Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Do you got class or is you skilled?

Damien at ZenOfDesign kicked off a debate about clas / skill systems in response to an article by Thomas Mortensen at MMORPG. You have to read the ZoD thread first for half of what follows to make the slightest bit of sense, and even then you're going to disagree as people (players) seem to want to be EITHER class or skill based.

Anyway, it's sparked off a postathon by every dev/commentator/blogger who has an opinion to opine, and it's great :)

Brenlo (Bixiebopper) writes: "It’s all about choice. So is one system any better than the other? Not in my opinion, folks just have preferences. Besides, it’s what happens after your character is defined that really counts."

Raph Koster is on the class/skill debate too.. naturally :) he comes down on both sides of the fence:

"The question is, as always, what is the appropriate mix for the job. If you are making a game centered around teams, with clear singular objectives and one core system and mechanic, and nothing much else in the mix, then yes, of course, go with classes. Anything else would be a bit strange.

But if you’re making a virtual world with more than one thing to do, more than one game system, then they’ll make less sense. As soon as you have parallel game systems that don’t really overlap in their objectives, you’ll need to account for the fact that someone might be a hockey goalie and a herringbone stitcher. And the more of these you add to the mix, the less sense classes will make."

Well, this is MY blog space, so even though I feel as intimidated as heck by having so many big names in one entry, I gots my own opinions on class/skill systems:

"Neither classes nor skill based systems ’suck’ in and of themselves. It depends on what the player is expecting to be able to do within the game structure and how well the game design allows them to do that that results in a perception of suckiness.

For instance, I roll a combat toon in a class based system and find that I can’t, for example, heal others. Does the class system suck, or does the problem lie in my choice of build?

In a skill based system, I chose to invest on, say, defensive skills and heals to the stage where I can only do a little damage in combat but am effectively unkillable. Again, does the system suck or my choice of build? Obviously somebody who dislikes def stackers will have one PoV, the def stacker will have another.

A skill based system that allows a player to build a good low level (in terms of effectiveness, not necessarily combat level) toon with a borad but shallow range of abilities allows the player to experience more of the options that the game allows before choosing to specialise on one particular field.

Obviously the best example I can give of this is SWG where it was possible to take all the novice professions (thinly masked classes) and be a huntin’, shootin’ dancin’ medic who could do a little crafting with the resources he harvested. As your character developed you could then choose to drop the skills you didn’t need, or even have to sacrifice some that you’d have liked to have kept ie, at Master Ranger / Master Rifles it was not possible to have a large self heal as you couldn’t keep any of your medic skills.

You could of course drop the master box of one of the profs and invest in medic but then your effectiveness as a hunter would be impacted. (Which of course takes me onto my other favourite hobbyhorse, choices and consequences. I’ll save that for another day ;) )

A well structured class system will allow the player to have, for example in the EQ ranger subclass, effective specialist combat skills and sufficient self buffs and heals which are consistent/coherent with the professions descriptors and player expectations. You will, of course, have to depend on other players for the skills and abilities that fall outside your chosen class.

As I said, Idon’t think either system necessarily sucks, depending on it’s implementation. I do agree that a class system is generally easier to introduce to a player as you can point them at a defined archetype and say “that’s a paladin, that’s a pirate” and they’ll understand what can and can’t be done by that class within the game context. On the other hand, a free ranging skill based system allows for the sort of dynamic mix that you do find in real life where people have a multitude of skills that they can apply in different situations and which vary in value depending on their appropriateness for that situation.

OK, I’ll stop there before this becomes a dissertation on Acquired and Ascribed Roles, Expectations and social token exchange… "

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