Where’s The Beef?

Just like the commercial with the blue hair bitty asking, “where’s the Beef?” — I often think, where is a my elf? Just as the old lady looks between the bun and finds no hamburger, I look inside the basic player races in today’s MMOs and wonder what is there?

Each MMO, from Everquest to World of Warcraft, take minimal strides in making racial statistics meaningless and dry. Often a race is defined more by its appearance than any statistical or abilities each have. To some extent, that is a safe and politically correct way to view race. However, many of today’s MMOs do not limit the race selection to a mere shadows of humanity, but to creatures that have no Earth comparison. Can I say, orcs, trolls, elves, minotaurs, mentaurs, and dolphins?

Perhaps another discussion can be started on the thought of why elves, dwarves, and orcs have a distinct appearance and racial quality of only that which is described in the Lord of the Rings. Again, for the sake of this argument I will not contemplate this statement.

Most MMOs generally describe a race with two to six general abilities besides the height, weight, and a general appearance. I believe the developers are apprehensive to develop races further seeing it as just more balancing.

I am so sick and tired of the term Balance — as much as I am of the word polish. Why is there a need to balance a game, and what does that even refer to? Cannot we say that certain races are going to be better than others? Is it not possible that playing an orc will be harder than playing an elf? Do developers really believe that if an elf has better statistics that would determine who plays them? And, even if that is true, that is the experience the player is looking for. Some players examine the rule systems of a game, and select easy played races; while others play races because of what they are and not what they can do. Making races unique, adds value to a game; it brings to the forefront different opportunities to play the game over again — harder, easier, or just plain different.

I would play an orc, goblin, or ogre before playing a halfling, elf, or faerie because thats the personae that I like to play. I would rather have an orc that gains an inspiration bonus with tribal drums than some meek balancing bonus like +1 to lumberjacking. If the elf has more advantage to play than a kobold, so be it; and any mythos or legend would support that creation. Why is it that developers cannot be gods but judges — held to their designs by some code of laws or restrictions.

Consider racial abilities that build races that have unique abilities, powers, and strengths. Develop logical weaknesses into each race, but not ones governed by the ethereal manual of balance. Do not let the concept of balance castrate a race. Developers must understand that abilities create a race, not limit them — that being unique is better than being equal. The psychology of players are not all determined by the best abilities; though no doubt there are many that would chose the most beneficial race — there are an equal number of players that would chose races that are of lesser quality but interesting to play.

One of the things I detest most of all about the current method of differentiating races is the abilities that have short durations. Is the chimpanzee the same as a mountain gorilla or human, except for a 10 second ability to Swing From Trees? Do we all revert to some commonality except for these short bursts of abilities. Is the thing that separates man from the rest of the primates is his 1 minute buff of Inspiration? Did Albert Einstein flick a switch that gave him a 30 second ability to develop the Theory of Relativity, before returning to swinging from a tire and eating bananas.

I am looking forward to a revolution in game theory that allows races to be distinctive. Perhaps one race will be better to play than another, but that won’t stop die hard players from playing them. Orcs that are truly savage, gutteral, and depraved; fighting against elves that are quick witted, highly intelligent, and immortal. Who will win? Who will fight for them? I can only postulate at the numbers of gamers playing each side, but it will be fun and challenging.

A race must be quantified by a series of well defined physical, mental, and judgmental statistical modifications. On top of this, there should be a series of low level skill modifications as well as some distinct non-timed (duration) traits.

For example, each race in the game would need to have their basic player attributes adjusted. This adjustment should not be limited to set values for balancing concerns, but need to be gauged by the overall player race score and how to best determine its position in a scope of  set values determined within the game from highest to lowest values. I suggest assigning a value of 1 to 100 for each race, for each of their statistics, then using a scale map out each of these scores on a grid. Cross-reference this scale to the values of the statistics within the game (these scores may both represent the internal as well as the external values of such statistics) and then re-assign a positive or negative value modification to statistic. Not that this would be fair, albeit a Balanced System, but at least one can analyze the overall values within the system.

Skills need to reflect both the concepts of the race in the world the designers are building, but also the ideology of the race in our culture (be that good or bad). As I said earlier, why must we think all elves in the vein of Lord of the Rings – when ancient legends portray elves in many different ways. When building a racial outline for elves, even though the developers may wish to stray from that concept, they must still utilize real cultural values at least to ground the race or create a first impression. In recent years there have been some attempt to create a counter-cultural movement away from the basic concepts of fantasy races. Each skill in the game must be modified by the race; furthermore, I would suggest using the racial statistics logarithm given above to quantify each skill. Again, its necessary to paint a completely different image of each race to make it distinctive and to codify its existence in the universe.

And finally, each race needs a set of value or special modifications that make them unique amongst other races in the game. I most hate the Vanguard strategy by assigning very short duration buffs that mean or do little, to exemplify and make distinctive differences in race. Abilities must be interesting, useful, but unique. They must paint a portrait of the race — something a gamer can latch on and know that this ability or modification will help or hinder the race in the future. Often games will have a faction score to seperate one race from another; in the most general terms I agree this is a fine way to divide races into different groups, but faction in general is too basic and needs to be enhanced to express more outward physical and mental states of the races.

I would like to see a game where the very basic interaction of the game is changed represented by the race you select. Think how different the player’s experience would be if an orc sees in black and white only? But, perhaps, is not fooled by invisibility or illusion? A player selecting an orc would actually play the game in black and white, but (and here is the kicker) the game must utilize in a very impactful way invisibility and illusions.

How about the Elf can hear and detect sounds at a greater distance than the human. More so, their UI would also have a radar-like map showing the positions of sounds and their decibel values. Players would find the bubble of sounds more distinctive playing the elf, than what a human would be able to detect and they could look at the map to see the exact location and range of sound.

Make food in the game have physical values of nutrition, taste, and longevity. Then turn around and make the dwarf have greater abilities to detect and gain reward from food with the various values. Again, I could see a UI window that would codify and quantify the values assigned to the food. The troll, perhaps, would have a large gamut of consumption, but would gain only the basic nutritional values from it; while the dwarf could detect far better gourmet flavors and appreciate and gain value from food; perhaps the faerie would be limited to a very selective aperture of foods that could be consumed, making food for him a greater concern than that of a ratonga who could eat tin cans as easy as filet mignon.

Basic physical abilities could also be used to seperate one race from another. Values in swiming, climbing, riding of horses, basic melee and missile combat, all could be used to delineate differences within a racial boundary. Developers need to look upon the race with open eyes and assign values that both make sense but also give that race a definite advantage or hinderance in the world. Don’t apply lame or ineffectual bonuses or penalties that make no game difference. Frogloks should swim twice as fast as a halfling, lizardmen need to have physical armor (mitigation perhaps) far greater than gnomes. Ottermen should be able to hold their breath ten times longer than centaurs.

I implore designers to show us the beef when creating the next line in MMO’s races!


1 Comment

  1. Hear, hear! I think races are handled just as poorly in MMORPGs as lore is in most games. It’s secondary and if it factors into gameplay at all, it’s often treated as an afterthought. C’mon, devs, we’re not playing Donkey Kong or Metal Gear Solid here–flesh out that game world we’re paying $14.99+ a month to be a part of. Enhance player’s feeling of being an individual within a virtual society with distinctive belief systems and cultural traits. Dwarfs live in mountains. They should have better eyesight in a dungeon than a wood elf who lives outdoors. A half-orc should be able to take a beating better than a gnome (no offense to gnomes, of course).

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