Forums » Pantheon Classes

Class Design: Principles

    • 6 posts
    April 16, 2018 11:30 AM PDT

    Hey yall,

    I'm Jamza and I've been thinking about doing a series of posts of my thoughts on design for classes in Pantheon. As I thought about it, I realized that I would need to refer pretty frequently to some of my basic design principles when it comes to thinking about classes in an MMO like Pantheon. It seems the logical conclusion that I would first create a post about these principles for reference, so here it is. Some of these basic principles are things that I consider for all games and some of them will be specific to MMOs, or even Pantheon, but I think all of these should be applied whenever possible.


    Principle #1 - Meaningful decisions are the core of gameplay.

    This is probably the most core tenet I consider when I'm doing any sort of game design or theory at all. Games as a media are unique in the sense that we can interact with them. That interaction primarily comes in two forms: decisions and execution. Decisions are knowing what to do and execution is acting correctly on those decisions moment-to-moment. Decisions range from raid makeup and party placement to gear choices for a particular encounter to which spells to memorize to how to handle that random proc you just got. There are decisions on a grand scale that require lengthy discussion from multiple parties and decisions that happen instantaneously in the moment. These are all important.

    But why are decisions so important? Why hammer this home? In my mind, gameplay is meaningful decisions. Without meaningful decisions, you're only left with execution. Now, this does not mean to imply that execution is not important, but imagine for a second that you were playing a DPS class with an optimal damage rotation. In all scenarios, this same rotation of spells will result in optimal damage. Does that sound boring? It does to me. Why? Because you never have to make a decision, which means you're never an active part of the game. All you're doing is taking the calculated rotation and executing it repeatedly. At this point, you're simply training yourself to flawlessly execute. You might as well be watching a movie. Of course, this can be different if you painstakingly crafted this optimal rotation - then you made decisions.

    The DPS argument illustrates why I require the word "meaningful" in the core statement. The illusion of choice traps many games and many players. If you have a variety of options to approach a problem, but one solution always outperforms the others, then it's not really a choice.

    (There are exceptions to this, like some of speedrunning. For the sake of brevity, I won't go into my entire game philosophy here.)

    Principle #2 - Mechanics should reflect flavor.

    Games have a wonderful ability to let the player live a fantasy. You get to look like a badass and do cool moves like a badass. Most games hit those notes. But they also can make you think like a badass, or whatever fantasy you're trying to portray. Have you ever played a game where you played a class that didn't feel like that class? Have you ever played a Necromancer that basically just shot skull-and-pestilence-themed fireballs? A Necromancer's life is about power at any cost! It's about trading your mortality for arcane might! The mechanics should make me feel that cost.

    There are plenty of ways to do this. Some of them are in combat - make Necromancer spells drain their own life or give the Necromancer the ability to use their allies' life as a casting resource. Maybe that last one's a bit too extreme, but you see where I'm going. Other ways can take place outside of combat - Necromancers are probably universally reviled and start with terrible reputations with vast majority of factions. The actual mechanics of how I interact with the game world are just as, if not more, important than what shape the particle effects take and what sort of clothes I get to wear.

    Principle #3 - Fulfill the class fantasy.

    This works in tandem with Principle #2. Where that revolves around making sure the mechanics reflect the flavor, this principle revolves around making sure the flavor reflects the fantasy. What draws people to a particular class? What are the unifying themes that make people go, "Yeah, I definitely want to play that." The fantasy can he hard to nail down as it often varies from person to person. More often than not, though, certain throughlines can be identified that resonate with the majority of players. What are the very first things that come to your mind when you think about a class? That's a good place to start. Make the player and other players see and feel those.

    Principle #4 - Every class should fundamentally operate differently.

    Nothing irks me more in a game than classes whose differentiation lies only in their fluff/flavor. My prime example for this is Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. In 4E, Wizards of the Coast removed many of the different mechanics used by the various classes and standardized everything on a single framework. I won't go into the details here, but the end result was a game where a Fighter and a Wizard weren't really all that different except for the flavor text that said "This is a big swing." and "This is a close fire blast."

    This principle can actually be directly derived from principles #2 and #3, which I guess makes it more of a corollary, but shut up. It stands to reason that if the mechanics of the classes all reflect their flavor and the flavor of all of the classes reflect the unique fantasies they're trying to satisfy, the classes should all have mechanics unique to themselves. If you're taking the time to separate out an entire group of players and say "You are all this thing that nobody else is," then you should also take the time to make sure they're doing things that nobody else is doing.

    Principle #5 - Progression should require a group.

