Sunday, December 18, 2011

GW2 Expansion Profession: Shaman/Seer (AKA the Tribal Bard)

Ok so.. idea. I was thinking about how to represent a new type of magic in a way that doesn't visually/conceptually overlap with the existing schools. Specifically I was thinking of tribal/shamanistic magic, but how do you represent that visually? Like.. in WoW it's just a combination of nature and elemental magic in one class, but that's kind of lame. Obviously ritual objects are a big part of tribal religion, like totems and fetishes and stuff like that. Yeah, wow has totems, but i'm more imaging a spell that summons an 8 foot tall totem pole beneath the shaman to elevate him out of harms reach; not a dinky little thing that gets rehashed in multiple colors and pulses buffs. Ritual objects alone aren't enough to form the basis of a new type of magic that could feel iconic and visually distinct on the level of necromancy and elemental magic though.

So from there I was trying to think of ways to illustrate a raw, savage, very humanistic kind of magic without treading on existing themes, and the word "rhythm" occurred to me. And then I read a post suggesting the addition of the bard (more of a magical minstrel in most games), and it seems like a perfect fit to me, plus it's something I haven't really seen before; the Tribal Bard (granted, that would be a stupid name but you get the idea). Manipulation of sound and rhythm and dance (in addition to totems and other ritual objects). They could carry a big drum on their back or hip similar to the way engineers have packs, in addition to using their voice to blast people with sounds ("What.. no i haven't been playing Skyrim.. what even is that? I've never heard of that game... :zip:).

Their class mechanic could make use of the drum, or they could just use it in their casting animations or utility skills. Casting animations would resemble raw tribal dance, something much less fluid and "wizardy" than what we see from the scholar professions. In terms of gameplay i'm thinking a medium armor class that makes use of a mix of traditional melee and caster weapons. Staff, hammer, scepter, dual axes, dual maces, dagger offhand, and torch offhand is what came to mind.

In terms of playstyle it just kind of depends what the game needs, but like most gw2 professions it'd probably be able to do a bit of everything. I imagine it being a little berserk/savage/suicidal in melee (where thieves/rangers are more about finesse, and warriors/guardians are more about discipline). I could also see it having an agressive support streak, with most weapon sets favoring buffing allies offensive capabilities and freeing allies from enemy control over offering lots of protection. But really the theme is broad enough to go a lot of different directions with the gameplay.

Side note: Bone imagery could also be useful tools in visually illustrating the effects of magic skills, since necromancers seem to be firmly focused on disease and blood. It's kind of a defiled new dead vs respected old dead thing. I guess spirits could be part of it too, but personally I'm not a huge fan of ghostly apparitions, plus mesmers are already creating their own transparent non-entities. The other reason I prefer bones is because bone spells would look more concrete and physical (like earth magic). I like the idea of keeping the school of magic firmly tied to sensation and humanity, with a combination emotion/sound/rhythm and more corporeal themes of tribal culture like bones and totems.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Structured PvP in GW2: Conquest Mode

It seems that the structured 5v5 PvP in GW2 is going to feature conquest mode as the only gametype available at launch. The developer's intention is that each map will have a unique mechanic, or secondary objective that will shape the gameplay of that map.

The only example of a special mechanic we have so far is the inclusion of two trebuchets that can be used by players of the appropriate team to bombard enemies around the map, or destroy parts of the environment, opening up or closing off potential paths around the map. Players can also destroy the enemies trebuchet, and repair friendly trebs that have been destroyed. It remains to be seen how varied the unique mechanics will be across each map, and how much impact they will have on the way each map plays.

Ok, now that that's out of the way...

I have one major gripe with conquest mode as a competitive gametype, or any mode that uses a slow ticket bleed or gradual point accumulation to determine victory:

Defeat is a slow, gradual bleed-out. Something about it just feels like I'm fighting the clock, not the players. Aside from the rare game that comes down to just a few tickets or seconds, victory usually feels anti-climactic.

