25 Feb 2012

The Movement-Based MMO of the Future

If there’s one thing that the recent MMO betas have shown me, it’s that I need to raise my game. The days where I’d be able to casually stand at the back, throwing out spells and dodging the occasional bad stuff are fading fast. The new world order is in keeping characters moving purely in order to survive.

For those of us brought up on a diet of Warcraft, Rift and Star Wars, spellcasters have been in a priviledged state where most of the PvE combat is managed for us. We have a small selection of abilities to choose from, a list of easy-to-spot things to stay out of and a simple role to do. It also makes for boring combat – once you have a fight memorised you’re laughing.

But changes are on the horizon. In the future breed of MMOs roles are more loosely defined and combat systems have been revamped. Instead of staying at range and just flinging spells, Spellcasters are likely to be taking a much more active role in the future. As I’ve found to my cost recently, this isn’t going to be an easy one for many of us to adapt to.

The two key changes are being able to move while casting (a fundamental part of Guild Wars 2) and needing to rapidly dodge incoming attacks (exemplified in Guild Wars 2, TERA and others). But old habits die hard, and adapting to these changes is going to take a while for longstanding players of spellcasters who focus heavily on traditional PvE environments.

Ultimately this is a good change. By making combat more engaging, players feel more involved. There have been several times were I’ve felt like a PvE tourist just blasting through content in order to maximise damage output. That isn’t going to be the case any more – surviving, not being a burden to your friends and supporting the rest of the group are going to be just as important.

Adapting is going to be painful for some, me included. Looking through my current stack of MMOs, it’s likely that I’ll have to switch over to PvP so that I’m able to learn the skills needed and develop the muscle memory required to tackle these games. PvE content in current MMOs just doesn’t provide the challenge, as a large proportion have been tuned down in the name of accessibility.

We’ve been shouting for a while that we’re after games that present more of a challenge and more involved action than is currently on offer. Now that it’s finally set to arrive it’s time for us to tool up and face it. Personally, I’ve been living soft and easy for far too long. It’s time for me to get my twitch back.

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15 Responses to The Movement-Based MMO of the Future

  1. Paul says:

    Games that require more skill to play — what could possibly go wrong?

    • Gazimoff says:

      And I pretty much agree with you! I’ve often moand about the lack of skill needed for traditional Warcraft-style PvE content in all bar the very top-end. By increasing the entry requirements, this could be great.

      My fear is that a gaming population largely fed on a diet of easy content will log into these new games and give up instead of learning and adapting. I want MMOs to move in this direction, but I think that the large MMO community need to move with it.

      • steelbender says:

        The only problem I see is one of time. I only have about 10 hours a week to play any computer games, so my ability to master a more complex system when I am trying to play both an MMO and some standalone in that limited time is nonexistent. Not only that, but I don’t think I am alone in wanting to experience games without necessarily mastering them, but I also don’t want to be locked out of content because I can’t spend enough time. New games need to find that balance or suffer a reduced playerbase.

      • Paul says:

        This notion that people are spoiled by being fed easy content is quite ridiculous, in my opinion. Rather, it’s not that they end of preferring easy content — a large number do — but the idea that this has somehow damaged them, or is a bad outcome.

        If people enjoy easy games, then so be it. That is their prerogative, and is no less valid than someone else professing to prefer difficult games. If you are complaining because those players are no longer there to prop up the market for the kind of game YOU desire, then I have little sympathy for you.

        • Gazimoff says:

          I kinda disagree with you on your first point. I think that easier MMOs have set the expectations that all MMOs are the same difficulty level. There’s a big fear among the Guild Wars 2 community that a large number of these people will get into beta and start clamouring for easier content. It’s not a case of being spoiled – it’s a case of what players have been led to expect.

          I think there’s all kinds of room for niche MMOs, and the 5000 dev signups for the HeroEngine has easily shown there’s interest in creating a ton of new games. But I also think that a community that says “It’s too easy” on one hand and “it’s too hard” on the other really needs to look at what it wants from games, or simply accept that not all games are designed for all players.

          It’s one of those tricky things that I can’t help but think we try to attack badly. When you have a vast number of players, all aiming to play the same game but also wanting vastly different things from it, where do you go?

          • Paul says:

            I wasn’t critiquing the notion that players are affected by easier content. Many MMO players have discovered that they prefer easier content, and this self-discovery, once made, cannot be unmade.

            What I object to is the wailing and cloths-tearing at this as some sort of terrible spoilation of the game-o-sphere, ignoring that it’s happening because millions of people have moved to the forms of game that give them the most pleasure. Those players aren’t sheep whose sole purpose is to entertain the hardcores.

