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Author Topic: Which array of choices is better? 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,...,N options  (Read 7987 times)
patience
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on: August 29, 2009, 03:05:27 PM

Came across this thread whose potential for good discussion is being thoroughly wasted.

Essentially it is about the paradox of choice and how people perceive their experiences to be satisfactory.


I have some thoughts on choice impacting gameplay I just wanted to throw out into this void.

If you already formed an answer to my question in the OP and you chose a specific number I have to point out that was a trick question. The number of choices available have very different applications and you should use them to achieve very specific goals.


IMO Having more than 7 choices in any game is terrible. Having less than 4 choices is almost as bad but in some cases 2 or 3 choices can be acceptable or the only thing feasible.


Having players choose between over 7 outcomes forces the player into choosing over vagaries because each choice becomes less discrete and harder to define as good or bad compared to the other.

Another thing to consider is that we have limit in assimilating information. When players have to analyze the cost and benefits of different attributes giving them 5 variations of one attribute that acts a tradeoff to 5 variations of another attribute is a lot easier to manage than 8 variations of those same attributes.
I'm not sure why this is the case but it probably is related to the reason one of the truisms of first impressions are the first 7 words out of your mouth and the average amount of numbers we can easily remember is 8.
It's just how we work.


Having players to choose between 2 or 3 outcomes IMO can create greater dissatisfaction than 4 - 7 but there are some reasons you should only have two or three pathways. If you are creating a very specific storyline you can't have player choices impacting what type of theme and outcome you are trying to create. As argued for in the video in that thread I linked if you force irreversible choices on players it can lead to greater satisfaction and a more intense experience as they can't go back and undo their action.


Lastly I will conclude this brief rambling with if you want N options in your game it must derived from a combination of base components that in of themselves don't have no more than 7 variations of that component to choose from.

OP is assuming its somewhat of a design-goal of eve to make players happy.
this is however not the case.
Tarami
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Reply #1 on: August 29, 2009, 04:03:56 PM

Uhm. Could you be more specific? Choices are not made equal nor are they linear. If I have 100 random movies to choose from, I will within three seconds decide on a subset of ten of those hundred that I will give more thorough consideration. Of those ten only three will get through that second pass, and so on.

"Analysis paralysis" doesn't stem from the number of options, but the individual opacity of the options, no matter how few or many they are. Very opaque options will take longer to consider and vice versa, and the opacity itself is often a result of the player's inexperience or lack of relevant and objective information. In choice of a movie, deciding whether to watch a romantic comedy can be a very opaque choice if I have no experience of the genre. It will be a very transparent choice if I have seen Hugh Grant's entire back catalogue.

I dare say that most people don't cherry pick one specific option if given time, they sift through them and eliminate progressively until they have made their choice. That's the dilemma of offering "enough" options - the difficulty of making choices, and thus the sense of getting to make enough "significant" choices (it will not seem significant if it's not somehow difficult,) is entirely subjective. The precise number you offer is largely irrelevant.

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Reply #2 on: August 29, 2009, 05:26:12 PM

The risk is that a person presented with too many options will be less satisfied with the choice they do make because they'll spend more time second-guessing their choice than someone who had fewer options to begin with. If the choices are genuinely distinct. The OP's example from the EVE forum thread is just his reaction to being upset that he doesn't feel comfortable flying around with an expensive +5 implant. That's a risk/reward decision outside the paradox of choice. It's also possibly a flaw: Making Players Do Something They Don’t Want To Do, but a separate issue.

More to the point would be something like class or race selection in a DIKU. As much as MUDs loved to brag about how many races and classes they had, too many distinct options left players frustrated. Were they picking an underpowered race/class combo? They wanted to be a Warmage and a Prestor, a Dragonid and a Yeti. Devoting enough time to explore each available combination long enough to determine if it's fun in the endgame might take months. The player is less happy than he might have been given fewer, quickly understandable choices. Those four to seven that patience mentions.

If choices aren't distinct, that's not a big deal. Ultimately a Dragonid Prestor might play much like a Yeti Warmage, or a Jelloman Janissary, or whatever. The options a are functionally meaningless. Largely cosmetic choices (racials in WoW), or flexible choices (skills in Guild Wars) avoid the problem entirely.

