Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 18, 2012
 
Games and random numbers

Craig Stern of Sinister Design is writing about Unpredictability and Control in games. He says that players accept losing in real-time games as long as the controls are tight. But losing to a bad roll of the die (or random number generator) is less acceptable. Quote: "Thus, although randomized results create uncertainty, they can also sabotage the sense that a player is responsible for her failures, which is bad."

In my opinion there is too little randomization in MMORPGs. They are nearly totally deterministic. Before combat even starts you know what the monster will do, and what keys to press in which order to optimally defeat it. Thus combat involves no thinking, only execution.

As Craig Stern says, the solution is not making the result of button presses unpredictable, but to make the opponent unpredictable, or the starting situation. That is why card games work: The cards you draw are random, but what you can do with them is not. And in a MMORPG the monsters could be made more unpredictable as well. Why do people need to know in advance what the boss mob is going to do after X minutes to beat him?

Comments:
Have you never played a game with random boss abilities? It's awful. What is fun about a PvE boss fight which can oscillate between "hardest abilities right at the start" and "never uses hardest ability at all"? It makes for an inconsistent and frustrating experience.

Besides, your definition of "thinking" is pretty bizarre. Most MMOs are execution-based, sure, but that's because a considerable amount of thinking (by you or someone else) was required before you ever zoned in: boss strategy, gear/enchants, ability rotation, raid composition, etc. If by "thinking" you mean reacting to random events, I would argue that that too is execution-based gameplay - you already know what you need to do, it's just a matter of enacting Plan X at random Time Y.

Honestly, this post sounds like a solution in search of a problem. The whole point of the article you quoted was how in strategy games RNG is being substituted for the tension inherent to execution-based games.
 
Not everybody is looking for the same sort of challenge. The tension inherent to execution-based games is based on a challenge that doesn't require much intelligence. Reaction-time and motor skills suffice. "Looking stuff up on the internet" isn't the same as "thinking".

Of course execution-based games have their place. But you can't go and tell somebody who is looking for a good game of chess to go and play baseball instead.
 
One phrase - Bridge IMP tables. They do amazing work in taming the unpredictability of the game. We should have some stuff like that built in MMO-s you are uber geared group - you should perform like that. You are the better team - you should beat the opposition for 3 minutes, or by 800 points.
 
Interesting link. I was about to jump in on the side of randomness but in fact I thought both sides put forward good arguments for the virtues of randomness and determinism. To my mind, both have their uses.

On a slightly related issue, I was thinking about randomness in MMOs recently, because I've been playing Torchlight 2. Shortly after hitting the second act, I found a really nice armour which upped my stats consideranly (a sixth of the game later, I have found nothing that is close to replacing it). It occurred to me that this is really only possible in a single-player game, particularly a roguelike or action roguelike. In a MMO, at least an MMO designed according to current lines of thought (it may be that alternative design modes are possible but it might be hard to make them popular), you simply can't have any item that good.

Items in an MMO have the illusion of goodness. They don't really upgrade your capabilities, at most they are just keys to open a content gate. Everything is subject to planned obsolescence from the moment you get it, and most times before. What does this mean for a world that sells itself on the promise of magic and adventure? Nothing good, IMO.

There's no randomness in MMOs because of balance. MMOs pretend to worship Chaos, but Order is firmly in control.

I have a pipedream of a more roguelike MMORPG, but whether it will ever happen I don't know. I'm not sure enough potential players want the same thing.

 
"Before combat even starts you know what the monster will do, and what keys to press in which order to optimally defeat it. Thus combat involves no thinking, only execution."

In some ways that's exactly what I like about MMO combat. I want the vast majority of fights to play out that way, with a very few that veer in an unexpected direction. If the majority of fights required real skill and concentration from me there'd have to be an awful lot fewer of them or I'd pretty soon find something more relaxing to do.
 
Tobold, didn't you quit raiding because you felt it was too twitchy and favored fast reflexes? Random boss abilities would be worse. You would add recognition of the boss ability to the need for young synapses, as well as better memory of the increased combinations.

