Posts Tagged ‘Mechanics

01
Dec
09

Primary Colors

In the United States, our first school experience is called Kindergarten. One of the lessons we learn in Kindergarten is about Primary colors.

The primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. They are called the Primary Colors because every other color in the world is made by combining those 3 primary colors. We learn those combinations as secondary colors. Yellow and Blue make Green. Red and Yellow make Orange. Red and Blue make Purple. It’s an epic combination.

Class based RPGs have their primary colors as well. I’m fortunate enough, or just old enough, depending on how you want to look at it, to have played many RPGs going all the way back to the PnP (Pen and Paper) Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition.

In that time I’ve observed that the RPG world has primary colors or more correctly, primary classes. Rather than the 3 you learn about with Art, there are 4 in RPGs. These four are Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. The Fighter had a huge hit point pool and his main focus was on dealing damage with his weapon. The Cleric had limited weapons skill but was greatly valued for his ability to heal his team mates. The thief was weaker than the Fighter, but had a deadly attack that required special positioning to use. The Magic User had a tiny hit point pool, but could do more damage with his spells than even the best fighter could with his sword.

As games matured secondary colors were added, usually combining elements of the Fighter with elements of the Magic User. You even saw attempts at Jack of All Trades classes like the DnD Bard.

These primary colors would evolve into the primary roles we see in modern MMORPGs. The Fighter, with his huge hit point total evolved into the Tank role. The Cleric evolved into the Healer role. The Thief would become Melee DPS while the Magic User would become Ranged DPS. Again Developers gave us the Oranges and Purples of Tank/DPS, and Heal/DPS.

Just as understanding the relationship of primary colors and secondary colors helps us understand the world of art, the understanding of primary classes helps us understand the world of RPGs and MMORPGs.

First let’s apply this understand to the well known MMORPG, World of Warcraft.

WoW has 10 classes. 4 of those classes are primary colors and 6 are secondary colors. The Rogue is your classic Thief. The Hunter, Warlock and Mage are shades of the Magic User. The other classes are more of a template that is built upon in WoW with Talent trees. Paladins can end up more like a Fighter or more like a Cleric. Druids can wind up in just about any color and are the closest to the DnD Bard as a Class that tries to do a bit of everything.

Tension exists between the Primary Colors and the Secondary Colors, and as the game has matured the Developers continue to address this tension.

Originally, they gave the Secondary Colors penalties, the so called Hybrid Tax, to offset this tension. Now the penalties have been reduced, but the trade off is that the Secondary Colors are made to choose which Primary color they will emulate. Green that is so blue, one might as well call it blue. A Fighter / Magic User who spells are so weak, and weapons so strong you might as well call him a Fighter.

Next, let’s apply this understanding to a new game like Star Wars the Old Republic.

SWTOR has revealed all 8 of its classes, but as we analyze these 8 classes we quickly see not 8 classes, but 4 pairs. These are Smuggler/Sith Agent, the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior, the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquisitor, and the Trooper/Bounty Hunter.

The Thief here is probably the easiest to see. The Smuggler/Sith Agent use the trademark sneaking and with the Sith Agent, we even have stealth. While the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior will have Force powers that might seem Magic User like, their preference for dealing with the situations with their swords paints them more as the Fighter. The Magic User appears to be more easily seen in the Trooper/Bounty Hunter. The spells of these classes may be unlike the typical Magic User, but the archtype of high damaging attacks from a distance seems to fit very well with these two classes. This leaves the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquistior there to take up the Cleric. This is probably the biggest stretch as the Inquisitor has been described as throwing around Lightning Bolts which certainly seems to be more Magic User like. But I have to wonder if we won’t see these two classes falling more into the Cleric role as more information comes out about them.

Whereas WoW seems to be dabbling mostly in the palette of secondary colors, the Developers of The Old Republic seem to be leaning more to primary colors. It will be interesting to watch what ramifications both good and bad come from these formative choices of which color palette to use when designing the class structure.

24
Sep
09

The Necessity of the End Game

Before we start thinking about issues like the Trinity, PVP, Raiding, Economy, Crafting, Combat or any of the hundreds of sub systems needed for a new MMO, shouldn’t we start with a very high level view of what the players and developers want from a AAA MMO, and from The Old Republic specifically.

