Keen over at Keen and Graev's Gaming Blog postulated recently that slower combat had more depth. While I agree with the premise that slower combat can have more depth, it doesn't necessarily make it true, and Keen's sub-arguments rapidly show that it's too easy to conflate complexity and depth. More complexity does not automatically ensure more depth.
Complexity of Decisions
"Today there are very few decisions to be made. One simply walks up to a mob and executes abilities in any order. The real decision is which order to use the abilities to kill the monster fastest–everything is about actively attacking."First of all, I agree with Balkoth that Keen is conflating lack of difficulty with lack of depth. Leveling in WoW, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and Wildstar all has to be sufficiently easy that the grand majority of the populace can perform it, or you lose your subscribers. In all of those games there are more difficult content where you do need to perform more difficult maneuvers to defeat the enemy.
Frost mages in WoW facing something higher level than they are will root, slow, stun, blink, and so on, using the tools at their disposal. Kiting is still used for difficult mobs all the time. Heck, just the other day I kited a bunch of mobs with my Enhancement Shaman while my friend DPS'd them down slowly, all the while avoiding damage.
I wish I had a video of me soloing Chimaeron on my Enhancement Shaman, because that was one hell of a puzzle trying to figure out what combinations of talents, abilities, timings, etc. I needed to win, but above is a video of the next fight, soloing Nefarian. While not as difficult, it still required the use of extant abilities such as Earth Elemental, Rockbiter Weapon, as well as all of my self-healing and defensive cooldowns to win.
Things like Root Rot, where you literally just root them and DoT them, still works to an effect. It's just that in most games you can't root them indefinitely. Being able to lock down a monster forever would be bad design, as there's no depth or thought there. Mind you, the depth comes from the players discovering this technique from chaining together different abilities, and that is a good thing.
But to say that using player-created techniques via a combination of abilities is dead just tells me that you're not attempting difficult content to begin with. The content is there, it's just not in your face for subscriber-maintaining reasons. You have to seek it.
One final note here: rotational complexity is an interesting beast. At higher levels of difficulty, it's basically muscle memory. The more complex classes, the better your ability to memorize chains of abilities needs to be to manage it. Once you've "solved" the intellectual challenge of "What is my rotation?", which for most games you can look up online these days, it becomes the mental/physical endurance challenge of maintaining it for the duration of a fight. A good blog post I think later will be delving into physical versus intellectual difficulties.
First of all, most games still have aggro. Final Fantasy XIV and Wildstar it plays an extremely important part of multiplayer content. Guild Wars 2 doesn't even have the Holy Trinity or anything like it, so aggro as a concept is less about one person tanking and more about, "I'm dying, I need to drop aggro." It's really only WoW that's vastly simplified the concept.
The concept of aggro also has very little to do with the speed of combat. Wildstar combat is quite frantic, and yet aggro as a concept persists and works. Final Fantasy XIV combat is very slow in comparison to WoW, GW2, Wildstar, etc. aggro as a concept works identically to Wildstar's.
"Tanking took time, monsters took time to taunt and build up a safe aggro, and players respected that or died."Tweaking aggro to Everquest levels such as Keen mentions above is just a knob on aggro as a whole. But the question here is does aggro add depth? Aggro is certainly another set of rules; taunts, waiting to DPS/heal, not ripping threat off the tanks, threat reducing abilities all add a layer of complexity for sure.
But I argue that in the Holy Trinity model, aggro does nothing to add depth. Your choices are let the tank get aggro, or you die. That's the possibility space added from the concept of aggro. I think a better way to look at this is to look at a system that uses aggro, but doesn't have tanks, per se, like Guild Wars 2. I'd argue it has a bigger possibility space granted because anyone can "tank". So if you're running low on health, you shouldn't be tanking, someone else can tank. Or if you can pin-pong an enemy between 3 or 4 different "tanks" to keep it running rather than attacking. Kiting, if you will.
As long as the Holy Trinity model only allows for one or two tanks, and anybody else gets dead if the boss so much as looks at them, there's no decision to be made. It's a trap. It definitely requires skill and knowledge of the system to handle, so is complex, but it doesn't add depth.
