Quote of the Day

Now if, back in 1978, you’d told me that there were going to be three main character classes in future MMOs, I would probably have assumed some kind of rock/paper/scissors relationship among them for reasons of balance. Archers beat infantry, cavalry beat archers, infantry beat cavalry — that sort of thing. I don’t believe for a moment I’d have gone with what we have, which is the “trinity” of tank, heals and dps. The tank takes all the damage issued by the opponent, the healer reduces this damage, and the dps gives damage (dps is “damage per second”, non-players) to the opponent. This doesn’t make a great deal of sense in gameplay terms: the healer is redundant (they’re basically just armour for the tank), the premiss is unrealistic (“I’ll hit the guy in the metal suit who isn’t hurting me, rather than the ones in the cloth robes who are burning my skin off”), it doesn’t work for player versus player combat (because players don’t go for the guy in the metal suit) and it doesn’t scale (a battle with 1,000 fighters on either side — how many tanks do you need?). Don’t get me wrong, it can be a lot of fun, but it’s a dead end in design terms.

Richard Bartle, “The Evolution of the Trinity”

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I own this little MMO gaming blog but I hardly ever write on it any more. I'm more of a bloglord or something. Thankfully I have several minions to keep things rolling along.

18 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

    1. Indeed. Unfortunately, it’s often suggested that players don’t want smarter AI that would ignore the simplistic aggro system.

      So… what to replace it with? Is there a useful middle ground between aggro (silly) and PvP player priority decision trees? I’m not experienced enough with PvP to dig too far in that direction.

      Maybe something more tactical, where spatial location and “elimination estimation” are rules of thumb? (As in, “I can reach that guy in two seconds and squish him in five, but that guy over there I could one-shot… once I get to him.”)

      1. I wonder if that’s true, though. GW (especially in Hard Mode) has a much less simplistic aggro system, and in my experience with it mobs do ‘player-like’ things like kiting the warriors while sending others to kill off the casters.

        Awesome quote.

  1. The rest of his article reads like nostalgia, but he’s right, MUDs had diverse ways to handle aggro and the holy trinity problem, and our MMOs picked one and stuck with it. Despite positional combat in 3D being a unique property of MMOs that MUDs can’t replicate. Hopefully GW2 will explore this fully with their focus on control as an aspect of combat.

    Just thinking back, the MUD I played evolved an interesting kind of Diablo-style healing, where heals got brewed into potions, and everyone toted 200+ heal potions to do their own healing. A cleric standing by casting ‘heal’ couldn’t keep up with the damage, so they turned into brew bots to prepare heal potions. Everyone still desired to have one in their character library so that they could come prepared for a raid (or run, as we called them in those days) with their own consumables, without paying a premium for heal pots.

    Since quaffing rate wasn’t class-specific, that meant even mages could tank. The main question was how much your class-specific gear buffed your armor and hitpoint reservoir, and what the particular mob you were going against was immune to.

    The standard fighting class everyone brought was thieves, with higher dex, they dodged more, and had a lethal ‘circle’ ability to inflict damage. Except you couldn’t be tanking while circling. So you’d walk in, the mob would pick one guy randomly to hit (or you walk in the designated thief tank first), and he would quaff heals and tank while everyone else turned DPS and circled.

    Aggro control was via fleeing. If you couldn’t tank anymore, you just typed ‘flee’, ran out of the room, and boom, the mob would pick another guy in the room. Hopefully you warned your teammates first. :) Or if the next impromptu tank was skillful, he would be able to switch over to heal quaffing without panicking. Then you came back in after recovering, and took over as DPS.

    As the developers (immortals) wised up to our ways, they started slapping immune circle flags on their mobs, and the players promptly switched to other classes with slightly less damaging but still workable skills. Mages with their hardest hitting spell, vampires and so on.

    Warriors were needed for specific mobs that were vulnerable to autoattacking and more or less immune to all the big hitting spells and skills of other classes. One had to switch between magic and nonmagic weapons as appropriate for mobs that were immune to either.

    Come to think of it, warriors had a taunt skill, except it was termed ‘rescue.’ Functionally, it put the warrior who rescued as the mob’s primary target, which is equivalent to taunting. Conceptually, I’d always imagined ‘rescue’ as shoving aside the current tank and taking over, versus a ‘taunt’ which brings to mind making rude gestures and the mob deciding to attack you. Interesting what a change in terminology conjures up in the brain.

    Other MUDs had other interesting ways of handling aggro. I never played them for long, but I recall some had 3×3 grid formations, where you could arrange people in your team beforehand. The sturdy guys in front, the ranged mages behind. Presumably that set up the tanking arrangement for mobs later.

    1. The MUD I played used that 3 x 3 grid formation. So that did give a sense of space and physical arrangement within the room. You’d put the warriors and sometimes the thieves up front, mages and clerics in the 2nd and 3rd rows. You had to have ranged weapons or skills to attack to/from the 3rd row and there were limitations with regard to who could attack to/from the 2nd row. Sneaking characters could attack any row, but with least penalty the back row, so squishiest players went in the 2nd. I don’t remember Warriors having any sort of taunt, nor having to deal with any sort of aggro management, but it was very important to the group that the front line stay alive, between the enemy and the party.

