Tobold's Blog
Saturday, August 20, 2011
 
My lack of trust in humanity

Syp chimes in on the SWTOR morality debate with a very optimistic comment: "Plus, wouldn’t it be really cool if BioWare makes these choices and stories so compelling that it tears people away from grinding light/darkside points to do what they want to do?" Yes, Syp, that would be really cool. But, from my personal experience with gamers and developers, that isn't going to happen.

A "perfect" story for me would be one in which good and evil are so perfectly balanced that my natural choices would end me up somewhere in the grey area of the morality spectrum. That is where I see most people in real life ending up if judged by a jedi system of beliefs. I certainly am no un-emotional jedi of pure goodness and control over mind and body.

Unless Bioware adds grey morality gear to the game, which isn't planned, and frankly unlikely, following a grey story will disqualify players from wearing any morality gear. And I expect there to be some very cool morality gear which you can only wear if you are at the extreme ends of the scale. 99 out of 100 gamers will thus go into "let's optimize the fun out of this" mode. They won't even *read* the possible responses to some moral dilemma. They'll just automatically chose the one which is marked as giving the right points for the cool gear they are after. And that is where the story-based MMORPG gameplay will utterly fail.
Comments:
While I agree that the loudest majority of TOR players will, regardless of what character they're playing, relentlessly shoot for optimization and see light vs dark as just another min/max decision, I think you might have missed Syp's point, or at least you did as I understand what he's saying.

Personally, I am not an extreme min/maxer to begin with. I will generally ignore gear upgrades if they don't suit my personal aesthetic; in fact, I did this multiple times during Wrath with my paladin; the tank sword from Heroic UP is a prime example, as I kept it and used it despite having a better tanking weapon available; I simply loved the look.

What I got from Syp's comment is that he's hoping(and I do, despite the fact that I'm not likely to play TOR any time soon, if at all) that light side vs dark side won't be a min/max decision, that your character's choices, so long as they are reasonably consistent one way or the other, don't hinder your progression. I think there should definitely be wiggle room, and perhaps even a way to go back and forth between the two sides as your character progresses through the story in a natural manner. For instance, straying far enough from the Jedi Path, and you'll hit a decision point where you can surrender your Jedi robes for the trappings of a Dark Jedi or vice versa. I think there's certainly adequate precedent for this as well; NWN had a fantastic fluctuating alignment system where you could vary between 9 different alignments, and even a true neutral path was an option that did not hinder character progression.

But with that said, I think you're right; it'll look something simlar to more modern RPGs, where you're stuck with extreme badass meanie guy or the ultimate nice good guy, and anything in between will put you at a disadvantage, even if small, and that running down the middle will do no better. Ah well, and they say that only Sith deal in absolutes.
 
I played Knights of the Old Republic here recently, and I lost Light Side points for using the Force to not pay the docking fee to an amoral (at best) corporation that was enslaving and exploiting the entire Wookie homeworld. Freeing the Wookies and starting a revolution leading to the death of every low-ranking member of the corporation resulted in Light Side points, but not supporting the corporation in their docking fees leads to the Dark Side.

So color me unsurprised that the morality in a Star Wars MMO is binary and arbitrary. I'm interested in the game solely to see if BioWare is capable of writing a compelling narrative in that kind of IP straightjacket.

And, well... lightsabers.
 
"Unless Bioware adds grey morality gear to the game, which isn't planned, and frankly unlikely."

Per James Ohlen, Game Director of Bioware Austin, at SDCC three weeks ago*: "Yes, if you decide to thread the needle and you decide to be a neutral character, there are items specifically for you."

Daniel Erickson said pretty much the same thing during PAX East**, although he didn't specifically mention grey gear: "Absolutely. Content paths, gear paths and some surprises we’re holding back. There are also rewards for the disciplined grey players who can hold to the middle."