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Reply #3 on: August 29, 2009, 06:15:29 PM

I think we're saying sort of the same thing, just in different words. I'm not questioning that fewer choices might have positive implications for the players, I'm just saying that it's not that they are few that makes it simpler to choose, it's that each option becomes more apparent. Choices aren't analogous to "pick a number between 1 and 100, and pick a really good one!" because given we know what we're picking from, we can disregard a large number of the presented options. Thus my movies example.

If a game had something absurd like 50 fun, distinct classes, it would be a problem of presentation to let the fresh player make an informed choice. Rather than just listing them like most MMOs do, it would make more sense to have a wizard-like UI which asked things like "do you want to be able to tank", "do you like kicking ass" (superflous question!) and so on. Admittedly MMOs generally have cruddy, cruddy UIs which forces players to make uninformed choices all the time, which is why having few options is necessary so that the options can be described in short snippets of plain text. Quite realistically you could offer hundreds of rewards for quests if the reward selection process was mature enough. (I want a dagger, one with Might on it, that I can wield in the off-hand.) It's just that MMOs largely still haven't moved past just dumping a list onto the screen, for classes, rewards, quests or anything to be honest.

Wouldn't it be cool if quest rewards were large lists of randomly generated loot that you could sift through to pick one? Or quest hubs letting you say "I'm going to Dark Dank Caverns, does anyone have any jobs for me to do there?" Because, really, that's how people use things like WoWHead.

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pxib
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Reply #4 on: August 29, 2009, 07:11:27 PM

Those 50 distinct classes may each be fun to somebody, but any UI is going to be hard pressed to demonstrate to a player that they'll still enjoy the character after 80 levels and with an entirely different set of skills than they had for their first month playing. If I watch a movie I don't enjoy (despite screening it for genre, theme, setting, and director) I've only wasted a couple hours. As such, I'm frequently willing to risk movies that aren't quite down my alley under the assumption that I might be pleasantly surprised. A bad choice in a MOG could cost me weeks.

The more meaningful a choice is, the higher risk it implies. The more options a player has while making a risky choice, the more stressful that choice is. Class selection is risky, too many choices is uniformly bad. Random loot is not risky. Worse case scenario you run the instance again. The more choices the better.

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patience
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Reply #5 on: August 29, 2009, 07:55:18 PM

I think we're saying sort of the same thing, just in different words. I'm not questioning that fewer choices might have positive implications for the players, I'm just saying that it's not that they are few that makes it simpler to choose, it's that each option becomes more apparent. Choices aren't analogous to "pick a number between 1 and 100, and pick a really good one!" because given we know what we're picking from, we can disregard a large number of the presented options. Thus my movies example.

You were replying to Zangief but I feel we share a similar disconnect. I used hard numbers for choices as an abstraction.

Four choices can be four class playstyles of tank, healer, mez, and dps.

Four choices can also be make a decision related to NPC A that benefits you only, benefits the NPC only, harms you or harms the npc only.

Expanding those choices to mutually beneficial/MAD or (de)buffer/trapmaster is fairly easy but run the risk of making the player ask why the hell do these options exist. They'll get even more frustrated as you throw at them 10 or more options.

OP is assuming its somewhat of a design-goal of eve to make players happy.
this is however not the case.
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Reply #6 on: August 29, 2009, 11:16:11 PM

The more choice the more someone is likely to have information overload, however it is dependent upon a lot of factors.  Saying X number of choices is the proper amount to use in all situations fails to account for, well, anything.

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Reply #7 on: August 31, 2009, 06:17:39 PM

Are we talking about character building choices, what button do I push next in combat choices, dialogue tree choices or branching storyline choices?

All of those are going to have different answers for an optimal number.

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Reply #8 on: August 31, 2009, 06:45:53 PM

Ingmar, the options you giving me are too many.  Could you please narrow your selection down?

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pxib
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Reply #9 on: August 31, 2009, 06:56:13 PM

Are we talking about character building choices, what button do I push next in combat choices, dialogue tree choices or branching storyline choices?

All of those are going to have different answers for an optimal number.
Indeed. Character building choices are long term and potentially quite risky. Combat choices are short term and less risky. Dialogue trees and storyline choices have a degree of risk and effect that depends on how they're used.

