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Author Topic: Do you or don't you think that a classless skill system is a good idea? Why?  (Read 9284 times)


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I have heard a lot of people in the gaming industry comment negatively on classless character systems. Many believe that in an MMO environment the idea is simply not possible to pull off.

Do you have an idea for a class-less character system that you want to share and think will work?

Do you have a reason why you think it cannot be accomplished?

Either way please be courteous to those who do not agree.


Just so you know I believe it is possible to pull off an incredibly fun and functional classless character system. I would just like to hear more of what other folks working with Hero think.
« Last Edit: Sep 21, 11, 09:16:03 PM by jojacino »
Joseph M. Davidson


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I'm most likely going a class-less character progression system for my game (still working out all of the details, most of it is covered, but some things need to be looked over). One of the bigger challenges with it, in my opinion, is making sure players can't exploit it. For example, grabbing a certain combination of skills/talents/whatever that has such a synergy together that it completely breaks the character. So my main issue with it is the balancing part.

The Secret World is doing a "free character progression" system in their game, so there are no classes and you can create your character in whichever way you want.


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Ultima On-line has a classless system and is still around.  It was a pioneer in this genre and not everything is perfect, but it is a good game and proof enough that it can work.


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Just some thoughts to all those who want to create a classless skill system for their game.

Make sure there is some serious (at least internally) structure. Keep in mind that what is and what people see are two completely different things. Also you will likely have to re-balance everything each time a new ability or skill is added. (or at least make sure that you have maintained balance.)

Not that I am at all overly-qualified to give advice on the subject. I am just adding some of my understanding to the equation for you all. Please feel free to do the same.

One thought that I have heard against classless systems is this: If all your skills are available to all players then there will unavoidably be a combination of skills that comes out on top. That being the case if you only allow 10 skills per player than eventually all players will have the same 10 skills. Actually anyway you chalk it up; in this scenario all end game characters end up the same.

Just something to consider avoiding when in design. =)


« Last Edit: Sep 21, 11, 06:58:38 PM by jojacino »
Joseph M. Davidson


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It is a bit more complex than just classless or not i think, underneath your question lays another; is the game going to be a themepark or a sandbox mmo. If your developing a themepark, as most companies do, then you want to keep the complexity down. A skill based system gives players choice and thus adds complexity. This complexity runs both ways, it asks more from the players but its also a disaster to balance as Kargha mentioned earlier. Both are considered a bad thing.

Wow for example, went recently from a simple to a ultra simple model where in-class, cross tree spreading of points was removed. They needed to do this because of the themepark gameplay. The endgame boss dungeons undergo an endless balancing act, fine-tuning them like formula one race cars. A bit to easy and people will walk because they lose their sense of 'accomplishment'. Too hard and the casual crowd moves on to the next game as we saw after the release of the last expansion.

So far there has been only one mmo that makes shareholders moist during their dreams and that is wow. Since wow is a themepark, everybody else makes themeparks simply because management tells them to do so. Sandbox mmo's will remain marginalized till one emerges with huge subscription numbers that will make shareholders turn their heads.

Themeparks have proven themselves to be able to attract millions of players, sandboxes seem to be unable to get far beyond the 300k. I'm not saying you can't have a skill based themepark but it has to be simple and rigorously controlled if you want to accomplish your end goal, to keep the masses playing for as long as you possibly can.



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all end game characters end up the same.
And what makes that different from the situation that we´ve had in so many other games?
As far as I´ve seen that´s pretty much what many games "offer" you in their end game stage - skip those skills, they don´t provide enough DPS to kill the Highdemon Ungorthotototh in under 5 minutes, get your hands on enough Runes of Utter Magicality to pimp your Dire Sword of Serious Decapitation - without that your character is worthless.
That seems to be pretty much the scheme in many games.

