Field Autopsies, and Man I’m Slow

I’m still slogging through the code. Not going as fast as I wanted — there’s been lots of interruptions, but also I’ve just had a hard time drilling through the rest of the tedious stuff needed to make the game workable for pre-alpha. I have the ADHDs pretty bad, and some days no amount of pushing myself can get me to work on something that’s boring. (Yet another reason a coding partner would be ideal… but not really practical given the budget at this point.)

But it’s getting there — I’ve slogged slowly through some of the boring stuff and can make decent progress again. To get back on track, I’ve punted some of the combat skills, as well as lots of the quests and other details for now. But I’ve been finishing up systems that are lying around partially-completed. One of those is Pathology.

Field Autopsies

Classic MMOs have a window of combat text spewing nonstop throughout the fight. I don’t want to do that for several reasons. First, displaying reams of text is clumsy in Unity, and it’s hard to manage it. Second, some MMOs really just provide it so that third-party tools can analyze the text… but that seems like a weird relic from bygone text-MUD days. The question is, why do players want a text log? The biggest reason is to see how much damage they did, who killed the monster, what their DPS was, that sort of thing. So I’ll answer those questions in a gamey way with the Pathology skill.

You’ll need to find a field autopsy kit to practice your Pathology skill. This isn’t standard-issue newbie-town fare, so it will require some effort to find. (Although in pre-alpha, it’s easy: the crazy guy in town just sells them for 50 bucks after you do his initial quest.) When you have this kit in your inventory and examine a corpse, you have the option to “autopsy” it.

When you autopsy, the game makes a skill check — that is, it rolls virtual dice and compares your Pathology skill to the monster’s anatomical difficulty. (Animals are easier to autopsy, people are harder, demons are harder still… that sort of thing.) Depending on how well the autopsy goes, you learn different info about the death.

The easiest thing to discover is how the monster died. This is based on the very last attack the monster received. This is mostly just for flavor, but it has a couple of minor game-mechanic details I’ll get to later. Another easy thing to learn is who dealt the fatal blow to it.

If you’re more skilled at pathology, you’ll also get a little report of how much damage each player did to the monster. If you’re really good at Pathology, you can see how much armor damage each person did to it. (Remember that there’s both a “health bar” and an “armor bar”.) But if you botch the autopsy, the corpse is ruined and you can’t figure anything out.

Only one player can autopsy a given corpse. After it’s done, though, anybody can view the corpse to see the “autopsy report.”

I imagine I’ll add more options to the report over time, like being able to see how enraged the creature was during the fight, and so on. And when it’s fully fleshed out, I’ll make a custom GUI for it. Right now, the autopsy information is shown as clumsy text… but it’s completely usable for pre-alpha, and maybe all the way through early beta. (I’m hoping to put off doing too much more GUI stuff until the new Unity GUI system is released in Unity 3.6. Otherwise I’ll just have to redo it later.)

Other Death Verbs

You can do a lot of things with a dead body in this game. Necromancers will want to harvest organs, sages will want to study the corpse’s anatomy to learn combat tips, that sort of thing. There’ll probably be a dozen different ways to use a corpse by the time beta arrives. I think that’s fun, but it does presents a management problem: who gets to do what?

To prevent griefing, I’ll implement the usual MMO rule that says only players who killed it (or their group members) can loot it/harvest it/etc. But that just prevents griefing. How do I help players manage corpse activities effectively? That’s the harder question. If one group member only cares about loot, but another person wants to practice autopsies, and the group’s werewolf wants to eat the corpse to boost their metabolism, who gets to do what?

Obviously, eating a corpse would make it difficult to autopsy. So you’d want to autopsy the corpse first and then eat it. And if you want to harvest body parts for your necromantic rituals, that would make the autopsy much more difficult. It might make the corpse less filling when eaten, too! So different players will have a different optimal order for doing things with corpses. The game should help players organize that behavior to make it easy… I haven’t really figured out how that will work, though.

I’ll probably start with a classic round-robin system, so that each player takes a turn getting first-pick of the corpse, and once they’ve done whatever they want to with it (loot it, autopsy it, etc.) then if there’s anything left over, other group members can jump in and do whatever to it, first come first served.