* http://darthhater.com/2011/07/24/sdcc-2011-day-4-live-blog-coverage/

** http://tor-talk.com/daniel-erickson-interview/

So it looks like grey morality gear is both planned and likely, unless feedback in alpha causes changes, which isn't impossible of course.

Regardless, if people just power past the dialogue choices and blindly click whatever button they think will release the kewl lewt pelletz (and we all know some are going to) that still won't be an utter failure of the story-based MMORPG gameplay.

If the story sucks? That will be an utter failure of story-based MMORPG gameplay. If the story's good and the conditioned-response crowd skip it in favour of push-the-lever-get-the-pellet gameplay, that's their loss, and the failure is on the part of the players, not the designers.

(NB: I'm not saying that SWTOR's story will be good. Or bad. Ask me in six months when I've seen some of it. I'm saying that if people go into "optimize the fun out and skip one of the game's major selling points" mode, the failure is one of their own making.)
 
I think as long as players don't have to interact with the other players they will follow the story, and make many grey choices. But as soon as team play, or worse PVP, gets involved people stop reading and go for optimal paths.

This is just further proving my feeling that SWTOR will be a cool single player game with a lot of other players around.
 
Even with grey morality gear, the problem remains that players might want to make story decisions that keeps them in the right morality area instead of making them freely.
 
I don't think a game can force its players to play the game, rather than the meta-game of gear. Sadly, I agree that a lot of players will make choices that get them the gear they want.

I won't be playing it like that, so I was glad to hear Gray gear was planned. I'm sure I'll end up with it.
 
Maybe they need to remove gear from the equation. I would like to see the light/dark side choice be something you grow into rather than something you study on the internet to plan your choices.
 
Why does it matter what other people do? I didn't realize SW:ToR was going to be an eSport.

Follow your own path and knock yourself out.
 
Planescape: Torment was one of the best (many would say *the* best) story-driven CRPGs ever - and it had plenty of morality gear.
 
But it didn't have story points gear where you and your party received less points if not all of you chose the same moral decisions in a group setting. I can already see the general chat: "Group LFM, light side jedi only".
 
If Bioware does this right, the rewards will be adequately balanced between all three options. The way Scryers/Aldor in TBC WoW, for lack of a better example, was a non-gamebreaking choice: there were a few spec-specific advantages (healers might have picked the Aldor spellthread, etc.) but it was ultimately an RP path. By WoW's meagre standards of non-gear character development, quite cool.

I expect, if I genuinely followed my own proclivities in making my TOR main's choices, I'd end up somewhere around 70-80% light side, so probably screwed out of grey and light. I just hope that the rewards for the path will be heavy on flavour (visiting certain locales, being able to do certain quests) and low on combat effectiveness.
 
Surely "Group LFM, light side jedi only" is what you *ought* to have in a game where morality is important? I mean, unless the quest is super-important, a good character wouldn't want to group with evil ones!

Really, I'm not convinced balance is truly the central issue. Alliance had some raiding advantages over Horde in early WoW because Paladin was better than Shaman, but that didn't stop people playing Horde. More did play Alliance, but that was probably mainly to do with the characters being prettier. If the experience is different enough between sides, balance need not be perfect.

Conversely, of course, if the Aldors and Scryers had substantially different value in rewards, it would not have worked so well, as the difference in gameplay was not enough to counterbalance that.

So... the trick is to make the different options (race, morality, whatever) play differently enough that some differences in gear or ability are sustainable for the majority of players.

(There will always be some players who will happily RP iregardless of balance, and some who will minmax everything - it's the in-between majority that have to be persuaded.)
 
I think Tobold is right, but for the wrong reason - it doesn't matter whether there is grey equipment or not, 99% of players will be optimizing for an outcome they've already pre-selected. Tobold clearly wants to be neutral, and others will want to be light or dark. They will make choices to reinforce those desires. Why? Because NONE of the choices actually matter in the game world. Not only will people not read the dilemmas, they will ignore the results as well, because when they are done the quest mobs will disappear and nothing will change. None of it matters, except gearing up and leveling up your character.