I go with the "balancing becomes more complex without classes" cause that IMO likely would be the main reason not to pick a classless system.
Aside from that "classless" can mean many things.
You can very well have paths of skills that build on one another, and you can have enough skills that one character can´t take all the cool ones.
And that doesn´t necessarily have to mean "those that deal the most damage".
If I had to choose between another high damage ability and teleportation ability that would cut longdistance travel down to seconds, I would most likely pick teleportation.

"Keeping the masses playing for as long as you possibly can" shan´t be my end goal.
"Keeping the players playing for as long as they reasonably should" would probably come closer to what I would see as a valid end goal.


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There have been many classless systems over the years. Sandbox games often are. It is trickier to balance, but it can work.


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Hello, two articles I think you might like talking about your subject.



Classes vs Skills
Friday, April 20th, 2007 in General Design
Hmmm.  I need to post, it was probably the most well-attended roundtable at the IMGDC, and it’s been at least a whole month since I last touched upon it… eh, why not?  I’m going to just ramble about the class v skill thing a bit.

For background, Damion at Zen of Design has presented some excellent insights on this topic over the past half-year or so… links here and here.  There’s a forum thread over at MMORPG.com on the topic at the moment, as well, for a selection of more player-centric viewpoints.
(Edit: broken links fixed)

For starters, let me present my definition of what both classes and skills are.  They represent two of the most common methods to define, represent, and control the range and power of a character’s abilities in a computer-moderated RPG, whether single player, multiplayer, or MMO.
Let me highlight a few of the points above.  Classes and skills represent just a couple of the most common methods for achieving the stated goal.  Other methods, including some that are not simply a hybrid of the two above, should be possible, and it is arguable whether any such system is truly required at all.
That is kind of where the computer-moderated proviso comes in.  Off-line, pen-and-paper RPGs have occasionally explored other methods of determining what a character will be allowed to do during the game.  Some have simply allowed the player to make the determination.  Others have restricted character abilities to that of the player him/herself.    The computer-moderated environment makes using numeric representations so very simple and obvious, however, that it is difficult to imagine breaking that paradigm.  (There are a few people arguably thinking about it, tho…)

For my part, I would like to make this definition model and the associated advancement a little less central to the CRPG experience.  My definition of the root concept of the RPG has always been “cooperative storytelling”, not “reach maximum level”.  Originally, skills and/or classes were meant to support the gameplay, not dominate it.   It would be nice to return to that perspective someday… but that’s not the topic for today.
Progression scale

As I hinted at above, classes and skills are not discrete concepts.  Most MMORPGs (and CRPGs in general) actually use some combination of the two, a hybrid system if you will, to help define the character’s abilities and limitations.  In essence, each system falls somewhere along a continuum, generally defined by how much diversity a single character is allowed to encompass, a “specialist” vs. “generalist” scale.  A crude visual representation might look like this…



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Specialist   Generalist
Class-based systems are usually near the specialist end of the scale, while skill-based systems generally end up near the generalist side, and hybrids can fall nearly anywhere in between.
These are not diametrically opposed concepts by definition, either.  Multi-class systems, like DDO or Horizons for example, illustrate how blurred the distinction between classes and skills really is.   In many ways, skills can usually just be looked at as extremely narrowly defined “classes”, with unlimited (or at least copious) multi-classing allowed.
Strengths of Classes

As Damion has attempted to point out multiple times (see the links above), class-based systems do have certain advantages over skill-based systems.  The items he mentions explicitly are…
•   Player roles easy to balance, maintain, and expand
•   Able to make character choices without fear
•   Easy to advertise for group and guild play
•   PvP needs tactical transparency
•   Player roles should offer strongly varied experiences
I think it is generally safe to say that any system, skill-based or otherwise, should at least try to address the above bulletpoints in some way, or be able to explain why you have not.
Levels, XP, usage-based, etc.

These are additional topics which impact the discussion.  Levels and XP are generally considered to strongly relate to class-based systems, for example.  However, by expanding the definition very slightly, it is easily argued that skill ratings are simply levels, and points toward advancement of an individual skill are simply XP by another name.

