Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

Posts Tagged ‘Heal’

Breaking the Mold: MMORPG Raid/Team Dynamics

Posted by rHornbek on January 26, 2012

I got into a conversation the other day that became somewhat heated regarding the current class dynamic in MMORPGs.  The conversation started when my friend asked, and I am paraphrasing, “Why haven’t you picked up another MMO after quitting World of WarCraft?”  The obvious answer for me was simple; I didn’t want to start playing a game that I couldn’t invest as much time as I would like into.  In other words, I do not like to play MMOs casually.  While I have plenty of time to allocate to such things as MMOs, I have decided I would like to utilize that time to work on projects instead of “collect mad lootz!”  The comment that really set the conversation off was when I haphazardly expressed my dislike for the common class dynamic that is prevalent in nearly every MMO out there.  Let me break it down…

There are three components that are required in nearly every MMO team based encounter:

  • Tank to draw the attention of target mob or boss monster and soak up its damage.
  • DPS to ensure the swift defeat of the target, and…
  • Healer to keep everyone on the team alive, primarily the Tank who should be receiving the most damage.

The classic MMO team dynamic: Tank, Healer & DPS

While this dynamic as been successful since the early age of pencil and paper games I expressed to my friend that it has grown extremely tired and I would like to see a change.  I think the reason my opinion was received so poorly was the idea that I was challenging the wheel, and what isn’t broke does not need to be fixed.  Really what I failed to do was clearly express what it was about the dynamic that I disliked so much.  Before I do that however, I want to refer to another genre that changed almost completely with a simple alteration in the dynamic of the game mechanics.

Left: Half-Life's "Health & Suit" - Right: Halo's "Shield"

Classic First Person Shooters utilized a Health system where damage was permanent (as indicated by the green arrow in the image above).  Users were required to collect Health Packs to restore their character’s health, without them the User would have to be exceptionally cautions when progressing with low Health.  Later FPS titles added an Armor mechanic (as indicated by the blue arrow in the image above), but really this only extended the character’s Health into two numbers.  Then enters Halo: Combat Evolved, a FPS like the rest but with a new Health system; Shields or Recharging Shields.  The first variant on this was like many of the classic FPS games, but instead of requiring the User to find both Health and Armor Packs they only needed to find Health because their Shield would recharge on its own.  The dynamic that this created was a lot more action packed and rewarded the User for utilizing cover to recharge their Shields.  This mechanic won over the community and has become a standard for nearly every FPS since, and now most FPS only have a Shield mechanic and no Health!  The objective was simple, create a more exciting experience that promoted the use of cover that never left the User rummaging around for scraps of Health.

I imagine that before this change someone would have been called crazy if they challenged the way Health was managed in FPS, but it happened and most FPS games are better for it.  I would like to point out however that the fundamental “Health” mechanic is still present!  Just because the Shield refills after a short duration does not mean the character cannot die, it just changes what it takes to die.

This is the point I was really trying to make to my friend, not that we needed to do away with Tanks, Healers and DPS, but simply redefine how these roles are utilized in these games!  I like to break these roles down into more specific element:

  • CONTROL: the element of Control is important because it allows User to keep their Targets where they want them.  This is classically represented by the Tank that uses Threat mechanics to keep their target focused on them.  This is also represented in other class abilities to SAP, Stun, Polymorph, Confuse, Sleep, etc targets so they are not a direct hazard to the rest of the team.
  • SUPPORT: while I am sure there is a better word to describe this element, the element of Support allows Users to restore lost health/energies, return themselves or others to life and grant buffs or debuffs.  This is classically represented by the Healing classes and as a bonus utilities on other classes.
  • DAMAGE: this element is the most obvious in that its purpose is to kill Targets as fast as possible.

Control in the current Dynamic is dominated by Tanks, who are heavily armored melee combatants that sit face to face with the Target, but there are many ways to “Control” a target!  Support in the current Dynamic is dominated by Healers, who are soft magic based ranged classes that sit in the back spamming or waiting for the right time to heal a target, but does healing have to be managed by one or a few Users or by Users at all?  Damage in the current Dynamic appears more diverse than it really is, sure there are melee DPS and range DPS, some that use physical attacks while others use magic, but all of these attack hit the same [hit] box.  I am not suggesting we throw out these mechanics, I am simply suggesting we find ways to change the way we currently do it.

Clearly I am raging a bit, but I needed this massive brain-dump...

OK… I know this has pretty much just been me complaining about the wheel this whole time, proclaiming “it could roll better if you did it differently!” without actually proposing how one might do that.  I would like to start by pointing out a case where this has already been done to some degree in our very own World of WarCraft…

The High King Maulgar fight took two classes that were almost exclusively DPS and turned them into Tanks!  You may not get this from the video above, but a Mage class character would tank a boss monsters vulnerable to ice based attacks.  This vulnerably would cause the boss monster to become easily slowed and frozen allowing the Mage to kite the boss monster around until it was time to kill it.  At the same time a Warlock would use his ability to take control of a demon summoned by another one of the boss monsters.  With this powerful demon under his control he could use its power to help attack the boss monsters, while at the same time using a fear spell to keep another boss monster running around in terror!  When I first encountered this fight myself I felt that “Wow, this game’s team/raid dynamic may finally get mixed up.  Regrettably I rarely saw any sort of thing like this ever again.

In this successful example the Tank, or rather “Control”, mechanic were still there but just functioned differently.  Why must there be classes who are expected to play one role?  Sure heavily armored Warriors may be the best at taking full frontal physical attacks, but what if the creature is ethereal and can pass through hardened metals?  Then a magic user who can twist the laws of physics would be the best candidate.

What about Healing?  The FPS genre showed us that there is more than one way to skin a Master Chief.  What if everyone could heal themselves in some way?  Like the Shield mechanic, maybe they would have to step out of combat long enough to apply a suture, or catch their breath restoring some health.  In addition to that, maybe everyone could heal someone else in some way, but they would have to stop what they were doing to do it.

If given enough time, and I plan on investing that time as some point, I am sure I could come up with a bunch of fun solutions.  But without breaking the mold a little I feel many MMOs are following the same formula to closely for me to care about playing them.  This goes for more than just the raid/team dynamic, but also the class types, the setting, questing, crafting etc.

I look forward to following this up at some point!


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