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Static Class Based Games and Their Flaws

Posted by vajuras Sunday February 24 2008 at 1:56PM
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Being a proponent of Sandbox gaming I'm of course not a big fan of being bound by a 'Static' Class in MMORPGs. 'Static' Class Based games are titles like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Everquest, and so forth.

EVE Online is not a perfect game we all know this. Time Based Training aside- what was brilliant was the mix of 'Dynamic' Classes and their open skill system. Any player can learn any skill. No boundaries. Sure, it is not possible to learn every skill due to Time Based Training but you can learn any skill you want- if you follow.

Now, I want to say I do like Classes employed in FPS and other genres. Why? Well, they give me the freedom to switch Classes at anytime. This is why Classes are pretty nice in Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 2142, etc. Upon death, I can pick a new role. This allows PVPers to optimize dynamically to confront any situation. Take Savage 2, a Class based title. Is my team missing healers? Cool, at respawn I'll go switch to a Healer. Do we need more Warriors? I can switch to that. Anything to help my team most pvpers will try to cover their 'holes'. Samething with TF2 and Battlefield series

EVE Online was brilliant in that they gain the benefits of Classes via 'Ships'. Every ship has constraints just like Static Classes. They are balanced in regards to other ships. They provide Tactical Transparency (players will know a big huge Mothership on sight!). Also, this constrains players. Not every skill is applicable to the ship you pilot. Constraints.

Let's discuss why Classes are a win in MMORPG space briefly:

- They emulate Sports games. Everyone has a role. Our Healer might be our Quarterback, making major runtime decisions. Our Warriors are our offensive lineman. Our Mages can perhaps be compared to receivers, providing a long range threat to the opposition

That's the #1 benefit we get from Classes. We gain clearly defined roles. For PVE this is AWESOME because all of our challenges are 'known'. We can optimize to take down the raid bosses and NPC mobs. Everything is laid out for us through walkthroughs and previous experiences in an encounter.

But consider PVP. You are a Warrior and you are grinding on a mob. Along comes a Mage and nukes you before you can close range. Ouch, mismatch. Guess what gamers scream for on the forums? PVPers want balance. They think this is unfair. So the Developers listen and tries to 'balance' all the Classes to be equal. They give Warriors a 'Charge' move to close range and so forth. Now as you see we are sort of losing the whole idea of Dependance in the first place. Perhaps originally, the Developers naively thought Warriors should rely on Mages for long range dealing. Now, other Developers have taken notice what happened to MMORPG 'Perfection Online' and decide to fix this in their MMO. FFA PVP, gone. Open pvp, gone too.

You cant blame Developers they are merely trying to get rid of their design flaws.

The ugly problem way worse then "All Classes Are Created Equal" is envy and jealousy. 'Static' Classes bind players to a role they should perform. Let's say a Scout/Rogue and a Mage forms a team and decides to farm some mobs. The Scout notices the Mage is doing way more damage with AOE. It's crazy, he's darn near useless. Using his backstab attack, the rogue is only taking out one NPC. The Mage is taking up scores of them at once. Envy. Abel and Cain. Garden of Eve is aflame. The Scout wants to be more viable. The Developer then gives them Crowd Control abilities, picklocking, and anything they can think of to make them more competent.

 

We have two problems here:

1) Inability to optimize. The Scout cannot hope to match the Mage without Developer intervention

2) All Classes Are Created Equal. The idea of Classes is to enforce dependence. But players want to be equally viable. Especially nowadays with the heavy solo mentality

 

Hence we arrived at Developer Evolution #2. Quests. Developers know not all 'Classes Are Equal' so they introduce Quests as a way to make things fair for all to Solo through the game. So now we have Questing which grants XP. Now to make things more fair, they reduce the XP gained from soloing NPCs. This way, you make leveling more competitive between all the Classes

We have also arrived at Developer Evolution #3. With FFA PVP being tossed out and Open PVP also getting tossed (Because it reveals the game flaws with Classes)- we now transition into RvR or Faction versus Faction. PVPers love Faction vs Faction and RvR sounds great to us too.

