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…
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.)
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!