Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Skyrim and the Suspension of Min-Maxing

I’ve previously talked about the concept of leveling the abilities you use as you use them instead of the rather arbitrary experience points/level up systems that are out there. There is a huge load of issues with this concept and it is therefore not very surprising that its implementations are pretty much always flawed. One big advocate of such systems is the Elder Scrolls series of games. Its newest part, Skyrim, will be no different in that regard – but it will do away with classes completely.

Now, this is not the first time that we see a classless RPG nor the first time that we see this type of skill progression, but the combination is not something we see very often. As always when this discussion comes up, I’m intrigued. The idea of starting simply as a guy (or girl) instead of being shoehorned into a class and then simply playing the game as I like it and getter better at the things that I enjoy doing is very attractive to me.

The success of this system – if it is successful at all – will owe a lot to the fact the Skyrim is a single player game. People don’t min-max nearly as much when playing for themselves than they would in a competitive environment. In an MMO, players would figure out what the best combination of skills at the maximum level is and then purposefully just use those abilities while leveling. They wouldn’t simply play the game using the abilities that seem right and/or fun at specific points in time but always shoot for the maximum possible yield.

In Morrowind, jumping was its own skill that you could level up by, well, jumping. Each skill would belong to a certain skill set and influence what attributes your character would be able to get at the next level up. For certain characters it would therefore be very good to jump a lot to improve their strength (or whatever it was) while others would actually hurt their character development by jumping (because they would gain strength instead of another attribute they’d rather want.)

In a single-player game, players might just be able to ignore these aspects for the most part and enjoy the freedom the system gives them instead. Actually, games like this require something akin to the concept of suspension of disbelief, a suspension of min-maxing so to speak. Once you figure out that you will be better at the game by not jumping (or jumping lot) you’ll likely never be able to go back. But if you manage to suspend that desire you’ll be golden.

I wish I had a good term for this, maybe I’ll add one in later when I come up with one. But I believe that this concept of suspending you desire to game the system is something very important.

  • I already hated this system in Morrowind. Taking away classes or not does not really matter, as the core system is flawed. Heavily flawed.

    Just play, don’t think – even if you know that you could AFK-level agility or strength for your next level up by just jumping using a macro software or your Logitech keyboard? Or by jumping or not jumping all the time you travel. Feeling bad for having jumped over an obstacle because it could mess up your next attribute points at level up.

    (If someone who reads this can’t follow, I am describing the stupid mechanic how Elder Scrolls game determine which modifiers you get at level up)

    Well, I have a hard time to suspend the desire to game the system. The first computer games I played taught me to understand how they work, what I must do and get better at it – just to overcome the odds and progress.

    In Morrowind I was overpowered after some … 10 or 20 levels. Did not help that I stumbled over a Daedric weapon cache where I could overcome the Guardian.

    Well, I am not a hardcore min-maxer, but I can’t stop thinking about what I do and why either. Most gamers probably can’t. Being part of the “I play for fun, I don’t know the mechanics at all and don’t want to know them either” crowd is not possible for me.

    I guess that was it, little chance I and Skyrim will work together.

  • P.S. In Ultima Online you could lock your skillpoints and doing a certain thing raised your skill in it. Now that system made sense and allowed for customization.

    I wonder why TES really stays with their system for years by now.

  • @Longasc: Figuring out the mechanics of a game is a big part of why I play anyway. Once that’s mastered and the rest is rote repetition, I lose interest.

    Morrowind’s leveling system was *abysmal*. The problem wasn’t so much that you’d get attribute boosts based on your actions, it was that those boosts were locked in when leveling and you couldn’t change your mind if you felt like it. So, you couldn’t go back and boost Intelligence or something for that level if you wanted to shift gears as time went on. Beyond that, boosts based on actions *everyone* did (like jumping) could override your desired boosts, simply by incidental use. The system pretty much demanded gaming the system in order to have the sort of character you wanted.

    Now, if the skills alone improved, and there wasn’t some sort of leveling locked-in boost, that might work. As in, you just improve what you feel like and don’t worry about weird and gameable leveling boosts. Maybe that means no attribute boosts at leveling time, or prebaked attribute boosts for the leveling itself, and let the player deal with the skill system on a different axis with more control. That’s something that JRPGs have done for a long time with decent success.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Falling Apart