Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 28, 2009
Pacing excitement

It is said about war that it is "long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror". In the recent discussion about crafting and economic systems, somebody asked me the inevitable question I always get: Why don't I play EVE Online? Well, I would say EVE Online is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Mining is terribly boring, hauling goods from A to B over long distances is terribly boring, but then while mining or hauling you get attacked by pirates and experience moments of sheer terror. Or you have other moments of strong excitement, pulling off a great deal, forming an alliance, or something else. But in general the pacing of the excitement is very different from games like World of Warcraft: EVE Online certainly offers stronger peaks of excitement, but they are spaced out more, and there are some game elements which are definitely not exciting at all.

Of course that is a strictly personal preference. There are certainly other people who find a gentle stream of mini-excitements (oh, another quest done, oh, another level dinged, oh, another nice loot drop) a lot less interesting than the stronger stuff that EVE Online and other impact PvP games like Darkfall offer. But I would say that it is a lot easier to keep those little excitements coming all the time, while it is pretty much impossible to keep up "sheer terror" over long periods.

What do you think? How do you prefer excitement to be paced: Smoothly or with peaks and valleys? Or do you think a game could be extremely exciting all the time, for hundreds of hours?
I've played both and enjoyed both, but one of them lends itself to being able to log on for brief or scheduled periods of time and do something fun and the other ... doesn't.

So if you have loads of time to play, try an impact PvP type game. It's very exciting. As long as you can handle the idea that you might log on and not have much to do.

If you don't, stick with the less exciting option.

At least, that's my thought.
I predict this topic to be completely filled with double entendres.

Personally, I prefer excitement in waves. Plateau, buildup, climax, decay, repeat. While I agree with the infeasibility of maintaining a state of sheer terror for extended periods of time, I think that in many games where the endgame relies on repetition tend to skip the buildup and decay phases. Raid content is less suspectible to this because of the buildup towards the final boss, but daily quests suffer the full effect. Out of the blue, you get a quest to kill ten foozles and once you're done, there's no followup. Progressing questlines work just fine when leveling, and can be done with dailies (like Shartuul), so why isn't it used more? Or why did attempts like the Bash'ir Landing crystalforge event and public quests in WAR boil down to soloing phase 1 over and over?
A very deep thought. I fear, too deep for me to answer. I don't feel able to develop a game based on a pacing of excitement, although I agree that this made sense to consider. It's probably even very important, I just don't think it's possible to build a game starting there.

In my opinion, developing a game requires an oblique approach. Try to design the game you always wanted to play, try to be as objective and cool as you can while you do it.

Just like the richest people in the world aren't the ones most interested in money, the best way to design a game isn't an uninspiring and deep analysis of human nature, but a balanced approach that consideres human nature, but never forgets that you should wish to play the game you create.

Or do you think a game could be extremely exciting all the time, for hundreds of hours?

In an exploratory game, the pacing at which a player is exposed to content/encounters is largely determined by the players themselves in a game like WoW. Also, having the choice to play on either a PvE or PvP server has a profound impact on the players exposure to those totally unscripted and unforseen actions of other players. I would offer that the players ability to enjoy the game depends largely upon which of those elements they prefer(PvP or PvE), which is exactly what you seem to indicate in your post.

Either the game/content is going to provide these moments of excitement/terror, or other players are going to be responsible for providing them. The developers can pretty much control the pace of PvE content with simple design elements, but controlling the pacing of PvP activity is not so easily done unless the developers design in some arbitrary and contrived mechanisms to force players/factions/alliances to war/attack each other.

I prefer controlling my own destiny in that regard, and it's the main reason I preferred WoW over every other MMO that I have tried.
Addeneum: One game that nails the excitement wave is Left 4 Dead, where the Director AI adapts the pacing of the game to player actions, offering breathers when the players are overstressed and prodding them along with a Horde when there's a danger that the players are bored. In pen-and-paper RPGs, the GM fulfilled this role. Implementing the Director AI in an MMO could give an otherwise-average MMO a large competitive advantage (hint hint).
I want NO excitement at all. Not when "excitement" actually means "shock".

