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December 03, 2008



[Off-topic musing: I always wonder why people type out "triple-A" rather than simply "AAA"]

I don't *necessarily* mind classes, though like you I would prefer freedom of assigning abilities, skills, etc. Yes, for 90%+ of players, that will lead to the closest approximation of a "class" anyway, but for the other ~10% of us -- joy!

Classes simply provide some sort of role. I could even say each chess piece is a "class" providing its own role in the board's battlefield. Even something like an UNO card, with the Reverse, Skip, Wild, etc. could be a "class" for that game. Unit types in an RTS could be considered classes, though that's a bit different because one player is controlling all of that rather than only one character/unit/class. Many modern FPS titles allow players to select a role (same as a class) such as Assault Soldier, Sniper, Engineer, Medic, etc. Each has a specific role to fulfill in the battle; however an important distinction is that the player can choose his role prior to each respawn. Did the enemy roll some tanks into your base? Fine, I'll choose a heavy weapons soldier with an anti-vehicle bazooka to help deal with them. Obviously that would not be kosher in a PvE setting. Oh, we're short a tank? Ok *poof* I'm now a tank.

What I do mind is levels. I mind levels in general -- they're an obsolete and broken mechanic in general -- but PvP and Levels DO.NOT.MIX! WAR tried a convoluted approach to balancing each tier but that just doesn't work. Ever.

I suppose a good question is: Do PvP and RPG's go together? So far, my answer is a resounding NO, but I have hope that eventually someday someone will figure a way to seamlessly blend PvE with PvP and make it an enjoyable and meaningful aspect for both groups of players.


DOMO is class based, but as you level, you can buy (with stat points) the ability for all your jobs (since you can change them at will) to wear the armor or wield the weapon another job has. For instance, in DOMO, thieves where cloth armor. If I leveled my blade master to a certain point, I could buy the achievement that lets me wear the better light armor no matter my job.

But then, in DOMO, you design your own class. You can mix and match abilities from all your jobs; I have a post on that coming tonight.

Shin Megami Tensei is a skill based game. If you want to learn healing magic or anything, just slot the basic technique and start using it. Use it enough and you can learn the better techniques.

Western MMO developers are too shy to experiment because they set their sights too high. Asian developers are always trying new things. Sometimes they don't work, but they are definitely unafraid to try new stuff. It's where the MMO action is these days.


I'll agree there, some of the more interesting small sub-systems always seem to be found in the Asian F2P games. I just wish the games themselves were more substantial. Do Asian players honestly prefer grinding fast-respawning mobs with zero AI ad infinitum?

I'm still unconvinced PvP and RPG's go together at all though. So-called "massive PvP" still isn't even technically possible. Servers can't deal with the information overload and clients can't deal with rendering it all. I hate to say it but maybe AoC had the right idea by limiting PvP population to... what was it? 40 vs. 40?


Hmm. I *like* classes, I *like* levels, and I *like* PvP, and I *like* PvE. Now make it work for me, damnit! And I *don't* like mirror classing, at least not perfectly mirrored classes (a la WoW).

MMO's will never be perfectly "balanced," and I'd hazard a guess that if they were, we'd find them really boring. It's the dynamics of imbalance that makes it exciting! So long as it's not always de-facto favorable to one particular build, team, or realm.

So far, I think WAR has done the best job of mixing all of those various tastes. And yes, I think we can "have it all."

EVE probably does the best job of removing levels and classes (at least superficially removed) - at the expense of player accessibility and functional "alts." EVE is the worst MMO with a consideration towards multi-character management (basicallly it's impossible to play an alt unless you buy additional accounts - bleh). But it's one of the best "sandbox" MMO's out there.

However, even in EVE I play "classes" - a Miner/Drone Boat Pilot, a Hauler/Market Player, and a DPS/Guardsman-Foreman/Mission Runner. "Levels" in EVE are measured in time spent training, vs. XP gained killing things or questing - but it's similar enough I would consider it equivalent.


@Scott - Hmm, can't say that I mind levels. I've never worried about it much. If the content is fun to move through then I'm really just doing that and the leveling comes as it comes. Unnecessary cock-blocking based on levels is annoying - such as using them as a device to hide the shallowness of the content above by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out the leveling. I'm not sure that I'd enjoy a game where I can re-spawn into a different role. That sounds very cookie cutter and lacks the customization I want.

I'm looking for a much more personalized set of capabilities and I think that PVP which lacks the need for strict class distinction, is an opportunity to gimme what I want.

As for Triple-A, dunno. I don't usually do game design musing so it's not a phrase I type with any regularity and that is the form that came to mind.

