[Design] Player skill vs. Character skill

 
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Cornelius



Joined: 13 May 2005
Posts: 42
Location: Florida

PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 3:06 am    Post subject: [Design] Player skill vs. Character skill Reply with quote

ABSTRACT:
These are some thoughts I have had while in the design phase of my game, I present them here in the hopes that I may receive more thoughts and feedback from the mudlab crew. My point here is to discuss player immersion and re-playability concepts in a MUD by looking at one of its most basic and defining characteristics- skill model.

DEFINITIONS:

    Player oriented - the outcome of game situations depend on the player's ability to play the game.
    Character oriented - the outcome of game situations depend on the character's abilities within the game.


POSIT:
Traditionally, RPGs are strongly character oriented: regardless of how often you have played the RPG every time you start a new character you are a novice within the game structure. A player's own abilities to play the game are hampered or ignored by their character's abilities within the game. This type of skill model offers a kind of re-playability if you can offer new content at each play iteration. Large, immersive worlds which are also characteristic of RPGs enhance this effect and are probably necessitated by it. Since this model is purely abstract it requires some kind of character ability demarcation, usually in the form of levels, or skill percentages or trees. This however, has a side effect of creating a concrete sense of advancement for the player which is often addictive- making gaining the next level the primary goal of the player.

Alternatively, in other genres especially FPS or Fighters players have an initial learning curve but with every replay they advance their own skills in playing the game. This is why you see variable difficulty settings in these types of games- to enhance their replay value as players become more skilled then their computer opponents. Usually the world content itself is relatively meaningless or may serve only to enhance or compensate for player skill or lack thereof. Skill demarcation is not necessary in this model since skills are limited by the player's actual ability to perform it. Thus the concrete sense of advancement in this sense is lost, (ability can only be gauged by comparison).

Most muds being drawn from RPGs are character oriented, but the concept of a mud has several fundamental differences from a traditional RPG that I think makes this skill model obsolete. The foremost difference is that RPGs are designed to end, whereas muds are by definition persistent. A concept like demarcated skills- essential to the character oriented model demands an ending; a point where no more skills can be gained or advanced. At this point a character's advancement is halted and a player's along with it. RPGs are usually designed so that this happens at the end of the story, but for persistent games if you come across this situation you then need to introduce another form of play-justification (which has been the subject of many a forum discussion). At this point you either have another necessarily finite system upon which you must ultimately add yet another level of play (i.e. remort, multi-class, etc.) or if you are clever you design a persistent system (i.e. politics, trading, crafting, war, RP, etc.). However, once you have done this you have separated your game into two different components- the first portion of which is just tediously advancing your character until you can get to the real part of the game- the persistent part.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the SWR code-base. The beauty of SWR is its opportunities for trading, politics and crafting, as well as RP-capabilities, all of which are persistent game-play concepts. The downfall of it is the multi-class levelling system that must be trudged through in order to gain the required skills to be effective in the previously mentioned opportunities. This is so tedious that those really interested in the latter part rarely get there- and all you have left in the game are those who thrive on the cheap thrill of meaningless advancement- which unfortunately can be very addictive on a base level, but ultimately unsatisfying. This is why such games that have not yet found a more effective gameplay method have mostly transient players and why so many have new game incarnations popping up only to fail- most people recognize the symptom that is the limitation of this system but fail to understand the cause.

On the other hand a player oriented skill model does not require skill demarcations because even granted a certain skill- the ability to correctly use that skill is still player-limited. With this model we can remove many of the traditionally character-limited skills and replace them with game commands that all players have access to. This requires a rather large change in paradigm as far as how skills work. No longer can we have a simple kick skill that either works or does not depending on how skilled the character is. We need to find a way to make the kick have an affect on both the victim and the character, and that affect needs to change dependent on situational parameters. In this way the character will have to evaluate the situation and decide whether the kicks effect on the victim will be worth the effect it will have on themself.

e.g. a kick may stun an opponent but leave you off balance, perhaps attempting a kick on slippery pavement may make you slip- perhaps if your opponent is more dexterous than you they can avoid the kick and strike back while you are vulnerable, etc.

