Tag Archive for gaming

DDOU: Missing the Point

Of all the IPs to be licensed, Dungeons & Dragons is actually the one where real money transactions (RMT, or microtransactions) make the most sense.  Why?  Because D&D has been doing microtransactions for decades.  In fact, of all the games on the market, Wizard101 is the game that currently mirrors the pen & paper D&D model the closest.

Think about it… to start playing D&D, you need to buy a couple of rule books, namely the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook.  With those two books and some dice, in theory, you never need to buy anything else to play.  You can make all your characters, make your own dungeons and monsters, you can even make your own loot.  Of course, not everyone is as skilled or as imaginative as everyone else, so D&D sells gaming modules which include a dungeon, monsters, loot, and perhaps even a city or town, story lines and quests and events.  You need to buy each module to play each module (or at least someone in your gaming group needs to).  This is pretty close to how Wizard101 functions, only the DMG and PH are free.  Create an account, download and log in.  You can play the first few areas of their world for free, and then you have to pay a small fee for additional areas.  Of course, there are other things you can buy in the game, items and houses and whatnot, but if you just want to play the game, I believe currently you can get everything for around $80.  For many MMOs you’ll pay $50 just for the game box and the first month, and at $15 a month, just three months in and you’ll have spent $80, and you can’t really finish all of most MMOs’ content in 90 days, so you’ll pay more.

Money amounts aside, however, DDO should have been built this way to start.  The base game with a small number of dungeons, the base classes and whatnot should have been a fixed price, or even free.  Then, much like games release expansions on Xbox Live, put out new dungeons, new modules, for a small fee every month or two.  New classes could even be released for a small fee, much like how D&D puts out expanded books to introduce new classes.  Perhaps they could have even run a hybrid model, charging players $1.99 or $2.99 a month for access to the game, and then $5-$20 per module (amount based on size of content).

Anyway, that’s just my thoughts.  If they’d started with that design, perhaps they wouldn’t have had to switch to their new Free-to-Play/Pay-to-Advance model.

Subscription versus RMT

Search around the gaming blogs and you’ll probably find out the opinions of everyone weighing in on SOE putting RMT in the form of their new Station Cash into EQ and EQII.  There have also been announcements that the new Star Wars MMO from Bioware might be a free-to-play/RMT model game.  And SOE does have FreeRealms and The Agency coming.

To be honest… I really don’t care overly much.  About the only problem I have with the whole thing is that I find it weird when a game offers both on the same server.  EQ and EQII both still have a monthly fee that you have to pay to play the game, and now on top of that there is the Station Cash which allows you to buy weapons and armor (nothing great, but definitely a leg up from starting with nothing if you are willing to pay the $10 for it rather than get gear as you play), and experience point bonus potions (where you get use it and for the next 4 or 2 hours you get a 10%, 25% or 50% bonus to your exp earning, again nothing great, but would help you out if you’d rather spend the cash than the time it would take to grind out that exp on your own).  It will be interesting to see where they take it, how much of what kind of items they end up putting on the market, and how much profit they derive from it.  And of course, if they release an expansion that increases the level cap, now that they sell exp bonus potions for cash, will they be inclined to increase the experience curve in new levels making people desire the potions more?  If that is the route they end up going, that’s where I find the problem of using both payments in one game.  So now I am paying my $15 a month to get a game designed to make me want to pay more money…  seems underhanded, if that is the direction this goes.  But for now, its all a “wait and see”.

