Game development teams need to build repeatable content. This is usually done by combining the assets of existing games with those from new titles, but a recent trend has emerged whereby the same design can be used for different genres or even unique IPs. The article explores how this process works through an example game and provides suggestions on how future developers could apply it in their own work

The “massively overpowered swgoh” is a game stressor that can be used to create repeatable content in MMOs.

GDC 2022: How ‘game stressors’ mix and match for repeatable content development in MMOs

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Continuing our GDC 2022 coverage of Bungie Principal Technical Game Designer Alan Blaine’s talk on building challenges and reusable content in Destiny 2, we’re going to take the stressors he defined, modified for MMOs, and consider how developers can use them for tuning content and making repeatable content.

While most of our readers aren’t developers, knowing this terminology and understanding of development may help us better grasp why certain MMO content feels good or bad – and why we could see similar development approaches across genres.

Same hat.

Stressors must be balanced.

While each of the seven stresses (time is power, thumbskill, battlefield awareness, communication, buildcraft, planning, and social, all of which we covered in depth in our previous coverage) might have a hard gate, Blaine believes that most endgame material should not be hard gated. A few are OK, but players should be able to make some kind of compromise. For example, we discussed how one player may want to tackle stuff that takes a lot of buildcrafting while another loves content that demands a lot of thumbskill/fingerskill. How can you design an experience that appeals to both players in a classic fantasy-based action-combat MMO, for example?

The fingerskill player, in theory, wants to show off those twitch skills, which is why we’re looking at action-combat rather than traditional tab-targeting, as it makes it easier for us to find a middle ground with the buildcraft player, who often wants to show off an ability to have just the right skill set/loadout for the job – such as in classic Guild Wars. So a developer may utilize some battlefield information to fine-tune a hypothetical encounter; there’s no reason not to be adaptable when we’ve got seven stresses to play with.

As a result, the monster reveals when it will utilize its ultimate strike, spawning high-damaging ghosts that would instantaneously kill a player, in this hypothetical encounter. The monster, on the other hand, bestows a random set of debuffs matching to numerous ability categories, including damage-over-time, crowd control, heal, and dispel. We’ll assume that all of these skills are accessible to all players for the sake of simplicity. The debuffs on the players must be removed in the precise sequence, otherwise the boss’ focus will be broken, causing the monster to “miss” the player, which is partly reflected by an invulnerability boost granted after finishing the assignment. Because we’re promoting fight preparation rather than response time, the amount of time the player gets to employ these techniques should be generous. As a result, the buildcrafter must choose which techniques to use in combat, not just in terms of DPS but also in terms of the categories required to survive the boss’ ultimate.

so lonely

Now, you could simply put the ghosts in as telegraphed risks for the fingerskillers, but it relies too heavily on battlefield knowledge. Instead, during the debuff countdown, ghosts will appear as monsters approaching the players, eventually exploding throughout the whole chamber. They should be numerous enough that they cannot all be removed, but not excessively so that performance suffers. Attacks from the front will be repelled, while attacks from any other direction will be tolerated. Each ghost that is destroyed gains an absorption shield and a modest attack boost.

The fingerskill player must do this not just to survive the ultimate assault (it should be incredibly tough for 95 percent of the playerbase to receive no damage from the attack), but also to get the biggest attack bonus possible. The buildcrafter may be able to benefit from this as well, but will be at a little disadvantage to the all-in fingerskill player. That is, the buildcrafter prioritizes toolkit survivability before finding out a skill set that enables them to take advantage of a fingerskill difficulty to enjoy the best of both worlds. The fingerskill player, on the other hand, may concentrate on reaction speed and battlefield awareness to test reflexes and show off high statistics without having to alter up their build too frequently.

Playtesting would, of course, fine-tune the hard statistics. The main notion is that a developer may tweak an experience to appeal to a different or even larger demographic by studying the pressures, their strengths, their problems, and how you’re using them, frequently using tools they already have. Fingerskill’s twitchiness may necessitate the usage of technology often employed to make games more accessible, but that should be a positive thing. Accessibility should not be seen as a nasty term; it refers to everyone’s ability to innovate.

Finally, developers shouldn’t feel obligated to provide the same conventional material that every other online game produces, but they should be aware of what they’re doing and how playtesters react to it. Blaine contends that developers should not worry on whether anything is too simple or difficult since live players would almost always figure it out; instead, they should pay attention to how the testers dealt with pressures. Did they discover out that by using correct buildcrafting, they could avoid the fingerskill stresses, or that they could combine the two? Is it possible they discovered an unanticipated technique, such as hiding behind a boulder to prevent all damage?

