Thursday, September 9, 2010

Run away little girl! – A different approach to monsters

Suppose that you didn’t kill any monsters in WoW. Suppose that they were all invincible – and that all you could do would be to try to get away from them as soon as possible. Rather than being a strong, face smashing hero, you would be a smart and squishy coward or pacifist, whatever epithet you prefer. Could it still be a fun and exciting game to play? And would it work in WoW?

Avoiding the enemies
I came to think of it as I read an interview with a couple of Swedish game developers, working on a small new game that is launched these days, called Amnesia – The Dark Decent. (Here’s a rough translation)

I’ll point out right away that this is not an MMO, but a single player game in the horror genre. Think Lovecraft. The idea is that you should avoid the enemies; even to see them is dangerous. You hear and sense them though. The game involves a bit if puzzle solving, and you’re moving between darkness – where you risk to go insane – and daylight, where you’re vulnerable to their attacks. In the interview they talk about a different approach to gaming, where they want to get away from the idea that you’re supposed to “win” a game. Instead they want to put emphasis on the experience.

I can’t help finding this idea interesting. I’m not the most experienced among players, so it’s possible that the ideas they’re launching are old news. However I can’t but agree that the obsession we have with that monsters are there to be killed can feel a little bit old and repetitive sometimes. How many ways are there really to kill a monster before you sense that you’ve been there and done too many times to really bother?

The reviews I’ve seen have so far been positive. Apparently this game manages to be really scary, making a good use of the sound effects. It seems to be immersive, and they even recommend you to turn the lights off, playing with headphones as you’re launching it.

Would it work in WoW?
The question is: could some of this thinking be applied to WoW?

Well, yes and no. I can see that the immersion is a bit of a problem to start with. It’s really hard to be fully immersed in a game where they’re telling Chuck Norries jokes or discussing the World Championships of football in the trade chat.

Sure, I remember trying to flee from zombies in the invasion events that preceded Wrath, but I wasn’t really excited or scared of them, at the most a little bit annoyed.

But I think that you could use this approach, not the game as a whole, but as a part of an instanced or phased event. The escape from LK in Halls of Reflection was a great idea and had elements of it. You never were supposed to fight LK, just get away from him.

Now imagine that you had replaced the monster fighting with some different sort of task, slightly more sophisticated, that didn’t involve killing. You wouldn’t get any drops from mobs, since you didn’t kill them in the first place, but you could perhaps collect objects that you found on your way and loot a fantastic chest in the end.

Would players be OK with this? As a change of pace, yes. As long as they get some loot I don’t think they necessarily need to get it from the monsters. And if they still get to use some of their class abilities, such as going invisible, blinking and using other tricks for survival, I think they’ll still feel that they’re playing the game and not just watching a movie.

Puzzle solving in MMOs
The puzzle solving is another issue, I haven’t been too impressed with the few puzzles I’ve seen in WoW. Do you remember Atal’alarion in Sunken Temple, who you could only summon by activating statues in a certain order? It wasn’t as if you figured out how to do it on the spot. Either you knew it by heart after doing it several times, or you checked it up at Wowwiki and followed the directions. How fun, exciting or immersive is that?

If you create a puzzle in an MMO, the solution is bound to spread in the community quickly enough. And that takes away quite a bit of the excitement of an escape.

Nevertheless – if it was doable, I wouldn’t mind if WoW somehow could get a little bit of inspiration from a game like Amnesia.

I don’t ask for a change of the entire game, because I don’t think it would work. But it would surely give us some variation if we once in a while were supposed to flee the mobs rather than kill them as we’re questing or running instances.

29 comments:

lonomonkey said...

I'm highly disturbed since I've just posted on a very very similar topic... great minds must think alike!

To be honest I'd rather go with my proposition of adding some AI element to bosses so they can have a bit of freedom when it comes to opposing players.

Puzzles are great but once you got it figured out it goes back to what it is right now.

Of course the real answer lies propably somewhere in between, as always.

Anonymous said...