 I think most people agree on the end goal. All of us, from the bean counters at EA, to the Developers, the QA Testers, to the players themselves, all of us want a great game. What we are looking for is a great ride, an experience if you will. We want an experience that can be picked up and enjoyed and shared with a wide variety of people. This is necessary to create a reliable and sustainable fan base which in turn brings in enough revenue to keep the servers running and programmers gainfully employed.

 While we can all agree on the goal, how to get there is the topic of vigorous debate. At a high level, we want an immersive world with many fun activities to engage in. We know that different people find different activities fun, so we will need a wide range of activities. We don’t want to force any players to do things they find ‘unfun’ so many of those activities will need to be optional.

 There must be some element of challenge to it. If we log in the first day of the game and had all the powers and the best equipment going, the game would not have a very long shelf life. So we introduce Levels. As we work through the levels we attain new skills, power and equipment. We slowly become more powerful, look cooler, and can defeat challenges that used to seem insurmountable.

 We know that there will be some who play for the Story. Others will want to power through the leveling game as fast as they can. You have your explorers, looking for the nooks and crannies off the beaten path.

 The problem, of course, is you can’t stay in Level up mode forever. Infinite content isn’t a reasonable goal unless you are just randomizing certain bits over and over again. Some games have done just that, but the end result often comes up unsatisfying for both players and developers.

 Players want a carrot on a stick; they need to be able to accomplish their goals. A never ending ‘to-do’ list kills motivation and fatigues the player. Soon she may seek another experience, another company’s journey.

 So we have the level cap. Good logical stopping place and our first carrot. This allows for a set amount of content and a nice end goal. When you finally reach the final ding, it’s a joy and very exciting. This presupposes the Developers made the climb a sufficient enough challenge that you feel like you actually did something.

 Of course, the game can’t end there. If it did, you might hold someone’s attention for a couple of months, but some would be done with the game in a week. You could keep adding more and more content, but one of the truths you discover pretty quickly when you start producing content is that your content consumers can consume your content much faster than you can produce it.

 So we need something at the Level cap that keeps people playing. I give you: The Endgame.

 The whole idea of the endgame is to give the player a way to continue in the game, but in a fundamentally different way than Leveling. We still want our characters to become stronger, more powerful and more cool looking. But we can no longer look to the next level. So we introduce progression through other means.

 One approach to end game is PVE Raids. These are large instances that require a new grouping dynamic. You face the biggest and baddest villains the game has to offer. Instead of looking to the next level for your progression, you look instead to the next Tier of raids. The Raids have to provide enough of a challenge that a majority of your player base will spend copious amounts of time fighting them.

 (As an aside, in some games there is a command to see how long you’ve played that game. It would be interesting if it broke it down into how much in Raids, PVP, etc.)

 Most players would give up if it took months to reach Level 20, but they seem to have no problem spending months clearing Raids. With a large enough and tasty enough looking carrot, you can keep them on the treadmill for some period of time.

 Other games funnel players towards a PVP end game. The advantage here is that the content and challenge are largely determined by the other players. The game play gets a high degree of variability because humans will change tactics and strategies often. These games tend to run into issues of balancing the teams, either from a numbers of participants stand point, or from a power standpoint. No body likes losing, so the option to switch to the winning side is attractive to some people, even it means repeating the Leveling process.

 With any End Game the Developers have to careful to balance challenge, and reward. Hard is fine, as long you can have fun. If you can’t have fun, you’ll lose interest as it will start to feel like work. I don’t know many people to pay to work, they work to get paid.

 Remember that people are nearly defined by variant tastes. You’ve got your explorer camp over here, the guys who love a good story over there, power gamers who play double digit hours per day and the Dad who plays for 45 minutes before dinner.

 What is at the core of any MMO is your character. You shape your character and she grows over time. People are interested in growing their characters in different ways, but what is core to the genre is growth through conflict and combat. We fight to grow. To grow, you must fight. To fight, you need tools. Once you reach the level cap, you need new ways to grow and new ways to get tools to fight increasingly complex challenges.

 The End Game is inevitable. It is your …destiny.

22
Sep
09

Tank, Healer, DPS

One of the hotly debated topics around The Old Republic is the use of the Trinity system.

What is the Trinity? The Trinity is a basic way of understanding roles within a party or group. It’s easier for everyone to understand what they need to do when given specific roles. The basic roles in MMOs are Tank, Healer, and DPS. DPS refers to all damage dealing members of the party and generally comes in two flavors, ranged and melee. Ranged DPS stands at some distance from the enemy and fires away. Melee DPS is right up in the enemies face hacking and slashing.

