Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 28, 2010
 
Perfect MMORPG: Challenge

What we think that we are doing and what we actually do when playing MMORPGs are two very different things. Imagine I had hacked into your computer, turned on your webcam, and filmed you during your last long play session. If I asked you what you have done during that session, you would tell me about how you have slain the princess, and rescued the dragon, or the other way around. But the video would show you more or less motionless sitting in a chair in front of your computer, with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse performing constant but tiny movements. All the dragon-slaying is only happening in your head, with at best some facial expression on video to show it.

But because what we think we do is so different from what we actually do, we also tend to discuss subjects like challenge in the terms of the imaginary world. The discussion of challenge in games like World of Warcraft has been endless, but always revolving about things like boss abilities or the famous “moving out of the fire”. If you formulate it like that, you end up with simplistic but wrong conclusions: Why would anyone be so stupid to not move out of the fire he is standing in? But in reality the player is *not* standing in any fire, he is still sitting in his chair, hands on keyboard and mouse, eyes on the screen. If he doesn’t move out of the fire, it is most probably because he didn’t notice he was standing in the fire, because his eyes were glued to some other part of the user interface, e.g. the raid’s health bars for a healer. Which is why we have addons that play a warning sound if we stand in the fire.

So to discuss challenge for my perfect MMORPG, I will zoom out of the virtual world and into the real world, and discuss the subject in real world terms. What challenge *can* a MMORPG possibly have, given that you don’t even leave your chair while playing? Obviously the physical challenge is minor, beyond not getting carpal tunnel syndrome, and timing your bio breaks right.

Challenge in a MMORPG is limited to pressing the right key (or making the right mouse movement) in time in reaction to some visual or audio input from the game. Success or failure depends on both speed and you ability to choose the right reaction to the given input.

So let’s first talk about reaction times: Studies have found mean reaction times to simple inputs in people of college-age to be 190 ms for visual input and 160 ms for audio input. Women react slower than men (is it sexist to quote a scientific result?). Another study with people around the age of 56 found average reaction times of 360 ms, reaction time goes up with age after the teenage years. The same study showed that reaction time doubles if people have to make a decision what button to press, and that there is a correlation of that reaction time with IQ, but only a small one. Reaction time when measured on the same sort of machine goes down with practice, to a degree that in the context of video games means that practice has a bigger influence on reaction times than intelligence.

From the science follows some conclusions about game design for our perfect MMORPG: Relying too much on reaction times is fraught with danger. One problem is that a given level of reaction time challenge is easier to overcome for a male teenager than for a middle-aged house wife. The other big problem is that the order of magnitude of human reaction times is similar to the order of magnitude of typical pings of online connections. The best possible connection you could have is about 30 ms, but a large percentage of players have to live with pings of around 200 ms, and some players are plagued with 500 ms of lag due to location (the famous “oceanic servers”) or a bad ISP. Thus if you design a MMORPG in which the challenge increases by requiring shorter and shorter reaction times, you will find that the people who killed the final boss are all male teenagers living close to the server and having a perfect internet connection. And they had to practice that fight a lot. Does that sound like a game you know? I would argue that while there is a market for fast reaction games for teenagers, there is a good argument for doing such games in single-player and LAN-multiplayer mode, where the population is more homogeneous, and lag doesn’t favor anyone.

Thus in my perfect MMORPG, the reaction time requirements would be generous enough throughout the game so that gender, age, or the quality of your internet connection don’t have a major influence on your chance of success. Which leaves us with the challenge of having to press the *right* button, or making the right mouse movement. “Aiming” like in a first-person shooter is out, because lag again gets in the way: One interesting observation of multi-boxing is that you’ll find that the relative positions of your characters on the two screens are not the same, due to predictive algorithms MMORPGs use to make lag less obvious.

So what is the “right” button to press, and how do players know which one it is? The classic method is to give the players a bunch of slightly different abilities, and let them figure out which ones to use. The problem with that is that classic combat systems are not very interactive, and the same ability button has the same result on many different monsters in many different situations. Thus which buttons is the right one to press is independent of the combat you are currently in, and can be calculated with some math. Thus you end up with a so-called “spell rotation”, which players get from some theorycrafting website, and which tells them which buttons to press in which order. The same problem prevents you from putting fixed puzzles in your game, some people will figure everything out and put the solution on the internet, where other players just look it up instead of thinking themselves.

