Friday, 14 August 2009

Another way of thinking about progress

Via the Greedy Goblin, Tobold has a few things to say about progress in RPGs (specifically World of Warcraft) that you may find interesting:

Tetris gets faster because that way with every level the challenge rises, so sooner or later every player gets to the point where the challenge is equal to his skill. If you can consistently get to level 10 in Tetris, you are a better Tetris player than somebody who can only get to level 5. Your skill goes up while playing, because you learn, but the challenge goes up quicker, so every single game of Tetris ends with you losing, and the level at which you lose is a measure of your skill. Then you start over, and because your skill goes up, maybe in the next game you get one level further. If you would draw a graph plotting the maximum challenge you can beat over time, you'd see a constantly rising curve, but which is getting flatter, until it levels out at your maximum potential.

Now imagine MMORPGs would work like that. You start with a level 1 character fighting level 1 mobs, and you would *NOT* get stronger by gaining levels and equipment. If your character would always remain at exactly the same strength, and only your skill and random factors like critical hits would determine your success, then the maximum level of monster you were able to kill would say something about your playing skill. Some players would be able to kill level 5 monsters with their level 1 characters, others would maybe be able to kill level 10 monsters. But obviously you'd never see 25 level 1 characters raiding Ulduar.


nihilocrat said...

Unmodified, this system would probably lead to what I call the "teabag effect".

In Call of Duty 4, if you score a certain number of consecutive kills, you will get a bonus in the form of an airstrike or chopper or something like that. The problem with this is that those who are already succeeding are rewarded by something that will make them succeed more with no (or limited) input from them. Thus, winners will on average be able to "teabag" the other team, winning by a much more extreme amount, leading to even more consecutive kills, leading to more bonuses.

An MMO like this would also aggravate the target market of RPGs. A lot of players enjoy the superficial sense of progression in MMORPGs because they are given fairly constant rewards more merely adequate performance. Your level in an MMO is more reflective of your time in game (effort or seniority) rather than your skill. This is pretty obvious, but what I'm saying that many people do not want a skill-based game, perhaps because they like the idea of being rewarded more for loyalty than talent.

Nick said...

Personally, I'd like to see a Tetris MMO.

VRBones said...

+1 tetris MMO. I bags the long skinny character.

VRBones said...

"Your skill goes up while playing, because you learn, but the challenge goes up quicker"

I really like that statement. What it encourages is a 2 level approach to game design; the tactical elements dealing with a single playthrough, and the strategic elements of learning the fundamentals of the game over many games.

Games that spring to mind that attempt to deal with this:
Team Fortress 2 - After each death you are rewarded by noting the highest achievement you attained that life ("you nearly beat your highest revenge kills", etc). This encourages you to think of the one life as disposable, but the memories and skills attained as lasting. The ramping up in difficulty in this case is driven by the highscore table; coaxing the player to take more risks to achieve more kills per minute.

Bejewelled Blitz - Been playing this Facebook app a bit recently and there seems to be very little in the way of deep strategy to consistently achieve higher results. The randomness of the jewel drops totally outplays any skill on the player's part. This is a bit disappointing because the original Bejewelled had a variety of deep strategies to learn that made a significant difference to your overall performance. What Blitz does do well though is feedback on overall progress, rewards even for failing to meet the highest mark (categories of scores, all point contributing to the weekly draw, etc). Blitz still drags you back to one more go. Maybe because it's so quick (1 minute) that the "replay" button still offers the chance to succeed at a small cost. Hmm, wonder if it's pulling on the gambling gene ...

Roguelikes: I think they fit fairly well into this group of games. The single playthroughs are longer and may even be too long in some cases. You could conceivably start a roguelike and make it to the end in the first sitting by playing cautiously (keeping the rise in challenge under the rise in learning).

I like the sentiment about the metagame being enhanced by permadeath, but if that is an important part of the game design then I'd like to see more ways of encouraging the replayability; the feeling of participating in a larger game over and above the life of one character (Like the "Failing is Fun" catchcry of Dwarf Fortress). Bones files were great for this as it gave you a high water mark to aim at as well as the chance to gain known items. I also like some ideas from the gamasutra thread of having stuff like a persistent surname or the phrase "Another hero steps up to take XXX's place" on restart. Maybe a closer tie in to accounts? An inbuilt ability for YASD posts seeded with major achievements?

CPL said...

A lot depends on how much of your game is "something to do", versus "something to see".

In the case of 'simple' puzzle games, there's really nothing to see... the only sense of progress or change possible is to make the game harder. Of course, some puzzlers add new elements, but that tends to be as part of the 'first 10 levels is a tutorial' design.

MMOs on the other hand often have a lot to see... and a much larger proportion of developer resources are spent on generating that content. IMO it's bad for player morale to say "You can't see this cool stuff because you're not good enough at the game".

It's also easy to overemphasize the 'leveling' part of an MMO (thanks, at least in part, to EQ's arduous leveling process which gave us the term 'grind'). Other MMOs offer a very compressed leveling phase (e.g. Guild Wars and WoW) which mainly serves as a (semi) harmless environment to let the player familiarize themselves with the fixed toolset they'll be using when they get to the level cap.

Justin said...

I'm not sure that progression in mmo's is entirely superficial. I never explored the raiding game in WoW or EQ. But I have fond memories of playing LDoN (the first instanced dungeons) as a bard in EQ1. Bards were an interesting class which took a great deal of skill (multiple short duration spells that needed to be cast every 3 seconds) and it certainly felt like I was playing tetris with blocks falling ever faster at times.

As the game progressed, it became much less forgiving of error. You had to make careful use of enemy LoS and aggravation range. In addition you had a few very short duration mesmerizing spells you had to juggle to disable mobs as more than one would wipe your group.

Taking on such a roll, and handling crowd control and pulling, you pretty much were the team. If you succeeded at your job, the group effortlessly strolled through.

I never did much progression in that game, but skill was the limiting factor in the small group focused dungeons. That is until you out geared everything that is.

Now, most of a mmo's progression is superficial. But at least one out there, had a tiny bit more to it for at least one play style.