Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Once More Unto The Breach Dear Friends

Thanks to Hugmenot, Max, Sthenno and Syl for the very good comments to the last post. Instead of answering with a comment myself I decided to make new post about it.

In some way, I feel like removing the Trinity is like making chess more realistic by adding dice rolls.. . It must be said that the Trinity allows for a very good game. But it requires that the game-aspect dominates the simulation-aspect. If it is possible to have the same level of enjoyable gameplay with better immersion, you should always go for it. But in this case this is just not easy.

Actually, it is really, really hard. The fact that the Trinity dominates even despite all the gameplay problems it creates (see last post) and the fact that it even dominates single player games today, proves that its benefits (as compared to its alternatives) are significant. The one who thinks that he could somehow rip the Trinity out of a WoW-like game and replace it with something better, is either a genius the kind the world has rarely seen, or an idiot.

However, there are many multiplayer online games that allow character customization (=RP for MMOs) and could easily be made massive; at least as 'massive' as WoW. And these games don't have a Trinity.

The point is that these 'shooters' come from a different tradition of games. And while many people have tried to make a MMOFPS, none has come near the (financial) sucess of MMORPGs.
Let me say that I am in no way a fan of MMOFPS. However, I do think that one can learn from these games, how to overcome the Trinity. They teach us that while we cannot just rip the Trinity out of WoW and replace it with something better, what we can do, is change the environment the whole system is embedded in.

This leads us to boss fights. Would a counter-strike boss fight be fun? Is a multiplayer FPS boss fight fun? Exactly.

Firstly, it is always hard to make immersive boss fights, because the idea that a brave knight kills a dragon, usually stops with him drawing his sword .. and then what? All those fantasy pictures and stories you might have in mind .. how does the brave knight actually kill the dragon? Answer: Either it is not explained how, or he uses some trick that should be impossible to perform with plate armor. It's more like a rogue trick. What knights never do is fight the dragon with sword and shield - and for good reason.
Unfortunately, the community has become used to something that makes so little sense. And now we feel like we have to add it to every game. In fact, many people who share my verve when it comes to the simulation-aspect of games, also aren't becoming tired of repeating how much they love boss fights.

Leaving the simulation-aspect behind and looking at the gameplay, I see no way to remove the Trinity and still have really good boss fights. What I do see, however, is the possibility to make a game that does not concentrate on boss fights, but on the 'usual' PvE and PvP. Imbue this PvE/PvP with meaning, for example by allowing players to design and build and fight over their own castles, and you can have a great game without the Trinity; and without grand boss fights.

And how fun are future boss fights going to be, anyway? Haven't we seen them all by now? If Blizzard excelled at anything during the last few years it was at technically implementing every thinkable script combination that makes a bossfight.
(Side note: my very first post on this blog was on the topic of boss fights)

In the last post I mentioned all basic ways to control and support:
stunning, kiting, collision control, thrusting and (de)buffing
Point is: Almost none of these can work on bosses for gameplay reasons.

In some way the Trinity was an answer to the desire for better boss fights. It has to be extremely gamey, because the desire itself already defies the simulation aspect. And to allow for as many different boss fights as possible, you need to have a gameplay mechanism that creates a very static fight; so that you can enhance it with any number and combination of scripted dance moves.

Concluding this post, I'd like to ask for your opinion on how GW2 is going to handle epic boss fights and whether you think they are going to aim for them in the first place?


  1. "because the idea that a brave knight kills a dragon, usually stops with him drawing his sword .. and then what?"

    Funny enough, I've had some more thoughts on something similar myself, ever since we started debating this subject. you say rightly, that FPS are grown from a different background and history, than MMOs for example.
    but what is it that makes MMOs so successful? is it really one game mechanic - or is it not much rather the fact that there are classes from the traditional fantasy genre, playing in a fantastic setting, atmosphere and lore and playing there together, cooperatively with hundreds of other people?

