Friday, December 2, 2011

Roles in Multi-player RPGs

When making a games combat, there are some very key decisions to be made about roles in combat.  Typically, the 'Holy Trinity' is used in MMORPG combat:  The tank takes damage, healer heals warrior, nuker kills the bad guys.

In this article I will be taking a break from talking about the technicalities of making my RPG and discussing its future combat gameplay.

A quote by someone; not me.
So where did the holy trinity come from?  In Dungeons and Dragons I don't remember ever rolling to see whether the warrior was maintaining aggro.  In fact, if you go into a difficult combat in D&D, the last thing you want to do as a warrior is try to get EVERYONE attacking just you.  That's suicide even if you are tougher than anyone else (because you aren't tougher to the extreme that the Holy Trinity requires, and the healer couldn't keep up with that damage).  It's generally a good thing for damage to get spread around a decent bit in D&D.

So where does the 'holy trinity' 3-role system come from?  It evolved in early MMO's such as Everquest.  Everquest was developed with a D&D class system in mind and there was no intention for having the holy trinity within the game.  However, the 3-roles were an inevitability as players got into higher end raiding and the need and availability of specialization increased.  This level of specialization is simply not available in D&D...  Probably due to healing spells not being as powerful, and all classes having larger amounts of health and no mana regeneration.

The holy trinity does not make sense on most levels
It is unrealistic to pretty much any setting, whether you are in a fantasy world or flying around in spaceships.  It may break immersion to some degree.

But even more problematic is making your gameplay unique and interesting under a system that has been used by at least 50 major online RPG's by now.  As an indie developer it is incredibly important that every feature in your game is in itself unique and fun gameplay...  The holy trinity is not. 

Roles help build a connection between players and their game
So should an indie developer scrap the Holy Trinity?  Here is an article that thinks so, and it outlines how to create roles without the Holy Trinity.  In the place of a 3-role system it wants to add several more features to create many new roles for players.  Many of these new features would require an AAA budget to incorporate.  Given the poor economy of 2011, no AAA game designer would touch something that has not already been proven to work several times over... So I am not even sure who this article is addressing.

Let me discuss for a moment why roles are important.  Simply put, they work on a social level.  Players really enjoy feeling 'needed'.  I have actually read about and experienced myself friends talking about how good it felt when their group 'needed' them.  Girls especially seem to become territorial when someone with the same role as their character tries to join the group.  Ie, if your group has a warrior already and another warrior joins, they will be aggressive or passive-aggressive towards the other warrior.  You see this in normal social circles in real life as well.  If you are the jester of your group of friends and another person shows up who also enjoys entertaining everyone, you may feel threatened by them.  The sense of having a role within your group builds a connection whether its in a circle of friends in real life or in-game.

I would like to move away from the holy trinity, but the concept of it is compelling and I think it is something that developers can evolve as oppose to completely remove.  Having ROLES that make players feel NEEDED is good game development.  The holy trinity is just one way of doing this.  It is the job of an indie multiplayer RPG developer to find simple yet effective ways of creating roles that fall outside the mainstream 'holy trinity'.

I will explain how my RPG will do this in a future article.


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