Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 June, 2009

Interesting Mechanics: Dread and Hope
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:42 AM
(This post has been viewed 4668 times.)

I wanted to talk a bit about one of the more interesting mechanics in LotRO: Dread and Hope. This is perhaps one of the more interesting mechanics the game has to offer above and beyond the typical DIKU fare. Since I slammed the game a bit for sticking a bit too close to "safe" mechanics, I figured I'd take some time to point out one of the original and interesting bits.

Don't worry, this isn't going to become a LotRO blog. I just tend to get hooked on themes a lot.

For those that haven't played LotRO, let me describe the mechanic. Dread/Hope are values a long a continuum, with Hope being good and Dread being bad. Hope will mitigate or cancel out hope, and vice versa; for example, 2 points of Dread and 3 points of Hope give you a final value of 1 Hope. For some reason, you don't get Dread or Hope directly, instead you'll see Radiance or Gloom and 10 points of these gives 1 point of Hope or Dread, respectively. For this post, I'll just use Dread or Hope.

As you gain Dread or Hope, five stats are affected: your maximum morale (hit points), healing effects, damage taken, damage dealt, and effective skill level. Having a lot of Dread means that you'll be effectively fighting as a lower level character. On the other hand, having a lot of Hope means you're fighting at a higher level of ability.

How do you get Dread? The most common way is by dying. Instead of a "resurrection sickness" effect, you get 1-4 points of Dread for 10 minutes depending on the location where you died. Higher level zones will have greater penalties, making it more dangerous to just leap back into combat after a defeat. Certain locations and bosses will also give you Dread. In many areas, a tall, smoking totem usually fills you with Dread, right before a boss tries to gnaw on you.

What about Hope? Some areas give you hope, notably the newbie areas. This means that at lower levels you'll get a bit of a boost. Some good NPCs will give you Hope, but they tend to be stationary and not all that useful on an adventure. The main ways to get Hope are through equipment, a buff by a specific Captain's Herald that affects all in range, and through Jeweler-created consumable items called Edhelharn Tokens that boost the whole fellowship. New players that sign up for a subscription can also get a special horn that can be used to give 1 point of Hope to the player, but it shares the same cooldown as the tokens.

What makes this mechanic interesting is that it's another value to manage. Dying gives you an effect you've already seen, so you may know how to handle it. Some group quest bosses can be made a bit harder by placing a gloomy totem nearby. But, players can work against the Dread by increasing their Hope. A jewelry crafter can bring a little extra bonus to a group by bringing some tokens.

I've considered a similar mechanic for games I called "comfort" that would have similar design goals. If you wanted to go explore the icy tundra, you should remember to have your character bring warmer clothes, otherwise comfort will decrease and reduce the character's effectiveness. This would reward people who plan ahead, and give some sense of adventure to places with extreme conditions. You could do lots of fun things with this, too. Perhaps characters could take an ability to let them ignore some levels of discomfort; the ability to soldier on despite hardship would be valuable for someone who wanted to visit the far reaches of the world.

But, all is not perfect with LotRO's system. One major complaint is the Hope requirement for many high-end raid bosses. In order to go on the highest level raids, you have to have enough Hope generated by your gear ("Radiance Gear") in addition to tokens and other benefits to counteract the Dread caused by the bosses. Going without is not an option, at the highest levels of Gloom, you have a small fraction of your hit points (20% or so, from what I've seen) and you'll take much more damage. This pretty much guarantees death to anyone who hasn't gotten enough Hope.

This heavy requirement for Hope on your gear causes two problems: First, a player must run various earlier instances and finish them in "hard mode" before an item will drop. Of course, only one token will drop that everyone needs to get their gear, so you'll have to run each instance multiple times for your chance to get the token. Second, it restricts what equipment you can wear to the raid. Want to gear for a slightly different spec? Too bad, because your Radiance Gear only comes in one flavor. This de-emphasizes the role of crafters at the highest levels It also makes the game feel very cookie-cutter at the high end without much variation between different players of the same class. These seem to be some of the biggest complaints on the official forums from what I've seen.

While it's not a perfect mechanic, it is something not found in other games. I think it's rather interesting, and I've enjoyed planning around situations where I had to deal with Dread. I'm not sure I'll appreciate having to build a specific set of equipment for the highest levels, but I'm not currently planning on doing a lot of raiding. We'll see how that goes when I get to it.

What do you think? Is this just another bit of stat-crunching that distracts from the other elements of what online games can be? Or is it an interesting mechanic that adds a new twist to traditional gameplay? Can the high end raids be changed to still use this mechanic but not require a specific set of gear in order to complete it?

