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Classes vs. Skills in MMOGs 224

An anonymous reader writes "The buzz in the MMO blogosphere is yet another resurrection of the Class system vs. Skill system debate. A number of prominent online gaming bloggers have chimed in with their opinions on the subject, including: Scott Jennings, Raph Koster, Ryan Shwayder, Steve Danuser, Damion Schubert, and a host of others you can find linked on those blogs. The conclusion? Most of the devs favor class systems because of their simplicity and ease of communicating character roles, while a few devs and many players favor skill-based systems because of the freedom they provide for user customization."
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Classes vs. Skills in MMOGs

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  • Hybrid system (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:45PM (#16001428) Homepage Journal
    The debate reminds me of the hybrid system used in Might and Magic IX. For all the game's flaws, it had an interesting tree-based class system. You started each character off as either a spellcaster or a fighter, and as they advanced in levels, they would specialize as clerics, mages, knights, etc. IIRC there were three tiers, with 2 low-level classes, four mid-range, and eight advanced.

    The disadvantage is that if you want a particular advanced class, you need to plan ahead -- and have the manual page that shows the tree. On the plus side, it means you can get a feel for what you need during gameplay, rather than try to guess from the start.

    I'm not sure how well this would translate to MMORPGs, because I'm one of the three people online who doesn't play any. But it seems this would be simpler than a fully skill-based system, and more flexible than a static class system.
    • by BMonger ( 68213 )
      That's the style EQ2 uses I believe. I don't play EQ2 anymore (only hit 14 or so and got bored) but you would start off as a generic class and around level 10 you'd specialize more then at some higher level (20 or 30 I think) you'd delve to your final class.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by garylian ( 870843 )
        They did that at launch, but one of the Live Updates scrapped it, for several reasons.

        The most prominent reason was that it was really a pain in the butt to create a mage class, play it to level 10 and then say "you know, I want to be a nuker" and select said subclass. Then, you work your way to level 20, and say "I think I'll be a warlock" only to find out you don't really like the warlock. Now you've just spent 20 levels to find out the basics of how your class will behave. It hurt.

        There was a whole lo
    • Re:Hybrid system (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Burlap ( 615181 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:58PM (#16001534)
      I prefer Anarchy Onlines skill/class system. Every class has access to the same skills, only some classes can raise them higher and "easier" (cost less improvement points) then others.

      EG: a nanomake and agent can both use the rifle skill... only the agent can get it far higher (both in base skill and self only biffs) and cost less then the mage. But if the mage REALLY wants to use rifles then she can.

      it allows for a good amount of customization and also allows the devs to 'nudge' the player base in a specific direction. Of course it can be abused (caterwall rifle was so destructive in PVP that EVERY class used it untill it was made agent only) but what system cant be?
      • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:50PM (#16001918)
        Yes, Anarchy Online's approach of being skills-based but defining classes which have preferential improvement point costs worked very well indeed. And the implants provided yet another level of skills customizeability in AO.

        Guild Wars is even better in that regard though, and this was mentioned briefly by the fifth of the people mentioned in the headline article, Damion Schubert.

        In GW, every character has both a primary and a secondary profession, but you can raise the attributes of your primary profession higher than a secondary could through runes that your put on your armor. Since armor is switchable on the fly, even while fighting, this gives you a lot of flexibility for optimizing your build for a particular zone or encounter. It's better than AO's equivalent, the implants, since those couldn't really be changed in the field (AO's portable clinics were useless).

        And since in GW your secondary profession can be changed to any other one with a 30-second visit to Crystal Desert or Senji's Corner, the range of possible combination builds is truly astronomic, yet everyone still knows that (for example) the Elementarist can provide the most powerful nukes. One of the bloggers wrote that skills-based systems introduce uncertaintly, but that doesn't apply to GW -- the primary will always reign supreme at the top end of their skill's abilities.

        Quite a few of the other points made in those blogs seem to have been overcome in GW too. For example, it's no hardship at all to call for a "healer" instead of a "Monk" specifically, and everyone is perfectly happy to be healed by a Ritualist or an Elementarist/Monk or a Mesmer/Monk who are running healer builds despite not being primary monks. In fact, it introduces some very pleasant variety.

        In summary then, hybrid systems work really well in practice, so the "classes vs skills" debate is a rather pointless one. Just combine the two, and you get the best of both worlds.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by WhodoVoodoo ( 319477 )
          One of my biggest gripes (aside from the boring click-and-lean-back-and-occasionally-press-1-2-or - 3-every-30-seconds combat) with Anarchy Online was the implant and buff system.

          There is something wrong when you might have to go to such lengths as paying a trader to skill wrangle you to cast some buff to install an implant. Laddered buffs (in ANY system, not just spells or items or whatnot) like that are terrible. I'm of the opinion that buff spells and item equiping should be limited to *BASE* stats only,
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Shilkanni ( 803384 )
          I do like the Guild Wars approach of Primary/Secondary, and the ease with which you can reconfigure your character (changing Skills, Secondary Class, and Armour with relative ease) however, I have to call you out on this:

          ...everyone is perfectly happy to be healed by a Ritualist or an Elementarist/Monk or a Mesmer/Monk who are running healer builds despite not being primary monks.

          This is not true, some people will discriminate against people who are not the build which they consider optimal for a particul

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
        Rolemaster used this system (yeah, yeah, Pen & Paper), I personally believe they perfected. The problem was that the game was way, way too complicated for a tabletop game (so many charts, gah, I dreamed of crit charts). This is not a problem with PC games, however, I'd be very curious to see some development team implement the rolemaster system into a MMO.