(For pre-alpha, there’s no checks at all — any jerk on the server can loot any corpse! So obviously there are lots of baby steps before I get there. But it’s something I’m thinking about.)

Art Diary: Video Test

Here’s a very tiny video — I’m trying to figure out the best way to do video footage. This is just me stuck in wolf form, killing a wussy goblin.

Lots of bugs! The goblin has no loot (oops, he should have — I forgot to fill out his loot table), so I just autopsy the corpse. That’s a bug too: as a wolf, I shouldn’t be able to use a field-autopsy kit! Instead, I should have the option to eat the corpse. Also, the floaty numbers aren’t sizing right, and it’s hard to follow them. Yet more bugs to figure out.

But I do love the mental image of a wolf killing a monster and then doing an autopsy, only to discover “Huh, this goblin was mauled to death by a wild animal. Weird!”

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20 Responses to Field Autopsies, and Man I’m Slow

  1. Christina says:

    I like your blog dude but if I have ever disagreed with you it’s here.

    Combat logs allow for a level of detail of logging you just can’t get with in game feedback and systems. While it would be nice to make them truly unnecessary, they are a nice feature for hard core players to access information they otherwise couldn’t get access to. They are if nothing else…insurance.

    They are also great for when you make mistakes. Remember Everquest and all the weird math errors that players found using the combat logs that the devs sweared did not exist? More insurance there.

  2. Eric says:

    Well, why not let me know what data you like to get from a parser, and I can see if it can be added to the game? I can’t fathom a piece of information that can only be accessed out of game. The game can do anything an add-on can.

    As for finding bugs… I wouldn’t turn down free QA! But client-side logs will never be very good at that. (It won’t even have aggro scores, spawn times for adds, or any number of other critical combat details.) It’s just what players are used to having access to. But if somebody with a mathematical bent (and some skill with parsing text files) wants to do free number-analysis on my game, I’ll be happy to send them a days’ worth of server-side combat logs, with a lot more info… and they can dig through that instead.

  3. Cheshiremythos says:

    Shouldn’t everyone be able to loot it first before any other corpse manipulation actions are allowed to be activated? If its round robin style loot then the who ever’s turn it is gets all the loot on the corpse or if its everyone gets their own special loot visible only to them then that process needs to be finished first. Then once loot is done it goes into (a different?) round robin for who can manipulate the corpse first. I could see the werewolf eating a fully lootable corpse not going over well.

    Other than that the whole corpse has a resource, other than simply treasure, is rather neat. As much as I have followed the dev posts so far I like the completely unusual direction you are taking.

    @Christina Other than the devs swearing their numbers were right when they weren’t want insurance does a combat log bring? To hard core or soft core players.

  4. Kierbuu says:

    I could see field autopsies as kind of annoying. To the average player ‘log’ information in that form could be either fun or stupid, but no big deal. However, I could see high end raiding types as finding this system super awful. The high end user is not going to like receiving partial data (or no data if autopsy fails). Maybe I’m just reading the issue wrong, but that was my first reaction to the idea.

  5. Cheshiremythos says:

    @Kierbuu But after the initial ‘grrr I don’t like not having the info instantly’ wouldn’t the majority of people, high end raiders included, just get over the fact of not always having access to who kill what last?

    I suppose it also depends on whether this is a raid heavy game too. If the end game focus is not on raids then a raider’s hurt feelings who did the final damage against the boss doesn’t matter. (Right?)

  6. Eric says:

    I really don’t know if there’ll be traditional raids as such — the game’s designed for solo play and lots of small 3-man groups, with “epic” groups having a whopping six people. It’s designed around having really low populations, since that’s what I expect to be able to attract. :)

    But if there are raids, I’m sure raiding-level players will have long since maxed out their Autopsy skill so that failures don’t happen (or happen with lotto-ticket rarity, at worst) during raids.

  7. Ahtchu says:

    What a wuss that goblin! You sure showed him!
    Call me old-fashioned or naive, but chat boxes to me mean far more than a simple medium for addons to perform. As someone who plays all their online games specifically sans addons, I believe I have place to speak at the table for chat boxes performing in their namesake.
    I appreciate your adding function to what is seemingly a relic of a mechanic, but might I offer a voice to the side of the mechanic actually ‘working as intended’? I enjoy good information organization to avoid ‘tell hell’, plenty of properly segmented chat channels with color coding, and even combat text that is filtered for me:npc, me:player, npc:me, player:me interaction. I enjoy flavor text as well (come on, ‘by fire be purged’ is a classic) and to attribute text boxes as being a mere conduit for addons is disheartening.
    The issue isn’t the text box, it’s the addons. I appreciate your creativity with applying new meaning to them (pronoun replacing ‘text box’, not ‘addon’), however, that’s for sure!

