Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Square of Pi to Slay the Dragon

OK, so I addressed the first part of my friends questions regarding the "hero" aspects of MMOs, now we have this one to go over:

"O.k. enough on that. But another topic you should tackle is something to do with numbers and MMOs. Are they inexorably linked? Is it possible to ever get away from that system? If not, then people will always deconstruct the game down into statistics, formulas and numbers. It will always boil down to numbers, and now fighting that dragon becomes less about an epic battle as it is making darn sure your math and formulas are correct. Love to hear more of your thoughts on both these subjects."

First up, are MMOs and numbers linked in some way? Well, the technical answer is yes, they are and yes they always will be. There will always be a mathematical model to your character, a mob, a weapon and even a tree. I guess what the real question would be is, should the player see that math in the form of stats...and should they be able to calculate or maximize success based on the numbers they see?

OK, well, lets pretend that we hide those numbers away from the player. They are still there, they're just in the background working away during combat, or crafting or what have you. Let's say you've been playing the game for about 3 hours and you've killed a lot of rats and bears, but now you see your first humanoid. You've never encountered this creature before. There is nothing over its head giving you any information. No "elite" tag. No level. No hit points. Not even a con color. As for yourself, you've picked up some new armor and a sword during your first 3 hours, but there are no stats on them. You don't know the DPS...there is no strength modifier (that you know of anyway..because its hidden from you). So, you have some choices. You can (a) go in there, attack it and see how you do, or (b) assume that its too tough, and go on killing other things.

OK, now, lets put in some numbers. You know your level. You know your DPS. You have all sorts of character stats and your equipment is about average. Now, same story, you've been killing rats and bears for the last 3 hours and you come across your first humanoid mob. There is an indicator over its head signifying its level and difficulty relative to you. So, you have some choices. You can (a) go in there and attack it, or (b) don't attack it and move on.

Wow....same choices for both. So, knowing your stats and not knowing your stats doesn't change your choices in game. However, not knowing your stats and its stats does throw in a kind of mystery twist to it. Sure, your choices are the same...but I bet your heart is racing a bit faster when you have no idea what the outcome would be. But, is this fair to the player? To give them no cues at all on whether they can win an engagement or not...or to give them no indication on whether they can craft an item. If we don't want every encounter to come down to a number crunch for a player, then what have we got? A couple of things:
  • Visual cues. Give the player some sort of visual cue on whether a task is possible for them. This could be based on color, or size, or shapes. You can have difficult mobs look really bad-ass and simple ones look easy. Difficult mobs could have a chain of skulls around their neck, saying to the player, "Hey, I've pwned these guys. I can pwn your sorry ass".
  • Audio cues. Give the player some kind of audio indicator like a huge roar from the mob that shakes the very ground they stand on....that'll do it. An audio cue could be the mob laughing at you as you're trying to hit the mob and doing no damage to it.
  • Story cues. You can put some sort of dynamic indicator in the quests or story, telling the player that these guys are tough and that you may need friends.
So the options are there to give the player some notification on whether or not they should attack, or craft, or harvest or whatever...we just need people who are smarter than me to flesh them out and give them a try. We as players have to also be willing to give it a try as well. Part of the issue is that I think most players are so use to the current stat and equipment paradigm that any change away from that may be a bit too much. Very few people like the idea of a mystery encounter...they want to know if they can beat something before they attack it. They want to know if its worth they're time if they engage. They don't want to get so frustrated by dying over and over to the same class of mob.

So, will there always be numbers? Yes there will be...somewhere. We're crying for changes in the MMO space. It would be interesting to see how the player base reacts when change really comes knocking on our door. Oh look, it's a dragon and you've seem to have forgotten your calculator.

D out.

P.S Thanks Kevin for all of the fodder :)


Anonymous said...

"Hey, I've pwned these guys. I can pwn your sorry ass".

Too funny dude. Thanks for the write up. Good stuff as always. I agree - numbers are the basis for all of this stuff. Will be intereting to see if we ever see a paradigm shift that huge or not.


Anonymous said...

also to keep in mind is when mmos stop using time based dynamic and move to an action based. IE devil may cry vs final fantasy, gunz online vs any mmorpg. Then if you know the numbers, but physical skill is a large influence, it will dramaticaly change the game world.