        The only problem with thatm though, is that weapons in RM are deadly. One lucky crit by some lvl 1 goon and you're out for the count, or at least
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Salamande ( 461392 )
          Ah, "Roll"master. Good times.
          "You trip over an imaginary turtle and stab yourself in the chest. You die in three rounds..."
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
            What I like about it was that it really discouraged players from treating combat as the sole method of meeting challenges. Yes, a combat between two PCs and 3 NPCs might take 8 hours to resolve... but that one marathon rolL-playing session would have been preceded by 6 rolE-playing sessions, maybe with some stealth, etc, thrown in.

            As compared to AD&D and WH, which seemingly resolved around combat after combat after combat.

            Yes, part of it depended on the GM, and YMMV, but I felt the system really guid
      • Kind of reminds me of the original Diablo....
        • by Burlap ( 615181 )
          not even close... in diablo an amazon with X in strength had spent nearly the exact number of points as a warrior or mage with the same amount (there was a slight difference in starting stats).

          In AO it can take up to a factor of FOUR times as many IP points to raise a skill for one class as it does for another. To go back to my example... the nanomage would have to sacrifice a LOT to get her rifle skill to max... to the point of crippling a lot of her primary skills (casting) for the majority of her lev
          • Actually in Diablo 1 there was no Amazon character, only a Rogue :)

            Still, the thing about Diablo was that stats for different classes had different effects. A Rogue with the same exact stats as a Warrior would have more mana, less health, do more damage with a bow, and less damage with melee weapons. So, for example, you had to pump more points into vitality to raise the Rogue's hit points compared to the Warrior's. And they still topped-out a lot faster.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        EVE-Online uses what I consider a really nice system for skills and classes. Although there is really no concrete 'class' system, your character creation involves you choosing paths through race, education establishment, and specialisation. Each of those choices determines the skills you start out with and their levels, and also your attributes. Attributes are Memory, Intelligence, Charisma, Perception, and Willpower, and each skill has one of these as a primary and secondary attribute. The higher your

    • Ogre Battle (at least, Ogre Battle 64) does this, too. Human characters begin as either a male or a female; then, depending on how they are played, you can change them to different classes. Unfortunately the main character is stuck as a sword-using knight type, as are most of his friends.
    • by ajs ( 35943 )
      The problem with most hybrid or just flat-out class/advantage/power-based systems in table-top or online roleplaying is that it is typically VERY easy to create a sub-optimal character. Even d20 (the system that underlies the current version of Dungeons & Dragons) suffers this problem to the extent that it has an advantage system (called feats) tacked on to its class-based system.

      It usually ends up that you need to very carefully fine-tune a character in such systems so that you aren't painfully underpo
  • Trial and error. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zyl0x ( 987342 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:48PM (#16001443)
    It's been tried and tested with all the other MMOs. When you give the players such an open system like a skill-based system, the developers have exponentially more work on their hands. They have to make sure all the combinations are viable gaming options. Nevermind the balance for PvP systems. Skill-based systems are way easier to exploit, as opposed to class-based systems, where the developers have direct control over what the players can be, and what they cannot be. It's a hard balance to strike, though, since players in a class system often feel as though they're being oppressed, but every game needs a structure, and skill-based structures are too close to chaos.
    • When you give the players such an open system like a skill-based system, the developers have exponentially more work on their hands. They have to make sure all the combinations are viable gaming options.
      Poppycock. There is no reason why a certain skill set needs to be viable. It's OK if no one plays that combo. What they need to do is to make certan that certain combinations aren't overpowered.
      • When you give the players such an open system like a skill-based system, the developers have exponentially more work on their hands. They have to make sure all the combinations are viable gaming options.

        Poppycock. There is no reason why a certain skill set needs to be viable. It's OK if no one plays that combo. What they need to do is to make certan that certain combinations aren't overpowered.

        I think that's what he meant by viable; and none being underpowered too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by everphilski ( 877346 )
        It is the overpowered class that has the instant solo win card up his/her sleeve that we are concerned about, not the underpowered class. A single overpowered class can screw over a game.
        • Thanks for restating my post :)

          Maybe I misunderstood the OP, but s/he seemed to feel that all combinations of skill sets need to be viable. Maybe they meant that the bar needs to be lowered (thereby nerfing the 'best' combos) in order to make sure weak combos aren't overpowered, but there's no reason to ensure that a fisher-basketweaver is as viable in PvP as an archer-mage.
    • Re:Trial and error. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:36PM (#16001809) Homepage Journal
      Skill-based systems are way easier to exploit, as opposed to class-based systems, where the developers have direct control over what the players can be, and what they cannot be.

      But isn't that where a lot of fun in a skill based system is for players? Less in any campaigns or quests the devlopers create and more around creating strategies to boost certain skills, so you can use them to, umm boost other skills? In the end it's pointless of course, but we are talkings games after all.

      It's a hard balance to strike, though, since players in a class system often feel as though they're being oppressed, but every game needs a structure, and skill-based structures are too close to chaos.

      I guess my point is why is the chaos a problem if people are enjoying the game?

      I can see that a sufficiently fanatical player with sufficient time on his hands can create a character that is so powerful it's not interesting to play anymore. In that case force some tradeoffs for the character; after all that's what these games are about on an abstract level. Maybe your advancement level in a skill is a function of the total level for all your skills, not the total level in that skill. So if you are a high level enchanter and a low level fighter, you can advance a level in fighting but it's just as hard as advancing a level in magic. The player would have to undertake increasingly more difficult tasks to advance his player's skills at all. Ultimately, characters would reach a point where they could not, in practical terms, gain any more skills. If the point is to take the emphasis off of skill acquisition, then the player would have to shift to playing that character in whatever scenarios you devise. Naturally serious players will have several characters, which means more revenue.
      • I guess my point is why is the chaos a problem if people are enjoying the game?

        Chaos is a problem when it gets beyond the scope of even the player's ability to 'control' it. Just look at WoW's PvP system. No, not Battlegrounds, Open PvP. Whats the number class for ganking? Rogues. Only counter-measure against them? Paranoid, constant vigilance. How is that enjoyable? And before someone says 'just call for help', thanks to recent updates players below a certain PvP rank cannot use the World Defense channel.

