Sunday, March 20, 2011

Character Power Progression Systems

These are the four things a CPP should do:
  1. Characters should grow to be diverse
  2. Characters should progress for a long time
  3. Characters should progress with a meaningful speed
  4. Characters should stay within a reasonable interval of power
With purely vertical CPP these properties obviously contradict each other. If characters progressed for two years at a meaningful per-evening speed, the resulting interval of power were immense.

The solution are horizontal CPP. There are two ways to create a horizontal CPP:
  • Players progress in completely different directions, like crafting, trade, combat, ...
  • Players can progress in the same direction
The first way is quite limited and often feels less meaningful. After having been back-stabbed, it is little comfort that you are better at crafting.

The second way is superior, but requires a trick. A trick that Eve Online applies for quite some time by now: In every single situation a character can only access a subset of his abilities (depending on the starship he commands).
Rift applies the same trick, although it comes from the opposing direction and Rift does it for other reasons: A player can switch between up to four different ways of playing his character to make the holy trinity more flexible. What is important to see is that Eve Online, as well as Rift, as well as WoW with dual specc, move in the same direction here!

A game that applies this kind of CPP to its full potential could actually achieve amazing things! Imagine a game where the most powerful characters are only about 4x as strong as the weakest. While at the same time you can progress your character for years on end. While at the same time every evening you spend feels like moving your character forward. While at the same time all characters are very diverse and play very differently!

To make it work together with the simulation aspect, you either need a complicated soul background like Rift, star ships like EVE Online, or simply give players access to different skills / skill trees depending on the equipment they wield (Guild Wars 2).


  1. On your first point, I think the modern English spelling is diverse. (Technically divers is not completely wrong, but it is more archaic and probably confusing. Unless I'm confused and you really mean all characters should become deep sea divers as they progress.

  2. Another interesting effect of compressing the vertical CPP is that you'll no longer have a highly stratified series of zones.

    So, if you have a similar number of zones (eg. 40 or so, like classic WoW), you have a much greater range of options (vs 2-3 level appropriate zones for any given level, like classic WoW).

    This would also spread out the player population more, vs the usual zerging launch crowd followed by deserted zones. Another plus.

    You could also make every extra skill or ability be the reward of specific quest chains and reputation grinding, instead of simply accumulating X points to spend on abilities. This might inspire some skill-specific quests instead of the usual recycling of kill-10/fedex/gather-crap quest motifs.

  3. I've noticed the power one accrues while leveling in RIFT seems less, per level, than in WoW. The gating is provided by strong penalties for fighting mobs too much higher level than oneself.

  4. Your post lead me to a thought - what if you use same kind of talent trees as rift, but with progress in each tree going independently (instead of tied to level).

    - You can also tie it to different "loadouts" (gear currently on character) - for example wearing plate would restrict certain abilities, for certain ones you have to use a bow and so on and so forth

    And like garumoo said skill points and abilities could be tied into quests and such

  5. Garumoo, I agree that compressing he vertical CPP has many advantages. However, a game that does this needs to offer more goals than just 'maximize character power'.

    Neowolf2, Rift is like classic WoW in this case. I remember my mage who had 2500-3000 hit points in classic. So do Rift lvl 50 characters. The penalthies for fighting higher-level mobs are also copy/pasted from WoW. You don't lose due to their dps or HP, but because you miss them with every skill you use.

  6. Max, this is exactly the idea I have. :)

  7. @Nils Absolutely, the game should facilitate goals other than "race to cap".

    Some ideas, off the top of my head...

    * travel through the Old West armed only with spiritual training and skill in martial arts, righting injustices as you seek your lost half-brother;

    * live in Montana, and marry a round woman, and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pick-up truck, and drive from state to state;

    * crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

    (heh, didn't say they were going to original)

    Each of these goals would be aided by picking up various skills (and leaving aside other skills).

    Also, I'd like to see a game which has built into it a smallish number of grand "quests". Things that would take months and months of collaborative player activity to accomplish, and where progress could ebb and flow.

    In the game "A Tale in the Desert" there is a massive game-driven objective - something like "build a civilisation that can build a pyramid".

    These could be quests like "reunite the seven tribes", a herculean task that would involve firstly defusing the current border conflict between tribes #1 and #2, sneaky political shenanigans to replace the current isolationist government of tribe #3 with one more open to building alliances, finding just where in the damn wilderness tribe #4 managed to get themselves lost to, and so on. Meanwhile, other grand epic quests would be in play like "tribe #2 has ambitions of building a trade empire with foreign nations X, Y, and Z (and bugger the other six tribes to their own fate)". Intentionally some of these epic quests would conflict with other epic quests, while at the same time possibly sharing various intermediate goals.

    So, something like Guild Wars dynamic events, but writ large. Very, very large.

    Even though the the world grows and expands and changes, it's not a strictly linear progression of kill this tier of bosses to get loot to enable killing of the next tier of bosses (etc).

  8. I'd still like to see a good Mechwarrior MMO. The idea of "loadouts" or constrained *momentary* or mission based skillsets works really well in that mercenary IP. There's even a natural power band of 'Mech power... though it might be nice to tighten even that somewhat so that a lance (five man team) of light mechs could fight on even terms with an Assault mech, and skill would carry the day on either side. Similarly, a noob in a heavy mech could be just as dangerous as an elite pilot... except for the *player's* skills.

  9. On a related note, interesting to see Red 5 Studios have finally announced their game, FireFall. It's more a shooter than an RPG, but it has many of the aspects we've discussed over time.

    I first heard of them back in August 2008, in this interview: Red 5's Paper-RPG Duo On The MMO Persistence Revolution.

    One to watch.

  10. I love the mecha-mmo idea. There are so many ways you could break loose from the traditional mmo genre cliches like xp, HP, mana, class/spec, leveling game/endgame, gear, etc etc. A persistent, immersive, evolving world populated almost exclusively by players with no restrictions on content via level, with meaningful player organizations that are driven to compete organically, a gear acquisition model not tied to timesink farming, random drops that actually make sense in the context of the game, a fully player-driven economy, role playing as a central element, pvp and pve seamlessly integrated... My mind swirls with ideas.

    I imagine a mercenary captain scanning the job offerings, choosing a risky but high-reward mission requiring a couple of extra pilots beyond his roster. He looks at a list of pilots offering their services, picks two based on their mission history and pay demands, carefully considering the profit margin for the job. Next he stops by the mech bay to inspect the repairs on his machines and adjusts their loadout for the task at hand. Dropping onto the planet, contrails from another dropship cam be seen in the distance - did the owner of the factory he's been sent to destroy call in reinforcements?

    Somebody make WorldOfMechwarrior please!