There would be more research required, not creative, thinking on your feet type play. The abilities still have to be scripted, unless the boss was played by a human.

I have a hard enough time remembering boss abilities and how to recognize them when they are sequential, well documented, and announced in big red letters with a foghorn.. It takes extreme concentration, is that not thinking?

In poker-type card games, there is always a best way to play a hand, and playing poker against AI is about as repetitive as running heroics, without the splashy effects.

Card games are interesting not because of the randomness of the cards dealt, but because it's PvP.
 
"Looking stuff up on the internet" isn't the same as "thinking".

It's thinking to somebody. Just because you can substitute someone else's thinking for your own doesn't mean no thinking was necessary.

Besides, how exactly do you imagine the strategic-form of thinking is going to fit into a real-time game to begin with? A WoW raid-boss with random abilities or randomly timed abilities would still come down to reaction-time and motor-skills.
 
It would be terrible - consider that if you really want o make the bosses challenging then you make them more intelligent..say they don't have a threat table anymore, they just crush anyone who tries casts a heal.

Same issue in pen and paper - for some reason (story) the big bad orc (high CR monster) wails on the fighter, not the cleric.

I can see the point about execution and pre-determined strategies removing "creative" aspects, but really the 4th wall is so present in an MMO that it is just differing personal perspectives for how far the slider between real and scripted the entire game is.

Trial of the Champion had the pvp basedfight which was excellent, but it still came down to a set of abilities, and a priority based kill order. It was also hated by a few raiders.

Another random fight was Lord Ryolyth in Firelands - who was basically impossible if the randomness didn't go your way. That is a shitty way to spend an evening.
 
In a game where bosses have 100s of abilities on random timers, players would be required to:

1) Memorise all of the boss abilities and the correct responses (or use a boss mod to tell them)

2) Be lucky

The strategising would all happen when uberguilds first encountered the mechanics on the PTR.

I don't think the average player would be provoked to think any more than they currently do.
 
This could have a chance under two conditions:
1) If abilities were set for the duration of the lockout. That would mean that every group had to figure out its own strat for the week, but not on the fly.
2) Some built-in limits on ability combos, such as no raid-wide freezes at the same time as the LoS-or-die attack.

However this still leaves a problem: every raid would need a strategist and there might not be enough to go around. Making the content easier would allow for more people to figure it out, but then it may become too easy for the moderately-skilled strategists.
 
If playing against an unpredictable enemy in a MMORPG was as impossible as you guys say, then how do you explain the possibility of PvP? Enemies in PvP aren't predictable, and the game still works. So why not have intelligent and unpredictable PvE enemies?
 
"Enemies in PvP aren't predictable, and the game still works."

Once you've played a handful of battlegrounds, you may be surprised to find that players can be very predictable.

I found that the Faction Champions boss in WoTLK had a more effective use of CC than the average human player at the time.
 
If playing against an unpredictable enemy in a MMORPG was as impossible as you guys say,

Talk about misrepresenting other people's words.... Nobody in this thread even remotely said it's impossible. It's just that:
- it would not make for a different gameplay, it's still "memorize and react",
- it would add pure and simple luck to all encounters.

BTW in WoW we already had stuff like this: Rhyolith HM was exactly "react to random stuff". Guess what: the fight sucked big time, because at times you would get awful volcano positioning and just wipe because there was no way out of it.

(and reading the article, it starts right with a paragraph stating the opposite of what you propose: "Real-time games, as a general rule, have an easy time fostering mechanical unpredictability. Spatial navigation requires accuracy and timing; a real-time attack could miss or hit depending on a player’s physical input. The chance of making a mistake in the heat of the moment adds uncertainty, and thus tension").
 
a real-time attack could miss or hit depending on a player’s physical input

He is obviously talking about shooters, not MMORPGs. I would say that MMORPGs have *neither* the mechanical unpredictability of shooter or jump & run games, nor the numerical unpredictability of turn-based games. The outcome of a boss fight in a MMORPG is largely pre-determined by group composition and gear, with a minor unpredictability of how many attempts it will take until people learn not to stand in the fire. Booooooring!
 