    • by Jerf ( 17166 )
      I wonder if that's totally true.

      Suppose instead of hard-coding the values of all the various skills, you tracked how often they were used, and dynamically decreased the value of overused skills, and increased the value of underused skills.

      Overpowered skills would self-nerf, underpowered skills would self-enhance. You would still want to add a bit more structure, but the basic structure would be there.

      I've actually wondered why they don't do something like this already; why tune, tune, tune manually, where y
      • It might be interesting, but it'd need probably as much work as it takes to just balance the game out by hand to get it up and running though. I mean, you need to know how often you'd expect each individual skill to get used for it to be effective, which varies every time you add or tweak any content in the game (monster hit harder => more heal spells get used => heal spells go down in effectiveness). Furthermore, a lot of strategies depend on skills in ways that are hard to nerf. If an attack has eno
      • Re:Trial and error. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ebyrob ( 165903 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @06:26PM (#16003276)
        Have you played Ultima Online?

        They had a system where it was actually more difficult for everyone in the world to gain in certain skills based on how popular they were, or how many other people were also trying to gain at that skill at the same time.

        Think if it kind of like the WoW PvP ladder, but for every single skill. You had to compete with the entire realm just to gain another .1% on your stat sheet.

        UO did some other pretty revolutionary stuff too. For instance, all items, weapons and other goods decayed when used. Sure, you could get them repaired, but they'd still eventually wear out to the point they weren't worth repairing any more. A similar system kept mages in check. Every single spell cast required massive amounts of reagents, also in limited supply. This meant mages might well be the most powerful class in the game, but it came at an extremely high monetary cost.

        This meant you might be able to slice down a town full of wood-cutters, miners, blacksmiths and herb-gathers as an archer-mage, but you'd be begging them later on to sell you enough goods to keep yourself equipped. (At least, that's how it was supposed to work in theory)
    • by Keebler71 ( 520908 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:28PM (#16002190) Journal
      What might be missing here is the distinction between skill-based systems where the user allocates "skill points" and chooses his skills (Star Wars Galaxies) and a skill-based system where skills increase/decrease through use/lack-of-use (Ultima Online). I haven't found a MMORPG that I have liked since UO. The "leveling" concept in virtually every game since puts all the ephasis on, well, leveling - instead of on enjoying the game and its adventures. It just become a big race to the top. UO never had any levels per-se. If you chopped a lot of wood, your lumberjacking skill went up. If you tried to cast difficult spells, your magery went up. "Class choice" was effectively infinite. Of course, there was a tendency to "template" as players quickly found combinations of skills that they would try to raise that they found particularly formidable. The solution was maintaining a skill cap (so that players couldn't skill-up in everything) while occasionally increasing the number of skills (so that players could really specialize).

      It seems to me that there are two things that make a game "addictive". Clearly the "leveling" concept feeds an addiction in the same way that gamblers are fed by "payoffs". This very obviously has driven why this has become the norm. However, I would suggest that this eventually gets boring to the player in the absense of any real game content - and for that you need a truely immersive world. I haven't seen that since UO.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Try EVE. It rocks. I've been playing for a month now and I still have my real life, too. It's an amazing concept.
      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        UO wasn't that great at it either. Back in the early days they didn't have any way to manage your skills and skill growth took for-freaking-ever (It took me 6 months to hit Grandmaster magery back in the 98-99 timeframe.) That had some benefits -- when you hit Grandmaster in any given skill it actually meant something, and you felt a very real sense of accomplishment. Among the drawbacks were the fact that you could be standing around the bank and some jackass could light a fire and you'd go up .1 in the ca
    • A lot of us like our skill-based MMO (and RPG)s thanks much. Really the aren't that much harder to balance -- you just need to balance the attacking skills that do damage versus each other (and versus cost) and you're 90% of the way there.

      Asheron's Call, for all the flaws it may have did a fairly nice job of this WITHIN SETS. By that I mean, the melee skills: dagger, staff, spear, unarmed, mace, axe, sword were fairly balanced. The more you paid (low to high cost in that list) the more damage you did. But t
  • AD&D vs. WhiteWolf (Score:5, Informative)

    by KermodeBear ( 738243 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:49PM (#16001451) Homepage
    This is no different than what happened in the Pen and Paper RPG world - ten years ago.

    Most earlier PnP RPGs (AD&D, 2nd Ed. as an example) were heavily class based. Almost everything you were able to do was dictated by your character's class. When WhiteWolf came on the scene with Vampire: the Masquerade, I remember a lot of people being initially confused by the lack of classes. Your character is just a set of skills. But, as people tried it out, they LOVED it - it allowed them to have tons and tons of freedom over what their character is able to do, instead of being restricted by a class system.

    I'm not a MMORPG fan at all - recurring fees and a limited scope of interaction make PnP gaming much more appealing for me - but I'm surprised that it has taken people so long to figure this out, much less write a news article about it.
    • Long before WhiteWolf, RuneQuest was an entirely skill-based RPG, which was developed into a generic RPG framework. WhiteWolf came rather late to the table.
    • "but I'm surprised that it has taken people so long to figure this out, much less write a news article about it."
      It hasn't taken long. Ultima Online was the first really successful MMORPG and it came out almost 10 years ago. It was skill based.
    • by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) * on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:08PM (#16002041) Homepage Journal

      Your group must have been gaming in a cave if White Wolf's Storyteller (1991) system with its lack of classes was so surprising. Skill based, classless systems had exists for over a decade at that point, including well known systems Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing System in Call of Cthulhu (1981), Hero Game's Hero System in Champions (1981), and Iron Crowne's Rolemaster (~1980). By the time Storyteller showed up, classless gameplay continued in games like Steve Jackson's GURPS (1986) and Mayfair's Mayfair Exponential Game System in DC Heroes (1985).

