My feeling is that it's pretty unlikely that anything anyone writes on a blog or a specialist interest site is going to change opinions one way or another. At this stage of the argument we're all indulging in the online equivalent of sitting around the pub table, banging on about our individual hobby-horses, while everyone else flips beermats and waits for their turn to pontificate. And there's nothing wrong with that!
I find myself in an odd position. I would openly advocate a return to the Trinity, yet I've spent the last three and a half years playing the heck out of GW2, one of the MMOs widely considered to have done everything in its power to tear that Trinity down and stamp on the pieces. I frequently denigrate so-called "action rpgs" while tub-thumping on behalf of traditional stand-and-cast tab target gameplay, yet this week alone I've written about playing and enjoying no fewer than three center-reticule oriented mouse-thrashers.
So, what's going on? Well, I think Karinshastha, commenting in Murph's thread, expressed it perfectly. If I did "Quote of the Day" posts this would be a prime contender:
"If one wishes to remove trinity elements or play them down, one would have to accept a somewhat more accelerated and perhaps also competitive pace of play. I suppose you could roughly map it to the recent findings released by Quantic Foundry (“The Growing 35+ Gamer Market”) which essentially correlate competitiveness with youth and strategic play with all ages with the qualification that strategic play is valued by older gamers.".In other words, I'm making the best of what I'm being given but only because no-one is really giving me what I want. The market is taking time to adjust to the new reality: not all gamers are 15 year old boys any more.
By contrast, Jeromai equates The Trinity with both simplicity and laziness "The “it’s too hard for me to understand anything more complex” “casuals want to just drop in and have mindless fun, and feel comforted and familiar with a system they’ve already learned argument" is how he describes it. I think that's just plain wrong.
|Forty tanks, no healer.|
There was very little that was "mindless" about clearing through Chardok or Sebilis or Lower Guk, inching through claustrophobic tunnels filled with hostile creatures, any one of which could easily kill any one of your group, or quite possibly all at the same time. As a plate-armored tank ,expected to take the lead, every step was freighted with the stark knowledge that, without healing from your cleric, you wouldn't survive a single fight. What's more, if you fell, your body would lie there in the dust or the damp, all your worldly possessions lost with it, while you awoke miles away, facing the prospect of fighting your way back, in your skivvies, wielding your second-best sword.
Meanwhile, the cleric would be equally painfully aware that his ability to keep the tank up and fighting depended on that tank's skill in turning the mob, positioning it efficiently and holding its attention long enough for the rest of the party to finish it. As for the rest of that party, they had a myriad of tasks to consider as they judged how much they dared to damage the creature without making the tank's job impossible, kept an eye out for any of the creature's allies, assessed their dwindling resources and generally remained fully engaged with and aware of their environment at all times.
MIndless? Simple? I should frickin' coco! It was a thinking person's game back then, not a contest of reflexes and reaction times. A tense, high-stakes game of strategy and tactics. More like a game of three-dimensional chess crossed with Russian roulette than a quick hand of Snap.
It may well be that the Trinity has become debased by the general downgrading of content over the years to fit the imagined short attention span of the wider audience developers wish to attract but if so that's a symptom of a much wider malaise. It's not in itself the problem, or the fault, of the Trinity gameplay. Neither is it a structural or a mechanical shortcoming per se.
No, the issue, and with it the key to meaningful, thoughtful, intelligent Trinity-based gameplay, is pacing. All of those games from the past that built on a platform of Tanking, Healing and Crowd Control were slower than any game you'll play today. Not just a little slower - much slower. For the full flavor of the meat to flood through it needs to be chewed steadily and for a long time.
In true Trinity play there were no such things as "trash mobs". Every fight, every single fight, from the guards at the gate to the final Boss, could lead to a full party wipe. If that happened it could mean, at best, half an hour or more just to get everyone back in place to try again. If the group wasn't well-bonded, more likely it would mean the end of productive play for the session and the fracturing of that group.
Individual fights with what would now be called "trash" might take three, four, five minutes. There would be a constant concern over whether the fight was taking too long. Long enough that a roamer might come around and add, making the outcome even more uncertain. Long enough that mobs already killed might begin to respawn.
The Tank might need to decide mid-fight to move the mob to a safer spot because the ranger, with a better view, spotted a roamer on the move. The cleric might find mana running low and need to judge the merit of sitting to regain a little more against the risk of "sitting agro" pulling the attention of the mob away from the taunting tank and onto himself.
I could go on and on and, yes, on. This is all old ground. I've been over it before so many times. I can only conjure a tiny, tiny handful of the potential outcomes and events that every player under the Trinity would have been considering every time the Monk ran back into the room and flopped down with a slavering monster tight on his bare heels.
I really don't think it's possible to convey to players now, who weren't there then, just how complex the possible range of interactions between players and players, players and mobs and, yes, mobs and mobs, used to be. The level of complexity simply dwarfed anything I've experienced in the genre in a decade and the reason for that is pacing.
|Trust me, you don't need an opposable thumb. I'm asking you to tank, not hitchhike.|
For that level of complexity to be viable as entertainment requires long, slow combat that gives everyone time to look around, to think and to plan, even while everything still happens in "real time". At any moment, a sudden explosion of action could send the entire movie into fast-forward. From calm reflection to frenzied firefighting in an instant was the transit when bad luck or misjudgment brought potential doom and destruction to the room.
When older players hanker after The Trinity that is what I believe they are yearning for. The chance to have every fight matter, not just the Boss fights. The luxury of being able to make meaningful choices based on coherent, fully-developed chains of thought, not merely on reaction and reflex. The opportunity to play characters with quirks and foibles and preferences, not toons with rotations and optimal strats.
Over the past decade or so there have been trends towards slow food, slow travel, slow living all around. It's about time for some slow gaming. Past time. The Trinity is no magic answer to the genre's problems but it is a sign and it's pointing in a good direction.