Instead of awarding points every time you complete an activity, points are awarded based on the passage of time. The whole game type is about gaining an advantage and then running out the clock. It's more about stalling than working to accomplish a final goal.

Ultimately game types like CTF, Sudden Death, Plant/Diffuse, or some kind of boss assault mode all produce more nail-biters, comebacks and satisfying games in general than gradual ticket/timer modes in my personal experience.

Conquest can be fun to mess around in solo, but if I'm playing with a real team and serious about winning, I'd definitely prefer to play some other game type. At least in other games I've played.

Hopefully Arenanet finds ways to make their version of conquest really exciting and competitive, but it has never been my favorite game type.

First GW2 5v5 PvP Map

The first map is called Battle of Kyhlo. It features 3 conquest points (first to 500), two player-controlled trebuchets, and destructible environments. Arenanet did an amazing job on most fronts. It looks really good, but my favorite part is the use vertical space. There are lots of ramps, walkways, places to jump too/from, roofs to run along etc. There are so many ways to move around the map that aren't necessarily obvious at first glance. They've clearly put a lot of thought into allowing players to get creative with how they move around.

I think my only complaint with the layout of the map is that the clocktower is too confined. The objectives encourage teams to split up at times, but most of the biggest fights (3v3s/4v4s/5v5s) will likely take place around the central point. Taking that into consideration it makes sense for the outlying points to be more confined spaces, like the top of a tower, while the middle point is more open and spacious. This gives you lots of nooks and crannies to duck behind during the small fights (1v1s and 2v2s) at the outlying points, and room to spread out and maneuver during the big team fights at the middle point.

The clocktower point seems like a bit of a clusterf^__^* fight now.

It's probably not important enough to warrant a change, especially since the whole map was designed around having the massive clocktower as the visual centerpiece and it's looking very pretty polished at this point, but it's something to consider for future maps.

Structured PvP Map Idea

Since Arenanet said they're going to be playing off the conquest mode for all their maps (at least initially); adding special mechanics and secondary objectives to make each map a unique experience, here's what I'd like to see.

There are two castles facing eachother with a some hilly open ground in-between. The no-mans land would have a few rocky outcroppings, sparse trees, and maybe a couple small thatch roof houses for cover and a shallow river (not deep enough to swim) cutting across the middle, separating the two castles.

Special Mechanic: Each castle contains a flag that can be captured by the other team for a significant amount of points. Your team's flag must be on the stand in order to capture an enemy flag.

Each castle has a main gate, which is by far the quickest route between the two bases. There would be a 2nd alternate entrance that would involve taking a much less direct route up a winding mountain pass, and entering the castle through an open postern door. Attackers using this alternate entrance would pass near the defender's respawn point, allowing respawning defenders to quickly intercept enemies trying to use this risky approach.

There would be two capture points, one located at the main gate of each castle. On this map holding capture locations would not reward points, instead they would be used to open or close the main gates. The point at the red gate would start under red control, and vice versa. As long as the red team controls their point, the gate remains shut, but if the blue team takes it the gate is opened and they have easy access to and from the red flag. Each team's spawn location would be positioned inside the keep in a way that would allow them to easily reach their own flag, and the postern door/mountain pass, but would be slightly removed from the main gate.

Basic Gameplay: The middle field is fairly open, so crossing the no-mans land between keeps undetected would be difficult (unless you're a thief). Teams could either focus on winning the middle team fight and opening the enemy gate to gain easy access to the flag, or they could run an offense/defense split and try to make use of the postern. If a team opened the enemy gate they would have to decide whether they send one person in to grab the flag, risking death if there are enemies defending the flag room, or go in as a group and risk having the other team come behind them and re-close the gate, forcing them to take the longer, more dangerous path out of the castle.

Flag Mechanics: The flag mechanics would definitely be subject to change, but this is my first thought: The flag would work similar to carrying a warrior banner most likely. The right side of the bar would be available but weapon skills would be replaced by unique flag abilities. However, using certain utility skills (like stealth and elites that replace your weapon skills) would cause you to drop the flag. Picking up or returning a flag on the ground would be instant for whichever team clicks the flag first. The flag would have three abilities: Stand and Fight, Throw, and Drop. Passing the flag to a new player would not reset cooldowns.

