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.
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.