@Marchosias - That is part of my point. As Scott mentioned, most people will define something that is very close to a class but can provide a bit of personalized flavor, while others will really stretch the boundaries. That sounds like a win-win to me and PVP type games have the type of content most capable of supporting that freedom of choice so why don't we have more of it.

Besides which, if it isn't already boring to play the forced classes, how could it possibly be more boring with at least a semblance of customization and freedom. I don't find excitement in playing a class I feel is under powered or at a distinct disadvantage but that's what I'm stuck with if that's the role I want to play. Like seriously, why is that exciting???

EVE's other faults and learning curves aside, I don't think there's anything boring about the fact that everyone has access to everything because people will always play the classes differently, under varying circumstances, gear and actual player skill levels.

@Tipa - Can't comment on the non Western games. I've tinkered with a couple but usually can't get past the UI, movement and navigation on top of the grind. I do agree that it appears the Western developers are less apt to take risks. Some will blame it on players bashing risk-taking games and not supporting them. I say, take risks but it has to be implemented well - quality and people will try it. I think however, we've seen a few games that were claiming innovation but delivered inferior quality, got slammed for that and somehow some people tied that all together with, ZOMG players don't support innovated games, see! Not saying you've said that. Just things I've read on forums.


I'd have liked Tabula Rasa to do better. I tried it, was just bored with it, but it was clear they were trying something new. Its failure means the next company to come along will be even more reluctant to be very different.

SOE has a bunch of quirky MMOs, but which do people play? The one most like WoW.

Alysianah aka Saylah

I think we've hit an unfortunate spiral of linked events. Some games promised innovation and delivered poor quality games, they got slammed lost subs and ended in deep doo-doo. Others promised innovation delivered some quality but not enough hook/appeal/interesting content, players leave and they end up in doo-doo.

If only one kind of supposedly innovative game failed things would be kept in perspective. Instead we have both kinds released with under banners of "innovation" so now their failures are tied to "innovation" and NOT the true root causes of the poor showings. This is bad news all the way around. I agree, we are much more likely to see more WOW-wannabes as a result.

What will happen if TCoS doesn't do well?? Will people remember the poor communication and publicity out to potential players? Will they think about the interest they lost with a game that took forever and a day to release and lagged releasing in the US? Will they remember that some customers are already complaining about customer service and responsiveness related to the publisher? Probably not. It will get lumped under players don't support innovative games and we'll get even more WOW-clones.

Basically, 38 Studios, Bioware, Sony's Agency or one of the upcoming SciFi titles better kick some ass or we're lost for another generation of MMOs.


A skill-based system wouldn't solve the balance problems... if anything I think it would make balance harder because there's more combinations to deal with.

An easy way to perfectly balance any form of PvP in any game imaginable is to divide the match into 2 sections, where the sides switch teams half way through. This is the way Left 4 Dead does it for example, where the humans and zombies swap teams. It doesn't matter then if one side is overpowered, since the other team gets a crack at it too.

However, applying that concept to an MMO is the tricky part.

Failing a system like that, I think they need to focus on less classes. For example, Guild Wars was incredibly well balanced before any of the expansions were released (6 classes) but became too rock-paper-scissors after a couple of expansions (10 characters).

Alysianah aka Saylah

I don't think the balancing is just about one side versus the other. At least in my experience is a class vs another class. Balancing abilities that are equally available to all with changes that equally impact all, I think is less emotionally charged than changes that only impact the "me". I think that's what incites all the tears.

And if an ability is changed in a way you don't like or even a group of them, you're still never put in a position of sucking it up or re-rolling. You just choose to play a different role or respec how you play you're existing role.

When I think of a game like EVE, there's nothing they could do to an ability to make you need to completely re-roll. however, that does call into question longevity if people are less likely to have alts and re-roll.


But then in games without classes, such as EVE, does one need alts? I mean, isn't the point of an alt to experience the game through a different role using different abilities? Maybe you'll like the way the alt plays better and it becomes your main?

SWG was my first and at the time only allowed ONE character per server, so if you wanted an alt you had to two-box. Not the case anymore, though. But even though it did have professions you could train/drop/retrain anything so you didn't really need an alt. It was your choice how to experience the game through your only character.

I still say LEVELS are far worse for PvP than classes will ever be. Gear with stats is a close second to levels.

Alysianah aka Saylah

Interestingly enough players in EVE do have alts even though you can only train up one character's skill at a time. It's probably because skilling up takes so long that you do tend to specialize each character and train up what's necessary.

I don't mind levels but if there aren't any what is the progression like?


