Q: Who are you and what are you doin’ here!?A:
Hey there, I’m Tim “Raskolnikov” Lang (but the Content team calls me “Man-Bat” for some reason).
I’m a relatively new member of the Systems team, having moved over fromthe QA team in November of last year. When I first arrived I wasimmediately thrown into the Forochel (Book 13) monsters: “Hey Tim,welcome aboard… you like monsters, right?” ‘Well, actually I…’ “That’sgreat because you get to make a bunch of new behaviors for theSabretooth and Gauradan Mammoth.” ‘Okay, so how do…’ “Oh, and one ofthe FX guys mentioned something about a Grim… anyway, good luck!” (Note: It didn’t really happen like this).
So, the short of it is that I work on monsters, which makes me a sortof behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t get all the girls like the LegendaryItem guys, but on the flip side I also don’t get egged like the classguys when they “balance” your favorite class. For this Dev Diary I’llwalk you through the broad process of how a monster comes together,what components of a monster I work on and how they are created, andour broad goals for the monsters in Mines of Moria™. Finally, I’ll giveyou a brief preview of some of the monsters I’m more proud of (they’re like my very own hideous babies).Q: Nice to meet you, Bat-Face! Please tell me the process of how a monster comes together. I’m just so interested.A:
Having not detected your sarcasm, here’s how it works:Step 1: Deciding what to make.
The World, Content, and System teams all meet in a room together wherewe calmly and rationally discuss what types of monsters we wouldpersonally like to see in a new region. Each group firmly, butpolitely, raises their concerns about the monsters mentioned. World isusually concerned about balancing aggressive monsters with passivemonsters. Content is usually concerned about the Lore-appropriateness™of the monsters and how they’ll affect the different quests they make.As Systems, I’m mostly concerned with the mechanics of the monsters andhow exactly their skills will work. (“So, let me get this straight: youwant a dude on top of a mammoth who throws spears while the mammothattacks and then you want the mammoth to go into a rage and buck therider off and then it will attack on its own…” ‘Yes!’ “*sigh*… I’ll seewhat I can do…”)Step 2: Divvy up the work.
Once we have this wishlist of monsters, each department handlesdifferent sections of the creation process (though we are allinterdependent upon one another). World Team:
World makes a bunch of profiles of monsters for each area of the newregion. The profiles are typically filled with placeholder or testmonsters until Content has created the specific named monsters(Example: “Deadly Kilpa-kita”). Content Team:
Content makes all the specific named monsters you see running around.They need those named monsters for the quests they create. However,those monsters are using basic behaviors (typically a standard body-body-head ground-and-pound… grats if you got the MMA reference)
until Systems has created the skills for each monster type.System Team:
Systems (including myself) creates the skills, behaviors, and effectsfor each of the monster types (more on this later). However, we’redependent upon art for the monster itself and all its animations. Soinitially we use placeholder monsters which can result inhilariousness; a tiny goblin batting the player across the landscape,or a Cave-claw exploding in a ball of fire. Good times.Art Team:
These guys and gals are very, very key to the process. When I tell myfriends, “I make monsters,” that’s fairly deceptive. I just tell themonsters what to do, while Art actually makes
the monsters: their bodies, appearances, animations, and a whole lotmore I don’t know about. Each department closely works with Art:Content talks to Art about the overall appearance and feel of themonster while Systems is more interested in the specific attackanimations.Step 3: Wrapping it all up.
Once all departments have completed their first pass of the creationprocess we go back over all the monsters with the help of QA and makesure all the placeholder values have been replaced with legit data andthat everything looks good and plays well.Q: “This sounds like a clear and efficient system! Everything works perfectly, right?”A:
We do have hiccups in our process (for example,while writing this Dev Diary I noticed that the Gauradan Mammoth wasn’tperforming its “rage” animation), but we’re always striving to improveit.Q: Art, Content, and World all have cooties: tell me what you do? *bats eyelashes*A:
Weren’t you reading? I make monsters. But morespecifically I create the skills the monsters use, the behaviors thatdetermine how those skills are used and the buffs/debuffs those skillsapply.