Classes is the remaining anomaly however. Let's consider Guilds and Instanced combat- like Battlegrounds. PUBs (Noobs not on Ventrillo) get massacred. Why? Well the Guilds are optimizing their team compositions. They will bring the optimal amount of Healers, Mages, and Warriors to bare. The Pubbies cant optimize like this. Remember, we are playing a 'Static' Class based game. So PUBBies lack the freedom to optimize their teams. FPS games dont suffer this problem, they allow you to switch upon respawn. MMORPGs dont do this and they will suffer from a basic design flaw that FPS games have evolved out of a lonnngggg time ago.

Thus we will arrive at a critical point where Classes will either become more hybridized (more versatile), open skill systems (like skill-based), or they will allow gamers to unlock multiple Classes on one avatar (like Battlefield 2142).

 

Now think about Guild Wars. They are really a 'Static' Class Based game. They suffer from all of these issues. They outright disallow PUBBIES and Veterans from fighting against each other. They know their game flaws and optimized it out. Unfortunately, we sort of lose a certain Massive Multiplayer feeling with this sort of solution. But it works for them.

Ultmately, what I would like to see is a move towards more open systems that allows PVPers to optimize for dynamic situations. PVE is static- all of our challenges are known. PVP isn't this way. Guilds will try anything and min/max. Tossing 40 random people into an Arena with a Guild is simply slaughter. I remember Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft when we saw Guilds tags everyone would darn near AFK and get bounced out of the instance it was soooo bad.

If mmorpg developers want to really employ Instances with 'Static' Class based games they will suffer from these flaws. It is no wonder why a huge population of mmorpg players stick to PVE. Classes work great for Sports. Everyone knows their role and has a great idea of what will happen. Just like Football

FAQ:

Q: Why is EVE Online not a 'Static' Class based game? You just contradicted yourself, they have Classes via Ships!?

A: True, but in EVE Onlne you can always dock and switch ships. Thus, you can switch Classes possibly if your station/mothership is under siege and you want to swtich ships.

 

Q: Why is Guild Wars Static is very freeform.

A: Agreed I love that title. But during Guild vs Guild you are unable to switch roles. It is still fun game, but you have to hope you have covered every conceivable 'hole' in your defense way ahead of time. Perhaps this is more realistic some could argue. But in real life, I would argue most people are pretty diverse.

Anofalye writes:

Class = for grouping

 

Skills = for solo

 

This is grossly simplified, but until a dev prove me that skills have the same grouping advantages, I won't believe it.  Class = Everyone know who can do what.  Class = specialised role.  Class = a purpose for this character (I wanna get more of X stats to fullfill my role better).

 

I wouldn't mind been using skills while soloing and been using a class while grouping if it is simple.  Or to just stick with either.

 

I like BOTH, the skills and the class.  They have their advantages.  With the skill, you add a dimension to consider, with the class you just set this for the player and focus on other aspects.

 

For me, this thread is pretty much similar to a gear vs gearless thread...I like both ideas.

Sun Feb 24 2008 4:49PM Report
t0nyd writes:

I dont like idea that everyone can have everything. This is one of my primary gripes about skill based games.

I do enjoy how guild wars does some things. I like a limited number of powers available. I also like the fact that you get to design what you want, dps, healer, etc.

In the end, skill based and class based are the same in a sense. It is all in how you design the game. A class based game can have just as much freedom of choice as a skill based game.

Sun Feb 24 2008 6:42PM Report
Nightbringe1 writes:

The choice between skill based and class is mostly one of personal preferance. I happen to like the predefined roles, and the predefined limits, that it imposes.

Sun Feb 24 2008 8:10PM Report
daveains writes:

>>

We gain clearly defined roles. For PVE this is AWESOME because all of our challenges are 'known'. We can optimize to take down the raid bosses and NPC mobs. Everything is laid out for us through walkthroughs and previous experiences in an encounter.

<<

Wait, "every challenge is known? We can "optimize"? Everything is laid out for us"?????

Are you saying these things like they have anything to do with having FUN?

I think this points out the biggest problem of the entire gaming industry today. The "big players" have actually managed to use the class system to indoctrinate game players into working like little corporate drones on one of their workteams- and PAYING for the privilege!

I am just boggled by this. The name of the genre in which the vast majority of these games are set is not "fantasy". It's HEROIC FANTASY - in which every player is supposed to get the chance to feel like a HERO. You know, training hard, kicking butt, saving the day, getting rewards and respect by their skill, courage, dedication and aforementioned buttkicking?


