One of the character progression concepts from the former developer of Star Trek Online that people seemed to like was the notion of a character's Starfleet rank being somewhat (or possibly even completely) independent of his or her branch specialization.
This brings up the question of how gameplay might change for a character's rank. I threw out some ideas related to this in my "Combat Modes and Starfleet Ranks" essay, but that was mostly related to rank. What about how characters might become more effective -- at their current rank -- within their specialized department (such as Engineering, Command, and so on).
How might gameplay might change based on how far characters progress in their preferred branch specialization? Here are some of the questions that might be considered.
1. Just how good can you get?
How much difference should there be between a newly-minted character and one whose player has been steadily improving her character's Medical skills for four (real-time) years?
Should there be any upper limit on specialization skills? (Bear in mind that if there isn't, then "improvement" probably won't be about learning new skills but merely raising effectiveness numbers on existing skills.)
2. How should ability levels be measured?
What's the best ("best" = fun + Star Trek-y) way to represent skill levels within a branch specialization? Are the usual numbers OK? ("She's a level 63 Engineer; I'm a level 12 Engineer.") Or would descriptive terms be better? ("He's a Novice Engineer; I'm a Veteran Engineer.")
To think of this another way, how much granularity of measuring a character's skills is required? Should there be 5 levels of skill? 10? 40? 100?
3. What kinds of content should be offered at different skill levels?
Should there be significant differences in the kinds of content offered for novice characters and veterans? Or is it OK if content comes in just a few flavors and scales in difficulty based on your skill level in your branch specialization?
I'll review some ideas related to these questions in upcoming notes.