Tuesday, 11 February 2014

MMOs: The Problem With Levels

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

Most MMOs love putting people into level brackets probably because they think it isn't relevant for you to encounter people higher or lower level than yourself. I think that's wrong.

As I said in a previous post, characters in MMOs should gain individual skill by practicing said skill (and skill loss through neglect) instead of having a generic "experience bar" that measures your whole worth in neatly packaged "levels" which serve mainly to separate the player base in various zones. Can't have those elites that kill gods camp the chicken goblins we're reserving for the noobs in the starting area after all right? All this does is create an upward flow where eventually all the maxed level people are all in the same zones, getting bored once they reach to top rung of the ladder and waiting for "what's next".

The other problem it has is the common sense issue which is shared by Dungeons & Dragons. Picture if you will, a level 1 farmer getting stabbed by a spear in the face. The farmer only has 6HP and the spear does 8 damage, killing the man in one strike. The same spear then stabs a nude mid level fighter (also in the face) for the same damage. What was a fatal blow to the farmer suddenly is just a potential minor injury for a person of the same race simply because the fighter has a lot more hit points that are magically granted when he gains levels. What?

One level can make a really big difference.

I think that mechanic should be done away with. A wolf pack should be just as dangerous to a wandering musician as it is to a knight, or soldier. Sure, the other two can probably fight the wolves better from their skill set, but who is to say that the musician doesn't study martial arts on the side? What I'm getting at is that skill can help them survive the encounter, not a higher number beside their name. And if they stuff up, a bite is a bite. Equal in all regards if they were wearing the same attire.

The anime Attack on Titan (I haven't read the manga) is a good example of what I'd like to see actually. Skilled people perform better, but they are just as susceptible to death as the peasants they are trying to defend. If you still haven't seen it and are into anime, you really ought to. You know it's good when I'm harping on it for two posts straight. :P


  1. We always interpreted HP in our D&D games as the abstract ability to shrug off injury. Thus a level 10 fighter isn't so much completely fine being stabbed in the face with a spear so many times, but that he has learned to deflect blows or otherwise mitigate damage to the point that you have to wear him down a bit before getting the killing blow. This isn't a perfect explanation, but it isn't entirely stupid either - I would be out of a fight after just a single solid punch to the kisser, while it is clearly a completely different story for a professional boxer.
    In pen-and-paper RPGs I have played where offensive ability overshadows effective health, things tend to get silly to the point where players will only go through with an encounter after incredibly tedious planning to ensure they get the first strike and that it is effective, otherwise they will almost certainly die. I think that is the alternative you are effectively describing, and I am not convinced it makes a good video game experience, even if the whole level thing is on the side of ridiculous.

    1. Thing is I've seen it work, and not just in shooters which often go with this approach. Mabinogi heavily relies on player skill, and yes - getting the first strike in usually is a bonus, but when faced against a group your skill as a player is more important than the skill level of your character.

      I keep referring back to that game because a skeleton there can easily slay a level 1 or a level 2000+ (which I am), but in turn can also be defeated by either as long as the player behind the character is good at positioning and timing. The level 2000 character simply has more options to do, and has a better chance to critical hit to make the fight end faster.

  2. I've always thought the construction of levels creates way more problems than it solves. Certain levels in areas are a good thing, they give input regarding time played and content completed but when they create such huge distinctions between players or restrict playing with others then it needs to change

    1. Yup yup! Also to be honest, while I never really liked levels I never -disliked- them so much until I played more and more MMOs and read some really good reasoning from the rest of you guys and gals. *gasp* You blogs have an effect! If that's not a reason to continue blogging I don't know what is! ;)