Breakfast of Passives: Champions Online and damage soaking.

Damage soaking is the ability of a player character to absorb large amounts of enemy damage over time. The image is that of a sponge, holding water. When the “sponge” gets full, the player dies. We have two components of this.

1. Active Soaking, in which player initiated abilites absorb damage. In FFXI a job ability for paladins is Sentinel. When activated, it absorbs a set percent of damage which reduces over time until the ability wears off. You can use it again once the cooldown is up.

This is a very elastic term. Any active means for a player to reduce or absorb incoming damage counts in my view. You could subdivide this into direct soaking where damage is applied to the player and either avoided or reduced, or indirect soaking where damage potential is reduced, by crowd control, or attack-preventing debuffs.

2.Passive Soaking. The difference between it and active is that players do not need to initiate it. Attributes like stamina or defense, or traits that are innate to a character to provide a direct damage reduction are examples. Also is armor. To use FFXI again, Paladins have a shield skill which enables straight damage reduction when a shield is equipped based on percentages. When the random number generator indicates a block, you do, and reduce an incoming hit. Player buffs also count towards this.

Champions Online has both examples of these, but they are a case in how one form can completely dominate the other. Active soaks in CO involve blocking, both usual and superpowered. There are also holds, which incapacitate a character for a few moments before they jam on the keys and free themselves, and roots, which keep players stationary. Some others are using stun or interrupt moves to prevent incoming heavy charge attacks. My might character has an uppercut move which sends critters flying. It can both interrupt them, and upon landing they are stunned and unable to attack for a limited time.

All of these can be countered. Blocks can be broken entirely for ten seconds by upgrading one of your powers to do so. holds can be broken out of, and equipment exists to reduce severity. Stats also come into play. You can even just move out of range for some counters.

Passives though are the problem. Passives in Champions Online are slotted abilities which provide straight damage reduction or health regeneration, and they dominate. There are several reasons why:

-all mobs can attack at range and close, and from a greater range usually than the player. This means positioning is not effective against normal, non-charging attacks. It also means that roots are useless except to keep mobs from running away. You can’t root them to attack one at a time, you must use holds instead.

-mobs come in groups and pure crowd control is limited to a few abilities. The base unit is 3 or 4 mobs, with some tougher. In later levels pets also come into play, as does adds. While area of effect damage dealing abilities counter this, it means all encounters have a set threshold of incoming damage that has to be mitigated.

-The big one: while blocking or active self-healing, you cannot attack. It’s a common problem in single player RPGs called the debuff problem: what it means is that apart from gimmick debuffs designed to weaken specific bosses, most debuffs will be worthless as raw damage will end the fight sooner.

What this means in an MMO and in CO is that pure blocking is useless on its own. Your health continues to go down, and you don’t attack. It is only useful when paired with something. This is where passives become overpowered. A passive lets you either reduce damage and still attack, or it adds force multipliers to blocking by letting regen restore your health while you do so. So everyone uses a passive defensive ability, as the foundation to make active ones work.

My solution for this is simple in theory: keep passives, but remove the normal damage mobs and players do. This focuses the game on perceiving and dodging charging moves, or using the correct move as part of a strategy. Passives in CO work best when mitigating lots of small amounts of damge over time. With my supernatural character and her regen I can tank 10 mobs by blocking and slowly get back to full life.

The theory is simple, but to do so in the game would be impossible due to massive redesigning and rebalancing. I think to make it work in an existing game would involve strengthening active soaks while weakening passives. A good way would be to make active soaks heal over time with a cooldown: currently some do but they seem weak or too limited. One that should be used very much which I don’t see is increasing invulnerability to damage types: meelee should take less from meelee and flame to flame. It’s passive, but lets players choose a more limited form instead of straight damage reduction.

Its a complex issue. Thinking about these things makes me realize how difficult a developer’s job must be. It’s easy for me to theorize currently, but they have to craft the code that makes it work, as well as deal with social and community backlash. It makes you humble as a player and enforces the need to treat devs with respect and patience.

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4 Responses to Breakfast of Passives: Champions Online and damage soaking.

  1. Tesh says:

    A tangential thought: What about the Street Fighter system? Blocking still lets through a little damage (more for specials), but also leaves you more vulnerable to throws. “Turtling” by blocking continually isn’t a viable strategy. Later iterations in the series allowed for counters, though, where blocks could turn into big counterattacks with the right timing.

    Maybe that’s too much for an internet game, though, considering timing and lag.

  2. Dblade says:

    It could work. You’d need a “room clearer” like in the Final Fight games that let you move from a block to react to a guard crush in time. I’m not a big fan of throws in fighting games because they are coupled with block stun. That leads to tick throws and other ways of removing reaction.

    It’s hard because CO is designed for you to engage groups of 3 or 4 with the potential to aggro more, and with parts of the group hanging back at range. Yet all attack at the same time.

  3. Tesh says:

    True, true, the group combat instead of the one-on-one of SF is a significant difference. What about some sort of “on the move” blocking? Since positioning and tactics are more relevant in 3D with multiple combatants, could we even make some sort of tactical “rush” move that functions like a block? Say, it has no offensive damage capability, but it moves you (and maybe even shoves mobs), while counting as a “block-type move” for regen/passive purposes? Sort of a smaller, more focused and directional “room clearer”, I guess…

  4. Dblade says:

    Sadly positioning isn’t that important in CO. You have to be in range yeah, but there is no real dodging: dodges just are a straight form of damage reduction based on your dex and any enhancing gear or passives.

    Maybe along those lines removing one type of attack from a mob, and making them ranged only (with holds that need to be blocked or they will root you in place) or meelee only (short ranged attacks but with guard crushes.) You could use a block dash then with a timer to close in.

    It would take such revamping though. CO has some great concepts, like mobs taking falling damage (so you can knock them off buildings and actually kill them) but a lot of it is really basic.

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