Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Pro at Cons

Every system has its fortes, and its pitfalls. Already I struggle with building a series of structured postings, and striking while the iron is hot. I choose the latter today.

ManaObscura recently posted about the necessity of endgame. What about the necessity of leveling? Of death penalties? Of gear? Of PvP? What's the necessity behind any mechanic?

1, 2, 3...

In any RPG system, be it PnP, sPRG, MMORPG, leveling is sure to be present. A feeling of advancement is necessary to fit the mood of someone 'new' to the game. Their character is reflected as being 'new' in the world. Abilities and strengths are oft tied to this mechanic, and it fits. A 2yo human is hardly going to have the strength or enough practice to execute a flag. Given time, exposure, and experience, such a lofty goal might be achievable. Leveling, when reflecting experience, gained through exposure, takes time. It all fits.

Some things, however, need not be linear. I cannot fathom why being part of a world raid is a possibility, but doing something with it isn't if you are a certain level. If levels are done properly, then execution of any task should be left to the player? Making level design with linked content is purely arbitrary, and it's unfortunate.

Progression of content, in my opinion, should be linear but said progression should be based on the content itself, not an external factor. It makes complete sense you want to train your kid to drive with the beat-up lawn-mower, then the family moped, Uncle Bert's rusty 80s Honda, before even dreaming of giving up the keys to the family Merc. Ignoring the RL responsibility clauses (legal age to drive) which don't apply to games, the progress can be linked to the standard of having met the previous challenge and succeeded, nothing more.

Endgame is needed, because it's an eventuality for many. And while we all have different reasons for playing, many do not wish to restart. Some enjoy the journey, others the destination. But having something to do at all levels is needed. I just don't subscribe that content need be gated unless the gate serves as a test on previous lessons before moving onto the next lesson/challenge. Level design, in present MMORPG worlds, is entirely artbitrary and therefor anything linked to level is arbitrary as well.

Baby, I Want to be Your Derivative, Lying Tangent to Your Curves

Ah, inflation... I assert that the following graph looks a little too similar to the same problem nuclear reactors face. Logic, albeit fallible at times, can remain at other times solid.

A linear growth of mechanics is simple. It is very easy to treat, very easy to understand. It is a great platform from which to build many game mechanics. What linear modelling does not prevent, however, is the factor of 'infinite time = infinite power'. An exponential model actually facilitates this! Clearly, not logical ;)

What is logical, but slightly more difficult to introduce, is the same mechanic that defines our very existence in so many ways! Hearing, physical prowess... for a single step forward, decreased gain is achieved. But how is this remotely desired?

Recall that in a single player game, any scales one uses are allowed. There is no collective, inter-defining required. Being the only knight to slay the dragon is possible! But the second you try to apply these sorts of concepts to a collective environment, it falls apart. The desire to 'slay the dragon' solo exists precisely because it is a feat that requires many hands. In an online game that leans heavily on world concepts, to introduce a system that directly parallels life is immediately accepted.

Let's apply this to gear or abilities, which historically scale in some manner with level. How does this benefit the playerbase?
+ It is system to which people can immediately relate
+ The 'hardcore' can chase down the highest level gear with nigh-masochistic tendencies. How does one know this will happen? It happens already...
+ Despite individual gear/abilities receiving minute upgrades later on, an individual understanding control systems will immediately recognize the total is achieved through individual multiplicative properties, so those minute upgrades are meaningful, despite what popular opinion might decree
+ Once people achieve a certain place with gear/abilities, they stay pertinent.
+ People can quickly contribute in a meaningful way after very few levels

I fail to see any setbacks with such a system, and am baffled as to why it isn't used inside of games. For some reason, the desire to maintain a playerbase (financially driven) weighs greater than that of proper game design. Woe to those who put the cart before the horse!

Don't Fight Me! I'm Busy with this Monster!

What now as to the struggle between PvE and PvP? Not the decision or choice to build content in one direction or another (as success has been met with both), but in mingling the two in a balanced manner.

It is so painstakingly clear that one starts with the more stringent requirement(s) first. The goal in making a 10class 5faction system balanced with 2% error margins is so much in the realm of reality I squawk at the idea that it isn't achievable!
As a measuring stick: to put a plane in the air, have it not fall out of the sky, and accommodate for all of the FAA's regulations, there are in excess of 200 independent variables to account for. This is not including the multitudes of dependent, nor the detailed design variables. Surely, humanity has succeeded at meeting far more demanding criteria, how is it that 'balance' in PvP, or PvE cannot be obtained by AAA companies?

Start with balancing classes against dummy variables. The goal is to, let's say, have all PvP battles take at least 20sec, last no longer than 60sec, with a median duration of 30sec. Set baseline health and start incorporating the various abilities from class design. Until we can solve such forms of problems algebraically, we solve through iteration. But really, that's all it takes, and that's all it is.

Once PvP is within tolerances, build PvE content. As a designer, the stringent considerations of players have already been accounted for. Building arbitrary monsters of given strengths and abilities is almost too easy considering what has just been accomplished.

Ah, got me there! Clearly, even when you've the best laid plans (...) something is bound to be overlooked. So when this happens, you simply do research on the new problem, include its consideration in the iterative process, and come back with an easy solution. We haven't changed the basic way we make bridges in millennia, even after this disaster. That should be all the statement we need.

I'm Not Playing, I'm Being Responsible!

In all walks of life, for any creature, at any age, play is paramount for solid growth. It teaches the participant systems and skillsets required for autonomy. The concept of 'sheltered youth' and 'real world' are not altogether dichotomous. Should we not, then, seek out real-world examples of concepts when trying to piece together a solution to mechanic problems with our games? Their cycles are, after all, codependent.

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