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Michalson

One player parties in MMRPGs

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This is somewhat going to be a series in how well "old school" and in general traditional single player RPGs mechanics could work to improve an MMORPG. The last time I went into turn based combat in a non-stop world. This time I'm going to assume that the turn based combat system has been effectively integrated, and move on to the next mechanic normally missing from MMORPGs - parties. While it is possible in most to join with other players to form a party, online RPGs are typically designed so that your single character can play them. However as with other things (like the arcade RPG combat systems) it greatly reduces the thinking involved. Having several characters to play off each other can greatly increase the quality of the game, however online it is very hard to include parties except as an after thought. Typically parties are either handicapped, seriously overpowered, or make next to no difference from a bunch of random players in the same area. This is because the game is designed and balanced mainly for a single player controlling one character. -The idea- As discussed here, most MMORPGs allow players to make more then one character on their account, allowing them to try different classes. What if your account represented a stable of characters from which to draw on for your party. At any one time you would control say 3 characters (moving together as a party) from your library. A building in town or at safe points would allow you to exchange members of your party. While a good number of players would likely only develop 3 characters (due to the need to level all characters in order to keep the party working) even the addition of 1 extra character would increase the number of possible parties to 3, introducing a lot of variation without needing the hard work of developing several different accounts seperately. It would also let higher level players experiment with new classes without having to completely start over from scratch - they could simply place the new character in their party and train them with 2 more experienced characters. This would also allow for additional game "content" at little cost, since special quests that limit you to 1 or 2 characters instead of 3 would throw a spin on things. -actual multiplayer parties- Player/Player parties could be done by expanding the number of slots - 2 players joining forces would give up one character each, forming a party of 4. In game terms this would only increase the strength by 33% instead of 100%, making it easier to balance the game. 3 players might form a party of 6 or 3 characters, 4 players a party of 4 characters, and so on up to a maximum (perhaps 6 real players in a party, meaning at most you deal with a 2X power increase when balancing party vs. solo play) -issues- The first issue, though relatively simple to deal with, is experience. A proportional experience system, based on the levels of the characters and the enemies, could prevent outright powerlevel cheating (i.e. two level 50 characters leveling up new characters insanely fast by fighting very high level creatures). Essentially lower level players get less of the XP for each kill then higher level players. That percentage is further decreased as the level of the enemies increases, such that enemies that are too high give 0XP to low level players (in the above example the two level 50 characters killing a level 40 monsters with a level 3 character sitting on the sidelines would give 50% of the total XP to each level 50, and 0 to the level 3) Comments, issues, pros, cons, improvements?

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My big concern about such ideas as this is that you're focusing on single players in a genre that includes the words "massively multiplayer" in the title.

Personally, I think MMOs already focus too much on individuals/small groups and need to be expanded the other way so the massive multiplayer-ness is actualy meaningfull (and no, things like raids where a bunch of players randomly team up for 10 minutes isn't what I'm talking about).

That said, I think it would be a fine idea for a "normal multiplayer" game similar to diablo 2 (or most FPSs) though.

The experience problem of parties has already been solved in pretty much every exp+level-based P&P RPG in exactly the manner you describe, but they also usually have a single important flaw: you can't just use a single number to asses difficulty. Instead, you need a few numbers that can cover different aspects such as magic vulnerability/strength, physical vuln/str, etc. There may be a monster that can kill fighters until they get to level 50 but can only take out level 2 mages because of an extreme vulnerability to some very common spells.

In the example fight of 50+50+3 level players vs level 40 monster, the level 3 might actually contribute because of some abilities he has that the others dont (due to classes or something similar) and the experience might need to be divided as say 33% of a level 40 monster to each of the two level 50 players, and 33% of a level 2 monster to the level 3.

Such distinctions might seem trivial ("but it averages out because there are monsters that are strong vs _ also!" in which case it averages out because some times they gets lots of xp and others they get very little instead of always getting a medium amount from conflicts of vastly varying difficulty), but they are very important IMO to keep things balanced and fair for all players.

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This sounds like a nice idea for a MMORPG, but alarm bells are ringing in my head regarding a couple of issues. MMORPGs are generally geared to players taking on the role of a single hero, allowing the player to take control of a party may require a little justification. Why set the party limit at 3? Why not 4... or 5 or 6 (without getting too daft!)?

I always liked to play Everquest as a dual boxer (i.e. playing 2 characters over two machines), it added a completely new dimension of skill, being able to effectively learn to play two characters at once required a completely new way of playing the game and added a lot of challenge, but at the same time, presented the player with the opportunity to potentially be as powerful as a full low end group if the characters chosen worked particularly well together. I even saw a picture of someones setup that played using 6 machines to control an entire group by himself. That potentially huge power, at the risk of juggling 2+ characters really added to the excitement of the game in a way that playing a single character never could (you ALWAYS had a group for starters!). Having parties as a standard option though, might not be so exciting, as it would then become standard and I suspect half the excitement was that playing on two machines was not how the game was intended to be played, if however the game catered for parties, then it might not have that buzz to it. I do recall that it made a really huge differnce to how enjoyable the game was, so perhaps if we could work out what particular factor it was that made it more fun, then we could incorporate that into the standard gameplay of a game, but I suppose making it standard may be what kills the fun of it.

