Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Third Leg Is Required

.. as a minimum to balance any object. The trinity concept provides that balance, but so much more. It is not the end-all-be-all (nor should it be used in such a way in any design), but it is the stability needed for bigger things.

At the conclusion of the last post in the series, I asserted how symmetrical, singular warfare gives birth to asymmetrical tactics. In a group environment, this same desire to outmaneuver the opponent manifests. The difference here is that the singular entities that form a group can specialize.

Separate Roads, Same Destination

This desire to flank can be see in any competition. The key difference between singular combat and group is that a group does not need to sacrifice between efficiency, capability, and flexibility the way a singular entity does.

This might depict a group of Jacks trying to achieve stability can only extend so far in any direction as they are cemented around their point of origin. The asset to this setup is the ability to shift quickly to perform any role. The downside is the role, when being performed, is decreased in magnitude.

A group of specialists inherently can remain stable in more adverse environments as their points of origin provide legs of stability for the group. The asset to this setup is the range of environments they are able to traverse. The downside is if any one leg falls, the system has difficulty remaining balanced.

The same concept of specialization occurs in a group environment as it does in a singular. When a point of balance is established based on design point parameters, specializations will hover their collective center of mass around it. An individual cannot stray far, as they must remain personally balanced. However, given that groups are a collection of individuals, the range and manner in which specialization is achieved can truly become creative. Given more numbers, the further an individual can roam from the collective center point in their specialization.

A Small Detour

When someone logs into a [modern] class-based, role-filling game, level 1 begins with the player alone. They learn their surroundings, their own abilities, their pitfalls. Over time, they are introduced to group play concepts. A key complaint (in raiding) is a desire to do more than just 1 role. 'I didn't sign up for this'. Oh, but you did.

Every player is akin to a single cell. This cell is entirely self-sufficient, but only in a singular scene. Because of the race to flank, it is only natural to expand into a group of similar cells. In a group, this cell begins to operate in the function of a tissue. In a larger group, this cell begins to operate in the function of an organ. It is still the same cell, but increased numbers results in increased need for specialization.

Strength in Numbers

Individuals need groups. Because there is a limit to how far a person can reach in any one direction, their capability to perform any specific function is limited. It's also no surprise that groups need individuals. However, the way in which that need manifests is unlike that of the individual who needs a group.

Groups desire subject matter experts. The way efficiencies work, groups look to add people to perform a needed function within that group. The larger the group, the more pertinent a singular task becomes. The capability of the group increases, but the efficiency drops. The whole draw to forming a group is that the gain outweighs the loss. In order for this to be achieved, the expertise, in a given area or role, of the newly arrived needs to be as high as possible. The stipulations are so stringent, and the gains so minimal, but yet billions of dollars are spent to achieve this very thing.

So Why The Trinity?

This specialization can, and should, be applied to more than just the trinity. The series has spoken to the fundamental roles of combat, and the derivatives thereof. The trinity has been the springboard for examples used throughout. However, these very concepts can be applied to utility, as well as (de)buffing and logistics. They should not be limited to just the trinity.

However, as the first post established, the trinity is the bottom line, and physical combat does not occur without each of those three. Logistics brings you up to that point, utility does not disallow it, (de)buffing permits it, but the trinity is where combat manifests. This is why the roles of tanking, damage dealing, and healing are made into overarching roles that people step into via class-based systems, ship-design, talent-specialization, shooter-choice, etc. It is almost cyclic reasoning, but because of everything mentioned throughout the series until this point, the stage for why can be understood.

And For My Next Skit..

Build roles into the architecture that people can readily fill. Build the need for a tank, a damage, a healer. But also build the need for an interrupter, a buffer, a portalier, a hybrid, a scout. Don't limit yourself to the trinity, but whatever you do, don't fail to include it. Diverse gameplay is defined by the number of options available to the player- don't arbitrarily reduce that number.

The Three Kings. Don't leave home (or your MMORPG design table) without them.

Previous posts in this series: combat fundamentals, combat derivatives, combat derivative derivatives, and how it all
Upcoming posts in this series: HT design points(bonus)


  1. Still in disagreement about the how the trinity should work in a group setting. The group does not require 3 specialists.

    If 5 individuals in a group can all simultaneously fill the role of tank/heal/dps, then encounters can be more diverse in games. The interdependence can be focused on the difficulty of the creature, not the sheer need for a tank regardless of how otherwise trivial the creature might be. Therefore, specialization is *not* a requisite to trinity mechanics. It's simply how it's been used so far.

  2. Thanks for the patience to hear me to the end of my assertion, Doone. Thank you for your critical voice.

    I established how the roles of the trinity were the fundamentals for combat. I then show how asymmetrical warfare gives birth to specializations inside of a group setting. The logical jump I make is that the matching of the fundamental roles with specializations is the natural evolution, giving maximum gameplay options. This jump I make is not a requirement, that is for sure and you state as much. I introduce the anti-argument: why not make that logical jump? The more options given to the gamer, the more involving the gameplay, no?
    Quick example: an older FPS w/o healers. Self-buffing exists through power-ups, everyone deals damage and tanks damage. There are no healers, so the tactics everyone adopts do not include this consideration. By reducing the options of play, gamers can increase knowledge of what to expect, and gameplay becomes MORE predictable. A prediction: GW2 will experience pushback from the genre as a whole (including non-HT sympathetics) because the gameplay regressed, not progressed.