The obvious solution for the perfect MMORPG is to design combat and other challenges in a way that the best solution isn’t known in advance. It is somewhat curious that some people are very much opposed to that idea, and think that “you can’t have randomness in a MMORPG, because then people would randomly win or lose”. That is nonsense. Just look at simple games like Tetris, where which block falls down next is completely random, but it is nevertheless your skill in reacting correctly and quickly to each block which determines your high score. Imagine how boring and bad a game Tetris would be if it was possible to beat the game by using a “122333 – 122333 – 122333 – etc.” keypress rotation. The fundamental reason why some people oppose having to react to unpredictable random events is the reaction time science quoted above: People are used to faster being better, and the science says that if you have to see what is happening, think about the right response, and then press a button you are much slower than if you don’t have to think, and can improve your reaction time with practicing the same button press sequence over and over.

Now a lot of people point to games like Farmville and proclaim that “players do not want to think”, which is based on some completely faulty logic. Other casual games also have millions of players, games like Solitaire or Bejeweled, and in all these games the challenge is to press the right button in a situation which is determined by random factors. People do like to think as long as the challenge is something that looks doable, and not solving differential equations in your head. Non-thinking Farmville “works” in the context of being a free game on the social network of Facebook, but it is extremely unlikely that anyone would actually want to pay $15 a month for a MMORPG based on the same principles.

Thus in my perfect MMORPG the main challenge would be having to see what is happening in the virtual world around you, e.g. what the monster you are fighting is doing, and having to react to that in a reasonable amount of time by pressing the button for the optimal response. The outcome should not be a simple yes/no one, where any fault means you don’t kill the enemy mob, but there should be a noticeable difference in efficiency between choosing the right response and random button mashing, even in solo play at low levels. The degree of efficiency needed to overcome a challenge can then slowly go up with level. There should *not* be a challenge-free leveling game up to the level cap, followed by an endgame with completely different and much harder requirements. Instead the leveling game should actually train players in the skills they would need for the endgame. Killing a giant at high levels *should* be harder than killing those boars at level 1. And if you can play your character well enough to do solo quests at the level cap, going from there to raiding should only be a small step up in challenge.
Comments:
I still have a slight problem to picture the kind of fight you're suggesting. Is there any example from WoW that comes close to the kind of fight you would like to see more of?

Is it something along the lines of the Chess event in Kara (although at a way higher level of difficulty)?

Or is there something else that would come closer?
 
What you are suggesting is an MMO where the main challenge can be equated to "quick time" events. This sounds truly horrifying.
 
What first comes to my mind is a reaction based off of what mobs do to players and respond to that with an appropriate attack/defense.

I however don't really see how you can eliminate the problem of reaction time, especially in high end raiding. The only way to make this harder is making the response time shorter or expanding the number of moves a player has to counter effectively doing the same by upping the number of choices.
 
No tactical or strategical elements at all in your "perfect" MMO. WOW really spoiled you, Tobold. ;)
 
Is there any example from WoW that comes close to the kind of fight you would like to see more of?

Not from WoW, because in WoW it doesn't really matter what the mob does. There is a hint of such a system in Age of Conan, where the mobs have shields and players need to preferably hit the mob where their shields are low, but the AoC system is too easily manipulated and again automated.

Things I could imagine would be something flashing up which shows that a mob is vulnerable or resistant to a certain type of attack, and the players having to use an attack which exploits the vulnerability or avoids the resistance.

Another possibility would be combo chains like LotRO has.
 
No tactical or strategical elements at all in your "perfect" MMO. WOW really spoiled you, Tobold.

What is strategy and tactics other than having to observe what happens around you and doing an appropriate response? The system I list here is far more strategic and tactical than any existing MMORPG, including EVE. I think you are just trolling.
 
When reading this I get reminded of Wizard 101. While it's only a childrens game (with too simplistic gameplay to keep me interested for more then a few hours), the idea behind magic-like combat is good.

You build a deck with spells/abilities, and 6-7 of those are available at any given time. Since Wizard 101 is a roundbased game, this is perhaps a bit slow. but maybe having a fairly long "global cooldown" to make it more fluent.

I know its riddled with flaws, but as a basic concept for how to make mmorpgs more interactive and less repetative - I think it was a good angle to approach it from.
 
Not from WoW, because in WoW it doesn't really matter what the mob does.

What about interrupting mob's spellcasting?
 
Maybe your MMORPG should be turn-based.
 
The problem with MMORPG challenge is that 99% of them, you're controlling one character. Therefore, the challenge is often simplified because some can be done solo and not always party based. For me personally though, I don't really think that solo content needs to be challenging unless it's very specific situation (example: Maat fight in FFXI where both you and Maat are using the same job whatever job it is)

In general though, a challenging battle system IMO is something like Atlantica Online where instead of controlling 1 character, you control a party of up to 9 characters. It's not about what class your main character is, but about the setup of your 9-man party.