  8. Rauxis says:

    on the log: in client/server applications I found it sometimes very useful to compare client and server logs. That way I discovered some nasty bugs when the server was sending the correct message to the wrong client.

    So I’m not sure foregoing a client log is a good idea – though I do not see the need for a chat window to look at all those lines. An external app (or editor) might be more beneficial.

  9. Kierbuu says:

    @Cheshiremythos

    My thoughts weren’t so much on the killing blow; but about DPS, armor removal, and enrage timers. If it is just about killing blows then yeah, who cares.

    @Eric

    Guess I just fall into the trap of thinking of every MMO in the same way. If 6 players is the largest planned group then my concerns aren’t serious. Parses and logs become kind of novelty instead of need.

  10. Espoire says:

    Logs (and Add-Ons or external programs that parse them) serve two purposes during a raid: epeen and diagnosing a failed combat to prepare for the next. With your system being reserved for use on defeated opponents only, it will be unusable for the second purpose. That is what the real hardcore use them for, and I expect this will make difficult content in your game- regardless of how many players partake in it at a time- more frustrating than it otherwise would be.

    If displaying text in-game is difficult, you can always buffer combat events and then periodically dump them to a text file.

    The other utility of “damage meters” is exactly what they’re named for: figuring out if you’re improving, which attacks contribute what portion of your damage, etc. This function will work just fine the way you plan. At least, for damage dealers. If you have a healing role, they will go largely without information. This is hardly different from usual, however. HPS numbers are not nearly as important as DPS numbers, and most third-party log parsers do nothing to track “timely” heals, or efficiency.

  11. Jon says:

    I feel like a lot of people are commenting on this from a WoW perspective where its all about min/maxing and raids. These kinds of quirky game mechanics are what make your game unique. I really like the idea of moving traditionally out-of-game details like fight statistics into a game mechanic.

    One idea for managing the different death verbs would be some sort of permission system. The group leader could set permissions for who can do what to prevent the newbie coroner from jumping in to test out his skills and ruining it for everyone.

  12. Jason says:

    I like the idea of a field autopsy. However, while it sounds like a neat “flavor” addition to the game I would like to see more utility/usefulness out of it. Sure, you can autopsy a corpse and discover information, but you then have to share that information and it may or may not (more likely it won’t) be very useful to your group-mates.

    Using the skill, since you mentioned it is a skill and it does use a purchased component, should give the user something the benefits them more tangibly or that they can share with their friends. Perhaps some sort of temporary buff against that type of enemy? For example, perhaps the information you learn is “shared” amongst the group and for a period of time they gain bonus damage (or bonus resistance) to attacks versus that enemy.

  13. Jon says:

    @Jason I think that was what the sage analysis was designed to do but I agree that those could be combined since they do seem fairly similar

  14. Expert Novice says:

    That video was wonderful. Can’t wait, Eric!

  15. Michael says:

    Espoire: Perhaps you can autopsy your own bodies when you get back to where the fight took place. I agree, death logs are an important use for the combat log.

    The other time I turn to the textual combat log in wow is to measure specific things for theorycrafting. Determining the interplay of stats, talents, and abilities so I can understand how to best play my character.

    For as long as combat is about trading blows until one bag of hitpoints is 0, I think there will always be a contigent of people that want the blow-by-blow record. Just look at http://www.worldoflogs.com... Not only does it provide the overview graphs, but you can really drill into the data there, even doing expression-based queries. Folks link logs on that site all the time when asking for help in forums, and the amount of analysis that can be performed is amazing.

    But I would have to have learned nothing at all from this blog if I thought you were going to try to give all the players everything they asked for.

  16. Tiber says:

    I can’t say I really care for the autopsy idea. While combat stats are rarely necessary, they’re nice to have, and it just seems like an annoyance to have to invest in a skill to get what most games give you in real-time.

