Thursday, 6 September 2007

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world.

MMOs employ many different ways to mitigate damage: parrying, shield blocks, genuine evasion and armour-based resistances are but some of the examples. However, nearly all MMOs still also make use of the ancient and mystical Chinese technique of Open Palm Lotus, Forehead Dragon Slap.

Or in mundane terms: attacking any space that is immediately adjacent to your opponent. The dreaded miss.

<Our noble barbarian hero. Rethgood the Redolent, is sneaking up to stab an unsuspecting, sleeping ogre lord in the back>

Rethgood: "Ha haaaaah! Your head will be mine, ogre lord!"

<Rethgood swings his sword and misses>

Rethgood: "I missed?! But I'm the greatest swordsmith in the land! I, who hath duelled Rodderick the Really Rather Good Swordwangler of Popthekettleon, and won! I, who bested Fiona the Fierce of Frangipane, the greatest sword fighter the world had ever witnessed until I found the miniscule gap in her chain-mail bikini that enabled me to strike the bronzed body beneath! I, who..."

Ogre Lord: "Og, yuk, ders a ooman in me snoozechamber! Ow it get in dis place? Wurz me slipper so I cuhn squidge it."

Rethgood: "How can I possibly miss from melee range against a prone target? Never mind, I shall not miss you a second time you filthy beast!"

<Rethgood swings and misses again>

Rethgood: "By the seven gods of the Vitamin Sea! Another miss?! What fel magic is this?"

Ogre Lord: "Stop yer flailin about ooman, yer creatin a draft."

Rethgood: "Stay still, damn you."

Ogre Lord: "I not move from me bed yet, wat you talkin about clooliss?"

<Rethgood swings. And misses.>

Rethgood: "I don't understand... how can I miss? I'm standing close enough to smell whatever it is that's living in your belly button..."

Ogre Lord: "Ey! You leave Charles out of dis."

Rethgood: "You have a creature living in your belly button, and it's called Charles?"

Charles: "Will you keep the noise down out there; some people are trying to meditate."

Ogre Lord: "Don you mind der ooman, Charlie, I'm gonna sort im out."

Rethgood: "I can't take much more of this; I pray to the iron god of Monopylae to guide my sword to strike swift and true!"

<Rethgood swings. The ogre lord leaps from the bed>

Rethgood: "There! You definitely moved!"

Ogre Lord: "Weeeellllll, you waz gonna hit me dat time."

<Ogre lord smacks Rethgood upside the head, yo, for 200 points of damage>

The miss becomes more absurd the bigger the enemy. How can you miss a fifty foot tall mountain giant? Admittedly you're not going to be doing a lot of damage. Shouldn't be doing a lot of damage, but that's never stopped role-playing games from pitting adventurers against monsters eight times their size or more, and letting them win. Does an adventuring party of five bees ever reasonably stand a chance of defeating a human being? I mean, they've got envenomed weapons, the power of flight, various fear spells that they can cast (such as Bernard's Aural Harasser of Humming Just Behind Your Ear), yet we still know that unless they get some, quite frankly, munchkin-maddeningly awesome combination of crit rolls, or they just happen to find a mob with a serious weakness to bee stings (I knew I should have worked on bee sting resistance instead of fire and nature), they're not going to win. But adventurers defeating fifty foot tall giants? No problem! Hell, in some games dwarves - dwarves! - make a profession out of slaying giants! What in the Inferno sort of tactics do they use to accomplish this? If you've ever seen Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's dwarven Giant Slayers you'll know that they not only pit themselves against creatures ten times their own height, but they do this whilst wearing minimal armour and wielding a small twig. Or something. So how do they defeat giants who are, by their very nature, really quite big. Gigantic, if you will. Do they train in assassination through toenail clipping? "Ha, I've given him a nasty subungual hematoma there, if he doesn't get any medication for a month, and infection just happens to set in, he could die within the year! Or perhaps just lose the toe. Still: For Karak Kadrin! And all that, old bean". Yeah, I like to mix frothing dwarven battle-cries alongside eccentric upper-class English phrases, it really puts your fellow adventurers off guard.

The point being, as alien and unexpected as a 'point' is to any of my blog posts, ignoring the improbability of being able to do enough damage to cause the giant to stop picking his nose and peer down at you, missing any monster that has toes the size of a farm outbuilding is not really terribly reassuring. You literally, although virtually, missed the side of a barn. And you want to be a great adventuring hero? Hmmm.