Another reason I don’t care about which payment model they follow is that neither subscriptions nor microtransactions address the problems that I have with most MMOs.  Let’s take Warhammer Online for example.  I really wanted to play this game, and on some level I still do.  I haven’t played it since beta because my contract job ended and I am out of work.  Its hard to justify paying for a game box and then a monthly fee when I need to be saving every penny until I find work again.  (I am just about the unluckiest person when it comes to unemployment… contract ends right as the economy goes to shit… the last time I was unemployed was in 2001… you remember 2001, right?  That was when the tech field kinda collapsed a bit and then terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center… so, I’m unemployed, sell your stocks and don’t visit any targets of opportunity.)  If I were to play Warhammer Online, sadly, I could only play with half of the people I want to play with.  A bunch of gaming bloggers and readers made up a group called the Casualties of War and picked one server.  I tried to steer my old EQ friends on to the same server, but they ended up somewhere else.  Unfortunately, these two servers were not merged.  So, if I did buy the game, I’d have to pick one group of friends over the other.  This has pretty much been true of every MMO to come out since EQ.  Even with EQ, while I started out on E’Ci with my local friends when I started a new job and found out a couple of people there played EQ too, they were on another server.  Sure, we could still share stories about the game and talk about stuff, but we could never play together… and even more odd, the two servers in question had totally different communities: for example, on E’Ci, player item auctioning was done in the East Commonlands tunnel; on the other server, Greater Faydark.  One server was fairly decent about setting up a raid calendar and people trying not to close people out of content, the other was totally free-for-all.  And while it was interesting to be able to talk about and compare how two groups of people played the same game completely differently, it was overshadowed by not being able to play together without paying fees, leaving behind friends, or playing on two servers (which given the “effort” required to level and raid in EQ, playing on two servers was kind of insane unless you were only serious about one of them).

These days, when a new MMO is launching, I don’t even bother to ask if its a subscription game or a micro transaction game… the first question I always ask is “How many servers do they have?”

iWoW

About a month ago, I gave my thoughts on if WAR was the WoW killer… since then, in the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering a few things, a few aspects as to why no game in the near future is going to be a WoW killer.

The number one reason… Apple.

Face it.  Apple is growing.  I’m a diehard PC, and I’ll never switch to a Mac because, 1) I hate the desktop for the Mac OS, and 2) there are no Mac exclusive softwares that I desire.  Of course, I could come to eat my words if somehow Mac manages to overtake the PC, but I really think that is unlikely.  However, Mac computers are becoming increasingly popular in a number of areas, and one of those happens to be in people who like gaming.  In fact, a number of people I’ve known through gaming over the years still have a PC they use for gaming, but they use a Mac for their day to day stuff.  Mostly Macbooks.  And the main reason is because they also have iPods and/or iPhones and those devices work more seemlessly with a Mac than with a PC.  They aren’t incompatible with PCs, but there is no doubt that Apple designs for the Mac and then ports to the PC.  Why wouldn’t they?

A set of data I would like to see are the sales figures and subscription numbers for people playing World of Warcraft on a Mac in the US and UK.  The reason I’d like to see those numbers is that right there, immediately, you have a defined set of “MMO Players” who cannot play WAR, or AOC, or LotRO.  They couldn’t play Vanguard or EverQuest II.  They could play EverQuest, but the game only went up to the Planes of Power expansion and its only minimally supported, and its on its own servers so you can’t play with your EQ PC playing friends. (Arguably, this makes the Mac version of EQ better than the PC version, because they are frozen in time at the point when, in my opinion, the game was at its best before they mudflated the game into oblivion.)  But Mac owners can play WoW, and they play on the same servers as everyone else and with all the same expansions and everything.  And realistically, its the only “successful” fantasy MMO on the Mac.

So that, basically, in a nutshell, is why I think you can’t really kill WoW.  At least, not until some other new fantasy MMO decides to support the Mac.

And yes, before anyone says anything, I realize you can dual boot the new Macs and play any MMO… but not everyone wants to dual boot, not everyone who buys a Mac wants to install Windows on their machine too.  Many of them went Mac to get away from Windows, they want support, not work arounds.