"This could also be called the 'characters do one thing well' category. Having certain classes in your group would actually slow down the rate at which you could kill a single mob, thus slowing combat, but might improve your abilities to survive, pull multiple mobs at once and take a tougher spawn, or recover from battle quicker and move on to the next kill...These days everyone is a DPS."Keen's complaint here stems from a lack of coordination required. Rather than having the requirements for a fight to be distributed across multiple players and each player having a single job, each player has more tools at their disposal to perform at fights and may have multiple tasks to perform in a single fight.
Instead of having debuffers, buffers, damagers, tanks, and healers, buffing and debuffing got rolled into everyone's classes in most modern MMOs, leaving you with damagers, tanks, and healers all capable of also buffing/debuffing. The tasks all still mostly exist (just ask any Warlock who has to put up Curse of Elements in WoW, or any healer who's tossing external cooldowns on tanks), it's just that each player can do more. That's not a reduction of depth, that's just a redistribution of complexity.
Combat speed once again has nothing to do with this point; it clearly does not support Keen's hypothesis whatsoever.
"Managing mana consumption was often the difference between a great player and a good one. Healers who knew which heals to use and when, Wizards who knew how many times they should nuke to add the most efficient DPS to a group (the key being “efficient”), etc. Consume your resources and combat was slower. Have to worry about them at all and combat naturally becomes much, much slower."Consume your resources, and combat would last longer, but not necessarily be slower. Run out of mana, and you'd need to wait for it to regenerate, but the cadence at which enemies use abilities doesn't change. Mind you, where his idea is correct is if resources are designed to run out quickly, it would necessitate not using your abilities at their maximum cadence.
Basically, if you go full throttle all the time, you run out of mana/focus/etc. That idea is quite sound, and you'll note it's in effect in FFXIV, where everyone has to watch their resources carefully. The difference is that you have abilities you can use that are effectively resource-neutral, or resource-gaining, and higher damage/healing abilities that eat away at your resources, so the game becomes a choice between when to go all-out, and when to conserve (also see: Arcane Mages in WoW).
Combat speed is independent of this variable, unless the game has no resource-neutral or better abilities. Then you're forced to hit fewer buttons: the downtime between each ability becomes greater than the GCD. If the designers have made combat a frantic, fast-paced affair, clearly waiting between abilities won't really work. Human nature would be to hit buttons as fast as possible in a panic-response to fast combat.
Leisurely combat, where enemy abilities are far and few between, you have lots of time to choose actions, or interrupt other abilities, to get out of the bad, and so on, would naturally allow for the player to pick and choose their abilities more carefully, and having that extra time means you can allow for more thought for each individual action, meaning you can allow for more depth. But that being said, individual abilities would naturally need to have more impact to make those choices meaningful. The fewer choices you're making, the more impact each choice needs to have to make it worthwhile.
I think this is the closest Keen gets to actually supporting his hypothesis, but again, having to manage resources can be independent of combat speed with the one exception I laid out. Then you may as well have a turn-based game--which is okay! I love turn-based games--but in the current "real-time" model of MMOs I'd argue doesn't really work. It's another trap for the players. An unnecessary, unfun skill cap.
"Remember our old friend “white damage?” I love auto attack. I remember the days when it comprised of a massive portion of overall damage done by melee characters. The entire concept is all but completely done away with in favor of rotations and constant ability usage. Older MMOs had fewer abilities (most of the time)."Okay, I'll be brutally honest here. When I got to this part of the blog post, my first thought was, "Wait, is he trolling us?" Because auto-attack is the opposite of complexity and depth. Having your character do damage automatically means even if you as a player do nothing isn't a decision, isn't a rule, isn't... anything.
Oh, don't get me wrong, with a game that can have latency spikes, I think auto-attack is a useful tool to allow players to continue being mildly effective while they're having a lag attack (see the Nefarian solo kill video, near the end where I spike for a good 3 seconds), but if you were to take auto-attack away entirely, the complexity of the game and the depth of the game wouldn't change, meaning it adds literally nothing to either. And it's also independent of combat speed.
La Jeu en Rose
While Keen was clearly conflating complexity and depth in a couple cases, I think what he's really arguing for games as they were in Everquest. He views that as his ideal game, and that's totally fine. I don't care for it myself, but enjoyment is subjective. However, none of the arguments he posited support his initial hypothesis that slower combat means more depth. In fact, almost none of them have anything to do with slower combat at all.