Usage-based systems are a little more of a twist on the same old, same old… but usually not much.  A usage-based skill advancement system is arguably only a XP-based system that offers rewards on a more discrete, fine-tuned basis.  If the usage-based system only rewards “successes”, it still leaves open the possibility of receiving nothing for failing to completely “win”, for example.
The advantages of a level/XP-based design, again according to Damion at Zen of Design:
•   Quick evaluation of potential allies and rivals/enemies
•   Rewards devotion over skill
•   Needs a reason not to cancel
•   Players respond better to substantial improvement over minute improvement
•   If realism is your goal, system should not prompt unrealistic behavior
•   Players want continual rewards for their playstyle
Again, I think a designer wants to evaluate their systems against the above, and be able to address either how their system achieves the above, or at least why they don’t feel it is necessary.  I personally don’t think several of the items in this second set of bulletpoints in particular are necessarily desirable… but I do think it is important to be able to discuss why that is the case.
Disadvantages of classes/levels/etc.
I’ve focused so far on the advantages of the D20/D+D class/level/XP triumvirate… so why is there a continual debate at all?  In part because, based on the way they are most often implemented, the following limitations arise….
•   Classes can feel confining… why can’t my Warrior learn a couple minor spells?
•   Classes can be misleading… what does it really mean to be a Ranger?
•   Classes can become _too_ familiar… “this is a brand new game in early beta… why do I feel like I’ve done all this before?  Talk about deja vu…”
•   Levels can quickly divide friends into separate groups… “it’s only been a week… how the heck am I supposed to group my level 12 Spearcatcher with your level 42 Archmagi Supreme?”
•   Generic XP can create hard feelings amongst different play styles… (”Wait… so I did 2 massive quests, saved the entire frigging universe, twice I might add, and you got more XP in half the time grinding level 3 foozlewhatsits?!?”

None of the above is an insurmountable obstacle or unavoidable result of class/level/XP.  The same logic applies here as to the items listed earlier… these are topics you should be able to speak to as a designer of such a system, either as to how you’ve addressed them, or why you don’t feel it necessary to do so.  I’m sure people can come up with more issues if they try…
Not the only advancement concept possible
Finally, I just wanted to note that the Class/Skill paradigm is far from the only advancement methodology possible in the wide wide world of RPGs.

Social advancement, either as a defined game system (EQ faction, CoH/CoV contacts, and Vanguard-style diplomacy, for example) or simply amongst the players without systemic support (guild leadership, etc.) is an obvious example.  Wealth and equipment are commonly implemented as a secondary advancement concept in most RPGs, MMO or otherwise.

Some less commonly explored (or less emphasized) concepts might include divine favor, good/bad karma, “Force”-sensitivity, luck, collecting discrete knowledge elements (EQ spells, recipes in WoW), fame and/or infamy, and the like.

And those are just the ways of defining character abilities/limits strictly within a game system.  Tying back to the player him/herself, whether along the lines of puzzle games (”pattern-recognition”), first-person shooters (”twitch-based”), and/or other means, are also possible alternatives that could be weighted far more heavily.  There’s a lot of room for exploration left out there…

I’ll wrap this up for the moment… my next goal is to present an alternative system in the class/skill perspective, and evaluate it against the above bulletpoints. Real life rears it’s ugly head once again, however…



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and a third article worth looking at.........