I encountered an example of the quote you pulled from the linked article just earlier today. I totally bombed a terror mission in XCOM EU not because I screwed up my on the ground tactics (though it didn't help that I underestimated how much more aggressive chryssalids are in the fog of war in the Warspace mod and brought less grenades than I should have) but because my soldiers kept missing 70% or higher hit rate shots against things out in the open. It was unbelievably infuriating and disheartening because it tore the veil off of the suspension of disbelief and shoved the fact that I lost due to bad dice rolls over poor decision making.

The biggest difference grenades would have made in this case would have been to reduce the number of dice rolls I had to make since grenades will always go where you throw them, which is a different yet similar problem I feel.

The same problem plagues the roguelike genre as well, part of what makes them so interesting is also part of what makes them so maddening. I think its interesting that in a conversation between my friends and I about the genre that we came to the conclusion part of what distinguishes individual roguelikes from each other is the static features of each one's dungeons in a genre defined by its inherent randomness. Its an interesting contradiction and really gets to the heart of the influence randomness that's uncontrolled by the player has on the structure and overall player feel of any game.
 
Randomness could be fun under two conditions:
1) the time for reaction is generous - so it's not "interrupt 1.5 second cast or wipe", but rather "see what this new unknown ability does, take greatly reduced damage from it, and figure out how to counter it next time it's used - or die";
2) the communication between players during the encounter is impossible - so that no raidleader yells on Vent "all run into the green circle" and others following without thinking.

Condition (2) is though with all Ventrilos, Teamspeaks and Raidcalls these days, and of course anti-multiplayer. It can be enforced with totally random groups and disabling all chat, but this will effectively make the game single-player.
 
The outcome of a boss fight in a MMORPG is largely pre-determined by group composition and gear, with a minor unpredictability of how many attempts it will take until people learn not to stand in the fire. Booooooring!

The right concluding word is "Bullshit" and not "Boring". If your "theory" was even remotely true we would not have the huge disparity in guild advancement which you can easily see. Instead everyone would more or less advance at the same speed.

Ah, and I'm still waiting for your explanation of the big DPS spread which was still present at the end of Cataclysm when everyone was fully geared.....
 
10/20/40 people in a raid add enough randomness despite scripted bosses. If the boss moves/abilities were also random it would very quickly descend into total chaos leading to endless wipes and very frustrated players. I think your lack of raid experience is showing here.
 
Why would you wait for an explanation from me for a question you never asked? You are confusing very different concepts here. Guild A and guild B might have extremely different performance at the same boss, and different DPS, based on a difference in skill level. But that skill level by now is largely static: You don't get much better after your 100th raid. Thus in any given group, the outcome of the next encounter is pre-determined by their given skill, given gear, difficulty of the boss, and a very minor variable of "learning the dance". Boooooooring!
 
I think your lack of raid experience is showing here.

I think what is showing here is how static some players have become. On the one hand they shout for innovation, but on the other hand they feel extremely threatened by any proposal to do things differently. They can't even *imagine* a different system of raiding any more. I find that extremely sad.
 
They can't even *imagine* a different system of raiding any more.

Imagining it isn't the problem, handling wave after wave of frustrated players is. On one hand you regularly ask for casual accessible gameplay for all and on the other boss fights with random moves and abilities that realistically only the most skilled players could defeat. Unless of course you are talking about easy bosses with a few random abilities that make little difference to the outcome of the fight? You can't have it both ways.
 
Klepsakovic nailed it when he talked about the possibility of bosses having different abilities that would persist for the raiding week: "every raid would need a strategist and there might not be enough to go around".

I'd love this because I'm a strategist. But most people aren't.

Bosses are killed by dancing because everyone can learn to dance and it makes the game accessible.

Randomness *could* work on bosses, but only for the right kind of player, who enjoys roguelikes and strategy games like Oasis where you play a lot of games expecting to lose some, and try to develop a strategy that gives the highest probability of success. What this would mean in regard to bosses is that it would only work for raids who were prepared to take multiple wipes figuring out how to deal with this week's random boss. I think we're talking a niche game here. If it gets made I'll try it for sure, but I think 95% of players won't get the point.
 
