Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Unholy MMO Trinity?

MMO Gamer Chick posted today about the MMO trinity: Tank/DPS/Healer. An auto-link to Harbinger Zero's blog at the end of her post led to a discussion (monologue?) about the role of tank and how it arose in the online world as a manipulation of the aggro (originally British slang, interestingly enough) mechanic already present in most video games.

I never got into PnP RPG games, though my older brother did; and I read many of the AD&D source books from the late '70s and early '80s. The craze and subsequent parental backlash was slightly before my time. So I never found a group of people that was interested and eventually lost interest myself as I became a teen.

But as a kid . . . I was definitely a LARPist. (Is that a word?) Aren't all kids? Mostly by myself, but occasionally with friends, I would weave a fantasy world in my backyard where I was a Hero: the mysterious stranger, master of sword and spell, fighting the evil overlords of the land. My favorite "weapon" was my grandfather's old putter, which I would wield from the clubhead as both a gun and an energized blade, predating Lightning's gunblade by almost three decades. I grew out of it I suppose, constrained by new interests (girls and wanting to be "cool"). I would feel kind of silly waving a golf club around my backyard now, but I would probably be a lot thinner. Interestingly, I found out in college that fencing foil grips are angled much like pistols and golf clubheads; much better for thrusting and lunging, I suppose.
My love for fantastic and sci-fi worlds never waned, and I continue to prefer those genres over other fiction and non-fiction. Because of my family life, I also never really got into video games until the late '90s, and then it was mostly PC RTS games like SimCity, Age of Empires, and Rise of Nations. Even though I have played RPG console games (most recently, The Force Unleashed), I still prefer the mouse and keyboard over the video-game controller. I also still prefer to play mostly by myself, occasionally with friends or random fellow players.

Now that I'm completely off topic (see what I mean GeeCee?), let me see if I can bring this home. My background playing solo and emphasizing story over game-mechanics leaves me extremely ambivalent about the MMO trinity. You never really see it in stories, even ones based on the MMOs we love so much. And yet those roles seem hard and fast fixtures of the MMO zeitgeist. Even hybrids end up pigeonholed based on specialization and gearing. I think Zero brings up an interesting point. Aggro tables are an artifact of what I would call pseudo-intelligence (as opposed to artificial intelligence) which leads to manipulation of aggro through taunts and other tanking abilities. In real life, depending on the actual intelligence of the hostile creature or group, it would be attacking the support and DPS characters, not necessarily the guy in its face shouting and waving his arms.
That may be why so many players enjoy PvP (though I am with you on this one GeeCee, I do PvP when I have to for an achievement). They prefer to fight an intelligent, potentially unpredictable, opponent. I think PvEers would enjoy that type of fight, too, if it didn't come with the aggravation of interrupting one's questing or being completely outmatched by either character abilities or player skills in a random encounter.

Zero's alternative trinity of offense, control, support makes more sense to me, though it would be easier to deal with in a turn-based system like AD&D, I guess. It would not be hard to create a balance if everyone had similar health and damage/healing. This would lend itself to improved solo and group play, I think. Right now in WoW, dedicated healers and tanks have a more difficult time leveling solo than damage dealers; because, while they may last longer in a fight, the fights themselves take longer because of lower DPS, and therefore the toons' XP rate is slower and it takes longer to level. Damage dealers might not last as long in a fight, but the fights are so short, because of their high DPS, that they have time to replenish between fights and still have a higher XP rate than the other two roles. Hybrids fare slightly better. But then, as jacks-of-all-trades, never quite match the dedicated classes. Talent specialization, meant help make your character unique, has been lost to the min/maxers creating ideal(=cookiecutter) builds for each class/role. The dual specs in WoW are only a bandaid (one people are clamoring for in STO as well). Supposedly, Blizzard is working on this for the Cataclysm expansion, less kitchen sink, more flashy special effects in the talent trees. Heh, once again I digress.

So anyway, I am not advocating a shift away from the trinity necessarily, just pointing out that it is a construct of the game, and not essential to it. PnP RPGs didn't need it, solo video RPGs obviously couldn't do it (at least, not without NPC companions). There is no real reason for it in modern MMOs. I hope SWTOR has something more like Zero's scheme. Everyone should have a chance to kick butt and help out their buddies, as well.


  1. I had a little more time to think about it, and I think that while I'm okay with trinity, what bugs me a little is the WoW style of how they handle tank, dps/cc and healer roles. You mention how everyone should have the chance to kick butt and help out their buddies as well. Very true. And the following is going to be pretty similar to what I wrote to someone else in my comments.

    Admittedly, the gang-beating-on-one-big-mob thing is getting kind of old, as well as the whole process of sheeping/shackling/banishing/etc a mob without having to worry about it for the next 10 or so seconds while everyone falls into their roles and concentrates on the same target.

