Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rift's Creative Gameplay

If you just read the title, you probably think I am crazy. Rift and creative? And why, of all things, the gameplay?

Well, in the beginning I played Rift just like World of Warcraft. I had my skills on my hot bar and pressed the hotkeys while moving with the mouse. Some time ago I made a warrior and I decided to advance him predominantly as a "Champion". That's a mock-heroic name for a guy who uses two-handed weapons.

While I leveled I got more and more abilities. And a lot of these abilities were off the global cooldown and reactionary. One specific ability would become usable when I scored a critical hit, another when I was parried or dodged and yet another when I parried myself.

Add these to several abilities that build up points and abilities that consume points for a 'finisher'. All the while looking at your energy bar that is as far as possible from your hotbar. Needless to say, playing a Champion was really stressful. I was constantly looking at my hotbars to find out whether one of the reactionary abilities would become available. It made sense to execute them as soon as possible. First, because they were good on a damage per energy basis and second, because these abilities overwrote each other and were on their own cooldown. So, often, the faster you executed them, the faster you could execute them when they became available next. Since they were off the GCD, every millisecond mattered.

My biggest problem were hotkeys. Where do you put three hotkeys that you need to press ASAP when they light up? Honestly, I was really challenged by this and was constantly much worse at execution than I would have liked. In battlegrounds, I would need to watch closely,
1) the enemey's movement
2) the enemey's actions (i.e. castbars)
3) my energy
4) my points
5) the three reactionary abilities

All the while I would need to stay in melee range, stay in heal range and line-of-sight, watch my health, whatch my debuffs, watch the enemy's debuffs, consider using special abilities like a AoE fear, charging somewhere and interrupting somebody. In addition to that, I would have liked to watch my healers and last and maybe least the objective of the battleground. Instead I was fighting the user interface! I was overstrained.

Keep in mind that this kind of gameplay is not new for me. I have some 500.000 kills on my WoW characters combined. I played WoW battlegrounds for 5 years. If anybody is a veteran at this, I am. But three reactionary abilities (and a few other things) on top of everything was too much.

One evening I was browsing the internet and found something remarkable: A macro.
Now, macros aren't new to me, but what was new was how they worked in Rift: You can write a lot of abilities into a macro. When you execute it with a hotkey, the server goes through the macro and executes the first of the abilities that is executable. Obviously, if the enemy is out of range for an ability, it is not executable, nor is it executable if a condition of the reactionary abilities is not met. So I made a few macros that looked like this

#show Debilitating Strike
cast Frenzied Strike
cast Bloodthirst
cast Inescapable Fury
cast Debilitating Strike
cast Rising Waterfall
cast Disruptive Strike
cast Mighty Blow

There's more to say about this macro, but the point is this:
I play Rift with maybe three to four macros. The actual game is all about spamming these buttons. Spamming, because you want the reactionary abilities to fire as soon as possible and never know when they will become available.

You don't play perfectly this way, but the fact that the execution is so simple makes it way superior to any other way to play the game. The fun of the game has been transfered into the metagame of coming up with the best macros. That's actually an interesting thing. But, of course, you can read macros up on the internet.

Now, I had my doubts about this kind of creative gameplay. Was it fun? In the beginning it was fun like hell! I would charge into the enemies and would finally have time to look at them and not just look at my buttons! I could protect my healers, I could focus their healers, I could move to where I was needed and if I wanted to kill somebody, he was as good as dead. The poor souls who mostly played without macros had no chance against this awesomeness.

Of course, the superiority feeling stopped being fun a few days later. It always does. Was this gameplay fun? I am not sure.

What I love about it is that I can finally play with tactics again and not completely focused on the execution and my user interface. I can look the enemy into the eyes, instead of staring at my hotbar. That's great. I like to play against enemies instead of against my user interface. The gameplay has certainly been too stressful without macros.
But, unfortunately there's another effect: I didn't care about my abilities anymore. Any button I pressed would fire a multitude of abilities which I couldn't predict.

So instead of
Power strike, Power Strike, Debilitating Strike, Execute
I was just spamming anonymous abilities that I couldn't care less about. I even forgot their names.

