The Roads After PAX

For my small viewfinder, not much news came out of PAX.  Perhaps the biggest thing was the announcement that ArenaNet was making an iPad/smartphone app for Guild Wars 2 with such neuromantic functionalities such as talking to guild mates, scouring the auction house, and watching guild mates play via an overworld map.  I was going to write an small post just on that news alone, but it wasn’t very meaty.  What it’s really going to do is allow those of us pressed for game time due to other obligations to keep tabs on our guild until they get to that event where 40 people need to take down a dragon (or sharktopus).  Then we can sign on for half an hour to play a very intense event without having had to help with all the lead-ins.  It might sound selfish, but if the other option is just not playing at all for fear of only having “lead-ins” then I think it’s a fair trade-off.

I severely digress… although there was not that much news, there was lots of design-level discussion.  My favorite was a Guild Wars 2 Event workshop where a small amount of fans came to learn about the event system and then work together in a brainstorming session to create an event system.  Oh, and some nice person recorded the whole thing.  The developers at PAX seem very open, and it is refreshing hearing from them instead of through the marketing grist-mill.

Okay, so the roads after PAX, or more specifically the two MMO roads after PAX.  It’s no surprise that the two MMOs that are seen as so big they auto-compete are Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic (“SWTOR”).  I am not saying that TERA, Rift, Lego Universe, The Secret World, or any other that I have missed are not going to be great upcoming MMOs with things to offer the MMO genre.  It’s just that their gravitational pull cannot currently (or ever) compete with the two currently unlaunched titles, respectively, from ArenaNet and BioWare.

These two giants are quite dissimilar in design and goals, even though both share a “personal story.”  This difference was never more apparent than from this quote a SWTOR dev gave during PAX:

“There are very traditional roles that you fulfil, multiplayer combat requires that. We’re an MMO, we’re not idiots, we know that you need to have dependencies on others. What we’re trying to do is play a class you really like, and then through your AC choice, choose your playstyle. So so if you play for instance as a sith warrior, you can go very much in the tank direction or you can actually go in the DPS directions. That’s really up to you. So I really like a sith warrior, he’s really awesome, but I don’t like to tank. Ok, that’s fine. You can choose I think the marauder is the more DPS AC on that side. The same is true of all the other classes.”

The SWTOR community echoes and amplifies the quote with one of my favorite responses in the post quoting the above by saying SWTOR “is an honest to god MMO, with tanks and healers and DPS.”  I found this quote to be self-damning since Bartle just wrote a long article about the dead-end bad design that begat the holy trinity.  Even moreso, I think that this quote aims at the heart of Guild Wars 2.  By applying Dogberry logic, they are calling ArenaNet idiots because in Guild Wars 2 the traditional roles have been abolished.  How can idiotic ArenaNet have an MMO with multiplayer combat?!  It’s inconceivable.

However, I don’t want it to be known that I am an ass (anymore than I already have been), and so I am going to helpfully pull one portion of that quote out of context to create a more constructive post. 

We’re an MMO, we know that you need to have dependencies on others.

This is why I think BioWare is creating an MMO aimed at World of Warcraft players, and why ArenaNet is creating an MMO aimed at everybody else.

Normal people (read: not classic MMO players) don’t like dependencies.  Dependencies imply negative reinforcement.  You have to group up because you can’t heal yourself.  You have to group up because you can’t take damage.  You have to group up because you can’t deal damage.  None of these truths are fun to tell anybody when trying to teach someone unaccustomed to MMOs about the party mechanic, the holy trinity, and why we need to wait 20 minutes for a healer.

Dependencies do not create roles!  Or, rather… that’s not true.  Dependencies overly define roles to the point where a “role” becomes the defining trait.  Roles should be created based on the activities at hand.  Roles should be positively reinforced by what the character can bring to that multiplayer activity. 

Take a look at the Guild Wars 2 elementalist profession with it’s four “stances.”  Each stance puts the elementalist into a different elemental attunement.  Fire attunement allows the elementalist to start doing massive AoE damage.  Air attunement switches the elementalist’s DPS from AoE to single-target.  Water does support and healing, and Earth puts the elementalist in to a tank mode.  That way the elementalist can watch the battlefield to synergize with the multiplayer mass to provide for whatever role is necessary at that time.  The elementalist is watching to help the event or party instead of grouping to negate the elementalist’s dependencies.

It’s a very slight difference when looking at a role built on negatively reinforced dependencies versus a role built on positively reinforced synergies.  It gets even worse because it is rarely so black and white anyway.  Most MMOs take a mixture of both into creating classes and group content.  Yet, it’s the focus that really matters, and Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR seem to really have a different focus in this regard.  The battle of these two giants is truly old versus new in the sense of role definition.  Personally I’d rather be looking for players rather than roles.  Caveat lector.