Digsby

A long time ago, in an apartment far, far away… I was a gaming geek, and other gaming geeks with whom I chatted on IRC were talking about a new instant messaging tool called ICQ.  It was kinda like the instant messaging that AOL had, but you didn’t have to be an AOL user.  I wish I still had my old ICQ#, it was low, and that made me leet… sadly, I forgot the password, had the account set up with an email address I didn’t have access to, and after much pleading with the ICQ guys I gave up and got a new account.  But I barely use ICQ at all anymore.  Over the years, AOL made their IM client available to everyone, Yahoo put one out, and so did Microsoft.  There are more, like Google Talk, X-fire, and most social networking sites have some sort of integrated chat, but I haven’t signed up for most of them.  The real problem was having all that crap installed on your PC.  For years each network was completely separate.  And even now, only a couple of them have linked up to share.  That was why when a friend showed me Trillian, I was extremely excited.

Just think!  All my instant messaging clients wrapped up in one application where I could manage them all!

Trillian has served me well over the years, but a while back they simply stopped going forward.  The developers were pouring all their time into Astra (I’m in the beta), their next multi-IM client, but even it is going forward slowly.  It also doesn’t seem to be expanding on the features of the old program very much.  I’m in the beta, and I’ve been using it… its basically the same thing with a slightly different look and feel.  In fact, really, the only thing that Astra has is a web version that promised to have the same contact and configuration info as your desktop client does so you can get on your IMs from anywhere you can open a browser to their site.

A couple months ago, someone pointed me at Digsby.  I poured through the feature list and got very excited again.  They promised to integrate with MySpace and Facebook and others, they also promised to allow me to manage my email accounts (like hotmail and yahoo) without having to open the webpage if I didn’t want to.  And it delivered… with one tiny flaw.  See, they had this feature that allowed you to alias and merge multiple IM accounts for the same person under one entry, so now I wouldn’t see the same person four times, I’d see them once with four options for chatting.  The flaw was that after moving all my contacts around, when I closed and then re-opened Digsby, all my contacts were gone.

So, I trudged back to Trillian after one glorious day of Digsby.  But now, a few months later, I decided to check up on ol’ Digsby and it turns out they claim to have fixed many of the bugs, including the one I ran into.  I fired up Digsby and it auto-updated to the latest version, and blam! all my contacts!  In fact, all my contacts in the way I had grouped them prior to them vanishing!

It looks like I’m giving Digsby a second chance.  I’m still not uninstalling Trillian/Astra, just in case I need to recover my contacts again, but maybe this time ol’ Digsby will stick.  I hope it does, because I dig all the extra feature, none of which look like they are going to make Astra any time soon.

GameTap

I’m introducing a new subcategory under gaming here and it is specifically for GameTap.  I have had a GameTap account for over a year, and in that time I’ve mainly used it to play a few dozen old Atari and arcade games, and the occasional DOS/Windows game, like The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions.  To be honest, I haven’t used the account to its full potential.

Last week while I was working on moving the website, I decided to go look for something to do on GameTap to fill some time and I found Uru Live, the Myst MMO.  I’d seen it before and had always wanted to play it, but had never made the time.  Just my luck, the day I decide to start playing was the day they announced they were planning to shut it down.  Oh well… I guess you can’t win ’em all.

Getting myself back inside the GameTap tool, however, reminded me of why I agreed to sign up for it in the first place.  With 990 games listed, its a huge library of past games with a few newer titles and some originals within which there has got to be some fun… or perhaps just some lessons to be learned.

So, I’m setting a goal for myself, every week I am going to play at least one game from GameTap and post a review about it.  It will probably be easiest to do on Sunday mornings, so that’s likely when I’ll play and post.  I’ve already downloaded a few old favorites and a few “I can’t believe I never played that” titles, and if I ever get stuck, GameTap provides a handy random wheel spinner that will select a game for me.

Ready.  Set.  Game!

Hello 2008!

Last night we said goodbye to 2007, and good riddance. Not that 2007 did anything wrong, but come on, who wants some old year hanging around when we’ve got a nice shiny new year sitting right here!

Looking back 365 days at the welcoming of 2007, lets examine how my predictions and premonitions worked out…

First, I’m still using electronic billing for everything but my garbage collection, so I can look forward to another smooth date transition as again I won’t be writing enough checks to accidentally keep writing the wrong year on.

