Bring back the gimps!

At some point during the transition from MMORPG to just MMO, the ability to create a ‘gimped’ character was removed. In UO you could hit the skill cap and have a horrible character. In AC you could spend all your point in the run skill and create the fastest gimp in the game. Even in EVE, it’s possible to train skills that won’t help you much, and your 20 million skill point pilot could be less effective in combat/mining/industry as someone with 3 million points, although since you can always train more, in EVE it’s not permanent damage. In WoW at 80 every mage is exactly the same save talent points, and those can be reset at will. Same deal in WAR, resets are cheap and it comes down to how you use those skills rather than what skills you have.

DDO, being a bit ‘old school’, allows you to create a gimp character. A horribly, horribly gimp character that only a reroll will fix. No amount of tweaking or ability respecs are going to save your 6 strength fighter, sorry. Even things as simple as picking spells or what feats you start with are critical, and due to how DDO is structured (all group-based instances), you can’t easily grind past tougher content to out-level it like you could in other games, nor do equal-level NPCs just roll over and die from auto-attacks like they do in more traditional games.

So the ability to create a gimp character makes an MMO awesome, is that my point? Yes, but not exactly. If you are able to make a gimp character, it also means you can make a highly specialized or more custom-tailored character as well. The reason you can make a gimp is because you have choices that actually matter, which is the same reason you can make something better or “better for you”. If you go check the DDO class forums, you will see various builds, but each one comes with the disclaimer of “this is the intent behind this build, I want to be able to do X Y Z”. If you check the Elitist Jerks rogue forum, the topic revolves around one thing and one thing only, dps, and even that comes down to ‘get top tier raid gear, allocate talents here, and use this hotbar rotation’. Ever rogue in WoW can, theoretically, achieve this, regardless of any choices you made prior to hitting 80, which sums up exactly how little control you really have over what you do or the impact it has.

It’s the ‘safer’ way to design, but it also robs the players of a chance to create a more customized character, and that is a huge pillar of RPG design. Not only do you play the hero, but it’s YOUR hero, so when things go well you feel just a little bit more connect and responsible for it. To go back to WoW, your raiding guild beat raid boss X because you brought so many warriors/rogues/mages/priests, and we all know each of those characters was more or less ‘the same’ as every other raiding guild before and after. This is why stories of how YOUR guild killed Onyxia are boring, because my guild killed her the exact same way you did, using the same ‘heroes’, give or take a dps character or two. So while the ability to better customize your character won’t make the Onyxia encounter super unique (you would still need fire resist gear, a tank, some healers, dps), at least the guy tanking her might succeed/fail because of the decisions he made at level 1, or 10, or 50, rather than because his clone meet the strict pre-reqs for success. With more character attachment, you develop more game attachment, and that’s what MMOs (even the RPG kind) are all about.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Asheron's Call, DDO, Dungeons and Dragons Online, EVE Online, MMO design, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Bring back the gimps!

  1. Bhagpuss says:

    My GM in the tabletop days used to have to restrain several of our group from taking so many Disadvantages that he feared he’d never get us to the end of any scenario. We played Golden Heroes with super-heroes with more flaws than powers, and D&D with characters too stupid or proud or secretive to understand what was going on or do anything to help if they did.

    It was fun, but I don’t think I’d like to go back to it. The older I get, the less I want spend my time doing amateur dramatics in a high-fantasy setting and the more I like predictability and narrowed choices. Nowadays if games offer Talents and AA Specs and Skill Trees I tend to leave my points unspent and just work with the basics of the class.

    Choice isn’t fun, it’s just one more nuisance and I’d really much rather the game designers did that for me. I also really like knowing that any sample of Class X/Level Y will have exactly the same abilities as the last sample I grouped with. Games that allow such variation in specification that as group leader you need run an interview on every applicant are more trouble than they’re worth.

    • evizaer says:

      Why do you play games if you don’t want to make decisions? Why not just watch a movie? Surely it would be more enjoyable than being forced to make decisions while you try to avoid doing so at all costs.

    • Andrew says:

      “Choice isn’t fun, it’s just one more nuisance and I’d really much rather the game designers did that for me. ”

      OMG – you aren’t serious, are you? A game where choice doesn’t matter (or isn’t meaningful) is boring, stupid, and shallow. The more choices the better, in my opinion.

      (And yeah – this comes down to personal preference… but I’ve never heard it so bluntly put as you just did.)

      • syncaine says:

        And while I was also shocked to read it, how many other players are in that mindframe and eat up ‘content’ like daily quests and their related achievements? I consider WoW offering that as dumbing it down, I guess others view it as an improvement…

      • spinks says:

        I think what he’s saying is that a lot of games make the choices unfun.

