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Mephs

What should make the player?

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I've been playing a lot of EverQuest lately so this thread is gonna be yet another RPG related thread. Something majorly bugs me when people say that it is not the players gear that makes them a good player in EQ, it is the players skill. To be perfectly honest I think EQ is so weighted in that Loot > All, that saying skill makes the better player over equipment is absolute tripe. In some extreme circumstances skill can make for the better player, but in the vast majority of cases if two players of the same class duelled, I'm pretty sure the one with better gear would come out on top 90% of the time. Now I don't want EQ to become the focus of this thread, but it raises an interesting thought. What areas of character advancement should define the power of the player the most? I like to think that skill would play a large part in the power of a player, but then other things to consider are time invested in the character (therefore stats and skills advancement), money earned by the player, equipment looted by the player and so on. What impact do you think these areas would have if they were the main focus in a game? Again looking at Everquest the game is built around a lot of timesinks and is heavily focused on loot... how would this differ if it chose to focus much more heavily on experience? What if player skill owned all else? Would the game lack reward if an extremely skilled player could kill almost anyone regardless of what items of power they possessed? How do you achieve an ideal balance? ... discuss .... Steve AKA Mephs [edited by - mephs on December 7, 2002 4:20:57 AM]

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One of the clinches I''ve come up against within this problem is that we desire players to be somehow skilled in controlling their characters to be effective, but often times play-skill ends up being dependent on timing and button combos, which do not translate well over a network. Plus, nowadays, there are all sorts of peripherals which will do it for you. Removing skill from the equation altogether. Thus, RPGs of this day shift the focus to ''Growth Strategy'' where your skill is not in the way you play, but your decisions on how your character will grow (including where to be to get the best loot).

If you can reliably hope to have a fast network, or it''s just a single player game, then you might pull things down to the controller level, and then demand that people have good skill on the level of input. Then how can you argue that this is fair in the face of a clumsy, but more intelligent player? Perhaps they should be the ones playing EverQuest, where that sort of thing doesn''t matter.

An interesting problem


struct {person "George D. Filiotis";} Symphonic;
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Note that pressing buttons in combinations and clicking the mouse is pretty much the only skill it is possible to have when playing an RPG. How do you swing an ax or cast a spell through just a keyboard and a mouse? However, if you are talking skill like a "sixth-sense" type thing; meaning the player knows the strategy in fighting different monsters, how to avoid huge gangs of monsters, etc. that can be done.

Also, it doesn''t make much sense that a character''s skill in an RPG is dependent on the players skill, because what would happen if the player created a new character, etc.

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It is true that network lag is a hindrance in making RPGs where fast reflexes and input skill are a major factor in gameplay success. Then again, I don''t really think that the player''s fast reflexes should be a factor, as it is the character''s abilities which should determine success or failure and not the player''s. An RPG ought to let you play the role of someone stronger, quicker, or more clever than you, and that usually means automating the moment-to-moment decision making.

But that doesn''t mean that RPGs should be deterministic, with the computer deciding wholly mathematically how things work out. The skill of the RPG player is in applying his character''s various abilities to the problem at hand; to solve the problem as his character would solve it. I very much like RPGs which present multiple solutions to a challenge, including some non-obvious ones, and leave it to the player to determine what they are and which one is most suitable to his character. In a good game of this type, the relative strengths of equipment are far less important than their inherent properties as devices, and getting "better" equipment is secondary to getting equipment appropriate to the character and the problems he faces.

For example, a length of chain would be very useful to a back-alley brawler, who can use it to hit people. The same length of chain would be avoided by a burglar - fighting is not high on his list of priorities, and the chain is far too noisy to carry around. And of course a businessman would have little use for a chain, unless he could find someone else who was willing to pay for it.

So equipment need not be the be-all end-all; in fact in many games I find its importance to be rather inflated. How much better can one sword really be than another? As long as they are both durable, well-balanced, and properly shaped, differences in quality don''t result in such disparity in results. Instead of making a linear chain of swords, starting with OK Sword and progressing through various Better Swords until one reaches the Best Sword, why not make a wide variety of swords, which differ enough in inherent properties that each is a good choice to a different sort of person? Sure, a zweihander is a fine sword if you''re strong as an ox and want to bash in people''s heads right through their helmets. It''s not a great choice for the average fellow, who would be perfectly happy with a shortsword and a big shield to hide behind. Sadly, in many RPGs these sort of things aren''t a factor.