In the end, I think, it would have been better to not create so many abilities in the first place, when all I did was to copy/paste them into macros, anyway.

Did Trion create this "creative new gameplay" on purpose? I doubt it. I guess they considered it a good idea at the time without fully realizing what it does. It's a complete game changer for some speccs.


  1. Shame on you for optimizing the fun out of gameplay. ;-)

  2. WoW had these kind of Macros too (actually, they were even worse due to the availability of conditional expressions.) It is surprising that Trion haven't fixed that issue yet, but I'm sure they will follow in WoW's footsteps there.

    I used to say (back then) that gameplay that could be trivialized through the use of a macro wasn't good gameplay at all and deserved to be trivialized in such a way. I still think that is true.

  3. "Of course, the superiority feeling stopped being fun a few days later. It always does. Was this gameplay fun? I am not sure."

    Which is why I quit WoW. I felt like it was no longer me playing the game. I felt I was more playing a game called "deadly boss mod" or "healbot". I think at first, the awesomeness feels great, but when you realize nobody wants you on their team if you actually think instead of letting a macro or mod do it for you, that is when the "awesomeness" dies.

    "Did Trion create this "creative new gameplay" on purpose?"

    I'm confused. How is it creative when all other MMO's have the same functionality? Or do you mean the massive amount of abilities because you are able to select from multiple treees? I honestly don't have all my abilities on my hotbars. Just because I have an ability doesn't mean I will ever want to use it. For that reason I look for ones that have the same function, but are weaker in damage and I omit them from my bar.

  4. Scrusi.. sadly, Trion decided to clone WoW v1.0 to make Rift. If they'd cloned a more recent version of WoW than the 2004 vintage, it would be a much better game.

  5. Me, "the creative new gameplay" is the design concept, to give the player alot of abilities that overstrain any normal human being.

    But then you add a powerful macro language that doesn't even need to be complicated. Rifts macros are quite easy to understand.

    This creates a metagame that is about writung macros. Combined with the internet, this metagame is problematic, of course. Without it, it could be quite cool, I think.

  6. Carson 63000, that's not fair. If you played Rift you know that Trion didn't copy/paste 2004's WoW.

    They rather cloned WotLK, added quite a bit of Cataclysm and then made some deliberate decisions, that I often welcome very much, like not adding flying mounts or no cross-server LFD.

  7. I guess the reason this would not bother me is because I have decided to do as I wish in any game from here on. I could either work my butt off to meet others expectations with the feeling that I have somehow acquired a second job or I can choose to make myself happy.

    Like I said, while there are a ton of abilities, many of them are typically the same and on the same cooldown. I just choose to not put them on a hotbar or even macro them.

    But like I said on Tobold's blog, I don't PVP mainly because I believe ALL PvP is twitch-based to some degree, macro or not.

  8. It's what you said - if you have to 'summarize' a whole list of abilities into 1 macro, they are pointless. it equals being 1 key or 1 ability which you keep spamming and that is not exactly a well-designed approach. it seems they shot themselves in the foot here, overcomplicating combat mechanics and right now macros are the only way around it.

    maybe we well see a 'simplifying' patch in Rift at some point that removes or changes many abilities - similar to the talents revamp in WoW?

  9. As I said on tobolds blog, I didn't use all my abilities in WoW or LotRO. I don't see the difference in building a rotation here and building one in any other game. Maybe you are speaking specifically about how the game allows you to create macros because I don't see a difference otherwise.

    And yes, I have a champion.

  10. Me, I will copy/paste my comment from Tobold'S Blog then:

    This notion that you only use a few of the abilities you have is, well, strange to say the least. Sure, some abilities are copy/paste and are due to the talent tree system in Rift. But there still are a lot of abilities that you should use and which do not replace each other.

    Of course, you can play Rift with just a few of your abilities. The typical open-world mobs are more difficult than in nowadays WoW, but they aren't exactly dangerous.

    But if you play in battlegrounds, or even challenging PvE content, you will either want to become a brilliant player who doesn't need macros - more power to you.

    Or you will accept that with macros you may play at 90% efficiency, but you are able to do so with 100% reliability.