I want a steady stream of gentle entertainment, comparable to an amble through attractive scenery on a pleasant day, or a long, relaxing bath.

Relaxation, entertainment, amusement, all are required in any MMO I play. Excitement I can easily forego.
One of the things I like about EVE is the continuum of activities that result in different "engagement" in the game. Running missions requires a certain amount of concentration. Mining requires less, ice harvesting still less, hauling precious little, allowing other activities (market research and project spreadsheeting) to take place while still in the game world. Swap any of these activities into lowsec or W-space and semi-AFK behaviour becomes risky, but a player always chooses to travel there.

Ie, there are some parts of the game that are intentionally dull. They let the player choose to "opt out" of high-focus high-stress gameplay, even in a "impact pvp" world.
One of the things i realized while I played AoC was that the combat system, while still trivial, required a bit more attention than in WoW while farming.

Since you needed to farm a hell of a lot to gain levels later on, it burned me out faster.

Thus, I agree with Michael.
An MMO has to offer relaxing activities that necessarily are boring. This is not necessarily bad.
I'm an Eve fan and I think your analysis is spot on.

Interestingly WoW used to be like that. 2 weeks of wiping followed by "omg I can't believe we killed it" raiding.

It looks like they've realised most sensible humans don't want the two weeks of wiping.

Any game that seeks to remove the 'boring' parts of an MMO, and instead replace them with only the 'exciting' parts is going to fail to actually feature ANY really exciting parts. WoW is rather close to this, as everything you do is 'epic', to the point that even killing a god is just another daily to grind out some rep. Arthas is going to be farmed by any group of 10 people able to place a forehead to a keyboard, and yet this is the 'epic' moment $40 worth of expansion is billed around.

The PvP of EVE would feel as meaningful as a round in a FPS if mining was instant, travel was worry-free, and the PvP was always opt-in. 90% mundane and 10% excitement is a ratio I'll take all day for my MMO compared to the 100% meh found in most themeparks.
I feel about EVE how I felt about Ultima Online; confused and bored to tears at the same time. I've tried the Eve trial three times; only the first time did I manage to get past the tutorial without just tedium-quitting.

EVE feels like Ultima Online did when I tried it back in the day--- really, really, really boring. And confusing. So you feel bored & stupid.
I'm definately of the 'excitement in waves' opinion, with a gradual buildup towards an exciting finish.

Simply trying to give a continous stream of excitement(or 'accomplishment' in the case of WoW, with achievments for damn-near everything) cheapens the 'reward'.

P.S its Babson here ;)
I think Bhagpuss said it best. I don't want "shock". I just want entertainment. I know that's a vague answer but that's how I feel.

A game doesn't have to make the player scared or fearful to make it enjoyable.

Look at Tetris, Chess, Solitare, or any other game of that nature. They aren't fun because of terror, they are fun because you are overcoming a challenge.
I'd argue that while cheap scares aren't very 'exciting', a certain degree of consequence is, which isn't really 'shock' so much as 'threat' (like Tobold's mining example)
Look at Tetris, Chess, Solitare, or any other game of that nature. They aren't fun because of terror, they are fun because you are overcoming a challenge.

Have you ever played tournament Chess? I'd say there's a bit of fear there when you're competing against someone who is rated lower than you but may come out and beat you. Especially if such a defeat will knock you out of a tournament you traveled hundreds of miles and spent hundreds of dollars to compete in.

There's a difference between novel, interesting decisions and decisions made at gunpoint. Not all decisions made at gunpoint are interesting and few interesting decisions necessitate being at gunpoint.

The decisions "what do I do today" is an interesting decision in most MMOs whereas the smaller decisions you make in combat are not interesting at all unless you want them to be. But in a multiplayer persistent game, it's not in the player's best interest to be challenged because challenges provide less reward per effort.

There's no reason that easy games can't be interesting. The problem is that 90+% of the content in most MMOs is easy and NOT interesting.

But how many people play Chess at that level? I could travel half way across the world to compete in a Mind Sweeper tournament, that doesn't make the game it's self more thrilling or enjoyable.