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18 Comments »

  1. Sounds like a clever way of packaging "fear" penalties for your virtual dice rolls.

    Comment by unwesen — 12 June, 2009 @ 6:17 AM

  2. "Is this just another bit of stat-crunching that distracts from the other elements of what online games can be?"

    VanHemlock also posted a good article regarding the Dread/Hope mechanic.

    For myself, I like the concept of it; that it adds to the dramatic moment of the game through not just a bunch of stat adjustments, but also through a visible visceral effect, is what makes it a Good Thing. However, requiring my character to stack sources of hope in order to be able to defeat a certain boss, for example, drags it right back down into the realm of more mundane MMO mechanics, alas.

    Comment by Melmoth — 12 June, 2009 @ 6:34 AM

  3. It's cool that the designers found a way to include these important concepts from the books/movies into the game, but mechanically, it seems pretty one-dimensional to me.

    I like your idea about warm clothes because that's a more accurate reflection of the reality you're modeling: if you're not dressed warmly in the arctic, you're not going to function properly.

    (PS - I haven't played LotRo, so I apologize if I'm way off base here; what follows is of course a whole-cloth suggestion that has nothing to do with what the designers actually did)

    On the other hand, morale in combat, especially in the face of the embodied sum of human weakness, is much deeper and more complex than "you lose a lot of hit points unless you have some ph4t l3wt". I would suggest that Dread could be counterbalanced by the proximity of trusted friends, the presence of a more powerful warrior than yourself in the party, race/class bonuses, and -some- item bonuses. On the other hand, some Dread might only apply to certain characters. Elves are not frightened of the dead, Dwarves not frightened underground, Hobbits not as prone to despair or suspicion, etc. In this way, it is always on someone to get someone else through a bad patch, much like the original stories.

    Comment by Bret — 12 June, 2009 @ 6:35 AM

  4. "It's cool that the designers found a way to include these important concepts from the books/movies into the game, but mechanically, it seems pretty one-dimensional to me."

    I agree with this. Likewise I haven't played LotRO so sorry if I'm off base. The mechanic sounds like a combination of a standard fare death penalty (dread on death), healers (NPCs that remove dread/give hope), and a progression limitation like Warhammer or Age of Conan.

    It's neat but it seems rather 1-sided. It'd be much better if it was more of a resource to manage during fights or based on situation.

    Comment by Logo — 12 June, 2009 @ 7:41 AM

  5. I really like how hope/ dread are handled in most of the game, it's really a clever mechanic that enhances your sense of immersion. Three examples: I love seeing the morale boost that I get when I enter Rivendell...it makes perfect sense. The slight dread that you get in areas of the old forest also feels just right. In one of the book quests you eventually become paralyzed with dread when you venture too deep into a barrow wights lair... only to have Tom Bombadil come along and dispel it.

    However, I absolutely hate the radiance gear system. It's something that was added in MoM. Raiding used to allow characters to use a wide variety of gear, gear earned raiding, high end crafted gear, gear earned doing PvMP, gear from 6 man instances...ect.

    Now there is exactly one set of gear that is required for raiding, and if you don't have it a big part of the end game is locked off to you. It completely flies in the face of the pre-MOM design philosophy of LoTRO. All of your criticisms of the Radiance gear system are dead on.

    As an aside, in addition to the hope sources you mention, Hobbits can earn a racial ability to do a funny little dance that adds +1 hope to their entire party.

    Comment by Yeebo — 12 June, 2009 @ 12:48 PM

  6. Melmoth wrote:
    VanHemlock also posted a good article regarding the Dread/Hope mechanic.

    Damn, I knew someone was missing from my RSS reader! VanHemlock brings up an aspect that I didn't mention: the graphical changes. As you get more Dread, things become harder to see. At 4 points of Dread, the screen is very dark with a tunnel-vision effect, and your minimap takes on a heavy red tinge. This adds a bit to the feeling of Dread, although it can also be purely annoying since my computer renders things pretty dark in the first place. A bit of Dread and I truly am stumbling in the dark.

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 June, 2009 @ 4:14 PM

  7. I find the main issue with Hope/Dread is that it's hard to come up with things that would inspire hope. In a world filled to the brim with hostile areas and things that go bump in the night, coming up with ways to create Dread is fairly easy. I can see being with other characters, or certain character abilities being a small help (more of a "fighting the fear" rather than "YEAH! Let's go kick Chuthulu's rear!"). But what is going to REALLY inspire your character? I don't think trinkets or shiny armor is going to cut it when facing down major nasties.