I agree with Lantyssa that picking a fixed number is probably impossible, other than to say that the "6 to 8" thoughts that most people can hold in their head at the same time is probably a good theoretical maximum number for anything they'll have to choose quickly.

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Reply #10 on: August 31, 2009, 06:56:43 PM

Quote
Example:


To illustrate, consider +5 Implants.

The risk of losing a +5 set makes the spectre of pvp more risky, as does fighting for a militia, entering 0.0 or joining a war-decc'd corp/alliance. The result = less satisfied (even though the pilot owns a +5 set).

If the pilot switches to a cheaper +3 set or lower, he's aware of the skillpoints he's no longer getting if he remained with the +5 set. The result = less satisfied.

- In the world of risk vs reward, it makes sense that greater risk = greater reward.

- But, what if your goal is to increase the happiness of the player base? How could you implement a solution?

Instead of implants being a product, make them a service. Allow pilots to 'hire' implant services for a duration. If the pilot is podded his +5 implants are restored to the clone BUT when the hire duration expires he must renew his subscription to the implant provider.

The result = more pvp & more satisfaction.

This could be applied to attribute implants only. Combat-orientated implants (or mining implants) would be hardwired and lost with the pod as per the risk vs reward ethos.

The pilot chooses whether or not to pay for the services, but does not face the choice of whether or not to risk his attribute implants in combat. The result = more combat & more pilot satisfaction.

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Reply #11 on: September 01, 2009, 12:02:12 AM

The utter failure in that quote to realize that upkeep would piss off players just as much is awesome.

Anyways, back to the point.  Optimal number of choices being thrown around are pretty much bullshit, because the human brain is capable of handling hundreds or thousands of discrete options sequentially, while still only being able to manage around eight information chunks simultaneously.  The problem in this case is the inability to sort data into categories due to lack of information, precluding solving the problem through something akin to a divide and conquer approach.
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Reply #12 on: September 01, 2009, 01:38:14 AM

The problem of people not being able to decide on a class (or other long-term, permanent character-building decisions), at least, could be reduced by allowing people to actually 'test-drive' their class at a high level very early on.  Planetside comes closest to a mechanic like this (as far as I know) with their VR training, but it could use a lot of improvement.  In a typical MMOG it could be a quest chain wherein you experience and proceed through a 'prophecy' of the future.

If a choice doesn't have to be made quickly, and an appropriate amount of data can be conveyed in a reasonably understandable format to the player expected to make that choice, then the decision can be between dozens of different choices.  The problem in these cases is usually, as mentioned, informing the person about their choices.  Then you come into the problem that most people playing these games have the attention span of a gnat so they won't bother fully reading the choices even if you do give them all the information - they'll pick one without information and then bitch later when it's not the 'right' one.  A further problem with character development choices (irreversible ones, that is) comes along when you change the mechanics for a character class.  Unless you totally commit yourself to never changing the mechanics, then there's no way you can ever provide enough data to make a character development choice irreversible.

Now, when a decision is very time-sensitive (particularly a combat decision that needs to be made in a second or less) you really need to limit your choices, and even 7 may be too many depending on how fast paced your combat is.  Here's where slower paced combat is an advantage.  The slower the pace of your combat, the more options you can afford to throw at a person.  Remember EQ's spell gems?  Look back on them and say 'that was fucking brilliant', because it was. It limited your spell choices to 8, which were often further self-limited by the memorization of utility, non-combat spells, or escape spells.  As far as I can remember, only Guild Wars has had a system even slightly similar, and it was more limited (in that you couldn't, as far as I remember, switch readied abilities mid-combat, even if you had several seconds undisturbed to sit and switch spells).  EQ's combination of limitation at the moment of decision (8 max possible spells memorized) while also allowing on the fly changes to that loadout (if you can get a moment away from the fight where no one hits you, you can switch spells) provided what was, in my opinion, the perfect balance to having a large number of abilities at your disposal without overwhelming you with possible choices at any given moment.  The fact that EQ's combat was slower paced than most MMOG combat these days was also a very good thing, in that 'fast' spells had casting times of 2 seconds or so usually, while 'slow' ones ranged from 5 to 10 seconds.  This gives critical time for analysis and active decisionmaking, rather than having to rely on what essentially becomes preprogrammed responses, when you must react in under a second.

