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Combat in Superhero MMOs

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage
When it comes down to battles in the superhero genre it's a mixture of tactics, luck, puzzling out your enemies, and punching people in the face. Most MMO mechanics for combat pretty much end at the face punch- delivering the face punch, enhancing the face punch, protecting the face punch, and healing from the face punch. It's time to get beyond the face-punch. This is in some may ways the biggest problem with Superhero MMOs (and many MMO's in general) is that the mechanics derive from other games with face-punchy elements. That also means it's one of the biggest challenges to creating a non-mediocre Superhero game - because it violates expectations. Of course that also means its a chance to innovate, get attention that's basically free marketing, and capture a long-term audience. So how can we change the combat mechanics to be more superhero like? Of course I'm going to be investigating that. Mooks Aren't Metas: Almost every superhero genre has your assorted cannon fodder enemies versus your equivalent metahumans. Tearing through the mooks in many ways is a different - and a more typical face-punchy - mechanic than the experience of battling the bad guys. The combat mechanics have to differ. Most of the Mook type characters are simply there to wear people down. That also means that you need mechanics to let the characters get worn down, which means . . . Out With The Clerics: Healing factors and such aside, a lot of superhero combat is not about the usual MMO of having-some-guy-heal people. That may indeed be part of characters abilities, but it's rare in the superhero genre to have a "buffer" or healer." Though what you do have is . . . Combo Mania: What really seems to define superhero action is people pooling their abilities. You don't "activate a buff" on someone, you throw them at your enemies. You pool your fire blast and your friend's ice blast to create steam and confuse enemies. You get the idea. A superhero game has to focus more on the interaction of abilities in clever ways. This could be anything from two attacks hitting at the same timespan activating an effect, to certain actual abilities that are available when characters are teamed up. it may also focus on an environment that people can interact with. This could make combat more of a puzzle-like game, especially for boss/superhuman enemies. People will have to figure out how to work together - or work with the environment - to fell an enemy. Or in some cases, just punch faces. But combat is often like a puzzle, so . . Getting a Clue, Downing an Enemy: Upping damage doesn't always mean winning in a superhero game (unless you're the Hulk). There's nerve pinches, weaknesses, Kryptonite, the usual. This usually means a few things: 1) The above power combos may be used to weaken an enemy/boss. The fun is figuring them out of course (and perhaps they're adjusted for who's playing). 2) Finding a critical way to weaken a super-boss would allow for quests by themselves. 3) Another mechanic I've seen elsewhere is to work "weaknesses" into the gameplay. Various events/quests may let you deal more damage to an enemy as you figure them out, several combats reveal weaknesses, etc. Superhero MMO's need to go beyond face-punching. There's many ways to do it though. - Steven Savage

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