Thursday, November 6, 2008

MMO levels? ...We don't need no stinkin' levels.

(EDIT:) Melf_Himself of course has a wonderful post, which seems to be a response to Syncaines posting on if levels are an effective game mechanic.
(EDIT: Looks like we are not alone discussing this issue...MMOMENT of ZEN)

Syncaine goes on to argue that MMO's should have levels, as it is what the player expects. He argues in his comments how Guild Wars is NOT fun due to the small amount of levels or none if you wish...

Melf had this to say...

"However, leveling is boring once there is too much time in between levels, as there are no new shinies to play with"

This is my major concern...and I started a nice long comment there, that has turned into today's post.

I stated:

What surprised me in Fable 2 (my current example of an RPG done right and is probably beyond irritating for most to read about now) is the fact that you really do not pay attention to level when it does not exist.

"Leveling" is the current bane of the MMO.

Due to the need to make each consecutive level take even longer than the last that the rewards start to diminish for the player, the player starts to burn out.

The need to flesh out those levels also leads to the current "sameness" of the genre as well.

Example: Most carrot/stick MMO's lose me between the levels of 40-50...meaning I just cannot go on due to boredom and lack of return on playtime.
When I started playing and could get 1-3 levels a session then it turns into a week of sessions equaling 1 level...that is a bit too much.

Guild Wars DID do this right by only having twenty levels, then the REAL meat of the game starts and allows you to progress based on your skill as a player.

Same with Fable 2. I can focus on advancing "skills" and not the levels.

As you fight you use "orbs" which after a certain amount gathered allow you to increase the power of a skill. This could be called a level for the skill per se...
As you fight you get surprised when an announcement is made that you can increase a skill...
Why is this? You realize how fun the game is (something else most MMO's today have forgotten), that you forget to even increase those powers, as it also relies on your skill with that power. Even a 2 star rating (their version of a level) skill can be as effective as a 5 star.

In so many words, if I wanted to, I would never need to level that skill, and just progress as I have been.

Also, your "orbs" (the name for their skill points system) increase based on your skill as a player. The better you use the specific attacks you already have, the more you are rewarded in that type of skill.
Use ranged more, get more ranged reward, melee attacks equals melee rewards.

I do NOT need a calculator, and charts to figure out how long it will take to get to that next level. It also puts a more "mysterious" turn into the game, and does not rely on the mechanics to calculate when I can reach that next level. (more about those mechanics in a moment...)

What it boils down to, pure and simple...I am not locked off from content due to my power being less than adequate.

Back to Guild Wars.

Each level has some basic reward, and does not inundate you with boredom in the skill dept. As well, having to be selective in your skills makes it more fun to get that new skill for you to try.

But, you were not relegated to reaching a level to get that skill either.

If you wish, you can go and capture skills or even buy them in other towns. In so many words, you were not forced to level to get the next goody.
You instead as you leveled had the capability to increase that skills power if you wished.

Also, the skills are not a ton of retreads like most MMO's. They all were unique or different in some way.
(Conan was really bad at this. I would get Stilleto I, Stilleto II, etc...snooze)

Fable 2 was the same way. Each "progression" in a skill made changes to how the skill worked. Like increasing certain ranged skills leads to getting access to bullseye and then eventually targeted shots to the head, etc...

Now, back to mechanics. This is also where the level "fails".
As has been seen in WAR. This became the overall goal.
The fun became work as the player tries their hardest to get levels.

AoC fails in levels due to the fact they decided they must be like other MMO's and add a ton.
80 levels was way too much for Conan, as it was quite fun for 40-45.
Then you were done.
Let the burnout commence.

We know we may never lose this usage of "levels" for an RPG (again a throwback to Dungeons and Dragons...unless someone has an earlier version of gaining levels while playing a role of an avatar of some sort...)
But, there needs to be some leeway of how levels are approached.

I still feel Guild Wars had the right idea. Either Insta-level or not make the gross majority of the game about the levels.

I also think some games need to make the mechanic of play time the fun part and not make it a job to level.

Anyone else have any thoughts?


Tipa said...

Yup, hard to believe I once played a MMO after it stopped being fun. Community and friends kept me logging in, but the fact I wasn't having fun made me grumpy and not fun to be around.

Re: levels. They are just a tool for MMO designers, to be used or discarded like any other tool. I personally believe WAR shouldn't have levels; it should be a jump in and get fighting game, with some other mechanism to keep people progressing through the tiers -- perhaps after acquiring a certain number of skills through some mechanism. I think WoW DOES need levels. And I thought it was hilarious that the AoC designers thought they needed 80 levels to be competitive. Who cares?

It's currently impossible for ANYONE to reach max level in the MMO I currently play since a patch a couple months back. Nobody put up a stink... well, there were the people who were exploiting a bugged quest in a high level instance to level incredibly quickly. They complained. They also were the ones saying they were bored because they'd reached the level cap and there was nothing to do.

This was a couple months ago, mind, and the game had just gone live two or three weeks before.

Levels encourage powergamers to chew up content. When the cap is out of reach, it stops being an issue. That was true of EverQuest -- where max level could take a year or two of casual play -- and that game transformed and made the entire industry what it is today.

Elementalistly said...

Makes you wonder what will happen if what they say is true about Guild Wars 2 and not having a level cap..

Wonder how that would work.

The issue with how you gain powers and items I think is more relevant and how come a person plays, not the arbitrary levels.

The levels exists to get new goodies is all.

Again, think of Spellborn in this instance. You do not level for gear, but for glory (lol)

Wonder what will be on offer for Spellborn AS you level?

I found this statement...

Well the truth is that levels give you points to spend and increase your stats which affect your resistances and damage output, also with levels come better skills and more skill deck slots. Also the ability to use different Sigils

So in that sense, Yes, levels make a difference.

