Posts Tagged ‘combat’

I’ve written about most of the card by now, but I wanted to cover the other remaining bits and mention a few other things.  Once again, here’s the card:

Zomblob card Murmurer

And here are the other articles on it: Warming Up and Keeping Track.  There are other Zomblob articles, all tagged with the Zomblob label… I’ll make a comprehensive list when I post the beta ruleset and PDFs.  (This has been pushed back a little bit thanks to two other big projects that demanded immediate attention, but I want to get them before the 20th or so if at all possible.)

The biggest thing I haven’t covered yet is the combat resolution.  It works like HeroScape (which I still haven’t played, sadly, though I’ve researched it) or the WoW Miniatures game.  Each attack uses either WILL or POW, and the number cited is the number of six-sided dice you roll.  (So a POW 5 attack would have you rolling 5 dice.)  This number may be modified by a few things, so you may be rolling a few more or less.  The defending unit rolls dice as well, dictated by the attack.  Ranged attacks will have the defender rolling as many dice as the RDEF value lists, defense against melee attacks use the MDEF value, and defense against WILL attacks use the WILL value.  (If you’re using an Action on one of your own units, ignore the WILL values.)  A die showing 3, 4, 5, or 6 is a “success”, either in attack or defense.  A POW-based attack will deal damage equal to how many successes the attacker rolls, minus the number of successes the defender rolls.  A WILL-based attack is binary; if the attacker rolls more successes than the defender, the attack succeeds.

It’s worth noting that the base values for these attributes will range from 1 to 6.  They might be modified by game effects, but they shouldn’t wind up too big.

Example 1:  A Banshee Feral Ranged unit uses a ranged attack with POW 4 against our hapless Murmurer up there.  The Murmurer is a Support unit, generally hiding behind the front lines, so it has a decent RDEF of 4.  Both players roll 4 dice.  The attacking player rolls 3 successes, and the defending player unluckily rolls 1 success.  The Murmurer takes 2 damage (loses 2 Health points) because it only defended against one of the 3 attack points.

Example 2:  An Interceptor Aspirant Melee unit uses a WILL attack (WILL 6) to try to lock the Murmurer in place for a turn.  The Murmurer is a stubborn unit, as its WILL value of 5 attests.  The attacking player rolls 6 dice and gets 4 successes.  The defending player rolls 5 dice and gets 4 successes.  The Murmerer thus defends against the WILL attack and does not suffer the lockdown.

Example 3:  The Murmerer then uses its own Action that prevents a unit from moving (the second one in the list up there), targeting a rapidly approaching Rhino Feral Melee unit to stall its charge.  The Rhino has a WILL of 5, just as stubborn as the Murmurer, but it has melee attacks with POW of 5 and 6.  The Murmurer doesn’t want to defend against that with its measly 2 MDEF, so keeping the Rhino away is a good idea at the moment.  Both players roll 5 dice.  The attacking player (the Murmerer’s controller) rolls 4 successes and the defending player rolls 2 successes.  The lockdown attack succeeds, but there are no other effects due to the 2 successes that were not defended against.

I chose this method instead of the WarHammer/WarMachine method of only the attacker rolling dice for a couple of reasons.  One is that I simply prefer it.  Two, it’s more interactive.  Klaus Teuber, the designer behind Settlers of Catan, suggested in an interview (that I can’t find at present, sorry for the lack of citation) that games that allow all players to act, no matter whose turn it is, tend to be more interesting and socially involving.  This might be why I prefer the technique.  It seems like the people I’ve played the WoW Minis game with have more fun, too, as they are actively participating in their defense, not just sitting back hoping their opponent doesn’t roll well.

It’s a subtle psychological trick, perhaps, but I think it’s important, especially when you’re dealing with a small group instead of big, impersonal armies.  Rolling your own defense simply makes it more personal and tactile.  It might also make it more annoying to keep track, to be sure, which is one reason why I’m trying to keep the numbers relatively low.  Sure, it’s possible to make an attack have 11 POW or something even bigger, but that winds up to be a lot of dice.  6 feels like a good baseline top end to me, but this is one of those things that really needs a good playtesting shakedown.