–Ravious
good men and true

33 thoughts on “The Roads After PAX”

  1. “What it’s really going to do is allow those of us pressed for game time due to other obligations to keep tabs on our guild until they get to that event where 40 people need to take down a dragon (or sharktopus).”

    But only if you use an approved iDevice. This thing needs to be browser based and cross-platform if I’m going to take it seriously. If it’s just a perk for apple/android users then it’s actually a mark against the game for me.

    1. Yeah, I think ArenaNet is well aware of the community’s desire for browser based functionality.

      Does WoW get the mark against them for their app?

  2. It was funny to see some players reactions to “No monk” in GW2

    “WHAT will I do? I ALWAYS play healer.”

    I play healer as well…but, it is because I fell into the role, as no one else in my immediate play group could play heals. It sort of stuck. Talk about being FORCED into a role.

    I prefer to smack people in the face anyways and take care of myself…

    Thanks GW2

  3. That cited flexibility of the GW2 Elementalist is exactly what I love about my WoW Druid and Paladin… but better. I very strongly lean in the GW2 direction. The parts about it that I love most are likely the parts that “old school MMO players” (an odd term, since “old” is a mere ten years or so) like the least or actively dislike.

    I’m OK with that. I don’t want to play Yet Another DIKU MMO where I have to depend on other players. I’ll happily play with others if I feel like it, and I’m a good little team player, but the only one I ultimately depend on is me. I prefer it that way. I need to be able to step away from the game at a moment’s notice, and self-sufficiency allows that.

  4. “Normal people (read: not classic MMO players) don’t like dependencies. Dependencies imply negative reinforcement.”

    I agree with this for the most part, but I’d point to games like TF2, Bad Company 2, and Left for Dead, where dependency is leveraged to build a sense of team work, camaraderie, and just enough vulnerability that you don’t feel like Rambo, running around playing solo next to people, rather than with them. In contrast, in the trinity , the dependencies are purely negative, irritating pre-reqs to even *starting* your desired activity.

    For example, in L4D2 there’s no tank or healer, but you’re vulnerable if you don’t have a buddy nearby to clear infected off you, or pick you up if you go down. Similarly in TF2 a medic can’t replace your health bar every 3 seconds with a huge heal bomb, but you rely on him for buffs and to keep you from just being whittled down by spam and long range fire. Similarly, he relies on you for protection, even though his offensive abilities far surpass any healer in an MMORGP.

    In short, I think People are OK with a little dependency, as long as it makes sense, and adds to the drama and fun. This seems to be the direction GW2 could be going, although we don’t really know yet.

    “Dependencies do not create roles! Or, rather… that’s not true. Dependencies overly define roles to the point where a ”role” becomes the defining trait.”

    Exactly. On some level, what “role” you play means far more than what class you play, or how you play it, or how good you are at it. You make a great point here.

    Also thanks for the link to Bartle’s article, it was a really interesting read. :)

    1. I was thinking of TF2 throughout this post, and almost every time I think of GW2 gameplay.

      See, I don’t think TF2 has role dependencies. The classes don’t *need* a complementing class to function. Valve doesn’t negatively reinforce a player from choosing a class. Rather the gameplay, opposing team, and your team helps to refine the choice. You can still be the 4th Sniper, and you can be helpful to your team… just not as helpful as if you were the 1st Engineer. It’s a very slight shift when going from dependencies to positive reinforcement of teamwork.

      I guess there is dependency of teamwork and dependency of a class, and I don’t think BioWare was referring to the former.

      1. Good points, as always. I think there are certain situations where some classes become *almost* mandatory – A medic with Uber to counter sentry spam, a good sniper to counter-snipe on certain maps, etc. Although even in these cases, there are generally ways to play other classes that will allow you to achieve the same effect – something which again seems similar in GW2.

        Anyway, I think that’s why I was still using the word “dependency”, but you’re right – it’s not quite the same to be dependent on someone keeping you alive through spammed actions – a tank dependent on a healer – as it is to depend on a medic to provide you Uber (when you could also send in spies, or corner sentries with flame throwers, or use a bonk scout…)

        Was a poor choice of words no my part, mostly.

  5. “There are very traditional roles that you fulfill, multiplayer combat requires that. We’re an MMO, we’re not idiots, we know that you need to have dependencies on others.”

    This quote was taken WAY out of context. The dev is responding to the SWTOR forum community, not bashing ArenaNet.

    Both SWTOR and GW2 are trying to develop games that allow class diversity without the time-consuming necessity for specific players/classes. No one likes waiting half an hour to find a healer to do a 20-minute instance. SWTOR is addressing this issue by giving every class access to multiple roles. GW2 is addressing this issue by giving every class access to crucial skills for group play (i.e. heals and rez).

    Both games still include player dependency, though, as both games still have group-only content: flashpoints/instances in SWTOR and public events in GW2.

