05 September 2010

An Overview of Class Systems and Patches

First of my patching troubles is no longer a problem, now I only have to deal with the actual patching. Several hours after the progress bar siting just at 98.xx percent, it finishes and the built-in audio output begins to play as my elation rises.

Until I look at the window again. The first part of the update, the initial updates, was in three parts. The first two went by very quickly once the date started flowing, hardly even noticed parts one and two, though this wasn't the case with three. Like I said in the first paragraph, it stalled around 98% of the download, and promptly decided to stay at that mark until several more hours passed. Thank god for television and free-to-play games.

The second set of updates, the part I'm currently on, is composed of nine separate parts, of which I'm currently on four.  During the writing of this, I have actually experienced another network failure.  The game play looks like it could work, and from what I've seen of the options, this game looks like it will be a very nice, refreshing experience to contrast with other MMOs.  If you played it's predecessor, I think you'll be in for a familiar treat as the game supports gamepads by defaults and features a similar and, possibly, an even more robust class system.

      In Final Fantasy XI, the first of the MMOs, you were able to have character gain levels in several classes independently.  Though, your 'character level' was considered to be the current class you had selected.  Meaning, if you started out as a thief, and played until you were level 14, then you'd be considered a level 14 thief.  If you switched over to, say, Black Mage, then you'd be considered a level 1 Black Mage and your levels in Thief would have no effect on your character, with an exception.  You could also choose a second class to compliment your 'main', or current class, called a 'sub-class'.  The sub-class had a single restriction in terms of raw power, it's level could never exceed half of your main classes level.  So if you're current main class was Thief, you could increase your level as a Black Mage until it was level 7.  For a further increase, you would have to make Black Mage your main class or pick a different main class that would have a high level cap for your sub-class (say, if you had warrior at level 20, then Black Mage could go up to 10.)

     That should give you a good idea of how classes worked in FFXI.  As far as I know, and can remember, they have done away with the sub-class system.  From reading up on the features of the game, it seems as though your class and the current abilities you have access to will be determined by your equipment, this includes what many people know as 'professions'.  What this means, if you have a sword and shield equipped, you'd be called a warrior.  If you decided to polish and stow away your sword, in favor of a fishing pole, then you'd be considered a fisher. 

     I have some mixed feelings about this, though I lean towards the side that it's a good change.  While multiclassing systems are nice in that you can tailor your character to your liking, you miss out on some nice, unique design possibilities.  Take a look at the ever popular World of Warcraft, the paladin class.  They have these really cool spells that are unique to them.  'Bubbles', as the community calls them, as spells that give some kind of defensive bonus to the target.  These can be used in many different ways, they can allow the tank to hold off more damage than he would be able to normally, or could save the parties squishy wizard if he drew the attention of enemies.

     Now, the paladin class is one of the most versatile classes in the game.  They can take damage extremely well without dieing, they can deal pretty good damage with out worrying about taking too much due to their defensive stats, and they can even heal.  It's very easy to see this class as a Priest/Warrior combination, which would be very accurate.  What limits a paladin is called 'talents'.  In short, you get a set amount of points, and three different 'trees' that you can spend them in.  The catch is that the stronger 'talents' are farther down the tree.  To get the stronger talents, you have to spend points to even get access to them.  This prevents a single character from being able to take massive amounts of damage, dealing just as much, and still being effective at keeping allies alive.

     On the other end of the spectrum, let's look at multiclass systems.  In essence, they work like this:  You pick two classes, and have access to both of their features.  A warrior can wear heavy armor and larger weapons.  A priest can heal wounds and rejuvenate allies.  So you could become very similar to a paladin, with a few ways to heal and keep your allies safe.  But it is not nearly as effective.

     One other thing that Paladins get in World of Warcraft are called 'Seals'.  These are basically a way to enhance your basic attack.  The first Seal you get access to is called Seal of Light, it adds a small amount of damage to your own attacks.  The true way to make use of these, however, are spells called 'Judgement'.  Judgement of Light, for example, puts a debuff on the target.  This doesn't actually impede the target's ability to act in anyway, what it does is it gives every hit the enemy receives to heal the attacker for a small amount.

     Look at it from a design point of view.  If you are playing a paladin, you get a skill that allows you to do damage, and also heal your allies by them attacking, which includes yourself.  This let's you do both things paladins are a combination of, a warrior and a priest or 'healer'.  On the other hand, let's see how close it'd be likely to get.

     From warrior, you could wield a heavy weapon and heavy armor.  From priest, you could get abilities to heal your allies or protect them from damage.  Casting a spell from the priest class would force your character to stop acting for a short time, meaning they might lose the attention of enemies, meaning the ally they were trying to heal might take even more damage in that time.  That's bad design.

     The only real way to fix it would be to create specific abilities that you could access only with a combination of specific classes, which kind of defeats the point of a multiclass system, which is why the system World of Warcraft uses works.  You lose options in a closed class system, but you gain power.  Because a paladin can only do a specific role at once, they gain tools to do that role very well, such as the Seals and Judgements.  One ability to fill a role and a half, against two abilities to fill one role.

      These are the problems that are inherent in many designs, but developers rarely try to address these problems.  And, now, you have them presented to you, so you are now aware of them.  What should you do?  Bring them up, continue to make them known.  Or don't, which ever you want.  Publishers are supposed to create games for consumers, gamers, to enjoy.  Just keep this in mind, when ever a team of developers is trying to say 'we want to do this, because we think it can help the game', bring up points like these.  Let's use a constructive, advancing method of development to make games better.  Consumers have the real power in this relationship, we give money to these teams to make games, we make their jobs possible.

     So why not help them do their job better?  If they're trying to create a working multiclass system for their game, bring up the ups and downs of the system, and the ups and downs of a different system, tell them what you like about each, tell them what you don't like from each.  Which support from the community like this, developers could advance their work in completely new directions, taking the best parts of each, and finding ways to make them work together.

     A few paragraphs ago, the updater for the game I'm supposed to be writing about finished updating, so I'll break off here to go play it so I can, you know, write about it.  Hope you enjoyed the little filler post, though looking back at it, it didn't turn out to be too little..

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