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Alternate Reasons To Level


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#1 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 08:32 AM

RPGs tend to have a cycle that goes something like "fight-loot-level" with each leg of the experience justifying the others. You have to fight to get good enough to win the loot; the loot helps you get better at fighting, which in turn helps you level; and leveling opens the door to new loot (if there are level requirements) and brings you to new (and hopefully more challenging / interesting) fights.

While story often provides a justification for this cycle, I'm going to assume for the moment that, deep down (in terms of gameplay), it's not the CORE reason you level in most RPGs. I'm going to assume that the cycle justifies itself. If this is the case, what other cycles have you seen that are self-justifying and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each leg? Or alternately, what do you think it takes to build a self-justifying cycle from scratch?
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#2 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 500

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 09:23 AM

Adventure - Explore - Improve Character

#3 Tiblanc   Members   -  Reputation: 552

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 09:57 AM

Building games have a similar cycle : Build - Tweak - Amass Resources
Developer for Novus Dawn : a Flash Unity Isometric Tactical RPG - Forums - Facebook - DevLog

#4 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 10:02 AM

Adventure - Explore - Improve Character


Ok this is a good start, but in terms of adventure what do you actually do? Are we talking solving puzzles, dodging falling rocks, physics-based jumping, or what?

Breaking exploring down further and relating it to improving the character & vice versa: Does this imply that you need to be a certain level of improvement to explore / survive different environments? I think that could work... maybe you have to have a certain skill level to climb mountains bordering a new area, or have a certain resistance to disease to survive malaria infested swamps.

Exploration should offer rewards to enhance the ability to adventure (whatever that's defined as at the nuts & bolts level). Gear's an obvious choice, maybe even including crafting it. Crafting might relate really well to the leveling portion if there are skill requirements for accessing resources (eg., you need to be level X to mine resource Y).

Is this what you basically had in mind?
--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#5 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 500

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 10:29 AM


Adventure - Explore - Improve Character


Ok this is a good start, but in terms of adventure what do you actually do? Are we talking solving puzzles, dodging falling rocks, physics-based jumping, or what?

Breaking exploring down further and relating it to improving the character & vice versa: Does this imply that you need to be a certain level of improvement to explore / survive different environments? I think that could work... maybe you have to have a certain skill level to climb mountains bordering a new area, or have a certain resistance to disease to survive malaria infested swamps.

Exploration should offer rewards to enhance the ability to adventure (whatever that's defined as at the nuts & bolts level). Gear's an obvious choice, maybe even including crafting it. Crafting might relate really well to the leveling portion if there are skill requirements for accessing resources (eg., you need to be level X to mine resource Y).

Is this what you basically had in mind?


Sorta...

Adventure = Story Elements/Game Mechanics that force you to learn about something

Explore = Once you have been introduced to this new something you use it some way... such as a new area. Once you know it's there you then look around it for new quests, gear, mobs, ways to kill those mobs, glitches, and just cuz it's pretty and you want to see what it all looks like so you can improve your character

Improve Character = Once you have done looking for and doing all that stuff you either use it or don't, but generally you are done with it and to access the next cycle you have to make some sort of character growth due to gating or because the next cycle is just that much harder and once you do... you go on your next adventure...


Basically this is the overarching cycle of just about every game out there... your cycle is more of what i would consider the "improve character" phase and doesn't encapsulate the full experience of games.

#6 Waterlimon   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2317

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 11:33 AM

Isnt it all about your character gaining more/better tools to advance further where he can advance even more and so on?

Levels are just a overly simplified way to do that, they measure all your skills in a single number, and whatever you do increases that number.

Waterlimon (imagine this is handwritten please)


#7 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 500

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 12:23 PM

Isnt it all about your character gaining more/better tools to advance further where he can advance even more and so on?

Levels are just a overly simplified way to do that, they measure all your skills in a single number, and whatever you do increases that number.


Not exactly.
Humans like having goals that they can achieve in a relatively short amount of time
Humans like being Social
Humans like discovering new things and exploring new things
Humans like knowing things others don't and being "better" than others

Leveling is just 1 of several things that a game can use to keep a player addicted.

#8 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 12:56 PM

To better understand what I'm talking about here you have to ask yourself WHY you would do any activity in an RPG. This is important because RPGs are frequently filled with aimless stats, skills and activities which lead nowhere and thus feel tacked on. Players will find themselves asking, "Why am I doing this?" Even if the activity is fun, if it is ultimately pointless it will be less enduring and will wear out faster than the core activities of the game. This will make it feel even MORE tacked on.

