Tobold's Blog
Saturday, November 19, 2011

Once upon a time, over a decade ago, I played Anarchy Online. That was mostly memorable for still holding the record of the worst MMORPG launch ever, but it was also my first MMORPG in which combat was done using guns and blasters. And I quickly noticed that I didn't like that combat much. It felt odd. Unnatural. Even with some spurious explanation of "personal shields" added, two characters standing toe to toe shooting at each other just doesn't look right. And because history repeats itself, Ancient Gaming Noob Wilhelm Arcturus has the same problem with Star Wars: The Old Republic: Needing 3 to 6 blaster hits at point blank to kill somebody is just weird.

Come to think of it, it is of course equally weird that in just about any MMORPG, using just about any weapon or spell, you *always* need between 3 to 6 hits to kill a mob of your level. This has to do with how long designers think a combat should be, and with the traditional use of random numbers in role-playing combat: A combat decided by a single "roll" of the dice would be very unpredictable. Rolling several dice produces a Gaussian normal distribution, where average results are common, and extreme results are rare.

Other than fantasy role-playing games, there are relatively few video games having people hack at each other with swords. And then most other sword-fighting games also use combat based on several hits to achieve a kill, although I'm pretty certain that in real life you wouldn't survive being hit once with a sword or an axe. But there are quite a lot of shooter games in which one-shot kills (headshots) are common enough. More importantly in those shooter games you usually have quite some distance between you and your opponent. Exchange of fire is depicted as a series of misses followed by one lethal hit. So this is what we expect, what we see in the movies, what we played in first-person shooters. Therefore shooting at an opponent at point blank range, hitting him in the head, but not killing him, is unexpected. Even in the Star Wars universe, where jedi can deflect blaster shots with a lightsaber.

There is of course a very, very easy change to fix it.

Rename HP to "Luck", and change all animations but kill animations to misses. Now combat is 3 minutes of misses as you wear down someone's luck until finally 1 shot hits and kills them.

That being said, I am roughly 96% that despite complaints, people would prefer hit points and surviving unrealistic hits than missing constantly except for once.
>Exchange of fire is depicted as a series of misses followed by one lethal hit.

Followed by nearly instantly respawning and running back into the fray.

A single zone in wow is massive compared to an fps map. they would have to add in so many more 'respawn hubs' if they were to make dying as easy as in a normal fps.
The only fighting game I can really think of using swords is Soul Caliber. Atari had one out back in the early or mid 90's where weapons were used, ranging from mace&chain to scimitar to claymore to bo staff to executioner's axe, but in all cases it was many hits for a knockout/kill.

Bushido Blade is the only game I can really think of that would do a 1-shot kill with a sword, and tbh I liked it a lot better than the other fighting games.

As far as MMO's go, nobody likes to be 1-shotted, and as a result for "balance" they generally don't expect to 1-shot anything either. But yeah, when you get into games where the weapons are powerful enough that 1-shot *should* kill, it's a bit odd. Still, I don't mind it. Once I've accepted the premise that I'm not going to 1-shot anything I just ignore it after that.
Eh xax. The average MMO map is a nearly flat plane (and what hills there are don't impact the players at all) decorated with some trees, a couple of huts, and a cave or two. Which leads to a big part of why MMO combat sucks and always will suck (the reason why the maps are always so boring is the technical limitations of having huge numbers of players, which is why all MMO maps look like the set of a cheap fantasy play.)

It wouldn't really be too hard to fix this if you could have real terrain; if you are a ranged class at point blank range, your damage goes up by 600% or something, but melee classes damages are also increased and their defensive abilities buffed. So Han Solo might get really lucky, but more likely he gets killed. If you had an MMO with real terrain you could have some pretty wild fights that would be pretty strategic and fun. But because everything happens of a nearly featureless plane you end up with having to go with a system where you stand point blank and pew pew and the there's no difference between doing it at 1 yard or 50 yards.
I also played Anarchy Online at launch (eventually...) and the "problem" of unrealistic gunfire literally never occurred to me. In fact, until I read Wilhelm's piece this week I'm not sure I ever thought of it in any game.

It certainly doesn't bother me. I know I am sat in my room, playing a game on a screen. I'm not watching real-life footage. Whatever the game designer says happens, that's what happens. All that's left for me is to decide whether I'm enjoying myself or not and that particular factor doesn't even come into consideration.
There is of course a very, very easy change to fix it.

Rename HP to "Luck", and change all animations but kill animations to misses. Now combat is 3 minutes of misses as you wear down someone's luck until finally 1 shot hits and kills them.

That being said, I am roughly 96% that despite complaints, people would prefer hit points and surviving unrealistic hits than missing constantly except for once.

I probably wouldn't mind that if it wasn't for even weirder combat. Missing 5 point blank shots?
Resistance to Headshots can be easily explained:

Jedi/Sith - Protected by the "Force"!

Smuggler - Really really lucky

Imperial Agent - Dodged most of it (like The Matrix)

Bounty Hunter/Trooper - Helmets ftw!

Greedo - Ordinary criminals are out of luck here.
I think the suspension of disbelief is just easier for some people than others too.

