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Posts Tagged ‘class’

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:

Class vs. Open Skill Systems

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.

Ysharros: Classless is a pain in the assless

Jason: The Skills of EVE

Psychochild: Stay Classy

The Rampant Coyote: Defending the Lack of Class

I find myself largely agreeing with Brian (Psychochild).  In fact, I wrote about a hybrid system before:

Autopilot Character Development

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:

The Unholy Trinity

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:

The Cataclysmic WoW Disease

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.

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‘Tis the time of year that many people gather in groups of family and friends to celebrate assorted things.  I’m of the American and Christian persuasions, so it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas for me and mine, but there’s no apparent shortage of celebrations for diverse tastes.  Maybe being cooped up together out of the snow means we either party or kill each other.  I do prefer the former, though the latter might be easier sometimes, especially when awkward situations arise.

I’ve noted, with no small amount of whimsy, that I could map certain classes or roles we might see in World of Warcraft to people I see in these gatherings.  They don’t map perfectly, since socialization is PvP (Player vs. Player) rather than PvE (Player vs. Environment), and threat doesn’t work the same way, but there are some interesting parallels nevertheless.

The Roles

Tank

This guy wants all the attention, and will make efforts to control the direction of conversation and protect weaker conversationalists from the ire of dissent.  There are, of course, different different tanking styles, but all have a variety of tools to deflect tangents and monopolize crucial conversational pauses.  A bombastic or otherwise “large” personality or presence greatly benefits the social tank, even if it is ultimately of little substance.  Maintaining the focus of attention is key, not presenting a cogent argument.

DPS (Damage Per Second)

These are the guys who actually move a conversation along.  The Tank has to spend so much effort keeping a conversation on topic and heading off tangents that he has to rely on the DPS conversationalists to move the chosen topic along.  They will usually do this with supporting anecdotes or witticisms.  Some are blunt force conversationalists, seeking to make progress by sheer magnitude of presentation, while others are precision specialists, doing the most with a few carefully timed words in the right place.  Occasionally DPS teams will form and act in concert to magnify their efforts.  They must be careful not to steer the conversation, though, since they don’t have all the necessary tools to direct the conversation away from tangents and deflect dissent, and may occasionally be leveled by a precise counterpoint.

Some DPS conversationalists might specialize in Crowd Control, a nearly lost art of taking down tangential threats on the periphery of a conversation.  Since this is a job best done without drawing much attention, it is often unsung, but no less important, especially in large gatherings.

Healer

These are the peacemakers.  When tensions get high, these conversationalists seek to defuse the situation with placation, humor, distraction or food.  This tends to require a soft touch, lest the tank lose control of the underlying conversational direction.  The Healer doesn’t so much seek to change the conversation’s direction, but rather, to manage its tone, keeping things moderate and keeping contentions down and therefore make the Tank’s job easier to manage.  This tends to be easier when they have food to offer, so careful pacing of meal courses and foresight in management of non-conversation resources will benefit the healer.  Desserts are a powerful wildcard in the healer’s arsenal, and many healers will come prepared with a wide assortment.

The Classes

Druid

A social generalist, the Druid can Tank, DPS or Heal as necessary, though they must specialize in one to be as effective as a specialist.  They smoothly shift between roles as a conversation unfolds, filling in gaps left by inattention or mistakes.  They might tank at close quarters and then shift to backstabbing at a moment’s notice, or they might lob comments from afar, or even bring some snacks to the table.  Since none of their tools are very strong, though, they must try to anticipate the social scene’s intricacies correctly and use precise timing as leverage to maximize their efforts.  More than most, Druids need to understand the ebb and flow of the nature of social situations and all the varied aspects so they can shift their own position.

Death Knight

These guys are well known for their ability to kill a conversation and then revive it under their control.  Well equipped to deflect criticism with thick disregard for insult and having very strong presence, they work well as Tanks, or they can fill the DPS role well by making heavy handed points as they make others uncomfortable with implications.  Likely to be depressed and depressing, and possibly harboring conversational grudges from past parties.

