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Rethinking the Trinity of MMO Design
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Rethinking the Trinity of MMO Design


December 17, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Alternatives to the Trinity Design

Let's take a closer look at what type of system could replace the trinity design.

Design Goals

The first step is to decide what our design should accomplish. As a guideline, we should look at the advantages of the trinity design and identify which of them are necessary to keep in an alternative design. My preferences would be:

A diversity of character types. Players want to have some unique features, so we don't want there to be a single "proper" type of character that a player has to use to compete.

Ease of balancing for developers. Balance issues can upset players in a game, so we would like a system that is easy to balance from a developer's point of view. Balance issues can also limit the diversity of character types from the previous goal.

Solid direction for player advancement. Starting a new character should not be a confusing process for the player. Players should understand the paths available for advancing their character early in the character's life.

Ease of identification of other characters. Players should be able to easily identify how a character could be used in an encounter. We want them to understand how to build a character and how that character will fit in with the other members of a group.

Possible Solutions

Skill-based systems, a common alternative to a class-based system, allow more character customization. A player can choose what roles they can fill and how strong those roles are by their skill choices. A skill-based system offers the player a lot of opportunity to develop and customize their own character.

Unfortunately, skill-based systems also have some well-known problems. The first is that they can be hard to balance, especially for inexperienced designers. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that players will take the most powerful set of skills available, leading to a lot of "flavor of the month" setups.

Because of this problem, characters are not diverse, despite a system that should allow for a wide variety of abilities. A skill-based system with some refinements, such as opposition skills that cannot be taken together, could solve some of these well-known issues.

A hybrid system mixing a class-based and a skill-based system could also allow for more flexibility in the roles characters could fill. This type of system would put skills into different groups and allow players to select a limited number of groups of skills for their character. The combination of different groups of skills leads to a wider variety of characters.

In single-player games, Titan Quest allowed the character to pick two groups of skills out of eight possibilities. The MMO Meridian 59's design allowed players to select abilities from seven different schools of abilities based on the gods of the setting. Since skills are presented in groups, it encourages more variety without players simply cherry-picking the most favorable skills.

Characters able to fill multiple roles is another option. A single character could fill the DPS or Tank role, for example, based on choices the player makes. Characters may be restricted in some way, such as requiring a cost to switch roles, specialized equipment for each role, or limiting the character to a specific role for a period of time.

An example is the Runekeeper class in The Lord of the Rings Online, where the type of abilities used (damaging or healing) gives the character an "attunement" that enhances those types of abilities and restricts the use of opposing abilities; thus the Runekeeper can be either DPS or a Healer in a battle depending on what abilities have already been used in the combat. While this doesn't eschew the trinity design completely, it allows for some flexibility.

Of course, not every solution has to be an incremental change from existing options. If the project allows more freedom than allowed here, a radical re-design of core mechanics is possible. The design could change the nature of how combat works in a game and thus eliminate the concept of the trinity of core roles entirely.

Such a system might do away with the concept of a high number of hit points so that combat isn't just about reducing an enemy's health. The goal of combat would go beyond causing or preventing as much damage. This system might focus more on disabling the opponent, or building opportunities to get a decisive blow in. However, this design would take a lot more work to design than the other incremental approaches suggested.


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