Our system is quite robust. And while I don’t have control overeverything I’d like to do, I have enough control (thanks toEngineering, who created all of these switches, knobs, and dials I canplay with) to make some pretty crazy stuff: knock-backs, auras, a hugevariety of buffs and debuffs, multi-attacks, skills which only functionwhen the monster is wounded, etc, etc, etc…Q: So, what you’re saying is that with great power comes great respo…A:
Not quite (P.S. Batman is way better than Spiderboy)
.My main goal is to create a fun experience, but there are lots ofhurdles to overcome: monsters that are bug-prone (typically due to mebeing a bit too crazy with the skills), monsters that are too hard,monsters that are too easy, monsters which interact with other monsterspoorly, monsters which are great in groups but can’t be soloed, ormonsters that are just plain boring. Combine all of that with trying tomake unique skills so that not every monster feels the same and youdefinitely have a challenge on your hands trying to make it all work.But, despite that, it’s a blast! This is, by far, the best job I’veever had and I’m super
excited about the Moria monsters I’ve made. So let’s talk about Moria…IF YOU WERE JUST SCROLLING THROUGH THIS TO READ ABOUT MORIA, YOU CAN STOP SCROLLING NOW, MISTER IMPATIENT.
The Lord of the Rings Online™: Mines of Moria™ is our first expansionfor LOTRO. Moria is also huge, intimidating, and not for the faint ofheart. In other words… THIS IS MORIA! And yes, I wrote this entire Dev Diary just to make that overused joke!
Our main goal for the monsters living in Moria is for them to live upto their nasty reputations. So, when we first sat down to plan outthese baddies, this was our list of goals:
- More extreme monsters (IT’S LIKE A JET MADE OUT OF BICEPS!)
- Attacks and debuffs that players feel, rather than ones which are ignored.
- Players (you folks) are getting a bunch of great, powerfulstuff like Legendary Items, Trait Sets, Rune-keepers, Wardens, andanother 10 levels. The monsters need to keep up with all of that andcontinue posing a challenge.
- More reactive gameplay
- Give you more opportunities to use tactics and strategy to fight more efficiently (more on this below).
- Better feedback on what monsters are doing.
- Knowing when a monster is winding up for a big attack, knowingwhen a monster is being buffed by an aura, knowing when you are beingdebuffed by an aura on a monster.
At the time of writing this, I’ve completed the first pass on creatingall of the behaviors, skills, and buffs/debuffs for the new monsterswe’ll be doing, and I really think we’ve achieved our goals. The polishpasses I’ll be doing will really confirm or deny that but will alsogive me a chance to tweak things to make sure, above all else, theselittle beasties are fun to fight. Here’s what we did:More Extreme Monsters
The idea here is to give a monster’s attacks a big enough impact on theplayer that you actively want to avoid it (which ties directly into ourreactive gameplay). In general, where we used to increase numbers by10% we might increase by 50% instead. This goal is simple in initialimplementation, but more difficult during balance passes. A Lore-masterfights completely different than a Champion, yet both classes need tobe able to solo a single on-level mob with relative ease. That’s wherethe tweaking gets tricky; a mob that debuffs the player’s melee damageoutput by 50% isn’t that big of a deal to a Lore-master, but now I’veseverely decreased the Champion’s effectiveness.More Reactive Gameplay
Simply raising the numbers will certainly get your attention, but itdoesn’t translate to “fun.” Making combat with monsters more excitingand fun is what we want to accomplish, so we did this by trying to makea monster’s skills reactive in someway. A drake sprays fire at yourfeet setting the ground on fire; you’d better jump out of the way ifyou don’t want to take a hefty chunk of damage. An orc enters a ragebestowing a Corruption buff on itself, allowing it to deal more damage;time to use your Corruption removal skill unless you like taking anextra 50% damage each time the orc hits you!