This would then lead to a more challenging system because before even the battle started, you are already faced with a strategy of deciding who would be in your party. This would then form the battle plan as different party setup would have different ways of winning the fights.

What they got wrong in Atlantica Online is that the latter boss fights end up with very pre-determined move set that they become very predictable. Certain random factor needs to be implemented to add unpredictability into the fights.
 
But because what we think we do is so different from what we actually do

Just because you describe an action with trivial generality, doesn't mean it is trivial, or even not real.

If I look at a human from above, he looks like an ant; moving around at different speeds and using his hands and legs. For up to 100 years. How boring !!

What you do is determined not by the individual actions, like moving molecules from A to B, but in the pattern.

A perfect dinner is just about moving your libs, eyes, pressing air out of your throat and stuff down it. So while you may think that you have a perfect dinner, reacting to your girlfriends activities, Tobold thinks that you do alomst nothing and it all just happens in your imagination.

All meaning rests in interacting patterns.
 
I think the complexity of one's abilities will depend on the time you're given to make decisions. In M:tG, for example, players have a lot of time to make decisions. The long decisions will easily take minutes. However, the number of cards available and the complexity of their interactions is so vast that players still can't consider every possible outcome at every decision tree, and skill comes from being able to determine likely outcomes and the plan around/react to those.

Wow reaction times run about 3 seconds or less. Some of the crazier platform jumping games can require reaction times of 2 seconds or less. I agree that these numbers push the boundary of "acceptable."

Thus, even if you're looking at reaction times of 10 seconds or so, you can look at either abilities that are significantly more complicated or significantly more abilities.

And remember that choice of target adds to the number of possible decisions. If we're fighting a lone dragon, it's pretty obvious who I should shoot my lightning bolt at. But in Magic, I can fire it at my opponent, or any number of his creatures, or hold it for a better opportunity. I wish there was more meaningful target selection in the perfect MMO than there is in most iterations of PvE that we see today.
 
I'm familar with a system of fighting similar to what you've describe in an MMO. A free to play MMO called Mabinogi has a pretty refreshing take on combat that I haven't seen in the 6 or so MMOs I've tried.

Essentially, when you initiate an attack on a mob you have to look at what they are doing to counter them. So if they're defending, smash them (Doing more damage in the proccess) or hit them with a ranged attack. If they are preping for a counterattack, you have to counter with a ranged attack or a special move (because if you attack normally you get hurt badly). And if they are chargin some special move unique to them, you have to respond with tactic appropraite to what it is (i.e. getting out of the range of a Ground Stomp).

Most early enemies encourage you to learn their telegraphing so that when you face enemies later on, who tend to mix up what they do (I.E. Defend, then attack before you can hit. Or send you flying and charge some magic and hit you when you get up), you can defend yourself properly.

It's still relies a lot on reaction times but not in a FPS "twitchy" style.

*Good lord this is long and ranty D:*
 
People are used to faster being better, and the science says that if you have to see what is happening, think about the right response, and then press a button you are much slower than if you don’t have to think, and can improve your reaction time with practicing the same button press sequence over and over.

I do agree on the "reaction time" part of your post. Not because I think that reaction times of the order of 200ms are critical in nowadays MMORPGs (I went from a 50ms latency in Hamburg to a 300ms latency in Freiburg and it didn't hinder me in raiding at all. Only in hc it might make a small difference).

I just like a slower pace, or at least a changing pace during a fight.

Time for thought is something very different: We don't want to have some 10 seconds between each keypress to be able think about it, do we?

The better solution, that includes thinking, is to do some standard stuff (e.g. rotation) that is so trivial that you can think about what to do next. This is something WoW does rather well, by the way.
It's just that almost all your thoughts about what to do 'next', outside of your rotation, are about movement. I would like to see some (special) (e.g. defensive) ability required, as I wrote in my Cookie-Cutter-Spec post.

Fianally:
In turn-based games your thinking time automatically scales with the complexitiy of the situation. This is the fundamental problem of real time MMORPGs.
Nowaday's solution is to keep situations non-complex. Just one boss or a tank make all your enemies behave like one.
 
Ironic. Your perfect challenge would be a PvP game. Only a human player can achieve the level of randomness you require. And you can be damn sure that he would be very unpredictable.
 
Now a lot of people point to games like Farmville and proclaim that “players do not want to think”, which is based on some completely faulty logi

I agree. In fact there are different kinds of 'thinking'. There is playful thinking that every human likes to do and the typical school-thinking that almost nobody likes.

A MMO without any mental challenge at all will not be successful - unless it is just a trivial distraction, like ludo.

