Make the mobs clever

This line is a favourite one of many a ‘things to fix in MMOs’ list…

Smart monster

Make the monsters more like players, make them clever and it’ll make the game better. These dumb AI monsters that get taunted and mindlessly whack the tank for ages are so boring, so dull to fight again and again.

So, why don’t the developers of today’s MMOs use some of that computing power to make the game more interesting and engaging – why not make every monster encounter like fighting against another player? Let’s have that group of elves over there fight like a team, rather than stand around slack-jawed while their brethren are being munched by my squig…

As Scott Jennings points out like many of the other ‘quick fixes’ we armchair MMO devs come up with it’s just not that easy…

Having seen this first hand I’d have to agree…

Back in days of yore I coded MUDs for a larf (much better than studying, and taught me more about programming too… nothing explains OOP quite like “There is an orc, the orc has an axe, the orc uses the axe to chop the player which makes the player bleed.”)

After throwing together a viking with a striking text description and a shiny axe with associated weapon skill and requirements I decided “Hmm, wouldn’t this be much more fun if he was clever?”…. More fun to code certainly 😉

Robo brain

Thus I went about filling my freshly coded viking island with fiendishly clever monsters (relatively speaking) which not only used player abilities in similar combinations to what the players would do (e.g. stun you then smack you in the head with a high damage ability…) but would track you for a few rooms if you ran away, escape when low on hp and try to heal up etc. etc.

Once it was finished this new ‘clever monster’ experience was unleashed upon the eager MUD players, ready to explore new locales and meet new challenges.

The players sailed over to the island, explored a bit, died a lot, jumped on a boat and sailed back home, never to return. One or two brave souls would venture out from time to time – there was a quest on the island and the MUD required you to complete X amount of quests to get past a certain level, and there was a rather nice sword for those willing to risk trying to get it – but people didn’t come to my island to kill monsters – they were too dangerous and too unpredictable. The players went back to killing what they were killing before – mobs which might occasionally fire off a nasty fireball or a cleave in two, but otherwise placidly stand around in their room while you run in and out flinging spells/arrows/swords/all sorts at them. Predictable, safe, reliable, boring…

Thankfully my other project (a group of low level rogues, who would sneak around and pickpocket players) fared a little better – but that’s because they didn’t wait for the players to come to them – they went a-hunting through the town for victims.

So, what’s the conclusion here?

Players don’t want to fight clever monsters – they say they do but they lie. They’ll only fight these if they have to (e.g. “must kill to level” or “it’s broken into my home and is chasing me”) or if there’s serious loot to be had (mmmmm shinies). This explains why in WAR that group of shadow warriors will happily stand around chatting while you butcher their friends – the clever monsters aren’t the ones standing around to be slaughtered in droves for you to level up on.

But there are still clever monsters in the game – the clever monsters are in dungeons or at the end of public quests and are considered something special to kill – and most importantly they all have seriously nifty loot attached to them.

And of course if you’re ever short of a bit of challenge, variety and unpredictability there’s plenty of it in your nearest oRvR lake…


3 Responses to “Make the mobs clever”

  1. February 4, 2009 at 15:26

    I was reading that article on Broken Toys earlier and was thinking pretty much the same thing. If players can do something the boring and long but safe and easy way they will, even if there is a quicker more challenging way as well.

    And of course then after having hit level cap after a boring grind they will blame the developer that it was a boring grind and that the endgame isn’t worth it :p

  2. 2 roostercogburn
    February 4, 2009 at 16:02

    Boring mobs are great when you’re drunk but I agree, the other 1% of the time smarter mobs that are adaptive in dungeons would be more long term fun. Perhaps as an optional mode for when you don’t have an epic drinking session in progress.

    For a long time I’ve wanted to see non-scripted instances where random things happen and a lot can change even during encounters and en route between encounters. Perhaps where monsters are fighting each other and the players can get caught in the cross fire. Bliz have started increasing the variation in some of their dungeons by having excuses to make one of a variety of bosses appear at random. I think this is a good way to increase variation in scripted encounters but I still think the best thing would be AI-based enemies. Again, in WoW, this was shown to be a real nut cracker though. One of the hardest encounters in the game was in Isle of Quel’Denas because the 5 mini bosses with no Threat generation would play havoc with groups of random players in pugs because they could not cope with it.

    This is why an RvR dungeon which is a race between two sides to the boss would be an awesome thing to do. Its been bandied around for years and the ML10 encounter back in DAoC was a great thing because of the chance that enemy players might come creeping in and kill you during a hard boss fight.

  3. 3 Flimgoblin
    February 4, 2009 at 18:01

    Fun encounters are good – they can have clever mobs and unpredictable stuff, but it can’t be something that you can do any other way – if you can get the same reward for mindless grinding somewhere that you can get for outwitting the clever encounter – the clever encounter will be ignored.

    The Darkness-falls like dungeon coming with Call to Arms should hopefully provide something akin to ML10 raid-craziness…

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