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Let's discuss a somewhat "radical" MMORPG theory

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The radical theory is this: do away with the experience, level-ups, skill-based systems, etc. ENTIRELY. I know, I know: the whole point of an MMO is to build up your character. What possible draw could the game have without experience, level-ups, skills to pump? In short, what good would an MMO be without... THE GRIND? There are actually two reasons behind this idea. First is the elimination of the grind. Without such a traditional character-building system, we'll be forced to create new and interesting ways to give the player the all-important sense of achievement. (I'll tackle this in a moment). The second reason has to do with PvP. Unbalanced PvP battles really suck, mostly for the loser who has no chance, but also somewhat for the victor who quickly grows bored with the lack of challenge. But if we eliminate the traditional systems, there will no longer be any such thing as a battle between a level 50 and a level 5. But what do we replace the system with? There is, in fact, one age-old method of building up the character's skill which was pioneered in the very beginning of all video gaming. Can you guess it? The skill of the PLAYER. Instead of focusing on numbers, arbitrary statistics with little to no physical meaning, we focus on the actual human player's skill at the game. Through various systems we will tax his intelligence and problem-solving abilities, his various social skills, his strategic wit, and of course his manual dexterity. Over time, the player will simply become better at the game due to his real-life experience with it. It's a given that the player's ability to learn imposes a certain "cap" on the amount of time for which the game remains interesting to him. For example, if a player is able to master swordplay within a week or two -- having played many games with similar sword-fighting scenarios before -- then perhaps the game won't hold very much appeal for him. This is a problem which must be considered, because ultimately, the goal of every MMO is to keep players playing, and paying their monthly subscription fees. A large part of the solution lies in variety and depth. To use the sword-fighting example, perhaps the combat system consists of numerous types of "basic" moves -- horizontal and vertical slashes, thrusts, a few directional parries, and maybe a slow but powerful "crushing blow" type of attack -- which can be combined in a rather fluid fashion. Some combos might be predefined by the designers, and may have certain prerequisites such as a particular weapon type (more on this in a moment). Many combos wouldn't be "combos" in the normal sense, so much as a certain sequence of moves which the player finds useful and commits to memory. The ideal here is that the player could develop his own particular style of swordplay, rather than choosing an arbitrary stat value defining the same thing. This creates infinitely more possibilities and allows a player that much more freedom for defining his character. Additionally, non-combat systems must be equally well-developed, and possibly even more so. Crafting systems are one area in which this can absolutely excel. The player should have the ability to experiment wildly with crafting -- which of course is broken into various sub-disciplines such as alchemy, weaponsmithing, scroll-writing, and whatever else the designer can imagine -- but more importantly, the player's crafting choices should always have an intuitive effect on the outcome. No more of this behind-the-scenes dice rolling to see if the crafting attempt succeeded or failed. Failure would be determined simply because the resultant object is all but worthless (though remember, one man's trash is another man's treasure!) Anyway, my point is that if a player wants to build a sword out of, say, straw, he can do so, but it will be a very flimsy sword! (This idea can be taken to an almost funny extreme regarding alchemy and spellcraft). Players can now find a sense of achievement in their personal increase of skill in various areas. In fact, a major "fun factor" in the game could be dabbling in unfamiliar areas just to see what it's like. This is very doable since the player doesn't have to sacrifice valuable experience or skill points (read: hours and hours of GRINDING) to try out a new discipline. At most, he would need to acquire the necessary equipment, and maybe have another player show him the basics (more on this in a moment). But there needs to be more to the game than just learning its systems. What's a player to do once he's mastered those systems? Item collections are one possibility. Allow players to collect pretty much anything and everything. Give players a house or similar dwelling in which to display their collectibles. Let them configure these displays in the aesthetic manner which most pleases them. Sure, it has no effect on gameplay, but it's the true essence of role-playing, desu ne? Ditto for everything else related to the player's house, including decorations, artwork, furnishings, even architectural modifications/additions. (I have some other ideas relating to the home ownership aspect but I'll save them for another thread). Let the player have a pet. Yes, I realize this has been done before, but in my view it's been one of the better elements of certain MMO's. The more personality we can inject into the pet, the better. Pets also need permadeath, but never from combat! Pets should only permanently die of old age. Many of the non-combat systems may create gameplay in and of themselves despite their mastery. The idea of a player-driven economy, implemented with relative success in numerous MMO's, has proven this. Combined with a very deep and flexible crafting system, among other such non-combat systems, players may find plenty to do, discover, and claim without ever lifting a sword. Now, let's consider the implications of this system in an MMO. First, with respect to gameplay in general and eliminating the grind, well, this system pretty much nixes it. You're not striving for the next experience level any more. Your achievements are actual accomplishments: locate a rare item, complete a certain quest, collect something you want, finish that big addition to your house, or develop an award-winning potion recipe. No longer must you endlessly slay randomly-spawning beasts in search of the elusive "level-up goal". No longer must you LOSE your hard-earned skills and abilities because you lagged out of a battle or got PK'ed by some 12-year-old griefer. All that's left is the pure, clean simplicity of mastering the game in your own way. Of course, there's that blasted PvP that's going to get in your way! This brings me to my second point: the effects of this system on PvP. Consider any given one-on-one PvP battle: with this system, the winner is the character who is better at playing the game. Maybe he's only put 20 hours into his character, but he uses his brain and figures out how best to handle the PvP situation, while the other guy (who's logged 200 hours) bangs uselessly on his keyboard and yells obscenities at the screen. Maybe not. But the point is, players are motivated to become better at the game, to adjust their play styles, to solve problems and figure out strategies, rather than just farming the nearest monster spawn for six days straight (or worse, macro-farm while they head off on vacation for two weeks). Naturally, in any PvP situation, even with this system, the player with the best equipment has an upper hand. At some point you've got to give them that: everyone can't be perfectly equal all of the time. But that's a part of the motivation as well: go find (or make) more powerful stuff with which to deal with your enemies. I haven't yet taken into account any particular measures for dealing with griefers, who I'm quite certain would become rather expert at a game like this. (What, I don't have to play for 200 hours before I can start successfully killing people? Best. Game. Ever!) They certainly need to be reined in, to a point. Although someone in another thread, a griefer himself or so it would seem, made a good point about "their kind", which was that griefing (well, PK-ing, at least) is their particular way of enjoying the game, and if they're able to do it without really annoying the hell out of their victims, then everybody wins. (Somewhat oxymoronic, I know, but he worded it well and it's food for thought). Anyway, sorry I got so long-winded. I'm curious what the rest of you think. Can an MMO succeed without experience points, level-ups, skill trees, etc.? Can it survive, even thrive, based solely on the skill of the flesh-and-blood PLAYER? Thanks for your time. Josh Sutphin Lead Designer Third Helix That is all.

