MMORPG player development and ‘fun’

Before I begin, I’ll point out that somewhere there’s already been a game or ten that do what I say here. I may even have seen them and am not thinking of them (very well) right now.

One of the things that has always seemed a bit wrongly done was the way most character development happened. You do stuff, you get experience. You get enough experience you increase a level (a phase state jump). You increase a level and a bunch of your skills and stats increased – whether you worked upon them or not.

Now I understand part of why this is so. If you think grinding is bad now, consider having to have your character spend several hours using a dagger just to make it a tiny bit more effective. (Actually, I’ve done that in WoW. Rats in the tunnels under Stormwind – a great place to skill up in weapons.)

I think part of the problem is that we make all our characters – even in the superhero games – follow a pilgrim’s progress or hero’s journey. They start barely knowing enough to manage small things, and they gradually progress till they’re finally taking on The Evil.

I’ve wondered, sometimes, if it might not be fun to go with another fantastic plot — one you see in some video games, but rarely if ever in MMORPGs. Using WOW as an example: What if everyone started at level 40 – or given today’s WoW, level 60? What if you assumed all the “heroes” are experienced practitioners of their skills who for some reason are stepping it up a notch?

Give your characters a LOT of points, and let them spend them on, well, everything. Stats, skill levels, techniques/skills/spells, magic items (‘common’ and unique), supplies… NOW pull them into a world that requires them to step it up a notch.

And then… try something a bit peculiar. Everything innate (not gear, but skills and such) costs experience points. You earn points for doing stuff. Everything’s got diminishing returns. You can get ‘bonuses’ for underlying issues (stats, perhaps race and/or ‘class’) as well as what you’ve done (if your points are from meleeing, then melee skills get an xp discount). Sure, apply it to crafting as well – you fight a hundred monsters, and then instead of buying more swordfighting skill points you use the XP to purchase better swordmaking skill. You could get more bang from the swordfighting, but… it’s YOUR character.

Yeah, I’ve seen this in solo games. It just seems it might be usable for the MMORPG as well.

The thing I’m trying to balance is the intrinsic reward for doing stuff against the ‘beginner meat’ problem. Yes, it also chases other personal foibles — if a healer wants to master the sword, why can’t he beyond it’s going to be ‘harder’ given his normal activities and peer pressures?

Now I admit, I’d also want to incorporate some other factors. I’d be happy to let a beginner walk into Uber Dungeon. He’s gonna die, over and over. He’s also not going to get much XP because he dies over and over. (Odd thought to be fleshed out. Let the ‘death penalty’ be a loss – partial or total – of unspent XP.) Yes, that means a super-guild could carry a newbie through so he could get an Awesome Staff of Smashing – but the staff is still going to need skill to use effectively. (Hmmm – that could be easy to program. An item requires a minimum skill to use effectively. If you have less skill it just won’t do as much for you – procs less frequently, or only grants partial bonuses, or whatever. Once your skill is high enough, you get everything.)

I can see some PVP sweating in this case. Hmmm, that person with non-glowy gear. Just how good IS he, really?

“So,” you ask, “how do you stop the ‘highly skilled’ from getting tons of points smashing thousands of the equivalent of first level tunnel rats?”

Dunno, yet. XP should be based on several things. Personally I think rewards for things other than killing could be useful. I’m tempted (and I can hear the squalling) to say that you can earn XP just by existing – whether in-game or not. Finding places, selling gear (maybe making a profit?), making gear, talking to various people… In all cases there does need to be a difference for “easy” vs “hard”. So how is that figured? Dunno. Could be total XP/total equivalent XP. Could be relative skill levels of what’s used. hmmm, I think I like that last.

You’re fighting a rat which has (arbitrarily) a thousand points each in bite and dodge. You have a choice of using your ten-thousand point sword skill, or your hundred point “singe” (eventually it’ll get to burn) spell. While you’re at it you can use your well-developed heavy armor and shield skill, or you can practice dodging (a lot) in minus-fours. Your points are stacked up against the rat’s points and the ratio is applied to points received. Now since your dodging is still probably somewhat higher you’ll still not get tons of points, but you’ll get more than using your sword and plate. (By the way, I still think the rat should have a chance against you. Sure, it may be a small chance but it should be a chance. And if you are facing thousands of rats, you are still in trouble. There’s heroic capabilities, and there’s comic absurdism.)

Just some thoughts, of course.

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