Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Customized instances

Following the recent discussion on Tesh's blog about bringing the player vs bringing the class, I have an idea.

We've already seen games that are good at scaling the difficulty depending on how many players there are - for example, Diablo 2 and City of Heroes.

What if games customized the types of enemies that you were going to face, or their abilities, based on the combination of classes in your group?

For example, consider a simple trinity-style combat system with 8-person teams and 3 classes to choose from - tank, healer, damage dealer. Let's say a particular team consists of 4 tanks, 4 damage dealers, and 0 healers.

The game could adjust the enemies to keep the challenge level for the encounter at the desired level - there are plenty of tanks, so increase the rate at which DPS generates aggro. There are no healers, so reduce the amount of damage done by the mobs, and/or give the mobs less HP (so that they die faster, and hence don't slaughter the whole team).

This logic can be extended to other combinations of teams. There should be a law of diminishing returns though - for example in a 40 man raid, I would not expect the system to scale to make zero healers acceptable. But if there were only say, two healers, the system should be able to scale *to a large degree* to even out the challenge level of the encounter.

Obviously, it wouldn't be perfect. But, it would be tweaked based on data mining/player feedback, just the same as with current systems, and it would be a lot better than current systems where you if you don't have X amount of various classes, you just have no hope of beating the encounter. The benefit is that players would be much more free to bring whatever class they like, to experience the content that they're interested in. No more being pressured by your guild to level up a tank, even though you secretly hate playing them, etc.

Of course, I'm sure there'll still be the elitist top few % of players who want to compose the perfect team, and that's fine, that's half the fun of the game for them, so let them do it! But for the vast majority of average Joe's, this will let them just play your game to maximize their fun, without having to worry about whether they're going to get into an "end-game" raiding group with their selected build.

Thoughts or suggestions?


Chappo said...

Personally I love the idea as it would finally allow people to roll whichever class they would want to play rather then what is the most powerful or is what is needed most.
Then again, it would be an incredibly complex system. For example, which healer is judged to be the best of all the classes? Which is the best DPS? How would the game scale a group with 2 tanks 2 healers and 8 hunters, as opposed to 2 tanks 2 healers and 8 rogues?
But it sounds great, and sure would fix up a whole lot of problems in group management.

Kyre said...

To a much lesser degree, City of Heroes does do some combat changes when certain classes are around--that is, adding Quantums to battles when Peacebringers and Warshades are around. Still, the problem with this proposed system is that to some extent, it will possibly /encourage/ no-healer, or no-tank, or other groups, to the point that you may simply have a game that one part of the combat trinity is actually frowned upon for groups. The implementation would be nearly impossible to get perfect...and I just can't see it working for most games. Still, it's an interesting idea to ponder.

Longasc said...

I see Kyre's point. A human Dungeon Master is hard to replace by a script/automatism. This does not mean they should not try it.

I think the point of a class is that it gives you a special strength, ability, but also a special disadvantage. You will have to work with both while playing.

The class concept should not be so extreme that a healer can only heal, and a tank only tank, and a dps player nothing else but damaging enemies.

But in general it works. I think Guild Wars is already flexible enough in this regard.

I say give people skill points for distribution, and they will create classes, archetypes. But still have more freedom than a pure class concept.

Tesh said...

I like this. Not only would it make PUGs nicer, but it would make grouping as a whole more appealing. This is the sort of thing that would make this soloer more likely to play nice with others, rather than heavy-handed top-down design mandates ("thou shalt group in an MMO") or content gated behind strict grouping keys.

Melf_Himself said...

Thanks for the comments... let me see how I think the critcisms so far can be overcome:

@Chappo: First of all, having the total number of classes in the game on the small side would probably help make this work properly. On the plus side, I think this makes any game much easier to balance... games that draw people in with hype such as "Over 30 classes to play!" invariably end up being poorly balanced.

It also depends on the maximum group size. I don't see this being that great for the 40-man style of raiding, but I can think of some simple rules to balance, say, Guild Wars (8 player teams).

For much larger teams (going off on a tangent now), personally I think that an "any player is a benefit" design would be much better... i.e. no limit to the number of players that can be brought and hence nobody is excluded from grouping. Yes, this creates massive zerg-fests. Yes, this is what people who play 40-man content really want anyway. Ideal example: RvR conflicts in WAR, if there was no limit to the size of a warband.

@Kyre: I'm sure it wouldn't be perfect. However, the degree to which each group of monsters is changed would be fully scaleable... if the devs wanted to, they could err on the small side, so that no problems occur compared to current systems (the drawback is of course that the benefit - not needing a specific group composition - would be much less also). So, at the least, I think that current systems could be improved upon without creating any drawbacks... they just wouldn't be as impressive as my utopian dream of this concept (which would take harder work).

Anton said...

I like Longasc's comparison of MMO scripts/automatons to the role of a Dungeon Master. This should be explored further, because really, wouldn't it be nice if every game session were tailored to your interests that evening, the way a Dungeon Master does?

Then again, whenever I've played the role of a Dungeon Master, ther's a part of the adventure that is based around MY interests...Can the game's script simulate having its own purposes with you when you sit down to play? I'd feel like I was really being messed with...But it would sure be interesting to try to guess what the game is trying to do to me...

Melf_Himself said...

I like the Dungeon Master thing too Anton. Obviously that adds another layer of complexity, but I'm sure someone who is good at telling stories could pull it off.

The quests, dungeon and monsters could all be picked to suit the composition of a (small) group. Like, say if you had a group with only 1 rogue and 1 tank character together, a dungeon might feature a scenario where the tank creates a diversion and holds off a swarm of enemies, while the rogue slips behind enemy lines to take out the leader.

Basically, for small groups, look at what the group can and can't do and shape the quest and story around that.

I'm not sure what you mean by mixing things up. Do you mean something like (using the above example), the scenario is changed so that:

a) the rogue finds an item in the dungeon that gives him a temporary speed buff, so that he can run around acting as the diversion
b) the level is full of obstacles to hide behind, so that if the tank times patrols he can have pseudo-stealth

Or, do you more mean not giving the players predictable outcomes for a particular quest/dungeon. For this, I am minded of the ye olde early 90's Hero Quest game, in which the levels messed with your head eg:
- You get captured at the end of the level (next level, escape unarmed and find your gear!)
- You find a massive haul of gold that weighs you down, but when you leave you discover it was fool's gold, and all that extra damage you took was because of greed
- Each door teleports you to a different room across the map, completely splitting up the party
- Etc

I think either interpretation has the potential to be quite fun (especially the latter one, because I've played games like that and it added a lot of atmosphere). Although, it's not really what I'm talking about here since it's not tailored to the group itself.... my marketing buzz-word for that one would be something like "Dynamic dungeons" :p