Hunter

Careful conversationalists, Hunters function in a pure DPS role.  Some prefer to snipe from the periphery, offering precision arguments.  Others bring a companion for distraction while they chime in with timely comments.  Yet others lay careful conversational traps and quietly guide others into making mistakes.  Hunters are often used by Tanks to initiate a conversation with offhand comments, which they then follow up on with their unique talents.

Mage

Another pure DPS class, Mages have a few distinct styles.  Some prefer fiery rhetoric with lingering implications.  Some prefer the cold shoulder technique (sometimes called “wet blanket”), heavy on control tactics that help the Tank.  Some prefer broad spectrum wild generalizations and arcane statements about irrelevant factoids, reveling in confusing the foe.  Mages love to flaunt their intelligence in one way or another, often trying to outsmart opponents for the sheer joy in doing so.

Paladin

A Paladin is a hybrid like the Druid, capable of filling any of the significant roles.  They can’t shift between roles as fluidly as Druids, but they are better equipped at all times to deflect dissent.  Their reduced flexibility is balanced by their defense.  They tend to specialize in one of the roles, but all will have a sanctimonious air that is offputting to foes and encouraging to friends.  They tend to direct conversations to The Truth when possible, and have particular and peculiar talents that keep dead conversations down.

Priest

The quintessential Healer, Priests share the sanctimony of paladins, but wield it much more effectively.  They might play the pariah or simply call for repentance, or they might simply offer a constant stream of calming platitudes with little substance to argue about.  Some will simply keep bringing food to the table.  A few will step into a DPS role with biting chastisement or darkly portentious comments.

Rogue

Rogues serve only their own interests, but understand that hiding behind a Tank (or better, hiding behind their opponent) is a safer place to be.  They are pure DPS conversationalists, seeking primarily to make a point, and if possible, to make it hurt.  They converse from the shadows, sometimes seeking to slowly erode an opposing viewpoint, sometimes acting swiftly and mercilessly to cut down a line of thought.  They are remarkably direct, and everything is personal with a Rogue.  They may serve a team goal at times, if circumstances align, but are unmistakably their own person with their own goals.

Shaman

Adept at sensing the nature of conversation, Shaman tap into social undercurrents to work their magic.  Some will Tank in lighter encounters, but most will either fill a DPS or Healer role.  Uniquely equipped with trinkets and tools with which to make conversational points via object lessons, they tend to be masters of minutiae and trivia.  This can serve to further a conversation or manage its tone.  Shaman are hybrids, adept at filling holes in a team, though they aren’t as agile as Druids.  Shaman tend to be relatively immobile, but versatile.  They are excellent team players, with a wide array of support tactics.

Warlock

Pure DPS in every form, a Warlock can’t help but be caustic, and is inordinately fond of veiled insults that result either in lingering shame or self-doubt.  May or may not have companion in tow, appropriately attired for maximum distraction, whether employing fear or more… amorous (though cruel) intentions.  Master of snide asides, arch allusions and faux British accents.

Warrior

Blessed with an uncomplicated approach to life, Warriors tend to either master a Tank role or a DPS role.  Heavily defended from conversational dissent with a heady mixture of ignorance (pretended or not) and thick disregard for insult, Warriors often serve as rallying points for friends.  In the occasion that they step out of the center of attention, they either rely on fast, furious assaults or heavy precision strikes to further a conversation.  They can wield nearly any conversational tactic, but work best in direct confrontation.

It’s no great surprise to me to find that I can most comfortably identify myself with the Social Druid, though I have pretty solid Hunter tendencies, too.  (Never mind that I wrote this, I tried to make them at least somewhat fair.)  I’m especially fond of my brother-in-law who is a fantastic Social Warrior.  Maybe it’s because he’s a military guy?  He plays the Tank and DPS roles very well, leaving me to do my own thing.

These are somewhat… loose categorizations at that, and might be applied similarly to Your Favorite MMO.  (I really ought to do a Guild Wars version of this, but Longasc and Nugget might be better suited for that task…)

Whatever your game of choice and celebration of choice, though, Happy Holidays and good luck socializing!

