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Reader Comments (32)

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:24AM Seffrid said

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I choose the class and race I want for my character, customise his or her appearance, apply a name and that's it. Once I get to a stage where there are choices such as AA or talent points then I base my decisions on my playstyle and what seems right for the character.

I never follow someone else's template or work out in advance on a planner what points I'm going to put where. I've yet to regret that. Half of the fun is in working those things out for myself, not playing off a spreadsheet.

But then I'm not a competitive or hardcore player who plays a game in order to be able to be the best at this or the first at that. So I guess it depends on what you're looking for in these games.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 12:07PM Valdamar said

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Sadly I am competitive - more with myself than with others. The min-maxing powergamer side of my personality always gets the better of my concept-loving RPing storyteller side - sometimes I wish I wasn't so power-driven, but I like having powerful builds that can do really difficult content that other builds can't manage - I like to push the envelope. I don't even PvP or raid much, nor brag about some of the challenges I've undertaken, but it gives me satisfaction to have an optimal character - I powergame just for my own amusement - and when teams/groups wipe it gives me satisfaction to be the last man standing and in some cases even finish off the encounter on my own (happens quite often in CoH) and then rez/regroup the team.

Is it the US Army that says "be all you can be!" on their recruiting adverts? That pretty much sums up my attitude to building MMO characters.

I may often protest that I wish there was an MMO where I could just relax and play without having to research builds, but I'm my own worst enemy, and besides I do get a lot of fun out of min-maxing builds - it often keeps me playing an MMO even after I get very bored of the content (CoH is a notable example of that).

Besides, all my mates like to use me as an oracle of game mechanics and lore, so I'd still have to research the combat system and character builds even if I wasn't powergaming, just to maintain my rep/role among my friends as "the guy in the know" ;)
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Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:30AM (Unverified) said

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I like games that make build options come into play later in the game after the player has a chance to become familiar with the mechanics and understand what the choices mean. Especially if the game is designed to introduce these naturally by incorporating them into quests that don't feel like dull tutorials, or PvP tiers that enable more options as you go up.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:41AM Beau Hindman said

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I'm not sure that "all" MMOs require planning, if at all. Some of us like to jump in and see what happens. After all, most MMOs allow for more than one character.

But now, in one of my columns, I have to plan a lot more -- it helps me get the most out of the MMO in that short period. Other than that, I will pick it when the loading screen comes up. That's the fun for me, at least. :)

Beau

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:50AM Dumac said

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Zero, if i am new to the game, lots when i become familiar with it... Gradual introduction and an easy respec option (key word is easy, don't make me pay a huge sum of money every time i want to do it) and the sky is the limit.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:54AM JohnD212 said

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I like the customization just don't make me do it in the first 5 minutes I have the game. I need to know how to game runs...learn a little about my class and how i want to play it before I make too many changes (especially if I can't reverse them).

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 12:10PM Valdamar said

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Yeah that's an extremely good point - so many MMOs throw all these decisions at you in character creation before you've even played the game - it almost forces people into research and planning builds, because many of these decisions can have a big impact later and often cannot be changed/undone.

I much prefer MMOs that ease you gently into the game, and add complexity as time goes on.
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Posted: Sep 16th 2010 8:56AM Damn Dirty Ape said

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Hmm, tough question. I do enjoy planning characters with a few exceptions.

- I HATE systems were newbies can 'gimp' their character early on while learning the game with no easy way out.

- I don't like systems that have irreversible choices, or a limited amount of respecs. You can make respecs annoying to get, but I don't like the thought of 'I only have 5 to use between now and forever'. CoH used to be like this (still might be for all I know).

- I am not a fan of systems that are too 'gamey' like Anarchy Online. I think AO was a really fun game and I enjoyed the complexity, but the amount of ridiculous twinking and buffing people would do to squeeze into implants was a huge part of the game and something I never cared for.

- I really don't like systems that encourage a player to save unused skill points, experience, talents, whatever until a higher level ability. This penalizes newer players (like I mentioned above) and makes the game a tedious slog until you finally get the higher ability.

Example of the kind of system I hate: My generic wizard starts with 'fire spark' at level 1. At level 2 I get an ability point and save it, continuing to use my crappy fire spark. At level 3 I get another ability point and save it, and now my fire spark really sucks but I slog my way through it until level 4, when I get my new spell 'fireball' and assign my 2 earned upgrade points to it and never use 'fire spark' again.

Meanwhile a newer player immediately spends his points making 'fire spark' better and is stuck with a crappy 'fireball' at level 4 because he didn't know any better.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 9:04AM Carolina said

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I enjoy planning crafting, I can spend hours just leveling one up quietly on a lazy afternoon.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 9:09AM Ocho said

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Beau, I agree. To be told that I have to fit a particular mold and HAVE to have my skills up to a certian point or I HAVE to design it this way or else its no good... is completely against my gaming ethcis. Where is the fun of being told what to do?

