Friday, September 16, 2011

The Gambit Design

Have you ever played Final Fantasy 12?  It was not really a great game when compared to all the other FF games but it did introduce something called Gambits to many people.  Most people that know how to code looked at gambits as coding because that is basically what it is.  It was coding exposed to the player to design player reactions.

When you code games you can do them linear like wow does for the most part or you can do them conditional like FF12 did.

For example you could set up a gambit for one of your characters to cast case cure on someone if they are below 20%, 30%, or 40% or whatever you decide.  You could set it up to automatically revive someone if they died so you did not need to do it.  You could set it up so it would always automatically rebuff you if the buff was gone and you where not in battle.  It basically played the game for you to an extent.

Allowing the player to do that in WoW would basically take all the game out of WoW.  Top gambit systems would be set up for the ideal rotations for all DPS and people would just turn on their gambits at the start off the fight and let them do the fight for them.  So no, that is not what I am talking about when I am bringing up the gambit design. 

I do not want automatic battle.  For FF12 it was fine when grinding.  Instead of controlling three characters you just set up their conditions on when to do certain things and let them have at it.  If something different needed to be done you would manually override whatever the gambit had told it to do and that was that.

What I think Blizzard could learn from the gambit system is how to make boss design a little more interesting.

As it is currently, boss design is linear.  From 100%-80% boss does abilities A, B and C.  From 79% to 50% it has an add phase.  From 49% to 25% it has ability A, B and C again.  From 24% to 0% it increases attack speed 100% and only ability C remains but it is twice as dangerous.

Something like that.  Every boss has a pattern.  Every boss is linear just like the new questing.  When you do a boss and learn the fight you have done it and learned it for life.  There will never be any changes.  Sure the random number generator might play a few games on the group and causes a wipe here and there but once you know a fight the fight becomes second nature.  It is not going to change ever.  That is what the fight is, nothing more, nothing less.

With adding the gambit design to boss design it would change the game completely.  Even after you downed a boss the next time you where on it the fight could be completely different depending on what gambits are triggered be it accidentally or intentional on the part of the people doing it.

The gambit design would allow the game to have different levels of difficulty without much coding needed.  Gambits such as...

If all players have defeated this boss ---- buff defense by 20%
If all players have defeated this boss 5 times ---- buff damage done 20%
If average item level of all party members is over xxx ---- increases life total by 20%

There could even be class gambits designed to add things to the fight based on the group make up or if individual classes are there.  Something where if there is a shadow priest one of the adds could be something that does huge damage and must be mind controlled but if there is no one there that could mind control it then it will not come out.

Could you imagine seeing something in trade like this?

/2 LF 1 more FL, must not have downed any bosses but know fights.

What a turn of events that would be.

How about throwing some twists in phase transitions, gambits could control when phases change and also allowing you to design the fight the way you want to design it.  Making it so you can try to change the conditions based on your group make up.  Have a fantastic AoE group?  Try to do the whole fight in the AoE phase.  Have amazing healers?  Push to the burn phase as fast as possible.

If xxx is interrupted 3 times in a row --- switch to phase 2 mechanics
If xxx is not interrupted 3 times in a row --- switch to phase 3 mechanics

Things like that could mean a group would now design how they want to fight the fight.  They have issues with phase 2 but do fine in phase 3 they would have to take the damage from the spell three times in a row to get into phase 3.  Risk for reward of getting the phase that might be considered easier.  The phases themselves could then become timed events.  Like once you press a phase it will only stays in that phase for 1 minute meaning you would need to push it again if you want to get back to the previous phase.

You could easily design the fight to best suit your own group make up by doing certain things to turn the tide so to speak.

How about doing things that would be seem to be based on the random number generator but are really gambits?

If you hit 5 criticals in a row ---- you get hit by a debuff that increases damage done by you 20% for 10 seconds and doing 5K damage per second for that 10 seconds.
If you heal 5 people in a row that does not top them off ---- an HoT healing for 30K over 10 seconds is placed on all the people that received a heal over the course of those five heals.

Things like that could bring for interesting design factors.  While the critical one is all up the the random number generator the healing one can easily become part of how you heal that fight.  Say you are the tank healer and are spamming away on the tank and have not topped him off in three heals but know your forth might you have to think.  Can I heal two others in real need so they can all get the HoT without losing the tank in two globals?

Sure as hell brings something else to stepping up the game and making each fight different when there are different conditional gambits to each fight.

There are so many things that could be done if fights where designed to be reactionary.

Gambits might be horrible if added for the player but if added for the mobs it would be amazing. 

If this, do that design.  That could be amazing.

And why just let bosses get the gambit design?  All mobs could easily have the gambit design.

If hunter ---- get close before attacking
If caster ---- interrupt

Things like that.  Do you notice how all mobs act the same no matter who is attacking it?  Shouldn't a mob fight a hunter differently from a warrior?  Shouldn't a mob have some sort of intelligence?  Gambit design, the if this do that concept, would give them impression of intelligence and make even random mobs a hell of a lot more interesting.

The closest thing to the gambit system in WoW was Uldar.

If heart is destroyed ---- enable hard mode

That shows that the ability to do gambits is already in game.  Why abandon the gambit design?  The gambit design is much better then the current design not to mention it gives more ability to customize your boss fights around your group make up.

The gambit design is good design.  It is reactive.  It is not linear and predetermined.  No more at 80% and 20% there are phase transitions.  I want, if this then that phase transitions.  I want more input into my fights.

I can see it taking a little longer to decide how you want to do the fight.  I can see guides telling you different ways to do the fight.  I can see people trying to go against the grain and trying the fights in ways that are super hard or super easy.  I can see lots of different achievements for triggering different things.  I can see some seriously sick hard modes for the real hard cores being added with extreme triggering needed.

