Tag Archive for alternate characters

Stuck on a Path

Last post on the challenges of the single character problem was about how to let players learn characters without forcing them to invest hours and hours just to discover they don’t like it. But what about people who did test, liked what they saw, but then later something changed (their tastes, their available time, whatever) and now the character they have is one they don’t, won’t or can’t play?

In current MMOs, once you make the character that character is stuck. A warrior is a warrior. In a game like World of Warcraft you can fine tune the warrior with talents and even built very distinct warriors. They even allow you the ability to re-pick your talents any time (for a price), but you’ll still be a warrior. Your warrior cannot become a warlock or a hunter. Alternate characters are the only option. City of Heroes works the same way: a blaster is a blaster. In fact, a fire/devices blaster is a fire/devices blaster. You can’t change power sets, you have to start over.

Now, realistically, this makes sense. I mean, if you spend your whole life learning one set of skills, you can’t just up and decide that you would have rather spent that time doing something else and magically make that happen. But then, these games are not reality. More games should allow you to make changes, even drastic changes, to your character without losing your identity. If I spend two years in a game playing Joeblow the warrior, making friends, joining a guild, earning a reputation as Joeblow, why am I forced to start completely over when I want to experience something different in the game? Some games try to get around this, like City of Heroes implementing their global chat names, but that only hides the problem. Sure, you may know that I’m ProbablyNot in the global channels, but in game I’m Ishiro Takagi or Jhaer Snow or John Hellstrom or Calvin Meeks. My reputation becomes much harder to translate.

Lets take World of Warcraft as an example and expand on it. As I mentioned earlier, they do let you rebuild your talents. But why not let you re-spend your experience points? Now, I’m not suggesting allowing 100% free anytime character rebuilding. They already have the precedent of paying for talent resets, just make a new NPC who asks for money based on level for picking a new class. Would it really break the game to allow a level 70 Paladin pay 1,000 or even 2,000 gold to become a level 70 Warrior? Of course, if you were a gnome, you’d be restricted to gnome classes since the game restricts like that already. Allowing a gnome shaman might be game, if not just lore, breaking. But then, why not allow the player to pay 5,000 gold to switch races (restricted to those which allow his class)? Not only would this allow for players to play the character they want without starting over, it would also introduce new money sinks into the game, and games, especially those that keep expanding, can always use new desirable yet optional money sinks.

You could even, if there was a demand for it, allow people to strip themselves back to level 1. Even pay them for it. The warlocks need to power their machines with life-force, they’ll strip 69 levels from a level 70 player and pay him X gold. With that money a player could take their level 1, pay to change his class and/or race and level back up again, tread-milling the same character, the same name, over and over again, with reward, as opposed to alternate characters or deleting and restarting.

Following a similar model, most games could introduce this kind of mechanic. As long as the change had a price of some sort and was limited by location (must visit particular NPCs), the only real downside I can see would be players less likely to stick with classes or builds they feel are broken, which could increase developer knowledge of a problem’s existence, but might decrease the pool of incoming data to be able to properly examine it.

So, what say you?

The Challenge of One

An idea that I always come back to that I wish MMOs would figure out a way to feasibly implement would be to allow a player to have only one character (or one character per server). My main reason for liking this idea are for community and accountability. If people are who they always are, its easier to find them, to remember them, and reputations have a much better chance of sticking.

However, building a game that only allows one character would necessitate design changes to the existing paradigms, or major overhauls in player expectations. Assuming I can stick with this theme for a bit, I’m going to examine different elements of existing MMOs and how they would benefit from and/or need to change for a single character per player (per server) design.

This inaugural entry is going to begin to cover what I think will be the biggest impact from a single character decision: alternate characters.

The issues brought up by not allowing alternate characters are many and deep. The first and foremost is education. If a player is new to MMOs, they may not be familiar with the various archetypes present in the genre, so when presented with a character creation screen they might be presented with descriptions of what a warrior or a cleric is, but without game experience they probably won’t understand what that description really means.

One thing I would propose would be introducing the concept of a “trainer module” to the game. A simulation of the game. Let players build a character for the trainer, any level, any skill set, any stats, any items. Then throw them into a randomly generated dungeon, an instance just for them completely detached from the game world. On one hand, this will give players a place to try out and understand characters. On the other hand, it also gives you and your players a tool for testing character builds for bugs and flaws.

If this worked out well for solo play, let players do the same thing but run through the dungeon with a group. Even PvP if you wanted. This might also be a good place to work on that LFG tool so players wanting to test can find each other. Hook it up to an IRC chat server and players can even sit around discussing the game. And if the multiplayer aspect of it works, you might even consider throwing in raid training.

The catch is, nothing is saved. These characters are not persistent. You leave and they are lost. You gain nothing. No experience points, no items, no badges, nothing. If you want to test a buid over and over, you have to rebuild it over and over. Maybe if people complain you could allow them to store builds, but that shouldn’t be a first priority, the major objective here is giving the players the ability to understand characters without investing hard work and time that they’ll get angry about later when they discover the character does not play the way they interpreted the description.

A good idea? A bad idea? Of course, no idea can exist in a vacuum, and future entries I plan to explore more options and issues.