One of our Patrons posted a question to me that he’d read somewhere, and I decided it was worth writing a short blog post about this subject. The question was, “Should a player’s skills or a character skills be more important in an MMORPG”
The obvious answer is player skills, but let’s talk about that a bit more in depth.
First of all, what kind of player skills are we talking about? The ability to manipulate a mouse or controller, mash buttons at great speed or just use your reaction speed is one kind of player skill, but this is not the kind that I would want to use in an MMORPG to differentiate players!
Instead, what we want to do in Citadel of Sorcery is make it so that the analysis, choices, decisions, plans, and mental reactions make the most difference in the game. And to have those be new and different for each situation.
OK, but how do you do that without making it so that players who want things pretty simple can still play and enjoy the game? That really is the trick, we want to reward ‘thinking’ and yet allow players who don’t want to think to still enjoy the experience.
Our answer to that is ‘variable success’. The more you think, the better your possible outcome, but there are levels of success, so that IF you want to stand toe-to-toe, and not use the terrain to your advantage, or figure out how to make the best combination use of your character skills for the specific situation, or how to work together with your companions… you can still win the battle. However, there are higher levels of success that can be achieved by thinking!
Why not achieve more, if you have the will and desire?
All of the quests in CoS are designed this way (as are even simple encounters). There is always more than one way to succeed, in fact, there are many and each one comes with a level of success. Your job is to achieve the highest level you can manage using your wits and skills to best advantage. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t die, it just means if you are successful, there are many levels of possible outcomes, and these are differentiated by the player skills FAR more than the character skills.
But let’s talk about Character Skills some as well. In the design of CoS, we have several goals when it comes to character skills. The first one is that NO player can be so powerful they cannot work with other players of ANY skill level. The second is that players can advance their character at a steady rate, continuously. To balance these two seemingly opposing goals we have created systems that allow players to continually improve their character, but in such a way that they are not getting too far ahead of everyone else. This way they are driven to improve their character, but it puts more weight on the player skills in every situation.
This isn’t the time or place to go into the details of how all this works, I’ll just tell you that every system of character advancement is taken into account, so that they all continuously improve, and yet do not create super-characters that are so much better than anything else that the character makes the difference.
In fact, a high-level character coming down to an entry-level area of CoS could easily do worse than a brand new character… this is assuming the brand new character is being played by a very good player while the high-level character is controlled by someone who isn’t thinking about much! Of course, if you ARE just as wise as the new player, your high-level character will still have a slight advantage, but even then it is only slight!
We designed the game this way so that the player is more important to the situation than the character stats.
So, maybe an example might help? Let’s say a high-level character comes down to an entry level situation and they get into a battle with some maggotmen. This squad of maggotmen have a wizard and some archers, as well as warriors.
The high-level character is controlled by a player without much care for anything but going toe-to-toe and mashing his attack button of one skill. So he stands there doing that. Meanwhile, he is surrounded by six warriors beating on him at once, while enemy archers and the wizard are bombarding him from the rear.
Meanwhile, our newbie character, fresh out of training, chooses a position behind some stones, and between two large trees. He talks to his other companions who take up a concealed position to use ranged weapons to keep any enemies from attacking him from behind. Now, due to the narrow opening between the trees, only one enemy warrior can get to him at a time, and the rocks are blocking the enemy archers from shooting him. Meanwhile, he also uses a hold spell to stop the first warrior from reaching him and then fires a ranged attack at the wizard, who has to retreat for cover to avoid damage. With him out of the way, he releases the hold spell and concentrates on killing the first warrior. Because he can concentrate on this one opponent, he kills him quickly.
Once he is dead, he can take on the next. When he fights the last warrior, instead of killing him, he purposefully disables him instead, knocking him unconscious. When the warriors are vanquished, he and his companions jump up on some rocks and take out their bows and starts trading arrows with the enemy archers. But the enemy archers are down the slope and they are up on a high rock, so the enemy arrows are slower and theirs are faster, due to gravity. Our heroes are doing more damage than the arrows of their enemies. When all the archers are down, and the wizard runs off. The newbie goes down and ties up the unconscious warrior, when he wakes he asks him some questions and makes a bargain, letting him go in exchange for information on where a vast treasure is stored.
In the end, this new player and his buddies take out more of the enemy, faster while taking less damage and learn where a treasure is kept. The high-level character still manages to kill some opponents and survive, but he only killed two, and he is wounded during the battle. The battle is won, but the newbie did much better, gained more experience and is in better shape, all because he thought about the terrain, his opponents, worked out a plan with his companions and used his weapons and abilities to best advantage.
His level of success is higher, even though he is a lower level character.
The idea is simple, give the players enough options so that it is their thinking that makes the biggest difference in their level of success.