Monday, June 29, 2009

MMORPG Combat Mechanic: Concentration Points

I present the first pass at a new MMORPG combat mechanic. This is not entirely original, and I'll give credit to the Age of Conan pet mechanic for inspiring me (albeit I never got to experience the mechanic; and it probably wasn't even implemented at release when I played anyway).

The idea is that a player only has so many "Concentration Points" (CPs) and can thus only concentrate on so few abilities at once. CP is the primary resource the player has to manage to use abilities.

Players have a selection of abilities and a few CPs. Players must use CP to use abilities. The effects of the activated abilities are in effect as long as the player keeps the CPs used/consumed/tapped. If the ability expires or the player decides to relieve CPs, those CPs become available to the player to use again.

Players move freely, and action is realtime. Player have 7 CPs.

There will be NO stunning, mezzing, fearing, polymorphing, rooting, or any other incapacitate effect which removes control from the player.

I imagine play to be highly positionally tactical. Mages will be summoning aoe effects on top of each other, placing walls and obstructions at choke points so the enemy will fall right into their hands. I envision melee slowing ranged opponents with several primed strikes, and the mage frantically placing walls between the assassin and himself. The mage gets the upper hand and has boxed in the warrior who find himself looking up at a falling meteor. Healers can only concentrate heals on so many friends; enemies will switch their focus.

You can do some fun PvE things also. If you have players defend something, you can have a Tower Defense game where some players make walls and others make automata (the towers) which attack the enemies (as long as these golems are strong enough so players use them instead of aoe summons).

Some definitions:
  • Area of Effect (AoE): ability which effects an area in the world and players within that area
  • x CP: Cost in Concentration Points
  • Summoning Time: time required before ability resolves. Player is able to move.
  • Casting Time: time required before ability resolves. Player cannot move.
  • Consumed Time: time CPs are consumed before freed to the player
  • Duration: time ability is in effect before CPs are freed.
  • Automata: minion which acts on its own will, striking at enemies of its master
  • Primes ability: ability is "cocked" and is resolved at the player's input rather than after a certain time.
Possible mage abilities

These are just some examples, are not finished (no damage information), and are certainly not balanced. Nor is the list complete. They are used to illustrate the variety of abilities and hopefully ignite some head-playing and discussion.
  • Summon Meteor (aoe template): 1 CP; 3 sec summoning time; ground targeted instant AoE
  • Summon Ice Wall (obstruction template): 3 CP; 1 sec summoning time; 20 m obstruction; originates from player outward 90 degrees
  • Frost: 1 CP: 2 sec summoning time; 10s duration; 15m in diameter slowing ground targeted AoE
  • Summon Golem: 2 CP; 2 sec summoning time; slow moving automata
  • Summon [stationary] 1 CP; 1 sec summoning time; stationary automata
  • Teleport: 2 CP; 2 sec casting time; primes ability; moves player 15 m forward
  • Fireball (nuke template): 3 CP; 3 sec consume time; instant nuke spell at target
  • +Speed: increases run speed
  • -Speed: decreases run speed
  • Heal over Time: restores health; active as long as CP are dedicated
  • Damage over Time: removes health; active as long as CP are dedicated
  • Empower: increases damage of abilities; active as long as CP are dedicated
  • Enfeeble: decreases damage of abilities; active as long as CP are dedicated

Most melee abilities are Primed. They concentrate on several strikes, and when they get in close to another player they resolve the abilities. All melee will have either a Sprint ability or a Slow ability in order to catch other players. Ideas from WoW: Sprint, Charge, Intercept, Hamstring, Slowing Poison.


I have not decided how targeting will happen. I'm reluctant to use both traditional MMORPG targeting schemes and aiming. Most spells with be ground targeted AoE, but will Melee also be mini-AoE (around player)? We could have targets declared when the ability is first announced, or when the player wishes to resolve it.

Players have a 3rd person view and move the character via WASD. If the camera is not allowed to orbit, then the mouse is free to target. If the camera is in orbit around the character, then targeting becomes more frantic (you have to manage the camera and targets with the mouse).

Abilities are announced and resolved with keys and/or mouse clicks.