I'm one to jump in and just play along as I go, with a very loose idea of what I'm looking for. Thats how I have fun. If I make a mistake, ah well... there are ways to reverse it. If someone doesn't like my build, eff em. I won't let someone else tell me how to enjoy my game.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 9:46AM Pingles said

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One of the things that turned me into a "casual" MMOer is the stat/gear/skill requirements of Raid/PvP groups.

I remember trying to join a PvP group just for an evening and being rejected because of how I was specced. God Forbid the group had to THINK for an evening instead of just spamming the keys they were used to.

Oops, got a bit ranty there.

Uh, no, I'm pretty casual about character planning.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 9:52AM (Unverified) said

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I really enjoy games that allow for planning. City of Heroes especially, I could spend hours designing character builds (and have) just to see what I could come up with. So I disagree that it's "artificial," it allows for a greater diversity among players. The hallmark of a great system is that everyone can go as deep as they wish, from the "spur of the moment" choosers to those that plan each step.

That said I also enjoy skill based games like PSU or Vindictus that have minimal or no character planning and you just get in and fight. I wonder if the 2 are not mutually exclusive.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 10:03AM (Unverified) said

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I actually prefer the MMOs where there is limited options with things like "respecs" or "point allocation". I'd much rather play a game where you just have to make the best of what the developers give you, it seems to create a more skill/knowledge centric community instead of just you gear/spec determining your worth as a play.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 10:09AM (Unverified) said

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The problem I think most people have with planning is that there is usually some powers or talents that are must-haves. "If you don't get these you're no good." I think a few developers are realizing this and making changes, CoH for example making the Fitness tree inherent; or WoW remaking the talent trees with the Mastery aspect being an automatic upgrade for picking a tree.

There are good and bad approaches to character development, limiting or not supplying respecs, and offering no choices are bad approaches. I enjoy character planning and going as deep as the system allows. It's sort of like being able to see how awesome I'll be at the end, or just ensure that the road has as few bumps and holes as possible.

And if all this planning isn't for you, do what my friends do and find someone who likes it to do it for you...

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 10:37AM Jeromai said

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I enjoy games that let a beginner muck along at a decent passable level, and let advanced users plan and tweak their builds for maximal efficiency - as long as the gap does not get so wide that vets automatically reject the newbies unless their builds are just right.

Also, the game has got to make it conceivable to respec without making you pay through the nose.

CoH is a fairly good example of this. The respec trials have gotten easier, they give out freespecs like candy every holiday period or issue update, there are respec recipes that drop from mobs if you get lucky, and vet awards also include one every so often. With dual builds, you don't even need to use a respec if you screwed one build up, until you want the flexibility of two different builds.

Guild Wars is also memorable for being the first MMO-like game to pretty much design around skill-swapping builds like picking Magic cards for your deck. Changing your builds for different circumstances is a foundational part of that game. Alas, a number of the GW players have fallen afoul of the "if it's not on PvXwiki, it's not a good build, get outta my group" train of thought.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 11:00AM Minofan said

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I don't like it; no because I have anything against planning nor number-crunching, but because if I'm planning an MMORPG character that way then the RPG element has officially left the building.

Planning a character by the maths is a sure sign that all my sense of wonder & exploration has left the playing field, and there's nothing left to do but min/max alts who fail to be as fun to play as I remember my old characters being.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 11:30AM Valdamar said

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I used to really love planning out all my CoH characters in Mids Hero Designer (and its predecessors) - every character I ever played had a rough plan of which powers I'd take when, and where I'd put my slots - it's important in CoH not to end up with too few slots leftover to make some of your powers worthwhile - in that situation you're better off switching to a few powers that don't need many slots, to free up slots for powers that need lots (like attacks do).

I say I used to love it - I've just realised I'll have to re-plan and then re-spec all 18 of my L50 characters (some of which have 2 builds, and both will need changing) and maybe a dozen or so additional lowbie characters (though I may remake some of the ones under L20 in Praetoria) once issue 19 comes out, so that I can get rid of the Fitness pool to take advantage of inherent fitness. It seems like a huge task and I suspect I'll be retiring a few L50 characters along the way and just leaving them with their existing build and writing them off as "I probably won't play this character again"

But in truth planning the builds again in Mids will be a lot more enjoyable (when I can find the time) than actually doing the respecs in-game - the respec system needs quite a bit of streamlining in CoH as while it lets you redo everything from the start the entire process takes absolutely ages, which is off-putting if all you wanted to do was move a couple of slots around - and while you're respeccing you don't have access to chat, so you basically have to tell all your online friends first not to contact you for the next 30-60mins or so.

So the planning can add some hassle when you need to change your builds in response to patches, but honestly long term having such a depth of character customisation (which almost requires planning out your build) is one of the things that has kept me playing City of Heroes since 2005.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 11:56AM Valdamar said

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Every MMO I play I pretty much plan at least which direction I'll take my build before I play it (i.e. I try to always research stuff before I play it, unless it's a brand new MMO then I just dive in and get exploring) - in CoH I design a build all the way to L50 before I even create the character! I did the same in DAoC too. In WoW it was easier because I basically just picked which talent tree I liked the look of best, then followed that til it had no more talents I wanted then picked another. Both EverQuests were even easier - when I played them (pre-AAs) you basically had very little choice in how your character evolved - no build required.