Other than that, the card shows a few other things.  One is the “unit specials” box under the unit type line.  Each unit will have something here, some personal quirk, though some may have the same quirks.  The Murmurer is a fairly strong support unit with decent defense (at range, anyway) and a pair of useful defensive abilities:

“may not be delayed” means the Murmurer cannot be given TP by any other unit.  (Time Points that delay its next action, as described in the Keeping Track article.)

“may not be flanked” means the unit does not lose RDEF or MDEF when it’s attacked from its back arc, which is what Flanking usually does.  (An defender loses 1 to MDEF and RDEF against attacks against its back arc.)

Other units might have “(unit) gains +1 POW against Feral units” or “(unit) can draw LOS through any units” or the like.  I’m hoping to make all of these fairly simple and self-explanatory, but useful and/or powerful enough to make each unit valuable and interesting.

This does intersect a little bit with what I’m calling Auras (one of the elements that the Murmurer doesn’t display), which are static abilities that allow a unit to affect the battlefield at all times (the Special box is something that only affects the unit itself instead of a space on the battlefield).  An Aura will take the place of one of a unit’s Actions, but it need not be activated, it’s simply always “on”.  These will usually affect the stats of nearby units, either buffing allies or annoying enemies, though there will be some “utility” Auras with quirky effects, like the Interceptor’s movement-impairing aura that affects every nearby unit.

Then there’s the Value box in the lower right.  This is the point value of the unit, relevant for army building and scoring.  I’ll initially be offering a six-unit team for each breed, balanced by this number.  There’s room for customization, though, and handicapping, which is where this Value will be useful.

There’s also the Absorption mechanic, which is why the last Action has a gold border.  Any unit may absorb an Inert blob.  (A blob that has lost all of its Health is rendered Inert, which means it stays on the battlefield, just a lump of goo that gets in the way.)  If a unit absorbs another unit, it learns its last Action for the duration of the match.  You’d place the absorbed unit’s card under the absorber’s unit card, showing that last Action.  That Rhino Feral unit might wind up with the Murmurer’s ability to delay and heat up a target unit via absorption.  This might also be a big deal in campaigns, where absorbed Actions carry over to the next fight.

…I’m playing with fire a little bit there, potentially giving units “off-breed” abilities (which is one other reason why that last Murmurer Action is a multipurpose tool instead of a stronger simpler one).  I’m not sure that it will work out well, but it fits the flavor of blobs so well that I really want to make it work.  We’ll see, I guess.  There’s just something delightfully appealing about the ability to take the enemy’s resources and bend them to your ends.  I love this about BattleTech and salvaging units, something that was really fun in MechCommander 2, so I’m hoping to capture a bit of that fun with the biological mutability of the ‘blobs.  It might be a “win more” mechanic, but those have value too, in speeding up the endgame.  Absorption is a universal Action, too, so you’d be trading the opportunity to do a native Action for your turn for the potential of a new tool in future turns.  This will require playtesting and experimentation.

Does all of this make sense so far?  I don’t have the rules completely written down yet, and I need to find the best way to explain them concisely, so I’m hoping that these concepts aren’t too crazy.  I’m spending a lot of words here describing what I think are relatively simple mechanics… but sometimes something makes sense in my mind and then doesn’t translate all that well onto the page.  I’d love to hear what you think of any of this.


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Spurred by a recent “Pick Up Group” experience in Allods Online and a couple of articles (OK, and doing the WoW Druid Bear art for BBB), I wanted to write a bit again about tanking and the Holy Trinity of MMO combat.  Here are a few great articles to prime the pump as well:

Overcoming the Fear of Tanking (Spinksville)

On Being a Tank (Tank Hard)

Rethinking the Trinity of MMO Design (Psychochild)

I’ve written about this sort of thing before.  Long story short, I’m highly in favor of breaking the trinity affording greater player customization and flexibility, hopefully making for more interesting combat.