      Furthermore, it's not a clear case of "classless with skills is better than classes." D&D remains the most popular RPG in the United States; these aren't millions of players who are simply ignorant of classless systems. Classless systems have existed for almost 25 years and are widely available. For many younger player, classless games have existed since they were born. Yet they play D&D.

      Class based systems provide some advantages, in particular it provides guidance. Builting a character from absolutely nothing can be daunting; while many enjoy it, it can be hard to craft a character that fits well into the expectations of the game. In first edition D&D you would be hard pressed to design a character ill-suited for the D&D-style play, while in Vampire it's pretty easy to do so, possibly by accident.

      Of course, guidance don't need to come from strict classes. In particular, many games now provide "archetypes", archtypical characters which players can use as a basis. For example, Shadowrun's Street Samurai, Mages, and Deckers; or Cyberpunk's Glitterboys and Reporters, or Big Eyes, Small Mouth's Gun Bunny's, Magical Girls, and Mecha. I find it telling that in many games with lots of character freedom, they still tend to neatly fit within the archetypes because they fit the game well.

      It's also interesting that many games eliminated "classes" that represented training or profession, but kept some sort of rigid grouping that limits characters, especially new characters. This is true of most of White Wolf's products in which characters are sorted into Clans, Tribes, Kiths, and Traditions, all of which impact a player's choices at start up.

      Also, you're completely missing why MMORPG's have classes: balance issues. MMORPGs are up against very different problems than tabletop games. In a tabletop game, if you make poor choices early in the game that limit your character later in the game, be it role-playing or mechanics, things can be tweaked. In a MMORPG, a poor selection of skills early in the game may lock you out of further advancement, meaning many more hours retraining or building up a new character. They is less of a problem for players interested in gaming that part of the system, or players willing to do lots of online research up front, but it's bad for casual players. Classes also make design easier. Given the complexity of MMORPG design, "easier" may mean "feasible." Many games designs want to create interesting mixes of player characters with different focuses. In a pure skill based system you are more likely to end up with a bland mix optimized in a small number of ways. This is tied into the poor skill choice issue: you might optimize in a way that seems cool ("I want to be the best fire mage possible") only to discover that no one wants you in their group because it turns out that the fire-mage/healer hybrid is far more efficient. While classes force you to sacrifice flexibility, it means you can better ensure that the remaining selections are more evenly attractive and playable.

      Ultimately the line between class-based and class-less is a continuum, one of many. Few games exist perfectly at either end. There is no single answer for all games, tabletop or online. Game designers should reconsider the issue with each new game.

      • While very complete, I believe you forgot The Fantasy Trip [], which according to wiki, came out in 1980.
        IIRC, TFT featured classes and skills, with skills available to all classes but more expensive if you purchased a skill outside of your class core competency. Useful for mages to have a hold out weapon, or for warriors (or thieves) to have a one-trick spell. Also notable for it's influence on GURPS, and does much to prevent accusations of SJGames having ripped off the Hero System (it's more likely Hero bo
      • Your group must have been gaming in a cave if White Wolf's Storyteller (1991) system with its lack of classes was so surprising. Skill based, classless systems had exists for over a decade at that point, including well known systems Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing System in Call of Cthulhu (1981), Hero Game's Hero System in Champions (1981), and Iron Crowne's Rolemaster (~1980). By the time Storyteller showed up, classless gameplay continued in games like Steve Jackson's GURPS (1986) and Mayfair's Mayfair Exp

      • Another downside of sklil-based systems seems to be the lack of excitement in some of the choices that you get to make. When you play a melee class in D+D, you might obtain the ability to go into berserk mode, or get a strong pet and strong scouting skills, or a smattering of holy spells, or maybe just a lot of different melee feats. When you look at something like Gurps, you don't see a lot of truly unique skills like that. You get "karate" and "first aid" and the like, but you don't get "uncanny dodge"

      • by Saint Fnordius ( 456567 ) on Wednesday August 30, 2006 @03:33AM (#16005521) Homepage Journal
        Most of my experience has been with GURPS and AD&D, less with online games (the only one I play is Kingdom of Loathing, and I only play that for the clan chat). In the past few years and especially when the 4th edition came out, GURPS has also gone to a sort of hybrid. The thing is, GURPS doesn't call them classes, but templates.

        I think the template method actually holds the most promise from a programming point of view. A possible implementation in a computer RPG would be for the player to choose the template (say, a woodland scout), and the character generator then sets the minimum stats, the beginning skills and the list of recommended options. If the players clicks "advanced", he can access the larger list. This may sound like a lot of work for the programming team in the beginning, but it pays off later.

        You see, once the skills are chosen, the program doesn't have to treat each class differently. The chance to hit or not comes straight from the weapons skills, not from the class list. It's all stored in the character. It seems to me that the skill method means less info to look up, less databases that have to be added to the game. It also makes the game engine more universal, easier to adapt to different genres or even to allow transporting characters between game worlds (one of the things the makers of GURPS like to claim about their system).

        It's also easier for the players to change professions, as class systems are biased to "once a [CLASS], always a [CLASS]" manner of thinking. This prevents the classic backstory of so many tales, like the priest who once was a bloodthirsty warrior until he found remorse and devoted himself to his god, or the thief who was an apprentice wizard. With the earlier versions of AD&D, this was clumsily handled, with (for example) a warrior-turned-wizard being demoted to 1st level again, and unable to use his old to-hits in combat (if he did, then he didn't get any XP).
    • Sonny, this all happened longer than 10 years ago. AD&D 2nd Edition was class-based, you say? You know what was class-based long before that? The original Dungeons & Dragons. I sure don't know what the first RPG without skills was, but GURPS didn't have any classes, and it came out in 1986. And my understanding is that Champions/HERO system was out earlier than that.
    • I'm not sure that's a good comparison. White Wolf does use a class system, or more accurately, a race system. If you want to play a game with vampires and a demon, you need to buy the Vampire and Demon games. That's like having to buy a book in addition tot he basic books just to play a dwarf. Compare that to D&D, where all the classes and races are in one game (not counting optional add-on/ variant classes in supplements like the swashbuckler). Really, a pure skill system reminds me far more of GURPS.
    • Not particularly relevant, but you're aiming about 12-13 years too late.

