Friday, September 12, 2008

The Random Encounter

I've been playing a little Final Fantasy 3 on the DS. For those not familiar with the old Final Fantasy games, a lot of the it involves running around in an area and basically waiting for randomly generated mobs to attack you. The mobs that pop up to attack are specific to the area your traveling in, but you the encounter could happen every 2 feet or every 20, it's completely random as to when you'll have to fight again.

This got me thinking. There is no random encounters in MMO's. Most games will have a specific area where the skeletons, bears, wolves or treants spawn, so you know where to go to kill what you need to complete quest X. Some people might argue that there are a few random elite mobs that will spawn, but even they have a specific area where they hang out, so all you have to do is wait for them to spawn. The randomness is even dumbed down more because most MMO's will show you, using highlighted areas on a map or arrows, where you can complete the quest. Basically, developers are leading you around by the nose.

Wouldn't it be nice if the game just rolled a 20 sided dice behind a cardboard DM screen and what ever the game rolled is what would pop up in front of you as you strolled thru the woods or as you creep around a dungeon? Sure, it would be mobs that would inhabit that area, but it would be completely random and players would have to think on their feet. No posting of video strats or long blogs about how to kill your way to the end boss.

But in the mean time, we have world RvR in WAR. It's pretty random. You don't know how big of a contingent you will encounter, what kind of careers or even what levels they will be untill you start to engage them. Skill will also have a lot to do with success since most can get gear that is pretty evenly matched through renown levels.

So until devs find a way to pull out the old DM Screens and 20 sided dice, we'll have to just enjoy the random encounters in WAR.


  1. Other than us old RPG guys, I think what players want are random encounters that don't feel random. We don't want DIKU-style graphical MMOs where MOBs will always spawn in the same spot over an over again. Ultima Online had a fairly decent random encounter system. Well, randomly generated mobs. Star Wars Galaxies boasted that their mob generation system was very random. The "lair" idea there was interesting.

    In WAR, the mob system doesn't bother me too much. I do like that they've designed MOBs to be engaged in tasks (i.e. killing enemy mobs, chewing on carcases). But the main reason I don't mind them is because they aren't my sole means of leveling. Other than quests, I'll do more leveling and advancement in OQs and scenarios.

    But...a decent randomly encounter generator is definitely missing in today's MMOs.

  2. I think Random encounters are what the next gen needs to have. I want to be surprised. Looking up how to kill a boss mob or looking at video, kind of defeats the purpose to a true MMO feel. I want it to be a virtual world, not a world where I know where everything is or know the weakness of the dragon.

    Opera event in WoW is a good example of trying to work out a random encounter, but that is just one example. All dungeons should have 4 or 5 random mobs that pop for each major encounter. That would keep everything fresh to some extent.

  3. Well there's random, and then there's random.

    Would I like a MMO that played like an old-school RPG where random groups of unrelated mobs (2 giant ants, a skeleton and wyvern) popped up every couple minutes as I travelled to attack me?

    Not really.

    That's randomness as a lazy designer's busy work, filling in the world with repetitive "speed bumps" to slow the player down. After a while it's nothing but annoying.

    Worse, random encounters like that can be an impediment to players creatively using their skills. You're generally either able to tackle whatever randomly pops up or you try to run away.

    The advantage of figuring out roughly what and where mobs are is that it gives the player an opportunity come up with a way to use their skills to overcome them. Especially solo, it becomes somewhat of a tactical puzzle -- ok, there 4 mobs, I can't kill them all in a up front fight, ok, I'll do this stun this mob, then kill this mob, then use this trinket, then...

    On the flip side, I'll agree that the fun disappears if you keep hitting the same content over and over. If the first mob is always this and always spawn here, it does get boring.

    So I'm totally in favor of the addition of deliberatly designed random elements. The Opera event in Kara in WOW is a good example. You're not fighting a random collection of mobs that appear unexpectedly, you're randomly getting one of several very carefully designed events -- whichever one you get still totally makes sense and fits perfectly into the environment. There a bunch of other minor examples in WoW -- such as opening the Ethereum prisons in Netherstorm releasing a random enemy, the summoning crystals in Silithus and Ogrila that summon random bosses, etc. This could be extended greatly. The only problem is this approach requires more design time rather than less.

  4. The ability to think on your feet is a creative skill as well. There is no creativity if you know how to defeat the dragon, you just bring the right equipment, spend a few minutes following the video and boom, dead dragon.

    MMO's have their own set of speed bumps. Leveling is a speed bump, acquiring gear is a speed bump, questing is a speed bump. But knowing where to kill a mob for a quest, isn't a speed bump, all you have to do is go where X marks the Map kill mob get update for quest, repeat. What is the fun in that?

    I'm just asking for the mobs you find to be more random. At least make the rare epic ones show up in odd places, or different zones. Increase the types of random specialty mobs so you get excited when you find one. Sure it would be nice if they boss mobs in Dungeon's also were random, but thats not easily done.

    I think the next gen game will require more design time rather than less. They need to impress us, shake it up, do things not being done.