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TOPIC: Being unique in MMORPGS part 1 - How important is it for you?

Kaerwin

Member
I don't think I'm making assumptions because every single learning by doing system with a skill sum cap I can think of gives people both options and they overwhelmingly pick pinning their skills over perpetual drift. I think there is no reason to assume that they would be happier if their preferred option was removed.
I think you need to be careful about what you infer from people's choices. If a game allows players to take short-cuts, everyone will choose to take them because why wouldn't you? But a game that doesn't allow players to take short-cuts may well be regarded as a more challenging game, and be more popular in the long run as a result.
I like it when characters have some significant abilities that are exclusive to others. Especially when it comes to archetypal stuff.
I don't, because it's not realistic. In the real world, there is no skill that is inaccessible to me simply because I have learned some other skill. And in the real world, there are no archetypes - everyone has a varied and unique skill set. Having said that, I like the idea of characters being more effective if they focus on a subset of the available skills than if they try to do everything, and the idea that some combinations of skills work together particularly badly because they benefit from diametrically-opposed character traits.
 

Aetrion

Member
I think you need to be careful about what you infer from people's choices. If a game allows players to take short-cuts, everyone will choose to take them because why wouldn't you? But a game that doesn't allow players to take short-cuts may well be regarded as a more challenging game, and be more popular in the long run as a result.

Being able to build your character the way you want is not a shortcut, it's a core feature of the genre.

Don't act like I'm recklessly jumping to conclusions about what people like when I point to hundreds of commercially successful games spanning five decades and say that the way they are doing it seems to resonate with people.

Acting like we can't possibly know if your way wouldn't be more popular because no successful games do things that way is sort of like saying we can't know that bigfoot isn't real just because nobody has ever captured one. Technically correct. You can't prove a negative. However, while something that has failed to prove positive in all known cases is not proven impossible, it is certainly proven extremely improbable.

I don't, because it's not realistic. In the real world, there is no skill that is inaccessible to me simply because I have learned some other skill.

The reason it's not realistic is because the game simulates the effect of limited time to learn things in people's lives without actually probing the limits of their time. It's called humane design.
 

Kaerwin

Member
Being able to build your character the way you want is not a shortcut, it's a core feature of the genre.
I proposed a 'you are what you do' game system in which maintaining a chosen character build requires you to manage the activities you perform in the game. You proposed allowing players to pin the skills they don't wish to improve, which achieves the same outcome with less effort on the part of the player. That's pretty much the definition of a shortcut.

If Ronnie O'Sullivan wants to remain a world-class snooker player, he has to devote a large fraction of his life to practising snooker. He can't just attain a high level of skill and then pin it at that level while he does other things. That would be a shortcut.

Acting like we can't possibly know if your way wouldn't be more popular because no successful games do things that way [...]
As I have already said: every game has rules that make it harder for players to achieve the goal of the game, and players like it that way because it makes the game more challenging. Basically, no successful games don't do things that way.

the game simulates the effect of limited time to learn things in people's lives
So does 'you are what you do'. The more you do one thing, the less you are doing other things. I have no objection to the idea that you can't be good at everything - in fact, that idea was the main motivation behind the core mechanic of 'you are what you do', which is that gaining competence in one skill causes you to lose competence in every other skill. My objection is to arbitrary restrictions - the idea that it's utterly impossible to learn (for example) how to fight with an axe if you also know how to pick locks. I know how to sail a yacht, but that didn't stop me from learning calligraphy.
 

Aetrion

Member
I proposed a 'you are what you do' game system in which maintaining a chosen character build requires you to manage the activities you perform in the game. You proposed allowing players to pin the skills they don't wish to improve, which achieves the same outcome with less effort on the part of the player. That's pretty much the definition of a shortcut.

Your entire premise of "this requires effort" is wrong though. What you're asking for from players isn't effort, you're simply punishing them for organically engaging with the content.

Let's say there is a block skill in the game. You can hold block to reduce incoming damage until your party can help you out. You improve that skill by blocking. The skill is useful and usable even without any points invested in it (no binary skills), but gets more powerful as you level it up.

In a system where people can raise block to the desired level and then pin it they can decide how good their character is supposed to be at blocking, invest an appropriate amount of time into training themselves to do it, and then use their blocking ability when it's needed.

In your proposed system on the other hand people can't use block whenever it's appropriate, because it causes their skills to drift. If you're running a character with the minimum blocking skill and you happen to be in a party that's a little chaotic or fighting monsters that are hard to control the game now punishes you for blocking by introducing a chance of your specialist skills being shaved if you don't take the hits to the face. If you're a character that is supposed to have a very high blocking skill and you're in a party with a second tank, or fighting monsters that are simply not very strong you're now suffering a chance of losing blocking skill just because you're in a situation where you're not relying on it. If you have some points left over and you decide "I'll just grab blocking at about half of its maximum level" you can't do that either with your system. Over a long enough period of time you'll have to decide whether or not to use block in response to whether or not its currently higher than your desired level, not in response to whether or not a monster is hitting you, or it will not stay at around half of its maximum value.

