Mailbag: Action Combat

 Posted by (Visited 154 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Jul 182017

I was recently rereading your piece Designing a Living Society in SWG (part two)

And I became curious. You said that you made SWG an RPG because it had a much better retention than FPS games. Which, especially given the tech back then, seems to be a sensible position to take.

But I’m curious, if you were going to make SWG today’s gaming climate, with seemingly every MMO moving to action combat, would you still make it an RPG? A hybrid? A full blown FPS?

Obviously that decision would inform nearly everything else in design, but mostly I was trying to think how a class system would even work in a FPS centric SWG. It seems like there would be a lot less room to play around with abilities and specializations. Most people expect their shots to hit what they aim, so “to hit” chance isn’t really a thing to play around with. And I feel like there’s more expectation to have most guns, from the junk pistols to super expensive/hard to unlock, to do damage that’s in the ballpark of one another.

So all the abilities that you unlock would be less dependent on weapons, right? More oriented around giving the player more skills to do things, and maybe work up to some crazy, but limited, weapons? And I suppose you could still unlock special shots that do more damage, or pin people, or poison them.

I’m sorry if this is such a vague question that nearly answers itself, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to try to get some insight into someone who is working in the industry. It seems like a sci-fi MMO would be a harder thing to pull off these days.

–Brian Ward

I’d do it with action combat, for the following reasons which boil down now to “because I actually can now”:

  • The audience is larger. Back when RPGs always trumped FPSes on retention, that was an issue because it meant that the audience you had left paying you monthly was too small to sustain the costs of live operation and recouping development costs. That’s no longer the case. Online FPSes can acquire huge audiences now, which means you can probably make back your investment and turn a profit.
  • Technology is way better now. At the time we did Star Wars Galaxies, there was exactly one persistent world large-scale game with FPS-style combat: Neocron. It didn’t do anything like the large-scale battles that we would need for Star Wars. Sony Online in fact pioneered that technology, but on a different project, Planetside. But it was still in early development at the time that we had to make this decision.
  • Players have built up expectations of gameplay for different affordances and simulations. And there are few few turn-based or timer-based models out there for guns. Virtually none in first-person environments. It would feel pretty alien to the average player to be in first person and not have FPS combat. This was one of the things that drove having overhead views in SWG.

Of course, using real-world skill as the basic premise of play undermines the RPG element in general. Role-playing games are about playing a role, and a big part of playing a role is being someone you cannot be. That means not relying on real world skill as much, or rather relying on a particular universal set of skills mostly based around being persistent.

You can totally affect real world aiming skill with an RPG skill system though. The original design for SWG featured a “cone of fire” system which basically affected shot precision based on your skill level. Skills certifying you for different weapon types would also work fine (“you aren’t trained on this model blaster, you’re not used to the kick, you can’t actually use it effectively”). There are other ways. Some of these ways will play better with the Star Wars universe, some won’t (the certification thing, not so much, though maybe one could argue no Stormtroopers seemed to have gotten Blaster 1).

If you’re freed of the Star Wars setting, then certs work even better — a pistol with a thumbprint scanner saying “sorry, you’re not authorized to fire this weapon because you haven’t paid your dues to the Smuggler’s Guild” is fictionally plausible in any number of sci fi universes. “You don’t have the nano interface for this plasma rifle.” “You haven’t been trained in the telekinetic arts enough to activate the Focusing Lens.” Whatever. I might approach cone of fire as an assistive mechanism in that case, making it give magical aim boosts to people with lousy aim, because again, RPGs are about the fantasy of having a skill you don’t actually have.

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