When you transition any game into a job, such as world tournaments, that's different then lusting after in game threats like full loot.

The excitement curve should really be more of a line. If you have any sort of spike up it has to return to the bottom line again. If it returns to the bottom line again then that point will seem less fun than the spike.

In WoW the spike is new gear typically. If you aren't getting new gear then it's boring... and often considered pointless.
In an MMORPG, I like the pace to be slow enough so that I have time to chat with friends and guildies, but with also enough action to be able to have something to talk about in-game. Also I need to be playing a game that I can logoff/AFK whenever I want without too much of a penalty.
In a lot of ways I think that Eve is a lot like EQ. Both are really ground-breaking games that were a breath of fresh air for a lot of gamers and really struck a cord with a lot of people, even a lot of people who didn't like the gameplay of these too games liked the basic idea of them. Both did very well financially (EQ had more subscribers at its peak than Eve does now but Eve is still growing) and both have a lot of the same problems:
-Lack of polish in a lot of areas.
-Monotonous game play.
-Groups being required for a great deal of content.
-Large periods of downtime during play.
-Various balance issues.
-Very unforgiving of player mistakes or misfortune.

The fact that they were financially successful despite their core game play being so damn boring (mining and starting at a spell book for long periods of time) really goes to show that the basic idea is very solid. How solid EverQuest's basic idea was we can see with WoW's massive success, I think that a game that's to Eve as WoW is to EQ could be quite successful (as in about a million subscribers worldwide for a sustained period of time).
I like variety: Sometimes I like to adventure, and other times I like to do relaxing things like harvesting and crafting. The most important thing is that the player be able to choose the level of intensity he wants. In EVE, high-intensity activity can occasionally be foisted on the unwilling (although even there you're usually pretty safe in high-security space).
"I think that a game that's to Eve as WoW is to EQ could be quite successful (as in about a million subscribers worldwide for a sustained period of time)."

Hmmm, SWTOR perhaps?
Beyond what Michael St. E said, the EVE description in the original post feels like a bit of a strawman. I never did solo mining after the tutorial. When I was solo, mission running gave me a steady stream of mini-excitements exactly like a conventional MMO. When I was with my corpmates, mining always took place in a large group, with the focus of the time being social chatter (text or voice) as we tended to the relatively low-attention task of mining (or standing guard).
@Toxic: "EVE feels like Ultima Online did when I tried it back in the day--- really, really, really boring. And confusing. So you feel bored & stupid."

If you ever try again, join EVE-Uni (or at least their public chat). They help with the sense of stoopid, and being surrounded by 200 bloodthirsty noobs tanked up on warbeer can help with the boring. :)

But, yes - I can completely understand those who find it too slow. When I talk to people about it, I always add the proviso but "It's very slow, very paced, you'll probably find it boring as hell..." Four of my friends still started to play, three still do. Mad fools, leave the poor Jita market alone!

There are three candidates for "ADHD EVE" - STO, JGE, and Black Prophecy. It'll be interesting to see how they work, intensity-wise, and how their (probably) faster pacing will impact the social involvement of players, and the stickiness of their political structures.
"Hmmm, SWTOR perhaps?"

I haven't been following SWTOR very closely but aside from it being sci-fi I don't really see any similarities between it and Eve.

I think that the reason why Eve has done much better than other PvP-focused games (Shadowbane, Darkfall, etc. etc.) is that it phased in a lot of the PvP content (territorial control) etc. rather than having a whole lot of it at launch and that it leaves a lot more space for PvE. PvP is really really really hard to get right and I don't think I've ever seen a game that didn't have PvP that sucked at launch. Probably phasing more and more of it in as the player base gets bored with the game's PvE is the best bet for a game.
"I haven't been following SWTOR very closely but aside from it being sci-fi I don't really see any similarities between it and Eve."

I didn't mean that SWTOR would be similar to Eve.

I meant that SWTOR would be similar to what you seem to be asking for: a sci fi MMO without the boring bits.

Possibly, once you've seen the stories, it may also be a sci fi MMO without the exciting bits too.
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