    One of my major complaints with MMOs nowadays is that nobody really needs each other anymore, and they often lack a distinct identity. In a game genre that includes the words "massively multiplayer", the game design should probably leverage the fact that there are lots of other people around. Making the optimal way to play be group play allows classes to become highly specialized in a particular area to the exclusion of others. This, in turn, forces people to work as a team and gives everyone a feeling of accomplishment as an integral part of the team. 

    Principle #6 - Every class should always adequately fulfill their role, when played optimally.

    In game with the "trinity" (or "quaternity"), certain roles are expected in each group. You've got tanks, healers, DPS, and sometimes utility. In order to make the game enjoyable for everyone and realistically playable for all classes, every class needs to fill one of these roles adequately. Now, if you've followed the previous principles and everyone operates fundamentally differently, then this step can be a challenging one. The interaction of so many unique abilities creates quite a complex formula to solve in all scenarios. However, this is key if you want your hard work on all of the different classes to be appreciated.

    Now, this is not to say that certain classes can't be better in certain scenarios. In fact, they should be. That's part of fulfilling the class fantasy. If I'm playing a Paladin and we're fighting undead, I should be ripping through them. That lets me feel cool and like I'm a Paladin. However, in the reverse scenario, say I'm a fire Wizard fighting fire elementals. Fire spells probably don't do a lot of damage to fire elementals. However, a well designed class should have the tools to handle the situation adequately, even if not quite at the level of some other classes. It's up to the player to make use of the tools and compensate for the situation working against their previous choices, though it may be hard.

     Principle #7 - Interactive trumps passive, to an extent.

    As a general rule, I think that interactive mechanics are preferable to passive mechanics. Why make something a passive buff when you could require the player to actively manage it? A good example here might be Enchanters. We all know they typically grant some serious mana regeneration to their party. However, this could be a passive buff (Clarity) or it could be something that the player is actually involved in. This could be tied into existing mechanics like mana return on their nukes, or it could be something more explicitly separate like the ability to drain mana from enemies and a separate ability to feed mana directly to allies. After all, if meaningful decisions are the core of good gameplay, there are a lot more opportunities for decision points in actively managing party mana than making sure you've got C on everyone, right?

    There are limits to this. Players only have a finite amount of attention - there are only so many things they can realistically be expected to do simultaneously. This cap can vary by class depending on how difficult you would like a given class to be, but in general, a limit exists. Another limiter is that each decision point requires input from the player, so a player's impact in a particular area is limited by how frequently they can interact with their targets. To put it in less confusingly vague words, let's look back at our Enchanter. Managing party mana actively sounds really fun, and quite a bit more engaging than just making sure you don't forget to rebuff. However, it also means that this theoretical Enchanter is unable to provide mana regeneration benefits to people not actively in party with him. Seeing as one of our goals is to enhance and enforce the social aspects of the game, taking away one of the most desirable ways for one class to help others may be problematic.


    Well, that's the first installment of what I hope to be more specific posts about each class. I always welcome feedback and discussion, and I'm more than happy to elaborate on some of these ideas if you think they need additional explanation.




    This post was edited by Jamza at April 16, 2018 9:53 PM PDT
    • 6 posts
    April 16, 2018 11:30 AM PDT


    • 6 posts
    April 16, 2018 11:30 AM PDT


    • 13 posts
    April 16, 2018 2:59 PM PDT

    I feel as if that "shut up" was aimed specifically at me.

    • 6 posts
    April 16, 2018 3:01 PM PDT
    • 48 posts
    April 18, 2018 10:21 AM PDT

    Well not to sure about having to many fixed rules or Principles, its really not a dictatorship ruled game but a more chaotic version of it, like if you want to solo all the time sure go ahead,if you want to front raid everything and be the best individuall on that server sure go for it.if you want to be the jerk that train everyone plz dont...

    Setting upp some constricting rules about should or would is a contradiction to what you said (attleast i think so) MMO is what you do of it, not to follow some guidlines sure they can help and the use of common sense is probobly the most used.

    But hey you play your way dosent make it right, but it is your right to do so.

    And when it comes to the actual gameplay/classroles/spells/abilites we really dont know what is comming and what extent they will be impliemented just some odd bits of candy here and there. Just look att the class specific pages there is toons of things people want for there favorite class, and who can blame them everyone have there ideal already pictured before them some realistic some not so realistic.


    • 691 posts
    April 18, 2018 6:21 PM PDT

    Basic class design is set in stone at this point .  We are in the tweaking stage.

    • 6 posts
    April 18, 2018 7:08 PM PDT

    Y'all misunderstand me. This post is going to guide later posts I make in the class-specific forums about ideas and such I have for the classes.