The want of logic annoys.

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.

11 thoughts on “The want of logic annoys.

  1. Spinks

    I get something similar with mobs in Rift that interrupt my mage. If I can’t cast spells, I can’t really do anything except stand there and get hit so functionally it’s the same as being stunned.

    And what bugs me is that if I was playing a cleric, I’d have the option to spec for half decent melee/ physical attacks to fall back on. It’s only mages who get completely locked out by interrupts.

  2. welshtroll

    I found the Tsoo sorcerer annoying whirlwind with knock back/down/up annoyed me even further.

    The balance has to be just right, if a game mechanism stops people playing then they loose the immersion and log-off.
    In CoX the Malta Gunslinger did this to me with their liquid nitrogen rounds that froze you solid.

  3. darkeye

    Stuns are annoying, so too are barghest silences, and main/offhand disarms, there is a mob in Attack at Dawn that has a debuff when you can’t use any attack that requires main-hand (most attacks) and lasts for a long while.

    The mob that has a nice mechanic for stuns that you’d regularly run into is the blood-arrow, it is delayed stun, can be interrupted easily as it has a long induction (he says something like ‘fear me…’) and the debuff can be removed (I think, not that I bother carrying around the pots to check it) yet still there are times I get hit by the arrow and know it’s coming. There are other stuns with inductions, like with Merrevail, but it’s hard to know what induction to interrupt.

    I’d like if there was an intermediate state, call it a daze, it interrupts whatever action you are doing, induction or auto-attack. Get dazed enough times, and only then do you get stunned.

  4. John

    I’m not sure why you’d say stuns have no bearing on the outcome of a combat. In most mmos, mobs have a small chance to hit you even if you’re a much higher level. And mobs that can stun you can therefore kill you no matter how powerful you think you might otherwise be if there are enough of them.

    Say there is a 5% chance of any one of the mobs stunning you. Then if there are significantly more than 20 of the mobs pounding on you, you are likely to be permanently stunned and they will slowly gnaw you to death.

    Now, if a mob that stunned you *also* stopped fighting and took a sip of coffee every time it stunned you, then yes, that would be pointless and nothing more than annoying — though it would be amusing the first few times. Otherwise, I’d claim that “annoying” most of the time translates into dangerous, scary, and requiring modified tactics (like avoid pulling too many in this case).

    Mobs that stun or otherwise incapacitate my character certainly don’t ruin the immersion for me — the most dangerous times in the game are when I’ve lost control of my character in some way, and unless the mob really has zero chance of killing me, my attention is likely to be focused on my next move and the hope that I’ll be able to actually execute my next move before being stunned again.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    @Spinks: I suppose we can extrapolate further and we get to the extreme situation in WoW raiding for a while, where melee DPS were locked out of some fights entirely because the movement/PBAoE mechanics essentially neutralised their ability to do damage, i.e. they couldn’t provide what their class/spec was designed to provide.

    As for interrupts and silences, I think giving the player a chance to prevent the effect is a minimum, but giving them something else to do in the event of being affected would be nice.

    @welshtroll: Oh mercy, yes. Malta Sappers drove me from the game: draining all my endurance so that I had to chain-chug blue inspirations to be able to fight at all was really quite frustrating in the later game.

    @darkeye: Ah yes, that Attack at Dawn mob is now dubbed the Anti-‘Warden Smugness’ mob, after I was waltzing merrily through the skirmish only to find myself in the middle of a pack of Guaradan with no ability to self-heal. Cue Benny Hill style running around like a loon.

    The Blood-Arrow debuffs are good in that respect, but they also have hideously painful effects, which definitely justifies the requirement to be able to interrupt them, or remove them. There are also some which will only apply the debuff if the player is still in combat, which would be fine if there were any tangible way to speed combat up (other than perhaps blowing a few long cooldowns, which by Sod’s law you’ll then desperately need in the next fight).

    I like the idea of building up to a stun through daze debuffs, or another option as comments of another post, would be to have the player gain a resistance/immunity to such effects for a good while after application of a debuff.

