Sunday, June 2, 2013

Game Design Philosophy: How I would have designed FFXIV's EXP/Stat System

Note: My suggestions and opinions are about a hypothetical system that will not appear in "A Realm Reborn". Please do not cite this as a confirmation or make accusations of breaking any NDAs as this is not the case. Thanks!

Hey readers! I haven't written about game design philosophy in a while. With upcoming Phase 3 for "A Realm Reborn" hitting in a few weeks, I've wanted to get back into the Eorzean mood. Despite what I'm going to post below, I am greatly looking forward to the game and the new direction the game has gone in. However, I do feel that they should have kept at least one big aspect of the first version, physical levels. 

If you didn't play early version of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, take a look at this post about Physical and Skill Levels.

A screenshot of FFXIV back when Physical Levels were still implemented. They're on the top-left corner.
(Ignore the timers being off. That was my computer's fault.)

One of the aspects I think they shouldn't have taken away from the initial version of the game in the midst of the large-scale changes was the removal of Physical Levels.

Physical EXP Levels -

In Version 1.0, upon defeating an enemy, you would get experience points for your physical level (an EXP level that encompassed all classes) and skill points for your class rank. When your class rank leveled up, you would get abilities for your class, and when your physical level leveled up, you would be able to allocate stats and elemental strengths and weaknesses.

The good part of this system was that no two characters were all alike. If you set your stats correctly, you would have a "natural" role you excelled at. If you put your stats into VIT and STR, you would naturally be a better Marauder. However, if there was another tank and you had a mage role available, you could go as that class and do well, even if you wouldn't be as good as someone who allocated their natural stats into INT and MND.

The bad part of the system lies into the unrestrained growth of the physical level system. It was a common problem for people who leveled up a variety of different classes and then hit physical level 50 with no real direction with their character. As I have a bad attention span, I leveled up a lot of different classes, when I hit Physical Level 50, my highest class was still in the late level 30s, and my second highest was level 20-ish. Those who crafted and gathered had the worst discrepancy as players could get a lot of Physical EXP by leveling their crafting and gathering.

Another bad aspect of the system was originally stats made little to no difference, and with the large amount of stats you got to allocate, you could have up to 80 points difference on a stat at level 50 and it brought no sense of balance to the game.


How I would have designed it:

Every character, no matter what class they played, start off the game with the exact same stats: I'm going to use STR, VIT, DEX, INT, MND, and PIE as the stat examples. For the sake of argument right now, we're going to make the stat bonuses off any class gear negligible.

Level 1:
STR: 10
VIT: 10
DEX: 10
INT: 10
MND: 10
PIE: 10

For every 10 levels, the player will get two points they can allocate to any slot. Stats will also be added by 2 for every level automatically. An unallocated character at level 10's stats would look something like this. Again, stat bonuses from gear are considered negligible in this example.

Level  10:
STR: 28 (+/- 1-2)
VIT: 28 (+/- 1-2)
DEX: 28 (+/- 1-2)
INT: 28 (+/- 1-2)
MND: 28 (+/- 1-2)
PIE: 28 (+/- 1-2)

Job/Class Stat Differences:

The stat differences between the various jobs in this hypothetical system would come from the limitations of the gear that class could equip.

Physical Level Cap:

To prevent abuse, the physical level will be capped at the level of the highest class. If one person wants to level Gladiator to level 10, and then switches to Conjurer and levels that to 5. They will have a Physical level of 10 until either Gladiator or Conjurer hits level 11. A Physical level of 50 would then guarantee that the character has one qualified class at level 50.

An argument could be made at this point, what is the point of a physical level then and why would it be missed? A high physical level made playing low level jobs much more fun, in my opinion. I never understood why when you would switch to a new class in XI or new XIV that you would become a weakling all over again. With a high physical level, it could make grinding new jobs and becoming more versatile more fun, if you will.

So, what's the underlying point?

FFXIV's current system (as we knew it from the end of 1.0/how we will likely see it in ARR) I feel will be too streamlined. I worry that everyone that is playing the game will have the same exact gear and the same exact stats for their character with little to no variation. Even in an MMO setting which is known for its brutal min-maxing of stats, I think there should be little subtle variations in stats from character to character. Not so much that one person would be punished because they allocated towards a melee class and would be deficient at playing a mage class. But not so little that everyone is a carbon copy of one another.

We know that stat allocations are going to be allocated on a class-by-class basis in ARR, but what's the point of having the system at all when we will just allocate the stats that the class would benefit from most anyway? It seems unnecessary.

That's the end of my thoughts on that.

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