Corey Jenkins got the chance to attend a Q&A with Lead Combat Systems Designer, Chris Lynch and Lead Class Designer, Hugh Shelton, about WildStar's combat.
In nearly every MMORPG there’s one thing that takes up—if I had to guess—roughly 90% of your time. It’s something so basic, yet so important, that most players don’t realize exactly how much they partake in it, especially if it’s not the main reason they play the game. What is it? Well, the answer is pretty simple—combat. Combat in an MMORPG is as essential as breathing is to the human body. Yet, similar to breathing, Combat in MMORPGs hasn’t been changed all that much. Up until recently, combat in the genre has been pretty static compared to others in the gaming industry. We’ve had the same tab targeting with the same “find your spot and don’t move from it” style of play; unless of course a boss puts down fire in that spot. Then it becomes find your new spot and don’t move from it. Is that necessarily a bad way to design a game? Not at all. But many fans would agree that it’s time for a bit of change.
In response, MMORPGs are adopting a more mobile and involved style of combat; commonly referred to as “action combat”. Action combat forces players to move and react to fast paced combat environments that typically get rid of the static, “stand in this spot” mentality. We’ve seen this take place in the form of gradual change throughout the industry and one that I foresee changing even more as the genre continues to age.
Taking MMORPG combat to the next step in its evolution is the upcoming Carbine Studios developed MMORPG, WildStar. With an in-depth player/creature telegraph system, free-form targeting and a plethora of involved player-actions and combat abilities; WildStar aims to take familiar MMO mechanics, give them a fresh coat of paint and put them into the hands of the player.
This week I was lucky enough to take part in a round-table Q&A session with Carbine’s very own Lead Combat Systems Designer, Chris Lynch, and its Lead Class Designer, Hugh Shelton. The dynamic duo let us pick their brains for as much information as time would permit, about combat, class abilities and how they go about designing systems surrounding these features in WildStar. And while they weren’t ready to do a full reveal just yet, we did manage to get a few tidbits of information regarding the last two unannounced classes in WildStar. So stick around as we take a journey through the WildStar “combat sandwich".
First Bites of the Combat Sandwich
If you’ve been following WildStar closely, you’re probably familiar with the “Devspeak” video series that Carbine produces, which introduces players to some of the gameplay features in WildStar. The latest video—-which you'll get a chance to see in a little bit—shows off the finer mechanics involved with class abilities; a topic that we’ll dive deeper into in a bit. After having seen nearly all of the combat sandwich, I asked Chris and Hugh how they planned to introduce new MMO players to each layer of WildStar’s combat, while still keeping it exciting for the MMO veterans out there. Chris was the first to jump onto this question.
“I’ll say this, we start teaching you from level 1. And let’s say we’re talking about telegraphs. The reaction time and the amount of hand-holding we do at level 1 is far greater than what we’re going to start doing 10 levels later, 20 levels later, 30 levels later. But we make sure that, in the tutorial, you have a large amount of time to react to what you’re seeing. And if you get hit by it once, that’s fine; it’s not going to kill you. And we try to gradually adjust (you) to the fact that you want to be out of the telegraphs. You want to emphasize movement and stay on your toes and aim your shots right. We don’t really start requiring you to do these until group environments at about level 20. And that’s still optional content. As far as the game overall goes, we gradually increase the difficulty over the span of all 50 levels. We’re gradually teaching the player “hey you need to react to the red”. The reaction time starts becoming smaller and the telegraphs start becoming more elaborate. But we definitely try to ramp up the difficulty, so it doesn’t feel like your suddenly thrust into it. It’s more like, you don’t even realize you’re learning to react. We’re training and honing your instincts so you can do what you need to do at the later levels.”
While it’s no secret that MMOs with action combat are typically not always “clicker friendly”, Hugh chimed in to talk about how they felt about the “skill cap” in WildStar.
“On top of that we realize the skill cap for this game is pretty high, because there is so
much you can do at one time. And we’re happy about that. We like that PvP is really frenetic so that you’re having to be pretty well-positioned if you want to win a fight. And like Chris was saying, we ramp up the difficulty in PvE. So it’s not too overwhelming when you’re starting out, but something that we’ve learned through playing, is that good players are going to be able to get through leveling content easier than players who are still learning the controls. And that’s something that we’re ok with. We think it’s fine that if you play well, you should be rewarded for it.”