  2. Ah yes, another means of aggro control was through styles or stances.

    Evasive = even more reduced damage
    Defensive = reduced damage to both
    Standard style = normal damage to both you and the mob
    Aggressive = increased damage to both
    Berserk = even more increased damage

    The mob would rip through people in order, berserk, aggressive, standard, unsoweiter.

    Since everyone tended to stick to standard, dropping to defensive meant you’d shed aggro, but the aggro would fly randomly to someone (everyone) else in standard.

    Now and then, we also had a couple crazy people in our teams who wanted to show off their tanking (or rather, heal quaffing) ability and would switch up to aggressive long enough for the mob to change targets. Sort of a proto-taunt for any class.

    Sadly, heal-quaffing as a mechanism was related to ping. There was a discernable difference in how much better I played living physically closer to the MUD server than when I traveled and was much further away from it.

  3. When someone comes up with anything that is MORE fun than healing in a group that’s pushing the limit of what it can handle, then I’ll believe the Holy Trinity is a bad idea.

    MMO Healing in a tight situation is extremely similar to an amphetamine rush and only someone who’s never experienced either could come up with something like “the healer is redundant”.

    In the end, the whole process is about endorphin production and the Holy Trinity does a pretty good job of gettign the glands puping. I’m sure there are other ways to get the job done, but this one is here and it works so why change it?

    1. The need for healing != trinity.

      In UO you had great healers and that game had no trinity.

      In DF you have great healers and that game has no trinity.

      I’m sure those are not the only examples. The existence of the trinity simply forces you to have all three, while in games that don’t use it the players have that option. A lot of times you can get away without a dedicated healer/tank, but generally the ‘optimal’ plan still involves something similar to tank/healer/dps in setup.

      Of course, the more options you give to the average player, the more chances you give to screw up, hence the trinity being so popular.

  4. The DIKUMUDS I played back in 1996 definitely leaned towards the holy trinity. Without everyone being the same “class” or jack-of-all-trades type of character, I don’t really see how you can avoid the holy trinity situation.

    Are we talking about a game’s encounters forcing us to play the holy trinity style? WoW for instance capping certain raids at 5-, 10-, or 25-man and giving the mobs HP, damange, and special abilities that require counters from a holy trinity setup?

    I guess I’m just wondering, what the heck is a better alternative? Bartle didn’t really spend any time defining one and neither has anyone else from what I’ve read.

  5. Eh. Tell you what, make a classless game that doesn’t fail (Fallen earth, UO, Champions Online, Darkfall) doesn’t wind up being even more boring and simplistic than trinity games (EVE, especially in PvE,) or isn’t tolerable because it’s either free or low cost (Mabinogi, Guild Wars-how many people would play it if it required a sub?) then you can talk about dead ends.

    If the trinity is fail, why does it keep persisting?

    1. Tell you what, make a game that uses classes and doesn’t fail(WAR, Vanguard, Tabula Rasa, AoC) doesn’t wind up being more boring and simplistic than the non-trinity games(Last Chaos) or isn’t tolerable because it’s either free or low cost(Free Realms, Runes of Magic-how many people would have really put up with it’s knock off graphics if it required a sub?) then you can talk about dead ends.

      If the non-trinity is fail, why does it keep persisting?

      All kidding aside though, it’s easy to write everything on the other side off as a failure. Especially if you get to write the rules for what is a failure or not, re: EVE. It’s a lot harder to look at the issue objectively from a design perspective. From that perspective, it has a limited future even if it’s still useful in the present.

      Part of what Bartle said, is that the current trinity/aggro system would actually work in a mud-style room system, since it was made there. The main tank enters the room and grabs aggro, everyone else enters, and from there it’s the same aggro management game. The specifics may be different, actual raids do rely on some positioning on the tank’s part to handle directional AOE. The concept itself though is still rooted in there being a single conceptual space that all players in the raid fundamentally inhabit without any reference to position.

      If we had seen an actual incorporation of space into the system, it would have been completely non functional in the non-space of a mud. This means there is plenty of room to evolve and incorporate that space. However, in order to stick with the concept of a dedicated tank with their dedicated healers and a bunch of incidental dpsers, you would have to keep aggro which puts them all back in that conceptual bin again. Well that’s not entirely true, an intercession tank could maintain the trinity, but there are a lot more options without the trinity than with it.

  6. If the trinity is fail, why does it keep persisting?

    The trinity is a fun solution to a particular tactical problem.

    What Richard Bartle was getting at is that it leads game makers to continually set the same problem for players to solve.

    We can’t have a raid where the enemy is a thousand weak creatures (actually much more like a historical battle) in a trinity based game. In fact there are quite a lot of encounter design limitations forced on us by the trinity.

    I do think it should be possible to design fun non-trinity gameplay. And that will be entertaining for us old MMO players because it will present us with fresh tactical challenges.

  7. One game to look at is City of Heroes for an alternative to the trinity. It exists there, but is not necessary for most encounters. You can have a team full of “healers” doing missions together and be just fine due to the amount of healing and buffing/debuffing. The ‘tanks’ in the game (the aptly named Tanker class or Brutes, sometimes MasterMinds and well-geared Scrappers) are only really needed for the Taskforces/Strikeforce content (equivalent to a ‘raid’ in other games) due to the amount of mobs and strength of ArchVillains compared to the rest of the content.

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