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MMO design: levels by skill test?

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Trying to be as specific in the topic as I can, but here's a question. I'm working through gameplay design elements for an online RPG, but I wanted to stay away from the traditional xp-based level system in favor of something more flexible that both a)rewarded player skill, and b)allowed people to play together, regardless of their "level" So my running concept is as follows. There exists a ranking system, I'm calling it Combat Level for now, that ranges 1-15 (arbitrary cap). To achieve the various rankings, you have to complete controlled-environment challenges, tests if you will, administered by the governing body of the gameworld: several different corporations. These would most likely be instanced, and would require you to complete them solo. Obviously, as the rank progresses, the challenges get tougher and tougher (this would require some good fine-tuning in QA). This would only be for Combat Level of course, so non-combat skillset characters wouldn't have to bother, but anyone wanting to wear "CL 15" tags would take the challenges head-on. The CL could also be tied to certain weapon licenses, or armor acquisition coupons, so that there was tangible reward in addition to the notoriety. Above all else, someone who was only CL 2 could run amock in the game world with a CL 15 and not be penalized for it. Another point to note: the skill-set a player chooses (I'm aiming flexible here, similar to the original SWG skill trees only a bit more exclusive) for combat roles obviously would enable an easier time in the later tests than not increasing their combat skills at all, so even the most godly-skilled player couldn't start up a new character, be handed a pistol, and complete all 15 CL tests. The difficulty of the ranks should still scale loosely to character progression, but my aim is to have a moderately levelled GOOD player be able to obtain ranks that someone with 15 million hours to play( and not one drop of player skill in them) could not. I'm pretty keen on the idea, personally, but I wanted to run it by someone who didn't live in my head. Any thoughts/concerns/comments?

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Unless you can make it such that each test is unique for each player, you will see FAQs on "How to Complete CL3 Warrior Test" and such out in the internet a week after someone completed it, defeating the purpose of the tests.

Being a MMO it will be difficult for you to tweak each test for each player.

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Si Hao raised one good point about that, but it is actually quite easy to program something like that. I asked others about it awhile back about quests be added and removed in an MMO so that people who played for awhile wouldnt have to go through all the same junk if they want a new character, one problem with WoW. (Especially since the first quests were so pointless and boring)



But heres another concern for you. That person with 15 million hours to play probably could throw themselves at the instance enough times to beat it, because they would figure out how to counter everything in it.This is because they have all their life to do so.

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If it tests dexterity and reaction speed, walkthroughs won't have much effect, but on the other hand you will immediately have hackers who think the tests are too hard or annoying and want to cheat to pass them.

Personally I think the tests are a good idea but ONLY if combat level is an elite/bonus thing mot a main element of progression through the game, and ONLY if all characters have exactly the same stats - combining tests with any system where the player spends stat points or earns stat increases would be a terrible idea.

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Also consider that by moving to a heavily skill-based style of gameplay you are actually reducing the breadth of the RPG experience. Imagine somebody who generally sucks at twitch action games, but wants to roleplay as a character with good reaction speed. It wouldn't personally bug me, but I have known people who like RPGs simply because they suck at games like Quake or Street Fighter.

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More to work with:

SunandShadow: Correct, the CL would be somewhat of a side-element. Actual character progression stat-wise would be based on skills used, I'm just looking to avoid the ambiguous labeling system that traditional MMO's use with the non-contextual "level" description. Most instances of MMO's currently just describe player achievement via time invested: a level 50 warrior in WoW only guarantees that they've been playing longer than a level 10.

Reindeer: If you listen to a lot of complaints on this forum and others regarding current MMO gameplay mechanics, a lot of people have grown tired of the slower system with "press-attack-to-start, throw-in-random-special-moves-throughout, or go-get-a-snack-while-your-character-fights, it-doesn't-really-matter" combat. Even with that as the current model, people who react quicker, make better tactical decisions, and equip themselves accurately for the task at hand can be considered "more successful" at the MMO metagame than players who aren't as quick on the draw, so to speak.

But I understand where you're coming from, and all I'm proposing to borrow from FPS gameplay is the use of bounding boxes for hit/miss calculation and a shift from cyclic turn-based combat to the use of an action pool and regeneration over time of said pool.

