EverQuest Next – Mob AI and the Love of Wandering

It’s time for mobs to use their mental and traveling pathways to add some danger back into your life.
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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.



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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.



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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
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/3171"> style="">previous EverQuest
Next

articles style=""> you may
have missed! If you’ve got questions, old-school aspects
you’d like me to
cover, or anything in between, href="mailto:[email protected]"> style="">shoot me an email style=""> or href="https://twitter.com/Dalmarus"> style="">hit me up on Twitter style="">!



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