Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 30, 2012
 
Evolving complexity

When I started my Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition campaign, I limited my players to the classic fantasy races, and to the 8 standard classes found in the Player's Handbook. I didn't allow the more complex and exotic races and classes from the 2nd and 3rd Player's Handbook. That had two reasons: It limited how much money people had to spend on rulebooks, and it limited the complexity while the players are still learning how 4E works. If now I had a character dying in combat, and he wanted to play a race/class from the other books, I would allow it. Also if we play this campaign to the end at level 30 and start over, I would certainly allow the more complex races and classes.

I can imagine a MMORPG that works like that. The current construct with a level cap leading to an endgame is a crutch to gather lots of players at the same level, so they can play together. It isn't even a very well working crutch, because people of the same level but with very different level of gear still won't play together. Thus if developers came up with better methods to get players to play together during leveling, the crutch of the endgame wouldn't be needed any more. Players who like raiding would be better served with a game that wouldn't even require them to level but jumped into raiding right away. And for the rest I would design a game in which players would ALWAYS be leveling.

The idea would be to limit players to just a few races and let's say 4 character classes on starting the game: Fighter, rogue, mage, and priest. Leveling would be relatively slow, something like 1,000 hours to level cap. But besides gaining levels for your characters, all xp you'd gain while playing all your characters would also count towards a meta-level. And the higher your meta-level went up, the more different races and classes can you choose from when making a new character. Expansions wouldn't add new levels to the game, but new meta-levels and new races and classes.

To get people to play together, two systems would have to be tuned: One about gaining xp while in a group, where gaining xp in a group would be faster than soloing, to make up for the trouble of finding a group, but not so much faster that soloing appears totally unfeasible. And the other to enable people of different levels to play together, using a system of mentors / sidekicks with people being temporarily adjusted to the level of their group.

In this game leveling wouldn't be an obstacle to overcome to reach the "real" game; leveling would *be* the real game. And because there would be nothing left to do at the level cap, top-level characters would be bored into retirement, but rewarded with unlocking new and more complex character classes. Thus everybody would be leveling all of the time, and you would always find enough people of any given level playing. There would not be the deserted zones everybody outleveled that we find in the games of today. Instead we would get a breathing, living, virtual world which would always be active.

Comments:
You perfectly describe the MUDs I played in before moving on to MMOs. MMOs were advertised as graphical MUDs, and the early ones were, I suppose.

The MUDs I played on had a "remort"/rebirth system that works as you describe, and it did, in fact, keep players coming back. The rebirth level require was 250 or higher, and each level was with increasing difficulty. Today it might be called an "endless grind," but no one called it that back then. People enjoyed it. It gave people short term goals in their current birth and long term goals in reaching higher and higher rebirths to unlock certain skills or classes or even zones.

It was a beautiful time.
 
On a small level this seems to be reflected in the Legacy system for The Old Republic. Not so much with new classes but definitely in the race options where you can use your level 50's race with whatever class even if previously restricted. Also with it's ability to provide other characters with an ability from another class based on how they fill the "family tree". So they are putting emphasis on leveling up multiple characters just to fill out that tree. This isn't completely what you describe, but it's a small minor step that way.

Outside of that this would definitely be a game I'd get into as an altaholic.
 
What you describe is a game that I would want to play. I prefer leveling to the so-called endgame and a system designed to let you continue leveling and benefit newly created characters based on previous leveling would be great.

This assumes, of course, that the gameplay itself is fun and that there's interesting things to do in-game. There would have to be enough interesting choices and different tactics with different classes to make me want to keep playing the game. (Which would be a given, based on your previous posts on that topic.)
 
I think you just described how City of Heroes played, at least for the first several years. Sidekicks, little max level 'raid' content and 2 race/classes which only unlock once you have a character at max level.
 
This is how I've played every MMO. It's why I was so into WoW for years because there was so much content it was easy to vary the leveling 'path'. Rift and other more recent games just don't have enough content to keep me interested much past the one play through sadly as I'm not a raider or PVPer at heart. I want that D&D experience of building a character's story. Gear grinding doesn't come close to fun for me.
 
Did you mean this comment in the context of the Star Wars legacy system? If not, it would be interesting to hear how that system measures against your hypothetical game.
 
I disagree that developers should be trying to "get" people to play in groups. Boosting XP or giving rewards for grouping just causes the same motivation to use grouping as a mechanic like random group finders. It won't create a nice, friendly group, and it turns players into a commodity.

XP gain and rewards should be equal for both solo or group play.

Developers should be concentrating on how to make finding like minded players easier and more fun and interesting.

The biggest issue that needs to be addressed is how to make communication easier and more meaningful than a chat/text pane. I continue to be amazed at the expectation of "community" when all you have is chat and nameless avatars to build it.
 
So where's the RPG element in your game? It sounds fine as a MMOLeveling game, but why would players want to play a role in that environment?
 
Realm of the Mad God has an example of the meta-level you describe.
 
At the end of the day the industry tries so very, very, very hard to have the power creep in the game - just to introduce max levels and max itemlvls and so forth because: surprise, power creep isn't so much a long-term solution as a long-term problem.
 
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