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eldaec
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Reply #13 on: September 01, 2009, 04:53:26 PM

The problem with the spell gem solution is that you don't only limit the possible choices I have in a given situation, but you also limit the questions I get asked in every situation.

The options are always 'lightning bolt or fireball?' and the situational variety in the question being EQ or GW asks is very limited.

When GW came out, the devs compared the skill system to MtG, and building a 'deck' of 8 cards. This is silly, as it ignores that MtG asks you to choose from a different combination of options each time you play (through card drawing), and the deck you play against is asking you to answer a different question with those options.


So sure, fewer options is fine.
But more variety in the question is what matters.



This applies to story questions and character questions just as much as it does to core combat questions.

If the story question wasn't a tired retread of 'drown kittens' or 'feed orphans' you'd get interested no matter what it is, similarly if it isn't a one off climatic obvious fork in the road, but instead a series of smaller decisions, people would get less hung up on picking the 'correct' choice, and instead just do what naturally seems fun.

If the character question wasn't tank/mage/cleric, AGAIN, you'd get more motivated by choosing something and would worry less about missing out on what you don't choose.

Equally, even you do stick to tank/mage/cleric, but ask the question more than once as you take the player into a new environment, then you remove the feeling that decisions limit the player experience across a whole game, and instead start to ask how the player wants to tackle a different environment. (picking your team in Freedom Force springs to mind as an example)
« Last Edit: September 01, 2009, 04:55:25 PM by eldaec »

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Ingmar
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Reply #14 on: September 01, 2009, 05:01:36 PM

When GW came out, the devs compared the skill system to MtG, and building a 'deck' of 8 cards. This is silly, as it ignores that MtG asks you to choose from a different combination of options each time you play (through card drawing), and the deck you play against is asking you to answer a different question with those options.

Well, in PVP the second part at least is true. "Real" PVP in GW is very much like a CCG, with builds and team comps changing much the same way that the metagame in a CCG changes, and you don't know what you'll be up against until you're in the match. I think it is a pretty small minority of GW players who actually do the serious PVP, though.

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eldaec
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Reply #15 on: September 01, 2009, 05:44:18 PM

It might have changed since I played (or I might have sucked) but I never really felt that what the other team were doing ever really affected your decision making in GW. At least not beyond 'take down the healer first', and not to the degree it generally does in a CCG.

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Reply #16 on: September 01, 2009, 05:46:50 PM

How far into pvp has you gotten into? You sound like you played in RA.
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Reply #17 on: September 01, 2009, 05:48:34 PM

It might have changed since I played (or I might have sucked) but I never really felt that what the other team were doing ever really affected your decision making in GW. At least not beyond 'take down the healer first', and not to the degree it generally does in a CCG.

Not at the normal level of random arena or fort whatsit, which is about as far as most people get into pvp, although I am led to believe you see some of it in the hero battles thing. I am talking specifically about the super high end Guild vs Guild PVP, which I suspect is what the designers were thinking of in particular when they talked about CCGs.

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Reply #18 on: September 01, 2009, 05:58:52 PM

TA, GVG and Ha. Well HA at times can feel as strategic as RA but that's me being jaded and having to pug. In general training the healer for 10 minutes will most likely be the reason you lose if you were to play in TA, GVG or HA.
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Reply #19 on: September 06, 2009, 09:21:01 AM

For players it is not about the number of options, but the amount of times they have been burned by bullshit descriptions of class's provided by developers.  What gives players pause is am I going to be usefull and wanted in a group.  If your max grouping number is 6 and you have 12 class's the player is going to go through a calculation not based on anything you tell them but what they believe will be the optima group for the end game.  And they will remember every class they have ever played and how that worked out the last time they chose that particular archtype.

If you have 4 tank class's one will eventually be considered "best" for the end game the rest are screwed unless they have a core group that accepts you are not as good.  Same goes for any other archtype.

