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Posts Tagged ‘trinity’

Balance, Part 1: Tao of Picasso

Balance, Part 2: Asymmetry and Art

Balance, Part 3: Systems, Defaults and Munchkins

Last time, I wrote about what I’m calling the DNA Grid, my tactical RPG’s character advancement system.  That happens to be only a part of the system, and stepping back a layer, there’s a triangle that I’m using to give the game’s three major factions flavor and unique functions while trying to give them asymmetrical balance.

It’s at least partially built on the old gaming triangle of Paper-Rock-Scissors.  Paper beats Rock, Rock beats Scissors and Scissors beat Paper.  (Or, as my family has played, Chicken-Pickle-Elvis.  Chicken eats Pickle, Elvis eats Chicken, Pickle chokes Elvis.  Long road trips and tired kids make for interesting game design.)  The Fire Emblem games use other triangles that function almost in the same way, Axe-Sword-Spear, Wind-Thunder-Fire or Anima-Light-Dark.  They aren’t absolute triangles, they are just advantages, but they can be key in combat.  They also have some outliers like triangle-reversing weapons, knives, ranged weapons and healing, but the core triangle interactions are going to cover the bulk of combat.

DNA Codex Full

My design uses Strength, Agility and Focus.  Like the FE games, it’s not an absolute triangle, but rather, it’s a series of advantages.  Strength has an edge over Focus, Focus has an edge over Agility and Agility has an edge over Strength.  Each should perform mostly the same in the DPM (Damage Per Minute) over time against a neutral target.  Strength units hit harder but less frequently and with low critical rates, Agility units hit more often but with less power, also with low critical rates, and Focus units have power between those two, but act infrequency with high critical rates.  The RNG (Random Number Generator) makes the Focus units more “swingy” or “spiky” than the other two unit types (with an uneven damage distribution), but over time, all three should be more or less even.  Of course, the point is to play to your strengths tactically, and make your units more effective by how you use them.  That will be different with each type, if I do it right.

Key to this balance is how the metric for “over time” is chosen, or more accurately, how the DPM is split up into discrete attacks when it comes to balancing numbers.  If there are too few samples per minute, Focus units will be too erratic.  If there are too many samples required to create balance, the pacing of the game can suffer.  I’d like the baseline combat session to have about three segments of “balanced” time, or, put another way, enough time for a unit of each type to defeat three neutral units in roughly the same overall time.  If the Focus unit defeats one foe early thanks to a lucky critical hit, it might take a little longer on another unit as the RNG swings the other way, but over those three time segments, it should be roughly on par with the others.

These are rough ballpark guesstimates, by the way.  Balance is an iterative beastie, and this may well require some more tinkering.  That’s the point of playtesting, and why early playable prototypes are important… but that’s another article, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the DNA Grid, each type of unit, Strength, Agility and Focus, has a separate third of this overall grid (they won’t have access to the whole tripartite grid, just their section).  Combine that with the RNA Salvaging mechanic (units can steal RNA from foes they defeat, no matter the unit type), and the flexibility of a unit’s “build” can be pretty crazy.  A Focus unit might be able to use a midlevel Strength RNA sequence to shore up its baseline damage, or use an Agility RNA sequence to increase the frequency of its attacks.  The shape of the DNA Grid means that each type will have exclusive RNA sequences (and choosing a five-unit long exclusive RNA sequence locks out three-unit long RNA sequences from other types), but there’s room to tinker and fudge things around to tailor the play experience.  Since you’re tasked with controlling a squad of units instead of just one, you can make specialists or generalists, whichever befits your tactical style.

This, for example, is a Strength unit using a 5-wide Strength RNA Sequence, a 4-wide Strength RNA Sequence and all three units using the same 3-wide Strength RNA Sequence.  Note that the 3-wide cuts off different options for the Agility unit and the Focus unit.  The Focus unit could use that 3-wide Strength RNA Sequence and four 4-wide Focus RNA Sequences, but the Agility unit is more constrained when it’s using Strength “offspec” RNA, a simple byproduct of the geometry of their DNA grids.

Strength RNA Sequences

…and yes, I know that I’m going to have to make cleaner and cooler UI design for usability on this.  This is by no means the final art.  I need to communicate base type and function for each RNA Sequence… though maybe the base type is implicit in the shape.  Of course, when you get shapes that bend around a corner into two major axes, well, that’s another thing yet again… and maybe a good reason to just let the shape do the communicating.

