Have a Little Class with Design

Previously, I entered the blog foray with an assertion that collective challenges can be dynamic, and this sense of dynamic content can be both shared, and build off of, individual dynamic content. Synergy. Diving deeper…

In order to define dynamic content within a group, identities need to be defined. It all comes back to classes, to roles, to niches. In the simplest way I can describe: 

[Online especially] Games need to be built in a manner that allows people to fill a niche. This is best achieved through avatars based on class. Develop the class that speaks to a playstyle and can perform needed roles within the context of the game.

Don’t Tell Me What I Can and Cannot Do

I’ve heard it, I can respect it, but I also can’t buy it: some people prefer classless games, giving the possibility to the gamer in defining themselves based on their interests. This prevents being pigeonholed into a certain task and/or unable to perform another of interest. I can appreciate it’s a design point, but one better suited to a game whereby the gamer is the main, and only, participant.

The second multiple parties are introduced, so too are differing viewpoints. My desire to perform as an XYZ might be inhibited by anothers, and vice versa. Context, limitations, are therefor a requirement. A small barrier of entry involving choice- a necessary evil. We do not gravitate to more structure, we gravitate into chaos. Therefor, design with order in mind- disorder will naturally occur.

My Toy Can Beat Your Toy Up

We might establish a better understanding through metaphors. I submit an avatar is like a vehicle, and content is like the terrain. If I want challenging content, I might describe the terrain as rocky. If I want to tackle the content, it will be in my best interest to have a wide wheelbase. These individual points of contact act in harmony to achieve a single goal, but the wide wheelbase indicates specialization. The further from the center, the more specialized.

Applied to group context, we see the need for specialization. The beauty of class-based designs is that they discourage the entropy of people wandering into chaos from defined nature. Done properly, they allow this to occur for those who want the middle area, but also allow even further specialization, or mix-and-matching.

Lucky Number ’3′

Quick read on trinity assertion. What this doesn’t fix, however, is the inherent need for solo viability. If I have nothing but purebreds, I have complete ineptitude when it comes to doing anything. I need to be able to do at least some of the other two basic combat tasks.

Here are the basic combat roles in picture form. Consider that the area covered by each section is the conglomeration of abilities that might achieve the goals of tanks, healing, or damaging. Direct abilities, over-time abilities, area abilities etc.

Consider that the area covered by a ‘class’ is the amount of the given role they are able to perform through various abilities: more tools, varying tools, at the disposal proportional to the area covered.

The rock. The only thing he can do is take a beating.
The glass-cannon. The only thing he can do is dish.
The healbot. The only thing he can do is regen.

The problem with these systems is they promote the ultimate in group stability, but the worst in solo viability. So how does one design a system that allows for both? Place the limitations on a class that their ‘center of mass’ must remain within a given role’s boundaries.

A real tank might look something like this. They can do as much damage as they need to effectively be a threat, while focusing on being able to defend against oncoming hostilities.

A real healer might look something like this. They can take a hit or two before keeling over, and they can go out and get things done for themselves when no one else is around. But their forte lies in their ability to deal with health deltas.

A true hybrid. Any class could be made to occupy this position when approaching from their camp.

Expanding the Concept

In the examples above, I show the most basic combat roles and the solutions that might be attributed to them. But through no stretch of the imagination should one be limited to the most basic design! It is possible to build a need, a niche, for an ‘interupting’ role, a ‘control’ role, a ‘buffing’ role, a ‘debuffing’ role etc. etc. into the design of a game that calls for these to be filled. The simpleton 2D design listing the 3 trinity roles has been shown, but how about we add another role and another dimension? Here is what the design axes for a 4role system might show:

Quickly, things become complicated. And the aforementioned roles could quickly take design into 4D, 5D, 6D etc. But the system concept still applies, even if the human mind is grounded in thinking in 3D only. Back to these axes: one might place the basic 3 along with control, if the overarching game called for that as a fourth, defined role:

The goal is to keep the center-mass along an axis, while allowing the shape of the space to expand onto other axes. The center is always an option, but I can only do so much as an individual. I must pick my sphere of influence.