Stand and Fight would allow the player to use their weapons normally for 30 seconds without dropping the flag (it would be on their back for the duration), and would have a pretty significant cooldown (~2 min).

Throw would be a high risk, high reward skill with a short cooldown (~30 seconds). A ground targeting circle would allow the player to throw the flag to a desired position. Skilled players could throw the flag ahead of them and then use a blink/charge weapon skill to catch up to the flag and pick it up. Coordinated teams could use throw to relay the flag every 30 seconds, and dieing flag carriers could make desperation throws to nearby allies. A misplaced throw, or failed blink could easily lead to an easy enemy flag return however.

Drop would be similar to throw, except the flag would drop directly in front of the player without any ground targeting. No cooldown.

PvP Combat and Team fights

Gamescom was this weekend, and we got our first taste of GW2 structured PvP. I may make another post about the game-mode being used, but this is my impression of the skills and PvP combat in GW2 currently:

It's kind of weird to me that something like the warrior gap closer has a short cooldown and hits twice as hard as a normal attack. Tying big damage to everything just gives you an incentive to spam those cooldowns for damage instead of using them situationally.

Cooperation in team fights:
The team support skills are in the game, I just hope the effects are powerful enough that players don't just use them continuously for extra damage, or ignore them entirely in favor of builds focused on damage and personal survivability.

At the very least walls, ground heals, and condition removal are all skills that should be more effective in the hands of a player that watches the whole battle instead of tunneling one target, and that's important to me. Hopefully those skills are an integral part of high level combat.

In this regard there are two more things I'd like to see added:
1. A few ground target heals that do their healing instantly instead of forcing you to stand in one spot. Standing still in a geyser for 15 seconds isn't really practical in pvp. Also self healing should be toned down a little bit, and group healing buffed up across the board. Some self reliance is great, but I think players should be rewarded for watching their teammates backs, and not just their own skin. This doesn't mean that one player has to be "the healer", or that total healing (combined team healing and self healing) has to be increased compared to what it is now though.

2. Some CC that breaks on damage and has a longer effect than stuns/kds. These skills encourage players to do more than tunnel vision one target. Instead of just unloading all your blinds, stuns, kds, cripples etc on the target you're attacking (might as well in most cases), you need to simultaneously control one player while damaging another. This kind of multitasking and split-awareness is my favorite part of MMO combat. It also discourages recklessly spamming aoe damage and rewards players for communicating and coordinating what targets they are attacking.

Both of these things would encourage players to be more aware of the entire scope of a fight, instead of just tunnel-railing one target into the ground or throwing out as much aoe damage as possible.

Final Thoughts
I love the pacing and movement, and the skills seem to be designed with skillful and creative uses in mind. The skills in GW2 are basically a wet dream for 1v1s or 1vX fights, and those fights are going to be really fun regardless. I just hope the team fights don't play like a 1vX with allies 1vXing around me. I want to be coordinating and cooperating with the other people on my team, not ignoring them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Game Developers Conference

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the East Coast Game Developers Conference (ECGC) in Raleigh NC for the second year running. I'm very lucky to be going to school in Raleigh, less than 10 minutes from the convention center downtown. The event went off without a hitch, and there were a lot of great speakers. Jason Rice in particular gave a very interesting talk on designing and balancing for competitive multiplayer games. The challenge of balancing asymmetrical situations in competitive games, whether it's different characters, classes, weapons, maps, races, units, or anything else (pokemon?), is what really draws me to game design, so his seminar spoke to my particular interests in a very immediate way. All in all the conference was a fun and informative experience. Can't wait for next year.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pet control

WoW did a lot of things right, but I don't think the interface for controlling pets was one of them. I'm a little disappointed to see GW2 adopting a similar system for ranger pets (3 toggled pet 'modes' and 3 active movement commands).

