Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tanks, Nukers and Healers in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by Brian_Starr:
From what I have read, the three available classes include most of what you are talking about. True, most MMO's use a Tank, Healer and DPS, but what is a [Tactical] officer? A Tank, what is a Science officer? A Healer. Who makes the Phasers fire? The Engineer/DPS.
Not only do I disagree that the associations you describe exist naturally, I have to say I would strongly oppose any suggestion that the developer of Star Trek Online should try to force such associations when designing Tactical/Security, Science/Medical, and Engineering gameplay. If this game is deliberately designed to stuff those three Starfleet departments into the conventional tank/healer/DPS roles, my interest in playing such a game goes way, way down. (If there's so little imagination applied to something so core to gameplay, what hope is there for thoughtful design in the rest of the game?)

Gameplay for those who choose to specialize in the Tactical department should be about effectively operating offensive and defensive systems for any kind of hostile encounter or environment. If the Big Three roles factor into departmental gameplay design at all, then I think we'd have to say that Tactical officers in a Star Trek RPG are both tank and nuker, and in addition to those roles have capabilities (that aren't part of any typical MMORPG) for surviving purely environmental challenges. ("Captain, we're encountering an area of severe gravimetric distortion." "Shields up, Mr. Tactical Officer! Divert power to structural integrity!")

Gameplay for those who specialize in the Medical subdepartment of Science should be about healing, yes, but as a scientific discipline it also ought to be about discovery, and about creating new processes, and about understanding biological and physical systems, and about the exploration of unknown worlds and phenomena and cultures. Reducing Science/Medical gameplay to the "healer" role (or the even less appropriate "crowd control" role) would lobotomize it.

As for those who specialize in Engineering, their gameplay ought to be about constructing and maintaining and repairing complex technologies. Sure, they can make phasers work... and transporters... and warp engines... and communicators, etc., etc. In a way, Engineers ought to be thought of as the middle way between the theoretical Science officers and the aggressively hands-on Tactical officers -- a good Engineer will be highly competent at the intersection between "thinking" and "doing." Engineering gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG ought to be designed to support that kind of fun, regardless of how other MMORPGs slice things up.

Overall, I understand the value of roles in MMORPGs. I know there are gamers who like to know exactly where to go and what to do, and that having very simple and distinct roles makes filling positions in combat groups trivially simple. If some MMORPGs want to satisfy those well-worn roles by design, fine.

But there is no requirement that Star Trek Online's character advancement model and content must or should be designed around those particular roles. Even if ST:O has plenty of combat action, there is no good reason to design either its character ability system or its ship classes solely to satisfy the needs of combat gameplay as other MMORPGs do. For an online game wrapped around the Star Trek license, the usual three combat roles are inappropriate.

Tactical/Security, Science/Medical, Engineering/Ops, and Command/Helm are the correct roles for Starfleet characters (and ship classes) in a MMORPG based on Star Trek. The gameplay should be designed around those roles.