If you do not have distinct differences why have so many choices, if the choices you make leaves other class's lacking and others more optimal or preferred you did something wrong in grouping size or balance.  You are over thinking the max number of choices, players get pissed when they have invested 2-3 months into a character only to find out that the class they chose is the red headed stepchild in the end game.  The number of red headed step children increases with the number of class's offered versus the group max number.

50 race/class options in the example above if your group cap is 6 and your raid cap is 24 players will by process of elimination determine which is the "best" for how you have designed the content.  You most popular class's will all be from this process the rest will be on your boards screaming at you.  At that point you are just screwed because what ever you do going forward will piss off a sustantial amount of your players.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2009, 09:22:52 AM by Votan »
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Reply #20 on: September 06, 2009, 10:15:25 PM

For players it is not about the number of options, but the amount of times they have been burned by bullshit descriptions of class's provided by developers.  What gives players pause is am I going to be usefull and wanted in a group.  If your max grouping number is 6 and you have 12 class's the player is going to go through a calculation not based on anything you tell them but what they believe will be the optima group for the end game.  And they will remember every class they have ever played and how that worked out the last time they chose that particular archtype.

Or you could design an endgame that doesn't focus on throwing giant piles of numbers at each other to see which pile is biggest.

That's probably a bit of a pipe dream, though.
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Reply #21 on: September 07, 2009, 01:58:26 PM

No, it's an impossibility.  Game systems get gamed.  If it isn't stats it will be optimal rotations, party composition, or fight planning.  The trick isn't to hide the system, or try to build one that doesn't have rules, it's to make the players aware of what they're buying into and then smooth the discrepancies as they crop up.
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Reply #22 on: September 08, 2009, 08:33:27 AM

No, it's an impossibility.  Game systems get gamed.  If it isn't stats it will be optimal rotations, party composition, or fight planning.  The trick isn't to hide the system, or try to build one that doesn't have rules, it's to make the players aware of what they're buying into and then smooth the discrepancies as they crop up.

I was going to say something about pitching the number balance so that you can either spend 2 hours trying to find someone with a perfect set of attributes or take 10 more minutes to run with what you got in front of you.

But then I realized which path more people would take.
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Reply #23 on: September 12, 2009, 07:58:44 AM

UO's mix-n-match skills always made the most sense to me. Provide enough guidance and players can feel both informed and able to adapt to the ever-changing state of the game. I still feel that the evolution of this medium has been held back by UO not being iterated. And that was because the "obvious" model started with 3D and went through classes and diku.

You don't want a game with 50 classes. Option paralysis is one problem. Experience is the other. No one offering 20+ classes has made them all balanced nor even feature complete. Players naturally move faster than developers, so as a result you get players rallying around those few(er) complete classes. And then the development team is forced to balance and complete the classes getting the attention. Eventually the incomplete classes just don't get played, or they get pitched altogether.

Instead, a skills based system avoids all of these problems. What UO needed to keep this as a viable alternative in this medium are:

  • Quests that guide players from rolled-template to some max. They eventually did add Haven and other linear progressions.
  • Ample guidance on what other templates were available. Players don't need to play it to know it, but they do need in game real descriptions, not the fluffing crap of a sub-class description like the mini-events from launch EQ2. What a missed opportunity that, still locked into the belief that the roleplay was more important than the game mechanic at a time when all successful MMOs were about stat management.
  • 3D. Not a requirement in '99 but certainly one by 2002.

Eve is the modern UO. The viable alternative game system built in a form that has such specific appeal it really can't be emulated across a whole set of games. Fantasy Eve doesn't attract WoW players smiley
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Reply #24 on: September 14, 2009, 09:14:16 AM

You don't want a game with 50 classes. Option paralysis is one problem. Experience is the other. No one offering 20+ classes has made them all balanced nor even feature complete. Players naturally move faster than developers, so as a result you get players rallying around those few(er) complete classes. And then the development team is forced to balance and complete the classes getting the attention. Eventually the incomplete classes just don't get played, or they get pitched altogether.

Instead, a skills based system avoids all of these problems.

...by creating P(maxcap, skills) classes?
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Reply #25 on: September 14, 2009, 11:01:57 PM

I believe Darniaq is refering to fixed classes.

Yes, an open skill system allows for a large combination, however you don't try to balance on specific set against all other fixed sets.  Then you only have to worry about specific skills (and their synergies).  Still frought with issues, but open to anyone and not relegating a set of people to being the red headed step class.

