In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
One of my favorite games of all time is Final Fantasy Tactics. From top to bottom, it is a game that is designed to marvelously execute the designs that it implemented into a beloved franchise that had otherwise not seen those developments. Something that I still find fascinating to this day was their ability to create a wide variety of character classes, some stronger than others, but still suited for specific purposes, each holding unique abilities.
Again, there are some that simply outshine others in every way. Mathematician, despite its silly concept, has the ability to beat every enemy on the field in a single turn, whereas Knight has many abilities that are never used due to spacing restriction. Even with that concept in mind, the ability to mix and match skills from every class into one customized set of abilities drew positives and negatives from each class, giving players reason to try each of them at least once.
This concept in design is called “endogenous value”. Endogenous value, defined as “proceeding from within” from the Greek ενδογενής, is achieved when some object or part of the game is given value by the players solely through the concepts of game design. By utilizing endogenous value, we as designers can create valuable interactions with the players through the aspects of design for our games rather than assigning theoretical value to a part of the game and hoping that players will agree.
Endogenous value is often achieved through two methods. The first method is making the achievement of something very difficult, therefore increasing the perceived and eventual value of that task and result. For anyone that has ever delved through a dungeon, barely scraping by with a few HP left simply for the promise of treasure at the end, you have completely engaged in the endogenous value of that treasure.
That is, having no idea what the actual treasure at the end would be, players will delve into a dungeon filled with known danger with the expectations that the danger will result in equivalently potent reward. It might not, which would be a terrible idea and should never happen, but there is no guarantee that it certainly will.
The second method to achieving endogenous value is through the internal economic system of a game. Final Fantasy Tactics has a system in place called “Job Points”, which allow the player to gain certain abilities and qualities in the various classes of the game, thereby unlocking them for future use. To attain job points, players must grind out levels, often monotonously through repeated fights against non-essential enemies, for an extended period of time multiplied by each job class they’re trying to engage.
On paper, this sounds as fun as watching a painting of grass growing dry. In practice, however, players will toss aside the traditional concepts of fun to engage in something that is endogenously valuable, such as the job points for Final Fantasy Tactics classes, to gain something that is even more valuable, the ability to mix class abilities in the game, to complete the most valuable aspect of progressing through the game.
Players will gladly do things that they would not normally find fun or engaging should they be engaged by the reward at the end of the work. That is the core concept of endogenous value.
When considering creating character classes for a tabletop game, homebrewed or completely original, the endogenous value is represented by the abilities that a character will unlock further down their respective class trees. In Dungeons & Dragons, Monk is more interesting on paper than something like Fighter. The Monk gains abilities like Flurry of Blows, Quivering Palm and Diamond Body, all of which sound cool and produce tangible effects that the player is looking to achieve, giving value to the concept of spending a lot of time achieving those levels by engaging in a campaign or a game.
Fighters on the other hand get a bunch of bonus feats, which represent a blank slate for their class to be filled out as the game progresses. To some, this will be less valuable, as it is not a clear benefit for the time invested, with an additional chance of making a wrong decision at any feat choice and being confined to that choice for the future. However, it may represent something inherently more valuable to players, as they are free to make their own “builds” from the respective combat feats available as time progresses.
This difference between internal economics, experience equals levels equals actions to take, is the crux of making an interesting character class for a game. If the time spent leveling does not equate to a benefit that the player can theoretically forego the concept of fun for it has the potential to be more valuable, thereby increasing the design potency of that class.
Have you ever tried to create a custom class for a game? What aspects did you include, and how did you balance those aspects with the time investment?
Next week, I’ll take a look at creating the Final Fantasy Tactics Dragoon in a popular system. If you would like to see some other character class inserted into another system, let us know! We can work on the creation together.
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