Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
 
Not a Friday

Syncaine points out that it isn't a Friday, so I can't completely disagree with what he writes. Fortunately I fully agree with the paragraph in which he says:
On top of that, one would think that as you get older, you get a little smarter, and so things that challenged you as a teen are pretty easy for you now (non-twitch of course), yet somehow in addition to a reduction in time, we also need a reduction in thinking? That we can’t handle social situations? That we can’t grasp the concept of not everyone being the hero? At what point did getting older turn into becoming an oversensitive baby who needs a trophy just for showing up? That sounds a lot more like becoming a child than growing up.
I fully agree. I would prefer my games to require more thinking, more strategy, more maturity. And that having "twitch" as the only sort of challenge in a game turns me off, which is exactly why I quit World of Warcraft.

But where I don't agree with is that time requirement is a suitable challenge. Recently Syncaine is praising long games like Everquest simply for being long, and bashes Facebook games for being short. Well, I played Everquest a decade ago for over a year, and while it sure was "hard" in the sense of punishing and frustrating, I never considered Everquest a challenging game in the sense of needing a high IQ to play it successfully. For example I still remember camping the Mammoth Cloak for my druid. That took 16 hours (over several sessions). And the "challenge" was to sit in a cave where a mob respawned every 23 minutes, and kill that mob over and over until the rare cloak finally dropped. The intellectual challenge of that is zero. You can fill 2,000 hours of gameplay with stuff like that, but that doesn't make the game any good.

I think it is consistent to demand more intellectual challenge from a game, but still to reject the model in which "challenging" is equal to "time-consuming". World of Warcraft would not be a better game if you simply doubled the xp requirement per level and halved all the loot drop probabilities. It would only be a longer game. If you wanted to make WoW more intellectually challenging, you would need to replace scripted encounters by random encounters, forcing players to think on their feet and come up with strategies of their own instead of strategies from YouTube. You would need to design talent trees and combat abilities in a way that every choice has advantages and disadvantages to consider, instead of creating a system with a mathematical optimum talent build and spell rotation which is identical for every encounter. There are lots of ways to make games more intellectually challenging, the current batch just isn't there yet.
Comments:
Completely unrelated but since you mention it: have you given a try at Wakfu? It's in open Beta and it's based on an animated series (= expect tons of kids playing). Why I suggest:
- combat is not real-time, but turn based. Playing faster unlocks bonuses, but a fast bad player will be owned by a slow good player.
- classes are quite different one from another, all with unique key abilities.
- there's 0 twitch, but all classes tend to be heavlily combo-based (some trivial, some non-trivial, some only work in groups, etc.)
- mobs have different tactics (melee types close in, ranged ones run away, they can heal, summon friends, etc.).

The problems I had are: unless you play with someone you know, forget grouping. Except combat all the rest (crafting/gathering) is pure mindless timesink.
(I'm deliberately skipping the politics/ecosystem stuff, you can read that on the website. just search "wakfu" it's the 1st link in google).

The graphics is also very "animation-series" like (character animations are very well done) and the game is isometric, both details which may annoy some people.
 
What I'm waiting for is a team game MMO. When I watch my beloved football team and they score 40 000 people are ecstatic. Things happen in the game which aren't one guy going "woot" and a lot of other people going "meh, I didn't get anything".

I wonder why we haven't seen an itemless MMO yet. Historically many games, most games, don't dole out individual upgrades.
 
I miss games that give you opportunities to think. Even little decisions, options, are better than point and shoot. Wow has become so nerfed, so face-roll easy, it is Borecraft. Click, click, ding! No fun at all. But it appeals to the expect-everything 10 year old generation. I imagine it will soon be "click here to instantly ding level 85! You are awesome!"

The real equation for fun should be something like: rewards + player choice divided by variable challenge; all multiplied by a small amount of something new. However, lately it seems to be only "rewards/0 = fun".

Pity.
 
This is exactly why I've drifted to single player games and away from MMO's after being a die hard WoW player for the better part of five years.

The further from college I get the less free time I have what with working and raising my son. It's also rather soothing to know that no one can screw anything up but me, no more lengthy dungeon crawls that are wasted because it was the healers bedtime right before the last boss and the group broke up because the queue said it'd take five minutes to find a replacement.

I'll take Civ 5 and Victoria 2 these days, thankee sai.
 
I think a little too often "hard" is substituted for "grindy". I never played the original EQ, but I have played WoW for years. As an Alliance player, the whole quest arc in Stranglethorn Vale was painfully excruciating. It got to a point that I would level alts, but leave them alone for a week, just so they would accumulate enough rested XP for me to be able to burn through the zone faster. Everyone called it the hell zone, and complained about how "tough" it was.

The fact of the matter was that this wasn't a tough zone by any stretch of the imagination, it was grindy, it was long, it was unforgiving, but it wasn't difficult. There were no new mechanics, either in the zone or in the class you were playing, it was the same game, just in a hard environment.

So I agree with you. Calling something "hard" is too often used as a synonym for what is really an endurance-test.
 