      V:TM came out in 1991 at Origins, IIRC. Runequest (1978) was an entirely skill-based system without any hint of classes, published only 3 years after D&D.

      I'm so ashamed I knew this without referring to Wiki. :(
  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:51PM (#16001474)
    I think World of Warcraft has shown that a good mix of both is a nice compromise. With simple classes (e.g. Priest, Warrior, Hunter etc) but allowing players to further customise those roles for their play style (E.g. Priest healer or Priest for damage).

    You don't need to pick black or white, good or evil... Better to have a compromise between the two... A shade of grey as it were.

    Perhaps Blizzard's ability to stay in the "Shades of Grey" is why it has 50% of the MMPORPG market at the minute?
    • by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:20PM (#16001695)
      With simple classes (e.g. Priest, Warrior, Hunter etc) but allowing players to further customise those roles for their play style (E.g. Priest healer or Priest for damage)

      Great, so I have slightly more ways to be pigeonholed. I can be a "healing priest," or a "damage priest," or a highly ineffective combination of the two that will get me killed endless times and put me at a huge disadvantage to specialized priests in PvP.

      Naturally, some "builds" have to be more useful than others, but in modern MMOs there's woefully little in the way of innovation when it comes to player skill sets. Barring changes after patches, hardcore players VERY quickly filter out the most "respectable" builds, which then begin to propagate themselves among the players. Everyone wants to get their player's various numbers as high as they can as fast as they can, and so they settle down into a variety of the most effective builds. The players who aren't savvy to these builds will clunk along, having various amounts of success depending on the way the game is designed. If I want to play a Wizard that has a morbid aversion to fire, but all the "good" Wizard spells are fire-based, then my Wizard's going to have a hell of a time finding people who'll put up with his "useless" Freeze Orb + Mystic Heal combination when--as EVERYONE knows--you MUST have Hell Dagger + Burning Pee in order to kill Trogdors in the Highlands. Why kill Trogdors in the Highlands? Because they drop the only sword that a Chevalier should ever use: Cloudbranch.

      That's going to lead into the whole damn field of item builds, which I don't wanna get into since I've basically gotten completely away from my point. I will say that total randomization of item character would go a long way to preventing the "must have" mentality that plagues so many MMO builds--e.g. your Bow-Using Amazon (in Diablo 2) _must_ use this certain ultra rare Bow to have a snowball's chance in hell in PvP.
      • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @05:02PM (#16002481) Journal
        If I want to play a Wizard that has a morbid aversion to fire, but all the "good" Wizard spells are fire-based...

        Be honest. How much are you really depending on playing, say, a Wizard with that personality trait?

        This is a discussion that gets brought up repeatedly in the pen/paper RPG discussions I've been party to. In lots of RPGs (the MMO kind included), the "roleplaying" takes a backseat to the dungeon crawling / killing the Trogdors in the Highlands without getting burninated, et cetera stuff. Except that it seems worse in the MMOs - the roleplaying is all of the "let's pretend my guy is beating this troll with a +7 Morning Star of Ouchiness." Click click click. "Ha! He's dead. Loot! pwned! BRB, gotta pee."

        The only games I've played where people are actually interested in stuff like that are the pen & paper games, where occasionally (not always) people are willing to stop min/maxing enough to play things like, "One of the local wood sprites has decided to start waging a practical joke war on your character."

        I'm rambling at this point, but here's what I'm getting at: once you decide that you actually want to play something like "My wizard has an aversion to fire," it helps to have the attitude that maybe killing the monsters isn't such a big deal. Maybe it's more fun to, you know, actually play a role, as opposed to getting irritated because you can't get that "generic smiting enemy spell #43" in blue instead of red.
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )
        "Great, so I have slightly more ways to be pigeonholed. I can be a "healing priest," or a "damage priest," or a highly ineffective combination of the two that will get me killed endless times and put me at a huge disadvantage to specialized priests in PvP."

        you can change the kind you are. Albeit it costs in game money.

        "a highly ineffective combination of the two that will get me killed endless times and put me at a huge disadvantage to specialized priests in PvP."

        the most effective PvP players are not 'spec
    • I think World of Warcraft has shown that a good mix of both is a nice compromise. With simple classes (e.g. Priest, Warrior, Hunter etc) but allowing players to further customise those roles for their play style (E.g. Priest healer or Priest for damage).

      That's not really a mix or a compromise, you're still pigeonholed, there are just more holes to go into. A true classless system would enable you to practice any skill and have any hybrid, with your effectiveness only limited by your stats.

      Perhaps Blizzard's

    • I disagree. As an avid Roleplayer -- both on paper and online -- for over 25 years, I feel that WoW's class system is not a "good mix." It is an example of going entirely too far down the road of class-defined roles.

      As a WoW character advances, it is able to purchase every skill and spell available from the trainer, limited only by available funds. Eventually, as the character reaches the level cap, every one is indeed trained, even the ones the player may seldom use. I know of very few systems like t

  • Comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:51PM (#16001479) Homepage

    - Simpler
    - Easier to balance
    - Heavily Contrained
    - Easy to communicate

    - Users aren't locked into one behavior
    - skill based games are expandable
    - There's no assumption that every role is equal
    - There can be multiple reasons to play

    Of course, the game design secret here is that class systems and skill systems are the same thing; they simply have different parameters.
    • I don't think it's accurate to say they're the same thing. I'd say they're different solutions to the same problem. The problem being how to provide the player with new abilities in a structured way as they progress through the game.