Every player concentrated entity in the world will have its ability icon near it so other players know what it is. AoE summoned damage spells will also have soon-to-be decimated locations marked with the ability icon. Any player with a primed ability will have its ability icon near the head of the character.

This way players have a lot of information regarding the battle and can anticipate attacks, predict when players teleport, and not get frustrated when they walk into a meteor minefield.


Building upon earlier posts, players can pick and choose which abilities they want to "carry". You can even do some crazy MTG deck building mechanic where players "draw" new abilities once they use them. There are many layers which can be placed on top of this CP mechanic.

Feedback is appreciated.


Melf_Himself said...

I quite like it. Sorry for the lengthy comment here, but I think a system like this has quite a bit of merit so I'd like to offer my 2 cents :)

It reminds me of the "enchantment maintenance" system in Guild Wars, where each enchantment that you choose to maintain costs 1 pip of your mana regeneration (rate (you usually have 4 pips if you're a caster). I didn't like it in that game because it stops you from casting other spells, but the way you've presented it here as a stand-alone cost sounds good.

The "always on" system is a nice way to prevent the need for cooldown timers on skills, which I've always found fairly lame. However, it also removes the "spike" potential from the combat system - you can see what I mean here:

So, I think it could be nice to augment your CP system with a charge-building system, allowing you to release once-off skills (once-off until you charge them again, that is). Maybe different CP skills could award different rates of charge building to enhance tactical options (eg get good constant effect now and later, or weak constant effect now but strong spike effect later).

I think that 7 skills maintained at once might be too many to keep track of. There is already quite a bit of depth with, say, 5 skills to think about at once:

And that's not to mention the skills that aren't currently active, which you're still thinking about due to the opportunity cost of the system.

There might be some issues with skill spamming - cast AoE, enemy moves out of area, cast AoE in new spot... this could be minimized by a 'FIFO' (first in, first out) resolution system, i.e. the player is not allowed to choose which skill to "unmaintain". So for example if there are 6 skills active and I use my AoE fire skill, if I choose to relieve a skill it will not be the AoE fire skill. The AoE will still be going off where I left it. I will have to wait until I relieve all my other skills before I get to use it again.

That might be a bit extreme if there are too many skills able to be maintained at once, but with a smallish number then it seems like it produces even more tactical depth. An alternate option if FIFO does not appeal could be a global cooldown after you relieve a skill.

Melf_Himself said...

Re: the no stunning/mezzing etc... I used to agree with this, but after playing Left 4 Dead (total, infinte CC if not helped by another player) I realize that CC affects are great if it's *really easy* for your team to help you out. It's hard to describe unless you've actually seen it, but it really promotes good team work and co-ordination on both sides of the fray. You can go the Guild Wars route of only certain characters being able to remove CC, but that seems to often work out with those characters being overwhelmed, leaving several people disengaged from the gameplay. So my vote would be include total CC if you can, but only CC that can be broken by all/most other players.

Failing that, the more debilitating skills should are traditionally short-lasting (encouraging timely use). Even though this is an "always on" system, your AoE focus would facilitate this, since people can move out of the AoE to end the effect.

Re: telegraphing skills being used by other players - a big thumbs up. Guild Wars has this, and it allows the potential for the "interrupt" (reflex-based, fire it off before the skill finishes casting), as well as pre-protecting versus incoming spikes.

Ooh speaking of which, extra advice: don't concentrate on the healing abilities of defensive characters. Make protection effects more useful when used in a timely manner. It shifts away from the "make red bars go up" watching the UI mentality, towards actually watching the play.

Re: targeting. I have a feeling that a combination of MMO targeting and FPS aiming would work well, i.e. you point towards the player/mob you want to target (which is highlighted), and as long as you're not closer to pointing to something else, that's what you target. Would be a welcome relief from tab targeting but not require the crazy reflexes of most shooters.

Crimson Starfire said...

I concur. ;)

motstandet said...

I like your targeting suggestion, Melf. I might try that with an Over-the-Shoulder view.

Crowd Control is broader than just incapacitate effects. CC includes things like slowing, silencing, and disarming. They player can still have input into the system. Incapacitate effects disallow all player input. It is a severely powerful ability which makes the opposing player furious. Incapacitation isn't a problem if the player can still react; such as when the player controls more than one avatar or an army. But if the player is just sitting there helpless, it isn't any fun.