Oh, and don’t stand in the fire.  It really hurts in the real world.  The cooks might not be very happy with you either.

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Quest for Class Glory

The Quest for Glory games are a quirky series of adventure/RPG hybrids offered by Sierra.  Part King’s Quest, part class-based RPG, they provided me and my friend with plenty of hours of gaming goodness.

Looking back at those games, the part I wish I would see more in modern games is the differences between classes.  A Thief and Fighter would play very differently as would a Mage and Paladin, almost creating four different games.  The strong class identity wasn’t just in the title and different DPS rotation, each class had their own animations and skills.  Each hero type would play through the same game, but a mission where you were trying to retrieve a Tchotski of Greed from the local fantasy mob boss would play very differently if you were a Thief instead of a Mage.  You could literally sneak in and just swipe the widget and get full credit for the “quest” as a thief, as a Mage, you could use a “fetch” spell.  On the other hand, as a Fighter, you’d have to just go kill everything and take the spoils.  Paladins might be able to talk their way through, or bluff the bad guys.

The thing is, any of those solutions would work and give you full credit for the quest.  You didn’t have to kill everything to gain XP to level up and progress.  You just had to complete tasks, and many tasks could be completed in different ways.  I loved that flexibility, and I believe the game was stronger for it, and the class identity was stronger.

So, when I see something like this little postlet from Ghostcrawler

You realize “only class” claims are viewed as a success by the developers. The classes are too similar as it is.

I naturally compare and contrast that with the stymied desire from the player base to have class-specific questlines.  Also, there’s the unfortunate tendency to make every problem a nail, solved by liberal application of the Kill-Stuff-and-Loot-It Hammer.

I tend to agree that classes should feel different.  Yes, I’d prefer a classless system where I could mix and match to my heart’s delight, but if you’re going to use classes, do it right and make them feel different and have different playstyles.  I want to play as a Rogue in WoW and gain XP from stealing stuff.  I want my Mage to gain XP by using their unique talents to escort a friendly to a succession of friendly cities (and keeping them OUT of combat), or to get to places only a Slowfall could help access.  I want to gain XP for healing if I’m playing a Priest.  I want to gain XP for helping nature as a Druid, rather than always being asked to kill reskinned rabid rats.  I want to gain XP as a Paladin for making peace or for setting an example.  I want raids and dungeons to have class-specific solutions and alternates to “find and kill the boss”.

I want there to be a reason to play a class beyond finding the best way to kill stuff or tank stuff or heal stuff.  If I’m stuck in a class (or subclass thanks to the new WoW talent tree locks), I want it to be something other than just combat, to offer unique gameplay options.

It might even make me like the class-based system.

Oh, and bonus reading:  An article from the 1-Up RPG blog…

Pretty Princess Adventures

It looks like Etrian Odysseys 3 has some wacky class mechanics going on.  It’s a different take on the idea of expanding the point of classes.

Incidentally, I happened across this article from Jason last night, but I’ve had this written for almost a month.  Bloggish hivemind at work?

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Disgaea is packed with a bunch of good ideas.  I’ve logged over 100 hours with the game on my trusty DS (with a sadly defunct R button), and I’m still looking forward to playing more.  The game isn’t perfect, and has a few glaring flaws, but I wanted to point out the things they do well first (so yes, I’ll be writing a few articles on the game).  One of the best facets of the game is the way it handles classes.

Any character can equip any bit of gear.  Each character “class” uses gear a little differently, however.

The ten core statistics (HP, DEF, ATK, etc.) each have their own “inheritance” value.  This inheritance value is a percentile, typically between 50% and 100%.  It dictates how much equipped gear’s stats carry over to the character.  For example, a Mage class character with a 50% HP inheritance value will get a boost of 200 HP from a bit of gear that grants a base boost of 400 HP.  A Sniper character with an inheritance of 110% HIT will predictably get a 220 HIT boost from a bit of gear with a 200 base HIT boost.

