Macroing (Automation) In RPGs, How Square Got It Right With Final Fantasy XII, And What MMOs Can Learn:

Final Fantasy XII is not a Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO). But the battle system is very similar to one, in that it's not turn-based like a traditional RPG. All characters and enemies act on the same time table - when you want to select a command, the game pauses so that you can effectively create the illusion of all of your three characters acting on their own. Commands do not execute immediately - it takes about a second for the action meter to build up for the command to be executed successfully. If you decide to cancel the command in the middle and do something else, like, for instance if you're in the process of casting a spell, and you see that a teammate is injured and needs healing, your action timer will reset and start from the beginning with the healing command. If the pauses and menus were not there, it might look like a real-time fight. I repeat, there are no turns. You can cancel commands in the middle of an action, you can do these commands in any order, and the enemies you fight will all attack at once, attacking whomever the AI decides is the best target at the time. The AI probably does this the way an MMO AI does it, by calculating the level of threat a character produces, which is usually based on how much damage they're doing combined with how much they are sustaining / improving the health and abilities of their teammates.

So far, this just sounds like the fighting system one might encounter in an MMO if you had the option to pause whenever you wanted to execute a command. And of course, if there was only one person controlling the whole team.

What's important is the presence of gambits in FF:XII.

A gambit is almost the equivalent of a macro in a MMO.

It allows you to automate tasks if certain criteria are met. If you want a character to cast a powerful group heal spell every time a teammate's health goes below 40%, you can set that up to happen, every time, as long as they have enough magic points / mana to cast the spell. If you want to cast a spell that removes all enhancement "buffs" from an enemy every time an enemy is encountered that has a certain attack power buff on it, you can set that up. When you set up a gambit, you can stop it at any time and do whatever else you want - after you do the manual command, your character will go back to his list of gambits and start using those again. This is necessary for boss fights which, are EXTREMELY challenging in FF:XII and you have to do a lot of unique things to win.

This is a lot of fun to figure out in FF:XII, where you have control of three characters at once - it can be very time-consuming and mentally challenging to try to get them all to do the right thing to win a battle. Moreover, if the battle isn't particularly hard, it can be tedious to tell them to attack over and over and over again. Many people have been turned off by RPGs because of this very fact - it sucks to have to tell a character to attack over and over again ad nauseum until the monster dies.

There are limits to this system in FF:XII. You can only have up to 12 different gambits, so each of your characters may automate only 12 different tasks. Furthermore, you have a limited choice of what you can do. The game decides what is and isn't possible to automate. For instance, I can tell my party's leader to attack the nearest enemy. I can't link this to other commands - I can't tell my party's leader to attack the nearest enemy, and then cast a fire spell on it. I can't link this to other commands with my other party members - I can't tell another party member to heal the party leader every 30 seconds once he has initiated combat using the attack nearest enemy gambit described above.

The system works very well. Final Fantasy XII is the most fun I've ever had with an RPG. I don't mean that it has the best story with the greatest plot twists (not to say that the story isn't compelling), or the coolest effects (not to say that the game isn't great to look at), but it is the most fun. There isn't much in the game at all that has that tedious, grinding feeling of playing an RPG. Not until you try to get the best items or fight all of the really difficult optional bosses, anyway.

The use of such systems in MMO games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest is considered a bannable offense. The use of such systems is not allowed.

In these games, the systems are created by third parties who usually have good intentions - that's been my experience with the Everquest Macroquest project anyway. Such third party programs are developed over a long period of time. They "plug in" to the game and allow you to do things you wouldn't normally be able to do. The main problem with these programs is that by their nature, they kind of discover everything about how the game works, how it's put together, and how to break the rules. There aren't any of the limits that you will find in Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. If you want to do that kind of stuff, sure, you can, and in my experience, it will make your gaming experience richer, and it's really the only way to effectively play multiple characters. On the other hand, if you want to do all kinds of cheap, unintended stuff like teleporting around the game world, equipping weapons in face armor slots, and many other really interesting things, you can do those too. The developers of Macroquest don't condone this, but it hasn't stopped people from doing it. "Bad" Macroing is rampant in MMO games.

There are cases where macros could be a good thing in an MMO. If you wanted to play a few different characters at once because none of your friends were online, it would be nice. In a game like Everquest, once you reach the end-game level of gameplay, you can't do anything without a solid group of at least four people. If you're playing in the middle of the day, play on an underpopulated server, or, have been playing in the past few years (Since the population of the game dropped off with the release of games like World of Warcraft) without a large and capable guild, you can't just play whenever you want, because of this. You're restricted to doing things that aren't fun, or aren't challenging.

There are plenty of reasons why MMO developers don't want macros in their games, aside from the immense damage that cheating and hacking cause to a persistent online world. Whether or not these reasons are legitimate and valid, is the subject of a lot of debate.

Some say that a MMO's goal is to get people to spend as much time in their online universe as possible. These people say that the developers will do this intentionally, by any means possible. They say that this is the reason why we see bosses that take an hour to kill, but are unexciting to fight in any way. A good example that supports this case is the final dungeon in the Everquest expansion Shadows of Luclin, which came out a few years ago. This dungeon, called Vex Thal, had monsters that had millions upon millions of hitpoints, and such high AC that weapons did minimal damage to them. There were a lot of "trash mobs" in the zone, along with the "boss mobs" that everyone wanted to fight for their great loot. As I recall, it would take up to an hour of fighting trash mobs to get to some boss mobs, and the boss mob fights took as long as an hour each. Back in the day when this was the best zone to go to, you could expect to spend a full eight hour day fighting in this zone. This isn't the only example, but it's the first one that comes to mind. If people used macros to fight most of the monsters in the zone, who usually had VERY predictable patterns, the time wouldn't go away, but most of the work would be automated. You could probably sit back and watch the action. You wouldn't have to waste an entire day doing fighting that is mostly fruitless and has no reward, with monsters who are placed between the bosses for no reason other than to waste your time.

I'm going to cut to the chase: I think that if a system like the gambit system were implemented in an MMO, it would make it a lot more fun. Most of these games have excessive amounts of tedious "work" involved with advancement and success in their universes. Some of these games require you to play with a group of people any time you want to have fun, which in my mind, doesn't work unless there is ALWAYS a large pool of fun players to select from; the only way this could happen is if people lived their lives in the game...and sadly, some do. If a macroing system was created by the game developers and had a bunch of limits set on what a player could do, how would that really hurt things? The way these games play, it's almost as if they're designed to be automated anyway. In my experience, people generally don't use macros because they love cheating, they do it because the games aren't fun often enough to justify all of the time they're spending on them. Stop banning people and start thinking about how to incorporate this stuff into your games and making the automation system fun and challenging.

I'm nearly 70 hours into Final Fantasy XII. I've only had it for two and a half weeks. Every moment has been fun, and has only made me want to play the game more, because it's just enjoyable. Who can say that for the 70 hours they might spend in one week on their MMO game of choice?


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