Super-Sidekicking

Phedre reminded me that City of Heroes continues to be far more awesome than whatever it is the rest of us are playing, not only having five years of experience with features that too few games are stealing, but also continuing to create solutions to problems in the basic MMO model that work.

Issue 16 added “Super-Sidekicking.” You are probably familiar with City of Heroes as the trend-setter that has driven other games to implement some version of side-kicking: let one player function as if he were the same level as his friend, keeping his current suite of abilities but with level-appropriate numbers attached. City of Heroes has taken this to the next level: everyone on the team is now always the same level. Levels are no longer any barrier to playing with your friends. Join up, pick a mission, and you are all the right level for that mission. This also solves the old problem of power-leveling, because you cannot soak up experience at the minimum level: you are now the same level as everyone else, so might as well pitch in. Your level 2 character still has just the few powers with no enhancements, but your base numbers are just as good as the big boys, or you can get them to all visit your level for some newbie missions.

The particulars of this solution are tied to CoH’s heavily instanced structure, which makes this function more easily. Still, very few MMOs have no instancing these days, and there must be something more your game could be doing to bring you closer to where your friends are playing. The next step for Turbine’s new skirmishes?

: Zubon

28 thoughts on “Super-Sidekicking”

  1. Actually super-sidekicking works outside instanced missions as well: “Each player in the group’s level is set to the level of the owner of the active team task. If no team task is selected, everyone in the group’s level will be set to the level of the team leader.” So it works if you’re running a non-instanced mission or just hanging around beating up random muggers-by on the street.

  2. Woohoo, I got my name mentioned. I feel like a celebrity today *grin*

    I think it must be a technical complex problem for all the other MMOs out there. Because they must realize how essential it is to allow easy grouping. Maybe the problem lies in the calculations of the damage, buff an healing? It is probably especially hard to do in an already operating game. New MMOs really have no excuse. So does that mean they didn’t look at the competition? Or did they think playing with friends is not that important in an MMO?

    1. A game like WoW or Asheron’s Call, still using the archaic system of Fire Bolt VI, cannot scale things as easily. They level your skills by having twelve different versions of the same skill. Modern games like City of Heroes or The Lord of the Rings Online™ have you buy skills once and then scale them with levels. That lends itself to sidekicking.

      Doesn’t EQ2 have both levels of skills and then scaling for mentoring?

      1. Note that WoW is removing the “ability rank” system with the next expansion. I hope that will allow WoW to implement something like this!

      2. EQ2:s mentoring is only scaling down in level, not scaling up. I believe the reason I saw stated for not scaling up was that they did not want to encourage players to experience content in the “wrong order”.

        Personally I think they should allow the players to decide – being able to interact and play with friends in a game is far more important than whether someone decides to play things in a different order, IMHO.

  3. That’s a fantastic system.

    Amusing to see a five year old game innovating and problem solving where more modern titles just stumble over themselves.

  4. A nice system for sure, but to me it’s another (although in this case big) band-aid to the larger problem of levels creating a rift between players. It’s nice that CoX is using this solution to lessen the problem, but given that a game like EVE has, from day one, already solved the problem at it’s root cause, I don’t think what CoX is doing is quite that amazing. If anything, it just shows how lazy/poor this area of design is in many of the other level-based MMOs. I mean, we are giving credit to a 5yr old MMO for finally fixing the rift it’s levels cause because in that same 5yrs, no other MMO has done so. Crazy.

    1. How is it just a band-aid if it effectively obviates levels?

      Problem: Levels create a rift between players and they can’t play together.
      CoX’s solution: Super Sidekicking lets one player function as if he were the same level as his friend, keeping his current suite of abilities but with level-appropriate numbers attached.

      Where is the band-aid?

      1. It’s a big band-aid for sure, but if you don’t sidekick, levels remain as a rift. Now granted I’m sure setting up a sidekick is trivial (I hope?), but if MMOs have taught us anything, it’s that even the smallest barrier will prevent some players from progressing.

        1. But that’s a bit of faulty logic.

          – There’s a system in place to solve level disparity
          – Yes, but if you don’t use it, levels are still a problem
          – Well… duh?

          I haven’t seen the system in action either but I imagine it can’t be -that- hard (what is hard in MMOs nowadays anyway?). If people don’t use it, and it’s not because of lack of information UI or requirements problems, how’s this the devs’ fault?

          Yeah, you can say “it’s much better to just do away with levels and use something else”. And theoretically you’d be right, but you’ve just handed a poo sandwich to all the rest of people who have no problems with levels as they are. It’s not about which subset of your players you end up screwing but it’s about finding the balance, and having this as an option is the ideal balance.

          People not using that option when you’ve honestly given every effort to present that option is out of your hands at that point.

          1. The system in CoX is pretty much automatic, you do not really need to worry about it.

            The only ones that would need to worry are those that wants to take advantage of the level difference to bring in high level characters to make things easier.