MMO Roundtable Day 3: Why Classes, Levels, and the Grind
Filed under: General, Game Design — Damion @ 9:43 pm

On the third day of my roundtable, I took the talk in the most controversial of directions: the grind. More specifically, why do designers gravitate towards class-based, level-based experience-point based RPG systems for their advancement models? What’s wrong with them? Once again, the responses listed below are not necessarily my own, but are rather responses that came out of the group. However, many of the responses that appear are very similar to those that I mentioned in my AGC talk a year ago.
The group’s responses included:

•   Rewards devotion. Our current billing model, the monthly fee, works better if we have game mechanics that encourage long-term retention. The grind makes creating a character hard enough that its hard to walk away from the character.
•   Allows for soloing. The grind lets players play by themselves, as well as group.
•   Classes allow for mutual contribution. Fighting the AI is a minigame that involves multiple players in different roles.
•   Classes and levels are easy to compare and communicate. It’s easy for players to find potential group members and guild members that fit their needs.
•   Familiarity. Classes and levels are easily understood by nearly every gamer on earth - the learning curve is low.
•   Classes and levels are parallel to the real world. This, needless to say, provoked a lot of discussion.
•   Provides an archetype. Your average player wants to know the play style of his selected character from character creation. We know how the major classes play.
•   Easier to balance. Sorry, Raph, it’s still true - classes and levels are much easier to balance than freeform systems.
•   Forces teamplay. Players are not self-sufficient in all cases, and need other people from time to time. Dissenters noted that WoW succeeded in part because of its high soloability.
•   Diversity. Shockingly, freeform systems almost always devolve into 2 or 3 killer templates. Class systems tend to result in more strongly different archetypes.
•   Strongly different play experiences. It is easier to make stealth very powerful if the powers that it can be constrained with are well defined — if it can be combined with anything, stealth has to be weakened to account for all possible combinations.
•   Provides direction. Level-based systems offers a very quickly and easily understood goal.
•   Constrained choice. Players get overwhelmed when there are too many choices, and there isn’t enough information for them to make the right one. Classes help constrain those choices to ones the players feel will be fair and balanced.

•   Pacing. In a level-based system, it is much easier to pace out your content in a way that players have to go through it at a certain rate and in a certain order.
•   Continual rewards. The guinea pigs like their pellets. Attempts to make experience-less RPGs have never escaped the niche players into the mainstream.
•   Occupies time. Players want to play the game for 500 hours. What will you have them do for all that time?
•   Replayability. Classes that provide enough of a different experience provide replayability to the game.
•   Tactical transparency. Classes provide imperfect information about your opponent’s capabilities - which makes fighting him a tactical game. If you don’t know anything about your opponent, your tactical choices devolve to one primary attack pattern.
•   Low intensity. Believe it or not, a lot of people play MMOs for low intensity entertainment a lot of the time, similar to popping bubble wrap.
Unsurprisingly, defenders of the class system was strong, whereas few wanted to defend the grind. And when I asked “What’s wrong with the grind?” they were chomping at the bit.
•   It shrinks the game. When advancement is so slow and yet so central, it creates a feel that any time you aren’t advancing is wasted time.
•   It’s not challenging. Grinding up mobs does not offer the tactical challenge that we hoped players would find when we talked about combat on Day 2, largely because players find the optimal reward for the lowest possible risk.
•   Risk-averse behavior. When players don’t take risks, they end up boring themselves to death. In most MMOs, players are hysterically low-risk (and low-intensity players) until they decide to run an instance or a raid. I argue that this actually is a pretty nifty breakdown.
•   Boring and infuriating. I don’t feel this needs more elaboration, but it was mentioned quite a few times.
•   Hard to prop up the content with grind behavior. Quests in MMOs tend to be dull, simplistic affairs. Some feel the grind is definitely holding back the quality of the stories and the quests.
•   It’s a crutch, stifles innovation. We’re unoriginal hacks, yadda yadda yadda.
•   The grind enables macroers and eBayers. If it’s hard to grind up a character, it creates a secondary market for that character.
•   Genre reputation. The fact that most of these games devolve into the grind is holding us back from reaching a broader market that is used to getting to the good part of the game faster.
•   Creates unhealthy play patterns. You know that feeling you get after you’ve played 12 hours straight?
•   Separates from friends. The level system makes it so friends can’t play with each other, which really should bug more people in this largely social genre.
•   On classes: restrictive. Not enough ways for players to represent their own identity, or create truly innovative character builds that surprise the designers.
•   On classes: immutable choice. If you decided you chose the wrong class, you’re stuck with it. In MMOs, it is frequently the only balance-based decision you can’t undo.
•   Forces grouping. People don’t want to depend on mouthbreathers to enjoy their game.
•   RPS problem. Too many designers use Rock-Paper-Scissors at the class level instead of the tactics level, which results in no-win (and therefore no-fun) situations, especially in PVP.
Overall, it should note that participants had far more favorable things to say about classes than the grind, and far more unfavorable things to say about the grind than classes — which probably suggests where innovation should try to focus.

