Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I've created a more informal journal for my EVE experiences and thoughts: Horrible Ball of Fire. The higher level design articles related to EVE or MMORPGs I will continue to post here on TATI, but any play session that I feel is story-worthy, no matter how inconsequential, I will record on Horrible Ball of Fire. I often video record fights so that I can review them later and identify mistakes, but I also post them on youtube to share.
My favorite article thus far is about my attempt to destroy a battleship with my tiny frigate: So a Wolf and Armageddon walk into an asteroid belt. My heart was racing and my stomach was full of butterflies from the moment I spotted the ship on scanner until the fight was over. It was the most emotionally intense experience I've ever had an in video game.
So if you are interested in reading more frequent and informal stories and analysis, then be sure to check out Horrible Ball of Fire. I try to keep the jargon down, but some times I forget.
Monday, December 26, 2011
- Rewards for engaging in PvP.
- Risk associated with entering "PvP" areas.
- Non-PvP content/rewards in those areas.
Friday, December 23, 2011
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Monday, November 21, 2011
No honor system. Many people questing. Many people, including lowbies, engaging in open world town raids for the novelty of it. No lasting consequences.
Spontaneous Horde raid on Menethil Harbor.World bosses introduced. Large scale fights to obtain boss loot. Scouting of enemy faction becomes paramount to knowing when to engage boss.Old Honor system, but no Battlegrounds. Many fights between Southshore and Tarren Mill. Fighting to mutually gain Honor.Battlegrounds. Much World PvP stomped out since Honor is easier to get in BGs. Without huge gear discrepancies yet, small pockets of world PvP still seen in Plaguelands. Blackrock Mountain has much PvP fighting over dungeon and raid access.Blizzard creates "outdoor PvP objectives" in Eastern Plaguelands and Silithus, and iterates on them in Burning Crusade. These largely flop. Massive gear discrepancies and prevalence of BGs shatter world PvP expectation. Minor fighting around raid portals.End of Vanilla saw bored raiders running 5-man PvP excursions while waiting for Arenas and BC. Ad hoc and arranged group fights while roaming.Arenas are introduced in Burning Crusade to the lauding of "fair and balanced" PvP folks. Resilience is added as a gear attribute. "PvP" is now an official route of character progression, and thus everyone sits in instances to optimize their gear acquisition. World PvP is a dirty word equated to ganking.Isle of Quel'Danas is added at the end of Burning Crusade to house Sunwell and a fresh batch of chores. This popularizes World PvP in WoW again. Players form parties for protection and fighting; they expect combat while questing. Isle of Quel'Danas implements a common model for World PvP that I will discuss later.Achievement system is added; reward to kill world leaders is introduced. Cities are in faction-owned zones, and thus combat is opt-in. These raids are not very disruptive to the empty towns.Wintergrasp experimentation with zone PvP with raid access reward. Like AV, Wintergrasp is just a larger Battleground. Vault of Archavon predictably and regularly changes hands between Alliance and Horde. World PvP is dead throughout Wrath, but accessibility is through the roof.Blizzard repeats success of Isle of Quel'Danas with Tol Barad at beginning of Cataclysm. World PvP makes a slight comeback. But people quickly get their reputation rewards and leave.
Friday, November 18, 2011
unrestricted warfarebeing able to pvp throughout the entire "game world"you walking around and someone ganks youusing environment to your advantagecooperationunknown, different factors you control, rather than just being fairno rulesnot worth my timewaiting until situation is in your advantage
Saturday, November 5, 2011
We don’t want level-85 players to have a reasonable shot at level-90 dungeons and raids (or PvP opponents) just because that content is balanced for gear that isn’t much better than what the level-85 players have.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011
The community would've done Notch's work for him if he let them. He could have started shifting the development of Minecraft to a model where the base game is a sandbox into which content makers can plug in different kinds of mechanics. But Notch didn't do this, he implemented a few nice, bigger features (like biomes) and a lot of piddly stuff (like more flowers, dyes, and such). Contrast Minecraft's content level with Terraria's: Terraria has been public a small fraction of the time, yet is continually adding new content and significant outstrips Minecraft in most meaningful measures of content.
