[MUD-Dev] Balancing Melee vs Ranged Combat in Games Which Model Space

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Mon Apr 9 01:25:16 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


Brian Hook writes:
> At 02:06 AM 4/7/01 -0700, JB wrote:

> In other words, combat is relatively easy to quantify.  Non-combat
> skills, except for maybe trade skills, are more difficult to
> quantify into a well defined system.

Oh, I think that they're emminently manageable.  It's simply that the
current game designers are the ones that like to be Gandalf and Conan.
Find some game designers who like other things and you'll see some
wonderful games come into being.  Will Wright and The Sims immediately
comes to mind as an example.

>> Rogues are combat effective in rare circumstances.  The bulk of the
>> entertainment for rogues should be sneaking around, skulking across
>> high wires, listening to conversations unobserved and so on.

> I completely agree, however this (so far) has been extremely
> difficult to accomplish in the computer medium because of the very
> freeform nature by which a rogue operates.

Yet there are games that are entirely centered on thievery and
sneaking.  Why not present the same game world that Conan is running
around in, but using the client from one of those games?  I'm being a
little facetious there due to the practical aspect of trying to do
such a thing, but hopefully you get my point.

>> The trend in the industry seems to assume that the only interesting
>> thing that we can offer players is advancement based on the
>> destruction of bad guys and riches (also based on the destruction
>> of the bad guys).  Surely other avenues of entertainment can be
>> provided by games.

> Absolutely, however at this point in time the commercial emphasis is
> on combat and, based on the popularity of EQ and Diablo, I would
> guess that right now that's what many players want.  I'm not
> defending that, just stating that this seems to be a reasonable
> trend right now.

I wouldn't want to be one of the design leads on these games that keep
emphasizing the combat element.  Eventually, and I hope it's soon,
somebody is going to come up with a recipe for far more than just
combat.  The existing specialization on combat games is going to work
against some of those designers out there.  Perhaps they will have
jobs working on the combat side of the larger-scoped games.

I've got to believe that people are burning out on combat games.
Certainly projects are being halted right and left just now.

> Other avenues definitely do exist and should be pursued -- the
> conversations I've had with Raph indicate to me that he believes
> there should be many different and unrelated forms of advancement
> for a player to pursue, and I would dare say that Raph is one of the
> most influential designers in this genre -- however they are A.) 
> more difficult to implement; B.) more difficult to quantify; and C.) 
> more difficult to sell to players and publishers.

I think that much of that is due to the novelty of the ideas.  Not
that they are inherently difficult, only that they are an unknown
quantity.  Most such experiments seem to be doomed to business
failure, thus the hesitancy - although I'm only stating the obvious
there.

> In theory, lots of people want to be Conan or Gandalf.  Vanquishing
> bad guys is a very popular activity.

Okay, so we've got one recipe for entertainment down.  Next!  :)

>> Given the idea that head-to-head combat between girl scouts and
>> roman gladiators doesn't need to be balanced because not all
>> professions are about combat, this isn't a concern for me.

> But head to head combat between two combat professionals should (so
> the argument goes) be balanced.  Archer vs. swordsman.  I don't
> believe anyone really brought up non-combatant vs. combatant.  And
> given the subject line of this thread, I would say that arguing
> non-combatant vs. combatant not fitting into your universe is, well,
> beside the point.

My point was that we *would* treat girl scouts as combatants because
that's what the games are about.  Players would be complaining about
how the girl scout 'kick' was too weak and that girl scouts should get
poison cookies and shiruken-like merit badges or some such thing.

>> profession that they've chosen.  Why a 37th level druid wants to go
>> into a dungeon is beyond me.

> Because it's there.  That's how many players -- especially those in
> combat oriented RPGs -- think.  Players feel that they have the
> right, by virtue of purchasing your product, to experience as much
> content as they can reach.  If they are "unreasonably" denied
> content, they get frustrated and upset.

This is what I was after with the girl scouts example.  This is how
most players think - especially because the games have taught them to
think that way.