      I also think at least one of those bullet points is inaccurate. How can classes be easier to balance, when a strictly skills based game can basically ignore a whole part of game balancing completely? In a skills based game, if one skill gives an unreasonable advantage to people
  • by dorbabil ( 969458 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:53PM (#16001488)
    I've been working a few RPG ideas over in my head for the past few years, piling details on as I find ideas I like or think I could improve upon in other games, and the class vs. skill debate is something I'm very familiar with.

    I think the biggest problem with the skill system is that it makes the experience way too "loose" for the incoming player, and in MMOs or traditional CRPGs, that can be a serious problem. With a class-based system, you can make the player focus on one or two things early on instead of allowing them to run free, which gives them an ample chance to learn the game, the interface, and to get familiar with the characters and story. With a skill-based system, there's more of an unstructured feeling. You can't really force everyone into doing a few basic skills right away, because if those skills don't interest the person, they are going to feel like they are wasting their time. Since a lot of the developers who make large scale games, esspecially MMOs, don't have the time/money/desire to put a lot of instruction and guidance in for every single skill combination in the early game, it can be tough for people to stick with it long enough to find their niche.

    I think that's why a lot of MMOs go with a sort of combination of the two. You get a class (or even just give characters generic experience levels that effect statistics and the ability to use equipment), and then later allow them to learn and explore different trade-skills. Some MMOs even go for keeping the character as a jack-of-all-trades earlier on, and then allowing the player to specialize once they are familiar with the different skills that they can use.

    I still think that some of the best games only have skills. UnReal World is one of my favorite roguelike CRPGs, and I really enjoy it's skill system.
    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      I think if you are into the role-playing aspect of RPGs then having classes makes play-acting easier. "My character is a knight, and a knight would act like this..." Whereas with a skilled character, you have to make a personal story as to how/why they got those skills, what is the personality, who is the person *really*, etc. You can't rely on just a class stereotype.
    • I played a pile of demos of MMORPGs for kicks recently, and you're quite right.

      EVE is a classless system- you can learn anything in the enormous tech tree. But what? I was seriously confused as a noob since I had no idea what I needed now vs. what I might need in a few months. There are prereqs for every piece of equipment, and it's hard to figure out a decent way to get what you want to do. However, when you do figure it out you can make any character you want. (And then have everything you own wast

  • by Astarica ( 986098 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:56PM (#16001514)
    If you take every combination of skill distribution and call that a 'class', you now have a class-based system. Of course unless you've only 3 skills, you'll quickly get way too many classes, which is what happens in the class based systems, and it becomes a balancing nightmare. Since MMORPG is competitive, you have to have some semblance of balance because while it might be fine for a single player game or a small multiplayer game (say, 4-8) to have some utterly overpowered or useless equivalent classes, this is not okay in a MMORPG. The number of equivalent classes to balance, in a skill-based system, is simply intractable. Heck, people have a hard time balancing 5 or 10 classes and yet people expect to have any sembalance equality when you deal with an effectively hundreds, if not more classes?
    • You're not actually thinking about it the way most of us players think about it. We tend toward choosing a role and then choosing skills that define that role. If I want to be a magic user, I will choose magic skills because that makes sense for my role. If I want to be a warrior, I will pick a weapon skill and a bunch of close-combat and support skills. If I want to be a merchant, a manufacturer, or anything of that sort, I will pick utility skills appropriate to that plus some combative or magic skills de
    • I've played Asheron's Call for 6 years, off and on. It's a completely skill-based MMO. As the parent says, in the end, it's still a class based system: there are only a handful of viable skill combinations. In reality, though there are theoretically thousands of potential skill sets, 95% of players end up choosing a tried and true "template", or something very close to it.

      You end up tweaking a few variables to make your character fit your playstyle a little better, and it's nice to be able to do that --
  • by mhazen ( 144368 ) * on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @02:58PM (#16001531) Homepage
    I've come to prefer the system used in the Elder Scrolls series quite a bit, being a directed version of the skill-based subsumed in a class-based world. That is to say, you have a class, yes, but when you level, the options you are given to improve your character's stats directly reflect what you've actually been doing in the world.

    Yes, it would take a spellcaster longer to level if they're focused on hand-to-hand combat (it would actually happen incidentally, through repated use of the skills that are associated with their class, but when they do eventually level, they would have the ability to increase their strength significantly more than if they had focused exclusively on spellcasting.

    I find this to be a surprisingly effective compromise, and it reflects somewhat on the nature of experience and growth in the real world (minus the spellcasting, of course). By this I mean that if I were a surgeon, the more surgeries I participate in, the higher my skill is likely to grow, and therefore, my standing as a surgeon (overly simplified example, yes). This does not, however, preclude the option I have for taking tae kwon do lessons and improving my martial skills. Since I don't make my living as a martial artist however, even though my ability is improving in other arenas, it does not reflect back on my ability as a surgeoun.

    Consider it as 'career track' versus 'personal development'.
    • by misleb ( 129952 )
      I haven't played the pevious games, but I thought Oblivion's skill/class/leveling system sucked. Yeah, it is more realistic, but there are some skills/spells that don't get used very often. So if you want to advance them, you have to run around using it aimlessly to train it. It makes sense, but what happened to me is that just before every level-up, I would exercise the skills required to boost certain attributes. If I wanted +5 Endurance, my spellcaster had to put on some heavy armor and tank a crab for 1
  • I like a system where you pick skills and you're free to diversify, but if you pick say a magic skill, it'd give you something like +1 intelligence. So if you picked several magic skills, you'd be a more powerful mage than someone who branched into half fighting and half magic.
  • Ultima Online (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The only MMORPG enjoyed was Ultima Online. And it used a very simple system: you can grandmaster 7 skills, be it fishing, archery, magic, mining, etc. (UO has a great variety of skills, by the way.) This system felt more "real" to me; I wasn't confined to some stupid class template. It also allowed for more customization. My secondary character, for example, could learn skills that would make him an ideal miner. And all skills increased through their use, not some ridiculous level system.

