... and it's a 'trinity' because it's the lowest common denominator. I've skirted briefly with the topic before, but recent conversations have shaped a more refined point of view. I share that here.
Combat at its very core is a very simple concept:
I aim to reduce my opponent's health to zero, while keeping my own health above zero, through the usage of my abilities.
In an xRPG, these basic goals are facilitated traditionally through the health bar concept, and the ability bar concept. Values drawn from the ability pool are intended to modify both own and opposing health pools. Sometimes, systems involve a derivative approach in being to cut off the opponent's ability pool through using one's own in various manners. Furthermore, some systems might merge both bars into one... But alas! Too soon derivatives have been mentioned. We're here to establish the foundation of it all.
The Lone Wolf
In a martial arts competition, the participants execute maneuvers that they believe will disable their foe (damage). If they are caught off guard and dazed, they act defensively to regain focus (healing). Their ability to stand and deliver, study their opponent is enabled through the ability to take a handful of blows without going down (tanking).
On military front lines, where masses of individuals are present, the same very concepts apply. The most basic squad tactic known to man is one of the flanking motion. A squad lays down suppressive fire, drawing the attention and blunt of retaliating enemy blows (tanking), another moves to fire for effect (damage), while keeping a final in reserve to deplete the losses sustained by the first two (healing).
What a Beautiful Moon
It is a harmony of mechanics that act as one. No single mechanic exists in a vacuum.
- Without tanking, combat would be a struggle for first hit. No tactics, no learning about your enemy would occur.
- Without healing, no reset of health would occur, giving limited amount of tries before a final end. And then, the end.
- Without damage, nothing decisive would ever occur. Interaction between foes would cease to exist.
Be it in a solo or group environment, these three phenomena exist. Whether they manifest in a single person (oft referred to as a hybrid) or in a group (specialists), or whether they exist in an active way or passive one, we witness their existence. We can (and will) add to these concepts, but can never take away. They are the bottom line, the end state, the foundation.
If It Can't Be Done Right, Don't Do It At All!
Some people believe that when group specialization occurs, performing one function is inherently more fun than another. Often, it is argued that 'everyone wants to be damage'. It's a fallacy.
What people mean to say is they don't enjoy group play. Perhaps because of inherent tendencies for specialization to occur, because of social disdain etc. Or perhaps they don't enjoy that a given specialist is a 'requirement' to achieve success. These are typically voiced opinions stemming from class-based games.
It is only natural that when one gets frustrated, they witness the symptoms and make an association. 'We can never find a tank, why should they even be needed? Abolish the tanking concept!' But we know better, because we understand the inherent, fundamental need for tanking in a combat-based mini-game. The flaw in the game design here would not be the trinity concept, but the designed system requiring a certain, fixed setup of various classes and abilities that the choice gamer has difficulty with.
When one seeks to abolish an aspect of the trinity, they stand the chance to succeed at disguising its presence, at most. A game with no healing will still have respawns. A game with shared healing merely makes it a common denominator to all. The solution is not in trying to dig deeper, but build higher.
Don't Damage My Healing Hands! You'll Tank Me Later!
Even if it were possible to completely remove an aspect of the trinity, would it be a game worth playing? If all healing were removed, we'd run around taking potshots at each other until we all had no health remaining. When the game ended, it would end. If we had no tanking, effectively we'd have 1shot 1kill with a respawn concept for healing. This would result in being in a corpse camped situation in any given FPS as the entirety of the game. If we had no damage, we'd all run around with a tanking concept and healing concept utterly useless because there would be no negative interactions between players.
If we were crazy enough to continue to think of ways to remove parts of the trinity and reduced it to a single component, we'd end up with nothing whatsoever. What good is tanking if no damage exists to remove health and no healing to put it back? What good is damage if no one can reset health, much less has any health to begin with? And what good is healing if no one is taking health away from anyone else, much less has any health at all to actually heal?
Houston, No Problem! We Have a Solution
Take a class-based game that uses roles as a starting design point for classes. In a very simplistic view, each class will have a main role, performed in a certain way, with a secondary capability.
- Tank that is capable to backup heal
- Tank that is capable to backup damage
- Damage that is capable to backup tank
- Damage that is capable to backup heal
- Healing that is capable to backup tank
- Healing that is capable to backup damage
As the game's designer, I generate a need for 6 person groups (future post inc on group size vs class/spec options). Furthermore, I design PvP and PvE content both to be balanced around a loose requirement for 2 tanks, 2 damage, 2 healers. How many various combinations can I come up with to achieve these ends? Because I have designed both the inter-class capabilities in harmony with my content requirements, it is doubtful anyone will be disappointed they cannot find a group due to meta-game mechanics. Everybody wins.
Stick a Fork in It
This is combat and its basics. More can be applied. And future posts will detail as much. The take-away here being that the trinity will never disappear, it is the lowest common denominator. And if you can't get out of using it, get into using it. Build the concept up. Make various forms of healing, of tanking, of damage- more flavors for people to experiment. Sure, ice cream companies can make a living off of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but there's no reason not to incorporate more concepts, flavors. True innovation involves breaking things down to the lowest level, then building them up into something new. The trick, where true genius lies, is knowing where to cease the former, and commence the latter.
Upcoming posts in this series: combat derivatives, combat derivative derivatives, and how it all comes together.