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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Deliberately Unbalanced = More Interesting

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday January 26 2010 at 3:27PM
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When MMOG developers attempt to create a "balanced" game, this means that they are trying to create a finite set of class/ability combinations that are - essentially - equal.  Basically, it means that at a certain stage, Class 1 can avoid X damage; class 2 can block X damage; class 3 can heal X damage; and class 4 has armor that prevents X damage. 

The problem is, this balance formula, one way or another, makes all the classes, especially from game to game, the same.  This is why there is nothing new under the sun in MMOGs, and why sci-fi or gothic MMOGs have the same fundamental feel as any other.  They are all designed with grouping and end-game raiding in mind, meaning that each class must be designed to fill a role and balanced to be the relative equal of any other character within a range of levels.

Of course, you have to balance if you're going to include PvP or coerced grouping; balance is broken in such games when it is discovered that a particular class/ability combination results in a character that is significantly more powerful than (1) other characters at its level, or (2) in group or raid situations.  In a raid, all characters must be able to contribute X value, or else one is gimped and the other is over-powered.

But, what if the developer threw out the whole concept of "balanced" groups and forumlaic end-game raiding?  What if PvP had no guarantees that your character would be the relative equal of others with similar time in the game? What if there were not one or two ways to create an over-powered or gimped character, but virtually infinite ways?  What if one of the accepted principles of the game was that you could create a character overpowered in some ways and gimped in others, instead of a development team that slow-fed you a sugar-coated diet of forced balance and end-game relevance?

From the perspective of what this blog is about (a 24/7 progression game whether online or not), a player could make themselves, say, a fire tank by putting virtually all of their advancement time into fire resistance, generating aggro, and health. Such a character might be able to handle fire-based enemies well beyond the capacity of others of equal time investment.   Imagine a much higher-level (meaning: more time invested, since this blog is advocating a game without levels) fire mage attacking a much lower-level player who has their time invested thusly; the lower character might be impossible for that particular higher-level character to kill. 

But then, an ice-mage would make short work of that same character.

Imagine a game where you can pursue highly specified characteristics indefinitely. The ultimate fire-demon conjurer. The ultimate two-handed mace expert. The ultimate healer of humans.  The ultimate healer of mixed groups.  The ultimate chain-lightning caster.  Near-infinite specificity of ability and no limitatation to how good one can get at it.  It might be that you have virtually no health, no defense, no crafting capacity or any other game skills whatsoever, but if a group can smuggle you into the enemy camp alive and get you to just cast one ultimate chain-lightning spell, then even if you get killed immediatly afterward they have a chance of winning because you've decimated the opposing army.

That's real variety, and endless potential for highly individual characters.  If it is in a system that has 24/7 advancement for all your characters, then even if you find one of your characters gimped from doing something you wish to do, all you have to do is set them on a development course to fix the problem.

biofellis writes:

You are advocating a system that is knowingly broken, and even worse- inclined to get more messed up over time. Imagine a user in a dorm who lets anyone who wants play his character 24/7. Then imagine- two years later, someone just joining the game who sees this character's damage output- and has to just nod their head. It's the pointlessness of Mafia Wars, only with more stats & skills to mess up.

PvP would be even worse- the Dorm room char being able to rank one field uber & others high- and virtually dominate any casual/new gamer- and worse, with no levels to say 'You're completely outclassed' everyone will 'look like' fair game.

Finally- this doesn't actually add anything to the diversity of classes- it just removes 'class titles' & adds 'specializations'- which actually inhibits the ease of grouping and the potentially lowers the efficiency of play  dynamics.

I'm not saying it absolutely can't work- I just don't see it being any fun except for the 'kings of the hill' who spec out their uber 'kick off hill' attack.

Tue Jan 26 2010 5:28PM Report
Meleagar writes:

The dorm character would whave not have a time advantage over any other character becase, as I mentioned in the post, it's predicated on a 24/7 advancement rate for all characters whether the player is online or not.

Since there is no particular "end game", and since all characters can advance in all avenues by the player managing an Eve-like progress system, there is nothing to "break".  One doesn't have to be able to fulfill any particlar class role; one never faces a ceiling on character advancement of any sort;; there are no "bottlenecks"; PvP is entirely consensual.

You can only "break" the character balance in a game that has a necessary, forced interdependent system structured to meet particular end-game or PvP roles.  This game would have no "classes" whatsoever besides what the player invented because the advancement system would be wide open.

Wed Jan 27 2010 5:29AM Report
biofellis writes:

No. The abscence of a [groupname CLASS] does not change the efficiency or addvancement of [subgroup CLASSSKILLS].- even if you rename it to [list UNCLASSEDSKILLS]. You took of the top level limiter and rank- but skills still advance- and worse, are unranked and unlimited.

When making a party people will have to ask "does anyone have healing ranked 500 or better?", "Can anyone tank 500 damage per round?", "We need 2 people who can do 1000 DPS."

Yes. Same classes- different questions.