    I quit UO years ago
  • Skills rock (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:02PM (#16001568) Homepage
    I miss the 32 profession 250 point open skills system SWG once had. You had complete freedom.

    Now it's just like any other EQ/WoW clone, you are locked into single professions without any multi classing. Only 2 even have talent trees.

    Back when I started SWG (pre-CU, before all this revamp the game to death nonsense started) it didn't even HAVE levels. Now the AI is so braindead that damage/defense is basically higher CL - lower CL. Pre-CU it wasn't.

  • Whew that was a lot of reading. :-)

    I definitely agree with those experts. My own observation was that Battlefield 2's introduction of the dynaclass system was an interesting evolution in the characteristically static realm of online shooters. You could choose your "class" every time you spawned, allowing yourself the freedom of experimentation without the punishing nature of a repetitive level grind (commonly found in MMORPGs). Dynaclasses also provided a mechanism for filling vacant roles within the gam

  • MMO's (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OoZz ( 997149 )
    While I do currently play World of Warcraft (only because it is the least buggy and simply best MMO on the market right now) I favor games like old school star wars galaxies. In that game you had over 30 professions to choose from and you could customize your charcter any way you wanted pulling certain skills from those professions. Diversity is what really attracted me to that game because no two people were exactly the same, whether it was skills that they had, the way they looked, or even the outfits t
    • unfortunatly with the success of WoW, SOE decided they wanted to take a chance and make the game more WoW like in hope of stealing some of their market share. SOE failed and all SWG is now is a cheap WoW wannabe with a diminishing player base.

      Not really no, SWG had created a rather crappy game (a game that didn't live either to it's promises or to it's franchise), and then they pulled the usual SOE trick: if it's broken, fix it... with a hammer... a big one...

      That's the path they usually took with any i

  • by kirun ( 658684 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:11PM (#16001633) Homepage Journal
    The problem I've found with MMORPGs with a lack of classes is kids can level up all day in the school holidays while I'm at work, and if I ever dare wander near a PK area, I'm instantly slaughtered by a 12-year-old.
    • Uh? How the frigging hell are class-based MMORPG any different?
    • by misleb ( 129952 )
      I've found that just about every multiplayer online game is like that. The guys who have no job or school or life spend all day practicing/leveling. Playing with them is just no fun. I have never had the kind of fun online as I have had playing on a LAN (remember IPX?) with a few friends/coworkers. It just gets too "serious" online. There's always that faceless character who can snipe you from 10 miles away (or some equivient feat in a given game).

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You need to play EVE online. Your character learns at a static rate whether you are online or offline :)
  • by aralin ( 107264 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:25PM (#16001727)
    ... is that it is closest to how our brain works. We need names for concepts in order to grasp them, describe them, use them in the thought process and exchange information about them. How can you talk about a player in skill based system? Either you place him in some type of stereotype or he will feel like a heap of different grain seeds. You can sort of grasp most of them and hold them in your palm, but never get quite the same handfull and always some fall between your fingers. When the communication gets complicated, the social aspect of the game suffers. That leads to the fact that most of the skill based games are promoting individualism and solo play, while the class based systems heavily promote group play. But the most important distinction is that for the difficulty to grasp the concept of skill based game, it is hard to gain new players for your game.

    Also, look at the real life. Do we say that some employee can do a bit of accounting, some direct marketing, little bit of sales and has extensive skills in drafting legal contracts? So how do you find a job for such person? How do you talk about him? How can you put him in a social context? Or do you just say he is a "Contract Lawyer" with some extra business skills? We simply tend to stereotype that is how our brain works.

  • by kinglink ( 195330 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:37PM (#16001818)
    The simple problem is the more choices a player has, the more times a different level character can come out.

    When playing D&D there's either the core classes or multiple prestige, which works well except that there's always players who find the one way to get a character who at level 10 is so significantly more powerful than everyone else in the power that it's boring to play because the game becomes "hide behind loserboy".

    Classes allow a simple way to balance a game, certain classes have certain skills and roles. A rogue might be able to solo in WoW but with a healer he's a lot more effective. A paladin can do well healing or fighting but he's not a master at either.

    Imagine if you could have a stealth enabled caster who could equip heavy armor and knows the strongest magic in the game? It'd be unstopable but some open skill systems basically allow that. The secret is to give the players the option of any skill but to require specialization at the very least. Of course most games would even balk at that because that's going back towards Classes again.

    Honestly The question is more what works best in your game? In a single player game do you want there to always be a solution to the problem so you can beat the game? Then you'll want classes. Do you want the character to possibly placed in a situation where they can't complete the game? Then skills will be you're option.

    Or instead you can constantly play the game and change the rules over and over but by the third rule change many of your fans will start walking away because if there's one thing the fan's want is stability, especially stability with their own characters.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      Imagine if you could have a stealth enabled caster who could equip heavy armor and knows the strongest magic in the game? It'd be unstopable but some open skill systems basically allow that."

      that shows an incredible lack of imagination.

      Why would the player be the only one like that? What's the limitation of the armor? In DnD its what -12 to stealth and -6 to casting?

      Personally I use SavageWorlds.
    • by kindbud ( 90044 )
      Imagine if you could have a stealth enabled caster who could equip heavy armor and knows the strongest magic in the game?