Further, there are other ways of avoiding 'unreasonable' barriers to
entertainment in the game.  My personal take on this is that any given
character should be capable of doing anything - given enough time.
While I don't care for the notion of levels in their current form,
that 37th level druid sounds fairly specialized.  As a result, a
greater focus must be brought to bear on honing the druid's skills.
The specialization permits fairly unique forms of entertainment that
only a druid can ever get into - but the cost is that the druid
becomes more and more *only* a druid.  The druid's combat ability,
housebuilding ability, etc, are all left to fade.  A druid who is more
'well-rounded' shoud be able to have druidic capabilities, but also
simultaneously have other compatible skills such as warrior, healer,
shipwright, etc.  Whatever elements of gameplay that the player is
interested in.  Taking a lesson from classes, there would be limits on
the degree to which a 'well-rounded' character could delve into any
one skill.  As with the 37th level druid, specialization is a means of
accessing unique entertainment.

Note that, once specialized, the druid has the option of giving up the
forests wholly or in part, to pursue other avenues of entertainment in
the game world.  "Being able to summon a golem was fun, but I want to
get back to my blacksmithing."  Or "I want to try out hunting (just
don't tell my fuzzy forest friends)."  Over time, a character can be
used to reach any of the available forms of entertainment.

> For example, say there is a dungeon called Minutia Catacombs.  Only
> small races can adventure there.  Hey, that's cool, right?  Wrong.
> Because while it adds flavor, that's a lot of designer effort that
> maybe 1/3rd of the players can enjoy or experience.  And if it's a
> high level dungeon, then someone that has spent all their time as an
> ogre shaman is going to be pissed because they've been denied that
> experience unless they're willing to restart the game as a small
> race and game up to the necessary level.

Yes, one of my rallying cries is 'no irrevocable player decisions'.
While not a very memorable phrase, it has served me well in avoiding
that problem of denying players access to entertainment.  If you
recall, I asked about the value of races in another thread.  I asked
for the very sort of reason that you bring up: if I have races, then
there are built-in restrictions to access on entertainment.  While
players definitely look for that marketing checkmark of 'Multiple
Races', I'm still hesitant to include them in my designs.  Unless they
are all essentially human in dimension and capability.

>> If they're playing a druid, they should be interested in the
>> entertainment that the game provides to druids.

> That's a bit of an elitist attitude.  If they paid money to play the
> game, they should be able to experience how they want it so long as
> it doesn't disrupt the game for others.  Some people would argue
> that the mere thought of a druid in a dungeon would disrupt their
> game, but they're the extremist version of the anti-powergamer and
> suffer from the same delusions that powergamers do.

My comment was intended to suggest that if the player has chosen to
develop a skilled druid, then that player should be willing to accept
that there is a downside to all the upside of specialization.  If a
player is interested in druidic skills and dungeon exploration, then
they simply go off and do both.  Because they are spending a certain
amount of time in dungeons, they cannot be developing their druidic
skills at the same time.  They get what they want, without disrupting
the game for others.  Those 'others' are the people who are spending
all their time in dungeons or all their time in the woods.  They
should be rewarded for their choices by gaining access to new
entertainment opportunities.

> I remember being upset with X-Wing because I would try to play past
> a mission that was clearly impossible for me to accomplish.  I
> didn't "get" the mission, but because I couldn't cheat past it
> (enabling cheating in X-Wing didn't allow you to complete a mission
> IIRC), the game was basically over for me.

Yes, this is what my 'no irrevocable player decisions' approach is all
about.  You weren't able to go back to the supply depot to pick up
more missiles or fuel or fix your ship because that stage of the game
was already over.  You're forced to restart the game if you want to
redress earlier mistakes.  This is the problem that I encountered in
EverQuest when I selected the Ranger class.  I played the Ranger class
for a long while until I realized that the class that actually
provided me the experience I was after was the Druid.  Well, the
classes are very similar, but a 20th level Ranger cannot convert to a
10th level Druid and then continue.  Note that I had developed a
number of trade skills, utility skills and had learned some languages
as well.  I saw no need to discard all of that just to switch to the
Druid class.  Classes carry irrevocable decisions and that's not good.

