EverQuest Next – Mob AI and the Love of Wandering

Posted Wed, Aug 21, 2013 by Dalmarus

Since its initial reveal at SOE Live this year, we’ve heard a lot about the AI (artificial intelligence) of the mobs in EverQuest Next. I hope the team can deliver on its promises because I’m pretty excited about them and let’s face it – mob AI has generally been beyond stupid for over a decade now. This, despite the original EverQuest having some pretty interesting takes on mob behavior. In fact, there are some aspects of that AI system that we need to see make a return.
One of the (many) things that bugs me about most current games is that no matter what, a mob will never try to get away once it’s engaged in combat. Why? On a fundamental level, it doesn’t make any sense. Rather than stand there trying to kill a player, even when it’s obvious the battle is not going their way, why don’t mobs turn around and run away? Well guess what. Back in the day, they actually did.
Despite the limitations of programming and computer power in the late 1990s, the AI of individual mob types appeared far more thoughtful than what most mob AI consists of today. Sure, there are games that have healer mobs that bolster their buddies, but at the end of the day, you know they’re still going to stand right where they are until one of you is dead.
In EverQuest, most mobs would turn around and run when they got down to 20% health. If left uncontrolled, the amount of wrath this could bring down on a group was nearly limitless. It was bad enough when it happened on the surface, in a large and open zone area. When it happened in the depths of a dungeon, it could very easily spell disaster for not only your party, but everyone else in the same dungeon. While that mob was running away from you at full speed (it would slow down the lower you got its health), it was also aggroing everything around it. The trains this could cause were epic, to say the least.

Not every mob was like this though. Some would only run away if they were the only mob fighting with you. Others would stay and fight as long as any other mob was engaged in the fight. Others still would only stay to the bitter end if there were another mob of the same type embroiled in the battle. For example, a goblin might stay in a fight if another goblin was attacking you at the same time, but would run off when it hit 20% health, even if a skeleton had come along and joined the battle. At the same time, a wolf may see a fight through to the end no matter else was attacking you, but would turn and run if it were by itself. Mobs such as any undead would never run, and why should they? They’re undead.
The system may have been implemented over a decade ago, but for me, it still added more depth than we see in games today. It took players time to learn the behavioral patterns of each mob when they started hunting in a new zone. For me, this was half the fun of exploring new zones and dungeons. You never knew just what type of fights you were going to find yourself embroiled in.
Keeping the above system in mind, imagine this in a zone that was wide open, but had a constant random sampling of wandering mobs. Rather than always following the same path, these mobs were also programmed to start in a direction a set number of degrees in addition to the last mob that spawned from that point. This meant that you constantly had different mobs coming in from varying divergent paths on a regular basis. Combine this with the need to sit for significant amounts of time in order to heal up and regain mana and you added yet another element of interest in the game. With very few exceptions, finding a safe spot to camp and hunt from was not an easy task because you never knew when some mob was going to wander by and clean your clock while you were still recovering from the last battle.
Now to be fair, if the system only worked as I described it above, that would kind of suck – always having to be standing by ready to DPS burn a mob as quickly as possible every single time it got to 20% would get old quickly. Once again though, the EverQuest team designed multiple game mechanics that all relied on each other. In this case, enter the power of class imbalance, but specialized roles.

Enchanters may have had a hellish time trying to fight anything on their own past level 5, but there was no other class in the game that could keep complete and utter control over a large-scale fight. By keeping various mobs mezzed (frozen) for significant amounts of time, it allowed the group to take down mobs efficiently and quickly. I think the art of crowd control (it really was an art) has been lost over the years. It needs to come back.
Along with an Enchanter, a Druid or Necromancer was invaluable in these groups as well. I’ll go ahead and stir up a little controversy here… Druids were good for snares (being able to slow a mob’s run speed down significantly), but Necromancer’s were even better. Sadly, a lot of people didn’t group with Necros since they had a reputation of being a solo class, but we were so much more. Why do I think we were better at snaring? Easy – it’s called the Engulfing Darkness line of spells. Not only were they a DoT (damage over time), but the spell had an additional ability that the Druid snares did not. A mob would turn to run at 20% or so. Depending on the mob, the Engulfing Darkness line of spells caused it to stop dead in its tracks once it hit 15-10% health. That may not sound like much, but in a tight dungeon, having a mob stop on a dime rather than continuing to move forward (even slowly), was a massive benefit.
With all we’ve heard about the amazing AI that’s supposed to control each individual mob in EverQuest Next, I’m pretty damned excited. Personally, I hope we see a return of some AI behavior that makes true crowd control a valued skill again. Of course, that’s not the only thing I want to see a return of. There are plenty of other topics. Like the need for stats to actually matter, for example. Back in the day, it took forever to find your first magic item and that sole addition of +1 it granted your strength was great. But as usual, that’s a topic for next week!
While you wait for next week’s piece, catch up on any previous EverQuest Next articles you may have missed! If you’ve got questions, old-school aspects you’d like me to cover, or anything in between, shoot me an email or hit me up on Twitter!