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I just wish to point out one thing, skill != reaction speed. Well it shouldn''t anyways. To a degree I think it should come into the equation, but I''m also referring to wise tactical decisions, problem solving, adaptive use of resources etc etc. Agreed, in too many games nowadays reaction speed and connection speed owns all, but I think there is a vast amount of room to allow other types of skill to become a games'' focus.

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If you''re going to be fighting against characters that are as complex as yours is (multiplayer, specifically), then you''re either going to have to outgun them or outclass them. I think that a sissy with a fancy sword would get beaten down on a regular basis by a master swordman with a broom handle. In fact, that''s one of the things I hate about most RPGs. Why is it that a level 47 knight is so incredibly badass that he can take an arrow in the face and suffer only a very little bit? The dude just got shot in the eye, and he lost 43 HP. That''s it. Nonsense. I don''t care who you are, getting stomped on by a 50-ton giant is going to screw you up big time. When two high-level swordsmen fight, they basically exchange blows back and forth until one of them drops and the other has a tiny little bit of health left, whereupon he can be killed by an aardvark. It''s silly. If two guys with sword fight, odds are one will be killed and the other will be in fairly good shape at the end. I''m thinking of duels, of course, without a lot of fatigue or minor injury working into it.

I think that a character''s toughness should depend not on his ability to take a lot of damage, but on his ability not to. One of my favorite things to see in a game in watching my little guys in Ogre Battle 64 parry attacks. When I first got a sword master, nobody could touch him. He''d just block, and dodge, and then land huge, crippling blows. His armor wasn''t great, and his HP wasn''t great, so when he got hit, he bled, but he didn''t get hit all that often. That was neat.

I''d like to see a character''s performance depend largely on agility and dexterity, as well as proficiency with the equipment he''s using. You may have a guy who bench-presses three times his own body weight, but if he''s got no clue how to hold a sword and faces a 150-pound expert blademaster, he''s gonna lose something terrible. I don''t care how tough you are, a sharp blade cuts through muscle almost as well as through fat. If an axe comes at you, your best bet is not to let it touch you.

Also, I''d like to see more injury-related status ailments. A guy with a sucking chest wound isn''t going to be much good to anyone.

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In my opinion? Where an online RPG is concerned, time played, equipment gathered, and player skill, in an approximately 3:2:1 ratio.

But wait, isn''t that close to the status quo, and widely conceived as being bad by many people on here?

Sure.

If you take ''time played'' out of the equation, then you lose the incentives for people to stay a while. There is less perceived investment in the game, so people come and go more often. This means less community, and probably less money for you. If someone who''s played 10 minutes is not much worse than someone who''s played 10 months, then what''s to stop troublesome newbies causing havoc? What''s to stop an unlucky player who''s been there for 10 months leaving in disgust cos some 12-year old got better than him in his first hour of play? I like to build in some degree of loyalty from the players, and rewarding them for effort (which usually translates as time) rather than skill is a good way of doing so.

If you make ''player skill'' a big factor, then you eliminate several large groups: the traditional RPG players who expect the game to be determined by character skill rather than player skill, the socialisers who just want to hang out with people rather than level up all the time, those who are too old/clumsy/unused to computer games to be able to develop the skill quickly, and so on. Online RPGs are blessed with a variety of different people from different walks of life and levels of ability, and although I applaud the general thinking behind making player ''skill'' more prominent in games, it narrows your audience. You need to be sure that this is what you want.

Finally, leaving ''equipment gathered'' in there helps to level the playing field for the groups I mentioned above. If you''re one of the less ''achievement-based'' player types, play nicely and befriend the ''gamers'' and they will donate equipment, letting you play along with them on occasion. It is prone to abuse, but I think there are ways to limit it (such as making a certain amount of play time necessary to use equipment). It''s a social mechanism, allowing people some degree of power in rewarding pro-social behaviour.