These morality things work in single-player games because they can have irrevocable, large-scale effects on the game world. In an MMO like SWTOR, that can't happen, because there are other players who need to progress through the same content. When choices are meaningless in context, it should not be a suprise that people use different criteria to make those choices.
 
Tobold, the "LFG, light side only" thing won't happen - there's no reason to do that. In each interaction, the game awards you points based only on the choice you made.

Even if the cutscene that plays out is for the opposite alignment, you get points for "what you chose in your heart" according to Bioware.
 
Brian, I'm afraid you aren't up to date on all the details. You get light side points and dark side points based on the choice YOU make, that is correct. But you also get story points based on whether you make the same choice as the people in your group. Thus having somebody of "opposite alignment" in your group, hurts your story points.

Not only will people not read the dilemmas, they will ignore the results as well, because when they are done the quest mobs will disappear and nothing will change. None of it matters, except gearing up and leveling up your character.

I think the problem is that the story tells you the situation and your choice, and then kills that choice by marking the answer with something like (+2 light side points). And that is the only thing people are actually going to read. Which kind of negates the interest of the "fourth pillar".
 
Huh - I hadn't seen any info on a mechanic like that in what I'd been reading about the game. Agree that encouraging unified behavior like that would be a bad idea. Disappointing

If you have a link to the site where you turned that up handy, I'd be interested - I clearly need to add it to my reading list. Thanks!
 
The only way to put an end to players min/maxing is by taking out the morality gear. I also think the 4. pillar won't keep players entertained for long.

Personally I would rather have a cut scene after a hard quest(around 12hours to complete) so that it feels kind of rare. You could add choices to that and I would care even if it did'nt affect my character performance/development.

I am afraid that all those cut scenes and dialog will get in the way.
 
There’s a lot coming out of beta on this (which obviously shouldn’t be, given that it’s WIP, subject to change, there’s NDA to consider, etc). BUT: At this point, there appears to be multiple bars so that you can grind up both light AND dark side points, a la Mass Effect’s Renegade/Paragon system, rather than a sliding tug-of-war scale.

Additionally, the information released on the crew skills (ie: crafting) reveals that it will be possible for you to farm light/dark side points. For ‘true’ grinding, rather than simply exhausting all the possible story dialogue. So, theoretically, you can answer questions however you please to fit the story, then let your crafting (directing your crew in timed espionage/diplomacy offline missions) fill whichever gaps you might feel there are in your light/dark-based cosmetics. My understanding of the light/dark gear is that it IS purely cosmetic, so it will not be necessary for min-maxers to pay any attention to it.

Yes, some people may not read or understand the mechanics properly and choose dialogue options based on what they want to happen with light/dark points rather than roleplaying – it’s what many of the previous morality plays in games have trained us to do. (Infamous, Fable, Black & White, Mass Effect, any Star Wars game ever – but, interestingly, not ALL games do this: Dragon Age and the Witcher being recent exceptions.) Some people may LIKE always choosing the bad-guy/good-guy options. I always found a full-paragon path in Mass Effect 2 personally satisfying.

What I’d really like to see more of in morality plays is something along the lines of D&D’s alignment. I’ve always ended up testing as True Neutral. Not out of any specific desire to seek balance or anything like that… It just seems to be the best descriptor for when you follow a very specific personal code of honour which does not exactly happen to align to everyone else’s code – good or bad. And which is flexible enough to allow pragmatism.
 
"But you also get story points based on whether you make the same choice as the people in your group."

Source? Everything I've seen so far in dev interviews and from play videos indicates that currently you get social points from winning the "Who gets to speak" roll, and only from winning that roll, although in a recent interview one of the devs acknowledged that the current system is a bit all-or-nothing and they were looking at alternate ways to earn them.

