In this document, I will mathematically analyze the potential for variance in Final Fantasy XIV based on the game mechanics we have seen thus far, be it in demonstration, interview, or article. I will then offer my personally interpretations on the information, as well as do my best to give a qualitative description of my impressions on the system’s potential, both for the player and for the developer.
First and foremost, this document is specifically about the potential for job variation that is caused by the limitation of the number of abilities available to a player at any given time. I also hope to sway some skeptics toward being more optimistic about the potential positives that such a system will provide. Furthermore, I will be making the following assumptions (for various reasons) for the remainder of the examination:
- The term “ability/abilities” is a generalization for any move or spell that is used by the player direction, i.e. mounted on the “hotbar”.
- Every class has the same number of abilities at max “level” (This is to simplify the analysis, I am well aware that it will not be true in the final game, but it allows me to make simple generalizations that are relatively accurate for the current amount of information out).
- Players will be able to use n abilities at any given time (This is based on the demo seen at Gamescon, in which players could only have ten abilities, and a later interview in which they said they had not yet decided how many slots would be available, implicit in that is that the number of slots is limited at any given time).
- Moves will be equally useful (This is a gross exaggeration in practice, but please bare with me, I will address the inconsistencies caused by large variations in ability potency later).
Any situation in which a sub-group of “something” is chosen from a larger group of “somethings” can be simplified by using a binomial coefficient, or “choose” function (this is what I will be calling it from here on out). A choose function will return the number of variations can be created based on a group of size k when selecting a sub-group of length n.
I ran three tests for this analysis, the first two were scenarios in which a variable size sub-group is selected from a static size group (k=20 and k=15 respectively). The third analysis was a generalization in which I looked at the maximum variations possible for a group sized one to forty – the maximum variance is at n = k / 2. I won’t bore you with the numbers, but you can check the charts and values here, here, and here. What I discovered was that the choose functions produced extremely sharp bell curves (low, then high, then low again) centered on the k / 2 line, which is about what I expected to see. What I did not expect to see, was the extreme slops that were involved. The entire function works on an exponential slop.
The third test, on the other hand, was done in order to determine at what rate exactly the variance increased as you added more abilities (operating on the common assumption of using the maximum values for each k value). What I found was that the increase was a standard exponential slope (if this sort of thing interests you, the trend line was y=0.3563e0.6629x).
The bottom line here is, with a class with twenty abilities, which, based on what we have seen about this game so far, I do not believe is an unreasonable number, there are anywhere between 1 and 184,756 combinations of abilities. At Gamescon, we saw ten slots, giving 184,756 possible combinations.
But this has all been numbers, and raw data, as I’m sure most of you are thinking right now, the real world does not work quite that nicely (although I would like you to keep the sheer size of the variations in the for front of you minds for the moment). There are any number of things that can and will skew these results.
First and most notably, depreciations – As I’m sure you all know, no ability lives forever. Something invariably comes along that will depreciate any given ability’s value. That being said, it has already been mentioned in an interview with Square Enix employees that most weapon classes will have several different potential builds included. The example of a non-specific tank class was given, in which you could equip abilities for damage, or defense/hate management. This implies a wide spectrum of abilities, most of which will not overlap in any destructive ways. Provoke, gained at level five, never loses its usefulness after all. Unfortunately, the ball is in Square Enix’s court right now as to how much this aspect of the choose function is useful.
Interestingly, there are other uses for the limitation of abilities. Most interesting of these is the potential for multi-class “lazy balancing”. With a limited number of slots, you have to choose what is more important to you as a character. I has been stated that abilities will primarily be received from weapons, but also be available from other sources. Let us examine, for a moment, a mixture where we have a goodly set of white magic available as well as a healthy amount of tanking options. Normally, you would all this class a paladin. You would also probably be correct. With a limited number of slots, however, the dynamic changes. If you want to be good at healing yourself and others, you will have to sacrifice slots that could have been used for hate management, or blocking moves. The inverse is also true.
I called this “lazy balancing” because it will, to a small extent curb the potential to have spikes in ability. It produces something surprisingly close to a smooth curve from damage, to mitigation, to healing, to buffing, to debuffing. Please keep in mind that this has nothing to do with how those abilities are available to the player, I am merely assuming that they are.
Another potential advantage to the limited ability access is purely development directed. With the slot limit, developers have two very interesting options. For one thing, if they feel that the game is becoming too stagnant, and players are becoming too set in their ways. Merely adding one slot would drastically change the balance of abilities. Builds that were previously unviable due to not having enough space suddenly work, whereas previously powerful sets fail to make use of the new ability slot, due to the new ability not being smoothly integrated into whatever made the previous set powerful. Unfortunately, how useful this technique is depends greatly on how willing the player base is to go out and try new things, instead of just tacking on another kind-of-useful instead of trying to optimize with the new potential.
The other potential use for the limited slots for developers is for challenges and events. Salvage made use of a system in which equipment slots were locked, as well as magic, melee, ect. It was not the most popular of end-game activities, but it did prove the concept. Also, it would not have to be a total lockout. For instance, in a given situation, you may have to make do with -2 from your normal slots, due to some in-game reason (just woke up?).
Given that Square Enix are thinking about the maximization of variance in class abilities. I would be willing to bet that we will be seeing somewhere close to ten slots available to us, as well as around twenty abilities for each class. This would maximize the potential for the system. On the other hand, given Square Enix’s propensity to add abilities later in the game’s lifetime, we may see fewer abilities to leave room for more later, something close to fifteen. We can also only hope that the player base will keep an open mind to new combinations throughout the game’s lifespan.