Here's an example of where business gets in the way of game design and fun when it could have just as easily stayed out of the way. Here's where what is short-sightedly best for a company is not what's best for a game.
It also highlights the fading "games as platforms" trend. Notch could've turned Minecraft into a great platform for mods, but instead he has spent a significant amount of time implementing features that could've been designed and implemented better through the work of the modding community. The Minecraft community is large and the number of modders doing great work suiting the game towards different playstyles continues to grow. People have done all this work before Minecraft even had a real modding suite--these people had no sanctioned tools for modding, yet they did work of higher design quality and with fewer bugs and issues than the new content implemented by Notch himself. Imagine what they could do if they were given the full support of development tools and APIs specifically for their use. Minecraft would be a platform for a myriad of amazing games. Now people are doing that anyway, but the progress is significantly slower and Mojang actively impedes this progress through implementing more features that only a fraction of the community care about.
Minecraft passed up on the long-term business decision of becoming a platform upon which hundreds of good and fun games rely and instead opted for the short-term route of continuing Minecraft development conventionally and deallocating resources from it to work on other projects. The damage this does to Minecraft's future is palpable and frustrates me every time I play.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Not related to the lawsuit, but I also didn't know that Modern Warfare is actually titled Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare until a week ago. I always thought that they were two separate games.
Granted I don't play any of these games, but this still seems quite frivolous.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
- Within a week, you can fly a throw-away Cruiser.
- In a week and a half, you can fly throw-away Battlecruisers.
- Within 2 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Frigate.
- In 5 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Interceptor or Assault Frigate.
- In a month an a half, that Cruiser and Battlecruiser can have tech 2 modules.
- In 3 months, you could be sitting in a very formidable tech 2 Cruiser (AKA Heavy Assault Cruiser).
Congratulations on the insurance on your ship. A very wise choice indeed. This letter is to confirm that we have issued an insurance contract for your ship, Stump Beefgnaw (Rupture) at a level of 100.0%.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
it all just seems silly to me.. why play the game if you're going to buy your way to the end result? I've spent $4 on tf2.. and I still look at it as a waste.. items will come and go, and there is always trading.. same goes with diablo3, why pay for pixels that you can obtain yourself and they're obviously going to continue releasing bigger and better weapons that you're going to replace said weapon with, and I see it happen in WoW all the time.. people pay for gold, buy the new shiny off the auction house, and the next day they win a drop in a raid thats better.. $20 down for a days' virtual satisfaction. Its all fickle to me lol
Diablo, like other action-focused computer RPGs, is designed to be very Achievement oriented. The heavy Goal-Oriented-Play coupled with high-accessibility (and very few set backs, i.e. punishment) fosters an environment where the ends of playing the game are the achievements themselves. For many Achievers, there is no longer any fun in the journey--they want as many vacuous trophies as quickly as possible. There is nothing wrong with getting your jollies from virtual shinies, but here is where the contention lies.Traditionalist gamers have been, I believe, vaccinated from these psychological lures. They have seen leaderboards and Skinner boxes for decades. If they play a game, they enjoy learning the system, assuming that system is complex enough to hold their interest. If they play strategy games, they enjoy complex resource management. If they play RPGs, they like the journey. They are OK with gating content, with stratifying players into Haves and Have-Nots.They have been trained to believe that Time and Skill equates to Power. To Traditionalists, games are a great equalizer. The Real World does not leak into their synthetic worlds, and each player's reputation (and Power) are built via in-game means only. This is a fallacy.The person playing the game has a certain amount of real world resources and real world dexterity. Resources come in the form of Time and Money. Dexterity is both Mental and Physical. Different game genres tap these 4 attributes differently. MMORPGs typically require Time. TF2 takes Physical and Mental dexterity, as well as practice Time. What we are seeing in the Game Industry is the incorporation of Money resources.This transformation is occurring because many Traditionalists are