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the Lonely Alter

I don't play "games", I play MMORPGs! This is where I talk about them!

Author: Tierless

#18 Question Everything: Levels, Who needs em?

Posted by Tierless Friday May 10 2013 at 12:01AM
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This one is near and dear to my little black heart. Levels, WTF? Levels were invented to keep us paying a bit longer, they were never meant to be more important than the overall game. The drive to get us alting and leveling multiple characters has overtaken the drive to give us something to do once we level those alts. Hell, it seems like most MMOs have been launching with a tacked on or unfinished ending, but man, that leveling was sure swell (until I did it 5x and quit to do it in another game)! If you had put all that time into making a great game world to live  in first, then figured out how to tack on some sort of leveling system that rewards us based on doing stuff in that game world it would be a whole different story (ah, now thats an idea ;) Instead they are putting most of the time and resources into the part we rush through the fastest and remember the least, levels.

I’m oldschool, in my day MMOs were about the stories you made for yourself, not about the zones full of scripted quests telling you what a hero you are for killing 10 elite rats. You played MMOs to get to the end, that was where the real gameplay was. Reversing that has sent this genre into a tailspin. I don’t just think levels are a thing of the past, I consider them “that annoying thing I have to do to get to the end game”, end game being the reason I play MMOs, to do fun stuff in a cool world full of friends and enemies, and get cool rewards like unique decor or the pleasure of burning my enemies house down.

I keep seeing posts like “am I over MMOs, why aren’t MMOs doing it for me, have I moved on” etc. No, it’s not you, it’s them! You get bored and move on after leveling because the entire game is leveling, after you do it you have little reason to stick around. Worst of all, the mechanisms to keep us are grindy token currency systems. Back in my day that grindy stuff had a different name, not tokens, we called it leveling (and we did it barefoot foot, uphill, both ways, in snow storms with a bad ethernet cable)! Leveling was the grind, endgame was the reward!

(cough, cough, cough, sneezzzzze) DAMN ALLERGIES! now where was I...ah bear with me here were about to take the blue pill (or was it the red one?) and travel down that rabbit hole covered in weird reflective mirror plasma. I ask you to bear with me, I need to set up some background first. FYI I do not currently play EVE (I’ve spent about 3 months in EVE total, sorry, I’m an avatar guy), but I respect what CCP has done with it

How familiar are you with EVE’s system? EVE’s system does 2 things that no other MMO does. 1. It completely removes the leveling journey. The second you step into EVE (after the tutorial) you do whatever you enjoy, you don't have to be concerned with leveling. As a result EVE was able to be built entirely for the “gameplay circle” which consists of (remember this it’s important) resourcing, crafting, building, fighting, and expanding, the “what do they do with their time” and it gets its players involved with that right from day one. That is genius!

2. It’s pretty easy for me to walk away from a GW2 toon or a SWTOR toon since leveling was quick and easy I can always do it again if I have to. It was a script, I didn't really “do” anything, I just played out the script. EVE skills level in real time. Once I have started to acquire several respectable ones I realize I put piles of real time into my character. Not to mention, while that was happening I was playing the game, doing whatever I wanted to, real consequential stuff! No wonder EVE retains so well, it’s damn hard to walk away from hours of real time levels and true game playing experiences. (Dont worry Im not planning a real time level system but hang in here, it’s going somewhere shortly)

EVE’s system has another huge advantage over the GW2 type system. After a fairly small time investment you can contribute (with your friends) to just about every aspect of EVE. You don’t hear “sorry bro you gotta level first”. GW2 came soo soo close with the down leveling PVE and up leveling PVP but they still fell short. They needed to get rid of levels entirely and just have XP unlock some small stat increases, and new moves not unlike how you can unlock new skills with the points you acquire by doing stuff in the world (there's that crazy idea again, we must be close). It feels like they had it, then someone said “woawoawao, not having levels might freak people out” so they threw them in to keep things nice and familiar.

“So Cryless, what is your genius idea for CU, as usual I see a lot of roar with little explanation?” Well, I’m flattered reader but I wouldn’t call it genius, I appreciate the compliment, but I’d say it's average at best, more logical than genius really. Step 1. Build the game world first, make the “endgame” first, give players reasons to want to hang around and live in the world first! 2. Work backwards from that. Make gaining XP based on doing stuff in the game world. Not scripted quests, but on the activities that the game revolves around ex. resourcing, crafting, building, fighting, expanding ;) 3. That XP doesn’t go into character levels. No character levels, just skill levels (ok everyone just freaked out)! I’ll explain.

Every player starts CU with a few base skills and respectable core stats. You unlock new skills by filling your “skill bar with XP” (NO LEVEL BAR). Once you fill the skill bar you get to pick 1 new skill from a variety of them, each new skill also comes with a slight stat increase (you also get an animation and ding noise so it looks like you just got more badass. (I gotta have a ding! EVE has no ding, thats lame!). You start badass and capable, as you put time in you gain skills and small stat increases so you are eventually more badass, but not so badass that a new player can’t threaten you. You keep the gap between old and new tight with very slight advantages to the more experienced player. 4. I don't have a 4, because I don't need a freakin 4! Ok, 4. How will skills work?

The skill system works best in pyramid fashion, it resembles this image from SWG but it is NOT the swg system I’m talking about, its just a nice layout to base my example off of.