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Choices within structure. Unpredictable actions within predictable rules. That is how sport and other games work. Do I shoot or pass? Simple but fun.

MMO player expectations have been defined by past experiences. Follow the script = win! We all complain about lack of innovation yet when a feature or suggestion does not follow the same old tired path we don't like it.
 
Well part of the drive to script is involves three factors:

1) Death. Most games do not involve death. You might win or lose, but generally a misstep doesn't result in getting stuck in the penalty box for the rest of the game.

2) Organizing 10-20 people is easier with a script. It's the difference between choreographing a line dance and something freestyle.

3) Wannabe E-Sport. You can't have a boss with random abilities when you have all these guilds competing to get the first kill. I mean, one guild gets the combination of really hard abilities, second guild gets the powderpuff abilities. Guild 1 would go ballistic.
 
Tobold, are there studies done on different player types in this regard? How many prefer fights in which you are likely to always win, and how many like random battles which may lead into defeat, unless, perhaps, one has the wits to press the "RUN!" button?

For pen and paper games I think the randomness is less of an issue, compared to computer games, because the player thinks (falsely, of course) he is in control when rolling a physical die.
 
Randomization could be very deterministic, it is just a matter of the sample size and the amount of variation.

Say you have a raid face a boss. How do you make a random fight almost 100% deterministic, assuming you don't tweak the variation of abilities?

First, increase the number of people required. 40 people is better than 10 to generate a big sample. Second, increase boss HP (decrease its damage), so it's a 10 minute fight, not a 2 minute one. Voila, you have increased the sample size 20 times and the fight has become very deterministic, even if the ability variation is as dramatic as flipping a coin.

At the opposite end is XCOM, where I you can crit twice in a row (sniper double tap) and destroy the final boss in one lucky shot. Or not (you can miss twice in XCOM).
 
Since I really want my answer:

Guild A and guild B might have extremely different performance at the same boss, and different DPS, based on a difference in skill level.

In the past you have written many times that MMOs and raiding in particular does not require skill since everything is scripted. So why now you say that guild performance/progress is limited by skill?
 
In the past you have written many times that MMOs and raiding in particular does not require skill since everything is scripted. So why now you say that guild performance/progress is limited by skill?

I think you misunderstood some of previous remarks. I do believe that MMORPGs *as a whole* are not skill-based games. Because if you consider everything from leveling up a character from level 1 to the level cap, up to doing daily quests at the level cap, the huge majority of the content does not "challenge" anybody's "skill".

You are however completely correct that performance in high-end raiding, e.g. damage output per second, is based on skill. A good player in a good guild will deal significantly more damage per second than a mediocre player in a mediocre guild.

However World of Warcraft is 8 years old by now, and most raiders have been raiding for many years. Whatever skill you observe in a player by now is probably rather close to what he can possible do as maximum performance in terms of damage output. The learning experience of a player is not any more "I'll learn how to play my character better", but it is "I'll learn the dance of the boss my guild is currently working on". Any increase to a player's damage output these days is much more likely to come from better gear than from a skill increase.

Note also that the skill required to be a top raider is not a strategic or tactical skill. It is a pure execution skill, based on low reaction time and fast button-pressing. You don't even get the time to think "Oh, now the boss is doing this, I better do that in response".
 
Any increase to a player's damage output these days is much more likely to come from better gear than from a skill increase.

There is one very important aspect that you're overlooking here, Tobold.

Forcible Skill Attrition.

With every class re-balance and skill tree reset that Blizzard has snuck in over the years, players are forced to relearn almost everything about their class. Gear be damned.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how such a simple change in mechanics might be considered as a type of randomness where "thinking" versus "relearning" is concerned. No need to change the dynamics of a Boss encounter when you can use such a simple device to limit or slow down progression.
 
If you want something with more randomization and less determinism, there's always that other Blizzard game. You know, the one with Jailer Arcane Enchanted Vortex Illusionist champion packs.
 
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