Apparently that's too much for the developer drones. They have to have everyone classed, so they can set up the dungeons according the their idea of the best class mix. Then everyone who isn't a "main class" gets treated like a second class citizen, because they ARE according to the developers.

Finally, all the players who are little management wannabe's then jump in, analyze the dungeon plan, put up walkthroughs and how-tos about raiding, dual-boxing and farming gold, so that everyone else can "follow the plan to win the game". And you have to follow the plan, or you'll ruin everything for everyone.

Result? People have to be led by the hand while marching in step hrough what is supposed to be an exciting, risk-filled adventure in which they and their characters are put to the test, and have to rise to the challenge in order to win.

Someone explain to me- in that  kind of game, where's the excitement? The tension? The fear of the unknown and the resolve to beat the heck out of it anyways? The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat? All you're going to get that way is  "meh we did what we were told to do and it worked."  Is that really what anyone calls "fun"? More like a second job that you pay someone else to work at, imho.

Let's contrast that with mainly skill-based games. You log in, choose your character's appearance, name, race and starting city. You then go find out about the trainers, the quests, the economy. You pick whatever skills that fits your style of play- for me, it's fast weapons, movement and steath, or  "control" magic like illusions, or nature magic of some type. Ranger is a good combo because I get to combine fast weapons, fast movement, and nature magic such as movement slows and minor heals.

You then use these skills to carry out your quests, join groups, and generally play the game according to your desire. You are NEVER classed as a "main" or "secondary" character. Your success is always due only on the strengths of the skills that you have, and your player skill in using them. 

Also, every encounter is unique, because YOU are unique. You may end up trying to close to melee with a mainly-ranged opponent, or trying to stay out of melee against a supremely strong warrior type. It all depends on you, and them. No rote, set-piece plan is going to work all of the time- it's always different. Dangerous. And that makes it exciting. Immersive. Memorable.

In a word - FUN :)

 

Wow this is a long post. Sorry. But every word is sincere. I hate what games have devolved to, and see skill-based games as our only hope to get out of the rut. Thanks for reading this far.

 

 

Sun Feb 24 2008 9:24PM Report
vajuras writes:

  • TonyD: "In the end, skill based and class based are the same in a sense. It is all in how you design the game. A class based game can have just as much freedom of choice as a skill based game."

    True, Skill-based games can overlap Class based games which is why I focused on 'Static' Class based games here and how poorly they translate into PVP. PVP is Dynamic and requires min/max to the fullest to win. 'Static' Classes cripple pvpers ability to optimize their team compositions on-the-fly which explains why you'd be hard-pressed to find any PVP title that locks players into a static role.

    The main point I'm driving at is that the upcoming titles claiming to be 'PVP focused' are really PVE focused. I cant blame them. But I hope I have shown why their designers know full and well they are really PVE Based.

    Anofalye: Thank you very good summary there. I havent seen a skill-based title really attempt raiding. It would be interesting to see what happens. City of Heroes lacked the Tactical Transparency you see in other games. My point- CoH was pretty close to a skill-based system in regards to 'hidden information'. You really had to inquire each player personally to discover what their potential was. Not every Defender heals, etc if you follow

    Skill-based games have the potential to give you that same feeling. After all, in pen and paper skill-based systems are very common. And those are Coop PVE based games

     

  • Sun Feb 24 2008 9:27PM Report
    vajuras writes:

    daveains wrote --

    "Someone explain to me- in that  kind of game, where's the excitement? The tension? The fear of the unknown and the resolve to beat the heck out of it anyways? The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat? All you're going to get that way is  "meh we did what we were told to do and it worked."  Is that really what anyone calls "fun"? More like a second job that you pay someone else to work at, imho."