On the other hand Combat is about aiming, smart use of skills, tactical use of terrain and exploiting your strengths and their weaknesses.

In that sense, No, levels dont make a difference.

Take an extreme, if you had a lvl 50 char who was absolutely HORRIBLE at combat and a lvl 10 who was a "Masta" the lvl 10 would have a good chance at killing the lvl 50 (though it would take him Forever!)

This systems launches itself on mechanics but flies on user skill.

Anyways...something to boil over for the next couple of weeks...

And yes, EQ created all things holy in the MMO world, I bow before thee EQ...(lol)

Tipa said...

It really did :)

Bildo said...

To me levels can be an acceptable form of progress as long as they're not the only form on-hand. If that's the case, as in WoW for me, once I hit the cap... I feel like there's nothing more to do for my character except strive to get gear that takes INCREDIBLY more work and time than just playing the game from level 1+.

Lateral progression, diverging paths, and other forms of character building are just as viable, and ultimately to me... more important.

I love AA (what are they called in EQ2 now?), I love the Renown Ranks, the Tome Unlocks, and the other little things that make leveling not the end-all mode of progression in WAR.

I love how EvE has it se up so you don't "level". You gain skill points which you spend while logged in or out.

UO was similar as well. You gained skill points in whatever you did in the game. A lot like Fable actually.

So, as I got of track there, let me reiterate. I don't think levels are bad, it'd just be nice to see some other forms of progression used. With levels, you eventually stop progression. And that's usually when I stop playing.

In these games, there'd better be more than 1 path of progression. But ultimately I'm itching to see another game use the EvE or UO system.

Anonymous said...

It really is not so much about the levels themselves as what they are associated with.

Assume for example that gaining levels, was just one way of many to get some more money - each new level gave you a certain amount of the in-game currency and that's it.
As long as the rewards from that were not hugely disproportionate to other means of obtaining income, people would likely not be particularly concerend with leveling.

If Guild Wars 2 will have "infinite" levels I think they will go for some kind of scheme like that, which is not too far from obtaining skill points in today's Guild Wars.

Lars said...

Like Bildo says, having lots of alternate (lateral) paths to "level" is generally the best, since at least then the advancement mechanism isn't linear.

That is one reason why Guild Wars was compelling even though the numeric level was meaningless... progression through the missions in a campaign was another form of leveling. Collecting all of the skills was yet another way to advance your character. And so on; many alternate forms of advancement makes for a better game experience.

WoW bored me because it only felt like there was one way to advance: the level tied to your character class. Talent points were tied to that, even tradeskilling was capped based on character level. Just one way to advance. EQ2 is more compelling to me because there are so many different forms of levels (regular ones, tradeskills, AA, and you can argue various quest arcs count as a kind of "level" too, such as the Deity Quest timeline.)

Sometimes levels are used unnecessarily. Character levels are fine in a PVE game, but for RVR based games, just as in FPS games, etc., the bonuses you get for playing should be fairly minimal - people should otherwise start out on fairly equal footing, ready to go, ready to play and fight with every single other person on the server without a several month long grind first. Like in Planetside, leveling didn't mean a whole lot, but unlocked a few nice toys and gave little advantages that skilled players could still overcome.

Crimson Starfire said...

Although I would love to take credit for the post you are linking to in your article, it was in fact Melf_Himself that wrote it (no biggy).

On the topic of levels, I agree with both yourself and Melf. I should point out that levels are in fact a form of achievement, and players love to 'achieve'. Removing levels altogether may not be the best idea, but giving them minimal meaning toward advancement in the game in my opinion is the 'right way' to go.

Elementalistly said...

Crimson...thanks for the heads up. Fixed the post...

I have usually seen your posts and not his...better keep my eyes open (such a nerd)

I agree on the "reason" for levels needs to be minimized, and not to be the main game.

Once an MMO does this, then things will start to change.

Talyn said...

Regarding leveling as an achievement, I'd be tempted to argue that it's the "ding" itself and not the new level, that many players regard as the achievement. For that moment, they're surrounded with glowing sparklies and a special sound for everyone around them to see and congratulate them for. Being the center of attention, even for those scant few seconds, can make people feel good that they achieved something important.

In GW we continue to "ding" past level cap in order to get more skill points. That 20 over our head never increases, and we could have millions of XP and hundreds of skill points already, but that "ding" is still a proud moment and other players still give a moment of recognition.

I've always said I thought it was a mistake for GW to have those 20 levels at all because it's confusing to the MMO kids who stroll in from their levels-based games into a game that has levels but those levels themselves are largely irrelevant.

It sounds like GW2 *might* be taking the Asheron's Call approach where once again your actual level means little, but serves more as a means to show off how much time you've put into the game. Just like in GW we continue to ding and can earn millions and millions of XP but we only have that 20 over our head... we don't have a title or some other means of publicly wagging our e-peens.

The problem I see there is it could be equally confusing to players from every other game coming to GW2 with no concept of the AC mentality. The "levels kids" may not "get" that their level 221 character is perfectly able to group with that level 864 character. He's not more powerful, he's just been playing longer.

Connor lolz said...

To argue that Guild Wars is bad due to the small amount of levels in it, is to miss the point of the game COMPLETELY.

In fact the whole point of Guild Wars is to have so few levels. The game was based around having to grind as little as possible but still have a great game experience and unfortunatly some people still seem to think Grind = Content, which it really doesn't.

Another thing, orginally when Guild Wars came out, the PvE was only meant to be a sort of tutorial for the PvP side of the game, which I have to say, is amazing. The low level cap was then to make the balance within the PvP side as best they could as it allowed PvE characters to PvP without having to grind to max level for ages.