I also wonder how wise it would be to have more than one character under the players control in an MMOG, as this would require more server processing power per player. Wouldn't it also be a little odd to see every single person playing the game wandering around in a self contained group of 3 (or more). How about allowing the player to play a single character if they wish to, or a party if they prefer, perhaps with bonuses or penalties dependant upon the choice (to ensure a balance of parties and soloers)

You also then have the problem, who is your avatar? Do you speak through all of the characters in your party, or do you have a party leader who speaks your words? I think the best option would be to be able to switch who is the active character and to use them as your avatar until you decide you'd like to switch, but perhaps you may have other ideas for this?

Anyhoo, I'd love to continue, but it's now time for me to head home (was stuck at work!!)

Cheers,

Steve

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The most common consensus seems to be that people have the most meaningful interactions with upto 10-12 people, anymore and the experience starts to get lost. If your one guy in a group of 30, your interaction to others within the group is diminished.
Some MMO's have pulled off large scale group organizations that make a big difference, PlanetSide is one of them requiring large-scale tactical organization with player run Outfits(clans) to successfully push an enemy empire off a continent. Though its really an MMOFPS, so it might have to be thought out abit more before being applied to an RPG.

While some MMO's do cater to Solo'ers, the use of parties (as a purely personal option) can allow players to explore otherwise unexplorably dangerous area's where they would most certainly die alone. Whether this is getting past Chubaka Pass to a village on the other side, or exploring the Darth Vader dungeons, having friends and their particular talents around can be a lifesaver. Potentially, you could also make area's that can only be reached by certain classes (or at least made available by them). Such as an alternate dimension that can only be accessed by a mage who summons the portal and lets the rest of the party in. The group might end up heavily relying on the mage as a way out and to safety, and the mage may rely on the rest of the party to fend of the dark denizens of the alternate dimension.

Personally though, even in MMO's i tend to wander around alone. Sure i'd probably get eaten alive, but i still enjoy going into those incredibly difficult places, just for the sheer challenge of it.

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There is never, ever a reason to allow someone to play multiple characters from the same account, at least not 2 at the same time. If they want to buy another acct and transfer a character over, then let them 2-box, but otherwise there is no reason to reduce the reasons to socialize.

Don't get me wrong, forcing someone to group is just silly, but giving them options where they will be so busy that they can't socialize or that they need never socialize... that's even sillier. Even if you give them 'scripting' options for their other 'PCs' (if you could call them that), it would be even worse, you'd be stuck with a game where the best scripters end up doing the best in the long run. Not to mention the increased bandwidth (not even close to your biggest expense, but definitely not incidental) would cost you even more money for these people who aren't paying more money (at least if you let them do it all on one account without paying more).

It honestly sounds like you should design a single player game. Doing this kind of stuff is fine in a single player game, but the more people you put in a game world, the more you should try to keep these people concentrating on just their one character *and* socializing. It's not the ability to play 2-3 characters that's going to keep them coming back, it's the people that they are chatting with. The number of people who play 2+ accts at the same time is minimal in MMOGs and these people are by far exceptional and are usually so fast at what they do that they still find time to socialize in between attacks, casting and whatever.

Quote:
The first issue, though relatively simple to deal with, is experience. A proportional experience system, based on the levels of the characters and the enemies, could prevent outright powerlevel cheating (i.e. two level 50 characters leveling up new characters insanely fast by fighting very high level creatures). Essentially lower level players get less of the XP for each kill then higher level players. That percentage is further decreased as the level of the enemies increases, such that enemies that are too high give 0XP to low level players (in the above example the two level 50 characters killing a level 40 monsters with a level 3 character sitting on the sidelines would give 50% of the total XP to each level 50, and 0 to the level 3)


I have no problem with finding ways of limiting the amount of xp that someone gets, but why don't you just adjust the xp in other ways. Usually it's best to limit people to learning against those creatures that are going to actually be a challenge in some way for them. Who cares if there is a level 50 standing next to the level 3, if he's fighting a level 15 critter, he's going to learn a LOT. Every time that guy hits him for 75% of his hit points it's going to HURT and he's gonna learn to dodge faster. He's going to learn how to fight better.

If you go too far, you'll end up where a group of 50s gets their best xp fighting critters that are the same level as them and that's just silly... it encourages 'grinding', which is just plain boring in anyone's game.

I think that perhaps the best way to adjust xp is to actually adjust effectiveness. Sure, he can fight the level 15 critter, but he won't get any xp because he hasn't a chance in hell of killing it. It would move so fast that he'd never have a chance of hurting it enough to overcome it's regen rate.

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