With my system you would have (for ex) 20 level 1 skills for 1000XP each. You get 1000XP by doing lots of stuff and pick one of the 20. Now you start at 0 XP and work toward 1000 again, except in the tree where you got that level 1 skill you have access to the level 2 version of that skill, but not it costs 2000Xp. So you decide, do I wait for the 2k one or do I go for another 1k right away? Extra kicker here, each class has a limited # of skill points, each box takes a point. So you can’t max every single box, you end up picking skills that will dictate how your character plays. It is similar to the SWG system, but not exactly. It also borrows from the GW2 skill point system (like I said, they were sooooooo close). FYI this is a SLOW climb. You will have to put time in to gain more skills (ie. play the game), fortunately if you don't have time, with this system you won’t be gimped, just not quite as badass. Also you can always just pay cash for skill ups to even things out...kidding, I said I’m kidding! I DESPISE pay to win, but I bet I had ya for a second?

Hopefully I didn’t conffuzzle everyone, hopefully all of that makes sense...With this system you would have similar classes that play different based on the skills they have maxed. It gives us variety within the classes and forces us to make tough choices on which skills we want. New players have enough core stats to be a threat and contribute from day one, but they lack the skill diversity to control the fight as well as some stats. When you select a skill and click learn you hear a ding and your character does a special animation! I love me some ding!

“But Tiermore, how will we know who is leveled and who isn’t without player levels” We don’t, why should we? If you wanna know who to run from you can check leader boards. In game NO ONE has a little number by their character, no one knows exactly what skills you have or how high you leveled them, and that is a beautiful thing. Fight cautiously, you never how your opponent will fight or what skills they possess. Exciting isn't it? It also keeps us from OMG hes a lvl 90 run! It encourages more challenges and less running.

Yeah, its hard as hell to build a great world first, its a lot easier to work something as orderly as levels, but CU isn't about the script written for us, its about the script we are writing for ourselves, through our journeys and experiences in the game. So, good, bad or just plain confusing?


Smorak writes: Without prolonged levels, you game becomes a MOBA.  And even that genre sought the need for levels so they could have better matching systems. Fri May 10 2013 12:25PM Report
Tierless writes: But I mentioned a prolong level system. And since it doesn't effect your player level, but rather your move skill level, like EVE the levels aren't just long term, they may very well be never ending. Fri May 10 2013 9:58PM Report
rosej90 writes: Secret world is near there i think cause when you get enough exp (no levels) you can pick new skills etc too long story to tell all what you get but anyway :D  Wed May 15 2013 8:40AM Report
gylnne writes: Another thought provoking post, thank you Tier:) Wed May 15 2013 10:58AM Report
strangiato2112 writes:

"Levels were invented to keep us paying a bit longer, they were never meant to be more important than the overall game."

You couldnt be more wrong.  i didnt even read the rest of the blog because of how you have missed the point so blatantly.


What levels were originally was a means of progression.  And levels were supposed to be a huge deal, and take a LONG time to get, not just an hour or two.


The mistake modern games make is that character progression ends too fast.  Everyone is too focused on 'end game', in an ideal setting endgame doesnt even exist.


I think the game that combines EQ1's original slow leveling (with a hybridization of its AAs maybe) and a D&D style of character building will be the next EvE Online:  game that starts small but becomes huge.


And you can also make an unending progression with a skill based system, but levels are ultimately more satisfying (in my opinion).


The way games like Rift and modern WoW treat leveling is a joke though, most will agree on that.  if all you care about is the destination whats the point of the journey?

I want a neverending journey.  thats what EQ1 was for a long time.

Wed May 15 2013 11:52PM Report
Tierless writes:

@strangiato2112 "You couldnt be more wrong." FYI I didn't even bother reading the rest of your post because of how you have missed the point so blatantly. We both know I am never wrong, therefore anything you said after such a statement was clearly invalid.

I'm kidding, but it doesn't make much sense to judge a book by it's first paragraph, at least to me it doesn't...

"What levels were originally was a means of progression.  And levels were supposed to be a huge deal, and take a LONG time to get, not just an hour or two." You might be remembering things a little differently than I do. If you think the insane levels of a game like EQ1 were to provide us with a "journey" your being a bit naive. They were made to keep us playing and keep us paying. In the old days you found a spawn, camped, and grinded. So much for "the journey" the devs were giving us. Speaking of:

"I want a neverending journey.  thats what EQ1 was for a long time." The eternal fail point of games based on leveling is that levels are finite. You do them 1 time, you are a new level, done and gone. You might repeat (alt) a few times, but after that, meh, you go onto new Themepark X.

If the endgame, you know, that mythical unknown carrot at the end of your level grind, was done correctly it would work like the circle of life, a never ending circle of stuff to do, reasons to play, and experiences to have, like how EVE works. Leveling is still extremely important, but not limiting.

I completely agree with you that levels should mean a lot and they should be hard as hell to grind out. I miss the old days when you saw a max level guy and thought "omg did you see his relm rank that guy must be insane!" and I want us to get back to that, but change it so we are not handicapped by our level. Respect the number, but that number should not dictate how much I can contribute to the game, make sense?


Thu May 16 2013 12:00PM Report writes:
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