Alternatives to XP-Based Leveling

Damianov saw a concept for leveling that involved ranking quests by difficulty and then advancing based on completing so many quests of a certain rank. He admits that there are some flaws with the system. There is definitely some great potential as well, though. I’ll look at both.

The main flaw with a system like this is that everything in the game would have to be quest based. Even if everything wasn’t stuck in a city, I think this would give the game a very strong “DDO” feel. No one is going to want to fight their way through a bunch of mobs that give no reward in order to get to the content that they can progress with, so it would be all of these encounters spread out across the land. I guess one solution to this would be to have random mobs strewn about that provide gear or other materials, while the quests are how you advance, but again, I don’t think people would want to spend half their time advancing their character and half their time finding gear, with no common ground.

Another problem with this system is the conflict of instancing vs. camping. If everything was instanced, this would obviously prevent camping but instances are horrible immersion-breakers. There’s nothing like climbing up to a “griffon’s nest” (example used by Damianov) when a load screen pops up and everyone else disappears. I just don’t think I could do this personally. That said, I also don’t enjoy the thought of a riotous mob of players waiting 45 minutes for their shot to steal the egg when it respawns.

So what is a possible solution to this? Have enough quests that they can simply do another one. This means an enormous number of quests, and by quests, I don’t me “kill 10 rats” or “deliver this to Bob, standing six feet away from me.” I mean true, meaningful quests. The whole idea behind this system is that you feel like your quests matter, otherwise why would they be your only source of advancement? This is good and bad. This means that quest designers actually have to put their thinking caps on and create some intriguing quests that really challenge and entertain the players. This also means though, that they have to come up with an incredible amount of these.

For example: Assume you have to complete 15 of these at each level, and there are 25 levels, that’s 375 quests, and you are probably going to want at the very least twice that many to leave some options including a mix of solo and group quests and long and short, that’s 750 quests. Furthermore, once you get the higher levels, like almost all games, quests are going to become much more intricate, difficult, and time-consuming. It’s going to to difficult to make quests that seem important that don’t take more than 20-30 minutes. If all your quests take an hour, that’s going to make questing very difficult for a lot of players, especially if you have to find a group to do them before you go. This balance can surely be found, but it will take a lot more planning and writing to find it.

This is highly ambitious, and would take a lot of work. If you don’t have enough content to keep the players interested long enough due to a lack of quests and/or make the leveling curve too easy, players are going to reach max level far too soon and be left with nothing to do and leave. There are other elements to keep them there, such as crafting or PvP, but that’s a different topic.

The last real problem I have with this is that even if quests are more fulfilling, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being lead around being told what to do. I think there needs to be some balance between player freedom and being sent from one spot to the next. I think this would also force developers to feel like they had to fill every inch of their world with quests since there would be nothing between them (mobs) and then it would feel more like an amusement park than an MMO.

I’m all for getting more interactive, challenging, and all around fun quests in MMO’s, but if they aren’t implemented well in this system, it will absolutely kill the game as it’s how you level. To date, I haven’t found a game that has quests that are more than tasks. Warhammer looks like its going to start to break this trend, but until we see more of it, I think this goal is too ambitious to build an entire game around. I’m barely scratching the surface of this concept (in a somewhat incoherent fashion,) but those are my initial thoughts, I’d love to know your opinions on it.

~Kanthalos

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8 comments so far

  1. damianov on

    I would just point out that some of the points you mention aren’t really all that different than what the situation is now. Needing a lot of quests, feeling like you’re being led about by the hand… those are design issues both with and without XP.

    Also, I read the original post a different way: you don’t have to do 15 quests for _each_ level, just a total of X quests of that level _or above_. Thus, a Rank 20 quest counts multiple times, essentially… once for each and every level up to 20.

    That’s the twist that really made it interesting for me. I have some severe concerns about it, but it’s a new and interesting perspective, at least.

  2. damianov on

    P.S. My thought with the Gryphon’s Egg quest was that it would be (essentially) a racing mini-game. Anyone watching a specific nest would see the nesting beast depart (assuming they didn’t just go up and take it on hand-to-hand as per every MMO in existence today) and see an egg peaking up above the edge of the nest. From there, it’s a race. First one gets the prize, everyone else needs to find another nest.

    Or, if it’s a PVP game with looting, maybe you just wait for the good climbers to come back down, then do _your_ thing… (sorry, nasty thought).

  3. kanthalos on

    I know that that is how games are designed now (lots of quests, lead by the hand) but at least with an xp system you can choose to skip quests and still progress. As for the gryphon nest race, it’s ideas like this that need to go into MMO’s, sadly it’s easier and therefore more popular to have fed-ex/kill ten rats quests, hopefully this will change soon, though. So you’re thinking that say if you get a group together as level 12′s, you can do a rank 20 quest and then get a greater reward for it?

  4. damianov on

    Well, it’s sort of a greater reward…

    If I understand him correctly it would work like this…

    Say you’ve just done quests of the appropos rank up to level 12. At level 12, you group up with a bunch of level 12s and do a rank 20 quest. This counts as one of the achievements you need to level up to 13, as expected.

    Later, you hit level 13. The level 20 quest now _also_ counts as one of the achievements you need to get to level 14.

    Later still, you hit level 14. The level 20 quest now _also_ counts as one of the achievements you need to get to level 15.

    And so on, until you hit level 21, when it no longer counts toward the next level because you now need achievements ranked 21 or higher to advance to 22.

    Obviously, a very different perspective… I found it quite thought-provoking.

  5. kanthalos on

    While it’s good because it would mean repeatable content (which I’m all for,) it seems like this could open up problems like certain quests getting repeated over and over while others are ignored because they aren’t worth the effort. This could be remedied with say a 3-time limit on every quest. Also, I saw you mention the possibility of a level 20 helping a one do a level 20 quest to help them level. It seems like they would have to cap this somehow or prevent it from meaning that you could get to level 20 in three days with the help of a level 20. I know it must look like I’m completely bashing this system, and I’m really not trying to, just trying to point out the pitfalls that it might encounter so that it could work effectively, because there is some definite potential.

  6. damianov on

    Believe me, I understand. I’m a guy that would throw levels (as they exist today at least) out the window entirely, so this system doesn’t really do much for me as is.

    The interesting part for me was the “re-usability” angle… seems definitely exploitable as presented over at mud-dev, but still, there might be something in it that could be used elsewhere/other ways…

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