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On customization and classes

November 17, 2011

How much customization should a player have?  Is there such a thing as too much?  is there such a thing as too little?

There is an innate desire amongst humans to be able to control aspects of their entertainment.  Whether this is simply the choice of what they seek for entertainment or more specifically how they enjoy that entertainment when they get there, it is always there.  When it comes to gaming, especially over the last decade or so, this has taken off to amazing heights to the point where I think often times we forget that some things actually are customization in favor of the more obvious.

I argue that classes are inherently customization, and thus seeking further customization under them needs to keep that in mind.  Especially when you include ideas such as different ‘kits’, ‘specializations’ etc the customization is happening to a certain degree by that selection moreso than anything else.

At that point designers and players need to ask themselves:  What am I actually customizing here?  Am I making myself more unique, or simply hiding several simple choices behind a wall of complicated pseudo-decisions?

Blizzard Entertainments interactions with the WoW talent trees are an excellent example of this effect.  WoW started with 9 classes, three specializations (called ‘specs’) each, for a sum 27 theoretical class-spec combinations.  This eventually became 10 classes and 30 class-spec combinations, and will soon be 11 classes 33 class-spec combinations.  From the original release up until the release of Cataclysm the talent trees grew more and more complex.  Theory folk like myself spent large amounts of time analyzing the different trees and talents trying to find the best avenues to take, which resulted in ‘cookie cutter’ allotments of talent points.  You must do at least X Y and Z to be successful, and here are a few trifle points to put where you want because they don’t matter anyway.

With Cataclysm this changed somewhat, the trees were shrunk back down, and a focus was given on increasing the proportional amount of talent points that were spent on things that “don’t really matter” but add interesting or fun utility to the class-spec combination.  All under the guise of ‘customization’.  Still, there were cookie cutter specs, and often times even the free points were lumped into ‘for this encounter use these’ type scenarios.

With the next expansion Blizzard has announced that they are doing away with the trees, and simply giving a selection of three potentials at regular level intervals.  Eliminating all the extra noise of the talent trees and giving you simple choices for utility benefit.  Most of these, theoretically, won’t be able to be mathed out to what the best options are.  We’ll see if that actually works.

My point in describing all of this is that this isn’t really customization, this is dressing up class-spec selection that actually was the customization.  Selecting utility abilities is all fine and dandy, but if they don’t significantly change the way you play the game (And thus have an easily mathed out result), that the goal hasn’t been realized.

I would argue that instead of this, a system more like that of the game Fable represents true customization.  Fable provided you with four types of experience which you could allocate to three types of skills, one of the experiences was general and could be applied to any of the three, the other were specific to that area.  This allowed you as a player to pick and choose abilities and build your own character completely.  That, is customization.  Picking an Arms Warrior (thus a melee damage dealer who uses two handed weapons and a limited set of abilities) in WoW is not the same as picking individual abilities to develop and specialize in in Fable that result in you being a two handed melee damage dealer.  Picking which crowd control ability and shout you get to use in your new talent selection toggles is certainly not on the same level of adding magic abilities on the side of your melee in Fable.

Now, is this masked lack of customization bad?  Not really, but it needs to be identified for what it is.  Not truly customized, merely selected.

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From → Issues, WoW

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