In City of Heroes there are a number of annoying mobs; one of the more memorable for me was the Tsoo sorcerer, a lieutenant class caster mob who would heal his cohorts and teleport himself halfway across the map to avoid being attacked, popping in to heal before buggering off again, like Florence Nightingale on a bungee cord. Sometimes there’d be two in a group, which would lead to annoying WWE style tag team healing, for which there was never a conveniently located folding chair or table available to break them up. There were a number of ways of dealing with them, however. If you were a crowd control class then you could lock down the sorcerer until the end of the fight. If you were a damage class then you could focus-fire the sorcerer at the start of the fight. If you were a tank class then you could swear a lot and go and find a group. The Tsoo sorcerer was very annoying, but there were numerous ways to counter them if you were careful and clever.

In Lord of the Rings Online there are numerous annoying mobs or, more accurately, numerous annoying abilities that several mobs share. The one that intensely annoys me is the stun, which lasts a variable number of seconds depending on the mob type and which, as far as I can tell, serves absolutely no purpose other than to annoy the pants off the player. The daily combat report, invariably presented by an attention-seeking bimbo in an outfit two sizes too small for her figure, would read:

Today will be mostly annoying, with a heavy outbreak of trolls and wargs coming in from the east. There will be a strong chance of pointless stuns and knock backs, leading to an area of low pleasure with gusty swearing and angrily scattered coffee cups later in the day.

In most cases there’s no way to prevent the stun, it doesn’t have an induction, and therefore at some point in the combat you simply stop what you’re doing for a number of seconds while the mob gnaws on you a bit.

The problem is that, unlike the Tsoo sorcerer, the stun in LotRO has no real bearing on the outcome of the combat; unless you’re very unlucky and very low on health when you’re stunned, the usual outcome is that you are forced to stop for a quick sip of coffee while you wait for the game to return control of your character to you, and then you carry on as normal. The Tsoo sorcerer is terribly annoying, but they’re also a menace, which thus requires players to think, plan, and often react on the spur of the moment to the ebb and flow of battle that the sorcerer effects.

The Tsoo sorcerer’s abilities require the player to concentrate harder on playing the game, thus drawing them further in to that world. The effect of the stun in LotRO is to throw the player forcefully out of the world, albeit momentarily, but it nevertheless gives them the ‘waking up from the Matrix’ moment where they are shown the reality of their situation, and are able to observe the machine that generates the world they were inhabiting moments ago. In addition it serves to remind them of the artificial nature of the system, and how easily it can be balanced in favour of the computer.

How did I beat you?
You… you’re too fast.
Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with fairness in this place? Do you think that’s fun you’re having now?

Mobs which are annoying are not intrinsically a Bad Thing, indeed, some of the mobs which are most engaging, and rewarding to defeat, are those mobs which cause the player to focus ever more intently on the game and its world. Loss of character control, however, is always a difficult mechanic to balance: to be successful a suitable level of peril should be employed such that the player is busy planning how they will survive when control returns to them, but not so much that the player feels the NPCs have an I WIN button which they can arbitrarily employ. If this is too difficult to balance in your game, then consider not having loss of character control at all, because having the game-play equivalent of ‘waiting for an elevator to arrive’ is never going to be compelling.

Posted by Melmoth at 10:19 am