Next, I said I’d eat better… and I have… a little… I get salads when we eat out sometimes, and I’m eating more fruits and veggies. Overall, I’ve shed ten pounds that I’ve managed to keep off in the last year. Yeah, I’m still pushing the needle on the scale over to the “hefty” side, but it doesn’t go as far as it used to. Another few years of this and I’ll be positively svelte!

Onward… MMOs and computers… I did actually cave and got new PCs for the wife and I. I did buy the WoW expansion, and messed around with it. I played the Vanguard beta, and it sucked. I bought a Wii. I bought a 360. And I am, in fact, pretty much done with the PC as a gaming platform, sort of. I canceled all my MMO subscriptions and nothing on the horizon is blowing my skirt up. I apply to every beta that I can and I participate in those trying to help them make a better game, but in the end they all end up not interesting me enough for me to make the buy. The MMO I’m most playing right now is actually Urban Dead which is about as far from WoW as you can get without actually dialing up a BBS to play TradeWars 2002 (which is officially 6 years ago now… where is my intergalactic trade federation? huh? when I see a Presidential candidate address that issue, I’ll know who to vote for). For my fantasy gaming fix, my bi-weekly group has continued to meet and our campaigns progress quite nicely. They may not be massively multiplayer, but they sure are more fun than the current slate of MMOs.

Lots of superhero books did come out, almost all of them for established comic book characters, and I didn’t finish any of my own projects.

I said that the business front was “looking pretty good”, my exact words. The key word here turned out to be “looking”. I’ve come to realize that a person whom I have always believed was only smoke and mirrors is in fact only smoke and mirrors, in a manner of speaking, his machinations and manipulations in the end are much ado about nothing. I keep pressing the Escape key, but I’m still here.

So… what does 2008 look like from here, the first day of the year?

S.O.S.

Same Old Shit, ladies and gentlemen. I suspect in 2008 I will write even less checks (garbage company might start taking credit soon), I will manage to drop another ten pounds (at least), I will continue to play betas but not buy MMOs (I’m pretty sure all the games I might buy will get delayed to 2009 anyway), I will play console games (the ones I already play and new ones coming out all the time, why, the Christmas season alone has produced a good eight or nine games I don’t own that I want to play), there will be more superhero books and business will continue to “look good” while actually being anything but (although, this year as new budgets are approved and hiring goes into higher gears I’m actually working with a recruiter, the only one recently to actually get me interviews).

New resolutions? I resolve to actually rake the yard (provided Georgia lifts its burn ban so I can dispose of the leaves myself, bagging sucks). I resolve to finish building the bar (we have the cabinets, now we just need to put them in and make the counter tops). And I resolve to stop buying crap I don’t need (seriously, I spend too much money on stuff when I should focus on convincing other people to buy it and then lend it to me). I’d make more resolutions, but then I will feel worse when I fail to do them all.

Oh, and if somehow Fred Thompson actually becomes President, I’ll eat my hat… and then I’ll begin weekly posts about how he should just round up Lt. Cmdr. Tom Farrell, Jack Ryan, Ray Levoi, John McClane, and the Law & Order guys and go straighten out all this Middle East stuff. But that is the extent of my campaign promises…

So, welcome 2008! Please don’t hit me in the junk!

A Party of One

Of late I have been fooling around in Guild Wars. I’ve long been interested in the game because of its “no monthly fee” design, and because of a little idea called “henchmen”.

All throughout my table top gaming days, whenever we needed a class, skill, or knowledge that the player characters did not possess, we would head on down to the local bars, adventurer guilds, docks or slave markets to find what we needed. So when getting into MMOs, at first, the idea that I needed to group with other people for everything was strange. Standing around waiting to find a healer because we needed one seemed like a waste of time. I eventually got over it and made friends and tried to make sure I always had a group. But increasingly over the last half dozen or so years, perhaps because I’m turning into the grouchy old man yelling at the kids to stay off his lawn, I’m just not as inclined as I used to be to put up with the Internet toddlers who like to “pwn” and “lol” and “zorz” their way through conversations. So, playing World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Villains, Lord of the Rings Online, I would group with the people I already knew and maybe the occasional non-infantile gamer I ran across. But more often than not, I would solo.