I agree that a "make the same choice as everybody else in your group" system would be a bad idea (it's an engraved invitation to game the system), but haven't seen anything to indicate that that's the way they're going. I could see something like "get n social points for participating in a group conversation, the winner of the "who gets to speak" roll gets Xn points" (where X is the number of participants) working, though.
 
Admittedly the systems appear not to be final, and the information that is around is often conflicting. For example I've read that story decision options would be marked with how many light/dark side points you'd get for them, but in the video I've seen there has been no such indication.

So consider this more of a theoretical discussion of how incentives can get into the way of story-driven gameplay.
 
On the question of showing light side/dark side points on the conversation wheel, according to Daniel Erickson*:

"-There are light side and dark side icons on the dialogue wheel if you are using the mouse. If you are using number keys to pick dialogue options, you’ll never see them. So if you hate the idea of choosing wrong, you’re going to be a mouse user for dialogue. If you hate the idea of hand holding you’ll be a number key player. Best of both worlds."

Interesting design choice - hopefully it'll be made clear early on via some kind of in-game tutorial. My first reaction was "Pfeh, why not just make it a toggleable option for people who prefer to mouse/keyboard but don't/do want to see the LS/DS points", but this has the advantage of being able to choose whether or not to see them on a case-by-case basis; whether or not that over-rides being "forced" to use the mouse (or keyboard) in dialogue choices is a question of personal taste, I guess.

From the same article, "- Class quest answers are not arranged by DS/LS but by class appropriateness. So the most “Boba Fett” response (curt, professional, all business) goes on the top of the Bounty Hunter. The most “Vader” on top of the Sith Warrior etc. So if you’re playing purely to your class fantasy you can just keep moving along easily. So in similar situations a Sith Warrior might have a “[Kill Him]” option as a first response but an Inquisitor might have it second and the first response might be trying to look deeper at the situation and discover what’s really going on."

Another interesting bit of design, since it allows the "safe" choices we saw with the ME conversation wheel, where you could pick out the Paragon/Renegade option without even looking, while still giving room to people who want to look over all the possibilities before making a choice.

We'll have to see how it all plays out in the final game, of course, and that quote's a couple of months old, so all of this may have gone by the wayside at this point, but I find it encouraging that they seem to be putting some serious thought into this stuff.

* http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?p=5987118#edit5987118
 
Anytime you limit the choice to a black & white, good and evil, diametrically opposite binary dichotomy, these issues (and associated debates) will inevitably arise.
 
I disagree with the assertion that everyone will "optimize the fun" out of EVERY SINGLE unique idea game developers come up with. This is a cynical view of what is happening with multi-player games.

Light/Dark side story elements could be as "fun" or novel as the separate factions ideas introduced in WOW. But the real payoff is the replay-ability.

Getting sick of your same'ol goody goody Jedi? Have him turn dark. Or better yet (for Bioware) MAKE a new Dark Jedi! [squee the dev says use my content multiple times and I don't have to create a new class to balance!!!! Win Win]

One of the ongoing issues in MMOs is the reuse of content... Replaying has gone from Difficulty Modes, Classes, Factions, Now Morality. Bioware may indeed have created the next BIG thing in MMOs by having this dimension in their game...

I would personally enjoy playing a class I enjoy in a uniquely leveling experience multiple times.
 
Agreed. They should really design the game so that grey morality is the default choice for most players. The cost of going pure good or evil should be high enough to discourage all but the most dedicated. It would be nice if they could achieve this without resorting to gear as the motivator. Perhaps through faction bans and limiting story arcs.
 
The problem with licensed games is that they raise additional questions. You can't just ask "Is this good design?": you also have to ask "Does it do a good job modelling the source material?" and "Will it appeal to fans of the source I licensed?"

Defaulting to grey morality and restricting the Light and Dark sides to the most obsessive would probably go down about as well as the original SWG Jedi grind, I fear.
 
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