A players understanding of the parameters involved and the relational effects of a kick under those parameters will then determine how skilled the character is at kick. With such a system in place, the player is no longer limited by a character's skill progression and is free to advance as long as they are able to identify the intricacies of the skill. For a single skill it can be argued that once the player learns all the intricacies of the skill the progression ends, but consider the effect of several skills working together in a scenario and you quickly have more possibilities than can ever be learned or even experimented with in a lifetime.

In the SWR scenario, as a side effect, most of the world content is reduced to how effective it is in getting the player past the tedious leveling part of the game, and cannot be enjoyed as an immersive part of the game world. And once this occurs it is difficult to re-train the player back into reading room descriptions and trying to interact with mobs. Mobs become the strongest measure of character success while players shoulder the burden of maintaining the 'atmosphere' of the game. This is why you often hear players complain about a game but stay because of the people or say that the players make the game. Ideally, we want the game to support its own atmosphere and the players to provide the measure of comparison amongst themselves. The character oriented model in this case is highly restrictive to the game-play. Mobs are little more than level fodder and zones simply help or hinder access to the level fodder depending on how they are set up. In a player oriented model where killing mobs is less important you are free to enhance the gaming atmosphere in more meaningful ways- make mobs more interactive, zones more dynamic- using the layout of a zone to effect some of the aforementioned situational parameters: perhaps a wet floor?

---
The player oriented skill model has other benefits that seem particularly suited to the mud concept. In a perm-death game, the penalty of death is drastically reduced because the player still retains the game-play skills learned in the previous play iterations, not-dependent on a character's skill-set. It evens the playing field in terms of newbies and veterans, there is no such thing as a power-player when even the newest character can potentially overpower a veteran character. For RP purposes, a player can start the game with any history they would like and be able to act on that history right away. Play as an old war veteran? A seasoned assassin? No need to spend time levelling up skills just so your world renowned mercenary can defeat the little girl in the flower garden, or your master craftsman can link two chain-mail rings together.

Please feel free to add your comments and criticisms in replies to this topic.
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Tyche



Joined: 13 May 2005
Posts: 176
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 3:21 am    Post subject: Re: [Design] Player skill vs. Character skill Reply with quote

Cornelius wrote:

The foremost difference is that RPGs are designed to end, whereas muds are by definition persistent.


CRPGs like many muds are designed to end.

RPGs in my experience are persistent and go on literally until the group playing tires and some muds are designed to support this.

Deadlands, Ars Magica, RoleMaster, Vampyre, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. are RPGs.

Final Fantasy, Ultima, King's Quest are CRPGs.

Maybe a terminology disconnect.

Still while a game like Dikumud used much of the game mechanics of D&D it's apparent the game was pretty much over at level 16, as opposed to actual D&D campaigns that can go on for years.
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Kyuss



Joined: 13 May 2005
Posts: 37
Location: Southern Hellinois

PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 3:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Table top rpgs are more sense about the day to day adventure and a
more defined interaction between players.

CRPGs cant support the latter when compared.

Human on other side but still a monitor.

So, I guess what we need is live video/audio imaging feed transpoed over
3-d avatars across a d&d worldwise/wide setting.

Give it time, we are the programmers of the matrix.

We could even get 50$ a month service charge.

Who wants to write the socket code.
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KaVir



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 565
Location: Munich

PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
On the other hand a player oriented skill model does not require skill demarcations because even granted a certain skill- the ability to correctly use that skill is still player-limited. With this model we can remove many of the traditionally character-limited skills and replace them with game commands that all players have access to.


While I agree with much of what you've written, I think it important to stress that focusing on player skill doesn't require giving all characters the same options. Even in games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, each fighter has their own special moves, their own strengths and weaknesses, etc. Many such games do also have a form of character advancement, but outwards rather than upwards (you unlock new options rather than gaining in power).

I also think you're combining two separate issues - character vs player skill is one thing, but skill vs chance is really something else entirely. A board game like Risk has no concept of "character skill", but it still includes the element of chance, and as a result has more replay value than a game of pure skill such as chess or draughts IMO.

This isn't such an issue as the complexity of the game increases - Counterstrike is purely skill based (unless you include short-term advancement such as buying weapons and armour), yet even a highly skilled player can be taken down by multiple opponents, or a sniper who happens to be in the right place at the right time, etc. However even then you'll have a lot of players who will always be fodder. Whether or not this fits the design really depends on what sort of game you're trying to develop.
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