The time it takes to do stuff can affect the community make up though and make it a better match for you.

If you are a person willing to wait 16hours to get a cloak drop, you would likely feel a stronger bond to others willing to do the same. As opposed to players that think a 20min dungeon is too long.

If leveling is hard and deaths punishing that acts a gate, that not all players chose to enter. Mass Market games aim to please the masses. Niche games, or games with gates that not all players pass allow for more specialized communities.

Point is in EQ when you got that cloak and announced it to your community you may have received heartfelt grats. When I played DAoC when someone hit cap level people would start announcing it zone wide and random strangers would start to congratulate you and asked if you wanted to be added to their RvR lists. You felt like you were being accepted into a community. Even if I said to myself I didn’t care. The fact that some random group member would start the announcement and then random people would offer their congrats and well… I couldn’t help be feel positive.

Opposed to in WoW, if someone announces in general that they hit cap level they would probably get some negative feedback. Or if someone announces they just got some really time consuming achievement or rare pet, they are more likely to get comments like “lol nerd,” than “wow, awesome job!”

Some games (like FPS) focus on “fast fun.” Other games provide “slower fun” and rely on the community to keep people engaged during the slower moments.

The fact that the gamer generation is spread so wide now kids-retirees, makes it much harder to have what any one person would consider a “good community.” This is why MOBA games and FPS are taking off. The complication of trying to build in game community is taken away, and people just play the game.
 
Of all the challenges a game can present a player with, overcoming boredom while playing it is the worst possible choice.
 
The intelligent way to play Everquest was to recognize that spending hours camping things was a very poor return on your time invested and to do other things instead.

I played Everquest for many years and still play it on occasion. I frequently played for 40 hours a week for many, many weeks. The longest I ever camped anything was a couple of hours and even that was only a handful of times. There were, and are, almost countless more interesting things to do in Everquest than camp a spawn spot.

All MMOs I've ever played can be played intelligently once you realize that it's you decide how you spend your time, not the people who make the game. Play the game, don't let the game play you.
 
I think it is consistent to demand more intellectual challenge from a game, but still to reject the model in which "challenging" is equal to "time-consuming".

I couldn't agree more. However, from a developer's point of view, "time-consuming" (of players' time) = "profitable". Whereas conversely, "challenging" = "time-consuming" (of the developer's resources.
 
Once again, Syncaine falls into that trap of assuming that the word "casual" applied to gamers means both "time-poor" and "incompetent". I think it's time we got rid of the term because there are an awful lot of people who are more than bright enough to understand how their class works, and what are the best ways to use class abilities, and can figure out what would be the ideal gear to wear... but we don't have the time needed to grind for it, and can't commit to an uninterrupted four hour raiding session because if my work phone rings with a live incident, or the baby needs a bottle, well, neither of them are going to wait while I carry on with the raid.

Let's get this clear - - sporadic players want bite-sized but challenging content. If the longest play session I can commit to is an hour, give me something I can complete in an hour but by all means make it a tricky, demanding hour that requires me to play my character to the limits of my ability for that hour. And I daresay that if I do that, I would deserve at least as good a reward as somebody who has been one of a pack of 25 mindless sheep for four hours :)
 
Why on earth would you want an MMO to be intellectually challenging? If you want an intellectually challenging game go play Scrabble or Chess. The strengths of MMOs are in their immersive world settings.
 
I do find the real world intellectually challenging. How can a virtual world be immersive without stimulating your mind?
 
For once I completely agree with you Tobold :)
 
While I agree let me take a different tack on the maturity factor.

I am used to the response to people complaining about their class or ship getting nerfed and the 1337 saying "adapt or die" or "suck it up" or some rant about casuals and lazy.

However, my ageist theory is that it is the kids are the ones who are told what to do by parents, teachers, coaches, DI and siblings. While it is the older players who have internalized the golden rule (he who has the gold makes the rule) and if vendors disappoint are much more willing to change vendors. Complaining about your homework is not a good thing; complaining to the store manager when the service is substandard is a good thing.

Perhaps a game with an older customer base has different challenges.

P.s. as a healer, I submit the triage of WoW healing (outside of the Kabuki dance of a raid) provides more intellectual challenge in WoW than the others.

I also consider requiring more twitch skills (*cough* Cata *cough*) as more challenging in a way I do not have an interest in.
 
Dealing socially with other players will stimulate your mind.
 
I think it is consistent to demand more intellectual challenge from a game, but still to reject the model in which "challenging" is equal to "time-consuming".

I have to agree with you here, Tobold.

I'm kind of in agreement about the WoW points, though I still think the raiding can be challenging. Not overly so, but from my raiding experience, it has more thought to it. Sure some of it comes from leadership and it's up to the rest of the raiders to do what they can.

Mostly it's unforgiving which isn't exactly the same as challenging because 9/10 of the problems you have no immediate control over.

The rest of the game? Not so much.

Oh, and since the recent raid nerfs - yeah, I'm going to have to say it isn't really challenging at all at the moment.
 
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