Remember that, although Bungie may employ fingerskill, Blaine said that developers should be aware of its limits, thus programmers should not only be able to design something they can’t beat but also shouldn’t be scared to do so. He claims that it’s preferable for creators to err on the side of making things too tough since it’s simpler to make things easy after the game is out, and fans are frequently happy to hear about difficulty being toned down than than up, unless you introduce harder modes with additional prizes. This is where reusable content comes into play.

STOP BEING BAD AT THIS

Bringing fresh life to the old

The intricacies of how Destiny 2 retrofits previous material for something more reusable may be intriguing to D2 gamers, but we’re going to discuss in broader terms to get a better grasp of not just what Bungie does in the MMO arena, but also what other developers might do to emulate it. However, we’re basically talking treasure hunting and grinding, so if you’re looking for unique storylines and situations, portions of this could work, but others might not.

Bungie starts by tweaking outdated material. Obviously, this saves money on art assets, programming, voice-over, and a variety of other expenses, but the task isn’t finished. That’s only a start; you won’t be able to just churn out material and leave it alone. Blaine points out that content should contain almost unlimited desirable rewards, such to Diablo 2’s jewels — something random but possibly valuable that will keep players grinding content.

However, the material must be updated as well. Yes, you’ll have to create more, but rotating that material will assist to keep things new. It becomes simpler for players to learn and find out where to get the most bang for their money if it is left out for too long, which is a concern. Players love to optimize, so if you create 20 dungeons and players find out which one gets them more rewards for less work, you may end up with 19 dungeons that no one plays. People must struggle with what they have and make the most of it as a result of making that stuff less accessible.

Bungie then takes a step-by-step method to game production, comparable to Super Mario 3D Land director Koichi Hayashida’s usage of kishtenketsu or a teacher’s scaffolding approach to lesson implementation. The distinction is that, whereas the first two are more focused on mastering skills, Bungie’s is more akin to juggling and has five difficulties rather than four (thought I think readers will understand the concept after four).

Let’s imagine you have a popular lowbie dungeon, such as World of Warcraft’s Deadmines. Bungie would take that basic dungeon and develop numerous additional versions for high-level players to accomplish once a week, for example.

Version 1 would simply raise the time = power stressor, making it more acceptable for high-level players who aren’t necessary level-capped. Battlefield awareness, for example, is clearly reflected in some form, but it takes a second place. Perhaps the spawns have thinned out and the bosses can be soloed with the option of forming a squad through a group-finding tool.

Version 2 will be for leveled-up players, but the creatures will inflict elemental damage and have elemental weaknesses. This warning will appear before players join Version 2 to let them know that Buildcrafting is a new stressor. The mobs could also be tailored for several individuals, but if we had an LFG tool, we could concentrate on only basic communication and avoid the more difficult social needs. We’re accumulating skills and things are becoming tougher, just as in SM3DL.

It’s in Version 3 when the juggling begins. Bungie does something comparable to taking version 2 and making things a little more difficult, but you lose your LFG tool and your equipment is locked (which is similar to locking your talents/class/hotbar picks in certain MMOs). There’s also a fingerskill element, with quicker boss defeats yielding bigger prizes. If you want to call it a twist, that’s fine, but it doesn’t end there.

Version 4 will take everything from Version 3 and amp it up a notch, as well as juggle a few extra balls with a communication stressor. A boss’s ultimate ability may be interruptible, but no class’s cooldowns will be short enough to stop it every time. You may think of it as a stressor for fingerskill and battlefield awareness, but there’s also an enrage component now, and group wipes restart the dungeon.

And if you don’t understand where Bungie is going with this now, Version 5 will accomplish everything, but now maybe the group as a whole only gets one death per player, and rezes only function for a certain amount of time, but you can at least earn lives by fighting enemies in a specific period of time. Bungie does rely on fingerskill stressors a little.

destiny2

While it may seem to be a lot, Blaine’s team used to need a few weeks of development work, but now it takes less than a day, with fewer teams and (most importantly to the ones above) less money.

The strategies may also be recognizable to certain MMORPG players. Isn’t this what WoW did with looking-for-raid as a stepping stone into the raid environment, or with Cataclysm’s initial Dead Mines? Yes, very much, but I believe Blaine has provided us with the terminology and framework to let us look at these instances, and others, and at the very least appreciate them.

People who prefer new content to repeatable content will obviously have little interest in using Blaine’s vocabulary and execution methods to talk about grinding dungeons, but my hope is that by using Blaine’s vocabulary and execution methods, we’ll be able to more easily discuss and assess the issue of content design in MMOs, not just in terms of grind content, but in how such stressors and retuning of content might or might not be applicable to horde content.

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