As such, classes come with a relatively clear role, as defined by how their inheritances balance out, but the player isn’t locked into arbitrary equipping rules.  It’s perfectly possible to make an Axe wielding Cleric.  It’s not terribly smart, but it’s possible (and random enemies will often have such class/gear mismatches).  It’s all up to the player to choose how they want to approach character progress.

This freeform character control is a great way to handle development.  Classes are still present, but are more like guidelines rather than hardcoded expectations.  If you want your squishy mages to use the most incredible armor and carry pikes into battle, you can do that.  They won’t be as effective on the front lines as a battle hardened Ronin, but they will certainly be more durable than they would be in typical mage robes.

This flexibility is especially useful if mages have already learned all the magic they can and want to branch out.  Everyone can learn almost everything, taught by weapons, so it may well be smart to crosspollinate a bit for situational tactics.  Since you can change gear for free in a fight, you can afford to have several skills “on standby”.

And sometimes, it’s the little things like that that make all the difference in a pitched battle (though, to be fair, there aren’t a lot of those, considering the wide power band and the ability to outlevel pretty much any challenge).  It’s certainly most welcome in a game where tactical choices are what make the game tick.

It’s also possible to “reincarnate” a character as a different class, and if you do it right, they retain memory of what they learned in their previous life.  The level cap is an insane 9999 (not a typo), and since you can effectively level to the cap in each class, things can get extraordinarily grindy for the completionist.  For someone just exploring the system, though, the freedom is excellent.

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The prince formerly known as Arthas obviously has issues.  Even as the Big Bad Lich King, he’s playing second fiddle to Deathwing in the recent WoW buzz about Cataclysm.  (I mean, really, which is cooler, a dragon the size of a skyscraper who can crack the earth itself, or a fallen undeadish prince with identity issues and virtual feuds with Ozzy Osbourne?)  Is it any wonder why he might be feeling a little lonely and ignored?

Arthas needs some TLC.

As you might remember, I got my grubby little hands on a copy of his biography, Arthas, Rise of the Lich King, which wound up bring a pretty good read, even though the titular character isn’t my cup of tea.  So, it’s far past time I pass it along to someone else who might want to give it a whirl.  I’m sure the prince himself would approve of spreading his message of death, doom and destruction, at any rate.

So, in the fine tradition of bloggish contests established by none other than the one and only Big Bear, I’m going to try a little something other than drawing a name out of a hat to find a new home for this lovely, er, brooding hardbound novel.

If you’re interested in getting your hands on this very lightly used book (I read it once and have taken very good care of it), all you have to do is engage in a little exercise and cross your fingers.

I want you to convert me.

Show me what class and race I should play World of Warcraft with.

With a hundred words or less and at least one screenshot (and up to three), or concept art, as the case may be, make your case about what I should be playing when Cataclysm comes knocking.  Whether it’s a Worgen Druid, a Blood Elf Warrior or plain old Gnome Warlock, anything goes.  What do you think I should play as?  (Assume I’d be starting it from scratch, with no fairy godmother twinking me.)

Pretty much anything goes, from snarky “you should be a Human Mage because you’re a bloviating windbag” to thoughtful “you like X so you should play as Y”.  A caveat, though:  sex doesn’t sell around here, and neither does profanity.

Please send your text and graphics to my bloggish email, silverwings.art at gmail.  I’ll take entries for the next, oh… two weeks or so, so if you get your entries in before 11:59 PM (Blizzard standard time) on September 8th, you’re set.  I’ll run things through my Judging Grinder of Doom and post a winner hopefully by the end of that week.  (I’ll contact the lucky one for mailing information at that time, so don’t sweat sending any of that sort of thing with your entry.)

I reserve the right to do something nice for any entry that I find particularly notable.  (Which usually means doing some sort of art, as might be noted in my Mini Portfolio.)  It’s not guaranteed, and it may take a lower priority after other art projects I have going, but I do enjoy crafting the occasional bit of WoW fan art.

