Tuesday, June 23

My Perfect MMO part7: A Classy Post

The unHoly Trinity:
Just about every class system, and most 'classless' systems will slavishly adhere to the unHoly Trinity of Tank, DPS and Healer. The Tank draws fire, takes the beating, and generally tries to keep the enemy focus on himself. The DPS caster class tries to take down the foe(s) as fast as possible while the Healer tries to keep all the Tanks, DPSers, Utility classes and other Noobs alive.
The Tank is strong and can take a lot of punishment but has limited damage dealing capacity. He's the Damage Handler of a group. The DPS is the high damage dealer offset by a low capacity for handling incoming damage. The healer is generally known for his ability to heal, which is basically positive damage. As a rule he's also not blessed by a high capacity for handling incoming damage.

The Archetypes:
To put percentages to it you could say a Tank is 30/40/20 Crowd Control/Damage Handling / Damage Dealing. By comparison the classic DPS caster is the simplest archetype 20/80 Damage Handling / Damage Dealing which leaves the Healer as a 20/60/20 Damage Deal/Healing Damage/Damage Handling. You can argue percentages, but this is more or less the basic structure. Some systems will enhance the differences by giving the Tank twice the Hitpoints as the other ArcheTypes but this isn't always the case. The more 'refined' (read Solo-friendly) systems might have a DPSer at 20/70/10 giving them a touch of Crowd Control but in general it's advisable that only the Tank gets in direct contact with the foe(s).

When a game tries to expand on this basic DikiMUD setup (let's face it, DikiMUD copied D&D in turn but it's never polite to go back than further than one step back into the plagiarism history of any one Idea because we keep getting back to Beowulf that way) it's usually to go for mixtures of the Archetypes of the unHoly Trinity and slap on something vaguely defined as Utility on a few classes where Utility often means non-combat oriented abilities which will indirectly cause you to be passed over in most groups unless a group is doing the 0.5% of the content where that ability is required for completing a desired goal.

Class variants:
For instance there are what in SOE games tends to be called "Light Melee" Classes, which of course are DPSers that get in toe to toe contact. The 10% Crowd control is slapped unto the 20% Damage Handling ( the difference between Cloth and Light Armor). Melee DPS: 30/70 Damage Handlinger / Damage Dealer. The same way there's many other so called hybrid classes, The crowd control caster, the Ranged/Melee DPSing Ranger e.t.c. There's many combinations to make based upon the three ArcheTypes. Or more precisely, the five Elements of Class Building, Damage Handling, Damage Dealing, Healing Damage Crowd Control and Support. There's a Sixth called Utility by me but leave that for after I'm done explaining how the Lego blocks work :-)

The Lego blocks of Class building are:
  • Damage Handling: (DH:) which can be subdivided into Damage Soaking, Hitpoints and Damage Deflection (dodge, block but if block means the shield deteriorates and holds back only a portion of the damage it's a combination off all three really).
  • Damage Dealing: (DD:) which in turn is divided into Melee and Ranged, both of which can be further detailed by attaching acronyms like DoT, Spike damage, BuildUp damage, AoE, PBAoE, PBDoTAoE ETC.
  • Healing Damage: (HD:) can really be classified along the same lines as DPS though melee healing is relatively uncommon.
  • Crowd Control: (CC:)which can be further split into Taunts, Anti-Taunts, Holds, Dazes and Mezzes.
    The first two respectively mean getting the focus and deflecting the enemy focus to someone else, Holds mean rooting the foe but not otherwise incapacitating him. Dazes include all forms of stunning, blinding or other means of incapacitating the foe. With Mezzes I mean any form of mesmerization, seduction, mind-control or whatever that allows one to temporarily make the enemy fight on your side.
  • Support: which comes in two forms Buffs and DeBuffs. Oh and DeBuff removal too. In essence this covers all Stats altering abilities like curses, blessings e.t.c. and come in the single target melee, single target ranged, AoE, group, PBAoE and LoS-AoE varieties. Possibly more.
When take a good look at your game's classes you'll probably note that the classes therein are pretty much made up off these Lego blocks or Arch Abilities where you can usually make a pretty obvious 20/60/20 percentage division. Especially those games (nearly the entire SOE stable as well as just about all the other First and Second Generation games) that are close to their DikiMUD roots.

Pet Classes:
Pet classes are really the only class customarily found within MMO's that doesn't really fit at first blush. They're really the first attempt at making solo classes and the traditional pet classes (rule of thumb the ones where you only have one pet at a time) are still easily recognizable as having these four components. The Pet serves to Soak Damage (DH) while the caster does the nuking (DD) and is either capable of healing his pet or it isn't really needed.

There's a few ways a game Designer can go from these Building Blocks. Most common and "safest" are the fixed templates, the Classes, as I've been mentioning before. Alternate Advancement Schemes are used to obscure the strict balancing involved in this type of traditional system. However there are exceptions to this approach.