Some games make building characters easier than others, but they're also generally the MMOs where your character doesn't differ much from others of the same race/class at level cap, and I'd rather have variety between builds.

But I like to have that structure, knowing how I want a character to evolve before I play it, as it makes placing skill points or whatever much easier/quicker when you level up (compared to some of my friends in Borderlands co-op who can agonise for ages on where to put a skill point, even though it's very cheap to fully respec your whole character there).

As an Explorer-type player on the Bartle scale I don't mind all the researching builds and skills/spells that is required before you can plan a build properly - for me it's all part of learning class capabilities and how the game works - I like to be in the know before I'm actually in-game trying to use those spells/skills/talents, because in-game information is usually horribly lacking in most MMOs (Champions Online was one of the worst for that, I found, but then CoH was pretty terrible before the "real numbers" patch a few years ago).

I may not always stick to my theoretical builds - often you learn things during play that change your expected playstyle or build with a class - but I like to have that initial structure so I'm not just "guessing" where to put my points or whatever when I level up.

Though there is one MMO where the build planning pretty much drove me away from the game - in DDO I found the character builds so opaque, and planning them so unenjoyable and unintuitive, that it was one of the things I disliked that convinced me not to subscribe to DDO (this was back before it went F2P) - the other things I disliked were the lack of persistent overland zones (starter city was more like a lobby/hub), lack of content and the accelerated levelling curve (four of us got to the level cap, which was L10 back then, during the free trial!!!).

Admittedly I never played D&D - when I GM'd pen & paper roleplaying I always ran RPGs such as RuneQuest/Pendragon/Elric, Warhammer FRP, Shadowrun, V:TDA, Deadlands, Rifts, Paranoia, etc. in preference to D&D, so I never really understood the D&D/AD&D rules anyway - and I think DDO was designed to be familiar to people who already understood D&D/AD&D, which was a rules system I never really liked (I do still own some D&D/AD&D modules/sourcebooks though - I adapted some of the stories/items/NPCs to other systems or just used them for inspiration).

Generally though I like deep character customisation/progression that almost demands build-planning.

Sure, I'd love it if there was an MMO where you could grow your character gradually, choosing things that suited the concept rather than because they were powerful (please GW2, don't let me down!), but sadly in most MMOs there's too much danger of ending up with a really gimped character at the level cap if you don't plan the build in advance - and some MMOs make it really hard to respec - so I'd rather not run the risk of putting hundreds of hours into a character and ending up far inferior to others at L50 and incapable of doing end-game content (or just unwanted) - I've played weak/unloved/unwanted characters/builds in past MMOs and it's not an experience I treasure.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 12:08PM Heraclea said

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City of Heroes is an exception in this regard, in my opinion: the character of the game makes a fairly wide variety of character builds viable, so there is some room for experimentation there. Which makes it somewhat more surprising that your ability to store "gear" (enhancements) from old builds is somewhat more limited than in other games, and that there is no NPC offering respecs for a fixed amount of game currency such as would put a cap on the price of the "Respec Recipe" drop.

On the other hand, excessive attention to build details is to me a sign of bad game design. What this typically means is that at some point, the game becomes so difficult that each character in the encounter must focus on a specific role (tanking, DPS, healing/buff/debuff) in a way that starts to impact the enjoyability of the character outside the raid or instance content. Some encounters are so difficult and so badly designed that they may require specific builds just for that boss. If the game features PvP, that means another version of highly specialized builds that typically focus on applying or resisting control.

In these games, "cookie cutter" specs are quickly propagated among the player base, and slight variations if any are accepted by the player base that runs the content. I'd rather be able to succeed at a game with a spec I designed and like, and built for general utility rather than being forced by the difficulty of an encounter to focus on a single role.

Posted: Sep 16th 2010 12:24PM Valdamar said

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What makes CoH so awesome is that you can pick the difficulty level for the missions of your characters, so you never have to worry about creating a gimped character that won't be able to progress if you make a "mistake" (i.e. less optimal choice) in your build - and task forces are fairly easy so it's not like a weaker character looks too bad on a team of optimal characters (especially if the player is good at playing that character) until things go badly and maybe they have to fend for themselves.

I still plan all my CoH characters in advance and min-max them, but I think the nature of CoH's character progression also makes it pretty easy for more casual players who just want to grow their characters gradually, picking powers that sound fun and just putting slots where they feel they're most useful at that time. Several of my friends play like that and never bother planning their characters.

CoH's character customisation and progression could have been so overwhelming, but you're never really locked in to any build decisions (apart from the primary/secondary powersets you choose in character creation) and everything can be tweaked later by either changing enhancements, or by respeccing and moving slots and/or changing powers.

I'm just mystified that nobody has yet tried to copy CoH's character progression/customisation systems, because imho they're streets ahead of most other MMOs in that respect.
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