Sliding into the Finish

Building a system that promotes inherent specialization while allowing the player to choose between complete soloability or ultimate group contribution. Keep the center-mass of a class aligned with a role, but allow more branching-out options into other roles, the closer the gamer feels like approaching their avatar to vanilla-center. Maybe you limit how close an intended specialist can come to center. Maybe you limit how far an intended hybrid can stray. Maybe you rig which axes are adjacent to the present axis of design (for hybridization options). Maybe you don’t, and allow the players to define all that themselves.

But what you do, is you develop the structure a playerbase needs to be successful in a solo vs. group context.

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About Ahtchu

Jock. Nerd. Holistic. Game theoretician. Can recite the alphabet backwards.
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4 Responses to Have a Little Class with Design

  1. Aidrana says:

    Hello!I've been looking around your site and came across this post. I agree that adding a fourth role (control) makes things much more complex, but it is a much richer experience.I've played EVE Online and it operates on a similar design you have described with four roles. You have the enormous tanking ships taking the brunt of damage in a battle with hundreds of other ships shooting at them. There are ships designed to help shield/repair (healers) and people run those to ensure survivability for everyone in a battle. Then you have the damage ships that go all out with guns blazing at the enemy ships. Control ships exist to harass, slow and stun ships- their usefulness is indispensable and you will always find one in a battle, no matter how small it might be. EVE Online is an interesting game that is successful in incorporating a fourth role. I think you would be interested in reading a little about it and look at how they have designed the game. I do have to point out that everything that drives this game is the human force behind it. It is quite different from something like WoW.Another game, Rift also comes to mind. The idea of having a fourth role is also seen in Rift, another MMO that's similar to WoW. The fourth role also acts as a support role as well, acting as a buffer, crowd controller or assisting in healing/tanking on a whim. It's fascinating and it is certainly not a new concept.Great post :)

  2. Ahtchu says:

    Thanks for the comment Aidrana. Glad you approve!I've friends who play EVE but the lack of avatars or human icons was a turn off for long term game commitment. I am familiar with the overarching themes and mechanics, but the more nitty gritty as you mention here regarding combat mechanics is news. Thanks for the enlightenment.I hadn't thought of RIFT when making this post. I try to orient my thought process to universal design, using present games as a launching pad but nothing more. You are correct, and in the short time I played RIFT there was still a utility (control) element at play. Refreshing indeed!Perhaps I should take the time to draft a 'what if I had 100m' post with regards to combat design in an MMORPG. Another notch for ye ol' 'To-Do' List.

  3. Unknown says:

    You're welcome!I understand that you write about MMOs in that context. But sometimes, for simpler people (like me, ha ha!), it also helps to provide examples of existing MMOs using the design models you are describing in your posts.I have played enough games to understand the subtle differences between them. I am able to relate to this post about fourth roles because I have played games that use this model, like EVE Online and Rift. It is a humble suggestion that people may be able to better relate to what you are discussing.Yes! I would be very interested in hearing what if you had that much money and decided to make a MMO. Discuss combat mechanics, gear distribution, and how you would incorporate hybrids vs purebloods in your game. It's worthy a thoughtful post on for someone so interested in this aspect of games.

  4. Ahtchu says:

    I can appreciate that examples make things easier to understand, as it provides a reference that both reader and writer can relate to. The thing being, I try to keep my views uncolored by naming names unless it's an absolute stand-alone in execution. I feel, albeit it surely being unpopular, that staying vanilla is best when examining systems of play, because it allows one to think forwards, rather than referring constantly to the present or past. I recognize this way of writing will be a turnoff to many readers who as you state, prefer simpler considerations. Nothing wrong with either route!I appreciate the vote of confidence regarding a manifesto. Lately there has been one of interest worth reading, and might spawn some introspection:http://www.manaobscura.com/2011/12/05/my-mmo-manifesto/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ManaObscura+%28Mana+Obscura%29

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