I can see one raid (both 10 and 25) having each fight have 100s of different possible designs by the people doing the fight.  It would make the fights more interesting and give each and every raid more options on how to do things and more achievements to aim for.

Even some sick, totally random, encounter parameters could be designed.

If the last number of 10 hits in a row is a 6 ---- Spawn a rare trash mob before next boss.

The rare spawn would be a boss in its own and drop a mount or a pet for everyone in the raid and also give an achievement.

Sure, that is all completely random number generator but could you see people doing that fight for years on end just to try and get that mob to spawn?  I can see pugs every week even after the content is 10 years old just hoping that the last number of 10 consecutive hits will be a 6.

The gambit design would add a lot to the game if they gave all mobs a set way to react to different things.  Sure it would get predictable after a period but it would still give the game a more balanced feeling.  Leveling my hunter and my warrior would be two totally different leveling experiences even if I am doing the same quests because the mobs would fight my hunter and my warrior differently.

Even more importantly it would be capable of adding some weird gambit conditions and of course they should never tell anyone anything about them.  Let the people find them out for themselves for the excitement factor.

Could you imagine if some mob turned into a vendor that offers a rare pet but only under some insane gambit conditions that no one would ever purposely go into the fight with like if you enter the fight with all red gear, while having resurrection sickness, at least 5 different class buffs on and do not do any damage for 2 minutes then the mob will turn into a vendor when you finally do beat them.

Who the hell would find that one out on their own?  Stuff like that would sit in the game for ages and might never be found.  All we would know is that some hostile NPC sells it.  We would then have to figure out how the hell to activate the gambit that turns it into a vendor.  I am sure some people would spend hours, 100s of hours even, trying to figure it out.

The gambit design offers so many awesome possibilities.  Not just boss design.

Just as long as they do not offer it for the players themselves, gambit design is the perfect way to go when it comes to game design.  This linear stuff gets real boring real fast and random number generator can really be a bitch.  I would love to be able to activate things with gambits.  I think it would be an awesome upgrade for the game as a whole.


  1. For raid bosses -- it sounds cool on paper, but I'm not sure who the target audience would be for such a mechanic. Once a guild finally has a raid boss on farm, do they really want the mechanics to change? And the situation for pugs is even worse -- casual raiders just want to see the content and grab a few shinies. They probably don't want anything that might lead to unexpected wipes.

    For trash mobs, and npcs, I love the idea. I actually loved the gambit system in Final Fantasy and wouldn't even mind if mmos implemented a similar system that would allow solo players to attempt 5-man instances at level by hiring a team of mercs and setting up gambits for them. I don't see that as auto-battle, doing instances that way would still be more challenging than doing them with real people since the gambit system would presumably be limited.

    And before anyone complains that this would take even more people away from the group experience, I'd claim that it could be implemented in such a way as to benefit grouping. If you only allowed mercs for non-heroics, then the merc/gambit system would give solo players more opportunity to learn the fights and gear up for heroics at their own speed. This in turn might help more of them build their confidence to the point where they actually try group content.

  2. @ John

    I've thought about it in the sense of hired hands for randoms before. Healers would be the easiest application for it. Heal who is injured and just set up a guide of importance.

    DPS in that case would really be mean to some people. They can not make them too good or why would anyone every use a real DPS. They can not make them too bad because they would be useless. So they would have to make them just average. Sad part is, just average would be better then 90% of the DPS I see in randoms. How much of an insult would that be to them when they get destroyed by an "average" hire hand?

    Tanking would be be too bad either. It would just be designed to attack (like a pets attack command) when you tell it to and to keep aggro on everything that is an active battle unit.

    So for heals and tanks it can be used and I do not think it would be a big deal, for DPS I think it would be a huge issue. Good thing is the roles people would really need more often then not are tanks and healers, so there would be no need for a gambit DPS.

    I see what you mean about the raids. For a guild group, like what I had in mind, it would be great fun. For a pug, it would be a nightmare.

    It is hard enough to get pugs to interrupt at all, try getting them to do it 3 times in a row or not do it 3 times in a row.

    That is more a pug problem then a design problem however and that is why pugs fail most of the time.

    For anything to work easily in a pug there needs to be nothing that requires any communication or brain power. If people are required to talk or think in a pug it will usually end badly.

  3. I don't see the appeal from a raiding standpoint. One of the hallmarks and badges of pride for raiding guilds is the sense of progression, which implies "getting past" content. Under a gambit system, you never actually experience any progression. Every fight is pre-nerf Halfus where things could be insanely difficult one week, faceroll the next, with zero sense of mastery over the content.

    Why go gambit at all, when you could just as easily make everything purely RNG? If things are sufficiently convoluted (as many of your examples are), there is really no difference from a player perspective.

    I will say that adapting a plan on the fly makes for the best raid stories. Doing that every fight would be considerably less fun.

  4. There are a few gambit mechanisms already in.

    Major Domo Staghelm has one, if you stack up, he goes Scorpion, if you spread out, he goes cat. But, it's an illusion of choice, because you have to rotate through the phases.

    Nef class calls, or wassaname in Zul'Aman Spirit Drains are also "reactive" abilities that vary depending on who is in the raid.

    Making these mechanics more common would introduce one class of gambit to the game.

    Like others, I'm not sure I like the idea of the boss getting buffed the more times I beat him though! If I want to fight him or her harder, I can always do it in heroic mode.

  5. I guess for the main raid points you guys are right.

    Still think it would be nice of the quest mobs adapted to the class that was attacking it. It would teach people their class better. In theory.