  11. Agreed, RIFT seems to give out just too many abilities for souls like the Champion. In fact it seems the macro system is deliberately designed to offset it.

    What I love about it is that I can finally play with tactics again and not completely focused on the execution and my user interface.

    This is, in fact, the decisive point for me. I thought a lot about what "interesting decisions" means to me, having played the proc-and-timer-heavy WoW of late (you blogged so beautifully about it) and now the recklessly macro'd RIFT, and came to the conclusion that "A is always a better choice than B when it is available" is not a basis for decisions I'd find interesting. RIFT masks that away with its macros, and while I think that's far from ideal, I'm kind of okay with it.

  12. Rising Waterfall should be at the top of the macro, since it's conditional and has the highest damage ratio. Also you should only be running three macros: Build spam, single-target dump, multi-target dump. L2P noob :)

    What's funny about Rift macros is they turn some classes into one-key wonders (and Champs might be the worst here), which like you said, lets you focus on everything else rather than looking at a hotbar. Unfortunately, what that does is expose how shallow everything else is. Positioning, spacing, location, LoS, all of those are more "nice to have" than musts in Rift.

    In direct contrast, you have basically one 'ability' in DarkFall melee combat, yet it's infinitely more enjoyable than melee in Rift because all those other facts are absolute musts, and player skill factors in far more than character/gear when compared to Rift.

    (BTW, if you want to really get silly with Rift, get a G15 and program a macro on that, spamming your build macro for 3 GCD counts, then your dump for a GCD, then back to your build. Put it on a press-to-run loop and bam, you press once when you dps a boss in an instance. Then watch how horribly shallow the rest of the game is.)

  13. Maybe games should allow one "botted" action, something that you can say "always do this", so that you don't need to spam the macro anymore; they become automatic abilities. But that would seem to contradict the original intent of the ability: a situational, quick-response ability turning into a passive reaction.

    Maybe too many twitch abilities are a bad idea.

  14. Yeah its all metagaming at this point. Abilites in most mmo are so generic I dont bother with names anymore. Spam attack, finisher, cc, cc breaker. - They all go to same buttons in every class and every mmo

    Like I been saying I am sick of 100+ filler abilities . And 5 rows of hotbars. Make 5-10 abilities which are unique and do matter

    LoL for example has 4 abilities per champ. just 4 buttons. And surprise surprise (NOT) all their
    champs have uniqiue and distinct playstyle.

    GW2 goes with 7 afair.

    Concentrate on making meaningful interesting abilities, instead of generic spam

  15. Rem, I agree. Syncaine got it right, I think. Rift is somehow between chairs here. On the one hand fighting your hotbar is inferior to fighting your opponents. Of course.

    On the other hand macroing it to the extend that is possible, at least for Champions, isn't optimal, either. And PvE becomes boring as hell with these macros, btw.

    If positioning was important and everybody moved a bit more slowly and there was some incentive in battlegrounds to not fight zerg vs. zerg exclusively, it could be fun. But then, that's not the case, in Rift.

    Syncaine, Frenzied Strike, Bloodthirst and Inescapable Fury are all off the GCD. And they have timers. It's quite common to enter a fight in PvP while they are up. You want to execute them as fast as anyhow possible, because otherwise they might vanish. And you want to score a Bloodthirst ASAP, because it is a guaranteed crit. And crits reduce healing received by 50% for 15s. And crits enable another Frenzied Strike, which is why you want to get rid of a potential available one before.
    The Debilitating Strike is more important than Rising Waterfall, because it amplifies finishers and it is quite possible that you have three combo points after you executed a point generating ability, like Debilitating Strike or Rising Waterfall. In that case you don't want to waste a point and rather do a finisher. Keep in mind that you probably just generated two or three points by charging and slowing your opponent. Also keep in mind that you have a 50% chance to gain two points instead of one for any point generatig ability. And finally keep in mind that this is PvP, noob :)
    On your other points, I tend to agree. Although I haven't played Darkfall yet.

    Kleposacovic, I definitely think that too many twitch abilities are a bad idea. I want to focus on what is happening simulation-wise, not on my combat-UI-minigame.