> Looking Glass had a similar philosophy -- play the game THEY
> intended you to play, not the game YOU want to play, and I
> personally don't care for that philosophy.  I probably would have
> finished Thief if I could have warped past the Tomb Raider levels.

But where do we draw the line on what sort of a game the players get
to play?  Should it only be the 'disruption' yardstick?  I despise
linear games, but I certainly want self-consistency and depth to the
game experience.  That sense of self-consistency covers the case of
the highly specialized druid not being effective in his skills while
underground.

>> If they want to go into dungeons and kill stuff, let them become a
>> mercenary.  As before, let's not assume that the single way of
>> gaining entertainment is killing things and getting their (screwy)
>> possessions.

> No one is assuming that ALL forms of entertainment have to be that
> way, so I' not sure what your point is.  The specific discussion was
> ranged vs. melee combat, so I'm a little confused why you're riffing
> out over issues that don't seem to even pertain to the thread.

Because they're interesting?  Because that's the way my brain is wired
right now?  We're designing whole worlds here, so any given topic is
going to be interrelated with many others.  Turning a blind eye to the
interrelation of so many different topics tends to produce mistakes.
Assumptions are made that are never articulated, and so on.  In my
mind, all of this is very much related to the issue of ranged versus
melee combat because people have certain assumptions that they carry
around on why ranged versus melee combat should work in certain ways.
Can I tell you about why a falling apple accelerates until it reaches
a top speed if you don't understand gravity or Newtonian mechanics or
the notion of drag?

>> Let them go away so that they can find the game that they enjoy
>> playing.  I've made comments before about the need to ensure that
>> such players don't consider my game as even potentially
>> interesting.

> Er, okay...but I'm not sure how that pertains to the topic of ranged
> vs. melee combat.

You asked.  I answered.

>> Something that I have found odd is the fact that games seem to be
>> predicated on delivering an exceptional experience.  For example,
>> becoming as powerful as Hercules or Gandalf.  But the game is going
>> to be structured one of two ways.  Either all players can fairly
>> easily achieve that power level and everyone eventually becomes
>> Herculean (Galdalfian?), or players compete with each other to
>> achieve that power level and only one becomes Herculean.  In the
>> first case, nobody is exceptional because all players eventually
>> become Hercules.  In the second, only a few are exception, meaning
>> that the vast majority of players don't get to experience being
>> Hercules.

> This depends on whether the player is comparing himself to other
> players or if he's comparing himself to the environment and/or his
> previous self.  You can easily tell that you're becoming a hero of
> huge proportions when monsters you used to run from are now cowering
> from you.

> Take Everquest and remove all the other players from the game.  You
> can still see your character becoming exceptional and more powerful.
> If you're competing with other players on that basis, so be it, but
> you don't HAVE to compete with other players in order to feel bigger
> and badder.

Well, first, let's never take a multiplayer game and then take all the
other players out of it.  The point of a multiplayer game is that
there are other players in it.  And I mean this specifically for where
we're trying to illustrate a point.  If you can successfully
illustrate a point by doing that, I submit to you that the game is
only a single player game in multiplayer game clothing.  The other
players simply aren't significant to the gameplay.

I'll buy the personal power schedule idea to a point.  In my case, I
liked to accumulate power because it meant that I could experience new
things in the game world.  In both EverQuest and Asheron's Call, it
meant that I could move around without having to constantly worry
about Sudden Death From Behind.  Personally, I don't think that's the
pursuit of 'power' per se.

I still think that the whole power thing is fundamentally a mind fake,
however.  What players really want to do is to have power above and
beyond the rest of the world.  That's the rule when we talk about
heroes.  Gandalf and Conan had very few peers.  Including their
enemies.

JB

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