  17. Will says:

    While tools like recount “can” be useful for combat analysis, their purpose always seems to devolve from “useful, practical tool” to “let me flex my epeen”. I hold DPS cut-and-pastes to the chat box in the same regard as truck nuts and absurdly oversized tires. People who flex their DPS are practically screaming “don’t evaluate the rest of my performance!”

    In addition, I feel like the constant pissing contest that invariably manifests itself from these parses is counter productive. A group member, even a group member labeled as a damage dealer, typically has a much greater responsibility to the group than just doing as much damage as they can, as fast as they can. But parsers can’t track stuff like game-saving roots, or a ranger who took temporary threat of a mob because it was bee-lining its way towards the healer and the tank couldn’t get the peel in time. Doing your job means you did less DPS, which means you risk being berated and ultimately being sucked into the pissing contest. And THAT means the next time you have an opportunity to be an asset to your team, you’ll pass it up because you simply can’t risk the DPS loss.

    This exact same phenomenon, incidentally, also spells the doom of the traditional support class. Supporting classes have always, or very nearly so, been pulled from the DPS archetype, because healers and tanks typically require heavy specialization and there’s simply no room left for multitasking. That means that while these classes are doing their support duties (ie. mana regen, combat buff, target debuff etc.) they are doing … what? … less overall DPS. And since support skills, while desired by all, get almost none of the same recognition and fanfare of pure damage, fewer and fewer people play support classes, which means your game will invariably go the way of WoW and start homogenizing classes to the point that they are indistinguishable from each other. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a sure fire way to suck every ounce of the fun out. What’s the point of distinctiveness if you’re all the same?

    Looks like I got a little long winded there, so I’ll go ahead and wrap it up by saying I think it’s a refreshing concept that you’re not placing such a heavy emphasis on the logs. People should worry less about theory crafting and boiling otherwise good games down to their base math, and instead worry much more about just plain old having a good time.

  18. nevin says:

    When I first started reading this my knee-jerk reaction was it’s a terrible idea but re-reading it and thinking about it a little, I like the idea more and more.
    It provides more immersion in the mechanics of the game especially for the size of groups you mention. It’s simple but adds new interesting dimensions to the kill.

    You would have to have iron clad and fair rules for who gets to do what to expand their skills like if you have two sages in a group etc.

    The wanton slaughter interspersed with some meditation and consideration! Keep questioning the standard rules of mmo play like you have been doing.

  19. Jonathan B says:

    I think Will has laid out a really good argument for why not having combat logs can be a very good thing. Far too often the combat logs are used to figure out how to win, not how to play. It’s just a stat-crunching exercise.

    As for who gets to do what in what order, there are a few variables there. I don’t know if you intend to have any quests like LOTRO where everyone has to gather a special drop from animals so multiple people loot the same corpse for the special item while normal loot only goes to one. That’s worth keeping in mind though in your design. Two sages in a group could possibly be handled with some type of assistance system…adding a bonus to the primary sage’s roll in return for a portion of the gain. If you have any sort of heirarchy mechanic among werewolves, they could divide the feast between them with the most alpha wolf getting the largest portion, perhaps?

    For actions that can prevent other actions, one possibility might be to use a request queue of sorts, where instead of the action taking effect immediately it would be put on a list that the group leader had the permission to change the order of for optimal sharing. Depending how much trouble you wanted to go to, you might want to have some sort of templates that could be pre-set by a group rather than popping up for confirmation on each corpse, though the template would have to prompt to be changed the next time you looted a corpse after the group composition changed. Or perhaps make that the leader’s responsibility to remember that when he addes a new necro to the group he needs to stop and edit the template to move the new addition ahead of the werewolf.

  20. Eric says:

    @Will – that is a big concern also. I hate how MMO developers invariably feel the need to destroy all their hybrid classes because players only optimize for the one variable: DPS. You can say “yeah I did less damage, but I charmed an add and debuffed the main mob’s armor!” til you’re blue in the face, but other players will still call you a gimp. Because they only see one number, that’s all they focus on.

    I really need to make sure players don’t do that here, because DPS is especially under-important in this game. By displaying the info myself, I can help guide players toward what’s important — for instance if debuffing armor is crucial, I can show how effective the debuff was in the autopsy report.