        Compare with something like Diablo 2 where you only make one meaningful choice in the whole game (what class to play) but it results in completely different experiences. Choosing a class and trying it out is a fun choice, imo.

  2. Custodian says:

    If there is a path to gimping your character, metagaming will make that a very unlikely choice for those in-the-know. How many times did we reroll MUD stats until high values were in all the right places? The people hurt by gimpability are newbs or casuals who haven’t done research. These are the folks WoW reaches so well, partly because they can’t get caught in this trap.

    MMOs aren’t all interested in creating slavish attachment to your characters. Some say they are, but their actions belie the fact that they want many customers who are *just* willing enough to pay a subscription fee or RMT some items. Instead of focusing on story, environment mutability, and other hallmarks of RPGs and CRPGs (hard problems, I’ll grant), they toss in PvP, badges, titles, pets, and other things to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of people.

    And I find I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve been enjoying Atlantica Online for a while now, which seems to have 50 different things to do at any one time, each of them similar to kill X rats. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing.

    • Beleg says:

      >>”How many times did we reroll MUD stats until high values were in all the right places?”

      [I noticed Syncaine played Gemstone III (at least for some period of time).] I rolled my GS3 character’s stats for 4 hours before getting a set I could be satisfied with. Then I found out I was getting charged by the minute. /cry followed quickly by /upgrade to unlimited.

      Anyway, I agree with Syncaine on this one. Choices being important makes your character unique, which is something that will keep people playing. Or at least, it keeps me playing. On the other hand “17/0/44 LFG” made me stop playing, because I was just one of the same.

      By the way, GS3 (now GS4) still has a lot of features that need to be implemented in “modern” MMOs. I really liked playing that one…

  3. spinks says:

    “it also means you can make a highly specialized or more custom-tailored character as well. ”

    Or just use the same cookie cutter build as everyone else. I think it’s great to have lots of meaningful choices which actually lead to interesting differences in game. I don’t think it’s necessary to have some choices result in gimpy characters though.

  4. Tesh says:

    I love meaningful choices. I love the ability to succeed on my own terms, and fail because I made a bad choice, not because I couldn’t read the designer’s mind.

    That said, I want to be able to change my “spec” at a whim. I want the ability to build a gimped character and have fun with it, but I want to be able to change it if it’s no longer fun. (At least, when rolling an alt takes months of play. If it’s a matter of an hour or less, I’m OK with just making a new character.)

    Then again, I’m a Johnny in MTG terms, and making wonky builds and experimental play is the heart of why I game in the first place. I *want* those options and choices, and I want them to matter. I want to be able to change them because the investment curve is so high that if I do happen to want to do something different, it’s way too expensive to do so presently.

    • Armagon says:

      The big difference here (as you bring up MTG) is that I can create a new deck in an hour, refine it in 2 more. And if it doesn’t work out, I can change it card by card or restart from scratch.

      In an MMO I’m bound to my character and if I wanted to “reroll” I would lose (for a max-level character) 4d playtime at best and 200 at worst.
      That’s the bad thing about choice. If gimping is absolute.

      • Tesh says:

        I’m pretty sure that’s what I said. ;)

        Yes, what good is the ability to fail without the ability to learn from it and change your approach next time? If “next time” is another sixty hour, three month grind, that’s just idiotic.

  5. rulez says:

    For player choices to matter it would also need a perfect world of MMO gaming, where developers never change the mechanics of a game after its release. Nowadays you simply cannot know how your “build” will play out a year later when the game was patched/expanded a few times.

    Imagine a skill based MMO where you have built a specialized fighter by focusing mostly on chain armor and dual wielded short swords. Everything is fine.
    Then patch day comes and the developer announces they never intended for chain armor to give so much protection without a shield and dual wielding was never intended to do so high damage when used in chain armor. So they reduce the protection of chain by 40% and medium armor gives now a malus to dual wielding of 50%.
    Congratulations, because of your choices half a year ago or more, you now have a gimped character that was perfectly fine a day ago.

  6. Melf_Himself says:

    This would be all well and good if it did not require months and months of wasted time leveling up only to discover you royally messed up your gimp and have to start over.

    In (good) single player RPG’s you also have a party and multiple difficulty levels, which helps take the load off creating a gimp. It also usually takes say 30 hours to get to the end of the game, so re-starting is not a big deal. You also don’t have other players to compare e-peens against, exclude you from guilds, etc.