I would point out that learning mob behavior BEFORE the pull was just as (and in some ways MORE) important as understanding mob behavior AFTER the pull... maybe not for all classes - but for those of us that played pulling classes, it was absolutely critical to understand things like:

- General respawn time. This was a "feeling" good pullers had in their mind. You didn't watch a clock, you more or less (through experience) "knew" that respawns were going to happen within a few seconds. You learned that respawn times from camp to camp may vary.

- Which mobs in a camp patrolled through the camp - and how often.

- What the relative agro ranges of different mobs in the camp were. You absolutely needed to know which mobs would come if you pulled a mob, and which ones would not... so that you knew which ones you needed to pacify / harmony / whatever and which ones you did not.

- Mob type by mob name prefix. It did you very little good to cast something on a caster so that you agro'd it and just expect it to follow you. It wouldn't - it would stand there and try to cast at you until you did something to break line of sight or range of spells. Just as important (maybe MORE important) you needed to also know things like "that mob will yell for help as soon as I pull it"... so again, understanding mob behavior by mob type before the pull... CRITICAL

- Which mobs could snare you or root you... or could increase their own speed, etc... it did you very little good to pull the ONE mob in a group that could stop you in your tracks.

- etc...

Summing it up: PULLING required a different type of crowd control before the fight - but it was still crowd control... and was stripped out of MMO's even before the other, more recognized form of crowd control. Because right from the launch of games like EQ II and WoW, you mostly just had your tank pull - and then dealt with the mobs when they reached you.

Crowd control after the pull started to die and be eliminated when game developers caved in to DPS meters... where people just cared about laying down the hurt - and breaking CC everywhere. Rather than doing something to correct the behavior of those types of players - game developers just made CC not necessary.

I do miss this aspect; To Wandidar comment; My enchanter absolutely kept a nice big digital clock on top of my display. the minutes for the respawns and seconds for my mezz recasts. Keeping 5+ mobs in lockdown took precision that you couldn't afford a slip up. leaving a 4s gap between each mobs cast to allow for fizzle or fail.

I will say that one time in Seb, I managed to mezz myself... it was quite embarassing.

OH I'm sure chanters kept stuff down to the second. No room for error there at all.

Pulling was a little different... there was an art to understanding the spawns and being able to always keeping the next mob arriving for the group just as the last one was dying...

And there was a LITTLE more leeway... If I screwed up a pull, I could just run back close enough to the group so they could recover my corpse easily without allowing the mobs to agro the group.

We've all done embarrassing things. I can't tell you how many times I switched targeting to myself to cast my piddly little ranger heal on me - saw whatever mob I was killing break root... and cast root again without re-targeting the mob.

Embarrassing indeed!

I love these articles, thank you again :)

In regards to Enchanters being able to solo; I loved solo'ing with my Enchanter. There is something satisfying about lulling a group of bandits, pull one, charming it, pulling another and having them beef it out. Then killing the charm before the second mob dies and killing them both for full xp. Was it difficult? It could be. Was it rewarding? Yes. Was it exciting and fun? Most definitely.

My hope for EQN; intuitive combat options like that!

Please, yes! Current AI in most MMOs is really, really stupid and makes combat more or less boring imho. Some offline games show that it can be done differently. And even in MMOs we had better examples. I don't know about the original EQ. But Ryzom featured a pretty good AI. Sometimes even scary and brutal.

again alittle nitpick, druid/ranger/wizard snares also stopped them dead when they hit a certain % life,
in certain situations you didnt want necros/sks to snare if the mobs also would need a mez to overcome a specific spell cast or a different scenario :)

Hmmm... my memory must be fuzzy then because I remember being in one particular group and I was ready to kill the druid because she kept overriding my Engulfing Darkness line with her snares. Maybe the Necro's ED line stopped them in their tracks at a higher percentage than the Druid's? That might have been it...

Thanks for the info. Now I'm going to go sit in a corner all night and wonder if I've lost my marbles. ;)

I've never understood why in current games, the mobs will fight you to the death regardless if they are getting a butt whooping. Most any group in EQ always had some way to either snare or root a fleeing mob. If you didn't, I hope you had some serious DPS to keep it from straying too far. For me, I think EQ was well ahead of it's time in programming and AI simply for features such as this. Everyone had to play their role, know what the mobs would do when pulled and when they would flee. One thing I never did understand though is why mobs that were greyed out would still chase you. Even those poor little level 4 skeletons would chase a level 50+. One stare would kill it but it would die trying. I can understand their animosity towards the players but come on, it's like walking out in front of an oncoming train and expecting to survive. Nobody can be that dumb! :)

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