The Support Role

Some of my fondest MMORPG memories came from playing a support role. Today’s MMO’ers can’t fully appreciate what it actually means to be a support class — most probably think it means healing. Today’s MMOs focus squarely on everyone being a DPS class. Even the “holy trinity” is being done away with, and by “holy trinity” I mean the modern version which did away with the original true Tank, Heals, and Crowd Control trinity. Everyone just smacks the mob until it dies and rolls out of the way of telescoping red lines and calls it a ‘group’.

Support classes usually had one role in the group: Make everyone else better. This wasn’t the easiest role to take on for many reasons. It’s difficult to be the class that doesn’t actively do something like do the most damage or ensure no one else gets hit. Often the support role is under-appreciated by ignorant players, and it can be a thankless job — even more so than healing.

Some of my fondest memories are playing an Aug Shaman in Dark Age of Camelot. My buffs were so dang good that people wanted me in their group and were willing to have me take up a slot just to give those buffs and very little else. I felt extremely important, especially when downtime used to be a real thing. What’s downtime? Perhaps that’s best left for a post unto itself, but suffice it to say downtime was when the group had to wait and do nothing to regain mana, stamina, or health.

Support roles could also be a little more dynamic, but that often meant being a ‘jack of all trades’ and doing lots of things decently but nothing good or great. I’m thinking back to my year playing a full-time Druid in EverQuest. They could heal and dps along with others (not great but helpful) but they could also root, snare, debuff, pull decently, and buff.

I’ll even go as far as including the EQ Enchanter as a support role. Although capable of incredible DPS when played by an expert in the right situation, the Enchanter was best known for two things: Crack and Mez. Again, probably meaningless to the modern generation. Crack was a buff called Clarity that would greatly enhance mana regeneration. Mez was a spell that rendered enemies incapable of moving or attacking as long as they were not damaged — essentially allowing your group to fight multiple monsters at once while only technically having one enemy active.

Support roles were done away with over the years because specialization has been done away with and seen as a weakness. Players used to pick a class that was really good at one thing, and that one thing wasn’t just  broad “DPS” or “tanking”.  Classes used to be very, very specific and known for anything from being the class that can mez to the class that can pull (I realize even “pulling” is now a foreign concept).

Now everyone needs to be able to DPS, take a hit, do some sort of self-healing, have a buff that falls into a category of buffs, and wear bitchin’ gear. There’s this idea out there that ‘If I can’t do it all then I’m being gypped and robbed of my fun!’ Lots of entitlement running rampant.


Camelot Unchained Class Q&A with Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs and the team working on Camelot Unchained have released their very first class design document. This information comes as part of their goal to have a transparent design and development process. With this first class document — The Viking Warrior Class (Drengr) — comes information on a major part of the class system called Paths.

We were able to ask Mark a few questions about the design document. As always, the questions we ask when we interview a dev (even a friend like Mark) are the ones we want answered most — even if it means throwing a few tough ones in there — and the questions we feel our readers care about. If you have additional questions for Mark please feel free to leave a comment. He reads what you have to say and might even comment himself.

Keen: In the Path system you have stated that going down a ‘path’ unlocks ‘achievements’ and that they are entirely (or majorly) cosmetic type stuff. To be 100% clear for our readers, is it right then to assume that choosing a Path is not a means to unlock new abilities like Thor’s Lighting Smash Attack, but instead would be something more like ‘because you use crushing attacks you now glow purple and red with lightning and blood’?

Mark Jacobs: That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work! You just explained it better than I did the first time, when we presented the document to our Internal Testers for their initial review.

Keen: The path system seems like a clever way of disguising levels. “Looking for a Drengr with x Thor milestones” sounds like a spiced up way of saying, “Looking for a level X warrior with DPS spec”. I know that I have oversimplified this for the sake of asking this question, but is this the overall intention of the path system — to create a means of giving players a way of stating what kind of character they have built?

Mark Jacobs: Once again, you are correct, but with one slight modification. Since we don’t really have a vertical leveling system, but rather a horizontal one, I would describe it more like “Looking for a DPS warrior who has unlocked Thor’s Lightning Smash Attack, Mjolnir’s Revenge, Goldilocks for the Win! (just kidding), etc. With the Path system, identifying yourself when you are LFG becomes just a wee bit easier.

Keen: Path Banes and Boons (PB&B) seem to completely contradict the idea that a path does not unlock talents or skills, etc — especially if non-optional. It’s one thing to use a hammer and get better with a hammer, but another to use a hammer with the intent to unlock PB&B’s. Can you clarify how these banes and boons can exist within this path system and not play a major (if not complete) role in the choice?

