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Skill-based games, PVE, and FAQ

Posted by vajuras Thursday February 28 2008 at 11:38PM
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Anofalye and Grimfall brought up some good questions about skill-based games. Basically, they both countered that these systems are weaker for PVE (grouping). I've seen a lot of posts on the message boards allude to this as well.

Grimfall basically stated it simply this way, "If a player has 32 in healing (32%), and I need someone with 100% healing how to communicate this?"

Well this goes back to "Sports" gaming. It's sort of the mentality we see so prominent in many mmorpgs today. Players can only bring a finite amount of players- like 5, 8, 25, 40, etc. It's like Football or Basketball. 

Anyway, "sports games" will always have a set number of players that can be brought to an encounter so players min/max their team distributions to fight against that challenge. We must have so many Meleers, Tankers, nukers-DPS, and Healers to win the encounter (or beat it in record times).

In a Sandbox MMO there is no set limit to how many people you can bring. Thus, you wont stand around in a city looking for someone to fill a 'job' but rather you'd post job requests like so,

"We are going to Dungeon X and we are looking for people to come."

That's pretty much it. You might inquire players to determine if they can survive and not be one shot.  So at the very most, you might inquire how many hitpoints they have or their resistances. Everyone usually has some form of healing so that's not the type of questions you usually bother asking. Maybe you'll ask if someone has Magery and their points in that. You'll probably look around at your group members armor and immediately you'll know if you need to put on Tanking gear. Recall, in skill-based games everyone is a hybrid if you let them. How can teaming suffer if everyone can learn any skill? It's a silly assumption that it wont be way easier to fill spots. Few will debate that. Yeah, perhaps you might have to spend more time speaking to your fellow man to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Oh the horror, lets hit this one again. "Vajuras, I have to actually TALK to my team members and LEARN what they are interested in? NOOOOoooooo vajuras you ask too much!"

Well if that really is too much then this just goes to show the weaknesses of sports gaming. I'm sorry but even in World of Warcraft I was asking our hybrids what their interests were. I made sure if the Shaman didnt playing backup/secondary healer in a crysis. I made sure our Warlocks cound banish. I made sure our Druids knew what their roles were. I dont get it why is talking to other players so bad?

Also, in a Class based title we must remember they take the total XP for a mob and split it up for that group. In a skill-based title, grouping tools are a little less needed because there is no XP but rather you achieve skill gains for actual use of a skill (if it's a Use Based system). So if too many people participate in taking down an epic mob boss then the only griping you might hear is:

1) The mob died too fast, I didnt get the chance to get skill Y to go up, etc....

2) loot rolling, we brought too many people who gets dibs?

But as you see, the issue in this scenario is how to divide up loot in which players can handle by themselves (DKP systems) or with simple little dice rolling user interfaces. The developer doesnt really have to do anything in this scenario but let you roll on who gets what. That's pretty much it.

No raid tools. No grouping tools. Freeform. Skill-based games have 'natural' restrictions. Players are discouraged naturally from bringing too many players because there is less loot for everyone and maybe the mob dies too fast for us to skill-up (if this is a Use based title like Ultima online).

Also, its quite easy for Skill-based games to overlap into Class based titles. If the developer wanted, they could allow players to earn "titles" according to having a certain set of skills. So you could earn a "Warrior" title for having a few Melee skills maxed out. You could earn a "Mage" title for having a few spellbooks maxed out and so forth. These titles would just give players a general idea about each other and totally overlap Tactical Transparency. This is why experienced players will many times say Skill-based systems 'overlap' Class based games. They do.

Anyway there should be some PVE based skill-based MMOs coming out soon. Also, theres a few indy MMOs out there that employ skill-based (use based) systems. Check those out if you can. Apply for some closed betas who knows maybe you'll get lucky :)



Q. Skill-based games are too grindy!?!

 A. No, you might be referring to Use Based systems which is a 'variant' of skill-based systems. In the original pen and paper games players earned skill points as a reward by the GM after completing objectives and alloted those accordingly. some developers interpret this as Use Based like we saw in Ultima Online and Elder Scrolls. Other developers, like CCP, interpret this as 'Time Based' to reduce the risks of macroing altogether. Others, like what I suspect Cryptic will do with Champions Online, is envision this as 'stat based' system more or less like the HERO system (Pen and paper) was. In this article I covered Use Based systems though. Really, if the developer wants they can award you skill points for completing a Quest. Elder scrolls allows you to outright purchase skill points from trainers (single player RPG though). UO had a bit of that too.


Q. I like for my teammates to have weaknesses!

A. Listen to yourself, you want for your teammates to be limited to one 'job'? What if one of your teammates leave during an encounter? In world of warcraft, city of heroes, etc (insert X MMO here) many times we had lost many, many hours due to this. In skill-based RPGs you have overlap. It's not a machine thats quickly ruptured so easily when one cog breaks. If NASA built space shuttles like this we'd see meteors crashing down into the earth left & right! No, they believe in redundant systems, fail safes. Backups.


Q: What if we need to take like 40 people into a Dungeon what if I want someone with 100% Healing (max)

A. Instead of bringng 1 uber healer why not bring several decent healers? Sandbox mmorgs normally dont have party limits I've never seen one do that. But I havent played everything. Also, there is plenty of overlap in skill-based RPGs. But worse come to worse and if 'labels' are required then this very easy for the developer to introduce. Skill-based games totally and completely overlap Class based titles in every way.


Q: But aren't Skill-based games hard to balance? I've heard many developers say that....

A: EVE Online accomplishes this via ships.There are many, many other ways to create naturally balancing systems. Alas, I'm sort of lost what gamers mean by this when I think about World of Warcraft.... City of Heroes.... Those games are always constantly being tweaked.... Where was the balance in City of Heroes, when only Ice Corrupters were welcomed to VG vs VG back in my day. What balance?


Q: My character won't be unique....

A: I really dont know what's so unique about Classes in the average Class based MMORPG. Usually developers achieve 'uniqueness' simply by disallowing you the ability to respec your avatar anyway. But if uniqueness is the goal, this "might" be achieved via a little refinement to GURPS or HERO PnP systems. Players will always optimize however so instead I think more effort into character uniqueness is better spent on character custimization. Now Cryptic (City of heroes) realized this and scored pretty big for themselves.... They had all kinds of FOTM happening but it was the hero outfits that was truly unique...

 Q: But there is no reason to group in a skill-based title....

A: True, many sandbox mmorpgs are totally freeform. But this is a Developer problem not related to skill-based per se. In the pen and paper, trust me people GROUP. In Ryzom I have heard the pvers had to group for darn near everything. Make things hard to solo, death penalties, and great loot you'll see people grouping. It's a developer issue- they decide on sandbox or linear. Most pen and paper is strongly objective based. For a use based system, there is really easy ways to give gamers many positive incentives for grouping.