That's easy enough to answer: what's the progression like in EVE? (I find it interesting that EVE players say things like that. Syncaine made a similar comment on one of my recent posts. Not being an EVE player myself, should I just take this as EVE players play, and pay for, the game but experience no sense of progression whatsoever? That certainly wasn't the case with SWG way back when.)

PvP -- *Player* versus *Player* -- only works when they're starting on an even playing field. Levels prohibit that until everyone is at level cap, which either means you've had to wait umpteen levels to participate or you've had umpteen levels of completely uneven PvP.

Gear with stats comes in second because it still gives uneven "PvP" because at that point it's Gear vs. Gear and player input/skill/whatever is a step or few removed from the equation. Someone who wins simply because they have the Axe of Awesome and the Super-Duper Shield isn't fun and it isn't PvP.

Consider "real" PvP, both real and videogames.

Card games require some forward-thinking or strategy to cope with the random chances of your deck. That applies to CCGs as well, though they usually involve building your own deck but you don't always know what you're up against until your deck is built and it's too late to do anything about it. RTS games could also fit into this description or category as well as chess.

Sports require a lot of player skill and quick thinking to adapt to the situation on the fly. Real teams have multiple members plus the coach giving advice and it all has to gel together. Video sports it's one player manning the entire team, so player skill is important there.

Racing can have a sense of progression or leveling up, where say the NASCAR driver gets more sponsors or whatever which can get him newer, better equipment for his car. However, that new equipment does not give him an easier win -- his own skills have to increase as well to deal with the new speed, the new driving dynamics, etc. The same applies to racing games like Forza2 where as the player levels he gets new cars, new equipment and new tweaks, but those can make his job worse if his driving skill doesn't increase as well.

Modern FPS games give a persistent avatar which you "level" through the ranks and usually unlock various weapons, armor or other equipment or abilities. But again the new stuff is not an auto-win. The new submachine gun might have a higher rate of fire, or its rounds might do more damage but its accuracy is lower to balance it. The new armor might let you survive three hits instead of two. But a single headshot still takes you out.

All of those examples are just like what EVE says: a brand new player has a chance against a veteran. Skill, as well as chance, are always a part of the PvP. In the "levels and gear" RPG's that is *rarely* the case.

A leveling *mechanic* is needed, it's a vital part of being an RPG. But the "hard levels" most MMORPGs use is obsolete and acts as too much of a barrier to playing together.

Alysianah aka Saylah

If other EVE players are like me, you measure your progression by the level of the skills you have. As a player you don't have a level but every single one of your skills has a level. Therefore your abilities are a combination of all those levels and they control what type of ships & rigging, weapons and ammunition you can use - ultimately level.

I don't play console games - sports or otherwise so I can't say how you progress but the big difference is persistent world vs. static and the same thing goes for the FPS. So still it's not clear to me what my progression would feel like without levels unless it's skill based which in my mind is just another leveling mechanic.


It's absolutely another leveling *mechanic* which is needed in an RPG. It's "hard levels" that are the problematic kind, for the reasons I've stated.

You're still losing me on the EVE thing though. Everything I read about EVE says it's skills-based. Yet you and Syncaine both seem to tell me you're unable to relate any sense of advancement or progress to EVE? And cannot make a comparative translation from the "EVE way of things" into a traditional fantasy (or whatever) RPG?

I'm also rapidly losing faith in the illusion of a "persistent world" when they are anything but. The only thing "persistent" in an MMO is my character(s) and I can say the same about Battlefield 2142. The only other aspect of "persistence" is that when I'm logged out, the game continues with others playing, but isn't that the case with *any* online multiplayer game?


I think the difficulty is that in EVE you are your equipment. People measure their progress by what ships they can fly, what peripherals they can equip on their ships, what weapons they can use and what kind of ammunition they can mount in the weapon. So it's all about the combined skill level to outfit a vesicle. However, there are different types of vesicles and those skill requirements differ.

So for a combat ship I might have a large amount of skills and all combined, it allows me to command the best of the best. Whereas when it comes to Industry-type ships, my skills put me into a moderately equipped ship and maybe for mining ships I'd only be able to equip crap/lowbie items. That's why it's hard to translate into how players would progress in a typical RPG.

IMO this is another reason why players don't care so much about the sanctioned method of conducting RMT. You can have all the ISK in the EVE but without the skill training, it means nothing at all.


I can translate that example *directly* into a typical MMORPG:

Let's say I'm playing WoW and I spread my skill points around two or three trees for a Warrior class. I can tank a little, dps a little. Or if I focus one one primarily I can tank really well or dps a lot. If I choose to not grind (rep, whatever it is) to get a flying mount then I can still tank really really well, or dps a lot but someone who took the time to get that flying mount has more speed.

re: I think the difficulty is that in EVE you are your equipment.

