PvE Sandbox MMO: Combat

The first area I’m going to tackle for the PvE Sandbox is combat, as I think it’s the glue that holds everything together and really sets the tone for the type of game you are playing. It also fuels other systems, and so I believe it’s a good starting point.

Basically, think Mount and Blade or Darkfall. So no tab-targeting, each swing hits or misses based on where the target is vs a dice roll, and things like momentum, weapon reach, and area hit all come into play. I’d also add friendly fire (controlled to prevent griefing, so only when facing mobs and other restrictions), as this really helps control zerging (somewhat anyway) and curbs other cheap tactics.

One goal would be to keep the number of key presses needed to a minimum, so combat comes down to who has better tactics and reactions rather than who has configured their UI to account for the 20+ actions needed. To this end I would remove magic as it’s seen in most MMOs, but not to the extent that M&B does. Basically the world still has some magic to it (floating platforms, monsters, teleports, some kind of healing, etc), but the players themselves can’t throw fireballs or toss out dozens of buffs. Special NPCs could, be they friendly or not.

Since the game is a PvE game, monsters would have decent enough AI that they would drop back, dodge, and use cover. Nothing mind-blowing, but above the usually “run into your sword” charge that common MMO mobs do. Lots of other areas have evolved in MMOs since 97, it’s time for AI to do so as well. The point is to make each encounter challenging enough that you have to focus and react, but also simple enough that every fight does not become a raid boss effort. The more special the encounter, the mob would not only have increased stats, but also increased AI, rather than having a more elaborate script of abilities.

Ranged combat would be limited to things like bows, crossbows, and throwing weapons, and ammo would not be unlimited. The cost of basic ammo would be low, but players would be more limited by how much they can carry and when they are able to resupply. Ideally if you and some buddies are out hunting mobs, you would save up your ranged ammo for special occasions (getting an advantage on a tougher encounter, for instance), and use melee for common stuff. The crafting/itemization post will cover this in greater detail, but basically all items would suffer wear and tear in the game, and eventually everything breaks, so what you bring out is always a consideration rather than an assumed “use the best in slot you have” type of deal.

As for combat goals, the world would be such that player hubs are all friendly to each other (or at least non-combative), and all players fight against a common enemy faction. This factions goal would be, of course, world domination, and player actions would determine just how close that faction is to its goal. As the world would ideally be larger than what the player population could occupy, the enemy faction would be in control of different areas at different times, based mostly on where the current player population has chosen to establish itself (more on this in a different post about housing/cities).

20 Responses to PvE Sandbox MMO: Combat

  1. Gankalicious says:

    Just out of curiosity- why no magic? Just a preference or do you think magic in games takes away from game-play?

    • SynCaine says:

      Magic takes away from the ‘purity’ of melee combat IMO. A lot of real world tactics go out the window when someone can summon a volcano or instantly bring back the dead. Plus in a skill-based system, keeping the combat simple (in terms of the number of things to press) would be tough with everyone having access to magic.

  2. Talinine says:

    “I’d also add friendly fire (controlled to prevent griefing, so only when facing mobs and other restrictions)…”

    Not to burst your bubble, but this is the single hardest thing to code for – intent. Let’s say we work off of the basic premise of only turning on friendly fire when you’re facing a mob. Alex walks up to a mob with a sword, Bob comes up behind player A (with the intent to grief), swings and hits Alex.

    So facing doesn’t work. How about reach? Nope, Bob (that a-hole) approaches the mob from the side and swings. No dice. How about an anti-griefing system, whereby players that commit friendly fire often are penalized? That sucks for Chris, who’s a particularly bad shot. What if you make it so other players flag people for griefing violations? That just gets gamed in the other direction – Chris gets put in the penalty box when he accidentally tags Bob and his buddies. And so on and so forth.

    • SynCaine says:

      Oh I agree, no rules will ever 100% prevent griefing. However, if you make it difficult enough, and not rewarding, it cuts down on most of it. If being blacklisted matters (more on that later), that helps too.

      • Deigh says:

        For friendly fire to work, I reckon it should punish the receiver and the dealer equally.

        Obviously, having your health magically drop when you hit someone is a bit over the top though, so it’d have to be something more abstract – maybe similar to how LOTRO has “Morale” rather than Hit Points

      • Kyir says:

        I think you’re underestimating the drive of some people to ruin other people’s days.

  3. noz says:

    “monsters would have decent enough AI that they would drop back, dodge, and use cover”

    That’s one thing that Tabula Rasa did really well: Mobs would roam in groups (of about 5 to 10 IIRC) and when they spotted you they swarmed out and took cover behind small rocks etc.

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    You’d lose me with the “almost no magic for players” thing. I’m very happy with a low-magic world, but it has to at least have the equivalent of AD&D levels 1 – 4 spells or it’s just not getting far enough away from “reality”.

    Similarly, for me to be interested there’d have to be non-human playable races. Preferably not just short humans and pointy-eared humans, either.

    Otherwise, sounds very good so far.

