Friday, February 02, 2024
Game design decisions and game settings
Once upon a time, in a forgotten age before World of Warcraft, I was playing the original Everquest. The designers of Everquest wanted the players to feel that their world was a dangerous place. Thus they made a game design decision that when you died, you lost some xp, and woke up naked at your bind point. Your equipment was left on your corpse. Now neither binding nor fast traveling were easy in Everquest, and many character classes actually needed the help of another player to do these things. Thus your bind point wasn't necessarily very close to the location you died at, and getting from there to your corpse without repeatedly dying again was often very difficult. Like any game design decision, the reality of naked corpse runs in Everquest influenced the behavior of players. Notably exploration was discouraged, and people preferred to stay in easy to reach locations, grinding the same monsters repeatedly. Unless you had a strong guild that would help you, you wouldn't even enter a dungeon, as the risk of losing all your gear was just too great. I never liked naked corpse runs, and I always felt that they took away from the game by limiting exploration. I saw a lot more of the world in WoW than in Everquest, because WoW didn't discourage exploration like that.
If you play Palworld on normal difficulty, when you die you respawn naked, while your gear remains on your corpse. This is already a lot less difficult than Everquest: You chose your respawn location after you died, and fast travel in Palworld is significantly easier than it was in Everquest. But there is also an interesting twist to it: In the world settings you can change what happens on death. You can make the death penalty harsher, dropping your pals as well as your gear, or you can make it easier. If you, like me, don't like naked corpse runs, you can just turn them off in the settings and respawn basically without a death penalty. Which comes in really handy when you got stuck in a wall and respawning is the only way to get out. But of course you can also abuse that and just use the respawn function to kill yourself and fast travel where you want.
The game settings of Palworld are very interesting for being much more user-friendly than in any other game. Major game design decisions, which in other games are decided by the developers, are left for you to decide. You don't like that every few days a horde of pals is trying to raid your base? Turn the raids off! Obviously that has big consequences, because without raids you don't need walls and other defensive structures in your base anymore. But I find it great that the devs leave that decision to you. They also let you decide many other of the things that are fixed in other games: How fast you gain xp, how many resources there are around, how much damage you deal, how much damage pals deal, how many pals are in a group, and so on. The world settings have more options than cheat mods in some other games! Of course I would advise anybody to first play the game on normal for a while before fiddling with those settings. But before you for example abandon the game because you think you gain xp too slowly, it is better to just make xp gain much faster in the settings, if that is really the only thing that stops you from enjoying the game.
I do find the attitude of the developers of Palworld refreshing. Far too many Western game developers believe themselves to be superior to their players, and think they know better than the players what is good game design and what is fun. The makers of Palworld have been strongly criticized for a lack of originality, but their focus never was on originality. It was on giving the players what they wanted. And despite all the snobbery from other game developers and video game journalists, the success of Palworld shows that there is something to that formula. There are too many game developers who shove game design down our throats, whether we like it or not, and that includes horrible stuff like monetization and live service games, or game design elements that people just don't like. Palworld is the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie, reviewed negatively by critics, but topping the box office charts. For 30 bucks with no subsequent monetization getting a game that is designed to cater to what you want is a crazy good deal, which explains the success. While not all games should be like that, we definitely need some games that just cater to what the players want. And giving the players far more options in the difficulty settings of a game is just the logical consequence of that.