Friday, June 19, 2009

Would You Play a DotA MMO? (Part 2)

Joe commented on my last post about a DotA MMO:
I don't think this could ever work. The nature of a MMO is being in an environment with many people at the same time, having the ability to interact with any of them. You log on and can play with your friend who has been grinding for 2 hours already. If you both are already max level you won't be 2 hours behind him and unable to play with him.

Trying to isolate and start at level one and play a game can only be done with a limited number of people. The more people you try and cram into a game the worse the game is. After dealing with people leaving (rage quitting or disconnects) and having the game length a respectable amount (2 hours max) you are left with a finite group of players. If you require X amount of players in a game then it will start, that will put wait time on creating new games, and that is never fun.

These two genres have such different principles that if one were to try and combine them it wouldn't retain anything from either of the original genres.

So I decided to write up a short description of how some DotA game mechanics could be applied to the MMO scene.

Bare in mind that there are already some mechanics in MMORPGs which are close to local-scope progression. Most instances in WoW will retain temporary progression. The Skill Chain mechanic in FFXI uses a sequence of Weapon Skills to inflict bonus damage; after a level 3 Skill Chain is executed, the players need to start back at level 1. LotRO has a similar party mechanic.

All we need to do is turn character progression (specifically ability and power/strength progression) into a game. I say this as if it were trivial, but this is very tricky. MMORPGs typically reward players for completing an activity, which aids in future undertakings of that activity. For example, a player might:
  • PvP to get PvP gear to aid in future PvP encounters.
  • craft items to get skill points to craft better items.
  • kill mobs to gain explicitly power to help kill more mobs.
But is it possible to play DotA to get [reward] to aid in playing DotA? Giving out explicit power gains to the player for playing the game goes against local-scope progression; it is now global-scope (such as the unlockable weapons in Team Fortress 2). Any explicit reward given to the players which can be used in the next game creates explicit disadvantages for the other players. This is seen as "unfair". An interesting side note: implicit player skill from playing for months and years is not seen as unfair (unless a Matchmaking system is responsible for pitting a newbie against a veteran).

Additionally, this progression game needs to take place in a closed arena which has an end: a map, battleground, party, session, time cycle. They all have an end. (Evizaer and I have a Mission system we've talked about before. It would fit in nicely here.) It's imperative to maintain the power curve also. We can't have a level 1 running around with a level 20 on the opposite team. There has to be a clear beginning with either no player injection (a bad idea, and a major problem with DotA), or match injection, which would do something like give the average (or lowest) experience/progression of all other players to the player joining.

The following would be a middle layer game.
  • Player has a selection of locked abilities. These must be unlocked before they can be used.
  • Player is on a team of a certain number of members. Teams play against other teams, human- (preferably) or AI-controlled.
  • Killing things in combat (think Honor system in WoW) gives some sort of resource local in scope to the current game only ("Vigor"? "Momentum"?).
  • This resource allows the player to unlock abilities or strengthen existing ones.
  • Only allow X number of Y skills to be unlocked.
  • Number of unlocks is related to the players via a "Power Level". There is a Power Level cap.
  • Other temporary resources (some currency) used to buy items.
  • The game begins with all players at Power Level 1, no items, and a set amount of resources. They can unlock 1 ability to start with.
  • The game ends when 1 team accomplishes the game objective. This could be to destroy a key structure (DotA), defend a structure for a certain time, escort civilians, etc. Once play is over, all abilities become locked again and all items and game resources are removed from the player.
Items are more tangible than imaginary "abilities" and players are reluctant to give up items at the end of the game. So the bonuses given by items to heroes in DotA can be renamed to "Magical Enchantments" or something else equally ephemeral. The currency used to receive these boons are also temporary (ears, souls, etc.). The player is more understanding of the time-sensitive nature of these rather than bullion.