            But in that case you also have the mob scaling where you can choose mob levels and virtual team size, although I do not believe tht the team size will ever be below the actual team size; but it can certainly be higher if you want.

        2. When you team with anyone you are automatically adjusted. There’s no on/off for sidekicking anymore, you’re either adjusted or soloing.

        3. It is not the levels themselves that create the rift, but what kind of progression are tied to the levels.

          Also, theme park oriented games, especially those with a guided path/story, lend themselves more to progression attached to levels, since it is an easy path indicator.

          Sandbox games do not really work with a progression tightly coupled with levels, so they have “solved” the problem because it is not a good design in their case.

          CoX as a game could have been designed without levels, or at least without absolute levels if it had been redesigned from scratch and it would perhaps worked quite well.

          But the luxury to make everything from scratch again is not an option in practice and they have made the best of that, much more than others facing the same problem.
          It is more or less the relative levels that matter now and they are a good configuration option for adjusting the challenge.

          The super-sidekicking works well with other mechanics in the game and this is hardly a coincidence.

    2. From day one they had already implemented sidekick/mentoring. The recent changes only make it even more accessible. So we are actually giving credit 5 yr too late. I am still surprised not more MMOs have picked up on it yet.

      I think COH did the latest sidekick improvements to allow the few remaining players to always have a group to join, and make it easier for the rare new person to fit in from day one. But the flipside of the coin is that really nobody plays it any more for the story and the quest lines. It is now all about the action. But that is not surprising for a 5yr old MMO where you can level up to cap level in week if you want to.

    3. Well, there are two different issues here. The mechanical one – levels are poor design, a holdover in game DNA from the lead-miniature wargaming days – was solved back in the days when Colossal Cave Adventure was on the bleeding edge of computer game design.

      The problem is that psychologically class/level systems have sunk deep into the gamer subconscious – people *want* them, and will pass by systems that don’t offer the comfortable, familiar mechanic. How many people played Runequest compared to AD&D? Approximately the same number, proportionally, as play EvE compared to WoW. Nothing’s really changed in thirty years.

  5. Champions Online works like this sort of as well. As long as you are within a certain physical distance of the group leader you get boosted to his level. It isn’t automatic as far as I recall. You have to right click on the group members portraits and sidekick them. You can bring them up to you or go down to their level.

    If you go out of range you revert to your normal level.

    1. Yes, it is not automatic – you have to explicitly start the sidekicking. It is not restricted to the team leader either, but the team leader decides who shall be the champion for the team which the others can sidekick to.

      And it is not tied to mission levels like in CoX.

  6. Pardoz does have a point, people like levels cuz they are familiar. I like this new system. and I wish more MMO’s would pay attention to CoH ;)

  7. Was EQ2 the first game to have some sort of mentoring system? I’m just wondering. Other games seem to garner a lot of praise for implementing this type of system but I think EQ2 got there first. Granted, it’s mentoring “down” to another player, not up. But the intent is the same.

    On some level I do agree with Syncaine that it’s a band-aid to fix a larger problem. But it’s a very well applied bandage and helps with the socialization aspect of the game immensely. Nothing really prevents you from playing with your friends in a level based game that has this functionality.

    1. City of Heroes was the first with a level-adjusting system, but I believe EQ2 was the first with adjusting the level down – as I recall City of Heroes initially only adjusted the level up.

    2. City of Heroes adding exemplaring (level down) in Issue 2, which was September 14, 2004. Everquest 2 launched on November 8, 2004, so City of Heroes won even if EQ2 had it at launch.

        1. That’s right. It was not there at launch. I did not play CoH at launch so I couldn’t remembet which came first.

          Thanks Sente and Zubon!

  8. It actually does raise the question of why have levels at all? Effectively the only difference now between two characters of two different playtimes who are sidekicking is skill unlocks and terrain/content unlocks.

    So why not just go with skill/content unlocks and leave it at that? What benefit does leveling have at all now?

    You can even have a little xp progress bar that dings you every time you unlock a new skill. :D

    1. Yeah! And then, so you can see how many unlocks you have completed, we could have one summary number by your name. And we can call that number a “level,” if I may invent some technical jargon.

      1. I think you’ve just forecast the ‘level’ system of Guild Wars 2.

        GW ironically capped everyone at lvl 20, in order to prove there was still a ton of skill and content progression that could be achieved after level cap.

        Except now people complained that they couldn’t tell how many more unlocks they had over someone else, and wondered why they couldn’t get a summary number, called a oh… I don’t know, technical terms and all, maybe we’ll call it a…l-le-

      2. You’re not at liberty to be that cute yet. We all know darn tootin well that levels in rpgs are not mere labels. They always include a stat increase that pits you against enemies who have likewise had their stats increased. The question is…. why do we do that now? Why not purely horizontal progression?

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