I’m still soloing in Guild Wars (my wife injured her hand and hasn’t been much for gaming this month), but when I’m about to leave town and hit the quests, I’ll snag myself a couple or three henchmen. Just as in my table top games, these people aren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack. I play a mage, and so I’ll load up with a fighter, a ranger and a healer, and they do exactly as their class suggests. The fighter charges in and fights, the ranger stands back and shoots, and the healer heals. In fact, that’s all they do. The fighter will stand and fight until he dies, he doesn’t run. The ranger shoots, at any range. And the healer heals, if a monster hits her, she runs around like a chicken with its head cut off until the threat is over. I’ve heard there are better henchmen, but I’m only level 7 and my henchmen are level 3, plus I only own the original Prophesies game, none of the expansions, so either I haven’t gotten to the better ones yet, or I am incapable of getting to them.

Overall though, I’m liking the whole henchmen system. They don’t replace good players, but they sure beat crappy players. I would love to see something like this implemented in other games. Imagine City of Heroes with “henchmen” style sidekicks, allowing you to change up the game a little while still playing alone if you wanted.

I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and experiences. What do you think about NPC pets and henchmen in games?

How do you play?

Ryan Shwayder over at the nerfbat has begun a discussion on the definitions of Hardcore and Casual.

I think, especially if you delve into the comments, he is pretty near the target. Essentially, I think its impossible to define a player simply as hardcore or casual for their entire entity. Instead, you have to break it down into many factors.

For instance, game play time. Someone who is casual with their time in games wants something they can pick up and play with in ten minutes, or two hours, or whenever they happen to want to play. Often this is referred to as “time-starved” but I feel adding the usage of “starved” there just gives it a desperate and needy connotation… also, it implies that if the person had more time they’d spend it gaming, but that really isn’t true at all. Someone who is hardcore with their time is going to schedule blocks, often large blocks, of time to play… three hours, five hours, Saturday. The time hardcore player is the kind of player who spends all their free time gaming.

Further down you can get into distinctions like “knowledge commitment” which would be how willing is the player to remember bits of information or lore of the game. I know when it comes to this, I’m very hardcore… not by choice really, it just sort of happens. If EverQuest (the original) were to have a free weekend starting today, I bet I could log in and get around fairly well. Even though I have not played it in a few years, I still know where stuff is (as long as the zone hasn’t been revamped). The wife on the other hand, well, we play World of Warcraft about once a week, and lots of times she just doesn’t remember where anything is. Its not because she has a bad memory, but because its simply not important to her to remember it. Plus, she has me, and I remember everything, so…

You can literally take any aspect of any game, show a hardcore and a casual approach to it, and show how its not really dependent on any other aspect. To use the example above, the wife and I both love to explore and are fairly hardcore about going new places. She just happens to think that almost everywhere is a new place since she doesn’t commit to memory having gone there.

So… what’s the answer? What is the definition of hardcore and casual? I think the answer is, “It depends.” Even Ryan’s attempt to narrow it down to 4 points isn’t going to cover everything. Is it enough to design a game by? Sure, and as long as you accept that no matter how few or how many boxes you draw there will always be players who live outside them, you’ll be just fine.

Arbitrary Changes

I am throwing this in the gaming section because some of what I’m about to say, while not directly aimed at gaming, applies to game development and design.

This week I have been dealing with a Teradata upgrade at work. We upgraded our Development and Test environments a while back and are now about to move it to production. As part of my process for the upgrade, I went through the list of changes between the Teradata versions and made sure that either a) they would not impact our program or b) our code was prepared for the change. What I have been dealing with this week is a list of undocumented changes (at least not in the documentation I was provided) that are giving me headaches.