      Give me a stealth any-character that isn't completely revealed to the entire zone by a n00b mage casting his first level spell "Reveal Invisible." It was that way in EQ, it's that way in WoW. What is the point of having a Rogue who can hide and backstab if the lowliest of n00bs can defeat his advantage with a starter spell?

      It makes no sense at all.
  • I don't think skills vs classes matters all that much. Case and point- nethack (sorry, I'm going to whine a little about nethack is better than EVERYTHING ;-P). Nethack has classes, but I never feel confined when playing it. Every nethack character has the simple goal of retrieving the amulet of yendor- it is a hack 'n' slash, after all. But somehow there are enough items in the game, and they interact in unique enough ways, that every game plays out differently. In other words, there is strategy. So you pl
    • I used to play Nethack a lot. Every so often, I come back to it. It's very replayable. And yet, I keep running into the same problem with it: the longer you play any class in it, the more that character resembles a GDSM+5-wearing, Tsurugi+7-wielding, AoLS-adorned, all-spell-knowing, full-resistance-having generic level-30 adventurer with a towel, pickaxe, blessed unicorn horn, and /death in a blessed bag of holding (inside an oilskin sack).

      You can enjoy some variety if you try for a quicker game or for c
    • If you're almost entirely ignorant of modern MUDs and MMOs, why are you even posting here? Seriously.

      I can sum up that post in two sentences:

      "I love Nethack. I don't know anything about any game other than Nethack."

      Besides, Mission: Thunderbolt is better. :P
      • Well, I've read a lot of reviews about the newest MMOs, so I feel like I have some idea of them. And I've played (briefly) a couple text-based MUDs within the last couple of years. The player-vs-player side seems to have advanced a lot, but the player-vs-environment seems practically identical to what it was 15 years ago.

        I'll have to check out Mission: Thunderbolt. Looks pretty cool :-)

        One last thing: I'm a physicist, and if anytime a physics article comes up a bunch people can post "So I guess /all s
  • I don't know about other games (aside from WoW) but Final Fantasy XI allows someone to switch to ALL classes any time (in a town). You do have to level each class, so basically you don't have a "level 50 character" but instead may have a character that's a level 5 warrior, level 25 thief, level 12 mage, and so on... For all the game flaws (loading every time you go to another map), this was one of the best feature.
  • by rayde ( 738949 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @03:47PM (#16001892) Homepage
    if you want people to work together to achieve goals, classes are more clearly focused on this... if everybody can train a skill to pick locks, there's no need for a specialized thief. and if everybody can train a skill to heal themselves, there's no need for a specialized healer. my point is, by allowing everybody to be a jack-of-all-trades, you lessen the number of people you need to have a full range of skills.

    if an MMO is trying to get smaller groups, then perhaps this is fine, but if you'd like a more traditional group of Fighter/Cleric/Wizard/Thief each with their own defined roles, then classes are the way to go.

  • The problem with almost all online RPGs is there's too much focus on the latter. Unfortunately the game companies probably think it's the only way to sell subscriptions.
  • by Cherveny ( 647444 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2006 @04:13PM (#16002077) Homepage
    Many skill based MMORPGs end up turning into a fashion of class based games, in a way. People start finding the "ideal" combination of skills that are effective for a certain method of play, and more and more people end up using the same template. One way that developers sometimes help feed this is by having one or more skills "feed" another, where having one skill helps make the original skill more effective. I know this was particularly true in some revs of Ultima Online.

    I've seen this behavior in both (the original flavour) SWG and UO.

  • I guess this post only applies to pen-and-paper, due to balancing issues...

    Over time I've realized that I'm strongly anti-class. In this postmodern world, I just find it incredibly difficult as a dm to construct, and as a player to believe in, a world where everybody has to fit cookie cutter stereotypes. Where vampires are evil, magicians can't cast healing spells, and clerics must use bludgeoning weapons, just...well...because. Of course this leads to class-system equivocating in the form of "class spra
  • You can have a completely different style of gameplay depending on what class you are. Skills don't often create that. Classes create limitations which can make gameplay more interesting.

    The most interesting gameplay I've ever seen in an MMO was Nexus TK []. Four classes: Warrior, Rogue, Poet, Mage. Warrior and Rogue are fighters, and early in the game (before level 99), they are useful for completely different things. Rogues can "ambush" around creatures, and can thus charge straight past a huge hoard o
  • I've always thought it would be good to have a skill system that was based on your use of particular skills rather than on experience or skill points. I mean, it doesn't really make much sense for a fighter to earn experience points smashing creatures over the head with a mace, and use them to learn a new spell does it? His experience was in monster-bashing, not hand-waving.

    The idea I've had floating around in my head is to link progression with abilities used. Every time you make a melee attack, there's
  • While I personally prefer a skills based system, I can see that class and level based game design offers some directly advantageous things to the developers of a game: Its far easier to determine what capabilities a character may have in a given situation, and by controlling those abilities via character level, far easier to determine a challenge rating.

    Class also offers the player a clear definition of their role in a group - and thus the ability to choose that role. Essentially they all boil down to the D
  • At it's heart, all online role playing games try to hook the players (not all..but by my accounts most) by turning them into "tweak the numbers" players.

    They don't care about role playing, or talking with friends (unless it's for the following reason). They care about tweaking their numbers and making their characters more efficient "systems" at doing things designed to to reward the "ahhh" pathway in the brain and start the cycle all over again.

    Kill monster, get gold, buy armour, so you can kill bigger mon
  • At a first glance, it looks like you could do anything with a "free" skill system that does not limit the skills your character can have. You could be anything. A specialist, a generalist, a combination thereof, your imagination is the limit.

    In fact, caused by game dynamics, the truth is more often than not a few "working" templates you can choose from. Usually, when you go for generalism, you suffer the "jack of all trades, master of none" fate. Yes, you can heal, fight and cast, but you still suck at any

Real Programmers think better when playing Adventure or Rogue.