To determine, what 'playful thinking' exactly is, is the difficult part and it may well be different for different people.
 
If you think that preparing for a raid is just looking up the strategy on the internet and mindlessly following it, Tobold, I really again struggle to believe that you have any understanding of how raiding works. Example - go to tankspot, pick a reasonably complex fight, and look at the "project marmot" thread for that fight. What you will see is, despite 2 or three professional-quality "how to" videos, pages and pages of "how do you deal with this mechanic?" questions, or "how would you approach this issue with this setup" questions. Why are those questions necessary if raiding is just about learning the dance and pressing buttons fast enough?

It's like Nils said in a previous post - predictable mechanics can produce unpredictable results after only a couple of iterations, once human reactions and decisions are involved. Raiding is very complex unless you outgear the content and can just steamroll it, and I think you almost wilfully underestimate what is involved. The most enjoyable part of raid leading is discovering for yourself how to beat the boss - the guides and videos will only take you so far.
 
The degree of efficiency needed to overcome a challenge can then slowly go up with level. There should *not* be a challenge-free leveling game up to the level cap, followed by an endgame with completely different and much harder requirements. Instead the leveling game should actually train players in the skills they would need for the endgame. Killing a giant at high levels *should* be harder than killing those boars at level 1. And if you can play your character well enough to do solo quests at the level cap, going from there to raiding should only be a small step up in challenge.

This is the part of the post I like best. I did know that you don't like every facet of WoW, but I didn't know that you disagree to such an extend ;)
I, of course, completely agree.

In fact, I would like to quote
Wish #60:
"Abjuration of the idea that I need to kill enemies ever faster to feel more powerful. I feel powerful, because my enemies are powerful. The best way to convince me of that is if they take some time to kill. If they can be one-hitted I don't feel powerful, but like wasting my time."
 
The problem with the "random" elements is that it complicates, but will not solve human "automation".

You will have a limited number of random elements you can add to an encounter, by virtue of design. So, for example, say you have 15 random elements that this particular boss can incorporate in his repertoire… to take the analogy of tetris that you so perfectly pointed out, it is like having 15 different blocks in the game.

If you take things to the simplest level - that each of the 15 elements corresponds to a single perfect player ability choice (with other choices declining in effectiveness against the boss element), then this is now simply a reaction game again if it is fast, or you can call it a (very easy) puzzle game if you slow it down enough so that no one is pressured to make a quick decision.

What about combining multiple player abilities that interact with multiple boss elements? Now the tetris analogy really comes into force, because the pieces now have to "fit with one another", in addition to being placed in the best spots. At this point, humans begin developing heuristics, or strategic shortcuts for certain situations. e.g. in Tetris: attempting to create certain patterns when placing the blocks. Such as leaving a single line straight up unfilled so that when the next random straight line arrives, you can complete a full four rows at once for maximum points.

What happens is that these heuristic strategies become automated as well. Once a player figures out the optimum strategy for placing the blocks, he'll do his best to arrange them that way each time, and once again, it then becomes a reaction game (implement the strategy in the alloted time), or a puzzle game if you slow down the time frame so that everyone has enough time to figure it out.

I know you like magic. So here's what people do for magic. You can take your collection, and throw in 60 random cards, and just deal with what you draw, but this isn't optimal. Generally people find their favourite overpowered cards, or card combos, and start with those, and build a deck around them. The trouble is, people eventually settle on the same favourite "overpowered" cards or combos for a given block. If you look at the top decks at any given point in time, you'll notice that there are usually only about 3 truly competitive deck archetypes at any given time. There are minor variations of those 3 archetypes… but the differences between two top tier competitors using the same deck archetype is generally no more than 10% of the cards in the deck and sideboard.

And the thing I'm highlighting here is that people optimize on multiple levels. They optimize tactically (single element reaction, or simple single element puzzle), but they also optimize strategically via heuristics (multiple element reaction, or multi-dimensional puzzle). The thing with heuristics is that they generally develop with experience and practice and take us longer to work them out.

Magic is a great "randomized" game, but just like standard internet talent specs for WOW, there are standard net decks for magic. So no game design can eliminate standardized strategies, unless it is infinitely random. And if it is infinitely random, then there is no game.
 
Very nice post, I guess I would like that kind of challenge, even though I cannot figure out how to implement all of this.

However , it's only about short-term challenge (ie it's designed to be accomplished -or failed- during the same playing session). I'd like to read your views about long term challenges as well (such as gold / reputation grinds or the pace of levelling).
 
I think anything that gets us away from mashing buttons in the same rotation over and over again is a good thing.

However, if all this means is that instead of one rotation, we memorize three or four different rotations, it's not getting us very far.
 