I also reserve the right to post the winners and notable entries, but if you object to public display of your brilliance, just let me know in your entry and I’ll keep your work under wraps.  (It won’t affect the judging.)

Tally ho, then, and good luck!

Oh, and if nobody enters, well… I’ll find a way to break the news to Arthas.  (And in fact, if you don’t want the book, feel free to send along a consolation note to the prince.  I’m sure it’ll brighten his day.)

Edited to add:

Mama Druid asked a good question down there in the comments:

Would you play if the winning argument, well, wins you over?

To which I answered:

To answer the question, well… how about a solid “maybe”. I would *like* to, but finances might get in the way. If I have to buy the original WoW, TBC, Wrath *and* Cataclysm to get to play the winner’s suggestion, well, that’s an uphill battle. If I can just buy the base game and go to town, well, maybe $20 is worth playing WoW for a month to get a couple of articles and loads of screenshots out of it, right?

That said, whether or not I will actually wind up playing the winner’s suggestion is completely irrelevant for the judging. It might make for some fun articles, to be sure, watching me struggle with something I’m unfamiliar with, but for the sake of getting this Arthas novel a new home, let’s just leave it at “that would be a fun follow up”.

So don’t sweat it; this contest is all about the entries.  Make your case for what I should play, and that will be enough.  Though, if I do wind up playing it later, I’ll be sure to credit you and write some articles on it.

It’s been awhile since I’ve stopped by. Would you play if the winning argument, well, wins you over? :)

Since I haven’t the time to compose an appropriate entry, I’ll quickly suggest to you a male Troll Druid.

• Trolls are the least played race. Why, I do not know. Their lore is fascinating. Don’t let them become extinct!

• Male trolls are very entertaining. Their laugh, their dance, their myriad of hair/face paint/tusk combos… the male troll is just a fun loving guy. Besides, something’s gone wrong with the creation process for female trolls. Somehow 95% of them end up with the same face! I would stay away from that voodoo if I were you.

• Druid. I might be a bit biased, but with the druid class you can experience any component of the holy trinity with a mere respec and gear change. An added bonus is you have options with the dps third: melee or spellcaster. No other class can make the same claim.

I think I just talked myself into making a male Troll Druid of my own!

Tesh
tae6h@hotmail.com
166.70.188.25

Wait, the Mama Druid? The one who had such awesome naming articles, but whose blog fell off the ‘net? If so, good to see you! If not, well… hello!

To answer the question, well… how about a solid “maybe”. I would *like* to, but finances might get in the way. If I have to buy the original WoW, TBC, Wrath *and* Cataclysm to get to play the winner’s suggestion, well, that’s an uphill battle. If I can just buy the base game and go to town, well, maybe $20 is worth playing WoW for a month to get a couple of articles and loads of screenshots out of it, right?

That said, whether or not I will actually wind up playing the winner’s suggestion is completely irrelevant for the judging. It might make for some fun articles, to be sure, watching me struggle with something I’m unfamiliar with, but for the sake of getting this Arthas novel a new home, let’s just leave it at “that would be a fun follow up”

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Since I’ll be out of commission for a while, I suggest the following as something bigger and better to pick up:

Game Design Concepts

I’ll be checking it out too; I read faster than I write, and this guy has more experience than I do.

So have fun with it, and if it turns out that coming back here is less and less appealing, well, maybe I’ll have to post some pretty pictures to liven up the place.

Later!

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Following up on a comment from Spinks over in the Dual Wield Healing comments, I’ve wondered for a while why “players LOVE classes”.  I suspect there are a handful of reasons, and I’d love to hear what some of you think.  I’m not really disputing that assertion, since I’ve seen plenty of evidence thereof, but I am always questioning why that might be, and if there’s an alternate way (or three) to scratch the underlying psychological itches.  While thinking a bit about those itches, I’ve been thinking of other ways to approach the scratching.