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But speaking of triangles, what of the (un)Holy Trinity of HP-depletion based game design?  So long as there is damage to be dealt, damage to be avoided and a healing fudge factor, are we stuck with the trinity of “tank/damage dealer (DPS)/healer”?  Well, a few links are in order to start with, perhaps:

Syl issues a lovely rant/request on the trinity of MMO combat and how Guild Wars 2 is changing the game, and Nils takes that and runs with it, then takes a flying leap into the breach.  Big Bear Butt ranted magnificently on it not so long ago.  I’ve written about the trinity before, here and there.  I agree with these fine authors, that the trinity is functional, but I want something different.

To that end, I’m adopting a triage model, effectively the Battletech “battle of attrition” model with a slight healing fudge factor on top.  I’ve taken to thinking of it as a sort of multipart boxing match, a battle less about who gets in the big hits, and more about who can take the hits and keep going.  (This being what some boxing aficionados would have one believe is the heart of boxing.)  I want a battle of endurance where units aren’t always healing through big unavoidable damage, or finishing a fight in pristine condition.  Real fights hurt, and the winner is all too often just the last guy standing, no matter his condition.

As such, I’m going to push healing to the curb a bit.  I still like that healing can be a fudge factor for tactical mistakes, but on the other hand, if a single mistake doesn’t hurt as much, it’s not as necessary.  That’s where I’m coming from on this, at least.  I intend to avoid OHKO (One Hit Knock Out) moves, and make each fight be one where smart tactics of positioning, careful target selection, communication (AI units can communicate across certain distances), focused fire and careful planning carry the day.

Healing will be changed under this triage and attrition model.  Each unit can perform a small self-heal or heal another unit, but those actions cost time, and sometimes time is the most important element.

…but time is a big topic for another article.  Balance, Part 5… when I get it put together.

Still, when each unit can afford to take a handful of hits, the hope is that healing won’t be quite as necessary as a fudge factor, and the focus can be on smart offensive tactics rather than simply wading in and healing through mistakes.  Again, playtesting will be crucial here, to make sure this winds up being fun without being onerous, and that the tactical play can stand on its own without players leaning on the healing crutch.  It will be a lot of number crunching, I think, and some systems analysis, but I think it can work.

Battletech is very playable, after all, and it has no healing at all in most iterations of the game.  Repairs come after the mission is done, not during combat.  (The MechCommander games played a bit with this by including Repair Bays, which changed the game significantly in some cases, though they notably only used them for longer, tougher missions.  That seems like a fair compromise to me.)  Similarly, Fire Emblem games tend to have sparse and somewhat weak healing, making smart tactics more important.

Short story long, I’m not opposed to healing as a fudge factor, I just want to see if I can shift the focus to a different set of tactics.  Healing works, but as with the holy trinity of MMO combat, it’s not the only way to do things.

There’s a lot to consider in my design still, but these, as always, are submitted to public airing in the hopes that they can spur thought and discussion.  My design is by no means the One True Way to design games, it’s just the way I’m doing things, for better or worse.  And, as noted before, I’m not much of a programmer.  I’m not certain at all that this will ever be made.  Still, it’s nice to at least go through the logic and think things through, especially if what I present here can help someone else.

See you next time!

Oh, and just for fun, if all this blather of game design hasn’t bored you yet, and the industry interests you, try this:

So You Want to Work in the Video Game Industry…

Maybe there’s good reason I’m instinctively writing first about the game design, rather than start with the story/setting and snazzy concept art.  Y’see, I’d rather have substance over style.  I can add style very easily (and indeed, the terminology I’m using is certainly not inviolate if I come up with a more flavorful theme)… getting the core game down right is more important to me.

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‘Tis the time of year that many people gather in groups of family and friends to celebrate assorted things.  I’m of the American and Christian persuasions, so it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas for me and mine, but there’s no apparent shortage of celebrations for diverse tastes.  Maybe being cooped up together out of the snow means we either party or kill each other.  I do prefer the former, though the latter might be easier sometimes, especially when awkward situations arise.

I’ve noted, with no small amount of whimsy, that I could map certain classes or roles we might see in World of Warcraft to people I see in these gatherings.  They don’t map perfectly, since socialization is PvP (Player vs. Player) rather than PvE (Player vs. Environment), and threat doesn’t work the same way, but there are some interesting parallels nevertheless.

The Roles

Tank

This guy wants all the attention, and will make efforts to control the direction of conversation and protect weaker conversationalists from the ire of dissent.  There are, of course, different different tanking styles, but all have a variety of tools to deflect tangents and monopolize crucial conversational pauses.  A bombastic or otherwise “large” personality or presence greatly benefits the social tank, even if it is ultimately of little substance.  Maintaining the focus of attention is key, not presenting a cogent argument.