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I can see where you're coming from, but I don't believe your layout offers enough incentive to continue playing, except for the dedicated few.

You will no longer be able to proudly say, "Oh, I'm already a lvl 19!!"

IMHO, some form of statistic must be present. Whether it is a title/ranking system that denotes skill level, or very basic-uninfluencial stat-level up, something needs to be there to measure player growth.

I think the best thing to do, if you absolutely cannot bear to put levels in, would be to organize a ranking system. But it would have to be a pretty complex and dynamic system, so that rank would denote both skill level and skill type. It's basically a thesaurus job, though [wink].

I think it would be better, however, to have *some* sort of level-up/stat bonus reward for playing excessively. I do not, however, agree with the "oh, I killed a bagillion monsters, ergo I am ultimate" approach. While this is the convention, it has many loopholes, as you suggested.

In place of this, you may want to consider a one-time quest system. Say, I go into the Cave of Doom to retrieve the Armor of Invincibility that will make my character faster or something. It may take me a long time to get it, and beat out everyone, but the item could be unique, and show that I went through a lot of trouble to get it.

As for the item creation: I think it's a great idea. I actually have FF11 sitting in my desk right now, and it implements that exact idea: each player can develop item creation skills. Depending on what class of item you create, your skill level for that class increases, and both your success rate for making items and the relative power of them increase. But doesn't that sound a bit like levels?

But aside from that, I'm all with you! [wink]


Mushu - trying to help those he doesn't know, with things he doesn't know.
Why won't he just go away? An question the universe may never have an answer to...

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Wow, I've been offline for a few months now... glad I'm back on a job so I have lots of time to read and write to GameDev =P

Now MMORPGs are not my specialty, I think I've only ever played one or two, and not for very long either... but you certainly can READ a whole lot about them these days. Discussions on GameDev seem to me to be enormously focused to them sometimes... but I digress.