Mostly, it’s because I want to be flexible when I’m playing a game.  I don’t want to have to depend on other people… though I’m happy to help other people.  That’s my particular brand of soloist play; I want to do my thing and have fun without needing other players… but if I want to help others out (and I often do), I want it to be fun and easy enough to get to do.  (Note, not necessarily “easy to do”; I like challenge in my games, after all.  I just don’t like fighting the UI or having insufficient tools to deal with idiot players.  I don’t like fighting other players, either; I’m all for cooperative PvE ventures.)

Perhaps a story will help illuminate.

I’ve been playing League side in the Allods Online beta as a Gibberling Psionicist.  I have characters of most races and classes for experimentation, but I picked the Psionicists as my “main” for the beta so I could push through to some non-newbie content before the beta ends.  The Psionicist is a DPS/Support class, designed somewhat along the lines of the Guild Wars Mesmer, where I find ways to control foes and the pace of combat, while burning them down with psionic blasts.  So far, it’s been good fun, if a bit repetitive.  (Finding my optimal “rotation” took all of three or four fights.  Certainly not several levels’ worth of fighting.  That’s another rant, though, and such design is certainly on par with other modern MMOs, so it’s not a glaring flaw unique to Allods.)

There is a “boss” fight on the League newbie island.  It’s a super powerful Wisp that requires at least three players to tackle; a tank, a damage dealer and a healer.  It’s the same old dance of “deal damage/mitigate damage/heal damage”.  As long as MMO combat is based on hit points and damage, we’re pretty stuck with these core roles in some form.  There is nothing crazy about this particular fight, then, it’s just a fight that requires a group (GASP!  I PUGged!) or an extremely overleveled soloist.

The first time I fought the boss, I just shot at it to see what it would do.  It chased me and pretty much ate me for lunch.  Gibberling nuggets, extra crispy.

A level later, still saddled with the quest to kill the boss, I answered the call of a tank who needed help to take it down.  A healer met us at the boss rock (it’s an open world boss that just putters around a rock in a circuit until a fight), and we proceeded to beat it into protoplasm… slowly.  The tank took the brunt of the attacks, I did my best damage from short range (so I could work in a dagger stab or three while skills were on cooldown), and the healer kept us all alive.  The healer’s mana actually died out close to the end, so he just moved in and started stabbing as well, but we were close enough to victory that it wasn’t a terrible breach of etiquette, and nobody fell but the baddie.

Yay, quest finished, experience earned, congratulations and thanks all around, group dissolved, chalk one up for the good guys.  (At least, until the respawn.)

A few days later, I’m one level older, slightly more powerful (though with no new abilities), and about to leave the newbie Allod.  Someone is spamming LFG in the zone chat, trying to get a party together for the same boss.  I figure, sure, I have a little time and would like to help.  I get there only to find three other DPS characters (two Hunters and a Druid).  OK, sure, just burn the boss down fast and hope it works, right?  Nope.  Nobody wants to try, and it turns out, for good reason.

A tank finally shows up after ten minutes of zone spam, and we go to town on the boss.  It turns out the tank didn’t actually tank, but just spazzed out in flaky DPS tango mode.  I get “aggro” because I’m doing solid DPS with my now-rote rotation, and the Big Bad Wisp proceeds to fry me again.  I’m soon followed by a Hunter who was also doing solid damage.  The tank disappears, the healer says the tank was incompetent, and we sit around for a while waiting for another tank.  Eventually, I give up, and move on.  (I still wonder about throttling my DPS, but the healer was pretty adamant that the tank wasn’t doing her job.)

So much for helping other players.  It’s a good thing I didn’t still need that quest; I’d have been more annoyed.  As it was, it was grist for the blog mill, so I was happy enough.  I won’t do that again, though.

The fight failed for lack of a tank who actually tanked.  I blame the game design just as much, though.

