Spy Game Design – Character Training

Before a spy even gets to do field work, he goes through some kind of training process to acquire the skills he needs to survive in the many situations he’s likely to encounter in real-life missions. The first example I thought of in this area is “The Farm” – a CIA training facility. The movie The Recruit portrayed what it’s supposedly like for agents to go through training at this facility.

How is this related to a spy genre MMO? Most MMOs have one or more “newbie zones” where players that are just starting out can (usually) safely explore and get to learn the game’s ins and outs while leveling up by killing rats and bugs and such. Great fun, right? Not so much, in my opinion and I’ve spent many hours in such zones during my MMO playing years.

Not only was killing rats and bugs not fun, new players also had to worry about things like accidently wandering into non-newbie territory and dying instantly by running into mobs of a higher level than their character. There were also times when higher level characters would come running into the area trailing a bunch of mobs behind them, affectionately known as a “train”. Since newbie zones are usually right outside of cities and cities are usually in different zones and the entrances to these cities are usually protected by NPC guards, players could escape death by crossing into that zone and letting the guards wipe out the mobs. The problem was that these mobs would sometimes attack characters that just happened to be nearby before the guards could kill them. This also happened at the entrances to dungeons. Players just entering the dungeon would sometimes be treated to a horde of dungeon residents that were waiting to welcome them, left there by someone who had just escaped by leaving the dungeon.

Not only is this not fun for players, it a poor way to attract players to your game. The start of a game should hook players with interesting and fun content that makes the player want to keep playing, not drive them away by killing them through poorly designed areas and game mechanics.

Making these “newbie zones” into a portion of the game that is both challenging and safe seems to me to be a good way to go. That it is also true to life is a bonus in my opinion. Yes, it means more work to create this portion of the game, but some of that can be traded off by making it an area that players come back to for specialized training at higher levels. If a player started off with a character that was specialized in infiltration, but the player decides he wants to try out missions more suited to a sniper, he simply heads back to the training facility and spends some time learning the skills needs to take on those missions. This could be restricted to only allowing the player to do so after completing a certain number of missions in his current specialization.

Not only could a player receive training at such a facility, he could become part of the training of new players or players training in new specializations. This could be the portion of the game that substitutes for PvP (player versus player). PvP in most MMOs that I’ve played has some flaws in it that makes the experience less than ideal for me and probably many other players. This could be a way for players to obtain bragging rights that is one focus of the PvP experience while still making the game enjoyable for new players or players focusing on a new specialization.

Since “death” in the training facility wouldn’t be real that negative part of the PvP experience is removed while still allowing players to rack up PvP kills, which is important to some players. These kills could be posted on a daily Training Results memo in an area of the facility that all players start out in when they start the game and their character is in the facility.

After players complete the training missions for their specialization, be it new players or experienced ones, they’re free to report to their base HQ for real missions for whatever area they’ve been trained in. These missions would still be tailored to the number of missions they’ve completed for an area of specialization, of course. If players fail a number of missions in an area, they may even find themselves assigned to take a refresher course at the Training Facility, which could be a penalty to replace the normal penalties associated with death, which we discussed previously.

Please feel free to poke holes in my idea by posting in the forums.

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