    @John: I think primarily because it’s quite rare that you’ll find yourself fighting enough mobs for them to be able to defeat you during the time of the stun, and if you are, you’re usually in part of a group, who can carry you for the time that you’re out of the fight. Certainly in LotRO I’ve rarely had a fight where I’ve been stunned and it’s caused a close call; far, far more often it’s a case of having a drink, or putting my elbow on the desk and my chin in my hand, until I can play my character again.

    However, considering the situation where stuns did frequently place your character in peril, I object to the idea of the developer saying “Look, if I take all control of your character away from you, I can defeat you, or bring you close to defeat”. Hell, they don’t need me sitting at a keyboard to act that scenario out, if they could just let me know in advance then I’ll go and do something more interesting instead.

    I certainly don’t disagree with you that being put into peril is what makes fights fun, it’s just that, for me, it’s important that the way such a situation is achieved is not through what could be considered a cheap mechanic.

  6. Jim

    I think the stun mechanic is simply a leftover from the subscription model when stuns=more time played.

    10 3sec stuns an hour x 2 hrs x 100,000 subs = 69 add’l gameplay days every day.

    So that one annoying mechanic would generate 50 add’l 15 hr. a week subs every day or US$270,000/yr in revenue.

    Now with the Turbine Store, the monetization of gameplay mechanics have changed. The should sell a “Scroll of Immersion”. For 595 TP’s your character can wander Middle Earth without fear of an unexpected coffee break.

  7. Capn John

    The bears in LOTRO come with a Stun attack. Fortunately when you see them rear up on their hind legs and begin to roar you know a Stun is coming, and if you’re quick you can run behind them and avoid it, because they don’t spin around while “casting” their stun.

  8. Jonathan B

    The stun can get frustrating, but I don’t mind it all that much considering we do it to them as well. Stun/daze is pretty much the primary means of low-level Loremaster survival, for one. :> It’s more threatening at lower levels…I don’t have a char over 35 yet, so I could see where it could get less threatening at higher levels where your morale points may heavily outweigh damage.

    @darkeye The disarms do indeed get very annoying at times. Although I had to laugh the other day when my level 25 dwarf guardian was in an orc camp, and the Tarkrip Brutes kept disarming him. Every time they would do it, he had two attacks left: shield bash, and headbutt. I actually killed a couple with repeated shield and cranial bludgeoning during disarm cooldowns. :>

  9. Y||B

    I think what helped CoX was, that there was usually a way to not get around things: KB resistance on tanks & scrappers for the Tsoo, crowd control for controllers and defenders (some got it at the Tsoo stage at least). And the Malta’s are just annoying, but you can pop the remove status effect pill, or run resist toggle, etc. … it only became tricky when they stack the effects too high.

    In most other games it is more a case of “suck it up or play the correct class” and continue. As in, you feel useless, whereas in CoX, everybody on the team can rescue the hot potatoes if needed. Not to forget that you can nowadays run multiple specs and switch depending on opponent.

  10. Melmoth Post author

    @Jim: That scenario is both evil and probable. Bravo!

    @Capn John: I’ve rarely managed to get an interrupt to work on those bears, so I’ll definitely try running behind them and giving them a wedgie next time.

    @Jonathan B: Honestly, more games should have their dwarves doling out serious headbutt action.

    @Y||B: I didn’t know about the multiple specs in CoH these days, that’s rather groovy. And you’re right, there were plenty of options in overcoming the more annoying effects of the mobs. However, I certainly remember it being a general consensus among groups that, for example, you lock down the Tsoo sorcerer at the start of a fight, or chaos would likely ensue; as you say, the fight was still salvageable if the group failed to follow this tactic but it would just be a bit more challenging, and I think that was the beauty of the group synergy with respect to combat in City of Heroes.

  11. moonmonster

    Aion has some mobs that do this too. Worst thing, they start out the fight with a stun. It’s mind-bogglingly annoying, and I’m not exactly sure why, but I go out of my way to avoid fighting them. Designers really need to stop relying on stuns to … I don’t know what. They need to stop using stuns. They suck. Nothing conjures the feeling of ‘ho-hum’ more like ‘oh good, I’m stunned again, only 15 more of these stunning bastards to kill’.

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