Sunday, May 23, 2010

Unpredictability in MMOs

[This is a modified comment from Tobolds blog]

Let me give you a WoW-like MMO example of 100% unpredictability and 0% randomness.

5 players, 5 mobs, no tanks, 3 waves.

The first 5 mobs run to the players. Players select mobs by using TAB or the mouse. Mobs always run to the guy with the most threat. Some of the players need to avoid getting hit, others have a dead zone.

Since humans aren't machines, they will select different mobs and they will do slightly different amounts of damage to these mobs, because they press the 'damage' button with different delays. You do not even need latency here. Human reaction time is enough. The mobs run to different players on the first wave.

When the second wave starts, the players already stand in different positions. They select different mobs with TAB/mouse-click. They do different amounts of damage and need different amounts of time to select a mob or run into range.

Finally, the positioning of the players when the third wave starts is 100% unpredictable. Now, imagine this game mechanic: The guy, next to the mobs of the third wave when they spawn, is attacked until they are dead; he cannot lose their aggro. Unless players actively try to create order here, the fight will be 100% unpredictable.

It looks chaotic and yet it is not random. This is called chaos theory. The butterfly that causes a hurricane some 10.000 km away.

This example even works without crits/miss/etc.
Actually, Blizzard goes to great lengths to actually make encounters predictable. It is actually HARD.

About theoretical unpredictability and randomness: Within Newtonian physics there isn't even randomness. You need to go to quantum physics to even find it - and even then it is questionable, whether we see true randomness or the unpredictability of underlying, but unknown, processes.

Generating random numbers with a computer is a science. It is not easy. And those involved in this science will tell you, that these random numbers aren't even random at all. They are just unpredictable by humans and adhere to some stochastic distribution.

1) Ignoring quantum physics, there isn't even randomness anywhere in the world, let alone in an MMO.

2) Even ignoring this, MMOs do not even need 'random number generators' to create unpredictability. Slight differences in human behavior create unpredictability on their own within a very short amount of time.

3) Blizzard actually uses single boss mobs and tanks to create some kind of predictability: If every bit of an encounter is unpredictable it is totally unfunny; even if there is no randomness at all.

The easiest example of them all: Although chess is totally not-random, every match is totally unpredictable.

Why do I consider the distinction important?

Randomness smells like "arbitrariness".
Players hate this. What most people who ask for randomness actually want is not randomness, but unpredictability.

Random number generators aren't necessary to generate unpredictability; even if they could generate 'random' numbers, which they cannot.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure they are really looking for unpredicability so much as a little variety. Why should every humanoid I fight in this particular village turn and flee at 10% health, and why would he come back once his health regens above 15%? Perhaps they could have a range, the mobs flee anywhere between 5-30% remaining health, then throw in a few other variations like scream for help as soon as you aggro them bringing some buddies, or just straight running for their castle when you get into view. I mean my character has slaughtered 100's if not 1000's of creatures, he's got to be pretty imposing to some people.

    It's much the same as those people who want a "more realistic AI." Granted I'd like NPCs to be a little more life-like, but having them focus fire on my healer, ignore my tank, and burn the damage dealers down as fast as possible would be terribly demoralizing since I imagine the computer could coordinate better than the players. At least that's how I see it under the current "Holy Trinity" design.

    Again a different game design could/should provide a different perspective. Do you need more unpredictability if you have more options to begin? If instead of cutting every orc head off I see, what if I could negotiate with them for laborers, or drive them off with threats (if I was proficient in the orc tongue!) or even sneak into their village and poison the well. I like to think it's all in how detailed the programming/world view is...