DPS (Damage Per Second)

These are the guys who actually move a conversation along.  The Tank has to spend so much effort keeping a conversation on topic and heading off tangents that he has to rely on the DPS conversationalists to move the chosen topic along.  They will usually do this with supporting anecdotes or witticisms.  Some are blunt force conversationalists, seeking to make progress by sheer magnitude of presentation, while others are precision specialists, doing the most with a few carefully timed words in the right place.  Occasionally DPS teams will form and act in concert to magnify their efforts.  They must be careful not to steer the conversation, though, since they don’t have all the necessary tools to direct the conversation away from tangents and deflect dissent, and may occasionally be leveled by a precise counterpoint.

Some DPS conversationalists might specialize in Crowd Control, a nearly lost art of taking down tangential threats on the periphery of a conversation.  Since this is a job best done without drawing much attention, it is often unsung, but no less important, especially in large gatherings.

Healer

These are the peacemakers.  When tensions get high, these conversationalists seek to defuse the situation with placation, humor, distraction or food.  This tends to require a soft touch, lest the tank lose control of the underlying conversational direction.  The Healer doesn’t so much seek to change the conversation’s direction, but rather, to manage its tone, keeping things moderate and keeping contentions down and therefore make the Tank’s job easier to manage.  This tends to be easier when they have food to offer, so careful pacing of meal courses and foresight in management of non-conversation resources will benefit the healer.  Desserts are a powerful wildcard in the healer’s arsenal, and many healers will come prepared with a wide assortment.

The Classes

Druid

A social generalist, the Druid can Tank, DPS or Heal as necessary, though they must specialize in one to be as effective as a specialist.  They smoothly shift between roles as a conversation unfolds, filling in gaps left by inattention or mistakes.  They might tank at close quarters and then shift to backstabbing at a moment’s notice, or they might lob comments from afar, or even bring some snacks to the table.  Since none of their tools are very strong, though, they must try to anticipate the social scene’s intricacies correctly and use precise timing as leverage to maximize their efforts.  More than most, Druids need to understand the ebb and flow of the nature of social situations and all the varied aspects so they can shift their own position.

Death Knight

These guys are well known for their ability to kill a conversation and then revive it under their control.  Well equipped to deflect criticism with thick disregard for insult and having very strong presence, they work well as Tanks, or they can fill the DPS role well by making heavy handed points as they make others uncomfortable with implications.  Likely to be depressed and depressing, and possibly harboring conversational grudges from past parties.

Hunter

Careful conversationalists, Hunters function in a pure DPS role.  Some prefer to snipe from the periphery, offering precision arguments.  Others bring a companion for distraction while they chime in with timely comments.  Yet others lay careful conversational traps and quietly guide others into making mistakes.  Hunters are often used by Tanks to initiate a conversation with offhand comments, which they then follow up on with their unique talents.

Mage

Another pure DPS class, Mages have a few distinct styles.  Some prefer fiery rhetoric with lingering implications.  Some prefer the cold shoulder technique (sometimes called “wet blanket”), heavy on control tactics that help the Tank.  Some prefer broad spectrum wild generalizations and arcane statements about irrelevant factoids, reveling in confusing the foe.  Mages love to flaunt their intelligence in one way or another, often trying to outsmart opponents for the sheer joy in doing so.

Paladin

A Paladin is a hybrid like the Druid, capable of filling any of the significant roles.  They can’t shift between roles as fluidly as Druids, but they are better equipped at all times to deflect dissent.  Their reduced flexibility is balanced by their defense.  They tend to specialize in one of the roles, but all will have a sanctimonious air that is offputting to foes and encouraging to friends.  They tend to direct conversations to The Truth when possible, and have particular and peculiar talents that keep dead conversations down.

Priest

The quintessential Healer, Priests share the sanctimony of paladins, but wield it much more effectively.  They might play the pariah or simply call for repentance, or they might simply offer a constant stream of calming platitudes with little substance to argue about.  Some will simply keep bringing food to the table.  A few will step into a DPS role with biting chastisement or darkly portentious comments.

Rogue

Rogues serve only their own interests, but understand that hiding behind a Tank (or better, hiding behind their opponent) is a safer place to be.  They are pure DPS conversationalists, seeking primarily to make a point, and if possible, to make it hurt.  They converse from the shadows, sometimes seeking to slowly erode an opposing viewpoint, sometimes acting swiftly and mercilessly to cut down a line of thought.  They are remarkably direct, and everything is personal with a Rogue.  They may serve a team goal at times, if circumstances align, but are unmistakably their own person with their own goals.