Consider, for instance, a case where you decide to add fishing to your RPG so you can feed yourself or NPCs. If fishing doesn't somehow contribute to the core loop you'll be left with a side activity that ends up meaningless. To endure throughout the game, fishing would, assuming the typical fight-loot-level, have to somehow contribute in a meaningful way to one or more of the legs of that cycle.
--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#9 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 01:05 PM

Adventure = Story Elements/Game Mechanics that force you to learn about something

Explore = Once you have been introduced to this new something you use it some way... such as a new area. Once you know it's there you then look around it for new quests, gear, mobs, ways to kill those mobs, glitches, and just cuz it's pretty and you want to see what it all looks like so you can improve your character

Improve Character = Once you have done looking for and doing all that stuff you either use it or don't, but generally you are done with it and to access the next cycle you have to make some sort of character growth due to gating or because the next cycle is just that much harder and once you do... you go on your next adventure...

Basically this is the overarching cycle of just about every game out there... your cycle is more of what i would consider the "improve character" phase and doesn't encapsulate the full experience of games.


I separate story because while I think there are players who consistently play just for the story I don't believe that that's the central reason why people play RPGs, especially if you consider MMOs. If story was the core reason, this audience would be playing lots of different games which have great stories, not caring if they're RPGs or not. (This isn't entirely true as there are crossover players, obviously, who WILL play lots of other related genres, such as Adventure games, and skill may be a barrier to playing some games with great stories for some RPG players.)

Learning is important, but I wouldn't define it as core gameplay, rather a byproduct of it. I think also that exploration itself isn't self-justifying in a traditional RPG unless the game rewards you SPECIFICALLY for exploration in a manner that would rival combat. The same is true for questing. WHY do you quest? What gameplay does questing lead to?

It's important to understand that I'm not so much trying to encapsulate the full experience of an RPG. I'm trying to drill down to the core loop which drives it and ask what other loops would substitute, what activities they'd be made of and why they'd work.
--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#10 Caldenfor   Members   -  Reputation: 323

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 01:35 PM

I think in some games the process of leveling is not done well. If you place too much emphasis on leveling you create that as a reason to play. Do you want leveling alone to be a reason to play your game? If it is just a means to an end, what do you do at the end?

Less emphasis on leveling would thus force the creators to develop a game that is something more than just levels. The type of game is a large factor and changes the discussion depending on the type chosen.

PVP games, you play to compete against other players. Other activities in the game would then be "What makes me more competitive in PVP?". Limiting a game to just one aspect, in an MMO undertaking, is just not acceptable to me. You need to be more broad in play options, but that doesn't mean dumb it down.

People play to become better, socialize, learn, explore, customize, amongst other things.


A truly successful MMORPG, in my mind, needs to put focus on living in the world rather than playing a character. You need to be worried about more than just yourself. Things need to matter. I honestly don't consider WoW to be a successful MMORPG, it is a successful MMO though, so I am not completely blind. There are quite a few games, Rift in particular, that I just felt didn't provide the required immersion to be considered an RPG. You weren't a role, you were a character, a cog in the wheel. You didn't serve a purpose, you were replaceable. A single serving atmosphere doesn't lead to what I feel is considered a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game. Massively Multiplayer... sure, but it doesn't come any where near being a Role-Playing Game in my mind. Perhaps I just have a different belief or understanding of the term and I hold it to a higher standard than I should. I do not role-play myself.

A world where a player, among hundreds to thousands of other players, can make a difference is a true MMORPG. Even if the difference is small, the player needs to matter.

#11 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 500

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 01:50 PM

I separate story because while I think there are players who consistently play just for the story I don't believe that that's the central reason why people play RPGs, especially if you consider MMOs. If story was the core reason, this audience would be playing lots of different games which have great stories, not caring if they're RPGs or not. (This isn't entirely true as there are crossover players, obviously, who WILL play lots of other related genres, such as Adventure games, and skill may be a barrier to playing some games with great stories for some RPG players.)

Learning is important, but I wouldn't define it as core gameplay, rather a byproduct of it. I think also that exploration itself isn't self-justifying in a traditional RPG unless the game rewards you SPECIFICALLY for exploration in a manner that would rival combat. The same is true for questing. WHY do you quest? What gameplay does questing lead to?