So, what if an adventuring party is fighting together and one of the melee players misses a mob, does he not then have to roll to see if he hits one of his fellows who are in melee with him? The friendly-fire roll, if you will. And if he misses them as well, then surely it follows that he then has to roll to see if he chops off his own head due to missing everything else in the immediate vicinity. And in the vastly improbable event that he misses that roll too, well, then perhaps a horde of small animals should burst out from all corners of the battlefield and laugh for two seconds in the manner of Chip 'n Dale the Walt Disney chipmunks, disappearing quickly thereafter.

The problem is that in MMO combat you generally stand still, the mob stands still, and you both stand toe-to-toe and slog it out until one of you is dead; you don't aim in combat, you select which character to attack and then your aiming is represented by a dice roll. A dice roll is all you have to express the dynamism of combat, and the on-screen representation is two figures standing next to each other, swinging their weapons in one or two animations over and over again in a stunningly mundane battle of attrition. Seeing that combat is such a staple of MMOs, that the main focus of questing and levelling invariably involves running some form of virtual life through with your virtual sword, one would think that an obvious way to break away from the pack and make a name for yourself would be to try to crack the mould on the tried, tested and tedious method of combat as it exists today. We can all accept mobs dodging out of the way, but considering currently how close the melee player is generally standing to them, and the fact that neither of you is moving much, I can't help but imagine that it's perhaps the sort of dodging that you see in cartoons, where the character bends improbably at the midriff and forms a question mark shape to one side of the blade thrust, and then flips and bends in the opposite direction at the next blade thrust, which cuts the air where the dodger's body was moments ago.

City of Heroes is especially hilarious because it animates your misses whilst making no attempt to animate the enemy having evaded, so you can stand right next to a mob, shoot a bolt of fire from your hands at point blank range, and it shoots off at an improbable angle into the ceiling. I can only imagine that those superhero outfits are really quite itchy, and just as my hero is about to launch their bolt of flaming death (that's not a euphemism by the way) they get an irresistible urge to scratch somewhere sensitive and tender, and therefore flail about shooting flame everywhere other than at the enemy as they try to contend with their own spectacular spandex spasms. With the collateral damage that heroes must cause with all their powers missing and striking the floors, walls and ceilings, you can imagine that insurance premiums in Paragon City are astronomical in value. What's more, you can simply miss the most blatantly easy targets; only last night a fellow spandex wearer was heard to utter "I can't believe I just missed a stationary parked car".

The dilemma is such: if, like World of Warcraft, you make it easy for new players to hit mobs so that the game is fast and fun and painless, they will have an expectation that they will always be able to do so, and the strange phenomenon that as their hero increases in power they are more likely to meet mobs that they are unable to hit seems to be incongruous with their experiences up to that point. If, however, you take the route that City of Heroes takes, that your low level character will miss, and miss quite a lot, but will gain in power until they are practically unable to miss even if they try, the early game experience can be very frustrating to the new player who may not understand that things will improve eventually, and it is therefore quite likely to put players off of the game entirely.

Perhaps all that needs to be done is to remove the 'miss' from areas where it is inappropriate due to its vast improbability, when in melee combat or using ranged powers at close quarters, for example. Considering that most MMO combat is now, and will likely be for the foreseeable future, based upon the fickle fling of fate's fancy, rather than any skill on the part of the player, it would be nice to present that combat in such a way as to not make the player regularly experience the most base helplessness that comes from a fumbled attack roll.

And it should be fixed soon, lest the armies of barn walls become confident in their power to evade attacks, and march upon the homelands of these floundering fighters and destroy them every one!


Changling bob said...

If, however, you take the route that City of Heroes takes, that your low level character will miss, and miss quite a lot, but will gain in power until they are practically unable to miss even if they try

I really hope this latter bit happens, as right now it seems that CoX has the biggest miss chance on the entire tubes. On the other hand, although the animated misses look a bit funny with, say, a photocopier, the melee misses are animated as the enemy dodging, which is sorely lacking from other games.

Melmoth said...

It certainly does get a lot better. Once you have the appropriate number of Single Origin accuracy enhancements slotted in your powers, missing soon becomes a distant memory. Until you roll an alt, which for me is usually two minutes after I finally have a character that no longer misses any more.

And it is true that the ranged powers look the most daft, and were indeed the ones I had in mind. There are plenty of melee AoE powers that seem to just miss; the fiery aura power for the melee classes is a good one too: the mobs seem to get missed by that one quite often, as if they're dipping their toes in and out of it as they would a bath.

"Oh, hot, hot, hot! Ok, it's probably cooled down now, I'll try again. Ooo! Hot, hot, hot!"