MMO Mechanics & You: Spell Casting

In this edition of MMO Mechanics & You, we take a look at a game mechanic that has remained stale for over a decade – spell casting.

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style="">MMO Mechanics &
You is all about taking a look at the game mechanics of yesteryear that
refuse
to go away or be altered. It’s almost 2014 and some systems
have remained
untouched since the late 1990s. It’s time for a change, and
I’m here to suggest
some ways developers can go about it. 


Welcome
to our first edition of MMO Mechanics & You.
I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a spell caster
at heart. I love playing
caster classes of all kinds and have for as long as I can remember.
Even the
very first Dungeons & Dragons character I created back in 1982
was a Mage.
It comes as no surprise to me that even now, those are still my
favorite
characters to play. And while Dungeons & Dragons is the magic
system I’m
most intimately familiar with, there are plenty of others in the pen
and paper
world that have done things differently and to great success. Which pen
and
paper magic system is the best of them all (at least in my opinion)?
Shadowrun
2nd
Edition. 

In
Dungeons & Dragons, spell casters initially came in
two flavors (Mage and Cleric) and each of them needed to memorize or
pray for
their respective spells. During the course of the next day, any spells
they
cast were then unusable and any they did not cast by the end of the day
were
wiped from their minds. Over the years, the magic system changed and
now each
character has various “at-will” spells to ensure
those characters are as viable
at first level as a Fighter. Trust me… being a level one
mage could be pretty
boring after casting your single spell for the day.

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In
Shadowrun, magic use takes a bit of a different route.
Once spells are learned, they can (in theory) be cast continually as
long as
that player makes a successful willpower check. There are a number of
variables
that come into play, but to keep it simple, let’s just say
that if the player
fails to make a successful check, they start taking mental damage. This
can
even lead into the realm of taking physical damage if the mage in
question
pushes themselves too far. It may seem like a dumb idea to try, but
what if
your party member is going to die unless you get X spell off and
it’s a doozy?
There are a lot of different situations that come up with this system
and it’s
one of the things that has always fascinated me about it. 

I
can see the confusion in your eyes right now. What the
hell has any of this got to do with all the dried rose petals in
Raistlin’s bag
of spell components when we’re supposed to be talking about
MMOs? Well I’m glad
you asked. There is no “end all, be all” magic
system in the pen and paper
world, yet when it comes to MMOs, the majority of developers out there
have
chosen to go with a one-size-fits-all mentality and personally, I think
it’s
high time for a change. 

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For
years, it has become popular to have action-oriented
game mechanics for melee combatants, but what about their
spell-slinging
brethren? We’re tired of hitting hotkey 1 to cast X and
hotkey 2 to cast Y.
Millions of players around the world are familiar with first-person
spell
casting systems such as those in Skyrim
and Dark
Messiah of Might & Magic
.
By this method, players pre-select a spell (or spells) to cast and do
so with
the click of a button while running around. An upcoming RPG called style="">Lichdom
has been gathering steam in the
gaming community and appears to use a similar casting system. 

While
I think this would be a point in the right
direction for developers to implement, I want to take it even farther.
In 2002,
a company from France called Arkane Studios released what had the
potential to one
of the greatest first-person RPGs of all time. It was called style="">Arx Fatalis
and even though it suffered
from a sad number of story-breaking (and thus progression breaking)
bugs, it
was still a masterpiece. The crowning jewel of the game was its magic
system
and it’s one I desperately want to see implemented in an MMO. 

Magic
in Arx Fatalis was all about runes. Runes of
different variations were combined to create individual spells. The
more runes
you had, the wider your spell library became. We’ve seen this
in various
single-player games since and that portion of casting systems still
works
today. What hasn’t been done since though is the method
spells were cast. 

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In
order for Arx Fatalis players to cast a spell, they
had to use their mouse to draw runic symbols in the air. The game
added the
additional flair of speaking the rune name when you drew it correctly.
Some
spells only required you to draw two runes, but the more powerful
spells
required three. There was one incredibly powerful spell that required
four. For
those that thought the system was too complicated to use in combat, you
could
“pre-cast” up to three spells. Those would be
stored and consumed as you used
them. 

Players
talk about the need for skill in games all the
time. Think about the thrill you’d get by being a master of
drawing your runes
in the air during the heat of combat. I can easily see the lines being
drawn in
the sand between those that think it would be too brutal and penalizing
and
those that love it for being exciting and challenging… like
corpse runs. 

What’s
your take on it? Do you think we’re
overdue for a spell casting overhaul? If so, what are some ideas
you’d like to
see implemented?

   


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