Great post. I agree on pretty much all counts.

There are MMOs out there that have implemented parts of what you describe. I think someone already mentioned Wizard 101, which uses a MTG-like system for combat. They also implement combo attacks in a neat way. Rather than having set combos, certain skills naturally complement one another. For example, everyone in the group could cast attack buffs on another player, who could then do an attack for massive damage. That makes combos much more flexible (and more like MTG) than games like LotRO and EQ2.

Vanguard also incorporates some reactivity through its "counterspell" ability. When the monster activates an ability, the icon pops up on the screen during activation, and you have the option to counter it. The counterspell has a bit of a cooldown, so there's some strategy involved in deciding whether to use it.
 
I think what you're describing really sounds like the more traditional enemies of single-player action/adventure or rpg games. Right now I'm playing back through Eternal Darkness and the kind of gameplay you're talking about reminds me of one of the bosses towards the end of the game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqA8ZtVYDWM
you should find the boss about 2:00 minutes in. That boss isn't randomized, but I could see something like those mechanics but randomized each time you do the instance, and obviously, expanded in size and scope so that 10/25/40 whatever size raid can do it and it feels right.

With that said, you also have to factor in the kinds of spells and abilities players have in their arsenals. I get the feeling that less is more because when you have fewer spells, there can be more radical difference from one spell to the next. In WoW, I play a mage. I play a mage that uses less than half of the available abilities. I realize talent spec makes a difference in my choices, but I also feel that playing one spec to the next won't make a big difference (I've played as frost, fire, and arcane at various times, and to be honest, I don't think there's anything but numbers backing my decision to do so; the playstyles just aren't different enough). So just have fewer spells, and tactical decisions tied to the abilities because there is a tangible, tactical reason to use a specific ability.
 
Great post, Tobold. Very well thought out..

One quibble. 56-year olds did not grow up playing video games. It's commonly understood that playing such video games increases hand-eye coordination (what you are calling reaction time).

So it's quite possible that a lifetime of playing such video games could mitigate the effects of aging. Not entirely, but possibly much more than what that study represents.
 
Tobold your html links are broken
 
Challenge in a MMORPG is limited to pressing the right key (or making the right mouse movement) in time in reaction to some visual or audio input from the game. Success or failure depends on both speed and you ability to choose the right reaction to the given input.

While this is correct in some sense, I would add that the 'input' does not necessarily have to happen an instance before your reaction to it.

The input can have happened mintues, hours or even days before you 'reacted' to it. E.g. in form of a boss kill video.

In fact, the inpunt could have first gone to another person, who wrote a guide that you read. Then you would position yourself somewhere specific during the bossfight, although you, personally, never received the input from the game that encouraged to do that.
 
Play a feral druid in WoW!

They already experience combat somewhat like this. There is no rotation because you have to juggle several timers, abilities, and random events to get maximum DPS. There are some mods that tell you what button to push but you still need to understand what you're doing so you know when to ignore the mod. And if those mods were disabled (I wouldn't mind that at all!), feral DPS would be entirely reactive without rotations (but note that owing to how fast energy regens you always have a good half second to hit the next button, so there's not much twitch element). If every class could be like this WoW would already be part way to what Tobold describes.
 
Tobold your html links are broken

Fixed, was a problem of copy & paste from Word, which had replaced my straight quotes with the angled type.

Kind of sad that it takes over 6 hours for somebody to notice. Guess nobody clicks on those links. ;)
 
Isn't it always the same links you paste if you talk about reaction times ? ;)
 
Reaction times should be viewed in context of the testcase. Complex environments require situational awareness and speedy and accurate information processing, as opposed to pressing a key after a certain signal, which is more reflex-like. I once saw a monkey consistently beat humans in a memorygame (up to 20 numbered tiles, in the correct order iirc). Apparently the monkey was gifted with instant and acute situational awareness which allowed for a reflex like and lightning fast response. Information processing is more humans forte and this doesnt deteriorate with age (well up to a point..) as the pure reflex based reaction does.

So if a game offers a complex enough environment with a large number of possible actions, older players arent necessarily at a disadvantage.
 
Tobold said: But in reality the player is *not* standing in any fire, he is still sitting in his chair, hands on keyboard and mouse, eyes on the screen.

This is the same sort of argument that people offered when 3D became commonplace - where gaming purists made statements like "In the end you're not really in a 3D world, because in the end all you're seeing on your monitor is a 2D representation of pixels on a screen."

In the end, it all boils down to immersion and how much you enjoy the interaction that you are having within the game world itself. We all know that we are sitting in our comfy computer chairs inhibiting our metabolic rate while performing the menial tasks of keyboard and mouse manipulation, but we choose to suspend the real world around us in order to enjoy the virtual.