Initially, this was a bit challenging for the same reason that balancing the Extreme Monster
numbers will be difficult: each class is different. “We can make amonster that has 90% mitigation vs. all damage, but Light damage willpunch through that mitigation!” Too bad not all classes have skillswhich deal Light damage. Everything started coming together, though,when we realized two very basic things: each player can move and eachplayer can deal damage. That sounds fairly obvious, but it actuallymade us realize how many options we have:
- Player avoidance: dodging out of the way of an attack that ischarging up, getting out of the pool of acid the monster spit at yourfeet.
- Kill a specific target: you’ll want to kill a monster that hasa debuffing aura before you off his minions, a totem which buffs nearbymonsters should be destroyed first, a boss monster who is protected byhis allies is most efficiently killed by destroying his minions first.
- Attack timing: mobs that temporarily enter a combat statewhere it’s best to not attack them, mobs that temporarily enter acombat state where they’ll take additional damage if you attack them atthe right time.
- Target timing: mobs that buff themselves but only when theyhave high health which encourages you to attack them first, mobs thatbuff themselves only when they have low health which encourages you tofinish them quickly.
Combine that with some of the new features we got from Engineering,like a buff that a monster places on itself that players can dispel,and thus is born monster Corruption buffs. Add in the existing abilityof most classes to interrupt certain monster skills in mid-action andthe varying ability of the classes to cure Poison, Disease, Fear orWounds and now you have a fairly large suite of reactive elements formonster skills.Q: Now wait just one gosh darn minute, did you stop to consider that…A:
Yes I did! At least, I tried to think ofeverything. Reading the above will probably generate a bunch ofquestions/concerns from you guys, which is great! I suspect that thisDev Diary is already too long as it is, so I’ll try to answer anyquestions you guys have in the thread attached to this article.
However, I think the biggest point I should make right off the bat isthat I really tried to make all of this optional as best I could. Am Iforcing you to constantly move your character around, forcing you tocarry a bunch of cure potions, forcing you to only attack monsters atcertain times? No. If you come home after a long day and you just wantto relax by killing some goblins for a quest while you advance yourdeed, no problem. You may not kill that mob as quickly as others or youmay end the fight with less morale than normal, but you will still beable to easily solo an on-level mob.More Monster FeedbackQ: Monster Auras and monster charge-up/inductionattacks already exist, but it’s difficult to see what’s going on sothat I can properly react to it…A:
I agree! This turned into my own personalmission shortly after I started, “Tim… are you okay? You’re red in theface, twitching, and frothing at the mouth… more than usual, that is.”‘WHAT THE HELL IS THIS MONSTER DOING!?’ “Didn’t… didn’t you make it?”‘I KNOW! AAAAAAARGH!’ Thus began the sane process of writing a formalspecification about how we could improve the monster feedback in LOTRO.I spent days on it, polishing it, putting in great MS-Paint pictures ofexamples of the feedback we could use. By the time I had finished Ifelt like I had crafted Shangri-La. Then came the day of the meeting;you know, the type of meeting where you’re all calm and reasonable. IfI did indeed enter that meeting with Shangri-La, I felt like I left itwith New Jersey, but hey, Jersey’s great… *wrinkles nose*. (Dramatization. May not actually have happened.)
The new monster feedback is broken down into five groups (with a bonusgroup): Induction Skills, Auras, Skill Animations, Monster Stances, andLess Spam.
Q:Huh? What? Are you still talking? It’s a miracle you get any real work done…
- Induction Skills: It could be tough to tell when a monster wascharging up for a big swing or a big breath attack, so we’ve added insome new FX to each of the induction skills. We already had great FXfor a healing skill (the green ring), but now we have similar FX forattack skills (an orange/red ring). Now, when a monster performs aninduction there are clear and consistent FX communicating that to you.
- Auras: Similarly to induction skills, it’s sometimes tough totell which monsters are being buffed by an Aura or whether you’re beingdebuffed by an Aura or not. With the help of the FX team, we’ve addedin some new FX for the source of an Aura and the target of an Aura.This way you can clearly see when you’re being affected by an aura, andyou can clearly see which mobs are being buffed by the aura.
