Design time. Usually I talk about art, but today, I’m talking about design; sort of my secondary position. I’m very much a junior designer, with Anthony basically being my mentor in that regard.
I like RPG’s, but I always make parallels between all kinds of games and designs. World of Warcraft, which I recently rejoined, is a really good example of variety of spells and spell types. I would like to focus a bit on classes, however. Each class has a passive ability that really defines it. Whatever world or setting a game takes place in, if there are classes, they have an ability(ies) that both define the class and relate to the setting. In any system where there are classes, they have to have ways of working together. For instance, the Tank must get enemy attention and soak damage, while the ranged DPS (damage per second) puts the hurt on, and the healer heals. Within this, there is a lot of variety. For instance, chain healing; that is, healing multiple targets at once but perhaps at a lesser value than if you were to heal one. What’s really important about good class design is a common term called “meaningful choice.”
A class is defined by certain abilities but also the choices that a player will have to make while playing that class. I was working on my Huntard (A funny name for Hunters in world of warcraft. It probably means what you think it does)ability rotation with Anthony, who explained to me a lot of the depth behind it that I completely missed. Ability rotation is simply the order of operations and choices you have to make using your abilities to get the most efficient use from them. Once I realized what he was talking about my eyes opened wide, not just because of the depth of my class, but because I knew that each class was painstakingly designed with this sort of depth.
I learned something that should seem fairly obvious in my view: a class is unique; while there may be some similarities between one class and others, ultimately each class stands out on its own, otherwise, why would there be a need for that class.
I really enjoyed the second Xcom’s class system. It was about as straightforward as it gets without making a player feel pigeon-holed into playing a class one way. There were four classes, the Grenadier, the Specialist, the Sharpshooter, and the Ranger. Each class had one ability that defines them, then two talent trees that allow a player to optimize their class. Really, a player is defining the class for themselves to suit their gameplay. For instance, the Sharpshooter had the passive ability Squadsight, which lets them shoot anywhere their allies can see, the exception being that they could not shoot through solid objects like walls. After, the Sharpshooter could make a choice at each level, whether to take a Sniper ability or a Gunslinger ability. At every step of the way, the player has a choice, so they never had to go fully into one tree or another if they didn’t want to. With each of the four classes being built this way, a player is fairly able to customize their entire squad.
With titles like Grenadier and Specialist, the classes of Xcom sound militaristic, which fits the world setting. Even though Xcom does not detail the world too much, it gives enough information to support the plot and have the game make sense; aliens have taken over, and the player is part of a rebellion that is trying to sabotage them and liberate humanity.
If I made an MMO, I’d attempt to make a trap setting based class. Their balance revolves around how much time they have to set up, but they’d also be combat capable for those times when setting traps isn’t the most useful thing so a player isn’t bored. Or maybe they’d have a few insta-traps, which I presume would work like spells that simply wait for someone to walk over them, then go boom. At the time I was writing this article, I got to check out Blizzard’s Overwatch, and each character, which to me is a personified class in this game (not a bad thing), is really fine-tuned and balanced. They in fact have trap-setter characters/classes with additional combat ability.
Now that I’ve talked a little about class design, I’d like to talk about class and character depth working together. In some Role-playing games, class is the most defining part of a character; certainly with WoW and Xcom. Roleplay, in the more social sense, tends to take a back seat with a digital filter in my experience. In my experience, it’s just not the same as tabletop gaming with a Gamemaster who can make independent choices and doesn’t have to follow a rigidly coded system. You’re with people and interacting in a very different way than as you would online as well.
In a tabletop game, I feel that a character needs to be more than just their class. While having a class system means that your character is largely defined by that class, you can still have some variance in your character outside of those confines. For instance, there’s race, background, personality, and things like that which also make up your character. More than being a warrior, your character may be a sailor or a former thief. A wizard might be handy with a sword. It is for this reason, that I don’t like certain restrictions on characters in roleplaying games; if the goal of the game is to have fun by truly getting into character, then it stands to reason that certain restrictions can interfere with that. For instance, I never understood why being a warrior automatically means you can’t understand magic. What if that warrior understood magic but simply never chose to apply that knowledge. They could’ve grown up in a family of mages and been the black sheep. That’s as much commentary as it is a complaint.
Game design is about meaningful choice, and the more one-dimensional a character and/or class has to be, the more a player doesn’t really have any choice; they’re essentially playing a script. I personally don’t even like the illusion of choice either, but that’s another topic for another time. Classes are a large part of a character in games, but on a tabletop roleplay game, classes should be relative to the setting, unique, provide meaningful choices, and help fill out a character, not define it. On a digital platform, I find that the difference is that class must largely define a character. I admit a personal bias in not being able to really connect with online roleplay. Things like race, in an online game, might add a little bit to the character, but I feel like that stuff is largely cosmetic to help immerse a player into the world setting of the online game. That doesn’t make it bad, in fact it’s a good thing that game developers are willing to go the extra mile to immerse their players into their world setting. It just means that you don’t get the same kind of potential character value as you would from a tabletop game; you get to play a class, not a character. I suppose that puts all the more focus on great class design.