  2. Long says:

    That’s good!
    Lose weight, gain dexterity and maybe RSI. :)
    People should not forget the games are still MMOs, not click-heavy RTS or twitch shooters. It shouldn’t be too hard to adapt to some movement. I mean “movement cripples” who couldn’t move their asses when they stood in green goo had to adapt in previous MMOs as well.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think you’ve got a point. But I also think that after playing the simplest class with a very low situational awareness requirement, there’s a step change to this newer stuff.

      I think there’s a market for twitch, just as there’s a market the other way. It just depends on which market each is going for. Currently the introduction of more twitch seems to be an interesting trend.

  3. Lethality says:

    Good post, and no doubt seems to be the trend!

    But I don’t think it’s ultimate destination of MMORPG design, and in fact I believe developers are in the process of “over-correcting” for perceptions of boring, predictable, tab-targeted trinity combat.

    There’s a definite play style attached to rules-based combat, and relying too much on physical dexterity and “twitch” diminishes the value of the numbers behind the combat (which is what some players like.)

    No doubt we’ll have to go through a phase of more “action-oriented” combat, but I wouldn’t want to see it go entirely that way, and in the log run I don’t think it will.

    Keep up the great posts!

  4. notfrancois says:

    This is a much awaited trend. Being a better player will mean advancing faster. Improving your skill at this kind of MMO is for the “first time” an intrinsic reward (which always been the case in most games). In current WoW-likes it’s the time played which rewards the most by giving proportional stats (extrinsic reward).

    Little skilled gamers will still go through the content but slower and will be encourage to be more situational aware which increase immersion and fun (rather than looking at timers for you usual dps-cycle).
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    • Lethality says:

      You don’t seem to be understanding that rules-based combat requires skill too – understand of mechanics and how to stack the numbers to your best benefit.

      Twitch gaming isn’t the only translation of skill, and quite frankly it can become a cancer on these games in developers allow it unwittingly.
      Lethality recently posted..Blue Milk & Cereal: Do Credits Matter?My Profile

      • Gazimoff says:

        They’re both different kinds of skills, which is what makes it interesting. On the one hand you’ve got people who sink in hours or days working out the best piece of gear or the perfect spell rotation, then practice regularly to execute that pattern in a raid environment.

        On the other hand there’s being able to move and react rapidly to a changing situation and knowing which abilities to use outside of that default pattern.

        One of my big problems at the moment is that I can handle the former easily with a little practice. Handling the latter requires experience of changing or unexpected situations, along with greater situational awareness, mainly because it’s a skill that I don’t practice regularly as I’m not a PVPer.

        I don’t think twitch will become the norm for MMOs, but I do think that it’s an interesting alternative to the current model.

  5. Syl says:

    The active battle of GW2 is possibly my most-anticipated feature right now, simply because it adds so many tactical aspects to a concept we master by now. it’s true that many players, the “traditional caster” types especially, will need a moment to adapt, but then I think some people make too big a deal out of it. if you really cared to PvP in WoW for example, you would make that transition to the more active and environmentally aware playstyle in BGs soon enough. I think anyone can do it, will given. =) trying out some FPS until GW2 is also a great way to introduce oneself to this, by the way (boy was my time with Red Orchestra 2 an eye-opener!).

    however, I wonder if ArenaNet actually thinks about a potential learning curve there and how to introduce/progress the WoW-trained audience through it (maybe with some tutorial quests that deal with movement?)? would be interesting.
    Syl recently posted..Where are the Orcs in Guild Wars 2?My Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      From my experience in the press beta there’s very little tutorial to help WoW/SWTOR/Rift players with moving to this new model. But it’s early days and it’s likely to change with feedback. ArenaNet have taken a lot away from the weekend, and it’s likely we’ll see things more accessible without becoming easier.

      There’s also a little that comes down to class selection. For spellcasters, Necromancer and Mesmer are more accessible than Elementalist, which I would suggest that new players to the series avoid. As for me, I’m immersing myself in first person shooters (TF2 etc) to get myself back up to speed.

  6. eki says:

    hey there

    Have you, by any chance, played vindictus? Because this just sounds like it! And that’s kind of what I’m searching for. I’m playing wow for several years now and you’re speaking out of my heart when saying “standing in the back and flinging spells can be boring”.

    Vindictus had a combat mechanic that I truly loved, but the surrounding was pretty bad. There was no open world outside your village of 50 yards square… All fights were instanced and on top of it the levels looked all the same.

    But boy were the bossfights thrilling! Maybe that’s where you can train for GW2 if you want to step up your game :)