WotLK provided some memorable instances and phased areas that deviated from the "kill ten boars" stereotype of WoW, including the awesome ending to HoR. I would be tremendously surprised if there wasn't a few more "run from the scary thing" quest, instance, or raid event in Cataclysm. Imagine an endgame raid where you ran from Deathwing as he chased you in like Grim Batol or some other underground city.

Syl said...

I am all for having some dangers like this in MMOs: I find it rather sad that we can kill everything and nothing is dangerous anymore. A fantasy setting that feels 'realistic' to me, will always have places and mobs in it I should avoid and run away from, because I'm scared. Isn't that half the fun in being a noobie? There are MMOs out there with outdoor mobs that cannot be killed, for example take the boss in FF11 that took a guild several hours to kill.

To name another game: I loved sneaking around and avoiding guards in Metal Gear Solid: it was a total adrenaline rush and many players love that about games of the same genre.

Why do we have to kill everything? why can't there be 'off limits' stuff, even to a max level player, some mystery?
to me it would add a lot to adventure and immersion to WoW.

As for riddles, I feel the same about them: you can absolutely have some randomness like that in MMOs. I remember what fun the 'senso-game' daily quest was in Blade Edge mountains in TBC: it was one of the few things in WoW that made me go grab a pen & paper!!

Pangoria Fallstar said...

Wasn't that the point of those elites back in the day (Silverpine Son of Arugal, I'm looking at you). The problem with how WoW had them is, that often their aggro radius, would cause them to come and kill you, before you ever sensed their presence.

You would need to have a game that allowed you to sense things around you, like certain smells, or a danger sense, or a noise sense, or something. You as a player would need some sort of notice, be able to identify it in time, and respond accordingly.

In response, you would need better AI, and perhaps LESS enemies overall. I mean, when you see a field of cougars, and they don't attack you because you are a yard too far away, and you just finished killing his mates... you can see where it is not conducive to how a more stealth/avoidance type gameplay should perform.

@Syl: Did you ever notice that Metal Gear Solid is remarkably like Pac-man?

Oscar said...

There are ways of levelling in WoW that involve no killing whatsoever. You may recall from a couple of years ago Noor, the gnome rogue, who levelled all the way up to 80 without killing (apart from a few purely accidental kills). It was awfully hard work though!

Syl said...

@Pangoria

hehe...I never thought about it, but that actually sounds right! and who didn't love pacman?
even though the sniper rifle and constant phonecalls made a bit of a mess of that in MSG. ;)

Anonymous said...

Larissa,
your continued use of forced justification is making me return to the horror of undergrad graphic design critiques.

please please please stop doing forced justify so i can read your wonderful articles again.

Anonymous said...

Review of the game mentioned:
http://www.bit-tech.net/gaming/pc/2010/09/09/amnesia-the-dark-descent-review/1?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bit-tech%2Farticles+%28bit-tech.net+Article+Feed%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

Larísa said...

@Lonomonkey: I hadn't seen that before writing this, but we were a little bit on the same line. I'd also love to see them get a tad more of freedom to act differently if possible.

@Anonymous: I agree that the questing in Wrath was way better than it used to be. It will be interesting to see what Cataclysm brings. I'd sure love to see some chasing quests that didn't include killing.

@Syl: Senso-game? You mean that music-memory thing? That was actually kind of fun. A little bit annoying, but at least something different.

@Pangoria Fallstar: You mean like the Felreaver in Terokkar that was such a pain in the ass? Oh how I enjoyed finally killing him as I was doing the quest chain for some key, possibly Shattred halls. He WAS scary when I was 60!

@Oscar: you can do that, but it's not exactly the same thing. The game isn't intended for it. Doing a quest or instance where you're not supposed to kill something is a bit different.

@Anonymous: I don't know what forced justification means.

Could it be when you have a straight margin to the right? Hm.. Never thought of it. It's ugly? Honestly I'm no good at webdesign at all and I've never bothered to put that much of energy into it at my blog, focusing my efforts on writing posts rather than messing around with layout. But maybe you're right. Maybe PPI really does need a graphic overhaul. Maybe I should make a plea for assistance from someone who knows this stuff?

