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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 - Part II

Posted by Melf_Himself Thursday May 8 2008 at 5:33AM
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This is a follow-up to this blog:

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs.cfm/blogId/184/entry/1648

In there I basically said that on the one hand, modern RPG's in general have too many choices for people to make when they're new to the game, it's overwhelming. On the other hand, you can't remove those choices because then there's no room for people to experiment and come up with their own builds, once they've become semi-pro at the game.

I think there are a couple of ways to address this problem.

1) Make PvP and PvE the same. I've said this several times before, and I'll say it again. The reason for the great divide between PvE and PvP players in most games is that PvE doesn't teach you to play the game properly. The AI is usually so bad that a set of tactics to exploit that AI is always the best strategy in PvE. Then when you get to PvP and those tactics don't work, you feel like a noob.

The bottom line is, you're already asking people to practically learn a new language when they play your game with all the options open to them. Don't teach them to become fluent in that language before they realise that they have to learn a whole new one to PvP.

2) Allow full respec of a character whenever you want to. Preferably for free. If your game makes use of skill levels (eg WoW), make it remember the max level that each individual skill has been trained on that character, and allow it to be put back to its max whenever the player wants to.

Guild Wars allows unlimited respec and it makes it really easy/fun to mess around with builds. They also really remove the grind, by not requiring use of skill levels. Skills are just linked to specific attributes, which can be changed around whenever you're in town.

3) Every class should have many BALANCED builds available. What do I mean by balanced? I mean the builds function slightly differently from each other, but one is not inherently better to the team than another. If ever build X is the only build people want character Y to take, then the build selection is not balanced. If people want build X to match one team build and build W to match another team build, that's fine and dandy.

4) Start new characters off with one of these builds, COMPLETELY ready to go. This is a tough one. It means you actually have to know what's good in your game. Devs, please please play your own game, or become buddies with the top guild and get them to tell you about your own game.

In Guild Wars, when you make a new character you get a default set of skills, which are a complete joke. At one time, there were premade templates available that allowed you to use the skills even though they weren't unlocked. The problem with these was that the templates sucked, were an even bigger joke than the default skills, and still required people to unlock the items to use the builds properly.

Now at one point, they actually allowed one of the top PvP guilds to alter the templates that new players get at the start of the game. This dramatically decreased the incidence of "tardness" all across the game. But for some reason, these templates were later removed. This was an epic failure.

The added bonus of starting someone off completely decked out for a given build is that it means that newer characters can adventure with their veteran friends without dragging the group down. Goodbye mentor system.

Now, you don't need to give the character that build/items RIGHT at the start of the game.

Let them pick a general focus at character creation (eg a warrior might pick sword/axe/hammer), and make the opening few hours of gameplay a large series of quests aimed at being a tutorial, and culminating in the acquisition of several items of uberness and unlocking all the skills for this build. Once this build is unlocked, players can feel free to mess around however they want to (now that they know the rules of the game), and they can still participate FULLY in the fun stuff like raids, sieges, RvR, FFA pvp, etc, without being gimped. Imagine leaving "noob island" in an MMO and not being easy fodder for a ganker, because you're both on the same level (both in terms of character level, and item level).

In summary, I feel like Guild Wars got half way there. It gave templates, allowed full respec, had lots of balanced builds available, and made it fairly quick to get to max level. But they failed for not knowing their game well enough to provide good templates, removing good templates suggested by people who DID know the game, and having crummy PvE AI that meant all people's hard work at getting good at PvE was wasted when it came to PvP.

I'm sure there are more good ideas out there to tackle this problem - thoughts?

Vrika writes: I think that the game you want to play is not a (computer) RPG. Giving the best skills to players who have just started the game would mean not giving them any possibility to increase the strenght of the character. And no possibility to improve the strenght of the character would take away most of what computer role playing games are.