If any of us were able to step up into the tank role, regardless of class, we could have shuffled around and tried with someone else at point.  This is why I love the Druid class in World of Warcraft (or the Paladin or even Shaman, maybe even a Warrior).  Played well, a Feral Druid can either take point and tank in Bear form or shift a bit and start scratching backs in Cat form.  No respecs (though Dual Spec is nice to extend the flexibility), no gear swapping, just role swapping.

I would have happily stepped up as a tank if my Psionicist were able to do so.  Sure, it would probably mean some sort of “dodge tank” or “mesmerizing tank” rather than the traditional “hit me, I can take it” tanking, but that would be fine with me.  That wasn’t an option, though, so I wound up frustrated.  Sure, I had a stun (on a long cooldown, and the boss is apparently immune), a magic shield (on another long cooldown) and an “AAAH!!” button (a clone that takes aggro and then dies), but those aren’t really tanking tools when I’m puttering around in cloth armor holding a little dagger.  All in all, it just wasn’t working.  One guy in the group even wandered off to quest for a bit while we waited for a new tank.

Again, I don’t like depending on others.  I would have gladly put my head on the chopping block to help other people, even if it would have been more difficult to do, but waiting for someone else was something I didn’t do for long.  I’m not sure what it’s like to need a DPS, but I’ve also had occasion where needing a competent healer made for frustrating gaming, too.

When I have the ability to shift into different roles as occasion demands, I’m a LOT more likely to enjoy playing in a group.  I can plug holes and adapt to tactical situations.  I do that in Puzzle Pirates when I’m out sailing my ship with other people.  I let them pick their favorite stations, then play whatever still needs to be done.  I get and sympathize with the tanking philosophy, and the utilitarian moral of doing what the group needs.  I don’t like it when the game arbitrarily makes that depend more on the class (or even the build) than the player.

Short story long:

Tesh goes on 2 PUGs, one good, one bad.  Still tired of the Holy Trinity and inflexible game design.  Recommends the ability to change roles at the drop of a hat, even in combat.

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(Note:  This started as a tangent in the Tired of Killing article, but for organizations’ sake, I’m splitting it into its own article.)

I’m a fan of Puzzle Pirates, and I’ve not been shy of that.  I’m also looking forward to Gatheryn, which looks like a fun riff on Steampunk themes.  Interestingly, it’s also going to be a bit of a minigame suite.  This has caused a bit of miffed kerfluffling here and there among those who were hoping for a more “traditional” (read: DIKU level loot grind) MMO design.

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to that notion.  Steampunk is fertile ground for gaming, but is poorly represented in the MMO genre.  Wizard 101 has a great little steampunk “world”, NeoSteam takes a magical tack on the theme, and even WoW has steampunkish elements.  It’s just… there’s no “hardcore” (heavy Victorian steam-driven) steampunk themed game out there.  That seems like a curious oversight to me, and I definitely think there’s a call for such a game in the market.

At the same time, I’m very, very tired of the DIKU loot lust model, built with combat as its backbone.  And there’s where we come to the title; the combat minigame.

As far as I’m concerned, combat in these games is little more than a highly specialized minigame.  MMO combat, just by the nature of the beast (internet connection, time>skill) isn’t nearly as involved as what we see  in the God of War games, Kingdom Hearts or Prince of Persia.  It can’t be.  It’s been distilled to an autoattack/special attack veneer on top of the prototypical RPG “dice roll” combat resolution engine.  Modern MMOs have polished it to a nice sheen, but as pure combat gaming, it’s just not in the same class as Dante in Devil May Cry or that scary dude in Mark of Kri.

So, when I see people complaining about the minigame nature of Gatheryn or Puzzle Pirates (or even Stargate Worlds with its Archeologist class hacking and research minigames) while extolling the virtues of WoW or the like, I can’t help but see a little irony.  (And no, Saylah, you’re not the only one in this boat; many people are dismissing Gatheryn for the more social, minigaming focus.)