So personally, I actually like the current state of affairs when it comes to online RPGs. I am more in favour of fixing the problems with the systems rather than throwing them out and finding new ones.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions | Organising code files | My stuff ]

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quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
When two high-level swordsmen fight, they basically exchange blows back and forth until one of them drops and the other has a tiny little bit of health left, whereupon he can be killed by an aardvark. It''s silly. If two guys with sword fight, odds are one will be killed and the other will be in fairly good shape at the end. I''m thinking of duels, of course, without a lot of fatigue or minor injury working into it.



If you have a system where people aren''t getting killed with a single hit, then a high-level duel is going to take quite a while because both participants are very good at avoiding injury. If you do anything requiring concentration and physical effort for a while, it''s going to tire you out. A master swordsman tired to the point he''s ready to drop is going to be a lot easier to kill than when he''s at his peak.

As to what should determine the outcome of such things, it depends on the game. If the player gets to make meaningful choices elswhere in the game, leading to acquiring loot/experience that improves his chances, then I have no real problem with the outcome of those choices determining the outcome of fights. If it''s very easy to get good equipment, then other choices should dominate - like player skill in combat.

I think this deserves its own thread...

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quote:
If someone who''s played 10 minutes is not much worse than someone who''s played 10 months, then what''s to stop troublesome newbies causing havoc?

Why should there be anything to stop troublesome newbies causing havoc? If player skill is a part of the game, then survival of the fittest becomes a strong theme, right?
quote:
What''s to stop an unlucky player who''s been there for 10 months leaving in disgust cos some 12-year old got better than him in his first hour of play?

Let me ask you this: if someone who''s played 10 months and who is a far more skilled player than another player who has played 10 months, shouldn''t the better player see at least some signs of that? Wouldn''t he leave in disgust once he notices that no matter how skilled he becomes, the game simply doesn''t reward individual skill?

Are we playing online games to be just another sheep in the herd, or do we want to at least stand out a little bit?

If someone is better in 10 minutes than I am in 10 months, should my poor performance keep the designers from creating a challenging game? Should they hold back some (the players who catch up quick and become skilled in no time) in order to make me into an average player?

This thread reminds me of when I was young and still played tennis. I was pretty good at a very young age, picking the skills up quickly. Beat a lot of other guys, even won some local championships. But as I got older, my skills simply didn''t improve anymore. My younger brother kept on developing his skills. Then came the time when he started to consistently beat me: he was better than me at playing tennis.

Should I at that point have tried to somehow put a stop to his game? Should I have just quit in disgust?

What I ended up doing was going to see my younger brother play and win against other people. I still played myself (although only for a few more years as I did start to lose interest in sports and shifted my attention towards the nightlife) and still practiced with my brother.

Look, the game is what it is. You can make a game to please all, making sure that player skill is not a requirement. That''s fine. Make another Everquest. Or, you can make a game that makes use of human competition, that involves player skill at least to some degree. Make it almost like a sport, but keep a strong cooperation theme. Ensure that players that want to show of their skills can do so, but at the same time allow players that know they are not very good at the game enjoy the game in a different aspect, by allowing them to form groups and follow the ''safety in numbers'' rule. They might not know exactly what sword to wield, or how to perform that special maneuver, but they will still be able to defend themselves and to develop a sense of pride at their skill at creating a functioning group.

Gladiators and mediators. Two very different styles of players. Let both find their own and your game will flourish.

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Let's not forget the lousy 11-year-olds who play six to twelve hours a day and have invincible characters, then hide in towns whacking honest, hardworking people and taking their loot. That's crappy, and there should be some way to prevent it. I don't like the idea of time and loot converting directly to invincibility.

Rmsgrey, that's a good point. I should have pointed out that I DO like the idea of people being killed with a single hit. I think that protection from damage should come primarily from armor or magical defenses, but when a character gets hit in the neck with a sword, their head should fall off. If something gets between that neck and that sword, i.e. another sword, a piece of armor, an enchantment, or three inches of space, then they won't lose their noggin. Nobody should be able to kill so many goblins that their skin becomes impenetrable.

[edited by - Iron Chef Carnage on December 8, 2002 3:16:35 PM]

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