Adaptive Level and Class in MMORPG's

Ombwah's picture

I was thinking today about level in MMORPG's and how one might make level feel like 'character age' or 'potential experience' without precisely defining what said appellation meant in terms of character statistics. To create an interpreted power level and class, and to move away from a strongly defined power level for online world play.

This was an intellectual experiment to see if I could come up with a system that made 'Level' feel more like age, than score. I am inspired in part by my desire to play MMO's like RPG's rather than like 'race to cap' or 'get all the bad-ass loot first' and more like an adaptive story starring your character, who evolves over time.

Consider this,

What if Level computations were done at a regular interval of real game time, but provided a bonus to statistics modified by a player's actions more than a template? A character's actions in world, during that level window, would modify the factors by which the character stats would go up.

This would work best in an RPG system with an uncommon application of class. Not a 'classless' world, but a play space with an interpreted, adaptive class structure. A player's class would be a function of their various statistics, and the bonuses per level modified by the player's activities within the time-sample that a particular level counted for. There may be titles unlocked by particular actions performed within each time slice, to modify the class name earned.

I think that a system implemented around this core idea might provide a less granular meaning of level that equated to the game world age of the character, and an observer's sense of class, rather than a discrete one. This could provide a closer relationship between character and role, and would provide a less mechanical feeling world.

A few games have already used elements of this system with some success. Eve Online adds to your statistics as dictated by player choice modified by real in-game time. A player chooses a course of study, and from the time of the choice until I pre-determined time in the future, the player is said to be 'studying' that subject. At the end of the time period, the player earns a stat bonus relevant to the studies. Ultima Online levelled a player characters stats as dictated by what activities they performed, creating a dynamic class structure. I propose a sort of hybrid of these two systems, where a player determines thier focus at the beginning of each level period, then levels based upon thier activities, but also has a fluid set of 'concentrations' (a parallel to Eve's courses of study) that they may choose from as their skills reach particular levels.

This would feel in ways like a tech tree in many real time strategy games, and, hopefully function to create a world in which fewer specific cookie-cutter character builds existed.


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Snipehunter's picture

Why pre-choose the class at all?

Interesting, but why give the player a chance to choose a focus before they act, at all? Do you remember the old class selection system in EQ2? Where you chose your class inside the tutorial by speaking to people and picking up weapons to you class, rather than choosing in a pop up window?

Why not do something similar, if you want to make the choice discrete? For example, perhaps when you create the character you make some choices through conversation with NPCs or something similar, but after that why not have only the player's actions dictate how they level?

So, when I start I speak to people and focus myself first as some sort of warrior, but in the course of play, I actually end up playing more like a stealth class. I should end up as some sort of fighter/stealth hybrid, yes? But what if, when I hit my next level window I discrete choose to go mage? Even if my actions in the next window still remain fighter/hybrid, that choice would have been there... I guess I'm rambling now, but do you see what I'm getting at?

As a player, I'm likely to make discrete choices to get me where I feel I want to be, but my actions might belie a play style that is totally counter to those choices. So my not remove the discrete choice? Or do you suggest it specifically so that players have more control how they turn out, despite the way they actually play? That actually does make sense. (players might find it annoying to play and end up as something other than they wanted to be, all because they play differently than the class they wanted to choose.)

Huh. I'll have to think on this more. Very thought provoking, good post man!

- Snipehunter

Ombwah's picture

The discrete choice was for empowerment

I actually did suggest the discrete choice so that a player would feel as though they had some choice in the possibilities open to them, and so that a player could make a discrete choice to 'try something new'. So that, if you had pushed your character into a fighter/stealth hybrid route, but wanted to try to add magic to your repetoire, you could make the choice to try opening those paths back up by discretely choosing to add magic skills to your bar, book or what-have-you.

These wouldn't manifest as a 'what class do you want to be' choice so much as a "You have achieved the title of 'Explorer' How would you like to characterize your next phase of development?" Then would show choices like Explorer/modified by intellect, Explorer/modified by brawn, etc. Each choice leading to another potential branch. To make the level path more like a tech-web a'la Civilization than a single-line class path. More a matrix than a 'levelling line'.

In discussion with another MMO player last night, talk turned toward 'advanced specialization' in this system actually honing the skill or power choices available to the player, leaving a smaller pool of skills that the specialized player could activate (this other person comes from the 'hotbar' or EQ2/WoW school of skill use, and suggested that a player's skill bars would become crowded or confusing with so many options open to them) I thought that was interesting too, and a discrete choice at a regular interval would allow the player to work consciously to shift their behaviorally influenced stats.

Snipehunter's picture


And that makes sense. I wonder if there's a way to stray from hotbar style play without alienating players. It's a tangent to your discourse, but I find the hotbar combat paradigm stifling, myself. WoW does a really good job of making the hotbar play feel differently from class to class (more so than EQ2), but even so the combat in that paradigm still feels very self-similar.

Is pounding, 1 then 3 to pull off a rogue combo really different from pounding 1 then 5 to pull off a mage combo?

- Snipehunter

Ombwah's picture

re: EQ2 vs WoW hotbar play

Likewise, is using a skill that starts 'dot collection' then using the 'two dot' skill to push your "limit break" style rogue-o-meter up and finishing with 'bleedy stab' to 'spend' your limit break on extra damage a whole world of difference away from 'open with a lucky break' (to enable the combo) then choose one of 4 odd 'damage modifiers' to set up the combo, and finishing with one of 4 or 5 'bleedy stab' options to 'spend your combo on extra damage'?

'Cause they didn't seem so different to me in play, marginally, but really not too much.

I think hotbars have been taken a little too far. Though after playing with a 'mouse-gesture' fantasy fight game, I think I've set that idea aside for a while too. FPS controls don't lend over much to a fantasy paradigm so a non-hotbar UI playstyle is likely a whole new blog's worth of postulation and discussion.