38 Studios Discusses Level vs. Skill
Skill-based systems offer a lot more customization for characters than purely class and level-based ones, but the additional options come at a cost. They not only make the overall game more complex and less accessible, but they can also introduce difficulties in communication between players; a cardinal sin for a community-driven game. Finding other people to play with becomes its own puzzle when looking-for-group messages read like a spreadsheet: "LFG: +300 in hitting things with a stick, +210 in not visibly bruising, and +357 in upsetting monsters"
Last week, Ten Ton Hammer’s Cody
“Micajah” Bye brought together a panel of
developers that target="_blank">explored the two main advancement systems
MMOs: leveling and skill-based progression paths. Due to the discussion
that these questions brought to the forefront, we’re going to
supplement target="_blank">the article with a few more
answers from the developers at
38 Studios, specifically Lead Game Designer Travis McGeathy. Although
he couldn’t talk in depth about the two systems because his
game is still in development, McGeathy did weigh in on two of the
questions that the Ten Ton Hammer staffers presented to the panel.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you
feel that the future holds more hope to see skill-based games? More
level-based games? Or are we going to see a gradual escape from the
standard skill vs. level dichotomy?
expect that we'll start to see more games using skill-based progression
schemes as developers look for ways to differentiate themselves from
existing titles, but I don't think you'll see many pure skill-based
games come out. The bevy of customization options they offer
may be enticing on the surface, but they come with significant
downsides and marginal gains over a hybrid system.
Full customization adds significant complexity to the game, potentially
limiting the game's audience, and in practice most players are going to
pick skills that lend themselves to particular archetypes of play any
way to avoid ending up with a character that can't function well in
normal game play. I think most of the skill-based systems
we'll see will likely be hybrids, blending in the accessibility of more
traditional systems while offering varying levels of skill-based
I wouldn't expect a wholesale departure from traditional progression
systems, though. The level of accessibility they offer can't
be matched by a skill-based system so they will always have their place
in the market.
Ten Ton Hammer: What are
your thoughts on advancement systems that are more hybridized? A
number of more recent games have used systems that calculate your total
number of skill points to set you at a certain "level" or "tier" to
judge your overall power. Is that a development strategy that is -
perhaps - a bit easier for gamers to understand? And what about the
opposite sort of scenario, one where you get skill points to distribute
once you level?
McGeathy: Skill-based systems offer a lot more customization for characters than
purely class and level-based ones, but the additional options come at a
cost. They not only make the overall game more complex and
less accessible, but they can also introduce difficulties in
communication between players; a cardinal sin for a community-driven
game. Finding other people to play with becomes its own
puzzle when looking-for-group messages read like a spreadsheet: "LFG:
+300 in hitting things with a stick, +210 in not visibly bruising, and
+357 in upsetting monsters".
A hybrid system, where skill-based progression is linked to more
traditional concepts like level and class, goes a long way toward
alleviating these problems by applying easy-to-understand labels to
characters while still allowing the player the flexibility to choose
their skills. There's a wide range of options between purely
skill-based and purely level-based. Whether the game is
granting skills as the character gains levels or assigning a level
based on the character reaching a skill threshold is mostly a matter of
where they want to fall in the customization vs. accessibility
equation. The only wrong answer is pairing a system built for
customization and complexity with an audience that needs maximum
Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks
for your time, Travis, and we hope to soon discover what sort of
advancement system Copernicus will feature!
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Copernicus Game Page.