Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MMO Feature Wish List: Henchmen and Gambits

There are a lot of features that my imaginary "dream MMORPG" would implement. Some that I have touched on before have included: kudos and other social networking features, a rebirth system, and small rewards for people who help another player advance a quest when they aren't already on the same quest themselves.

A few days ago, I was reading about Tesh's frustration with Heroes and henchmen in Guild Wars. (The article is actually about quite a lot more than that, and a good read, but venting about henchmen was a part of it.) I happen to share that frustration. Though the flag system in Guild Wars offers some limited control over henchmen, they aren't as sophisticated as I wish they were.

Collecting Heroes is a great feature in Guild Wars. I think more MMORPGs should make that a standard part of the gameplay. Instead of having the world split up between soloable "normal" mobs and heroic "group" mobs, which is simply weird, have all monsters be group mobs, and allow solo players to collect AI controlled NPC party members for the occasions they can't find (or don't want to find) other people to play with.

I'd like to see an MMO take give us the ability to collect henchmen/minion/Heroes and then take it a step beyond that: give us the ability to train them over time. Like any good RPG, this should be something we have to work at! The minions might start off requiring a good deal of micro-management but as we work with them, eventually we would earn the ability to get more flexible allies over time.

One RPG that I thought had a really clever NPC control mechanism was Final Fantasy XII. The way it worked is each character in the game had a certain number of "gambit slots". Each slot could take a simple order, which amounted to a command that executed under a certain condition. The orders were prioritized with the highest priority commands declared first. The command with a matching condition with the highest priority would execute.

From 1up, an example gambit setup.

For example, a simple healer might have two gambit slots:

1) IF Players health < 50%, cast HEAL
2) Attack

While my player's health remained at or above 50%, the healer would attack our enemies. If it went under 50%, the healer would cast heal unless they ran out of mana (the condition would already fail if they couldn't cast). At any point, I could also order that the entire party follow me and flee.

Characters started off with very few gambit slots; these had to be unlocked over time. Towards the end of the game, most of my characters had seven or eight gambits, dictating how they behave in specific circumstances. During the game, we would have to buy or discover new gambits to gain more fine tuned control of our allies.

I'd enjoy seeing something similar in an MMORPG. In addition to collecting new Heroes, leveling and gearing them up for battle, we would also have to improve our "leadership" abilities by undertaking difficult missions; the rewards from these missions would enable us to grant new gambit slots to our allies and unlock new gambits to program them with. It could also introduce more depth to the system than the Final Fantasy version had, perhaps by introducing gambits related to camping and pulling. I'd even enjoy PVP minion battles between henchmen where gambit selection is the major determinant of who wins or loses.

A system like this would add some additional depth to a henchman system and provide some lateral forms of character advancement. It also makes existing itemization more valuable since it doesn't sting as much to fight your way to the bottom of an epic dungeon only to get NO-TRADE drops for a class that isn't even in the party when you have a henchment that can use it. With Heroes that you can equip and train, everyone has a potential use for every drop. (Though I guess that could complicate Need vs Greed.)


Stargrace said...

Have you checked out Darkfall? They have the ability to do almost that. Granted the game is not released yet (EU release January 22nd 2009) but this is taken from their site:

"What can my NPC hirelings do?
NPC hirelings can follow you around and fight with you, they can carry your loot, they can perform skills and spells to aid you, etc. NPC hirelings can do pretty much everything that player friends can do. In addition, NPC hirelings can be given advanced orders such as patrolling your city, looking for enemies, criminals, and thieves. They can be a vendor in your shop that you have set up, they can mine for minerals in a mine, they can go out into the forest and chop wood for you, or stand on the banks of a river fishing for you all day."

Lars said...

I'm not sure I believe in Darkfall yet. =) I haven't really given that game a serious look. If it really does have that kind of feature, I might check it out just for that alone.

Tesh said...

And the circle closes. Critics hammered FFXII for being too "MMO-like". It would be fitting to use the Gambit mechanic to control henchmen.

I like the idea, in other words... and it has a delicious flavor of irony about it.

Lars said...

FF XII was one of my favorite single player RPGs ever, precisely because it WAS very much like an MMO in terms of gameplay, except with the strong storyline that only a single player game can offer.

Tesh said...

Hmm... that reminds me again of the thought that I wish Bioware's SWTOR would be single player. I wholly agree that single player games will have always have the edge in storytelling.

...I keep meaning to pick up FFXII... maybe I'll grab itnext summer if I can find it on sale and if I haven't lost my job in this dumb economy.

Crimson Starfire said...

I haven't actually played Final Fantasy XII, but the gambit slot idea sounds awesome. I've always wished for an AI script editor for GW heroes, but now I think about it, gambit slots would be lot more user friendly. They also add additional tactical elements to the game.

Definitely a good idea for any new MMORPG that contains party NPCs.

Great article.

Hechicera said...

On henchmen, heroes and gambits ...

Heroes and Henchmen in GW seem improved right now. So far using a few less documented things and with a little AI playtesting, I've gotten to where even hard areas of GW offer little challenge. Tuning non-optimal AI's for process control was something I did in some other industry long ago ... but, if my rusty, senile self can get there (and I'm not alone in my guild) they have already crossed that line where NPC help is now more reliable to me than real players.

I found the gambits great fun, and as I get older and have more fine motor slowdown, I loved the game doing the "twitch" work for me. But, one of the big complaints from young people was that FFXI was no challenge to them as they didn't have the "twitch"-skill option. I think balancing NPC and player character control where you can set the responses up procedurally (with a manual override like GW) or use twitch completely - with both equally viable - would be ideal.

It does bring up, game design issues for an aging player base.