  16. I stick a tool bar with reactive abilities close to my characters head, since I never notice them lighting up if they're down the bottom of the screen. Its then easier to hit Rift's reactive skills with key bindings and I don't find macros are really necessary.

    LOTRO added a plug in ability, since I last played it and using the "Tonic Bars" plug in you can make reactive icons and stuff like Hunter focus skills appear only when they can be used. This is also useful for making you remember to set your stance - ie you pop up a stance bar on your head when no stance is set. Great stuff!

  17. I think there is nothing wrong with macroing "use ASAP" abilities. They don't offer any tactical decisions during a fight.
    My rogue has six abilities on different cooldowns that are just better version of my default "sinister strike". They all do some damage, add some combo points. I have all of the them in a single macro. And I really don't care which exactly ability is used when I press my "sinister strike" macro.
    But thanks to them I had a lot of fun with creating my own build. It was really fun to consider different calls and talents to make my char and his "sinister strike" macro more effective.

  18. I like how WoW has been made more interactive for certain specs. Juggling short term cooldowns, reactive abilities. It requires paying attention to all these things while still staying out of the fire.

    Although I don't use LittleWigs or DBM for dungeons, I do use TellMeWhen or Power Auras Classic to keep my eyes in the middle of the screen. So its not like I use the default UI to keep my efficiency up. I don't think I could do it all, and with these addons I don't have to.

    Enter Rift which seems to have more of the "fun" in making specs interactive, but overdoing it (hence the fun in quotes). Without addons to allow you to keep your eyes in the middle of the screen, you either have to constantly look at your bars or use a handful of macros. Neither which is very fun.

    Either they need to fix combat to not require watching your bar like a hawk or allow addons to keep your eyes in the right place.

  19. Abilities off the GCD always go last. The reason being is if you macro correctly, you are spamming the key so fast that they trigger milliseconds after the ability that starts the GCD. Done that way, you will never miss a chance to use them nor will they interfere in GCD-based abilities.

    The reason Rising Waterfall goes first (and debilitating strike should never be used in PvP, but that's a totally different topic) is because you miss the chance to use it off Charge if you have anything before it, including abilities off the GCD (you can't proc your auto-crit and use it with RF, for example).

    Charge+RW is a ton of alpha damage, and alpha is king in PvP. All the stuff off the GCD will trigger at the same time as RW from your opponents perspective, while if you have it deeper in the macro the odds of it triggering are almost zero.

    PvE is a little different because, overall, its much slower and the target stays in range longer, meaning debuffs have more value. In PvP people either explode in seconds, you die, or range becomes a factor (especially now that CC has been driven into the ground).

    But anyway, the PvP is pretty garbage overall, so whatever. The team with fewer akf'ers wins 99% of the time. Min/maxing PvE in Rift is decent though, if only to figure out the best way to one-key it. That's not sustainable fun of course, but eh.

  20. Syncaine, I don't want to make this about this macro, but people don't necessarily explode in seconds in Rift (, fortunetely).
    I usually go for healers and they are quite able to keep themselves alive. I often just prevent them from healing someone else instead of killing them. Debilitating Strike in PvP is controversial, I give you that.

  21. The range of player skill is immense. Most people seemed to think that Wrath was too "twitch reflex" based, but it never came near the level of reaction time and precision required for many other video games. Search youtube for some videos of the hands of starcraft pros while they play. Those guys are being more strategic and more tactical than any MMO boss has ever required while inputting many commands per second involving not only key presses but also mouse precision.

    Games like starcraft, fighting games, first person shooters, and so on make the single player part of the game interesting for different players by having multiple difficulty levels ranging from walk-in-the-park to soul-crushing (and the best players cakewalk through the soul-crushingly hard stuff). The idea of multiple difficulties for PvE content seems to be anathema for MMOs.

    What we've seen happen is a constant back and forth between the too-easy and too-hard problems. Casting shadow bolt every 2 seconds is boring, so more rotational elements are introduced, so people make addons to track things better, so more than a handful of people are able to have 95% dot uptime, so the bosses are tuned to have dps checks that require that level of performance, so we get more macros and more addons to facilitate it until everyone can do it, so the rotation needs to be made even more complex.