It's important to understand that I'm not so much trying to encapsulate the full experience of an RPG. I'm trying to drill down to the core loop which drives it and ask what other loops would substitute, what activities they'd be made of and why they'd work.


if we're talking about a regular RPG leveling is there to facilitate story progression and more times than not "leveling" is taken out now adays. The enemies are made so that the Adventure facilitates the level up. The Adventure opens a new city/town/area/quests/whatever... By exploring you are often rewarded with gear, story, ability, skills, extra story, or some other special thing... So you adventure from town a to town b. when you reach town b you explore to get more gear and these two actions together lead to character improvement which then allows you to adventure from town b to c and do it again. The newer RPGs pretty much make it so you never have to do anything except adventure because the explore/character improvement parts are so small or pushed as part of the adventure


If we're talking about MMORPGs... it's mainly socially driven and has little to do with actual level progression. Good design in MMORPGs is a design that promotes a good Community, because more or less it doesn't matter what you do once you have a good community the community will keep most people from leaving it. I've heard nearly everyone I have ever played an MMO with at some point say "I'd quit if i could get my friends to go play this other game" So leveling is done as a community activity and if you fall behind it is done to keep playing with your friends. It has nothing to do with loot, level, or fighting.

#12 Gestalt   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 10:06 PM

In the case of a sandbox MMORPG, the economy would be a major factor, and having a sense of roles and a place within society. An economy can justify many mechanics (such as having fishing in the game) by giving it a context with which to relate to the big picture. In a sandbox people make their own goals, and sometimes those goals don't have or need a higher context (Minecraft comes to mind). People generally like to explore the capacity of things.

The standard hook is the Skinner's box. Do something and get a reward. People also like a sense of progression and forward movement. In the case of pretty much every game, the progression comes from advancing yourself in some way, as the stat-based avatar, as the skilled gamer controlling it, or as some combination of both.

The reason I play an RPG (although I don't play much of anything anymore) is to see the next thing. I love seeing what's next when there's a great world to explore and new things to see and experience. I also enjoy planning a build or working toward an armor set, and keeping at them and all of their sub-goals until they are completed.

I almost always play support roles, so I like keeping the party in good shape, resing the occasional stranger, healing someone who needs it, warping people to where they need to go, giving people the buffs they need at the right times, etc. I'd rather help a person compete than compete myself, it's a lot less shallow for me that way.

The social aspects of MMOs are also a major factor as to why people keep playing.

#13 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 10:58 PM

if we're talking about a regular RPG leveling is there to facilitate story progression


Totally disagree. Leveling exists to facilitate combat. As I acknowledged in the OP, I think you're correct that story progression is a significant factor (it gives context and meaning to the battles), but people are playing many RPGs (especially action-RPGs) for the action or strategy found in the combat gameplay. Examples abound, new and old: Mass Effect, Borderlands, Diablo, Din's Curse, Jade Empire, Sacred, Icewind Dale, Fable, The Witcher, Morrowind, WOW, Runescape, Dungeon Siege, Phantasy Star Online, etc. etc.

If this wasn't the case, why is combat so central to these games?

and more times than not "leveling" is taken out now adays.


Really? Which games are doing this these days?

The enemies are made so that the Adventure facilitates the level up. The Adventure opens a new city/town/area/quests/whatever... By exploring you are often rewarded with gear, story, ability, skills, extra story, or some other special thing... So you adventure from town a to town b. when you reach town b you explore to get more gear and these two actions together lead to character improvement which then allows you to adventure from town b to c and do it again. The newer RPGs pretty much make it so you never have to do anything except adventure because the explore/character improvement parts are so small or pushed as part of the adventure


I still think you're not analyzing what adventuring is. When you say adventure what you typically mean in RPGs is that you kill your way from one environment to the other. If you doubt this, then you'll need to provide several example RPG where you can play as a pacifist.



If we're talking about MMORPGs... it's mainly socially driven and has little to do with actual level progression.


I'm not really an MMO player but from what I've heard, the little I've played and what my friends' experiences have been I have to say it strongly depends on the type of player. Social gamers seem to be there for the community, much as you say. But the Achievers and Killers who play against the environment seem to be there for the combat, by and large.

If this has nothing to do with looting, leveling and fighting, then again, WHY is combat the core activity, rather than, say, crafting, or IRC-style MUD roleplaying or something else?
--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#14 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1565

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 11:28 PM

In the case of a sandbox MMORPG, the economy would be a major factor, and having a sense of roles and a place within society.


What does the economy typically enable you to do? Or better said, what does a rich player have that a poor player does not, and why is having it important?

