Not for Attribution

Posted as part of Blog Banter #65.

Attributes.  They are an ingrained feature of our role playing games.  I am sure they were around long before Dungeons & Dragons, but that was the starting point for many of us when it came to the concept.

It was an attempt to quantify the essentially unquantifiable.  Sure, Strength seems easy enough to translate to numbers I suppose… in Tunnels & Trolls you could carry ten pounds of whatever for every point of strength you had… and maybe Intelligence as a general measure, if you believe in IQ tests I suppose.  But Constitution or Dexterity, that gets a little trickier.  Charisma?  I think that delves into the human psyche too deeply to be represented by the result of a 3d6 roll, and what constitutes Wisdom in any case?

Still, we rolled with it… ha ha… because it was what we had and at least numbers were solid, which gave some of us the thin edge of the wedge from which to launch an ongoing career in rules lawyering.

And while the whole idea did not begin with Dungeons & Dragons, it seemed to multiply from there and soon some set of attributes that guided ability and access to classes or roles or whatever seemed to be in about in force.  There were variations, and sometimes even multi-tiered systems where basic attributes allowed one to derive secondary abilities or stats.

So it went, and when role playing games came to computers, attributes were not far behind.  After all, numbers are what computers do best.  So the tradition of “rolling up” a character carried on in electronic form.

The actual importance of stats in various games varied.  I remember writing up a character rolling script and letting it run for hours in TorilMUD, so important were your starting stats in the game.  And, just to make things a bit more tricky, the stats were obscured.  You couldn’t see the actual numbers, just a description that indicated the range they might fall into.

Do I take Heroic strength?

Do I take Heroic strength?

Heroic strength sounds great for a warrior, but the hierarchy of importance for all characters in the game put constitution first, as that influenced hit point gain as you leveled.  At level 20 the game relented and actually showed you the stats.

A Barbarian warrior of mine... 484 years old!

A Barbarian warrior of mine… 484 years old!

You’ll see by the table above that I was content with merely “good” strength, because +str gear was very common, but insisted on”mighty” dexterity (affected hitroll) and agility (gave an armor class bonus), while holding out for “heroic” constitution.  Plus there was a hold dynamic of how racial stats, where 90 str for a barbarian was equal to 100 str for a human and so forth.

The attributes were important, but there was a shadow of the future in that.  I let strength slide a bit because I knew warrior gear would eventually include some +str bonuses as I got into higher levels, so that attribute would be rounded up eventually.

As late as the launch of EverQuest we were at least pretending that base stats mattered.  I remember going in and tinkering with the points allocated to attributes with my first few characters because gear with attribute bonuses were not all that common.

But somehow in the five and a half years between the launch of EverQuest and the launches of World of Warcraft and EverQuest II, gear changed.  Rare now is the piece of gear that drops that does not have some attribute bonus to it.  Within two score of levels, your base attributes start to seem insignificant compared to your gear bonuses, and at the highest levels… in WoW, at least before the great stat squish… individual pieces of gear start being worth more than your initial attributes.

Back when EverQuest II removed weight as a concept in the game… you would no longer be weighed down by carrying too much coin or too many banker’s boxes… I pegged the change as being related to the inflation of basic attributes through gear.  Your average character’s strength grew so much through gear progression that weight essentially lost its meaning anyway, so the whole concept only had impact on low level alts and new players that hadn’t progressed far enough.  Why punish new players with something most of your player base doesn’t even think about, having essentially geared their way past it?

All of which, some 700+ words later, brings us to EVE Online.

EVE Online, now past its 11th anniversary, was created during the age of attributes, when we still seemed believed such things were essential, almost literally a requirement, for a role playing game.  And so, EVE Online characters have attributes.  You can see them in my character sheet, which I have grabbed from the Neocom iOS app:

Wilhelm Arcturus

Wilhelm Arcturus

There are all my current essentials.  Down to almost 2 billion ISK, my training queue is over two years long, being largely made up of level V skills at this point, I’m down in the Curse region in a Tengu, and at the very bottom are my character attributes.

My attributes are flat.  I leveled them out over a year ago because I was going to train up a series of skill that would be all over the map and so favoring one attribute over another would potentially help me on one skill only to hurt me on another.  So I figured making them all about the same would even out the hills and valleys.