One game that I’ve looked to for good ideas is Final Fantasy Tactics.  FFT has character “Jobs” that function much like classes:  The characters have a core Job that defines their gear permissions (weapons and armor, anyway) and their primary combat abilities.  Soldiers are melee fighters, Black Mages are ranged magic cannons, etc.  Characters can learn abilities from their active “main” Job, eventually Mastering the Job.  They can also use skills they have learned from other Jobs to customize their approach.

Overall, I like FFT’s system, as it allows you to build up a character with a wide variety of abilities that cross-pollinate and synergize, but filters them through the ability to only use a handful at a time.  It’s a nice compromise between learning everything and making tactically relevant limited choices.  Players can make characters specialists or generalists, and anything in between.  This works largely because you tend to field a handful of units in any given skirmish, rather than just a single character.  You can build a team that works well as a whole, rather than just try to do everything yourself.

Battletech works in a similar fashion.  There are several different ‘Mech chassis designs, and several weapons to put in those ‘Mechs.  Players are encouraged to customize their machines by swapping weapons, armor, heat sinks and such, trying to optimize their machine (or team of ‘Mechs in some iterations of the IP) for how they play.  Certainly, there are “stock” configurations of the machines, but half of the fun of the Battletech universe is tinkering with the delicate balance of heat, ballistics, energy weapons, range, mobility, size, and half a dozen other aspects, trying to build the most powerful ‘Mech for its weight.  The stock designs are not usually optimized for greatest potential, which I suspect was intentionally done to give an impetus to tinker, and a reward for those who master the tuning system.

The rough analogue to MMO class design is the Battletech ‘Mech chassis, and the “spec” for a class (minor tweaks to how the class plays) are the loadout of the ‘Mech.  Of course, a MechWarrior need not be tied to a single Mech for his career, which is where the Battletech variability wins out over a class design; it’s like the ability to change your class (chassis) at a whim (or limited by experience/story permissions/bankroll, whatever), allowing for a much greater gameplay variety over the course of a single character’s “life”.  This is also where FFT shines; it allows a single character to change their class/spec/loadout often and completely.

I really like this sort of customizability, as I love the freedom it offers, and I can get more invested in my characters since they really are mine.  Their progress is dictated by my choice, and ultimately, those choices affect how I approach the game as a whole.

Still, that depth does put off some people.  I suspect that it would similarly put off people in MMOs who LOVE their class and can’t imagine playing anything different.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and some people don’t want to bother with learning that much.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

*Quick tangent… I also see class distinctions as yet another way to artificially extend playtime, since you can’t take an existing character and just change their class like you would a Job in FFT.  You must start a whole new character and grind through the levels.  The ability to change your class completely in an MMO doesn’t rob you of identity any more than the ability to change your spec or gear.  It’s your character, and you can always just stick with one class, even if there are options to change.  When there are no options, though, the player interested in exploration of game mechanics is unduly forced to jump through altitis and grind hoops.*

One of the game designs that I’ve toyed with in the last few years is a Tactics-esque game that has a FFT/BT level of depth for character customization, but has what I’m calling Autopilot Character Development.  For those who don’t want to make those choices of how to build a character, there would be “templates” that could be assigned to a unit, automating that progress, allowing the player to just focus on the tactics and strategy inherent in a larger campaign/storyline.

For example, a unit might be given the Scout Template, which would automatically assign them to the Scout class for a while, as it learns some Scouting abilities, then later, assign it to a Ninja class where it can learn some greater evasion and attack abilities.  At any point, the player can turn off the Template and take control of the progression, but if they just can’t be bothered with the minutae inherent in the system, the Autopilot lets them get on with playing the upper-level game.  (Here “upper-level” meaning higher concepts, like tactics and strategy, not high unit level.)

Put another way, this sort of Template system could be overlaid on an open skill system to create a loose sort of “streamlined” class-based system.  UO could become Diablo, as it were.  The key here is that you would always have the option to go back and take the reins, mixing and matching to make your Scout dabble in magic or your Barbarian toy with bows.  This, of course, means that you would also be able to change pretty much everything about the character, from the most basic stats (the prototypical SRT, DEX, whatever) to skill levels to combat skillset (a limited set of usable abilities, like the FFT system).

