The Dungeon Finder

First, a confession.  Despite having used the dungeon finder in World of Warcraft as a part of my arguments for the erosion of quality social interaction in games, I had never actually used the dungeon finder myself.  I’d read tons of impressions and reviews, and made educated assumptions.  While my worgen is designed to play with the wife and the rogue is designed to play the game awkwardly, I also made a priest specifically to play with other random people.

The priest, Hrogammon, is a human (of course) and because you pretty much can’t group with people even if you pay them before level 15 I spec’d him out for shadow.  I plan to keep a shadow spec for soloing, but I’m also going to do a healing spec later in order to play in groups better.  (Besides, and I know people will argue with me, a shadow spec’d priest should be able to heal a normal dungeon just fine as long as he has decent gear.)  In any event, I figured that until the mid to late 20s and beyond there really isn’t much difference to the three trees anyway as the bonuses are small.  I could be wrong, and I’ll do more research later, but as I said, I’m going to have two spec’s eventually, so I’m not worried much.

Anyway, so I made it to level 18 by doing dailies and running quests up to and through Westfall.  When I completed Westfall and they sent me off to Redridge, I decided to head to Stormwind instead and try my hand at the dungeon finder.

I queued up as Healer and DPS, even though I knew full well that I was going to be plugged in as healing every single time due to the over abundance of DPS players.  The very first group I was thrust into was a perfect example of why playing a DPS stinks.  It was me as the healer, a paladin as tank and three warriors as DPS.  That’s right, three warriors had spec’d and gone into the queue as DPS only (has to be, because if they’d gone in as tanks, they’d be tanks and not all in the same group).  The only advantage here was that when the paladin had to leave, the warriors were actually able to tank and we kept playing until a new paladin showed up.  By the way, you’ll see a theme here in a minute.  The group lasted for a little while in the Wailing Caverns but then the paladin and two warriors disconnected, the other warrior and I wanted for a moment staring at the party portraits with disconnect lightning bolts for about five minutes then we both left the group.  During this time, the warrior and I talked, the most talking that had occurred the entire time, but sadly he plays on another server, so I’ll probably never see him again because I’m not about to give out my RealID to a random stranger.

The next group I had was in the Wailing Caverns again.  A paladin tank, warrior DPS, rogue DPS and a druid DPS.  Things were going along swimmingly, except I noticed that the other party members were leaving everything short of a green on the bodies.  If it wasn’t rolled on, it wasn’t looted.  Being a cash poor player, I started looting things, especially the occasional mana potion and beverage (to recover mana between fights).  The paladin said, “keep up”.  Which I did.  I continued looting, especially the quest items, and the paladin would randomly say, “keep up” or “go”.  Eventually I guess he got fed up with me because I was kicked from the group.  Now, keep in mind, at no point did anyone die, at no point did I miss a heal, at no point did they slow down (even the time or two when I told them I was out of mana), he simply didn’t like the fact that I was looting I guess.  Boot.  Oh well, can’t win ‘em all, right?  Wait, I haven’t won any yet…  maybe next group.

So I queue up as healer and DPS again, and instantly I’m healer in another group.  Some castle with werewolves, I don’t recall the name.  We all grab the quest at the door, head in and fight the first boss who is literally right around the corner (okay, he’s around the corner, up some stairs, down a hall, and then down some stairs, but he’s really close).  While we fight, I take note of the group: paladin tank, warrior DPS, mage DPS, druid DPS.  The paladin, warrior and mage are all in the same guild.  We win!  Quest turn in!  Next quest!  ”brb” says the paladin. “be back” says the mage. “afk” says the warrior.  The druid and I dance.  We tell some jokes.  We chat.  Around ten minutes later, no one is back yet.  They aren’t sitting down either, which means they are “active”, maybe chatting with the guild.  I try to get their attention.  The druid does too.  Eventually we give up and leave the group.