Shaman

Adept at sensing the nature of conversation, Shaman tap into social undercurrents to work their magic.  Some will Tank in lighter encounters, but most will either fill a DPS or Healer role.  Uniquely equipped with trinkets and tools with which to make conversational points via object lessons, they tend to be masters of minutiae and trivia.  This can serve to further a conversation or manage its tone.  Shaman are hybrids, adept at filling holes in a team, though they aren’t as agile as Druids.  Shaman tend to be relatively immobile, but versatile.  They are excellent team players, with a wide array of support tactics.

Warlock

Pure DPS in every form, a Warlock can’t help but be caustic, and is inordinately fond of veiled insults that result either in lingering shame or self-doubt.  May or may not have companion in tow, appropriately attired for maximum distraction, whether employing fear or more… amorous (though cruel) intentions.  Master of snide asides, arch allusions and faux British accents.

Warrior

Blessed with an uncomplicated approach to life, Warriors tend to either master a Tank role or a DPS role.  Heavily defended from conversational dissent with a heady mixture of ignorance (pretended or not) and thick disregard for insult, Warriors often serve as rallying points for friends.  In the occasion that they step out of the center of attention, they either rely on fast, furious assaults or heavy precision strikes to further a conversation.  They can wield nearly any conversational tactic, but work best in direct confrontation.

It’s no great surprise to me to find that I can most comfortably identify myself with the Social Druid, though I have pretty solid Hunter tendencies, too.  (Never mind that I wrote this, I tried to make them at least somewhat fair.)  I’m especially fond of my brother-in-law who is a fantastic Social Warrior.  Maybe it’s because he’s a military guy?  He plays the Tank and DPS roles very well, leaving me to do my own thing.

These are somewhat… loose categorizations at that, and might be applied similarly to Your Favorite MMO.  (I really ought to do a Guild Wars version of this, but Longasc and Nugget might be better suited for that task…)

Whatever your game of choice and celebration of choice, though, Happy Holidays and good luck socializing!

Oh, and don’t stand in the fire.  It really hurts in the real world.  The cooks might not be very happy with you either.

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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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I’m still not sure how I happened across it, but a new MMO titled Project of Planets caught my attention this last weekend.  I’ve downloaded the beta client, and will test it out when I can carve out time.  In the meantime, I’ve prowled the (obviously translated) documentation.  The game looks a bit like Armored Core writ large and multiplayer, so as an old Battletech/AC fan, it’s worth exploring a bit.

What caught my eye prowling through the relatively scanty data is the existence of a rudimentary Tank/DPS/Healer trinity.  They call it Defense/Shooting/Command, but at a glance, it looks to be much the same sort of core philosophy.  I can’t help but be a little disappointed.

Yesterday, I was perusing an old MechCommander manual, and noted that there really isn’t much in the way of a trinity in Battletech.  There are three ranges, an elaborate interplay between heat and firepower (DPS throttling, of a sort), mech tonnage which limits armor/structure/weapon builds, and a ton of customization options.  (Options that I have spent WAY too many hours tinkering with.)  Combat itself is more about dancing around in certain ranges, maximizing your weapon use while trying to minimize exposure to enemy fire.  There is no healing.  There are no classes.  There are a few mechs that serve as fire support, and some that specialize in single weapons, but that’s about as focused as it gets, since most mechs are fairly general in their approach.  They have to be flexible because of the combat range dance.  Overall, it’s a pure endurance match, kill or be killed, driven by pilot skill with evasion and firing accuracy.

I miss it.

I’m not the only one to wish for a Battletech MMO, to be sure, but in a world of DIKU trinity design oversaturation, a little simple toe to toe combat where pilot skill is key would be a breath of fresh air.  I’m not certain that I’ll see that in PoP, but I’m going to at lest dabble to see what they have going for them.  If it’s just a mech-flavored reskin of typical DIKU grinding, it will find an audience… but I really could go for something a bit more in line with the core design concepts of Battletech and/or Armored Core.

Perhaps it’s time to pontificate a bit on mission-based MMO design.  Muckbeast has blasted the degeneration of quest-based MMO design lately… but what if we embraced the inherently chunky  (mission based) gameplay of the Battletech/MechWarrior/AC gameplay?

…I’ve burned up most topics that I want to rant about regarding the current state of affairs in the MMO genre.  It’s time to dig a bit more into creating, not dissecting.  As much fun as I’ve had throwing darts at sacred cows, I’m itching to do something more constructive.  Wiqd’s projects are one place to spend a bit more time, but for the occasional moment when I want to write here, I’m thinking this might be fairly fertile ground for a while.

Loading the dropship…

…oh, and is it terrible of me to be thinking of ways to crossbreed Steampunk and Battletech?

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