Winning the game gives a permanent resource (gold?) which is used to purchase abilities and customize the character's appearance. Players like gear and looking cool, so the vanity purpose is obvious. But should gear give a VERY slight stat increase? Perhaps gear can be used to limit which abilities the player is able to use. This way mages aren't running around in plate mail, and warriors in nothing at all...

As another balancing issue, since there are no strictly defined "classes" or "heroes" (players can pick and choose which abilities they want), I think it would be a good idea to have abilities in groups and only allow "Invigoration" (AKA unlocking) of 1 ability from a group. For example, a player would have 4 ability slots (Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green), and he can only unlock 1 Red ability, 1 Blue ability, etc. even though he may have 10 Red locked abilities, 5 Blue locked abilities, etc.

I haven't described lower or higher game layers around this, but they aren't terribly hard to imagine. The standard MMORPG camera/control scheme can be used on a low level, or even the RTS style, which is what DotA uses. Higher levels can include map control or land conquest. Another middle layer can include a crafting system (someone has to make the cool looking gear). As long as there is higher level persistence and the player can interact with other players in a virtual world, then the "MMO" feel is preserved.

There. Would you pay monthly for that?


Melf_Himself said...

Well, I'm not sure about paying monthly for *anything*, but that's a different kettle of fish ;)

I've never played DotA, but as I understand it you pick your character at the start, and then the abilities and items that you choose are tactical choices that allow you to overcome the abilities/items that the other team chooses.

But, your start character is locked in from the start, no?

I would simply have matches played rewarded with points, with more points for a win. Points are used to unlock new characters for selection from the start of the game. Assuming all characters are balanced (questionable with ~80 in DotA) this is fine - a new player who has only unlocked one character passed the starting set is on the same footing as a veteran who has all characters.

Of course, MMO's are all about having one persistent character and such... so replace character above with some other flavour with the same functionality (e.g. equip a staff to become a mage or a sword to become a warrior).

motstandet said...

The system I described would be that each player has a single character which they can customize with abilities and appearance. Winning gives ability-purchasing and appearance-altering power. As the player gains abilities, he is able to mix and match which abilities he wants to play with. They become usable as the battle progresses, like DotA.

And DotA takes a more Fighter-esque style to balancing. If you throw in tons and tons of characters for the player to choose from, then they will eventually be "tiered". No one will play the lower tier characters unless they want a challenge or a few laughs; but the high tier characters (maybe 10%) are all balanced against each other. This is a balancing style in opposition to the more fewer-choices, developer-balanced game; something like WoW where there are only 10 (more like 20-30) classes, all of which are painstakingly difficult to balance because there are so few.

Compare WoW to FFXI where there are 20 jobs and a subjob choice. There are hundreds of possible combinations. Are they all viable? No. Do they all need to be viable? No. Have players figured out which ones are best? Yes. Are those high tier job combinations balanced? Yes.

Melf_Himself said...

So is that a class-based system or a skill-based system? By that I mean - can the player combine any skills together, or are they restricted to those from a certain pool? Because DotA is class-based (each character you can choose is its own class), whereas this sounds like you can combine any skills together (which is much harder to balance).

I've not played DotA, but it's a bad idea to include a large percentage of classes that would never be chosen by competitive players. 10% is a very low number and is much lower than what you'll see in well balanced fighting games. It really makes things hard for new players, making the amount of information they have to possess before they can start playing the actual game a lot higher. Ideally any choice that you make before a match starts should not affect the likelihood that you will win the match, only how much fun you will have.

I'm not sure what you mean by "painstakingly difficult to balance because there are so few". The more classes there are, the harder it is to balance them all.

motstandet said...

It would be a severely limited skill-based system. Players can mix and match which abilities they want to go into the match with. If during play-testing a combination is discovered to be OP, then some of those abilities will be placed into the same ability group. Now the player can only choose one of them at once.

And I followed up your balancing comment with a blog post.

motstandet said...

I just want to follow up and say that using gear to grant access to ability slots is very much like the Materia mechanic in FF7.