Six different buttons to move a pet around is a pretty clunky system, and many of the options are redundant. For someone who wants to have everything keybound it can be really annoying when all those pet keys are competing with your other skills for prime keybind locations.

On top of that, moving a pet around (or just setting it to the correct mode and forgetting about it), is the entirety of the ranger's unique mechanic, which seems far too passive compared to the other profession mechanics. More importantly it doesn't seem like it would be very fun or rewarding for the player.

Basic pet control commands should be streamlined to allow as much control in as few buttons as possible, and pets should have at least one activated ability specific to that pet or pet type.

For basic pet commands what I'd like to see is two buttons. One button orders your pet to attack your target. Double clicking sets your pet to automatically attack whatever are attacking. The second button brings up a green targeting circle that allows you to click on the ground to tell your pet to move your pet to that spot and stay there. Double clicking the second button will tell your pet to stop attacking and return to your side.

For activated pet abilities I'd like to exclusively see skills that incorporate the position of the pet somehow, otherwise they just feel like extra ranger skills. For instance, skills that affect the area around the pet, or a skill that allows you to leap to your pet or swap places with it. A skill that lets you click and drag to determine a direction for your pet to charge would be particularly cool.

Ultimately you have more control over your pet (GW2 currently has no move-to-target-location command or activated pet skills) with half as many buttons, and having an activated skill will make the ranger mechanic more fun. Plus each pet type will feel more distinct, and choosing a pet will be a more rewarding decision.

Runner up in GW2 'design a skill' contest

Guess I should mention this here. I was a runner up in the GuildFans 'design a skill' contest a while back, judged by Jon Peters and Isaiah Cartwright. It was awesome to see what veteran game designers had to say about my entry. Big thanks to them.

Contest results and ArenaNet Commentary:

My entry:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Structured 5v5: Metagaming and "The Sideboard"

The metagame in WoW is terrible. I assume GW1 is similar, but less restrictive and punishing because you don't have to level each new PvP characters from scratch.

The problem with WoW (and GW1?), especially in a ladder, is that the metagame decisions are made entirely before you are given any information on your opponent, and in the case of the ladder, before you even know who your opponent is. Your team makeup, specs, and gear, are all preset before you enter matchmaking and find an opponent.

That kind of metagame has lacks depth because it's a complete guessing game. there's no reactionary element. All the decisions happen before the game, and are not incorporated into the game itself.

Here's a general example of a good metagame: the SC2 metagame revolves around popular builds, but your build isn't set in stone when you start the game, you always have the option to react and adapt. You can scout and find out what your opponent is doing instead of taking a shot in the dark and hoping your build counters theirs.

To provide an example that's more relevant to guild wars 2: DotA/HoN. Heroes are constantly shifting in popularity and perceived power, and there is a definite metagame surrounding hero picks and lineups. However, the banning and drafting system of picking heroes means that metagame decisions are incorporated into the game and given an element of strategy. The bans and picks are an important part of each DotA game, they are not technically a pre-game decision. The two teams are already in competition when banning and selecting heroes begins.

I'd like to see something similar done with builds in competitive GW2. Bring some of the metagame decision making into the game itself, and give it a reactionary element. Someone else mentioned the idea of the MTG sideboard in another thread, and i think the concept is something that could be a perfect fit for GW2.

I want to see some kind of pre-battle screen where your team is given some information about the line-up and possibly traits of the opponents, and given a chance to make adjustments and react. There are a ton of different ways you could go about it, arenanet just has to find the one that works for their game.

Here's kind of how I imagine it working, to provide a starting point:

Your team selects their professions, 2 weapon sets, and traits before a match, but each player also has the option of selecting a sideboard that includes a limited number of alternate weapons and traits. When you join a match you have a UI that displays your opponents team, player names, and professions, and you are given a limited amount of time to swap a certain number of traits (and weapon sets) from your sideboard to be used in the next match. Games are bo3 and teams can make adjustments from their sideboard between matches.

This lets you do things like sub in extra condition removal against a team that's stacking necros. Or if you're stacking necros maybe you'll use non-condition based builds and mindgame the other team into using bad builds, and then switch it up in round 2.