The fact that the skills advance whether online or off makes it worse- so that any 'senior' account can outclass any 'junior' account- no matter how well that junior player plays, adapts, grows, contributes- etc. This is counter-productive and will only serve to de-motivate new players- expecially if a lack of skill in open competition (PvP, economy, etc) costs them.

From a designers standpoint, you've also made PvE worse, because XP is currently rewarded based on 'assumed difficulty'- and that links to Level. No levels, and all mobs are equal too. How much XP do you give? How do you determine it? Instead of one simple formula which gives 0 xp when you're 5 levels over- now you either can't tell (and must always give something) or have to check every combat skill to figure out how 'tough' the fight should have been.

Making this work is not going to be easy. Good luck to you.

Wed Jan 27 2010 2:06PM Report
Meleagar writes:

Your arguments about "groups" are largely irrelevant, because grouping isn't a requirement for obtaining anything in the game.  Please note the title of the blog.  The game I propose is not designed so that groups are necessarily more effective than soloers.

I also advocate a "catch-up rate" of progression, like exists in EVE, where latecomers to the game advance at an accelerated rate until (and if) they catch-up to time counted from game-launch.

There is no "XP" awarded for killing anything in the world; XP is generated at the same 24/7 rate for everyone (allowing for the catch-up rate for newcomers).

As far as evaluating the degree of difficulty in fighting any creature as a comparison to your own skills, I appreciate you bringing that up, because it gives me a great idea that I'll blog about later today.

I appreciate your input!

Thu Jan 28 2010 7:07AM Report
biofellis writes:

"Groups" is for 'groups of skills', normally a function of Class. Sorry that this was less than explicit. If you don't acknowledge the reality of the effectiveness of cooperation & collaboration then why even make an MMO?

'Catch up-rate' seems a little cheesy, but not toxic- you still have to work (I'd expect) while at this rate.

No XP? So you're not building in RPG then. What's the backstory for this game then, where everyon 'learns' despite not trying? They all androids- future-people 'fed by the hub'? It's 'knowledge magic'? A lot of game do things that are 'illogical' just to do things 'convenient'. Like 'guild chat'. How's it work? What awesome communication device allows communication no matter what? Distance? Don't matter. Deep underground? Underwater? Don't matter. Being help up by a bank robber who says put all ypur cell phones in the bag? Don't matter- guild chat is in your head. How about maps? GPS? In your head? 

Skills? Need a tome of ancient knowledge for 'lost spells'? No. In your head.

Need to find out about the new techniques for your class? No. In your head. (Actually- this is already done.)

Need to... No need- just wait. Why work or worry? It'll come to you. Just give it time & it'll be in your head...

Glad to be of service. Take care.

Thu Jan 28 2010 12:01PM Report
Meleagar writes:

The basis for the 24/7 advancement is that even while the player is offline, the character still exists in the world doing things.  The only contrivance is that it goes on even while one is in the game doing other things.  It is a similar contrivance in games already out that just because one gains X experience from any particular activity source, they gain a level that affects a broad spectrum of abilities, not necessarily only those used in gaining the XP.

All games both require some contrivances and utilize others to facilitate enjoyment of gameplay.  The game I propose is specifically tageted towards soloers and casuals, which means that grouping/raiding doesn't deliver exclusive content, and that how much time you can physically put in the game doesn't affect your rated of advancement.

Of course, such a game isn't meant to appeal to everyone, just a viable niche market.  I recognize that a lot of people enjoy playing in groups; there's a lot of games out there for them. There's also a lot of people that enjoy soloing in  MMORPGs; I'm one of them. Why we enjoy it is irrelevant. MMORPG doesn't necessarily mean that people want to play in groups; it just means they want to play in a world where other real players are present. Just because you can group up with others in an MMORPG doesn't mean you have to, nor does it mean the game needs to be designed that way.

When sound first came to movies, every movie was a musical. Nobody could imagine not making a musical where there were song & dance numbers.  People that pitched non-musicals were greeted with incredulous, gaping stares and were shown the door. Eventually, a non-musical was made and now there are very few musicals made; it turns out that just because you could put song and dance numbers in a movie doesn't mean you have to, or that most people really wanted it in their movies.

I think the same is true of MMORPGs; just because you can group up in an MMOG does't mean everyone, or even most people, want to.  However, virtually every MMORPG on the market today is specifically designed to reserve top-notch, unique content for groups and raids, meaning that the best any soloer can accomplish in any such game is being a second or third-rate character.

If soloers had a choice between a game where they can never achieve top content, and a game where all the content is available (eventually) to their playstyle and where groups are not afforded any special considerations, which game do you think they'd choose?

Fri Jan 29 2010 6:38AM Report
biofellis writes:

The one where their actions determined their rewards.

Good luck.

Fri Jan 29 2010 5:06PM Report
z80paranoia writes: deleted Thu Jun 17 2010 9:35PM Report
z80paranoia writes: deleted Thu Jun 17 2010 9:44PM Report writes:
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