Monday, June 7, 2010

Character Progression Systems (CPS)

Character progression system (=CPS).

I'll try to keep it very abstract, so level-based talent systems (WoW) are covered as well as Ultima Online-like 'skill'-systems. Prejudices have shaped the divide long enough. We should start to focus on what we actually want from a CPS, instead of fighting religous wars.

Too often tools are mistaken for goals. We should first list what we actually want and only then discuss how to realize it.

-> The CPS should give players a sense of character progression.
-> The CPS system should be immersive. This is, it should make sense.
-> The CPS should be intellectually interesting.
-> The CPS should give as little incentive as possible to 'min/maxing the fun out of it'. (e.g. tedious, unimmersive, ridiculous spamming of skills just for the sake of training or advancing).
-> The CPS should not encourage macroing. Macroing should be (almost) impossible.
-> The CPS should prevent a small number of cookie-cutter speccs/skill combinations.
-> Accountability: The CPS should make players treat their characters as an investment. Something valueable.

-> Should the CPS encourage socializing ?
-> Should the CPS have a cap? Should it have diminishing returns and a cap (e.g. 1-1/x). Should it have DR and no cap (e.g. Sqrt(x), Log(x)). Should it have no DR and no cap (e.g. f(x)=x)?
-> Should the CPS also work as a tutorial?
-> What should be the difference between differently progressed characters? (e.g. 10% difference, 100%, 1000% .. ?)
-> How fast should progress be made?

-> Progress decay.
-> Delayed progress accounting (e.g. players become better in intervalls, instead of instantly).
-> Only a limited set of actions grant progression.
-> Only general 'points' are earned that can be invested into 'skills' by the player as he desires.
-> Any form of diminishing returns.
-> The EVE-system: Progress comes automatically with time.
-> Horizontal progression: New 'skills' are added all the time. Thus, there is a theoretical cap that cannot be reached practically.
-> Faction influence on skill gain.
-> Classes
-> Unpredictability: Players only know the rough direction that is required to become more powerful. They don't know specifics.

This is a living document.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Badge System and Predictability

[This is a modified comment from Tobold's blog]

Things become work when they are predictable. When you know that boss X drops that item with 23.4% that is quasi-predictable. When you need exactly 4.56=5 runs for item Y (badge system) it is even more predictable.

Remove the predictability of the result and allow players to roughly walk in the right direction and they will enjoy the way.

Humans like to bring order into chaos. Most boss fights are like that and all internet game resources pages serve that purpose. We all want to be able to predict the exact amount of € we earn this month, and when we need to wake up tomorrow.

But just like in real life, predictability leads to the feeling of work (=grinding). Even if there are good reasons (like sustaining a family).

You basically solved the problem and all that is left is the execution. Execution is boring.
What we actually like is predicting. It's not the result, but the effort.

I liked running dungeons in WoW for a long time before raiding started and even after that. It was hard to set up a good group. The dungeons were dangerous and you could make a difference. I was happy when some item dropped that was a slight update. I was proud that my equip consisted of dungeon-dropped blues.

I ran dungeons very often (very rarely compared to today). I didn't know how much better the new boots were. I did my own approximate calculations, but in the end I just cared that the new boots were better. I didn't expect to feel a difference, but I had the feeling that these new boots were real good. Maybe I did have some best-in-slot items back then. I didn't know. Even after countless dungeon runs the game managed to surprise me again and again with items that had never dropped before.

I understand that internet resource pages do ruin that experience to a degree. But game design is not powerless in this fight. I like carrots somewhere at the horizon. Blizzard nowdays puts a carrot 1 cm in front of my eyes.

Life is best if you wake up in the morning and only then start thinking about what you want to do with the day. If there are many possibilities and none of them are predictable, but you know that all will be at least a little beneficial to you in the end.

This is exactly what a MMO needs to be like. This is what WoW was for quite some time in the beginning. And this is why I will never understand the badge system.