That's also true in a lot of fantasy MMORPGs especially WoW where you are not important, your character isn't important, your character's GEAR is important. How many guilds/groups use /inspect or the Armory before they even let you join? How many demand specific builds before they let you join?

Just because you don't have an avatar or character (which is coming soon to EVE anyway) doesn't make the basic philosophy behind it all any different, at least not to me.


For me, the trick is to make progress dependent entirely on player progress, meaning player skill, rather than time investment on the level/loot treadmill. MMOs are about PvP ultimately, otherwise why play online with other people in the first place? (I'd play WoW offline solo pure PvE quite happily, but that's not really the potential of the MMO genre as a whole. It's just where game design so far has wound up because the treadmills are profitable.)

Alysianah aka Saylah

After playing W101 more I guess I can see a game without levels more. I notices the other day that I had no idea of my level. What I track are my skill points because they let me choose additional cards. I was actually surprised to see that I was level 19 when I was checking for a skill point. I was measuring my progress by how much content I've completed and the acquisition of new spells.


Exactly. Wizard101 *has* levels, but it isn't *about* levels. Guild Wars is similar in that regard. In W101 each "level" puts a new number over your head so you and everyone else have an immediate visual indication of your progress. That covers the e-peen waggling aspect of it. Otherwise it just means that you gain another point to get another card, just as in Guild Wars you get another skill point to acquire a new skill.

I didn't get high enough in W101 beta (I don't think?) but does the game have a maximum deck size ie. your deck can only contain so many cards regardless how many cards you actually own? Just like you can have hundreds and hundreds of total skills in GW but can only choose 8 at a time on your hotbar?

I'm wondering if when I say "no levels" you're taking that as meaning "no progress" or "no advancement?" Which is precisely why I keep bringing EVE up -- it doesn't have levels but does have advancement. Not saying skill-trees are the perfect solution either (especially real-time skill training) but it's another form of a "leveling mechanic" that doesn't have quite the negative effects that the Diku version of levels do. GW and W101 are good examples of the power of "levels" being used for good instead of evil. :)


If bad guys get progressively stronger, then players need to as well. If bad guys get progressively smarter rather than stronger, then the artificial leveling mechanics can leave, and player skill can take over. Of course, that requires good AI programming, which is much more trouble than just bumping up some HP and STR numbers.


Yes, there's a maximum number of spells that can be equipped into you spell selection. All of your spells are in the book to choose from but you can't put them all into the deck. Yesterday I was rewarded with a new deck that had more slots for active spells (30 with the standard 3 copies max of any spell). I had to decide if I wanted to use that new book or keep my class specific book which only allows 25 spells but 4 copies of my class specific spells. The rewards wasn't a linear upgrade exactly and not necessarily better than what I had, depending on how I want to build my spell deck.


That's the sort of thing that MTG players deal with considering deck composition and probability. Probabilities are such that the smaller the deck, and the more copies of any given card, the more likely you are to see that card. (I know, it's not really brain surgery.) If your deck hinges on certain cards, then, that older book would be more consistent in giving you what you need. If your deck strategy hinges on being flexible and adaptable, it's nice to have a larger deck with more facets to it.

But yeah, that's just theorycrafting 101 from a game design geek. Sorry if that's obvious stuff. :D


I wavered for a while in favor of the smaller deck for the reasons you stated. But since I'm the "does a little of everything" class, I decided that having more cards provided more flexibility. I play a certain way if I'm in combat alone and can utilize fewer cards following a predefined strategy. However, since anyone can join my combat and drag along their mobs, I have to be able to change my tactics at a moment's notice. It's surprising and fun how adaptable you have to be, not knowing if the fight will remain just you and the mobs you attacked.

When I'm alone, like in an instanced encounter, I can skirt the edge of risk and expose myself to a bit more damage trying to pull off a critical strike move. It can be risky but sometimes it's fun to make a BIG BOOM or build up enough PIPs (spell cast energy) to use an AOE attack.

However, if I've taken risks just to spice things up and other players enter my combat circle with their mobs, I have to adjust quickly to protect myself and regain health in order to withstand hits from more adversaries. This means using some of my turns for buffs or debuffing. Having more cards in my deck gives me that flexibility. I've even had situations where someone comes along with their mob and then dies, leaving me to deal with mine and theirs. *Smile* For those reasons I decided that at least for now, more is better.


I completely sympathize with that, and I think your analysis is spot on. I might be biased, though, since I play for fun and flexibility, with a three-school Balance/Myth/Fire combination. I can definitely see where a bit more focus would be good in specific instances.

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