    Having higher level players filling that role is an interesting idea, though. Much like Turbine does with the NPC heroes. In order to give incentives to the player heroes, I'm considering the idea of "legacy quests". These would be scenarios where the lower level party is about to encounter something truely nasty and would be overwhelmed...except for higher level character that are also there to take on the big bad. The lower level party takes care of a secondary objective (rescue someone, retrieve something, set up a trap for the big bad), while the higher level party is taking on the boss (again, multiple objectives are possible here, from a straight kill quest to needing something the boss carries).

    I think this would inspire the PLAYERS of the low level characters (Look at what he's wearing! What she did!), and give them the desire to level up and take on the high level version of the quest. The high level players get the quest reward, maybe even a "hero of Region X" title, and are encouraged to work with the lower level guys instead of dismissing everyone under you as a noob.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent there...but it seems to me that other people are your only source of hope above and beyond countering dread. At least, I have a hard time coming up with other major sources of hope.

    Comment by Silvanis — 13 June, 2009 @ 7:23 PM

  8. I find it very anti-immersive that you get hope from your raid gear. It's like they had this awesome immersive concept and then they thought ... nah, lets just roll it into the gear grind.

    It also shows why you have to be a little careful with crafters because jewelcrafters also had cooking (due to the way craftskills are packaged) which meant that they were the only crafters who made all the raid buff consumables which account for a lot of the money making potential in crafts. IIRC.

    Comment by Spinks — 13 June, 2009 @ 11:00 PM

  9. This seems like a good example of why, over the long haul, I end up bailing on most MMOs. Dread/Hope are an extremely nice flavor to the game, and it adds just a touch of mood and atmosphere that makes the game just that much "cooler" than other "bland" games. But then, a few expansions in and the need to add more than story to the game, it becomes "just another stat" and starts losing the uniqueness it had...

    Comment by Jason — 14 June, 2009 @ 7:09 AM

  10. Silvanis wrote:
    I can see being with other characters, or certain character abilities being a small help (more of a "fighting the fear" rather than "YEAH! Let's go kick Chuthulu's rear!").

    Perhaps encourage a bit of social bonding by allowing players who have been on each others' friends lists a long time to generate Hope for each other? It's a lot easier to face down your doom with a good friend by your side. The disadvantage is that this would potentially harm PUGs even more, since few people would be able to generate Hope. Perhaps a strong friendship could generate Hope for the whole group/raid? "Hey, my good friend's on, and we've adventured together enough to give everyone +3 hope! Send invite, please."

    Jason wrote:
    Dread/Hope are an extremely nice flavor to the game, and it adds just a touch of mood and atmosphere that makes the game just that much "cooler" than other "bland" games. But then, a few expansions in and the need to add more than story to the game, it becomes "just another stat" and starts losing the uniqueness it had...

    Yeah. Well, what other ideas could they do with Hope/Dread instead of making boss monsters have a lot of it and making the only viable counter having the proper gear? Something along the lines of the friend solution Silvanis and I are discussing, for example.

    Comment by Psychochild — 14 June, 2009 @ 4:23 PM

  11. The only problem I see with a friendship solution is that to maximize your friendship bonus you need to play with the same people all the time. In the long run, it discourages social interaction beyond a small(ish) set group to maximize the bonus.

    My only point was that, and you see this in a lot of designs, a game includes interesting elements in the beginning that become corrupted at the game grows if that game decides that "growing" means bigger, stronger, more. And players are as much to blame as the designers for demanding increases in level caps and new gear and all that. I would be happy with a game that just gave me more story to play through without requiring me to grind for gear to power up to grind for more gear, etc... but I know I am not the majority, which is why ultimately I end up leaving most games.

    Comment by Jason — 15 June, 2009 @ 4:46 AM

  12. Jason wrote:
    The only problem I see with a friendship solution is that to maximize your friendship bonus you need to play with the same people all the time. In the long run, it discourages social interaction beyond a small(ish) set group to maximize the bonus.

    Depends on the design. The system would encourage people to "stick together", but if it only took 2 people who had played together a lot to give a good bonus and if different bonuses didn't necessarily stack, that wouldn't discourage socializing with outsiders too much. If I regularly group with three other people, but it only takes two of us to get the Hope bonus, then any two of our group can go out and give a nice bonus to the rest of the group. If this became a major way to get Hope, I could see people wanting to regularly group with other people, which would create new "friendship bonds" that would generate more Hope in other situations.

    I think a more immediate problem would be exclusion. "Well, if your friend can't come along then it's not worth us taking just you..." Ouch!

    Comment by Psychochild — 15 June, 2009 @ 5:08 AM

  13. Comment preface: never played LotRO. Does surviving such hugely dread-inducing bosses give one Hope in future encounters? Or is it merely that you survived?