Si Hao: how is that different from every other MMO site with walkthroughs, best-practice attack plans, gear tables and strategy forums? If you design the "test" correctly, it's a challenge regardless. A design mistake would be to count on surprise to heighten the challenge. If you make the challenges environment based (for example, 'Spec Ops rank 14: you start in the bottom of this prison structure, stripped of all gear, with a lead pipe on the table in front of you. Make your way to the surface to pass') or tactics-based, all anyone can do to help eachother is discuss what path/decisions they made. AI and NPC location can be randomized a bit fairly easily. But ultimately, the player still has to complete it themselves to pass. That creates a sense of achievement whether they went in blind or used a strategy guide.

Adriac: The "player with 15 million hours" mentality is how I've beaten several FPS games in the past, actually :) So I know that exists, but if they're able to pass the test, they earned the rank. Just like I can go apply for a Cisco certification exam and take it 20 times until I pass (they'll be happy to keep taking my money, too). The ultimate goal of this isn't to establish an "elite" group that's reached the top, who can boast over the lesser CL players. That happens with any striated player group. I'm more hoping this will allow for a pseudo-level system (specific to combat players) while maintaining a mostly level-free environment conducive to playing with friends regardless of time invested.

Thanks for the replies all, that raises a lot of points that I definitely need to better define :)

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It's not a bad idea, but what are the specific rewards of having a high combat level? Certainly there are players who will do it just for prestige, but it doesn't seem that different from the prestige of having completed Quest X in any other MMO. Possibly even less, since game progression doesn't depend on it.

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Apologies, I only briefly touched on that.

Possibilities (since this is still being hammered out in concept) would include specialized missions available for certain ranks, high-rank licenses required for certain weaponry and armor, etc. Basically I would focus on the rank system rewarding people with appropriate "loot", i.e. specific to their skilled tasks. A high CL wouldn't, for example, entitle someone to epic-level crafting schematics or better contacts in the political system. It would focus on the tools the player shows their skill in, namely anything combat-specific.

Another possibility would be unlocking "hero classes" (albeit sci-fi versions) if you reached the top rank. For example, a ranged-specific combatant, having reached CL 15, can now train with the corporation's various elite divisions (sharpshooters, SWAT, rangers) and pursue that additional development path. Although that's more off-the-cuff than the previous paragraph.

The flip-side of this being someone who wasn't all about combat, and chose a different skillset, like one of the crafting, medical, or political disciplines, would have other "high skill" challenges that while unrelated to the CL system, would reward player skill and determination in whichever field they chose to play. I'd like there to be balance between the "classes" while creating uniquity among gameplay elements.

Apologies for rambling, the more I answer the more attached concepts make their way into the discussion.

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(Random speculations on a late hour)
Well, lets see this from another angle.
The most boring angle of them all.

How will average joe that has all the money think about this?

Making a system that dosent reward players that have played a long time will be hard, in an economical point of view.

Joe will probably get angry and uppset when he pays monthly fee over monthly fee with no character improvement.
he will probably be so uppset that he tells his other friends that just started playing to revert back to World Of Warcraft.


This is just my speculation, and i think its one of the reasons that there arent very many MMOs that reward player skill.
So probably you wont be able to sell your idea to a company, since companies rely on safe cards (incase they arent stupid , or they have a LOT of money)


Not meaning to break your bubble, but this market needs to view games from the average players point of view, and not for the hardcore gamers point of view.

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That's a valid point, and I appreciate the devil's advocate role, but like I've said before, the CL system isn't the be-all, end-all of character progression. The meat-and-potatoes (I'm using a lot of hyphens today) of character progression will be in the skill trees, that's where your leveling and xp factor will thrive. Exploring the game world, learning the storyline of the planet and its inhabitants, interacting with all the various dynamics of an online social game (complete with players who focus on the social through a political skilltree)...there's plenty to do that isn't specific to the CL rank system.

From what I can tell, people play games for a challenge. Maybe that's just a personal preference, in which case I should do some more player mentality research, but if a game doesn't challenge me (put me in "oh crap" moments, spark a little bit of adrenaline, or get my brain working around difficult puzzles) then it falls into boring repetition before too long. I wouldn't think to make the highest rank "so difficult only 4 players have ever achieved it," but someone should be able to send out a request for a CL15 gunner for a difficult mission and find a more-than-competent player.