I can sit there and you can present me with any amount of strangeness of illogicalities and I can very easily internalize it as normal and perfectly accept reality under those conditions. I almost never experience that "snap back to reality" feeling that a lot of people describe when playing games and finding something weird.

Some people seem really, really tortured by it though, and have their experience almost constantly interrupted or hurt by small things that take them out of it.
I suggest you try out the game "Dark Souls". You will be pleasantly surprised with the combat experience, and how often you will die quickly to one or two hits.

Great game. Highly recommended.
Another old time AO player and I too had the same reaction both back in the day and last weekend in SWTOR. It doesn't make the game unplayable, but I don't think it helps long term popularity. Suspension of disbelief is a lot easier in the fantasy genre.

I think that contributes to why fantasy always seems to beat SF in these games, even going back to D&D and Runequest vs. Traveler and the Star Wars Roleplaying Game.

I don't know how much that will affect SWTOR or not. They have a solid game that is launching, I think, at a very good time.
I look at it like movie fights involving the hero.

A few minutes worth of blocks, dodges, and minor flesh wounds until the kill.

Hard to reproduce all of that in a video game, since it would all have to be highly scripted - as it is in the movies.

Video games, mostly, don't try to reproduce real life. They are more reproducing movies and novels - fantasy (even if it's modern combat). So I have no problem suspending my disbelief while I play - if the game is good enough.
In general I think you all who hang out in online games should get out more.

The statements "always needing 3-6 shots to kill X"


"Therefore shooting at an opponent at point blank range, hitting him in the head, but not killing him, is unexpected. "

The "not killing him is unexpected" statement is especially laughable because it pretty much explains the reports coming from Iraqi Terrorist Brigades (er "Fedayeen") during the 2003 invasion.

Saddam thought it wonderful to train up an irregular militia with equip them with Shirts and AK-47 and send them against US Marines in modern Body Armor. The Iraqi irregulars were "quite surprised" when several shots did not stop a Marine.

This fantasy that a head shot can be obtained easily is just absurd in real life and shows how much Head Kills has spoiled our expectations.

I suggest that anyone who thinks it's easy to kill someone with this nearly mythical "point blank" shot actually like shoot a few modern firearms and see how easy it is to do a head shot (all the while thinking about how hard a moving target actually is).

Then you will see why every real military on the planet trains their solders to hit center body mass targets in training.
@Angry Gamer - Part of my suspension of disbelief issue in SWTOR came from standing not at a distance where I can, and do, consistently put pistol rounds in the 10 ring, but where I am close enough to press the muzzle to the 10 ring, and then having to pull the trigger 3-6 times.

And I am actually using at attack called Flurry of Bolts, which essentially seems to be 3 round burst, so I am putting 9-18 blaster shots into a target at no-miss range. That seemed less believable than I could manage.

So this isn't CoD "why can't I get a head shot at 1,000 yards?" or whatever clearly faulty assumption you are making. This is being close enough to where I suspect I might do enough damage to kill the guy by just hitting as many times with the blaster's butt.

Of course, there is no aiming, just tab targeting, so my guy might just suck. But each little blaster bolt appears to hit and reduces that floating health bar above the target's head. And only that very last blaster bolt has any noticeable effect on the target's ability to fire back. (And,conversely, in fighting a group of 3, I took 20+ blaster bolts and still stood there calmly firing away, so it is broken both ways.)

So for me, a former hunter and someone still fairly familiar with fire arms, the SWTOR model for blaster combat rings false enough for me not to be able to suspend disbelief.

For me, it fails because they are trying to apply the D&D model, which works okay for fantasy, to modern/future technology where I feel it doesn't really work.

But that is just me.
Fantasy game combat is like fantasy movie combat, or, more to the point, like WWE wrestling. Beating someone for several minutes might only end up making them stronger in the end somehow. The combat is more about theatrics than about delivering wounds.

So I do agree that this just has a lot to do with expectations built up by movies and books. What happens when people fight with guns in movies? There are several answers:

1. Massacre
2. Running between different points of cover and never hitting

Or, when it comes to the final battle between good and evil, usually:

3. The guns get knocked out of their hands pretty early on and they have to punch it out, often ending in one of them recovering a gun and immediately winning (either in a fatal shooting or a submission)

For some reason, in video games, it has long been the case that a sword swing that goes right through someone's chest might represent a miss or a grazing blow, but lasers are shown to either hit or miss graphically. One thing is just more traditional than the other.

Somehow guns just don't fit into the normal MMO combat paradigm well for me. I'm not usually one to care at all about this kind of thing, though - I'm very tolerant of game mechanics that don't reflect even the reality of the game, let alone the reality of the real world.
"I’m pretty certain that in real life you wouldn’t survive being hit once with a sword or an axe."

Actually, history shows that sometimes people survive MORE hits in real life than they do in MMOs. There are records of smallsword duels where the *winner* had been stabbed more than 20 times in the course of the duel, for example.

The number of sword hits a person can take IRL is very much a function of the skill of the wielder (there's a big difference between how much damage an untrained sword user can do and an expert), the type of sword or axe, the type of strike, and the freakish genetics or general stubbornness of the target.
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