Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Iconic Character Type

So, over at Space To Think yesterday I saw this post. The author talks about it, but I want to go into it a little bit more.What is 'it'? Well, it is the fact that when you are making a game for an established fandom you can't just go around cutting things out whole sale. What do I mean by this, and how would I suggest going around it? Well, read on and we'll discuss it.

So, the example Rob uses in Space to Think to get the point across is Star Wars Galaxies. While it might (read: probably is) different now, when the game launched getting a Jedi character was a real pain in the ass. It involved mastering a number of classes, determined randomly, with one character in order to unlock a force sensitive slot. This wasn't a marketing thing, or a bug, it was a conscious choice that was made by the game designers. It was also a choice that turned off a lot of people, and probably kept a bunch of people from sticking with the game. (I haven't done research on this mind, I am just going off what I remember hearing, and feeling, when I played).

See, when you say Star Wars to most people, generally speaking one of three things comes to mind. Jedi (or Lightsabers), Mandalorians (or Boba/Jango Fett), or the Millennium Falcon. Those are the three big iconic things that the Star Wars universe has for it. Sure there are storm troopers, and princesses, and intergalatic warfare and such. But those aren't what defines Star Wars, all of those can be found in any sci fi universe. Technically, even smuggling and the Millennium Falcon can be found anywhere too, but that is more an exception than the rule. No, Star Wars is set apart by that combination of things plus the presence of Jedi with lightsabers, and Mandalorian bounty hunters with their awesome armor.

So what did you have in Galaxies in the beginning? Well, you couldn't go into space. No Millennium Falcon for you. You could be a bounty hunter, and I don't know if they had Mandalorian armor or not, so I'll leave it alone. Finally, you couldn't be a jedi. So at the very least 2 of the 3 things most people come to Star Wars for? Gone. Who cares that the build your own city thing, and the player economy was pretty awesome. It was a Star Wars skin over a game that just wasn't star wars for most people.

The Developer's reasoning was sound too. Jedi were very limited at the time they set the game, so they restricted it but made it possible. I still think this was a mistake though.

My view is, when you are dealing with an established fandom, you need to give the players what they identify with the fandom. If you are doing 40k, there had best be a way to be a Space Marine right handy (Death Watch anyone?). If you are doing the Halo universe, you should have a way for people to play Spartans. If you are doing Star Wars, find a way to have Mandalorian and Jedi running around. This is your core experience, it is what will draw people to you, and you want to start with that. Capture the feel of being a Spartan on a battle field, and then go back to make your setting around that feel. You can balance other things against it, you can do other things with it. But you want people to be able to have that feel, and to have it quickly. It will grab people, and snag them, and hold onto them.

I could be way off base here, but it seems to me that when making a Game, you grab what people will want first, and then build around that for everything else. Star Wars (going back to Galaxies) isn't so small that you HAVE to set it at a time with few Jedi. The Expanded Universe is full of time periods with them being plentiful, so you can use one of those. But they lost sight of the Iconic Character Type when making their game, and the game did suffer for it. Then, later, when the Jedi were opened up the game wasn't ready for it and I don't think Galaxies has ever fully recovered.

Now, there is the possibility of the 40k MMO restricting Space Marines, and I'm left wondering why. Why restrict them when people want to be them? Especially when you can balance them out in other ways, and the 40k universe is full of thousands of Space Marines. Leave them in, catch the feel, then balance the game around it. If you're worried about PVP brokenness, then restrict their number on each battlefield. It's not like both sides can't have them.

And yes, I understand my musings here are somewhat naive in a lot of ways for other parts of game balance. But what would you rather do? Work harder to keep the game balanced while holding onto what draws people to the universe? Or cut out what makes your universe unique to make your design job easier? Me? I'll work harder to keep true to the fandom I am counting on to be my audience. otherwise, why use the fandom?

Oh, and since I said above I'd mention how I'd do it. For Jedi in Galaxies. Keep the Perma Death for jedi, if you die, your char resets to the very beginning. This keeps Jedi on hard mode, and I can't remember the last time I haven't died at least once on the road to real power in an MMO. it just happens. Second, every account gets 1 jedi. Not per server, just 1 jedi slot for the account. Three, give incentives to play your other classes, faster XP progression or soemthing else. The feel is there, the power is there. Die and you restart though. That will keep them rare, show that force talented are around, and you keep their numbers in check. It can work, you just would need to build the game around it. But then again, that is one of your core draws.

Maybe I am naive. It just seems like a better way to do it though.


  1. Though I've never played an MMO (and probably never will), I have to agree with you 100-percent. If you're going to run a game—especially a pay-for-play game- you give the players what they want. Period. Is it realistic that every character in a Star Wars game is a Jedi? No. But that's fine- since it is a GAME not 'real'.

    The new Star Wars: The Old Republic game seems to be doing it right. Last time I checked, folks will be able to play Jedi, Sith AND Mandalorians. Just what players seem to want. Good marketing strategy, in my opinion.

  2. I'm going to expand on this more tomorrow most likely, but yes Old Republic looks good. The expansion is bringing this back to your table top games and games you run. If you're running Star Wars, the Force should show up in some way, at some time. If you're running Super Heroes, someone should be super strong and nigh invulnerable. They're just basic things that give the feel over.