opting for other responsibilities: jobs and families. They no longer have 10 hours a day to throw at Everquest or StarCraft. They can't wait around for 2 hours to get a game started; they need high-accessibility games. Lowering the barrier to entry is also allowing brand new players to enter the scene. This is the explosion of Casual and Social gaming. These players have Money, but no Time. And quite a few of them are willing to trade their Money for Power. Believe it or not, there are markets that enjoy Paying to Win. This makes Traditionalists exclaim, "WTF ARE YOU DOING?!"The Time-rich no longer have the upper hand, and that makes the status quo feel as if their time isn't as valuable. And they are correct: with the inclusion of Money, it inflates the resource supply. Buying characters, power leveling, and gold was and still is seen as cheating in various online games primarily because it devalues the achievements (i.e. Time) of players.To more directly answer your question, "why would someone drop $20 for such an ephemeral trophy?" we really have to answer why humans trade resources for ANY status-signalling good. Fashion, competition, self-worth, belonging to a group: all of these are deeply rooted social instincts. The next time you do a farming run for a piece of loot, ask yourself why are you trading your time for these synthetic goods. And then ask if you'd rather trade money instead. If the goal is the trophy, it really doesn't matter how you got it. If you value the story attached to the trophy, then hopefully the journey is worth taking--and that is something money can't buy.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
People don't do heroine because of its abstract, broader merits as a drug. They do heroin because it feels good and because doing heroine makes you want to do more heroin. We don't analyze heroin in the hopes of discovering how to make commercial drug products more addictive and deride heroin for being "not a drug."
Farmville is an effective social parasite and advertising mechanism. The game is designed directly to extract money from players. Analyzing it as only a game is pointless, because its manifestation as a game is just the very blunt tip of a sprawling iceberg. Analyze it as a business. Compare it to direct mailing, viral videos, and banner ads.
Farmville is the ultimate sign of the commoditization (not really the traditional sense of the word--the mass marketization is more what I mean) of gaming. The games industry is maturing. "Make games we want to make and hope we get paid for it" has been replaced by "make games that we will get paid to make." The same happened to the music industry--and will happen to any art-based industry as it matures. The business model now drives, not the content. The cascade of free-to-play games and nickle-and-diming DLC are the first steps large steps down this long road. Sequelitis is merely a symptom. We can't go back to the good old days (if they even existed), we must recognize the shape of this beast and confront it directly.
This is another reason why I have stopped playing MMOs.
[EDIT: Made some corrections thanks to an anonymous commenter who apparently deleted his comment...]
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
I still hold to the concept that strategy games should be about testing your planning capabilities against an opponent's. There are games in the "strategy" genre that focus on execution more than planning, astute observers usually refer to these games as "Tactical."
This post will summarize a number of factors involved in determining how much micromanagement a game design will require of its players.
The scope of a game acts as a multiplier for individual unit micromanagement requirements. A game like Company of Heroes has a severely limited scope. You have perhaps ten manipulable units on the field at the height of an average game. Note that we don't care about the literal soldiers on the battlefield here, we care about manipulable units. What the manipulable unit consists of doesn't matter--all that matters is that when you issue orders, you must give them to the entire unit.
Scope can be confusing to think about, because Company of Heroes and Men of War share the same metaphorical scope--that being less than ten squads of infantry and less than five vehicles. If you examine mechanical scope by thinking about then number of manipulable units, you'll see that Men of War has a wider mechanical scope because each individual soldier in each squad can be manipulated, whereas you can never subdivide squads in Company of Heroes.
Orders per Unit
Once you have figured out how many units players handle when they play the game, you then have to examine what each of those units can do. In turn-based games, this is easy because you can look at possible orders per unit per turn. In real-time games the calculus becomes a bit more difficult because you must look at the number of orders that can be given to units as well as the number of units that may demand attention at once. (I'll address the issue of unit count variance throughout matches at some later time.)