DotA has a very large amount of stun. So much so that I frequently say "stun is king" when I play. If one team has lots of stun, and the other team has none, it does not matter how well the non-stun team plays; they will more often than not lose.

I consider incapacitation a design cop-out: easy abilities you can give to players to add some depth. But CC is so much deeper than incapacitation. Kiting requires some level of mastery and player skill while casting Fear does not (aside from the timing and any juggling going on).

motstandet said...

Your charging system is included in the design document. I called it Priming instead.

The player can Prime abilities (as long as they are Prime-able, like Melee attacks), and multiple copies of an ability as long as CP are available, releasing them all at once.

Melf_Himself said...

Oh, I agree that total stun is usually a poor game mechanic. But even for partial debuffs like snares and silences, the character is rendered pretty powerless... I'm just saying, make sure there are lots of avenues available for the team to remove the effect. I'm guessing DotA doesn't have that kind of thing, or if it does that the removal is not as spammable as the stun itself.

You're right, the priming could achieve all the functionality of the charge-building I was describing. I'd probably give every class some primed abilities to use, with the focus on melee as you say. You may consider mocking up a card game to see how this all plays out ^^

motstandet said...

There is very little anti-CC in DotA. I can only think of two items (Black King Bar & Linken's Sphere) and 1 spell (Repel) which stops magical CC for a limited time. I haven't played in a few months, so who knows what IceFrog has added/changed.

There are indeed silence and slow effects in DotA. But players are still able to move and attack. They have options available to them. They can straight up attack the other hero if they can reach them; they can run away; they can bait knowing full well that they will lose 1v1, but hoping their friends will show up in time. Incapacitate disallows all of that. Don't get me wrong: a well-placed stun is a skillful act, but the opposition doesn't have an immediate counter to it (other than stun first).

I am actually hoping to prototype the game in Source. It's coming a long very slowly (it's hard to work on code when TF2 is right in front of me).

Melf_Himself said...

I gather that in DotA your team mates are often not actually going to be around to help out with de-buffs. I guess that's both good (tactical positioning around the map is important) and bad (fighting together is fun).

I suppose the route I would take then in designing a game like that is to allow the individual player to develop their own counter over time. i.e. they lose to stun and then change gear when they respawn to gain stun resistance or something (and becoming vulnerable to some other effect probably, to keep things interesting).

Source is great, I worked through some of the Left 4 Dead authoring tools recently but suffered the same problem... kept dropping it to actually go play Left 4 Dead and TF2 :) Damn you Valve.

Let us know how your prototype comes along. I always wanted to get into DotA but found the learning curve a bit steep... I was looking forward to Demigod recently as that's supposed to be a DotA clone, but apparently it's buggy as hell so I still have yet to experience this multiplayer mini-level-up game.

Drevarius said...

I think that the idea of Concetration Points would be a great addition to some already existing MMO systems.

One in particular would be hotbar limitations such as in Guild Wars.
You could have characters' CP scale with level, and in order to equip a skill on the hotbar a passive CP cost must be spent.

Dark Age of Camelot used Concetration Points to limit the amount of buffing that healer classes could give to a party. I think that is still a valid application of CP, but could be applied to buffs and passive abilities of all classes.

I prefer the system be used in conjunction with hotbar limitation because it creates more character and gamplay customization while giving more option to individual classes.

P.S.- I just discovered this site, and I must say that I am impressed. I will become a frequent poster I am sure. Keep the ideas coming!

DS said...

JFTR, I believe EQ2 already uses a similar system. In fact, they are labeled concentration points.

I don't know if anyone already mentioned it. EQ2 uses it, from what I gather, primarily to control the amount of buffs a support class can have active on a group/raid at any given time.

I don't think it's as dynamic as what's suggested in the post as you just cast the buffs and leave them. It's almost like a buff limit. Certain buffs cost a certain amount of CP and you have to mix and match them to suit the needs of the situation.

Pretty good idea. I'd like to see it applied to more things in more ways, as the article suggests.

And in my personal opinion, Mana is outdated.