Mark Jacobs: That was one of the points I discussed with the IT folks on our Forums. Now, if those B&B unlocks could be achieved by non-Path players, it works out fine. In that case, the B&Bs would be tied to amount of time in-game, power, or some other condition(s) that would track across all Paths. But, as you say, if the B&Bs are tied solely to progression along the Path, that might be a problem. That’s one of the reasons my initial thought was to have these B&Bs open to all Drengr, and not tied only to Path progression. This is definitely one of those points that we are going to be in deep discussion internally as well as with our Backers over the next few months and beyond.

Keen: There seems to be a lot of progression elements for the player to focus on: Weapon choice, skill usage, skill crafting, runes, banes, boons, potential skill degradation, bonding, stats, and now paths. (Did I miss anything?) Are paths meant to be a way of organizing all of these things to give the ‘general populous’ their path of least resistance to a play style by providing a common denominator?

Mark Jacobs: That’s the beauty of the horizontal system we are trying to build here. We can’t rely on the traditional verticality of leveling systems to give the players more and more powerful stuff as they progress in the game. OTOH, if we have a lot of different ways that players can progress, we can always keep adding small things to the game without breaking Rule #1 for Camelot Unchained, which is that new players have to be able to be competitive in RvR from day one.

As far as them being a path of least resistance, I would agree, but not just for the general populace. If we can create really cool and interesting classes and Paths, then even some harder-core players might be immediately attracted to one or more of them. With the mostly open-ended nature of the class/Paths, they could start their adventures in our game focused on one Path, and then tweak their build as time goes by.

Keen: I can’t help but think of old school Ultima Online here. You have a skill cap of sorts with the potential to choose any combination of skills. You can max out a few or dabble in several to build whatever type of character you want. Back in the day, players used to give names to certain combinations of skill point allocations: Dexxers, Hally Mages, etc. Despite the fact that non-cookie cutter FOTM builds were great, people seemed to always go for these templates. Are you worried that players will identify too closely with a ‘build’ thus reducing the perceived ‘openness’ of Camelot Unchained’s character system?

Mark Jacobs: I hope not. The fact that we will not have cheap and easy respecs will certainly limit the FOTM builds, but as you point out, that’s not the only possible problem. I do think that some players will perceive certain builds as being “the” build for certain situations, but if we have enough Components in the game, and in turn enough varied and distinct abilities, that won’t be as much of a problem (we hope). Keep in mind that without PvE, and with large-scale battle and sieges being a huge part of this game, I think it will make choosing the “best build” a bit more difficult. OTOH, if our Backers and players are happy with a “best build” tradition, then that works too.

Keen: Do you hope that most players will use and embrace the path system or create their own sub-class?

Mark Jacobs: A mixture of both would make me very happy. If our Backers and future players think that the Path system and the classes we create are worthwhile, then that alone will mean that we have done a good job. If, after playing the game for a while, we have a mixture of heavily focused class/Path combos as well as player-made combos, and players are happy (as per above), then that would work for us too. As I’ve said since I created my first online game, no matter how smart we think we are, the players will always have their own opinions, and will also be, at times, smarter than us. We just have to try to create a great system, and then react based on what we see, hear, and experience as we and they play the game. That is one of the reasons we are releasing this document now, as well as why we plan on having much longer Alpha and Beta test periods, with a much larger group of Backers/players than most other MMORPGs have.

As always, thanks to Keen and Graev for this interview and support of this and other games I’ve been fortunate enough to work on over the decades.

Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer our questions!

Be sure to read the Viking Warrior Class Design Document for more information.

Character Advancement

I touched briefly on the idea of character advancement in yesterday’s post, and I think it warrants further discussion.  Right now MMOs seem to have one common theme: Pick a class, quest to level, unlock all abilities, then do end-game activities to get loot to make your abilities better.  That’s the gist of character advancement.  If I were responsible for looking at how characters would advance, level up, improve, etc., in a MMO here’s what I would do.


Play-style should radically change based upon one’s chosen profession.  I use the word profession in its truest sense.  Wizards being blacksmiths, blacksmiths being thieves, everyone being everything, it just doesn’t make much sense to me.  Professions require extensive training, prolonged study, and practice.  I like when players need to specialize and choose a path.  Be one thing, and have the game be capable of supporting whatever choice you make by providing a unique and 100% fulfilling experience.


Blacksmiths should become better blacksmiths by making weapons.  Thieves should become better at stealing and moving about undetected by actually trying to do so.  Warriors wanting to increase their strength and skill with a blade should have to go out and slay beasts.  I like when I see that my character has become better at using swords because I have actually used a sword. I’m not a believer in universal advancement or “choose where your point goes” systems.  If you use a sword and gain a level, why should you be able to increase your armor value?  I’m not saying that everything should make perfect and realistic sense — it’s a game after all — but these things are capable of being great gameplay mechanics. [Read more…]

Talk about WildStar!


