Monday, April 18, 2005

Play This Way

I have been following the Star Wars: Galaxies combat redesign with interest lately. Not sure why. I don't even play the stupid game.

I think maybe because the update has been so long in coming. It's like they're finally admitting how shitty they made the game and are seeking to atone for it, however slowly.

Figuring out exactly what role the different professions play in combat is an idea that I like only tentatively. On the one hand, the game suffers from profession-bloat, with way too many just-okay ideas polluting the gameworld. On the other hand, it's good to know what role you may be called upon to play in a group.

Looking at the balance diagram, however, I can't help but be disappointed. That diagram is the paradigm upon which MMORPGs are based, and it demands an extremely Procrustean game design.

Enemies must be designed so that this diagram will work against them. We know that someone will pull the enemies. Then we have tankers form a front line while the support teams do their things.

The problem I have with this is that there is no real challenge. A well-balanced team never has to change their tactics, because all enemies can be defeated with them.

What if enemies could respond to these tactics with similar ones? What if certain enemies could neutralize tankers?

Yeah, I know. There are a million what-ifs I could ask concerning the enemies, but all it really boils down to is: At the moment, it is too difficult to stream complex AI and still run an MMORPG without terrible lag.

It would also be interesting to re-examine how professions advance. Experience-based systems are interesting, but it would be nice to offer several routes to earning the next step.

Let's say you like to make rifles. You could earn your next rank by making a shitload of rifles - advancement through practice. Or you could make not-as-many rifles but pay a decent amount of credits to pay for specialized training - advancement through practice and tutoring. Or you could make a few rifles and undertake a series of tasks in acquiring and assembling materials, perhaps to support a local militia - advancement through practice and specialized missions.

I'm impressed by the ideas they've released concerning The Rage of the Wookies expansion. A world that is actually crafted rather than pseudo-randomly generated. An actual story arc. Not just random missions. Basically something they should be slowly leaking out onto the other planets.

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