    This gets mind numbing pretty quickly. As a tank, I want to feel more important than just a meat shield that keeps a mob from my buddies. As a dps, I want to be admired for other skills other than how often I can top the charts. As a healer, I want to be more than just a healbot spamming heals on the main tank. That's why I love playing a feral druid in WoW. It's true that I'm a jack of all trades, master at none...but one time in a single fight, I was able start of dpsing as a cat, quickly turn bear to off tank a loose mob to save a group member when things started going awry, then quickly throw HoTs on the main tank to keep him up before I b-rezed the healer who had died so he can pick up healing again. Being able to do that felt amazing...though my role in that fight was technically dps, and doing all those things made my dps go down the toilet, I became so much more important than just a nuker. No other class can pull something like that off, so it was also very exhilarating.

    That's the kind of gameplay I feel would be ideal and I wish everyone in MMOs could play like this, but obviously balancing the mechanics would be a nightmare.

  2. Druids are definitely the superheroes of the WoW universe.

    The funny thing is I don't think the balancing would be that difficult. In some ways the game might get boring, but think of this: If I'm a sword swinger and you're a finger wiggler withe the same DPS, from the computer's perspective, the only difference is the animation--the pizazz. It's still a dice roll to see what the damage is hit for hit.

    My point (and Zero's) is that there is no inherent reason why a wizard can't be as robust/durable as a warrior, or that a warrior can't put out as much damage as a wizard. It is only the way the game is designed.

    Healing/mitigation could be handled the same way. Cast a spell, bandage, pot; each could have the same effect at the same level. Only the animation would change. And if aggro was only caused by damage, then whoever is at the top of the table would be the tank at that moment. Players could still fulfill certain roles, but they would not be obligated to by the game mechanic.

    Again, not saying that Blizz should do this, it would require a complete overhaul of WoW. But a new game could be designed this way.

    I like LOTRO's morale system in this way. It makes more sense in-universe than Health does in WoW.

  3. I think I see what you mean...there is no inherent reason for these differences, I agree...but if we think gameplay, if a warrior can put out as much damage as a mage, and that same mage can also take damage like that warrior, won't that essentially make everyone the "same"? Or maybe I'm missing something.

    So, won't that equalize everyone's abilities across the board? Like you said, the only difference will be the animation and pizazz. It does takes a lot of the obligation to a role away, true...but I think there has to be more than that. A part of me still believes that to make our class and character choices meaningful, some trade-offs still ultimately must exist to a degree.

  4. Smart observations, could comment on a lot. But I am a little short on time right now, unfortunately.

    It is interesting that many players got so used to levels, classes and the basic trinity idea that it almost has become synonymous with "MMORPG".

    But you are damn right, there is no reason besides habit that things are so often done that way. I like to say MMO mechanics are mostly crude, they are just a vehicle for the online game.

    (By the way, yesterday I got STO's QA and talked about VERY annoying grouping issues (wait to join minutes later...) and the "suboptimal" scaling mechanics. Ticket no. ~880.000, that's less than a million, yay.)

    The modern trend is to allow people to respec a lot. Dual Specs in WoW mark the beginning of the trend, Guild Wars is already a bit further - you can save/load and change build and stat distribution for free in every outpost. GW2 will allow that out of combat.

    STO is quite primitive in this regard: A costly respec, and for the casual they are even given the option to PAY for something that makes the game more fun. Not really good. Maybe they realize this themselves, and hand out free respecs every rank up and on every major patch. Did not have to pay ingame currency or in the shop for any respec so far.

    I think it would not hurt games if everyone would contribute to the fight through damage. Everyone could support his buddies a little or more. There is still room for variety. The days of the extreme trinity are already over, IMO. We will still have more support/healing or tanking/damage oriented classes/builds, but the days of "5 man group, need: 1 Tank, 1 Heal, 3 random DPS" are hopefully soon over in every MMO.

  5. While I look down a little on DnD 4th in the post - there is something we can learn from it as well. If HP is truly not a function of how wounded a character is (and its not, not in MMO's at least), but a function showing roughly how the battle is progressing, then there is not reason that each and every ability, no matter what its primary function shouldn't *also* do damage. In fact, 4th goes even further by completing inverting the paradigm - every ability is there to do damage, some abilities also do other things. There's not such thing as a "Stun" attack. There are attacks that also stun. In this way, everyone in the party (yes, even clerics!) are all outputting damage in roughly equal amounts.

    There's a lesson to be learned here!

  6. I love the WoW priest abilities that change depending on the allegiance of the target, like Penance and Holy Nova healing friends and damaging hostiles.