Because here is the strange thing about EVE Online attributes; unlike World of Warcraft or EverQuest or TorilMUD or Tunnels & Trolls or Dungeons & Dragons, those attributes at the bottom of that screen capture have absolutely no direct impact on how my character performs in the game.

Having greater perception won’t make my guns track any faster, having more willpower won’t make my missiles fly any faster, having immense intelligence won’t make my shields hold out a moment longer, and having all the charisma in the world won’t let me talk my way past CONCORD once I shoot at somebody in high sec space.  None of those matter once I undock from a station.

Yes, sure, they matter indirectly before I undock.  Those attributes affect how fast a given skill trains on a character.  That impacts what ship I undock with and what modules I may have mounted on it, but when I actually undock that is all history and does not affect the here and now.  You undock with the ship you can fit now, not the ship you may wish to fit at some later date.

So this month’s Blog Banter, number 65 in an ongoing series, asks the question:

Does Eve need attributes? It’s been discussed a lot recently. Unlike other MMO’s your characters attributes don’t make a difference in day-to-day gameplay. They simply set how fast you train a skill. Is it time to remove attributes from the game or totally revamp their purpose? Do they add a level of complexity to the game that is not needed? If you really need to use a 3rd party application to get the most from it should it be in the game? Should they be repurposed with each attribute adding a modifier to your ship? Are attributes a relic from the past or are they an important part of Eve – You make your decision and deal with the consequences?

My gut response is “No.”  They should go the way of learning skills, now five years gone from the game.  They are an excess complication that does not add anything to game play.

But I am not so sure when I think about it further.

Yes, I have spent a bunch of time fussing about attributes.  You only get a neural remap once per year, which lets you adjust your attributes, so I have set out training plans in EVE Mon and tried for an optimized configuration.  But the next training plan that I don’t interrupt almost immediately with some new skill I suddenly feel I need will be the first.  I often can’t go a month without changing it up, so asking me to commit to a year is impossible.

And then there are implants.

CCP maps out the anger and resentment nodes in the capsuleer brain

CCP mapped out the anger and resentment nodes in the capsuleer brain

You can boost your attributes… and thus speed up your skill training… by inserting implants.  I have a clone with a set of +4 implants in high sec and when I know I am going to be off for a few days I will jump to that clone to boost my training.  But implants cost ISK, and good ones cost a lot of ISK, and when your ship gets blown up and you get podded, those implants go with it.  A set of implants can be worth more than the ship you lost… a lot more… if you get podded.

So balancing against my gut feeling is a sense that there is a certain amount of strategic planning and depth that goes with attributes.  You can optimize them, if you’re willing to commit for a year, to get ahead faster in an area of training you wish to focus on.  Or you can flatten them out if you want to play a more conservative game.

Likewise you can speed up your training as long as you don’t mind flying around with millions of ISK plugged into your pod.  Losing your pod without implants is essentially free, but you start plugging some in and, as noted, you’re head can quickly become more valuable than your ship.

So while attributes cease to have any direct impact once we undock… our choices are made when we hit that button, and the skills we have are what we have… I am going to fall on the side of attributes being, if not strictly necessary, at least very much a part of the makeup of the game.  The planning and commitment aspect of the training queue along with the risk versus reward part of the implants are, for lack of a better term, very EVE Online.

Of course, that also sounds a lot like “but we’ve always done it this way!” something I wouldn’t condone.  They cause us to make choices… are they interesting choices or not is more the question I suppose.

So I will say that I would rather keep attributes than just eliminate them wholesale.  But if somebody can come up with a plan for an alternate use for attributes or how to make them more relevant to the every day capsuleer experience, or the choices surrounding them more interesting (for whatever definition of “interesting” you prefer), I am all ears.

Meanwhile, others have added their opinions to the mix.  You can find the Blog Banter #65 launch post over at Sand, Cider, and Spaceships, the new host for Blog Banter, along with these other posts on the topic:

2 thoughts on “Not for Attribution

  1. Pingback: Link Dead Radio: Attributes and Engagment - Healing the masses

  2. Pingback: Blog Banter #65–Attributes | Morphisat's Blog

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