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In My Humble Opinion

My ramblings on where the MMO's of tomorrow are going to have to go to keep us all interested...

Author: Melf_Himself

Easy To Learn vs Hard To Master

Posted by Melf_Himself Wednesday May 7 2008 at 9:12PM
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So I found out recently that Shadowbane is now free to play, and had a server restart (characters wiped) < 2 months ago... Seemed like a perfect time to jump in and try it out. Downloading it, patching etc, no problems, load into character creation...


/me loads up shadowbane forums, spends the next several hours trying to figure out which choices to make so I don't gib my character...

There are a ridiculous number of options. Four base classes, 10 "real" classes on top of those (including ones that you can access via different base classes), a plethora of races, attributes, background traits. Then you get into the game and you have to split your "training points" as you level up between "skills" and "powers". Apparently attributes drive skills which drive powers. Or something.

I mean, I consider myself if not an MMO vet, at least an RPG vet. I've gone through a similar experience as above to one degree or another through many years spent playing a combination of Diablo II, Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, then on to the more traditional WoW, and Guild Wars. Also have played Magic the Gathering on and off for several years. In every case, if you want to make a character/build/deck that is competitive, you HAVE to do your homework. And you know what I've realised?

I spend more time researching how to play games then actually playing them.

Well, just about anyway.

I had an outsider's perspective of this a couple of months ago. I convinced my gf to get into Guild Wars (which I am very very happy about). I told her what the various classes entailed, she likes the sound of the ranger, gets through a couple of early levels. Time to buy some skills.

Her: "I have to buy skills now honey.... Is Power Shot any good?"

Me: "No, it sucks."

Her: "Oh... what about Penetrating Attack?"

Me: "Sucks."

Her: "Oh... what about Sundering Attack?"

Me: "It does the same thing as Penetrating Attack."

Her: "They made 2 versions of a sucky skill, great....ok forget about bow skills. How about Otyugh's Cry?"

Me: *Shudders* "Look, get Distracting Shot, Savage Shot, Apply Poison, Troll Unguent, Natural Stride, and take Monk secondary for Mending Touch"

Her: "Um, ok... How come 90% of the skills in this game are shit?"

Me: ".................."

(I don't know)

Mulling it over recently, I have come to the conclusion: if they only put the "good" skills in the game, then there would be no "choices" to make, and so the game would be easier to learn, and less hard to master.

Now, many of you will argue that knowing which skills are good is simply part of "skill" at the game. However, I would argue that it is useless "skill", in that it has no context outside the game. Compare this to learning such generic gameplay such as knowing which characters to snare at which times, which characters to interrupt at each times, when to switch targets, etc.

Learning what all the "skills" in the game do gives you a pseudo increase in power because you have mastered an arbitrary ruleset invented at the whim of a game designer, which is subject to change at any ime anyway. It creates a hurdle that will result in someone who would otherwise be a prodigy at the game being a total noob for several months.

Exactly like the much maligned "vertical progression" of characters getting better items and hence being much better than characters who spend less time playing the game.

Of course, as I said, they do this for a reason. They want to give the game "depth" to keep you entertained. I now throw the question out to the viewers: is there a better way to do this? Assuming that there was some kind of intuitive combat system that can be picked up in the space of, say, a couple of hours, how can we offer our players different, interesting, yet all *equally good* choices to promote depth?

vajuras writes:

You will need to write a part #2 to this article and perhaps present some nice examples of a simple system

About Guild Wars Ranger. Im a Ranger and I say get every last skill. Let her explore the game and find skills she enjoys. I unlocked all skills for my ranger and took pride that I had them all (was prophecies campaign). At least, mostly all of them

Next, I did not play Shadowbane. I think its okay to allow players to custimize a build. Its fun doing the research and debating on the forums whats best. You want to keep gamers busy. You want them to explore and talk bout the game. If you see them all decide "Man power shot sucks"

Now you have a problem. That is when a game fails. Because there is a lack of exploration. We want our gamers to try every power. Everything should have a tactical use.