    The flip side of this is not the design of classes or niches that align to the roles of the trinity, but the mechanics that call for their usage. I've touched on this in the series as well, and will provide additional examples for the extra post in the series.

    Lastly, mindless application of a bare minimum doesn't appeal to many (hi Lotus!). The goal should always be to provide unique, distinct, valid options to approach any problem- in an MMORPG this means not arbitrarily cutting the trinity, and equally not limiting roles to it.

    Something to consider: should the gaming base not enter an encounter with some level of expectation of what to bring? There's a scale with 'blindsided' on one side, and 'predictable' on the other, with 'dynamic' somewhere in between. I'm saying bring a healthy blend of everything, you're saying make everyone a hybrid. Clearly there is a middle ground in which both views are satisfied.

  3. Yes I think there is a middle ground I'd like to find it if we can.

    Adventure is all about the unknown. It's *not* knowing what to expect. To this end, RPGs must avoid gameplay which becomes predictable. The *only* way, imho, is to give the choice of how to play to the player, avoid caste (class) systems, and keep variety in the gameplay. Some examples are in order.

    Skyrim will do, because it's the latest and greatest of the RPGs out there. Trinity mechanisms exist here, but it is solely up to the player how he will approach any given encounter. Furthermore, each encounter will generally require different tactics. So in one dungeon I'm fighting someone with low armor, a fight that favors the melee fighter. In another dungeon I'm fighting a vampire, where magic is a superior tactic. In this way, the world in which the player is immersed influences the best ways to play. Most importantly, there is no single "best" way to approach the game. Specialization will work just as well as hybridization. The focus is on the tactics, not combat philosophies, which is where the heart of the trinity lies.

    Forcing players into specializations, which is exactly what classes do, decreases variety as you said. I fail to see how this is ever a good thing. Variety should be balanced on the scale only up to the point where it becomes overwhelming. Until then, the overarching gameplay is what should dictate how the player approaches any given aspect.

    If we really want to continue to see interesting games, it's paramount that players are taught through playing only to expect the unexpected. No, I do not believe players should know what's around that corner, when the dragon will deep breath, and especially not to what to bring. Trial and error is part of the intrigue, that experimentation, that experience gained only through curiousity.

    A healthy blend of "everything" should be strictly up to the player. The holy trinity, as it's used in games today, is the surest way to make a game boring because it takes away the adventure aspect. If players know what to expect, what is there to gain from playing?

  4. We've gone from component identification to design here, which will undoubtedly spawn opinion. I think we seek to achieve the same ends, via different means. Predictability is the main culprit, but I would advocate for a class system to achieve dynamic play.

    A healthy blend of "everything" should be strictly up to the player
    My reasoning is that the roles of tanking, damage, healing, (de)buffing, utility and logistics will undoubtedly be present. And if they are, one might as well design around them, rather than attempt to ignore them.

    Forcing players into specializations, which is exactly what classes do, decreases variety
    I don't advocate people being one trick ponies, as current HT implementations would suggest. People should be able to fill more than a single role, even if one is chosen as a primary. I am advocating that a playerbase have a general feel for the gamut of what would be asked of them, nothing particular, but able to cover all bases should the need for one arise. JLA all perform the same roles, but the encounters sure vary in nature. SF A-teams face extreme variances in missions. The ability to create dynamic content is a back-end one, having nothing to do with the structure of player choices (in terms of class or classless) at login.

    No, I do not believe players should know what's around that corner
    I couldn't agree more, so long as the player isn't completely blindsided. Building frustration for frustration's sake isn't being creative. I should be able to show up to an encounter and be prepared to use everything in my personal arsenal, everything in my collective arsenal, and a general gist of who to bring- nothing beyond this. I should expect a certain amount of damage to head my way, I should expect to have to deal damage. I should expect to be ready to recover from damage. I should expect to be able to modify my own outputs and that of the enemy. I should expect to use utility at some point. But I shouldn't know where or when or how any of the above will transpire, if at all! I just don't want to repeatedly show up to black tie affairs in my beach gear because I wasn't told what kind of party it was going to be. Does that make sense?

    it's paramount that players are taught through playing only to expect the unexpected
    When the setup of who I bring becomes formulaic, it's time to change it up, absolutely agreed. But that is, again, dictated by the demands based on design. But like you say, and I couldn't agree more.

    Specialization will work just as well as hybridization.
    Depending on how a designer creates the demands, I agree.

    I have a confession: I'm a class-fan because of several things. First, I wholly enjoy different combat mechanics (LoL) and in a classless game, incorporating those would be problematic to say the least. This is unrelated to the HT.
    Secondly, classes provide structure to the chaos [of encounters]. We don't drift into structure, we drift into chaos, and having inherent roles helps with maintaining that structure. Else we all show up secretly wanting/expecting to dps and no one wants to stand up and perform crowd control etc.

    I have broken down all aspects of combat, then go on to explain how asymmetrical warfare is born, complete with how a group makes effective use of this concept via individual specialization (concession: a design point). The range of encounters I can traverse as a default is greater, the problem is when I allow expectations to become predictable, but this is neither here nor there where [HT] class design is concerned.