Balancing Roles Matters Just As Much As Balancing Classes

Though I haven’t been commenting and publicly hanging on every announcement made by the team at CSE, I have been following Camelot Unchained rather closely over the past year. My inbox is constantly blowing up with an evening update, an alpha test announcement (which by the way are always so last minute or during horrible times for me… come on Mark!), or a newsletter from the team. I think they’re making what looks to be fine progress on the upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG.

The latest newsletter (#19) discusses one item in particular that I think will hit home for a lot of us MMO vets: Balance. CSE is aiming to balance around rock-vs-paper mechanic rather than an apples to apples one. In other words, one class type can bet another class type — or taking it a step further, one class specialized in a certain mechanic can beat another class specialized into a certain mechanic like magic vs plate being strong and physical vs plate being weak.

This rock-vs-paper idea isn’t original — it’s been around forever. Even Dark Age of Camelot utilized the system. What’s also not unique is how difficult the idea of balance can truly be, and no matter how hard anyone has ever tried to create the perfect scenario, it never works that way. Paper doesn’t always beat rock in MMORPGs… and perhaps it shouldn’t be a hard counter. The idea of a perfect counter doesn’t exist, and that’s honestly part of the fun. I have no doubt CSE is well aware.

Taking things a little bit further out of the nitty-gritty mechanics side of this conversation, I like the concept of filling a role. When I say filling a role, in this context we can consider a role as a counter or a necessity — or both.  I’ll dumb it down. I used to really, really like the idea of being the guy who killed archers on the walls of a keep. Those archers were countering melee who would run up to the doors, and to counter them I had to sneak into the keep and take them out.

I like to imagine a PvP world where players will say willing specialize to fill roles. If people are going to carry a battering ram, who is going to hold the shield above them to protect them from arrows? Who is going to repair that door? Who is going to protect the people repairing the door? There are so many complexities when you take a PvP game’s balance outside of “my class heals and your class shoots stuff.”

Balancing ROLES to me is just as important as balancing the mechanics of blunt damage vs. plate armor. Without a balance of roles we are left with a very sterile system where we just worry about what class we’re up against or what weapon they are using rather than how they are playing. Balancing classes around roles becomes even more complicated than simply balancing roles against roles.

The “HOW is my enemy going to defeat me this time” is something I want to see balanced around. It may seem obvious, but that’s where most of these PvP games fail even harder than class balance.

More Thoughts On Super Mario Maker

I wrote my Super Mario Maker review last week, and after seeing the public’s thoughts on the game, as well as a comment I received, I think it’s necessary to continue the dialogue.

what-not-in-super-mario-maker

Click to enlarge

Super Mario Maker truly is the first of its kind. Does it have its problems? Actually, very few of what I would consider actual problems. The ‘issues’ are all in what Super Mario Maker does not include. I found the image to the right (I do not know who gets credit for it) that nicely illustrates what’s missing.

Yeah, having those things would be nice. I spoke about that in my review. I want different biomes. I want slopes. The missing suits and even items which introduce major mechanics would be great too. Those things can be added in a patch/dlc.

There are bigger issues here with which I do agree.

No Map Maker in Super Mario Maker

No World or Map Maker

Here’s where most people get hung up: You can’t actually make a full Mario game in Super Mario Maker. You can’t make a world. You can’t make a map. Super Mario Maker is about making levels or courses. It’s about sharing those courses with people online and with friends. You download courses and rate them, discuss them, etc. People have taken to themes whether they be levels that are zany and play themselves, or creating the most ridiculously impossible course ever.

Yeah, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could make our own map and set up a series of levels? I’d love to theme a world and connect everything together. Lives right now don’t matter unless you play 100 Mario Mode. Fighting a boss is silly because it’s not really a boss of anything. There’s not progression. But again, that’s not Super Mario Maker’s fault.

However, the framework is already there for this to be a feature. When saving a level you can choose to save it to a world. Right now those worlds serve no purpose. Could this be a feature coming soon?

Lack of Purpose

This was alluded to a moment ago when I talked about lives not mattering and bosses serving no purpose. There is a distinct lack of “I should be checking these ?-blocks!” If you die it doesn’t matter. Coins don’t matter. Storing items doesn’t matter. If you die you just start over.

This is Not the Game You’re Looking For…

While I agree completely with all of the above, technically that’s not the fault of the game or its developers. They made a fantastic game within a tool, and a rather innovative new one at that. Super Mario Maker is a course maker using the items available. The point is sharing what you make with others in bite-sized pieces. With what we have been given, this is revolutionary.

I personally want the tools to make a Mario 64 or even a Super Mario 3D World level. How amazing would that be?!

It’s hard to ding a game for being completely new but not going the extra mile that we can only see now that we have this new thing in our hands. That’s why I think Super Mario Maker deserves the near-perfect score I gave it.  Now, if Nintendo launches Super Mario Maker 2 and adds nothing upon this model… then we have a lot to complain about.

I think this is only the beginning for this model. I predict Nintendo will run with this idea and create a Mario Kart variation, as well as a version to introduce Mario 64 / the 3D model. This has generated an enormous amount of buzz for them around something that has been out for 30 years… it’s incredible.

Bring the Player Not the Class

For a while, Blizzard followed a “bring the player not the class” mantra… or tried. Now whether or not they actually stick to this isn’t really what I want to debate. My big question here is why can’t it be both? Why can’t we look to the person who plays their class best AND plays a class that brings something interesting, unique, and needed to a group or raid?