    I try to talk this one Raider I know at my job all the time. I also used to raid myself but never liked it as much as PVP. Like you, I really dont find that sort of stuff fun. When World of Warcraft made it easier for pvpers to acquire loot via PVP I heard raiders saw a massive drop in attendance lol. So now you read a lot of angry rants from raiders all over the web angry pvpers arent forced to dance to their song anymore. Alas, I left World of Warcraft a bit before it got a little better

    Never enjoyed raiding myself. Guess its an acquired taste. Something for the hardcore PVE'ers

    Sun Feb 24 2008 9:45PM Report
    t0nyd writes:

    the one thing that I love in class based games is the idea of weaknesses. I believe every character should be defined by his or her weaknesses just as they are defined by their strengths.

     if you translated this into a skill based game, i would probably play it. The problem being pretty much every skill based game seems to lack weaknesses and focus entirely on the player being a jack of all trades.

    Sun Feb 24 2008 11:40PM Report
    PrinnySquad writes:

    You could have just said "Class based games suck." Which I agree with. Most people that have had the pleasure of playing non-class-based games would agree with you.

    Those that don't, probably don't realize you can make the class you want with a good, robust skill system. So skill systems are win/win.

    Mon Feb 25 2008 1:22AM Report
    grimfall writes:

    Those that don't, probably don't realize you can make the class you want with a good, robust skill system. So skill systems are win/win.

    Unless you want to kill a PVE boss.  THen you have to ask around 'I need a healer'. Who is a healer?' 'I am a healer!' 'Really, what healing skill do you have? ' '32' .  'I need a healer, with a healing skill of 375+'.  'I need a damage dealer with a Force Mage or Critical Strike skill of +350.'

    Yeah, that's a win/win alright.

    Class based games have generalist characters and specialized characters too, who can all offere certain benefits to a large PVE raid party.  Imagine trying to setup a 50 man UP raid in a skil based game.  Totally impossible.

    Mon Feb 25 2008 8:09AM Report
    grimfall writes:

    PU i.e. pick up, not UP raid.

    Mon Feb 25 2008 8:10AM Report
    vajuras writes:

    TonyD: " if you translated this into a skill based game, i would probably play it. The problem being pretty much every skill based game seems to lack weaknesses and focus entirely on the player being a jack of all trades."

    In some pen and paper skill systems it is balanced. Balance per se comes through the attributes rather then 'skills'. Skills are really supposed to be just tools. Thus, it is not overpowered to have knowledge of many different skills

    The balance comes through the attributes. MUDs like AvP you incur diminishing returns for min/max but jack of all trades will be less powerful then you in the areas you specialized...

    Grimfall: "Unless you want to kill a PVE boss.  THen you have to ask around 'I need a healer'. Who is a healer?' 'I am a healer!' 'Really, what healing skill do you have? ' '32' .  'I need a healer, with a healing skill of 375+'.  'I need a damage dealer with a Force Mage or Critical Strike skill of +350.'"

    You are right but there are solutions to that. However, skill-based games tend to be Sandbox as well. So, there isn't a need for 'sports' like organization. I think you follow.

    Good problem you presented here Grimfall and Anofalye. Maybe one day I'll write a blog on that. For now, you guys win on the PVE front.

    Good posts...

    Mon Feb 25 2008 7:55PM Report
    daveains writes:

    Hmm, one point about Grimfall's comment is that it brings in the whole class based "set piece"  system. What happens if you don't 
    get the quest for that mob until your skills are up enough for him? And can just then ask for other people who have the same quest?

    LOTRO does this superbly. It really doesn't matter what level you are, if you have the quest, you pretty much belong in the group for that mob. So pickup groups are incredibly easy to do. All it takes is denying you the quest until your stats are high enough via code to check your skills, instead of your level.

    Class based games can go bye bye and we wouldn't miss them at all. Games can use NPC's as examples of how to specialize our characters via having them be the quest givers and tuning the quests to advance certain abilities that match the NPC's build.

    Want to be a fighter type? Go get the quests from the guys in plate armor, and guess what- you'll get the items and weapons to build up the right skills.  Want to be a healer? just look for the nearest temple and go do the quests from the guys in the white robes.

    That would feel a lot more realistic, at least to me. I'd love a world where you have to participate to learn and grow your character into a unique force instead of just getting in line and shuffling on to the endgame like a zombie.

    Mon Feb 25 2008 8:41PM Report
    daveains writes:

    oops, in the second paragraph about Lotro, I meant " all it would take in a skill-based game is to check your stats instead of your level for a quest". Sorry for the confusion, and where's my edit button lol.

    Mon Feb 25 2008 8:43PM Report

    MMORPG.com writes:
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