    The ability to create a gimp character in an MMO simply means that you have to do a ton of forum research before you even make your character. Some people aren’t willing to do this because they find it boring.

    Some people like to do this because it allows them to feel superior to others when all they’ve really done is follow some recipe listed on the internet because they have way too much time on their hands. These are also the type of people who enjoy games where the gear that you spend months grinding for gives you a massive advantage in PvP. For these people, it’s all about feeling like you “pwn” but not actually having to do anything difficult or skillful when you play.

  7. Max says:

    Well the problem with gimps is that game inevitably goes trough a series of nerfs/buffs which make your initial choices obsolete.

    I personally think respeccing for everything is way to go – it levels the playing field between FOTM and others ( as you can respec into something more viable usually after big nerf stick hits your spec).

    I remember rerolling in SB cuz I picked sub optimal runes, used wrong skill distribution , picked less than optimal and so on and so on – most of the time (after first character or two) it was because of changes , not because I made wrong choices first place.

    I think there should be variety and some specs will be better thatn the others for particular tasks, just no spec should god status and no class should have 0 viable option for respec.

  8. Zensun says:

    You convinced me to give Darkfall a try, now you’re convincing me to have a go at DDO! Stop it!

    • syncaine says:

      At least with DDO you can try it for free with either the trial itself or just waiting for the F2P version coming soon.

  9. Pingback: West Karana » Daily Blogroll 7/8

  10. smakendahed says:

    While it is hard to make a bad character, you can still have bad players or undergeared folks that just don’t get it or want to try something different.

    Games have moved away from choosing what you character is and more towards what your character wears.

    OMG… we’re all playing Barbie Online!

  11. ScytheNoire says:

    There is a reason that most games these days don’t allow you to be stuck with a gimp character, it’s not fun.

    Most of the game developers have started to ask themselves “is this fun?” and if it isn’t, they change things to keep it fun.

    Does this mean that the hardcore is gone from many games? Yes, in many ways, it does, at least for now. But it also means you aren’t punishing new players, or those who are less informed.

    We can change who we are in life, so why can’t our characters change also?

    • syncaine says:

      Of course a gimped character is not fun, but in my book a copy/paste clone is also not that fun, which was the overall point of my post. The side effect of allowing greater character customization is that depending on what is selected, a player ‘might’ create a subpar character, just like they ‘might’ create something really great. In WoW you just create a rogue, and that’s it, done. Very boring, and very un-RPG.

      • Melf_Himself says:

        Yes, but what’s also very un-RPG is taking months and months of grinding to get through to the end of the game. I love messing around with different builds, but not in games where it takes so long to find out whether the build works.

        Even more than messing around with different builds that you choose *before* an encounter/match, I like to mess around with stuff that you choose *during* the encounter as tactics to overcome what you’re facing.

  12. syncaine says:

    @Melf: What? It’s un-RPG to play the game for months to reach the end? What RPG’s did you grow up playing? How long were the Ultima games? How long where the early FF games, or the RPGs on the NES?

    Different builds during an encounter sounds more like a FPS than an RPG. Even in a game like FF Tactics you can’t do that kind of stuff mid-battle.

    • Melf_Himself says:

      My favourite RPG’s are from Bioware – the Baldur’s Gate series and KotoR. I don’t recall needing more than 40 hours of play time to get through those. Of course, I spent many more hours playing around with various characters and playing back through the game, but I’m talking about the amount of time taken for one playthrough.

      Other RPG’s I enjoyed include the Diablo series, Ultima VIII, Betrayal at Krondor, I suppose Zelda on the NES lol. None of those took much more time to play through. I haven’t played any earlier Ultima games or any of the FF games, but I can’t imagine they actually required months to complete.

      The rate of advancement is much faster in traditional RPG’s than in MMO’s. My point is that I find the slower rate in MMO’s much less fun. I suspect the rate is so much slower to milk subscription dollars out of the players.

      As for changing builds during an encounter, I’m not sure why you think that can only apply to an FPS. Sure, it has *mostly* applied to FPS games to date, but why should that be the case? Do we hate thinking tactically in our RPG’s so much, preferring to just drift on autopilot? Mixing good ideas from various genres sounds like a great way to make a fun new game to me.

      Also, DotA allows you to make tactical changes to your character in response to the tactics of the other team. It involves leveling up. Not much of a stretch to imagine this concept in a more traditional RPG.

      • syncaine says:

        BG2 was definitely longer than 40hrs, and you could make a seriously gimp character. Same thing with the Elder Scroll games for another more modern example.

