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The topic is how collision detection can be used to refresh combat in MMORPGs.
In its basic form, it ensures that two characters cannot overlap or stack upon one another. This is nothing new, many MMORPGs do this atleast when player characters are concerned. This already creates a new aspect to combat which does not exist in games that do not employ collision detection: You can block your opponents. Body blocking creates situations where you can defend your allies from melee attackers merely by smart movement and positioning. No abilities used, or needed. This was very heavily used in Guild Wars 1 for instance.
Another more rare feature is line of sight checks for ranged spells and attacks. What it does is pretty straight-forward: When in place, you cannot shoot through terrain, your allies or enemies other than your target. You have to have a line of sight to your target to be able to hit it. The effect this has is that formations become important, terrain becomes important and ranged attacks become less potent in amassed battles.
Lets take a closer look at large scale battles with this idea in mind: If you don't have terrain or other players to block your shots, you can easily have a situation where the whole offensive power of one team is directed at one player of the other team. Defense-wise, the most important thing for a soft back-line character is to stay beyond the range of hostile attacks, which can easily lead to situations where your melee attackers are beyond healing range -> melee becomes less viable.
However, if you cannot shoot past enemies other than your target, taking down a character from the enemy's backline is very difficult. Even if you choose to target a frontline character, your ability to apply your offensive power is hindered.
Needless to say, formation would play a very important role if such as system was put in place, but also tactics. You see, while a front line character is vulnerable to ranged attacks, if you can manage to close the distance, you are relatively safe in melee because only so many characters can fill the spaces around you and there will be no shooting into melee (a feature which should be familiar to tabletop players). Also, by maintaining a close formation, you can limit the number of melee attackers to just a few at a time.
As always, a larger group will have the advantage but with good use of terrain and formation, the numbers between sides becomes less important. Situations where the whole team is shooting one target at a time is pretty rare in FPS games, and what usually limits this is the map terrain. And if you still find yourself in a situation where 32 players can shoot you at the same time - you are doing something wrong.
On the other side of the spectrum: Eve Online, you can have hundreds of players on both sides, and it is not uncommon to find yourself in the crosshairs of hundred of your opponents. For a developer, this is an especially challenging balancing problem: How to balance items and abilities so that they have a use but are not overpowered in large scale and/or small scale combat?
The simplest way to demonstrate this problem is healing: How do you keep healing relevant in large scale engagements where one ally can be a target of hundreds of attacks at the same time? Usually they die pretty much instantly, right? And you can't just buff healing, because it can become overpowered in small-scale engagements. Personally I don't think there is a solution to be found simply by adjusting healing; therefore, you have to figure out some other way to keep healing both relevant and not overpowered at the same time.
If we look at FPS games again, even if you have 64 or more players playing at the same time, depending on map design, the situations you find yourself in are more commonly 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 1v2, 1v3 or 1v4 etc. Much more smaller. This makes it easier to balance all the items and abilities in the game.
In a game where you have to use tactics and utility abilities to break the enemy formation, it becomes harder to evaluate your power on pure math alone. You also have to figure out what sort of AOE effects you want to employ, for example do you want to use a lighting bolt that passes through up to three targets in a straight line, fireball which explodes as an expanding sphere upon first impact or a meteor that strikes from the sky as a form of indirect fire. The array of different ranged attacks could be very broad.
Even with no friendly fire or limited friendly fire I can find this making up for a fun way to do combat in MMORPGs.
So... Collision detection. Any thoughts?
I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been -Wayne Gretzky