From Wikipedia: Immersion - Immersion is the state of consciousness where an immersant's awareness of physical self is diminished or lost by being surrounded in an engrossing total environment; often artificial.

Anything that occurs while immersed in a virtual environment is subjective and defined solely by the players own imagination, so the perceived level of challenge is going to differ from player to player. "Getting out of the fire" might be the challenge to one player, but another player might find challenge in managing their healing or dps rotations, while another considers how to best position themselves for aura coverage, totem placement..ect.

I fear that your focus on making the perfect MMO will suffer if you fail to properly realize the effect of immersion and the mechanic of instilling a "suspension of belief" within your game world. Reaction times, remembering which button to push, and whatnot, are all ancillary support mechanisms of the immersion or suspension of belief process, regardless of the game being an MMO, FPS...ect.

In the end it all boils down to "Is your game fun to play?".
 
I would say immersion is a second step AFTER you designed good gameplay. It doesn't help if you have a perfectly immersive world with bad gameplay.
 
You are talking about two different kinds of immersion ...
 
>This would then form the battle plan as different party setup would have different ways of winning the fights.

Plants Vs. Zombies; Amen.

I was considering that there are only four ways to create challenge in video games, each is a combination of only two factors. The first factor is how far in advance you know what the challenge is, and the second factor is the response time required.

A. Advance notice, immediate action required
B. Advance notice, slow response possible
C. Immediate notice, immediate action required
D. Immediate notice, slow response possible

Examples:
A. Magtheridon's cubes: Designated clickers KNOW they're going to need to click them even before you start the boss fight; but when you click them, all clickers need to be fast on it, or game over.

B. Lavanthor's fire patches: Yes, it's nice if the tank won't stand in them, but there's only so much space to move without pissing off the melee dps who're trying to stay behind the boss. But it's alright - you can walk through them and generally take your time positioning him, since the damage from the fire is fairly unspectacular.

C. Modern-day raid fire: You never know who it's going to get thrown under, and if its you, you have to move off RIGHT AWAY or you'll be dead in 1-2 ticks.

D. Generic damage spell: You CAN interrupt it, but you really don't have to; A rejuv/renew or some splash healing will make up for it.

Note that A and C are not interactive in the slightest; there is ZERO decision-making allowed. Since even auto attack dps is higher than dead dps, living is the hands-down better option.

B and D on the other hand, give you options. If you have plenty of healing power in your group, power through it: stand in the fire and eat the cast all you want. If your heals are weak/laggy, then move around and interrupt the casts.

B and D also allow practice, since failure is only marginally consequential and can be countered in other ways. The 500ms rogue can practice his kick timing without having to offer to pay the group's repair bills, where-as having him 'practice' interrupting a spell which can one-shot the tank... not so hot.
 
"Thus in my perfect MMORPG the main challenge would be having to see what is happening in the virtual world around you, e.g. what the monster you are fighting is doing, and having to react to that in a reasonable amount of time by pressing the button for the optimal response."

Which, interestingly, apart from the "button" and "monster" bit, sounds a lot like most competitive real-world sports (sounds exactly like badminton, for example, where the key to victory is very much choosing your shots). There's a reason they've been around for a while...
 
The issue I have, and I think this just comes from a lack of details, is that your system does sound like a series of quick time events where in State A you press Button A and in State B you press Button B. Perhaps instead of focusing on the problem and then giving a very general answer of how the game should be you could go into specifics.

I don’t actually think that you want quick time events where players simply respond to a prompt by pressing the necessary button. You’ve talked about this issue a lot but I’ve never seen you give a good example of what you mean beyond “your choice in skills should really matter”. I mean yes, they should matter, but how would you actually do it so that the fight is made more interesting?

"What is strategy and tactics other than having to observe what happens around you and doing an appropriate response?"

While that may be abstractly true, it doesn’t mirror your design. Strategy is to a large degree observing and responding (because basically everything is observing and responding) but there are so many more variables to it that you haven’t included. In the same way I could claim that beer pong is strategic because I observe where the cups are and respond by tossing the ball accordingly. But seriously, beer pong is not strategic.

Let’s say that while playing beer pong, the cups were for some reason laid on their sides (hopefully empty) so that you had to roll the ball into them. This is a response to a change in the dynamics of the game, but just choosing the right response isn’t strategy. You could technically try to throw it in, but ultimately you’re probably gonna roll it. This gives the cup all the power, and the player can only respond instead of act. I wouldn’t call that strategy or tactical, it’s simply reacting.
 
