and I'm not going to whine that I am not as invincible as some tanks would like to be.
So, one night Crimson Lion was out on his own, taunting some unfortunate Freak away from whatever sinister thing he was planing. A fierce battle issued - or was it? I surely hit him hard and as I picked one of a challenging level he scored some hard punches, too. But that was all there was to it: Two guys standing in the middle of the street hitting each other without any other consideration.
Luckily in real life I have never been much of a fighter, so tell me if I am wrong, but in a real battle I don't suppose that's all there is to it. First of all, you try not to get hit. So you parry. When you parry you can't attack. Instead you probably try to make the best of it, keep a good standing, move this way and that so you get a tactic advantage and wait for a good chance to counter. And when you are the one attacking you don't just hit as often and hard as you can, you can test your opponent to find for chinks in his defence, try to get him in a position where he has a clear disadvantage and THEN strike for damage. Sometimes it might even be in your best interest to stop attacking, if your next strike would make you vulnerable for a counter that would be hard to avoid.
Yet in MMORPGs (as well as many other games including most pen and paper I've seen), opponents just keep hacking and slashing at each other until one side has no more hit points left and that is imho plain boring.
Of course you could argue that the real strength with MMORPG combat lies in team interaction. And it is true that you can think of quite a few strategies how to fight as a whole.
Yet in the end it often boils down to this: Tankish characters run into the mob and get the opponents attention. As soon as they got it the remaining party jumps in and does their stuff, be it healing, damage dealing or controlling. A well organised group even singles out some opponent to attack together.
Is this really how heroes should fight? Wait until the opponent is distracted and then stab or shoot him in the back? I don't feel very heroic attacking someone who is busy fighting the one he has been challenged by and what attacks I use to take him down is quite irrelevant when some friendly sorcerer has made a temporary statue out of him anyhow. Not to mention these boss fights when a whole cluster of "heroes" surrounds a single fighter and batters him with blows from all sides.
If I play a hero, I don't want to have to act like a berserk and just launch an endless series of attacks and I don't want to be part of a mob of guys whose strategy is to make their enemies helpless to respond to their assault. There is no honor in that, and for me no fun either.
Now My Response
I see this trend as a lack of animation vision. What you would like to see and what you do see being just a construction of how to represent the flow of time from beginning to the end of the fight. I usually forgive these transgressions when dealing with an MMO because you have to consider all the extra tracking the server has to do to maintain a battle that could "range all over". Its actually a really good excuse for them. Just sit and blame these graphical improprieties on non instanced combat. Its more a question of design when trying to overcome this issue though. The considerations here are numerous but some of the first that comes to mind is how does the environment interact with the conflict. Is there line of site that is accurate. Do attacks execute On Demand or on a timer. In the example of COH there is a great deal of opportunity to take it to that next step since all attacks execute server side first and just register on the player terminal with server cuing. So the lucky few that experienced the Matrix Online may know what I mean by embellishing the combat. If not the effect is to place a number of pointless but entertaining animation chains in between these pre-calculated server cues.
My Solution for On Demand and Timer Based Combat. First we want to consider the network cluster ideal as a point of interest for connecting a large number of players to each other. This method load shares many computers all accessing the same data giving the illusion of 1 system. With that out of the way here comes my crazy idea. Let the client do the work. This has been an industry faux pas for years in online games because it gives the client the power to cheat. In a low bandwidth world this is true. But not today and exploits will exist anyways. These games are not CIA databases. There is a necessity for a bit of flexibility in where the data can come from. So let the player both render the combat and the combatants AI locally. Faster reactions and a whole lot of pretty for the players. So now I am sure your thinking... Hey that's instanced combat... Well yes but not strict instanced combat. The actions of the player will still be for public consumption but at a pace slightly behind reality and a little less embellished. Finally I want to touch on how this affects group combat. This is actually the tricky part. The game server needs to allocate data and assign multicast grouping to a combat party so they receive the same information at the same time instead of relying on the server only to broadcast each player on its own as the server sees fit. Each member of the combat party in reality recieves the data being sent to the other players in the party along with its own. This allows for a greater level of precision. So now that data sync is done how bout group AI. Well I would venture that in this current Internet world actually peering the AI would not work. But my idea would work as such. Terminals would be profiled when they installed the game to figure out how much extra work they can do without affecting game play then load sharing the AI decisions and motions in a WAN cluster that spans only the group.
So with some careful thought on my last post from a while back regarding the MMORPS I think its time for a little revamp. As MVBDX from www.videogames.com put it so simply its a revolution not an evolution.With so many of the proposed standards in the MMORPS in directopposition to the current MMORPG genre. One could invariably take overthe other. Although I will never claim that the MMORPS will be thevictor I would at least be able to build its own niche in vastly openmarket of online gaming. Focus on detail is primary! Something I havebeen knocking about is the idea of persistent single player and groupadventures in an online game. Similar to NWN's online capabilities witha Balder's gate feel. Taking the player back to the comfortable days ofsingle player games with depth. This system would permit the player toselect the length and difficulty of an adventure possibly the locationor region that you want the adventure to take place. From that pointforward the system generates a huge quest system for the player builtupon story blocks. The quests that come out of this system will lastfor as short as an hour or as long as weeks with the player beingrewarded all the way towards the final goal. The point is to wrap theplayer in an intricate web of plot bringing a reality and history thatis different for each and every player.
Next issues is downtime.From the LARP standpoint downtime activities are any GM authorizedactivities done when a player is not involved in an actual game session.To the MMO downtime is usually sequenced trips to the WC and snackruns. The best way to eliminate downtime is to give playersentertainment that they can carry with them. A very fine example is ifthe game requires long travel times from mission source to destinationthis would be considered a downtime even if the player or group huntedon the way to the objective. A down time activity for this situationcould be as simple as card games or puzzles. Even something as mundaneas sudoku could be utilized as a way for a player to break the boredomon a long trek. In a group players could gamble or play more intricate2 player RL or fantasy world specific games. For the most part unless aplayer or group is constantly going to be challenged to and from a questthere should be little or no need to make the player waste their timewith auto run. If a mission is built right the challenges should leadinto each other. Where a travel solution would be chasing andattacking a group of bandits across town towards the next objective.Nothing is more pointless then grabbing a mission the running in onedirection for five minutes then promptly returning to the quest giverjust to have to do it all over again. The staples of single playergames are the pretty obvious linear gameplay one receives for examplein an FPS. MMO's are supposed to be non-linear and free form butquesting and developing plot in the current way just creates a staccatoversion of linear gameplay. I am sorry, allowing players free formexploring is not providing them non-linear gameplay. Its a downtimeactivity its linear gameplay to perform with the other linear gameplaygets too dry.
A player should never be uninvolved in a quest orplot. In fact the best part of the madlib style quest generation is thelikely hood of you as player running into other players involved in thesame plots at the same time exponentially increases. Since many ofthe quest segments should be instanced anyways a player will not needto compete with other players for kills and rewards but since they willbe in the same locations they may opt to join forces to ease thedifficulty of an objective. Of course some quest segments should bepublic but they will have to be carefully balanced for playerpopulation. A quick fix is to put a pop cap per leg instance so therecan only ever be so many people in each instance at any one time. Oncethe pop cap is reached a new instance forms to accept the next group.Player groups are not subject to pop cap and most of the time will havetheir own instance generated for them.
Next time Community and more Downtime
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