How many kinds of orders can you give to units on a given turn? In Tactics Ogre, you can move, attack, and turn each of your units in each turn. Silent Storm, in comparison, allows you to do any combination of moves, attacks, turns, pose changes, and aiming actions in a turn. Clearly units in Silent Storm require more micro-management. In a turn-based game this affects how fast the game can be played. Games with a lot of micromanagement should have battles resolved in a relatively low number of turns, lest the player tire of the endless manipulation of his units.
We can also look at the number of kinds of unit actions in an RTS as well. In Men of War, you can give your units a wide variety of orders--there are easily over ten kinds of orders (ex. attack, attack-move, move, change stance, reload, change ammo, lay sandbags, lay barbed wire, lay mines, rotate, change weapon, manage inventory, etc.) Men of War has a wider mechanical scope than Company of Heroes, and Company of heroes has fewer than half the number of kinds of orders. Generally a unit in CoH will be able to attack, attack-move, move, change firing mode, and use one or two special abilities. We can therefore categorically say that CoH requires less micro to play effectively than Men of War does.
Complexity of terrain also plays a role. If terrain is very complex, like in Men of War where each wall, building, and piece of debris can be used as cover from any side, the fine-positioning of units matters which causes the player to have to move units more often and with more precision.
Analyzing individual orders
Playing a strategy game consists elementarily of multiple players (some of them may be AIs) giving orders to units. We've examined the nuances of order volume and how it effects micro-management, but we must also examine how the game designer defines the game world and how orders interact with it. We must examine the nature of orders and note how much attention they demand and how much physical precision on the part of the player they require.
In Men of War, you have to take line of sight and line of fire into account whenever you position a unit. You need to make sure there isn't some small rise in the terrain between your unit and what you want it to shoot at.This means that you have to minutely tweak the movement of individual squad members so that they will stand in a optimal-enough position. The difference between a decisive victory and a terrible defeat can be as small as a machine gunner standing slightly out of cover or being in the wrong stance and not having line of sight on an area. There's a lot of micro required when even issuing individual orders in Men of War.
In Company of Heroes, you move an entire unit and its members decide where to stand. Line of sight and line of fire are pretty easy to intuit based on what the map looks like. Rarely are there small hills that will maddeningly block your line of fire without being immediately noticeable. You also know that the simulation isn't terribly precise in Company of Heroes, so if one guy is standing out of cover but you still have the green shield next to your unit's icon, the unit is OK and you don't have to make more adjustments. When giving movement orders in Company of Heroes, you need to do less work--there's less micro--than when giving movement orders in Men of War.
As we've seen, strict simulation can lead to a signficant increase in micromanagement requirements.
The amount of tweaking you have to do to each unit also is greatly effected by the interface. Men of War gives you no particularly good way to check the line of sight and line of fire of your units, so you have to press a number of keys to check to see if your machine gunner can fire over this overturned crate or if they'll just stand there staring dumbly at it as the enemy mops up the rest of his squad.
Too dumb to leave alone?
In RTSes micromanagement requirements also stem from poor or non-existant AI. If you have to constantly babysit your units in order for them to survive, as you do in Men of War, the micro-requirement balloons. RUSE has a lower requirement for micro, though, because units will make attempts to kite enemies who have shorter range and generally try to fire at the most important targets first.
Please leave a comment if you think I've missed something. I'm sure I haven't touched on all the factors--I've primarily focused on combat.
Monday, June 13, 2011
"What is this game Telling us?" seems to be the central question. "Telling" has a capital "T" because the critic aggrandizes it through writing gravely and intensely. Everything's meaning is exaggerated in order to match up to the stature of other arts that the critic thinks are deserving of respect. "We need to discuss these points in order to be taken seriously" you may hear--but seriously in what regard?
Games aren't paintings or novels or books of poetry. They aren't static entities set in print or pastels. Games are dynamic. Games are an interactive medium in the strictest sense. Games are participatory event in themselves--we need look no further than sports to see this proven.
Games have plenty of static content, but what makes them different and worth caring about is not that static content, it's the act of play. You don't go to a movie because the act of focusing your eyes on a screen captivates you. Games may be composed of static art in part, but their whole is greater by far.
