Whee, another collection of links! Yes, I feel lazy because of it, but there’s just so much going on that I wanted to highlight. Plenty of good discussions going on lately in game design.
Eric poked the beehive thisaway:
I don’t care for his tone. I don’t agree with his assertions, either about players or designers. It’s worth reading, though.
Naturally, others have responded.
I find myself largely agreeing with Brian (Psychochild). In fact, I wrote about a hybrid system before:
Similarly, Big Bear Butt has taken a stab at the trinity of WoW combat roles, spurring some good discussion about where things might go if we open up a little. It’s a fantastic article that echoes a lot of my own thoughts on the matter:
It’s no secret to anyone who reads around here for much that I’m a firm believer in agency for gamers. To me, that’s the point of gaming. Blizzard’s tendency to angle in the other direction might be better for some things (development schedule, balancing), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way for everyone. There’s even a subtle undercurrent of resentment afoot these days against the restricted agency, diagnosed interestingly thisaway:
Players want to make choices. If they didn’t, they would watch a movie. To be sure, there’s a difference between problems and choices, and some have different tolerances for each, but I believe that gamers want more than barely interactive movies. Learning is a core component of gaming, and when choices are made for you, there’s less to learn. At least, that’s one theory.
One recurring theme I see is the idea that classes are easier to balance than an open skill system. On that I agree, but the difference is small. As Brian has noted, balance is hard. Period. Also, as he and The Rampant Coyote suggest, it’s best to look at what you want to do with your game first and then balance around that. Choosing a game design for ease of balance (a mirage at best) is a valid strategy, but not necessarily the best way to make the best game you want to make. It’s certainly not the Only One True Path of Game Design or even game success.
I go further to suggest that Balance is overrated. You will never have perfect balance. Even Chess, where both players have the same pieces, isn’t balanced, as players take turns (chronological imbalance), and the Queen and King are situated differently per side. Even Go has the chronological imbalance. That’s just the game design, never mind potential huge imbalances in player skill. (Though I’d note that with enough turns, chronological imbalances diminish in importance. Similarly, with enough choices, the impact of any one imbalance can be minimized.)
Further, even if we’re going to make one of those huge baseless scientific assumptions that class balance can be perfected, we’re still talking about MMOs that have a huge power band, big variances in gear, significant differences in player skill and even hardware issues. These things will never be balanced. That’s not a reason not to try to provide a level playing field for gameplay that likes it (PvP, for instance), and you can certainly do worse than to aim for something approaching balance, but balance can’t be the shrine at which agency and fun are sacrificed.
Life’s not fair. Get over it.
It’s OK (and even healthy) to have gimped choices, so long as those choices can be changed easily. Mark Rosewater of Magic the Gathering fame, has even noted that they intentionally design sub-par cards so that players can make choices. Sometimes, even those “bad cards” wind up synergizing with other cards in new and interesting ways, making for a lot more fun than a bland, whitewashed balanced system. This is important for game design; for players to be able to make choices, they need to have options. That means there will inevitably be some bad choices. Designers have to have the self-control to let players make those choices.
…and then the mercy to let them change their choices and learn from their mistakes, to help them dust off, learn something, and go try again. That’s play. That’s fun. If the designers are making all the choices, players are missing out.
To be sure, an MMO is different from a brief MtG duel or game of Chess, but I’d argue that the long time investment in these games is greater incentive to give choice in play other than “reroll, noob”, especially when rerolling costs time and money.
… more on balance later. Gotta go draw some stuff for it. In the meantime, go check out those links and the discussions afoot. Most are more interesting than my blather anyway.