Back into the queue, Wailing Caverns again.  I still have the quests from before because we never get far enough to finish them.  Paladin tank, warrior DPS (have you noticed the pattern yet?), mage DPS, rogue DPS.  After a couple minutes, the paladin leaves.  The game makes me leader which I immediately pass off to the mage since she says she knows the dungeon.  The mage is a great leader.  Tagging mobs with stars for killing, skulls for sheeping, and more.  And she explains all this in chat, so we know what is going on and it works.  During this time we force the warrior to tank.  After a little while we get another paladin who takes over the tank duties.  The rogue leaves and we pick up a druid in cat form almost instantly.  The warrior leaves and we get another warrior DPS within like three seconds.  The new paladin is a great tank, the mage is leading us well, and I’m doing a bang up job on healing.  I’ve also decided that even though warriors probably should also tank, the fact is that self healing paladin tanks are awesome.  The tank and I get into a good rhythm of trading healing duties to keep her up and keep me from being out of mana so much.  We kill all the bosses we need, everyone has their hides and serpentblooms and we head back to do turn ins.  This is, of course, all going too well, so it needs to fall apart.  Apparently there is a second phase or something, in that we killed the bosses and it triggers an NPC to run through the caverns and you have to keep up and protect him.  At least three of us in group didn’t know this.  The mage says, “afk a sec” and the paladin triggers the NPC.  *sigh*  So it’s just 4 of us running wildly after the NPC, and the rogue, thinking he’s helping (or possibly sabotaging us on purpose) starts running ahead to fight mobs before the NPC gets there.  This results in two things: 1) I now have multiple heal targets, and 2) the NPC runs past the rogue who is fighting and goes deeper.  See, on escorts you need to make sure the NPC stops to fight when you do so that he doesn’t get too far ahead.  Pretty soon we are all fighting.  The mage catches up just in time for us to be fighting about 6 enemies at once.  The rogue dies, I die, the paladin dies, the warrior dies and the mage goes from full health to zero so fast I almost miss it as all the enemies attack her.  We respawn and run, but not fast enough, the NPC we were escorting is gone.  The paladin informs us that the dungeon cannot be completed now and quits.  The mage apologizes for being afk, I tell her she did great regardless, and she leaves.  The warrior drops.  And finally the rogue says, “healer u suk” and quits.  I quit too.

I’ll keep playing with the dungeon finder, but at this point I’m pretty sure my earlier assessments will stand.  It’s mostly anti-social, and when you do find good people, you find out they don’t play on your server and you aren’t likely to ever see them again.  However, I do see the value of a tool like this.  In a one shard world this would be awesome since every single person you played with would be someone you could continue playing with, and being a dick might end you up on enough ignore lists that it hampers your ability to use the tool.

The Skills of EVE

Eric over at Elder Game put up a good post about why skill based systems are bad (or at least, not to be undertaken lightly or by fledgling designers… like me).  Dig through my archive here and you’ll see me go back and forth on the subject of skills versus classes.

In Eric’s post, he uses EVE as an example, and the game is mentioned in most of the comments there.  And it got me thinking…

EVE looks like a skill based game.  It has all the markers of one.  You have a list of skills and you can train any skill you want, making powerful combinations or gimping yourself by choosing things that don’t work together, as long as you have the prerequisites for that skill.  But, as I’ve noted on a number of occasions, what I like most about the design of EVE is that ultimately your character matters less than your ship.

In EVE, if you have level 5 in Frigates and level 5 in missiles and a slew of other skills, those don’t matter at all if you are currently flying a mining rig outfitted with only mining lasers.  Despite being able to choose and learn any skill, EVE is actually a class based game with talent trees.  Your ship is your class, and the modules you can outfit it with are your talent trees.  Certain ships are designed for certain types of play.  You wouldn’t take a giant hauling/mining rig into a dogfight even if you did load it with weapons because the ship isn’t designed for fighting.  It would be like trying to play a priest as a tank in most MMOs.  Doable?  Sure, with the right items, plan and situation, but it isn’t the best option by far.

At best, EVE is a highly templated skill based game, but if you play the game entirely as skill based without ship considerations it quickly becomes unsustainable from a character stand point as you are gaining skills willy nilly that aren’t improving your ability to either a) fly the ship you have better or b) progress you toward flying a different ship that fits your play style better.

Even after reading follow ups by Ysharros and Psychochild and the comments on all three posts, I still think that EVE’s sort of gear controlled skill based system is the way I would go if I were to make my own MMO, largely because I really dislike permanent decisions in games that force me to create alternate character to experience new play styles.  Rift by Trion is attempting to bridge a gap here by allowing archetypes of warrior, rogue, mage and priest to build and maintain several sets of souls (skills, talents, etc) that actually can radically change the way the archetype plays.  If that works, it might open the door for someone to try fantasy version of EVE where you can have any skills you want but are constrained in what matter by what gear you are wearing when you leave town.  And that’s a game I definitely want to play.

Update: Another voice in the wilderness, Rampant Coyote.

Another Case for Class

It is amazing how much time I spend thinking about designing classes in MMOs when I really don’t care for them.  Or maybe I do.  Coming from a table top gaming background, many of those games had classes.  Sure, there were dalliances with systems like GURPS, but we always came back to D&D or some variant thereof.  Reading Tesh’s Quest for Glory post this morning (read it, it’s worth it – I’ll wait), I made the following comment:

I loved the Quest for Glory games, and I want that kind of differentiation between classes… however, every time I spend any serious effort thinking up a design for it, it always fails in an MMO sense. Yes, I want the rogue to advance by sneaking around and stealing things, planning jail breaks, cheating at games of chance, etc… but how do I fit those skills into a group dynamic?