As my closing thought, I stressed, in terms of the grind: don’t confuse the delivery mechanism with the reward. The grind is not boring because it has experience points and is level-based. It’s boring because killing 2500 of the same monster makes you want to kill yourself. I pointed out that one of WoW’s strongest innovations is having their quests be rewarding enough that people do them, resulting in people actually going to different places and killing different things (my article on pattern breaking discusses this more).
I hope that everyone that came to the talks enjoyed them - they’re always a lot of fun, and I think we had a very good and interesting discussion. The room was full all three days, with one of the days having greater than 80 people, but still didn’t seem to have problems communicating. And this year, we didn’t have anyone ranting about their Druid being nerfed.
Now I need to think of a topic for NEXT year’s roundtable.

• • •
1.   When Pete the player looks at the character generation screen he sees the Warrior and thinks, “umm.. thats gotta be like Conan or Gimli and those kinda guys”. Then he looks at the mage and does a similar gandalfy line of thought.
Whichever class he does select will make him think that he’ll drive his character through a story which makes his character into something he seeded with creativity. It will be a very long time later that he figures out that his creative input is very close to zero. There are only two creatively worthy paths available to Pete which will make his version of Conan carry contextual difference from everyone elses Conans:
1: The path of the gimped Conan.
2: The path of Conan the socializer.
Every other path is a railway laid out mostly by the Conan class designer. There are branches of sorts within the railway system but all of those branches give Pete zero creative input.
The reward mechanism that Pete wants from the game is not part of the game, Pete feels like he got tricked by a bait and switch con stunt. But that dosnt make him quit because no game in the known industry will actually allow him to tell his own Conan story, he grudgily adapt the standard model. The market has a lot of products where the reward mechanism gives Pete a game where he can be Conan level 1, then Conan level 2, 3, 4, 5… and so on.
I am sure contructive innovation can be found through designing a more direct mechanic for allowing Pete to provide creative input with the things the game lets you do. The Social systems which carry all of that responsibility in the standard design are too far away from Pete and in the realm of the hardcore player.
Pete wants to use his Conan to write his own story, but the game prevents him from doing that unless he does it thorugh the already mentioned available paths. Both of those paths tend to suck and make players unhappy but its what everyone ends up clinging to or they churn. The path of the Gimp is abandoned as players exit the realm of nubiness, many players churn right as the need for a transition becomes obvious, only the path of navigating social systems remain.
Only a small mmorpg can innovate on such a fundamental level of the design. Once you start innovating on the level of “what the players do” within the game its a futile act to import design constructions from older games which depend on what the players do in the game.

Comment by Wolfe — 3/15/2007 @ 2:58 am
2.   I totally disagree, Wolfe. Your post makes a couple of faulty assumptions.
1. That the primary responsibility of an RPG is to act as a palette for players to project themselves onto.
2. That class systems allow zero creative input.
3. That classless systems results, in the end, in fewer gimped characters.
4. That the class system should be the primary conduit for a player’s sense of self and story.
A classless system almost definitively has more bad choices (i.e. gimped characters) than a class-based system. In WoW, the designers have a fairly limited number of builds to support, but they can also be sure they are all in the same ballpark (and even then, they often struggle, as Druids and Priests can attest to). By comparison, in Shadowbane, we gave the players much more freedom, which allowed themselves to express themselves, but also allowed themselves to screw themselves with bad choices.
The only way to keep players from screwing themselves is with no choices, but this obviously moves in the opposite direction of allowing freedom. The average player does NOT want infinite choice — they want to know that they have very high odds of making a good choice.
With infinite choices, players end up gravitating towards the overpowered builds. Sure, you may want the freedom to mix Rogue stealth with any other possible ability. But once people discover that Rogue Stealth becomes godlike when combined with Priest Summon and Mage DPS Burst Damage, all other paths become the ‘gimped Rogue’.
Which is more disheartening. To say you CAN’T be the stealthy Conan, or to say that you CAN be the stealthy warrior, but for that path to be utterly unviable? I know that personally I’d rather have the former, since at least I’ll discover that at character creation rather than 30 levels into the game.