In a sandbox people make their own goals, and sometimes those goals don't have or need a higher context (Minecraft comes to mind). People generally like to explore the capacity of things.


We're off the topic of talking about loops. Regardless of Minecraft's sandbox, if you play with monsters the loop becomes something like explore for (better/more) resources, gather, build, survive. If you don't play with monsters, remove the part about survival. That you can build whatever you can think of out of the blocks doesn't make it exempt from having a gameplay loop. (Granted, you could wander the world aimlessly to see what's over the next hill, or dig for the same reason, but I don't think most players are doing this).
--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#15 Zethariel   Members   -  Reputation: 310

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 12:48 AM

The main loop IMO is Target -- Progress -- Achievement

As a Target we set just about anything in an MMO -- Learn fishing, Gain a level, Change hunting grounds, Join a guild

Progression happens when we try and reach our target -- we run around looking for a fishing trainer, kill mobs, ask for directions or apply to various guilds

Then there is the Achievement and the sense of gaining a rewards/finishing something meaningfull to us. We finally catch our first fish, we gain a new level, see new landscape or meet new guildmates.

Once that is done, we, again, set a new target in order to not get bored. We play an MMO as long as we can find ourselves a target that is important to us, a thing we want to achieve. Sandboxes rely on that heavily -- but compared to structured, "leveled" gameplay, the lifespan is shorter due to the amount of goals the player is unaware of or just doesn't want to do. Leveling slows down progression and gives a pace the player must accept in order to participate, as well as setting mini Targets along the way.

F.e. Minecraft. As long as we can set targets (each one being more meaningfull than the other) we play it, we are entertained. But then there is a point where all is done and nothing seems important anymore. WoW on the other hands slows you down intentionally, giving out content in small packets, making sure you will play long (thus generating profit for the company).
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#16 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4544

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 01:20 AM

Tech tree (gathering, creating units and buildings, upgrading, gathering more, etc.) is probably the most obvious example. Normally people think of this in association with RTSes and building games like Tiblanc mentions. But it can also work in an RPG context. Tycoon games typically cast the player in the role of a farmer, rancher, or pet breeder. The player typically levels up their house, their storage, their production capacity, their production or transportation speed, their crafting appliances, the pets if they are used for combat, gear if the player participates in combat, or their store if they are selling their produce. Usually the overall goal of this is to max out one aspect of the game. In a combat game it might be to defeat the biggest boss/highest level, or to obtain one of every kind of pet (or card in a CCG), or to conquer all rivals and become king of the world. In a tycoon game the goal might be to earn enough money to upgrade the store to the highest level. Or games of this sort may have a campaign structure (accomplish each mission within the time limit or other restrictions given) or a long-term time limit such as a year of game time by which a player must accomplish one or more long-term objectives (make X money, collect Y symbols of accomplishment, pick one of 6 large scale goals and accomplish it, breed or train a max level pet, etc.)

A Tale in the Desert has no combat, but it does have a leveling system in that being able to gather or produce a new material allows the player to build new objects, and those in turn allow the player to gather or produce more new materials. There's a secondary system alternating achievements with skills - you have to accomplish a checklist of achievements to unlock learning a new set of skills, which in turn come with a new checklist of achievements.
I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me.

#17 Gestalt   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 07:36 AM

Developing, creating, and collaborating can help to give cycles more justification. In a rhythm game like Guitar Hero, you constantly work on developing your skill as a player. That skill has a tangible quality, as opposed to face-rolling the same rotation with the same amount of skill and interaction for the duration of loot grinding.

A composer develops musical skill, and that cycle of advancement progressively produces work. So the results of a cycle can actually be creation. In the case of most games that would come in the form of a higher score of some sort.

Giving the cycle a context and value that is not completely based on your own perception can also help a lot. When you collaborate or do something with someone else in the picture, you effectively transfer the question of "what's the point--so now what?" to the other person. For example when you are helping someone clean, you don't question the integrity of it, the questioning of the integrity of needing to clean can be transferred to the other person cleaning, and for all intents and purposes both participants could be directing this perception at eachother. An act that has no basis can gain a basis by the fact that it is a group effort, and as far as each participant is aware, someone else has some logic/passion/motivation/meaning behind doing it.

The problem with most cycles in games, as far as I see, is that they tend to deal with self advancement, with "winning", so the justification is very limited. When you ask yourself "what's the point of winning", or, after you win ask "so, now what?", most often you get the answer "win more!"




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