        DotA is a good example because it’s basically a fantasy FPS game, not an MMORPG. If you tried to extend the DotA formula beyond the 1-2 hours each game takes, it’s flaws would start to show, and ultimately that’s why it can’t work for the sub model. You NEED people to stick around 6+ months, and they are less likely to do so if you front-load your game.

  13. Pingback: /AFK – July 12 « Bio Break

  14. Melf_Himself says:

    Ok, so BG2 was say 60 hours, or maybe 80 hours if you’re a slow reader. That’s still a long way off the amount of time (several hundred hours) to make a max level character in most MMO’s.

    Also, the majority of your party is NPC’s who have had their stats/class/race/weapon proficiencies already chosen, so it’s much harder to make them gimp. Your PC can be a total noob but still be carried by the party.

    Also, there are variable difficulty levels, so even if your whole party was gimp it doesn’t really matter.

    Oh, and having 5 NPC’s in the party also means that you’re receiving that lovely “ding!” feeling a lot more often as you level through the game, compared to an MMO where the only dings are your own.

    I’m not sure why you think DotA is a fantasty FPS, given that it’s an isometric viewpoint.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “it’s flaws would start to show, and ultimately that’s why it can’t work for the sub model”, that’s very vague.

    As for the sub model, again let me make it clear – I think the sub model is bad, and I would never make a game where I *expect* people to stick around for more than 6 months.

    Your assertion seems to be that MMO developers should force players to grind to milk sub $$ out of them. I’m not sure why anybody would actually say this.

    • syncaine says:

      I guess this is where our gaming styles vary. One of the reasons I like MMOs over single player RPGs (love those too) is I find RPGs too short, especially if they are good quality. I loved BG/BG2, but at the end wished I had more to do/play. As good as TES Oblivion was, the whole time I’m thinking how much better this would be as an MMO. That an MMO takes 100s of hours to really explore is a selling point for me, and games with a quick level cap (GW) generally don’t interest me as much as a more traditional MMO. I’ll agree that getting the ‘ding’ more often with a party is fun, which is why I think a party system like in Atlantica Online is a good idea, and I would like to see more of that. But yes, overall I look for an MMO to keep me interested 6+ months, and the great ones have (UO, AC, WoW, EVE), while I’ve floated through many others. As I tend to repeat, the MMO genre is about grind, it just comes down to whether you define grind as something positive and enjoyable (I do), or you view it as a negative or roadblock to whatever is fun for you. I think we are on different sides in that regard.

      As for DotA, it can’t work long term because it’s model is around gaining power by taking it from others (kill bonus vs death gold loss), and in any half-decent match a weak link on your team can absolutely swing the game. That’s fine for an hour of time, since even then a lucky/random encounter might give you a shot, and if not it’s only one game. If you stretch DotA out, those with higher skill would be exponentially higher than those without, and the balance would be horribly off. The amazing thing about DotA is its balance, and any little change (let alone something major like changing game length or persistence) has a big impact on that.

      • Tesh says:

        My trouble isn’t with the length of gameplay in a game, it’s monetizing the blasted thing on a monthly basis. If it were monetized *by content*, like Guild Wars is, I don’t particularly care if an “MMO” has more or fewer “gameplay hours” than a roughly comparable offline RPG. Stupid grind is still annoying, but when I’m kicked in the pocketbook for jumping through their hoops, it feels abusive pretty quickly.

        Tangentially, this is also why I’d buy and play WoW or WAR if they were monetized by content, but will not subscribe to them.

        …back on topic, if you can build gimped characters and *don’t* have a way to respec, that’s just another grind. In a sub game, that hurts. It’s not more “content”, it’s “try it again, stupid, and send me your $15/month while you do so”.

      • Melf_Himself says:

        Well, yes our play styles do seem to differ. But I’d say they are similar in the fact that *we both like to ding*. You just have a higher tolerance for grind than I do, so you’ll put up with more of it in exchange for more dings. I can’t believe that you actually like the grind in and of itself (ask yourself, would you grind without the rewards).

        Also, I /second Tesh’s response.

        DotA would not work as an MMO if implemented exactly as is, there’d have to be some changes made. But in general that it’s interesting strategically to have power develop over the course of a match/encounter (think: RTS), and that strategic component would be a welcome addition to the current ho-hum MMO gameplay. In addition to the strategic benefit, it also means that you ding a whole lot since the levels don’t have to be spaced hours apart.

        Sure, you’d lose that progress at the end of the match/encounter, but it’s still fun. And it doesn’t preclude the general, long-term leveling up of your character that could happen alongside it in an MMO.

Comments are closed.