Comment by Damion — 3/15/2007 @ 10:30 am
3.   Why?
Why Fantasy?
Why Combat?
Why Classes, Levels, and the Grind?
Damion moderated a roundtable discussion at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference. He posted three articles focusing on different elements of the MMO. There are some very inte…
Trackback by Sierra Kilo — 3/15/2007 @ 11:32 am
4.   Hmm, I do not think your conclusions are flawed. Lets see if I can describe better what I mean.
1. That the primary responsibility of an RPG is to act as a palette for players to project themselves onto.
Not the primary, but can be made into a significant one.
2. That class systems allow zero creative input.
They move creative input towards other game systems. If you do go creative with your choice of equipment, skills or hotkey bindings you are either optimizing forwards or more commonly backwards from the standards, walk the path of the Gimp. If you are the best its everyone else who walks backwards while you raise the bar. This is really a problem related to grokking, once the mystery is gone and you grokked it you go from creative to reactive. You will not realistically be able to make any character system ungrokkable anyway so its a moot point of the design and more of a problem for the genre in general.
3. That classless systems results, in the end, in fewer gimped characters.
No, I do not think so, at least I did not intent to say anything like that. However a class system does not by definition prevent players from gimping themselves. Pete the Warrior might make the right choice and use a Longsword and a Shield, while Bob the Warrior made the wrong selection and use a Bow and a Dagger. The game secretly punish Bob by making him spend more time to accomplish the same thing as Pete, but Bob has no system which can help him understand why and ends up handicapped within the community play systems. If the game allowed Bob to switch settings around fast and easy it would be easier for Bob to de-gimp himself.
Any system which allows the player to optimize their class choice by iterating their selections fast will have less gimped characters. Allowing such iteration will crush the standard mmorpg design and is not a feasible choice for big budget projects. I would not really hesitate to consider a game which allows the player to iterate choices fast to belong within another genre but possibly within the same industry.
4. That the class system should be the primary conduit for a player’s sense of self and story.
Yet again not the primary, but if the players want a stronger sense of self and story you can probably switch design goals around towards matching such desires better than what the standard design does, likely with the consequence of switching genre.
I would feel more comfortable if the genre mmorpg can be accepted within Raph’s definition; “a technology that simulates space virtually, and supports incarnation within that space via proxies that we call avatars”. Rather than the subset within such a definition which also carries a large design legacy in system details. I am starting to give up hope and think a new genre might have to be developed which has room for innovation.
The danger as I see it lies within importing too much design from other games. An mmorpg is such a large construction with so many design dependencies that once you start importing designs you cant stop until you got everything important imported. A whole lot of game systems depend on the class/level/grind functionality. The best way to solve a gameplay problem which pops up in your design is probably to import one of a few solutions from other games, since the design DNA is close to identical that it works and solves the problem.
This leads to the identity of your new title being carried by what it looks like rather than within what the players do within the game.
For each new generation of mmorpg designs the size of the imported functionality grows noticeably, without providing any functional model for reducing the cost of development. What you are saying about fantasy, classes, levels, grind… is an argument that can be applied to more abstract game systems such as groups, guilds, raids, forums, expansions. You can not really make a design which leaves those components out either. If you make an mmorpg without raids you will have a problem similar to making one without classes, you will exit the familiar territory of importing design and you will be on your own with solving your own unique problems.
I guess this boils down to a matter of definition, is the one Raph has proposed http://www.raphkoster.com/?p=297 acceptable or is a higher resolution definition needed which also include game systems of certain properties?

