In retrospect I see that I was using Trinity play as shorthand for an older, more traditional style of group play in general. It's a pity I didn't know that when I was writing that piece but then I rarely know what I'm writing about until I get to the end and read it back, by which time I've often run out of time or energy to start over and do it properly. That's the difference between blogging and writing articles, in a nutshell.
Anyway, as a result of the discussion that arose I had kind of an insight. Not an epiphany, nothing so dramatic. Not even a very original idea, I'm sure, but one that was fresh to me. It's this: grouping in MMOs is a team sport.
Superior-realities suggested that Trinity play prevents each individual player from seeing more than a fraction of the whole of any combat: "My issue with the trinity", he says, "is simply how stilted and limiting it is. Each role experiences only a fraction of combat. Only tanks directly interact with enemies, only healers get to directly support their allies, and only DPS get to fun the of big crits and impressive kills.".
And here, I think, we have something. Back in the old days, group play in MMOs was openly acknowledged to be a team game. I'd somehow forgotten. Maybe newer players never knew.
|Some scenarios naturally encourage a team ethic...|
Organization and expectation rose from there but no matter the focus and experience and commitment of the individuals involved one thing remained constant: defined team roles. Just as you wouldn't play baseball or cricket or football (any flavor) without first agreeing on who's on first or who keeps goal or stands behind the wicket, so you wouldn't build a traditional group without deciding who's going to pull, who's the off-tank, who's main-healing...
When I was at school I played a number of different team games. It was absolutely the case that I only experienced a fraction of every game directly. When I was keeping goal I was in the frenzied center of the action for brief, terrifying moments but I often spent minutes at a time standing alone, peering towards the far end of the pitch, trying to make out what was going on up the other end. As a center-forward playing field hockey, forbidden to cross my own half-way line, I had the same experience in reverse.
It is not the lot of a team player to enjoy the full experience of the game in the round. It's his or her joy and frustration to know some parts of it in extreme detail, some at the periphery and the rest only in long-shot, from conversation in the changing room or the bar afterwards.
|Others, not so much.|
Over the years MMOs have tried to give everyone that single-player experience even in content designed for groups. It doesn't work. Giving everyone access to all the roles at once gets you no closer to everyone experiencing everything to the full than it did when roles were handled with exclusivity. Each individual player only knows his or her small part of the battle, no matter what.
When this approach is applied to open-world content like Public Quests and Dynamic Events the result is as though centuries of sophistication and progress had been rolled back. Instead of a tightly codified, highly-disciplined sport played professionally by experts you have everyone in the entire village trying to kick a dead sheep across two miles of muddy field. Which isn't to say that's not a fun way to spend an afternoon...
That's a contrast between raiding and zerging, though, which is outside the brief of this piece. When it comes to single-group content, what we like to call "Dungeon Play" for convenience' sake, it's an attempt doomed to failure. Much though we might like to, we just can't all have all the things all the time.
In a supposedly free-form, self-structuring set-up like GW2's dungeons, what happens is that players, deprived of strong, specific group roles, devise full-group strategies that allow the group to act as though it were a single player. If no-one is given the tools to Tank alone or Heal alone then the default is for everyone to do as much damage as possible as fast as possible - hence the Zerker Meta, which Anet professes to abhor and yet which has yet to be broken, let alone replaced.
|You can have too many specialists.|
This kind of system doesn't give a player a wider, deeper, broader experience of content. All it does is turn group content into surrogate solo content that you can only experience if you find several other players willing to solo alongside you.
Okay, I know that's an extreme take on what is in reality a more flexible and varied process, but in essence the "I can do everything" mode is, at best, no better at providing variety for the player than the old Trinitarian vision. Mostly, I would contend, it's considerably worse.
In the end, though, that doesn't matter so much. What matters is whether we see group content as team-based or individual-based. If it's going to be the former then we are always going to need roles and those roles will need to be clearly defined and understood.
They don't by any means need to be exclusive or singular. You don't even need to make players play Alts to see the full picture. With its Soul system Rift, for example, was able to design around clear group roles while allowing every player to have access to all of them on the same character. However you choose to parcel them up, though, if you don't have the firm roles in the first place, you have removed a whole layer of complexity, involvement and, I would say, satisfaction from the game.
This is what I would like: clear, defined roles that require the deployment of specific, solid, effective abilities at a pace that's conducive to considered, rational decision-making. And I'd like all of this to be happening in a real-time "live" environment, where errors have consequences and concentration and application are essential if success is to be achieved.
When I choose to party up I want to experience play that is substantively different to that which I experience when soloing. I'm grouping with other people because I want to be part of a team. I understand that there's a trade-off. I know it means there will be things I don't get to do for myself. That is the point. That's why I grouped.
Otherwise, why not let's make everything soloable and stick with that?