A few of you have been asking me why I don’t write a lot about WildStar.

Honestly, their marketing team does an amazing job ensuring all of the latest information is presented in an exciting and unique way.  Videos are constantly coming out about new classes, new abilities, features, etc.  Their website is one of the best in terms of functionality and information in the industry.  If you don’t know about WildStar at this point it has to be by choice.  It’s hard for me to write about class announcements.

Let’s talk, though, about some of what we’re seeing publicly shown on the website, streams, etc.  They just ‘announced’ (although it was leaked ages ago) the Medic and Engineer thus rounding out the Team Fortress 2 classes.  Reading through some of the abilities on the website and watching the streams, there appears to be a good variety of abilities.  One of my biggest gripes with the combat gameplay from day one has been the conal/aoe nature of all abilities.  Some people call this stuff “skill shot” — those people play League of Legends — and some people call it spaztactics.

While I’m on the subject of things I dislike, anyone else get really worked up when they see every class being DPS?  Be a Medic and heal or DPS! Be a Tank and tank or DPS!  Be a DPS and.. DPS!  No I’m just kidding, that would be silly. There is no straight DPS class.   All classes are Tanks or Heals, with the option to blow stuff up.  I call it big number syndrome.  A friend of mine has it (hey Eternity, how’s it going?)  He has to be DPS and see big numbers or he’s not happy.  That’s okay when it’s a personal.  When big number syndrome becomes a feature, however, I get grumpy.

WildStar’s presentation rocks.  I think the colorful, zany world they’ve built naturally beckons people to play.  I think what they’re planning for housing sounds great.  Although I hate raiding, I respect they are at least making a freaking decision about raiding instead of hedging — they are going big-time raiding if you didn’t know. PvP also sounds like a lot of fun to jump in and out of defending bases (I hope that’s still a planned feature?).   I also love their business model: Subscription or C.R.E.D.D.  Again, if you need more information their website is fantastic.

Is Keen going to play WildStar?

I don’t know yet.  I think it will largely depend on whether or not I think the game will be yet another 3-monther, and how much the game offers before it turns into a raid-grinder.  I’m really done with games that pretend to be one thing, then transform into what the developers meant the game to be all along when players reach max level.  I would rather the game END when I reach max level and be able to look back and say, “That was an amazing journey.”

Is WildStar going to be the next best thing that revolutionizes the industry?!

Their marketing team will probably shed a tear when I say this, but no it won’t.  SPOILERS!  WildStar is a themepark.  I bet it’s going to be a darn good one, but it’s simply going to maintain the status quo.

Adding Depth to FFXIV’s Class System

final fantasy pupper master

Puppet Masters are second only to the monk in hand to hand fighting. They can specialize their pets to fill various roles.

I’m level 50 in Final Fantasy XIV.  I’ve started the gearing up process, begun leveling other classes, and started to figure out how I am going to make money to survive.  I’m also starting to think of ways I would begin to improve FFXIV if I was in charge of developing the game further.

One of the big changes I would make is to the class system.   I really like how one character can be all of the classes yet feel like I’m on a different character who kept all of the core progress.   I would have made fewer classes and more jobs though.  I think there should have been a lot more branching off early on leading into a lot more customization. For example, all Marauders becoming Warriors is a missed opportunity.  Why can’t Marauders branch off into Beast Master, Samurai, Warrior, etc.?  They could specialize early on and have those choices determine the availability of jobs.

The level of customization within each job could be taken further.  Instead of every Summoner receiving identical spells at predetermined levels, what if they could specialize into a particular form of summon.  Another example is the Dragoon which received none of the unique frills they had in XI – no wyvern pet, no breath attacks, nothing special about their lance.  The Dragoon is just a melee dps.  I would give every class more flavor.  Again, Dragoons could specialize into breath attacks, polearms, or their wyvern pet, each providing something beneficial and unique to the game.

final fantasy samurai

Samurai could benefit from supporting classes. Take Samurai as a Warrior for more physical damage, or as a NInja for evasion based abilities.

I really like the idea of supporting classes.  Take the Samurai job for example.  What if you could be any number of base classes then become a Samurai.  Being a Warrior would give your Samurai more of a physical attack approach, a Thief could offer sneak attacks, Ninja would mean you could evade more, etc.

Even without a deeper level of customization, simply adding more ways to splinter off than just a straight Marauder to Warrior — even keeping the abilities granted on level — would make for a more ‘diverse’ playing field.

A lot of this can come down the road in expansions.  Like I’ve said before, nothing about the system now is ‘bad’ but it lacks creativity.  The current class system works for a themepark gear treadmill where melee dps, ranged dps, heals, and tanks are needed to get a job done.  I would like it to be more.