Comment by Wolfe — 3/16/2007 @ 3:43 am
•  @Wolfe:
Have you tried City of Heroes? Initially I was really averse to trying a super heroes game, but having played it pretty regularly for the last 3 years, I think they’ve solved a lot of the class problems you described in your first post. You might want to give it a shot if you haven’t already.

Comment by Sweetmeat — 3/16/2007 @ 11:23 am
•  City of Heroes is a great game, and I think they are a true testament of how you can make an awesome MMO experience that isn’t a fantasy game. That being said, I still consider CoH a strongly class-based, pretty grindalicious game.

Comment by Damion — 3/16/2007 @ 1:15 pm
•  Thanks for posting this stuff up. A coworker of mine at 38 Studios got to attend one or two of them, but I was hoping you’d get all the pertinent information from the roundtables up here

Comment by Ryan Shwayder — 3/17/2007 @ 2:04 pm
•  I played some CoH, not a whole lot tho but it failed to attract my attention stronger than some other games at the time.
Maybe a related but interesting topic would be about making a class, level and grind based mmorpg without raids and expansions?
In my experience the good mmorpg’s have these (amohng other) designs in common:
Grindy Combat
Talents (or similar configurable skill system)
Modular, or maybe optional is a better word PvP
Group play
Player made chat channels, with PW control.
Nerf process (Usually like a wheel which nerf by rolling through time.)
Buff Process (The positive side of the nerf wheel.)
When I Played CoH I definately felt the lack of the equipment system and raid gameplay even at my measly low level testing character. When you make the next mmorpg which of these things in the low resolution list is optional to the design?
And dont tell me its the chat channels.  



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I don't have a problem with classes system,and I don't have a problem with skills system.
Both can be made to work great,but the problem is not those 2.
Its the grind and the levels and the overall waste of time.
The truth is theme park ride from level 0 to max isn't even a GOOD ride, everybody and there grandma knows the gameplay is after the max so why not cut the crud?
Why waste your time on levels and just design content for having none,of course they are good reasons for the publishers which is to tax the grind(that's what subscription really is currently)
The great thing is you don't have to tax the grind, you can just think hard and make gameplay that is interesting for in infinite amount of time, not at the mercy of pumping up more gear daily.
How would you do that you ask? Simple just think that you have absolutely no levels only classes or skills are like perks that can do specific things but you can have only so many, then start building gameplay from there to retain a player for 1000 hours(protips: don't overuse gear; make wealth meaningful).

On another note where is my extra combat classes? where is my thief? where is my assassin? where is my patrician? and where is my real wizards that aren't glass cannons or walking healthpacks?

As for the skills system, you can easily balance it as an archetype of classes if you add absolute decay and plan ahead with the added benefit of mutability.
« Last Edit: Nov 29, 11, 01:50:49 AM by adrix89 »


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It's hard to say is class-based or skill-based system is better for the game. It all comes down to implementation . I personally am more inclined towards classless design.

In most cases I feel like classes can't really bring something new to the table (unless your game is really unique). If there is a warrior / fighter / soldier / berserker class, everyone assumes you're going to be involved in melee combat and deal mainly physical damage. If you see a mage / wizard / warlock / sorcerer, you know he's gonna be casting some mostly damaging spells. A priest / cleric / druid / monk is going to heal and deal probably some minor damage with a few spells. A rogue / assassin / thief / trickster is a stealthy assassin that will probably be using stealth and deal more damage in case he attacks his target from behind. ... and also ranger / archer / marksman / hunter is pretty obvious as well.