To be fair, reskinning Bejeweled and jamming it into a large multiplayer lobby and calling it an MMO isn’t all that fulfilling, either.  If that’s all Gatheryn has to offer, it will indeed be unfulfilling… but at the same time, people DO play PopCap games or MSN games for hours, and giving them a persistent world where that indulgence can mean character progress beyond a high score leaderboard or Kongregate trophies might just be a winning formula.  It won’t appeal to the WoW crowd or the Darkfall denizens, but that was never the goal anyway.

Puzzle Pirates does well by having a series of minigames that are a bit more involved than the Flash-based PopCap fare.  For one, their games tend to have a bit more depth than those venerable gems.  Even Sailing, a Dr. Mario riff, has target platforms that change the dynamic of the game for the better, and Bilging is more than a mere Bejeweled clone, since you can make swaps that wouldn’t immediately cause a match, and it changes the gameplay significantly.

Beyond that, though, these minigames are integrated into the world.  Minigames on board ships contribute directly to the function of the ship, and the player at the helm winds up playing their own minigame that is a sort of metagame of balancing the crew’s efforts (working with people, for you who love sociality in games) while attending to their own duties.  Out of combat, captains have a Navigation minigame (unlike any other match three game I’ve played, and great for it) that multiplies Sailing efforts and can indirectly modify combat frequency, and in combat, the Battle Navigation (BNav) minigame incorporates a new subset of players who run the Gunning minigame, as well as an isometric tactical board game where the “deadly dance” of intership combat is played out, either to sink, engage crew-to-crew, or dodge until escape is enabled.

Once crews board their opponent, a round of Swordfighting or Rumbling (fisticuffs) ensues, which is a multiplayer Puzzle Fighter variant or Puzzle Bobble variant.  The simple innovations of sword strikes in SF or dual shooters and two directions of attack in Rumble mean they are more than their progenitors, and the multiplayer dynamics make for yet another layer of skills to learn and employ efficiently.

You can not succeed in Puzzle Pirates by relying on autoattack and a “shot rotation“.

Beyond that, there is a complex player-driven economy, where commodities are foraged up (with another minigame) and shuffled into a fairly complex market, where all but the most simple of goods are crafted via a suite of crafting minigames.  These aren’t interconnected like the shipboard games, but the economy as a whole is built on the back of players doing the crafting labor (playing minigames) to make items available.

As a result, the game world is very much under the influence of player actions.  If players don’t step up to the plate and Distill up some Rum or Blacksmith up some cannonballs, other players can’t go out and sail the high seas looking for combat.  If the combat-heavy players don’t hit enough of the spawned enemies, that primary currency fountain dries up, and the crafters don’t have anyone to sell stuff to.

This fairly extensive economy is fairly simple in that it demonstrates the interplay and symbiosis between the crafters and the combatants.  Each type of player (or a player who just likes both and meanders around) can do what they like, and find ways to contribute to the game as a whole, their fellow players, and have fun while still earning a bit of coin for their effort.

We see rudimentary aspects of this in WoW and the like, but crafting there isn’t so much a minigame as a metagame pursuit of ingredients and then sitting AFK while your avatar puts things together.

And maybe that’s the point.  Ixobelle wrote a while back about crafting interfaces, and the notion that crafting itself should be an active part of the MMO.  In other terms, a minigame.

Getting players of all types involved in the game world is part of what I’d like to see in my ideal MMO.  Giving them minigames is one way to do that, as it allows for greater involvement and player skill.  The combat minigame is certainly fun for some, but if it’s the only real way for players to get involved and display even a modicum of player skill, the game will naturally be limited.

Of course, at the same time, a game that demands skill and involvement from its players will also be limited, since not everyone wants to deal with actually playing all the time; they like that you can go AFK for a while and still get things done.  I’ve felt this myself at times.

Even so, I can’t help but feel more involved when I play Puzzle Pirates, and I feel that I’m actually playing more than I am just existing when I go about doing things in the world.  You can certainly just exist in PP as well, say by walking around on the islands or building up and furnishing your dream home, but actually playing the game, as opposed to playing WoW, is more fulfilling for me, as it asks more of me.

