Taunting, Mentalism, and Variety

Still working on what I’ve been working on… lots of stumbling blocks this week that made me glad I’m bald so I don’t pull out my hair in frustration. But these things happen sometimes, and rather than bore you with those details, let’s look at some of the other systems I’ve been adding over the past month.

Taunting and Aggro

I want pets to be able to grab aggro for their owners — at least, some pets would do that, depending on their genes and temperament — but in order to do that, I need a more robust aggro system.

The old mechanics: In pre-alpha 2, monsters hated you based on how much damage you did. Do 10 damage, they hate you 10. Plus, every few seconds, they hate you a little more, just because you’re a jerk. If you got too far away from the monster, or the monster got too far away from its home, then its hatred started dramatically depleting, and when it didn’t hate you anymore, it would go home.

(Note that this is completely different from Rage — that’s the thing that lets monsters use their best attacks. For some reason it never occurred to me how confusing it would be to have systems called “Rage” and “Hate” at the same time. So I’m trying to retcon “Hate” into “aggro”, but in my head I’m still calling it “hate”, so bear with me.)

The new mechanics: I just added a few new things on to the old mechanics. Now some abilities can do more or less hate… err, aggro … instead of being tied directly to how much damage is done.

In addition, abilities can do “temporary aggro”, which is like regular aggro, but wears off very quickly — it has a half-life of about 3 seconds. I use “temporary aggro” to do taunts that pull monsters off of others — for a few seconds, the monster suddenly thinks you did 1,000 extra damage to it, so it will turn and fight you. But after a few seconds that 1000 becomes 500, then 250, then 125, and then the monster might decide it hates somebody else instead, and turn away from you.

It’s actually possible with these rules to get a monster stuck in an “aggro hell”, where they change aggro targets so often that they spend most of their time running around instead of attacking. In some games that would be an exploit, but it shouldn’t be a big deal in Gorgon, because group combats involve a lot of enemies. If you have the personal concentration to bounce a monster back and forth between a buddy while simultaneously fighting another monster, congrats, you’re awesome. (I might make an exception for boss monsters… we’ll see.)

De-Aggro as Crowd Control

This system also gives us the ability to have the classic “de-taunt” power. All we do is have certain attacks deal negative aggro. Combat Psychologists have a new ability, Smooth Talk, that does this. It causes monsters to forget 50 points of aggro. And what happens if the aggro goes negative? Well, if there’s any other target for it to attack (like a pet or an ally) it will switch to them. But if you’re just out on your own, it still keeps attacking you. It says “Hmm, the person I hate the most is Bob, with an aggro of -30. Let’s kill Bob!” This is how it’s usually done in MMOs.

But that wasn’t very fun, so instead, if your aggro goes negative and it can’t find anybody else to kill, it will just give up and go home. (Or if it’s already at its home spot, it will just stand there looking at you, slowly building up hate again, until its aggro is positive.)

It’s a fun ability to play around with — handy for getting out of scrapes while soloing, especially — but I may end up moving it out of Combat Psychology. That skill already have a lot of crowd-control powers that are better than this one, so this might get lost in the crowd. It might be a fun ability to give to the Mentalist instead. Oh, speaking of which…

The Mentalist

I decided to add the Mentalist skill to the next pre-alpha playtest. It wasn’t scheduled to go in yet, but I’m adding it ahead of schedule for two reasons: first, I already had all the tech it needs, and second, I wanted to have another non-weapon combat skill available. It gives you lots more options, especially if you have hooves or claws for hands. There need to be enough options that you actually have some interesting choices to experiment with! Otherwise, I won’t be able to gather feedback on how you experiment with them.

The mentalist is a support role with a bunch of area-effect buffs that can be applied to the whole group. Every twenty seconds, Mentalists can start one of their AoE abilities: Regenerate Health, Regenerate Armor, Regenerate Power, or Boost Damage. These abilities last for 60 seconds, but you can start them every 20 seconds… which means you can have up to three of them going at once, if you’re careful with the timing. You can use the same power three times in a row (they stack), or you can mix and match depending on circumstances. I wanted this mechanic to work kinda like the EQ1 bard’s “song spinning” mechanic (but a little less spammy).

