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Old 09-29-2012, 12:17 PM   #1
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Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

Suppose you've got a game that supports deep niches, so that you might end up with one character totally specialized in interpersonal manipulation, another character totally specialized in combat, another one in mass politicking, another in crafting, etc., etc., etc.

Actually, let's go way beyond that. Let's say -whatever- the player can dream up as their flavor, that can be their niche, and they are the King of that niche. Anyone fighting them within their own niche is bound to lose. And this goes for everyone.

Any competitiveness thus becomes not about who is the best fighter or who is the best carouser or whatever. Rather, it becomes about what mode the competition will take place in. So why would a player ever choose to fight a duel if they know that is another player's niche and not their own? People start to roleplay with implied contracts that neither will employ their niches.

This may sound like hyperbole, but I think most of us have seen it happen somewhere or another: physical PCs cry foul when they are socially dominated; social PCs cry foul when they are hack-and-slashed.

One way to deal with this is to allow -less- specialization. An entire game might be focused on physical combat (and, oh, they might have social-flavored powers, but such powers are externalized as effects on physical combat). Another game might have both physical combat and social combat elements, but (usually implicitly rather than explicitly) designate a given scene as one or the other.

Those are both valid approaches, appealing to different player demographics. But here is what I'm asking for in this thread: has anyone yet found a good approach for true niche vs. niche action? How do you pit the 100%-specialized King of Crafting against the 100%-specialized King of Politicking (or social vs. combat, or holiday carousing vs. athletic sportsmanship, etc.) and make them both come out feeling like they've had a fun, engaging, mechanically fair scene?

If there are no good answers, that's fair enough. But I'm just kind of wondering if anyone's had a revolutionary idea in this regard in the last several years.
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:23 PM   #2
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Re: Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

You have to ask what's the goal of the scene/situation?

If your game supports many specializations but each situation only has one effective solution strategy, then you have a broken game design. In a game with multi-modal play each situation should have at least several solutions.
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Old 09-29-2012, 03:18 PM   #3
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Re: Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

If you are dealing with a pc-vs-npc scene, this can be solved: the solution is not trivial and will take hours of redesigning areas, but you can theoretically design all quests to accept a "kill the guard" answer, a "bribe the guard with rare crafted object" answer, and a "dominate the guard with my supernatural hypnotic social skillz" answer.

Considering these three only as the main niches, you can theoretically design into the mechanics some sort of interaction: maybe a social player gets some sort of boost from having a friendship with a physical combat player, probably having to do with intimidation, which is supported with code. Having the social niche interact with a physical niche or crafting niche is more difficult--unless your game supports some sort of social combat system like ire games do, this is inherently difficult. If you have that, theoretically, the social player can debuff the mob through intimidation, for instance. Be warned that this probably needs some sort of supernatural explanation to make any sense.

Crafters are crafters. Those who are exclusively crafters will be able to benefit almost any niche; and if they are rare, people won't want to make enemies of them. For crafters, the power comes from being able to withhold services.

As soon as you expand the list of niches indefinitely beyond the typical combat-crafting-social triangle, you start getting the pure rp games--typically running on top of mush/moo codebases--without coded combat, stats, or anything of the sort, or some sort of secondary combat system for player-npc interaction with no reason to actually go kill the dragon and where all player-vs-player combat plays out through emotes with some sort of immortal referee for important conflicts.

There -might- be a sollution, but no one has to my knowledge done it yet. Muds are, given that there really isn't a special effects budget, able to deal with the so-called combinatorial explosion if they so wish: maybe I can light the forest on fire with a torch or a fireball, or maybe I'm going to go bang two stones together, but they all result in the forest being on fire. I imagine you can deal with this problem, and I would be interested in the solution. Btw, I think this is where we will be able to get players in the future: highly story-driven muds with clients for mobile devices that play out almost like point and click adventure games with combat. But this is what we call derailing the conversation, and I should probably start a thread.
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Old 10-01-2012, 11:33 AM   #4
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Re: Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

Only in a purely roleplay-driven, tabletop-type environemnt (like a chatroom or MUSH being overseen by a GM/administrator) can you truly and flexibly account for every variable and skill. I have yet to find a mud where I can take a social behemoth, unassisted by some type of GM/administrator, and grow my power and influence in non-traditional ways. A MUD, by definition, is going to have some type of engine (whether experience point, skill-by-use, roleplay-xp, or time-driven) that you grind against to improve a character. That means, whatever the mud engine happens to be, the characters that grind the engine the most efficiently turn out "stronger," whatever that means in the context of that particular mud.

I think where most muds strive to be isn't niche vs. niche equality/balance, so much as niche utility. If crafting, socializing, and combat (or any other niches) are all equally necessary parts of a game, but a character is really only worth a darn if he specializes in one of those rather than doing average at all three, and the end result is a system of inter-dependence, it doesn't matter if somebody is less equal than somebody else. If a combat behemoth kills a social behemoth, then finds himself forcibly barred from the walls of every major city, jailed, or killed by an angry mob, or if a social behemoth picks on a hack-and-slasher and gets himself and a few of his friends killed, that's equal enough. If a combat master can kill a social character without being the least bit concerned about any consequences, then that social character wasn't strong enough socially. No different than the combat master killing a weaker combat master.
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Old 10-01-2012, 10:11 PM   #5
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Re: Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

I like to analyze these things from an economic perspective, and with that in mind, there's one thing that is most important: pursuing any individual specialization should get you equal marginal utility. It isn't necessary for someone specializing in social skills to be just as physically powerful as a combative character, but instead, they must be equally useful. Devoting X more resources to a given specialization should, all things equal, give you just as much benefit (in a broad sense) as devoting a proportional amount of resources to another given specialization.

If marginal utility between options is not equal, it becomes irrational to pursue anything but the highest utility specialization. It's almost impossible to really make every specialization truly "equal" in utility to others, but that's the idea that I think should be aimed for.
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Old 10-02-2012, 10:00 AM   #6
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Re: Clash of Kings: Niche vs. Niche

Originally Posted by Oliver View Post
If marginal utility between options is not equal, it becomes irrational to pursue anything but the highest utility specialization. It's almost impossible to really make every specialization truly "equal" in utility to others, but that's the idea that I think should be aimed for.
I might take this a step farther and say that even if two paths aren't completely "equal" in utility, if one of those two paths is extremely unique and useful in its own way, a lot of people enjoy playing the less popular, "weaker" option and being the only kid on the block who has a certain ability others find useful. There's also the big picture to consider, depending on the type of mud. Maybe one path is less restrictive from a roleplaying perspective, or one path is less risky in terms of death or conflict with other players, or one path is easier/faster to advance. Those intangibles are also worth a few "equality" points. Sometimes, it's really hard to even decide how to quantify whether Apple A is greater than or equal to Orange B.
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