Tobold's Blog
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.

It seems good, especially for an early access game that very likely isn't all that well balanced. And switching the difficulty at the start - or even at a point half way through - is psychologically much better than reloading on failure (which tends to evolve into saving before every step and reloading on less than perfection).

[Of course reloading may not be an option in a live service game anyway, even if it's single player. I'm thinking more of a classic single-player game where there's just you, and the server is your desktop.]

I have to disagree completely. I dislike games that offer settings that allow me to beat a game on an easier setting because I approach a game like a puzzle: a challenge designed and set by someone for me to solve. But I also play to win.

Yes, there are bad puzzles and mechanics - but then I simply don't play them. The only time they are shoved down my throat is when I do the shoving and guess who is to blame for that?

Having a setting that allows the user to set the size of the puzzle pieces just feels wrong to me. I want to find a way to beat the puzzle but that shouldn't be to lower the difficulty in the settings.
It's like Minecraft: "here, have some sticks and stones and create your own puzzle to beat". Thanks, but I need to create the solution for it and therefore know how to beat it.
I'm of the opinion that a game needs a somewhat clear idea what kind of experience it'll provide to the player. Sure you can mod some games to the gills and play your "Vulcans in Tamriel"-adventure, but it's not longer Skyrim at that point, is it? It seems like Palworld has a good intentions with this difficulty-options tweaking, but you lose the shared experience in the process. You and me played Skyrim(if played on the same difficulty) and we both can relate to the gameplay mechanics and quests when we speak about our time with the game. Yet now your Palworld playthrough is probably so different that we might as well speak about different games altogether.
Has Palworld been negatively reviewed? Most of the reviews I've seen have described what I've seen while playing the game - a fun and entertaining mish-mash of ideas from other games, put together in a smart and enjoyable way. Yes, there have been plenty of comments about it not being original but I don't believe anyone thought it was going to be. I don't think pointing out something everyone already knows and accepts counts as negativity.

One the settings - they're excellent. I played for about a dozen hours on standard, then switched off raids. Another few hours and I switched off the death penalty. That's probably all I'll change for my first run to the level cap but if I start a new world at some point I'll fiddle around with much more. It's great to have that option.
Has Palworld been negatively reviewed?

Yes. But there is a mix of downright negative reviews with more moderate reviews, giving the game up to 8 out of 10. There isn’t a metascore yet, but it would be around 7 out of 10. Which still would be a rather sharp contrast with the 19 million copies sold.
Tobold said: "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."

I personally think that game developers SHOULD know better than the players what is good game design and what is fun. After all, they practice it 40+ hours a week, and some even have university degrees in it.

But yes, even game developers are human, so they do get it wrong sometimes.
@Camo, maybe you could consider it this way: you have Easy Game X, Normal Game X and Hard Game X, and you can choose between these games. What is bad about that?

If it's about bragging rights - or just common experience as @Alex mentioned - I can see how rules as granular as Palworld where you can change all sorts of things individually can remove the commonality. But Easy, Normal and Hard shouldn't really have that effect.

Maybe you are way better at some genres than others, and it may be that your best gameplay experience is hard games in that genre, but it's nice to be able to at least visit other genres!
> Has Palworld been negatively reviewed? Yes.

Your link is bad in your comment, Tobold.

I think more options is never bad. I have enough self-restraint not to dumb things down to the point the fun is gone. I played WoW 10x as much as Everquest, and the difference in death penalties was a huge reason for that. I prefer soloing, which didn't get you far in EQ.
Crap. The link is to

Not sure why sometimes the html for links in comments isn’t working.
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