Is it a lot to keep track of?  Of course it is.  Is it a lot to dig into and potentially have fun with?  If done well, definitely.  Is it good design?  I think so, largely because of the experience I’ve had with games.  (Of course, this mostly applies to those games that require a huge investment of time and character building.  Team Fortress 2 and Smash Bros. work because each round of playing with a class only takes a few minutes.  When that play session extends to hours, weeks and months, it’s onerous to think of “replay” as “rolling another class”.)

I played Titan Quest through as a Sage, a Hunter/Storm ranged DPS machine.  I used Hunter as my “main” class because arrows are infinite, and I could attack at range without burning through mana reserves.  I used Storm to augment that plan, buffing my offense with elemental punch, making my basic ranged attacks sufficiently powerful to kill all but the hardiest enemies long before they got to melee range to bother me.  Ranged enemies went down even quicker since I had great range and high damage… and they were typically slow casters with little defense.  I had a blast, but once I finished the game, I wanted to try another class build.

I didn’t want to spend the time grinding through the lower levels of the game building up a new character, though, playing old content just to see how another class would approach it.  So I found a little program called the TQ Defiler.  It let me edit my character, changing his class to anything I felt like.  I would not have played the game as much as I did without that freedom.  In my younger, stupider days I might have jumped back in with another character from the very start, but with life constantly intruding on my gaming time, I don’t have that luxury any more.  Of course, the TQ Defiler also allows for other sorts of hacks which make the game much easier or harder, but the part that interested me was the class swapper.  There is a “respec” option in the game, but it only allows you to change the way you’ve allocated your skill points, not change your class or secondary, and the cost in game currency increases with each use of the service.

Why?  What does that add to the game?  “Replay value”?  In my time-constrained world, playing through the same content with a different approach is pretty low on the replay value scale.  Yes, it’s technically “replay”, but the bulk of that sort of replay is just repetition, which never sits well with me.  (Mostly because DIKU design is very repetitious to start with; repeating the repetition just gets too stupid too fast.)

“Class identity”?  Thing is, if you have the option to change, you don’t lose that identity; those classes and builds are still there, you just gain the ability to make more choices in the game.  Remember, I like choices.  Purist players in a freeform system will always have the choice to stick with their initial choice, but it doesn’t work the other way; those who want freedom can’t drag it out of a class system without a hex editor.  (Which is effectively making the game behave in ways it wasn’t built for, but arguably should have been.  That sort of hacking doesn’t work in MMOs, since the admins tend to frown on it, banhammer in hand… understandably so, if disappointingly so.)

In a freeform system with Autopilot, you could let the Templates handle the minutae of maintaining a “class identity”, and just go ahead and play your class.  Those who want to do something more freeform could use the Autopilot a bit, or just go all in and do their own thing.

Guild Wars already has something somewhat like this with their Build Templates that you can save and load when you do your “free respec” thing in any town.  They are shorthand precooked “builds” that can be used at any time you would respec, so you can quickly change from a “farming” build to a “questing” or PvP build.  You can also change around your “attribute” numbers willy nilly, to accent your particular build of the moment.

I’m just extending the concept to push that freedom into more aspects of the game, all the way down to the most basic of character customization, the “class” choice.  I’ll reiterate, though, I’m talking about adding choices, and adding an Autopilot for those who want the more constrained experience.  This system wouldn’t destroy the ability to make a killer Rogue or buffalicious Tank, it would augment the game as a whole to allow for more variety and player ownership of one of the few things they truly can control; their character or team.  And yes, this design ethos would apply equally well to a Tactics team-based game as to an MMO.  Any game that uses classes or jobs could benefit from this sort of freedom.

I know, some people wouldn’t like that sort of freedom.  Some want strict predictability and/or relatively simple decision making.  That’s the point of the Autopilot, to let those players just get on with playing the game.  For those who want to dig deeper, though, why not let them do so?

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