@Hobonicus:

I agree with your analysis. It seems like we are getting trouble with word definitions. So let me quote Wikipedia (that's always a sign for a good discuission, btw. Even if a little annoying at times).

In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms and conditions that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy, which is part of the four levels of warfare: political goals or grand strategy, strategy, operations, and tactics.

The operational level of war occupies roughly the middle ground between the campaign's strategic focus and the tactics of an engagement. It describes "a distinct intermediate level of war between military strategy, governing war in general, and tactics, involving individual battles."[2] For example during World War II the concept applied to use of Soviet Tank Armies.[3]

According to this definition, WoW doesn't even know strategy or any of the higher level terms, but just 'tactics'.
 
@ Nils

Oh yeah, you’re right about that, I’ve been using strategy and tactics interchangeably. I never like arguing semantics because it distracts from the topic and usually everyone knows what you mean anyway but I guess Tobold is mostly talking about tactics in his post, so it’s relevant here. I don’t think strategy with that definition can really exist in any theme park MMORPG, that’s probably one of the biggest draws of a sandbox game. I’d say there’s actually more challenge in strategy because it involves factors you can’t immediately react to, but the perfect game would balance strategy with tactics.
 
Its not that its impossible to design game which would be designed around "challenge" -its just that it has to cater to lowest common denominator.

For example you constantly complain how wow is too "twitch" for you - even though its one of the most very forgiving if compared to true twitch games.

On the other hand there are other people (lets call them simple - -retarded) who wouldnt be able to handle any sort of complex tactical thinking you seem to be advocating for

In the end you have what you have. And it will be so as PvE is designed for lowest common denominator

I would say though that WoW pvp is quite a different beast in terms of both tactical and twitch skill requirements
 
it seems like 80% of your problems would be solved if you had 5 seconds to get out of the fire instead of 3.
 
@Hobonicus: Strategy is for RTS games like Starcraft. In WoW for example, the strategy is how the group proceeds through the raid (choosing to do a fight in hardmode, or where to place Sarth during a 3dragon fight), while the tactics are what to do when the lava wave comes or moving out of the fire in other fights.

@the quicktime event comments:
Quicktime events are different from what Tobold is saying, in that quicktime events say PRESS this button now.

I'm thinking its more like, you're fighting a warrior, and he puts up his shield, now you might switch to an AOE spell to hit him, or you might circle behind him, or you might blast into his shield (keeping him focused in a certain direction so that others can circle behind him).

You might decide to keep blasting him up front if you have a lightning spell, because the metal shield does not stop the lightning, but if you use fire, you might do an aoe, and if you use ice, you have to circle behind.

That's my interpretation of it.
 
@Larisa

Probably the closest to that is Shartuul's Transporter event. That one is reasonably challenging and while there is a optimal tactical solution, it involves some randomness.

@Everyone who mentioned heuristics as a means to solve randomized problems.

This is exactly true. Let's take a less arcane example than WoW. Chess. Human chess players apply heuristics to a VERY large extent. No good human player will apply decision-making for every possible combination of future moves. And chess is a game where reaction time is more or less non-existent(bar lighting/bullet chess).

Transport this to WoW. There will be no personal, conscious, decision-making, there will be raid-wide heuristics in place.

However, I resent the claim that there are no fights that implement this. Literally every single encounter gives one or more people in the raid a decision to make.

Even on a fairly simple fight like Northrend beasts, a paladin tank must decide on a few choices. "Do I debuffkill Impale stacks? If I do, I'll ease up healing for a tank switch, but I'll lock myself from using it on worms. On worms, do I debuffkill paralysis, or run to the fire guy? If I do kill it, I may lock myself from bubblewalling Icehowl's first charge in case someone fails at moving."

All those are decisions that have to be made. And they're not made by conscious analysis, they're made by heuristics, based on the 'feeling' the tank has on the capability of the raid.
 
”I'm thinking its more like, you're fighting a warrior, and he puts up his shield, now you might switch to an AOE spell to hit him, or you might circle behind him, or you might blast into his shield (keeping him focused in a certain direction so that others can circle behind him).”

That’s kinda what I think he’s getting at too, which is why I was asking for some sort of example from him. That kind of situational fight where you have to pay attention to not only your opponent, but his relationship to the environment can be very fun. Those kinds of fights only exist in PvP today.

If a fight has enough exclusive variables involved, they can mix and overlap in a manner that can’t be fully documented in a walkthrough, and if your skills have a similar level of complexity in their execution then you’ll be able to overcome an unpredictable event by using the right skills at the right time. That would give me a feeling of accomplishment.
 
