Classes, Skills, Avatars and a Sense of Self.

since damion started the latest craze of the skills vs. classes debates, i figured i’d weigh in on the situation. you’ll pardon me as i just do a hearty brain dump.

first, skills vs. classes.

i’ll state it right out — i’m a skill system man. i like the flexibility that a skill-based system gives to someone with a single-minded focus on a discrete set of skills. it’s about finding fun and interesting ways to play and have fun within the system.

maybe that’s just me tho. maybe everyone else in the world likes to play the same character all the time doing the same thing — over, and over and over. but, eh. whatever.

skill-based stuff is harder to balance tho? i’m glad i’m not the only one who’s been scratching his head at the notion of “why on earth is it any harder to balance skill-based games vs. class-based games?”

i mean, what’s the detriment? “flavor-of-the-month?” so? no offense, but flavor-of-the-month means more alts, more fun, more experimentation, more activity to me. and, in a subscription-based economy … uh … you kinda need that. if there was only one flavor — forever — why would anyone (other than the hardcores) play beyond the 6 months or whatever it takes to achieve god-like status with that character?

and people think flavor-of-the-month is rote? again — whatever.

this isn’t to say there’s nothing broken about skill-based systems. it just depends on the game. some things, like, primarily combat-heavy games (read: most of them) are easy to break with a skill-based system.

a major cause of that is that for all of the different skills you use, there really is only one target value you’re hunting for — hit points. that’s where the balancing act comes in. it’s all about tuning dps.

well. what if we took dps out of the equation? what if you could “win” a pvp encounter without doing a single hit point of damage? hell, without every even engaging in combat?

it makes sense. your uber-talented dancer should be able to out-dance some stupid fighter and be rewarded for it, right? what we’re doing is taking the comparison of apples-to-oranges and making it apples-to-apples.

welcome to what we call “skill wagering” over at thesingular.com.

the concept is basically a skill showdown where money and xp are on the line — winner take all! just like in any pvp game, you can walk up and whack any other player you want to gain fortune, fame and xp (ymmv based on the game), in our game, you can sidle on up and skill wager anyone you want. (with the same restrictions as to who you can join combat with, of course.)

some fighter getting out of control? well, the bakers union can waltz in and take all of his money in pie-making contest.

tho. it does depend on the fighter’s baking skill since the amount of xp and gold earned in a skill wager is completely determined by your opponents skill. after all, it’s not too hard to beat down a cripple, now is it? however, having a decent wisdom is all it really takes for the fighter to feel a dent in his wallet because xp and gold would be divvied out based on his untrained, wisdom-based skill total in “hot cross bun baking.”

a side effect of this is that players tend to make their characters rather one-dimensional. focused on combat. or focused on dancing. or focused on crafting. that way, for their tertiary skills and abilities, they aren’t ding’ed too much when they lose the random bake-off. (tho, if that fighter was a mean baker as a hobby and if he won the wagers, he’d be earning xp and gold from the bakers challenging him — while he was offline. yep. offline growth. totally rad.)

meaning, with blase-half-assed secondary skills, you’re basically just increasing the xp and gold some other character would earn when they beat you at it. however, as the game goes on, soon that blase-bit you’re earning for baking wagers against people without the skill just don’t look that appetizing. (pun alert!) it’s sort of built-in bottom-feeding deterrent. it all breaks down to how much xp and gold you can earn for each turn you spend. (yup. we’re realtime-turn-based.)

as the theory goes, over the long term, skills should smooth out bell-curve style as xp rewards get higher and pool around several specific base skills. simply because the skills the general population want to increase — the popular ones — will be the ones folks test. and, if they generally test them against higher and higher skilled players (as the mean skill goes up over the player base) their own average xp/gold per turn will increase.

voila! self-assembling classes all folksonomy-like.

this system will produce more than just fighters. however, it’s a web-based game and not a virtual-3d-wander-around-lost-time-sink-need-to-be-logged-in-to-play game. how would skill wagering fit within that context? luckily, it’s not for me to figure out.

on to “role-playing” and avatars.

so. a requirement for role-playing is to create your character — your online avatar. a consistent role you can play in a game. with all the combat-heavy, class-based love out there, those “roles” seem relegated to tank, healer, etc. it’s not role-playing. it’s job-title-playing.

which, i guess isn’t really a bad thing if that’s your bag. be one of the trillions of other hunters out there, i suppose. whatever blows your skirt.

however, in a web-based environment, we have a few things going for us that don’t exist in a 3d world.

1) it’s text-based.

well. mostly. you of course have your avatar pic that you can update and some flavor images throughout the site, but, most communication is non-visual in the textual sense. that means, you don’t have to sound like a shmuck when you are recorded revoking dkps.

you can take the time to craft your messages/posts/comments to be in a consistent voice.

and 2) we’re a persistent world.

no, i mean really persistent. online or off, your avatar is out there. people are reading your description. looking at your guild. checking out your quests. reading your posts. you are there. (but, you’re not really.)

your avatar truly becomes your online version of self rather than some collection of goodies in a mobile bag with one of four job titles.

that means there’s more incentive to project whatever persona you really want. and, quite frankly, it’s a lot easier too. since our channel is the web, we can take advantage of all the bloggy-commenty-posty-customizable goodies that come along with it.

all in one nice, neat, integrated package.

build your own avatar. write and create your own background. build your adventure history.

hell. build your own quests.

yep. we’re all about user-created content over here. just like you, we’re tired of all the fed ex quests requiring somebody somewhere to get beaten up. with our system, you can make your own baking quest. your own stealth quest. make quests related to your group of friends and their adventures!

you can even build an entire quest to be played out during a single conversation using different diplomacy or bluffing skills to determine the outcome. (i’ve got a great idea for one of these — just looking for the time to write it up.)

there are just so many opportunities for players to directly affect our world. (creating your own locations, quests, guilds, skills, items, etc. is just a start.)

the way we’ve structured things, it’s really all about grouping (just in a different way than you’re used to) and all about solo-type play. it solves (at least, i think) a lot of the problems inherent with the big 3d mmo games out there.

yes, it’s still point and click. and no, you don’t have to “telnet” anything. ya just have to get over that hump of “dude. where are the particle effects?”

m3mnoch.

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