Someone going "Uh oh, my block skill has gone up to 51, so I'll just have to let myself get hit until it's down to at least 49" is not a demonstration of effort, it's simply the game being stupid.

You're in full on contradiction to your own statement of not liking binary abilities because you want a system that forces people to treat abilities as though they are binary, even if they aren't unless they want their character to become a complete unfocused hodgepodge of skills. The choice to use any given ability should never be determined by whether or not the skill is currently higher or lower than your desired level in it.

As I have already said: every game has rules that make it harder for players to achieve the goal of the game, and players like it that way because it makes the game more challenging. Basically, no successful games don't do things that way.

Not everything that makes a game more difficult is good design though. A challenge is a difficulty you can become good at overcoming. If the way you deal with a difficulty is enacting obvious and simple steps then it isn't a challenge, it's a chore. The system you're proposing is a chore, not a challenge. There is no way to get good at managing your build in it, the game simply tells you what skills you're not allowed to use if you don't want them to start eating into your build.

I know how to sail a yacht, but that didn't stop me from learning calligraphy.
The problem is that your system would make it so that if you have absolutely no interest in mastering calligraphy, but hand write an important letter to someone there is a chance that you'll forget how to trim a sail, and the only way to avoid that is to never touch a pen.
 

Kaerwin

Member
I think we're going to have to agree to disagree. Yes, It's true that the 'you are what you do' system will cause your skills to diverge from your desired build if you don't use them in proportion to your desired build. The difference between you and me is that you think that's a problem, and I don't. I think it's completely reasonable and realistic that you'll get better at the things you use more, and worse at the things you use less, however much you may wish that isn't the case. What I'm saying is that, in life, you don't get the outcome you want just by wanting it - you have to do what's necessary to make it happen.

Having said that, I'll admit that there's an obvious way for a character to maintain a skill at a level higher than could be achieved by adventure experience alone: practise it during the down-time between adventures. That's exactly what a warrior would do if he knows he won't have to block very often, but wants to be good at it when the need arises. However, we don't want to force players to spend hours just practising things - that may be realistic, and be what their character is doing, but it's not fun. So here's an idea: you can nominate some of your skills as focussed skills; these are the ones your character is assumed to practise (off-camera) between adventures. Focussed skills count, for the purpose of experience, as having been used more (perhaps twice as much) as they were actually used on an adventure, meaning that you could maintain those skills at a level considerably higher than would otherwise be the case. Obviously there would be a limit to the fraction of your skills you could focus; this would be expressed in skill levels rather than just number of skills (so you could focus a few of your best skills or many of your worst).
 

Aetrion

Member
The really big issue with your system is that it gives people trouble if they want to be bad or mediocre at something. If you want to be bad at something you simply can't use it at all without creating skill shifts, and if you want to be mediocre at something you have to intentionally pause using it when you get too good at it.

Let's say you have a fighter who just wants to have the ability to bandage his wounds after a fight, so he just learns how to wrap a bandage properly and uses that ability all the time. In your system this is now a constant source of skill drift that tries to take the fighter away from being good with his weapon and shift him toward being a doctor. He has no interest in learning to be a surgeon, he's not investing any time or money in training to be a healer, he's not even interested in healing other people, but he has to now constantly make sure that he doesn't accidentally get too good at bandaging his own wounds after a fight.

How about this: There are plenty of people who often cook their own meals, but simply aren't interested in becoming a good cook. They frequently cook, but they never buy fresh ingredients, they avoid recipes that have steps you can easily screw up or require prep, they heat everything as fast as possible instead of ever using lower heat, they don't care in what order ingredients are mixed together etc. On the other hand there are people who rarely have time to cook for themselves, but who try out difficult recipes, buy good ingredients, and really take their time to try and create a great meal.

There are millions of people who spend two hours or more every day driving a car, but despite racking up thousands of hours behind the wheel over the years they will never be a racecar driver or be able to drift around corners or anything like that, because if you never try to race or drift you simply don't learn how to do it, and they decided they don't need to know those things so their driving skills don't improve past basic competency despite getting plenty of practice.

There are plenty of examples in reality where people let their skill at something plateau despite using it all the time.
 

