Did you know that the undead in Darkfall have bad hearing, and due to that it’s easier to sneak up on them so long as they don’t see you? Did you know they have above-average vision at night? Did you even know that mob vision is affected by night/day conditions, and that rather than a pre-set ‘agro range’, the mobs do in fact have to detect you before they attack?
If you answered no to any of the above, you are not alone. The often-times ridiculed ‘advanced mob AI’ in Darkfall is indeed real when compared to most MMO mobs, it’s just that the game does a rather poor job of displaying it, and so that advanced AI far too often looks like “dumb mobs spazzing out” rather than the player witnessing something interesting.
Remember the first time you played Metal Gear Solid, and as you walked around, that giant pre-WoW exclamation point would pop up along with that distinctive “ving!” sound, letting you know the enemy is on to you? If you are like me, you marveled at how cool the AI in MGS was, how smart it was about vision, sound, the how realistic it was in trying to find you. And while the AI was indeed decent, especially for a PS1 game, it’s HOW that AI was represented that made it seem special. The game did a great job of communicating what it’s AI was thinking at the time, and that, perhaps more then even the AI itself, is what the players notice and respond to.
Darkfall needs its version of that “ving!” sound, it needs something like those giant exclamation points popping up letting you know a mob has seen you, or that the mob is scared and about to run to look for help. The AI is already there, now it’s time to let the players actually see it in action without sitting around and heavily studying mob behavior.
Imagine that as you walk near a goblin spawn, the first goblin you see points directly at you, bangs his shield to raise the alarm, and then charges you. Due to his banging, not only do the other goblins start to head over to check things out (they don’t make a b-line towards you, but rather gravitate naturally towards the general area of the original sound), but all of the players in the area also hear the commotion, letting them either come over to help, or to sneak up and set up a gank. Imagine that as you fight that goblin, you see him start to shake due to the fight going poorly for him, and then as he turns to run he waves his hands above his head, yelling for help. Imagine sneaky mobs actually using crouch-walk to sneak up on you, or territorial mobs like bears using a threatening emote to warn you they are going to attack if you don’t leave their area. All of that (to some extent) already exists in terms of AI coding, it’s just currently hard for the players to really see it in action. Show off all of that work Aventurine!
Along with better communication of mob AI, the next ‘big thing’ for PvE is the addition of special attacks for mobs. Currently most of the mobs in Darkfall play with the same tools a normal player has, meaning melee attacks, bow shots, and spells. This was done mostly to save time, as coding a special attack takes time, and Aventurine wanted to work on PvP balance before adding additional complexity to the engine with special mob-only attacks. While that makes sense, and the combat being more FPS-ish than most MMOs means fighting even plain-attacking mobs is interesting, true PvE variety is needed to keep players around and entertained long-term.
Special attacks can be a wide variety of things, including PvP-destroying skills like stuns, snares, disables, etc. You don’t want players to be able to take away control from another player (DAoC being the perfect example of this flaw), but the rules are a bit different in PvE, as mobs won’t (hopefully) do underhanded things like taunt-chain a player off a cliff, or stun-lock someone to death. Varied abilities such a cleave attacks, knockbacks, and stuns would also open up group dynamics for PvE, and the rewards could be adjusted to compensate. You could, for instance, create a small-group encounter simply by having a mob stun a player often, making the mob impossible to solo but very doable for even new-ish player groups of 2-3.
Beyond adding variety to ‘average’ mobs, the ability for designers to include special attacks would open up the possibility to add more boss-like mobs to Darkfall; mobs similar to the Red Dragon. Whether these mobs are added to the new dungeons or the overworld, they could be rather unique encounters given Darkfall’s combat engine, and the possibilities for PvP to break out at any moment. A somewhat rare roaming boss mob that spawns on a 24 hour timer, drops mini Sea Fortress-style loot, and has some mechanic to make most players aware of his presence in-game? Yea, I’m guessing that might create a PvP hotspot or two, and the basic tech behind such a creature is well within the possibilities of the DF engine. Furthermore, the expansion of PvE variety, and its attractiveness, would open up Darkfall to players who gravitate more towards PvE than PvP, but still enjoy the occasional rush that PvP offers. I think that crowd is not only larger than most believe, but also heavily underserved in the current MMO market. Give those players more of a reason to jump in, and everyone benefits from their inclusion.
The good news is that all of this IS coming, the bad news is that while some of it is on the ‘coming soon’ schedule, other parts are ‘coming not so soon’. Waiting is a bitch, but the eventual future is indeed very bright.
Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris owns all of the No.1 pencils.
(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)