C-C-C-COMBO!

Posted: February 21, 2007 by Kendricke in Character Development, General Game Concepts

I was speaking with Araman from Warcry not too long ago, and the discussion turned to game design (as it often does).  We got to talking about the idea of combination attacks in MMO’s and console games.  We came up with several ideas we want to see in “Game X” someday.

First, any combination system should encourage its own use.  I know how ridiculously obvious this sounds, but it amazes me how often I find the Everquest 2 Heroic Opportunity system actually gets in the way of itself.  It’s not just clunky…but it’s actually counterproductive many times to use the system.  It’s not that the rewards for the system aren’t decent.  It’s just that the effort to get the rewards is often not worth the effort, and many times the effort involved to complete the combo can actually involve using skills that aren’t immediately useful right now – but more on that in a bit.  The bottom line – I can think of no game (no, not even Final Fantasy XI) that has a combo system that really, really encourages its own use.

Any combination system should have a visible interactive effect that feels like a combo.  Oh, I’m not talking about a brand new spell effect that just appears.  I mean the effect should be relevant.  If character A is a fighter and character B is a healer, then the combination they create between the two of them should involve them together in some way.  Either the priest suddenly places a holy aura on the fighter’s sword for a moment, or the fighter suddenly jumps throws his shield in front of the priest for a moment, or something.  For the love of Mike, it’s a combo – not two folks doing their own thing individually.  Seriously, when I think of combos between different game characters, I immediately think of X-Men  Legends titles (Collossus and Wolverine performing the Fastball Special) and the Suikoden games. 

What about command options instead?  I’ve been playing a lot of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos lately, and some of the command abilities there are pretty good. The “captains” (aka: fighter/melee types) are very, very good at single combat, and in taking a regiment of spearman and turning them into a virtually supernatural fighting entity. There’s several ways something like this could be emulated within an MMO. 

One major way would be to tie combos even more firmly into grouping (duh!).  However, the main difference would be that combo starters would be less random and more controlled..and that advancing in skill as a “leader” would actually open up more and better combo starters.  These functions would lead to more value for the combo system in groups with fairly well defined “leaders”.

These combos might lead to short term buffs/debuffs or blessings that stay up for a limited amount of time (making certain types of damage more powerful, or helping defend a group from a different type of attack).

Keep these functions short term to preserve the tactical value. Instead of cooldown timers on players that affect all abilities, only allow X number of abilities to be in use at the same time (something similar to a Concentration limit used in EQ2).
Fighters might start with a concentration/focus/tactical skill of 1, allowing only one single basic “Tactic” to be in use at a time. More experienced or skilled fighters might have a higher tactical skill allowing the use of more involved, complicated combinations of tactics (i.e. – can use more short term “Tactic” buffs at the same time).

Give very distinctive sound/visual cues to the fighter “Tactics”. An “Officer” class character using his “Flanking Manuever Command” should not only have a very audible command associated with it (e.g. – voice emote, specific trumpet blast, specific drum beat, etc.), but should also have a particle effect of some sort, or a specific icon/name that appears in a specific UI element to inform the group that right now, attacks to the side/rear of the target perform extra damage. 

Combinations could occur from using certain, specific tactics together. Using the above “Flanking Manuever” Tactic at the same time a scout style character uses the very short term “Short Cut!” group ability might trigger the special “Caught Flatfooted” effect which stops the target from being able to turn or reposition temporarily.

Basically, the idea would revolve around group or raid leaders getting special abilities based on the Planetside concept of Command levels (similar, but not exactly the same as the old Everquest concept of group or raid leadership experience/levels). 

Allow for any class to be a leader, but the specific leadership abilities might be flavored more toward the class. Fighters might add more strategic bonuses for the group’s combinations, whereas a Priest might add more mystical bonsues (additional power regeneration or other divine gifts).

The group/raid leadership skills/abilities would be relatively class specific, so a Warrior class wouldn’t have the same Leadership abilities at level 5 as a Druid class would.

In addition, you’d get a small amount of leadership experience any time you’re the leader of a group that accomplishes anything worth accomplishing (group dungeon named, scripted events, raids, etc..). Having more folks in your group means more group experience (likewise for raids).

It’s just a quick idea (and one I’ve posted elsewhere, actually), but I think it’s at least one idea on how to make a “combo” system a bit more sensical, while at the same time encouraging more grouping to begin with.

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