- Skill Animations: Sometimes a monster’s special attacks woulduse the same animations as their basic attacks. This made it prettyconfusing when you suddenly lost a bunch of morale or were debuffedwhen nothing different appeared to happen. This time around we’ve moreclosely coordinated with the Art team to ensure that each specialattack has an animation different from the basic attack animations.
- Monster Stances: This is a fairly small band of feedback whichsome intelligent monsters in Moria will have. A monster with a stancewill use a specific skill(s) while in that stance, and will not haveaccess to other skills in other stances. I give an example of a monsterwith a couple different stances below, but the main goal of usingstances is to help call out to players what types of attacks you’lllikely to see from that mob.
- Less Spam: This was a general decision to try and limit thenumber of fancy special attacks an average mob has. If you’re facing ageneric goblin and he’s hitting you left and right with all sorts ofspecial attacks it, becomes a blur and not only are each of thoseattacks less special, but it’s more difficult for the player todetermine what those skills actually did and which ones you want toreact to.
- (bonus) Improved Icons: There’s definitely room forimprovement with how our icons look and how they’re laid out. We won’tbe able to make everything perfect, but we are trying to make someimprovements. At the time of this writing, we’re still in the processof determining which improvements we’ll have time to implement, so Ican’t comment about what future changes you’ll see; but our goals aretwo things: clarity and consistency.
A: Fine, fine fine… I’m not at liberty to discuss some of the moreexotic creatures being created, but here’s a taste of some of myfavorite bread-and-butter monsters I created for Moria, whichincorporate a bunch of the above stuff I talked about. Orc Berserker:
Stances: When you see this guy on the landscape he will be in one oftwo stances, either Aggressive stance (red) or Inspirational stance(green).Aggressive Stance:
When the Orc Berserkerreaches low levels of morale, he begins entering a rage. Every fewseconds that rage buff increments, increasing his damage output. Therage buff is also a Corruption buff, which means you can use Corruptionremoval skills to dispel the buffs.
Avoid getting multiple of these guys low in health at the same time.When you do see an Orc Berserker entering his rage, kill him quicklybefore his rage buffs pile up, or use your Corruption removal skill todispel his buffs, making him more manageable.Inspirational Stance:
If the Orc Berserkerhas taken damage he will enter a brief state where any time you hithim, he’ll be healed a small amount. At the end of this state he willbe “winded” for a brief time and will take extra damage from anyattacks that hit him. (Inspiration for this skill came from the movie Predator.)Player Tactics:
Pay close attention when fighting this guy! When you see him enter thisstate, either back off or stun him. Wait for his buff to wear off andthen strike hard and fast, taking advantage of the time when he is morevulnerable.Cave-troll
Not only do these guys look nasty, they’ve got a very thematic skill:Momentum. Each time the Troll attacks and hits there’s a very goodchance he will receive an incremental buff to his damage and attackspeed. The more times he hits, the faster he attacks and more damage hedeals.Player Tactics:
How do you remove these effects? Easy: break his momentum. Any time theTroll becomes stunned or dazed he loses all of his “Momentum” buffs.Goblin Defender
Stances: When you see this guy on the landscape he will be in one oftwo stances, either Aggressive stance (red) or Defensive stance (blue).Aggressive Stance:
This little fella carries ashield and knows how to use it. He will begin performing an inductionand will then smash out with his shield, briefly stunning anyone infront of him.Player Tactics:
Look for him performing his induction and interrupt or stun him. Ifyour skills are still cooling down, quickly jump back and watch as hisshield hits nothing but air.Defensive Stance:
So long as the GoblinDefender has a high morale he is able to fortify himself. Every fewseconds his Fortify buff increments, granting him greater and greatermitigation. This buff is a Corruption buff.Player Tactics:
Focus your attacks on this goblin first in a fight, by lowering hishealth he will no longer be able to Fortify himself. If the goblin doesmanage to get a couple increments of Fortify buffs, use your Corruptionremoval skill to dispel those buffs, stripping him of his enhancedmitigation.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully you found it interesting and are excited about the monsters you’ll face in Moria. P.S. Oh yeah, I think we made another Grim… or two.