Game criticism can contain the criticism of the static art the game presents to the player--I do not challenge the validity of such criticism. I find such criticism wanting, though, because the real meat of what makes games interesting is not that they can show us art just as a movie can, but because we can actually play them--we can generate novel experiences that themselves generate novel experiences. These experiences are unique to each individual in a way more profound than the unique experiences different people may get out of the same painting or movie. Games allow their content to be molded to the player and her behavior; we should examine this molding deeply because it is what makes games worth playing. Games are not just a cheap substitute for a movie or album or painting. The more that we treat them as if they are nothing more (and confine ourselves to criticizing them in the same way), the harder it will be to show people that games are worth analysis and study. Why study inferior wanna-be movies?
I'm interested in analysis of game mechanics and other elements with an eye towards their effect on the experience of actually playing the game. I hope I can provide (and have provided) that on this blog.
Friday, June 10, 2011
- Classes and the adventure game at large are designed around groups. While it is possible to solo your way to level cap (some classes are more proficient at this than others), large parts of the game will be skipped.
- There are no instances. (Ok, SOE added a raid instance, but that's the only one.) Dungeons you happen across will be filled with terrible things you cannot possibly solo and other players! I might actually have to talk to someone and group up with them to explore something!
- Crafting-centric economy with complexity akin to Star Wars Galaxies. You can build a house. In the non-instanced world. And let everyone (or some or none) inside.
- There is a unique "sphere" of gameplay called Diplomacy. It's not the most deep nor complex turn-based strategy game, but I enjoy playing it. I also love it as a vehicle for story/dialogue as I find myself actually reading the NPC text (which is wholly irrelevant to the strategy game itself).
- Adventuring is dangerous. If the inference wasn't clear from the dungeon/group points above, mobs will kill you. People die at level 4 and 5. You don't start losing XP until level 10.
- I am missing quests because I am not talking to NPCs. WoW and her children have trained me to just look for Quest indicators on tops of NPC heads (which do exist in Vanguard). But some quests only become available after you talk to NPCs.
- The factions are not Us vs Them. At level 3 Diplomacy, I've already experienced a more nuanced and grey story than anything I've ever seen in a Blizzard product.
- It is very difficult if not impossible to min/max your character. Attributes are too complex. Here is a quote from a TenTonHammer guide:
The attributes in Vanguard are also complicated, making pretty hard to limit yourself to 3. Try being a tank who chooses to min INT. You'll have a hard time telling who has aggro from that add. For once, it looks like we have a game that tries to discourage the min/max build approach.
Spell Damage: Intelligence adds to the damage of all spells. The number revealed by the tool tip for INT is a percentage relative to 100% (the normal power of your spell), and casters will almost certainly want to take advantage of this statisticIdentify/Recognize: INT increases your chance to identify what spell a mob is casting and to recognize the tactics applicable to the battle. The tool tip does not provide a numerical value for this effect. The sooner a player can identify that a spell is being cast, the sooner she can attempt to counter it. This will help casters and healers. Recognizing tactics permits a player to take advantage of a mob's weaknesses. This helps all classes.Detect/Perceive: INT raises your chance to detect opponents under stealth or invisibility and to perceive what opponents are doing during combat. This will be tied to skills measured on maximum potential versus a mob of an even level. Detecting stealthed or invisible mobs is critical for everyone. Perception reveals who has aggro, a crucial effect for tanks and healers.Counter: INT heps your chances to counter a spell. This will be tied to your counter skill measured on maximum potential versus a mob of an even level. Casters and Blood Mages can counter spells.Resist Counter: INT ensures that a player's spells will more difficult to counter by mobs. This is essential for casters.
- Even though the newbie island is very much On-Rails, I am told that the world really opens up after you leave (at level 10).
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
1. MMORPGs are community-focused. Community is the real problem, and communities for popular games are always poor. MMORPGs are based around having large communities that are too large to effective self-police. This problem is unsolvable.