    I claim it's the second reason that draws people to MMORPGS. combat mechanics are flexible, if you deliver these core values to gamers. you only need to show them how. the trinity is one option that for obvious reasons works and makes encounter design easier to design because the entire event is scripted. not just the NPC is scripted but it's also scripted how individual roles can react. it's no wonder this is how we started off, given the means of game design at that time.

    the future allows for a lot more dynamic and smarter design; it will make encounters more flexible and more realistic - feeling less like an actor's script. allowing more cooperative team play between people, rather than set roles.

    but to get back to the initial statement - what do these MMOs go back to then, where are these RPG classes from that everybody is so fond of? -> the fantasy genre. fairy tales, mythology, sword&sorcery, D&D - that's where the tradition has its roots. neither blizzard nor any other game company "invented" fantasy tradition. and that tradition has NO holy trinity.

    which 'fantasy story' or setting do you know, that has strict healers and tanks the way the holy trinity designs them? what fellowship has a meatshield in its party and an all-powerful healer that throws around super-heals midcombat, nonstop?
    NONE. because it's not realistic within a fantasy setting either - this is not how any group of people and classes would play or fight like. tanks are an invention of game design. so are healers, the way you have them in WoW.

    clerics, warriors, mages - all exist in the fantasy genre but they're not isolated to one role only and they are never so all-powerful in it. if anything, a cleric will join a fight with all means of control he has, debuffs, sleeps etc. and melee. real healing he can only do very little and in most settings and stories, only after the fight. because healing is the very last part of support and it takes time to heal somebody. preventing damage is therefore a lot more important.

    a warrior might wear mail and go for the biggest foe to provoke it: but he's not the meatshield that stalls the enemy shouting "pick me, pick me!" (and the stupid enemy follows) and gathers all adds to hit on him - because he'd be dead.
    if anything, the entire party would constantly make sure to control a mob, so that it does NOT hit on anyone in particular for too long. if you have adds, you would split them up to keep them busy, or try to incapacitate some.
    every single class would contribute with whatever means of control, CC, support they have, to keep the enemy from harming anybody in their group for too much. tank meatshields are a ridiculous concept. so are all roles that give a player half a brain or less; no real person and no 'fantasy class' either, fights or reacts like that. they have unique abilities yes - but that doesn't mean they have fixed roles.

    but you're right: such a game would have to be designed from scratch. and with the state of technology we have today. I can't wait. =)

  2. Short comment, not much time.

    The ways to make a PvE boss fight interesting are many even without the trinity (even in a setting like counterstrike).

    A few examples: make positioning an important way of avoiding/increasing damage; make use of vulnerabilities/resistances (i.e. tanks vs armor-piercing); split a fight with one big entity into many small fights every player takes personal part in; have AI characters play their role for even more immersion/"epic" feeling (of course, under the same rules as players).

  3. I like your ideas of restraint by control rather than aggro tanking. I reckon the key to a good system would be that it works identically for both PvE and PvP; in essence that would mean that mob AI is programmed to perform optimally given only constraints of skills, health, armor etc.

    In the standard trinity, an aggro tank has two functions, to restrict enemy movement and to absorb damage. If these two functions are split then different classes can perform the two roles in different ways. For instance, to restrict movement, one can imagine an ele creating temporary rifts that can't be crossed, warrior/guardian blocking skills, environmental stuff such as ice, oil tar etc. along with more standard warrior hamstring, ranger cripple etc. On the absorb damage side you could have mesmer illusions, warrior/guardian damage reflecting skills etc.

    I don't think that boss fights *need* to be artificial and there are several ways (some already in GW1) that create difficult battles without aggro tanking e.g.:

    - Boss mob is relatively static/slow but has high damage attacks with a long warm up time allowing well timed counters, such as interruptions, assassin strikes etc. (e.g. Wurms, plants etc in GW1)
    - Boss mob acts as a spawning centre for smaller but more mobile minions. This type of boss mob would also be very easy to scale and I imagine GW2 will do this a lot.
    - Bosses that are relatively weak, but surround themselves by layers of protection/restricted access pathways etc that have to be breached.

