Tobold, my favorite MMO-player everyman, recently posted a short piece on the value of combat targeting. He seems pleased that the developers of both Darkfall and Age of Conan tried to do something new with combat, but notes that the lack of targeting in Darkfall especially doesn’t do the game any real favors because it is too easy to exploit.
But here’s what interested me: if you happened to still have the boxed version of the original Asheron’s Call 2 game published by Microsoft, it includes a keyboard shortcut sheet. Look at the bottom left of the key map and you may see that the left Ctrl key maps to “Wild Swing”. That was an untargeted attack that could hit multiple enemies.
AC2 had a complete physics engine that made this feature easy to implement, but AC2 didn’t launch with this feature. It was cut, albeit too late to change the first batch of box inserts, because — just as Tobold notes — it created too many exploitable scenarios.
But now that Age of Conan and Darkfall are doing it, untargeted combat is considered “innovation”. If you want some more innovative features, maybe your next MMO will have one of these crazy ideas:
- Real physical projectiles that can be dodged by strafing from side to side (both AC1 and AC2)
- A constantly evolving storyline that alters the face of the game world, adding and destroying stories, quests, cities, even landmasses on a monthly basis (both AC1 and AC2)
- A variable-length jumping system, where holding down the space bar longer makes you jump further (AC1, complete with puzzles that require you to use it well)
- The ability to travel quickly around the world, while still providing a sense of grandeur and rewarding player knowledge, by mastering an elaborate network of teleport portals and spells (both ACs)
- The ability to improve skills by spending your XP on them (both ACs)
- A “trickle down” guild system where new players automatically feed XP to higher-level members of the guild, thereby encouraging guilds to grow large, and to take care of their lower-level members (both ACs)
- The ability to inscribe your name and a paragraph of text onto every item you own (both ACs)
And on and on… I could list dozens more. AC1 and AC2 had tons of features, large and small, which differed dramatically from other MMOs at the time — while still remaining recognizably MMOs. Were all these innovations successful? Hell no. Many of them were design failures. But they were innovations.
The point here is not that AC1 and AC2 were more innovative than other MMOs. Every big-league MMO in existence has had scores of unique features. Sometimes they don’t get noticed because the designers don’t do a good job explaining why the feature is awesome. (Often they aren’t really that awesome anyway.) Sometimes the company’s PR department fails to trumpet the feature, usually because they don’t understand it or why it’s a cool innovation. Sometimes the game sucks in so many other ways that the flaws outweigh any new features.
So here’s my point: any twist on an existing mechanic you can come up with, any obvious combination of MMOs and other genres, I can pretty much guarantee you that many MMO designers have already considered it. They may have already implemented it in some game you’ve never heard of. Hell, they may have implemented it in a game you have heard of — do you really keep up with all the game systems in all the new games and new expansions?
But unfortunately, innovations and new features don’t automatically make MMOs successful. Being “new” doesn’t make a feature good.
Innovation isn’t the key to fun. Fun is the key to fun.