Now, realize that the errors I am getting are showing up in our Test system, and only the Test system, and only because we are adding a new feature to our application that involves getting a new group of people on the Test system. See, in the Development environment it is pretty much always the same people. It has probably been over a year since we added someone new to Development. Test had been the same until this week.

The error, once fully discovered is that Teradata changes the result from SQL that creates a new user from 1 indicating a success to -1. 0 still means a failure. After a user gets created, I have to execute some other commands to finalize their rights assignments, and as you can imagine the switch from 1 to -1 caused an issue. See, my code was set to check if the return value (the .NET return value on SQL is number of rows affected) was greater than 0. Greater than 0 was a success, less than 0 was a failure. So, with the undocumented change, all my successes were now failures.

The problem I have is two-fold. First, it was a seemingly undocumented change. Second, I don’t see a point to the change. Why switch from 1 to -1? Sadly, this isn’t the first time or place I have run into changes like this, and it will probably not be the last.

As it pertains to game design… well, honestly, how often has a game put out a patch message that didn’t list every single change? All the time… and how often do those changes affect the players? Almost as frequently. In games, or in any product design arena, changes than affect the users of your product should never go undocumented, especially if its an output that what will affect applications designed to work with your product.

Removing Barriers

The wife and I have been discussing the future of our gaming. First and foremost has been the question of where to continue our gaming. Do we want to move to console gaming or stick with PCs? It is not an easy question, and of course we can not afford to do both.

The main pro on our pros and cons list for sticking with PCs is MMOs. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my interest in the existing games is waning. While talking things over with the wife, I came to the realization that the biggest hurdle for us in most games is the fact that we have to play together if we want to play together. Did that make sense?

See, sometimes I have to work and the wife wants to play, but if she plays with her main character and this happens too many days in a row, she will out-level me (unless we are at max level) and now I will need to play catch up in order for us to play together and both of us have fun. The key being both of us having fun… being too low is never fun, swinging weapons and casting and not affecting much, neither is being too high, swatting away monsters without fear of losing. City of Heroes solved that; halfway at first with side kicking, and then the rest of the way later with Mentoring. It’s not a perfect system, but it worked well enough that when we were playing CoH, the wife and I never had to worry much about who leveled when. Of course, as I have said a few times in this blog, we stopped playing CoH when the graphics engine upgrade for CoV was just enough to force us to turn the details down just enough to make the game unappealing.

The alternative in most games is for us to play a secondary character when we can not play together, but personally, I think this causes more problems than it solves. What happens when I have been having a blast with my secondary for five days and now when the wife wants to play I still would rather play my second? It also serves to hinder a player/character relationship. If my best friend is on, I would rather see him and him see me than for me to have to look for one of his seven characters and him to keep an eye out for my five. It is a further disconnect from how real life works. Not that I am saying I want to emulate life 100%… holding a job and paying a mortgage in game as well as real life would be frustrating.

What is the solution?

My thoughts would be to begin designing any system with either a sidekick/mentor construct in mind, or with an eye on removing or reducing playability gaps between players. I am going to try to focus on the playability gaps…

First step, remove the direct link between player level and player power. Still have experience points in a game, earned when fighting or questing or crafting or anywhere the game can determine you have completed some defined task and reward you for it. Have levels with some mathematical formula for determining experience needed to level. 100 exp for level 1 (because everyone starts at level 0), 300 for 2, 600 for 3, 1200 for 4… until you reach some point where you just say “every level beyond X takes Y experience” where X could be 50 and Y could be 10,000,000 or something. No level cap. If someone wants to grind to level 999,999,999 so be it, if that is what they enjoy. But, you do not want to entirely remove player level’s ability to affect player power, because then people who like grinding will complain that grinding is pointless, so with every level you earn a “skill point”. And since experience is rewarded for more than combat, it would be possible for a crafting minded player to still be able to grind out those 999,999,999 levels by making swords instead of using, if they were so inclined. Once this link is severed, there is no reason not to allow players of any level to play together in groups.