Kaerwin

Member
The really big issue with your system is that it gives people trouble if they want to be bad or mediocre at something. If you want to be bad at something you simply can't use it at all without creating skill shifts, and if you want to be mediocre at something you have to intentionally pause using it when you get too good at it.
You're grossly overstating the case here - accidentally learning something you don't want is a long way from being the end of the world. Yes, using a skill will increase your level in it, but using any other skill (which you'll do a LOT) will decrease your level in it. On balance, your level in a skill will increase only if that skill's proportion of all your experience-earning activity is greater than that skill's proportion of your skill level total. And even if it does increase, that will cause your other skills to decrease by the same amount in total; as that's spread over all your other skills, each one will decrease by only a fraction of that amount. Finally, your skill levels converge asymptotically towards your activity levels, so they will move very slowly if they don't differ by much.
Let's say you have a fighter who just wants to have the ability to bandage his wounds after a fight, so he just learns how to wrap a bandage properly and uses that ability all the time. In your system this is now a constant source of skill drift that tries to take the fighter away from being good with his weapon and shift him toward being a doctor. He has no interest in learning to be a surgeon, he's not investing any time or money in training to be a healer, he's not even interested in healing other people, but he has to now constantly make sure that he doesn't accidentally get too good at bandaging his own wounds after a fight.
OK, I agree that this is a good argument - there's a difference between using a skill and making a serious effort to improve it. But even if you're not learning advanced techniques, you're still becoming more competent at the basic techniques, ie less likely to mess them up. Also, if basic techniques are all you ever do with a skill, then you won't gain much experience in that skill (assuming the experience system is well designed - doing things that are hard should obviously teach you more than doing things that are easy).

If this character has no interest in learning to be a surgeon, then he will have chosen to Focus other skills instead of first aid, which means that those other skills will count as having been used more than they actually were, which means the amount by which they will decrease his skill in first aid will be magnified. If he's not investing any time or money in training to be a healer, then any skill increases he obtains from sources other than adventure experience (such as training received as a quest reward) will be put into skills other than first aid, and will also cause his first aid skill to decrease. Add all this up, and he could quite easily maintain his first aid skill at a level that's maybe half of the level that reflects the proportion of time he spends using it. I'm entirely comfortable with that being the minimum that's achievable. You are what you do; if you don't like what you are, don't do what you do.
 

AdricLives

Well-Known Member
Stormhaven Studios
Interesting discussion. UO with it's use based progression system had you toggle skills locked, up, or down depending on what you wanted, default I believe was all skills up (until you hit a skill cap). Once you hit a cap you could toggle skills to what you desired to fine-tune your character. I'll circle back on this...

You could think of a skill being broken into two parts, one part usability and one part expertise. Like yes you learn to cook as usability but must train and practice beyond that to become a chef and no amount of just cooking at that point will push your skills higher. Ideally you could max usability for any skill, but only have expertise a handful.

this would allow for no skills to be accidentally decreased due to lack of use since you are opting in to train thoughtfully for expertise. But how do you make a digital abstraction to differentiate usability and expertise? At a high level it's the toggle. It's never explicit, and it can be dressed up a bit better, but I think it could be a good balance to let people do anything but still keep skill caps.
 

Aetrion

Member
You're grossly overstating the case here - accidentally learning something you don't want is a long way from being the end of the world.

If it's harder to gain high levels in skills than low levels, but the number of skill levels you can have total is fixed you will see low skills eating into high skills very aggressively to the point where you basically can't use them at all.

If you try to maintain a skill somewhere in the middle of its total range you'll also constantly enter periods of time where you either can't use the skill at all or where you have to use it more than necessary to keep it in place, because the likelyhood that your natural play somehow catches the perfect sweet spot for maintaining it at the level you want is infinitesimally small.

I'm just not seeing how you could ever figure out the math on a system to such a degree that maintaining a build will ever happen naturally, and doesn't require ignoring skills or going through periods of intentionally under or overusing them.

The very nature of allowing people to make their own builds and develop their own play style implies a degree of uncertainty what people will use and how often. You're simply not going to be able to design a system that feels natural for everyone.

Even just figuring out how the gain rate on swordsmanship compares to the gain rate on healing in such a way that it feels equivalent for everyone is basically impossible. You can quantify how much swordfighting a player has done by counting the kills or damage they have done with swords. That's easy to make the same for everyone. Healing on the other hand is reactive. You can't know how much healing different players have to do fighting the exact same monsters. On top of that the more skilled a player is the less healing the system registers from them.

So even a simple "gain on use" system already has an inherent bias. By the time a skilled player runs into a monster they can't defeat without significant healing they are at a disadvantage, because despite doing all the same work to get to that point they didn't do as much healing, so they didn't gain as much healing skill. That's why awarding character advancement by XP is a popular way to normalize progression. It's agnostic to what the player used to achieve the result, it simply translates work done to reward earned.

You can't create a system that dials in characters proportional to skill usage, because you can't even create a system that can guarantee a fair gain rate for every player. Any player that falls outside of your prediction is just going to have to play in an unintuitive and roundabout way to deal with your hostile design, instead of simply being able to enjoy themselves, or actually feeling like they are getting rewarded for playing well.