Richard Bartle Classified "Explorer" as a major emergent personality type in MMOs and they should be catered too I think. At least to an extent. An explorer wants to see new things and experiement with new combos

Most often an Explorer is a pseudo-killer that takes delight in inflicting pain on others

This is also why "Hidden Potential" is a great thing. WE cannot have hidden potential if I know everything you can do


This is why Guild Wars is/was great. You didnt know what other player would do,.

I had this Necro/Ranger that ruled Arenas. People thought I had a gimp build. Then I fought them 1-on-1 and owned them

Same with City of heroes. I had a gimp Class + gimp build ppl thought. then I made a film and showed them it wasnt gimp. Now its FoTM still to this day (EM/Elec brute)

Wed May 07 2008 9:44PM Report
vajuras writes:

Btw, I hate being locked into a gimped build. This is why I prefer games where I can dynamically make an avatar. I really dont like being 'stuck' in a build. I agree with you on many major points yo

Wed May 07 2008 9:46PM Report
Tatum writes:

Melf, you pretty much nailed the reason why "uber" builds/specs exist...because there are so many broken skills in any given MMO.  If developers would spend time buffing up the broken skills, they wouldnt have to spend so much time nerfing the FOTM builds.  Ideally, every build or spec should be viable, depending on the players style.

Id also have to agree with vajuras, there should be plenty of possiblities for research and exploration.  This doesnt mean that there have to be uber builds out there, just unexplored combinations that work very well when played correctly.  Newer MMOs have really neutered this feature, in favor of the "Building an Avatar For Dummies" system.  B#llsh!t.   

Wed May 07 2008 10:56PM Report
vajuras writes:

Hey Melf_Himself if I were to amend to this piece I would include EVE Online in regards to initial character creation. When newbies create an avatar they really dont know what the attributes do. In EVE, you keep that character for rest of your life. You might fnd a 3year vet lamenting about the build he choose when he was a newbie

Right now there is a concensus on Caldari Achura being pretty much the best (1 out of many bloodlines in the game)

Still a great game but I always wished i could change around my attributes later. I really dont like having to live with my decision forever

Of course attributes only affect the speed at which u learn skills in EVE. So with time, you can still learn anything.

So in the end, I vastly prefer it to most other systems. Elder scrolls oblivion did something similar

But I wish I didnt have to make a final decision at begining of my avatars life on day #1 in EVE when I knew nothing

At least make it so it is much easier to raise alts. I wish EVE would allow alts to gain skills faster. yeah, yeah there are probably bad things to this. 'Farmers' would love it. Maybe it sucky idea.

But in Elder Scrolls its fast to come back on an alt. Not really so with EVE cause of huge time investments

Wed May 07 2008 11:49PM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

Thanks for the comments guys.

That's the trade-off isn't it - you either make it noob friendly, or you make it explorer-friendly. I'm an explorer in that respect, once I'm really into a game I love coming up with different builds etc, and for that I want to unlock every last skill as you said vajuras.

It's just your first couple of months playing the game that you don't really want that stuff, you just wanna know what isn't going to completely suck :/

I've had a couple of thoughts about this whole thing, I'll post a part 2 and see what you guys think ^^

Thu May 08 2008 4:39AM Report
darkrenown writes:

One of the things I abhor in the game, is when you buy an 'upgraded' version of the skill.

Why not just have the skill/spell upgrade as you level.

But again this becomes about choices, and playing your character. Being the healer and using the lower level heal spell, because your almost OOP but need to get off one final heal kind of thing.

Easy to Learn - Hard to Master is pretty much exactly why this happens.

Personally, I would be happier if they gave you more variety of skills/spells, but over a longer period, say every x levels, and just let the spell upgrade as you went.

That way, you have the strategy changing as you get genuinely new skills, and not just bumped up versions of the old ones.

Thu May 08 2008 7:02AM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

Guild Wars has that. Once you get a skill, you've got it, you don't have to train it up. Skills are linked to a particular attribute eg "fireball" is linked to "fire"... If you pump up your fire attribute, your fireball does more damage.

Your attributes can be made higher as you level, and it also lets you reset your attributes whenever you're in town.

Thu May 08 2008 7:26PM Report writes:
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