    1. Not to be a jackass and play gotcha, but most events can be done solo in GW2, except certain epic boss fights such as the Shatterer seen in the demo.

      There are 5 man dungeons, but the devs keep making these sneaky comments that seem to imply those can be done with 4 or even 3 people to up the difficulty.

      And in GW2, there is a lot more being changed to smash the trinity than just spreading heals around. Tanking is impossible – mobs have no aggro table, and instead of a warrior eating damage, everyone is urged to just avoid it all together by dodging.

      I would call the dodge-roll the new tanking mechanic, only instead of a role it’s just an activity everyone needs to do.

    2. I’m not sure whether the quote was aimed at Arenanet or not. Bioware has to be noticing the hype building for GW2 and their emphasis on character roles from interviews from PAX is an indication of that, normally they just go on about their story.

      I don’t believe that SWTOR’s real answer to role requirements is the access to multiple roles. These different roles for the same class are based on spec trees that I do not believe can be readily switched out if you happen to need a healer that night. That is more like what DC Online is doing.

      SWTOR’s answer always has been the companion characters, the NPCS who can fill the roles that are needed. Personally, I don’t care on depending on the AI script of NPC companions in games, even GW1, but maybe Bioware can make them more palpable.

  6. Whatever are you babbling about man? That quote had nothing to do with Guild Wars 2 whatsoever, he never even mentioned that game.

    SW:TOR will have class flexibility in grouping through companions, Guild Wars 2 is trying to do that through abolishing the healer class, both games try to make the same idea work: to get into groups faster.

    As for the ‘trinity’ being done away with in Guild Wars 2; I’m not convinced, the trinity is in the tank, not the healer, big boss fights will probably still require the armoured dude to stand in the front row while others heal him.

    Unless *all* of those boss fights are scripted events like the ‘Shatterer’ boss we saw at GamesCom.

    1. just pointing out that “tanks” are not required in GW, considering aggro dosn’t exist. It is np to run engame content with all 60 armor classes, although part of that is due to the way the protection line of GW monks is set up.

      Even in Aion where agro does exist the leather clad assassin does a great job at tanking endgame content. There is no reason you have to have some crappy dps heavy armor class to run instances.

    1. Apparently not. I’ll reiterate my earlier praise for the Bartle article, and leave it at that, I guess.

      I should also point out, GW didn’t really have tanking in the usual sense either – ANet has never used the aggro table mechanic, as far as I know.

      1. There is, but it makes sense. They go for weak characters, they go for characters that do heavy damage, or heavy energy drain, and they go for closer characters.

        1. You’re right, of course. My PvE experience stopped at level 11, as I never found much time to do missions without getting called away to GvG.

          Man, it brings back memories… I wonder if mobs in GW2 are smart enough to scatter out of AoE or not?

          1. They scatter in GW. Before the power creep in the expansions, this scatter made the game easier… Mobs were too busy scattering from fire/SS, they didn’t attack you. Nowadays they die too fast.

      2. Tanking works very differently in GW1 compared to WOW, because GW has collision detection. Instead of relying on “taunting” or similar aggro-grabbing tricks, tanks in GW have to physically body-block the mobs. I’m pretty sure it’s the same in GW2.

        1. GW2 has collision detection? This I’d like to see in writing, not that I am calling you a liar. :)

          As a current Warhammer player, playing a tank, I’m really interested in what games do have collision detection besides GW and CoH.

          1. Everything I have seen says they took it out because they already have enough tactical variables.

            They do however have projectile collision detection. So you could “tank” by jumping between a fireball and your protectee.

  7. Am I the only one that things the “Dodge” mechanic looks like a pain? It’s the one thing about GW2 that I really don’t like the look of.

    Basically, it looks like a recipe for wrist-injury for an oldster like me. Even worse, if I have to move suddenly in video games I always tense my neck muscles, which gives me pain that can last for days.

    Have to wait to see how it actually feels to use, I guess. Even the thought of that jerky, reactive motion makes me feel a bit achy, though.

    1. No, you’re not the only one who thinks the “dodge” mechanic looks like a pain, figuratively and literally. It dropped GW2 about three notches on the interest-o-metre for me, honestly.

    2. They’ve been talking about wanting to make the game less twitchy in terms of interrupts and really fast-casting skills, so hopefully it’s less a “double tap in .25 seconds or die!!!1” and more of a “oh I should move over there double quick…”

      I love the idea of dodging, but I think it’ll be better as a proactive, thoughtful tool for evasion, rather than a twitchy reaction-time test.

  8. My only problem with taking away the holy trinity class system, is that as someone who most frequently plays a healing class, I will MAY have to wait for groups. PFF!!!

    Great points and read.

  9. The dodge in GW 2 comes from double tapping a direction key. The dodge in DDO comes from holding down shift while hitting A or S. If you use the WASD keys to play, as I believe most players do, dodging in GW 2 shouldn’t be any issue at all.

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