Dev Journal: How Dungeon Runners Redefines Skills and Classes in the Free-To-Play MMO Game Genre
As a companion to our Dungeon Runners Interview, the folks at NCsoft have also provided us with this Developer Diary giving us the development team's opinion on "How Dungeon Runners Redefines Skills and Classes in the Free-To-Play MMO Game Genre".
As we’ve stated previously, one of our big, mind-bendingly awesome Dungeon Runners design philosophies was to shirk the usual fantasy and online gaming conventions that infests every single nook and cranny of the genre. Dungeon Runners has randomly constructed dungeons, it’s easy to play, it explodes with humor and insanity, there are tens of thousands of uniquely named and statistically different items to collect, and of course it’s fast, fun and free to play. That brings us to the construction and development of a player’s in-game character or avatar.
Everything about your character was something we wanted to infuse Dungeon Runners’ spirit with. For instance, the visual look and feel of the characters themselves had to be somewhat consistent with everything else in the game. With all of the items we have in Dungeon Runners, they also had to fit with the characters and have distinctive looks for the different types of weapons or armor. Leather armor looks a bit different than armor made from metal, let alone the crystalline ones. There are all kinds of cool-looking oversize swords, spears and staves, not to mention other unique weapons, such as the pizza cutters and guitars. Don’t laugh; they can do so some nasty damage.
Throughout the early stages of the game a player could choose from one of three classes to build a character from: Fighter, Ranger and Mage. These are some very straightforward classic character classes, with well-defined roles and methods of play. The Fighter fights with hand-held weapons at close range, the Ranger attacks from a distance with a ranged weapon and the Mage uses powerful magic. Then, we rolled what we defined to be a class’s special abilities and spells into a specific category, skills, which could be “learned” by purchasing at a specific class-oriented vendor. Therefore, we kept these somewhat simplistic themes so the player could easily learn and integrate into the game. No messing about with complex spell and multi-class systems.
We did want something a bit more interesting, however, and we were always looking for new ways to bust out of the defined roles the genre was stuck with. The skill system, for instance, was universally applied across all of the classes and Dungeon Runners uses them all essentially the same way, except for the fact that one class couldn’t purchase skills from another class. Of course, it hit us then. Why not just make skills universal altogether? Let’s just make it so that a player can purchase any skill he wants and let the player define what his or her play style is like.
Thus was born our classless character system. We still had classes in the game, but they served more as starting points for building a Dungeon Runner more than anything else. A Ranger, for instance, starts out with four skills, two Offensive (“Poison Shot” and “Gaseous Blast”) and two Passive (“Average BMI” and “Trigger Happy”). They sit in the skill bar at the bottom of the screen, the Offensive skills ready to be used whenever the player gets into combat, the Passive skills always in use (as long as they are in the skill bar). These two Passive skills in particular are useful to Rangers starting out, as they emphasize health and ranged attack values over brute strength and mana.
You don’t even need to use these skills, however, and when you take them out of the skill bar (right-click on them, then left-click outside the skill bar) they are no longer in use. If you had the money, you could then go up to Abel Tukahst, the Mage trainer, and go buy some Mage skills. You could then be a super lightning bolt-casting crossbow-wielding maniac. Heck, if you had enough money (and were at the appropriate level), you could buy up every skill in the game. Just remember, you can only use the skills that are in your skill bar.
At first it may not seem useful to have access to a lot of skills, but certain opponents may be immune to particular attacks (especially some bosses), and some skills (and attacks) are a lot more useful in PvP than normal play. Plus, we can add new skills whenever we want, and we don’t have to worry (too much) about skill/class balancing.
This choice in play style is also reflected on your character’s title. Specifically, the title is dependent on a number of different factors, including the variety of skills you possess and use, where you accumulate your attribute points, and how you deal damage. To use the Ranger example from above, if I were to create a brand new Ranger and remove the Passive skills, my title would be “All Around Bush League Poison Ranger”. However, if I built up my character a bit, I could be a “Dexterous Greenhorn Poison Ranger” after fifteen or so levels, pumping up my Agility attribute and making the most use of my Poison skills (they’re pretty useful after all). But I use a lot of lightning attacks as well, not to mention the Fighter’s “Righteous Stomp” skill in case I need separation from a gaggle of monsters.
So, as you see, our classless system lets you pretty much define what play style you want with Dungeon Runners. While we simplified the execution of classes and skills in a fantasy online game, we gave the player a lot more freedom in how to play, making it a much more satisfying experience.