Friday, June 22, 2007

Character Skills in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Irdnova:
What do you guys think of a concept that based on certain "experiences" that your Player character is subjected to that it actually becomes a ship bonus?
That depends on whether we're thinking of skills as active or passive.

I'm thinking of them in an active sense -- the value they offer is generated when they're used. A Skilled Medical officer, for example, applies those skills when treating medical conditions.

You seem to be thinking of skills in more of a passive sense -- they're working all the time (in the appropriate context), providing their benefits continuously. In this sense, a Veteran Engineer might make all of a ship's mechanical systems function more effectively without needing to do anything special.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach to skills. It works nicely for a game like Starfleet Command (or the Star Fleet Battles game on which SFC is based), for example. Since those skills belong to NPCs, there's no need to design a mechanism for them to be used actively; that would distract from the player part of the game.

The thing is, that's also why a passive skill system is probably not the best approach for a MMORPG. Players need things to do in these games, so to make their skills passive would actually take away things for them to do. It would work as a sim, but it doesn't work as well in a persistent-world RPG. In that kind of game, players need as many of their skills as possible to be active skills; there needs to be a wide range of things for players to do.

(This is actually a complaint I had against the design of the Merchant profession in the original SWG. Most of the Merchant skills, such as those to reduce maintenance costs, were passive. You didn't do anything with them; they just indirectly altered your gameplay. Not really much fun.)

So I would suggest that most player skills in a Star Trek MMORPG should be designed to be active skills that affect the game world only when a player explicitly activates them.

Not to worry, though -- this doesn't mean there are no ways in which a player's general skill level might affect the game. What about NPCs?

Maybe NPCs react differently to a player with a high overall skill level (or rank, for Command players). Some NPCs might respect authority, so their reactions to high-ranking players become more favorable. Maybe a Legendary officer inspires some NPCs to offer assistance they wouldn't consider offering a Novice officer. (For NPCs following Command players, you could even think of this reaction adjustment as NPC "morale.")

But other NPCs of a more individualistic stripe might react more negatively toward a high rank PC than an Ensign, or toward a player with more skill levels in their rank. An NPC on the shadier side of Federation law might, for example, be more likely to attack a Legendary Captain without warning than risk talking to her, while the same NPC might see a Novice Captain as less of a threat. (Note that this also works as gameplay -- it gives Novice-level ranks a chance to figure out how their new rank works before the bad guys start taking them seriously.)

Something similar could be done for other branch specializations. Maybe pacifistic NPCs don't like really gung-ho Tactical officers. Maybe NPC scientists are affected (positively or negatively) by a player character's level of Science skills.

You get the idea. Anybody see any value in this kind of indirect use of skills?