And for the casuals, even switching out from those default builds made for some purpose would most likely mean that they are playing their character wrong. Most of the MMO players don't have enough skill and knowledge to improve from a well made default build, and most aren't conserned enough about the game mechanics and optimizing their character that they would even seriously try to learn.
Thu May 08 2008 5:59AM Report
darkrenown writes:

Some interesting ideas in there, which I'll just add my two penneth too.

AI vs PvP - this is always going to be tough. In essence you are right, PvP and PvE should be the same beast, just against players. This is how it works in FPS as well. The problem is that with all of the builds etc, players find such unique ways of doing things it is hard to build into AI. Plus, can you imagine being kited by Gnolls in EQ2? Made me smile just thinking of that.
You're right tho, MMO PvE AI needs to be beefed up a lot.

Full respec - I don't agree you should allow them whenever, but I do think a mechanic should be built into the game, through quests, or in game money, that you should be able to buy them as you like.
Also the ability to save your preferred builds, so that instead of going back through all the selections again, you pick from your saved list.

Balanced Builds - Totally agree, you tend to find that each class in most games has at most 3 set ups that are required. 1 for Raiding, 1 for PvP, 1 for normal/solo play
I think all games want to make this more usable, but it is extremely hard to do

Balanced Builds Ready to GO - I don't agree you should have it from the outset. But I do think that if you have levelled your main, then you should be able to have an Alt pre-levelled to maybe 75% of your mains level. It encourages more Alt play, and doesn't end up being a feats of newbie bashing for any high level player.

Good blog BTW.

 

Thu May 08 2008 6:56AM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

@Vrika: "Giving the best skills to players who have just started the game would mean not giving them any possibility to increase the strenght of the character."

Yes, exactly! There character would not become more powerful just because they've played the game for longer.... however more builds would be available to the character.

Note that I am not suggesting they have that power *straight away*, there'd be several hours of gameplay to get there. And if they want a new build? Some more gameplay to get to that.... etc. Lots of builds for them to work towards.

Grinding for options is fine, but grinding for power is sucky for casual gamers.

Just because RPG's don't work that way now doesn't mean they can't in the future ^^

"Most of the MMO players don't have enough skill and knowledge to improve from a well made default build, and most aren't conserned enough about the game mechanics and optimizing their character that they would even seriously try to learn."

I think you're wrong, once most people are good at the game they'll want to experiment. However for the ones that don't, they can stick to the template, don't really see a problem there.

@darkrenown: "can you imagine being kited by Gnolls in EQ2?"

I see what you're saying, makes me lol too a bit. However, I wouldn't really see a problem with kiting. If the enemy are kiting from your melee, they're not attacking/disrupting your team, and your mages are free to disintegrate them to death.

Kind of accomplishes exactly the same thing as tanking, except your "tank" gets to a) be a real threat without introducing a B.S. mechanic called "threat" that forces monsters to be stupid, and so b) Sometimes get to kill stuff. Also, c) They don't have to stand still for most of the time.

"Full respec - I don't agree you should allow them whenever, but I do think a mechanic should be built into the game, through quests, or in game money, that you should be able to buy them as you like."

What would you think about a compromise? You can pay money to be able to respec for, say, a couple of hours. You could mess around with whatever builds you wanted within that time, and once the time's up, that's your build. It would let you try different combo's, but not make it TOO easy.

"Also the ability to save your preferred builds, so that instead of going back through all the selections again, you pick from your saved list."

Agreed, Guild Wars has the ability to save preferred builds (templates), and it is way cool.

"Balanced Builds Ready to GO - I don't agree you should have it from the outset. But I do think that if you have levelled your main, then you should be able to have an Alt pre-levelled to maybe 75% of your mains level. It encourages more Alt play, and doesn't end up being a feats of newbie bashing for any high level player."

Oh, not from the outset, just a) not taking 2 months of play to get to, and b) giving the player a clear goal of what they should be getting to, at least for that one build.

The extra speed for levelling alts is a good idea, I'd like to see that too.

Thu May 08 2008 7:21PM Report
vajuras writes:

Pretty good blog here. Was a bit harsh on GW but its a good write up with some good points

Thu May 08 2008 8:26PM Report

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