@Anonymous: thanks for the link. Looked like if it's a decent game considering it's not expensive. Just a pity I'm normally not much into horror movies - they're too scary to me. It would probably be a little too much to me.

Syl said...

@Lar

I think what he means is that your colums are 'justified', yes - meaning they're shaped into 'blockform' with every line being forced into the same width.
it's actually common use in journalistic layout and a lot of more narrow-columned blogs (including my own), use it.
I find non-justified text disturbing to read myself - so I guess it's really about taste...and didn't you always use this style??

imo your layout is fine - but if you ever like some help with polishing looks up a little - my offer still stands.

and yeah, the game in BEM was basically fashioned after the classic "senso"-game where you memorize random color and sound-sequences, hence me calling it senso. :)

Selyndia said...

Invincible enemies that you are supposed to avoid instead of directly confront have been showing up in Survival Horror genre games for a little bit now. Most notably, off the top of my head, Silent Hill has been doing it for a little bit now. In Silent Hill 4, there were Ghosts who’s mere presence injured you, and would continually return and show up randomly; while in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, there was no way to actively attack monsters at all, you had to simply run away or try and hide from them.

There are three issues with these in previous versions where it has been tried. Either they are annoying as all hell and extremely tedious to deal with to avoid; they are so anemic that they really are more atmosphere than actually a threat; or they are so dangerous that there is a level of randomness to it, because you could just die to the stupid thing.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica did this last one with one particular boss encounter where you weren’t supposed to actually attack the boss, simply run from it, but the thing was so dangerous that if it actually hit you (Which was VERY easy for it to do, thanks to its speed and the games controls) it would virtually kill you. This war arguably the most frustrating part of the entire game for myself, as the controls were not designed for this kind of thing, and the encounter was so unforgiving.

Various stealth type games (Metal Gear Solid styled) have been doing similar ones where your goal is to sneak past or bypass enemies instead of actively killing them; and this is often enforced by making the enemies you are supposed to bypass so overwhelmingly powerful or by just making it an “Auto Lose” if you are caught. Both Syphon Filter and even Legend of Zelda (The one with the boat, and the baton…and lots of ocean…) have had variants on these themes as well as the Metal Gear franchise. The problem with these is that they are invariably considered one of the most frustrating and annoying portions of the game, usually because it is attempting to shoehorn in another element into a nominal “action” title.

Going back to the Horror genre again, another Lovecraftian game did similar with it’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, in which for most of the game direct confrontations with groups of enemies would almost always lead to your death, and that you were MUCH better off either avoiding them altogether or running from them.

As an “Every once in a while” gimmick, it’s a neat trick for a single player game if the controls can facilitate it; however, I think the mechanics aren’t particularly suited towards an MMO, for the same reason players don’t like it when it’s a forced mechanic in other ‘action’ titles where the main premise of the game is combat oriented. If the entire title is focused around it, and it’s appropriately done, its fine, but it almost seems like it would generally be an “All or Nothing” type of deal.

Nils said...

I would like (MMO)RPGs to offer both:

Monsters that can be killed and mostern that should be run from.

In the perfect (MMO)RPG, killing monsters should always be a means to an end.

Running, fear, panic are powerful emotions. If you play an MMO not to pass time, but to experience art, you would want to have these emotions in the game. Developers of these games should use these emotions in addition the ones they already use.

2nd Nin said...

Of course it could work however the game must be set up to support this kind of play.

If you took something like Metal Gear Solid (possible to complete with 0 times seen, 0 kills, no super heals) and adopted MMO techniques you could create a kind of stealth or passive MMO.

If you only want a passive MMO this is relatively easy to create, similarly for a combat or mixed MMO (where some violence is necessary such as MGS / Deus Ex). The issue starts to really crop up when bosses have multiple "kill" types for the passive, multiple, and beatup style. Its the mixing of styles to make it acceptable to a far wider audience that will make it harder to make a game like this work (MMO farmville is easy :P).

Zekta Chan said...

So far, WoW had little to offer in that content and I would too love to see that happening. While Blizzard may introduced those rapidly, that's just not enough. And I doubt most of their audience appreciate it or not.

