Here begins a series of posts, when I remember to do them, in which I will discuss the elements that would make up the perfect MMO for me.
One of the things I hate most in games is levels that “matter”. And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level. However, I do understand the desire to have a constantly rising metric by which players can compare themselves or show some aspect of their selves to others.
In my perfect MMO, there would be levels and there would be experience gained through killing, questing, crafting and any number of other things. These levels would be entirely a measure of effort. If you kill 8,000,000 rats earning 10 exp per rat, your level will be higher than someone who has killed only 1 ogre for 1,000 exp. However, if the two of you were to face off in combat, how you played, what abilities you used and other factors would determine the outcome, not level.
Level would simply be… well… experience. A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”. As that person played the game and did things they would become a “Novice” or “Neophyte” and progress up through different titles until they eventually reached something like “Extraordinarily Experienced Grand Master” or some such. This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience. If you did so through a majority of exploration you might be “Worldly Grand Master”, or if you did so by crafting you might be a “Grand Master of Labors”.
Looking at a person’s “level” (which would not be expressed by a number, at least not a single number) would actually tell you a bit of the story of their lives. And that is why such a system appeals to me. It also appeals because unless you plan so poorly that you exhaust the entire English language by allowing people to gain ten or twenty levels per session, you could literally have infinite leveling. All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.
So, I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again. In large part to play with a couple of friends. The wife and I have been playing a couple of weeks now, but we’ve yet to actually play with the friends we came to join. You see, they started before us and as such they are about ten or so levels ahead. We have been trying to catch up, but since they keep playing also we essentially only succeed in keep the gap consistent.
Another friend of ours decided to join us too. A little later than us. He’s about ten or so levels behind us and in similar fashion he is trying to catch up but is really only keeping the gap consistent.
People keep telling me that it’ll be okay when we hit the level cap, which will only take a couple of months (or so they tell me). For the moment, the wife and I are splitting our time between some characters to try and slow ourselves down a bit, which will let the man behind us catch up but lets the people in front of us get further away.
I really dislike this, and it happens in every game. Well, not in EVE. Whenever I get into discussions about class based or skill based systems, after going back and forth for a long while I always end up settling on the fact that either system works and either can be better and that it all depends on the quality of the system. But one tangent that always emerges is that I wish less MMOs were level based.
I understand that, in general, people like levels, because it’s an easy way to measure progress and be rewarded. Ding! But levels divide your players, which can be good (spreading them out over different level appropriate areas) and bad (you now have to deal with special coding for any PvP interactions around the power increases levels provide and prevention of power leveling, etc). In my opinion, games need to find other ways to reward people, and to separate power from what is essentially time played. In EVE, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played for 5 years or 5 months, once you get into a ship the only thing that matters are the skills related to that ship. And a 5 month player can kick the ass of a 5 year player given the right ships and situation. But when was the last time a level 15 killed a level 80 in WoW? Never? Is it because the level 80 is better or because he’s been around longer? Neither actually, it’s because the game doesn’t allow people of that sort of disparity to fight in most cases because they are well aware of the futility of the position of the level 15 player.
We need an alternative to levels/time defining power in fantasy games. And we need ways for people to play together no matter how long they’ve been playing without starting over.
Sometimes one of the best things to do in online games in to set goals for yourself. And I don’t mean strictly the ones the designers lay out for you. Levels, items, zones, quests… they’re all decent goals, but often times they wind up being diminished by the fact that so many other people have done them.
So, with that in mind, in every game I play I always find little things to task myself with. The most recent one is in City of Heroes. I’m not playing CoH as much as I used to… heck, I’m not playing any game as much as I used to, but my time is currently divided between World of Warcraft and City of Heroes… WoW when Jodi is around, and CoH when its just me. Anyway, in CoH I’m playing Ishiro Takagi, a scrapper, martial arts and regeneration. Given enemies his own level, he’s fairly unbeatable. It takes guys 2 or 3 levels higher or groups of 6 or more to put him in the dirt. Ishiro is level 26, and currently prowling the streets and rooftops of Striga Isle, Talos Island, Dark Astoria and Independance Port… I go into Terra Volta every now and then, and when I’m sent to the hospital I remember why I don’t go in there alone, heh.
In Independance Port there is a bridge. Its long and covered in bad guys. I start at the north end and begin wading through. I haven’t made it yet… either I run into a boss who cleans my clock, or an afore mentioned group of 6 or more who I just can’t thin out before they get the upper hands. As I level it will get easier, and that’s sorta the point. My goal isn’t levelling, its something else, which if I keep doing it will lead to levelling, but in and of itself is far more satisfying than watching the experience bar fill up… instead I watch my progress across the bridge.
I’m halfway there.
If you know City of Heroes, and you frequent the message boards, you might be familiar with the battle cry, “Repeal the Purple Patch!” and you might even know what they are referring to…
First off, what is the Purple Patch?
When City of Heroes first opened, it was possible for a player to fight and defeat a foe that was 8 to 10 levels higher than he was. These battles were usually fierce and hard fought, but with the way experience was given turned out to be well worth the effort. See, exp in CoH is done on a scale.. a mob is worth X exp, and then a bonus or subtraction is made based on other factors. The major factor is your level. If you are the same level as the mob, you get X. If you are higher level, you get less than X, and the scale works quickly down so that once you are 4 or 5 levels over it (and the mob is easy to defeat) you get nothing. On the other end, there is no limit… if the mob is 10 levels higher than you and you do 100% of the damage to defeat it, you wind up getting something crazy like 4 or 5 times the exp, so a mob worth 50 exp becomes worth 200-250 exp to a lower level. The issue is, the game is largely balanced around you fighting mobs your level. So, at level 10, you might get 20 exp for defeating a level 10 mob, which is 2% of your exp for level. 50 level 10 mobs, and you level. If, however, you can fight a mob and get 200 exp, then you only need to defeat 5 of them. Problem is, they didn’t expect people to be able to defeat a mob 10 levels above them, and didn’t expect people to level quite so quickly.
As a result, the Purple Patch came into play. What they did was once a mob goes purple (4 levels above you), your chance to hit begins to decline very steeply… VERY steeply. So steep that once a mob is 8 levels above you, realistically you have 0 chance to win the fight because you will be simply unable to do more damage than he will be able to regenerate due to missing. (Originally, it was harsher than this even, the decline started sooner and a mob 5 levels above you was impossible, but they eased up, so the original patch is not important anymore, only the existing situation).
The effect this had on players, was that now that they were relegated to fighting mobs 4 levels above and lower, the exp rewards were not as ludacris as they had been. Leading to the inevitable “they nerfed all the fun out of the game” cries because people couldn’t earn mad exp while fighting impossible odds. To a degree, the players ARE correct. However, as often is the case, they are single minded.
This can be tied in with my MMORPG Project (link over on the right)… See, the players are focused on “repeal the purple patch”, but what they don’t realize is that the purple patch isn’t the issue… its that the mobs they “should” be fighting (according to the developers) are too easy and not rewarding enough. Would they still be asking for the repeal if the fights with orange (level +2) and red (level +3) mobs were more harrowing and yielded a better reward?
I don’t think they would. And this is where the developers should focus. They were right with the purple patch… players should be fighting things 8 and 10 levels above them… but players should regularly seek challenge, even level to red con, and they should find it fun and rewarding.
The devs are on the right track… now its just a wait and see to see if they follow through.