    One thing that continues to worry me about GW2 is whether the scaling mechanisms will make player grouping essentially superfluos... If you can kill a dragon on your lonesome, with any class then group mechanics become a bit meaningless. I suppose ANet must have a solution to this, but I can't think how that might work other than making event scaling much more restricted than everyone seems to imagine it will be, or having events/dungeons where grouping is necessary.

  4. "One thing that continues to worry me about GW2 is whether the scaling mechanisms will make player grouping essentially superfluos... If you can kill a dragon on your lonesome..."

    that should never be imo; it's why I feel a little unsure about scaling content too much. flexible groups, yes please - but if all content difficulty becomes dynamic on top of groups, you might end up with design issues too hard to overcome. and MMOs should be about cooperative play, I'm pretty set in my view there.

    so from my personal PoV I still want mobs and bosses to have fixed HP and abilities that require you to bring a number of people of a certain level.

    scaling is fine for mass events like Rift's rifts, but for everything? please not. I'd still like to have 'feedback' from the world around me in the sense that there's things I can't do and can do or that are simply 'too hard' or 'too early' for my level or on my own - classic progression curve.

  5. "but what is it that makes MMOs so successful? is it really one game mechanic - or is it not much rather the fact that there are classes from the traditional fantasy genre, playing in a fantastic setting, atmosphere and lore and playing there together, cooperatively with hundreds of other people?"

    I'm with Syl on this. And I'm with your mention, Nils, that Blizzard really has the boss fight concept down. I say, why try to compete with that? What is needed is a different sort of opposition. With greater computing power and better algorithms today, why can't we have a world where the mobs aren't just mobs, but are actually working as groups themselves? If you embrace some of that emergent behavior, remove much of the need for scripting things, and broaden the scale of conflict from an instance to the game world, the holy trinity becomes nonessential.

    Example: WotLK, Icecrown zone (to keep it simple). Icecrown citadel is not instanced. Instead, in order to reach the gates, players must kill creatures and complete quests to establish bases progressively farther into the zone, but they will lose those bases if they're poorly defended. Ultimately, to open the gates they must transport by ground a gigantic battering ram from the first base all the way to the gates.

    The Lich King will send many different swarms of undead from different angles to attempt to stop it. While each individual mob will only be slightly smarter than they are in real WoW, the Lich King himself is run by an advanced strategic AI that gives orders to all the undead mobs in Icecrown much the same way an AI might give orders to its units in an RTS like Warcraft III.

    Then assuming they breach the gates, players will be confronted not with a linear path to Arthas, but with a labyrinthine citadel swarming with undead. Perhaps some boss-like creatures too, but the key is that they can and will be attacked at any time, and if they come unprepared, it's possible they'll be forced to retreat and try again later. And if they succeed? Perhaps Arthas stays dead for a week or so and they get to do it all over again, since it's still WoW I'm talking about. Oh, and let's leave talk of incentive for later, yes?

    I'll stop now since this is getting long winded. But how does that sound for a simple system/setting in which you wouldn't need tanks and healers? Instead of planning on how to not stand in the fire while still doing good dps, players will be planning on how many people they need to bring, and how they're going to push through Icecrown and to Arthas without getting stranded.

  6. We'll they will have epic boss fights, the video of the dragon fight came out ages ago, though it's hard to see what is happening as it's only from one players perspective.

    I suspect GW2 group dynamics will be more of a balance between total chaos and other group strategies such as CC and crowd-control.

    So with no dedicated healers, the tanks will need to have breaks to recuperate their health - DPS will have to take a turn at tank or kite opponents at times while the dedicated tank regens health.

    Either that or all tanks will have a healing potion addiction!