2. MMOs are bad strategy games at their heart. Execution of strategies is trivial. The content is so easy 90% of the time that developing strategies is unnecessary or trivial. The only part of the game that isn't trivial is PvP, which is often trivialized by loot differentials caused almost exclusively by differences in time played. Raids are trivialized by guides that players are expected to know before doing the content.
3. Maintaining a guild in an MMO is more challenging than actually playing the game. The community is bad. Maintaining a guild is outside the scope of game design, though a game can have some features that help with this. When the most difficult problems presented to the player by a game have nothing to do with the game, I lose interest.
4. MMOs are most likely to be unhealthy games to play. They require time commitments that are pretty ludicrous if you want to see any remotely challenging content without making actions artificially induce difficulty.
5. MMOs tend to be bad for the rest of gaming because they consume all of players' gaming time and some of their personal time. Players play MMOs instead of any other game.
6. MMO business models tend to reward developers for producing very addictive content at the expense of everything else. A big selling point for spending money on free-to-play games is that the game is made less bad by paying. This is not the kind of business model I want to endorse.
There are a lot of other games to play--I can't spend time playing these games that offer me so little actual fun but stand to ask for a lot of time.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I’ve played over 200 RUSE matches since the game was released last September. RUSE is definitely my favorite RTS. The game does some very important things right. In this post, I’m going to walk you through a few of the highlights. I’ll assemble a list of criticisms over the next week or two.
(I lost a few posts in a hard drive failure a couple of weeks ago, that’s why I haven’t put out much more than a post a week, and it’s also why I haven’t put out the first real part to my series on the fundamentals of games.)
Low APM requirement
I believe that RTS games should be about comparing your planning, perception, and prediction skills against your opponent's. Great RTSes make the act of implementing plans as intuitive and easy as possible--why get caught up in implementing a plan when the real fun is it actually testing it against your opponent? RUSE does this right: you don't need to have more than 20 APM to play the game well. This shows that RUSE is about planning, not about clicking around constantly in a struggle with the interface to make your units behave reasonably. I could write an entire post on how this is accomplished and how great it is, so I'll leave further elaboration for the future.
Spamming isn't an effective strategy in RUSE unless you've already won the game through resource supremacy. If you spam a unit, your opponent can recognize this and build fractional amounts of counters to effectively deal with the threat. The game's score is based on units killing a higher value in opposing units before they die, so the cost effectiveness of counters causes your opponent to suffer a severe setback by throwing countered units at you. Because the tech tree is flat, these counters are easy to build if you recognize the strategic situation is ripe--you can also be forced to counter the wrong thing through use of ruses and unorthodox strategies, which adds depth to what might otherwise be a simple "build counters to win" game.
A Broad Strategy-space
Some strategy games have a few narrow strategies. Such strategies are sequences of optimal actions understood by the community to be optimal. If you stray from these paths, you are playing poorly--you may win a couple of times by surprising an inferior opponent, but going outside narrow strategies won't get you much farther than that.
Contrast this with a broad, but flatter strategy space. You have a large number of options at any one time and many of them will get you an acceptable distance towards your strategic goals. The optimal choice becomes so dependent on the currently game state that you can't accurately deduce optimal strategies. This lends the game a certain dynamism: only a minimal amount of mechanical logic can be generalized from match to match, you must build each strategy fro the particular situation as it arises.
RUSE boasts large battlefields with sufficient room to maneuver, yet matches can be played competitively in 30 minutes or less on average. The scoring mechanism allows timed games to work well--players can make decisions based on the amount of time remaining, which leads to a further blossoming of possibilities. Though units are generally "slow" in the context of the whole map, unit production is fast. This allows players to produce units for decisive battles without it taking too much time. The relatively slow unit move speeds are balanced by the ability to produce units quickly, which leads to the game being paced properly for an enjoyable 20 minute 1v1 match or 30 minute 2v2 match.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Like character advancement, the advancement engendered by loot can be seen as vertical or horizontal. An item that vertically advances your character has flat-out better stats than your previous item, but does nothing that the previous item didn't do. Horizontal loot advancement comes from new abilities granted by items, or different kinds of damage dealt, absorbed, mitigated, etc.