The Mentalist also has several attack powers, focusing on damage-over-time abilities. These powers are pretty mediocre at killing things (because they take so long), but they each have additional perks that last for as long as they’re running. For instance, “Mind Gnaw” causes constant Psychic damage, and also has a chance to make the monster lose all its built-up Rage. “Agitate” does Electricity damage, and if the monster’s armor is not yet depleted, there’s a small chance each second that the monster will become Stunned. “Mind Rend” is the most devastating of their arsenal: it does constant Psychic damage, and if the target is sentient and alive (ie not undead, an animal, or a construct), there’s a small chance every second that it will have a stroke and die instantly.

You probably wouldn’t use Mentalism as your primary combat skill, because the damage-over-time abilities take too long by themselves. But it makes a good second skill, especially in a group. (Remember that players can have two combat skills active at a time.)

Combining Mentalism

Mentalism is designed to pair up especially well with Unarmed. Both skills get buffs from practicing Meditation, and their abilities complement each other well. For instance, Mentalism can stun people when their armor isn’t depleted yet; Unarmed can stun people when their armor is depleted. Having two skills that can stun the same enemy is very powerful.

But there are lots of other potential pairings. Mentalism goes pretty well with Fire Magic: they are both ranged DoT skills, and Fire Mages always need tons of Power… which Mentalists happen to be able to provide.

On the other hand, if you want to be a more “group support” role you can combine Mentalism with Battle Chemistry or Combat Psychology. That would give you a lot of different support powers… and the weird thing is, right now, I really can’t tell if those pairings will be fun or if they’ll be too scattered and messy. We’ll see during playtesting!

On “Pure” Roles

The Mentalist’s powers are half about healing and half about damage. A high-level Battle Chemist can also be half-healing and half-damage. Even if you use both of them together, you’re still not a pure healer. That’s intentional.

I don’t want there to be “pure” healer roles (or “pure” tank roles, for that matter) for a bunch of reasons, the most prominent being a very pragmatic one: it’s an indie game and who knows how many people will be playing? I can’t afford for people to be saying “We can’t do this dungeon because we can’t find a healer.” There may not be any healers online anywhere. (This is also why the standard group size is three: to make it easy to get a group going even if the population turns out to be very small.)

But on the other hand, I don’t want to swing the pendulum too far the other way, like Diablo3 does, where everybody is basically just a damage-dealer. I want there to be lots of room for lots of different roles, and I want them to vary depending on what dungeon you’re in. Okay, yeah, maybe there will be dungeons where you really need a Fire Mage, because the place is full of Ice Golems. So sometimes a role or two might feel mandatory. But they’ll change around, not always the same things over and over. And you, the player, can change around your skills, too, so that if you’re in a group whose skills really don’t gel together, you can adjust to fit.

This is a difficult thing for players to get their heads around, which means I’ll need to spend more time making it intuitive. It’s also harder for me to make the combat work well, so that the monster roles are fun and diverse, and combat is the perfect blend of chaos and strategy.

Not an easy design. Largely because it’s not like anything else I can steal the design from. But that’s still my plan, and I’ve got a bunch more play-tests to experiment with the idea and try to make it work. So we’ll see how it goes!

If all else fails, I can fall back to the more tried-and-true combat roles, I guess — that would just mean that if you get in a group without a tank, somebody would need to switch their skills to tanking. But using those fixed roles would also take a lot of the variability out of group combat.

And variation is really important. A lot of my expected player-base will be veteran MMO players. If they’ve spent the past 3 years as a Priest in WoW dungeons, I don’t want to subject them to another few years of staring intently at little health bars 24/7. A veteran MMO player needs a game that changes things up a lot. Otherwise they burn out.

MMO players seem to burn out of the entire genre at an alarming rate. The only other genre I can think of with such high rates of players vocally abandoning the entire genre would be Facebook games. Which points out some uncomfortable similarities between the two. One of which is that they lack diversity. You can only do the same exact thing for so many years before you’re going to have to call it quits.

So while this is a classic MMO, I really want the game to have lots of fresh experiences, both to soloers and to group combat. New skills for people to learn; new strategies to invent; new stuff to do!

I think I have a handle on making the solo experience fresh and diverse. Making group combat successfully diverse is going to be harder, but worth it if I can pull it off!

Hmm, this post is pretty long. I’ll ramble about some more topics later!

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8 Responses to Taunting, Mentalism, and Variety

  1. Kujo says:

    No healer threat?

    It was probably simply an example, but I’d caution against making the detaunt a fixed value. It should scale with the same stats that make things hit harder so that it detaunts roughly the same number of seconds of damage even as you get better.

