Mr. Schubert of Zen of Design posted overviews of his two other roundtables from GDC last week, one focused on Combat, the other on Classes, Levels, and the “grind”.  Both posts are interesting, and I’ve wanted to comment on the last one for some time, but finding the right words to express my thoughts has proved elusive… so as I usually do in such situations, I’m just going to go “stream of consciousness” and hope I don’t type anything really obviously stupid as I go along. 

Combat

I particularly liked the way he summarized the focus of the discussion: “turn-based, stats-more-than-skill, tank-mage-healer brand of combat”.  I actually agreed with the vast majority of what was presented here… in most cases, it’s not necessarily that combat is the only way to accomplish any of these things, but rather that it is a direct method of doing them all at once.

As he summarized it, the core strengths are Repeatable, Team-based, Scalability, and Tactical, with a variety of roles.

The idea of a Multiplayer crafting activity is intriguing.  It would have to be something large, but with discrete steps… things like building houses and/or ships, or maybe civil engineering projects like bridges and aquaducts.  Another vague possibility relates to crafting sizable quantities of smaller goods in a limited time… a guild needing to craft 1000 arrows for a commission, or some such.  The problem is, how do you create some interdependency on an immediate level?  You’d definitely need a far more developed crafting process than anything that currently exists, Horizons and Vanguard included.  An interesting problem, at least…

Classes, Levels, and Grinding (oh my!)

Anyone who has reviewed my past writings knows I am no huge fan of ye olde D+D/D20 class and level system in MMOs.  It’s not that the concepts themselves are necessarily bad, it’s just the typical implementations that are not just leaving me uninterested, but literally becoming almost offensive as time goes by.  (Admittedly, most people won’t have this problem, not having 30+ years of experience with these concepts looming over their heads.  Lucky them.)

Anyway, I’ve flogged that particular dead horse before, and it’s the type of argument that is never going to be resolved, one way or the other, until other systems are put into general use to fine-tune them, similar to what has already been done for the class/level/XP paradigm.

I did want to comment on some of the points raised…

Classes and levels are parallel to the real world: Kinda.  Sorta.  Not really.  So, what level are you?  I see classified ads all the time, looking for 40th level accountants and 50th level managers…. or maybe not.  It would be far more convenient if it was true, but it’s not really parallel to the way the real world works in most cases.

Provides an archetype: actually, the “average player” knows his desired play style before he even installs the game.  The question is, can he obtain it, and does he know how?  Did you even create a class that offers it, let alone help him find it? (It usually does go deeper than simple Tank-Healer-DPS).  If you have a skill system, are you guiding him toward the skills that will allow him to construct that style of play, or making him hunt for them?

Diversity: Shockingly, when there is exactly one activity that is rewarded, abilities and techniques that can best perform that single activity become preferable.

Easier to balance: for my part, I’m not sold on this.  It’s definitely easier to get close, agreed, but I actually think it may be harder to really “close the deal” (under the D+D/Diku-style system specifically: moving a step toward the skill end of the spectrum into multi-classing and/or subclasses/talent trees/etc. makes it easier.)

Low intensity: so very true.  CoX is a fair example, IMO.  Another example: I took advantage of the MMORPG.com Tales of Pirates “beta promotion” this past weekend… a very low intensity game (at the start, at least, can’t speak to the later stages of play): basically go here, do this dirt simple task, then go here, wash, rinse, repeat.  I still had 3 hours in almost before I realized it.  Must have been in the mood to vegetate…

RPS problem: rock-paper-scissors at the tactics level can lead to loss of that distinctiveness and interdependence that was one of the reasons you stuck to classes for to begin with.  It doesn’t have to… but then you lose a lot of the “easier” advantage.

Continual Rewards: how about having various flavors of “pellets”?  I like blueberry, cinnamon, and caramel (not all at once, tho!)… OTOH, strawberry makes me gag.

The comment at the very end offering WoW quests as a remedy for the grind was interesting.  The pattern-breaking advantage mentioned is good insight.  It would seem to even loosely tie back to the “It’s not challenging” and “Risk-adverse behavior”, and definitely to advancement optimization… quest XP+kill XP in WoW is almost always “denser” than even kill XP at a fast spawning camp (with some exceptions).

Perspectives

Some vaguely related linkage to finish up…

A fairly prototypical rant against “the grind” over at MMORPG.com.

A nice introspective post titled “Intelligence in MMO’s” at Tide’s Horizon, which touches on what alternative advancement models might (hopefully) one day enable/provide.  It already links back to these same Zen of Design posts, of course.

A follow up to the “Rogue’s Lament” post over at the Rampant Coyote that hints at some goals a game system that wasn’t brute-force-combat-centric might pursue.