Let us start this article with a brief review of my last article…
“MMO developers have grown lazy. Many of the forumlae used in modern MMORPGs are holdovers from the days of MUDs and MUSHes. MUDs and MUSHes are, in turn, heavily derived from the days of pen and paper gaming. Instead of a d20, they might use d100, but it is, essentially, the same mechanic. (That’s why you have hitpoints in World of Warcraft.)
This carries over into game mechanics such as “classes” and “stats” and other things that reduce game mechanics to a relatively simple mathematical formula. Makes sense since computers are really good at math but why not introduce some new elements which will drive players more into the role playing aspects of the game rather than consulting a “Min/Max DPS Spreadsheet”? “
What new elements did I have in mind?
For starters, one of the problems I have with “hit point based combat” is that a weapon that does d12 damage is just as lethal to the recipient if it strikes them in their well-armored chest or on their not-so-armored face. 10 hit points are 10 hit points. Modeling RPG combat on the real thing would mean, among other things, that the part of the body that gets hit is important. Hitting someone’s legs would affect mobility. Hitting their arms would reduce weapon effectiveness. Hitting their head would affect everything. Torso shots might cause a damage-over-time effect similar to a gut-shot wound. If I did a ton of damage to someone’s left arm, it wouldn’t kill them. They would almost certainly lose the arm, but it wouldn’t kill them. On the other hand, if you damaged a player’s leg, it is possible that you could cut the femoral artery which would lead to death unless treated by a healer. The game could introduce mechanics such as “shock” or “blood loss” or “loss of limb” which would, in turn, affect movement or combat effectiveness. It should also be mentioned that healers would have more to worry about than “cast a slow heal or a fast heal” during combat.
Making player health more complex than a simple tally of hit points is a start, but that leads me to my next change…
Stats and Levels have to go
It’s easy enough to get rid of levels. Games like EVE Online have already done it. You reward player experience with additional skills or by increasing the effectiveness of a skill. As a healer, your basic “newbie doctor” knows first aid and anatomy but probably not the finer points of neurosurgery. Your average mercenary may be a crack shot with a sniper rifle, but you wouldn’t ask them to lead a platoon right out of the chute. Going to the old-school fantasy setting, a newbie mage might be able to cast a fireball that can severely burn a single target, but they can’t exactly turn an enemy army into a scorched mass of mangled flesh.
Why not do the same thing with attributes? Instead of
- STR 18
- DEX 14
- CON 13
- WIS 12
- INT 6
- CHA 11
Why not have each of those attributes defined as skills? A person can get stronger by working out. They can enhance their mental acuity through study. They can get plastic surgery to be better looking. How are they not like other skills that players can learn? (Funny… EVE Online does that as well.)
While we’re on the subject of things that EVE does very well…
Characters should develop based on achievement and reputation, not levels, stats, or skills.
Why does ‘achievement’ matter? Killing dragons should be a big deal. A player who is known as a “Dragon Slayer” should be more powerful than a player who hasn’t done it yet. To the victors go the spoils, right? However, to me, achievement is a subset of “Reputation”. Not faction, per se, although that does also factor into things, but how a player is perceived by NPCs in general. A player who has achieved feats of strength or daring in the world should at least be known elsewhere, shouldn’t they? It should count for something. How a player is perceived by other players should count as well. Throw in racial characteristics, skills (being a necromancer might cause negative reputation with new factions which would require more work on the part of the player to overcome), and even guild membership as criteria that can be used to set a player’s reputation modifier with previously un-encountered NPCs. Most importantly, let that player’s reputation among other players on the server count for something. It may very well put a curb on rampant jackassery if players suffer reputation hits if they irritate enough other players. At the very least, it will cause players to be less inclined to role play a jerk. If a developer were really feeling ambitious, they could run reputation in more than one axis. Aside from “Like/Dislike”, you could have ratings for “fear/fondness” or “respect/contempt”. Properly done, a game could introduce complex psychological elements into the game that would enhance the feeling of “role playing” on the part of the player.
and speaking of roleplaying…
Eliminate the number crunching and focus on “Role Playing”
A large part of development time and effort after a game’s release is spent on “balance”. Using World of Warcraft as an example, developers have to spend a lot of effort to make sure that the Mage’s Fire Tree does a roughly equivalent amount of damage as a Warlock’s Affliction Tree. Yes, I understand that they have moved away from that talent system, but it illustrates the problem at hand. Instead of using a simple numeric system to determine player health, use computing power to track multiple factors across many dimensions to create an overall picture of player health. Instead of a fireball causing X amount of damage to a player’s health pool. Have a fireball generate burn damage to one or more body parts. Burns may have different effects, depending on the body party and the type of armor that is worn. For instance, leather armor might insulate a body part from the effects of fire as opposed to plate mail which might increase the damage since iron conducts heat. Damage may result in degraded efficiency for that body part (legs/mobility, for example), or it may result in temporary or permanent incapacitation of that body part. (“burn your leg off”)
We still have to cover Combat, World Mechanics, and Setting. I hope that this part has at least laid the groundwork for what is to come.