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Mia Blue

RPG: Level System or Fixed Point?

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    Hi, I want to ask your opinion on the leveling system, and how players get new skills or abilities in Role-Playing Games. Some people enjoy leveling/grinding, some people love stats and really get into it, and some people would just rather not.

 

    My main concern about the level approach is that after the player beats the game and gets stats that are over 9000, most of the enemies in the game will be too easy to beat (not challenging or fun anymore). The only solution to that is to add PVP (player versus player) support.

 

    I'm not sure if you all have had this experience, but in Pokemon Yellow Version (where Pikachu is your starter) Brock was an absolute beast to get past unless you forgot Pikachu and trained some other Pokemon to battle him. That was my first experience with level grinding, and it's not my cup of tea (love Yellow though, it's still sitting on my desk).

 

    An alternative is to take an interval approach to skills, or add them at fixed points in the game. So instead of getting the Water Vortex ability at level 25, you would get it at the Oasis before heading to Blaze Mountain, where you'll have to confront the Fire Boss--or at some other logical  point in the game.

 

    What do you think? Which system do you prefer? 

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Another system is instead of fixed intervals of levels with sudden strength boosts, you can gain strength in a more natural and granular way.

Instead of every 50 kills you level up, every level up suddenly gains you 10 strength and a "LEVEL UP!" message, you just get +1 strength every 5 kills. Though, leveling up can be akin to getting a reward in games. "LEVEL UP!" can be a sudden moment of glee and excitement (especially if your EXP bar isn't constantly visible on the HUD and you weren't expecting the level up).

 

About grinding vs fixed intervals - not only is there joy in achievement ("Yes, just hit level 30!") and of increased options (".Now I get to unlock the third tier of my skill tree!"), there is also joy in overcoming challenges (killing a boss and getting rewarded with the boss's ability, or the "treasure" pre-fixed skill the boss was "guarding").

 

There is also skill is discovery - skills and powerups can be hidden in games. Many RPGs have items that give a permanent +1 to a specific stat (a "Strength Boost"/"Strength Book"/"Strength Seed"/whatever item) - but some games have hidden skill points to unlock magic. Imagine walking through a dungeon, and suddenly discovering a Fire Crystal that gives +1 to your Fire elemental magic, letting you get a new Fire ability. What if it is in a secret room? What if the game doesn't ever give you skill points from combat, and all skill points must be discovered through exploration? King's Field for PS1 did that (my fav game) - you find Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, and Light crystals throughout the game world, and that's the only way to get new magic abilities. You still level up your stats normally, but all magic is gained through exploration only.

 

In Quest 64 (another one of my fav games) you level up normally, and each level up gives you one skill point to put in to one of the four linear skill paths (Fire,Water,Earth, Wind). Quest 64 also let's you find "wisps". Wisps are scattered throughout the game, and each one you find gives you an instant skill point to put in.

 

These two games aren't the only games that mix normal leveling with instant-bonus leveling from exploration.

 

Personally, I prefer a mix of different methods of progression, but I like them to affect different areas of my character. Maybe combat to enhance basic stats, exploration to unlock skills, and fixed points (i.e. after each boss, ala Legend of Zelda) to gain more max mana or max health? Something like that.

 

But it depends on how the rest of the gameplay is. I really liked Paper Mario's (N64) badge system, where the equipped badges are your passive or usable skills, you find the skills via exploration, and each time you level up you choose between more max mana, more max health, or increasing the number of badges you can have equipped at once.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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Grinding can be fun, it can be non-fun, it realy depends how/what the player is doing while grinding,

but one thing that makes it less fun is repetition, which is why a lot of RPG's have random encounters that differ every time.

 

For an RPG i 'd definately implement a level-up through grind, not to keep all players very busy for a long time,

but more so that that crappy player can still beat the game at the difficulty level he wants to play but he 'll just have to grind a bit in-between.

(or to grind a bit before that one boss the player just happens to have trouble with.)

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"The Grind" as a pure time sink can be a very tedious element in a game, especially when the game itself is simple.  Rudimentary mechanics make the game feel flat and transparent.  If I, as a player, can see the strings and understand that a boss's DPS can only be withstood with the stat boost that only comes from reaching level 17, then the twenty minutes of grinding to get that level-up is like a punishment for me.  If I want to take a chance on a new strategy that requires me to up my swordsmanship to 13 and my magical resistance to 38% and my agility to "catlike", then I can spend those same twenty minutes training and feel like it's a good thing, something I'm doing so I can do a sweet backflip through a fireball and stab the boss in the scrotum, rather than just getting my green bar to grow longer than the red bar.  I know where to find cookie clicker, thanks.

 

Unlocking skills, abilities or stat boosts at key points in the game can be good, since it gives the developer some more control over the game's pace and prevents players from getting stupidly powerful early on with the help of a rubber band and a six-pack of PBR, but it can start to feel contrived, and undermine the sense of achievement from earlier gains.  I'm a big fan of Metroid-style character development.  When I get the hookshot in a Zelda game, I know that I'm getting a lot with it:  Mobility, combat maneuvers, item retrieval and--most of all--access to whole new regions that were off-limits to me before.

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Use both, but depict leveling visually as well as with stats. Make leveling up a tangible part of the game so players that don't want to number crunch can recognize progression and can play and players that want to account for every subtle nuance can spend the time under the hood. 

 

As for skills, try considering how people learn. If the game is more open world exploration, give the player a few different ways to earn "Water Vortex". Etched into a deep water caver, from a sea fairing mage, a siren on an island, spending X amount of time using other water magic, doing combat with the staff of "water vortex" and discovering its secrets in a moment of desperation, etc. Look to actual fantasy to see how characters have gained power and perhaps what they had to give up to earn it.

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