Hall of Relection had a bad nick name as "Hall of Wipe" in the noob pug.
I wonder other than the "difficulites" they pose to players, do they like it or not.

I'd love doing things differently, as you mentioned the zombie invasion event,
I didn't login my main until later phases (Stormwind and Origgma, trying to "defense" them). I login with my 3X level Night Elf hunter and swipe the street of stormwind.

As a self proclaimed Zombie Hunter, I wrote a marco to quickly target those plague rats, and either kill them with my pet cat "Zombie Bane" or shoot them right in the face. The exciting part would be get traced by 70 level guard and player-turn zombie. That was hard, as most of my spell are not hit. but I would successfully draw their attention (for guard zombie) and kite them to death (Their HP automaticly dropping).

This game play is so fun that I would like to see them in action, rather than just some personal amusement. I would really wish to see a kind of RPG class skill test to be implement in the system... Wizard tower challege for wizard and sorcerer in most of the RPG, anyone?

Larísa said...

@Syl: I think I had un-justified margins in the start, but switched after a few months. The blog has looked pretty much the same since the start. I’m so lazy! I might want to do something eventually, but at the same time I’ve got a huge respect for the machinery. I know it’s SO easy to screw up if you start messing around with the codes, in worst case wiping the blog or making it worse than it was to begin with. So I think to myself “why touch something that isn’t fancy, but at least works decently well. No need to take excessive risks to blow it”.

@Selyndia: Thanks for the overview! As probably is apparent, I haven’t got any experience from those games. You actually make me tempted to try it out. I should widen my horizons a bit!

@Nils: Hello Nils! I thought Tobold was the only blogger you read! ;)
I don’t always agree with your views, but in this case I think I do. I’d like us to run away from some monsters. It would be a nice change of pace and an addition to the experience.

@2nd Nin: I want the mix though! The devs just have to stop being lazy. ;) My hope goes to the next generation.

@Zekta Chan: Oh, I’ve struggled a bit in HoR as a healer. It’s awfully hard to keep up a tank that isn’t really geared for it or is doing something wrong. Not the gauntlet in the end though. The running-away is a piece of cake as far as I’ve seen it. It’s the initial wave-thing that can be a bit of a nightmare.

Do I enjoy it? Yes and no. It depends a lot on the attitude of the group. As soon as they’re starting to yell at each other, throwing blame and insults rather than trying to work out how to make it better, I lose any enjoyment I had of the challenge.

Ossia said...

As immersive as the game would become, I think that the idea proposed is a bit utopic. Especially at this stage of the game.

Take this into consideration, you are a hero of Azeroth. You faced two Old Gods and emerged victorious. You destroyed the avatar of Sargeras, the most powerful chaotic evil being of the WoW universe. You destroyed Illidan. You destroyed Arthas and only ran away from him when you were undernumbered and rushing to Jaina's rescue.

Why, how could you run away from anything ? It should be the other way around ! Humanoid NPCs running away from you, like Gothic 2 - 3.

That from an 'in-game' perspective. The practical issue comes from the fact that most people pay to play as someone powerful. They want to kill things, they want to kill bosses. Stealth games usually have a fanatic audience who are attracted to the specific gameplay.

All in all, I like WoW the way it is. I love being a rogue and ambushing anything that gets on my eye to death.

There's always hope for a new MMO though with the features you mentioned :)

spinksville said...

Amnesia sounds freaking TERRIFYING! (Off to find the demo, but it might be too scary for me.)

I do remember back in DaoC there was one raid boss where you had to navigate your raid through a maze without encountering them (we sent scouts in advance) because she had an AE of instant death). It was really quite exciting (when it didn't bug out).

Holly said...

You get triple cookies for knowing about Amnesia!

I'm actually doing a blind let's play on the game with a friend, we've done about an hour worth's of footage, I'll probably link it everywhere on my blog when it's uploaded.