    Speaking of negative threat, in ac1 I think you could actually heal enemies…

  2. Scoboose says:

    Great job, keep up the good work! I cant wait to start updating the wiki again.

  3. whackedenforce says:

    So how do you get into the Pre-Alpha I’ve been wanting to try this game out for like a month now.

  4. Xhi says:

    When you say standard group size is 3, do you mean most mob encounters are designed for 3 people or that 3 is the maximum number of people you can have in a group at once?

    Also, can monsters walk through or over players/walls/cliffs/doors like the majority of MMOs? One of the things I really liked about Asheron’s Call was that taunt didn’t seem quite so gimmicky because you could physically block mobs.

    For instance AC1 mobs would usually try to reach and kill the healers (just like real life players would), but you could shove the healer into a corner and block it off with 2-3 stronger defense characters and the mob would just attack whoever was closest and/or doing most damage until it could reach healer. You could even occasionally kill a mob without effort by shooting it from the top of a cliff, although not often because there just weren’t that many mobs in range.

    The only time I remember this being heavily exploitable was when they let players both auto-target and attack through walls with lifesteal. Otherwise it felt like playing smart.

  5. Eric says:

    @Kujo – you know, I forgot about healer threat. It’s in my notes but it didn’t get implemented. Doh! I’ll add it eventually.

    The fixed number in the detaunt was just an example. There are lots of levels of the ability as you level up, with different fixed numbers for each level range of monster. I think that’ll work out okay, but if monsters really end up varying too much, I can just change it into some sort of formula.

    @whackedenforce – the server is down right now, but will be back up in January, and I’ll do a call for volunteers then!

    @Xhi – the “standard” group size of three just determines the difficulty of the average group battle (and the amount of rewards). You can have larger groups, and in fact I’m open to making six-man content for higher-level players, if it turns out there’s clearly enough support for that during alpha.

    Right now monsters can’t walk through walls or players, but they can go through doors (or, more accurately, there aren’t any doors yet! So they can go through door-frames…). I like the idea of being able to block monsters a bit, letting people hide behind friends when they’re near-death, etc. But there’s a whole lot of combat logic to work out for that, so I don’t yet know what monsters will be able to do in the final game.

    As an example of combat logic, suppose a spellcasting monster wants to throw a fireball at you, but you’re hiding right behind another player. It shouldn’t give up — it should just throw the fireball at the player in front of you, since fireballs are an area-effect attack! But before coding that, I need to figure out if that adds more ways to grief people.

    There’s a lot of different cases to consider, so I’ll see how it goes. There’s probably some compromises to be had. For instance, maybe ranged attacks can go through people (but not walls) to reach their target. That might solve a lot of weird cases and make the AI a lot simpler.

    But anyway, I’m hoping that movement and positioning will be a big deal.

  6. Curtis says:

    Every time I read your articles I come to the conclusion that you are insanely ambitious. It is the main reason despite the fact your game is not entirely my cup of tea (nor is any game out today other than AC as I like my tea hot a burning you constantly), it contains some arguably overly ambitious and very well thought out concepts. Based on your background in the industry if there was someone who would be successful at bringing this to life it would be someone with a greater knowledge of the MMO genre, an objective mind towards what causes players to stay and or go, and a realistic goal for player base. In all this you have my support.

    I was actually astonished from the early playtime you gave us during you Kickstarter campaign. I was able to get that refreshed feeling that this was not another WoW Clone nor was it what I had been searching for. instead it was something that fell in between and gave me a whole new experience. I spent hours as a Cow enjoying the game as such and all the while laughing at myself for loving it. My fellow gamers came over to see what I was yammering on about and enjoyed a good laugh as well.

    When I began discussing certain mechanics and features within the game they were standard fan boys of the werewolf/demon idea. I personally decided I shall make all other creatures bow and respect the might of the Cow! Pet control was another feature that has always been heartbreaking to me and my fellows over the years in MMO’s. It just seems that the system is either broken BAD *Vanguard SoH* or boring as hell *Dragoon in FF XI*. Sure you get a few oohs and ahhhs at first until every other Dragoon has the same dragon etc.

    Depending on how you plan to maintain profits for this game I will say I would throw a few bucks around to have a Top Hat and Monocle on my Cow character and a rebel bandanna on my pet Rat (With the Cow insignia of course). Like it or not cosmetics are a money maker as I am sure you know. If only my Dragoon could have had a Dragon with a Top Hat and Monocle on it.