I believe that every class should offer something useful and be so different from the other classes that you can’t so easily bring one over the other. I want to make a distinction here that I’m not saying every class should be mandatory. I’m saying that no class should be at a distinct advantage, and no class should be unwanted. If two DPS classes are both LFG, one should not be at a disadvantage because their DPS is inherently inferior and they offer nothing else to a group but their raw damage output.

Similarly, I don’t think that every class should be an easy ‘push a button and win’ combination. If Rogues are the “best melee DPS”, not every Rogue should be the top DPS. If Clerics offer the best direct heals, not every Cleric should immediately be the best healer just because they play a Cleric.

And lastly, no one class should be able to do everything.  Duh [At least you’d think so.]  Homogenization is a detriment to fun.

TLDR: Balance the classes, please. And while you’re at it let truly skilled players stand out above the rest. Bring the player, AND bring the class, for the RIGHT reasons.

 

The MMO Genre Needs to Shrink

MMO Population Shrinking

Piggybacking on yesterday’s post about classifying games correctly as MMOs or not, the MMO genre exploded around the time on World of Warcraft. MMOs grew so big and so fast that the industry simply was/is unable to support the growth. Contributing in a large way to this perceived growth was the illegitimate use of the term “MMO” being thrown onto any game that happened to be multiplayer. This continued for nearly a decade leaving us with a huge ill-defined mess.

Now things are starting to settle down, realization is setting in, and developers are realizing they can not only make different types of games again (dare I say innovate?) and not have to attach (wrong) labels to sell.

The MMO genre is once again shrinking back down — slowly — to its proper size. MMOs were never meant to be an all-inclusive phenomenon. By their very nature, MMOs are exclusive to a smaller/focused interest group, and we have all witnessed what happens when they mutate to become something that tries to accommodate everyone. Putting this bluntly, there aren’t enough talented developers to go around to support the number of players wanting this many diverse types of impossible designs. Occasionally we see breakthroughs in design, but those moments are rare. Tech advances have been made, but those I attribute to games in general and not exclusively to MMO design.

We’ve ended up with me-too products from second-rate designers and business people driving the ship. Success has shifted away from providing a unique world capturing the hearts and minds of the players into forecasting business models and trying to figure out how to harvest the most fat possible from the fewest number of whales. Plans to keep people playing as long as possible have been swapped out with exit strategies and converting business models to scrap the bottom of the barrel.

This genre needs to shrink and regain just a little bit of its obscurity and niche status again. The greatest advances ever made were done by small teams on niche games with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Would I love it if the genre could still produce games like Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, The Realm, etc., and still be the size it is today? Of course, but that isn’t possible. People have to stop wanting the “AAA” (I use quotes because the term AAA has become a joke) bloat, and to do that we have to shrink down to the point where we stop being inundated with them. The sentiment is often thrown around that back in the day people had fewer choices, so each game did well. There’s an element of truth to that, but at the same time each game was unique and provided something entirely new; We can’t even come close to that today.

I think I can speak for everyone by saying that we just want fun games to play. As the MMO genre continues to shrink (and it is — slowly), different types of games will be made (and they are). A more focused MMO genre means the opportunity for better MMOs and a more diverse overall gaming industry. That means more fun for everyone.

 

Designing the Right MMO for the Right Audience

The recent news of Smed being let go lured Brad McQuaid out to drum up a little bit of noteworthy conversation. Brad wrote a few articles on his Pantheon blog (one of which he cut and paste in the comments of my Smed post) that I think are definitely worth a read.

The gist of his sudden onset of hypergraphia boils down to the very debate I have been having on this blog for the past 8 years: There are still people like me out there who want to play the same kinds of games we used to play, and our interests or tastes in MMOs haven’t changed. We aren’t too small to matter.

Brad summed up part of the problem:

Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the ‘old school’ games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive.  There’s nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete.  Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.

I will disagree with Brad about there being nothing to prove. If there were nothing to prove then we would have MMOs being developed to match his solution (see quote coming up below). At every turn we are seeing MMOs come and go, and every time a game fails it’s because “that kind of game isn’t wanted anymore” or “people have changed.”

The problem rests with taking a business model that worked with one design targeted at a specific type of players and applying the same business model to a completely different design aimed at trying to target all sorts of different players.

The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences.  Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content.  Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it.

That is the key right there, and that is what players like me have been trying to prove.  I’m not one of the people saying that MMOs were better and every MMO should be like the old MMOs. While I do believe that older MMOs were better, I also believe that newer MMOs offer something that tons of people enjoy.

For example, if you enjoy SWTOR or WildStar then more power to you. A game like SWTOR or WildStar exist for people who want a game like SWTOR or WildStar. To say that because these two games “failed” means that MMOs are unwanted, or that the model/design these games originally tried to follow is obsolete, is unequivocally false. I’ll refer you to my comment above about using the wrong business model and wrong design for the wrong audience.

MMOs of all types should absolutely exist. And there IS a battle to be fought here for fair representation in the marketplace. Those wanting a group-centric social virtual world with devoted crafters and some edge of difficulty shouldn’t be relegated to failed Kickstarters and small teams with barely enough funds to hire decent artists. Similarly, those wanting a themepark or something more arcade-like shouldn’t be stuck with the McMMO budget games run by poor leadership destined to go F2P.