Healers are charged with keeping the party alive with their heals.

Tanks are typically the only players who can survive the damaging attacks of the enemy. They need to keep the enemy attacking them thereby protecting their Healers and DPS. If the enemy attacks a healer or DPS they usually will die quickly. Basically the way this work is the enemy attacks your Tank, who is kept alive by heals from the Healers, while your DPS takes down the enemy.

Will this Trinity system of Tanks, Healers and DPS be used in The Old Republic?

This is a key question because often players are more attached to their role than even their class. As they approach a new game they are looking for a ‘tank’ class or a ‘ranged dps’ class because they know they enjoy that role from past MMOs. Players can get bitterly disappointed when they roll a class thinking it will fulfill a role, only to find out that it can’t fulfill that role well at end game. The Developers must be very careful how they describe the classes to avoid this kind of disappointment.

We got the first hint of how The Old Republic will use the Trinity in an interview (http://www.mmogamer.com/06/11/2009/a-new-hope-for-mmos) done by MMO Gamer with Daniel Erickson, Lead Writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic and Jame Ohlen, Studio Creative Director, and Lead Designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic. While discussing combat mechanics James Ohlen said: “we want to appeal to MMO fans who like the strategy and tactics involved in MMO combat, where you have the different character types, the guy who’s a tank that jumps into battle and everyone focuses on him while you have your ranged DPS guys. We still want to have that.” (emphasis added)

You can clearly see that the roles of Tank and Ranged DPS are part of the designers thinking. 

 The next clue we get is the Demo that was shown at PAX and other conferences this summer. The Flashpoint aboard the Imperial starship is the only time we’ve been shown group dynamics. A Sith Warrior and a Bounty Hunter work their way through the starship taking on Rebel soldiers until their climatic ‘Boss’ fight with a full fledged Jedi Knight. As we watch the fight we can see the Bounty Hunter taking the role of Ranged DPS. He stands away from the Boss and fires away with his arsenal.

And what of the Sith Warrior? He is there in melee range, slashing away with his Lightsaber like Melee DPS. But we also see him taking the blows of the Jedi Boss and parrying them with his Lightsaber. He is being a Tank.

But how does he keep the Jedi from leaping over and taking a swing or two at the Bounty Hunter, especially after the Bounty Hunter lights him up with the Flame Thrower? Many games give their tanks some ability that forces the Boss to attack them. We’ve seen nothing like that so far in the Sith Warrior arsenal. Some games employ a Threat point system whereby the tank can produce more Threat points than the DPS and the Boss is scripted to attack whoever has the most Threat points. Other games use collision to keep the Boss attacking their tanks. The Boss can not move through the player, so the player physically blocks the path to the DPS. The Boss can’t get to the DPS so he decides to attack the player he can get to, which is, of course, the Tank. Collision systems tend to be very hard on MMOs because they require more calculations and communication than non collision games.

What do we know thus far, about our healers? So far the only information we have is that each class will have an out of combat heal. To be a healer, you sort of have to have an incombat heal. Could the Developers be designing The Old Republic as a Healerless MMO?

I’ve been playing MMOs for about 4 years now. In my experience most players enjoy the DPS role. Invariably as you are trying to fill groups, it’s always the Tank and the Healer that are toughest to find. Then as you get to end game, Tanks increase in availability but Healers remain tough to find. Perhaps the Development recognized that and there will not be a dedicated ‘main healer’ class in The Old Republic. The first flashpoint we saw had only two player characters in it. By definition, you’d need three to form a Trinity group.

In most MMOs, you need more than two people to successfully complete an instance/flashpoint. Therefore it would be folly to try to draw too many conclusions, but it’s clear that the Developers understand the Trinity roles and want to have them in some form in their game.

As the Development team starts to approach designing their endgame, they will need to tackle the idea of Trinity roles. It will be at that time that we will start hearing more about how the Trinity roles will be implemented in The Old Republic.

More so maybe than any other MMO, players are going to be attached to their class. They want to play the Han Solo fantasy or the Darth Vader fantasy. What will happen if the role that class plays at end game doesn’t mesh with what the player enjoys. If Jedi’s were main healers and Troopers tanks, would have people who really wanted to be a Jedi, roll a Trooper because they wanted to tank? I’m sure some would.

So what role are you looking to play? Do you think your class will have that role at end game?