Too Much Random

Posted: April 4, 2008 by Xeavn in General Game Concepts

I may be the only person that feels this way, but to me it seems like the random number generator is over used in the modern MMO. There seems to be a huge reliance on chance. Do I hit a enemy, does he hit me, how much damage do either of us do, what loot drops if I win, do I finish my quest? The list could probably go on for quite a while. Why is random chance used so much? Is it really necessary? I hope I can answer at least a few of those questions, and show why I think it should be used less.

I realize that part of the reason for using random chance to determine outcome likely goes back to the days of table top gaming where players rolled dice to see if a weapon hit or if they dodged that attack. It worked well for games such as D&D and Battle Tech, and while it isn’t horrible for today’s current massive multiplayer games, I think it is overused. Everything becomes this random roll on the dice, do my resists save me from that spell, what loot do I get from that chest, did that blow kill me? At least when gathered around the table, rolling dice with friends, you still got to physically roll the dice. In your favorite MMO you usually just see the result, miss, dodge, resist, hit, etc.

One of the first MMO’s that I played and the game that really got me into massive multiplayer games was Planetside. A game which even today makes little use of random chance. If I fired my lasher at you, the only thing determining if it hits you or not is if you are still standing at the spot I fired towards when the projectile gets to you. Chances are I likely missed you, because I was never a very skilled player with pretty much any weapon, yet the determination of a winner and a loser was entirely in the players hands.

That seems like where control should be at, in the players hands. Who likes running up to a mob, casting your root spell and watching that resist text come up? You can’t do anything to stop it, in fact you are helpless to do anything but try again as the monster comes charging towards you, with a hungry glint in its eye. This mechanic is probably the most irritating when raiding. No one likes to be in the middle of a fight, when suddenly due to a bad roll of the random number generator your main tank explodes due to a bad double attack. Is there anything the tank or the healers could have done? Nope, random chance has decided that you will be doing this fight all over again. At least when I make a mistake as a healer and our tank dies, I feel like there is something I could have done differently to change the outcome of the fight.

Lets look at some examples of good and bad design. When creating a raid encounter you could make it so that two random people die every minute. This is horrible for the raid force, random chance will sooner or later strike and kill someone vital to the raids survival. What if instead it was the two lowest players on the hate list? (Freethinkers Hideout) All of the sudden you are giving the raid control over who is going to die. This is awesome. Sure it might still kill someone we didn’t want it too, but now at least we have a bit of control over how the fight goes.

While I don’t think any up and coming MMO’s will completely remove their reliance on random outcomes, I hope that some will at least try and put some more control back in the players hands. I also hope current games give as much control to the player as they can. No one wants to fight a raid mob who randomly wipes your raid, or raid mobs you can’t reliably land spells and attacks on. There are any number of different ways this control can be returned to the players, from different looting mechanics to abilities that will guarantee your next spell will land, and probably some things I haven’t even thought about. If anyone has any other great ideas on how random chance can be further removed, I would love to hear about it.

  1. Laldail says:

    The Freethinkers example is a good one and the kind of thing (as a very broad category) that I think works well in a game like EQ2/WoW, et al. By injecting games like Planetside as an example, however, you move to a different genre completely.

    Yes, both EQ2 and Planetside are MMOGs. However, Planetside is based on PvP FPS playstyles with twitch player reflexes as the ruling controller. This is not generally true of the RPG side of MMOGs. An RPG is all about the character skills and stats .. the character sheet. Yes, player skill is certainly involved, but not so much twitch skills as the skill of understanding what is really driving the outcome and ensuring the best possible dice roll for your character. This is where the RNG has its place .. replacement of the twitch.

    There will always be a market for games that encompass both twitch and character sheet encountering, I think. I do believe that often there must be a better way to simulate twitch in an RPG than the pure randomness of the dice but it will have to be thought up by someone other than me.

  2. Xeavn says:

    Perhaps the upcoming Age of Conan would have made a better example than Planetside, but I haven’t played it. Just because a game is an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t have elements of twitch to it as well, although not all players like that style of game. Another good example might be Diablo 2, which may have had a random number generator determining hits, but there was still a fair degree of quick paced skill involved. The random number generator was never so intrusive that I ended up swearing at it, or even noticing it.

  3. Illuminator says:

    Low hit rate is an infuriating experience in any genre of gaming, it eludes me why anyone would lower it even further rather than lower the impact of the hit (when doing a nerf). It inhibits the ability of the player to form clever strategies in cases when much of the strategy hinges on a few specific hits that need to happen.

    We all detest Too Much Random in our games when the random dictates broader things than “which damage value will we hit for this time”. Like farming mobs fair and square for long eternities and never seeing the item or quest update we wanted or needed. Random IMO should only be used to keep content interesting, but never to stretch out the timeline of that content.

  4. Thallian says:

    There have been a few ‘bloody’ titles that were RPG’s like Gothic that I can think of where whether you hit the enemy or not was not random, it was based on you personal competence. First Person shooters are like this. Halo is non MMO but it does involve large groups of people in battlegrounds. I think the real reason companies haven’t done this is because they are comfortable and scared of change, not only for changes sake but for money’s sake too.

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