Classes are either: melee physical / ranged physical / ranged magic / heal (support)   ... or maybe some combination of either two (mostly)

Skill-based system allows more customization of the character and more choices. Which is something I missed in World of Warcraft for example ... I always felt like I wanted my paladin to burn someone's face with a fireball or some other damage spells. The main disadvantage from my point of view is the obvious fact, that it's difficult to balance. It's likely there will emerge a few 'godlike' combinations and all else will be labeled as 'average' or 'not viable' .. and if you try to fix those godlike combinations, you might end up nerfing the 'average' and 'not viable' combos too, which doesn't really help. But there can also  emerge some combos, that feel like 'average' to most of the playerbase, but highly skilled players who master them look pretty much 'godlike'.

As was already said earlier, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. But it's really just about the way you implement those systems. Although skill-based system will probably always be a lot harder to balance than the class-based one ... but it's nice to take a challenge sometimes. And maybe one of the most important things you have to decide before designing your system is target audience. You have to decide if the game is going to be for masses (widest possible player range) or for fanatics or whoever else you might choose. If you are targeting masses like World of Warcraft, you have to make it all as simple as you can while maintaining some sort of customization so the player feels like he/she actually has a choice. And you also have to realize why are you making the game. Is it only because of money? Or because you want to deliver a unique product to your customers? Would you actually like to play your game the way you designed it? What's your goal with it? ...

So back to class-based versus skill-based. There's just no 100% answer to that. It's not that only one if them is a viable way to go. So just choose which one you like more (may it be for reasons mentioned in this thread or for any other reasons you can think of).

I have designed a hybrid system for my game. It's an attempt to merge the best of both worlds. It's just a prototype I had no way to test yet (I'm still waiting for my HeroCloud and even after I have my world it will take some time to implement). But after it's implemented and works as intended, I can share some results with you.


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We're in the late planning stages of our MMORPG. With the release of Skyrim though it's brought us back to the drawing board on a couple of things. This here is the biggest thing. We were originally going to be doing our game on a class system, however we've now rediscovered sandbox style based on skills instead of classes.

We're starting to lean towards skill based with levels. The hard part is figuring out exactly what it is we want to do. We're planning on allowing for houses/towns. And the option to go and make a house in the wilderness, or start a little group as a guild, or even start in the big city. You will only be allowed one house but nothing will be stopping you from moving out on your own. I'm thinking a feudal type hierarchy that is controlled by NPC's from Nobles on up. However local towns and counties can be player controlled based on voting (limited number of people can run and those that are running get no votes) and the town will be affected a certain way. I plan on having towns excel in certain crafting professions based on the mayors. There will be two factions. Each controlling certain territories (balanced resources here) however there will be a neutral territory that allows open world PVP and certain advantages. There is much more to it but I'm wary of posting more detail.


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I have enjoyed both. technically they both are relevant in both game genres. they all pose different barriers to content. You have to ask yourself..why do i need levels? why does my MMO even need skills or a skill based class system?

These are indie MMOs we are making there are no rules to reinventing the wheel. you simply never stray to far from the standard old systems if you want to create a game that's pretty much every other game. that being said I have been pondering a new way instead of levels and classes. this new way i can't really go in to detail about at this time since it's stuff in a design document that has never been tried as of yet to the degree I will attempt it.

I think we have an opportunity here. we are not large funded developers and we have an engine where all the internal systems can be re-done to make something none of the big developers would dare do. and that would be to innovate this genre.

We are living in exciting times with Hero Engine open to us now.

We don't have rules we have goals and if we can meet them? we are in beta before we know it.
I fully believe even if i don't make it off my Dev server with a good beta many of you will. this is a chance to use a world class middle-ware to show the big boys we may not have your budget but we can make something that is very much needed..and thats innovation to a genre thats dying of total stagnation.

I'm very excited to see what many of you create regardless of the mechanics you will adopt.



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Former developer for AC1, what I think is the preeminent classless game, who became a lead systems designer for AC2, talks about classless systems:

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