    • Gankalicious says:

      Throw in some monster-playable characters as well. Giants, trolls, spiders…. I really want to see some variation other than human-elf-dwarf-green other.

  5. Dril says:

    Agree with everything (especially no magic) but one: ranged weapons. Imo they should be a viable, consistent source of damage and mode of play, not just a special occasion thing. I think that should be the role magic plays: i.e. yes, you can heal, but it ain’t cheap and it ain’t spammable, so your “tanks” would have to be experts at both parrying/dodging attacks whilst at the same time keeping the mob in place.

    Also: it should be more M&B than Darkfall. M&B is just that bit more intuitive and fun.

  6. Phedre says:

    The ideas are quite nice. And I wouldn’t mind playing your game. But I did already. It’s called Fallen Earth. Brilliant game that almost everybody happily ignored. So I think your dream MMO will face the same faith. Unless is has all the easy buttons like Rift does it won’t get the audience it needs to survive and grow. If everybody that feels sandbox PVE is the rage would subscribe to Fallen Earth we might actually get there. Now they have too few subscribers to implement their (and many sideline player’s) vision.

    • Supplanter says:

      Fallen Earth is nothing like the game describes, sure you aim your ranged shots, but Mob AI is the same stand around in groups until a player “gets agro” then “fall on their sword”. Which was my main gripe with that game, it came so close to being good, but didn’t get out of that MMO combat mentality enough to be more than mediocre.

      • Bhagpuss says:

        I played Fallen Earth for about three months from launch and really enjoyed it. If I had more time I’d play it again.

        It was, however, one of the “easiest” MMOs I’ve ever played. Pretty much everything about it was both easy to understand and easy to accomplish. Combat, while great fun, was like falling off a log. Some of it took quite a long time, but that’s “slow” not “difficult”. I can’t see why you’d thnk that level of “difficulty” would put anyone off.

        • Drew says:

          Fallen Earth was my initial thought here, as well. The upcoming combat revamp will do a lot to lower the power / number of mutations last I checked.

          Also, NPCs have become much harder targets to kill than when the game first released. Agreed with Bhagpuss – at the onset, FE was PVE easy; that changed a few updates ago. What a great game – one of the few that had really engaging storylines.

  7. Wyrmrider says:

    If I can only carry a few projectiles at a time (to be more realistic), can each of them one-shot somebody (to be more realistic)? :)

    In all seriousness though — what model of damage vs. health do you see this game using?

    • SynCaine says:

      Since you can’t combat heal, I think high health / low damage works well. Makes it so you can recover from a single mistake, but solid overall play will come through. Depends how you balance loot and such. It would be interesting (and different for an MMO) if each skirmish was somewhat of a big deal, with appropriate loot. So instead of going from one goblin to the next 100 times, you should fight one camp of 5-10, and that itself would be a ‘farming session’ of sorts.

  8. Le Chat Noir says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for sometime, your stories of Darkfall encouraged me to pick up the game via your link above but I’ve never actually posted on anything before.

    I’ve often sat around with friends and idly gone over details much like this regarding how we’d make our “perfect” MMO and it’s eerie that so many people out there have the same opinions and ideas.

    Whilst agreeing with moreorless everything above, I do feel as though some magic would need to be implemented. There’s a large contingent of players that naturally gravitate or prefer magic based characters and if controlled in a similar manner to your idea on ranged weapons like a poster before me said it’d dampen the blow to melee strategy.

    I’m sure I’m jumping the gun here but you mentioned most cities being hospitable toward players. Would you opt for two player factions ala Horde and Alliance or would you go for a more alignment/faction standing based system?

  9. John says:

    Sounds interesting, but definitely not my game. I don’t like melee combat. I don’t enjoy having to move around excessively and be constantly changing what direction I face while fighting, and I really hate having to worry about how close I am to the mob. My reaction times are well below the average gamer’s and that, combined with my crappy hardware means that I would find your game exhausting and not fun at all.

    Yes, my ideal “combat” isn’t even remotely like the “real thing” and probably shouldn’t even be called combat. My ideal combat is much more like the turn-based strategic affair that you’ll find in Atlantica Online.

    But to each their own — I’d definitely try your game. I just know my limitations well enough to know that I’d suck at it, and consequently not enjoy it very much.

  10. Azyrie says:

    It just struck me,

    what if you blurred the lines so well in a PvE sandbox game, that people could end up PvPing and not even know it?

    Say for example, rather than 2 factions, you have multiple factions, and player characters can join NPCs in holding and taking territory, engage in skirmishes and whatnot. At any given moment a player can be riding in side by side with NPCs engaging other NPCs while other players from an opposing faction are doing the same.

    Can mob AI even come close to simulating player behaviour? At some point in the future, they could enable players to damage players, and in the grand scheme of things, would it immediately be noticable?

    I guess Joe C. Griefer would immediately find a way to exploit it, but the concept of PvE’ers requesting more difficult scripted encounters someday reaching the AI equivalent of an actual PC, that PvEr will for all intents and purposes, be a PvPer. Then if you switch out the AI for an actual person, what changed?

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