In the United States, our first school experience is called Kindergarten. One of the lessons we learn in Kindergarten is about Primary colors.
The primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. They are called the Primary Colors because every other color in the world is made by combining those 3 primary colors. We learn those combinations as secondary colors. Yellow and Blue make Green. Red and Yellow make Orange. Red and Blue make Purple. It’s an epic combination.
Class based RPGs have their primary colors as well. I’m fortunate enough, or just old enough, depending on how you want to look at it, to have played many RPGs going all the way back to the PnP (Pen and Paper) Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition.
In that time I’ve observed that the RPG world has primary colors or more correctly, primary classes. Rather than the 3 you learn about with Art, there are 4 in RPGs. These four are Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. The Fighter had a huge hit point pool and his main focus was on dealing damage with his weapon. The Cleric had limited weapons skill but was greatly valued for his ability to heal his team mates. The thief was weaker than the Fighter, but had a deadly attack that required special positioning to use. The Magic User had a tiny hit point pool, but could do more damage with his spells than even the best fighter could with his sword.
As games matured secondary colors were added, usually combining elements of the Fighter with elements of the Magic User. You even saw attempts at Jack of All Trades classes like the DnD Bard.
These primary colors would evolve into the primary roles we see in modern MMORPGs. The Fighter, with his huge hit point total evolved into the Tank role. The Cleric evolved into the Healer role. The Thief would become Melee DPS while the Magic User would become Ranged DPS. Again Developers gave us the Oranges and Purples of Tank/DPS, and Heal/DPS.
Just as understanding the relationship of primary colors and secondary colors helps us understand the world of art, the understanding of primary classes helps us understand the world of RPGs and MMORPGs.
First let’s apply this understand to the well known MMORPG, World of Warcraft.
WoW has 10 classes. 4 of those classes are primary colors and 6 are secondary colors. The Rogue is your classic Thief. The Hunter, Warlock and Mage are shades of the Magic User. The other classes are more of a template that is built upon in WoW with Talent trees. Paladins can end up more like a Fighter or more like a Cleric. Druids can wind up in just about any color and are the closest to the DnD Bard as a Class that tries to do a bit of everything.
Tension exists between the Primary Colors and the Secondary Colors, and as the game has matured the Developers continue to address this tension.
Originally, they gave the Secondary Colors penalties, the so called Hybrid Tax, to offset this tension. Now the penalties have been reduced, but the trade off is that the Secondary Colors are made to choose which Primary color they will emulate. Green that is so blue, one might as well call it blue. A Fighter / Magic User who spells are so weak, and weapons so strong you might as well call him a Fighter.
Next, let’s apply this understanding to a new game like Star Wars the Old Republic.
SWTOR has revealed all 8 of its classes, but as we analyze these 8 classes we quickly see not 8 classes, but 4 pairs. These are Smuggler/Sith Agent, the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior, the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquisitor, and the Trooper/Bounty Hunter.
The Thief here is probably the easiest to see. The Smuggler/Sith Agent use the trademark sneaking and with the Sith Agent, we even have stealth. While the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior will have Force powers that might seem Magic User like, their preference for dealing with the situations with their swords paints them more as the Fighter. The Magic User appears to be more easily seen in the Trooper/Bounty Hunter. The spells of these classes may be unlike the typical Magic User, but the archtype of high damaging attacks from a distance seems to fit very well with these two classes. This leaves the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquistior there to take up the Cleric. This is probably the biggest stretch as the Inquisitor has been described as throwing around Lightning Bolts which certainly seems to be more Magic User like. But I have to wonder if we won’t see these two classes falling more into the Cleric role as more information comes out about them.
Whereas WoW seems to be dabbling mostly in the palette of secondary colors, the Developers of The Old Republic seem to be leaning more to primary colors. It will be interesting to watch what ramifications both good and bad come from these formative choices of which color palette to use when designing the class structure.