I like the idea of your talent-based game, it certainly lets the user feel more in control of his character and surviving/thriving in the world around him/her/it/they... whatever. But I have to agree with Mushu, in that this kind of gaming can become kind of tiresome. What is the reward for playing this kind of MMO unless you're allowed to say "I'm lvl 30! *fanfare* Hurray!". I mean it seems like there's no sense of accomplishment, no judge of the quality of character to make you go back to it. Maybe it's just me, but thats how I think of it.

Of course on top of my criticism I offer some ideas as well (what a concept, eh? lol). If you had some kind of way to judge players in the game aside from level it would be really neat. I could imagine a colliseum type place (or places, no need to make only one) where players would compete in various different ways. Like they could fight, obviously, but they could also do different talent based things: perform combos for NPC judges, see who can do the most damage to some target (think punching bag) in a certain amount of time, the one hit kill competition, or cook/craft-offs. I think it would be awsome if here was some kind of MMO Olympics like this, where traditional fighting took a second to skills a good amount of the time. There would obviously be regular questing too, but this could be a really huge world event that lets people guage how skilled they are at this game, and keep thriving to place better within it. You could also have people gamble on it, if you dont think you'd be good enough to compete, but still want to be a part of it.

Now, the age old problem of griefers online. I think it could be easily fixed if there were a sense of virtue with questing, trading, crafting, and PKing. Like say you go on a quest, and finish it to the satisfaction of some NPC. Virtue++. Or lets say you, a godly uber char who's logged like 100 hours, trade a lvl 99 sword of ultimate annihilation for 2 gold to some newbie player, Virtue++. Whereas on the other side, if you horde materials and craft like crazy only to throw out most of what you make, Virtue--. Or if you PK outside of designated dueling areas or what have you, Virtue--. So Virtue could then affect how they are percieved by NPCs, how effective they are in doing certain things, even keeping them from buying/resting in certain places... think "Oh, you've killed 3,000 innocent victims... well I dont think we want to let you stay here in the Happy Unicorn Inn... See how this works? Of course this shouldn't be permanent or anything, Griefers can redeem themselves online by doing good things like what has been mentioned, and it brings balance to the force... er, um, I mean world. Hahaha.

Damn, I'm starting to like this idea a lot, why oh why did I blurt it out online like this? D'oh! Hope this sparks some ideas/discussions.

As ever,
**Cosmic One**

P.S. if my ideas are totally stale let me know, I wouldnt want to falseley feign creativity!

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Hi!

I think this idea has potential, I don't think it's particularly original, but I do think you've put a good deal of thought into the implications and how sucha system may pan out in a real game. I can see problems developing as pointed out, that there is nothing to really strive for. Perhaps if you allow advancement in other ways you can keep the grind away without unbalancing anyone. My initial thoughts are that perhaps this could be countered by having to build up a repetoire (sp?) of spells, skills and equipment. The difference though, could be that no spell/skill/equipment is the ultimate of its type. Instead, every spell (or skill or item etc.) is of roughly equal power, but simply expands the tactical options available to the player.

Grinding is inevitable, if someone plays a game for more hours than is generally socially acceptable (as is extremely common with MMO games), just being on the computer itself will be a grind, everything will become a grind of a sort. As games developers, all we can do to make things less of a grind is to offer more options of what to spend your time doing. Having played a great, albeit very old school, game recently (Avernum 3) I came across one particular aspect which now recall as a great idea. Abilities can be gained from defeating specific encounters rather than from any repetitive action. In an MMO game, this would equate to the player having to seek out as wide a variety of different encounters to boost his collection of abilities as possible. In theory this should stop a player from staying in the same place for any longer than necessary, and encourage them to explore. Perhaps abilities such as these could also be gained from non-combat encounters!

Anyhoo just a quick thought, and I could go on for ages, but as it happens, dinner is ready so I'll leave it there for now!

Cheers,

Steve

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stop stealing my ideas!!

anyway,
i completely agree. the focus should be much more on aquired skill than on aquired wealth/'XP'. combat shouldnt be point-and-click, but a system thats inituative to use yet impossible to master. (more like a console fighting game)

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If you remove the idea that you the player are seperate from the character you play, then you remove in many people's minds, the very notion of role-playing itself. Indeed, computer RPG's are so different from what I consider to be roleplaying, that I see it as a misnomer to even call computer RPG's roleplaying.