The designers can increase or decrease how much freedom players have in making adjustments, and how much information is revealed about the opposing team as they see fit. They could even do it dota-style, where each team alternates picking their professions and traits.

Anyway, the important thing is that they do something to bring a reactionary, strategical element to the metagame, and make it less of a pure guessing game.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Class differentiation in GW2

When it comes to class design the devs of Guild Wars have said that they want to move away from a strict holy trinity system, where the role of a class is often rigidly and narrowly defined. This post is taken from a discussion about the supposed BML (Blue Mace Lady - speculation based on a piece of concept art) profession, and what role that class might fill in terms of gameplay. The concept art and other bits of information suggest that the BML will be some sort of heavily armored defender capable of using magic. Something close to a Paladin. My post was in response to someone who claimed that classes in GW2 no longer have a "specific focus" when it comes to gameplay. Here's my take on that idea:

Even if classes are capable of doing a lot of things, I hope they still have one advantage that's unique to the class, or at least one area where they excel. It shouldn't be as simple as saying BML's heal and warriors do damage, but every class should kind of have a sliding scale of various things that they focus on. For example:

Warrior: melee damage > melee control > maneuverability > party buffs > survivability > ranged physical damage

BML: party protection > survivability > healing > melee damage > ranged magic damage > melee control

Now, each individual player would be able to modify this scale with weapon choice, utilities, traits etc., to the point where any one of those roles could be their area of expertise, but the chart shows where your class is the most versatile. You might be able to build 9 different viable variations on a melee damage warrior, but there's only 1 viable way to play a ranged damage warrior; or there are a lot of ways to play a prot BML, but if you want to play a melee control BML your options are narrowed down significantly.

That's kind of how I see GW2's system playing out. So to say BML is a defensive/support focused character doesn't mean that's the only thing it's capable of, it means that the player who knows they want to play a defensive/support role will find the most flexibility and freedom determining the specifics of how they carry out that role if they pick a BML. On the other hand, the player who picks a BML because they like the way it looks, or they just want to be a holy warrior or whatever, will still have the option to play whatever role he wants without feeling gimped.

If classes don't have any strengths or weaknesses, or specialties of any kind, then it kind of defeats the point of a class system as far as i'm concerned.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dodge roll? Parkour?

Several years ago I was fantasizing about what an MMO I designed would be like, and one of the big ideas I had was that every class would be given an ability that they could use to dodge out of the way of projectiles, and another ability that would allow players to parry melee attacks similar to the way parrying works in fighting games. Both would require precision timing and be limited by a cooldown or energy system to prevent spamming. This was something I was thinking about long before I knew anything about GW2, but I'm thrilled to see someone had the same idea and is making it a reality. The dodge roll system in GW2 is something I absolutely love.

What I'd like to see down the line, in addition to the parry idea, is the idea of parkour-ish (aka free running) abilities to make vertical movement and environments more dynamic and varied. It may be a bit ambitious for now, but it's something I'd like to see in the future. Each class could accomplish the same effect in different ways; an assassin might scurry up a wall, a necro might turn into a shadow and slide up, and a mage might blink etc. then make it a limited resource, similar to dodge rolling in GW2.

I see this feature being particularly well suited to a post-apocalyptic/near future MMO. A ruined city-scape with a lots of blasted out buildings of various levels could make for some really interesting engagements. I can just see a mage-ish class kiting an assassin-ish class, but instead of simply running away on flat ground he's now often running up or down as well: The mage runs up a stair case, turning to blast the assassin on his heels as he gets to the top. He blinks up to a ledge that constitutes what remains of the ruined 3rd floor of the building. The assassin adeptly runs up the wall, grabs onto the ledge and pulls himself up as the mage continues to flee. The mage blinks across the alleyway separating two nearby buildings, and the assassin makes a flying leap over the dizzying gap in hot pursuit. The mage uses an ability that allows him to safely fall several stories (ex. slow fall) while the assassin jumps and times a roll as he hits the ground to avoid taking damage. etc etc.