    If we wanted to play Simon we could go play Simon, and if we wanted to hit a single button over and over all day while moving away from the bad stuff we could play top down shooters since they keep the bad stuff interesting. Without different difficulty levels, or without simply accepting that some people are going to be tremendously better than others (which makes boss encounter tuning impossible), games will keep butting their heads against this problem.

  22. My biggest problem were hotkeys. Where do you put three hotkeys that you need to press ASAP when they light up?

    There actually is an elegant solution built into the default Rift UI for these reactive abilities.

    You know how an icon appears above your ability bar when a reactive ability becomes available? That icon is actually clickable. I found that just keybinding your normal abilities, and clicking the reactive abilities when they appeared was valid way of playing without requiring a ton of keybinds.

    Of course, the macro system obsoleted this style of play.

  23. Rohan, I am sure you can do this in PvE, but in PvP the opponents run away from you for some reason. And I need my mouse to follow them. This solution is no solution ;)

  24. I wonder whether it's a good idea for MMOs to make gameplay more challenging by forcing users to learn complicated sequences of skills, cooldown cycles, reactive skills etc. Not only is this vulnerable to macro programming, but it also feels somewhat artificial. I always think when I see this that the devs have not been able to make their game sufficiently strategically interesting. After all the keyboard is not a natural way to control a character in 3d and in the real world you don't have to execute a complex keyboard sequence if you want to aim your attack at your opponent's right shoulder or whatever. Fencing isn't that easy but thats not because you have to fumble with a qwerty keyboard.

  25. I think the real problem is that, despite the huge number of skills, there really aren't all that many interesting choices.

    For example, in my current (Inquisitor) build I have a ton of attacks, but they really only differ in the amount of damage they do. So the optimal strategy is to use the high damaging ones whenever they're available, and otherwise to use the best one with no cooldown. That's not all that much fun.

    What they really need to do is reduce the number of abilities but make them more situational, so you'd have to think about when to use them. In City of Heroes, for example, I recall having only a few skills, but some of them took quite a bit of judgement to use well.

  26. Tolthir, the Inquistor build looks like something that doesn't benefit from macros. I actually find it to be fun, with DoTs, procs, and some cooldowns that are nontrivial to arrange.

  27. @neowolf-

    My specific skill set isn't macroable, but I was making a more general point. At any given point it's pretty clear what skill to use, and the only real test is how quickly you can press it. That's what leads to macroing generally.

    I'd prefer if there were fewer skills but they were more situational, so you have to really think about which one to use.

  28. I've wrote something about this delima a long time ago. I just don't understand why the developers want you to "smash buttons" all the time when it's really unnecessary. Most of these skills are just Damage. Without Macros you'd spend 90% of the time looking at the hotbar spamming buttons which only deals damage. There's no tactical decision required, you just go into a "cycle" and these cycles are usually calculated by the community and posted in forums so everyone would use the optimum cycle or hell... everyone can use one Macro button.

    In the end "pro" gamers end up with Macro Buttons (a few of them). Why do developers do that? Why don't they just get over it and make most of the damage dealt automatically by your character already, just like in EverQuest. Your character will do damage based on his spec/skills OR maybe innovate a little for the combat system and stop copying WoW combat system.

    This button smashing Interface-Tetris-Game is ridiculous. The combat needs to be involving and should make you sucked into the game and not the User Interface. To do this you need to slow the pace drastically. Look at World of Combat and how fun and involving the combat is. I shoot at a rate of one every 10 seconds and still I think WoT combat is more involving and more exciting than smashing 10 buttons in a second.

    If 80% of the buttons are nothing but damage cycles that everyone can do for the same DPS result (which makes 80% of what you do is actually redundant labour because everyone will end up with the same DPS if they're using your character) then why the heck do you make us do it? Why not make it auto and let us get busy with tactical/strategic skills which require decision making and actually matter.

    You'd think auto-attack is dull but I for sure remember how I enjoyed looking at my character quadding afterr learning double-attack. Combining your over all combat via character progress through automated damage dealing that's based on your progress decision (passive) and some slow paced, tactical, active and reactive combat would be far supreriour than what we have in most MMORPGs in the last 6-7 years.