Shattered World - Pt. IV - Character Progression

First off, props to Rayne and his Making the MMO series of posts for inspiring me to do this in the first place.

The Process

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that when some of you read the words, "classless skilless" in my last post it made you tip your head a little. Now if you can bear with me, I'm going to go into why I made the system I did, and what process I went through to come to it, before actually going into the details of how the system works.

After spending months hanging out over on the multiverse developers forums, I learned alot about actual game design. What I also saw was that certain ideas really tended to resonate with people, but few could actually explain why, or point out why they were so superior. Personally, I internalized much of the information, took part in various debates, discussed it with some level headed individuals, then after weighing all sides, began working on this.

What I had found was that, by and large, very few people liked the idea of having straight up levels. Killing rabbits to kill rabbits better can be fun, but more often than not isn't terribly rewarding in the long run. So people began to harp on skills, you would use them, and they would go up, but just as you used them! Genius, right!? While I do think it's a solid system, it has a few general issues. For instance, skill decay is almost a necessity, since you can't have everyone skilled at everything. Which drew you into either creating systems where every character has a static number of skill points and moves them around, such as what Caab posted though I have seen examples of similar systems before, or player demoralizing systems where they could conceivably sit there and watch their skills drop. Lastly, a significant section of people really wanted a system free of statistical analysis where they just watched their character to know things rather than checking the UI.

At the end of the day though, all of these come back to one basic point. Representing the underlying statistics. After playing some more games, including WoW I decided that we could pretty well group the systems that are used to effect your underlying statistics into 4 groups.


Each one is already in use to effect statistics in triple A games right now, since I count Race as a part of appearance. But let's go through each one a little.

Levels are an excellent system for reporting the rough strength and level of progress a character has attained. The problem is, they have been done to death, and are often used where they are weakest, as a system of progress in and of themselves.

Skills are more representative of the actual level of skill a player would have, which makes them both simple to understand and very direct. My problem with them is that they seem to be a second level of abstraction, abstracting things out too many times away from the real core is almost always messy and bad.

Abilities are things players click or press a button and use. THESE ARE FUN! In all seriousness, there is nothing in an MMO that contributes as much to the sheer fun factor as Abilities. The cons are, they suffer terribly from lag, since activating them too late is often fatal. However, we have ways of dealing with that.

Appearance is probably the most underused of them all. People like to look at their pretty new armor, and like to look at their character as they grow and progress, but it's an incredible amount of work to add new armors and what not to the models.

So what did I do? I simplified, cut and rolled them all up into a single category, Appearance. I then connected that one category to the base statistics which make up the computer's concept of your character. Much like in the game of go, the removal of the more complex systems actually opens up an incredible number of options and possibilities. It adds depth, while simplifying initial game play.

Character Progression

In the Shattered World system, all players start off essentially the same, with the same starting statistics. As they perform early training quests they earn biomass, that's where the game of character creation really starts.

Players are allowed to spend biomass on appearance upgrades, these upgrades range from spikes to changing an entire body part to be bestial or insectoid rather than humanoid. Each upgrade group adds to certain skills, and opens or closes some abilities. For instance, your basic strength and toughness are increased when you increase your size, allowing you to wield heavier and bigger weapons or armor, and denser muscles will increase strength and speed, allowing you to move faster, hit harder and wield heavier, though not bigger, equipment.

These changes are immediately reflected in your character, you look stronger, bigger, scarier, or meaner immediately upon purchasing the upgrade. When your overall stats increase, your level increases, reporting the change in your character. When you equip armor or weapons that increase total damage mitigation or damage output, it will also effect your level. If there will ever be a cap on levels, it will be imposed simply to prevent values from becoming so large as to cause bugs in the game engine.

Now, since I mentioned it earlier, some of you might be asking, how can all this asset modeling be accomplished? Simple, procedural changes. If you only had to model every upgrade twice, very young and very mature, you could then create procedures to automatically generate the in-between stages. Tweening basically. Armor models can be built to accommodate all upgrades at very young and very mature stages, then tween and blend to allow for it to dynamically choose the correct armor. These can be pre-generated and stored in a data file to save client run-time, or be run by the client at run time to save disk space.

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