I don't think it's style of gameplay would work with World of Warcraft because that's just now how World of Warcraft was designed. The art style doesn't add to an eery mood, the enemies are rarely scary, and there are times you're supposed to run from enemies instead of stand and fight (the giant rock thing in black temple, the big ugly zombie thing in Pit of Saron)and I think Halls of Reflection is the closest to an 'oh my god, run away' kind of thing, since there you don't attack or kill the actual boss, the Lich King.

But in the end I think the point is, World of Warcraft in it's style, in it's gameplay mechanics, in it's story, is just not made to be anything similar to Lovecraftian Horror, and that's not bad. You don't go to a Disney Movie expecting them to have taken inspiration from The Last Exorcism, why would you? Completely different genres.

We all want more variety in our questing, in our dungeons, in our bosses, and the longer we go the more we crave that variety, but in the end, I don't think looking at such a majorly different genre is the best way to do that. I do wish there were better puzzles in WoW though, perhaps random answers per instance ID or something, it'd still have a tool made, but for a few weeks it'd serve up some fun.

Nils said...

Well, I do read other blogs, Larisa. :). In the past I just did not comment on them a lot.

@Holly:
I agree that WoW is unable to make use of 'fear'.

One reason, of course, is that failure does not have any serious consequences for you character. It only has 'serious' consequences for you: Your PuG .. breaks up.

That fear, however, is more annoying than it is a powerful experience.

Disclaimer: I am not only talking about death penalthies here, as their typical implementation is often annoying, too.

In my perfect MMO we would need to scout ahead and from time to time I would feel the urge to tell my friends: "Stay together and quiiiet !!".

Not every activity (=dungeon) should be like that. But some should. Just like some should be epic, small, dark, light, narrow, huge, easy difficult, short, long..

There we are right on the discussion about homogenization and perhaps even market segmentation :)

Copra said...

In a way this sort of topic has popped up in several blogs -mine included- just around today.

I'd like to see epic chains in which the player choice would change the outcome. And run away or hide from really ugly monster bosses. And have some other solution to the problems than killing everything on sight.

C out

Larísa said...

@Ossia: I honestly never quite got that hero part. I know the NPC:s treat you like that and say all those admiring phrases even as you're spawning at level 1 or so and feel far more fragile and scared than heroic.

Are you sure we really have to beat everything? Would it be too painful to admit that there is some evil in the world that you shouldn't try to fight but would make wiser to leave untouched?

But yeah, i figure you're right. It's an idea for the next MMO rather than for WoW.

@Spinksville! It sounds exciting. I see some great use for those warlock eye things or sneaky rogues...
Considering what a sissy I am when it comes to horror pictures I don't believe I'm the right audience for that game, even though I like the idea and the guys behind it. Small indie games ftw! The gamer world needs them.

@Holly: You may be right. I mean: Tomato sauce tastes fine and I love icecream but I can't see myself mixing icecream with tomato sauce. Different genres.

@Copra: To be fair I think Blizzard is heading in that direction. At least the quests in Wrath showed a superior variety and level of creativity compared to how it used to be. Let's just hope they continue this trend in Cataclysm.

Selyndia said...

In reference to this quote:

“Are you sure we really have to beat everything? Would it be too painful to admit that there is some evil in the world that you shouldn't try to fight but would make wiser to leave untouched?”

What evil would even qualify? I mean, canonically, we’ve defeated an elemental lord, stymied the Black Dragon Flight’s plans multiple times, stopped the Quiraji, defeated the Soulflayer, defeated the betrayer, fought and came back from encounters with both Archimonde and Kil’Jaeden (Technically it was the wisps who killed the former, and you only drove back the latter) the two highest lieutenants of the Burning Legion, killed not one but two Old Gods, defeated the Lich King himself and even fought a Dragon Aspect.

What possible threat could be so great that champions in this setting would not approach it or attempt to attack it head on? In Cataclysm, the ultimate goal is to defeat a creature so powerful that his mere emergence fractured the planet. What even has the level of power to cow god slayers? Even the one time that the game did attempt a little subtlety in attacking a vastly more powerful opponent through the “Back Door,” so to speak, met with such disastrous failure, while the frontal assault resulted in victory (Halls of Reflection versus Ice Crown Citadel).

2nd Nin said...