What do I mean? Let's examine what roleplaying really is. The word itself gives us the strongest clue. It is playing a role or identity. Roleplaying games in a nutshell are about stepping into the shoes of a protagonist who has different abilities and possibly different philosophies, convictions and beliefs from the player. It is because the character has different abilities from the player himself that the player lives vicariously through the protagonist (the character). But what ties the experience together is the knowledge that even if the skills, abilities and beliefs of the character are different from his own, it is the player's choice that guides the player through whatever happens, for good or ill.

If we remove the idea of skills, attributes, or other quantifiable means of determining the capabilities of the character, then the player IS the character. RTS games, FPS games and some adventure games take this approach. In essence, it is the ability of the player that matters, and is what makes the first two genres of games so competitive. But the appeal of roleplaying for many is that they are able to step into the shoes of someone who id different from themselves. For example, my father has very poor vision and as he's older, his reflexes aren't what they used to be. He can't even play Diablo-esque type RPG's very well because they require the skill of the player rather than the skill of the character. But when it comes to turn-based strategy games which are slower paced, he's very good at them. But my father likes the notion that he is able to be someone that has different capabilities from himself.

Your approach would work for some, but it would be less appealing for others. An approach like this would IMHO also encourage PvP. When you play a protagonist with the abilities of yourself, it begs for a competitive mindset. This is why RTS and FPS games are so competitive and encourage the notion of pitting one player's talent against another. True roleplaying however is not about "winning and losing" or even about making your character more powerful. It's supposed to be about the experience itself and the tale that is told. But computer RPG's are unable to do this (Neverwinter Nights excepting), so in lieu of the gameplay being centered around the experiencing of a tale, it is about making your character more powerful.

I think that much of the "roll playing" qualities of games can be reduced if all of the skills, attributes and other quantifiers are made unknown to the player. Afterall, in real life, you don't know exactly how strong, intelligent or charming you are. If your character's personality is overconfident, they will overestimate their abilities. Another example is that a player should never know exactly how wounded their character is. That hit to the leg may have severed an artery or vein and they may be internally bleeding. Player access to too much information is what causes the "roll playing" syndrome, not the very existence of things like skills, attributes and abilities.

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Dont have time to read everyone else comments (there are alot of long comments in this thread! )

Anyway I like you idea and i think it would have a much better gameplay value then other MMO. I think have some ranking system in would be good though, dont make changes to the player based on their rank just have it sort of as bragging rights! So you could have leader boards of most kills with such and such weapon, highest accuracy, most rare items just general stuff like that and then it adds another element for people to play for.

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Someone said that there would be no incentive to play without some statistic; how about a global ranking? People could try to win tournaments and duels to get up in the rankings. This would leave out the grind while still encouraging characters to keep playing.

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Quote:
Original post by nagromo
Someone said that there would be no incentive to play without some statistic; how about a global ranking? People could try to win tournaments and duels to get up in the rankings. This would leave out the grind while still encouraging characters to keep playing.

That was me.

Making it into a global ranking re-introduces the time-old problem of first-come seniority - if you're ranked against people who have been playing since the beginning, you stand no chance.

The only ways that I can come up with to incorperate global ranking are to:
  • Stratify the ranks by time online.

  • Penalize those who spend time online:
    Rating = Score * Time Online/Constant
    So that as time online increases, effect on score decreases.

Otherwise, you'd always have the older people on top, and that wouldn't change very much at all. And that's what we're trying to change... [bawling]


Mushu - trying to help those he doesn't know, with things he doesn't know.
Why won't he just go away? An question the universe may never have an answer to...

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After all, we all remeber Gunbound. "Experience", a measure of how many battles won (in a way), and rules your rank in the game (that goes from chick, hammers, axes, battleaxes, wands and ultimately dragons). "Money" rules the harware you can buy, to improve your stats. Usually, if you got the ranks, you got the money to buy badass hardware.

And in the Avatar Servers (servers where the equipment's stats modifiers are applied) we got mega-equipped dudes bullying novices. All powered-ups in the same team, beating hammers and below mercilessly for fun and profit. Where did I seen this?


I know GB is not an RPG, but is a level-less pvp combat game. And has the same probs as the normal RPGs...

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