Party-Based Systems and You

There are several types of games with a party-based system. Most of these fall under the role playing game umbrella, which would include several sub-genres. However, there are other genres that also utilize similar systems, all of which lead to certain levels of customization. This can also lead to min-maxing, which in itself can be a benefit and a detriment. Min-maxing is defined as:

…the practice of playing a role-playing game, wargame or video game with the intent of creating the “best” character by means of minimizing undesired or unimportant traits and maximizing desired ones. This is usually accomplished by improving one specific trait or ability by sacrificing ability in all other fields.

Generally speaking, there is always a way to make your party the best it can be, regardless of if you are the only character controlling the party (single-player RPG), or you are playing a single character in party filled with other players (MMORPG). What kinds of single player games come to mind when you think of party-based systems?

First to my mind are old school JRPGs (Final Fantasy series among others)  and Tactical RPGs (Shining Force, FFTactics)  which typically use predetermined characters to form your party, all with set skills and abilities. Your customization comes in when it comes to what gear you equip on the characters, and sometimes what skills/spells you may advance. Some newer games that fit this mold are the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, along with the game I’ve been playing, Might & Magic X. The characters are relatively set in their ways, though you can affect gear and skill choices. Min-maxing only occurs via gear/skills and party composition, which you cannot always control depending on happenings with the storyline.

On the flip side, if you’re playing a Massively Multiplayer Game, you can customize the hell out of your character, min-maxing every stat-line, but you cannot control the effectiveness and efficiency of your party-members. This of course, is why pickup groups are detested. Still, within the game’s parameters there is a “optimal” way to configure a party, and finding players in agreement with this view are easily found.

Other genres suffer from similar issues. Play a game of League of Legends, and try to mess up the games established “meta” in a ranked game. You will be reported. There is an established meta for a reason, and that is because the meta “works”. If you want to experiment with different group compositions, you had best do that on your own time, or at least that’s what the community expects of you (whether or not this is the best attitude for the community to possess is a whole other topic).

These types of attitudes are prevalent in every game I’ve played that has a multiplayer cooperative component. It doesn’t matter if you are cooperating against AI opponents or other players, you are expected to contribute to the best of your ability as if this is your second job.

It is human nature to want to be the best at something. To excel beyond the threshold which our peers have reached. Game designers have simply taken that desire and translated it into a facet of our lives, a place where we can all go and “be somebody”. This is why in games like Skyrim you are the perennial hero of the story, and you don’t need a party (though you can grab a follower who is more a storage container than anything). Stat lines give people something to brag about. Gear scores give people something to achieve, but also gives other people a reason to keep you out of their optimized group.

What inspired this post in the first place was M&MX. I posted my first foray into the game recently, and I found myself the very next day going back through the same exact portion of the game because I found out more about the mechanics, and thought that I had found a better overall party composition. So I re-rolled and played through the same content, and it turned out that this party didn’t do any better, actually a little bit worse through the first dungeon. This experience had me thinking about how customization via stats and classes is the wrong way of creating progression.

I’ve been guilty of enjoying and “voting with my wallet” for this type of progression since I was a child (although I was voting with someone else’s wallet back then). I played Shining Force and other JRPGs so many times with optimal set ups and then went back and played with sub-optimal groupings just to see if I could do it. I was all for gear+stat progression (or optimal party selection) through the Baldur’s Gates and Diablos and my first MMOs. It has come to a point where I think games like Ultima Online and Skyrim have the right idea in skill based progression, where skills level as you use them, and gear doesn’t have stats attached (outside of protection values or types of damage attached). Simplfy things to where the adventure matters, where your companions matter to you not for their gear or skills/class, but for their company and willingness to have your back.

We need a community of gamers who work together to solve mysteries or group together to survive. I like some of the ideas coming out of MMOs in development that have a more sandbox style. The concept of games like DayZ, Rust, and H1Z1 fascinate me, where people actually have to work together to survive and figure out if it’s a better idea to set up shop somewhere or wander around for a safer locale, with the threat of Zombies, the wild or other players who could potentially kill them, keeping them together. The original Everquest felt like this, but it was still rooted in a party-based system, where the optimal trinity was the standard.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love a story-driven RPG like the classics have offered, where classes and gear and all that matter. But from a social aspect, I would prefer we got away from games like this that have a multiplayer component. I don’t see why there should have to be balance between classes. Why there should be classes at all? Why not start out with nothing, and as you do things you gain experience (literally, rather than a nominal amount) in that activity. Some people would naturally want to gather and build. Let them. People who prefer to hunt/fight can take up arms and protect the gatherers and builders. Leaders would naturally arise. Next thing you know cities are cropping up and wars are breaking out, all because everyone wants to be the king. Stay in a city and deal with the politics, or start a farm on the outskirts where you can raise a smaller group? You decide.

The technology is there. We are coming to a point where our social lives are on the internet. We are living our lives attached to keyboards/mice/gamepads. When we aren’t at home, our mobile devices. Most of our Facebook friends we never talk to, and our Twitter friends we’ve never met in person. So why not make our game worlds what we want them to be? Why not get this message out and continue to communicate with the developers via Twitter, Reddit, etc, so we can share our vision and they can create the worlds which we crave? Why not make a game that is one big social experiement? I think these issues are what gamers are trying to tackle, along with other social stigmas which others are much better at articulating than myself. This is why blogging and Tweeting and making your voice heard is so important.

Now I’ve gone and rattled on beyond my original point, but a storm is brewing. People are getting more and more involved in creating media. We ARE the media, and we are growing stronger by the day. Our voices are being heard, and we need to keep up the work! We might not win any world-peace medals, but in our own small way we are shaping the society of the future. Let’s keep it up.

#Community #Gamedesign #Gamingculture