Edge of Sanity- The 80/20 Design

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Edge of Sanity- The 80/20 Design

Postby Edge Damodred » Wed May 22, 2013 5:56 pm

So I was in the RivalCast Teamspeak and was overhearing Varyar and Lilrex discussing their Neverwinter characters and hearing just how far ahead they were of me. Needless to say this dampened my spirits for the game and reminded me why I stopped playing standard MMO's in general, the whole 'my friends get so far ahead of me and I'll never catch up so why bother playing' issue. This is an inherent flaw with most multiplayer RPG's. With my own show,Trial & Error, we are currently playing Torchlight II, and thankfully everyone for the most part is staying together level-wise. But if one of my show hosts can't make it for an episode he'll be set back an hour or so. Thankfully with this short time span it'll be easy for him to catch back up. But when you are dealing with a situation where there is no self-imposed time limit on play time by a group the situation quickly gets out of hand.

But how can this issue be fixed? Character progression is one of the core aspects of video game rpgs. One of the most fun aspects of the game is getting new stuff to play with, new abilities to try out and adapt them to your already established game play style.

While talking to Varyar about his article on the XBox One Reveal I started remembering some of this generations earlier PS3 games. Games like Eye of Judgement, a flawed but neat concept trading card game and Folklore, an action-rpg that used different methods of storytelling between two different characters. However there was one game that I still hold as one of the best co-op experiences I've ever played. That game was Resistance 2 from Insomniac, an alternate World War II'esque timeline where non-human creatures spread across Europe and then all over the world. That game had a great solution for allowing long term character progression and making sure you could always play with both your friends and new players at the same time.

The co-op mode in this game wasn't just replaying single-player campaign with friends, it was a series of short campaigns that had their own stories paralleling the game's main story. This small or segmented campaign structure is ideally what Neverwinter emphasizes with their Foundry toolset. Of course this concept is nothing new to rpg's, let alone mmo's, especially with the shift from everything in an open world to more instance based areas with the open world acting as the
highway to those places(though this design has shrunk more and more with growing prevalence of convenience features like group queuing and immediately teleportation to those dungeons from anywhere). So right now Resistance 2 is not any different than what we have already seen. Queue the obligatory 'However...'.

When you actually play these campaigns, you do not necessarily get the same experience each time. In fact it is very unlikely that you will as each campaign has about eight to ten different missions in that, and each play through only three of those missions get picked. But the missions themselves do not even play out the same each time as it depends on which order they appear in. So first you would start off with an "easy" mission, then a more difficult mission and then you would finish off with an even more difficult mission. Now I put "easy"in quotes for a reason, as you might have guessed, because difficulty of the missions is also affected by other factors. One of them is simply the number of players participating. It typically takes a minimum of three people to complete a mission as you need one person to play one of the three classes, Soldier(basically a tank with a chain gun that has a mobile shield but also could be customized for explosive damage), Scout(ammo resupplier, sniper, extra fire support, stealth reviver...he could really be tailored to fill a lot of roles), and Medic(obviously there for healing, but also able to provide some level of crowd control and extra fire support when needed). The game allowed up to a maximum of eight players on a run, scaling the difficulty of all three missions appropriately.

Now here's where the 80/20 design rule comes in to play. As I stated, each class had a primary role they could fulfill and then possibly secondary roles. To complete a campaign you just needed each person to focus on the primary role of their class, and all three classes could do that right from level 1. You could take new player, drop him into the role of a medic and he would potentially be effective enough to keep everyone up. A Scout can always drop resupply boxes and has a powerful three shot rifle from the word go. Even a new tank, as long as the Scout is giving him the supplies he needs, can provide enough coverage with his shield to protect a group and sustain fire to keep the attention on him.

As you level you would not gain much in the way of straight up stat boosts, at most you would gain a bit more health, a bit of resistance to certain damage, things of that nature. What you do gain is a bunch of stuff to create a secondary role for your class, in the form of new weapons and abilities. Since these are secondary roles, you would only gain a small percentage of power, relative to what you already had. So basically you would start out with 80% of your character's maximum output and then through leveling gain %20 more(these are not the exact percentages as I do not know for sure what they are, but 80/20 is quicker to say than something like 75/25). And that is the beauty of this design, you still get that sense of unlocking new stuff, new roles as it were, yet you really can not out-level your friends and be too high of level from anyone else and not be able to play with them.

Now you would think getting these secondary roles for everyone would make the game easier. Nope, the difficulty encounter system would take these into account as well. But not enough so that people who lacked secondary roles dragged the party down to the point where it could not be completed. This again puts emphasis on the players' skills as a team, rather than what equipment or level they are when determining if they can succeed or not. (Note there is one more thing that can affect the campaign difficulty, but it is not related to the players themselves. An extra binary option the host can set that turns on Hard Mode where you can only be revived by another player instead of choosing to respawn at the last checkpoint. Also you will most likely see harder encounters right off the bat than normal mode and it gets worse from there).

It is rather interesting that a first-person shooter actually takes us closer to what rpg's are about than most multiplayer video game rpg's today. That is, grouping up with our friends whenever for an adventure and not having the game say whether or not we can play together while still having the thrill of gaining new things. Maybe at some point game designers could look up from their "kill fifteen green, red and blue bears quests", one and done dungeons and shiny but player separating tables of loot to see what is truly missing in their games. Because when it comes right down to it we are here to share and adventure with others...and get neat stuff while doing so.

-Edge Damodred
When in doubt, hit it with a bigger hammer.
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