Skill points are the second step. You can earn them with leveling. We will also allow people to earn them with training, similar to the way EVE Online skill training works, you select a skill to train the “next point” in and the point takes time, both in and out of game, with two major changes. One, allow people to train more than one skill at a time. The way that would work is, say a skill takes 1 hour to train, and you have 5 of those types of skills, so, in EVE Online world, you would have to log in (or still be logged in) each hour to switch skills. We would let someone select all 5 skills and in five hours they would all go up one point. Time of training times number of skills in training equals length of time for point. Oh, and training stops if your account expires, but will start again the moment the account is made active again picking up right where it left off. Now, if you are training a skill and then level and buy the skill you have been training, the time you have spent training will be applied to the next point. So, say you have that 1 hour skill training for 30 minutes, and then buy the point. The next point of the skill, which normally would have taken 2 hours to train, will now show only 1 and a half hours remaining. Two, unlike EVE, if training completes and there is no change made by the user, training will continue into the next point of the skill(s) selected. So, yes, conceivably, someone could start a character, set all skills to train and then not log in for a year and return with a fairly well decked out level 0 character. If they really want to pay for a game for a year and not play, more power to them.

So, what are the skills? Well, skills would allow you to use items or perform tasks, there can and will be huge hierarchy trees of skills, special and advanced skills that must be quested or learned from a master (maybe even allow that master to be another player). But how important will they be? This will vary… some skills would have to be proprietary, meaning you have to have the skill (and possibly even of a certain level) to use or do something. Other skills would be “untrained” skills, for example, in a fantasy setting wielding a sword could be an untrained skill, meaning that everyone can swing a sword, but gaining levels in swordplay and other advance skills will make your character “better” at sword use by affecting calculations (perhaps each level of skill gives you a +1 bonus to some section of the “to hit” formula that allows you to be more accurate) or by opening special moves (the use and timing of which can translate into “player skill” allowing players who practice with their combat to become more effective so that they might be able to trump the numerical calculated predictability of standard “auto-attack” combat). Of course, skills are not all combat related… there can and would be crafting, social, and other skill trees.

Back to the leveling… with the multitude of ways to gain experience, do we need to worry about power leveling? No, because, honestly, who cares? If a player wishes to become the “apprentice” to a local tailor and grind out eleventy billion hats so that he can gain a bunch of skill points, why not? If someone wants to “squire” for a powerful knight assisting him in combat while the knight does most of the real fighting work, why not? You could even encourage power leveling through an apprentice/master (or sidekick/mentor) system! While the squire is fighting with the knight, any skills he has set for training (you know, the timed training, not level based earning) that the knight uses he will get a training bonus, very small at first but growing larger the more a skill is used. So, while the knight and squire are out grinding experience killing monsters, eventually the squire would ratchet up to a double (or even triple) training rate, and he would be cranking out the combat skills at twice (or thrice) the normal rate, as long as they remained grouped (so yes, the bonus would be lost between gaming sessions, but we would give it like a 15 or 30 minute cool down window to account for temporary loss of connection).

But what about classes, you might be asking… especially since I wrote a post a while back about staying with classes, and another on my version of a class system. I still think players should have to pick starting attributes, and I think they should still have to pick a class, for lack of a better term, and award them with a bonus to certain skills when it comes to training. And I would even still do that by grouping the skills into sets and having the players rank the sets. And yes, I would still allow players to change their set rankings later in game (through quest or something). Would this allow players to game the system? Sure. They could rank combat the highest and train combat, then change ranks to merchant skills and train crafting. But, to me, it would not matter… no matter what system you come up with, some players will learn how to game it, how to maximize the systems to minimize risk and time and effort, because it is what they like to do. It’s on the shoulders of the designer to make game play and the world a compelling enough distraction that it keeps the player’s focus off the mechanics and off the desire to game it.