    Comment by Brett — 15 June, 2009 @ 3:21 PM

  14. The flavour of it is interesting at least. :)

    Comment by Destral — 16 June, 2009 @ 11:24 PM

  15. I've not raided in LotRO, Brett, but my understanding is that you don't get any permanent bonus for defeating a boss.

    That might be an interesting system, though. Defeat bosses to get a bonus to Hope, up to a certain level based on the boss difficulty. If the boss defeats you, then you lose some Hope. Stronger bosses radiate more Dread, so you have to fight weaker bosses to build up Hope. You can still allow Radiance gear to exist as another way to gain Hope instead of just grinding lower bosses for Hope.

    I think I like that idea. Turbine, you're free to steal it. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 17 June, 2009 @ 12:13 AM

  16. Defeating great bosses giving you permanent hope would be a REALLY Great feature! I love LOTRO and have played it since launch. But I am more of a casual player so I haven't yet reached the level where I can raid (was only 42 when MoM came out and am only 54 now).

    One other thing might be that Legendary weapons could inspire hope. Afterall, if I've got a really powerful ancient sword (like Sting or Glamdring) I might have greater hope as a result. If they made the Relics/Gems that you plug into your legendaries add the hope then the Radiance gear would be mitigated more or less.

    Comment by Jason — 17 June, 2009 @ 10:18 AM

  17. While I applaud Turbine for trying to do something different with these stats, like Brian I'm concerned that they are just 2 more stats to manage.

    I find it a bit strange that Hope and Dread are essentially human feelings that have been quantified into a numerical representation. Shouldn't Hope and Dread by something that the player actually *feels* behind their monitor as they play the MMO? Shouldn't the objective of the developers be to make players feel a chill run up their spine or conversely a warm and fuzzy feeling of elation? Certain films come to mind that have had the power to provoke certain feelings. Although it's rare I have experienced these feelings in a MMO too.

    To me this is the magic and power of a MMO/virtual world or any piece of good art for that matter -- the power to make someone feel something.

    While on the subject of LotRO, I found that rarely did I ever feel a sense of geniune dread that must have befallen Midde-earth after the rise of Sauron. That sense of malice and taint that Tolkien so eloquently infused into the words of his book.

    I think this is the challenge for MMO developers. They need to find ways to make virtual worlds more meaningful and immediate instead of the safe, plastic playgrounds that they have become.

    Comment by Wolfshead — 17 June, 2009 @ 8:03 PM

  18. Wolfshead wrote:
    I find it a bit strange that Hope and Dread are essentially human feelings that have been quantified into a numerical representation. Shouldn't Hope and Dread by something that the player actually *feels* behind their monitor as they play the MMO?

    This has given me pause. On one hand, it seems like stirring more emotion in an online game would be a good thing. The problem is the social elements involved.

    Let's assume we can invoke real dread in the player, not just the character. Do you really want to admit that you stopped healing the group because you were too busy trying not to wet yourself? This doesn't sound like something I'd want to admit to. A lot of the emotions we feel in other media are vicarious. It's okay to lose yourself to the point that you jump when the bad guy surprises the hero. When we add the interactivity of a game in, it becomes less vicarious and more person.

    It's also really hard convey an emotion like Dread in a game. If you've tackled an enemy before and won, then it's hard to really feel Dread. It's like watching a horror movie over and over again, eventually you start seeing the blood as actually being Karo syrup with food coloring in it.

    Now, these games can make us feel something, but most games only work on very base emotions. I can feel excitement, worry, anticipation, glory, shame, camaraderie, and many other emotions. Evoking a more complex emotion like dread is a lot harder to do.

    While on the subject of LotRO, I found that rarely did I ever feel a sense of geniune dread that must have befallen Midde-earth after the rise of Sauron. That sense of malice and taint that Tolkien so eloquently infused into the words of his book.

    In a discussion about cyberpunk as a theme for a game on some site I don't remember now, one point I brought up is that the nature of cyberpunk is very depressing. The world doesn't get better, and in the end your efforts are fruitless. The bad guys, the corporations, the elite always win. It's not an easy game to sell to people who want to just go and relax and feel at home. I mean, do you think a game where the first thought in many people's minds is, "Gods, I really dreading going back to that area we were playing in last night," is going to be successful?

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons why WoW works so well for so many people; you have cosmic badasses like Illidan, but his liar can still have kicky throw pillows to rest on after the raid is done. The bright colors and whimsical architecture make the game appealing, even when there's a boss who just wants to splatter you all over the walls. The type of conflict you present is important, I think.

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 June, 2009 @ 3:50 AM

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