I.e. we won't be mentioning SOE for a while now.
GuildWars tries and succeeds reasonably well to allow for more freedom of choice by introducing dual "Professions" that allow you to "flavor" your Character with a 70/30 combination of each Profession's Strengths. A WaMo (Warrior/Monk) is still a Tank with some Healing. Some of the other combinations are a bit more exciting though. But in essence the traits (what are they called again?) that come with each Profession are pretty much identical to the Arch-Abilities I mentioned and the Skills each require a Trait and can therefore be categorized according to the same blocks. The dual Profession system, in conjunction with the ability to readily swap out your secondary one (and of course the ability to completely rearrange all your stats as you please) grants a lot more freedom than traditional systems while still allowing the designers/developers a measure of control over the design and its templates. The Protection Magic line is the strongest deviation from the classic approach I think.

City of Heroes/Villains in its way went a bit further, or maybe I should say further back. To the real basics to first set up powersets which tend to incorporate one or often two of the blocks then, when they had enough of those, loosely clustered them around their classes aptly called Archetypes. Then pretty much applied the percentages I mentioned at the start to them and Presto.
As a result a Defender (Support Class/Healing Damage) can have a powerset rather similar to that of a Controller (Support/Crowd Control) while they have different levels of veracity. In fact both often share a Ranged DPS Powerset with the Blasters (the Ranged DPS class) which in turn is mediocre at Support or Crowd Control but has no Healing. Both the Tank (Tank, duh!) and Scrapper (melee DPS) share some powersets with other Archetypes which results in a pretty big diversity of flavors. I didn't do the math as I'm unsure about the nr of Powersets available but I'm pretty sure there's more possible combinations in CoX than GW. Especially since there's a tertiary set of powerset for them to pick from. I'll leave it to Phè to give a stab at realistical percentage comparisons but I think it's about 50/30/20 or some such in the effectiveness of Primary, secondary and tertiary powersets. As mentioned, each powerset tends to incorporate two of my building blocks. Sometimes more even. Oh and each Archetype has its own 'Kink' much like all but the most dreary Class Systems have.

A Kink is an ability not really covered by the blocks that's specific to that Class or Archetype.
Palladins traditionally can often do a few spells of the healing, crowd control or Support blocks.
Blasters deal more damage the fewer hitpoints they have. A CoV Dominator will go in Super DPS mode if dealing enough damage over time. Pet classes can have Pets. Those are Kinks.

Free Form:
Of course there's the Classless so called Skill-based MMO's.
When you look at those in terms of my five building blocks, they're not that different from the classical class based game systems except that players have to work more at defining their classes. But since most players will gravitate to either being a member of the unHoly Trinity or play solo as a Jack of All Trades (oddly enough most classless MMO's miss a pet-class) the end result really isn't that much different from Classes with Alternate Advancement Schemes pretty much taking care of the usual deviations to the Archetypes produced in this kind of environment.
Of course, balancing tends to be Hell on Virtual World and there generally aren't any 'Kinks'.

My Perfect MMO Class System:
Reading between the lines you may have noticed a slight, slight I tell you, bias towards the way City of Heroes went about it. Although a Class System with a high number like Vanguard will catch my fancy too.
I'm not sure if they intended it that way, but putting 5 Building blocks into powersets that incorporate 2 blocks each strikes me as sheer genius. You always end up with a pretty good mix of abilities but mis one 'line'. Good enough to keep you going solo, but grouping will definately have an advantage.
I did mention that Tertiary Powerset remember? This Utility Powerset branch incorporates a msih mash of abilities ranging from transportation powers to third rate healing to group buffs. It's really a combination of weak versions of the other blocks and "true utility" abilities.
I really like the concept of three choices of Ability Sets containing two Ability Block each as well as the concept of leaving out one Ability Block with a power/strength division of 50/30/20. So in My Perfect MMO there'd have to be seven Blocks not five. Number six should be obvious by now. Utility although what exactly consists Utility can be a bit murky and background related.
Things like Sneaking, Tracking, Armor/Weapon repair e.t.c. would definately be Utility.
It's the Seventh block I'm having doubts about. It could either be the "Kink" or it could be a Crafting Ability line. The problem I have with the "Kink" is that many Class Kinks could arguably be Utility Abilities and vice versa. For instance a Rogue would traditionally be able to backstab and pick pockets. Backstab would be seen as a kink more often than a utility. Pickpocket though could be seen as a utility, a kink or possibly even a craft.
I think this is the kind of dilemma that makes designers go for the save option of classes or Cryptic's more ballsy Archetypes.

I'm very curious what you all think about this. Especially the Pro-Classless Systems people.
Next post, unless I leave the topic alone for another 2 months, will be how I see this in combination with my chosen Background of Shadowrun which despite it officially being classless not only includes Archetypes but also Races.


  1. You clearly had a slow night. The powers/class breakdown is pretty much dot on accurate. I am glad you added City of Heroes and Guildwars there too. From reading the blogosphere (and especially Syncain and Tobold) I had the feeling that WOW = all MMORPGs. Ryzom is another example how you don't have to stick to the trinity. I don't really know what my ideal class specification would look like. More diversity would be great. But many players do like FotM. Not sure if too much diversity will do the trick.

    At moment I can actually only conclude I don't care too much about this. It seems to be one of the lesser important considerations of my ideal MMO. Although that is of course a rubbish notion :)

  2. *Grin* It was this or watch a Bud Spencer and Terence Hill movie.
    For some reason someone thought it'd be great youth sentiment to watch that and the rest went along with it.
    As it is I probably cut off my babbling just at the point where it w(c)ould have become interesting for you. Look at it as a ground laying for things to come. :-)