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Reply #26 on: September 15, 2009, 09:31:04 PM

While true it'd be quite impossible to specify some magic number of options which always work well, would say it appears there's quite strong appeal in limiting options at any given stage to exactly 3 -- be it Albion/Hibernia/Midgard, tank/healer/dps, class trait specializations, rock/paper/scissors etc. It may be because 3 options create impression it's not just a choice between "my way or the highway" but at the same time the number minimizes negative side-effects of choice making (proportional to number of options)
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Reply #27 on: September 15, 2009, 09:56:07 PM

I believe Darniaq is refering to fixed classes.

Yes, an open skill system allows for a large combination, however you don't try to balance on specific set against all other fixed sets.  Then you only have to worry about specific skills (and their synergies).  Still frought with issues, but open to anyone and not relegating a set of people to being the red headed step class.

Or you could not design red headed step classes. Which is generally avoided by not overlapping function and purpose.
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Reply #28 on: September 16, 2009, 12:44:30 PM

Given most games with classes revolve around killing loot piñatas... you're suggesting only one class?

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Reply #29 on: September 16, 2009, 02:02:47 PM

Well I'm talking about the 4 tank classes that WAR had. The 3 melee/healers/tankers that AoC had. If you don't want to make "red headed step child" class then each class must have a defined function that only that class can perform efficiently. Any overlap should be due to the robust nature of the skill selection. Even separating the melee into heavy tanker, heavy dps'er, squishy dps'er is redundant.
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Reply #30 on: September 16, 2009, 02:05:12 PM

Given most games with classes revolve around killing loot piñatas... you're suggesting only one class?
So what can loot piñatas do? They can run, hide, fight back, or surrender their loot to save their lives. We'll have sprinters, finders, warriors, and negotiators. We'll give them snazzy names like "Achievers, Explorers, Killers, and Socializers". Fund it.

Wait... is four too many?

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Reply #31 on: September 16, 2009, 02:55:26 PM

Well I'm talking about the 4 tank classes that WAR had. The 3 melee/healers/tankers that AoC had. If you don't want to make "red headed step child" class then each class must have a defined function that only that class can perform efficiently. Any overlap should be due to the robust nature of the skill selection. Even separating the melee into heavy tanker, heavy dps'er, squishy dps'er is redundant.

The problem is this naturally leads to "super awesome support class that is completely helpless by itself!", which I think history has proven doesn't work out well.

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Reply #32 on: September 16, 2009, 03:28:50 PM

That's the non-sarcastic version of my reply.

In a class-based system, there has to be overlap unless there are multiple, and more importantly unique, ways of obtaining a goal.  Highly unlikely.  So you either give few options with no choice of flavor (boring), or some class ends up the red-headed step child because making classes with different abilities do the same thing is tough.

Hahahaha!  I'm really good at this!
DLRiley
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Reply #33 on: September 16, 2009, 03:38:07 PM

Again overlap is in the skill selection, let the players decide how group oriented their class is suppose to be.
Venkman
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Reply #34 on: September 16, 2009, 07:10:20 PM

The design is rarely the problem. It's the resources needed to deliver them all adequately. We could talk about 28 well-balanced and interesting classes all day long, but there isn't a developer yet that can deliver all of those adequately. Whichever ones suck don't get played which means the classes actually played get broken faster, so development resources get shifted to fix those rather than work on parts of the game "nobody" cares about.

Having overlaps in a multi-class system is fine because it provides developers a way to QA more easily than open-skills, and it gives players ways to have their easily-defined "main" purpose vs their "alt" purpose. Like a secondary healer that can also melee or DPS. People gravitate to these hybrids because they provide flexibility to people who don't want to be locked into exactly one role for their career in a game. And those who want to solo as much as group as much as raid. Specialists are fine for the small percentage of people who have the kind of lifestyle that'd let them see every corner of an MMO including the very last boss.

Classes also exist because they're easier to understand. Even in skills-based games (old SWG, old UO, Eve) players by and large determine a template they want (through research or iteration) and just grind that out. This turns skills-based games into class-based games anyway; however, at least you give players the choice.
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