It seems to me that one way to introduce a greater degree of slow-time tactics would be to increase the importance of positioning and terrain in boss encounters. For example many boss fights in WOW take place in relatively bland empty rooms.

Imagine if, instead, the layout were more complex, with multiple blocks to line of sight, ramps up to the top of platforms, etc. Now shorten the range of effectiveness of things like tank taunts and increase the threat generated by ranged DPS. If implemented correctly, this could lead to tanks doing more than stand in the middle of the room, they'd have to position themselves to protect the others by guarding bottlenecks, whilst the DPS and healers need to find inaccessible positions where they can see the boss, but it can't reach them, making the game play closer to sniping than simply going waaargh and maximizing damage through a defined priority/rotation system.
 
”I'm thinking its more like, you're fighting a warrior, and he puts up his shield, now you might switch to an AOE spell to hit him, or you might circle behind him, or you might blast into his shield (keeping him focused in a certain direction so that others can circle behind him).”

It seems to me that one way to introduce a greater degree of slow-time tactics would be to increase the importance of positioning and terrain in boss encounters.

Yes, those are good examples of what I am talking about. Fights in which you need to look what the enemy mob is doing, or how the tactical positioning is.
 
I'm thinking its more like, you're fighting a warrior, and he puts up his shield, now you might switch to an AOE spell to hit him, or you might circle behind him, or you might blast into his shield (keeping him focused in a certain direction so that others can circle behind him).

It may be more immersive, but this is one of the rare occasions where I just don't think that it is good for the game. It does some serious damage to the fun of gameplay. At least if it is the core gameplay.

I said before: A real time MMORPG needs some kind of mindless 'rotation' that is complemented by tactical decisions. If every button you press is a tactical decision fights are too
1) exhausting,
2) difficult to balance against more than one enemy,
3) don't have the right 'flow'.
 
It may be more immersive, but this is one of the rare occasions where I just don't think that it is good for the game. It does some serious damage to the fun of gameplay. At least if it is the core gameplay.

I said before: A real time MMORPG needs some kind of mindless 'rotation' that is complemented by tactical decisions. If every button you press is a tactical decision fights are too
1) exhausting,
2) difficult to balance against more than one enemy,
3) don't have the right 'flow'.


I think it would be less exhausting than you might be thinking. It really would make it feel like a console game.

Interestingly, Tobold did not like the 'have to block' aspect of Champions Online. I can't quite remember why though. Something about the combat feeling too arcade-y (I'm not saying that CO is like what Tobold is looking for), yet I find myself making more tactical decisions in CO than in WoW.
 
I think it would be less exhausting than you might be thinking. It really would make it feel like a console game.

Only if you zoom in in a way that isn't compatible with MMOs.



(..and like-a-comsole is probably the best way to keep from buying a PC game, by the way :)
 
Please identify one class/spec in WoW that has an optimum DPS "rotation." You've made this claim several times as a generalization of WoW's (and other games of its ilk) PvE endgame combat mechanics. If it's generally true, surely it's true in at least one instance; name it please. To be more specific, and per your characterization, we're looking for a class/spec that can macro a series of abilities together and press that button continually to do optimum DPS.

Also,

”I'm thinking its more like, you're fighting a warrior, and he puts up his shield, now you might switch to an AOE spell to hit him, or you might circle behind him, or you might blast into his shield (keeping him focused in a certain direction so that others can circle behind him).”

It seems to me that one way to introduce a greater degree of slow-time tactics would be to increase the importance of positioning and terrain in boss encounters.

Yes, those are good examples of what I am talking about. Fights in which you need to look what the enemy mob is doing, or how the tactical positioning is."

So would fights where players essentially construct or remove usable parts of the terrain count? We already have examples in WoW of such encounters like hard mode XT'02, Anub'arak, or the Lich King. How about where people are in relation to the enemy? Saphirion and Sindragosa with their line of sight mechanics say hi (yogg-saron waves a tentacled hello too). I imagine you tried ToC Tobold, so how does the Faction Champion encounter not fit your above description?

The point of your post seemed to boil down to: reaction time requirements should be tuned just so to give scope for more "interesting decisions" in your ideal MMO. WoW, again as an example, does offer moment to moment interesting decisions; perhaps, you want them more interesting and less moment to moment. Fine. You ought to, however, stop mis-characterizing WoW's PvE, end game gameplay as the purview of coked out teenagers wanting a fantasy break from Counterstrike 1.6.

I've linked this before in your comments but I'll link it again because it demonstrates my point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgDjG_0ecTI. Please watch that and then try to tell your audience that playing WoW optimally reduces to: Spam a "rotation" and jump out of the fire on a low ping connection.
 
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