Vertical loot is only exciting if it represents a big gain. Horizontal loot can be more exciting more often without necessarily advancing the character, because it can afford the player more interesting options to try out as long as the metagame is not in a moribund state.
The real question is: What effects can an item have? The more you restrict this, the more boring the system will be. If you go too far, you risk imbalancing the game due to the slot machine taking over and player skill being no more than a secondary factor in gameplay. This isn't a problem in most MMOs because such games are no more than social environments with slot machines that require mostly-thought-free manual effort to pull the lever by killing mobs, opening chests, and completing quests. In a(n ostensibly) skill-based game like GA, a prevalent slot machine turns what otherwise is a fun PvP system into an awkward environment where time-based play and skill-based play clash.
The universe of possible useful pieces of loot in GA is too small. It's exacerbated by the fact that the sole way of progression available, vertical progression to higher bonuses, caps out at 21% with an exponentially lower chance of getting loot of higher qualities once you get above the base 10%-ish. Boring, linear vertical progression with no horizontal opportunities is not fun. If I know what I want and feel like I'm just waiting for the random number generator to swing my way, I'm having less fun than if there is a reasonable chance I may find something cool that I hadn't considered.
The number of useful pieces of loot that you can possibly find starts out small and only gets smaller. Because GA is skill-based, players set their skill specs in stone and know exactly what they want to make it work optimally. Because gear is primarily vertical in variety, the player knows exactly what he needs at any given time for his spec if he has even a minimal knowledge of how the game works. there is no chance of a serendipitous drop--only for drops that either give the player a "finally" feeling, or drops that are useless to the player.
You only get loot in GA when you win missions or PvP matches. In PvP, particularly, your chance of victory is largely dependent on the skill level of the rest of your team. Only the top 5% (or less) of players can carry any team to victory—and even they can’t successfully do it every game they’d like to.
Global Agenda’s loot system is a boring, naked time-sink. The best that can be said of it is that it provides an object lesson in how not to design a loot system.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
(In this series, I plan on writing a series of short posts about what I believe to be the basic features and motivations of videogames. Why do we play? Why are we looked down upon by many for playing? I’m going to try from the ground up to describe my theories of the basics of gaming. I look forward to hearing your reactions and discussing these topics further.)
When you play a game and enjoy it, you are allowing yourself to be fooled. You let the game hook itself into those basic parts of what makes you human. Games are pattern-recognition porn, pretty/shiny pictures, and reward addiction mechanisms.
Games draw you in with interesting metaphors. For the typical gamer market (18-30 year-old males), this usually involves war in some form. The metaphor drags you into a set of game mechanics that the tool-maker/tool-user in you inherently finds appealing. You quickly feel your way around this new world through whatever interface available to you much the way a newborn feels out the confines of his new body and the world around her. This innocent, real consequance-free learning is rarely afforded to adults and older children, so you immediately immerse yourself in the opportunity to indulge in pretense and leave real-world cares at the door.
Games work well when they allow you to fully buy into a self-contained system that seems meaningless on the outside. Most play in children is mimicry of the future roles they'll take on as adults. The pretense of play dissolves as the child grows older and actually has to engage in the behaviors they've been play-acting. Likewise, adults view playing most games, be they video or otherwise, as childish activities--playacting for behaviors that appear, on the surface, to be useless.
But we live in a world of useless. Most gamers live in a world of relative luxury where survival is nigh guaranteed. Entertainment, instead of being a marginal aspect of life, has graduated to a state of constant presence. Even when at work, many people spend much of their time seeking or reading about entertainment on the internet. Instead of watching television, reading, looking at pictures of your friend’s cat farm on facebook or otherwise “uselessly” passing your time, you play games instead. The interactive medium allows you to do so many interesting things that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise, so why not engage with it?