    Anyways I got kinda side tracked and am in a bit of a rush so simply put I am confident you can do it but everything you are implementing is so far out of the norm I worry you might burn yourself out from the massive QA required to implement so much innovation. Either way, best of luck and I will be watching!

  7. bubble says:

    I like the idea of mobs being able to taunt as well as the players – like a temporary root which also forces the player to target that mob while it lasted – with player abilities that can save against / break it in different ways – so guard mobs can protect their healers / casters too. I think that simple change could make group combat and solo versus grouped mobs combat very different and potentially a lot more tense.

    Overall what you’re describing sounds very cool. It reminds me a bit of the swg skill system where there were a set of skill blocks and you could create your own “class” by choosing which blocks you wanted. That was a lot of fun. If a “class” should actually be a preferred playstyle in disguise then it’s a lot easier to allow more possible permutations if it’s mix and match like that – even if it might be harder to make all the blocks work together.

    “I don’t want there to be “pure” healer roles (or “pure” tank roles, for that matter) for a bunch of reasons, the most prominent being a very pragmatic one: it’s an indie game and who knows how many people will be playing?…Not an easy design.”

    The idea i like for this is you have limited skills with ranks and can only run a limited total number of ranks at the same time e.g. a d&d type priest might have hammer, shield and heal abilities with a rank of 1 per level and max total ranks running at a time of player level so for different situations he’d run different combos e.g. at level 4
    - soloing weak enemies: 2 ranks of hammer, 1 each of shield and heal
    - soloing stronger enemies: 1 rank of hammer, 2 of shield, 1 of heal
    - grouped healer: 1 rank of shield and 3 ranks of heal
    with lots of situational and group synergy abilities so your ability loadout is very tactical depending on what you’re fighting and who you’re fighting with. I am so sick of staring at rows of toolbar buttons waiting for cooldowns.

    “Like it or not cosmetics are a money maker as I am sure you know.”

    I think this is true. I dabble in various F2P games and i’ve come to the conclusion that the only cash shop items that don’t put me off (and possibly the only things they need?) are content updates like mini-expansions and cosmetic items. The thing is though the AAA games that went F2P weren’t designed for it in advance so there were/are two flaws for most of them

    1) They already had a ton of different and decent looking gear for players to differentiate themselves with. The base game needs to have relatively bland looking gear while the cash-shop stuff is great looking or suits a particular character idea (my favorite cosmetic items are things like backpacks that suit different characters).

    2) The main game wasn’t designed with modular content in mind so they put other things that were modular into the cash shop like races and classes which limits the try before you buy aspect especially if the free classes are the dullest ones.

    So personally i now think the best model is sub + F2P where the sub gets access to all the cosmetic items and updates while the F2P can pick and mix from the cash shop.

    I also prefer the idea of combining both i.e. you don’t buy the cosmetic item directly you unlock the ability to get it in the game e.g. you unlock
    - an npc merchant that sells character appropriate backpacks
    - a quest npc that eventually leads to a mob that drops a monocle
    - a tailor npc who gives a quest to get the ingredients to make a cloak
    etc

    Secondly i think a freemium hybrid game like this should be designed so modular content can easily be plugged into the world (which also may mean the world doesn’t have to be as big at the start). Sci-fi is maybe easiest for this as you can have each planet be a “zone.” So you might have six systems to start with with one visitable planet/zone in each but then could potentially add scores of modular new content by adding the other planets in each system, moons, space stations, abandoned wrecks, asteroid bases etc. I guess the ideal fantasy version of that might be something like the City of Sigil in Planescape where the backstory tells of infinite portals leading everywhere in the multiverse so you could just add a new portal for each update.

  8. Anthony says:

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but FFXI has a similar style of “enmity” system, with two types of hate one can generate: the main nonvolatile mainly generated via doing dmg or curing dmg, most spells that didn’t do either could add to this number but it tended to be small values; and then volatile hate generated from the use of job abilities and spells, most of these gave fairly large values but it degraded at a steady rate over time – so the “taunt” of the game might give a huge value on volatile hate but during a long enough fight it no longer kept up with nonvolatile hate.

    This system has basically hit a brick wall in the current game, one issue being limited skills that lesson or move this enmity/hate and the other being a literal maximum hate cap. The hate cap has all but neutered tanking in the game as it is, as dps has taken a huge leap forward in the last few years and capping hate takes a few minutes at most, and once capped the monster resorts to swinging at whoever last affected its hate values, causing them to start spinning around attacking randomly.

    Something to keep in mind.