Posted Tue, Feb 12, 2013 by Sardu
In today's thrilling installment of WildStar Week, we take a look at how WildStar successfully iterates on the past, ponders the present, and ultimately present us with an insight into the future of MMO combat.
The concept of telegraphy has been around in Europe since 1792 in the form of semaphore* lines, with the first successful electronic telegraph transmission occuring in 1837 by none other than Samuel Morse. The concept at the time was to create a more direct means of communication between two individuals – a holy grail that is still being chased today. Even though the methods and technology has changed a heck of a lot over the past couple of centuries, the end goals have largely remained the same.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about combat in WildStar is that the game manages to take MMO combat boldly into the future by extracting this same key goal out of our collective past. Just like the original telegraph system, in WildStar, telegraphs are a very direct means of communicating information between combat participants.
There have actually been some very interesting evolutionary concepts at work that have brought us up to this point. While there are plenty of subtle elements that have contributed over the years, below I’ve whipped up a brief overview of the key beats along the path leading us into the future that WildStar helps represent.
Back when you had to play MMOs uphill both ways through a foot of snow, there really wasn’t a lot of visual feedback given to players to aide them in combat. If you came from the EQ side of the MMO family tree, you likely remember having to spam the F8 key which was mapped to “/con” your target. In other words, you didn’t even really know what level it was in comparison to your own character without using the hotkey or a basic /con command in the chat window.
For example, a red /con would give you a chat message reading, “Jabober would probably wipe the floor with you” in bold red text.
Not long before World of Warcraft broke wind onto the MMO scene we began seeing targeting circles or rings appearing in more and more games. These helped provide some better visual feedback that – even if tab targeting would show your target’s level – would help keep you paying attention to the action on-screen and not spending all of your time online caressing the UI with your eyeballs.
This also helped many gamers free their eyes up for much more important tasks such as shooting laser beams, flipping out at how HOLYEFFINGMOTHEROFCRAPAWESOME that one video of some dude’s kitten was, watching pr0n, and of course, reading the ever living snot out of Ten Ton Hammer; all very worthy pursuits, naturally.
The original Spell Alert addon for WoW marked another important turning point. While some players – myself included – felt that Spell Alert helped kill competitive PvP by forcing players to use an addon or be receiving gimped feedback compared to those who used it, ultimately Blizzard felt the addon was worthy of ganking and adding to the core game UI.
As time passed, one thing lead to another, and the next thing you know MMO gamers had an all new rallying cry on the epic scale of “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Only in this case, it was a bit more blunt; “Don’t stand in the fire!”
When I was a kid, we learned all about Stop, Drop, and Roll, but I still knew plenty of kids in my town who suffered some pretty major burn injuries. The government can say all it wants about the ill effects of video games on society, but I swear to random higher powers that there is a generation growing up at this very moment who’s lives will be saved thanks to learning “Don’t Stand in the Fire” instead of Stop, Drop, and Roll.
Another example of this would be my childhood hero, Mr. Yuk. Obviously his true purpose in life – helping to warn children not to drink poison – was lost on my generation as well. Mind you, I’ve never knowingly ingested poison (not counting the food served in my college cafeteria). Call me crazy, but I equate Mr. Yuk with any of my other childhood heroes including Underdog, Mighty Mouse, or Mr. Greenjeans, to name a few. But otherwise his purpose of warning against ingesting household poisons never really stuck.
Long story long, you would think that “don’t stand in the fire” is direct enough that gamers would simply get the concept and move on. What’s incredibly hilarious to me is that they really haven’t. **
Thus comes the next major milestone on the combat feedback timeline: the ground-targeted spell indicator. This is kind of like a hybrid of all the systems that came before it mentioned here. The funny thing is that ground targeted AoE skills have been a staple of the genre since the very beginning, but it hasn’t been until much more recently that this feedback has been properly factored into combat from both sides (caster and target) in a more direct, visual sense.
At this point I bet you’re thinking, “Sardu, story time is great and all, but what the hell does Mr. Yuk, burnt children, and Jabober wiping the floor with you have to do with WildStar?”
Excellent question, and bonus points to any of you who were already thinking that exact phrase prior to reading it above. Your bonus points will be hand delivered shortly in plain brown packaging similar to that used for Can-D. Double bonus points if you can explain the obscure sci-fi reference of Can-D in the comments below.
As many of you know, there has been a major trend away from 100-slot-action-bar-whack-a-mole combat in MMOs. Instead, many recent and still-in-development titles are borrowing heavily from action gaming for their combat systems, WildStar being among them.
But what makes WildStar's approach to "action combat" different?
While there are plenty of more subtle factors involved (which we'll be expanding on later this week), if you've been paying attention so far, the telegraph system is key here. Combined with an active dodging system similar to the one currently used in Guild Wars 2, telegraphs help turn combat in WildStar into more of a cosmic dance than a boring dice roll. The team at Carbine is also big on iterative game design, so telegraphs also come in plenty of shapes and sizes.
Thus, getting a feel for those invoked by your active skills becomes one of the most important things to master early on. While certainly not a new concept in and of itself, the telegraph system is just one of the many ways WildStar helps keep MMO combat feeling vital, immersive, and most of all fun.
If you're interested in learning more about what makes WildStar tick, we've dubbed this WildStar Week here on Ten Ton Hammer, so be sure to check back each day for a fresh look at various aspects of the game. We'll also be rolling out plenty of new info, culminating tomorrow with a first ever look at the enemy faction of the Exiles, its playable races, and an all new class reveal.
*A semaphore presentation of this article is available upon request.
**No children were burned or poisoned during the creation of this article.