I want to learn game design. What I mean by game design is the core rules and mechanics of the game. I don't mean character design, story telling, or any of that. Personally, I don't particularly care for stories in games.
But the game I am planning on implementing is an online rpg. Kind of like an MMORPG, but in a smaller scale---I'm not delusional, I think.
A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.
There are several forms of RPG. The original form, sometimes called the tabletop RPG, is conducted through discussion, whereas in live action role-playing games (LARP) players physically perform their characters' actions. In both of these forms, an arranger called a game master (GM) usually decides on the rules and setting to be used and acts as referee, while each of the other players plays the role of a single character.
Several varieties of RPG also exist in electronic media, such as multi-player text-based MUDs and their graphics-based successors, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Role-playing games also include single-player offline role-playing video games in which players control a character or team who undertake quests, and may include capabilities that advance using statistical mechanics. These games often share settings and rules with tabletop RPGs, but emphasize character advancement more than collaborative storytelling.
Be that as it may. My first set of advice is to:
- look in the "Breaking into the industry" forum
- check the FAQ's for that forum
- then head over to Tom Sloper's website http://www.sloperama.com/advice.html
- Don't jump in at the deep end of game design - start with a small game with a simple set of rules
- As you have pointed out you are a programmer - that ability should allow you to create a number of small simple games with quick turn around.
- There are a multitude of game mechanics that as a player you will be aware of - utilising a subset of the available game mechanics into cohesive whole is your goal.
- Creating an RPG is a hefty amount of work...it is where I would expect to hear the term "team" and not individual - Not to say that it can't be done solo mind you.
One particular problem that I have is designing spells and abilities for the playable classes. I want them to be balanced; if any two fight eachother, they should both have a not-too-small set of viable options in every situation. But at the same time the classes are supposet to have significant differences. Again: Are there some techniques, principles or guidelines for how to go about designing somehing like this? Or is just trial-and-error? I mean, experience must certainly help, and some experienced game designer must have written down techniques that work well.
Class balance especially in situations of PvE Vs PvP is a walking nightmare. Not too say that it can't be done. Large MMO's such as World of Warcraft constantly tweak character abilities and powers trying to create/maintain some sort of balance. Indeed WoW has has gone well into the extent of homogenising abilities amongst all classes and eroding their individual flavours. When trying to design balance - my preference is to view in terms of a circle of dominoes - each tile representing a class -- each class has a strength over the next tile it falls on. Don't necessarily get obsessed with balance being perfect but consider designing an unbalanced system for example where everyone has an obvious weakness against one class and an obvious strength over another. Have enough depth of classes and it will work quite well. Effectively you are creating a balance in this but not at the sharp end of game play. That is just one way to do it, there are lots more ways.
The basic principle of any game design is to start simply -- don't introduce 10000000 rules/elements right at the start. Once you have your initial idea - Map it out - Try a test run playing it as a very basic game - Make notes - Introduce a few rules/elements (if needed)- then replay your updated game - make more notes - get feedback from others - rinse and repeat until you have a game that has reached optimal playability.