Also, I'm of the mind that I'd rather create a game that thrills 10,000 people than mildly entertains millions. It might be hubris, but I think there are enough people like-minded to myself that would enjoy a game that genuinely challenged them with an objective rank system.

*edit* that last line comes off as fairly defensive, which I'm not really aiming for. I greatly appreciate the counter-points and questions everyone's brought up. There's nothing like having to explain your system to an outsider to really force you to solidify it

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Quote:
Original post by BCullis
That's a valid point, and I appreciate the devil's advocate role, but like I've said before, the CL system isn't the be-all, end-all of character progression. The meat-and-potatoes (I'm using a lot of hyphens today) of character progression will be in the skill trees, that's where your leveling and xp factor will thrive. Exploring the game world, learning the storyline of the planet and its inhabitants, interacting with all the various dynamics of an online social game (complete with players who focus on the social through a political skilltree)...there's plenty to do that isn't specific to the CL rank system.

From what I can tell, people play games for a challenge. Maybe that's just a personal preference, in which case I should do some more player mentality research, but if a game doesn't challenge me (put me in "oh crap" moments, spark a little bit of adrenaline, or get my brain working around difficult puzzles) then it falls into boring repetition before too long. I wouldn't think to make the highest rank "so difficult only 4 players have ever achieved it," but someone should be able to send out a request for a CL15 gunner for a difficult mission and find a more-than-competent player.

Also, I'm of the mind that I'd rather create a game that thrills 10,000 people than mildly entertains millions. It might be hubris, but I think there are enough people like-minded to myself that would enjoy a game that genuinely challenged them with an objective rank system.

*edit* that last line comes off as fairly defensive, which I'm not really aiming for. I greatly appreciate the counter-points and questions everyone's brought up. There's nothing like having to explain your system to an outsider to really force you to solidify it


Hey BCullis, how you doing?

Well I think it is a quite good idea what you have here, if you properly design it, that is. Challenging players is a way to keep them entertained, but you need encourage them to undertake the offered challenge (read: undertake NOT force). The most succesful way of encouragement has been done by rewarding (usually with items).
As far as I have understood from your idea, you were planning on rewarding the player with weapons licenses and such, this is fine.

I think making the challenges adapt dynamically toward the player's playing style, will prevent the emerge of walkthrougths. This is ofcourse hard to do, but might be the key difference between failure or succes.

The absolute strenght of your idea is letting players play together regardless the skill level and progress so far. I think it is safe to assume this is a common mentallity, globally. I strongly recommend to preserve this feature through out the entire development of your project.

Also if a player spends "15 million hours" playing your game in order to achieve the respectable CL 15 and enjoys doing so, I would consider this as Designer a succes... He enjoys your game, this will be good mouth-to-mouth reclame (or maybe not, if he spends 15 million hours playing a game, he probably hasn't have any friends to share his findings with :( ).

You must make sure the challenging process shouldn't stop, this will result in people getting bored after reaching the top (which will turn people into griefers after somewhile).

As far as I can tell, you are on a good way to some nice game designs, so keep up the good work.

Regards,

Xeile

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The idea is interesting but IMHO the concepts of "MMO" and "tests must be done solo" don't mesh well, especially for the standard MMORPG combat systems that mostly derive to "mash the button when it lights up". Any idiot can do that.

In my experience the true test of a player's skill would be how the react in stressful group situations. Is the tank holding agro and picking targets intelligently? Is the healer healing the right person(s), with the right heal, at the right time? Is the nuker overnuking and getting squished/running out of mana? Is the cc'er cc'ing intelligently? Does the group adapt when somebody dies/disappears? etc, etc. These are the sorts of questions that tell you whether somebody knows what they're doing or bought their character off ebay yesterday afternoon.

It could also be argued, to some extent, that there are such systems informally already. Most of the big MMORPGs have a concept of loot tiers where you have to be relatively well geared at one tier to have a chance at getting the next and the loot is marked no-trade/sell or somesuch so you can't simply buy it. This obviously isn't the same as attempting to directly measure skill but there's probably some coorelation.

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