In order to keep the player hooked into a closed system of pretense, games use the feedback loops of tool development and learning. Games are tricks—they hijack parts of your brain that commonly were applied for other survival-related purposes but now sit underused most of the time.
Next: Pattern recognition porn.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
I played Torchlight for six or seven hours before I realized that the game is nothing but polish. The graphics are reasonable and consistant, the sound is good enough, the gameplay is quite smooth and appealing, but when scrutinized the mechanics are subpar. The problem I have with Torchlight isn’t that it is derivative; my problem is that the individual game systems are middle-of-the-road, uninteresting, and do little to cover the flawed reward-chain it is at its heart.
Action RPGs are interesting to me because they combine loot and character advancement along with a progression of different enemies with odd abilities that cause you to vary your tactics. I do not play action RPGs to be intellectual stimulated, but keeping these systems interesting for as long as possible lies at the core of the action RPG experience. The combat itself is often trivial—the real game lies in picking between loot and getting that little shot of dopamine when you find an awesome item or acquire that next game-changing ability.
Torchlight’s loot system was boring. Few items, if any, had unique and interesting effects on gameplay. Items presented a bland optimization problem instead of leading to interesting decisions where the player has to choose between two very appealing, distinct mechanics to harness. These kinds of decisions are what made Diablo II such a great game in the genre. A chance of casting Frozen Orb weighed against life leach and improved attack speed is a much more interesting decision than +20 fire damage vs. +15 Ice damage and +5 Poison damage. Torchlight does allow items to carry spell effects, but the game’s abilities are generally as uninteresting and lack innovation as well.
The character advancement system was boring. Skill trees are small compared to Diablo II. A disproportionate number of skills are passive or are reskinned buffed versions of other skills.
You could play well using trivial strategies that were no fun. As a summoner, you should have no trouble butchering your way through the game unless you play at a high difficulty. You don’t even have to worry about mana much, because you can simply dual wield wands and do constant, credible damage to augment the punishment your pets provide.
What makes an action RPG exciting for me are abilities that I have to choose between depending on the situation. The decision has to be non-trivial. If I’m doing no more than maintaining some summons and shift-rich clicking to cast wand spells, the game rapidly bores me. If an action RPG can’t pace loot and advancement along with enemy power, it has failed at a basic level and there’s little reason to continue playing it.
There was just enough polish that the game didn’t immediately give offense to my game design sensibilities.
Torchlight was an ego-tickling reward treadmill that gave just enough stimulation to players to keep them blithely clicking and button mashing their way to inevitable victory. A game doesn’t need to be hard to avoid this fate, but it does have to present the player with a variety of interesting decisions, not just the same kinds of decisions with bigger numbers attached to them.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Everyone loves chokepoints! They vastly simplify the decision-making in an RTS and often lead to epic-looking battles. The average player who does not want to micro and does not want to think gobbles up chokepoint maps. Most players want to expend no more than this meager amount of effort so every strategy game that makes any mainstream attempt will include a chokepoint-hell map.
These are not good maps. They severely limit strategic possibilities with ground units. This is worse in Company of Heroes than in RUSE, and matters even less in Supreme Commander games, because of the availability of air transport for ground units. The more units you can transport with ease, the less the layout of the terrain matters, so the restriction of available land routes has less of a constricting effect on the shape of the strategic space on the map.
To some extent, simplicity is preferable over complexity—but only if the complexity provides false difficulty. It’s preferable to have 10 units per faction and have 8 be viable than to have 50 per faction and have 9 viable. In the former case, the number of viable combinations of units is only slightly smaller than in the latter case, but the player is forced to trudge through a lot more information to decide which of the fifty unit types he wants to build, whereas when most of the units are viable the player has to wade through much less noise to develop sound strategies.
Chokepoint-hell maps do not simplify to eliminate false difficulty; they dumb-down gameplay and limit depth. This is fine if you’re designing maps for the early stages of a campaign, but in competitive play these maps are simply inferior.
On the left: “Vire River” from Company of Heroes.
On the right: “Above the River” from RUSE. (h/t BattleStrats)