WoW certainly abstracts the combat minigame a bit, integrating it into the world and spatial concepts, so it’s not a completely shallow thing.  No, it’s a fairly highly polished minigame in the suite that is the WoW MMO as a whole.  As I wrote earlier, though, it’s just not all that satisfying in the long run, and having a suite of other minigames to round out the world and the interaction therein would seem to be a good thing, at least in my experience.  It increases involvement and emotional investment in the game world, and makes for more time playing and keeping things fresh, thanks to a whole suite of things to do, rather than just a fairly binary choice of “kill stuff” or AFK craft stuff.

As always, I’m not talking about excising the combat, merely adding other things on top of it.  Providing more choices and more ways to play is part of what I aim to do around here, after all.

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Tired of Killing

I’m tired of murdering murlocks, slaying slimes, and attempting genocide in my gaming.  Perhaps it’s ennui, perhaps it’s moral, perhaps it’s just rebellion against “more of the same”… but as fun as it can be to stick the pointy end of weapons in the squishy things that scream and bleed, it’s getting old.  It’s not coincidental, then, that the games I’ve spent the most time with the last few weeks are Puzzle Quest Galactrix, World of Goo and AudioSurf.  (Though I’ll admit to a mild itch to pick up Burnout: Revenge here and there.  The primitive hunter/gatherer in me wants to rack up a few more satisfying crashes.)

Since I write about MMOs a fair bit around here, though, there’s a problem.  Most MMOs are built almost completely on the combat minigame.  (Most RPGs and action games are, too, so it’s not something that we only see in MMOs.)  If I want to play a pacifist character in WoW, for example, well… there are limitations.  For those who try to bend the game to their will, it’s an uphill climb.  All is well and fine as long as you play on the rails, but try something different and, well… good luck with that.

That’s just not satisfying in what I want out of MMOs.  I want living, breathing dynamic worlds, not murder on rails.  To be sure, some players do want that, so I don’t disagree with including the combat minigame, I’m just pointing out that it’s not a satisfying world that only offers new and unique ways to kill stuff and raid corpses.  There are so many more things that could be done to make an interesting world.

Ysharros spoke about it a bit here:

Dessine-moi un mouton

and here:

Progression, brass rings and horizontality

and Wiqd dove in here:

It’s My Party and I’ll Craft if I Want To

Crafting is perhaps the easiest direction to expand into, since it has natural hooks into the economy and non-combat players.  I don’t think it’s the only direction, and indeed, Wiqd also writes briefly about scholars who explore the world and derive new knowledge from perusing ruins and extinguished battlegrounds.  Gevlon the Greedy Goblin writes fairly extensively about playing the MMO market, which is a sort of “secondary minigame”.  He can do that because the Auction House in WoW is half decent, but that could really be fleshed out even further for those market wonks.  There could be political minigames, toying with NPCs and even players, not unlike EVE’s shenanigans.  (Though griefing could be an issue, of course.)

Bottom line, these MMO things, to my mind, should be alternate realities where players of any stripe can find interesting, fun niches to play in, and ways to feel like they are making personal progress as well as affecting the world around them.  Channeling everyone through one “golden path” of gameplay (the combat minigame) does work, for many people, but it’s just so… shallow (and ultimately static), compared to what this genre could really offer.  In other terms, it’s just one (highly burnished) facet in the gem that a spectacular MMO could be.  Without polishing the other facets of the gem, it’s only going to look spectacular from a few angles, and even those angles will suffer for the low-luster background.

MMO players have a wide variety of motivations, but the gameplay support for varying motivations often falls by the wayside because of a focus on combat.  It’s easy to design and implement, and players love the monster pinatas and ever-increasing gear numbers… but MMOs really could be more than they are.

That’s the heart of many of my articles; MMOs have a fair dose of fun in them as they are, but they could be more than what they have become.  Wasted potential always makes me a bit sad.  (And, just so it’s not a moral soapbox, it also means that I don’t spend money on games that provide the same old killing machine.  There’s a very real monetary impetus for expanding horizons, especially in MMOs, of all games.)

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