Ultimately, I always end up at the idea of every character having two lives. The first if your traditional MMO style play, and the second is solo or specific group tailored quests that can cater to the class of the individual or the class set of a group (a rogue goes to the quest giver and is told “this is a two man job. you’ll need someone tough and good with a blade to pull this off.” meaning you need to duo the quest with a warrior, each of you having parts of the event tailored to your class’s strengths.

In the past, I’ve always tried to avoid this because it leads to heavy instancing… but I’ve gotten to the point where I think a better game design is giant city hubs of social activity with the majority of all adventures/quests in instances.

And it got me to thinking.  And while I worked the ideas rolled around in my head until I realized something… That second paragraph where I mention characters having two lives, that is exactly how the best table top games played out.

Four or five or six of us would gather and one of us would be the Dungeon Master.  We’d roll up our characters and play.  Our play would consist of two parts.  In the Adventure play, the group would head out on a quest, part of the major arc of the world we were in, and we’d investigate and fight, and mostly we’d play as a group, taking on roles in that group, occasionally a player would do something that only their class could do, but mostly this part of the game was rolling dice and reducing enemy hit points to zero.  Sound familiar?  The other half would be Development play.  Invariably, after an Adventure, we’d have learned some information that would point us into several possible directions.  The group would split up and handle tracking down leads.  The reality for this was because the full group could get together less often than subsets of our group could.  The result was that the rogue would head off to see if he could gather some more info from a bar down by the docks, the priest and paladin would head to the church library to do some research, and the mage would head to dinner with the town elders.  Each sub group would then have the DM play out for them a tailored mission in which they’d use their specific skills.  The rogue would use a disguise and then get in on a back room card game, manipulating the game and getting the other players drunk while easing information out of them.  The paladin and priest would discover a dark presence corrupting the church librarian and have to perform an exorcism.  The mage would use his knowledge of politics to get a better picture of who might be behind the dark days that are coming.  If the paladin had gone to the docks, the mage and rogue to the library, and the priest to the elders, each part would have played out completely differently, but possibly yielded the same results of finding the things the group as a whole needed to continue.

MMOs need this.  MMOs need two games.  One that encompasses the whole world and all the players with big dungeons and raids and guilds and… well, what we have now.   And they need to intersperse it with a class specific solo or small group game that caters to the class, the way single player RPGs can.  Many times in MMOs, I’m left feeling like a cog in a wheel, a box to be checked off on someone else’s spreadsheet.  Holy Spec Priest, check!  What it is missing are the elements that make me feel “Priest” or “Druid” instead of “Healing of an adequate level”, “Rogue” or “Hunter” instead of “DPS machine”.

If you are going to have Class…

Personally, I think I would be much happier in an MMO without classes.  I’d rather a gear based system or a skill based system, and if you dig around here you can find all the reasons why (mostly it’s because I want to move toward getting away from “level” as a separator and the focus of play), notably this post last week.  But, if a game is going to have classes, I think I would prefer a game to simplify it at much as possible.

Rather than try to make a dozen classes, look at your combat design and build classes based off of it.  For example, let’s take the most popular design, the trinity.  Tank, DPS, heal.  Or, in other terms, taking, dealing and recovery.  Really, a game designed this way only needs three classes.  Four if you really want to split up melee based DPS and range/magic/whatever based DPS, but functionally they are the same.  If your game is going to have a small group of players potentially fighting groups of NPC enemies larger than their group, you might want to also have a crowd control class.

Once you establish your primary roles, those are your classes.  But to keep a game from being too samey, as your classes level, give them talent trees that allow the player to add flavor to their character.  In my opinion, the talent trees should essentially define a secondary role/class for the character.

For example, rather than having a warrior, a priest, and a paladin in your game, have only a warrior and a priest, then give the warrior a talent tree of priest-lite skills and the priest a tree of warrior-lite skills.  If your game only has three classes (your game is 100% trinity based), then a warrior would have two trees – a priest tree and a DPS tree.  Your priest would have warrior and DPS trees.  And your DPS would have warrior and priest trees.  The one thing you want to avoid, however, is having a tree that improves directly on the base class.  Warriors do not get a warrior tree.  The reason for this is to avoid having a clear “optimal path” for development.  In WoW, for example, if you search around you can probably find the mathematically proven superior talent tree build for a tanking warrior.  Any player who takes a “fun” skill over the optimal path may find themselves unable to get into some raiding guilds.  All max level warriors should be as good at being a warrior as every other max level warrior, the difference will be in their gear (theoretically available to everyone through effort or auction) and in their tree which doesn’t affect their ability to take damage, taunt enemies, and whatever else you’ve determined is the primary role of the warrior.