Larisa, what are you looking for in that combination:

a) Bosses are either puzzle or kill
b) Bosses are puzzle + kill in phases
c) Bosses are puzzle + kill
d) Bosses have multiple kill methods (puzzle kill or kill kill)

A is the easiest to implement since there is only one way to kill each boss, B and C are doable with a bit of tuning and D is likely to get very messy since each of the puzzles has to be dynamic to challenge the group.

What I was thinking was a fight like Magtheridon but in combination with the light game from Blade's edge as a combination kill for B/C type fights.

Fight starts with a pull, and groups of 5 are sent to the game sites. When they are triggered there is a stacking debuff generated by the game players (5% per correct sequence x 5 players) for something like 30s. The group of clickers needs to rotate and maintain something like a +150% buff to kill the boss.

In a similar way to Halion you could have a balanced DPS fight combined with something like the damage buff from Thaddius (swap sides and balance DPS). Lots of options to play with here in terms of making the fight more about control and implementation rather than raw dps and healing.

Tesh said...

One trouble with this goes with the "loot" problem you mention, Larisa. The DIKU "kill stuff for XP and loot" model of gameplay and progression doesn't mesh well with evasion. There's no clear way to get XP and *stuff* when you're not murdering.

Now, if you gained XP for healing, stealthing, stealing and evading, you'd have a much better framework to have better adventures in. I can't help but think of tabletop D&D, where almost every action you undertake earns XP in some way. MMOs need to lean in that direction or just give up on the loot/level paradigm before we'll really see a lot of alternative game mechanics like this.

Mind you, I'd love to see this evolutionary direction, but it seems like all we'll get for now is quests wallpapering the action and advancement tied to those quests. As in, Bob wants you to run from George the Evil Monkey, and he rewards you if you succeed.

Then again, if gameplay itself is the reward, and we're not tied to XP and loot... well, that opens things up yet again. :)

Oscar said...

Larísa,

I plead guilty to not reading through what you wrote. Basically, my comment was pretty much based around something I felt would come out right. Call me a politician ;)

Runzwithfire said...

An outstanding post, thank you for reminding me about the evolutions Blizzard have been working towards with the "run away from the scary LK" event.

Much like Ionomonkey, I have been thinking a lot about exactly the same sort of thing recently (although I've not written anything yet). My thinking has had slightly more of an multiple routes to success line to it though after revisiting some old games (Deus Ex, VTMB etc).

I hope you don't mind but I stuck the idea up on Blog Azeroth as a shared topic idea referencing this post. I think it's such an interesting idea and one that I'm sure would provide a wealth of ideas from the WoW blogging community.

Larísa said...

@Selyndia: I'm afraid my knowledge in lore doesn't go deep enough to comment on that. Couldn't there be something new unbeatable creature brought into the world? Even a hero has her limits... I suppose?

@2ndNin: I actually like what you're suggesting. It's far beyond tank and spank and not just another dance either I think.

@Tesh: We DO get xp from exploring. So basically it's already there. You don't have to kill to gain stuff. No reason why not a successful escape could render a reward.

@Runzwithfire: Go ahead! It's been ages since I last did a shared topic at BA but I really enjoy those and if it can spark of some further discussion noone is happier than me.

Tesh said...

Sure, we get a pittance from exploring, and I've dinged a level or two that way incidentally, but try to get to the level cap without combat of any sort. It's the scale of things that makes it an inviable alternate to just killing stuff. (Incidentally, has anyone tallied how much XP players get from exploring everything in WoW? I'd guess it's less than it would take to get someone to level 15, but that's just a ballpark guess.)

Sure, there's the Undead Pacifist blogger who has found ways to level without directly killing things, but there's still killing going on. There's no truly viable noncombat route to the level cap. Escape XP would be pretty cool, though. :)

"Why does that matter, though if the endgame is about raiding?" I hear some ask... well, since the game is largely gated by level and/or gear, exploring is aided and abettet greatly by having a high level character. You can simply see more of the game and play more with the economy if you're at a high level.

Runzwithfire said...

Thanks Larisa, it's been picked up for the shared topic at the start of October XD

Runz