Primarily, I like this idea for it’s simplification of balance.  If you have one tanking class, you only need to adjust his ability to tank up or down and needed.  If you have a half dozen tanking/semi-tanking classes, now you have to make sure that semi-tank A isn’t better than tank B without making semi-tank A useless and all sorts of complicated gyrations just to keep all the plates spinning.

Anyway… those are just my thoughts.  I could be wrong.

Stay Classy

Over at the Zen of Design, a post has been made and hopefully a violent and bloody discussion will ensue. The post is about Classes in MMOs.

Somewhere around my room I’ve got a document I started about class design. See, I really hate the way many games implement classes. You make one choice, at creation, and you are stuck. A warrior is a warrior, a cleric is a cleric. You are what you are and so is everyone else. Basically, EverQuest. World of Warcraft managed to do one better and essentially each class is actually three classes since you can choose to focus your talent points in one of three trees. I like this flexibility, so much so that I play a shadow priest in WoW… that’s a priest who is okay at healing, but better at dealing damage. I love it.

Back to my document. The idea I had for class design involved giving the players more on an illusion of control. What you would do is group skills together into sets, or schools as I called them. All melee weapons would be in a melee combat school, wearing armor and armor types falls into the defence school, healing arts both magic and non-magic fall into a healing school, and so on. In the end I had 6 or 7 schools that covered most things. Then each player would choose the ranks of his schools. They could put defence first, and melee combat second… making them a warrior… putting healing third might make them a minor paladin type, if they went defence then healing and melee combat third that would be a major paladin, healing first then defence then melee makes them a cleric, healing/melee/defence makes them a healing monk, melee/healing/defence makes them a fighting monk… and so on, involving all the schools. At first glance this looks like a ridiculous amount of freedom for the players, but in reality it is a very finite number of “classes” and all balance can be approached from that angle. No need to worry about someone maxing healing and melee and defence and damage spell casting because its not possible, if fact the ranking can inherantly reduce the effectiveness of the skills in that school, and since everyone will have to place one school at the lowest rank it means that everybody will suck at something.

Essentially, all I’m really saying is… totally unrestricted skill systems are bad, and totally rigid class systems are bad. A good system is just floating somewhere in the middle, a nice balance between player freedom and developer control.

The Journal

So, I am back to playing WoW a little more consistantly, or at least I hope that I am. For the time being, I will be playing two characters. Ishiro, a human priest on the Durotan server, is currently level 57. With him I mostly play battlegrounds and run quests with Lorilai, Jodi’s paladin. And then there is Ishiro, an undead warlock on the Eitrigg server, who is level 26. My plan there is to level him up and do battlegrounds and run quests with Lochie, Jodi’s warlock.

Essentially, I like battlegrounds and I hate raiding. A brief sojourn back into first person shooters (thanks HL2!) reminded me that most games are relatively boring once you learn the tricks of the game engine, but when you come up against another human being things can get interesting. My only grip with PvP in the context of MMORPGs is the disparity between casters and melees. In a traditional FPS everyone is on the same footing. In RPGs melees can run and jump and strafe and hop around the world like a jackrabbit on crack, but casters mostly have to stand still and pray they can not get interrupted and keep the target within the field of vision. It might be okay if casters we much more powerful, but as a priest, I’ve been killed enough times with a single weapon swing or in a matter of seconds to know that it just isn’t true. But I’m learning to deal with it.

That said, from here on out, everything posted in this category will be concerning what I’ve managed to do in game for either the Alliance or the Horde.

Circle Strafing

You know, its just one of those skills that I have but I almost never use. In some ways, and in some games, its really a boon. First person shooters… being able to zip around someone and pop off a couple of shotgun blasts is cool. But its a very short thing… zip, zip, pop, pop, done.

I’ve been messing around doing some dueling in World of Warcraft. I’m a priest, and fighting other priests or mages is fun, we shoot each other, resists and luck have alot to do with it, and spell choice and all that. When I fight warriors or rogues, its just stupid… if they fight me straight up, then its like the priest and mage fights, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, its alot of luck and the game engine, player skill is part of it too, but its not ‘exploitative’. However, most of the melees who duel don’t play it straight up, they don’t bother to rely on their gear, their resists or hit points… they completely rely on exploiting ‘line of sight’. As a caster, I can’t cast 90% of my spells on anything that isn’t in front of me, so the melee circle strafes around, always staying behind. I can try to spin, but since he can switch directions in an instant, its still almost impossible to keep him in front. Its just… stupid. Why bother to ‘duel’ me if you are going to render me 90% useless? Its like saying you’ll get in the ring with Mike Tyson, but only if they chop off both of his arms, one leg, and gag him first.

I don’t get it… and I probably never will.